Center for Future Consciousness Website
West Side Salon for Philosophy and the Future
Beginning April 2 (Tuesday) I will be hosting a new philosophical dialogue group that will meet every two weeks. We will be meeting from 6 to 8 pm and, as a start, the location will be at Sun City Grand, Chaparral Center, Navajo Room, 19871 Remington Drive, Surprise, AZ. Locations may vary for later meetings. See more details in this newsletter.
A ten-session new course at Sun City Grand, Chaparral Center, 19781 N. Remington Drive, Surprise, AZ. Dates and Time: Thursdays, 10 am to noon, beginning September 26th and running through December 5th. See Course Content in Newsletter.
The Future Evolution of the Human Mind - and Beyond
This Month's Highlights:
- Editorial: The Future and the Psychology of Hope
- West Side Salon for Philosophy and the Future
- Book Review - Part I: Existence by David Brin
- New Course Outline: The Future Evolution of the Human Mind - and Beyond
- Archive: Futurodyssey and Wisdom Page Updates
The Future and the Psychology of Hope
"Since man is above all future-making, he is,
above all, a swarm of hopes and fears."
Ortega y Gasset
"I feel therefore I am."
Over the last several months in the CFC Editorials, I have been highlighting various themes in my new book The Psychology of the Future. I have talked about self-responsibility and willpower, the connection between self-narratives and grand narratives of the future, and flourishing in the flow of evolution as a realistic and scientifically grounded theory of the good life. This month I am going to select another major theme within the book: the psychology of hope and its relevance to the future.
Since first becoming familiar with writing and research in the discipline of futures studies, I have noticed a cognitive bias in most futurist approaches. The emphasis invariably is on "thinking about the future" -- that is, researching trends, assessing challenges and problems, strategizing and making plans, creating scenarios, and developing methodologies and approaches to making predictions (even if probabilistic ones). But, the future is something one feels as much as one imagines and thinks about, and indeed, a person's emotional state toward the future may be even more important or critical in affecting their behavior than what they think or how they think.
Contrary to the rationalist mindset assumed in Descartes' famous statement "I think therefore I am," the alternative point of view is that emotion or feeling lies at the core of consciousness and self-identity (Damasio, 1999)
. In the beginning it is that "I feel" rather than "I think." Primordially we are beings of feeling, and thought is layered on top of this emotional substrate. We feel toward the world and we feel toward the future. At rock bottom this emotional dimension of our minds is what moves us, for good or for bad. As some have even argued, such as the famous philosopher David Hume and the equally famous psychologist Sigmund Freud, reason serves emotion, and all thinking is but rationalizations for our feelings and desires.
It appears that there is a set of universal human emotions (Ekman, 2003)
, such as anger, sadness, and happiness. I want to highlight here the basic anticipatory emotions of hope and fear. Hope and fear are oppositional feelings we can have about the future. Hope and fear are felt through the body with biochemical and autonomic nervous system undercurrents; both are subject to simple conditioning effects (it is easy to teach animals to fear or become positively excited over anticipated stimuli). Hope and fear are psycho-physiological states anticipatory of pleasure and pain respectively in the future. Hope generates approach behavior; fear generates avoidance or escape behavior. Hence, with respect to the anticipated future, animals (including humans) can either be in a mode of moving toward the anticipated future with a sense of enthusiasm and expectation of pleasure, or in a mode of running from the anticipated future with a sense of fear and expectation of pain. I would suggest that hope and fear are at the core of future consciousness, even for professional futurists.
As Barbara Fredrickson
has argued in her "Broaden and Build Theory," positive emotions are psychological resource builders, producing more expansive, sensitive, creative, and transformational experiences. Positive emotion enhances cognitive functioning (perception, learning, memory, imagination, and thinking). Positive emotion empowers and energizes future consciousness. Conversely, fear and other negative emotions dampen perception, imagination, thinking, and behavior. Of special note, fear can lead to depression, despair, nihilism, and fatalism. Depression and despair, both of which I see as a failure of future consciousness, create states of hopelessness and helplessness with respect to the future.
One could argue that people get fearful or depressed about the future because the information they receive and assess about facts, trends, and problems in their life, or the world at large, is negative. Any sane person, presumably, would get fearful or depressed about the present state of the world. Why should we be hopeful given the "obvious" mess that we are in? But, perception, thinking, and assessment, as cognitive processes, are subject to the influence of emotion (as Fredrickson clearly shows), and hence, one could argue that the "facts" being selected are different for hopeful versus fearful people, and the interpretations and action plans are different as well. In spite of all our efforts to be objective and rigorous in our observations, thinking, and predictions, it seems to me that some individuals (and some groups) seem inclined to look at the world and the future and get fearful and depressed, while other individuals seem inclined to be hopeful and positive. Different facts seem to come to people's minds in their assessments of things. It seems to me that the underbelly of our primordial emotions creates and colors our consciousness of the world.
Having raised the issue of hope and fear, it should be noted that the relationship between cognition and emotion is not simply a one-way street. Cognition influences and contextualizes emotion. If one looks at theories of hope, for example, there are cognitive elements to this psychological state: for example, hopeful individuals are able to think out and identify pathways of action to realize their goals and hopeful individuals can identify and interpret present and future events that are positive and promising. If Fredrickson presents an emotional theory of cognition, with the former influencing the latter, there is also significant evidence that cognition influences emotional states. Positive interpretations of the world and one's life generate positive emotions; negative interpretations do the reverse. The foundation of cognitive therapy rests on this basic psychological fact. Indeed, to go one step further, behavior impacts emotion as well. As William James argued, a person doesn't run because they are afraid; a person is afraid because they run.
All in all, there is an interdependent psychological loop of emotion, cognition, and behavior, both for hope and other positive emotions and for fear and negative emotions. Furthermore, given an understanding of the psychology behind our most basic states of mind and behavior toward the future, we have the potential power to influence ourselves.
This is not simply a question of making ourselves feel better about the future. It is just as much an issue regarding efficacious thinking and behavior toward the future. I might even say realistic as well. Hopeful individuals are better problem solvers. Hopeful individuals do not run from reality and the future as a dispositional knee-jerk reaction; they approach and move toward it. Hopeful people are more creative and perceptive and action oriented.
There are numerous ways to maximize positive emotional states and minimize negative ones through cognitive, behavioral, and environmental changes and activities. Of special note, as Gretchen Rubin
has noted, becoming an active agent and self-responsible for one's emotions actually generates positive emotional effects. It is within our power to become more hopeful.
Hope and fear, I believe, are at the core of the generalized attitudes of optimism and pessimism toward the future. It is clear to me, as well as many researchers in human psychology, that optimism and pessimism are self-fulfilling prophecies. So are hope and fear, and perhaps therefore, at least to some degree, so is the future.
Of course, one could argue that this is all wishful thinking, but why is it that those individuals most prone to raise this argument against positive visionaries tend to be pessimistic in their own personality and generalized disposition toward the world? They might argue that they are simply being realistic, but as noted above, the evidence seems to support the view that it is hopeful people who are more realistic; they think better and perceive the world in more depth and detail. So who's the realist here? Fear freezes the mind; hope illuminates it.
Next month I will talk in more depth on optimism and pessimism, the former in my mind being a character virtue and the latter being a vice.
|West Side Salon for Philosophy and the Future
Beginning April 2 (Tuesday) I will be hosting a new philosophical dialogue group that will meet every two weeks. We will be meeting from 6 to 8 pm and, as a start, the location will be at Sun City Grand, Chaparral Center, Navajo Room, 19871 Remington Drive, Surprise, AZ. Locations may vary for later meetings.
The title "Philosophy and the Future" is intended to cover a very broad range of themes and topics, including all the general issues of philosophy, such as the study of wisdom, the philosophy of mind and consciousness, ethics, and cosmology. On the "futures" end of things, included are areas such as the future of science and technology, the future of the human mind, the future of human society and culture, science fiction scenarios about the future, and space travel and exploration. I also envision an intersection, overlap, and cross-fertilization between philosophical and futurist themes, for example, how does philosophy illuminate the future and vice versa.
The format will be short introductions by me on the topic of the day, followed by dialogue and debate with the group as a whole. There will probably emerge threads of discussion across meetings, but people can come to meetings off and on, depending on their schedules.
We are going to begin with the theme "Consciousness and the Cosmos." Having recently finished reading the American philosopher Thomas Nagel's new book Mind and Cosmos, I will start with an overview of this book and his main arguments, and from there we can assess and evaluate his book, and in particular his philosophical views on consciousness within the physical world.
I plan that future meetings will frequently (though not always) take the form of selecting out a new book (in either philosophy or the future) and discussing it. After Nagel's book, I plan to discuss at least the following three additional books this summer: Ray Kurweil's How to Create a Mind, Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?, and David Brin's Existence.
There will be a $5.00 nominal charge for attending Salon meetings through the entire remaining spring and summer. If you are interested in attending, you can register online
. If you don't get to registering before attending a meeting, come and we will work something out.
Salon Meetings in April: April 2, 16, and 30th.
Salon Meetings in May: May 14 and 28th.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out the specific location for subsequent meetings after our first one. As I mentioned, we could vary locations through the summer.
New Book Review (Part I)
Existence by David Brin
Once before in a CFC newsletter, when I was reading Stepten Baxter's utterly enthralling cosmological epic Evolution
, I wrote a book review in two installments, writing the first installment before I had finished reading the book. I am going to do the same thing again, writing my review of David Brin's new science fiction novel, Existence
, in two parts, over the next two months. At the moment I am about halfway through the book.
In a previous newsletter I included a piece on David Brin's website
. What is noteworthy about Brin is that he writes both excellent science fiction, as well as intelligent and thought-provoking non-fiction. Brin has a good grasp of history, contemporary affairs and issues, and possibilities and challenges pertaining to the future. He pulls together "hard science and technology" and social-ethical concerns. He can think philosophically, technologically, and humanistically. In essence, he possesses, what I would describe as an expansive temporal consciousness, as well as an interdisciplinary and integrative understanding of the human condition. (I used some of his non-fiction essays in a course I used to teach on the future of technology.) And finally, Brin is a clear and articulate writer and thinker. Existence
clearly demonstrates all these qualities. Right off the bat the reader is immersed within a highly detailed vision (or scenario) of the future, circa 2050. Brin extrapolates from the present along multiple lines of technological development but also along multiple social, political, and ecological contemporary trends, creating a rich and complex setting within the near future. We see, for example, multiple levels of virtual reality layered on top of the "real world" (done so well in Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End
); collective techno-facilitated "smart mobs" emerging in immediate response to momentary events occurring within the world; the fracturing of the United States into a multitude of sub-cultures and antagonistic semi-autonomous political entities; the ongoing and progressive inundation of coastal cities, as the oceans rise due to climate change; individual consciousness engulfed within (but also empowered by) an array of communication and information displays directly into one's visual and auditory space ("google glasses"), (see also Stross' Accelerando
); and finally, multiple saviors of the world, all of whom have the answer -- the solution -- the key -- to how to fix the world.
presents a very stressful world, where nothing really has been fixed relative to today. In many ways, it's more of the same, only worse. We live on the edge of chaos and we still will be there in 2050.
It is both ironic and appropriate that in conjunction with my new essay of the psychology of hope I introduce Brin's new book. The future world of Existence
is teetering on the edge of disaster along multiple dimensions and it is not at all clear whether anyone can do anything about it. (Who's in charge? Who has the power? The insight? The wisdom?) Technology continues to evolve (AI keeps getting "smarter") but the modern human condition continues to be crazy -- perhaps even more so. And what Brin includes, in the context of this theme of our ongoing tenuous existence, is a series of rather comical non-fiction inserts documenting and commenting on all the different ways that humanity may bite the bullet or devolve into barbarianism. These non-fictional inserts provide a thoughtful and informative overview of the negative possibilities of tomorrow. Is hope for the future of humanity realistic?
Into this context come the aliens, offering "something," though it is not clear what. A jump forward in our social evolution? Admission into a galactic society? Or the end of the world as we know it?
Part II of this review coming next month.
The Future Evolution of the Human Mind -
Fall Course at Sun City Grand Learning Center, Surprise, AZ
September 26th through December 5th
Last month I provided a course description for the new course I am offering this fall on "The Future Evolution of the Human Mind - and Beyond." This month readers can have a look at the course outline. I will be covering the various topics below over a ten-session period.
- Introduction: The Question of Human Evolution - Are Humans Continuing to Evolve?
- The Study and Purposeful Evolution of Mind, Consciousness, Self, Society, and the Brain - A Brief History of Efforts to Understand and Improve Ourselves
- The Contemporary Transformation, Accelerative Change, and the Modern Existential Crisis - How the Speed and Stress of Modern Times May be Pushing Us Toward Further Evolution
- Cyborgs, Technology, and Human Evolution - The Interdependent Nature of Humans and Machines and What It Means for Our Future - The Promises of Transhumanism
- Humans, Ecology, and Nature - How Changes in the Environment and Our Understanding of Nature and Ecology Will Affect Us in the Future
- Biological and Biotechnological Evolution in Humans - Issues of Physical Health, Well-Being, and the Potential for Extended Mortality/Immortality - Will We Purposefully Alter Our Genetic Make-Up, Perhaps Creating a Diversity of Human Types?
- Computer and Robotic Augmentation and Transcendence - Will We Merge with Our Machines? Will Our Machines Transcend Us? What are the Possibilities of the Technological Singularity?
- Purposeful Psychological Evolution - Issues of Psychological Health and Well-Being - Can Humans Evolve their Minds and Personalities through Psychological Knowledge and Practices?
- Education and the Future of Psychology - How Will Future Education Transform the Human Mind?
- Society, Culture, and Psycho-Social Evolution - How will Ongoing Globalization and Urbanization Affect Our Future Psychological Evolution?
- Ethical, Spiritual, and Religious Evolution - What are the Possibilities of Ethical and Spiritual Evolution? What is Evolutionary Spirituality?
- Wisdom and Transcendence - Wisdom as the Central Ideal for Our Psycho-Social Evolution
- Space Travel and the Concept of Cosmic Consciousness - Will Our Descendents Become Inhabitants of the Cosmos? Will They Realize Cosmic Consciousness?
- Philosophical and Cosmological Perspectives and Conclusions - Is the Ongoing Evolution of Mind the Universe Waking Up? Why is There Consciousness in the Cosmos and What Does it Mean?
Futurodyssey and Wisdom Page Updates
This fall I began publishing two redesigned newsletters: Futurodyssey--the online publication for the Center for Future Consciousness--and the Wisdom Page Updates--the online publication for The Wisdom Page. There are Archives for both newsletters. You can view earlier issues of each newsletter by going to:
That's it for this month: An essay on the psychology of hope, the new Philosophy and the Future Salon, the first part of a book review on David Brin's Existence, and the course outline and schedule for my new fall course on "The Future Evolution of the Human Mind -- and Beyond."