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: Optimism, Pessimism, and Realism in the Face of an Uncertain Future
- West Side Salon for Philosophy and the Future
- Book Review - Part II: Existence by David Brin
- New Essay: A Virtue Theory of Wisdom
- New Book Review Page - CFC Website
- New Book Review: The Infinite Resource by Ramez Naam - Reviewed by Leland Beaumont
- New Edition: Journal of Futures Studies
- New Course Outline: The Future Evolution of the Human Mind - and Beyond
- Archive: Futurodyssey and Wisdom Page Updates
Optimism, Pessimism, and Realism in the Face of an Uncertain Future
"Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable."
"I am all for realism when there is a knowable reality out there that is not influenced by expectations. When your expectations influence reality, realism sucks."
In last month's editorial
, I described my thoughts on the psychology of hope and fear and its connection to heightened future consciousness. Over the last few months, I have been highlighting different key themes in my new book The Psychology of the Future
, hope and fear being one of those key themes. This month I am going to focus on optimism, pessimism, and realism.
I concluded my last essay with the statements that hope and fear are at the core of optimistic and pessimistic attitudes about the future, that optimism is a virtue of heightened future consciousness, and that pessimism is a vice.
Optimism and pessimism are fundamental attitudes or mindsets connected with the anticipatory emotions of hope and fear, both of which strongly affect human motivation and behavior. Optimism and pessimism consist of distinctive (one could say oppositional) integrated sets of thoughts, emotions, motives, and behaviors.
At the most general level, optimism can be described as the belief (and resultant behaviors) that one can positively affect the future, or even more simply that the future will be better than the past. Pessimism can be described as the general belief (and resultant behaviors) that one cannot positively affect the future, or more simply that the future will be no better--indeed will be worse--than the past.
Seligman, in his book Learned Optimism
, provides the following contrasting descriptions of optimism and pessimism, arguing that both attitudes are fundamentally habits of thought (dispositional interpretations of reality) and hence, like any other habits, can be changed.
Optimism: The belief that personal misfortunes are short-lived, limited in their effect on one's life, and due to external circumstances.
Pessimism: The belief that personal misfortunes have long-term and pervasive effects on one's life and are due to the individual.
The reader can visit Seligman's Authentic Happiness
website, and, after registering, take the online questionnaire on optimism and receive a score. One can also take the questionnaire and get a score in Seligman's book on Learned Optimism
In terms of general character traits and behaviors, optimists are more confident and persistent and able to meet challenges. They have higher subjective well-being, experience fewer negative feelings when problems arise, are more reality focused, and are approach coping; that is, if a problem is encountered, optimists tend to approach the problem and attempt to solve it. Optimism is connected with believing in and acting upon positive future (self) narratives.
Conversely, pessimists are doubtful, hesitant, defeatist, avoid or don't address challenges, and are avoidance coping and susceptible to distraction. As a general habit of behavior, pessimists when presented with a problem, tend to avoid addressing it. Pessimism is connected with negative future (self) narratives.
Given this general picture of optimism and pessimism, there are some interesting complexities in the make-up of the human mind. For one thing, a person can be optimistic in one sphere of life (for example, the professional) and pessimistic in another sphere (such as the interpersonal or romantic). Secondly, a person can show strong mixtures of both attitudes, scoring high on both optimistic and pessimistic scales on Seligman's questionnaire.
Whether in specific areas of life, or as general attitudes across all areas of life, optimism and pessimism are self-fulfilling prophecies, involving self-enhancing and self-defeating cycles of thought, emotion, behavior, and environmental effects. Optimists and pessimists tend provoke through their behavior the very expectations they hold about the future.
Optimism and pessimism seem to generate the "Matthew Effect": "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." Success generates more success; failure generates more failure.
Moreover, optimism and pessimism affect feelings of self-efficacy in opposite ways; optimists believe they have the power to create their desirable future, whereas pessimists do not. Hence, optimism strengthens and pessimism weakens feelings of self-responsibility regarding the future. Optimists energize themselves; pessimists paralyze themselves.
Although it is a common argument that optimism can blind a person to problems; that it can generate unrealistic expectations; the opposite actually seems true. Pessimism is never superior to optimism as a general attitude toward life. Optimists are more prepared for misfortune, more accurate in assessments of reality, and more capable at solving problems.
Efficacious optimism is not simply putting on a "happy face," or viewing the world through "rose tinted glasses." It is taking action based on one's beliefs and feelings. It is making an effort to see how a problem can be solved, instead of giving up in despair. It is questioning negative or pessimistic interpretations to ascertain how realistic or rational such beliefs are. (This is a key strategy in Seligman's approach to strengthening optimism, as well as being a basic technique in cognitive therapy.)
The strengthening and development of all character virtues require a sense of self-responsibility and concerted effort. Optimism is a character virtue involving sustained cognitive and behavioral effort and courage. The future is uncertain--agreed--but this uncertainty is precisely why we need courage to create the most efficacious mindset possible. Pessimism is giving into fear.
Many contemporary writers have argued that the general pattern of cosmic evolution provides a realistic foundation for being optimistic about the future, both of the cosmos as a whole, as well as the future of humanity.
Evolutionary optimism is the belief that (human) reality shows progress through time and will continue to do so in the future; the theory of evolution justifies and inspires optimism. Though there is chaos, misfortune, and numerous other negative aspects to the flow of time, evolution (metaphorically speaking) uses such negative factors in the creation of progress along multiple dimensions of reality.
Humans are participatory in the evolutionary process and through increased understanding can guide the process to even more positive ends. Again, knowledge equals potential power.
For evolutionary optimists, such as Ray Kurzweil, Kevin Kelly, Andrew Cohen, Carter Phipps, and Howard Bloom, we should identify with the evolutionary process and facilitate it; for some of the above, this is our fundamental human moral imperative.
Within the framework of the theory of wisdom and heightened future consciousness that I am proposing in my writings, flourishing can be seen as an informed, purposeful expression of the evolutionary process at a personal and collective level.
In summary, hope and enthusiasm; approach, faith, and courage; a sense of self-efficacy; an opportunity focused mindset; and optimism are connected psychological states and processes. Conversely, depression and despair; avoidance, fear, and doubt; a sense of helplessness; a defense focused mindset; and pessimism are connected psychological realities. These oppositional configurations form a fundamental polarity of the human mind and behavior, and a fundamental polarity in future consciousness. The former cluster supports and moves one toward growth and a positive future; the latter cluster generates stasis and a diminished capacity for creating a positive future.
"The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy." Dietrich Bonhoeffler
|West Side Salon for Philosophy and the Future
Beginning in April I started hosting a new philosophical dialogue group that meets every two weeks on Tuesday evenings from 6 to 8 pm. The location is 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 topics, including all the general issues of philosophy, such as wisdom, the philosophy of mind and consciousness, ethics, and cosmology. On the "futures" end of things, included are the future of science and technology, the human mind, and human society and culture; science fiction scenarios about the future; and space travel and exploration. Often we will weave together philosophy and the future.
This first month we began with the theme "Consciousness and the Cosmos" discussing the American philosopher Thomas Nagel's new book Mind and Cosmos. In our second meeting, we brought in Christof Koch's new book Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist and my article "The Ecological Cosmology of Consciousness." The first two meetings went very well. Good attendance and lots of participation and debate.
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 and Koch's books, we 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 science fiction novel Existence. This coming meeting, May 14th, we will dive into Brin's colossal (900 page) and epochal science fiction novel. I've written a review of Brin's book in the CFC newsletter. We will look at the idea of the cosmic evolution and the significance of mind, consciousness, and intelligent civilization in the universe.
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.
You can also register for the Salon on Meet-Up: West Side Salon for Philosophy and the Future
Salon Meetings in May: May 14 and 28th.
Email me at email@example.com if you have any questions.
New Book Review (Part II)
Existence by David Brin
In last month's issue of the CFC newsletter I began my review of David Brin's new book Existence.
For those who didn't read it, you can access Part I in the CFC Archives
. If you simply want to read the whole review (Parts I and II) in one document, you can find it at Existence
on the CFC website.
Here is Part II:
There is a general theory of cosmic evolution (of which there are numerous versions) that describes the history, as well as the future, of the universe as an ongoing evolution toward greater and greater complexity, yielding, at some point in the process, increasingly advanced forms of intelligence, mentality, and civilization. The overall thrust of evolutionary time is toward the development and ascension of mind. In many respects, evolution on the earth seems to be going in that direction -- complex chemistry evolved into life; life increased in complexity, and nervous systems and brains emerged; and conscious minds, civilizations, and technologies came into being and continue to evolve. (See for example, Kevin Kelley's What Technology Wants
, Eric Chaisson's The Epic of Evolution
, and Ray Kurzweil's The Rise of Spiritual Machines
). Perhaps in other locations in the universe, this same general directionality toward higher mentality and intelligence is occurring as well. Sooner or later (and perhaps it is happening already) minds across the cosmos will come together and ascend to higher and higher levels of consciousness and civilization. It may be that this entire process represents the universe acquiring a cosmic mind and becoming aware of itself. (See Olaf Stapledon's Starmaker
and Frank Tipler's The Physics of Immortality
). All other things being equal, this view of cosmic evolution is a highly optimistic vision of the future of the universe.
But, the history of life on the earth, and in particular, the ongoing saga of humanity, seems filled with chaos and disasters, with great extinctions of life, and in our own time, innumerable ways in which human civilization may falter and fail. Is mental or technological evolution inevitable?
Further, if one looks to the sky, at this point in time there does not seem to be any clear evidence of advanced technological civilizations anywhere out there. This is Enrico Fermi's Paradox: Why don't we see any signs of this great cosmic thrust toward advancing intelligence and civilization? Perhaps we are alone? Perhaps "something" gets in the way of the ongoing evolution of technological civilizations thriving and flourishing? Perhaps humanity will fall victim to the same event or process that has made the night skies so silent?
This general question of humanity's continued evolution, as well as the even more cosmic question of the evolution of intelligence and technology across the universe, are the central connected themes of Existence
. Is the evolution of advanced intelligence a viable or plausible possibility within the cosmos? As I mentioned in Part One of this review, Brin inserts into his novel a series of short pieces that list and describe many of the major possible causes of humanity's future extinction or collapse into barbarism. Even if the reader is familiar with this general issue, Brin provides an excellent overall and thoughtful consideration of the various dangers looming in front of us. Toward the latter part of the book, Brin also provides, in a series of short essays, a list of all the conceivable reasons why advanced alien species (if they exist) haven't contacted us.
To recall, I ended Part One of the review with the coming of the aliens into our wild, stressful, and crazy world circa 2050. The future is both a source of great hope and great fear, and the possibility of alien contact carries with it the same dual emotional charge. Are the aliens to be feared? Are the aliens the source of our salvation? In 2050, people across the globe react both ways; in fact, the aliens provoke numerous other typical human reactions and motives. Are the aliens a potential source of great power for those who can, ahead of others, monopolize communication and cooperation with the alien minds? All told, the aliens bring out the best and the worst in us. No surprise there.
When the aliens come, what will they be up to? Will they conquer us? Eat us? Rob us of all our resources? Will they come in giant spaceships? Will first contact be with one species or many? Will their arrival mark the end of human civilization or some great new beginning or evolutionary step forward? Will they share a cornucopia of new knowledge and new gadgets, or deprive us of what we have? The answers that Brin, in Existence
, gives to these questions are imaginative and surprising, and I am not going to spoil the story by revealing the answers to these questions.
What I will say is that perhaps the stillness of the skies doesn't indicate that we are alone, but rather that because of our late arrival on the scene (the universe is 13.7 billion years old) we have missed at least the first wave of cosmic fireworks that have permeated the heavens above. Perhaps the dinosaurs did not become extinct due to "natural causes."
As revealed in Existence
, David Brin is a realistic optimist about the future -- indeed he is an optimist regarding the cosmic future for humanity and other intelligent alien life forms throughout the universe. He is realistic because he clearly acknowledges and discusses the threats to our future survival, as well as the general sound and fury and "tooth and claw" nature of our evolutionary universe. Yet, through the competitiveness, selfishness, foolhardiness, egocentricity, and violence -- which may indeed span the cosmos -- Brin still sees the possibility for hope. Existence is a struggle that permeates the universe, but it is a struggle that can be successfully and wisely engaged.
I very much enjoyed reading Existence
. It is perhaps a bit too long (almost 900 pages), but the main characters (of which there are many) are interesting, diverse, memorable, and engaging; the story line moves along at a good pace; the future reality of human society is rich and imaginative; the aliens (of which there are many as well) are a fascinating bunch; the dramatic stream of the story connects together well with the ongoing philosophical and theoretical expositions throughout the book; and the ending pulls it all together. I particularly would recommend Existence
to futurists who may not see the value of science fiction as a provocative and valuable approach to seriously thinking about the future. Existence
teaches, educates, and stimulates the human mind into thinking about both our earthly and cosmic futures.
A Virtue Theory of Wisdom
A central theme in my new book The Psychology of the Future is that wisdom is the highest expression of future consciousness. In my latest efforts to work out and clarify this idea, I have updated and streamlined my theory that wisdom is the synthesis of a key set of character virtues. This new essay has been published on both The Wisdom Page and the CFC website.
Read the essay
New Book Review:
The Infinite Resource:
The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet by Ramez Naam - Reviewed by Leland Beaumont
If wisdom involves getting the big picture of things, then this book is wise, pulling together environmental, technological, demographic, and economic dimensions of our contemporary global reality. Further, again in resonance with the various capacities of wisdom, the book offers innovative and integrative solutions for our global challenges. Never underestimate the power of the mind. Reviewed by my friend and colleague, Leland Beaumont, from The Wisdom Page. Read the review.
New Online Issue:
The Journal of Futures Studies
The March issue of the Journal of Futures Studies is now available for reading online. The journal is a great resource for scholarly papers on futures studies. Of special note JFS brings a global and culturally diverse set of perspectives to futures thinking. This newest issue contains a series of short essays written by futures studies students.
The Future Evolution of the Human Mind -
Fall Course at Sun City Grand Learning Center, Surprise, AZ
September 26th through December 5th
I am offering this fall a new updated course "The Future Evolution of the Human Mind - and Beyond." I will be covering the 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 optimism and pessimism, the new Philosophy and the Future Salon, the second part of my book review of David Brin's Existence, a book review by Leland Beaumont on The Infinite Resource, a new essay of wisdom, the new Book Review Page on the CFC website, the new online issue of The Journal of Futures Studies, and the course outline and schedule for my new fall course on "The Future Evolution of the Human Mind -- and Beyond."