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The Problem of Predicting the Future

Is it real or is alt?

We all know how hard this prediction stuff really is. So we laugh at horoscopes, signs, birth year (Asia) and stories of people we know who visit mediums (not Medium) or fortune tellers. We know that events are the result of complex variables randomly occurring. But we worry about it. And we check things out in the privacy of our mind or when no one is there to see us. We are built that way having evolved to track and extend a narrative from the past into an increasingly hazy future. The benefits are very clear in the context of tracking a scent or sign that may mean dinner or pending threat. We added the ability to recall and predict but also to imagine and conjecture what could happen in this time and place with select variables carefully manipulated in our conscious self-hood. But the narrative is infinite with no visible beginning or end.

The practical now and the value of a conjectured narrative is obvious but the open ends are a problem. The day to day narrative ends with food on the fire and threats avoided and begins with a vision of events leading to those conclusions in the next day. But in the evening after food and before sleep the glaring absence of a beginning and an ending is an infinite hole that demands to be filled. The natural and endless recitation of the days narrative from each person’s perspective with additions and augmentation needs to spring from the original beginning and reflect on the distant end. And so we have religious mythology from which comes stories, and morals, history, and spiritual truths founded in narrative.

For millennia we lived and recited the narratives of our lives with origins explored and endings imagined to add meaning and richness to our days. But almost all of that, until the last few hundred years, was focused on the past. With only a few possible known exceptions the future was not imagined until 1516 in western Europe and not until the 20th century in Asia. Thomas More published Utopia in Latin in 1516 as the first detailed development of a possible future giving us the word we still use for the perfect future. Of course the most popular form now is dystopia. What started as a perfect future has become almost exclusively a disaster. No wonder we are so worried.

There is a real difference between our past and our future. I use ‘our’ pointedly as there is good reason to believe that we are the only conscious carriers of the arrow of time. Despite the complete indifference of our universe to the direction of time, for us it only goes one way. And that is probably why we avoided thinking about it as long as possible. We can endlessly study the past for useful information and ideas but no matter what we do we can’t screw it up. We can lie about the past or do a sloppy job of talking about it but to our conscious selves the real past is there somewhere and it doesn’t change no matter how wrong we make our version of it. And in the end justice comes to those who get it wrong because the true narrative is always there. That ‘knowledge’ is built into us whether it is true or not.

But the future can be completely destroyed. There is no group memory coming from recitation of each person’s tale of potential events that corrects mistakes and missed observations. The exact sequence of past events may never be quite agreed upon but the general tale is known and correct if only more or less agreed upon. The future seems to look like the past but that is an illusion. As long as it was simply a continuation of the present (and by default the past) no need to worry.

But things have changed. We no longer care about the past. We have come to care only about the future. Although this seems obvious when stated I don’t think very many people have yet come to terms with this or realized its dominance in our societies. Religion is a major victim of this change. The history of human religion is the study of what was right about the past and how to emulate or restore that now. Religion was always about losing the way and failing to respect the past where the gods talked to people. Gods talk always in the past, never in the future. The future was never an issue. You either lived in the way of the god(s) or not. Even death and judgement was relatively minor as you got what you got. End of story. The bloody protestant reformation in Europe became entangled in the rise of Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic shifting the focus to eternal reward. And the bizarre rejuvenation of Christianity in 19th century America was really only successful when the focus on salvation was enhanced with all the wealth that you could get soon for being devout. The growing emphasis on a future life of an infinite, vacation resort is so awkward that it works for only a small percentage of the population, even in the US but being rewarded in the near future is much more effective.

The past is only academically of interest but the future is critical. This is a massive shift of focus for the planet and its people. The long tailed rat of history began it’s serious growth in the 20th century leaving backward people to fight about past wrongs while others began to fight for future rights. This has made for much confusion and strange alliances as groups found it difficult to communicate with people focused in different temporal directions. In essence I’ve come to think that the great paradigm shift that we are in now is the final transition to the future. And that is anathema to conservative personality types who refuse to give up their fixation on the past. For them there is no future divorced from the past. Actually there is no future but only the past recovered well or poorly.

Visualizing the future is very hard unless it looks just like the present. But visualizing that is almost as hard. The cultural workings of this problem can be clearly traced in the evolution of our entertainment over the last sixty years. In this context WWII was the last great war against idealization of the past with fascism as a glorification of the past and the correction of past wrongs. The victorious opposition to fascism was to bring the promise of the future as American capitalism. In the late 1940s and early 1950s veterans or simply survivors of WWII began to write stories to explore that future. The future had won the great conflict but what was that future? It was obviously the continuation of the great successes of industrialization and technology that had empowered the American heroes. Those heroes were already becoming comic book modifications of humans produced by science and technology or simply more fully equipped than ordinary people.

Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s was shaped for many of us by Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Anthony Burgess, Clifford Simak, Arthur C. Clarke. At the time these were seen as one step above comic books like Captain America, Superman, Blackhawk, even though scientists, such as Asimov and Clarke were writing Science Fiction. But from this came the basic discussion of morality for robots and geostationary satellites by Asimov and Clarke respectively. Sixty years later these are again with us as honored and remembered writers with their work rediscovered and studied. The turning point may well have been, as we thought then, Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that began to forge the computer graphics that would produce Star Trek on TV and then Star Wars. Where once it was thought childish, odd, or ridiculous to envision the future now it is a part of all aspects of our entertainment. And these writers shaped the construction of our 21st century world and created the packaged expectations that are the criteria of success. We’re still waiting for antigravity and flying cars but we have self driving cars and personal communications and GPS.

We are desperate to see the future but we want someone to envision it for us and give us the answers. But the answers we want are to questions that we are not confident enough to ask. What does this mean? How is this changing our societies?

All of this has been the preparation for the paradigm shifts of an internetworked world and virtual societies. Our social orientation has changed profoundly and so quickly that we are like the cartoon character, whether Wile E Coyote or Goofy, who is so intent on the chase that they don’t realize that they are running on thin air well past the cliff edge. Human societies, acting on unquestioned faith, are still running as if nothing has changed. But everything has changed and the earth as it was known only a short while ago is no longer there. This is one of our most enjoyable cartoon moments and a fixed piece of many. Wile E Coyote, looking down, suddenly realizes the earth is gone and now new rules apply and he is in a place reached, inappropriately, by the old rules. He knows he will fall and that it is his fault and he acknowledges this by switching to the meta reality, looking us as viewers in the eye, and giving a small wave as he disappears into the valley, with river, far below. We know Wile E Coyote will be back in the next frame. Human societies may not. We tend to let our fantasies get the better of us.

The future is all that matters. Yet we visualize the future almost completely as a impending disaster that will, most likely, obliterate us, our planet, or both. In the fifties the future was science, now it is fantasy. As imagining the future became the setting for almost all of our entertainment, science presented a real problem particularly for America. It is just too complicated particularly as the geometric progression of science and technology made the strongly anti-intellectual American audience unable to tell what was fantasy and what was fiction. And the embarrassment of being corrected by kids with enough science to know the problems of interstellar travel or the reality of relativity was too much to handle. That was fixed by moving popular literary genres into the future or somewhere other than here. Space Operas could skip most of the science and present 19th century military history as future with romantic stories built in and a touch of the American western that has been completely normalized as its own self parody. And scientific impossibilities are dealt with by making it a whole other universe, so there.

But these things have come together with the real science, the slow penetration of society by Schrodinger's cat that went into the bar and didn’t, virtual and augmented reality with steadily growing realization that the whole thing may be virtual in someone else’s walled garden, and that no one is in charge or has a clue. The suspension of disbelief has become a parody of it’s own belief with the complete inability of large chunks of the population to distinguish between and alt and real. Whatever the hell real is. The once most powerful country elects a man president who lies and considers each lie to be real because he said it. And who gets to say? If your kids can change gender then Trump can make himself great, right? And that is not an easy question to answer.

But answer it we must and we will. I don’t think there is any escape although many people argue relentlessly that the old lies are still real. The financial mavens of Wall Street are projecting the percentages of growth on the exchanges well into the future. So everything is fine. The hypercapitalist economy of the US is picking up steam again. Things are just a little slow for most people but the billionaires are making money hand over fist. Soon everyone will be happy again. Sadly this is a very thinly believed illusion. One of the results of the Trump disaster is that he made everything a lie. But there is no truth. The endless financial growth is a lie and has been based for years on endless dollars made from other dollars with no reality. The USSR collapsed when all of its magical numbers suddenly failed. The US is going the same way. The independent projections of Deagel suggest what this may look like in 2025. Collapse of the US economy and much of the Western order with China and Russia at the top will lead to immigration from the US by the young and those who can migrate. And this doesn’t count climate disasters that could, by then, make much of middle American increasingly uncomfortable to inhabit.

We need to start confirming our own projections of the future. Don’t believe anyone particularly if they say it will be fine. The changes are massive and cannot be stopped. We need to begin building our own alternative narratives. The official narratives are lies and cannot support even the pretense that they claim. What is the story that you want to share? Endless greed and destruction? Denial of rights? Lies and exploitation? I think we have had enough of that and for the first time in history we are able to get beyond the trap of ignorance and denial. If we start from the basis of rights that must expand in scope and to include all, we won’t go wrong.



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