Friday, November 5, 2010

Evolution Part II: The Wise Cyborg and Other Jolting Bisociations

In our last blog, we were moving forward in evolutionary time circa 100,000 BC. Modern homo sapiens (that is, our direct genetic ancestors) had only recently come on the scene and these early homo sapiens were making initial contact with their northern genetic cousins, Neanderthals.

I was into describing for you the grand saga of our history laid out in Stephen Baxter’s Evolution. Since that last blog, I finished Baxter’s book, which eventually moves into the present, chronicling the downfall of modern civilization, and then sails forth into the far distant future circa 500 million AD. Ultimately the novel is tragic in scope--but of course on a big, cosmic scale. All of our intelligence, gadgetry and economic power and wealth is not sufficient to maintain itself and modern humans pass into oblivion--into the “dark backward abysm of time.”

But along the way, the story told of our lives (the life of humanity) is very moving and thought provoking. The chapter titled “Mother of Her People” recounts the life of the female human (circa 60,000 BC) who creates tattoos; witchcraft; totems and taboos; myth, animism, and superstition; grammar; and shamanism--a woman tormented by migraines, powerful visual hallucinations, and obsessed with understanding the connections between things. She is the genius who seeds modern human culture.

In later chapters, Baxter describes the lives of Cro-Magnon humans living through one of the Ice Ages in Europe; the death of the last Neanderthal (we killed him); the rise of agriculture and cities, which is accompanied by the emergence of drunkenness as a way to cope with the drudgery and monotony of settling into cities and working the fields; and the adventures of a Roman scientist (circa 400 AD) in search of dinosaur bones--he gets it; he understands the grand panorama of history--but the light is snuffed out for over a thousand years.

On the other side of the present, intelligence wanes and civilization falls; our descendants go back to the trees and their brains shrink; rats, pigs, and goats evolve into the dominant mammal life forms; one of our lines becomes domesticated by the rats; and in the far distant future, our very distant genetic children realize a symbiotic and totally dependent relationship with a new species of trees--trees that are our mothers--our wombs--who raise and feed us, who, in essence, give birth to us. Yet, as the sun is swelling and turning red and the earth is drying up and dying (circa 500 million AD), a metal sphere comes floating down out of the sky looking for the creatures who made it and sent it off into space millions and millions of years ago. Reminded me of the ending of Wells‘ The Time Machine. A consciousness expanding trip. Bleak and sad, poignant and humbling.

I also finished reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicolas Carr. It is a great book: a warning and a challenge; a historical, psychological, and biological examination of the intimate connection between humans and technology; an exploration of how technologies structure, support, facilitate, empower, and at times degrade and disrupt our capacities and psychological abilities. In it the author delves into the rise of writing and of books and how they changed our minds, our brains, the world that we live in. And more immediately, the author poses some serious questions: Are we becoming more fragmented, more flighty, more narcissistic and socially inept, more distracted and shallow because of Google, Apple, search engines, social webs and networks, cell phones, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Carr thinks that there is a lot of evidence that we are. We are not creating technologies that serve our intelligence--we are not using our gadgets toward wise and enlightened ends. You could write a whole book on these questions, issues--which Carr has.

Carr’s book is a warning call for our future evolution, a warning about creating a future world that, though technologically more jazzed up than the present, may lead to a bunch of low grade imbeciles who can hit keys a mile a minute, find answers for the quiz in a nanosecond, and know what all their “friends” had for breakfast that morning, but can’t think or reason, and have no depth.

To this end, together with my colleague and techno-adrenaline charged friend, Ray Todd Blackwood, a CFC advisory board member, we are creating “The Wise Cyborg” educational project. We will be doing a very short presentation on the concept this Saturday afternoon at 4 pm at the TEDX event at ASU and this coming year we will be writing a paper and developing a lengthy presentation/workshop for the World Future Society conference in Vancouver in July. The idea of the “wise cyborg” first appeared in my article “Wisdom for the 21st Century” which is up on my website and is being published in the Journal of World Affairs this winter.

What is a wise cyborg? (Sounds like an oxymoron, a psychologically dissonant combination of ontological categories)

A wise cyborg is a person who utilizes mental technologies to facilitate the pursuit and exercise of wisdom.

You may ask, what is a “mental technology”? Well, we have plenty of them all around us.

A mental technology is a technology which supports and/or enhances mental/psychological functioning and activities.

And further you many ask, why should we be concerned about cyborgs? Because we are them and getting more so all the time.

A cyborg is a functional synthesis of the biological and the technological. Humans (even pre-humans) have been intimately and functionally connected with their technologies (instrumentalities) from the beginning. Human capacities and ways of life are almost always realized in the context/support of technologies. Humans are “natural born” (as Andy Clark notes) ever-evolving cyborgs. As in the past, technologies in the future will further enhance and augment human capacities.

If we are becoming more cyborg-like then we better figure out how to become wise cyborgs, rather than foolish and shallow ones.

Another book I am reading, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves by W. Brian Arthur, is a ponderous, often repetitive, highly abstract, and absolutely profound work. It is deep--very deep--like Aristotle. Arthur asks the fundamental questions and comes up with a whole new ontology (metaphysics) of what technology is. And he comes up with a theory of creativity and evolution, which I think is very sound and very enlightening. And we are in the middle of this genetic stew (there is a genetics to technology, according to Arthur) of assemblies, pieces and parts, apparatus, mechanisms, and families of related gadgets. Technologies evolve by combining together (out of the gene pool). Technologies “capture” phenomena of nature and, through collections of orchestrated technologies, we coordinate these phenomena to serve our goals. Though Arthur states that technologies are created to serve human purposes, it is equally true that humans end up being molded by and serving the functional ends of technologies--a reciprocity.

It hits me in reading Arthur and connecting him back to Carr, that it is critically important, that the “wise cyborg” (as part of his or her wisdom) needs to understand the affordances of evolving technologies and how to combine and create those “assemblies” that serve wisdom rather than serve the “shallows.” We need to know our tools; we need to create our tools. Or else we are going to end up like the 21st century humans in Baxter’s Evolution. Extinct. Snapshots in the family album.

Arthur Koestler in his great book The Act of Creation proposed that all human creativity involved “bisociation”--the bringing together and synthesizing of apparently disconnected and unrelated ideas or devices (but of course, a device is an idea). From the perspective of the status quo, creative combinations seem bizarre, perhaps ridiculous--but that’s exactly what makes them creative. Arthur thinks that all technological evolution and creation is combinational--nothing suddenly emerges out of nothing. (Play that phrase around in your head) Lynn Margulis, the evolutionary biologist, believes that evolution involves new symbiotic connections--“chimera”--beings composed out of diverse and seemingly incongruous genetic parts. Matt Ridley in The Rational Optimist sees cultural and economic evolution happening in a similar fashion with different cultures sharing their wares and innovation emerging through syntheses out of the smorgasbord of cultures. It is combination through bisociation.

When I submitted the paper proposal “The Wise Cyborg” to the educational journal On the Horizon, the editor suggested I read (if I hadn’t) Rudy Rucker’s The Ware Tetrology. I hadn’t read it, so I ordered it and I am now deep into it--laughing all the way. Giant computers (Big Boppers) are attempting to assimilate all little boppers and all humans into the One (the cosmic ray background radiation of the universe). They need to eat your brain to do this. One of the main characters in the novel (thus far) is Sta-Hi; he doesn’t want his brain eaten. But he does like drugs, and he does like all the techno-enhanced drugs and body enhancements/sense amplifiers the computers are creating. One could say his brain is being eaten already. One of the new drugs on the scene is “merge.” You take it with someone else--that special someone--and your bodies melt and merge together. Creates the best sex ever; techno-enhanced interpenetration--body, senses, and mind flowing together and mixing into a puddle of protoplasm and unified consciousness. Sounds bizarre, disgusting, revolting? Yes--absolutely creative. (More on this on the next blog.)

I think that Baxter is wrong. Intelligence does serve an evolutionary value. Big brains are good. But intelligence has to evolve--into wisdom. And though Baxter worries that corporate greed and shortsightedness; disregard of the ecosystem and the climate; cultural conflict and religious fanaticism; and other factors will do us in, I think it will be, as Huxley and Postman argued, the “shallows”--“the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumplepuppy.” The latter supports the former anyway.

I have stopped watching the news altogether. (No more pretty shallow babes). The news has failed--it is absolute boredom and triviality. We need to evolve our machines. We need to evolve together with our machines. We need to become wise cyborgs. We need to merge.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Evolution: Part One

I am alive, marginally conscious, huddling in a hole in the ground, while giant creatures with their thunderous roars and colossal thirty-ton bodies shake the earth above me. It is 150 million years B.C.

I am in the trees, safe from a whole new set of nasty and cunning predators below, ready to scurry down whenever the coast is clear, to quickly locate, gobble down, and fill my belly with tasty bugs, eggs, lizards, and berries. It is 20 million BC.

I am running across the open savannah, naked, sweating, now almost six feet tall, fully erect with a much bigger brain, on the look out for Smilodon who would rip my flesh apart with his six-inch front teeth and eat out my liver; I am also watching out for my ape-man cousins who would clobber me unconscious with their primitive rock tools and eat my liver out as well. It is 1 million BC.

Life is hide-and-seek, duck-and-dodge. Life consumes life. Life procreates. Life protects its own kind. In all its agitation and ferocity, life keeps evolving.

I am living through the harrowing experiences of my ancestors, the complex, capricious, and perpetually dangerous saga of the evolution of mammals and primates, told in the flesh-and-blood, tooth-and-claw, dirt-and-soot, first-person perspective--through the eyes of the animals. I am about half way through Stephen Baxter’s novel Evolution. Baxter, as he has done in his great futuristic epics (such as Vacuum Diagrams and the Manifold Trilogy) that span millions and billions of years, has created in Evolution an immense historical narrative extending from the deep past into the far future, all of it told through the lives of the creatures who lived it. Baxter paints very big pictures. In this novel, he tells the story of our evolution, our history, our struggles, our deaths, our fears and cumulative triumphs from the earliest beginnings of tiny furry animals who hid in terror, in the muck and mire with the worms, while the dinosaurs ruled the land, the sea, and the air.

But futurist questions emerge within the saga as it unfolds. What have we learned? What are the neurological and instinctual underpinnings that have been built into our nature? Where is it all heading? Will we make it? Species come and go in life’s drama like the flickering of fireflies. The future of evolution is an adventure into the arena of unending uncertainty.

I am now moving into part two of the novel. Neanderthal, powerful like a bear and smelling like one, has just met the tall, skinny, childlike-looking “people” who make tools out of bones (the wonder of it!). I am at 130 thousand BC.

Stay tuned for part two in the next blog.

If you want to feel deep in your gut--to experience with your vicarious senses, to smell and taste it, the living pulsation of evolution--this is the book to read. Baxter is amazingly good at creating the visceral and naturalistic feel of the struggle of life, woven together with an ongoing broadly painted description of the evolution of nature and the earth. His description of the comet hitting the earth and the resulting ecological catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs is excellent--tragic, powerful, and jolting to the mind and the senses. You are there.

As Peter Watson has said, “Evolution is the story of us all.” As many others have said, a fundamental law of life is “Grow or die.” Life is transformation; life is creation and destruction. Evolution is one of those very, very deep brute facts of existence (like gravity--only deeper). There is no way to understand what and who we are and what it all means without understanding evolution. It is the cosmic and the earthly context of the human soul. Without (understanding) history there is no (understanding of our) future. Evolution is our history; evolution is our future.

Hence, in the spirit of the great cosmic wave of creation, we are evolving--our house has been disassembled and put together in a different way. (You grow or you die.) Go look at the new organization of our website. It is a new Gestalt. We have a whole new set of categories that pull everything together much more intuitively. All of our newest articles and slide presentations are up now; our print and web libraries have been greatly expanded and updated. The focus of our home page--our mission, vision, and purpose--has been defined much more sharply and cleanly. And this is all just part one of our new evolutionary jump. Stay tuned for new waves of transformation in the coming months. This first wave of change was content and conceptual structure and focus; the next waves will be multi-media and interactivity.

Speaking of which--that is, evolution and computers--I have just finished Wake, Robert Sawyer’s new science fiction novel on the emergence of consciousness, of intelligence, of selfhood, on the Web. As usual, Sawyer is an incredibly clear writer; as usual, he has done his scientific and technological homework. He creates a very realistic and convincing story--set in the present--of how the Web could realize awareness of itself and eventually make contact with the world--with us. Its first questions to humanity are: What am I and who am I? But of course. Isn’t that what we all ask, when we begin to think. The answers lie in the future.

Regarding upcoming events: We will be hosting our third meeting of the CFC Think Tank and Educational Academy, October 2nd, the first Saturday of the month starting at 7:00 pm. The first two meetings were lively, free flowing discussions on a variety of topics, including the purposeful self-conscious evolution of humanity. What will this mean? How will we do it? Everyone seems to agree that it is a moral and ontological imperative.

Finally, note that this coming month (October) I am doing two presentations out on the west side: October 6th at Sun City Grand and October 20th at the Rio Life Long Learning Center. Both are new updated presentations--that is, evolutions--the first one, on “Globalization” and the second one on “The Question of Progress.” Is human society evolving—improving--as we increasingly network ourselves together across the globe? How do we define progress and social evolution? I am anchoring both presentations to an opening quote/theme from Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” In some ways we are still like those fuzzy tiny creatures, hiding in our dark little holes while giants shake the ground of our existence and frighten the hell out of us.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Tale of Two Paradigms: Stephen Hawking on God and Pretty Shallow Babes

I am watching the afternoon news on TV while eating lunch. There is a piece on a sexy, blonde woman who is in trouble with the law. While the newscaster is relaying the story (without ever really getting to the substance of the accusation and issue), various short videos of our blonde, smiling, posing, dressed in expensive and revealing dresses, are being shown. I am thinking to myself about all the air time and attention (albeit negative) that this pretty shallow babe--this cultural icon of our time--is getting. Who cares what she has or hasn’t done? Why on God’s earth give her any air time at all? But indeed, she periodically, over the last few years, gets lots of air time. Almost everyone in our modern, media saturated culture could tell you who she was if you showed them a picture of her.

And she is not the exception to this focus on the inane. In the same week on the news there were two other young women who were in the spotlight--media celebrities--who were given lots of attention and vapid, empty commentary for being sentenced to “time” or “community service” for doing dumb and shallow things. How much can you say about the shallow and the stupid? Apparently a lot.

On the other hand, Stephen Hawking, cosmologist and physicist, has just released a new book, in which he argues that God is not necessary in order to explain the existence of the universe. Now--I am sure--that Hawking gets a lot less air time than our pretty shallow babe and, in fact, in the sample of days that I watched the news this last week, there was a lot more attention given to the blonde than to the genius. And of course, in terms of significance, one could ask if it is more important to determine if a shallow woman stuck drugs in one of her bodily orifices or not, or if God created the universe…

I have frequently stated in my presentations on the future and our present social-cultural reality that our cultural icons--our heroes and heroines--are athletes, movie stars, and pop singers (I should also include in the list, rich shallow people) to the absolute exclusion of great thinkers and humanitarians. Where are the wise and intelligent in our brain depositories of well known, familiar faces? How many people would recognize a picture of Hawking? I may not agree with Hawking as to whether God is necessary or not, but at least he is grappling with an issue that far exceeds in importance what color dress or pair of shoes to wear out that evening.

I saw an email this week, written by someone who had read a news release on Hawking’s new book, and this person stated that given Hawking’s physical state and appearance it was no wonder that he didn’t believe in God; he was undoubtedly angry at God for his physical affliction. Not only did I find this commentary insulting and shallow, but I immediately asked myself who was the uglier and more disabled human being, Hawking or the shallow babe. Of course, my answer was the latter. In spirit and vision and mind and intelligence, Hawking lives in a different universe--a different paradigm of existence and value--than the media grabbing blonde. (No one seems to like this woman, but they keep running stories on her. Maybe our news stations—or rather our news commentators--don’t know what to say about Hawking since he is a person of ideas rather than eye shadow.)

I am in the middle of a dialogue--actually a debate--with a fellow philosopher over whether one should be optimistic or pessimistic about the state of the world. (This was a question discussed at a session this summer at the World Future Society.) He strongly believes that the more valid and appropriate attitude, given environmental deterioration, power politics, money hungry mega-corporations, and excessive consumption and waste, is to be pessimistic; he thinks I am too optimistic about things--present and future. Our debate got me thinking about the opening lines in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” Contrary to my fellow philosopher’s assessment of me, I can see numerous reasons for being pessimistic as well as other reasons for being optimistic about things. But regardless of our differing opinions--assuming we are at different points on the optimism-pessimism continuum--he and I live in the same paradigm, the same mind set, the same universe of discourse, perception, and value. We agree (to a degree) on what is important—on what deserves our attention. I am sure that both of us would see the excessive attention to the trivial and the shallow as grounds for being pessimistic about our present culture. (I suppose we would both like to see more news items on Hawking, Spinoza, and Sartre--fat chance, God forbid, since Sartre was cross-eyed.)

I would propose that there are two “cities” (sort of like Augustine’s cities of God and Man). I would call one “The Paradigm of the Shallow” and the other “The Paradigm of the Deep.” Should one be pessimistic or optimistic about this cultural state of affairs? Should one focus on the light or the darkness? Perhaps this is too simplistic a question, too either/or. It is important to see both the light and the darkness, to be a realist about things. I must say though that my philosophical friend worries about power, greed, waste, deceit, etc. in our world, and though I do not discount such factors/problems, I tend to worry about the shallow and the superficial. (He worries about 1984 and I worry about Brave New World.)

This coming month I will be presenting a three-part series on the state of the world and a preferable direction for the future at the Life Long Learning Center in Surprise. See the announcement on the right side bar of the blog. In part one, I will be discussing Dickens’ opening lines within a contemporary context: Is it the best of times, the worst of times, or some Yin-Yang mixture of the two? And what indeed is bad and what indeed is good? Deep questions.

I thought that perhaps my juxtaposition of a male (Hawking) and a female (pretty shallow babe) might sound sexist. (The male is laudable; the woman is a bimbo.) Hence, I want to close with the question: How many people would recognize a picture of Riane Eisler? Well, who’s that? Of course, many fewer would recognize a picture of her than even of Stephen Hawking. Well, Riane Eisler (and some of you will know this) is a beautiful, highly intelligent, supremely sharp, erudite and scholarly eighty-year-old, far-from-shallow, woman philosopher and writer. She is (in my mind) wiser and philosophically more sophisticated than Hawking (though she suffered through the Holocaust, which should have made her angry at God too). And she is, with all her heart and soul, trying to make the world a better place. See her website. But, of course, she gets almost no air time and only a small percentage of our population knows who she is. (She has never been accused of some soap opera misdeed.) She is a role model for women--for all of us--a cultural icon we should know about and aspire toward. But given what I hear and what I see, it is the pretty shallow babe who has more of an effect on our psychology and behavior. We are what we eat.

There is a new book out by Nicholas Carr, The Shallows. I need to read it before my talk next month.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Journeying Into the Future

The past is receding at the speed of light. Though the pathway that lies ahead is still a quantum distribution of possibilities enveloped within an ambience of the absolutely unknown and mysterious, the late spring (when I retired) seems very, very far away--already. When the past becomes so distant so fast, it must mean that an awful lot has happened in the interim; time speeds up when significant events compress.

For one thing--I had the strangest experience. On the 18th I gave the graduation speech for GED students at the Florence Prison. Jeanne came with me. The whole experience was elevating and utterly surprising. I talked on “Wisdom, Virtue, Self-Narratives, and the Future.” I talked about both external and internal prisons--“prisons of the mInd”--and the necessary connection between freedom and self-responsibility. One cannot be free until one accepts responsibility for one’s life--so I told them.

After my half hour talk, we spent the next three hours in a conversation with around ten of the inmate teachers--the cream of the crop.

Their minds are very much alive. They read and think and introspect on their inner psychological make-up and their lives. We discussed my writings (which they have been reading voraciously over the last few years), Ken Wilber, spiral dynamics, Freud, Albert Ellis, emotional catharsis, and cognitive therapy, among other topics, of which there were many. They are self-organized, self-directed learners. They have created an intricate and multi-faceted curriculum for themselves. Though they were all dressed in bright orange--their mark to define who they are--I forgot within a very short period of time that they were all prisoners in a jail. Some of them told me that through reading my writings on future consciousness I had changed their lives. They have been attempting to get me out there for the last couple of years and they want me to come back. They want to soak up as much knowledge as they can.

Who knows what the future has to hold? Is this some new calling?

This experience got me thinking that the prison is a metaphor on all of us. A mindset, a way of life, a paradigm of thinking and doing can be a prison. Lately I have been thinking that I have been in some kind of prison; I have trying to find/feel/sense freedom within my existential space and figure out where it is pointing me. Perhaps Sartre is right and anything is possible. But what would this mean in concrete terms? Perhaps I should follow the Tao? Follow God? Finding freedom begins with seeing the world differently. Freedom is connected with creativity. (See the last blog.)

If all goes according to plan, next year in Vancouver, at the World Future Society Convention, I will be doing a dialogue with the personal futurist Verne Wheelwright on creating a new life--an extended life--for oneself in the future. We will be working toward synthesizing Verne’s very practical and thoughtful advice on mapping and planning out one’s extended long term future with my ideas on creativity, virtue, future self-narrative, and transforming one’s life and self. (I am now doing the field work on this - cogitating on the whole thing.) See Verne’s new book, It’s Your Future…Make It a Good One! Verne is a resonant spirit and a wise soul.

This last month I did the forward for my friend and futurist colleague Marcus Anthony’s new book on “integrated intelligence.” Marcus believes that there is a cosmic intelligence that one can learn to tune into and use in guiding one’s life decisions and actions. (Sounds like “God” but Marcus is non-committal on this.) The notion of cosmic intelligence is not necessarily that fuzzy or super-natural--see my ideas on coordinative intelligence in my new book Mind Flight when it comes out.

Marcus’s new book is good. If nothing else, Marcus is clear, personal, and engaging; he covers a wide range of topics; he hits the nail on the head regarding many of the failings of modern civilization; and he lays his cards squarely on the table. See his site and book, Extraordinary Mind: Integrated Intelligence and the Future.

Freedom never occurs in a vacuum; it is always supported by both psychological and external factors. Philosophies can constrain and suffocate, or they can empower and elevate.

I am an evolving cyborg. This last month I turned in my desktop PC and bought a Mac. I am moving into the mind/perception/action space of the Mac. Jeanne is learning iTouch, and iTouch is taking her out into the world--the Web--into music/sensation/film. I am telling her that the Mac is drawing her in. Changing the instruments of one’s thinking and one’s experience transforms one’s self and mind; the mind is ecological. We are one with our machines. Our machines afford thinking, perceiving, and action spaces; they afford freedom and creation. See Andy Clark’s Natural Born Cyborgs.

Just for fun, and more, see the website Gajitz.

Our website is being significantly transformed--in conjunction with what is happening to us. The web and reading resources are going through a quantum leap forward. (I have been exploring the Web a lot more, and I have been going through my library--associations of both past and future are vibrating around in my mind and reverberating together. (If Ridley and Koestler are right this is the ground for creativity.) The number of slide presentations on our website is doubling. Videos are coming. Over the next few months different things are going to change their colors. Again, we are one with our machines--we reciprocally evolve together.

But the big thing for this coming month--if you are interested, email me or call. We are starting with the theme of creating a new reality--a new life--for the future.

Center for Future Consciousness
Think Tank and Educational Academy

First Saturday evening and third Wednesday evening each month
First meeting: September 4th, 2010
7 pm to 9 pm (or thereafter)

Location: Home Base
Patio under the stars
12578 East Poinsettia Drive, Scottsdale, Arizona
(Varied other locations in the future)


• To Develop Educational Ideas and Programs and Publications on the Future, Future Consciousness, and Other Themes Resonant with the CFC
• To Provide a Social and Intellectual Forum to Provoke, Inspire, and Stimulate Thinking
• To Pursue Wisdom, Enlightenment, and Heightened Future Consciousness
• To Contribute to the Thoughtful, Ethical, and Purposeful Evolution of Humanity

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Creativity, Evolution, Futures Education, and Wisdom

The summer, thus far, has been a time of great transition, but as much tenuous and portentous as real. Things are happening, but in stages and steps, with sputters and wiggles and the necessary elements of uncertainty, ambiguity, and struggle. If this summer is an “end and a beginning” (as I had hoped) it is an end that still needs to find itself and a beginning that still needs to realize clear consciousness and purpose. The Gestalts of time blur together and overlap; they vibrate forwards and backwards; nothing is clean.

For one thing, though I am officially retired, I have not functionally disconnected from my position as chair of psychology, philosophy, and religion at Rio Salado College. The date for the passing of the baton of leadership and responsibility to the new chair is August 16th. (I am counting the days.) In the meantime I have been working with faculty, dealing with disgruntled students, monitoring cases of plagiarization, re-writing courses, and putting together a final department report and list of accomplishments. Creating the report and list of accomplishments though did give me a sense of completion and achievement – part of the ending of things. After reviewing over the past and where it has led to in the present of things, I am feeling good about the goodbye.

Also, I envisioned finding a philosophical peace and solitude at home, with my library and garden out in back, spending the days in contemplation, reading, and writing, taking breaks listening to the birds, sunning by the pool, while Jeanne was at work. Instead, three of our offspring (late adolescent and early adulthood in chronological age) frequent the household (too much) during the days. I have tried to get them to leave during the daytime, but they have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no way to get there. They are in various very, very early stages of realizing future consciousness (I say with a snicker). They are addicted to gadgets and media. They are noon risers. They are hauntingly “present” – I can feel them even if they are asleep in their rooms. I tell them I hate sloth. Do they get the message? Is this part of my new beginning, I ask/I fear, to parent and teach and somehow be patient with their amorphous states of being that hover and linger around and permeate our communal space while I look for focus and enlightenment?

I would rather have Jeanne with me in the days – to work, think, swim in the pool, converse on numerous things, but …

Jeanne is once again participating in the frenzied madness that she left three years ago. Of course, she wanted to find some sense of professional and personal accomplishment, after having completed her Masters degree this year, and as she said, although she enjoyed working with me attempting to build up the Center for Future Consciousness, she wanted something of her own. And further, I realize, I couldn’t have “retired” at this point without Jeanne finding some source of additional income and her new job does just that. But she works long and exhausting hours, and instead of writing scholarly papers, blogs, and poetry, she is immersed in committee meetings, deadlines, personnel issues, never-ending, forever multiplying administrative responsibilities, and bureaucratic trivia, perfectly balanced and sandwiched on each end of the day with rush hour traffic. My poet, my fellow futurist and philosopher, my intellectual soul mate and romantic lover has dived into the very world that I so desperately wanted to leave and did.

What to do about this?

Jeanne and I did travel to Boston to the World Future Society conference this last month and we each gave talks on education – Jeanne on information technology and the future of education and me on wisdom and futures education. Although she only had two weeks (if even that) to put it together, Jeanne gave a very good talk on new models of learning institutions in the digital age. As part of the Education Summit at the conference, I outlined a two-year (pre-major) integrative and holistic college program that focused on the development of wisdom and heightened future consciousness. I pulled together many of the educational themes I have worked on over the years: how character virtues are the key to academic success and which ones are particularly important and how to teach them; how to integrate global, ecological, historical, and cosmic awareness into a curriculum, providing students with an expansive consciousness of reality; how one assesses deep learning, critical thinking, and higher cognitive skills; why psychologically holistic education (including motivational, personal, emotional, and social factors) is an essential foundation and framework for college instruction; the connection between wisdom and heightened future consciousness and how to pull all the above themes together within the program. I also discussed the importance of teacher mentorship and learning committees. One of the next papers I write will be a summary of this talk. But see my new article coming out in The Futurist in the September issue on wisdom and future consciousness.

And Boston was great; we toured Harvard; strolled through “Little Italy,” savoring several excellent meals there; walked the “Freedom Trail” and contemplated the gravestones of people who died hundreds of years ago; consumed huge amounts of seafood; found a fantastic bookstore for contemporary philosophy and intellectual thought – what an eye opening selection of scholarly new books; walked along the harbor, looked at the sailboats, and took a boat ride; and talked with many good friends at the WFS conference. I had a particularly provocative conversation with Verne Wheelwright (a fellow futurist) about creating productive long-term personal futures. (More on this topic to come.) I was inspired, once again, listening to Ray Kurzweil give an updated talk on the accelerative growth of technology and the promises of the expanded, extended life of the mind and the body in the future. And we did have promising discussions about possible visits and presentations in Edmonton, Canada, Tokyo, Japan, and Paris, France in the coming year. This is part of the reality where Jeanne and I should be – so I believe.

Part of the struggle – the tension between what is and what could be – is having momentary glimpses of where you want to be – to whet one’s appetite and fuel the flames of desire and aspiration.

After returning from Boston, I found myself facing another struggle – an intellectual one this time. (But, of course, there were personal overtones in this as well.) I had hit a mental block working on a project that involved trying to figure out how creativity, evolution, and wisdom fit together. Two weeks into thinking about these ideas, I had a big flash – actually two connected flashes. First: It hit me that creativity is critical to evolution and human progress and, in so far as we are riding the wave of evolution and progress (steering it to a degree), we need to be creative in order to survive. We grow/evolve through creativity or we die.

People have made similar points before, but the intimate connection between creativity and evolution all of a sudden became much clearer and important to me. I had just finished Matt Ridley’s excellent new book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, listened to Lynn Margulis explain her theory of symbiotic evolution, and read the beginnings of W. Brian Arthur’s The Nature of Technology: What is it and How it Evolves. All three of these writers/thinkers were into understanding creativity and how it works at a global level. Out of their writings emerged in my mind a theory of creativity and how it propels growth and evolution at the biological, social, economic, and technological levels. Creativity is synthesis and synthesis is a big part of evolution. (Ridley – tongue in cheek but half serious – proposes that social-economic evolution should be modeled on sex – there is exchange and sharing of ideas and products and the bonding together of formally distinct realities.)

After thinking out more deeply the connections between evolution and creativity, the concept of sustainability seemed even more so to be an erroneous and highly misleading idea. Nothing is sustainable, and the people who preach sustainability don’t really want to sustain things – they want to change things.

Thinking about trends into the future – the overarching trend is evolution. Evolution, though, is not simply cumulative; it is filled with disruption and new syntheses.

The project I was working on was a presentation I was developing for FM Global on “Innovation and the Role of Wisdom in the Future.” And the talk wouldn’t jell in my mind – my mental block. After realizing the important relationship between creativity and evolution, it hit me that I wasn’t articulating how wisdom and creativity fit together – two of the key themes of the talk. And understanding what I was stuck on, I had the second big flash: Wisdom is by its very nature (and recognized as such when you see it) creative. Wisdom synthesizes; wisdom synthesizes various pieces of knowledge (the big picture dimension of wisdom) into novel assessments and solutions that make sense; wisdom shows insight (the “aha” phenomenon); wisdom is imaginative; wisdom pulls together knowledge with ethics; wisdom is a journey, a growth oriented capacity, forever searching over the horizons for further enlightenment.

I have to think this out more.

This last month I finished a new article “Wisdom in the 21st Century: A Theory of Psycho-Social Evolution.” I will have the article up on the website soon. In the article I take a shot at explaining for the first time an insight I had a few months back: We should definitely aspire toward the development/enhancement of wisdom in the coming century as a central ideal in education and guiding our lives, individually and collectively, but with the ongoing accelerative evolution of information/computer/communication technologies and the potential for bio-enhancements coming, we should envision the wise person of the future as being a “wise cyborg.” What, in fact, will this mean? How do we integrate even more so our minds – our identities – with our machines – our informational/robotic/communication machines in particular – and not in some shallow, superficial, twittering, narcissistic, fragmented, trivial fashion? (The latter is what I see the other beings in the house doing, more often than not.) A key piece in this emerging concept of the wise cyborg is the ecological idea that the mind is not localized in the body/brain, but distributed within the constellation of tools and ecological support systems that the person uses to think with. (See Andy Clarke’s books.) I also discuss ecological and global wisdom in the article – an expanded consciousness networked and emotionally attuned to the Gestalt of the world.

So I continue to search for wisdom – to understand it, to teach it, to find it for myself in the existential challenges of my personal existence. I continue to have moments of enlightenment – of creative connections seen. Perhaps I will get some more this coming month - perhaps on the home front. I pursue evolution; let the others pursue sustainability.

I realize ambiguity and uncertainty are good; such states afford freedom. I started with a plan at the beginning of the summer – a three year plan in fact – but I think I should allow my mind to open up to the potentially infinite range of possibilities out there. At transition points – points of freedom – it is important to allow your mind to explore many options.

The website is going to transform in the next few months; a number of new articles are going up, among other things - some new presentations as well. In the coming months we are going multi-media – sound and action will be entering the scene.

At the WFS conference, a fellow futurist said that Ray Kurzweil was afraid of death. I say, “Who isn’t?”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Mystery of Consciousness

What is the nature of the mind? What is the “I”, the “me”, the sense of personal identity or self that we all seem to possess? And, finally, as one of the deepest mysteries of all existence, what is consciousness? What is this strange thing we call “experience” and why is it private and subjective? Why, in fact, is there consciousness at all and how did it arise within a physical world?

These connected questions and puzzles have fascinated and baffled both philosophers and scientists through the ages. In his presentation "The Mystery of Consciousness," Tom addresses all these questions and more.

He begins with ancient theories of the mind, starting with the Greeks and mystical Eastern thinkers. He then moves into modern views, covering philosophy, science, neurophysiology, and the emergence of psychology toward the end of the nineteenth century. From there he explores contemporary thinking, looking at the brain and consciousness, the evolution of the self, and most recently, some mind-jolting theories of what the mind and consciousness are.

Tom then goes on to consider whether the self is an illusion, a social construction, or a figment of our imagination. In the finale, he heads into the future, connecting mind, self, and consciousness with artificial intelligence, robots, the cosmos, and the possibilities of expanding our conscious minds in the world of tomorrow.

Join Tom for a fascinating journey into the mind and consciousness Friday June 11, 2010. See the side bar for more information.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A New Life, a New Blog, and the Birth of Mind Flight

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from…

T. S. Eliot

I thought these lines were quite appropriate when I spoke them at my retirement party last week. I used them at the end of my new book Mind Flight as well. There is a Yin-Yang quality to the words. Ends are beginnings; beginnings are ends. I tell people that I haven't retired; I have simply started a new life. But of course, to start something new means one has to end something else. In death there is birth, or as Eliot says in the same poem, "We are born with the dead."

Last year in a conversation I had with my friend, Janice Dorn, she suggested that we agree to get together when we hit a hundred to celebrate the event. I thought that since I was only 62 at the time, living to a hundred was almost the equivalent of another adult life span. And given the exponential advances in medicine and technology the chances are reaching one hundred are significantly increasing every year. It is not that crazy a possibility. I could have another whole adult life span ahead of me. So when we speculate on the question, if we could do it all over again, what would we do, or how would we do it differently, though we may treat this query as a question of fantasy, it may be that the question could actually have a realistic application.

I am going to start a new life - create a new paradigm - take what I know from the first life and apply it to the future - keeping what is of value and discarding what is not.

Coincident with retiring, I have (we have, Jeanne and I) finished our new book Mind Flight - almost to the day that I "retired." It was a synchronicity. I believe Mind Flight is a humdinger and a trip of a book. And I realized that, in coming to the final edits, it was inaccurate to say that I was finishing the book; rather I was giving birth to it. In ending it, I started something - set off a chain of events. I created a pathway into the future - a foundation on which to build tomorrow. I believe that when you read Mind Flight - and you should read it, taking it to the proverbial desert island as one of the ten books you just have to have with you - you will be amazed, shocked, mesmerized, and jolted. Ultimately it is a love story, but a love story of ideas and flesh, matter and spirit, good and evil. The first six chapters (with the prologue) are up on the web site, but the second half - the second six chapters - really ascend.

I am going to become a child again. I am going to become a student again. I have all these books to read and then review for you, the readers, of the blog.

I have included some new books on the blog list. Sawyer's book Mindscan I highly recommend as a thoughtful and informed exploration into the nature of personal identity, consciousness, and the brain. If you could have a new, relatively indestructable body and brain - having your consciousness and self downloaded into it (Kurzweil's hope for the future) - would you do it? It would be like starting over. I found it to be an interesting and quite appropriate book for me to read during the first week of my new life.

See the various new talks I am giving (sometimes with Jeanne) this summer and fall. I will be writing many of the blogs now - perhaps you will see something new and different in them. I have an idea for a new book.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Virtue and Wisdom, Death and the Past

It's that time again. Below is a preview of the next chapter of Tom's book. (Notice any changes in the title?)

Hope to see some of you on Tuesday this week for the AZ chapter of the World Future Society meeting, and on Wednesday at Rio Salado Lifelong Laerning Center for Tom's presentation on chapter nine of his book. See the sidebar under Upcoming Events for details.

Now onto the preview...

Mind Flight: Enlightenment, Wisdom, and the Pursuit of Love

Chapter Nine: Virtue and Wisdom, Death and the Past

As the house takes shape around them and the garden grows ever more profuse, Tom and Jeanne grow in their love for each other. But all is not right in paradise. They continue to suffer various maladies. There are more panic attacks, more stomach pains, and bad falls. There are computer malfunctions and domestic upheavals. Tom can’t shake the sense of some malevolent force, but chalks it up to stress from work and conflict over the kids. Still, he wonders if he and Jeanne are a reflection of the larger society with its chaos, speed and overload, its glorification of the individual ego and its narcissistic presentism. The same issues he sees at home confront him at the college. Everywhere people seem to find excuses for their bad behavior, from deterministic arguments derived from psychology to Sartre’s “bad faith.” Everyone is a victim. Everyone seems to deny the basic existential fact of their own power over their lives and identities. How to combat these negative tendencies and achieve enlightenment? The answer, Tom comes to believe, lies in the practice of a key set of virtues and the pursuit of wisdom. Through it all there are mystical moments in places near and far. Tom comes face to face with Spinoza on a cold and rainy day in The Hague; he loses his mother and finds the children he had lost; he returns to Chicago and sees it anew; he wanders the deck of the Queen Mary, alone, and misses Jeanne; he walks to the edge and turns back from it. He waits for God’s next move. When it comes, he finds himself standing before a pan of scrambled eggs…and the monsters of the id come to light …

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cosmos and Consciousness

Chapter Eight of Mind Flight: Wisdom, Enlightenment and the Search for Love is now available for viewing. Readers who were following Tom's book in serialized form on Copthorne Macdonald's The Wisdom Page, and wish to continue now that the installments have ended, may email Jeanne for the remaining chapters as they appear.
She will add you to the distribution list.

On a related note, Tom will be presenting again at Rio Salado Lifelong Learning Center in Surprise this Wednesday, February 17, from 10:00-12:00. See the side bar for details and directions.

Here is a preview of Chapter Eight.

Mind Flight: Wisdom, Enlightenment, and the Search for Love

Chapter Eight: Cosmos and Consciousness

Having found in Jeanne that synthesis of beauty and brains he had so long searched for, Tom confronts the concrete challenge of finding a resonance of emotion and intellect with this real flesh and blood woman. How to find reciprocity? How to realize evolution? How to achieve a balance of Yin and Yang – of complementarity and interdependence – when values and lifestyles often conflict? Critical to this endeavor, how can Tom and Jeanne work through the traumas of the past – the bad habits, negative expectations, and fears – to co-create a new life, infused with love and trust and devotion? Amidst the noise and chaos of children; amidst the flowering of Eros and the creation of beauty within their home, Tom embarks on yet another intellectual adventure involving the future of science, technology, and the cosmos. Committed to the principles of reciprocity and evolution as a framework for understanding reality, Tom writes a new book and along the way comes to the conclusion that a long-held central belief about the future of the cosmos is wrong. On parallel intellectual fronts, he explores the relationship between psychological evolution and the future of education and discovers unanticipated connections between critical thinking and ethics – two key elements of wisdom. But all is not right. As Tom pursues his philosophical interests and as he and Jeanne evolve as a couple, another story begins to unfold – a story that brings into play dark ghosts from the past. It is a story of malevolence and envy that will set the contrast for the life of the mind, meditations on God, and the pursuit of virtue, the good, wisdom, and love. Inexplicable events occur and something sinister will challenge Tom and Jeanne as nothing has ever challenged them before.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Avatar and Utopia

Tom and I had been waiting impatiently for Avatar to come out since seeing the amazing trailers earlier in the year. We've seen it twice so far, in 3D the second time. (Yes, it does add to the experience and the goggles are only slightly uncomfortable on the bridge of the nose.) There has been no shortage of commentary on its artistry, reworked themes, and audacious use of the latest technologies. But another idea suggested itself to me upon seeing it for the second time.

Many of you Futurodyssey readers will remember that I recently completed my Masters thesis on the topic of utopia. So I couldn't resist the opportunity to do a short review of Avatar through the lens of utopia.

Read it here and follow the links to related articles if you are interested.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mind Flight Continues

Following below is a preview of Tom's next presentation at Rio Salado Lifelong Learning Center on Wednesday January 27th from 10:00-12:00. If you have been following the book and or presentations at the Rio Salado Center, you won't want to miss this next chapter in Tom's philosophical search for enlightenment, wisdom, and love, (especially as the woman he has been waiting for finally enters his sphere!) If you haven't, you will catch right up and explore along with Tom the role of reciprocity in love, the promises and pitfalls of Internet education, and the exciting and paradigm shifting world of futures studies.

Those of you on the mailing list for upcoming chapters of Tom's book will be recieving chapter seven shortly. Chapters One through Six can be viewed on Copthorne Macdonald's The Wisdom Page. Chapters Seven through Twelve are available monthly directly from us. If you are not on the list to receive the chapters as a Word document, email me (Jeanne) and you will be added.

Here is the Chapter Seven preview:

Mind Flight: Enlightenment, Wisdom, and the Search for Love

Chapter Seven: The Dialogues of Love

If the first half of the nineties are a time of illumination, creative emergence, and the evolution of a new order of things, more complex, more positive, more invigorating, and more enlightening than anything before – of the discovery of Arizona and the future – then, in a Yin Yang oscillation of things, the next few years are a time of great emotional chaos, deep and intense disappointment and misery, and a descent into the darkness again. The break with Lisa is finally and irrevocably cemented, intellectual and personal challenges emerge on the work front, and the domestic stability that seemed achieved once again dissolves. Yet, the challenges fuel new insights and opportunities to apply his idea of reciprocity to his decades-long search for love, and a serendipitous resonance with the Chancellor of the college system where Tom is employed results in the emergence of a futures institute where Tom can further develop his ideas on future consciousness. He embarks on another whirlwind reading schedule, devouring the ideas of futurists and cultural critics Wendell Bell, Neil Postman, Walter Truett Anderson, Barbara Marx Hubbard, and others, and discovers the optimistic, pro-technology, pro-rationalistic, ultra-visionary, transhumanists. A whole new arena opens up as Tom discovers the futurist community. At the college, Internet education explodes on the scene just as Tom is finishing his first book, The Odyssey of the Future, and he begins to explore not only the great promises of computer and information technology and how the new technologies can be applied to education, but also the pitfalls inherent in a form of education that replaces the teacher with a machine. On the romantic front, there are more misses than hits, until one day, when he isn’t even looking for it, a fidgety woman with bare arms takes a seat next to his and the universe shifts.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Upcoming Events for Spring 2010

New Year's greetings to our friends and followers, near and far as the future shoots us into another year. If you are in the Valley of the Sun, there is lots on offer for futurist thinkers this spring. Here is a rundown of events for the next four months. You can find dates, times, and topics in the events bar on this blog, as well as maps to locations.

Meet and Greet other Arizona Futurists

In the early winter our friend and fellow futurist, Joan Foltz, organized the first meeting of the Arizona chapter of the World Future Society. The turn-out has been great. Come join us each month to discuss a range of topics with a futurist slant.

Phoenix has an active futurists’ community that plans to provide a forum for insightful discussions and introduce futures thinking concepts for people to use in their professional and personal lives.

Interested in speaking? Any specific topic you want the group to present? Want more information on The World Future Society or futures studies programs? Contact Joan Foltz, 480-756-8449,

"Hot, Flat, and Crowded"

Join The Arizona Chapter for our next meeting.

When: Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010, 6:30-8:30 PM

Where: University of Advancing Technology, The Auditorium

2625 W. Baseline Rd., Tempe, AZ (Baseline and I-10)
(See map on the events bar.)
(NOTE: Enter through the back entrance after 6 PM.)

Topic: “Hot, Flat and Crowded”

A panel will lead a discussion on the possible future of a "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" world. How does human psychology adjust to changing living conditions? What technologies might change current assumptions? What are possible outcomes of environmental challenges that have not been considered? Discussion will explore possible outcomes.


Tom Lombardo, Ph.D. is the Co-Director of the Center for Future Consciousness and Faculty Chair of Psychology and Philosophy at Rio Salado College. An active member of various futurist organizations, he is the author of numerous futurist articles and two books on the future, The Evolution of Future Consciousness and Contemporary Futurist Thought..

Debashis Chowdhury of Intrinz Publishing, author of In Our Own Image: Humanity’s Quest for Divinity via Technology, and board member of the Foresight Network Sustainability forum.

Joe McCormack, graduate student of technology at UAT focusing on solar sheaths, and frequent contributor to the Journal of Advancing Technology.

Tom Teaching Spring Course at Sun City City Grand, Affiliate of ASU's Osher Institute

Along with his popular series at Rio Salado's Lifelong Learning Institute, Tom will now be teaching a short spring series on the future at Sun City Grand Lifelong Learning Academy on the West side. If you have not caught his presentations on science fiction or the colonization of space, now is a good time to take in these two exciting talks. If you are new to futures thinking, his Introduction to the Future is a good place to start. Attend all three on consecutive Mondays in April. Information and maps are on the side bar for events.

Mind Flight: Wisdom, Enlightenment, and the Search for Love

Tom continues his presentations based on his new book, Mind Flight, at Rio Salado Lifelong Learning Center. This has been a very popular series. For those of you who have missed the presentations, you can catch up on the story and themes on Copthorne Macdonald's The Wisdom Page. Mind Flight is a powerful philosophical narrative, a blend of the intellectual and the personal that resonates strongly with audiences. See the events side bar for dates and upcoming chapter topics.