Saturday, February 18, 2012

Flourishing in Time


New Director of The Wisdom Page

 With the enthusiastic support of Copthorne Macdonald’s wife Beverly and the members of The Wisdom Page Advisory Board I am going to become the new director of The Wisdom Page. We are going to “move” The Wisdom Page to our server/host and while preserving the legacy, content, and spirit of Cop’s years of dedicated work in developing it, we will in the near future start to evolve it more, in both design and content. As I am sure Cop would have agreed, the way to preserve the site’s value and philosophical thrust is to keep it growing and transforming. There will be Wisdom Page Updates again—with new articles appearing as people submit them. It is both a great honor and opportunity to assume responsibility for this website. As I have told everyone for years, The Wisdom Page is the best resource for readings on wisdom on the Web.

Expansion of the CFC Advisory Board

 I have added two new people to the CFC Advisory Board, Mike Trier and Kiko Suarez. Both Mike and Kiko have been contributing ideas and input into the ongoing growth of the CFC, and given their intelligence (both practical and theoretical), their spirit of collaboration and cooperation, their philosophical support for the CFC, and their overall positive vibes, it became obvious to me that they should be board members. I am very happy that they both agreed to become members. Their pictures and bios should be up on the website within the next couple of days.

New Reviews of Wisdom, Consciousness, and the Future and Mind Flight

“...when you complete [Mind Flight], you may transcend it, envelop it and pass through it to the other side. In doing so, you will end up being more. You will see who you want to become and how you want the future to be. And you will understand why.”

Wendell Bell, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Yale University

“Wisdom, Consciousness, and the Future... is not only a deep discussion of where human consciousness has come from and where it may go, but also an eloquent statement of humanistic futurism.

Rick Docksai
World Future Review - World Future Society

[In Wisdom, Consciousness, and the Future] one central thesis is clear: attention and commitment to the character virtues the author identifies can equip us with an enhanced capacity to wisely choose among the often confusing and competing alternatives that life presents to us. Certainly the publication of this thoughtful and articulate book is testament to the value of applying such virtues to one’s own life.

Vahid Motlagh - Tehran, Iran
Journal of Futures Studies

Three new reviews on my new books are now available. Wendell Bell has posted a Five-Star Review of Mind Flight on Amazon. A review of Wisdom, Consciousness, and the Future, written by Rick Docksai, was just published in the World Future Society journal World Future Review. And finally, Vahid Motlagh will have a review of WCF coming out in the March issue of Journal of Futures Studies. The entire reviews of Bell and Motlagh can be accessed on the CFC website. All the reviews are very positive. Buy the books; read them; I guarantee you will find them enlightening, thought-provoking, and personally elevating.

Future Consciousness, Ethics, and Psychological Well-Being


In the last CFC Blog I reviewed Sam Harris’s new book The Moral Landscape. Harris’s basic argument in the book is that ethics (determining what is good) should be based on the science of human well-being; morality should be grounded in empirical facts. Well, this last month I read Martin Seligman’s new book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. In Flourish, Seligman presents a theory of psychological well-being, grounded in psychological research (that is science). Seligman sees the concepts of “flourishing” and “well-being” as roughly synonymous, including but not limited to “happiness.”

His theory is fairly simple and straightforward. Well-being (or flourishing) consists of five major factors: Positive emotional states, engagement, positive social relationships, meaning in life, and accomplishment—PERMA for short. Each of these five factors can be measured and empirically assessed, and most noteworthy, can be enhanced within people. It is noteworthy that at least two of these factors—meaning in life and accomplishment—have a future quality to them, and that the general term “flourish” which literally means “to grow well or luxuriantly, to do well, to prosper, to thrive, to be highly productive,” also implies a positive directionality in time or toward the future. “Engagement,” for Seligman, literally means “flow,” a concept based on the work of Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, that I have highlighted in my discussions of heightened future consciousness.

Hence, if we pull together Harris and Seligman, and embed their ideas within the context of future consciousness, we see that a theory of ethics based on psychological well-being can be grounded in a set of fundamental psychological qualities (subsumed under the general concept of “to flourish”) and that this theory of well-being is strongly anchored to features of heightened future consciousness. In reading Seligman’s new book I found a wealth of interesting ideas and information, along with a variety of psychological self-assessments the reader can take and score. There is also a great discussion of “True Grit,” a concept developed by one of his former students, Angela Duckworth, which captures the psychological dimension of tenacity and perseverance, another key concept in my theory of heightened future consciousness.

The question, though, that first emerged in my mind when I was reading Harris, is what exactly is involved in determining what goes into psychological well-being. Seligman provides a great example of unpacking the concept and empirically grounding it, but I kept thinking: Is his definition sufficient? Does it capture all the important elements? What might be missing? And how would I decide on this? My intuition tells me that it might not be so straightforward to determine well-being simply based on facts, since well-being (and consequently flourishing) probably contains value judgments. More to come.

More on the Evolution of the Theory of Cosmic Evolution


In my review last month of Eric Chaisson’s book The Life Era, I noted that it appears that the most pervasive and fundamental fact about our universe is cosmic evolution. As Peter Watson has stated, “Evolution is the story of us all” and that includes atoms, galaxies, stars, planets, chemicals, life, humans, culture, and technology—the whole ball of wax. If one were to formulate a “global ethics” or even “cosmic ethics” based on scientific fact, it would need to be grounded in the most basic fact of all: evolution. How does one do this? Kevin Kelly takes a shot at it in his recent book What Technology Wants. He presents a list of thirteen “evolutionary directions in nature and technology” (including increasing freedom, diversity, complexity, sentience, etc.) that he believes we should embrace and purposefully pursue the development of—we should ride and guide the wave.

And then there is synchronicity. After reading Chaisson’s book I received an email from a gentleman in England, Amnon Eden, who had discovered my work on the web and was co-editing a new book of readings on the “technological singularity.” Amnon wanted to know if I could write a short essay for this volume, reviewing—of all things—a volume article by Eric Chaisson titled “A Singular Universe of Many Singularities: Cultural Evolution in a Cosmic Context.” In essence, Chaisson, in his article, argues that there is a fundamental law of cosmic evolution that applies across the board from quarks to culture and computers; that our universe has shown throughout its history “multiple singularities”—that is, significant and highly dramatic jumps in complexity; and hence, though we might think/feel that computers exceeding human intelligence (the theory of the technological singularity) is some very special event in the history of nature, perhaps to be avoided or prevented at all cost, it is not unique (such momentous jumps have happened before) and it is coming—that’s the fact Jack—for it is an expression of the deepest and most pervasive natural process in the universe.

In researching Chaisson’s ideas further and exploring more the general theme of cosmic evolution, I have been reading two new books that I highly recommend: Chaisson’s Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos and Cosmos and Culture: Cultural Evolution in a Cosmic Context, published by NASA, and edited by Steven J. Dick and Mark L. Lupisella. The questions addressed in these two books are deep and exceedingly interesting. How do life, mind, culture, and technology fit into the cosmic scheme of things? Are these levels of evolution natural expressions of the ongoing directional transformation of the universe? Further, should we anticipate that life, mind, and consciousness are phenomena we will find throughout the cosmos? In particular, for Chaisson, how does all of the intricate order of nature emerge out of the great energy whoosh and expansive flow we call the “Big Bang”? We are all riding as ripples and whirlpools on this turbulent gargantuan wave. Both books are a trip.

Cosmic Science Fiction and the Possibilities of Mind


And speaking of the cosmic, as you may recall, we left the Time Traveler in 1891, after just recounting to his friends his trip into the far future, where he encountered the child-like Eloi and the gruesome Morlocks, who fed on the Eloi for supper. Feeling guilty and despondent over losing Weena (an Eloi) in the dark woods of the distant future (802,701 AD), the Time Traveler disappears again. Perhaps he intends to go back and save Weena?

Now let us assume that one of the Time Traveler’s friends in 1891 is a writer, who takes copious notes on the Time Traveler’s tale and writes it out as a book and publishes it. The writer is H. G. Wells and the book published (which is indeed an accurate chronicle of the Time Traveler’s fantastic tale) is The Time Machine in 1895.

This is exactly where we take up the tale again. The Time Traveler sets out once more into the future to rescue Weena. But as he is traveling through thousands upon thousands of years he begins to notice that things do not appear the same, as on the first trip, and in the year 657,208 AD, he stops the machine. The earth is dark and cold and there is no sun or stars in the sky. His first trip—his recounting of the trip to his friends, including Wells, and the subsequent publication of The Time Machine—have changed future history.

This is the beginning of Stephen Baxter’s science fiction novel The Time Ships, the sequel to Wells’ The Time Machine. It is the best science fiction novel I have read in years—indeed, one of the best science fiction novels I have ever read. We travel to a war-ravaged Europe in the 1930s where the First World War never ended; we travel fifty million years into the past, where humans create a colony and begin an entirely different human history on the earth; we travel to a future where the Morlocks are cerebral, scientific, and peaceful and the Eloi are warlike, but on a scale almost incomprehensible in scope and carnage; and finally we travel to the beginning of time—the Big Bang—where our A.I. descendants, in “time ships,” create an infinite and eternal universe. What a cosmic trip!

           

Two other noteworthy science fiction novels I have read in the last few months are The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, last year’s Hugo and Nebula winner for best science fiction novel of the year, and The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge, his sequel to his epochal science fiction classic A Fire Upon the Deep. The Wind-Up Girl is a dark, gritty, and highly visceral tale that takes place in Bangkok, Thailand in the 23rd century; the heroine, Emiko, a wind-up girl, is a genetically engineered “pleasure doll” seeking freedom from the exceedingly corrupt, brutal, and treacherous city in which she is repeatedly, cruelly, and quite graphically humiliated and enslaved. A complex story—with a host of conniving, nefarious characters—not for the faint of heart. In Vinge’s new novel, he takes up and further develops his depiction of a world of “pack-minds,” where the aliens are groups of dog/wolf-like creatures who think as single conscious minds; it is the pack that has an ego, a consciousness, and not the individual members. Again, Vinge excels at describing a truly alien form of intelligence and mentality, introducing in this new novel “choir minds,” and also, once again, he creates a host of interesting villains, human and other-wise.

Fantastic New Web Page on Science Fiction

Becoming immersed once again in science fiction this past year, I was inspired to put together an updated “Best Science Fiction Novels of All Time” list. (I had created such lists a couple times in the past.) While there are other lists out there, this list pulls together classic science fiction with current award-winning novels of the last two decades. It is a great resource for science fiction fans looking for recommended readings and a good starting point for readers unfamiliar with the genre. This list is a culmination of over fifty years of reading, thinking about, and teaching science fiction. You will also find a link to it on CFC home page.

Friends and Colleagues Publishing Books

I must be hanging out with the right people. In the past few months, five of my friends and colleagues have published books.


Memories of the Future by Wendell Bell, Transaction Publishers, 2012.



I wrote a review of this autobiography; it should be appearing in the World Future Review, as well as on the CFC website, in the next few months. Wendell Bell is one of the most highly regarded futurists in the world today.


 

Market Whipped: And Not By Choice by Joan Foltz, Alsek Research, 2012, .


 
Joan directs the Arizona Chapter of the World Future Society. As Forbes magazine stated about this book, “It does what 'futurists' do when they do their job right."



   

Science, Wisdom, and the Future: Humanity’s Quest for a Flourishing Earth by (Ed.) Russ and Cheryl Genet, Collins Foundation Press, 2012, 
  
 
Both Jeanne and I have articles in this new anthology; the conference participants who wrote the articles for this book are an interesting and highly diverse group of individuals. See all of Cheryl and Russ’s books at their website, the Flourishing Earth Project.




Maligned by Kathy Papajohn, Martin Sisters Publishing, 2012

I presumably inspired this new science fiction novel through my course on the future—specifically my lectures on the future of biotechnology—which Kathy and her late husband Steve took from me many years ago.



Internet Interviews with Tom and Jeanne

While Tom has done several Internet radio interviews by himself, both Jeanne and Tom recently did an interview on the Dr. Bob Rose Show. We discussed Mind Flight, covering ethics and character virtues; pain and chaos in life; love, marriage, and family; technology and the future, etc. We will be back again to do more. Tom also did an interview on wisdom and future consciousness with Dr. Sirkka Heinonen, Professor of the Finland Futures Research Centre at the WFS conference this last year which can now be viewed on YouTube.

Well, that’s it. This blog is long due to “compressed time.” A lot happened in the last month and undoubtedly there is more to come. The Wisdom Page needs to get up and running again. We will be doing presentations on “utopia” and “progress” in the next couple of months; see our schedule of events. And there are retreats, videos, a series of talks for my fans/students at the Florence State Prison, and a futures course program in the planning stages. Thanks for reading; thanks for your interest and support.

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