When we delve the depths of contemporary futurism, a dangerous dualism becomes apparent.
Futurism is a loose term. Many self-proclaim the title. The vague umbrella—overtly recognized or not—includes forward thinking scientists, engineers, science-fiction writers, mystic receivers of futuristic revelation, artists, filmmakers, and even marketing consultants.
Ironically, those who claim to be the most rational, skeptic, and scientific may be the most dangerous. In this article I'll explore—in a totally biased semi-fictional narrative—the dichotomous futuristic visions presented by materialist techno-optimists vs. the more spiritually openminded.
How did we get here?
In the last century, science began to understand the true foundations of matter. Humans mined the quantum realm, presenting scientific theories that stirred the mystic's age-old fantasy of becoming one with everything. Our power to manipulate the physical world to our own ends reached its pinnacle. We've successfully engineered ecosystems (not always for the better), towering cities, global transportation and international commerce. We also create, on a different scale, with microchips and the processing power they make available. Indeed, when we conceive of technology now, we often think of software, the internet and its world of information.
The various data—personal, social, and commercial—accrues at a furious rate as processing power improves exponentially. Singularity is near.
Meanwhile, despite this exciting realm of pure information, the environment plunges deeper into crisis, and our inoculated environmentalism falls deeper into one of those too-long naps it shouldn't have taken late mid-afternoon.
But our dual futurists have different visions of where this is all going.
Even our techno-optimist seeks an escape from the mountain of exterior knowledge he downloads daily, juggles, and regurgitates. However, he seeks his rapture not away from, but through, technology. He fantasizes about merging with the machine, uploading his mind onto a computer. He believes technology can and will solve everything.
This brand of futurist sees the quantum realm, but through Google goggles. Though he's read up on all the quantum physics discoveries of the last century, the information just doesn't quite settle in. The quantum fields smudge on his screen, becoming particles. He sees the world as physical chunks, not waves. It's easier that way.
Now that our pragmatist has found his particle, he can get back to what he really cares about—what he might build with it. Computers, microscopic video cameras, fast cars, speedboats, rocket ships; virtual reality video games, prescription methamphetamine for the modern businessman. Reality is starting to look like his techno-fantastic dreams.
As technology advances further, however, "reality" just isn't good enough anymore.
The everyday world is stale compared to the vastness of the imagination, stale even in comparison to the 3D gesture-sensing entertainment future-minded individuals prefer to consume.
Exploring ways to continually fix reality, active participation in one's own evolution becomes necessary. Possible solutions include DNA manipulation and cyborg add-ons.
But alas, this fellow has been polluting that which he sought to fix for quite a while now. Thus, we have no other choice but to label him the Bad Futurist.
His building block understanding of the world may be the only thing that needs fixing.
What if the building blocks are made of consciousness?
To this point, some dare not venture. Though quantum physics discoveries and a growing list of scientific experiments offer ample evidence of non-local consciousness—a non-material field from which human awareness finds its source—whole communities of supposedly forward-thinking individuals turn a blind eye to the facts. Our Bad Futurist is one of them.
But there is a utopian visionary with the bravery to embrace the implications of the quantum realm—the Good Futurist.
She's a cultural engineer, a visionary seeker who embraces technology, but also history, and our greatest heritage: Planet Earth. She sees nature as something technology should mimic, not fix. Furthermore, she questions the idea of progress, while recognizing those culturally and technologically advanced cultures of the past. Frankly, she finds our modern culture, economics, and politics to be savage in many ways.
This Good Futurist sees consciousness as the supreme technology.
She knows that an internet-like system has been available for aeons to those who venture to meditate and to learn the mechanics of consciousness-based healing. The human body, human mind, and human spirit make up the most advanced mobile device the world has ever seen. Current technologies, like b-day reminding iPhones and wifi, merely imitate the inherent technologies of the mind-body-spirit. Yes, I'm talking about psi phenomenon—telepathy, remote viewing, and the vastly altered states offered up by meditation, yoga, and dream practice.
The Bad Futurist seeks transcendental experiences too.
He seeks ever higher states of consciousness brought on by intellectual stimulation, entertainment, adventure, power, and maybe even drugs. He seeks virtual realities that will free him from the mundane body and stressful physical world. He attains weightlessness during trips to outer space that cost him $250,000.
Like his counterpart, he also sees his body and brain as technology—albeit hardware, not spiritual software. Accordingly, he seeks an upgrade.
The Bad Futurist soon finds himself chasing the ultimate prize, coveted by alchemist and bored billionaire alike. Immortality.
The spiritualist has an interest in immortality as well, but it's different. Evidence of reincarnation suggests immortality is already ours. Meditation makes the eternal realm more tangible in the here and now. In addition, the Good Futurist may live a perversely long and vigorous life due to a moderate diet and emotional well-being.
The alternate life-extension method is DNA manipulation and cyborg add-ons to the human body. As we look a little deeper, it becomes clear that extreme techno-optimists seek a prize more illusive than the modern health-conscious alchemist's—physical immortality.
If vampiric plans for physical immortality fail, there's plan B—uploading the human mind into the body of a robot avatar. Alternatively, we might hook ourselves up to a computer and mentally travel into a sphere of purely digital existence, like Tron or The Matrix. And let's not forget manipulation of the cellular atomic core to attain a state of pure electro-magnetic frequency. If we can manipulate the nuclear core of matter, we can, by all means, manipulate our body's matter to reach a higher state. (I once heard a futurist and professional media figure actually propose this.)
Meanwhile, the Good Futurist says, "I'm already there." And she got there without DNA manipulation, prescription drugs, or cyborg add-ons.
To the Good Futurist, humanity's next step is a world of creativity, spiritual exploration, expanded consciousness, communal living, healthy ecosystems, fair and just economics, real-time democracy, and long life through natural means. With a dash of automation, rapid worldwide transportation, and tasteful gadgetry.
The alternate future entails continual domination of the biosphere, manipulation of natural systems and the human genome, science for profit (not the advancement of mankind), and manic states brought on by pharmaceutical drugs without bothering to recognize the tried and true power of consciousness. Oh, and vampire-like immortality, cyborg add-ons, and robot avatars. Sexy.
Whose future sounds more crazy?