Scanning Retrospective, No. 25

Foresight Snippets – No. 25

[Originally published in] prospect no 10, December 2002

  • The chronic question: “What is Time?”
  • Macrohistory – the really big picture view
  • And finally, “who is it that ‘knows’?”

The chronic question: “What is Time?”

As a futurist, I’m accustomed to people smiling quietly to themselves and pointing out that the future is “not real” so how could I really be involved in “studying” it? This perspective also usually assumes that the past and present are real, in contrast to the fluffily insubstantial future. But the past is no more real than the future – they are both present-moment interpretations of the “not now”. And, as for the present moment, well … a recent issue of Scientific American examines our notions of time, and especially notes how a complete understanding of it has (as yet) eluded us. For example, in an article by physicist Paul Davies, one view holds that past and future are equally real, while it is the present moment itself which is illusory! Other articles discuss how to build a time machine; how different cultures interpret time differently; and that some physicists are so concerned about their lack of understanding of time they have (even) asked philosophers for help! Egad! 😊 While it is relatively straightforward to travel forwards in time (we all do so anyway, of course), travelling backwards is the real trick. Some suggestions for how this might become possible are discussed, and left as an exercise for the reader. 😊

Source: Scientific American magazine, Sept 2002
Web site (partial access):

Macrohistory – the really big picture view

Studying alternative potential futures properly should always spring from an understanding of how the past was formed and how the present has come to be. One tool for doing this is macrohistory – the study of long-term, wide-scale changes over the histories of social systems, in search of patterns, or even “laws” of social change. Macrohistory seeks to provide a structure from which to create views of the future by: inquiring into what changes over time and what is stable; through delineating the structures of history; and by examining the causes and mechanisms of historical and social change. From this macro perspective, it seems clear that a major “values shift” is occurring in large numbers of people around the world, heralding a coming sea change of social and cultural priorities. A wide-scale shift from “modern” materialistic values to “post-modern” post-materialist values is now quite evident from over a decade of research by social researchers Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson. They call this new population segment the Cultural Creatives, who number around 50 million in the USA and around 90 million in the European Union, or some 25% of the adult population. As this segment grows, we are likely to see increasing shifts to newer ways of “being-in-the-world”, which will have many interesting implications for how our societies operate and want to be educated.

Sources: Article linking macrohistory with futures studies, by Dr. Sohail Inayatullah
Cultural Creatives web site:

And finally, “who is it that ‘knows’?”

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy which deals with “knowledge” and how we “know”, while the philosophy of mind deals, in part, with the very consciousness that believes it “knows”. Our consciousness is so close to us (Descartes believed it even defines us: cogito ergo sum) – and yet a widespread deep understanding of it still eludes us. There are many competing theories and models of consciousness, many of them mutually exclusive. A roadmap of the “orienting generalisations” of consciousness – an “integral” theory of consciousness, as it were, which respects and honours as many researchers as possible – would obviously be most welcome. In recent years, progress has been made towards such a theory. But it requires us to give up many of our prejudices around what we consider to be “really real”. In Zen they ask you: “What did your face look like before your parents were born?”

Source: Journal of Consciousness Studies article, by Ken Wilber

From the preamble on the first page of prospect:

In other news, this is the last issue of prospect with me as editor. I am leaving FPR – and my current role as a foresight analyst – in order to take up an academic position at the Australian Foresight Institute.

As ever, and for the last time, I hope you find the scanning hits selected, and the Snippets, both interesting and thought-provoking.

Joseph Voros, FPR, Swinburne, December 2002.

prospect is a quarterly publication of Foresight, Planning & Review, Swinburne University of Technology.

Futura tenaciter in prospectu tenemus

This publication is intended to serve the broader Swinburne community, by highlighting areas of interest and concern to Swinburne stakeholders, by helping us take a long-term foresight view, and to expand our perceptions of our strategic options as we move forward together into our common future.

This collection is © 2002 FPR and Swinburne University of Technology. Copyright for the individual articles resides with the original authors and/or the original sources as listed. All articles have been used either with express permission or, where express permission is not required, following stipulated re-use guidelines.

NOTE: In all the posts in this series, the original source URLs are left exactly as they were when published 20-odd years ago. This means they will almost certainly be dead links (or good ol’ 404 errors). I do not have the patience or inclination to follow-up or find any archived or re-located versions of those web pages (because, well, life is too short). But, if it really bugs you, I invite you to see if you can find archived or relocated versions of those dead-link pages. And if you do, let me know, and I’ll update these posts with due credit to your detective work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: