Monday, February 05, 2007

sensing the future

Imagining the future is a watching and listening activity, a sensory activity different from the present.

This can mean more than one thing, and it's very true that in any kind of collaborative activity (like making, developing, fostering, participating in a large scale development or system) it is vitally important to listen and pay attention to all parties involved. And it is very true that in future visioning and scenario planning it is very important to study trends over-time and watch and listen to their movements.

But what I'm referring to is a little different.

We humans all live in the present; it's where we inhabit in the most literal sense. Think of living in the present as a first layer to our being. Our bodies and minds don't, of course, solely inhabit the "present" but also remember and feel the past and anticipate, vision, and imagine the future. Yet the reality of our being is that we forever sustain within a lived moment.

To examining the future, I want to first talk about the past.

Inhabiting the past can be a fun activity, whether completed by pondering past experiences, reading nonfiction or fictional history, examining documents and artifacts of the past, by participating in historical reenactments, or by strategically or randomly re-experiencing past events or circumstances. This act of connection from present to past is always made possible by using a medium of some sort: memory, book, movie, object, environmental experience, likeness or similarity. I term these media "conduits of transfer" because they facilitate the transfer of human awareness and thought from present to past and past to presence.

In this case, consider the "present" our real, lived, existence -- this is the first layer of our being. And then consider the "past" a real, lived, existence that no longer exists in tangible, material form. (It is true that the past exists all around us, but as the elements and objects and conditions change, so does the ever-interconnected material form and presence of the elements and objects under question.) The past, if the present is our first layer of being, is an added layer, wrapped over the first layer. What bonds the past and present together are "conduits of transfer" from one layer to another. (It could also be theorized that the past is not wrapped outside the present but inhabits the space inside the present.)

The past is thus no longer real in the same way the present is. The past is immaterial, while the present is material. The past is virtual and the present is real.

The future's presence persists the same way. No human in physical, commonplace, experiential existence can inhabit the future in the same capacity as they can inhabit the present. Just as the layer of the past coats the lived present, the layer of the future coats the present, and is bonded to it by way of a "conduit of transfer." (It can also be argued that we always inhabit the future (and past) as there is only one lived moment, and therefore the present is always in a state of being the future and potentially becoming the future.)

Human experience of the future, in a parallel capacity as to experiencing the past, thus occurs by way of some medium. The future therefore, while being imagined, is something that must be listened to and watched, felt, observed, and experienced, from a second order position in relation to the first order, "present" activity experience. The future, like the past, is immaterial while the present is material. The future, like the past, is virtual and the present is real.

To experience an imagined future, one might consider listening to music, reading a book, watching a movie or play, having a conversation, having sex in a virtual environment... or remembering the past, or participating in a creative act building the future.

The last two methods of experiencing the future taken one to a recognition of the future's existence and the change between the present and a future relative to one's own lived age. Remembering the past is also passive, while a creative act is active. Remembering the past allows one to be aware of a duration of continuous change between a point in one's past and the present state of one's present existence; thus being aware of change and the fact that the present one is currently in is in the future of the past. Participating in a creative act is, by default, an act of building the future because it alters the state of the world. Whether giving birth to a child, an art object, environment, experience, composition, or idea, the creative process experienced leads to a modified and new future; thus also making apparent a change between the past and the augmented future.

(c) M. Waxman 2007

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