COMPOSING PROSPECTS vs FUTURISM & PRESENTISM

It has been a while since my mind was stirred by cascades of such valuable insights. No foundational changes (for me); but significant reminders of prior insights hibernating and very useful perspectives on the use of common terms, such as “nature” and “composition”.  The most recent and most powerful was a 2010 essay by Bruno Latour titled “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto‘”..  This followed a reading previous night of reviews and excerpts from Douglas Rushkoff’s very recent book: “Present Shock“, introducing the concept/term “presentism”.    Each excitingly expands the context about time and change, the topic of my more recent nuet.us blog posts: more specifically tied to the concept of Blind Spots in our Future and the difficulty I have sharing my insights on our Crisis-of-Crises, Big Challenge, and my UPLIFT proposal.

I was in full agreement with Latour’s arguments for his use of “compose” for what we may do today; in particular because I have used the term for a few years in the same sense for myself – and for many of the same reasons (although not so well explicated as by Latour). The ways we view our own actions is not trivial,  Composing involves considerable feedback, both emotions in creativity and frustrations in the mechanics of writing, and concern for varied audiences, etc.

Latour is very effective in deflating the big bag of wind called “NATURE”, as the “positive humanist” name for all that is non-human, in line with the Great Bifurcation. The concepts were not new, but newly expressed for me and reminded me of past sensitivities when using “nature”. It reminded me of the improper use of the term “wilderness” I learned from an old issue of Whole Earth Review.  All those living in a “wilderness” find it “home”, it is a wild place only for trespassers. I have already gone through what Latour hopes to introduce to most about the negative aspects of the concepts we label “nature”.

My thrust here, in this essay, is how I might “progress” (another term “critiqued” by Latour) in this general direction, possibly “composing prospects” for convening a learning expedition with Bruno, Douglas, myself and a few others.  What would be the “nature” of such an enterprise?

  • {This is my common use of “nature”, to signify the “workings of systems” I might use or be part of – implying quality precision-to-need. No implications of an ultimate reality of truth.}

Recently I participated in a long TheNextEdge blog dialog about futurism and futurists; coupled with my own explorations on agency for sufficient change facing what I call Our Big Challenge (“picture” is a deceptive metaphor). How to comprehend and work with others on “our futures” was my obsession.  So, it was with great surprise to find Latour and Rushkoff claiming that almost everyone had abandoned “our futures”.  But, “things” are not that simple and the whole “enchilada” is again wide open.  I will not attempt that here.

FUTURE to PROSPECT.  A quote from Latour specifically caught my attention:

  •     “We are progressively discovering that, just at the time when people are despairing at realizing that they might, in the end, have ‘no future,’ we suddenly have many prospects . Yet they are so utterly different from what we imagined while fleeing ahead looking backwards that we might cast them only as so many fragile illusions. Or find them even more terrifying than what we were trying to escape from.”  Earlier: “He has suddenly realized how much catastrophe His development has left behind him. The ecological crisis is nothing but the sudden turning around of someone who had actually never before looked into the future, so busy was He extricating Himself from a horrible past.”  Latour claims that our obsession with “the future” a few decades ago was actually a focus on an (extrapolated) past.
  •     This shift clarifies for me my difficulty sharing “societal metamorphosis”, “emergence vs transformation”, Mission_2000, and now UPLIFT. These are labels for PROSPECTS, not future proposals.  So many people are so entrenched to view human change as variations on trend projection (with minor operational transformational attempts) that they are unable to imagine significant alternatives.
  •         For me, a PROSPECT is much more than a vision (the end point of a transformational sequence).  I have used the pair “mission/vision” to label this distinction. Working with prospects can involve scenario construction and plotting for future choices, but is very much more.Maybe the metaphors for a causal nature are far more captivating that we realize?
    I have never forgotten reading a “fact” that at Darwin’s time the term “evolution” was NOT used to describe his process of variation/selection because “evolution” was the term labeling the deterministic unfolding as occurs in embryonic development, and not the stochastic process of Darwinism. What I read argued (to the extent that I remember) that when the term “evolution” began to label the Darwin process it carried with it the deterministic connotation, causing considerable confusion.  Might the same-type connotational baggage being carried from FUTURES (studies in trend analysis) as an implied determinism when ORIGINATIONAL PROSPECTS are proposed?

    In that human cognition is often non-logical, we can imagine people being open to interventions to modify trends – some that, over time, could have significant influence (such as technological innovations); and yet be blocked in the ability to imagine (a blind spot) a total replacement from scratch.  To some, such a proposal maybe reserved for those with divine powers, GODS.

    NOTE:  I have elsewhere claimed that contemporary science is limited to the study of transformation and that there is yet to emerge a competent science of true origination, beginnings, creativity, emergence.  We will need to invent this new science as part of our PROSPECT.

I have more essays by Latour to read, as part of a Magellan Course I am about to take, and I await Ruskoff’s book from the library. It is premature for me to claim that they are sufficiently liberated from the metaphors of a transformational nature to be open to consider a truly radical prospect: UPLIFT and the Migratory Metamorphosis from humankind to Humanity. But this quote from Latour is encouraging: “Let’s stop fleeing, break for good with our future, turn our back, finally , to our past, and explore our new prospects, what lies ahead, the fate of things to come.”

How might we humans begin to work on PROSPECTS?  Are there any essential competencies we currently lack? What scaffolding and technologies might be useful?  How do we “integrate” the emotional and conceptual, the sensory and the textual, the personal and the collective, etc.? How important is it that we know of personal details as cited in the Appendix?

Most of what I have said so far relates to Latour. Yet, those familiar with my more recent rants can report my continuing critique of the best practices of activists in digital social networks. Rushkoff’s PRESENTISM provides a clarifying metaphor – there is no real movement “into the future” and my detection of a BLIND SPOT is very real.  Details Doug will provide in his book, and many details he probably has to share which didn’t get into the book, will prove very useful.

As mentioned earlier I fantasize a temporally extended, well seafed process involving myself and others interested in exploring and learning to work with COMPOSING PROSPECTS.  I just now flash on how this may be viewed as a variation of my recent blog doc: Publishing Our Future.

  •     Composing Prospects should label the whole enterprise emergent in time; much more than Writing a Prospectus or Publishing a Future..

I grok some essential differences in Composing Prospects:

  •     Process ontology dominant.  Although there will be many, detailed scenarios and project proposals they will never assemble as an existential representative for our Prospect.  Many of these sems will be in systems of (seemingly competitive) complementarity.
  •     At many moments coordinated actions will be taken based on the collective knowledge and wisdom at the time. The outcome is never certain, and always experimental.  Alternative or “competitive” actions may be taken for evaluation – but seldom to determine a winner.
  •     Individuals learn to relax their drives for certainty, closure, and control. Persons gain agency by being holarchically collaborative (reesee personal to planetary).
  •     more ………..

On re-reading this a few days after writing I realize how rambling it became – but it is the start of a composition.  Meanwhile, while ill, I viewed six hour+ lectures by Latour.  Just a few days ago, at The University of Edinburgh – as the 2013 Gifford Lectures, Bruno Latour launched what might be the most significant effort to re-frame almost all of relevant, contemporary reality – into new frameworks hopefully better suited for humankind to relate appropriately with Gaia (which replaces “Nature”). SCIENCE, RELIGION, NATURE, AND POLITICS are all significantly re-framed.  What I have hinted at in this rambling essay are in context – as his re-framing may be seen as preparing-the-stage for the innovative performance of his “Manifesto”.  My concern is that just preparing-the-stage is an enterprise of such magnitude, complexity, and challenge that few will engage sufficiently.  I know that my 8 hours viewing the 6 videos, struggling with Latour’s accent, leaves me with much more work to do.

The six lectures can be accessed at the site where a Magellan Course has recently started with the intent to work with these lectures.  I will refrain from commenting here on these lectures.
Please don’t view this post as a crafted effort to present a system of new ideas.  It is an attempted invitation to join in a new style enterprise to compose a prospect of the highest significance to  “all we hold so dear”.
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APPENDIX – ON PROBLEMS COMPREHENDING.  However, a troublesome caution was encountered when reading and viewing Latour – my difficulty keeping concentration. I confess I have always had this difficulty with philosophical literature and I have actually read far fewer philosophers than most might expect.

The meaning of many words become “slippery”. They “shift in color and vibration” (I have no visual imagery). Nothing is stable. Yet, there is a COMPOSITION circling an emergent coherence. This is his Compositional Manifesto article.  As he explicitly works with NATURE some of the other words he uses to assist him become slippery (for me).  This is probably due to my poor short term memory and never having fully focused on a concise definition of terms.  This makes this long essay by Latour difficult to process, but also exceedingly valuable. It calls for study, not just reading.

This is partly due to my personal disability with all sensory recall – I have none!  Yet, I wonder whether our best processes are adequate for us to explore and act on prospects of planetary and species-wide magnitude?

For most authors I read, I lock onto a meaning for all words used and have no difficulty reading (although the meaning I give some words may be different from those expected by the author).  When reading Latour’s essay I found myself trying to hold meaning for phrases to relate to the meaning of other phrases, and failing. On re-reading I discovered that I couldn’t settle on the definition of some terms and was unable to come to closure on some sentences. I expect that some persons have similar experiences attempting to read and comprehend my writings.

  •         I have often speculated how persons not trained to read complex text may experience similar difficulties and find reading an unpleasant task to be avoided. When researching mental imagery while reading with my Intro Psy students in college I discovered that those with strong visual imagery had special difficulty reading highly conceptual texts where the visual imagery interfered with comprehension.
  •         I do this all the time when reading narrative and descriptive texts – I usually ignore most descriptive words as they trigger no sensory imagery for me. To focus on them while reading is far too time consuming and contributes very little. Yet, I do enjoy reading many novels.

I know that my own writing is quite difficult for others to read. Although most of my writing is channeled unconscious (nuet), I do frequent editing. I desire my compositions (as I call them, and docs when presented) to be crafted with a high degree of precision of terms. I intend my compositions to be studied for full comprehension. I am prone to narrow down the meaning of a conventional term (and specify that in a glossary specific to the doc) or to coin my own terms (or term systems, such as vector terms).

  •         My recent compositions read fine to me, but I find my writing often awkward for older documents. Yet, I usually appreciate the craftwork and precision, even if only my own and for me.
  •         I should be said that my lack of sensory recall applies to my remembering my own compositions. There are many for which I encounter their titles frequently, so they are “on my list” and some I have re-read many times.  However, I have composed a lot, and forgotten a lot. Sometimes I discover a document I had written years ago that I am now attempting to compose – having totally forgotten having composed it and often quite surprised at the detail of the original.

Adding this Appendix is motivated by my realization that the many that will participate in Composing Prospects will have different degrees and even styles of comprehending different parts. The scientific standards of full comprehension by all in a viable discipline must be relaxed. Yet, something that results in an “ecological coherence” must exist.  This may be simply saying that what will be composing for Humanity/Gaia will be well beyond the full comprehension of any single human – but would exhibit a clear collective signature.

Author: nuet

01/24/1935. BS-physics RPI 1956; MS-physics UofChicago 1958; PhD-physics Yale 1965; PhD-Edu Psy Uof MInnesota 1970. Auroral Research Byrd Station, Antarctica 11/1960-02/1962. MINNEMAST curriculum dev 1964-68. Woodstock. faculty Pima Community College, Tucson 1974-1997. Transdisciplinary scientist, philosopher, educator, futurist, activist. PC user since 1982. "Wife". daughter, 2 grandsons. 5 dogs & 7 cats. Lacks mental imagery in all sensory domains.