Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The New, The Unknown and The Counter-Intuitive

#SGSCULTURE @SalzburgGlobal 
What will our planet look like in 2050 or 2100? 
Who or what will control our lives? 
What will it mean to be human?
In times characterised by complexity, disruption and unprecedented speed of change, uncertainty about the future is staring us in the face; with a bold smile displaying its teeth. It is 'The New' looking at us!. 

'The New', our big, common, they-did-it Future stretches our imagination; possibly, to the breaking point.  Irritation! They! We!

In past times, and for many people still today, Future, with capital "F", was the march towards "About-the-Same". Natural disasters and war may disrupt its gentle pace. The Future did not seem to be something 'new & made'; expectations and plans belong to the private sphere, the 'little future'. Instead, 'the Future' is something to be endured when things turn out badly. Otherwise 'the Future' was perceived as a known reference frame for embedding the 'little futures'. Yet, what to do when this frame changes, wobbles and gets uncertain? Disaster looms! 

Through aeons, a 'little new' percolated slowly into the societies, once a while. It came in tiny drips of innovation, in small numbers of new things, and was made by some strange people, only.   Daily practice and experiences gently chewed the 'little new', and persecuting the innovator did the rest, when needed. Hence, neither the size of the 'little new' nor its approach velocity could challenge the status quo. During the 20th Century, this century-lasting pattern got modulated. The collective experiences of people wobbled. The aeon-old common experience of the "Nihil sub sole novum" (nothing new under the sun) faded. The 'culture of growth' [1], which had matured in Europe since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, had broken into the daily drain-drain of people. Initially, it offered just "more of About-the-Same" [2]. Now, after the turn of the 20th Century, even this quite modern pattern of experiences is going out of the picture [3].  'The Unknown' comes on the stage. Even worth, it consolidates on stage irritatingly emerging from within our ongoing plays. The size of change to come and its velocity of approach challenge the conventional actors, profoundly. 

Only some people relish 'The Unknown'. The art-of-the-new-Possible, with capital "P" gives 'The Unknown' a deep sensual pleasure.  For many, however, 'The Unknown' means insecurity, loss of competences, altered divisions of societies, lost sense! Uncertainty makes it so much harder to embrace the own future with a little self-confidence.
meaning and excitement to their lives.  When facing it then the explorer's spirits, the innovator's minds, or the researcher's souls vibrate with passion. Giving sense to their lives.

The shock of change can paralyse rather than energise. Making sense of 'The Unknown' lying ahead, looming around will become ever more demanding. Science reaches further out, deep into 'The Counter-Intuitive'; as Quantum-Technology, Earth System Sciences, Artificial Intelligence, Synthetic Biology and Big Data will transform daily life. Where are the 'guides to these galaxies?' Is '42' still the right answer? Will my  towel be sufficient? Who moved the restaurant(s) at the end of the universe(s)? [**]

Artists, cultural practitioners, inventors and scientists push the boundaries of the human imagination. Together they facilitate the making of 'The New'. Jointly they move beyond the familiar and transcend the borders towards the future. To be curious about what is new and emergent that is part of their lives. Driven by their imagination, they invest collaboratively into path-changing discoveries, different fates of our planet, and charting pathways to liveable futures! 'The New', 'The Unknown', and 'The Counter-Intuitive', they all face this broad, vigorous smile of 'The Imaginator': Surrender!

[*] This post is 'modulating' the scene setter for the Salzburg Global Seminar #593 (20-25 February 2018). Borrowing a notion from music: this post may be seen as a variation of the theme of the seminar #593, "The shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future." Due to this drafting process the text contains unmarked sections that are copied from the description of the seminar. The reader is invited to compare the variations and the original tune. 

[**] The questions refer to different plots in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams.

[1] Mokyr, J. (2016). A Culture of Growth - The Origins of the Modern Economy. Princton: Princton University Press.

[2] Sachs, W. (1990). On the Archaeology of the Development Idea. Interculture 23(4):1-37.

[3] Ellis, E.C: (2013). Used Planet: A global history. PNAS 110(20):7978-7985.

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