Having seen the many creative responses to the WHAT IS THIS? post, I’ve decided to take things to another level—to up the ante, as they say—with the following:

Who says we cannot know the future? We can, but it always a matter of interpretation, that is, of imagination. If that seems obvious, I should point out something not so obvious: that knowing the present is also always an act of imagination. We gather the facts, at least the ones available, or the ones we want, and describe what is happening around and within us. It is always an act of invention. If—following the conventions of our social group—enough people agree, then we have an accurate description of reality, the truth that Voltaire called (referring to history), “the lie commonly agreed upon.”

We can know the future to exactly the same extent that we can know the past or imagine the present—they are not interchangeable but do share the quality—owing to the structure of the human brain—of having been invented or, if you prefer, constructed.

The imagination needs some material to work with—bits and pieces are all we have. The more open to imagination they are, the more they can be interpreted, therefore the ‘truer’ they are.

I am putting forward eight diagrams—the very best, most accurately constructed diagrams of the future I am capable of devising—in order to help us know what it might be. Such knowledge may serve us well. Or it may not. Knowledge always cuts both ways.

To some of you, this might seem a variation on the Rorschach test, that is, an essentially psychological exercise. To others, it might seem like the mystical reading of tea leaves, or the entrails of a ritually sacrificed goat. Fair enough, but I should note that in both of those situations, the material is created accidentally, or—if you prefer—randomly. The eight diagrams are the products of conscious design.

Another reference comes to mind, though it, too, may be only distantly related to the eight diagrams: The Glass Bead Game devised by writer Hermann Hesse. In Hesse’s novel, “the exact nature of the game (quoting Wikipedia) remains elusive and (its) devotees occupy a special school…. The rules of the game are only alluded to, and are so sophisticated that they are not easy to imagine. Playing the game well requires years of hard study of music, mathematics, and cultural history. Essentially the game is an abstract synthesis of all arts and scholarship. It proceeds by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics.”

It is only the last sentence that will appeal to anyone today interested in a future formed by “a synthesis of all arts and scholarship…proceed[ing] by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics.” Or is this nothing more than elitist propaganda, a distant echo of Plato’s ‘philosopher kings” in The Republic? To counter that judgment, perhaps we can substitute “all people” for “players”—isn’t universal education, hence universal participation, the goal, indeed the necessity, of political and social democracy? But is democracy in the future at all?


Diagram 1:

Diagram 2:

Diagram 3:

Diagram 4:

Diagram 5:

Diagram 6:

Diagram 7:

Diagram 8:

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