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Composing and Engendering the Future

A href= >Presenting the Future (Part 4) (Part #1)

"Future generation"

(reprinted from /converse_x_h_1#future)

How does the future emerge into the present? How does potential become actuality? What are the cognitive traps associated with phrases such as: "where does the future come from" and "the far-distant future" ? How are present initiatives established as future realities? Why does past understanding appear so quaint from the present and what does this say of present understandings that are taken so seriously now?

The sustainability of global conversation or dialogue is therefore viewed as necessarily dynamic rather than static. Insights from chaos theory and strange attractors merit attention (Judge, 1993b). Its meta-stable nature ensures its coherence by engendering "futures". Global conversations thus evolve through "generations", necessarily accompanied by schisms that challenge any previous sense of coherence. "Participants" in a conversation today are the children of those participating yesterday, or an hour ago -- even if they are physically indistinguishable. As with computer backups, one can usefully speak of grandfather-father-son relationships between one's own successive "incarnations" in social intercourse.

How then is the future generated? How does one understand the nature of a future generation from one's current mode of comprehension? How does one comprehend across the generation gap -- and seek comprehension in return -- if only by oneself?

Whilst such questions are challenging for society as a whole, they are even more challenging for oneself. Each person has multi-generational qualities, from the "child within" to the nascent elder. In the process of maturation, the challenges of communication between one's own internal generations become increasingly evident. They can no longer be satisfactorily projected onto the outside world.

How does one engender a future -- preferred or otherwise? Is there some internal procreative process, as suggested by depth psychology's enthusiasm for alchemical symbolism? Reproductive biology certainly achieves a future generation through mating. How does a new generation of reality-handling acquire viability and inspire confidence within one's own psyche? Can what is superseded be truly cast off like a reptilian skin, or must past generations be carried with us into the future --"unto seven generations"?

Whilst there is of course merit in speculating about future generations in centuries or millennia to come, there is another kind of inquiry into future generation which merits reflection. As implied above, a future generation, in the developmental or psychological sense of the maturation of an individual, has its own challenges. But of even greater challenge is the much more immediate focus of how one engenders the immediate future -- over the next hours or minutes.

It is easy to argue that this has nothing to do with the "future" as framed by this conference. But this may be a flaw in the way future studies is understood and a reason for its marginalization. Do futurists suffer from conceptual presbyopia? Failure to attend to how the immediate future is determined by "doing" in the present moment, may obscure modes of understanding vital to meaningful insight into the future of biological generations -- to the epochs in which future studies may prefer to roam. Any sense of well-being is associated with the immediate present, rather than with the distant future. It is now that the help from "You and I" is required by the conference theme, whether for the young or the elderly.

How does future generation occur on this scale -- and what insights does it offer for understanding on the larger scale? As various schools of meditation have it, one attends to a certain complex of events for a while (seconds, minutes or hours), as an act combining mindfulness, empathy and action -- with, or without, others. Then, by distraction or choice, that focus dies and one passes on to some other complex of events. This process can be experienced as a sequence of generations of attention foci -- maybe returning cyclically to a former focus. It is through this process that one engenders a future into which one is then borne (Sogyal Rinpoche, 1994). Any practice, discipline or habit can be considered a form of "meditation" in this sense.

When a generation is understood as taking some 14 "years", possibility of change is perceived as limited by most. But understood as lived cycles of experience many hundreds of "generations" may take place within that same period of years. Such generations may be existentially more significant, and give rise to more variety, than is often associated with conventional thinking about the future 100, 1,000 or 5,000 years hence -- which is usually unchallenged by the reality of experiential change.Focus on the scope for change through psychological generation may well offer vital clues to change over longer periods of years. Greater attentiveness is therefore required to the potential emergence of fundamentally new varieties of significance over such periods.

From this perspective the challenge becomes how creatively to traverse a succession of generations -- the "Wheel of Life" for some Eastern religions (Sogyal Rinpoche, 1994). Various approaches might be taken to this psychological "reincarnation" process through many "little deaths". The generations could be "managed", as attempted by those favouring highly structured schedules (and armed with pocket "organizers"). One contrast would be to live the succession completely spontaneously as a child of the moment. They could be "navigated" with the spirit of an explorer, entrepreneur or opportunist. They might even be "surfed". They could be treated as an aesthetic exercise in composition or design -- "composing" a lifestyle as explored by Mary Catherine Bateson (1990). Or, like a breeder, focus could be placed on "breeding" better futures by combining suitable quality bloodlines engendered in past experience. The process could even be treated as an exercise in "gardening" a life -- life husbandry. In each case blending constraints from the past with potential distractions by the unforeseen creates pitfalls and opportunities. What strange new insights and disciplines will the future bring to this process? Composing the future

The argument has stressed presence in the present moment -- from which futures may be engendered. This is contrasted with projection of the present into the future to avoid the realities of the moment. Any such projection is understood as necessarily superficial (namely two-dimensional) -- if not merely some form of linear extrapolation. This precludes meaningful transfer into the future of a vehicle for experience of any higher dimensionality. Presentations are acclaimed as meaningful efforts to do this -- but any perceived success is at the price of entrapping people in two-dimensional futures -- in pre-sentations.

Given such anchoring in the present, how might a future be more fruitfully understood? What might be ways of thinking about how it is engendered? The latter term itself contrasts intriguingly with the sexist emphasis of linear projections so evident in most "manstream" thinking about the future, as argued by Janis Birkeland ( "Engendered" however suggests a growth process originating from a reproductive cycle -- implying cross-fertilization between quite distinct meme-pools. This suggests that a more appropriate metaphor might be that of gardening or cultivation. Several alternative metaphors might well be considered as necessary complements to encompass the complexities of the human present/future interface, including:

  • composing / orchestrating: This has a design emphasis, perhaps best exemplified by Christopher Alexander's much-cited Timeless Way of Building and Pattern Language. The concern is to ensure that things are appropriately configured in place -- recalling the concerns of feng shui. Mary Catherine Bateson has drawn attention to the human dimensions of this possibility in the title of her book Composing a Life. With respect to entelechy, Jean Houston refers to development of ability to "self-orchestrate across states of consciousness" (

  • gardening / cultivation: This stresses the biological patterning that is presumably echoed in viable psychological processes governing the present/future interface. Given the design, what is to be cultivated in each of the resulting niches and how will they relate to one another to engender a fruitful future? A Chinese proverb makes the point in relating biology and culture: "If you are planning a year ahead then sow a seed. If you are planning ten years ahead plant a tree. If you are planning a hundred years ahead educate the people". Darrell Posey (Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, 1999) has assembled many writings reflecting the importance of this dimension to indigenous peoples seeking to ensure the viability of their cultural vehicle in relation to the environment.

  • invoking / singing the future into being: "Singing the world" into being is significant in traditional cultures, emphasizing that design and cultivation may be necessary but are not sufficient. The concept has been promoted by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. A particular quality of attention in the moment is required to engender a viable new pattern for the future. It is this quality which provides the invariance around which the transformation can occur. Aspects of this may be best suggested by a Sufi story that alludes to the process of creating a door-less golden cage, that may at some time prove attractive to the spirit or muse that then takes up residence there - but which may also leave at any time. In this sense the container is not a constraint but a frame of reference through which higher dimensionality may be experienced.

  • puzzling: One metaphor often used in selling projects is that of a "door" or "gateway" to the future -- which a proposal may open for those who subscribe to it. This metaphor is echoed in myths and dramas about secret doors to other realms. A contemporary TV drama uses the metaphor of a stargate, echoing many science fiction tales about cross-galaxy and/or time travel. All of these have an inorganic emphasis from which biological and psychological dimensions are absent. Depth psychology, folk tales, and various religious traditions all point to the need to balance incommensurable psychological functions appropriately in order to open "doors" into new psychic spaces -- as part of the individual's personal evolutionary journey into the future. This balance is often symbolized by centro-symmetrical patterns (mandalas, etc) that are associated with magical gateways. But achieving this empowering balance is traditionally described as somewhat akin to solving a psycho-philosophical puzzle or riddle (like a Zen koan) -- one has to puzzle one's way into the future to navigate the new cognitive space. This raises the question of how to configure, juxtapose and superpose sets of categories (3, 4, 5, etc) constituting the "door frame" governing cognition -- in order to pose the riddle appropriately. Returning to the design metaphor, what is a composition with such potentially transformative properties? Contemporary fascination with astrology, geomancy and magic may be explained by the role of their configurations as strange attractors within human culture.

Such emphasis on getting away from the present through "opening doors to the future" may be the most effective protective mechanism of a nourishing future. The future that is elsewhen is an illusory future marketed assiduously by snake-oil salesmen playing with linear projections and two dimensional pre-sentations (eg billboard and hoarding developmentalism). A futuristic space journey is only viable if a vast amount of thought is given to learning about the system that actually sustains people in the present. The cognitive vessel that can sustain life into a desirable future is above all characterized by a multitude of interacting feedback loops ensuring the collective integrity of different systems. Whilst attention has been given to these in modern space technology, almost none has been given to their psycho-social equivalents -- notably with respect to the psycho-social design of space colonies.

From a psycho-social perspective, a fundamental metaphor to explore in this connection is that of the Holy Grail and the quest for it. Within such myths much energy is vainly expended on looking elsewhere for the power it represents to transform the present into the future. However the tradition makes the point that the physical form of the Holy Grail is quite ordinary, although recognizing it requires another way of sensing -- with fatal consequences to the unwary. In many of the early French texts the Saint Graal (as the vehicle or container) is related to Sang Royal (as the contained). This suggests the importance of the blood circulation metaphor as a system for sustaining the integrity of the body in the present -- rather than elsewhen. In psycho-social terms this integrity is exemplified by both a degree of "holiness" and of "sovereignty" over the whole system (as implied by the associations to royalty) -- effectively maintaining the coherence of a complex pattern of feedback loops.

The integrative patterns of many traditional celtic designs might be seen as mnemonics of this challenge (***). What are we educated not to recognize as our "noble" heritage in the transformative integrity of our personal experience of the coherence of the present moment? And yet at the same time we are encouraged to move on to a better future -- abandoning irresponsibly whatever is a drag -- often with language reminiscent of an archetypal venal landlord requiring that the premises be vacated. What might be the patterns concealed in the present moment that have the transformative power implied by the Holy Grail -- if rightly comprehended?

As remarked by anthropologist Diana James (personal communication, 2001):

In the Christian tradition the divine consciousness was manifested in the body and blood of Christ. This symbolic sacrifice of body and blood to create new life, or reincarnate, or resurrect from death is common to many other major creation myths and rituals. In the Grail legends originating in pagan Hispano-Moorish myth the Grail vessel filled with blood was a feminine symbol of rebirth or reincarnation in the Gnostic and Oriental sense. The Grail was associated with the Horn of Plenty and the Sacred Heart, the union of masculine and feminine. The strong sexual symbolism was sanitised by Christianity in the 12th Century, but the association with life and death remained. The Grail Temple at Montsalvatch, Mount of Salvation, was a model of the universe. The Grail was kept inside a miniature model of the universe inside the main temple under the dome.

There may be a message to the western world that sanitising this myth, taking out the quest for the mysterious feminine principle, the blood of Christ is now available at every chapel, has resulted in the modern death of spiritual quest. No mystery, no secret, no quest - a truth the indigenous people (such as the Australian Aborigines) know and hence keep Tjukurpa (the Dreaming) alive with mystery, secret and essential questing of the individual to discover the essential divine or creation spirit they manifest. Each individual and the whole society must keep this consciousness alive in the continuous present. Perhaps an essential element in the unfolding entelechy of the human race.

t. Perhaps an essential element in the unfolding entelechy of the human race.

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