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Engaging with the Future with Insights of the Past


Engaging with the Future with Insights of the Past
Institutionalisation of "hell" and "consultation" with its inhabitants
Divination by sacrifice: entrails and extispicy
Divination through the I Ching
Science vs Imagination: another polarity to be transcended?
Weaponisation of the Heart: from pomegranate to hand grenade
Education and research as "consultation with the dead"?

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Produced in celebration of the United Nations International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2010) and the
ever increasing development, manufacture and sale of arms by Permanent Members of the UN Security Council
following the UN Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations (2001)


This is an Annex to a paper on Designing Global Self-governance for the Future: patterns of dynamic integration of the netherworld (2010) and specifcally with respect to the case made there for the Cognitive embodiment of an "underworld" into governance. That paper is itself is the development of an argument in an introductory paper (Tao of Engagement -- Weaponised Interactions and Beyond: Fibonacci's magic carpet of games to be played for sustainable global governance, 2010).

As noted there, in a world much characterized by denial in many forms, distinct cases may be made for exploring "undersides" or the "unconscious", as variously argued (Elise Boulding, The Underside of History: a view of women through time, 1976; John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization, 1995), most notably by Carl Jung with respect to the collective unconscious and the individual "shadow", as previously argued (Global Strategic Implications of the Unsaid: from myth-making towards a wisdom society, 2003). The case may be extended to various forms of "Omertà", perhaps most recently and dramatically illustrated by the policies of the Catholic Church with respect to sexual abuse by clergy, widespread concern with the secrecy of tax havens, or the scientific neglect of a particular factor in consideration of climate change policy (Mapping the Global Underground: articulating Insightful Population Constraint Consideration, 2010; Sins of Hot Air Emission, Omission, Commission and Promission, 2009).

Within such a context, the question becomes how best to integrate that dimension of "darkness" into the design of global governance -- into its "geometry". One approach is to recognize the insights to be derived from what is so systematically ignored in conventional thinking, as previously discussed (Enlightening Endarkenment: selected web resources on the challenge to comprehension, 2005).

For a "futurist" of today, any such exploration can be usefully set within an historical context of a challenge faced by many civilizations over thousands of years. This has been courageously done, citing an extensive body of literature, by Robert Temple in an extensive study variously titled in distinct editions (Netherworld: discovering the oracle of the dead and ancient techniques of foretelling the future, 2002; Oracles of the Dead: ancient techniques for predicting the future, 2002). Although the title is technically appropriate it unfortunately disguises both the range of issues covered (with very extensive references) and the unconventional insights that Temple brings to the matter. The apparent emphasis presumably arises from conventional marketing considerations.

The study is introduced by the following statement, relevant to contemporary challenges to governance, to whatever degree that relevance may be denied:

We do not know who we are; we do not know why we are here, and we do not know what will happen to us. In the midst of all this uncertainty it is not surprising that, during our history as an intelligent species, we have tried in various ways to escape from the suffocating helplessness of our ignorance. Today, most of our hopes rest on science. But before there was science, a branch of religion or philosophy existed for the purpose of helping man to step outside the confines of the present and to catch glimpses of the future.

In the current period when efforts are made by science to scope out the future as an aid to policy formulation, Temple considers the "underside" of man's history by surveying four major forms of institutionalised prophecy on which governance of the past was heavily dependent over thousands of years. Explicitly excluding astrology, he distinguishes:

  • Western disciplines (primarily of the Mediterranean basin): oracles and divination by entrails (extispicy)
  • Eastern disciplines (primarily of China): oracle-bone-cracking and the I Ching (Book of Changes)

Unfortunately the lengthy examination of these disciplines suffers greatly from the disadvantage that it is effectively four books in one, each of particular interest to a different audience. But it is the insightful possibilities from a wide body of research that is so valuable in the perspective that emerges from an exploration that is only too readily deprecated by disciplines that assume that the current scientific approach has a methodology adequate to the escalating challenges of governance in a crisis-prone world.

Ironically this strategic challenge of uncertainty has been (notoriously) highlighted in poetic form by a former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, as previously discussed in relation to the encoding offered by the I Ching (Unknown Undoing: challenge of incomprehensibility of systemic neglect, 2008).

With respect to the above argument, the value of the Temple review lies in the manner in which the following seemingly disparate insights exemplify "correlative thinking". Their potential future significance is further explored in a section of the main paper (Dynamic structure of events within event-space).

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