1. What is Future Consciousness: The Path to Purposeful Evolution about and why did you write it?
Before answering your opening question, I want to thank you for the opportunity to explain my new book to you and your readers of the Spiritual Media Blog.
But to begin, one simple explanation I give of the book is:
I offer a big picture of our place in the universe and explain how this big picture has very definite implications regarding how we should live our lives. In my book, I connect the cosmic and theoretical with the personal and practical.
Another short explanation is: I propose that the central challenge of human life is creating a good future. My book explains what the good future is and how we can enhance our conscious minds to best realize this goal.
Building on my first answer, a third way to describe the book is: I explain that we live in an evolutionary universe—this is the big picture of things, the most fundamental and pervasive fact of our existence—and our conscious minds are a unique and advanced expression of this cosmic evolutionary reality—this is how we fit into the big picture.
We are, indeed, an evolution in evolution. Within the history of the universe there have been repeated evolutions in the very process of evolution and humans are, to the best of our knowledge, the most recent and advanced evolution in evolution. We introduce purpose and foresight into the process of cosmic evolution, and our most distinctive and empowering capacity is to facilitate (what I refer to as) purposeful evolution within ourselves and the world around us. We, in fact, are always engaged in this process— our self-identities and human civilization as a whole are creations of purposeful evolution—but there are a number of ways to heighten this capacity. Purposeful evolution is a self-conscious process that is open to reflective and thoughtful enhancement.
Although for some people evolution is a controversial idea, I propose that we can observe evolution at work within the individual flow of our own consciousness and across our lives. Evolution is staring us right in the face. Within our conscious minds, we purposefully and regularly attempt through anticipation, value identification, goal setting, and planning to guide and orchestrate the flow of our experiences and improve ourselves and our lives (however successful or not we may be in this life-long endeavor). Individual human consciousness—its flow and directionality—is an evolutionary phenomenon. Our conscious minds and distinctive personal selves are an advanced mode of evolution, and we exercise this advanced but natural capacity both within ourselves and in our interactions with the world. Recognizing this basic fact about humans provides a realistic framework for how to live.
Finally, building on my second answer above, I can simply state the central thesis of the book:
Flourishing in the flow of purposeful evolution is the good future and heightened future consciousness or wisdom is the means to realize it.
To explain a couple key ideas in this statement:
A viable ethics needs to be based on reality. Whatever the good future (or the good) is, it is something achieved in the context of our distinctive human reality, which is purposeful evolution within an evolutionary universe. Flourishing, as a dynamic, inspiring, and developmental process within our lives, best captures the good within our transformative evolutionary reality—indeed within the normal human process of purposeful evolution. There are a number of essential qualities of flourishing, including self-determination and self-growth, deep purpose and life meaning, creativity, beauty, and engagement with others and the world, which I explain at length within the book.
But if the good future is to flourish in purposeful evolution, how do we realize this? As I state above in my central thesis, we flourish through heightened future consciousness, and this answer takes me to the heart and main substance of the book: What is future consciousness and how do we heighten or enhance it?
Future consciousness is all those normal human abilities and modes of experience we engage when approaching and creating the future. We think about the future. We anticipate and imagine it. We make plans and set goals. We have desires and emotions about it. We use our memory, our learning, and creativity. We exhibit purpose in our lives. All of this is normal, indeed essential, to everyday human life and a functioning human mind.
We are able to purposefully evolve because of our capacity for future consciousness. We are able to intentionally and thoughtfully guide our actions, our personal development, the flow of our consciousness, and our life circumstances (including our environment) with an eye on the future. We are able to purposefully influence the evolutionary flow of our lives through identifying and pursuing preferable or desirable futures. With humans, evolution has become conscious of the possibilities of where it is heading in the future and acquired the power to thoughtfully guide the future flow of events.
We exercise though the multi-faceted capacity of future consciousness with varying degrees of competence and success and I outline in the book a psychologically holistic approach (including thought, learning, imagination, emotion, motivation, value, action, and personal identity) to strengthen or heighten future consciousness. Through the heightening of future consciousness we maximize flourishing in the flow of purposeful evolution and best realize the good future. When we do this well—at a high level of excellence—we manifest wisdom.
In the book I describe a set of fundamental character virtues of heightened future consciousness, such as self-responsibility, hope and optimism, discipline and tenacity, and the love and skill of learning and thinking, and provide numerous strategies and principles for how to enhance these virtues within us, and consequently heighten our future consciousness. (This is part of the practical and applied dimension of the book.) These character virtues, which are standards of excellence for heightened future consciousness, also define as a synthetic whole the essence of wisdom. As one unique point I make in the book, what we have identified as wisdom across various cultures down through the ages is essentially what I describe as heightened future consciousness. Wisdom is the expression of our most distinctive and empowering human ability, namely, the capacity of heightened consciousness to enhance purposeful evolution. In everyday language, wisdom is excellence in the capacity to achieve what is good both for ourselves and with respect to others. (You can see a much fuller definition and expanded discussion of wisdom in the book.)
Turning to the second part of your first question, I wrote this book for a number of different reasons:
I have been teaching and writing on future consciousness and wisdom for decades and I wanted to synthesize all my thoughts into one comprehensive and integrate statement providing an organized big picture of my ideas, both practical and theoretical.
As a roadmap and set of directions, the book is an instrument of education to help individuals flourish in the flow of purposeful evolution. The book, indeed, is a instrument of purposeful evolution. I wrote the book to contribute to the very process of purposeful human evolution I describe in the book.
Also, it seems to me that there are many different answers in popular culture regarding what is wrong with the world (or ourselves) and what we need to do to fix these problems and create a good future. Although there is a great deal of value and validity in many of these solutions, I also see limitations and flaws in these diverse approaches. (The reader is referred to my book Contemporary Futurist Thought.) I believe Future Consciousness provides a unique and yet comprehensive and holistically balanced assessment of world challenges and a realistic and positive pathway forward. The book is a vehicle for bringing increased public attention to my ideas and influencing the ongoing dialogue and collective efforts to create a good future for humanity.
Finally, I wrote this book because I am intrinsically motivated—in fact, compelled—to think and to write, especially about philosophy, psychology, reality, and the future. I had to write this book; it was essential to my mental health, to my own flourishing.
2. You write a lot about future thinking, but how can we think about the future if we are so stressed out about our current or present circumstances and just trying to survive?
Trying to survive is a primitive mode of existence and focusing on our present circumstances, to whatever degree it can actually be realized, is a primordial mode of consciousness. Stress frequently occurs when we feel out of control of our future.
Pulling these points together, the solution is not to focus on survival in the present, but to re-orient our mind and aspire toward flourishing in the future. Flourishing is a transformational future-focused activity (an evolving trajectory toward the future) that envelops and yet transcends the present. When we have sense of purpose, direction, and growth into the future we no longer feel as stressed, distracted, or out of control (in the relative present); we no longer feel so dragged down by the (relative) present. The relative present no longer feels so stressful or absolutely urgent. In essence, our mindset of trying to survive in the (relative) present is what gets us into trouble psychologically; it is not a necessary or desirable condition of human life.
There is a great deal of truth in the statement “Grow or die;” we live in an evolving dynamic universe and there is no standing still. Trying to survive is an expression of stability motivation—of trying to maintain and hold on—a protective mindset often associated with fear and anxiety. But the universe flows (into a transformed and transforming future). Instead we should pursue growth (inclusive of psychological, social, and ethical growth), a key dimension of flourishing. We will not achieve a good future by simply trying to survive (in the present); we may not achieve any future at all. In fact, the most practical approach to surviving (another popular expression used is “sustainability”) is to pursue purposeful evolution and flourishing—which involves the pursuit of directional change—with an eye on the future.
There is a choice in modes of consciousness with the preferable choice requiring cultivation and practice. Pursuing a flourishing future within purposeful evolution involves courage, hope, optimism, self-fulfillment, and the realization of deep meaning in life, all positive and elevating qualities of our conscious existence. Surviving in the (relative) present, as a dominant mode of consciousness, is not a desirable, elevated, or necessary mode of existence for humans.
3. Similarly, doesn’t thinking about the future distract us from our ability to “be in the now” or enjoy the present moment?
My simple answer is no; in fact, the opposite is the case. This particular question probably best brings to the forefront the substance and unique message of my book.
First, there is no pure present; given the nature of the human mind (and brain), the conscious present is always contextualized in terms of memory and anticipation. There is only a “relative present.”
Second, approximating to a pure present is a primordial state of consciousness, reflective of what human infants and primitive animals experience. Temporally expansive consciousness (bringing in the extended past and the future) is a more advanced mode of consciousness; the present becomes enveloped and interpreted in a big picture of time; it allows us to engage in purposeful evolution.
Third, the most deep and discriminating experiences we have of the “ relative present” (which is always flowing into the future) involve thoughtful and informed (through learning and memory) contemplation of the present.
Fourth, it is through the purposeful and thoughtful orchestration of our lives with an eye on the future that we best maximize the quantity and quality of pleasure and happiness in the relative present and across the lifespan.
In essence, what makes us special and what empowers us is our expansive temporal consciousness and to simply attempt to enjoy the present, disconnected from memory, anticipation, and planning, is an evolutionary regression. Psychologically, it borders on the impossible. Indeed, to whatever degree we focus purely on the present—without considering what we have learned and remembered and what potential anticipated consequences may occur—is what frequently gets us in the most amount of trouble in life and generates the most significant amount of unethical behavior. All of our major global problems (let alone personal ones) are a result of narrowly focusing on (becoming immersed within) the relative present, without sufficient consideration to the lessons of the past or the possibilities of the future. The contemporary popularity of the philosophy of presentism is psychologically regressive, highly misleading, and counter- productive to the experience of quality of life. Indeed, as psychological research seems to demonstrate the greatest degree of short-term and long-term happiness derives not from a “hedonism of the present” but from a future-directional, disciplined, and growth- oriented constructive mind.
4. Can you talk a little bit about the concept of reciprocity and the role that plays in Future Consciousness?
Besides evolution, reciprocity is the second key idea I employ in understanding the nature of human reality.
The concept of reciprocity, which I developed from both Western and Eastern sources, entails that the universe consists of distinct and yet interdependent realities. such as modeled in the Taoist Yin Yang vision of complementarities. All of us are open systems in which we realize and advance our distinctiveness and our identity through interaction and exchange with our surroundings. Reciprocity though does not mean that everything is One; it means that the cosmos is both a relative unity and a relative plurality, each pole requiring the other. Unity (oneness, connectedness) and plurality (diversity, individuality) are a Yin Yang. We are both part of something bigger and yet distinct individuals; both ends of the reciprocity need to be acknowledged. We get into trouble— ethically, psychologically, and socially—when we ignore or minimize either end of the relationship.
Of special importance, the conscious self exists in a reciprocal relationship with the surrounding physical environment. There is a great deal to say on this point, especially as it pertains to the age-old puzzle of the relationship of consciousness and physical matter, which can be read about in the book.
But to focus on the issue of the future: When we imagine our future we can not realistically imagine it independent of our environment; our environment is essential to our very conscious existence. Reciprocally, our environment is not something totally independent of us; we impact it in numerous ways and our understanding of it is structured by our conscious minds. Consequently, there is no absolute objective environment that humanity exists within; the environment is something open to the interpretations and actions of humans. (On a related note, there is no “natural environment” independent of humans.) We are participatory in the creation (and meaning) of the environment in which we find ourselves, and we always have some level of potential power and influence upon it. We are not victims of the world, either now or regarding our potential future.
Also, pulling together reciprocity and evolution, the future should be seen as an expression of reciprocal evolution, of all the active systems of nature in mutual influence regarding their respective future evolutionary directions. Yet although the earth may be an interactive evolution of diverse systems, humans have a special role to play in this process, for we bring learning, thought, foresight, imagination, and purpose into the evolution of nature. Whether we like it or not, the future of the earth and of us within it will involve purposeful evolution and our essential role in this process. The earth is going to change—to evolve—in the future and it is our very distinctive nature that, as in the past, we are going to influence this transformation in the future. Hence we need exercise this role with skill, ethics, and wisdom. The hands off approach isnʼt realistic— indeed it is hypocritical—but wisdom does entail the study, understanding, and appreciation of the reality we are attempting to guide.
In this regard, it is also important to mention that we exist in a reciprocal relationship with our machines/technology; we are evolving with our machines evolving with us. We are, indeed, functional cyborgs (and have been for millions of years), an interactive synthesis of the biological and the technological. (We could also legitimately say that the earth is (becoming) a cyborg system.) Yet, it behooves us to wisely guide this reciprocal evolution of humans and machines (and nature), something we have not done very well in the past. (Among other things we have been too short-sighted, too immersed in the relative present.) We need to purposefully evolve ourselves as “wise cyborgs,” using wisdom and our evolving concept of the good future to guide the creation and implementation of technologies and their inevitable impact upon ourselves and the world. But we can not abandon technology, lest we abandon our own humanity.
In all these various reciprocal relationships, we need to embrace self-responsibility—a key character virtue of heightened future consciousness—for both our ongoing evolution and the evolution of the environment and our machines. We should not be passive in our role regarding the future of ourselves and the world; in fact, we can not avoid impacting the future flow of the totality of things. What makes us human is our capacity to use our evolved minds to purposefully realize this end. It is our ethical responsibility— our primary moral imperative—to do this well: With wisdom to guide the purposeful evolution of ourselves, technology, and the world.
5. How did you get interested in Future Consciousness and what sort of impact has that had on your life?
I became interested in “Future Consciousness” through teaching. I created my first course on the future in the early 1990s because I needed to find an integrative topic that pulled together social, psychological, scientific, environmental, and philosophical themes. I realized the study of the future facilitated integrative, interdisciplinary, and big picture learning and thinking. I also soon realized that the study of the future had a great number of psychological benefits, at emotional, personal, and cognitive levels. Then it hit me, thinking as a psychologist, that there were a number of ways to enhance a personʼs mental capacities for approaching the future and make the experience of the future more positive and constructive. At some point, soon thereafter, I created the expression “future consciousness” to refer to the total set of mental abilities and experiences involved in our consciousness of the future and coined the expression “heightened future consciousness” to describe the enhancement of this total set of psychological abilities and modes of experience. For years I taught the general course on the future, but I eventually starting teaching workshops and courses focused on heightening future consciousness. But also from the get-go, my pump was primed due to my life-long interest in science fiction visions of the future, and in particular, in what ways (many offered through science fiction) we could imagine the human mind evolving in the future; that is, what is the future of consciousness? When I arrive at the end of my book on Future Consciousness I flow right into the topic of the future of consciousness. The two topics are connected.
The impact that “Future Consciousness” has had on my life is multi-faceted:
Increasingly over the last twenty-five years, since I taught my first course on the future, “Future Consciousness” has become the center of gravity and unique focus of my teaching and published writings. I have created a professional niche and achieved significant global professional recognition for my writings on “Future Consciousness.” (The bulk of top listings on “Future Consciousness” on Google pertain to my books, articles, presentations, and website.) Recently, I was given a “Fellow Award” from the World Futures Studies Federation for my work, an award only fifty futurists have been given in the entire world over the last fifty years.
“Future Consciousness” has also affected me personally. Although I have researched countless books, articles, and research reports in futures studies, psychology, science, and philosophy as I developed my ideas on “Future Consciousness,” one significant source of inspiration and confirmation (or invalidation) for my ideas has been the ongoing introspective analysis of my own consciousness. In fact, a reciprocal loop has emerged over the years: I take ideas from other sources and contemplate how well these ideas align with my own consciousness, but I also draw ideas from introspection and see how they fit (or donʼt fit) with the writings and research of others. Moreover, as the theory of heightened future consciousness developed over time—as a normative theory of how we should exercise our future consciousness and how we should live—I have taken its principles and tested them and attempted to follow them within my own life. (I strive to live a “Wisdom Narrative” as my ideal future personal narrative; I repeatedly question how well I am doing it.) As for many psychologists and philosophers of life, we become our own experimental subjects. All in all, “Future Consciousness” has become an interpretive framework and set of guiding principles within my own life and the flow of my consciousness.
The concept of “Future Consciousness” has also provided a way to connect my varied interests in: The future; psychology and philosophy; evolution, science, and cosmology; wisdom and the purpose of education; and science fiction.
For example, my latest writing project is the creation of a multi-volume history of science fiction titled Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future (first volume due out next year). The concept of “Future Consciousness” provides a framework to interpret the evolution of science fiction: To a great degree, science fiction is the purposeful evolution of future consciousness realized in a literary and mythic form. Indeed, in looking at the nature of mythic consciousness within human history (as part of my research for this book series), I was able to enrich and broaden my understanding of “holistic future consciousness”—of total person immersion in the experience of the future. The concluding section of my Future Consciousness book examines the great philosopher and science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon—who wrote cosmic “wisdom narratives” of the future—providing a link between that book and my science fiction series to come.
Thus as an integrative theme, “Future Consciousness” reaches outward drawing in new and fascinating connections.
6. What are you hoping people will learn or take away from Future Consciousness: The Path to Purposeful Evolution?
The book should enlighten the reader on a new way to view themselves and how they fit within the universe (but also within society and the earth); it should provoke cosmic consciousness (another of the key virtues of heightened future consciousness). The book should also provide a host of individual strategies and practical principles for evolving the readerʼs conscious mind and way of life, and more broadly provide a general strategic framework for re-directing the totality of their life and personal consciousness. The book should both transform them and empower them for ongoing transformation throughout their future life.
Yet I can not imagine in first reading the book that the full benefit and impact of it will be realized. So as I wrote the book I simultaneously created and piloted with students an online program of study that aligns with the book. In the online course—which will be accessible on the Web when the book is published in October—the reader can more methodically move through the content in the book, guided by instructional questions and learning activities, and have the opportunity to study and practice and receive feedback from a teacher over an extended period of time. The book may light the fuse, but the course should get the fire burning with sufficient tenacity. There will also be a weekend in-person workshop that can be taken in conjunction with or independent of the online course.
If all goes well—that is ideally—the reader and student takes away a new sense of self- identity and way of life.
7. Anything else you would like to say about the book?
An important component of heightened future consciousness is cultivating an uplifting and empowering vision of the future of humanity. Our individual lives and personal aspirations find deeper meaning and purpose when connected with a hopeful vision for humanity and the earth as a whole. We realize transcendence by connecting our “ideal future personal narrative” with an “ideal future grand narrative” (this is a key learning activity for heightening future consciousness described in the book and the course).
In the concluding chapter of my book I outline how my ideas can be applied to a preferable future for education (the central goal of education should be wisdom); the future of human society (we need to create “An Age of Wisdom”); our ecological future within an evolving environment; and the future evolution of the human mind. That is, I provide some key illustrations of how my ideas apply to the big picture and ideal grand narrative of the future. In the final analysis, we are all contributing to the purposeful evolution of humanity and the world—the effects of our thoughts and actions ripple out into the cosmos—so we need to set our sights on a wise and ethical direction for our collective future and actively and thoughtfully participate in its creation. We should see our future selves with the future whole. This is a key part of our personal future consciousness.
Again, Matt, thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and your readers.
For more information about Tom Lombardo, Ph.D., please visit http://www.centerforfutureconsciousness.com/. Images of artwork in this post were created by Tom Lombardo, Ph.D. For further information about the artwork please visit http://www.centerforfutureconsciousness.com/futurist_art1.htm