Ethical Futures and the Noosphere
with PJ Manney
Ethical Futures and the Noosphere
with PJ Manney
In episode 6 we talk with PJ Manney the author of the bestselling and Philip K. Dick Award nominated Phoenix Horizon trilogy, (R)EVOLUTION, (ID)ENTITY, and (CON)SCIENCE. She is on the board of directors of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is the futurist, media consultant and writer/producer for the Human Energy Project, runs The New Mythos Project and is the former chairperson of Humanity Plus (H+). She worked in motion picture PR at Walt Disney/Touchstone Pictures and wrote as Patricia Manney for the critically acclaimed hit TV shows Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess. She will get you thinking about the course of Silicon Valley technology bereft of ethical foundations. Follow @pjmanney
Ethical Futures and the Noosphere
She is on the board of directors of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is the futurist, media consultant and writer/producer for the Human Energy Project, and runs The New Mythos Project. A former chairperson of Humanity Plus.
A brain–computer interface (BCI), sometimes called a brain–machine interface (BMI), is a direct communication pathway between the brain’s electrical activity and an external device, most commonly a computer or robotic limb. BCIs are often directed at researching, mapping, assisting, augmenting, or repairing human cognitive or sensory-motor functions.
Superluminal communication is a hypothetical process in which information is sent at faster-than-light (FTL) speeds.
Medical problems of space flight. Several consistent medical problems have been encountered by astronauts during space flights. These include vestibular dysfunction, weight loss, increase in height, upward fluid shift, anemia, cardiovascular deconditioning, muscle atrophy, and bone loss. Almost all of these alterations can be attributed to the absence of gravitational force. Most are adaptive in nature and therefore reversible, but readaptation after returning to earth may cause further problems.
Analysts believe that commercial developments in the space industry may be on the cusp of starting the largest resource rush in history: mining on the Moon, Mars and asteroids.
Elon musks Musks TED talk – A future worth getting excited about
The Expanse is a series of science fiction novels The Expanse is set in a future in which humanity has colonized much of the Solar System, but does not have interstellar travel. Travel over the vast distances between planets of the solar system has been made possible with the “Epstein drive”, though the G-force exerted during acceleration is debilitating without the use of special drugs.
Altered Carbon is a 2002 cyberpunk novel by the English writer Richard K. Morgan. Set in a future in which interstellar travel and relative immortality is facilitated by transferring consciousnesses between bodies.
A paradigm shift, is a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline, the concept of a paradigm shift has also been used in numerous non-scientific contexts to describe a profound change in a fundamental model or perception of events.
Technology Feels Like It’s Accelerating, because It Actually Is.
Technological evolution speeds up exponentially
Because each generation of technology improves over the last, the rate of progress from version to version speeds up.
To see this, imagine making a chair with hand tools, power tools, and finally assembly lines. Production gets faster after each step. Now imagine each generation of these tools is also used to design and build better tools. Kurzweil suggests such a process is at play in the design of ever-faster computer chips with the software and computers used by engineers.
The ethics of artificial intelligence is the branch of the ethics of technology specific to artificially intelligent systems. It is sometimes divided into a concern with the moral behavior of humans as they design, make, use and treat artificially intelligent systems, and a concern with the behavior of machines, in machine ethics. It also includes the issue of a possible singularity due to superintelligent AI.
Ethical concerns mount as AI takes bigger decision-making role in more industries
Heidi & Alvin Toffler. Three books cemented the Toffler’s fame: Future Shock (1970), The Third Wave (1980), and Powershift (1990). A decade apart, the books forecast some of the key pillars of modern history. From cloning to personal computers, virtual reality, terrorism, and even the breakdown of the nuclear family, the Toffler’s ability to sense the future was marred only by a few abstract ideas such as underwater cities and space colonies.
Cliodynamics (developed by Peter Turchin) is a transdisciplinary area of research that integrates cultural evolution, economic history/cliometrics, macrosociology, the mathematical modeling of historical processes during the longue durée, and the construction and analysis of historical databases.
Elite overproduction is a concept developed by Peter Turchin, which describes the condition of a society which is producing too many potential elite-members relative to its ability to absorb them into the power structure.This, he hypothesizes, is a cause for social instability, as those left out of power feel aggrieved by their relatively low socioeconomic status.
In 2006 Turchin published a notable article Population Dynamics and Internal Warfare:
Extreme Inequality is Rising.History teaches us this inequality is unsustainable. There are four potential futures that are explored in the book The Rise of Technosocialism. All but one of these possible futures result in us solving the problems of inequality, access to healthcare, education, and adequate food, clothing and shelter for all humanity. The others will likely result in much greater division, revolutions, armed uprising and much more autocratic rule. The current system is largely unsustainable. New thinking is required.
The Powers of Ten films are two short American documentary films written and directed by Charles and Ray Eames. Both works depict the relative scale of the Universe according to an order of magnitude (or logarithmic scale) based on a factor of ten, first expanding out from the Earth until the entire universe is surveyed, then reducing inward until a single atom and its quarks are observed.
Heterotopia is a concept elaborated by philosopher Michel Foucault to describe certain cultural, institutional and discursive spaces that are somehow ‘other’: disturbing, intense, incompatible, contradictory or transforming. Heterotopias are worlds within worlds, mirroring and yet upsetting what is outside.
The ethics of technology. There’s a familiar pattern when a new technology is introduced: It grows rapidly, comes to permeate our lives, and only then does society begin to see and address the problems it creates. But is it possible to head off possible problems? asks the HBR
Noosphere The noosphere is a philosophical concept developed and popularized by the Russian-Ukrainian Soviet biogeochemist Vladimir Vernadsky, and the French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Vernadsky defined the noosphere as the new state of the biosphere and described as the planetary “sphere of reason”The noosphere represents the highest stage of biospheric development, its defining factor being the development of humankind’s rational activities
▬ Contents of this video ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬
01:10 – PJ Manney futurist & author
03:28 – How Science Fiction quickly becomes science fact eg brain computer interfaces
05:01 – Don’t send humans into space its stupid, send robots instead
10:10 – Warnings about the Metaverse and a dystopian future
11:40 – A how to manual for a better future
15:04 – Entering a paradigm shift for humanity & the book ‘The NewMythos’
15:45 – A huge technological event and huge ethical shift
18:00 – Science fiction for the world we are in right now, no spaceships, no time travel
19:10 – the rise of authoritarian fascist thought in the west
22:11 – include peeople in where humanity is head of face future shock
23:00 – why we need to talk about ethics on AI right now
32:10 – the powers of 10 movie by Ray & Charles Eames
34:55 – how does PJ Manney go about writing
40:13 – pursuing the American dream comes with a price
42:22 – people running technology companies that are borderline sociopaths with no grounding in ethics or philosophy
43:07 – where is empathy created in the brain
45:00 – the Noosphere & ethics
Welcome to the futurist where we explore the thought leaders, the engineers, the thinkers, examining and building the future. This week on the futurists, we’re going to introduce you to not only someone who writes in the Sci Fi world, but also someone who is involved in the forecasting space. And I’ll let you introduce her, Robert. Well, that’s great bread. Thanks. And welcome back to our listeners. You know, Brett, I was thinking, since we just recently conducted an interview with a super forecaster, I’ve been thinking a lot about scenario planning. And the people who do this professionally are typically hired by organizations that have a real long time horizon, you know, think about somebody in the energy industry, for instance, and they want to get a scenario that’s, you know, 10 or 20 years out in the future.
And what I’ve come to conclude is that the people who do this for a living tend to present that scenario in the driest possible terms. You know, they don’t present it in a sensational way because then they won’t be taken seriously. So they kind of oversteer or overcorrect for boringness, because boringness equals credibility in the business world. And I’ve often thought, Well, wait a minute, what would happen? If you went the other direction? What would happen if you embraced? I don’t know, possibilities? And and maybe some of the specular possibilities might lead to a little more drama and excitement? In other words, what would happen if you tried to make that storytelling? Right? That’s exactly right. By putting putting yourself in those forecasted scenarios, or worlds, that’s, that’s, that’s, I guess, the difference between sci fi and just pure forecasting. That’s exactly right. And then that leads us to today’s speaker, who is a forecaster power excellence, who also tells a darn good story. So this is an introduction to PJ Mani, she is a best selling author, in particularly a well known for the trilogy, called Phoenix horizon that was nominated for the Philip K Dick award.
And she’s a fabulous writer. But she’s also really well grounded in these technologies, because she’s a practitioner herself. And she’s involved in organizations like the institute for ethics and emerging technology. And she’s been active in those fields for decades. So she’s no newcomer to this stuff. And that’s really well borne out by her books. So welcome to the show, PJ. It’s a real pleasure to have you here with me and Brett, thank you so much, Robert. And Brett, it’s a pleasure to be here. Welcome. So
you’ve been living in that future for many, many years. As far as I can tell. It’s sent a note over to PJ talking about how she creates future scenarios. And she pointed out to me that actually, they’re pretty close to the present day. So I guess the first question I have for you Pj is Do you consider yourself a science fiction writer, or a writer of more speculative fiction that’s grounded in the presence?
Well, the funny thing about the Phoenix horizon trilogy is that when I wrote revolution, I started writing in 2007. I finished it in 2009. And then I did rewrites, but they were mostly for literary merit.
And it didn’t get sold until 2014. And it came out in 2015. So you know, back in 2009, when I finished all the technological aspects of it, it was science fiction, I was talking about brain computer interfaces, and nano medicine, and a whole host of technologies, especially cognitive technologies, which were really just being theorized at the time and their work, research and development. Everything I write about was really in research and development, but I spun it out into these, you know, how would I build a brain computer interface? And what became ironic
was that apparently, some pretty famous brain computer interface people read my books and decided to get into brain computer interfaces in the first place. And well, you know, if you look at the first version of neural link, that’s actually been manifest not what they originally formulated the neural lace but the, the, the present, construction of it is directly out of my book, and, and then later books I wrote, I discovered that the same calendar was was using more things out of the book and going into those areas. And the combination was I say something at the end of conscience. Basically, please don’t send humans into space. It’s stupid. We really need robots in body
You know, basically embodied intelligences, but that are robots because their space is really too dangerous for humans. And what does he literally months later bring out a dancer and a robot suit?
To announce that, no, he’s actually going to send robots to Mars? And I just sit there and go, Okay, great. Keys now, can you put the ethics that I put in the book, and
we were fortunate to have Harry Quran,
you know, just on a previous episode talking about his robot avatar.
And, you know, it does make a lot of sense to use a avatar robot body. Of course, the problem you’ve got with Mars is that the, you know, the distance in terms of communication, unless we can figure out superluminal communication, you know, you’re always gonna have a lag,
you know, between, you know, you’re not going to have real time teleoperation. So, I mean, isn’t the whole part of it like, experiential, like, I want to go to Mars, I want to put boots on the ground. You know, I know it’s dangerous to trip. But I think it’s, I think it’s going to depend on who you are. And there will always be people who wish to go into space, I think that’s fantastic. But you can’t assume that you can actually have humanity move into certain not all space, certain space, with gravitational atmospheric problems, for which we do not yet have solutions. Human body is fairly fragile, in Flash, fragile and designed solely for this planetary experience.
I do think that we will come up with as time goes on some interesting hacks around this. But I fundamentally don’t think that the timelines that have been given
in the advertising, shall we say, are accurate.
Certainly for for humans in the scope in which that they’ve been discussed.
Just the fact that people who spent a great deal of time in orbit not even out in space, they come back with physical deformities, you know, sometimes blindness, bone loss that’s never recovered. So I think I think we’ve greatly kind of wallpapered over those issues, you think about the great duration of the of the trip to Mars, that might be a one way ticket for human being. And any rate, there’s a finite amount of distance, we can go with this life support systems to keep those humans alive. It meanwhile, all the really serious science that’s happening in space right now as being done by robotic systems that were launched, sometimes decades. And really, you have to remember that the the app, the marketing for Mars is really about asteroids. What we’re looking for is a low gravity takeoff, a low gravity, well for takeoff, so that we can go into the asteroids mind, it’s all about mining, rare earth, minerals, all the things we need to continue the technologies that we are have created and will continue to create. They’re made with materials that are becoming harder and harder on Earth to find it’s not only that they’re not everywhere. But certain countries are now having a monopoly on those materials. And certain entrepreneurs don’t want anyone else to have a monopoly on those materials. So really, what they’re looking for is mining operations. And that’s what this is all about. If you actually look at everything that Musk has done, in the technological space, every single thing he’s done is actually a preparation to use it on Mars. That occurred to me the other day watching his TED talk, because he when he’s talking about abundance,
you know that that’s the limitation to, to that premise is that, you know, you, you can’t have abundance without asteroid mining effectively. At some point, you’ve got to throw that in the equation. But then again, you also have the issue of, you know, I say, I’ve called the expanse issue, which is fan boys of the expanse. And look, I’m a huge fan of the expanse but as a work of fiction.
The problem is that people look at
this becomes this is actually the interesting issue of between science fiction and a future scenario building is, you know, in science fiction, we go after the drama, we go after the dilemmas, the obstacles, the difficulties, because you know, you want people invested, and in a story, and that’s a very western form of storytelling, by the way, which I can talk about other versions of that later. But with with that, you get this as inspiration for few real futures as opposed to just science fiction futures. And there are a number of people who read the expanse who look at it as a how to manual so we’ll create indentured servitude we’ll create
will basically take all of our problems on Earth, and we’ll just transfer them into space without really having any interest in solving those.
Yeah, that’s a really good point. I mean, in a way, that’s the same thing that’s happening with the metaverse, right? You’ve got all these very literal minded folks in Silicon Valley who want to build the metaverse when Neil Stevenson was very clear. When we read Snow Crash that this was a warning. This is a dystopian scenario, and they seem to have gotten they seem to miss the message there. Well, this is the problem with the cautionary tale. You know, we as science fiction writers enjoy writing the cautionary tale, because honestly, it’s easy. Like this is the dirty secret about science fiction as you want to write the cautionary tale, because it’s the easiest story to tell. But even Neil Stevenson is one of the reasons why I have moved into certain areas, even Neil Stevenson said in around 2011, he started talking about this.
The problem with writing dystopias is that people think that that’s okay, we’re not going to work our way out of this, we’re just going to head right down into the belly of the beast. And that’s not the case. If we give our audiences how to manual for a better future, if we show them pads, two possible futures that could be had. Well, wouldn’t that make a better future? We had Kevin J. Anderson on talking about this.
For our second episode, our no Gil guest episode, and he was saying that, you know, part of this is because if you look historically, at sci fi production at a movie or TV level, it was a lot cheaper to do dystopian worlds than it was, you know,
worlds with abundance and where inequality had been resolved and things like that. So hopefully, now with CGI, and so forth, we’ll have more representation of these optimistic views of the future. But you’re right, you know, it’s things like, I can’t, I can’t understand it. Because for me, sci fi is all about optimism, you know, and the possible futures. But generation.
This is generational bread. This is generational because what we have is an inverse relationship for positive stories and bad times. And then as times get better, we inversely flipped to better times with bad stories because we have the the safety and security to actually take in the bad story.
You know, we were we just came out of a period last several decades, where we all felt we were on the upswing, everything was great. And we could take the dystopias in, we could we could wallow in them. But during the Depression during the war, we were doing screwball comedies and movie musicals. And there is this inverse relationship through the history of entertainment between how the time is perceived by the people who are living in it and the kind of entertainment that’s being presented. And right now, we as a culture, see that we’re not in a good time, but things are getting nutty. And we want more positive futures because it’s really I mean, nobody wants to read dystopia. Trust me when I tell you, the people being published right now are very upset if they’ve been writing.
Matthew McConaughey is going to be doing more rom coms again. No Is that Is that what you’re predicting? Oh, I actually I know this for a fact. Because Netflix,
basically, well, Netflix is going into the rom com Business hard or hardcore. So yes.
I mean, I have really, I’ve I’ve enjoyed the fact that we’ve had some stellar sci fi, like the expanse, you know, altered carbon and you know, stuff like that. We’ve had some amazing sci fi to watch the last few years as a, as a guy that grew up in the world of Star Trek and so forth. I love this. But
yeah, it’s interesting to sort of observe that different style of storytelling, and what will the current, you know, like the COVID?
situation? How will that change our narrative over the coming? decade or two? I have a lot of ideas on that, actually, I can imagine.
So I’m writing a book called The New mythos. And I’ve already taught a class on this for the RAMBo Academy of wayward writers. So for science fiction and fantasy specula fiction authors.
We’re in a period right now of it’s not COVID As much as the realization that we’re in a paradigm shifting period for humanity.
You’re not imagining it, it’s all true.
The Internet, the vaporization, if I may use Roberts word
the virtualizing of the world is something that we as humans have never experienced. And every time we go through as a species, a major technological event that changes, not just says when we say changes society, it sounds very, you know, okay, changes society. No, I’m talking about it changes, who we think we are, how we relate to one another in families, communities, and society and how we relate to the cosmos. I mean, it is it is a huge, ethical shift. And this happened in the first millennium BC, when all of the religions of the world were basically formulated. It happened. And when you look back, it was the the rise of the city, it was the bringing together of large groups are bigger than Dunbar’s number. So people had to create trust systems. So we were recreated these laws and religions to help us deal with each other in close proximity. The next big one was the enlightenment,
which changed everything with the Industrial Revolution and the scientific method and scientific inquiry. And that completely changed how we told stories. I mean, Frankenstein, there’s a reason Frankenstein happened. It is it wasn’t a Oh, my goodness, how did this this work of art, the first great speculative work of art
happen, it happened because of this huge change. And now we’re in the next change. And so every time we go through a change, we actually change our myths. And we actually lay them on top of each other. It’s like, it’s archeology, right? You don’t eliminate the Bronze Age ideas, you build on top of them, and you throw out what doesn’t work for you right now. Then you bring on new stories and new myths. So that’s where we are right now. And I’ve been working with writers, creatives, academics, ethicists, and coming up with ways of framing these new stories that we’re going to be telling. And they all involve new ways of seeing ourselves, which are very when you think about a very sci fi.
That’s a really good starting point for a conversation then, you know, all this talk about spaceships and dystopias takes us pretty far apart pretty far away, I guess from your subject matter, which doesn’t involve any spaceships. In fact, I said to someone when I told them that we’re going to interview they said, What kind of what kind of books to read? And I said, Well, she writes sci fi for people who don’t like spaceships and monsters, or time travel, right. It’s sort of it’s science fiction for people who want to relate to the world that we’re in right now. Because that’s weird enough, like the world that we’re in right now is such that the one of the factors, you mentioned, these technologies is accelerating technologies, right? So things are moving so fast that the weird The world today is weird enough, you don’t really need to invoke some, you know, some some spaceship in order to explain it. Or to make it seem strange to people. I shouldn’t say the context is right around us. So talk to us a little bit about beyond the new mythos. Tell us about the books that you’ve written. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about revolution, identity conscience, the Phoenix horizon trilogy, and, and what those represented, I did not realize that there that there’s those books are actually in some cases more than 10 years old, because they seem so fresh. Thank you. I appreciate that.
So, I I saw back in the early 2000s, the rise of authoritarian, one might even say, fascist thought in the West, the reemergence, it always been there, you have to remember that 30% of any human population is authoritarian, just That’s how humans work. But I was watching it starting to take center stage. And I also was watching this use of new technologies, the research into new technologies, about nanomedicine brain computer interfaces, robotics, artificial intelligence, that I knew were going to change everything.
And I want to take people the books are very funny. They’re a little deceptive, because I designed them. The first book is a political techno thriller, right. You know, you can still pick it up now and go oh, airport novel, like, but with like, you know,
So, I want to take you by the hand and lead you into the future book by book. So the first book, you get through to a pretty outrageous end with uploading and you know, digital intelligences and all the rest, but you feel like it’s a world you recognize. So I’m not having to teach you about I’m not having to do a world building where I have to teach you about everything.
all over again, which is where the alienation comes in. For non science fiction readers. It’s true, I mean, down to like us, building on the Stanford campus, you know, like, like, it’s it’s very concrete and tangible and recognizable. Right. So and then the second book ups the ante ups, the science fiction level ups, the political futurist level up to all of it. And then the final book is pretty hardcore science fiction. It takes a lot of takes place virtually, even though I ground those places again. And if you read conscience, Robert, you might have recognized the purple Valley,
where he goes to where they build, build a place he’s been before. And it actually is the Williams campus. And the church and the church that he has the conversations with, in essence, himself. Another version of himself, is in fact, the church right in the center of Williams.
My kids, thank you for name checking my college that’s really honorable.
Oh, Williams, Williams. So, so I wanted to take people where they didn’t think they could go, and I had this reaction from so many, what I would consider mainstream readers, which was, I didn’t think I liked science fiction, but I love these books. And, and I’m totally along for the ride. He’s like, You got me. And that that, for me was my job. So I have a mission statement. And my mission statement in life is to help people understand where they’re going. But I don’t want to do it just among us, right? I don’t want to do that, you know, like Brett, and and you. And I want to include everybody in that. When we don’t include people and where the future is going. We have future shock. And that’s actually what we’re in right now.
We’re in this process of shock and disgust and revulsion of things that people don’t understand. Because that makes them scared, right? You know, and fear is the most dangerous thing we can have. The only thing to fear is fear itself is actually true.
So I want people to have a familiarity. So when this stuff happens, they just don’t freak out. And it’s a it’s almost a philosophical question or debate, right, is where humanity’s going. And I think we’ve got to have those grownup conversations, you know, and,
you know, these sort of dialogues are important in establishing, you know, this is why we have to talk about ethics in AI right now, this is why we have to talk about this. Because if we don’t, and we just go on this autopilot trajectory that we’ve been, we’ve been on as a species, then the outcomes not optimal. Oh, absolutely. You know, it’s funny, I was just on a panel for the United Nations Association, and they were doing a women in AI technology. And I was really honored to be on it, because it was like, you know, the head of AI for Walmart that, you know, the Chief Technology Officer for IBM and all women really fascinating. And I, everybody was getting very into the nitty gritty, which is fantastic, of how do we make better AI, better, more women in AI, etc. And I actually kept on pulling everybody out to the big picture, which is, in every aspect of technologies, not just artificial intelligence, but in every aspect of technology. If you’re missing 51% of the population, you’re missing more than half the population. And if you are not considering how over half the society needs to come to grips with this, also, we’re talking about the elderly, and children. And, you know, we’re talking about entire groups that aren’t being considered in the biases. So what do you do you have to write yourself into the story? And again, it’s kind of a it can sound trite, but it actually isn’t. Because if we don’t tell those stories from the very beginning, if children don’t know that they have a right to decide how AI is used, if women and minorities and every ethnicity and the elderly don’t have a right to start making decisions about how AI is used, then we have failed as a society, because that’s when it runs us.
Well, on that note, we probably need to head to a break right now. But in the second half, we’ll certainly come back to this topic of ethics and technology as a gigantic ethical blind spot in the tech space right now. You’re listening to the futurists with Brett King and myself, Rob turistic. And our guest today is PJ Mani, so stay tuned for this. We’ll be back in just a second.
Welcome back, you’re listening to the futurists. Before the break, we’d started our conversation with PJ Mani, a author of super forecaster future thinker in the space. And we just got finished talking a little bit about AI ethics. But PJ, you know, when we look at the the world of, you know, the future that you try and introduce people to, you know, maybe we can sort of start with a reference point going back to, you know, the work of Alvin Toffler and, and so forth, that the elements of how humanity adapts to these magnitude nearness changes in terms of the way we live together, though the way technology changes society and so forth. You know, how do you think about that framing in terms of adaptation of humanity? You know, what’s needed to successfully transition these ages between these massive leaps in technology, for example?
I’d like to just back up one second and and ask that we call them the toddlers because it was Alvin and Heidi and Heidi was his full partner and she gets forgotten. Actually, considering the time they were writing. You know, she, she, I think the reason that Toffler has got so much right is because it was Alvin and Heidi.
That’s, that’s you absolutely right, calling me out on that. And I do the same with will and Ariel Durant when I talk about lessons from history, right, you know, it’s because it’s always will derive the but but yeah, it was was a team effort.
I think that the talks were phenomenal. And they really saw what was coming, what we’ve already experienced, and kind of where we are now. I think what’s what we’re going to be seeing in the biggest sense is, we’ve seen the failure of I’m going to use the word globalism. Because everybody thinks it’s a big bad now. But I’m going to recast it in another way. In a moment. I think we’re going to see more growth in coming together and community building, we’re seeing it already. But we’re going to see that accelerate, because one of the things that the internet has done, unfortunately has accelerated trends, which were already happening. So we were have coming into I’m a big, I’m a big fan of clear dynamics. And Peter Turchin, he became a friend, he actually proof read the clear dynamics section and identity. And I really agree with him in these 40 to 60 year cycles, certainly in the West, and the reasons why we come together and social cohesion and the reasons why we dissolve that cohesion. And we’ve been in a period of dissolution for a while and you know, back in 2009, was a 2006. He I think it was in nature, he printed the famous political violence article where he’s like, okay, 2021 we’re gonna be you know, it’s all it’s all going to hell in a handbasket. And that’s because he was watching these trends, much like the toddlers had of conflict building has grown more growth of haves and have nots, what they call elite overproduction, and clear dynamics, which is the idea that the elites there’s so many leads now they’re so successful, there’s everybody wants to be an elite, that’s suddenly, the road to being an elite, whether it’s a certain kinds of college educations, whether it’s certain kinds of jobs are now harder and harder to get. It’s only so many chairs on the Musical Chairs of being in the elite. There are only so many people in so many positions. And yet the greasy pole gets grease here and grease here
to get there. That’s that’s not all, he says, As you overproduce elites. And you know, as you say, there’s musical chairs, it’s not enough seats for all the people that universities are producing, who have elite complications, then some of those disaffected people who can’t find a role, a constructive role. They started to take on a D destructive role. And I think we’re seeing examples of that, even here in the United States and our political leadership where you know, if I can’t be constructive villain, I’ll be destructive. I’ll bring it down and we’re systematically demolishing institutions. Again, it’s not science fiction. This is the this is the world that we’re in right now in 2022.
Exactly. And the thing you have to remember is it’s a world we were in in the 60s. It was a world we were in in the 19 teens and 20s. It was a world we were in during Civil War, I mean, you can just keep on going back every 40 to 60 years and you know, in American history, and we’re always in that kind of, of political and social turmoil. The difference now is that we also have the 100 year cycle of pandemic at the same time. And we also have the 200 year cycle. It’s called the secular cycle, including AmEx, which has to be, which is about empire. And we are the Empire. And so we’re actually in in a collision of three cycles all hitting the bottom at the same time.
Historically, anomalous levels of inequality. Yes, exactly. Which sort of takes us back to like the dark ages. You know, that’s the last reference point we have for this type of inequality.
Exactly. So we have the most extreme version right now. That’s not to say we can’t have a positive future because we can. It’s just we have to redefine what success looks like. What does success look like as an individual as again, individual, family, community, nation world? And I like to look at success. Do you guys remember that the powers of 10 movie that Ray and Charles Eames made talk about, again, again, another great couple. So the whole movie was about teaching exponential change, by by, you know, zooming in on the couple on the on the picnic blanket zooming out to the edges of the universe and back into a subatomic particle in the skin of the woman on the blanket. And every time you came in, or out by a factor of 10, it was a completely different view. And what I like to do is use that like, like, show that video and say to people now look, there are solutions that work for the couple on the picnic blanket, there’s a different solution that works for the west side of Chicago, there’s a different solution that works for the United States. And there’s a different solution that works for the planet. Now, let’s try to come up with solutions that are actually win win win win. As opposed to well, I just care about the individual solution, because I’m a rugged individualist, or I just care about social solution. If we can come up with solutions that address the issues, and I think we can, but you have to think that way. First, we’re gonna go a long way, in creating positive futures again, I do believe that that includes, and this goes back to ethics, having as many stakeholders as possible involved in decision making. And to do that you need an educated populace. So there are lots of moving parts and creating my little ideal future. But it’s not even ideal. It’s not utopia. That’s a word I despise because it literally means no place. Like the joke about utopia is the word was created to say that it can never exist. What I believe in, and I’m writing about in the new mythos is Michel Foucault bring out the post modernists heterotopias. Because heterotopias are are places where we circumscribe the location, and we decide to do something in there. And it’s a place of change. All heterotopias are where things can change. And just by saying, hey, we want to make life better for ourselves in our community, you’ve created a heterotopia to go towards utopia is itself a heterotopia. And all change can only happen in these locations, where we’ve kind of set ourselves apart from them and go, Okay, so how do we do this, but you do it together?
Let me see if I can play this back in a way that frames the conversation with the theme of our show, which is all about futures and methodologies for thinking about the future. And what I just heard, you gave us, you gave us quite a dissertation there, because you went from this sort of macro view of these periodic cycles, the Peter Turchin concepts of clear dynamics. And and you gave us a kind of a broad view of what’s repeating and what’s happening from the past analogies, the collision, I guess, of all these negative incidents. So you have that to work with, right that that informs it and then you kind of talked about a political framework that could scale from the personal to the local to the national, to the global and so forth. And I’m sure we could continue to talk about things like you know, environmental effects and globalization policies and so forth. Okay. So given all that stuff that’s rattling around in your brain. All right, you in a way when you write Yeah, are you aren’t you in a way when you sit down to write a book and aren’t you creating your own heterotopia by saying like, Okay, I’ve got all this stuff now I need to process it. process it in a way where it’s not a negative thing, it’s not going to lead us to a dystopia. We’re not writing some doomsday novel or Blade Runner or something. Instead, I want to posit a world where change is possible. What would that look like? Is that really what you’re doing? Because I’m trying to get to methodology here, because that’s always
exactly what I’m doing. You nailed it, thank you. That’s exactly what Achievement
What I’m what I’m trying, because here’s the nature of storytelling is you have to leave stuff out. This is the thing that, you know, is the hardest thing to learn about storytelling, because especially when you live in a break life. You want to tell people everything, but you can’t. So you have to choose very carefully, the things that mean the most, to your audience. And don’t forget, I come out of movies and television. Yeah, so I am really acutely aware, and respect the audience. And everything I do, whether it’s, you know, a white paper to a corporation, or a TV script, or whatever, I’m really considering who my audience is, and what it is that they’re looking for, in the story, I’m about to tell them, I’m not going to tell them a lie, what I’m going to tell them is in the way that I can make that boundary that heterotopia around the concepts, I’m gonna leave a bunch of stuff out because they it will just confuse them. It’s too much. So I’m going to focus on the things that they can understand and appreciate and need to hear. Because the other job is a storyteller as you meet people where they live. And another thing I just you know, yes, the inside of my head is bizarre, but I know how to communicate to anyone, because I remember that they’re not me, and I want them to have the best story possible.
So your experience in pop culture, and particularly working at a movie studio is, is kind of an exercise in radical simplification, right? Because screenwriting is all about what you remove, you know, in streamlining the story, because the words can’t get in the way, particularly for international films, where it’s going to be dubbed or you know, you have to deal with the RE voicing it, translating, and so forth. So, how does that economy fit into your methodology, because I imagine, then you take all the amazing number of ideas you’ve got in your head. And now you need to put it through some sort of filter or some lens to clarify it and simplify and streamline it. So
there are two things character, and well, character and, and plot, you know, when it’s funny when I think about technology revolution originally started as a TV pilot, that didn’t sell, we’d sold a whole bunch, but that one couldn’t get any interest on it. And it was a different technology. But concept was the same, basically, this rise of authoritarianism and oligarchy, and Peter Bernhardt at the center of it. And a friend turned to me when I said, you know, I’m just gonna write the book, because she was like, Well, why don’t you run Britain or neuroscience? Because that’s actually something you love. And you’re a geek about. I was like, Well, yeah, why don’t I do? You know, and I needed a technology. That was a great demonstration of what happens when you’re no longer in control of, of who you are. And it brings you to your face was actually perfect in to that. And it also fed all the, you know, ever since I took Robert Sapolsky is human behavior biology class, I have, you know, in summer school when he was illegally moonlighting at the new school. For Rockefeller University, I’ve been a brain geek. And it made a lot of sense to use that as the filter. But I also knew I wanted to tell the story of a man, Peter Bernhardt, who wanted the American dream, because I had personally witnessed in my own family and in others, the dangers of pursuing the American dream and not understanding what the price is. And there’s always a price. And I wanted to pull these ideas together of that kind of a character with that kind of level of technology, next stage of human enhancement, and beyond. And what could I tell about that story? And then to be really frank, I went to Alexandra Dumas because he’s the man. And I thought revolution is the Count of Monte Cristo. I wanted to tell a Count of Monte Cristo story, and to be really spreading the secrets, identities The Three Musketeers, but in this case the lead is Athos not there tanyon You know, Veronica is dark Canyon and in the last book it’s the man in the iron mask. Oh, man,
And they get less and less like the books I’m I’m I’m funneling because the story take the story tells you what it’s going to be like, that’s another thing you know, you get you get so deep in story, the story is the characters tell you they are the storytellers you who it is, and you’re just like, along for the ride. And that’s, you know, wherever your subconscious is going, it’s going.
Now I understand why you’re doing the mythos projects. So you’re you’re very much on the tip of recycling and reinterpreting these age old narratives. You know, in a way, you mentioned Frankenstein before, right. Frankenstein is a replay of the Prometheus that feed myth. Absolutely. That’s exactly Frankenstein’s monster. But it’s actually Dr. Frankenstein, right, that we’re writing about. And he, he’s the guy who played messed around with nature, you know, brought back fire. Okay, so So this is about revitalizing mythology. That’s an interesting notion. And yet you do it in a way where the characters aren’t archetypes. They’re not generic. And that happens a lot. In science fiction, we have characters who represent something, and they’re not very good characters as a result of that kind of one dimensional. Your characters are very relatable. They’re like people, there’s an element of humanity there. And I have to believe that that’s informed by your deep commitment and interest in ethics. That’s, that’s what I had to conclude in preparing for this today. I know that that’s a passion for you. And I know that it’s a gaping hole. It’s a lacuna, if you will, in the technology industry, because we have people who are running these companies who are borderline sociopaths with no grounding ethics, in ethics, or any kind of philosophy, talk a little bit about ethics in technology.
It started with my interest in empathy, I had made a connection back in 2006. Between the discovery and naming of nerve mirror neurons as a place where empathy is created in the brain, we still don’t know actually now what they are. But their relation to storytelling, so I ended up writing a paper that became this weirdly foundational paper in like neuro psychology, still cited. It’s crazy. But it’s about how we as humans need stories to basically create empathy for the other. And then I wrote a follow up paper called Yankee gets yummy has speculative fiction creates a society where I map the development of the other in speculative fiction to art feelings about the other how he goes from villain to hero, from non empathetic, deeply empathetic. And that’s actually where the ethics came in. So, for me, I look at, as you just said, I look at Silicon Valley, I see a lot of young people, mostly young men, who haven’t, they’ve learned their coding, they’ve learned their technology, but they haven’t learned. Why. Why are they doing what they’re doing? What they know what makes people tick, because they hire psychologists to tell them how to make things addictive, how to make things sticky, but they don’t actually understand why we want to be in community or communication with each other. And it’s like they’re missing these enormous holes, was you said of ethics, but also of humanity. Like, we only exist as a species because we learn to to live with each other, and will only continue to exist as a species. If we create ethics and rules that allow us to coexist. There’s a, I talk a lot about the newest sphere, I’m actually working with a group, another ethics group, taking the ideas of teh hard dish, or Dan Vernadsky, and Leroy, and this concept of the Noah sphere, as another layer around the planet you have the Geosphere is the rock the biosphere is the layer of life around it and now literally around us is a global brain that we’ve created and we’re all nodes in that brain whether we like it or not. And we’re so connected. That if we don’t learn a noose set of rules. Yeah, live with this no sphere that we have built. And which, by the way too hard, totally described, you know, in the early and mid 20th century, he’s like, and then we’re gonna build this thing. He just didn’t call it an internet. It was crazy. I mean it the amount of detail he has. But the fact that he he a great futurist and a total idle in Silicon Valley, by the way, which I find ironic, because he was the most ethical man, I think I’ve ever read. Being a Jesuit priest as well. There’s a lack of consequences. I think the irony is we’re all about as Silicon Valley, futurists are often about, what’s the technological trend, but not what’s the social ethical trend? What’s the consequence to this? I saw this in scientific research, doing my
stuff, right? We’ll move
on to breaking up. But I also saw the scientists doing brain computer interfaces. And I would say, you know, hey, what about stuff I’m writing about, and they go, I don’t want to talk about that. No, la, la, la, la, la, la la. Because they have to say it’s for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s where they don’t get funding. It takes a lot for somebody to say, Well, I really see as global telepathy with my brain computer interface. So if we don’t start considering everyone that we meet as part of a greater whole of us, in an ethical sense, well, you know, very difficult Noah sphere, and we’re seeing it right now.
But it’s even even in practical terms, if you look at where COVID broke down, a lot of that was where we didn’t have a collective approach. And if you take climate, and you know, food scarcity from, you know, climate change, and things like that, unless we take a collective human human view to this, then you’re just going to, you know, the problems of tribalism, and all those things that we talked about historically, they’re just going to be amplified by those those world pressures. So the only way to get to an optimal state for humanity is collectively but you know, how do we break down those, those economic barriers to that, and those, those cultural or national boundaries to that.
So in, so this group, I’m working with human energy, which is working with the idea of the NOAA sphere, one of the things I’ve been brought on to do is create a series of videos about the future, the NOAA sphere, but what I want to focus on is exactly what you’re talking about. And it’s the how are we already seeing positive futures being made in with collective groups in smaller scales, but that can be scaled. Whether it’s regenerative agriculture, or working on climate change, I mean, some of the regenerative agricultural work I’m seeing around the world, I’ve been hooked up in some of these global networks, mind boggling, AI, if everybody did this, we’d be really fun. There, there are so many people doing positive things, but we’re not hearing about it. And I want people to hear about it. Because the more people who do the more young people look at that and go, You know what, I want to do that, I want to be a part of something like that, because that’s constructive. I want to learn how to do that. I want to bring it back to wherever I live, and see how I can adapt it to where I live.
I think we’re seeing some signs of that now emerging, right. So certainly, in the web three spaces, there’s a generational shift, where everybody who’s crusty and kind of our generation is looking at it skeptically because there’s a lot of technobabble and word salad and, you know, terminology thrown around and a lot of deceit and fraud particular in the crypto space right now. But among the younger generation, they see it as room for possibility. And they see that our generation has left behind a broken world and an economic system that is that doesn’t favor equality that favors unequal distribution of wealth. They see accumulating problems coming from globalization, you know, the degradation of environments and so forth. So that generation looks critically at the work of the the baby boom generation. And they’re trying to posit an alternative scenario, whether or not it’s aptly expressed, you know, maybe at this stage, it’s a little ungainly. As we get to close this session out, I think what we ought to do is, is think a little bit about the biggest implications here because we have been living in hyper connectivity, right? So the for the last 30 years, we’ve all experienced this process where you know, first it was millions and hundreds of millions and now billions of people are connected. And in any given moment, you can understand what just about everybody is thinking about just about every topic that hasn’t worked out so well. It hasn’t led to like you know, global dawning awareness or a greater consensus is led to tribals ation it’s led to hate it’s led to, you know, the, in a weird way, the kind of weaponization of free speech, and the demonization of people who dare to think about an unconventional ideas. So so give us something positive to go out with here tonight as you think about the newest fear. And as you think about your future work by building a new mythos. And is it easy to help us construct new scenarios for the future, PJ, give us some hope, give us a reason to be optimistic.
I think the reason to be optimistic is we’ve been through this before we go through these huge paradigm shifts. And in every one of these times, we create new stories that help us adapt to a new future. We’re going to do that the new mythos I’m just showing people all the different branches of how we’re going to create new stories, which ultimately create new ethics. Stories are how we teach ourselves what to do and how to be. So if we can tell these stories, create these new myths, build new ethics that helped guide us, I think we have the capabilities, we’re just going to go through a bit of a rough patch to get there.
All right. Well, that is that’s all we’ve got for tonight, PJ Mani, the author of revolution, identity and conscience. Those are the those are the Phoenix horizon trilogy, has been our guest this evening. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, not just about the great mess that humanity finds itself in and maybe our way out, but also showing us a really intimate glimpse and how you work and how you grapple with these topics and how you process this information yourself. That kind of methodology is always what we’re curious about here at the futurists thanks a lot for having us.
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