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Emergent Futures: at the limina of consciousness & complexity

Emergent Futures: at the limina of consciousness & complexity

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Published by maui1
We stand today between epochs. The positivist and reductionist tools of the old epoch surround us with myriad, obscure, but well studied, fragments of a deconstructed universe. This is true not only in the physical sciences but in the social, economic and political sciences as well. The old tools have become obstacles to progress, and, while the tools of the next epoch, offer great promise for leading us into a new era of clarity, meaning and purpose, they are unfamiliar, and often times at odds with our former sense of common sense. These new tools are not notional “flavor of the day” constructs but have slowly emerged over the last century, from the researches and insights of what are now sometimes referred to collectively as the “New Sciences”. Complexity science, one of the latest of these new emerging sciences, brings with it a new perspective on our world, seeing it not as atomized fragments, but as nested, and interrelated patterns of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS), while the Science of Consciousness, may hold the keys to helping us overcome existing obstacles,and recognize new opportunities. We will selectively explore the implications to futures research of these two new sciences and conclude by offering a brief overview of a new methodology derived in part from the frameworks and perspectives presented here.
We stand today between epochs. The positivist and reductionist tools of the old epoch surround us with myriad, obscure, but well studied, fragments of a deconstructed universe. This is true not only in the physical sciences but in the social, economic and political sciences as well. The old tools have become obstacles to progress, and, while the tools of the next epoch, offer great promise for leading us into a new era of clarity, meaning and purpose, they are unfamiliar, and often times at odds with our former sense of common sense. These new tools are not notional “flavor of the day” constructs but have slowly emerged over the last century, from the researches and insights of what are now sometimes referred to collectively as the “New Sciences”. Complexity science, one of the latest of these new emerging sciences, brings with it a new perspective on our world, seeing it not as atomized fragments, but as nested, and interrelated patterns of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS), while the Science of Consciousness, may hold the keys to helping us overcome existing obstacles,and recognize new opportunities. We will selectively explore the implications to futures research of these two new sciences and conclude by offering a brief overview of a new methodology derived in part from the frameworks and perspectives presented here.

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EMERGENT FUTURES: AT THE LIMINAOF COMPLEXITY, AND CONSCIOUSNESS
 by
Frank Catanzaro
Standing between epochs is perhaps too misleading a metaphor to describe the current situation in futures research, as it conjures upan image of one foot in the past and the other stepping towards somedistinct future. We use it, however, for that very reason, namely to point out the strengths and weaknesses of language, metaphor, andmeaning in the pursuit of the future. Standing between epochs is theembodiment of a Cartesian metaphor, present or future.A different metaphor, such as emergence, shows that the newepoch is far from a single location, or goal to be attained, or somefantasm waiting to be solidified by sciences yet to be invented. It de-scribes something rather more like a field (as in field theory), emer-ging around us instead of feeling the Cartesian gravitational pullfrom a single future (Wheatley 1999). Said in a slightly differentway, the future is not out there, it is in us, and around us, as observed by John Seeley Brown, director of Xerox PARC, who said about planning and the future: “The way forward is paradoxically to look not ahead but to look around” (Seely-Brown 2000).That field around us is composed of myriad emergent elements.Those elements range from marginalized ideas and somewhat ob-scure disciplines (some ancient, such as the Taoism discussed below)to successful examples of new disciplines, especially those that havecome to be known as the “new sciences.” (Wheatley 1999) The newepoch is also emerging around us in the form of thousands of ex-amples of new communities of thought, practice, and being, a wholesubset of which is documented in Paul Hawkins’ recent boo
 Blessed Unrest 
(Hawkins 2007).This new epoch is emerging, in part, by slipping the conceptualgrips of the old sciences, and discovering and applying novel meth-ods by incorporating images, metaphors and tools found in the newsciences. This is happening through the discovery of new frame-
Frank Catanzaro
 
is director of Experimental Cyber-Futures, WFUNA Mil-lennium Project. He may be contacted at 
frank@arcturus.org.
Futures Research Quarterly •
Summer 2008 
1
 
Emergent Futures......................................................................................F. Catanzaro
works and ways of being, allowing us to shift perspectives and suc-cessfully navigate the limina between epochs (Hoyningen-Huene1993). The obstacles to doing this are many, and include our oftentimes unconscious dependence/attachment to the comfortable tool-sets and methodologies of the old sciences, the stability-seeking so-cial architecture of existing disciplines and institutions, and thehabits and illusions of mind, that we all share (Pohl 2000 and Fauc-onnier 2004).
REGAINING CONSCIOUSNESS
Emergence, in this context, represents a higher order “blooming, buzzing, confusion” of choices and perspectives, with seeminglylittle to guide one successfully through the chaotic overload of pos-sibilities, or help discriminate between the useful and the useless.Just as William James showed that subjective perception can bringorder to his original description of the “blooming, buzzing confu-sion,” the world presents to our senses (Taylor 1992), it may now fallto futurists to codify how we might bring a new form of order to the“blooming ,buzzing, confusion” of emergence.In his paper “Towards an Integral renewal of Systems Methodo-logy for Futures Studies,” Josh Floyd makes the point that simple“methodological pluralism” is insufficient to the development of these new frameworks and toolsets, and that to really address theseissues, an “understanding of the structures of consciousness withinwhich methodologies are conceived and applied is needed.” (Floyd2008) This paper will examine the emergence of complex adaptivesystems and the structures of consciousness which in part mediatesour understanding of emergence and the resulting constellation of new opportunities to be found in the new epoch.Understanding human consciousness has only recently becomeaccepted as a valid scientific/experimental discipline. While philo-sophers have spent thousands of years on the subject, the so calledhard experimental sciences were late to accept consciousness as anexperimental subject, for many reasons, best summed up in GeraldEdelman’s book,
 A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Be-comes Imagination
:The reasons for this late acceptance are clear: Although allscientific theories assume consciousness and conscious
2 Futures Research Quarterly
Summer 2008 
 
Emergent Futures......................................................................................F. Catanzaro
sensation and perception are necessary for their applica-tion, the means to carry out scientific investigations of con-sciousness itself have only recently become available(Edelman 2000)For evidence of the strong resurgence of consciousness as an ex- perimental science, one need only look to the “Science of Conscious-ness” conferences convened by the University of Arizona, Center for the Study of Consciousness, which have grown over the last decadeto become a vibrant and productive interdisciplinary culture.
1
Or asimilarly vibrant community of researchers and conferences aroundthe Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness at Caltech.
2
The European Union has a similar community emerging around project MindBridge.
3
Ironically, early last century, there was a major revolution in scientific thought across many disciplines, with an in-tegral focus on consciousness (Bertalanffy 1968, and Gerbser 1984).
ORGANISMIC ROOTS OF EMERGENT PARADIGMS
Early in the last century, a near simultaneous emergence oc-curred across disciplines of a broad new holistic/ogranismic frame-work countering the prevailing positivist, mechanist, and behaviorist philosophies of the time, and setting the stage for the later emer-gence of the sciences of complexity and consciousness. Looking back to the roots of this emergence was in part the subject of a seriesof lectures given by the founder of General Systems Science, Lud-wig von Bertalanffy.In 1968, itself a time of emergence, Clark University invitedBertalanffy to inaugurate the Heinz Werner lecture series. His open-ing remarks about those times observed that “Workers widely separ-ated geographically, without contact with each other, and in very dif-ferent fields arrived at essentially similar conceptions—sometimes tothe point of almost literal coincidence of expression” (Bertalanffy1968).Heinz Werner, for whom the lecture series was named, was aGerman psychologist and founder of the Organismic DevelopmentalSchool of Psychology and past Chairman of Clark University’s De- partment of Psychology. Werner was being honored by Bertalanffy atthis inaugural lecture, for having developed perhaps the first “pro-gram” to set a path of research beyond the positivist mindset, and es-
Futures Research Quarterly •
Summer 2008 
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