What does it mean for humanity to strive for something?  And how big a vision does humanity need to have in order to sustain it during the next 1,000 years?

This paper makes a start at answering these questions, and then speculates on the sort of vision which might in fact motivate an entire species.

The language of goals and objectives dominates the Western business world, and has permeated into individual lives.  Books exhorting thinking individuals to consciously create reasons for living and being are commonplace.  A whole industry of ‘life coaches’ is emerging to support individuals in the identification and realization of their particular goals and objectives.

At another level, many countries are witnessing the emergence[1] of ‘intentional communities’, where people make explicit choices about how and with whom they will live.

Even nation states are beginning to develop strategic visions and aspirational slogans (featured prominently on motor vehicle identification plates, among other places).  One of my Australian futurist colleagues seems to be on a mission to ‘do a vision’ for ever increasing aggregations of people (he has already ‘done’ at least one nation state).

In the context of Humanity 3000, this trend stimulates a question about what sort of vision for humanity might be appropriate, even vital, if a goal to be a thriving society in 1,000 years is to be achieved.

There is at least one school of thought, however, which would question the audacity of believing that homo sapiens could even consider creating a vision for their own future, considering how enmeshed we are in a world not of our own making.  In this view humans are part of a fabric we neither can nor should want to dominate.  We should settle for respecting our place in the world, and allow nature to ‘do her stuff’.

Whatever the merits of this view it would make organizations like Humanity 3000 redundant and hence won’t be pursued further in this paper.[2]

There is another school of thought which would question the creation of a 1,000 year vision for humanity on the grounds that the future is inherently unknowable.  In this view any attempt at visioning the future has as much validity as reading tea leaves and is therefore frivolous.

This view inappropriately conflates predicting the future with creating the future.  Both might be fraught given the ultimate unknowability of tomorrow, but the latter is nonetheless defensible on the grounds that it provides a metric against which today’s actions can be measured.

Predicting the future probably contravenes universal laws[3], but attempting to create the future is entirely consistent with what I understand consciousness to mean.

The premise of this paper, therefore is that a conscious attempt at designing humanity’s future is both necessary and possible, and that a viable vision is a fundamental precursor to such a design.

What then might comprise such a vision?

Historically religions and monarchs have had a near monopoly over the development of visions designed to inspire large aggregations of people (though philosophers and modern industrial economists have made valiant attempts).

Religious visions, with their implications of divine (or at least ex-human) inspiration have typically outlasted their human created cohorts, but neither are proving particularly attractive in the twenty-first century.

Arguably the most universal human vision has been emerging for the 500 years since Copernicus and Newton revealed our true place in the universe, and is perhaps epitomized by the images of earth from space taken by Apollo astronauts.

This vision has various names and manifestations, including the notion of earth as a holistic system or entity in its own right (the Gaia hypothesis), and is an attempt to identify the true place of homo sapienson the earth and in the universe.

Its adherents would ascribe a special (for all we know unique) responsibility to homo sapiens because of our capacity to be self-aware.

The primary impediment to the actual exercise of any collective human self-awareness based on such a responsibility has been individual self-awareness (something being raised to near God-like status over the past hundred years in the Western world at least);  though the emergence of collaborative action in time of crisis suggests collective self-awareness is not yet deceased.

Which is a good thing, since it seems to me that any viable vision for humanity’s future must arise out of collective self-awareness.

My interest here, then, is to explore what might sustain collective self-awareness for sufficiently long for a coherent global vision to emerge.

Obviously one answer is a crisis.  And not just any crisis.  Most earth-bound crises are too localized to cause sustained changes in attitude or behaviour.  And those that aren’t localized are likely to be so traumatic that immediate survival becomes an overwhelming priority[4].  The ideal crisis would be one which didn’t actually occur until 3000, but was sufficiently compelling to require awareness for the next thousand years[5].

Crises might cause an increase both in collective awareness and in the creation of future visions. However, I would prefer to believe that the same result could be achieved without a crisis.

And there is some evidence that this might be possible.

Some anthropologists believe that homo sapiens’ ancestors had a greater capacity for, and reliance on, collective awareness (some argue the same trait for other current creatures such as whales and dolphins).  If this is the case, then perhaps this is a latent trait still wired into us, but hardly used.[6]

If, as I believe, we are reaching the zenith of our focus on the importance of individual awareness[7] then perhaps a re-connection with collective awareness is not so far away.

Collective awareness is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the emergence of a global vision for humanity.  It is entirely possible to be aware in the moment and uninterested (or at least disinterested) in the future[8].

A certain arrogance must also be present.  A sense that one can in fact make a difference through one’s conscious intentions.

At the individual level such arrogance is clearly present today (it might even be said to be determining the direction and outlook of entire nations).

In the absence of a crisis which causes humanity to regress, I argue, the necessary arrogance is likely to survive a shift from individual to collective awareness.  This is not an original thought, rather an observation that genuine progress seems to be marked by the resolution of what once seemed irreconcilable opposites (relativity explained both billiard ball motion and why light bends around the sun;  superstring theory incorporates what were once seen to be distinct forces).[9]

Hence, our re-connection with collective awareness will include our memory of the impact our individual actions had on the world.

My final thesis, therefore, is that a viable vision for humanity in the year 3000 is only capable of emerging from a powerfully collective self-awareness; and that once this condition prevails (as it will) the emergence of such a vision is inevitable.

[1] Or more accurately re-emergence, since relatively homogenous human communities have been a feature of most periods of human evolution

[2] I certainly believe that the demonstrated potential for humans to seriously damage our own environment ought cause us at the very least to think carefully about our need to actively design a viable future

[3] quantum mechanics and chaos theory, for example, have probably sounded the death knell of any empirical determinism

[4] And I acknowledge that a continuous focus on immediate survival might successfully ensure humanity’s existence for the next thousand years, but it won’t be much fun.

[5] At least two possibilities occur to me.  First, the unambiguous identification of a solar system crisis in 3000 which required humanity to leave earth in order to survive.  Almost certainly different groups would go in different directions using different technologies and hopefully at least some would survive.

A variant which has the advantage of not requiring the evacuation of the planet might be the discovery of a message from the stars saying: “we know you are there, and we are on the way.  We have sent this message ahead since it can travel faster than we can, and to let you know we come in peace.  We will arrive in 3000.”

[6] I don’t claim this as an original thought.  Many others have speculated on the mystical or spiritual dimension of our existence and its evolution.  Some mystical traditions even treat the physical human form as a transitional stage to be discarded once the required level of spiritual awareness is collectively achieved.

[7] The planet simply cannot support the sort of individual material aggregation which characterizes the modern industrial world for much longer.  A new conceptualization of our reason for existence is inevitable.

[8] This has, in fact, been the ultimate objective of a number of historical religions and sects.

[9] It is worth acknowledging here the perspective which Eastern history and wisdom has to offer here.