Envisioning the Future Through Story

PJ Manney - Author of best-selling science fiction novels who runs the "New Mythos" project
David Brin - Author of best-selling science fiction novels with degrees in physics and astrophysics
A discussion about the role of storytelling in envisioning the future world and the nature of the noosphere
The noosphere has been forming since the dawn of humanity and is evolving rapidly today. However, since a global superorganism doesn't yet exist, stories of speculative fiction can help envision it.
This conversation between two science fiction writers — PJ Manney and David Brin — and Science of the Noosphere’s David Sloan Wilson, is the last in the series of conversations we’ve posted here. What does science fiction have to do with our quest to understand the modern scientific research that undergirds Teilhard de Chardin’s vision of a layer of human thought that envelops the earth?

While that global layer of thought is forming around and within us, it remains a work-in-progress. It is still in many ways struggling to take shape. Though planetary-scale cooperation and connectivity is evolving through such things as trade and communication, there remains plenty of conflict as well. Thus the vision expressed by Teilhard in The Phases and Future of the Noosphere remains aspirational at this point:

“We have found it possible to express the social totalization which we are undergoing in terms of a clearly identifiable biological process: proceeding from this we may surely look into the future and predict the course of the trajectory we are describing. Once we have accepted that the formation of a collective human organism, a Noosphere, conforms to the general law of recurrence which leads to the heightening of Consciousness in the universe as a function of complexity, a vast prospect opens before us. To what regions and through what phases may we suppose that the extension of the rising curve of hominization will carry us?

Immediately confronting us (indeed, already in progress) we have what may be called a “phase of planetization.”

That phase of planetization has progressed exponentially in the 75 years since Teilhard wrote those words, and is currently proceeding at warp speed. And while our project is intended to place the concept of the noosphere on solid scientific ground, we are also interested in the future prospects of the planetary superorganism that a fully-functioning noosphere represents.

That’s where science fiction — or as some call it, speculative fiction — comes in.

In one of our other conversations researcher Francis Heylighen spoke of the need for positive stories of the future, at a time when so many are spinning dystopian, apocalyptic tales and preaching catastrophe and doom. Part of the problem, according to Francis, is that we live in what he calls a “VUCA world”. He explains that acronym:

“We live in a VUCA world. Everything changes all the time. It’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. That means people just lose the sense that they understand what’s going on. So you need to again, give them a sense that what’s happening is not random. It’s not just the world coming to an end. It is part of an evolutionary process that may be complex, but that has some kind of a soul. There is some kind of driving direction and this driving direction—that is the Third Story.”

In this conversation, both PJ Manney and David Brin make a strong case that speculative fiction, grounded in science, can provide that sense of direction more effectively than science alone.
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