An Alternative to Visioneering

This post is inspired by The Visioneers, a book by W. Patrick McCray.

The worlds imagined by visioneers are many steps of massive technological innovation away. However, these steps don’t happen simultaneously. Thus, the social impact of any one of the steps isn’t taken into account by the original vision- visioneers are not oracles who can predict complex dependancy chains of cause and effect. We have no human nor group of humans who is cabale of complete prognostication.

An alternative to distant future visioneering, futurism, or science fiction, is
The ability to imagine a near future made possible by one well-placed step, and the resulting social impact on innovative potential. …

Well-placed individual steps change both the visions, the viabilities, and the desirabilities of potential steps to follow.

Thus, what is necessary is not a complete single-minded complete vision of the future- one person deciding how all others will or should live and endeavoring to make it so.

What is necessary is a vision to create win-win outcomes in one arena in the short-term- looking at the rules, environmental incentives, and needs of the current situation, and visioneering an outcome one technological and one social engineering step away from the current level, that is the best scenario from the present step.

That first step will enable whole new ways of thinking.

This method suits the characteristic powers of the neocortex. The human brain is engineered to recognize patterns and project permutations of known pattern combinations, then anticipate the outcomes of those permutations to choose one that is most preferable and attempt to enact it. Our vernacular for this capability is imagination. Popular culture already knows that this power represents the most heroic and godlike of human abilities. The definition, unfortunately, has warped our idea of best use cases for our ability. We have been conditioned to believe that imagination is, to a degree, limitless- that humans have the capacity to imagine anything that can exist, and inversely, that anything that can be imagined can exist.

Neither thing is precisely true. Humans can only imagine permutations of what already exists and is known. Thus, they can engineer any combination of existing factors. Much like biological evolution is the recombinating of existing genetic material and is thus limited by what code has been created through DNA copying errors, human imagination is limited by what exists and is knowable. However, increasing the limits of what is possible to imagine, and thus what can possibly exist, is only possible through innovation – whether by intentional or erroneous action (i.e. sexual reproduction vs. genetic mutation). Once new content exists, it can be remixed to unlock a new level upon which to build another layer of content.

This is why conceptions of the future have always been slightly ridiculous and based on fringe characteristics of the present. 70’s future-style, like the Jetson’s and the future concepts of Back To The Future, are incomparable to the actual era because they were composed of combinations of what was knowable in the 70’s. Only one generation prior is the next generation reliably conceivable. This is imagination’s stongsuit.

Self-perceived innovators are the ones to whom this understanding bears a burden of responsibility. An innovator can make the greatest impact by intentionally envisioning and enacting one step of social and technological innovation that enables greater innovative potential thanks to its existence. If this step has a guiding principle that can bend to incorporate the changed parameters in its wake, while respecting the sovereignty of those who live and must make decisions in the world of that next generation, lasting innovation can occur without cultural loss, and awe-inspiring progress can be made.


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