Trapped in the future

Motto: ‘‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” H. P. Lovecraft

Mark Manson highlighted a seemingly paradoxical situation in his last book. He was talking about that unique moment when a man loses his spark. Although we now enjoy the best conditions globally- we live longer than ever, we are healthier than ever -except for this slight pandemic incident- we eat better, we’ve eradicated old diseases, we have so many technological advances in so many areas … and yet most people are losing their mind. How is this even possible?

Sure, we can say a man ceases to be complete when he has no choice over his own future or destiny. Personal freedom, although of major importance in everyone’s existence, does not always equate 100% with the state of being happy. For me, at least. For me, as for the author, I just quoted, that happiness and that subtle engine that moves things little by little is hope. When all hope is lost, then you can say that you no longer exist as an individual. Some sort of a living dead, if you will, waiting for the sand to drain down the hourglass, waiting for that final great escape into the unknown.

Interesting is a word that could also describe Professor Yuval Noah Harari’s perspective about the concept, who states that we’re already living in the future. The future is happening to us now, as we speak, as we look out the window, while some other people post silly stuff on Facebook or on Instagram, while others wonder who will play Joe Exotic in the movie they’re making for the big screens.

We are constantly bombarded with various information, with advertisements for products that we didn’t know we needed, to impress people we don’t really like or care about. How to find a credible source, then?

One could try talking to friends, right? But they’re watching the same TV shows as we do, where they see the same incompetent politicians talking a lot of shit without saying anything, really. We could chat with our elderly neighbors,  but they’re only listening to the same radio stations over and over. Or maybe we could try to ask that tin-foil-hat guy across the street, who definitely knows someone that knows somebody with access to some very sensitive information?

For those of you who don’t really use these means of information, there is another option, perhaps more viable and sometimes, curiously accurate: reading. Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, A clockwork orange, The Foundation. Dystopias. Writers or prophets, name them how you will, these people had the genius, the gift, the clarity to describe the future decades before it happened. You cannot help but wonder, in the current context, whether their prophecies will be fulfilled in full or only in part.

The hero of our story comes from Russia. When he was just 1 year old, he and 16 other children from his hometown fell ill with pneumonia. Of the 17 children, only he survived. Isaac Asimov, the greatest science fiction writer in history.

The series that made him stand out from the crowd is, of course, the Foundation. Perhaps one of the coolest things he ever did is that he was one of the first leading writers to explore the effects of chaos theory/the butterfly effect … 9 years before its official appearance “on the market”. Just imagine what an impact this must have had in the ‘50s! The fools of yesterday, the prophets of today.

Later framed by the Robots and the Galactic Empire series, it gave us, besides the obsession to read books to the very last page and the emotions that derived due to an impeccable writing technique, an absolutely sensational concept: Psychohistory. The concept is developed by the main character, Hari Seldon, one of the scientists who try to keep the essence of what humanity has accumulated in its entire history. This is all happening in the background of a complex, socially designed construction that is on the verge of collapsing.

These crises, which take place with a cyclical precision, calculated by Seldon, are solved by the solutions that he’s also providing. I won’t get into the subject, because I don’t want to spoil your surprise, just read the books, eh? Hari Seldon is able to foresee and provide the right solutions for whatever appears to be contrary to the fluid development of the empire. The first of the axioms in the book is the one which states that the probability of calculating the dynamics and development vectors of a society, as accurately as possible, is directly proportional to the number of its members. On the other hand, the smarter the organism is, the harder to predict its next move.

But why is this Russian dude born when smartphones didn’t exist still relevant?

Because this genius mind has offered the world extremely valid and functional concepts that work even today: Robotics, Economics, Artificial Intelligence. The mark of a brilliant writer is, in short, timelessness. A genius writer overcomes and breaks the very concept of time. Because of the excessive stimuli we’re subjected to these days, we are pre-conditioned to have tunnel vision. If we’d just stepped outside of the little box in which we think ourselves to be kings of the universe and noticed how little we actually know, we would learn to be more modest and more open to change. Because, all in all, that’s what Asimov did. He taught generations to think outside the barriers by crushing the valves that society programmatically inoculates.

Recently, a new concept has emerged, one that reminds us of a lot of Asimov. It was introduced on a large scale by Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan Effect. The story of the black swan is quite simple, actually. No one believed in such a creature until they convinced themselves of its existence. No one ever believed that a plane could crash the Twin Towers until nine eleven. No one believed in cell phones, not so much that Donald Trump could ever be the president of America. Until it happened. Okay, almost no one. The Simpsons did that. But you got the idea.

How can we fight such crises, then? According to Taleb, and Asimov, earlier on, not by predicting the unpredictable, but by preparing for the impact that such events might have.

I know, this is hard. Nobody likes those who “see” the future. Just think of Song XX of Dante’s Inferno, where we have the most compelling picture of how the prophets and fortune-tellers were perceived in antiquity: a procession of empty souls, people forever condemned to walk in front, with their heads turned, tears dripping on their butt cheeks, for eternity.

In an interview in the 70s, Asimov lamented the fate of humanity, bitterly noting that nearly half a trillion dollars go to war and weapons’ research, while international cooperation between the planet’s nations is completely ignored.

What has changed since then? Not much, unfortunately. And this is quite frustrating. But you know what? We can get rid of a lot of stress and insecurities regarding the future if we just give ourselves the chance to open one of these brilliant man’s books.

Leave a Reply