Winds of Imagination, Waves of Change

A philosophical and metaphorical musing on looking to the horizon of the future.

This universe is full of waves. Even particles are waves at their deeper more meaningful quantum level. So it is with change. 

Think about standing in an ocean. There are small waves you can make, ripples that radiate from you effecting limited space, but still impacting the whole system even if just slightly. Then there are the grand waves, the ones that come from out beyond the horizon. These grand waves are fueled by wind. In the world of humans it is much the same, although now metaphorical. Humanity generates a powerful wind of imagination and desire. The waves of change are fueled by our combined imagination, under no one's sole control, yet effecting all. 

Now that we humans are networked together directly this wind is growing in strength, and the waves it is making are growing larger than ever before. These cannot be controlled, but they can be noticed. 

The oceans taught me this. If you wish to catch a wave, first you must see it coming. You may not know how high it will be, or exactly where it will break until it is just in front of you; but if you have been watching the wave arrive it will not surprise you. You will be ready, and if you place yourself in front of it just so, you will ride it. 

Yet you must be vigilant. If you do not notice the wave until it is upon you, it will crash over your head. If you rush too far out to meet a wave it will pass by and break behind you leaving you stranded far from shore. If you catch a wave too late, only just as it is cresting, you will fall off its crest and smash into the trough below. You may try to duck under the waves as they come, preferring to let them pass you by but this is a losing battle; your breath will tire eventually and the waves are relentless. Change, like an ocean wave, can be immensely destructively powerful. But if you pay attention, you can ride the change.

This is how I look at the horizon of the future. I do not look to the future to predict specifics, I look to identify the bumps on the surface of possibility, the tell-tale signs that a wave of change is available to happen. 

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This is the work of foresight, of analyzing trends: to see the wave of change before it breaks, to follow its latent potential all the way until it finally rears up and reshapes the world, and to share that knowledge with others so that we may all ride together. Change comes inexorably, it is a constant of the universe. Waves pulverize shells to sand and mold lumpen stones into spheres. Life constantly evolves. Stars are born live and die. The galaxies spin and collide and coalesce. All matter and energy is seeking all that is allowed in the universe, spinning out in an elegant dance of radiant permutation. Whatever is possible has a chance of happening. 

The system of humans on earth is not some amusement park wave generator, we cannot simply “turn off” the waves of change we make. The change we bring is fueled by that endless growing wind of imagination and desire, of questions asked and answers sought. We are a part of the system that is the universe and so are enveloped in its constant of change. We are the universe expressing possibilities, we are a mechanism by which it changes itself, changes ourselves. We are a seething, roaring ocean.

In this moment, there are monumental waves on civilization’s horizon, ones grander than we have ever seen before. Waves of change fueled by winds of recombinant networked imagination, the strongest winds society has ever generated. The crests will keep getting higher, to ride the waves will become ever more perilous. From fire to nuclear weapons the potential to fall off the crest has been growing with the height of the fall. Synthetic biology, programmable matter, quantum computing, these are waves so immense that they are only now finding land, only now starting to rise up and show us their true height. Even the grand waves of traditional computing and digital networking are still rearing up, still not fully washed over the world. Yet already we see what they have brought. Some people have ridden them well, many more have been left behind.

We cannot fight change; to fight change is to fight nature. But we can ride it. We can harness change so that it may be useful, so that it may propel us forward. If we teach each other how to, we can all ride together; and if we catch the waves of change just right, it can even be fun.

- JH