Imagine The World
About the only thing distinguishes us, in a categorical way, from any other species is our cognitive ability to imagine things that don’t exist. Our shared imagination is the essence of our creativity as a community and it allows us, collectively, to create futures that would not otherwise exist.
One source for this claim is Australian Psychologist, Thomas Suddendorf, from his 2013 book, The Gap; The Science of What Separates Us From Other Animals
As Suddendorf puts it, this gap is “our open-ended ability to imagine and reflect on scenarios, and our insatiable drive to link our minds together”
An implication of this unique ability is that our future is never fixed, because the future is, the physical limitations of the universe notwithstanding, reliant on what vision we have for our future and the collective action we take.
Let’s consider three things that shape our future.
The first are the biophysical processes such as the carbon cycle and the impact of temperature on climate. While all science has degrees of uncertainty attached, we nevertheless have an increasingly robust and reliable understanding of the future climate, sea level rise, global temperature levels and so on. This much is clear; if we keep increasing atmospheric concentrations of green house gases, our climate will continue to change, and those changes become increasingly dangerous and irreversible (for at least 1000 years).
The second is our ability to develop technical solutions to current problems. Prior to solution arising, predictions of the future were often dire. There are many examples here of huge problems facing the human community and unexpected developments that changed the future. One well know example is the ‘green revolution’ from the 1930s to the 1960s which has been credited with saving over a billion people from starvation.
Another interesting example of our ability to predict the future is the development of mobile phones: “In 1980, AT&T … commissioned a global market survey of those clunky new mobile phones that appeared then. "How many can we sell by the year 2000?" they asked. The answer, "900,000." And sure enough, when the year 2000 arrived, they did sell 900,000 -- in the first three days. And for the balance of the year, they sold 120 times more.” Al Gore, TED talk 2016.
Mobile phones will not save us, obviously, but the point is that when we look at the future, current predictions and visions are almost always wrong, because it is hard to predict imponderables such as human creativity or the speed of technical development. So we cannot see the solutions because they do not yet exist (this doesn't means solutions will always be found, but we have done pretty well so far as a species).
But the third category is even harder to predict: human values and action. No one anticipated the Berlin Wall to fall when it did. Few economists were able to predict the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Human behaviour may be bound by the physical laws of nature, but it is not solely determined by those laws. Social behaviour is also determined by what we value, our collective stories and myths, our philosophies and what we desire.
For example, we currently have, as a community of human beings, the most peaceful living conditions ever experienced by humans (While this might surprise, on average, a person has less chance of being killed by a fellow human than ANY other time in our species history. See Stephen Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature). The current level of personal safety experienced by most people, (though clearly not all), would be completely unrecognisable to a visitor from almost anywhere in our species past. This massive reduction in violence is a cultural change that could not have been predicted. To be clear, the violence we do face is serious, not to be minimised on the basis of past comparisons and must be continually addressed.
But the point here is simple: our human future is not set in stone; it is a complex and somewhat unpredictable product of our natural environment, our technologies and our social values and imagination. Therefore it can be different from our current predictions.
That is why this song in included in the show; to provide hope that there is a better future waiting for us, not necessarily ‘better’ in the same way, but one on which we can still ‘thrive as human beings’’
This song is a reflection on the impermanence of all things, despite its title. It is subtitled ‘In a temporary sort of way’, which is the escape clause in the logic. While Buddhism claims that all things are impermanent in the universe, an accurate observation it seems, many people look for ways to stay grounded or anchored, even in a world that will change.
These are the notes to this song, which is found on Simon’s first album.
Getting lost in the Hokonui Hills
Standing on the top of those magnetic peaks
While clouds billowed all around our feet
Change is inevitable; those who can adapt positively to change will do better than those who resist or struggle with it. But we still need some sense of connection to permanence, even though it will be temporary. I find this experience of permanence in the Hokonui hills where I grew up (they are always there, waiting patiently for those rare occasions I get back), in that amazing rock pool in the river on the back road to Mataura where a million mayflies take on a thousand trout every summer evening, and in the meeting of hearts and minds with those special lifelong friends I have.
Although 75 % of Australians think climate change is real, it does not seem to have translated into serious political pressure. Or put another way, we (as a culture) don't really believe it. We seem to have a collective amnesia on the issue.
What to do? Well, it is not rocket science. We do not need to convince everyone, but rather just enough people to really take climate change seriously, then we can shift the system (the policy framework, economic incentive, technology support, social transition, democratization and so on). See the wonderful book by Stanford ecologist Eric Lambin (An Ecology of Happiness) on this.
So this is what this final song is about. We can't change the world by ourselves, we need each other. And there lies our power to create a new future. We just need enough people, maybe 15-20% of the population, and the rest will follow.
The song ...
If I look at things carefully like the warming of the world
There’s a puzzle that troubles cause the message ain’t being heard
By the people with the power, those who hold a key
To releasing all our energy and creativity
They need to play their role to marshal up the troops
Cause this is a battle that we can’t afford to lose
I’ve got a bunch of friends on the street trying to up the ante
And a bunch of people who got the cash to invest in clean technology
Let me tell you this for free we don’t need
To sign every person on earth to change the world
It’s all about the numbers when the evidence is clear
Cause there’s enough of us worried about the future coming here
There’s a lot of people trying hard to quicken up the pace
And some recalcitrant slowing down the race
But the numbers are against them and I know our sums are strong
There’s a right side to history here that’s why I wrote this song
Together we will raise our voices
Together we will bring the changes
Together we will not stay quiet
Together we will see the starlight!
Together we can shake the ground,
The time is short move things around
Climate conscious is what we need to be
A powerful voice from you and me