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What futurists think and do                      Essay for „knowledge-base 4

Mapping and Sharing a New Land - Borderland

(Borderland - the realm of the real and ideal/imaginary)

Heiner Benking

In German we say: „Who does not go with the times, will be gone with the times" (Wer nicht mit der Zeit geht - geht mit der Zeit). We can see that when studying Earth Epochs and Environmental Change, that this being subject to „the times" also applies to cultures and groups, especially when rapid change did not provide a buffer for the species to adapt and so survive, and we do not care about on which level we are and act, do not care about sustainability and resilience, levels, relations, and contexts.

I believe that changes in environment are all too often human-made, and it is built into our mind-set; how we create, see, organize, and thereby influence the world around us. What is new in modern and post-modern times, is our ability and power to influence our environment, culture-sphere and techno-sphere in an unprecedented way. Not only the scale and potential but also the gradient (swiftness) we can change for the worse as factors feed back onto each other. This paper will focus on a critical decision point humankind is facing, a point of departure into quite different futures...


The concepts of Futures and Ethics are for me very close and connected, both having to do with orientation and direction, definition and identification. Futurists, according to my first impression and therefore „standard" as I explain below, seem to me to be people, who do not care much about themselves and their „observer status". They leave the tribune, get as „actors" involved and care, change perspectives and value systems, look into shared beliefs and preferences, dimensions, proportions, and scales and see their „job" in developing, painting, and evaluating alternative ways or scenarios in order to help individuals or societies to make „informed" and better decisions towards survival.

Big words, but let me tell me about the „reference or standards" I have in mind: First and foremost: Robert Jungk and his friend, the „environmental ethics" and „principle responsibility" philosopher Hans Jonas, who saw ethics with a space and time horizon. This is exactly what I am doing and want to share with you in this article: How can we share assumptions and perspectives in an embodied, visual, repeatable, and inspiring way?


My intention is to show ways to bridge reasoning and feeling, which I can only do in a new land, a connected, parallel reality which I call borderland. Such an „u-topia", like Brasilia (no-land), or „Phantasia" (Michael Ende) can be designed as an embodied, sharable theme-scape, which I call a „Cognitive Panorama" (3Space/Time). In this new land we can plot and edit ways of thinking (paradigms) and see and compare ways of reasoning (ethics) (Visual and approachable ethics, I call the „Optics of Ethics") by comparing alternative routes, with different values and loads, joy and suffering, attached to them, like loads in a backpack (napsack) for a new generation of „pathfinders" (more to that later).


My education is that of a map-maker and explorer of new lands, new resources - for new and old ways of doing and seeing things in new fields. I have done economic-ecological modeling in the early 70’s and applied this not only to towns and states. In this "environment" I did just what planner and developers do, they present and facilitate as „enables" alternative paths of action. Planning has to keep in mind the greater good and a long view, so in no way it may be interpreted as „to develop" only the vested, „splittered" interests of a minority. Instead I see planning as a process to mediate between the different objectives and values.

So what do planners do first? They create maps to have a place for boundaries, situations and potentials and as a basis for alternative models, in order not to cast them in iron, but to be able to combine, edit or discard them. By doing that, they can develop an eye, we say an „eye for ratio" (Augenmass) for the scales, proportions, patterns, and consequences involved.

Globetrotting through many lands, domains, and trades was a way for me to merge, morph, and maintain external viewpoints. The spectrum includes exploration, military and industry and later „conversion" projects, like environmental applications. Environment means you do not always have consensus, you have checks and balances and so you need to focus on mediation and dialogue. I had to learn that people typically do not have the same thing in mind, live in their personal reality, and are not aware about different meanings behind and between the words. Please keep in mind that the objective of having a learning/action/solution space which we are designing and constructing in this article, is to have an extended, shared reality. This might help to realize where the other person is and what he or she sees!

My „second track" approach was a metamorphosis of state of the art of various „ivory towers" and helped me to look for ways to translate and transform our ways to see, to merge real and abstract views and perspectives. By sharing with you some milestones, anchor points, and epochs I hope I can introduce myself as an „in-betweener" and make myself clear, even when we miss much detail and connections on this very short „take". With this „experience" I was eager to look into worldwide harmonization efforts, projects to look not just into compatibility issues (standardization), but into the comparabiltiy (harmonization) of means and measures along and across scales, in order to help us agree on „common grounds and references".

For me projects were always something „hands-on", to get involved, for example not just preparing papers, but organizing and creating connections, like for Robert Jungk’s and Hans Jonas’ 80ieth and 90ieth birthday celebrations/conference, respectively. By the way I feel the unpaid have been always the most demanding and with highest urgency and immediacy. Through „doing and sharing" I feel I learned from „the Elders" insight and way to put what needs to be done into action. In review, I believe the example of doing that with a precious friendliness and humility was the key lesson to be learned. I mention that because I want to set the standard for what we are talking here about, and how things can and should be done with „Mind, Heart, and Hand" at critical junctions.

With such wide and "OTHER" ( background and experience, which before and after included international high-tech consultancy and market research, computing including the just evolving visualization and communication technologies and industries, you realize it is not enough and satisfying to use the „crystal ball" for market and technology research and trends, you always want to go deeper, make perspectives come true.

The „capabilities" to manage categories and scales, to „put them on the map" is what we are trying to focus on in this essay which leads to the question: Can we have extra maps to make the abstract, etheral and ephemeral more concrete? Can we grasp reality through illusion?

mindless and heartless tunnel Realities

Jane Fonda is often quoted for having said, "We act as we have a „spare" Planet Earth in the trunk of our car." I subscribe to that and see the problem in our detachment, ignorance, avoidance and apathy, and our inability to see the hidden and deeper dimensions and dissonance of what we are doing. We are not equipped by evolution for this extra reach and impact of even long views. We have no „antenna" for time beyond our life-span, we neglect other living levels and can not thing about the microcosm’s interaction with our life-sphere. The Indians say we are all "sharing one skin", but now we suddenly wonder that in times of „The End of Geography and Distance" we also share "many skies". The problem is that we have no senses, feelings and orientations for this extended realities in multiple worlds, and foremost, we have not realized what has happened to us in the age of telecommuncation and cyberculture.

Instead, there is endless talk, there are endless meetings, committees, bodies, conferences, papers,... If you have seen all this ego and group-ego cultivation of domains, turfs and "mandates", like fight for „real" things but with double the vigor and no scruple and doubt, as nobody can see and seldom tell what they are doing, you start to wonder how the many „skies" and extended living-world can be accommodated. Such a mindlessness and confusion, uncertainty about direction and purpose, makes us race with double the speed in unknown directions. This is a situation worse then fog, as with little sight in bad weather, we would at least slow down or think twice if and where we have to go. So the alternative of speeding and activism on the one hand, and apathy and ignorance on the other, are both indicators of our being and feeling lost, and the resultant neglect of personal and social rights, the avoidance to see with various lenses or eyes at the same time and even form new constructions from the merged and morphed realities of worms eye, fish eye, birds eye, fish eye, public eye and generation eye,... So what is needed is transparency about intentions and positions, something real and ideal to share and build on new dreams and perspectives.

The problem seems to be the fixation into one mould of thinking, one paradigm, instead of seeing the concert or bouquet of factors and views involved, the missing play and mental mobility needed to live with disagreement and alternating tactics and strategies. But it is hard to conceptualize and imagine abstract issues, we should better embody and visualize them. Our living and information world is expanding dramatically, we have to find and define places and issues in order to be able talk about them and share fantasies and emotions (in cultures and cybercultures). This is at this point vague and hard to imagine, so let us give it another try from another perspective or with another description:


In English we say: "Timing is everything", I would like to add "Wording and Scaling are also everything" and if you see this: time, scales, terms, as the length, width, and height of an artificial definition or information space, then you have an artificial space-scape. If this is embodied, it can be jointly approached from all directions, and you can see issues, proportions, and consequences and outline and index locations as "topics" by giving them a place, a "topos".

So what I did with my background of a map-maker modeler and early bird in the computer graphics industry, was to design a common place, a space-scape with imaginary x,y,z- coordinates, like Poincarré was creating visual, obvious mathematics, in times when it became too abstract and hard to understand. Imagine or picture an open space where you can move and edit categories at will, combine and move themes, and immerse into it in fantasia or phantasm after constructing the model physically or in virtual reality. So, for someone visiting all military graphics exhibitions at that time in the world, and just applying what planners and ecologists do: interact along and across scales, it was the most natural thing to design a cyberspace, or virtual extensional reality, even though we did not call it that in 1989. Today tools are becoming available to build such worlds for immersion, but we should not forget that the main issue is to create interconnected frames of reference which can help to make sense, help us to bridge the inner and the outer realities, the I and not-I. By being able to map human extensions, the unique human capability of „positionalism" (Helmuth Plessner), we are able to accommodate and share different positions and perspectives. This is what we will call mental mobility later.


One central project, changing my life and course of action is the „GLOBAL CHANGE - Challenges to Science and Politics" touring exhibition which has been shown during the last 8 years in many places in Germany. There is unfortunately no documentation available in English, and so I have to tell you hat the „central attractor is an exhibition piece I call the „Blackbox" Nature, an open „definition space" based on the understanding of what Ecology and Economy are about: The interaction along and across subjects, scales, and times. Our experience is very positive as slowly, futuristic imaginative thinking is a common place at a time of virtual reality applications. Especially the children get the grips, gripping and groping, getting a handle for "groking" new situations. We can at this point in this article, without touch and feel and doing, only assume that there is a potentiality for virtuality and remember that our words as the carriers or our reasoning, like the way of looking „theoria" can be seen as a composition of different aspects, positions and perspectives. They create fantastic realities, see „theasthai" as a stage for wonders (theater). In German we speak of Anschauung, like Weltanschauung, a deep reflection, which goes beyond the surface of a „flat" picture in the Age of Show" (Ivan Illich). Children do that intuitively, and Robert Jungk urged me to continue working with children on that, as they „immerse" naturally with much joy, they still have eidetic fantasy and are the natural „pathfinders" ( a project designed by Willis Harman) into the futures to come. Politicians and decision makers are the next easiest target group to work with, as they have to see different timelines and horizons (even when they tend to ignore or neglect them sometimes). Natural Scientists are next on my scale of difficulty or ability to immerse and thing the long view, lateral, diagonal or deeper, they are stuck with the „res extensa" dogma of the physical space, but very difficult are the „soft" scientists: psychologist, social scientist, and philosophers, as they have lost any idea about shared reality, are lost in abstract reasoning and (nominalistic) fights over words and codes (sectarianism of science). The trick we propose to find a common ground for reasoning is to see words and concepts as extensional, maybe as fields - overlaying, neighboring, bounding, and relating to other concepts and words in an agreed-upon parallel „res extensa", an extended immersible reality not to be confused with a metaphysical „fog", more an open and transparent matrix, or the context place for concepts, as cyberspace has been called. Consider this a deep matrix, like a frame or many frames around one picture (Mona Lisa or reality). Ten years ago we called such connection between ways of presenting or seeing „hyperframes". This is a way to put meta-data and information into place, just as we do a repeatable puzzle and find the same position for one piece all the time, can do queries and get more complete results. We are suddenly at ease and can forget about „details". Maybe the following citations or the quote from Einstein at the end make this more clear: Adam Smith said "If you really know what’s going on, you don’t have to know what’s going on to know what’s going on" and Mary Parker Follett wrote: „We cannot departmentalize our thinking..., We cannot think of economic principles and ethical principles. Underneath all our thinking, there are certain fundamental principles to be applied to all our problems" (not only the ones with physical extensions).

In a nutshell: What I propose is nothing less than a means to share a very basic, seldom realized human right: The other side of the coin of the „Freedom of Information Act", the right to have orientation, overview, survey knowledge, and be able to see and develop contexts.


Donella Meadows with reference to Jay Forrester, wrote about a „leverage points". This is a critical point, a point of departure, where you can influence much with little - for better or worse. I see an immediacy and criticality in how we see and cope with information, multi-media and modern telecommunications and this article examines the way we approach the new realities of „many territories" and conflicting information, in which story we buy into. On the one hand is the Wonderland of Alice, on the other hand her return years later into an alien land where everything is unfriendly, mixed up, confusing, and weird. The choice is ours.

The prevailing dogma of the „ruling technological intelligencia" is based on a „science fiction" story: William Gibson’s (1980) instantation of a chaotic cyberspace which ignores the much earlier story of an orderly place for steering or a domain of control: „cybernetics", as Norbert Wiener and also Helmuth Plessner envisioned a body or medium for communication; an extended „res extensa" in the sense of the very much needed „objective" meeting place for ideas and assumptions.

So the „new story" is about a spaceless, meaningless, contextless,... an „open-ended universality", a nightmare of hell, a new Babel as already written in "The Second Flood" (Pierre Lévy, in „A Report on Cyberculture" to the Council of Europe). It goes about an irreversible catastrophe („the flood will never recede"), which drowns us in a glut and makes us apathetic by defining a one-way, dead-end road. Such a doomsday is in no way a perspective or a view on open alternative futures.

The problem is that when placed in prestigious reports, they can creates „fact" in the mind-set of people, instead of presenting alternatives or hope on the opposite site of the page. Please understand that the threads are seen as real, but they should not be metaphorically compared with Albert Einstein’s warning 5o years ago, that we are in danger of creating a "Third Bomb" of Information through telecommunication, as the new threads are said to be permanent and unavoidable, the alternative being the immediate „cultural catastrophe" (Lévy).

I feel it is a duty to speak up when such „technology reviews and forecasts", based on tragic category errors, eventhough the metaphoric is at the first glance is appealing, is an oversimplification and overclaim which creates a fixation on a certain ways of seeing technologies which is fatal when taken up unreflected in the media and society.

The point of departure is how to think positive in times when we are increasingly at more than one place at once, have lost orientation, even have no world-view at all. Let us learn from Vasco da Gama, he told his sailors 400 years ago „the sea is afraid of you". So we should not be afraid of the new land „Cyberspace" either. For Immanuel Kant in his „critique" rational knowledge, the „objective" res extensa, was an island with fixed, eternal boundaries. We need this fundament and need to built on it, but not only to the shore (boundary), but we build a scaffolding, a strip of „objectivity" (which means outside of us), into the sea of „subjectivity".

The dictum of giving no space and no place to what we can know contradicts an old writers insight or motto: „everything takes place some place". We just need to define new places and share extra dimensions and realities, wasn’t a thesaurus a storehouse or temple for knowledge? This is the leverage or critical departure point: Is there a place or plan to compare issues, attach to them quality indicators or the source (originality, core knowledge or peripheral knowledge,...) and so we can tread chaos as „noise", or not . The author feels, that all should be tried, tested, and done in order to avoid people and society becoming threatened, afraid and increasingly apathetic in an age of missing or misleading orientations, judgment, purpose, and direction and become „fair game" for intentions to control and manipulate people in order to control futures.


The alternative to „lost in space" is „found in space". We just need to agree on an alternative matrix, maps and grids, to find and share „places", and not surprisingly Cyberspace is called a „matrix" already by some thinkers. Such a „found in space!" can be understood in the light of the above citation by Adam Smith. When we see the big picture, we can relax and develop humility the more we gaze (George Santanya) - an experience I have made when people can see, what and how little they know, that they have a position even in abstract reasoning, and that they can change and combine positions. The notion of „timing, scaling and wording are everything" has raised much questions and laughter and it is seen as great, that this scales fit together in new „lands". Lands we should be curious about and play with and realize that standpoints and points-of-view have much in common, conceptually...

Another trap or myth which is binding humanities imagination and potential is that we are limited in out capacities, that we can not have spacial imagination, that we can not „remember" many details and facts. I argue that this is a gift: we can „forget" and see the essence, the patterns, the concepts, have imagination and fantasy, and can connect the patterns with imagination. It is the wrong standard if we compare human potential and qualities with number crunching quantities.

I would like to close with my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein: „Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world" and in an extended form: <You do not need to know all what is in all the books and encyclopedias, „you do not even need to understand the world, you only need to cope with it, find your way and what you are looking for">. This is what philosophies are about: Orientation and not just finding new ways in „nowhere", but also „fields" as playgrounds for natural and cultural dimensions: Frameworks and frames of references for sharing values, beliefs, and preferences - in order to develop tolerance in view of checks and balances, but foremost intolerance!

Feel and touch and other senses are central to our being. However, when it comes to new, extra, or larger dimensions over diverse scales, nothing can be compared with seeing. Our mission was to explore new realms, the long view, and find new lands. Marcel Proust wrote: „The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes".

Excuse me for trying to show you the new land or larger „island" from different directions, but it looks always different and words are often in the way. They do not convey the same meaning to all people, but you might get the picture from them, if you dare not travel with me....

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