Rigorous Futurism

Recently I have been exploring the ideas of Ken Wilber. His theories are fascinating, but I’ve found when discussing his ideas with friends many have met them with great skepticism.

I agree he is not perfect. And after exploring others critique of him on the web, and thinking about my own experience of his text, I decided my biggest problems with Ken Wilber are twofold.

1) He implies too much consensus.

2) He does not engage in enough public discourse about his ideas.

However, it’s important to note that he has not build his theories, as far as I can tell on anything that is patently false. I think the reason he does this is expediency. His books are already 800 pages. If he had to discuss the debate on each of his assumptions that would be it’s own book unto itself, where he wouldn’t get the chance to present any new ideas, and that would hardly be worth the read.

I realized this problem is endemic to many of the authors and thinkers I’m most fascinated by: Clare Graves, John Smart, Kevin Kelly, Ray Kurzweil, Don Riso etc. They are all building models to better explain the past and present and predict the future, but some of their assumptions are based on scientific fact and some of their assumptions are unproven. And it’s often hard to tell which are which. Furthermore, some of their assumptions are built on top of their unproven assumptions.

Most people are not comfortable with any uncertainty, much less multiple levels of uncertainty, which is one of the main reasons why many of the theories of the authors I’ve listed above do not have much mainstream acceptance in the general public or academia.

However, we as a society cannot dismiss these people and their models. They are the visionaries who are attempting to climb the tallest mountain they can find and see farther than any man has seen before. Society needs to be giving these people more attention and resources, not less. We just need a better mechanism for separating the wheat from the chaff, and shifting much of the burden of truth verification off the individual reader. What we need is more transparency. We need to be able to more easily identify shaky mountains from ones based on solid ground. And we need to be able to separate the scientifically validated ground from the visions in the air. We need to make our models more explicit. We need more rigorous futurism.

I can imagine a tool that could provide a standardized format for:

1) Listing the core assumptions of the model, and separating the scientifically validated facts from the hypotheses.

2) The bold conclusions that follow if all the assumptions and presuppositions are true.

3) Monitoring and debating the scientific validity of all of the assumptions as the scientific community runs new experiments and gains new evidence.

4) Followers to discuss alternative theories based on the same set of assumptions.

5) Authors or other leading proponents of the theory to share their thoughts and analysis in real time as new evidence rolls in.

This could serve as underlying reference structure or metadata for any one of the visionaries listed above. This should be possible, especially as we move off the antiquated medium of distributing ideas on paper to more accommodating digital mediums.

Many ideas in this post were formed in discussion with Alexandros Pagidas.

  • Oussama Ammar
    November 27, 2011

    In the late 90′, this exact project have been tried in France by a famous science-fiction novel author : Bernard Weber. Beside the ugly design of their website, it didn’t scale because too many contributors was just too dumb. I cannot remember the name of this project (and evernote was not invented yet). Is it possible to create a kind of quora specialized in this format? How to scale? How to avoid the mass effect that on this kind of field, all contributions are not equal? 

    • Max Marmer
      November 27, 2011

      Social filtering and expert reputation is exactly the type of problem I think we’re now equipped to solve that would have been much more difficult in the 90’s.

      It’s not an easy problem but we should be able to weight opinions appropriately. Quora is definitely on the right track with up/down voting and recommendations. Automated scoring systems like Klout should be of use as well…