The Future of Humanity
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The Future of Humanity

Given the acceleration of change in society, more and more institutions feel the need to better understand the future. This leads to a growing popularity of futurology, future studies and other attempts to model and plan the development of humanity. However, most of these approaches are based on the naive extrapolation of certain existing trends, and lack any underlying theory. These supposedly scientific views are complemented by a number of popular visions of the future, inspired by literature, movies and social movements such as the hippies or punks.

We propose Metasystem Transition Theory (MSTT) as a general model of qualitative evolution. Since every model or piece of knowledge by definition functions to make predictions, it must be an essential task of this theory to make predictions about the future of evolution itself.

In the short term, our evolutionary philosophy sees a continuing progress towards increasing intelligence, life expectancy and general quality of life. However, because of the accelerating speed and complexity of the accompanying changes together with other contemporary problems, this puts a heavy stress on individuals and society. Paradoxically, the resulting anxiety fosters pessimism. In the somewhat longer term, MSTT predicts that we will undergo a new metasystem transition that will bring us to a higher evolutionary level. This level will be characterized by evolution at the level of memes rather than genes, by the cybernetic immortality of individuals, and by the emergence of social super-organism or "global brain".

Difficulties of extrapolation

In making these predictions, a fallacy to avoid is the naive extrapolation of past evolution into the present or future. The mechanisms of survival and adaptation that were developed during evolution contain a lot of wisdom --- about past situations. They are not necessarily adequate for present circumstances. This must be emphasized especially in view of the creativity of evolution: the emergence of new levels of complexity, governed by novel laws.

The breakdown of quantitative extrapolation from existing trends is illustrated most clearly by the concept of singularity: the place where the value of a mathematical function becomes infinite, so that normal mathematical operations (differentiation, integration, extrapolation) fail. An example of a singularity in the fabric of space-time is the inside of a black hole or the origin of the universe in the Big Bang. If variables describing progress (such as technological innovation, or total amount of scientific knowledge produced) are mapped on a diagram, it is remarkable how much their increase over time is accelerating. This increase seems at least exponential but perhaps even hyperbolic (implying that infinity will be reached within a finite time). Neither form of increase can be sustained in the same form, implying that some radical change of process must take place, e.g. like a technological singularity or phase transition.

The concept of metasystem transition, through the "law of the branching growth of the penultimate level", includes such a phase of self-reinforcing acceleration of development of the last level of organization accompanied by the emergence of a next level. It seems likely that this is exactly what is happening in our present society, where the level of thinking is presently exploding, possibly to be supplemented by a "metarational" level characterized by a superhuman intelligence: the global brain.

Copyright© 1999 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn,

Feb 19, 1999 (modified)
Jan 1992 (created)


Metasystem Transition Theory

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Popular Visions of the Future

Contemporary Problems

Societal Progress

The Socio-technological Singularity

Memetic Evolution

Cybernetic Immortality

Cosmic role of humankind [empty]

The Social Superorganism and its Global Brain

Links on Future Development


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