An article in WiredNews about the coming demise of the Concorde is a good illustration of how limited thinking about the future can be:
When the Concorde lands for the final time at London's Heathrow Airport on Oct. 24, it'll be the last chance in a generation for commercial air passengers to pierce the sound barrier, aviation analysts say.
In a strict, technical sense, this may be true. It could be years and years before one of the big aviation manufacturers decides to build another supersonic passenger aircraft. But the aviation analysts who tell us this are basing their predictions on the stated intentions of these companies, rather than the larger environment in which those companies operate.
I doubt the planners at Boeing or Airbus have spent a lot of time considering
how the X Prize and the push towards space
tourism might unsettle their current plans. But it doesn't really matter whether
they've thought about it or not. If space tourism becomes reality, many "commercial
air passengers" (if we choose to describe them as such) will have the opportunity
to "pierce the sound barrier," and do plenty more besides.
The present grows out of the past in unexpected ways. As I demonstrated last time, it took a highly unlikely combination of events to get me from Kentucky twenty years ago to my current circumstances. Remove or rewrite any of those events (particularly the early ones) and I would almost certainly be somewhere else doing something else right now.
In a very real sense, I would be a different person.
My present life isn't perfect, nor is it the fulfillment of some vast master plan. But I'm not unhappy with it. I'm glad things have worked out the way they have and that I'm who I am. Still, I haven't achieved all that I would like to; I've fallen well short of some of the highest hopes I had (and still have) for my life.
One could probably draw a similar line through the history of commercial aviation. If some decisions had been made differently in the 60's, we might never have seen commercial supersonic flights at all. Had other decisions been made differently in the 70's and 80's, we might not now be witnessing the "end" of it.
In both cases (my life and the history of supersonic commercial aviation), the line has ended up somewhere short of where it could have. So how do I take that line from me-20-years-ago through me-at-the-present and extend it to the me-20-years-from-now that I'd like to be? Likewise, how do we draw a line from the demise of the Concorde to a near future in which more people are traveling at supersonic speeds than our good friends the aviation analysts ever would have dreamed?
Practical Time Travel, the art of moving from the present to a specific defined future, involves four phases:
Phase I: Imagination
Phase II: Foundation and Reimagination
Phase III: Action, Reaction, and Reimagination
Phase IV: Realization and Reimagination
I'm going to spend the next few weeks exploring each of these phases. As you might guess from its recurrence in each of the subsequent phases, imagination is probably the most important of the four.
Imagination gives the first whiff of reality to the nonexistent. We often end up in circumstances that we never imagined. Sometimes this is wonderful, and sometimes it's horrible, but most of the time it is simply what it is for me - okay. Not too bad. Not that great. It's just what it is.
Whatever happens, happens.
Imagining an outcome is the first step we can take to ensure that whatever happens isn't just "whatever." Whatever is undifferentiated possibility. i Space is chock full of whatever; whatever is a substantial part of what i Space is made of. Even if we narrow our view down to everything within the beam of Reality's Flashlight, we're still looking at tons and tons of the stuff.
Only imagination has power over whatever. Via imagination, we're able to differentiate possibilities and select a single good one, or a group of good ones. If we use our imagination properly, we're able to see beyond false boundaries and grasp the very real possibilities that lie ahead.
This is the mistake the aviation analysts have made about supersonic flight. They're basing their picture of the future on the statements of a few individuals who believe (wrongly) that their decisions will determine the future commercial flight. These individuals say there will be no new supersonic passenger aircraft. Without such aircraft on hand, there's no way to carry out such flights.
So we know that supersonic commercial flights won't happen. But what will happen? What big breakthroughs can we expect? The experts shrug.
"Whatever," they tell us. "We're not looking at breakthroughs. We're looking at what the aviation giants say they're going to do."
They aren't exactly wrong to do that. What those companies have said would happen has pretty much been what happened over the past 50 years or so.
But now we have some new folks on the scene drawing lines to very different futures futures which, like those of the analysts, currently exist only in the imagination. The analysts tell us that the greatest speed that people like us can expect to experience, possibly for the rest of our lives, will be whatever an incrementally improved Airbus or 7X7 aircraft can deliver. But the folks who have imagined, and who are working hard to create, the space tourism business tell us that not only will we be able to go much faster than any Concorde, the speed won't even be the point. It will just be one part of a package that will also include experiencing weightlessness and flying so high that we leave the atmosphere behind.
How can we get sentimental over something like the Concorde when there's so much to look forward to? And how can people waste their time and energy on regret when all they have to do in order to begin creating the future they want is to imagine it?
UPDATE: Speaking of flying faster than sound, Dale Amon provides an interesting report on one of my favorite (currently) imaginary flying machines, the hypersonic scramjet. Also, Randall Parker recent reported on this enabling technology.Posted by Phil at October 20, 2003 11:42 AM | TrackBack