at yesterday’s fireside chat at sacred space, one of the topics that came up was the extent of our ability to imagine the future. it appears that we have many mental barriers to effectively doing that.
one person mentioned that she can somehow sense a future many years hence, but finds it very difficult to fill up this future with any content – perhaps one could say the future exists for her but in her mind it is empty.
in discussing how nanotechnology will change our future, i realized that i can imagine all kinds of developments in and uses for nanotechnology but that i see that as some kind of boundary, a last frontier. somehow, at least from a technological point of view, that was the end of the horizon of my imagination for the future.
this, in turn, led to talking about boundaries of imagination in general, which brought me to one of my favourite topics – fractals and chaos theory. fractals illustrate how our ideas of what constitutes a boundary are quite unsophisticated.
mandelbrot’s famous paper “how long is the coast of britain” shows that the length of this coast (or boundary) depends entirely on how we measure it. (he also shows how, viewed this way, the coast of britain itself is a fractal).
for example, one could take a 1:100,000 true-to-scale map of britain, measure it by laying a measuring tape around the circumference of this island and then multiple the resulting length by 100,000. theoretically, this would result in the correct length of the british coastline.
however, were one to walk around the entire coastline of britain with the same measuring tape, one would come up with a much, much larger result – because one would measure every little nook and cranny.
what would happen if we thought about the boundaries of our imagination in a similar way?
looking at this fractal, i see all kinds of possibilities. like a coastline, parts of this fractal are like bays, deep in the land, and others jut out like little peninsulas. a vast area of the fractal is like unpopulated land. i can choose where i spend my thinking time. do i want to stay in the mass of dense, familiar thought? do i want to venture out onto the coast? if so, do i want to spend most of my time in safe bays or miami-style beaches, full of lifeguards, or do i want to venture out to the tip of the headland, expose myself to the storms of the vast unknown?
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