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The future is human. But, the future will not be evenly distributed.
The humans that can get into the space of self-actualisation, they are going to be the commanders of the future.
But here’s the thing: all of us can do that. Why? Because of the power of the human imagination.
Sure, there are going to be some ogres and trolls, some dragons to slay along the way, and there’s going to be some rough weather that we’re going to have to hunker down and endure.
But we can get through it. Because we have an enchanter’s power.
If we can self-actualise, then the future is human, else we will be history.
The Oracle at Delphi, in the ancient Near Eastern world in ancient Greece, the Oracle was an institution of society. If you didn’t know what the future held, if you didn’t know which way to turn and what to do, you could go and consult the Oracle at the Temple of Apollo.
And she’d give you some mystical rhyme you didn’t quite understand, but don’t worry, the priests would interpret it for you, and you’d be able to make an informed decision as to the way forward.
We’re at a point right now, where many of us don’t know what the future looks like and what we need to do. So, perhaps it’s fitting to revisit this idea of the Oracle.
Now, when you came into the Temple of Apollo, inscribed on one of the pillars was this phrase, and I’m sure you’ve heard it: “Know thyself”.
And generally, how those words are interpreted or applied, is to say: “We need to do the deep work that’s required for self-awareness”. Yes, we do. We need to know ourselves. But is that really what that inscription meant?
Well, maybe. But my professor who used to teach me Near Eastern ancient culture, he said: “No, that’s rubbish. That’s not what it meant. It meant know your place, as you come in asking for help and advice, know your place in the grand order of things. Know yourself, know your place”.
Is that true? Is that a better way to think of it, than develop your self-awareness?
Well, I don’t know if either one is better or worse. But let’s for a second assume that both of those things are true. Because both of those ways of understanding it are necessary for your and my place in the future.
If we need to secure ourselves in that top tier of Maslow’s hierarchy, that place where we can really develop and see the realisation of our human potential, then what do we need to do? What do we need to do to establish ourselves in that pyramid?
If the optimistic camp of the whole AI and big data and tech future world, if the optimistic camp is correct, which maybe they are, then disease and poverty is going to be taken care of.
I mean, according to the brightest optimists in that camp, we are on the verge of being able to make sure that disease and hunger are a thing of the past.
It might take 50 years or 100 years, but we’re close. The optimistic view says: “We’ve taken care of all the deficiency needs in Maslow’s hierarchy”. If that’s true, well, then really we only have ourselves to blame if we can’t get into the top section of the permit.
And I think there’s something there to dwell on. But how will we do that? Well, we’ll do that, as I say, through the imagination.
But what is the imagination?
Well, Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher from a couple of 100 years back, he said: “The imagination is the faculty instar omnium”, which translated means the faculty of all faculties. It is the thing really, that sums up human ability.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an 18th century poet and philosopher – very, very important thinker when it comes to some of the groundwork and thinking around what is the imagination philosophically, and how does it work?
He breaks it down into two levels, the primary imagination, and the secondary imagination.
So, the primary imagination is what receives its images ready-made in meaningful paradigms that we can understand. We receive a set of relationships that make sense.
So I’m looking out my window here, I can see some green – there’s a whole lot of green things next to each other, look a bit like that. And then there’s like, they’re attached to a bit of brown, little thin, little brown line thing. And then oh, that is a bunch more of those, and they connect to thicker lines that are also brown. And there’s a number of those, they all connect together, and the biggest one is going straight into the ground.
What is it? That’s right, you know what I’m talking about.
Because your primary imagination is used to receiving the paradigm of tree everywhere you look, when you’re outside, you will see this paradigm. But you don’t see it the way I described it. You don’t see one leaf, two leaf, three leaf, add them all together, put them on some twigs, put them on a branch, branch and trunk, trunk into the ground, ah must be a tree.
You don’t see that you see a tree, you receive it as a whole, not as paths. That is what the primary imagination does. It receives meaningful relationships and condenses them into one whole.
Okay, but the secondary imagination does something a little bit more mysterious. The secondary imagination, somehow, has the power to take one paradigm of meaning, and another paradigm of meaning, and combine them to create a new paradigm of meaning.
Or maybe even to just take one part from this paradigm, and one part from this paradigm and create a third paradigm of meaning.
The human imagination, at the secondary level, has the ability to construct new meaning.
My primary example that I use in this all the time, my secondary example, that I use in this all the time is coffee, coffee, guys, one of the greatest blessings of the human secondary imagination. Why? Because this is made up of coffee, of heat, of milk, of water, of steam. Whoever the first people were, who discovered that if you take this berry from that tree and add it to heat, figured out that if you grind this thing, then add it to water, you get a bit of a flavour.
Then someone else came along and said: “Now let’s add it to hot water and see what happens”. Then somewhere along the line, someone said: “Let’s add some of the cow’s milk to it. What happens if we add in the paradigm of steam?”. And here I sit the 21st century, and I inherit this incredible paradigm of meaning: coffee.
Only the human imagination can do that. Only the human imagination can generate new meaning.
Now Coleridge put these two levels of imagination together. And he said: “This is what gives humans the esemplastic power to shape into one”. And human culture, and human history, is the resume of what the human imagination can do.
So, can computers imagine? Can AI imagine? Well, yes, it can. And no, it can’t.
We get so caught up with the “yes” and the fear that that generates in us, and we don’t pay enough attention to the “no” to see how we are different.
I read an article recently about DeepMind – an AI company that has created an AI that can imagine. And the article is, basically, this like, oh we’ve across the new frontier, AI can imagine now.
And they figured out that if they train an AI with enough data to show it, for instance, a 2D scene in a well-lit room, that it can, by learning, put itself in the shoes of another perspective, and create what the visual would look like, of that little cube, in that well-lit room, from another angle.
The AI can literally put itself in another person’s shoes. Guess at a different perspective. That’s phenomenal. That is incredible. Is that imagining?
Well, ja, it is imagining. It’s the primary imagination. Being able to receive paradigms of meaning in ready-made images, meaningful wholes.
And by analysing enough of them, be able to create a different perspective, like it has already seen somewhere else. It can create something. It can generate a new perspective.
But it’s not a new perspective. It’s just recreating old perspectives, and guessing, given a new set of variables. That’s the primary imagination. It’s phenomenal, and it can do it quickly. It’s why we’re seeing such great strides being taken in things like the medical fields, around how AI can diagnose.
Why? Because it can analyse so much more quickly than we can, every disease that’s ever been written about. With all the symptoms.“What AI cannot do is generate something genuinely new that is compelling. That's what the human imagination does.” - Theran Knighton-Fitt, Mygrow's Chief Humanising Officer Click To Tweet
JRR Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, he’s got this fascinating quote from an essay on fairy stories. This is what he says: “The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water. If it could do the one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter’s power.”
When we can take coffee bean from bush, and water from stream, and rock from cave, steam from steam engine, and the milk from cow. We have an enchanter’s power.
We can take things from multiple paradigms and put them together to create new ones genuinely new ones, not just new perspectives, recycled from old data.
Now, here’s the irony: Our fear of the future is because we have taken with our primary imagination the ready-made understanding of AI as it currently is. And another paradigm of war and conquest and tyranny.
And we’ve created a new future that we’re imagining where the machines are going to become our overlords. I mean, it’s Terminator.
But we’re only having that fear, because of the power of our imagination to draw meaning from multiple places, reconstitute it, and create something genuinely new.
Watson, not the IBM computer, it’s given a human name, the actual human computer scientist from Oxford, he says this, he says: “Algorithms are not ‘just like us’… by anthropomorphising a statistical model, we implicitly grant it a degree of agency that not only overstates its true abilities but robs us of our own autonomy…”AI has limitations, its limitations are that it cannot generate genuinely new things. But the human imagination also has limitations. The difference is our limitations are self-imposed, or self-maintained. They are psychological… Click To Tweet
So, to know ourselves, in this current context, where we look towards the future that perhaps is scary, and we don’t quite understand and don’t know what to do.
To know ourselves, yes, it does mean on that first definition, that we need to grow our self-awareness. We need to actually develop an understanding of the human person and what it is that makes us tick. What it is that straitjackets us.
We need to gain an understanding of the subconscious identities and psychological factors and the human dynamics at play, in our relationships, in our organisations, in our context.
We need to know that stuff. Self-awareness is the foundation on which we can grow. It’s the foundation on which we can actually unlock the potential of our imagination.
When our emotional centres and the amygdala in our brain, when that hijacks things, it shuts down our frontal lobes, it shuts down the power of the human brain and mind by locking it up in a place of fear, in a place of deficiency needs, in a poverty mindset, in a zero-sum game that thinks: “I am not enough”.“We need to know ourselves. We need to do the deep work that is required to understand the complexity of the human person and human relationships.” - Theran Knighton-Fitt Click To Tweet
If we can do that, we will raise into that top triangle of Maslow’s hierarchy and be able to actualise the potential of our minds. If we can create environments where there is psychological safety and relational value, we will see the benefit of what humans can accomplish.
But that second aspect of what it might mean to “Know thyself” – to know your place, to understand how you fit in, in the grand scheme of things, well, that’s also super important to get our heads around.
And it’s really simple. If and when the AIs get to a place of being sentient who do you think their gods will be?
Not Watson, the IBM computer? No. It’ll be David Watson, the computer scientist. And you, and me.
If we can self-actualise, then the future is human, else we will be history.
Mygrow helps you to develop the skills you need to flourish at work and in life. It does this by methodically building Emotional Intelligence using daily online 10-minute sessions. These sessions involve the techniques that rewire neural pathways in the emotional centres of the brain over time, helping you interact with your world in new and positive ways.