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A Knowing World - Chris Watkins

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.



Knowledge and action — we need both. Wise action depends on knowledge and a breadth of knowledge. Knowledge of what has gone before us, of what strategies and designs that have worked and not worked. As Isaac Newton stood on the shoulders of giants, we stand on the shoulders of many pioneers and support others on our own shoulders.

Newton was not merely a genius; he was a genius at the right place and time. The secrecy of alchemy was giving way to the sharing of knowledge in a modern era of science. In that tradition, we can benefit from an openness of sharing. We may no longer have a genius like Newton who stands out from society in his vast understanding because now understanding is shared so widely, and we stand on the shoulders of so many that it is collective wisdom that is awesome in its depth and breadth.

Our success as a species comes primarily from our ability to understand, to share that understanding, and to build on the understanding gained by others. The quality of our future depends in part on the work we do now to take this to a new level.

Our success as a species is now undermining itself. Our evolved character, which takes and extracts whatever is useful, and which wants to build bigger and more impressively, is threatening our security and our quality of life. Our need to survive will stop us eventually — but changing the fundamental model of human society is a mammoth task. We see this by the lip service paid to change and in the minimal action to date. On our current trajectory, we will destroy much before we begin to protect and rebuild the planet that sustains us.

So, what do we need to create the Future We Deserve (or, perhaps more accurately, the future that the next generations deserve)? Something that might help us pull one out of the fire is wisdom and knowledge — answers and feedback at our fingertips.

What does it look like in practice?

  • Metadata, notes on the information: Who is it from? What are their biases? How well are they trusted and who trusts them?
  • Openness and filters: allow all wisdom out but ensure that the best of it is shared and that all of it is accessible.
  • Tools to wring out the data and make it tell us what we need.