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Alternative presents and futures research

I am developing the following ideas with George Kubik and John Moravec. We welcome any feedback you might have.

To date, divisions of past, present, and future have been a necessary condition for a paradigm of futures research. We assert that the futures research field must progress beyond traditional assumptions and categories of past, present and future to the recognition that 1) these concepts are largely byproducts of industrial time, and 2) Newtonian/Cartesian thinking with precepts of control, determinism, and linearity. The construction of alternative pasts, presents, and futures offers a new mode for sense-making, design, and choice in human affairs. It treats futures research as an activity that involves the re-conceptualization, redesign and reconstruction of the present into alternative presents.

The futures field is built upon traditional understandings of time and the partitioning of time into past, present, and future. However, we assert that this historical understanding of time, as partitioned into past, present, and future, has become too limited for sense making in a more complex world. The futures field must now expand into the new frontier of alternative presents, thereby permitting new sense making, knowledge creation, and decision options.

We define alternative presents as distinctive existential states of continuous novelty and emergent complexity. Comparison is the mechanism whereby one present state can be differentiated from others. Shortly we will demonstrate the use of simtime in the creation and application of alternative presents.

As previously noted, humans are time-bound. Concepts of past, present, and future events are bound together to provide continuity and a framework for sense making, knowledge production, and decision making. The process of simtime suggests a new methodology for harnessing the continuous emergence of novelty, invention, and design in the scope of human time binding.

Simtime methods address historical and anticipated states in terms of time-binding and time-transcendence. They advance the concepts of imported pasts and imported futures that are continuously invented and re-invented within alternative presents. The ongoing construction and deconstruction of imported pasts and imported presents within alternative presents provides frameworks for new formats of time association. Thus, alternative presents are treated as continuously created and emergent resources rather than single points with the passage of chronological time.

The field of futures research is defined largely through its methodologies, or philosophies of method. Scientific futurists assert that discoveries of past, present, and future relationships (e.g., cycles, bifurcations, trajectories, and discontinuities) are best determined by methodological properties rather than objective observations of phenomenological properties. From this point of view, the futures field is already concerned with the invention rather than the discovery of temporal patterns and processes in phenomenological events. A central tenet of simtime is that different depictions of presents are, indeed, artifacts of human observation, categorization, and methodological choice.

We assert that the concept of alternative presents affords the possibility to develop new soft technologies of great importance. Rapid change and complexification have mutated time to become more than an interval measure; it has become a critical resource in the generation of new sense making, knowledge construction, and decision alternatives. The conceptualization of time has migrated from a value-free phenomenon to be studied to a value-rich resource to be developed.