Exponential Change and Scenario Planning

The possibility of catastrophic exponential change necessitates a unique approach. This is because few human beings naturally think in terms of the possibility of the exponential changes. We humans generally have what the inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil calls an "intuitive linear" view of phenomena rather than a "historical exponential" view. In The Singularity Is Near, he uses the example of a property owner with a pond who frequently cleans out small numbers of lily pads. Then, with the pads covering only 1 percent of the pond, the owner goes away, but he returns weeks later to find it covered with lily pads and the fish dead.1 The owner, because the human mind thinks linearly, forgot that lily pads reproduce exponentially. When change is exponential we often have great difficulty comprehending it, whether it is manifested in lily pad growth or climatological tipping points. A related difficulty is that the adaptability of human society itself is difficult to predict in the presence of great and continuing catastrophe. The conflicts over land, migrating populations, or resources described elsewhere in this study might well be overshadowed in such a case by broader societal collapse.

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