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Co-Emerging Futures A model for reflecting on streams of future change


Abstract and Figures

The four co-emerging futures introduced in this paper maps the key streams of unfolding change that are transforming our world. With the decline of global leadership and governance, diverging worldviews are shaping narratives, investments and cooperation into distinctly different future directions. The impact of the Anthropocene and climate change has brought the world to a critical point where ecosystems are threatened with collapse. Yet there is no consensus on how to act in the face of this treat. The paper serves as a source of inspiration, reflection and critical thinking about the streams of co-emerging futures and the implications for innovation and design.
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Co-Emerging Futures
A model for reecting on streams of future change
Reon Brand, Philips Design, 2019
Image: Dreamstime, by Skypixel
Background 5
Introduction 6
Making sense of future change 7
The anthropocene 9
The start of the anthropocene 9
Ecosystem impact 9
A perfect storm – rising climate change and a decline in global governance 10
Co-emerging futures - a new model for understanding unfolding change 14
The path of trans-mutation – an augmentative mindset 18
Immortalia 19
Etherea 24
The path of transformation - a preventative mindset 28
Habitania 29
Gaia 32
Conclusion and way forward 41
The emergence of a complex meta-systemic future 41
Reections and actions 42
References 44
Author 51
Acknowledgements 51
About philips design 51
Co-Emerging Futu res • 3
A model for reecting on streams
of future change
In this shor t paper, I briey introduce four Co-Emerging
Futures that are transforming our world. In the near future, I will
follow this up with a more comprehensive exploration of these
Co-Emerging futures. However, before I present this model,
it may be helpful to briey outline an earlier internal research
paper titled ‘Rethinking value in a changing landscape’
published by Philips Design (Brand & Rocchi, 2010).
In that paper, we presented a model for strategic reection
and business transformation by exploring how value
in the modern world was evolving across four distinct
socio-economic paradigms, which unfolded in a linear
sequence: The Industrial Paradigm (1945->); The Experience
Paradigm (1980->); The Knowledge Paradigm (2000->); The
Transformation Paradigm (2015->). We explored how the
perception, creation and distribution of value has changed
over time through the unfolding of these dierent paradigms.
The Industrial Paradigm accelerated in Western economies after
the Second World War and leveraged advances in technology
and manufacturing. These enabled companies to mass produce
goods and enticed large workforces to leave the countryside
to work in urban factories, which raised the income of people,
modernized their lives and improved their standard of living.
The Experience Paradigm emerged in the 1980s as
a new wave of value creation to stave o increasing
commodit ization that was hampering the ability of many
industrial companies to generate value. By engendering
lifestyle aspirations, experience economy companies were
able to create lifestyle brands that lled an identit y gap
experienced by people living in densely populated cities.
Customers paid a premium for products and services oered
by lifestyle brands; signifying their aspirational identities by
buying into carefully craf ted brand narratives and images.
The Knowledge Paradigm emerged at the turn of the
millennium, when the Internet became interactive and a
platform for user collaboration through social networking
sites, blogs, wikis, video sharing sites, and hosted services
(popularly referred to as Web 2.0). This unleashed a
‘democratization of technology’ that allowed ordinary
people to produce content and collaborate directly with one
another, and to obtain tools to experiment and cultivate their
own identities. In turn, this shift introduced the concept of a
Value Network, in which value creation and consumption no
longer followed the classical value chain approach. People
could produce and consume value and participate in peer-
to-peer value exchange on several key digital plat forms.
The Transformation Paradigm introduced a new way
for companies to create business value by taking joint
ownership of key societal and environmental challenges, in
particular by creating value-sharing partnerships with other
(public or private) stakeholders to address these challenges.
In the nine years since 2010, when we published the paper,
we have witnessed how Knowledge Paradigm companies
such as Amazon, Facebook and Google have become some
of the most valuable companies on the planet. In the same
period, an increasing number of companies have also
started to experiment and create new business within the
Transformation Paradigm (Rocchi, Sarroukh, Subbaraman,
De Clerck, & Brand, 2018).
Industrial Experience Knowledge Transformaon
1950>> 1980>> 2000>> Emerging>>
Capvang Idea
Economic Driver
Modernizaon Aspiraonal Lifestyle Empowerment Meaningful living
View Local Global Contextual Systemic
Quest Convenience Identy Self-actualizaon Meaning
Skillset Specializaon Experimentaon Entrepreneurship Vision and mobilizaon
Conduct Follow social codes Break social taboos Develop passion/talent Team up for higher goals
Value proposion Mass products Brand experience Plaorms & open tools Ethical value exchange
Qualies Enhanced funconality Targeted experiences Pervasive habits Enhancing meaning
Approach Pursuade to purchase Promote brand lifestyle Enable parcipaon Leverage cooperaon
Business Goal Shareholder profit Brand growth Build scaling plaorms Purposeful outcomes
Mass producon Markeng & branding Interest plaorms Value networks
People MindsetBusiness Mindset
Paradigms of changing economic value
Paradigms of changing
economic value
Graph fro m internal r esearch
paper titled ‘Rethinking value
in a changi ng lands cape’
publish ed by Philips D esign
(Brand & Ro cchi, 2010)
Co-Emerging Futu res • 5
In our paper ‘Rethinking value in a changing landscape’ from 2010 (outlined
above), we approached the understanding of emerging change from a
predominantly socio-economic perspective. The model we produced proved
to be very useful in helping companies to think about value creation in
dierent emerging paradigms. It served as a practical framework for strategic
reection on the organizational power structures, organizational language and
communication, business models, and types of talent, companies need to
succeed in a given paradigm.
This paper not only gives more nuance
and direction to the Transformation
economy, but also provides a framework
for understanding the four key emerging
trajectories of co-emerging futures.
The paper has three main purposes:
Firstly, it provides a framework for public
debate on the future of humanity our
relationship with living ecosystems and
the planet at large.
Secondly, it provides inspiration and
cause for the reection on innovating
and designing for the future. It calls into
question existing approaches to Design
and Innovation.
Thirdly, it provokes by questioning and
challenging the wisdom of a number
of implicitly accepted existing global
In writing this current paper, I reected
deeply on the nature and meaning of
the changes that are happening in the
world now; the social, economic and
technological drivers behind them;
and how we make sense of these
changes. As humans, we nd ourselves
at a precarious moment in the history
of our planet. We are witnessing a
number of cascading changes that
may irrevocably change its complex
dynamic system. Such changes include
climate change, biodiversity loss,
decline in global governance and the
development of technologies that may
dramatically transform the labor market
and the social fabr ic. The combination
of these changes is so impactful that it
not only challenges economic growth
and social stability, but it may threaten
the ecological stability of our planet
as a habitat for human and other
biological life.
For this study, I thus felt the need
to take a fundamentally dierent
approach to that of our previous
paper, which focused primarily on
socio-economic value creation.
Many of the changes in the world at
large are rooted in the fact that for
the last few decades, humanity’s
relentless social, technological and
economic development has been
guided by a utilitarian, anthropocentric
and material worldview focused
on customer preferences, human
aspirations, human needs, and the
pursuit of economic growth.
Current economic models adopted
across most of the world do not factor
in the cost of human material progress
to the environment, and despite
warning signals from various scientic
studies, mainstream discourse has
had very limited success in translating
this awareness into meaningful and
eective socio-economic action.
However, newer models are emerging
that recognize this limitation and
propose a sustainable debt policy
to balance economic growth with
environmental protection (Gonzalez-
Redin, Polhill, Dawson, Hill, & Gordon,
2018), or even set out the pursuit of
economic models that are not based
on the need for growth (Heinberg,
2011) (Jackson T. , 2009). It remains
to be seen how far this think ing can
eventually nd its way into eect ive
economic policy-making and global
Based on this thinking, I also felt the paper should include a view from a
predominantly ecological perspective. Such a perspective would stimulate
the debate of how we, as people, would view value creation and designing
solutions dierently if human needs were subordinate to requirements for
a healthy and thriving ecosystem. What would happen if industries were to
design for the benet of nature with human needs as a secondary benet?
Making sense of future change
Of course, in taking such a view, I realize
that not everyone has the same mindset
and beliefs. We all make sense of
our world in our own way by tapping
into root memes (viral ideas) deeply
embedded in our sub-consciousness.
As the world shifted from modernism
to post-modernism, many people,
particularly in Western societies,
went through a period of accepting
multiple truths in the belief that truths
are not absolute, but ltered and
shaped through personal and cultural
However, in the last few years,
there has been a shift towards large
swathes of people becoming less
open to persuasion. As consumers
and users of information, we are
increasingly segmented into channels
of conrmation bias by search engine
algorithms that understand us and
predict our responses better than
we understand ourselves. Instead of
becoming more open to respectful
discourse, our ways of making sense
of the world have become increasingly
insular, polit ically correc ted through
mass social feedback, as our beliefs
and worldviews are increasingly
inuenced and shaped by search
engine and social media algorithms,
bots and mass propaganda.
This is one of the pitfalls of the
pervasiveness and penetration of the
knowledge economy and social media
into our personal daily lives. Instead of
rich global narratives and discourses
emerging, we see a funneling of
worldviews into a few streams of
thought. It is therefore logical that
dierent futures will co-emerge. In
order to understand some of the
mindsets driving dierent Co-Emerging
Futures, it is perhaps good to re-visit
some of the root memes that have
been shaping human civilizations for
hundreds of years. Many of these
memes st ill persist in dierent human
societies and contribute to shaping
and inuencing human attitudes and
perspectives, and I will refer to some of
these in dierent sections of the paper.
Most futures and foresight models
used for making sense of change take
evolving socio-cultural values, socio-
economic change and/or technological
advancement as a starting point for
deliberating on probable, possible
and preferable future directions. They
assume that people can direct and
control their own destiny and are
capable of shaping a positive future for
themselves. However, the damaging
impact on the planet’s ecosystem
brought about by actions to shape the
world that we desire is increasingly
confronting humanity. It is becoming
clear that we may be overestimating
our ability to control the destiny of
our planet, or even to safeguard it as
a sustainable habitat for humans and
biological life in general.
Complex dynamic systems (such as our
planet, the ecosystem, the seasons,
the weather, civilization) can appear
to be very robust and immune to
disturbances. However, when changes
start to accumulate faster than the
system can adapt and reach a critical
threshold, they can suddenly cascade
and create an irreversible critical
transition (called hysteresis) and a
completely new unpredictable dynamic
system can emerge. In emergent
complex systems theory, a complex
dynamic system has properties not
exhibited by any of the underlying
parts (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1994). The
reason that dramatic shifts in stable
complex systems can happen so
seemingly suddenly is that cascading
phenomena have inter-independent
reciprocal causal relationships. The
cascading eect of emergence can
shift a geological, ecological and
social metasystem into another type
of system. It is very dicult to imagine
the properties of the system after such
Co-Emerging Futu res • 7
a shift because emergent phenomena
do not exhibit linear relationships. One
of the dening properties of a complex
system is that when cascading changes
set o a shift to a dierent emergent
complex system, it is almost impossible
for a system to return to its previous
As humanity, we are able to observe
linear change of individual variables,
but we are poorly equipped to sense
systemic change. This causes us to
underestimate the magnitude and
appear blind to emerging non-linear
of systemic shifts. There are two
reasons for this. Firstly, as humans in
modern society, we have a tendency
to specialize, which narrows our
view. Secondly, many, especially in
Western societies, are inclined to use
predominantly logical and reduc tionist
thought processes to comprehend
change. This makes it very dicult
to convince large groups of people
of the signicance and meaning
of higher order systemic changes
that transcend individual elds of
knowledge. Economists tend to focus
on economic and policy change.
Environmentalists focus on climate
change and ecosystem issues, while
business stakeholders often ignore
their concerns and recommendations
if it means challenging their pre-
occupation with ‘business and
economic growth’. Technologists rely
on the promise of technology to x all
ills with more technology, despite the
fact that most of these problems arose
due to the scaling up of technological
applications in the rst place. In order
to nd systemic solutions, humanity
needs far more multidisciplinary
thinking and holistic awareness and
It’s in this contex t, that I am now
exploring in greater depth how
the Transformation Paradigm is
evolving against the background of
escalating environmental and social
challenges. But I am doing so in terms
of the widely-used alternative futures
approach, originally published about
four decades ago (Henchley, 1978),
which denes ‘possible’, ‘probable’
and ‘preferable’ futures. In retrospect,
the Transformation Paradigm as
described in the 2010 paper is an
example of a preferable future that is
gaining some momentum. The concept
of a preferable future introduces the
idea that humans not only need to
try to predict or anticipate the future
as spectators, but also to actively
participate in shaping it, by creating
a joint vision and mobilizing public,
political and business support to
realize this vision. This approach
inspires a feeling of control and
activ ism, but it has a downside. It is
predominantly anthropocentric in
nature, put ting human needs rst. What
is most appealing for humans, may not
be the best for life on the planet.
Perhaps as humans we need to think of
the future not as a utopian end-point,
but an evolving complex system. It may
be better to reect on the systems that
we are creating in pursuit of our dreams.
The Anthropocene
The start of the Anthropocene
The Anthropocene is the name of the current geological age,
which supersedes the Holocene. The Holocene started after
the last ice age in the history of the Earth around 12,000
years ago. The Anthropocene derives its name from the
observation that humans have started to radically transform
the ecosystem and even weather patterns, and have become
a force changing the geology of the planet.
The Anthropocene began with the Age of Enlightenment that
introduced the philosophy of modernity in Europe in the 18th
century. The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement,
which developed mainly in France, Britain and Germany, that
advocated freedom, democracy and reason as the primary
values of society in a break with the dominance of religious
thought of the Middle Ages. It brought with it the idea of
progress through the pursuit of knowledge (through reason)
and it seeded the scientic revolution, bringing scientic
thinkers such as Sir Isaac Newton center-stage in shaping the
Western approach to science and epistemology for centuries
to come. This shift in human philosophy paved the way for
waves of rapid technological and industrial development
that would transform human life and the planet at large.
The belief in personal freedom was a core element in the
ideology of the Enlightenment, and while this liberated
people to pursue their own goals and beliefs, it also set
humanity on a path of increasing individualism with less
consideration of the ‘common good’. As these values spread,
societies across the world increasingly developed material
aspirations and deployed technology and infrastructure that
dramatically expanded humanity’s footprint on the planet.
After the Second World War ended in 1945, industrialization
accelerated and mass consumerism emerged to become the
basis of the current global socio-economic model.
This wave of material progress, combined with the
prioritization of individual liberty over collective interests,
has fueled the Anthropocene. It was the basis for building
the global, predominantly capitalist, economy, driving
for growth. Economic growth is maintained by constantly
stimulating consumerism and satisfying every possible real
and manufactured need of consumers who are working ever
harder to get ahead and increase their standard of living
through ownership of more material assets.
Ecosystem impact
Humanity’s impact on Earth’s ecosystems began around a
million years ago with ‘Homo Erectus’ (Miller, 2013) and the
mastery of re for warmth and cooking. But the switch from
burning biomass towards coal, gas and oil started only in
the late 19th century. The age of Enlightenment unleashed
the power of science which powered the advances of the
Industr ial Revolution. In industrial economies, it brought a
shift from products crafted by artisan to mass production
and consumption of consumer goods, which dramatically
expanded human impact on the planet.
Although humans only account for 0.01% of the biomass on
earth, our footprint is completely out of proportion with this
tiny percentage (Dockr ill, 2018). At the turn of the twentieth
century, 85% of the planet was wilderness largely untouched by
humans. Today, only 23 % of the landmass is considered to be
wilderness, and this is rapidly shrinking due to the expanding
human technological, economic and domestic footprint
(Watson, et al., 2018). Populations of mammals, birds, sh,
reptiles, and amphibians have, on average, declined in size by
60% over a period of 44 years from 1970 to 2014. (WWF, 2018)
The exponential increase of CO2 and other greenhouse
gasses such as methane in the atmosphere is a driving force
in climate change that may make large parts of the planet
unlivable in less than a century. We are already seeing
the collapse of ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef
in Australia. Coral reefs occupy 1% of the ocean, but they
provide food and shelter for 25% of all marine species. The
combination of ocean warming, acidication due to CO2
and pervasive pollution is pushing oceanic ecosystems
towards collapse. Even if we could halt further CO2 emissions
and stop pollution, it may take thousands of years for an
ecosystem like the Great Barrier Reef to recover. By 2050
there will be more plastic in the world’s waters than sh.
Industr ial agriculture amplied our ability to produce food
but at an environmental cost of pesticides and chemicals
pervading the ecosystem and food chain. In the last three
decades, scientists have recorded a 75% decline in ying
insect biomass in so-called protected areas (Hallmann, et
al., 2018). Scientists now agree that we have entered the 6th
major mass extinction (Figure 1) that has been documented
on the planet (Ceballos, Ehrlich, & Dirzo, 2017). Species
are now disappearing at more than a thousand times the
background rate of ext inction. The majority of species in the
wild face possible extinction in the coming century.
Co-Emerging Futu res • 9
In his address on 3 December 2018 at the United Nations
(UN) summit on climate change in Poland, Sir Dav id
Attenborough, the famous nature documentary maker,
said: “Right now we are facing a man-made disaster of
global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years:
climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of
our civilizations and the ex tinction of much of the natural
world is on the horizon.” But motivating people to take
uncomfortable measures is never easy. Humans have an
endorphin-based pleasure-seeking reward system that
makes us psychologically wired towards short-termism
(Gilbert, 2006). Today, masses of people across the globe
people remain apathetic, in denial, or even blissfully
unaware of how the unfolding changes may impact
humanity. Many simply remain preoccupied w ith their own
individual needs and aspirations, often at the expense of
others, or the planet at large.
Paleozoic (540-248 million years ago) Mesozoic (248-65 million years)
Cenozoic (65 Million -now)
540m 492m 435m 412m 354m 286m 248m 213m
144m 65m 55m 38m 25m 70y5m 1.8m 10k 70y11k
-86% -75% -80%
-76% ??%
Geological epochs and major extinctions in the history of the planet
CO2 release due to volcano eruptions /astroid impact
Runaway global warming (rising CO2 & methane release from ocean)
Changing ocean currents
Ocean acidication and oxygen depletion
Global ecosytem collapse
Geological epochs and major extinctions in the history of the planet
CO2 release due to volcano eruptions /astroid impact
Runaway global warming (rising CO2 & methane release from ocean)
Changing ocean currents
Ocean acidication and oxygen depletion
Global ecosytem collapse
A perfect storm – rising climate change and a
decline in global governance
The emergence of the Transformation Paradigm described in
our earlier paper (Brand & Rocchi, 2010), was reected in the
17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world
leaders in September 2015 at an historic UN Summit. The UN
sustainable Goal 17: ‘Partnerships for the Goals is almost
exactly as we described the principles of the Transformation
Paradigm a few years earlier: “A successful sustainable
development agenda requires partnerships between
governments, the private sector and civil society. These
inclusive partnerships built upon pr inciples and values, a
shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the
planet at the center, are needed at the global, regional,
national and local level.” The UN also stated addressing the
SDGs represents a 12 trillion US dollar economic opportunity
for the private sector (Vali, 2017).
Figure 1: Major reco rded extinct ions in the histor y of plan et Earth . Diagram copyrig ht: Philip s Design
Paleozoic (540-248 million years ago) Mesozoic (248-65 million years)
Cenozoic (65 Million -now)
540m 492m 435m 412m 354m 286m 248m 213m 144m
65m 55m 38m 25m 70y5m 1.8m 10k 70y11k
-86% -75% -80%
-76% ??%
Geological epochs and major extinctions in the history of the planet
CO2 release due to volcano eruptions /astroid impact
Runaway global warming (rising CO2 & methane release from ocean)
Changing ocean currents
Ocean acidication and oxygen depletion
Global ecosytem collapse
However, as humanity speeds towards an uncertain future
in the face of accelerating climate change, it is necessary
to reect and take a critical look at the emerging realities –
how is humanity acting to mitigate the eects of a changing
planetary ecosystem?
The comprehensive report of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in 2018, showed
a high likelihood that the world will reach or cross the
1.5 °C threshold of global warming in the period between
2030-2050, which will have a strong impact on warm water
corals, sheries, terrestrial ecosystems and coastal ooding
(IPCC, 2018). To avoid exceeding 1.5 °C, the world must
slash carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, and completely
decarbonize by 2050. This target seems increasingly
unrealistic since emissions are still rising due to lack of
accountability and coordinated global action.
Co-Emerging Futu res • 11
Moreover, the socio-political environment has dramatically
changed in the last few years. The stability of the European
Union (EU) is under threat due to continued economic
fragility, mass migration and political polarization. In 2019,
the UK, a key member will leave the EU following a painful
‘divorce’ popularly termed ‘BREXIT’. Traditionally strong
relationships bet ween the US and EU have cooled since
Donald Trump became the 45th president of the US in
November 2016. President Trump and his administration
have eectively dismantled the US Environmental Protection
Agency. The shift in the US towards a more nat ionalistic
worldview and economic agenda has weakened and
even reversed the process of economic globalization and
free trade agreements between key trading partners and
has emboldened other populist leaders. The US has now
embarked on a dangerous path of ignoring the looming
perils of climate change in order to boost economic growth.
The US government has lowered environmental enforcement
standards, re-invigorated coal production, and it has pulled
out of the 2015 Paris agreement – an agreement bet ween all
nations to cooperate in the ght against climate change by
limiting CO2 emissions. This shift has emboldened other
populists and has fueled the rise of the alt-right around
the globe. Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president (elected in
October 2018), for example, is an ultra-right conservative
who is widely expected to favor economic growth over
environmental protection of the Amazon rainforest. The
decline in global governance could not come at a worse time,
and drastically diminishes the prospec t of reaching global
targets to limit climate change. Eectively humanity is losing
the battle (The Economist, 2018). The US has also weakened
institutions such as the UN and WHO by dramatically cutting
their budget contributions. This means that increased
bottom-up cooperation and action w ill be required if
humanity is to climate change.
Figure 2: The world is h eading fo r a >2 °C increase in average g lobal temperature by 2055, with p otenti ally
catas trophic i mpact o n human civiliza tion an d the ecosy stem at large. Image s courtesy Pixab ay and Dreamstime.
Co-Emerging Futu res • 13
As briey indicated under ‘Guiding
Philosophies’ in Figure 3, most people
have root worldviews and a belief
system that inuence how they will
interpret, prioritize or even reject
information. Although these sets of
philosophies are depicted as a linear
succession in the diagram, many of the
core memes and beliefs can continue
to co-exist over time.
Pre-modern beliefs were often rooted
in morals ascribed to higher gods and
deities who were controlling the future.
Certainly, in Christianity, (and other
Abrahamic faiths such as Judaism
and Islam), humans were given the
‘legitimacy’ to rule over nature by
God. (Holy Bible, New International
Version: Genesis 1:28). Even among
non-religious, this meme is very deeply
embedded in the human psyche of
many societies today, where people
view themselves as ‘above nature’ and
believe that it is their right to exploit
nature for our benet.
Modernity is rooted in classical
Newtonian science and pursues
the ideal of human technological
and scientic progress. It started in
Europe with the Enlightenment in 18th
century which, as I discussed earlier,
created a new ideal of indiv idual
freedom, equality and progress
through science. This socio-economic
shift became the foundation for the
Industr ial Revolution. The modernity
mindset believes that through analysis
and empir ical knowledge, we can
understand all aspects of our world,
and use technology to control it to our
ultimate benet. This is a material view
of the world, convinced that everything
The new model of Co-Emerging
Futures that I introduce in this paper
aims to map the key streams of
unfolding change that are transforming
our world. With the decline of global
leadership and governance, diverging
worldviews are emerging that are
shaping narratives, investments and
cooperation into dierent future
directions (Figure 3). As mentioned
in the Introduction, the Knowledge
Paradigm has brought social media
platforms such as Facebook and
search engines like Google. These
platforms use algorithms which feed
information and social commentary
to people based on their prevailing
worldviews and preferences to ensure
these resonant positively with each
individual. This conrmation bias
creates ‘tribes’ of like-minded people
sharing common worldviews.
Co-Emerging Futures
A new model for understanding unfolding change
in the universe consists of building
blocks, which can be dis-assembled,
understood and re-congured to
utilitarian human needs. Classical
science has predominantly a cause and
eect deterministic ‘machine view’ of
the world. Even today the modernity
mindset is very strong, and many
societies pursue ideals and visions
of progress through rational problem
solving and technological advances
based on object ive classical science.
It is the backbone of much of the
industrial progress in the world.
Post-modernism emerged in the 1960
as a backlash against the big utopian
narratives and rational approaches
towards epistemology. It took
inspiration from Asian philosophical
inuences such as Buddhism, Yoga,
meditation prac tice and the Chinese
concept of Yin-Yang. Asian philosophers
have never seen humans as above
nature, and do not view the cosmos and
the Earth as a deterministic machine
that can be understood through
rational analysis alone. The Yin-Yang
concept recognizes that what seem to
be opposites are actually two sides
of the same coin and that one cannot
exist without the other. It sees the
universe as a complex ever-changing,
constantly re-balancing, self-regulating
system. The post-modern era saw the
development of philosophical theories
such as Phenomenology, which rejects
pure logic and objectivity as the only
path towards epistemology, instead
incorporating subjective experience,
intuition, empathy and other subjective
values into sense-making. Another
philosophy, Structuralism, incorporates
sociological fac tors such as ethnicity,
gender and religion as valid factors
in epistemology. Some have argued
that this shift from objectivity towards
relativ ism has contributed to today’s
post-truth society, which is fueled by
social media and populism, and where
every opinion is deemed as equally
valid (Dennett, 2018).
Following post-modernism comes
the current post-Post-modern era.
In philosophy there is an interesting
shift towards Relationalism. Many
philosophies in this family such as
Object-Oriented Ontology (Harman,
2018) and Agential Realism take
inspiration from quantum theory rather
than classical Newtonian science. Both
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (which
introduced the concept of space-time
and how it can be warped by gravity)
and Quantum Mechanics revealed
that while Newtonian science is useful
for the development of practical
technologies, it is not universally valid
and cannot explain the underlying
connected nature of reality on a
cosmic or quantum level. Classical
science tries to logically break down
everything into building blocks in
order to increase understanding. But
Relativ ity and Quantum Mechanics
show that to understand the nature
of the physical universe, we have to
examine things and phenomena in
the context of relationships. Indeed,
quantum mechanical experiments have
demonstrated that even sub-atomic
phenomena can be entangled over
long distances. Similarly, Relationalism
holds the view that the nature of reality
is not in building blocks themselves,
but in the dynamic relationships that
they have with one another where is
everything connected. Relationalism
also resonates with environmentalists
who believe we can only understand
nature by taking a holistic view and
understanding the complexity of
relationships (Lovelock J. , 1995).
These mindsets and ideals lie behind
the dierent trajectories in the Co-
Emerging Futures model depicted
in Figure 3. In our earlier paper, the
‘Knowledge paradigm’ is succeeded by
the ‘Transformation Paradigm’ (Brand
& Rocchi, 2010), As the new revised
model shows, the Knowledge paradigm
is now succeeded by two dist inct
trajectories: The ‘Trans-mutation’
direction, which is pursued by people
with an augmentative mindset, and
the ‘Transformat ion’ direction, pursued
by those with a preventative mindset.
Each of these two directions undergo a
further split to yield four Co-Emerging
Futures (Figure 3).
In other words, the ‘Knowledge
Paradigm’ will give way to four distinc t
co-emerging future trajectories.
Each of these future directions, will
resonate with groups of people with
very dierent belief systems and
worldviews, who process and interpret
the same events very dierently and
may aspire to completely dierent
goals and means. However, I want to
emphasize that the four futures are not
scenarios, but are co-emerging futures
driven by these dierent mindsets,
beliefs and interests.
Co-Emerging Futu res • 15
Industrial Experience
Agricultural Knowledge
Localized Civilization
Climate Change
Environmental Decline
Declining Global Governance
Probable Global
Guiding philosophies
Socio-economic paradigms
Earth geological epochs
Modernism Post-modernism RelationalismPre-modernism
(Western) belief that deities
and spirits determine
the future and hereafter
Deterministic utopian
visions driven by
technological progress
Relativism and the acceptance of
multiple truths - constant try-out
and experimentation
Being thoughtful, and increase awareness,
knowledge and intuition about the relationships of
all phenomena in complex open dynamic systems
past now future
Chronological Timeline
Valuing human progress above all
Valuing biodiverse ecosystems
Emerging Futures Directions
Industrial Experience
Valuing sustainable prosperity
Agricultural Knowledge
Localized Civilization
Climate Change
Environmental Decline
Declining Global Governance
Probable Global
Valuing Intelligence above all
Guiding philosophies
Socio-economic paradigms
Earth geological epochs
Modernism Post-modernism RelationalismPre-modernism
(Western) belief that deities
and spirits determine
the future and hereafter
Deterministic utopian
visions driven by
technological progress
Relativism and the acceptance of
multiple truths - constant try-out
and experimentation
Being thoughtful, and increase awareness,
knowledge and intuition about the relationships of
all phenomena in complex open dynamic systems
past now future
distant future
Chronological Timeline
Figure 3: Co-Emerg ing Future s. A model for under standing emerging glo bal chan ge. Created by Reon Bran d. Copyrig ht: Philip s Design
Co-Emerging Futu res • 17
The future trajectory which I call ‘Trans-mutation’ is based on an
augmentative mindset. In this view, humans aspire to shape their
own evolution and augment themselves and their man-made
environment according to their own needs. It is based on a deep-
seated belief in the needs and ethics of human progress; a belief
in the power of science and technology, and that humans have
a fundamental right to exploit nature for their own benet and
progress. The view does not consider the current state of humanity
and/or Homo Sapiens as the pinnacle of Darwinian evolution on
the planet. There is a belief that Homo Sapiens is dierentiated
from ‘lower’ species by its consciousness and intellect and its
ability to shape its own future and ultimately its own evolution.
Indeed, this Trans-mutation stream incorporates a deep belief
that humans can overcome the challenges of their environment
through technology and that at least part of humanity will continue
to evolve to ‘Human+’ or ‘Homo Deus’, where humans become
their own creators, re-shaping themselves and their environment.
This theme has been explored in some depth in recent literature
(Harari Y. N., 2016). The Trans-mutation trajectory divides into
two directions ‘Immortalia’ (Super-human Trans-human) and
‘Etherea’ (Post-human Post biological).
The path of Trans-mutation
an augmentative mindset
Figure 4: ‘Immort alia’ is the metaph or of the Co- Emergi ng Futures d irect ion toward s ‘Super-h uman’ and ‘ Trans-humanism’.
Illustr ative ima ge cour tesy of Pix abay.
Image: Pixabay
Co-Emerging Futu res • 19
The metaphor of Immortalia
The metaphor of Immortalia captures humankind’s
obsession with achieving longevity and eventually
immortality. The myths of immortality recur throughout the
consciousness of human existence across many cultures
and ages. How and why did we as mortal beings become so
interested in pursuing the ideal of immortality? Even though
the ideal can be traced back to some of the earliest texts
known to human civilization, the immortality meme is still
very much embedded in modern culture. One of the earliest
known substantial works of literature, the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’
from Mesopotamia (2100 BC.), focuses on the quest of the
protagonist, Gilgamesh, for immortality (The Editors of
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2009). Later, across a number of
cultures, alchemists started to search for the elixir of life in
order to bestow immortality on human beings.
Many religions such as Christianity, Islam and Hinduism have
developed dierent narratives based on eternity and the
immortality of the soul. The concept of the separation of
body and soul (or mind) started with the Greek philosopher
Plato about 4th to 5th century BC. Plato referred to the body
as a prison of the mind (Plato - Translated and Edited by
Gallop, 2009). The body was seen as temporal, whereas it
was believed that the human soul is immortal. In the 17th
Century, mathematician and scientist, René Descartes (1596-
1650) laid the foundations for dualism and Enlightenment
philosophy, making the famous statement “I think, therefore
I am”. He established the dualistic philosophy of mind that
mental phenomena are non-physical, or that the mind and
body are distinct and separable, and inuenced generations
of scient ists and philosophers after him with Cartesian
thinking in terms of mind and body, subject and object. More
recently, with the advances of rational Western science and
technology and a decline in belief of the afterlife of the
immortal soul as the basis of human immortality, people
have started to put faith in science to achieve longevity and
immortality. In many technologically advanced societies,
the exponential rise of material scientic discovery and
technological possibility have fueled a shif t towards
increased secularism and atheism. This has translated the
search for immortality into a technological quest, free from
spiritual paths or religious belief.
The Immortalia ideal
The emerging future path towards Immortalia seeks to
augment human capabilities with technology to become
‘Super-human’. Eventually humans will be ‘upgraded’ to
‘Trans-human’, (e.g. through genetic modication of the
human germline) into a higher species than Homo Sapiens.
Trans-humanism is based on a strongly anthropocentric and
material worldview that puts human ingenuity and progress
above all (Figure 3). Through rapidly advancing technologies
such as sensors, implants, gene therapy, and gene editing,
those who can aord it will be able to vastly transcend the
capabilities of ordinary (non-augmented) human beings.
Technological advances which may become building blocks
for the path towards trans-humanism are already dominating
news headlines today. as part of the recently coined ‘Fourth
Industr ial Revolution’ (Schwab, 2016) – a revolution that will
be driven by a convergence of key technology streams such
as molecular biology, nanotechnology, quantum computing,
articial intelligence (AI) and robotics. By taking control of
human evolut ion on a molecular level, supporters of this
future envision dramatically prolonging longevity by halting
or even reversing biological aging to retain vitality and
beauty and to enhance human cognitive abilities. Trans-
humanism is rooted in technological optimism and a belief
that through advanced technology, humans will not only be
able to enhance themselves as humans and dramatically
prolong their lifespan, but also create technology-enabled
smart cities resilient to natural processes or climate change.
Immortalia mindset and beliefs
Immortalia is solidly rooted in Modernist thinking and
philosophy (Figure 3 – Guiding Philosophies). Although
diagrammatically, it seems that the succession of
philosophies replace one another, in reality they tend to co-
exist and many of the memes from each of the philosophical
era are carried forward to others. As already discussed,
Modernist thinking is rooted in a material, classical
Newtonian ideal of science and in the Enlightenment ideal
of progress and individual freedom, which is the basis for the
techno-optimism that makes many believe that humans can
use technology to create the future they want.
The path of Trans-mutation – Immortalia
This techno-optimism developed into a belief and a
movement that believes technology will help to fulll the
age-old quest for immortality. The Extropian philosophy
launched by Max More in 1988, has become the foundation
for Trans-humanism (Figure 3). It is a framework of values
and standards for continuously improving the human
condition and longevity through technology (More & Vita-
More, 2013). Today, Trans-humanism is a growing movement
that is becoming mainstream, as indicated by a recent
article in Forbes magazine (Singh, 2017). The movement has
attracted well-known future thinkers such as Ray Kurtzweil
(now employed by Google), biologists, robotics experts,
neuro-engineers and even politicians (O’Malley, 2017). It
is based on an almost evangelical belief that advances in
science and technology will enable people to live indenitely
in the near future. Although the movement was primarily
driven by male academics and technologists in its rst years,
the Singularity Web (which is one of the most important
social media plat forms for this group), has shown that the
ideal is now attract ing a broad cross-section of followers
across gender, ethnicity, profession, political and religious
persuasion, and is growing rapidly (Istvan Z. , 2014).
The movement encourages its members to experiment
and participate in enabling a Trans-humanist future. It is
very much rooted in the monist material philosophy that
sees the mind as part of the material body, and which can
therefore be manipulated and improved based on material
technological intervention from the four key streams of
emerging technologies: nanotechnology, biotechnology,
information-technology and cognitive-neuroscience
(Roco & Bainbridge, 2003).
Immortalia drivers
Many people stand in awe of the technological
achievements of humanity, especially those of the last
century. Humanity’s many technological achievements have
delivered symbolic moments in history that continue to
inspire the unshakable belief in technology amongst techno-
optimists. One such moment was 20 July 1969, when Neil
Armstrong took the rst steps on the moon. The Apollo moon
shots cemented the belief that anything is possible through
technology and progress. They exemplied the acceleration
of industrialization after the Second World War, driven by
the Cold War between the West and the (then) USSR, as
well as a new optimism about rebuilding the world through
technology and progress.
Moreover, while trans-humanism is inspired by a belief in
technology’s ability to increase human longevity, it also
enshrines a desire to improve and vastly extend and exceed
current human capabilities in order to be more competitive
and successful.
This desire is partly a response to the pressures of living
in modern societies. Today, life in almost every successful
corporation is a life of urgency, speed, adapting to constant
change, and facing the daily threat of potentially faster and
more ingenious compet itors which can render your company
As a result, companies are constantly developing and
implementing faster and more ecient processes and
tools to increase prots and stay competitive. Employees
are under increasing pressure to perform bet ter, to stay
healthy, and to be and appear resilient. They are increasingly
scrutinized and monitored by companies for performance,
and technologies are playing an increasing role in their lives
to take care of their needs.
Today, for many of us, apps and devices monitor what
we eat; how much we exercise; help us to perform self-
diagnosis; monitor our sleep patterns; manage our schedule;
provide us with fashion advice; and monitor, track and
manage our online visibility on social media. People not
leveraging these technologies are running the risk of losing
their competitive edge, losing their income and rapidly
becoming obsolete, leading to a plunge in their social and
material worth.
This has led to a ‘Western lifestyle’ of high anxiety, poor
diets of highly processed food, constant pressure, sleep
deprivation and a rise in depression and other lifestyle
diseases. Even with all the advances in science, life
expectancy has recently started to drop in a number of
Western nations, and most dramatically in the US (Guinness
& Kalra, 2018). In contrast to the other higher income
countries, declines in life expectancy in the US were
because more people were dying in their 20s and 30s. The
percentage of people in the US that do not have access to
aordable healthcare is far higher than in other Western
countries. A high percentage of people in the US rely on self-
medicat ion and cannot aord the cost of serious illness.
At the same time, the world is entering the Fourth Industrial
Revolution (Schwab, 2016), characterized by a wave of
interdisciplinary fusion between the physical, digital
Co-Emerging Futu res • 21
and biological worlds. It oers immense technological
possibilities, where AI and big data analytics will be fed
by vast amounts of data from a connected world where
everything and everybody are constantly connected.
Beyond the automation that AI and robotics will bring,
AI will transform processes such as design, engineering,
pharmaceutical progress, biotechnology and genetic
engineering, bionics, quantum science, and the quest
for nanotechnology to venture beyond smar t materials
into creating ‘living’ self-assembling and self-generative
molecular machines.
It is indeed a bold new world that is unfolding around us.
Arguably, the smartphone is a tool that has enabled the
rst steps towards trans-humanism, but many of the most
promising future technologies may only be aordable to
a wealthy few. Nonetheless, proponents of the ideal see
enormous potential. One such is prominent trans-humanist
is Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist, who is also
the chief science ocer of the SENS research foundation.
Dr de Grey has become an international celebrity and a
key spokesman of the Trans-humanist movement, with
roles as an international adjunct professor at the Moscow
Institute of Physics and Technology, and as a fellow of the
Gerontological Society of America, the American Ag ing
Association, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging
Technologies. In July 2017 he was appointed Vice President
of New Technology Discovery at AgeX Therapeutics, a
startup in the Longevity space. His focus is on halting aging
in humans through advances in regenerative medicine:
new possibilities in stem cell research combined with gene
therapy to cancel the eect of molecular and cellular process
of senescence, which causes aging.
Other new technologies such as CRISPR (clustered regularly
interspaced short palindromic repeats) also pave the way for
advances in trans-humanism. In particular, CRISPR enables
precise gene editing opening up new areas for using gene
therapy to treat disease. It also has the potential for germline
gene edit ing, which means that changes will be passed to
the next generations and change the human genetic code
forever. Although this is a topic of erce ethical debate,
it is probably only a matter of time before it will be used
to ‘improve’ the human genome. Such improvements can
include gene editing to extend life, enhance intelligence
and memory, and enhance beauty. The technology already
exists where AI machine learning has been trained to make
surprisingly good predictions of the face of a person based
on a DNA sample. This technique is rapidly advancing
(Curtis & Hereward, 2018). Such advances could in the future
potentially be used for DNA biometrics, sur veillance and
ultimately to guide gene editing towards a dierent aesthetic
of beauty preferred by parents for their child.
Another area of far-reaching progress is using machine
learning to process brain signals. Cognitive computing has
advanced to a level where it can enable people to control
devices such as robots, prosthetics and interfaces with their
mind. New techniques such as optogenetic recording, carbon
nanotube electrode arrays (CNTs), injectable mesh arrays
of nano-electrodes can enable machines to listen to and
stimulate vast arrays of neuron populations simultaneously
(Bareket-keren & Hanein, 2013). Such techniques are useful for
the treatment of a wide range of conditions such as deafness,
Parkinson’s disease and chronic pain, to name just a few. CNTs
have enormous potential in the development of neuronal
interfaces and further study will enable the utilization
for other applications such as the quest to directly link AI
interfaces to brain circuits. This is currently one of the main
elds of research of Neuralink, a company which was founded
by Elon Musk to develop ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine
interfaces to connect humans and computers (Neuralink,
2018). This will enable humans to seamlessly access the
knowledge and processing power of AI and machine-learning
to enhance their own intelligence, skills and capabilities and
to potentially speed up the learning process. An international
collaboration led by researchers at UC Berkeley and the
US Institute for Molecular Manufacturing predicts that
exponential progress in nanotechnology, nanomedicine, AI,
and computation will lead this century to the development of
a ‘Human Brain/Cloud Interface’ (B/CI), that connects neurons
and synapses in the brain to vast cloud-computing networks
in real time (Neuroscience News , 2019).
These are just a few examples of highly promising
technologies that may transform human capabilities and
longevity in the future.
Immortalia challenges
Few of the proponents of trans-humanist advances seem to
deeply reect on the type of society and the impact on the
world that these advances may create.
With the advances of AI and automation, there are many
estimates that predict that up to 50% of jobs may become
obsolete in the coming decades. This dramatically reduces
the number of people who can benet from expensive new
technologies. Several authors have argued that the advances
described here under Immortalia will lead to much greater
inequality, and even create a ‘super human race’ (Human+)
that will live longer, stay healthier due to improved genetics
and better treatments, and have access to technologies
that will augment their abilities. They will have superior
intelligence, speed of learning, and the ability to accumulate
more wealth and control more assets (Harari Y. N., 2016).
The path of Trans-mutation – Immortalia
Today, this inequality in access to technological progress and
accrual of personal wealth is already very visible. As a result,
the issue of ‘privilege’ is becoming more of a discussion point
in social media. Several studies have shown that those who
are wealthy and privileged tend to be less empathic than
poor people, because they believe that they earned their
wealth and success, and are entitled to enjoy it (Grewal,
2012). A recent study (based on interviews of 1200 wealthy
respondents) shows that the majority of wealthy people are
driven by progress and success, and see greed, the drive to
success and acquire wealth, and even selshness as a virtue.
(Elkins, 2015).
Immortalia is thus a continuation of the technologies and
individualistic mindsets that shaped the Anthropocene,
but the inequalities are set to grow and become far more
pronounced in the future. There will be a market for
expensive life-enhancing technologies available to just a
few. For example, so far, only one gene therapy has been
approved in the United States—Luxturna, a treatment for
inherited retinal disease. Such a treatment costs 850,000
US dollars. But many more gene therapies are in the pipeline
for approval with potentially signicant economic impact.
According to the research agency EvaluatePharma, the US
healthcare system could see an inux of such therapies in
the coming years, with combined sales forecasts of 16 billion
US dollars (Davio, 2018).
The question remains if these new technologies will help
to improve global access to healthcare. In the last two
decades, healthcare systems and advances in technology in
industrialized countries have improved access to healthcare,
but the gap between countries with the worst and the best
healthcare has been widening. Access to healthcare in highly
populated poorer countries and regions such as Africa, India
and Indonesia have worsened since 1990 (Cunningham, 2017).
Nonetheless, the shift towards regenerative medicine will
transform the healthcare industry in wealthy countries.
Regeneration of lost or injured tissues is very common in
biology. Salamanders can regenerate just about any of
their body parts, including arms, legs, tail, spinal cord, eyes,
and in some specimens half the brain. Humans, along with
other mammals, can regenerate lost limb buds as embryos.
However, they lose the ability, perhaps through silencing
of some mechanism, when they mature. Now, with the
salamander genome recently sequenced, researchers hope
to use it to transfer mechanisms for organ regeneration to
humans through gene therapy in the future (Preston, 2018).
Similarly, humans lack the ability to adequately regenerate
the heart and many other organs that are commonly aected
by modern diseases. But a revolution in stem cell biology
has led to a dramatic shift towards developing therapies that
can awaken the regenerat ion potential in patients (Lee &
Walsh, 2016). Advances in cancer immunotherapy, stem cell
therapy and gene therapy may drastically reduce the need
for complicated surgery in the future. These therapies will be
based on highly personalized modication of an individual’s
own cells or genetics, and will signicantly augment the
ability of the body or damaged tissue to heal itself. The
promise of regenerative medicine is based on revolutionary
advances in cell biology and how cells can be stimulated and
manipulated to repair themselves. In the longer term, even
cardio pat ients may be treated without the need for surgery.
The last challenge to think about in Immortalia is the
environmental impact of wealthy human societies with
a much longer lifespan, possibly combined with an
individualistic outlook and sense of material entitlement.
Many wealthy individuals have a mindset and belief that
they can access technology and resources that will somehow
shield them from the adverse threat of environmental
decline (Balkissoon, 2018). Such a sense of continued
material entitlement will not only speed up the demise of the
planetary ecosystems, but also breed societal resentment
and conict.
To think that wealth oers a form of protection against
environmental decline, is foolish thinking, because the
collapse of ecosystems will threaten all life on earth.
Theoretically the wealthy may be able to survive longer,
since they have better access to technology and resources
that can aid their survival. However, an ecosystem collapse
is likely to be followed (or preceded) by a collapse in human
governance and civilizations, which will erase any illusion of
protection that wealth may oer.
Co-Emerging Futu res • 23
Figure 5: Etherea’ is the metaph or of the se ntio- centri c Co-Emerging Futu res direc tion towards ‘Pos t-human’
and ‘Post-biological’ existence.
Image: Pixabay
The metaphor of Etherea
The metaphor of Etherea is also rooted in the body-mind
dualism that was rst popular ized by Plato. Plato and the
ancient Greek philosophers placed a much higher value
on logic, rea son, intellect and therefore the mind, than
on the body. In the Platonic view, the body was made of
decaying matter, whereas the mind was permanent and
ethereal. The Co-Emerging Future path towards the future
of Etherea is based on a sentio-centric worldview where
the advancement of sentience and power of the mind is
valued above everything. Etherea strives to secure a future
existence where human minds will live on and evolve
forever, without the need of a biological body or a biological
The Etherea Ideal
The Etherea ideal of post-humanism seems similar to trans-
humanism, but there is a dierence. In Etherea, biology and
biological matter are seen as an obstacle to human sentient
development. There is a growing body of post-human
thinkers who believe in a post-biological future for humans.
One of the most notable post-biological thinkers is Zoltan
Istvan Gyurko. He is a well-known American futur ist and
regularly publishes articles in Wired, The Hungton Post,
TechCrunch and Newsweek. He recently shared his views
on the environment and on post-humanism. He believes
that biology, nature and the environment are out-dated
media for the development needs of human beings, and
that as biological beings we will not be able to develop fast
enough to keep up with AI. Etherea aims to achieve the
technological transcendence of humans by abandoning our
biological existence. In essence, post-humanists seek to
pursue a future where the human mind is uploaded into an
intelligent machine. Such a machine may not physically have
the body of a human, but the experience of having a body
can probably be simulated through virtual reality. By merging
the human mind with the vast potential of exponentially
expanding AI, the virtual human will have access to unlimited
sentient development potential and knowledge which will
make a biological human being an obsolete, antiquated
entity. The virtual human will become intellectually a far
superior and more powerful being. Being freed from the
demands and limitat ions of the biological state, theoretically
these new virtual beings will have unlimited freedom to
move, socialize and interact.
Etherea mindset and beliefs
Post-biologists share the Platonic disdain for nature and
biology. Unlike env ironmentalists, they do not see nature
and the environment as save-worthy (Istvan, 2019). They
see the environment as a cruel world where species eat
one another and constantly ght for survival. Consequently,
they believe that the time has come to abandon the ght for
the environment and replace it with the pursuit of a nobler
technology-based intelligence. Post-biologists value humans
far more than any other species because they believe that
human consciousness and sentience make us unique. They
believe the shift towards a technological medium of existence
will oer us an escape from mortality, but also from suering
and the ecological plight of the planet.
Etherea drivers
I will focus on the key logical, ethical and emotional drivers
that attract followers and investors to Etherea. One of the
key drivers fueling the Etherea post-human movement is
the rapid rise of AI and the anticipated singularity (Kurtzweil,
2006), where AI will start to exceed human intelligence
and will become responsible for its own evolution. At this
point the evolution of intelligence is expected to advance
exponentially, and there will be a ‘new master race’ of
‘spiritual machines’ that will rule the planet and beyond,
necessitating the need for human intelligence to merge with
AI for surv ival. Indeed, many post-biology adherents reject
the primitive idea of the inevitability of death. The drive for
immortality and the possibility of distributed backups of
each is a strong motivat ion.
Adherents of Etherea believe that exploration and the
advancement of sentience is the highest goal. This is a
strong driver in shifting sentience to a non-biological format.
Possibilities for scientic and space exploration will open
up as it is easier to transport a quantum sof tware program
for thousands of years into space than a complex biological
organism such as a human being.
As humans we have to accept the nitude of our biological
lifespan as well as the nite resources of our planet. In
Etherea, humans will move from a resource-scarce existence
on a nite planet to a life of innite resources and expansion.
In Platonic thinking, the body was always seen as something
limiting the mind, and biology was seen as a constant
Co-Emerging Futu res • 25
struggle for survival against disease. There is therefore very
little ethical struggle in the post-biological quest to abandon
the biological format. Biological beings have to accept the
aws in their own genome, whereas a post-biological being
can be constantly self-correcting, developing and improving
itself. Immortal and innite intelligence are the closest
humans can come to the gods that they have imagined.
We will be our own gods and our own creators, driving our
own intelligence and sentient development.
Etherea challenges
The idealistic aspirations fueling Etherea raise many
Will AI really achieve and surpass human-level general
intelligence in the short term, or is the theory of singular ity
a pipe-dream? We know that AI, through machine learning,
is better than humans at certain tasks, but how close is it to
becoming an independent ‘life form’ that is more sentient
and intelligent than human beings? At the 2018 AI Frontiers
conference, Ilya Sutskever, Co-Founder & Director at OpenAI
(the AI company co-founded by Elon Musk) presented their
key ndings and predictions (Sutskever, 2018). OpenAI is not
focusing on AI, but on AGI (Articial General Intelligence). AGI
is light years more advanced than AI and deep learning used
to solved specic problems. To achieve full AGI, an intelligent
system needs to learn unsuperv ised like a human being and
develop its own goals for self-development. It will set its own
priorities. DeepMind’s program AlphaZero already shows
evidence of human-like intuition, curiosity and creativity,
which is a turning point in the history of AI. At the current rate
of progress, it is estimated that full AGI may be achieved in a
decade or less.
Merging the reasoning capacity, thought, and memory of
a human brain with an intelligence that is vastly superior
is like throwing a drop into the ocean. What becomes of
our human identity in such an ocean of intelligence? Will
we be assimilated in a hive-mind where all intelligence
is connected, or will we retain a sense of self? A possible
model for the retention of self could be a ‘Markov blankets’
approach to the development of AI (Kirchho, Parr, Palacios,
Friston, & Kiverstein, 2018). The concept of a Markov
blanket is that there is a boundary that sets something
apart from that what it is not, rendering an internal and
an external state. Internal states can inuence each other
but are functionally and structurally independent. In this
way, multiple layers of Markov blankets can generate an
autopoet ic emergent system, much like we see with complex
biological life and biological systems today. (Autopoiesis
refers to a system capable of reproducing and maintaining
itself). In this model each ‘Markov-blanketed layer’ is a
fully emergent autopoetic system that is part of a bigger
autopoet ic system – it is like a human cell inside a human
body, which is part of a human community, and contained
in a larger ecosystem. However, such a model again sets
us up for the possibility of containment and privatization
of knowledge and experiences, conict of interest and
eventually open conict.
The issue of embodiment raises another question. How can
a life without a body be meaningful and rewarding? Much
of human brain learning development relies on sensing
and processing of input from our bodies. Embodiment is
therefore an essential part of learning. Perhaps a digital
intelligence may enable us more freedom by allow ing us to
occupy multiple machines (robots, etc.) to achieve a exible,
constantly morphing form of embodiment. Or will it be a
virtual embodiment that can also change at will – something
that might be thought of as a form of digital re-incarnation.
Whatever the answer, realizing this vision depends on
the assumption that the brain and consciousness form a
biological computational machine that can be simulated by a
computer. However, there is no proof that the brain functions
like the software/hardware model that denes the modern
digital computing system.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is the transfer of
consciousness - not a s a representation or a copy, but
as a model that is fully synchronous with the human
consciousness to create a shared sense of being (ontolog ical
entanglement). Eventually there may be a transfer of agency
(where the biological form is abandoned or dies o). The
reason that the transfer or upload of consciousness is
probably the most challenging problem, is because no one
knows for sure what consciousness is or how it is created.
There are no theories that explain how consciousness is
generated by material processes, or any proof that it is
located in, or created by, the brain as is widely assumed in
Western culture. Most Western theories are rmly rooted in
classical materialism; none of them have come up with any
material evidence for the phenomenon of consciousness.
One recent theory in Western material science believes that
consciousness may be an accidental by-product of entropy
that fools the brain to experience consciousness.
The path of Trans-mutation – Etherea
There is anecdotal evidence and reports that in altered
states of consciousness, human consciousness can reach far
beyond the boundaries of the body or ego – termed ‘non-
local consciousness’. In non-Western cultures there are many
accounts of trans-personal experiences of consciousness,
where consciousness can tap into the consciousness of other
people or even other species. Similarly, there are numerous
reports, also in the West, of out-of-body experiences,
especially when people are in near-death situations. Indeed,
there is a lot of evidence that biochemical processes in the
body can alter states of consciousness, which correlates with
the non-locality theory of consciousness.
Some leading-edge thinkers propose that it is not the
universe that created consciousness, but consciousness
that creates the universe. Everything we see and experience
is a simulation and an illusion that is created by our brains.
Consciousness is most probably happening on a quantum
level - there are no soft and hard objects in the cosmos
but just connected strings of entangled energy elds;
consciousness may be pervasive in the universe on a
quantum level, and our bodies may simply be a conduit
for consciousness (like a radio that receives signals and
amplies it). There are physicists who are starting to believe
that the entire universe is inhabited by consciousness
(a phenomenon termed panpsychism). This is interestingly
very close to Buddhism – a belief that consciousness is
the only thing that truly exists. Panpsychism, the idea of
universal consciousness, is a prominent thought in some
branches of ancient Greek philosophy and paganism as well
as in Buddhism. However, it has been largely dismissed by
modern science — until recently. The neuroscient ist, Christof
Koch, of the Allen Institute of Brain Science in Seat tle (which
was founded by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft), and
physicist Gregory Matlo, of the New York City College of
Technology, now believe they may have some evidence that
supports the panpsychism theory of consciousness. They
believe that any system that has sucient complexity and
energy could generate or ‘broadcast’ consciousness.
If the idea of consciousness upload sounds like far-o
science ction, there is some remarkable progress in this
eld. Pioneering experiments wiring together the brains
of dierent animals, demonstrated the ability of brain-
to-brain transfer of learning. These imply that some level
of memory can uidly be transmitted and ‘broadcasted’
(Jiang, et al., 2018). Meanwhile, Dr Randall Koene, perhaps
one of the world’s foremost neuroscientists, has made other
advances in this eld. He was interv iewed by Singularity
Weblog (Socrates, 2011) and shared some of the progress
of his work in whole brain emulation. A Director of Analysis
at Halcyon Molecular, co-founder of Carbon Copies
and co-founder and Director at the Neural Engineering
Corporation of Massachuset ts, Dr Koene began work on
mind-upload research in 1994. His research objective is
whole brain emulation, creating large-scale high-resolution
representations and emulations of activity in neuronal
circuitry that are needed in pat ient-specic neuro-prostheses.
His team has a roadmap towards creating a substrate-
independent mind, which will be an emulated brain running
in a computer, based on a real mind. This will allow Dr. Koene
and his team to interact with such a mind. In other words,
they are nearing the stage where they can interact with
a recorded emulation of a brain. It thus seems that brain
uploads are already in the process of becoming a reality.
Prof. Giulio Tonini, a leading neuroscientist from the
Wisconsin Center of Sleep and Consciousness at
the University of Wisconsin, also believes the theory
of panpsychism may oer the best route to explain
consciousness. He has formulated the Integrated
Information Theory (ITT), which states that consciousness
appears in physical systems that contain many dierent
and highly interconnected pieces of information ( Tonini,
Boly, Massimini, & Koch, 2016). Currently, he is working
on a method to quantify consciousness (a unit called psi)
(Massimini & Tononi, 2018) that will help to measure and
explain dierent levels of consciousness existing in the
At this point, Etherea is an emerging future with much
interesting scientic exploration and investment driving it
forward with remarkable speed and progress, but there are
still far more questions than answers. Etherea will bring
a completely new set of issues not found in the biological
world. To take just one, in a digital format, multiple copies of
you may become a reality. What legal, practical and ethical
issues could arise from that?
Co-Emerging Futu res • 27
People with a preventative mindset are convinced that through
coordinated human action, cooperation and systemic change,
humans can prevent the apocalypse of climate change and
ecosystem collapse – this is the route of ‘Transformation’
(Figure 3). This trajectory requires a transformation of how we live,
consume and produce. Given the perilous state of our natural
ecosystems and the growing threat of global climate change, the
transformative mindset will look for ways to harmonize humanity’s
relationship with the environment to ensure a healthy planet.
However, not all who are concerned with the plight of the planet
share a common view on how to address these challenges.
The transformation trajectory splits again into two main streams:
a stream towards ‘Habitania’ which aims to pursue sustainability
to create a steady state where human non-renewable resource
utilization does not exceed agreed limits, and another to ‘Gaia’
which sees all life and the planet as a single eco-entangled
system and is pursuing a future of regenerating vibrant and
healthy ecosystems.
The path of Transformation
a preventative mindset
Figure 6: Habitani a’ is the met aphor of the utili taria n Co-Emerging Futu res direc tion towards ‘sus tainab ility’ a nd
‘steady-s tate’ soc io-economic systems. Illustrative ima ge courte sy of Pixa bay.
Image: Pixabay
Co-Emerging Futu res • 29
The metaphor of Habitania
The metaphor of Habitania captures the quest for creating
sustainable prosperity for humanity and a habitat that
ensures a good standard of living, whilst safeguarding
nature. While it clearly puts human needs and aspirations
rst, it recognizes limits of non-renewable resources and it
endeavors to nd a balance between human standards of
living and the need to maintain a healthy planet (Figure 3).
The Habitania ideal
The future ideal of Habitania is to arrive at a steady-state
economy that recognizes planetary limits for the use of
non-renewable resources. It assumes that societies can
politically, economically and socially cooperate to limit
the impact of human production and consumption on the
environment and to create safe spaces where nature is
managed to maintain biodiversity. As a philosophy, it is
rooted in the Newtonian view that the Earth is a determinist ic
system of inputs and outputs, causes and eects that we
as humans can control, modify and optimize to achieve a
desired outcome. In this belief, we can develop processes
and governance to balance the need for resources and
economic prosperity with the need to maintain a healthy
planet. The eort to reduce the environmental impact of
the Anthropocene through responsible consumption and
production relies on an integrated strategy that includes
new ‘clean’ technologies, frugal design, recycling-driven
consumption (e.g. Circular Economy) and conscious, better
educated consumers, along with eective environmental
laws that are fully enforced.
Habitania mindset and beliefs
Ultim at ely, Habitania is rooted in an anthropocentric
utilitarian mindset and in a belief that we can implement
solutions to manage scarce natural resources in a sustainable
way to the benet of all humanity through a combination of
legislat ion that recognizes planetary limits and harnessing
scientic progress.
It sees humans as acting as custodians of nature, cooperating
to nd a balance between the needs of the planet and
human aspirations. The socio-cultural outlook of Habitania
is less individualistically inclined. It recognizes the need for
cooperation and joint responsibility for the environment,
encourages more frugal behavior and favors greater equality
of wealth and access to resources as a social ideal.
Habitania drivers
Habitania may seem like a very recognizable future, as the
‘sustainability’ narrative has increasingly found resonance
with many consumers, policy makers and even businesses,
especially in Europe. Sixteen out of twenty countries with
the strongest environmental policies are in Europe (Smith,
2017). Australia, New Zealand, Iceland and Singapore are
the only countr ies outside Europe in the top twenty. The
SDGs launched by the UN in 2015 proposed an ambitious
agenda to reduce poverty and inequality and to create a
“better and more sustainable future for all” by 2030 (United
Nations, 2015). According to analysts, the SDGs oer a 12
trillion US dollar revenue opportunity for the private sector
(The Business and Sustainable Development Commission,
2017). The following year, 2016, world leaders signed the
Paris Agreement on climate change and started to put it into
action. Dierent nations pledged to adhere to nationally
determined contributions (NDCs) in a cooperative global
eort to limit the rise of global temperatures, and to regularly
report on their emissions and on their implementat ion eorts.
Habitania challenges
The Habitania ideal of pursuing a path of sustainable
development towards a steady-state circular economy
seems logical and worthwhile. There is no doubt that
countless consumers are inspired by the idea to recycle and
consume more sustainable products for the benet of the
environment. However, even with current best eorts, only
14% of plastic is recycled – the rest nd its way into garbage
dumps and the environment. Other industrial waste eorts
are not doing much better. The pursuit of the sustainability
ideal is increasingly becoming questionable as a viable way
to save the planet. There is no doubt that approaches like the
Circular Economy can help to save non-renewable resources
and limit pollution, but at best that simply buy time by
slowing down eco-system degradation. They do not oer a
long-term solution for repairing and saving the planet.
The perilous decline in biodiversity shows that the
ecosystem is in a death spiral and that the 6th major
extinction in the history of our planet is under way (Kolbert,
2014). Furthermore, in a recent report, the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints an alarming picture
of humanity’s inability to act to keep global warming below
a 1.5 °C increase (IPCC, 2018). This is especially critical due to
the decline in global governance and cooperation on climate
change mentioned earlier, and to the cont inued increasing
demand for fossil fuels.
The path of Transformation – Habitania
Three quarters of greenhouse gases, including CO2 and
methane, in the atmosphere have been released since the
1950s. The ‘Greenhouse Eect’ happens because these
gases are nearly transparent to the solar radiat ion emit ted
from the Sun, but partially opaque to the longer wavelength
thermal radiation emitted by the Earth. This means incoming
solar radiation from the Sun passes through the atmosphere
and warms the Earth’s surface, but Ear th’s thermal radiation
is blocked from being reected back to space. As the
atmosphere warms, there is a gradual heat transfer to the
oceans. The oceans also act as a carbon sink and absorb
much of the CO2, but this leads to increased levels of CO2
in the water, which acidies the ocean. This is devastating
for coral reefs, because the calcium needed to form the
coral reefs is dissolved by the warmer more acidic oceans.
Furthermore, the CO2-induced Greenhouse Eect acts slowly,
as the ocean takes a very long time to warm. By the time it is
noticeable, it is almost too late to salvage the situation. The
impact of greenhouse gases generated by human activity
since the 1950s will continue to accelerate global warming
for even hundreds of years even if we miraculously stop
releas ing CO2 today. This is due to the ‘long tail eect’ of
how CO2 released in the atmosphere is slowly re-absorbed
by the oceans and the biosphere (Hausfather, 2010). We
also need to keep in mind that the capacity of oceans and
the biosphere to sequester CO2 may diminish over time.
Warming oceans have reduced capacity to absorb CO2. The
microbiota in the topsoil of the earth, which plays a key role
in re-absorption of CO2, is becoming less eective due to
soil degradation brought about by industrial agricultural
Besides the diminishing capacity of the planet to absorb CO2,
there is also an active acceleration eect. As the oceans warm
and the permafrost on land start to melt, they release vast
quantities of methane (currently trapped in the permafrost
and as a frozen methane clathrate slurry at the bottom of the
ocean). Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 30% more potent
tha n CO2. We are thus dealing with a problem that is able
to amplify itself over time and we run the risk of crossing a
threshold where we will face an unstoppable runaway climate
warming process (Billings, 2013).
Ultimately, the world will require near-draconian measures
to enforce regulatory compliance by all individuals and
organizations to limit consumption of non-renewable
resources. China is implementing a system of social credits,
where people are rewarded for ‘good behav ior’ or punished
for ‘bad behavior’. From a Western point of view, this is seen
as a ‘digital authoritarianism’, enabled by a very intrusive
system of dig ital surveillance, where all forms of privacy
are eroded. However, from the Chinese point of view, it is
a step towards building an advanced cooperative society.
Many populist governments are looking for increased levels
of social control and may be inspired to copy or emulate
the Chinese model. Is this the level of legislative control
necessary to enforce ‘sustainable behavior’?
Realistically, ‘sustainable’ goals will be very dicult to
achieve while humans maintain a utilitarian materialistic
mindset and while the global economy is driven by the ideals
of growth, competition and consumerism. Some of the most
renowned ecologists have spoken out that sustainability has
dangerous shortcomings as a scientic theory, and it may
lead to the false belief that it can stop the ecological decline
on earth (Montoya, Donohue, & Pimm, 2018). Ecologists and
socio-biologists argue that at least 50% of the earth has to
be “given back to nature and re-wilded” to create healthy
ecosystems essential also for human survival in the long
term (Wilson, 2016).
There seems to be dierent schools of thought in regards to
the concept of ‘Sustainability’. Whilst some leading thinkers
start to argue for a shif t to a steady state economy without
growth (Jackson T. , 2009), a number of prominent initiat ives
continue under the premise of ‘Sustainable Growth’.
The UN SDGs have been criticized for their interpretation
of sustainability as they actively fuel the anthropocentric
ideal of progress and development, which will undermine
the ideal of sustainability and ecological protection, and
in the process increase impoverishment (Adelman, 2018).
The mere term ‘sustainable development’ is an oxymoron,
because sustainability requires a steady-state economy,
and development implies continued growth. The concept
erroneously fosters the illusion of combining endless
economic growth on a nite planet, whilst promising social
justice and environmental protection. Take the SDGs: they
aim to eliminate poverty (SDG1) and create decent work and
economic growth (SDG 8), whilst SDG13 focuses on climate
action. Clearly these goals are not only contradic tory, but
also unrealistically challenging. Recent estimates have
shown that the drive towards eciency and automation
is likely to put half of humans out of work in the coming
decades (The Economist, 2018). This will seriously undermine
any eorts to reduce poverty.
Thus, there are serious challenges and causes for reection
for all pursuing sustainability programs in the format
proposed by the UN as a realistic means to ensure a
sustainable and livable planet.
Co-Emerging Futu res • 31
Figure 7: ‘Gaia’ is the met aphor fo r the post-a nthropo centric Co-Emerg ing Futures direc tion. It i s based on the belief that eco systems co nsist of
deep layers of ‘eco-entanglement’, relationships between biological organisms but also between organisms and their geophysical environment.
Image: Pixabay
The metaphor of Gaia
The metaphor of Gaia takes its inspiration from ancient
Greek mythology where Gaia was the primeval goddess
personifying mother earth. The famous chemist and medical
doctor, James Lovelock, and renowned biologist, Lynn
Margulis, borrowed the name for their ‘Gaia hypothesis,
which they developed in the early 1970s (Lovelock J. , 1972)
(Lovelock & Margulis, 1974). Many principles of their
compelling theory, which describes a complex dynamic
interaction between living organisms and the inorganic
geological environment that ac tively shapes, self-regulates
and maintains the necessary conditions for life on the planet,
have since been validated by the wider scientic community.
Gaia compels us to look at our place in the ecosystem not as
humans versus the environment, but as active agents that
are part of a larger ecosystem. Gaia emphasizes the natural
dynamic balance and interconnected interplay between all
living beings and the geological ecosystem.
The Gaia ideal
Gaia is the second trajectory in the ‘preventative’ path
of Transformation (Figure 3). The ideal of Gaia is to focus
human activit y towards restoring the natural dynamic
balance of ecosystems that nourish all life on earth. It is not
so much pursuing a deterministic goal but a dierent balance
that would create a vibrant, dynamic and evolving natural
Although this is also preventative v iew diverging from the
trajectory of Transformation (Figure 3), it is rooted in a
fundamentally dierent worldview from Habitania. In Gaia,
people see themselves not as being above nature, but as
part of the ecosystem and as ‘one’ or ‘eco-entangled’ with
nature. It means rethinking all human activity to, at the very
least, completely neutralize its impact on the ecosystem, and
at best function to act as an ac tive participant that benets
the biological and geological diversity of ecosystems.
In this view, the role of the economy needs to shif t from
exploiting nature primarily for human benet, towards
becoming a servant of nature. It means that the economy has
to deliver value to the entire ecosystem, not only humanity.
It calls for new systems of liv ing that are congruent with the
way that nature functions.
Humanity has to rethink how to live, consume and produce in
a way that puts the needs of nature and a healthy ecosystem
rst. This requires a transformation of the core beliefs and
mindsets of human societies, which I can best describe as
nothing short of a ‘change of heart’.
Gaia mindset and beliefs
Gaia is a post-anthropocentric worldview that puts the
ecosystem above human interests. Its mindset and beliefs
are rooted in more ancient Asian philosophies such as
Tao, Hinduism and Buddhism, which view the earth and
the cosmos at large as an entangled and interconnected
whole. This is very dierent from mindset and beliefs of
classical Newtonian science, which has a more ‘machine’
or ‘clockwork ’ view of the planet. This classical Cartesian
world view assumes that if we can analyze and understand
how the dierent components of the Earth function, we
can manipulate it like a machine or a deterministic system
to create predic table ut ilitarian benets for humanity. The
Gaia view of the universe (and the planet) as a complex,
dynamic system of interrelationships that is always
changing and transforming is more congruent w ith Quantum
Mechanics, where sub-atomic particles are entangled over
long distances, and where it is impossible to separate the
observer from the observed.
As mentioned earlier in this paper, there has also been a
shift in philosophical thinking away from using logic and
object ive empirical proof as the only means of arriving at
true knowledge. In post-Post-modern thinking, the latest
philosophies such as Object-Oriented Ontology and Agential
Realism (Harman, 2018) (Barad, 2007) have shifted into the
post-anthropocentric realm, where it is postulated that true
knowledge cannot be obtained from the representational
point of view of a human observer, but that knowledge and
consciousness arise from the intra-act ion and relationships
between ‘objects’. The term ‘objects’ is applied in a very
broad sense and includes all phenomena - biological, non-
biological, macro objects and quantum-level.
This shift in philosophical understanding and scientic
theory about the relational nature of reality compels a
rethink of humanity’s relationship with nature and the
cosmos at large.
Co-Emerging Futu res • 33
Gaia drivers
The rising awareness of our interrelationship with nature
and our dependence on healthy ecosystems is a key driver
towards nding new ways to balance, rethink and re-
integrate our lifestyles into natural ecosystems.
The view of a complex, systemic and highly interrelated
nature is not only rooted in abstract theory. In the last
decade, Western medical science has started to realize how
vitally important our connection to nature is for our mental,
physiological and genetic health. In the West, the approach
to human medicine has predominantly focused on the
human body (and dierent pathologies of the human body).
On a cellular level, it has focused on human cells and human
genes. But this is changing. In 2007, the Human Microbiome
Project (HMP) was launched as a ve-year-long international
eort to characterize the microbial communities found in the
human body and to ident ify each microorganism’s role in
health and disease (Rogers, 2011). This project is completely
transforming these Western views on human health.
For instance, it has been revealed that the human body
consists of human cells and microbial cells (of more than
1,000 dierent species) in an approximately 1:1 ratio of
approximately 100 trillion cells each (Sender, Fuchs, & Milo,
2016). Based on this, the human body can be seen as a
‘supra-organism’ or an ecosystem within a larger ecosystem,
rather than a single organism. This is of course similar for
other mammals and all complex organisms.
Moreover, recent scientic studies conrm that a healthy
microbiome is essential for human health (Wang B. , Yao,
Lv, Ling, & Li, 2017). The vagus nerve connects a very high
density of neurons around the gut (which almost resembles
a second brain) to our brain, and this nerve directly allows
microbiota to communicate w ith the brain (Underwood,
2018). Imbalances in in our microbiome have been linked
to a variety of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, depression,
childhood leukemia and autism, to name a few.
The health of our microbiome is intricately linked to our
exposure to our environment, what we eat, how much we
exercise and use our bodies. As ‘supra-organisms’ we –
the human species – have evolved our bodies and our
microbiota over time. It makes perfect sense that since
microbiota come from nature and from the soil in which
plants grow, and not only our microbiota, but also our
immune systems depend on this interaction with nature.
When we live in a compromised environment, our health
is adversely aected. In a polluted environment, toxins
or pathogens can cause disease. Counter-intuitively, an
environment that is ‘too hygienic’ and over-sanitized can
also lead to an increase in human disease. For health, we
need a ne balance between hygiene and some exposure
to a natural variety of micro-organisms, which are often
banished from our modern living environments. Such
exposure is important for the priming and development
our immune systems. A lack of exposure, especially
amongst children can lead to a variety of lifelong disease
conditions. There is, for example, a much higher incidence
of autoimmune diseases in developed Westernized
societies. Diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s
disease, type 1 diabetes, and asthma have soared by
300% or more in developed countries (Scudellari, 2017).
Experience of, exposure to and regular interaction with,
healthy natural ecosystems are therefore key to our health
– for maintenance of our microbiome as well as for optimal
functioning of our immune system.
The impact of our interaction with a healthy environment
goes even fur ther than that. It has a direct inuence on
how our genetic make-up functions. Scientic studies are
revealing that the funct ioning of the human genome is far
more complex than we imagined. The Human Genome
Project, which produced the rst DNA sequence of the
human genome, revealed the presence of 20,000-30,000
genes. Much of the subsequent scientic interest focused on
understanding the function of these genes, because it was
believed that understanding how these genes function could
be the basis for curing any disease. However, these genes
only constitute around 2% of the human genome.
In fact, for a long time, it was believed that 98% of the
human genome consisted of junk non-functional DNA,
which accumulated over millennia of evolution (Henniger,
2012). This dogma was rooted in Newtonian cause and eect
thinking which led scientists to believe that organisms are
deterministic machines with a ‘software code’ (genes) that is
edited by the process of natural selection to pursue the best
t and eciencies during each life-cycle of the organism.
Although the role of DNA is key in the genetic make-up of
an organism, research in the last decades is increasingly
pointing to a far more complex and interrelated model of
regulation, where behavior, experiences and ecosystem
interaction are key forces dr iving the evolution of life and
also the regulation and expression of the DNA ‘blueprint’.
Indeed, in the last decade, there has been a surge of
interest in the eld of epigenetics (the study of biological
mechanisms that will switch genes on and o). Epigenetics
can potentially revolutionize our understanding of the
structure and behavior of biological life on Earth and human
health. It explains why mapping an organism’s genetic code
is not enough to determine how the organism develops or
acts and shows how nur ture combines with nature to shape
biological diversity.
In other words, the regulation of genes is as important as the
genes themselves. In its interaction with the environment
and its own microbiome, the body has an epigenetic system
The path of Transformation – Gaia
that reacts to the environment and controls genes (without
modifying the actual gene sequences). Thus, environmental
stimuli can also cause genes to be turned o or turned on,
with very severe health consequences. Epigenetics can
change gene expression if one of the parents have been
exposed to stress, disease, toxins, poor diet and nutrition,
or has a poorly balanced microbiome. This can lead to
health consequences such as obesity, higher likelihood for
schizophrenia, cancer or a range of other health aictions
that can be passed on to several generations (Carey, 2013).
An interaction with a healthy environment and healthy
behavior is therefore as important as ‘having good genes’.
And the entanglement and synergistic interaction with a high
biodiversity of species in the environment is the basis for a
healthy and resilient human body.
However, through the impact of the Anthropocene, humanity
is witnessing an accelerating decline and collapse of natural
ecosystems. The latest report of the Intergovernmental
Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem
Services (Diaz, 2019) compiled by 145 expert authors
from 50 countries over the past three years warns of an
unprecedented decline in ecosystem health, and that more
than a million species are heading for extinction in the next
three decades.
From a purely utilitarian view, many people are becoming
concerned about the impact on our food supply of collapsing
In the ocean ecosystem collapse is brought about by
global warming, plastic and other pollution, and the over-
exploitation of sh stocks. Terrestrial ecosystems face
similar challenges due to soil depletion, pollution and the
destruction of biodiverse natural habitats. Bee populations
are rapidly declining on a global scale (Intergovernmental
Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem
Services (IPBES), 2016). The disappearance of bee species
will have disastrous consequences for natural ecosystems
and for the security of our human food chain. We have put
natural ecosystems at grave risk of starting to collapse like
dominoes, which will put our own continued existence on
the planet in grave jeopardy.
In response, a growing number of people around the globe
are driving the shift towards an eco-entangled approach
to living on our planet. Many people are beginning to
understand that in order to save nature and ourselves,
we need a drastic change of path that requires a rethink
of modern civilization, development and urbanization,
consumption and economics, and most importantly
humanity’s relationship with nature.
A number of ecologists agree that the only way to save
nature is to reverse much of the human footpr int, which
has resulted in 77% of the Earth being heavily inuenced
by human economic activity, and to create connected
ecosystems, free from human economic activ ity for at least
50% of the planet. Edward O. Wilson, a famous entomolog ist
from Harvard University calls it a moral duty of humanity
to dedicate half of the planet for undisturbed wildlife and
half for humanity (Wilson, 2016). In his book ‘Feral’, George
Monbiot argues passionately for the need to regenerate and
‘re-wild’ vast swaths of rural agr icultural landscape and to
learn to co-exist with nature and wild animals. And a number
of prominent non-prot foundations have now created a
movement to realize the ‘half-Earth’ idea of re-wilding. Such
organizations include the Wildlands Network, the Rewilding
Institute and the Wild Foundation.
This may sound like an impossible dream, but a recent
publicat ion in the journal Science Advances’ shows how to
achieve it. The authors propose an ex tensively researched
and meticulously laid out ‘Global Deal for Nature’ (GDN). It
is a time-bound, science-driven plan to save the diversity
and abundance of life on Earth. Pairing the GDN and the
Paris Climate Agreement would avoid catastrophic climate
change, conserve species, and secure essential ecosystem
services. (Dinerstein, et al., 2019). Amazingly, their plan is
aordable. They have calculated a cost of around 100 billion
US dollars per year to put the plan in action. This is a small
fraction of the projected global GDP of 143 trillion US dollars
for 2019 (International Monetary Fund, 2019), and an almost
negligible amount if we consider what we have to lose.
Gaia challenges
The chasm between these two transformative future
trajectories, Habitania and Gaia, is deeper than it appears
at a glance. Embracing the Gaia ideal requires far greater
systemic change than simply setting deterministic goals for
recycling and curbing consumption levels. There are many
challenges to face if humanit y wants to transform societies
towards eco-entanglement. It starts with an individual
transformation. It means we have to shif t to a post-
anthropocentric mindset and lifestyle, which is inherently
post utilitarian and post materialist. This cannot be achieved
through small token changes. Instead, it requires a systemic
shift in each of our personal relationships with the planet
that will aect everything we do.
Changing values, mindsets and way of thinking:
As mentioned before, Gaia requires a ‘change of heart’ on
a personal level. As individuals, we need to subdue our
own subjective ego and develop a connected eco-identit y,
where we become and feel ‘one w ith nature’ and become
constantly aware that we are par t of an ecosystem. This
shift in adopting an inclusive identity is an essential step
if humanit y is to change its relationship with nature. The
Co-Emerging Futu res • 35
second step is to inspire other people around us to make this
transition towards creating a culture that is rooted in eco-
centric connection. For centuries people have been imbued
with the anthropocentric mindset of placing themselves
above nature. In the Gaia paradigm, we should not even see
ourselves as custodians. We should see ourselves as equal
participants in nature. We benet from nature, but as part
of nature, we need to act synergistically and ensure that
nature as a whole benets through our interaction, not only
humans. We need to learn to think in open complex systems,
not in terms of goals or in terms of deterministic systems that
we can manipulate and exploit for our own benet. We need
to act with great generosity to support the regeneration of
resilient ecosystems with thriving biodiversity, in which we
can also have a thriving future as participants.
Re-connecting with nature: Re-connecting with nature
is not only a cerebral process, but one that requires
the development of a deeper emotional and spiritual
connection. Centuries of technological progress and
shaping ar ticial living environments towards comfort and
eciency have severely diminished our human ability to
feel and experience a deep connection w ith nature in most
modern societies. Humanity has built much of its civilization
on conquering nature and treating it as ‘décor’ in its living
environments. We have lost many of the nely tuned senses
that we developed as humans over hundreds of thousands
of years that allowed us to sense and tune to nature. Living
in industrialized city environments, devoid of natural
ecosystems has muted and diminished many of these
A number of fascinating studies over the last few years
have shown that humans have a very complex olfactory
(smell) system, which is under-developed due to limited
exposure to nature in art icial modern liv ing environments.
Humans also have the genes that allow us to sense magnetic
elds like some migratory animals, but in environments
polluted with electromagnetic elds caused by modern
electronic equipment, this sense has been largely lost
(Wilke, 2019). Moreover, there are numerous examples of
proven interspecies communication in nature (Kull, 2008).
Much of this inter-species communication is related to the
transfer of sound, gesture or chemical signaling. Chemical
signaling is either direct (e.g. between plants and the
micro-rhizome) or via olfactory (smell) sensors in the case
of vertebrate animals. Humans have ‘unconscious’ levels
of communication e.g. chemical sensing or smell that can
trigger fear, etc. However, our communication is dominated
by rational visual and verbal symbolic semiotics (Colavita,
1974), and many of our primal senses are diminished due to
our lack of interaction with natural environments.
Equally surprising to many are Schumann resonances –
rst discovered by the German physicist W. O. Schumann
between 1952 and 1957. These consist of a range of
extremely low frequency pulses (ELFs) generated between
the terrestrial sur face and ionosphere, where a resonating
cavity is formed. The fundamental Schuman resonance of
7.83 Hz is the strongest of the seven resonances and is in
the human alpha brainwave range. This frequency is below
human auditory limits but can nevertheless be perceived
directly by the brain as a rhythmic pulse. In fact, all the
Schumann resonances correspond to several frequencies
related to human brainwave activity. They range between
6 and 50 cycles per second, specically 7.8 (alpha),
14 (low beta), 20 (mid beta), 26 (high beta), 33 (high beta),
39 (gamma) and 45 Hz (gamma), with a daily variation of
about +/- 0.5 Hz.
Numerous studies have linked these waves to the health
of biological systems, as they appear to be instrumental
in guiding the circadian clocks of organisms, including
humans. They have been shown to play a role in human
psychobiological health and well-being. In modern human
habitats, these waves can be obscured by electro-magnetic
noise generated by our technologies, resulting in adverse
long-term health consequences due to disruption of our
circadian rhythm. Schumann waves have been associated
with the regulation of blood pressure, deep relaxation and
sleep in humans (Mitsutake, et al., 2005). This may explain
why spending time in nature, away from all electromagnetic
disturbances, may have a healing eect.
Many organisms have magneto-reception and can detect the
Earth’s magnetic elds. For example, honeybees, salmon,
turtles, birds, whales, and bats use the geomagnet ic eld
to help them navigate. It turns out that many humans can
also unconsciously sense the arth’s magnetic eld (Wang,
et al., 2019), but this skill has probably been severely been
diminished in modern humans. It was most probably active
during our hunter-gatherer phase thousands of years ago.
Another ‘sense’ is determined by how our brains are wired.
Recent studies have shown that exposure to (even low
levels of) psychedelic drugs lead to dramatically enhanced
neuroplasticity in the brain cells of rats and ies (Ly, et al.,
2018). This work has demonstrated that such exposure has
long-lasting eects and that psychedelics promote plasticity
via an evolutionarily conserved mechanism. In human history
as hunter-gatherers and foragers, we would have been
regularly exposed to low levels of mind-altering substances
(e.g. psilocybin in hallucinogenic mushrooms). Today, with
an agriculturally produced food chain, the small quantities
of plants containing such naturally occurring psychedelic
substances have been largely eliminated from human diets.
Yet, it has been shown that such substances may play a
role in treating neuropsychiatric diseases such as anx iety
disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders and depression
(due to the mechanism of increased neuroplasticity)
(Hartogson, 2018).
The path of Transformation – Gaia
Indeed, it is hypothesized that regular exposure of the
human brain to low levels of such psychedelics played
a crucial role in the development of human intelligence,
consciousness and even the human sense of spirituality, and
they could play a role in future therapy (Hartogson, 2018).
It could be said that the modern industrial diet diminishes
the human sense of spiritual connection by altering the
way in which the neurons in our brains are connected and
function. In a way, our diet and lifestyle condition us for an
existence dominated by rationalism. So, to reconnect to
nature, we need, among other things, to re-develop some of
our lost (or diminished) senses either through re-training or
with the support of technology.
Rethinking our food chain: Humans, i.e. Homo sapiens, is
arguably the only species that has managed to take itself out
of the food chain. Although human beings constitute only
0.01% of the biomass on Earth, they have a disproportionate
impact on the health of ecosphere. Combined with our
livestock, we outweigh all other wild mammals by 20-fold.
In the last 10,000 years since the dawn of the agricultural
age, human activity has slashed plant biomass by half
and reduced wild mammals by 85% (Dalley, 2018). We are
still clearing vast areas of natural forest to make way for
unsustainable food production. Each year 13 billion hectares
of forest are cleared for agricultural expansion. Twenty-six
percent of the (ice-free) land of the planet is now used for
livestock gra zing. Thirty three percent of croplands are used
for livestock feed production, and livestock contribute to
7% of the total greenhouse gas emissions through enteric
fermentation and manure. In addition, rising incomes in
developing countries have led to a surge in demand for meat
and dairy products, with experts predicting a 50% rise in
demand by 2050 (Worldwatch, 2019). Highly concentrated
animal feeding operations, or factory farms, with very poor
conditions for livestock supply the vast majority of this
growing demand for animal products. Worldw ide, around 56
billion animals are now raised and slaughtered for food each
year (Koneswaran & Nierenberg, 2008).
Similarly, industrial grain, fruit and vegetable farming are
based on practices that rely on vast tracts of land covered
with monoculture crops that are pushed for yield by
excessive fertilizer and pesticide use, creating not only soil
depletion, but dangerous run-os of chemicals into water
streams, the ocean and the broader environment.
In today’s globalized economy much of the demand is driven
by wealthy urban consumers who demand food variety,
convenience and low prices. There is a growing demand for
packaged food by consumers due to the quickening pace of
life – in 2017 the food packaging industr y size was estimated
at 277 billion US dollars in a market research repor t
published by Grand View Research. Increasing consumption
of fast-food snacks instead of traditional food is anticipated
to further boost the demand for plastic-based packaging,
which also has a devastating environmental impact.
Food is shipped across the globe to satisfy the ckle
demands of wealthier consumers, at great cost to the
environment, and leading to an explosion of lifestyle-related
diseases such as cancer and diabetes in developed countries
due to poor nutritional quality and over-processing that
creates harmful constituents in food.
Moreover, an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food, or roughly
30% of global production, is lost or wasted annually,
according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization
(FAO), while 800 million poor people regularly go hungry
(Arsenault, 2014).
How can a shift towards eco-centric address these
problems? There is a growing ‘Regenerative Agriculture’
movement in many countries across the globe that is starting
to challenge the industrial agricultural model. Regenerative
Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices
that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves
watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services. Regenerative
Agriculture aims to capture carbon in soil and above-ground
biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric
accumulation. It diers from mono-crop industrial farming
in that it minimizes or eliminates the need for pesticides
and chemical fertilizers by growing crops in ecolog ically
diverse elds, and by using composting to create healthy
soil microbiota that are eective in bio-sequestration of
greenhouse gases and in enhancing the nutritional value of
crops. Such crops may be more labor intensive to harvest,
but many farmers report improved yields and economics,
whilst producing crops as par t of a healthy and sustainable
biodiverse ecosystem, rather than clearing land for crop
production or reserving land exclusively for production
of single crops. An increasing number of restaurants and
on-line food retailers have joined this initiative and now
exclusively use produce from regenerative farming. In 2017,
the food company Danone announced that it is also working
with its suppliers to shift towards regenerative agriculture
(Danone, 2017).
Equally important is speeding up grassroots movements
to move modern diets from convenient fast food and fads
towards authentic local regenerative food production and
consumption, with more seasonal products instead all year-
round availability of produce from globalized food chains.
Such a shift will put local consumers more in touch with local
producers. It can lead to better health outcomes; reduced
waste and food spoilage; decrease packaging, energy and
costs, and increase local empowerment.
Co-Emerging Futu res • 37
Rethinking our approach to health: Healthcare costs
are rising to unsustainable levels worldwide. Unhealthy
eating, unhealthy lifestyles, and exposure to an unhealthy
environment exacerbate this dilemma. Human populations
end up spending a fortune on expensive healthcare
remedies, because humanit y has created ecological
conditions where our bodies are unable to stay healthy
and stave o disease.
In addition, hospitals are dealing with the rising threat
of pathogens that are resistant to a wide spectrum of
antibiotics. This will not only impact the eectiveness and
cost of future hospital care but may dramatically raise
the risk of hospital treatment. Studies have shown that a
healthy microbiome can make a dramatic dierence in the
health resilience of populations, and that ‘dysbiosis therapy’
(treatment to restore a healthy microbiome in the human
body) can dramatically reduce the need for antibiotics
in hospitals. A growing body of evidence suggests that
critical illness and over-use of antibiotics is a source of
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) dysbiosis. This causes increased ICU
infection, sepsis, and multiple organ dysfunction syndrome.
Probiotics and fecal microbial transplant (from donors with
healthy microbiomes) show promise as ICU therapies for
infection (Wischmeyer, McDonald, & Knight, 2016).
These challenges call for a shift in healthcare from treating
illness towards recognizing the body as a connected
ecosystem. Increasingly studies conrm the importance of
a healthy gut microbiome for physical and mental health.
The microbiome also plays a key role in optimizing the
nutritional value we can derive from food. (Schreiner, Kao,
& Young, 2015). Thus, our health regime should focus on
nurturing a healthy body ecosystem. By investing in healthier
environments, healthier eating and more physical interaction
with nature, we can strengthen our microbiomes and
become far more resilient and healthy.
Changing our lifestyles and aspirations: Living in an
entangled way with nature requires designing, producing
and consuming in a dierent way. It seems impossible to
move the societies of today towards a post-anthropocentric,
post-utilitarian and post-materialist philosophy of
existence. However, some of these values are already
manifesting themselves amongst the millennial generation.
Several reports from around the globe have shown that
Millennials prefer having access to ser vices rather than
owning material assets. Millennials are far less likely than
previous generations to buy houses and cars. They prefer
to rent accommodation and use services like Uber or
public transport to get around (Thompson & Weissman,
2012). Furthermore, Millennials are far more likely to look
for meaningful employment than simply earning money,
and to work for a lower salary if the vision and mission of
an employer is congruent with their beliefs (Moore, 2014).
In fact, many of the millennial generat ion prefer to work for
themselves, rather than for employers. They are also more
interested in work-life balance than spending every hour
competing to get ahead in corporate life (Jenkins, 2018).
Millennials make up 30% of the world population and are
the rst generation that has grown up in a world where
they are confronted with stories of climate change, species
extinction, sea level rises and an unstable future world on
a daily basis. Despite being the most educated generation,
they also face uncertainty over their future employment as
the rise of AI and job automation are expected to erode 47%
of all jobs in the coming 25 years (Frey & Osborne, 2013).
A recent study showed that 87% of Millennials believe that
companies should address urgent social and environmental
issues (Farell, 2019). They are far more likely to avoid buying
products that are known to be environmentally harmful than
any earlier generation. Interest ingly a recent study found that
Millennials are less likely to recycle than other generations,
but are more likely to buy from companies making a positive
impact on the world (Shelton Group, 2017).
Many Millennials in developed countries are so concerned
about the future of the environment that they are
consider ing not having children of their own, which has
created a shift in attitudes towards adoption. Millennials feel
they have more at stake than any other previous generation
when it comes to matters of health and the environment.
There are waves of protests against climate change sweeping
the world, led by Millennials. Much of the inspiration from
this can be tracked to bold teenagers like the Swedish
teenage ac tivist Greta Thunberg, who has inspired children
to skip school to protest against climate change (BBC, 2019).
Since then, she has become a global phenomenon, speak ing
at the UN and Davos. Her protest has inspired hundreds of
thousands of young activists around the globe. It is clear that
the global zeitgeist is changing, and that the wave of change
towards an eco-centric lifestyle will be driven by young
The window for hope is closing rapidly. Over 60 climate
experts warned that humanity only has a few years to stop
the worst damages of global warming, and while we cannot
repair the damage to the ecosystem within the nex t few
years, our planet may be fatally wounded if we do not act
decisively and eectively in the short term (Harvey, 2017).
This wave of grassroots action can contribute towards raising
awareness, inspiring others to take action to create societal
pressure for political and economic change that puts the
environment rst.
Changing politics and our legal systems: The time has
come to question many of our assumptions about quality
of life, standard of living, the meaning of poverty, the ethics
of wealth, to name a few. In a world where people nd
meaning in reconnecting with nature, we as humans, need
The path of Transformation – Gaia
to think in terms of suciency and meaning, rather than in
terms of standard of living, pover ty and wealth. We will have
to embrace a culture of commons and sharing, and create
the political, legal and personal will to let go of private
ownership of assets that get in the way of repairing our
planetary ecosystems.
Nature is slowly gaining internat ional rights and legal and
political systems w ill face new challenges to adapt. Columbia’s
highest court gave the Amazon rainforest in Columbia the
same rights as a human due to grassroots pressure from
a group of 25 young people who sued the government for
neglect after it was revealed that deforestation had increased
by 44% from 2015 to 2016 (Moloney, 2018). It has ordered the
government to act immediately. The plaintis argued that
the government’s failure was jeopardizing their future and
violated their constitutional rights to a healthy environment,
life, food and water.
The same has started to happen in other countries. New
Zealand’s Whanganui River is a person under domestic
law, and India’s Ganges River was recently granted human
rights ( Tanasescu, 2017). In Ecuador, article 71 of the 2008
Constitution states that nature “has the right to integral
respect for its existence and for the maintenance and
regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and
evolutionary processes”. In practice, that means that all
persons, communities, peoples and nations can demand that
Ecuadorian authorities enforce the rights of nature. One of
those rights, according to article 72, is the right to be restored
(Tanasescu, 2017).
Rethinking Design, Design thinking, and Technology:
Designing for an eco-entangled world, where the benets for
nature are put ahead of human needs requires a complete
rethink and re-imagination of our approach to design.
The mantra everywhere today is Agile, Lean and Design
thinking. This has gained ground not only in the discipline of
Design, but has also been applied in many dierent areas in
corporations and other organizations a creative approach
to problem-solving. IDEO, the famous design agency, has
dened design thinking as follows: “Design think ing is a
human-centered approach to innovation that draws from
the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people,
the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for
business success”. It also means that Design thinking in
its current format is very much anthropocentric and puts
the need for creating customer and business value above
everything else.
Design thinking typically follows an iterative approach
to solution design. This consists of a cyclic process of
prototyping a number of possible solutions to a well-dened
problem, followed by testing, analyzing, and rening a
product or process. Current design thinking is, however,
still mostly based on linear reductive thinking, albeit in
an iterative way to evaluate a number of solutions for the
best t to a problem whilst optimizing the business value
potential. The creative solution-seeking processes we use
today in Design, Engineering and Business still maintain
largely an analytical worldview that compels us to look
at a problem as a component in a deterministic machine
of which we can manipulate the inputs and outputs by
reconguring the building blocks. This works well to design
an optimal proposition that will appeal to a customer by
solving a recognized need. However, in an eco-entangled
world, design becomes far more complex. Suddenly, we are
not only designing for a customer but for the benets of
an eco-system (of which the ‘customer’ is one stakeholder
with a specic need). This requires a deep intuition and
understanding of the principles and relationships in such
an ecosystem. Most of our current design and technology
solutions do not take value to such ecosystems into account.
How do we design for best t into complex eco-systems?
In rethinking design, we would be wise look to nature
as a source of inspiration. The disciplines of design
and engineering increasingly incorporate principles of
biomimicr y, but often we only exploit and incorporate some
clever elements from nature, but not the entire process of
how everything in natural systems is fully integrated. Most
of our current processes are based on economics of scarcit y
(which is a key principle of the consumer economy). And
thanks to rising awareness about sustainability, our designs
often aim to minimize waste. Nature functions in a very
dierent way. Nature is based on abundance and generosity,
not scarcity and frugality. Nature generates a lot of waste,
but the waste of one organism is the food of another. Our
problem is that we generate the wrong type of waste. Most
of our waste is toxic to other organisms (including ourselves)
instead of being a source of food (Weber, 2016).
The greatest challenges to future design and technology is to
harmonize our materials and principles of solution creation
with nature and natural ecosystems. (This shift includes both
design and materials.) In the distant past, humans developed
tools and products using natural materials that were not
foreign to nature. With the advances of the industrial age,
and our expanding knowledge of chemistry, nanotechnology
and material science, we have developed a range of
materials and products that we are able to mass produce
and that have led to an accumulating toxicity to nature.
We have always only calculated the cost of production, the
value to customers and the prot to business, which is what
has brought us to the dilemma of the Anthropocene.
The complexity of re-integrating our design and material
processing in natural eco-systems may be beyond the ability
of traditional design processes. However, AI may emerge as
a savior. If we can combine the vast knowledge of material
Co-Emerging Futu res • 39
science and design w ith a knowledge base of ecosystem
function and metabolism, new deep-learning algorithms AI
can perhaps help us to design solut ions that are benecial to
humans and nature at the same time. This may be the most
likely avenue to takes us to eco-entangled design.
Moreover, there are many recent advances in material
science that may serve as a starting point to replace some of
the most toxic substances in our design arsenal and narrow
the gap between human design solutions and the needs of
nature. One such example is a recent discovery regarding
limonene, which is a carbon-based compound produced in
more than 300 plant species (Cornell University, 2005). In
oranges, it makes up about 95% of the oil in the peel. With
the help of a special catalyst, limonene can be combined
with CO2 and converted into polylimonene carbonate, which
has many of the characteristics of polystyrene, a petroleum-
based plastic currently used to make many disposable
plastic products (Hauenstein, Agarwal, & Greiner, 2016).
Polylimonene carbonate can be regarded as an example
of the perfect green platform polymer, from which many
functional materials can be derived. Since limonene is not a
food source, but a by-product of the orange industry, the use
of this compound for creating biodegradable plastic does
not create competition with the human food chain. Through
genetic engineering of bacteria known as cyanobacteria
(specically the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongates),
researchers are now able synthesize limonene in a
bioreactor, using sunlight and CO2. This is a scalable
approach which oers great advantages over the volume
limitations of using orange peel waste as a resource for
limonene extraction (Halfmann, Gu, Gibbons, & Zhou, 2018).
Such approaches can play a crucial role in addressing the
world’s plastic problem. There are many other examples
of promising biodegradable materials that can be der ived
from nature with the help of modern technology which can
be used as a base for transforming current solutions into
biodegradable products that can be more easily assimilated
by nature when disposed. Another example is ‘superwood
(or ‘nanowood’), a highly densied form of wood that has
the strength and exibility of t itanium alloy yet is lighter and
cheaper. As a new material it can ultimately transform the
way we build cars, airplanes and even construct buildings.
Another great feature of superwood is that it can be made
from fast-growing balsa wood, so does not require higher
density slow-growing wood for its manufacture. (Kahn, 2018).
Changing our economic system: Lastly, we have to address
the elephant in the room. The current global economic
system is fueled by access to credit and is therefore in need
of constant growth and consumption (to repay debt and
produce shareholder prots). There is a continued push to
discover or develop new markets for consumption.
This is a major obstacle preventing an eective response
to our planetary challenges. Such a system is extremely
dicult to reform, although slow progress is being made
through bureaucratic legislation to set standards for
industries. But in our globally connected economic world,
there is little appetite for anything that may cause economic
uncertainty and instability. Many experts agree that the
current capitalist economic model based on the need
for growth is an unsustainable pyramid scheme that will
implode. Even the UN drive to eradicate poverty is rooted
in unhelpful conventional thinking that focuses on raising
income to create new consumers with disposable income,
rather to argue that poverty is based on a lack of suciency
and access of groups of people to resources as a result of
unfair exploitation, which need to be corrected. The book
‘Prosperity without Grow th’ is one of many examples of
books and papers that have been published about the
need to shif t towards an economy without growth in order
to save the planet, reduce inequality and transform the
aspirations of what constitutes ‘quality of life’ (Jackson T.,
2009). As radical as the book was only a few years ago,
today it has become part of the mainstream dialogue.
However, it remains unlikely that sucient reform will come
from the main beneciaries of the current economic system.
For instance, today, even democratic governments rely on
corporate donations that come with corporate inuence.
Those who are disenfranchised by global economics, not
those who benet from it, will be more likely to drive the
change. As we move towards economic realities of slowing
global growth and rising instability, the disenfranchised are
increasing the pressure for real change, as with the on-going
yellow vest demonstrations in Paris. Factors such as social
instability, wars fueled by climate change, and the continued
drive towards automation that will limit job opportunities in
the labor market, will only add to this pressure.
Perhaps we have reached a stage where we can start to
ask big questions. Solutions are not emerging from today’s
global economic systems because the incentives are too
low. What if the shareholders of public corporations were
held accountable for the social and environmental impact of
the businesses they invest in? Can we imagine an AI system
based on deep learning that analyses the full impact (or
contribution) to the environment of corporations and sets tax
rates accordingly? What would investors do if corporations
with a negative net environmental impact were taxed at 90%
(or higher) and those that have a net restorative contribution
to the planetary ecosystem paid zero tax? I am not proposing
these questions as a solution; I am merely using them
provocatively to make a point. This is the level of intervention
that will shift our economy from being an exploiter of the
environment towards a servant of the environment.
The path of Transformation – Gaia
This paper introduces a framework that makes sense of
streams of future change. The purpose is to stimulate debate
and action across a wide variety of potentially interested
stakeholders from business, design, science, engineering,
public sector, politics, academia, non-governmental
organizations, media and the general public.
It follows an earlier paper that explores
how socio-economic value creation is
shifting in a changing world (Brand &
Rocchi, 2010). This current paper does
not focus on human value creation
alone, as it recognizes that life on planet
Earth faces an existential threat due
to the impact of the Anthropocene.
It therefore includes a future trajectory
that puts the needs of the planet above
the needs of human consumers. I hope
this will serve as inspiration to stimulate
a rethinking of our approach to
innovation, design and value creation.
The emergence of a complex
meta-systemic future
The four Co-Emerging Futures
described in the text are destined to
shape the future of humanity and our
planet at large. Each of these futures
has support among distinct groups
of people who share common beliefs
and mindsets backed by substant ial
economic investments, social interests
and philosophical resonances.
We should therefore not view the four
future streams as alternative scenarios
but as Co-Emerging Futures. For each
of the four futures, it is possible to
imagine a number of scenarios of how
these may develop, but that I will leave
as input for follow-up debate and
Conclusion and way forward
However, all the future directions
are inuenced by a number of macro
changes that will introduce complexity
and uncertainty.
On an ecological level humanity is
facing the perils of climate change
driven by the activities of the
Anthropocene. We already see the
impact on ecosystems that are starting
to collapse and unpredictable weather
patterns that will threaten the stability
of human civilizations.
On a political level, there is a growing
ideological vacuum as institutions
of democracy and liberalism are
weakening. This weakened global
governance and a rise in populism are
evident worldwide.
Economically there is a shift into a
post-globalization world where free-
trade is being quest ioned (Saval,
2017). In this world, we may see more
regional economies, local priorities and
a possible fragmentation into dierent
alternative economies (such as local
collaborative economies, Bitcoin, etc.)
(Nelson & Timmerman, 2011).
Technologically, there is rapid progress
towards a pervasively interconnected
world where there is less need for labor
due to automation enabled by AI and
robotics. Remarkable progress is being
made in many areas such as material
science, regenerative medicine and AI,
but the challenge is to make access to
this progress available to all people,
and to ensure that it creates benets
for the environment and not an
additional burden.
On a societal level we see a
polarization of streams of increasingly
insular opinions and a decline in the
possibilities for civil debate, fueled by
social media echo chambers. There
is also a strong resentment building
against the realities of rising inequality
and the threat of unemployment due
to technological automation. Plus,
public awareness about climate change
is increasing, as made evident by the
recent mass demonstrations about
climate in several countries in Europe
(Taylor, 2019).
Humanity, therefore, has to prepare not
for a single future, but for a future that
will develop into dierent directions,
fueled by dierent beliefs and interests.
Co-Emerging Futu res • 41
Reections and actions
Each of the Co-emerging futures described in this paper
(Figure 8) contains a wealth of seeds for reection, and
discussion. As individuals, we may have dierent preferences
based on dierent worldviews. These future directions may
challenge us to take a step back and reect on our planet,
our place in it, and on the potential long-term consequences
of our behav iors, goals and choices. The Anthropocene has
been accelerated more by the un-intended consequences
of our technologies and actions, rather than by the intended
goals of humanity. Given the precarious state of our planet,
there is a need for a deep mindfulness as we go forward.
In Philips Design we will follow up with more publications, and
a number of activities and collaborations around this topic.
We are starting creative sessions to reect on how the role
of Design, and the approach and tools of Design may have
to adapt. We will also explore how the dierent streams
of technology development may be adapted and utilized
in the dierent future streams that are described in this
paper. We have started collaborations with a number of
academic institutions (Technical University of Eindhoven
and the Design Academy Eindhoven) and an experimental
designer, Frank Kolkman (Kolkman, n.d.), to use ‘design
probes’ methodology. This method uses ‘Design Fiction’ to
design provocative future visions based on the four futures
directions. Mak ing interpretations of these futures tangible
for public debate, it can ult imately inuence perspectives and
stimulate a rethink of the innovation strategies of today.
embodied and
& assimilation
Control human
evolution and
optimise human
Strive for geo-
& bio-diversity
& quality of the
natural & human
Abandon biology
as carrier of
(beyond nature)
Shape the
earth for human
(on top of nature)
Adapt human
life to nurture
a healthy planet
(part of nature)
Adapt human
for sustainable
production &
(next to nature)
Manage & sustain
a steady ow of
resources for
Underlying myths / values
Valuing human progress above all
Valuing biodiverse ecosystems
Emerging Futures Directions
Industrial Experience
Valuing sustainable prosperity
Agricultural Knowledge
Localized Civilization
Climate Change
Environmental Decline
Declining Global Governance
Probable Global
Valuing Intelligence above all
Guiding philosophies
Socio-economic paradigms
Earth geological epochs
Modernism Post-modernism RelationalismPre-modernism
(Western) belief that deities
and spirits determine
the future and hereafter
Deterministic utopian
visions driven by
technological progress
Relativism and the acceptance of
multiple truths - constant try-out
and experimentation
Being thoughtful, and increase awareness,
knowledge and intuition about the relationships of
all phenomena in complex open dynamic systems
past now future distant future
Chronological Timeline
embodied and
& assimilation
Control human
evolution and
optimise human
Strive for geo-
& bio-diversity
& quality of the
natural & human
Abandon biology
as carrier of
(beyond nature)
Shape the
earth for human
(on top of nature)
Adapt human
life to nurture
a healthy planet
(part of nature)
Adapt human
for sustainable
production &
(next to nature)
Manage & sustain
a steady ow of
resources for
Underlying myths / values
Valuing human progress above all
Valuing biodiverse ecosystems
Emerging Futures Directions
Industrial Experience
Valuing sustainable prosperity
Agricultural Knowledge
Localized Civilization
Climate Change
Environmental Decline
Declining Global Governance
Probable Global
Valuing Intelligence above all
Guiding philosophies
Socio-economic paradigms
Earth geological epochs
Modernism Post-modernism RelationalismPre-modernism
(Western) belief that deities
and spirits determine
the future and hereafter
Deterministic utopian
visions driven by
technological progress
Relativism and the acceptance of
multiple truths - constant try-out
and experimentation
Being thoughtful, and increase awareness,
knowledge and intuition about the relationships of
all phenomena in complex open dynamic systems
past now future distant future
Chronological Timeline
Figure 8: Co-emerg ing futures – Summ ary. Created by Reon Bran d. Copyrig ht: Philip s Design
The paper opens up a number of topics that deserve more
in-depth exploration. We hope that it may stimulate other
interested groups worldw ide to further explore such topics.
Examples of such topics that deser ve further debate and
exploration might include:
Eco-entangled materials and eco-centric design
Economic models for the four future streams and how they
may co-exist
Eco-entangled approaches to healthcare
I hope that this paper inspires people to look at the future
and their role in it with new eyes.
Co-Emerging Futu res • 43
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