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Abstract

This is a tentative translation of my experimental essay with the same title in Japanese, published in the online journal Synodos -https://synodos.jp/society/22693- on the occasion of the publication of our edited book (explained in the text) on how a variety of future discourses such as scientific prediction and various forecasting construct our society. The essay discusses a best selling sci-fi book, The Third Millennium(1985) about a thousand year's history from now on, past and future seen in the distinctive styles of imaginary architecture, and the way to go beyond the ongoing colonization of the future at present.
A Future Far Away: Forecasting and Society.
Masato Fukushima
Note: this is a tentative translation of my essay originally published in a Japanese on-line
academic journal Synodos (26 June, 2019) https://synodos.jp/society/22693
Introduction
The Third Millennium (1), written collaboratively by a sci-fi writer and a science
writer in Britain, retrospectively describes the history of science, technology, and
society from a 31st-century viewpoint. Written in 1985, its matter-of-fact narrative of the
future as past is impressive: for instance, in terms of international politics, Australia
becomes a major player in global sea politics, and Brazil is reduced to a protectorate
under the United Nations after a devastating defeat in a nuclear war with neighboring
Argentina (2). In contrast, the Soviet Union, whose collapse in the real world occurred
in 1991, miraculously survives until the 31st century, whereas the development of China
is not much emphasized in the book. A large part of Japanese territory has been
submerged in the sea subsequent to a series of large earthquakes since the 23rd century,
with the majority of the Japanese population having gone into the global diaspora (3).
In addition to the magnetism of its political historiography, The Third Millennium
offers an impressive narrative on the progress of techno-science and its ensuing effects
upon the transformation of global society. For instance, the book records the
development of technology for freezing the human body from the 23rd century onward,
whereas before this time, the technology faced such obstacles as the interruption of
refrigeration caused by power failure and the immaturity of the technology itself at the
time of its invention. In terms of the human lifespan, the real breakthrough takes place
in the 24th century when the technology of rejuvenating nuclear acid is invented,
enabling a dramatic extension in human life. The overwhelming effect of this discovery
remains tangible in the 31st century.
Past and Future
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This invented historiography for the rest of this millennium often seems highly
realistic, though a slightly weird impression is inevitable as well. In our own historical
narrative, the close past is usually described densely while the faraway past is written
sparsely. Whatever the topic or chronological table used, events in a contemporary
narrative (broadly speaking) are recorded in terms of months or even days, whereas the
timespan of the Stone Age, for instance, is usually referred to by intervals of tens of
thousands of years.
Exactly this point was the subject of a controversy between Jean-Paul Sartre
and Claude Lévi-Strauss in the 1960s: the latter criticized Sartre for substantializing the
momentum of history writ large, which Sartre believed would eventually eradicate
primitive societies, in his book The Critique of Dialectic Reason (4). In contrast, Lévi-
Strauss countered that historiography is, after all, a system of signs and classification,
following the principle of the mind in the wild, his major argument in The Savage Mind.
From the standpoint of this argument, The Third Millennium fails to convince readers, at
least rhetorically, that it was written in the 31st century, as is does not quite escape the
time of its publication date in the 1980s. As the account approaches the third
millennium, its quasi-factual historiography gradually loses the descriptive density
needed for retrospective historical narrative.
If we regard the book as a work of literature, however, such a loss is not bad
because it actually provides a refined literary experience: as the 31st century approaches,
the reader is furnished with a vast sense of the stream of historical currency, so that it is
rather like reading the works of great Chinese poets like Li Bai or Du Fu in 7th-century
China. However, such is a different story from what the authors of the book insisted
they had told.
Forecasting and Society
The narrative of The Third Millennium—namely, in its style of describing what
the authors forecasted before 1985 as a series of historical facts viewed retrospectively
from the future—has a deeper implication for recent topics in the so-called science and
technology studies.
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The basic premise of our recently published book, Forecasting and Society:
How Scientific Narratives Construct Society (6) is related to the recent interest in the
role and functions of a variety of futuristic discourses as used to manage the trajectory
of emerging techno-science. Such discourses may flourish in a wide range of topics, like
population growth, economic prospects, and technology forecasting. As one instance, in
recent years, predictions about the imminence of singularity—namely, the point at
which the capacity of AI will prevail over that of humans, anticipated around 2045—
have been a subject of heated controversy, even as the academic premises for such a
prediction have been examined little in public.
Part of the power of such forecasting lies in the reaction of society vis-a-vis the
variety of discourses, with the unintended effect that forecast becomes the narrative of
the future. This is one of the sources of the power of forecasting. Among the diverse
aspects of futuristic discourse, it is the role of expectation to which science and
technology studies have paid continuous attention (7). “Expectation” here refers to
discourse on positive images for the future that any techno-scientific project might want
to actualize. The discourse of expectation may stimulate potential stakeholders through
a dreamy narrative about the rosy future of such technology; further, expectation grows
to the degree that such dreams are shared by many stakeholders. The hope is that
eventually, the expectations may result in a self-propelling project. Conversely, the
under-achievement of such a project may deflate once swollen expectations, replacing
the hype with a bitter sense of disappointment (8). Scholars have noted that this
dynamic of up-and-down expectations is pivotal in understanding a certain aspect of the
dynamism of techno-science in general.
In this sense, The Third Millennium is an intriguing example for understanding
the complex trajectory of both forecasting and expectation in society. As written in the
post-script by the translators of the book, the “historiography” is a mixture of both the
Delphi technique, often used for technology forecasting, and sci-fi imagery. This
hybridity provides both a quasi-realistic sense of the historical development of future
techno-science and its gradual derailment from actual global history, as exemplified
with the projected survival of the Soviet Union up to the fourth millennium. The very
premise of the book—namely, as retrospective narrative from the 31st century—requires
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a somewhat deterministic atmosphere in the prediction discourse, though the deviations
from actual history reveal the limit of such a forecast, whatever the subject.
.
Architecture as Metaphor
Among the variety of emerging techno-sciences that the book describes, I was
most impressed with the genesis of a new architectural style that is projected to
dominate the global surface. American architect Leon Gantz invents a radically new
method of biotechnological cementing by using diverse kinds of living organisms in
place of the ferro-concrete now common in construction. This is Gantz’s revolutionary
new cementation method, more simply referred to as “the Gantz method.” This radical
method enables the construction of mound-like buildings fully covered with mud and
plants except for the doors and windows.
The Gantz methodThe Third Millennium, 1985, Knopf
We scarcely need to refer specifically to the renowned argument of Kojin
Karatani in Architecture as Metaphor(8) to know that terminologies related to
architecture—such as structure, construction, and architecture itself—are imbued with
multiple philosophical connotations. For instance, Hayek’s well-known criticism of
socialism as rational constructivism—that is, the idea that society can be built in
accordance with rational planning by a few (10)—is an example of how architectural
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terminology also has strong political connotations. Hence, reflection on architectural
metaphor overlaps almost completely with that upon both logic and society as well.
Regarding recent trends in which contemporary architects are discussing such
issues as “architecture and nature,” the Gantz method—though a product of sci-fi
imagination—is something that many architects have dreamed of. This dream may be
the closest to becoming a reality.
Spacecraft and Burial Mound
My first glimpse of one plan for the New National Stadium Japan, which is to
be completed for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, was a revelation that Gantz
architecture has actually come into existence. This plan, popularly called the “Kofun
(Burial Mound) Stadium,” is by Tsuyoshi Tane, a young architect well-known for
designing the Estonian National Museum and for his unique archeological method used
to image the future. Although this unique Kofun-plan was not officially adopted—nor
has Mr. Tane invented a new biological cementation method—it looked as if Mr. Gantz
himself had made the plan. It was somewhat amusing that this plan was contrasted with
a controversial one from Zaha Hadid, which looked like a huge spacecraft, and which
was aborted after long and heated debates on how improper it would look in proximity
to Meiji-Jingu, the highly historical site on which the stadium encroaches.
Tsuyoshi Tane, The Plan for New National StadiumImage courtesy of DGT
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The contrast between the idea of a spacecraft and that of a burial mound is
intriguing in that it may imply two different directions of the future, both hinted at in
The Third Millennium in the concrete form of differing architectural designs. In fact,
The Third Millennium suggests an image of the future that is divided into two distinct
streams.
One stream posits that mankind has ventured out of the solar system to the
wider universe, as the newly developed physiological characteristics are better
accommodated to life within a spacecraft. This is enabled by the revolution stemming
from the nuclear-acid rejuvenation technology mentioned above. As noted earlier, this
story line sounds quite obscure, like mentioning a scarcely known antiquity, though
these events would naturally be in the near past for the 31st century when the book is
supposed to have been written. In sharp contrast, the other stream, the landscape of the
near future from our own time, is portrayed as covered with buildings constructed
according to the Gantz method, resembling quasi-mounds and tumuli. Paradoxically,
these landscapes feel quite realistic, though they should be in the long-ago past from a
31st-century perspective.
Discussing the role of forecasting is equal to talking about the relation between
the past and the future. The forecasts and predictions in our book (Forecasting and
Society, referred to above) are diverse in both form and content. Such future discourses,
because they are often imbued with scientific rhetoric, project an atmosphere of
scientific determinism, which may lead us to believe that these images of the future are
solid, possessed of a fair degree of certainty.
Examining their details closer, however, reveals that these are only a few
possible scenarios among many in a future open to change, an outcome largely
extrapolated from the limited data of the past, as well as from varying hypotheses for
the future. Yet once any forecast or prediction is uttered, it starts to live a life of its own
as living words. Consequently, the future described by these forecasts provides both
hope and constraints, the latter binding us up and sometimes even leading us to feel
suffocated.
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Imaginary architecture
Because of its important philosophical role, architecture was a pivotal source of
metaphor for our book as well. In this context, we relied on the diverse works of Minoru
Nomata, a painter widely acclaimed for his works on imaginary buildings that arouse
senses of both exoticism and nostalgia. We referred to his works precisely in search of
hints for reflecting upon the role of forecasting as binding together the past and the
future.
One of the candidates that caught our eye is titled Enkei (Distant View)-3, a
beautiful piece reminiscent of Peter Brueghel’s The Tower of Babel. The other was titled
Ascending, descending-2, a recent work that depicts a huge balloon in slow ascent. The
latter is a rare work among others of Nomata’s, which are usually imaginary buildings
that convey a sense of awe and of the sublime.
Forecasting and Society, with Minoru Nomata, Ascending, descending-2, 2018
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Enkei-3 seems to deliver a message of the processual nature of building our
future in the shape of the Tower of Babel, which is under construction. This image can
be construed either as a metaphor of hope that shows the continuity from the past to the
future, or as a negative sign that we are gradually being deprived of our freedom in the
completion of such a gigantic tower. We can even think of the latter construal as the
embodiment of what sociologist Anthony Giddens describes as the colonization of the
future through his reading of recent trends in risk analysis and futurology (11).
Eventually, we concluded that this interpretation of Enkei-3 was a little too
heavy, too solemn, and multifarious in its implications. In fact, the future predicted by
recent forecasting is filled with a sense of breathlessness. Such breathlessness derives
not only from the actual predicament of contemporary society but also from the side-
effect of our blind faith in the solidity of such forecasting narratives.
The reason Ascending, descending-2 caught our attention was that we
perceived a refreshing lightness of the subject, in contrast to the artist’s more
conventional paintings of solemn buildings. This enormous balloon appears to be
launched rather haphazardly, slowly drifting up and down on gentle winds in the sky.
Our future is, after all, similarly the outcome of such haphazardness and freedom.
The last chapter of The Third Millennium seems shrouded in obscurity, despite
its premise that the book is written in the 31st century. Any forecasting, after all, is
surely already out of breath in such a far future. The wider the gap between our time and
another, the shadier both past and future become. In this sense, we cannot easily
conclude that the spacecraft of Zaha Hadid may symbolize our future while Tane’s
burial mound represents our past. Tane’s plan for the mound may be characterized only
as a point of continuity between the past and the future like Nomata’s Enkei-2.
However, Tane’s original idea of “the archaeology of the future” stipulates the past less
as an agglomeration of constraints for the future—i.e., the negative aspects of
forecasting—and more as a bundle of creative potentialities that offer multiple paths for
imagining the future. That potentiality of the past, in terms of mounds and tumuli, rather
amazingly resembles the forecasted future of architecture so vividly depicted in The
Third Millennium.
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All forecasting and predictions rely on data from the past, even as changes in
the interpretation of these data accordingly produce new images of the future. In
addition, the future is filled with accidents and events unknown from the past. Nomata,
whose paintings have long portrayed a diverse range of imagined buildings, likely has
already realized that both the Tower of Babel and a huge floating balloon are merely
two different manifestations of exactly the same subject.
Notes
(1) Brian Stableford and David Langford (1985) The Third Millennium:
A History of the World, AD 2000-3000, New York: Knopf
(2) In a Japanese TV interview, Emmanuel Todd, an internationally known population
researcher, pointed out that Brazil is substantially bankrupt as a state.
(3) The publication in 1973 of Japan Sinks, a sci-fi novel by Sakyo Komatsu, and the
release of its movie in 1975 may have influenced the authors’ description of Japan’s
future course.
(4) Jean-Paul Sartre (19911960). Critique of Dialectical Reason Volume 1: Theory of
Practical Ensembles. London: Verso. Jean-Paul Sartre (1991 1960 ). Critique of
Dialectical Reason Volume 2: The Intelligibility of History. London: Verso.
(5) Claude Lévi-Strauss (1966 1962 ) The Savage Mind, Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
(6) Tomiko Yamaguchi and Masato Fukushima (eds) (2019) Forecasting and Society:
How Scientific Narratives Construct Society, Tokyo: The University of Tokyo Press. (in
Japanese).
(7) Nik Brown, Brian Rappert, and Andrew Webster (eds) (2000) Contested Futures: a
Sociology of Prospective Techno-science, London: Ashgate.
Mads Borup, Nik Brown, Kornelia Konrad, and Harro van Lente (2006) The sociology
of expectations in science and technology, Technology Analysis & Strategic
Management, 18(3/4): 285–298.
(8) Masato Fukushima (2016) Constructing failure in big biology: The Socio-technical
anatomy of Japan’s Protein 3000 Program, Social Studies of Science 46(1): 7-33
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(9) Kojin Karatani (1995) Architecture as Metaphor:Language, Number, Money,
Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
(10) Friedrich von Hayek (1952) The Counter-revolution of Science: Studies on the
Abuse of Reason, New York: Free Press.
(11) Anthony Giddens (1991) Modernity and Self-Identity. London: Polity.
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Article
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