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Current Essay Contest

Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Previous Contests

What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation

Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fnd.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

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Rick Searle: on 6/13/14 at 16:20pm UTC, wrote Hello Wihelmus, Agreed that the conversation should continue. Responded...

Wilhelmus Wilde: on 6/13/14 at 15:33pm UTC, wrote dear Rick, Congratulations with you high community score and admittance to...

Rick Searle: on 6/7/14 at 13:01pm UTC, wrote Thanks, Cristi I enjoyed your essay as well. Glad to see you made it into...

Cristinel Stoica: on 6/7/14 at 3:29am UTC, wrote Hi Rick, I liked very much your essay, which went in a realistic manner...

Tommaso Bolognesi: on 6/6/14 at 16:41pm UTC, wrote Hi Rick, thanks for the clarifications. I suspect that, while some...

Rick Searle: on 6/6/14 at 2:14am UTC, wrote Tommaso, Thank you for your comment. In answer to: "What I find harder to...

Tommaso Bolognesi: on 6/5/14 at 14:16pm UTC, wrote Dear Rick, interesting ideas, exposed quite brilliantly. I found that in...

Anonymous: on 6/3/14 at 20:31pm UTC, wrote Dear Rick, Great philosophical essay! Remarkable conclusion and deep...


Candy lol: "Good post. I find out something new and difficult on personal blogs I..." in DNA Dust

harry lone: "This article clears my mind. Writer has done great job. Best thing about..." in Baez on Quantum...

harry lone: "Wow. This is some thing very amazing. I was in search of such a beautiful..." in Help Fight Negativity!

Georgina Woodward: "Excluding 'Big crunch' un-creation ending from the eternal category." in The Sudoku Universe, Why...

Phuloo Nikola: "I really appreciate you for this article. It's very useful information...." in The Disintegration of the...

Phuloo Nikola: "Good post. I find out something new and difficult on personal blogs I..." in Koalas, Quantum Mechanics...

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Shazi Shiz: "I was looking for something like this…I found it quiet interesting,..." in Deferential Geometry

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The Complexity Conundrum
Resolving the black hole firewall paradox—by calculating what a real astronaut would compute at the black hole's edge.

Quantum Dream Time
Defining a ‘quantum clock’ and a 'quantum ruler' could help those attempting to unify physics—and solve the mystery of vanishing time.

Our Place in the Multiverse
Calculating the odds that intelligent observers arise in parallel universes—and working out what they might see.

Sounding the Drums to Listen for Gravity’s Effect on Quantum Phenomena
A bench-top experiment could test the notion that gravity breaks delicate quantum superpositions.

Watching the Observers
Accounting for quantum fuzziness could help us measure space and time—and the cosmos—more accurately.

December 12, 2017

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: The Cartography of the Future: Recovering Utopia for the 21st Century by Rick Searle [refresh]
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Author Rick Searle wrote on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 15:22 GMT
Essay Abstract

Throughout human history the idea of Utopia has served as a means of expanding the moral imagination and served as a prototype for how societies might be organized to better conform to human values. In the 19th century Utopia became tied the new reality of technological progress and the deterministic philosophy that surrounded it, which had the ultimate consequence of discrediting the Utopian ideal. Progressive technological determinism continues to be influential, but has lately come under increasing scrutiny, its historical horizon and the continued relationship between technological and social progress called into question. This change in our perception of technology might provide the conditions for a recovery of the Utopian ideal, which would also mean a restoration of our lost sense of freedom over the future.

Author Bio

Rick Searle is an Affiliate Scholar with the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology and co-editor, co-author of the book Rethinking Machine Ethics in the Age of Ubiquitous Technology (IGI Global Press, 2015). He writes for the blog: Utopia or Dystopia: Where Past Meets Future

Download Essay PDF File

Walter Putnam wrote on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 21:26 GMT
Hear, hear! Well put, Rick. Steering straight, toward an ideal, reduces the risk of running off the road. Even if we never get to that perfect world we're less likely to drive into a ditch. And even if we hit a signpost along the way, or the car breaks down, it's good to know we still have that destination.

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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 01:42 GMT
Thanks Walter,

It does seem to me that we have an atrophied idea of the future compared with the past not to mention a widespread cynicism regarding what types of societies we are capable of. My hope is that we can rethink this, and in rethinking help to change it as well.

Best of luck on your own essay, which I hope to read tonight-

Rick Searle

Georgina Woodward wrote on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 23:29 GMT
Hi Rick,

I particularly liked the points that different people may have different Utopian ideals, and now having to decide what it means to be human. I can see conflict between those who see Utopia as a return to a natural way of living causing minimal harm to the environment and those who envision a technological future which may include trans-humanism and AI. Each might think the other Utopia misguided and inferior to their own. Perhaps there will be different Utopias for different societies rather than a single Global Utopian vision. I like the history of Utopian ideals and that you have emphasized the importance of believing that we can influence the future rather than it being fully determined. We have the wheel but will we hesitate too long trying to choose our Utopian destination/s?

A really well written essay, Good luck Georgina

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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 01:47 GMT
Hi Georgina,

I definitely would like to see multiple forms of modernity, though, as you point out in your own essay we still have global problems we will need to face together.

“We have the wheel but will we hesitate too long trying to choose our Utopian destination/s?”

I hope not, but the clock is certainly ticking.

Best of luck!


James Lee Hoover wrote on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 23:52 GMT

The theme of utopia is hopeful and honest, especially basing it on such prospects of the past. As you suggest, it is alien in our current world. Even the social measures of technology you mention like longevity, child mortality and income are more measures of success and affluence compared to other countries than they are technological progress.We can all agree that someone must shape it to fit values of survival and common good. That is my perception as well. The imagination of Utopia is certainly an inspiration for achieving a better world which includes a viable survival.


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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 02:17 GMT
Thanks Jim,

Glad to see from your essay that you look to history as well...

Best of luck!

Rick Searle

James Lee Hoover replied on May. 27, 2014 @ 00:21 GMT

Time grows short, so I am revisiting essay I've reviewed to make sure I've rated them. I find that I rated yours on 4/21.

Glad to see your essay is doing well.


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Member Dean Rickles wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 02:19 GMT
Hi Rick,

I find some similarities between our positions, and you've convinced me (together with Sabine Hossenfelder) that I should take a look a Smolin's new book - I was avoiding it because I think he misunderstands what the block versus flow of time pictures imply vis-a-vis free will and fatalism. However, your concluding statement is very close to various themes in my essay:

"The future is neither completely ours to shape nor something we are subject to without room for maneuver. For, continuing to think that our world cannot be made to better conform to our ideals is one of the surest ways to insure that what lies in our future is the farthest thing from Utopia. And so, if I were to answer the question that inspired this essay “how should humanity steer the future” directly, I would say that the question has no definitive and final answer but begins with the rediscovery that it is us with our hands behind the wheel."

I concur.



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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 02:57 GMT

Would love to know what your physicist's eye makes of the essay "The future is the past" by Roger Schlafly. It's like the anti-Time Reborn.


Wilhelmus de Wilde wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 14:38 GMT
Hi Rick,

I think that steering the future is as difficult as steering the past, there are so many coincidences that influence the future (see my essay : "STEERING THE FUTURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS") that it is even impossible to predict our second generation. It is not only the influence of for now unknown (unborn) individuals, that blur the future but also the difference of view of our participating individuals here and now.

So "Utopia" can only be a subjective ideal, that is why so many religions are existing all with their own interpretation of a future "kingdom of heaven" , the subjective ideas are coupled and became rules to be lived in.

It is in my opinion the overall "mentality" that has to change from egoistic short term profit ideas to a long term non-profit sharing our potentiality mentality. The average age of a human being is just 80 yers and that also influences his actions when they are influencing his wellnes during this time, if we would age longer then we would perhaps have more attention for a future that is longer away as those 80 years...

I hope that you will find some time to read and leave a comment on my thread (link is above) and eventually give it a rating that is in acoordance with your personal valuation.

Good luck and best regards


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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 18:44 GMT

I have read your essay and tend to leave a more extensive comment there, the long and short of which is I have my doubts as to if quantum fields,the nature of consciousness or theories of the multi-verse are as important as more mundane goal setting at least in terms of the near-term future.

Where I think you and I are in solid engagement is that deterministic ideas of the future that follow only one path are not only socially dangerous but scientifically inaccurate as well.

Best of luck on your essay!

Anselm Smidt wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 15:26 GMT
Ihre Nieve sind gefährlich und - dangrus

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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 15:57 GMT

I understand from a German perspective I might seem so, but please offer something to make you case.

John Brodix Merryman wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 00:26 GMT

It is an observant and well thought out perspective, but I think the issues which need to be dealt with are more a matter of process, than objectives. We first really need to figure out what we are doing, before considering where we might be going.

One point I keep making in various conversations on the FQXI forums, as well as prior contests is that we experience time as a...

view entire post

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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 04:05 GMT

Thank you for taking the time to read my essay and for your thought provoking comments. I am actually a great fan of Joesph Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies which I've written about here:

We are actually largely in agreement.

In my post I was really trying as the title suggests re-conceptualize the idea of Utopia. It's not that I think Utopia will solve our problems, I just think reviving it as a practice might be helpful. It might help us in the form of actual experiments that would give us examples of how societies might be differently organized- one of the vulnerabilities of our current global industrial society being its lack of diversity.Some of this lack of diversity might be traced to versions of determinism at least that's the way I interpret thinkers like Kevin Kelly.

As an intellectual practice Utopia might remind us what societies are actually for, which is to act as a vehicle through which we can actualize our full humanity.

Reading and voting on your essay is the first thing on my agenda tomorrow. I want to give it all the time (and wakefulness) it deserves.

Best of luck!

Rick Searle

John Brodix Merryman replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 17:07 GMT

The only reason I take issue is that utopia is a social idealization and I find there is a dangerous tendency to conflate ideals with absolutes. If we can first understand that what gives rise to form is context, so when we start distilling away and generally sterilizing the messy aspects, we don't want loose sight of the reasons for the forms in the first place. Otherwise there becomes that overpowering pull to the center, as the elementary fabric is weakened.

So yes, we very much need our goals, desires and standards, but also a sense of proportion and balance have to be part of the mix as well.

Looking at the way the world is going today, that sense of proportionality and equilibrium seems to be lost, as the various factions express their deep desires and apply standards they themselves might not uphold.


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Michael Allan wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 02:53 GMT
Hello Rick, May I offer a short appraisal of your essay, a little on the critical side? I would ask you to reciprocate. - Mike

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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 04:08 GMT
Sure, Mike. Freely state whatever you think. I am here to learn. And I am eager to read, comment and vote on yours once I have the proper sleep.


Michael Allan replied on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 10:25 GMT
Thanks Rick, when you have time.

At the end of your essay, you imply that you haven't so much answered the question as agreed with its premise; as though to say, "Yes indeed, let us steer the future." But I disagree. I've long thought that utopianism could be (and has been) employed as an actual means of steering; so that any general description of utopian thought, including an historical one such as yours, is indeed a description of "how to steer". I came to this conclusion while reading Howard P. Segal's (1985) Technological Utopianism in American Culture. Segal looks at the present value, the "contemporary usefulness" of utopian thought, particularly of a category he labels "serious utopian visions", those which "play a vital role as vehicles of social criticism and, sometimes, of actual social change." (p. 155) Such a vision "functions properly not as a literal blueprint for the future but as a take-off point for reconsidering and possibly altering existing society." This surprisingly practical (almost mechanical) view implies the possibility of deliberately grabbing hold of utopian literature, etc., and continually, consciously manipulating it for the steering mechanism it "properly" is. It's an image that's stuck with me ever since.

So I think your essay is completely on topic insofar as I'm concerned, and definitely interesting, too. My main complaint is that I wanted to learn more about the specific device you suggest at the end (p. 8), based on small-scale experimentation in utopian communities. How would the steering effect of that be conveyed "piecemeal" from the successful community to the larger society? What aspects of the society (and the future) could be steered in this way? Has this been attempted before?


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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 22:04 GMT
Thanks Mike for your very thought provoking question.

Length constraints prevented me from fully fleshing the concept out, but I also want the idea to be as opened ended as possible- Utopia as a kind of Swiss Army Knife.

Here's just one way it might work:

One of the benefits of Utopia is also one of its greatest weaknesses- it gives you a sort of Tabla Rosa by which you can redesign society at will. This is dangerous in the larger society because you have to level the existing order to start afresh, which is why I think Utopias should be used as a "proof of concept" with which you can tweak the overall society.

Imagine being able to design an energy system, employment system, justice system

all from "scratch" without legacy distortions and institutional interests based on the best knowledge we have? People would be given real life examples of what a society would look like if we, just as examples, built modern communities with almost zero carbon footprint, went to a 35 hour work week, replaced most incarceration with community imprisonment and re-conciliatory justice, broke down walls between subjects such as art and science during elementary education.

We could then argue around these real world examples rather than our respective ideologies- is this the type of world we want.

That's just one version of how a revived concept of Utopia might work. There are many many others.

Off to read your essay. Please give me a grade if you have not done so already.

Best of luck!

Rick Searle

Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 14:23 GMT
Rick --

Excellent essay, and I'm much in tune with your way of thinking. The last sections of my own essay on communications technology develop the same thought, that as "technology is moving intimately closer to our humanity... we really do have choices regarding how this particular phase of technological evolution will unfold, in a way we have not before."

Your argument about technological determinism makes sense, though of course it's one aspect of a bigger picture. Part of the reason utopian thinking died out is that by setting up a vision of how things should be in contrast with how they actually are, it implies that we can just switch over from the wrong way of doing things to the right one. That seemed sensible in the 18th century, but didn't fit as well with the 19th-century realization that our history goes back a long, long way, and passed through many evolutionary stages. That also gave us the longer-term, progressive view of our future that made utopianism seem shallow and naive.

Yet you're completely right about the importance of a "cartography of the future" in the utopian spirit. We badly need to develop new pictures of what it looks like when we've got it right. This is something I didn't attempt in my essay -- under present conditions I find it hard to envision hopeful scenarios. But some of the contest entries, including yours, are making me want to try.

I'll have to check out some of your footnotes. It's very encouraging to think that "many are asking fundamental questions not so much about what it means to be human as what we want being human to mean..."

Thanks -- Conrad

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Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 19:35 GMT
Dear Mr. Searle,

A nice change of pace. I found your essay a joy to read, and not as outrageously oversimplified as one would tend to think.


Joe Fisher

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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 19:45 GMT
Thanks, Joe. I'm a utopian with a lower case u.

I intend to read and vote on your essay tonight. Please grade my essay if you haven't done so already.

Best of luck!


George Gantz wrote on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 03:05 GMT
Rick -

Great essay, thanks. In my essay, The Tip of the Spear, I only make an oblique reference to the way technology has shaped our human imagination for the worse (by promoting determinism, commercialism) - you have tackled this issue head-on. Bravo.

However, are we not looking in the rear view mirror? Determinism as a world view was promoted by Newtonian science and 19th/20th century technological enthusiasm. But the convergence of scientific theory and technological advance is now split. For the past century, fundamental science has grappled with an increasingly opaque and obscure landscape - relativity, quantum mechanics, complexity, and arcane specialization. These are existentially unsettling and seem to have led to an erosion of confidence and optimism in the scientific enterprise - just look at the climate change debates, or the new creationism for that matter.

I would also say (Kurzweil to the contrary notwithstanding) that most humans are not particularly comfortable with all that the digital etc. world has brought with it. While technology, productivity and standard of living may have climbed, so has the sense of alienation and stress. That incessant beeping!

I worry that we have yet to see the full impact of 20th century science and 21st century technology on the human imagination. It is playing out as we write. I hope that out of the ashes of 20th century determinism and progressivism we will see a new, positive, shared moral framework arise, rather than greater discord.

Best - George

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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 20:59 GMT
That's a great question, George.

I think you're right on two fronts- science grew out of determinism along time ago, and the public in general is certainly far more cynical of the promises of technology than in the middle of the last century.

Still, the people I continue to see adhering to a version of determinism are pretty powerful- they own and run some of the richest companies in the world, and/or adhere and promote an ideology that is currently rooted in Silicon Valley.

Here are some links to just a few of the posts I have written on the subject:



I intend to read the Tip of the Spear tonight. Please give me your grade if you haven't done so already.

Best of luck,

Rick Searle

Member Tejinder Pal Singh wrote on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 16:36 GMT
Dear Rick,

It was a pleasure reading your scholarly essay. If I understood you right, you advocate moving away from technological determinism, and towards a new exploration for a Utopia. I am very interested in knowing what practical steps you have in mind with regard to moving in this new direction.

My best regards,


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Author Rick Searle wrote on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 20:41 GMT
Thank you very much for the question, Tejinder.

I had to cut a good bit of my original text to meet the length requirements, so below I'll paste some of my thoughts from there which I hope will answer your question.

Please let me know what you think, and if you have not graded my essay already, please do so.

All the best,


view entire post

Lawrence B Crowell wrote on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 01:56 GMT
Dear Rick,

Your essay is interesting. I attach below this paragraph my reply to your comment on my blog page. I generally wait a bit before scoring many essays to see how they fit in with each other. I tend to copy the cover page and enter potential scores before doing the actual entry.

The intellectual attraction of utopias is pretty low these days. Utopia = no place, is a sort...

view entire post

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Author Rick Searle wrote on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 12:08 GMT

"Largely political leaders do not exist to solve problems. We sometimes call political leaders “problem solvers,” and this is really only true from a certain perspective."

Well, yes and no. It it very often the case that solving one problem leads to another down the road, sometimes even bigger. But politics certainly does solve problems- think of the US after the Clean Air Act than before or before child labor laws, regulation on food production the list goes on and on.

I suppose one could think this was futile, but it is futile in the same way cleaning your house is futile. That it just gets a mess again is just part of reality- but it's better than living in filth.

"It really should not be looked upon as something that horrible. In 50 million years the Earth will be doing just fine, but we wont be there. The world will no more cry for the loss of our species than it does now over the loss of Tyrannosaurus rex."

I agree that other life on earth- in the short term- would be better off without us and do not agree with other essayists in this contest who seem to think humanity has some cosmic role to play. Yet, for any human being the end of our species should be seen as a tragedy whether we will personally experience it or not.

As for Utopia, it has indeed be rubbished by history, but I think we have thrown something valuable into the garbage pile which I am trying to pull out, clean off, and fix its broken parts.

All the best,

Rick Searle

KoGuan Leo wrote on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 08:37 GMT
Rick, wonderful indeed. I read it three times in three different occasions to understand your ideas more fully. We definitely share the idea that we need to define our common destiny clearly, so that most mankind would agree and work together to realize this common dream. As you wrote: "We need something like the idea of Utopia for this shaping. We need it as both a prototype and moral template...

view entire post

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Luca Valeri wrote on Apr. 27, 2014 @ 00:41 GMT

As promised I'd like to share some thoughts on you nice nostalgic essay.

I like Utopia and we need Utopia. Utopia shall be crazy and propose some vague values like Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité from the french revolution that we still don't understand what they mean. Seen from today the french revolution was far away from realizing these values. Utopia shall serve us...

view entire post

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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 27, 2014 @ 15:40 GMT

If I understand this, I love it, and is one angle my essay lacked:

"Our past and our future is only about the events that happened and will happen. It is also also about its meaning we give. "

In some ways, the meaning of the past is constantly changing in light of the outcomes expressed in the present. Reaching for a utopian outcome is,in a way,

an attempt to bring the stream of the past to its best possible outcome, though, we never quite get there and it is always outside our reach- there is more future in front of us.


Luca Valeri replied on Apr. 27, 2014 @ 16:13 GMT

A "not" has been lost in the passage. Actually I should have writen: "Our past and our future is not only about the events that happened and will happen. It is also also about its meaning we give."

It was very late at night.


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Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Apr. 28, 2014 @ 17:59 GMT

Because I am huge fan of Karl Popper, I'd like to first suggest that what he left out of The Open Society and its Enemies you might find rehabilitated in The Povery of Historicism.

Popper's view of science is unwavering in its dedication to the correspondence theory of truth (Tarski), so you might find that your idea of reconstructing the past, with the advantage of new knowledge in the present, quite compatible with Popper's criteria for a scientifically sound and falsifiable theory. Though the correspondence is not causal, as in Marxist dialectical materialism, it is entirely objective, i.e., metaphysically real.

That being said, though I have sought to be true to critical rationalism (Popper's name for his philosophy), I am much more the rational idealist, which puts me closer to your philosophy than his, even in spite of myself. In fact, I am pleasantly suprised to see a number of idealistic proposals in this year's essay contest (Bee Hossenfelder comes quickly to mind), because academics in general tend to eschew idealism, as you noted.

There's so much worthwhile in your piece that it may well be the most important essay this year.



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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 01:52 GMT

Thank you for your kind words, but the competition here is pretty steep, especially including your excellent essay. And thanks for turning my attention to

The Povery of Historicism- it's now on my reading list.

Best of luck,


Thomas Howard Ray replied on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 12:24 GMT
You might enjoy this essay by Popper scholar Ian Jarvie.

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Author Rick Searle replied on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 01:22 GMT
Thanks much, Tom, for the Jarvie essay.

Vladimir F. Tamari wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 07:51 GMT

There are so many essays I have not read this year it was the happy thoughts of your namesake Ronald Searle, that made me choose your essay! He was a brilliant cartoonist and illustrator most famous for his hilarious distopian vision of a post-war English girl's school gone haywire. He taught himself drawing at a Japanese prisoner of war camp, and his drawings in Punch influenced my early decision to become an artist myself. In your essay you take us, children of the war- torn 20th. c. on a smooth intellectual ride to a glimmering mirage of a Peaceful Kingdom, of a New Jerusalem or a Shangri-La obscured by the range of scary problems threatening our future on this Earth. You have not mentioned the Heaven of Christian and Muslim teaching as a sort of Utopia giving humanity hope. I once heard the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish speak of a clean white space within each person untouched by conflict or hate. Perhaps finding that individually and (here we go again!) collectively, should be the first place to look for a Utopia in this amazing world of ours.

Have a look at the faux Utopia I created for Einstein in my essay.

With best wishes


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F Earle Fox wrote on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 00:31 GMT
Dear Rick,

You have written a very helpful clarification of “utopia vs. dystopia”, and of how it has changed over time. Utopia as a constant way of looking for a better future is a good idea, so long as we remain flexible for new ideas.

My stance is on the Biblical worldview, where (one might say) Utopia is also looking for us, indeed initiates the search for us who have fallen out of relationship with God. The Biblical view puts a solid objectivity to the matter, because Utopia is already there, ready and functioning, as given by the two Great Commandments as given by Jesus (Matthew 22), to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love one another just like we love ourselves. Hard to improve on that goal, I think – because the Biblical understanding of “love” is doing good for others, not pampering them, but real objective good, as a parent might do for a child. We are thus to love ourselves in that same way.

That being the case, the search for Utopia is the search for how to find and cooperate with God. Much simplified by God’s having already reached out to us – as per Biblical history.

Many will respond, “OK, but the Biblical worldview and God is now passe, disproven, or made irrelevant by modern science.” to which I respond, “Not so, science was invented in the late Middle Ages by Christians, not by secular folks, as I indicate in my essay ‘How Shall We Then Live?’” Science would never have happened if the Hebrews had not given us a world at home in time and space and particularity, and if the Christians had not then combined that worldview with the Greek talent for logical thinking.

The best to you, Earle

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Author Rick Searle wrote on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 02:39 GMT

Oh, I am familiar with the work of Ronald Searle. It's difficult to live up to the last name, I have him and the philosopher John Searle. I just hope I share some of the same good genes.

Had I had more space, I certainly would have included something on both Christian and Jewish apocalyptic traditions originating as resistance literature. My orginal version had a long section on the Islamic utopian- Al Farabi- but alas I had to cut it.

I will probably past what follows as a comment under your own very insightful and amusing essay. Ah, if only Einstein had been the first president of Israel!

I have had a long standing interest in a group of Jewish thinkers including him,

Judah Magnes and Hannah Arendt who wanted a Jewish homeland but also a bi-national state to be shared between both Jews and Arabs.

On the other issue Einstein was most worried about- nuclear war- don't you think he would be pleased with how things have turned out so far? There is very little risk for the foreseeable future of a global nuclear war.No world war has been fought since and none appears on the horizon as far out as the middle of the century.

Best of luck,

Rick Searle

Vladimir F. Tamari replied on May. 2, 2014 @ 11:09 GMT

Sorry to inflict Ronald on you again (I now think I have mentioned him to you in a comment in years past - old fogeism at work here).

I liked your comment above which you also put on my page, and I replied as follows:

"Dear Rick

Yes Einstein was a brave and independent thinker and spoke his mind frankly in quotable quotes. He was too gentle a soul to have been able to rein in the aggressive elements in the Zionist movement like Begin, responsible for the massacres and bombings that colored the conflict in the 1940's and stamped Israel's actions ever since.

I wish I could share your optimism about nuclear war - so many of those bombs have been made, and the situation (in N and S Korea for example) can degenerate quickly, but yes I do agree with you that the Cold War passed without a nuclear incident, and that is to be thankful for.

Best of luck to us !!"


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Author Rick Searle replied on May. 2, 2014 @ 15:43 GMT

It's hard to keep track of comments, and I will put this after my own essay as well as you have done.You're probably right that Einstein would not have been able to reign in aggressive Zionists, but sadly, we were not able to find out.

I also agree that there continues to be a risk of nuclear conflict, but however deadly such conflict might be they do not, as the MAD of the Cold War did, threaten us with the extinction of all life on earth. Our biggest task is to make sure this risk does not reappear sometime this century- given events like that going on in Ukraine right now- the prospects do not look particularly good.

All the best,


Robert de Neufville wrote on May. 3, 2014 @ 02:06 GMT
Great work, Rick. Well-written and well-argued. I completely agree—I am a Platonist at heart—that we have to consider what the ideal might be so we can aim for it. And I agree we need more social experimentation. It was just that kind of experimentation in the free cities of Europe that produced modern democracy and capitalism. Of course I also think—it sounds like you are with me on this—that Burke was right that we have to be judicious when set out to design and build society from first principles. In any case, when the GCRI needs writing I will certainly mention your name to Seth and Grant. Good luck in the contest. You deserve to do well!


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Author Rick Searle replied on May. 3, 2014 @ 13:15 GMT
Thanks, Robert. I really value your praise, and you managed completely (and succinctly) capture my meaning. All the best both here and especially with the GCRI- our children’s future is riding on it.

Ajay Bhatla wrote on May. 8, 2014 @ 05:21 GMT

If I understood the message of your essay it is:

- that there is no single future of humanity

- that there are many futures i.e. utopias

- that individual people define their individual utopias

- that what's necessary to reach a particular utopia is in the hands of the person reaching for it

If I got it, then we are in complete agreement on how to steer humanity's future. My essay (here) makes the case for individuals reaching their own definition of a future, through their own personal efforts. And society can help everyone by making science something each person can tinker and play with.

Hope I got the gist of your message.

Let me know if you and I are as much in sync as I think we are.

- Ajay

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Author Rick Searle wrote on May. 8, 2014 @ 21:57 GMT
Hi Ajay,

I think both individuals and communities define what the ideal society is and can strive towards it. For the individual, some notion of Utopia can serve as a moral template through which they can judge their own society and serve as a guide to their actions within it.

Many of our priorities, however, need a society in which they can be manifest- Utopia (or an ideal future) can serve as a useful tool there as well.Lastly,I really like the idea of utopian communities as experiments where some set of social problems is resolved. They almost always fail but tend to be trailblazers and teach us valuable lessons.

I liked your essay a lot. I am a big supporter of citizen science. I don't think you mentioned crowd sourcing efforts such as FOLDING AT HOME or even better, in that they better involve individuals crowd sourcing efforts that have individuals scan through astronomical data and the like. I feel that given mobile technology the horizon of citizen science is endless > everything from monitoring and pooling data on local ecosystems to allowing people in the developing world to tap into the scientific knowledge of more technologically developed countries. Mobile could even be used to bring highly localized knowledge in the developing world e.g. medicinal plants, new species, ecosystem health with scientist all over the world.

All the best on your noble effort to bring science to the global public.


Ajay Bhatla replied on May. 11, 2014 @ 05:10 GMT

Thank you for being a big supporter of science in the hands of consumers.

I did not mention crowd sourcing as its objective is to put a challenge to a crowd and choose a solution from the many the crowd puts forward.

My approach is very different from crowd sourcing. I believe that no sourcing is required for the goal is not for a crowd to help me with my challenge, but the goal is to get each citizen able to solve their own individual challenge.

I concur on your assessment that mobile technology is too important to ignore and its single biggest benefit will be to get knowledge to, literally, everyone to choose and use.

I'll post this comment on your essay also.

- Ajay

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Jens C. Niemeyer wrote on May. 11, 2014 @ 14:47 GMT

I only now got a chance to read your essay, and I am very glad I did. Very well written, and definitely thought-provoking. From a very pragmatic perspective, simply debating the different notions of Utopia is already useful for helping human societies find their bearings (even if we may never know if we reached it), so this theme fits very well into this competition. Good luck!


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Author Rick Searle replied on May. 13, 2014 @ 17:30 GMT
Hi Jens,

Yes, it's hard to keep up with all the essays. Thank you very much for the compliment. You know how much I liked your essay which readers can find here:

Best of luck in the contest, and we should definitely keep in touch.


Mohammed M. Khalil wrote on May. 12, 2014 @ 20:01 GMT
Hi Rick,

Great essay! It is well argued, and beautifully written. I agree with you; technology has great impact on humanity's future, and through science and technology we can reach Utopia, or get close. This is in agreement with my essay: Improving Science for a Better Future , I'd be glad to take your opinion.

Good luck in the contest, and best regards,


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Author Rick Searle wrote on May. 14, 2014 @ 02:10 GMT
Hi Mohammed,

I'll post this at under your essay as well...

Fantastic essay! I may turn a quote of yours "...nature is a whole that recognizes no disciplinary boundaries" into a poster and put it on my wall.

Totally agree with your point: " 2013 the US spent only $2 billion on clean energy R&D, compared with $72 billion on defense R&D"- this is obscene. We Americans really don't know what real "defense" spending in the 21st century should mean, which is dealing with the man made and human threats to global society.

Love that you brought up the MIT Media lab. I originally had them in my own essay, but had to cut that section do to length requirements.

One group I wish you might have mentioned were ethicists.I think it's important to get them into the design process when it comes to new technology.

Not to stereotype, but I've read a bit about the golden age of science in the Islamic world, thinkers such as Al- Farabi, Ibn al-Haytham and Ibn Sīnā who set

the stage for the scientific revolution in the West. Bringing this science back to that area would be the greatest benefit to both the Islamic world and larger humanity.

Best of luck in the contest!


Peter Jackson wrote on May. 21, 2014 @ 19:23 GMT

I found your argument interesting, well considered and balanced. I'll take the odd point to task if I may but first I particularly comment.

" social version of determinism is more important than technological determinism... "Getting the question of technological evolution right will likely mean getting the future right." "...simply letting the evolution of technology...

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Author Rick Searle replied on May. 28, 2014 @ 02:31 GMT

Thanks for you generous comments regarding my essay. I have read, greatly enjoyed and scored your piece. Alas, it seems difficult to move someone's aggregate score I was hoping to get you the attention of proper physicists, unlike myself, you deserve.

If I understand your project, you are trying to find a way to return physics to the way it was understood before quantum weirdness appeared Einstein's "The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible."

I would align that with my own essay in this way: human beings desire not only that the world be physically comprehensible but that it be morally comprehensible as well. We used to articulate this desire for comprehensibility through Utopian thought, that is, we used Utopia to both imagine what features a

morally comprehensible world would have or as a kind of contrast to the ways our own society failed to match our desire for comprehensibility. I'd like to see a revival of the tradition minus its former hubris and other flaws.

I wish you best of luck here and in getting your ideas across to the rest of the physics community. If you have not already done so your grading of my essay would be greatly appreciated.

Rick Searle

Peter Jackson wrote on May. 28, 2014 @ 12:40 GMT

I'm delighted I was able to positively affect your score. I like your description, but in a nutshell I'd say man can't really have a "sense of freedom" over the future all the time we believe we're incapable of rationalising how nature works.

I show we are. The only problem then seems to be the embedded belief that we aren't! Thanks for your support of my work in trying to overcome that.

Best wishes


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Author Rick Searle replied on May. 28, 2014 @ 17:52 GMT

Much, much appreciated.

Again all the best in the contest and your endeavors.


Don Limuti wrote on Jun. 2, 2014 @ 21:09 GMT
Hi Rick,

Thoughtful essay on utopia.

Your comment at the end: "I would say that How to Steer the Future has no definitive and final answer but begins with the rediscovery that it is us with our hands behind the wheel."

I would add "and with high aims for humanity".

Don Limuti

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Author Rick Searle replied on Jun. 3, 2014 @ 00:29 GMT
Thanks Don, I enjoyed your essay as well.

Anonymous wrote on Jun. 3, 2014 @ 20:31 GMT
Dear Rick,

Great philosophical essay! Remarkable conclusion and deep concepts:«No human society will ever truly be a Utopia, but, as Oscar Wilde knew, the Utopian imagination has continually expanded our moral horizon. Recovering it might help restore our sense of being creatures embedded in time where our agency is directed in the present towards a future whose shape in not yet determined. The future is neither completely ours to shape nor something we are subject to without room for maneuver. For, continuing to think that our world cannot be made to better conform to our ideals is one of the surest ways to insure that what lies in our future is the farthest thing from Utopia. And so, if I were to answer the question that inspired this essay "how should humanity steer the future" directly, I would say that the question has no definitive and final answer but begins with the rediscovery that it is us with our hands behind the wheel." My high rating. We need a Great Dream and Great Common Cause to save Peace, Nature and Humanity. Great Dream always go alond with Freedom without fear, Hope, Love, Justice. New Generation says: We start the path. In the concept u-topia deep ontological meaning "turn to topos». Here is a very deep philosophy and cartography. Humanity needs turning consciousness. I'm starting to read your site... Please see on the journey Protogeometer and some u-topian ideas.



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Member Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Jun. 5, 2014 @ 14:16 GMT
Dear Rick,

interesting ideas, exposed quite brilliantly. I found that in most passages you appear more concerned about illustrating concepts or opinions from various people, from the past or the present, than to express directly your position about the question at hand - manifesting an interest and talent especially for analysis. But your own message, one of recovering a new form of...

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Author Rick Searle replied on Jun. 6, 2014 @ 02:14 GMT

Thank you for your comment. In answer to:

"What I find harder to accept is the view (Billings`?) that the current exponential technological growth be a peak, a historical exception. The physical universe expands at an accelerated rate, and it would be . . . a disappointing waste of space if this process were not accompanied by a growth in the complexity of its contents, somewhere."

I find Billing's argument at the very least very interesting. Given that we are the only technological civilization we know of we simply have nothing but our own experience on which to base any of our extrapolations. What intrigues me about his argument is just how high the energy requirements become within short time frames if we merely want to continue on the growth path we have been on since the industrial revolution. There are multiple and perhaps equally probable scenarios one of which is that we simply plateau as or plateau for a very extended period having run into hard ceilings in the form of energy and environmental constraints.

I really enjoyed your essay, and have given you my vote. You paint a very attractive picture, but I myself do not think the universe follows any necessary telos, its emergent properties - life, sentience etc more lucky miracles than a sign of an unfolding higher purpose. Or perhaps I would say that the universe is simply prolific and cares not whether its prolific beings come in a form that possesses technology such as ourselves or not. We should therefore not write our particularity into the fabric of its future but work to ensure we have a place there.

Best of luck in the contest, and in all your endeavors!


Member Tommaso Bolognesi replied on Jun. 6, 2014 @ 16:41 GMT
Hi Rick,

thanks for the clarifications. I suspect that, while some plateau period may indeed happen, based on energy availability/demand, it will appear vanishingly small when we look at the grand evolution picture. I do not believe in a `telos` driving this evolution either; in spite of what Teilhard de Chardin suggest - that the evolution is pulled from above - I believe that the creativity of the computational universe is fueled, strictly speaking, only from below, although this does not exclude the `illusion` that some final purpose is at work.



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Cristinel Stoica wrote on Jun. 7, 2014 @ 03:29 GMT
Hi Rick,

I liked very much your essay, which went in a realistic manner through various utopian ideas, presented good parts without ignoring bad sides, and proposes an utopian mean to steer the technological progress. Your essay is well written, well documented, and it is clear that you gave serious thoughts to the ideas you presented. Good luck!

Best regards,


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Author Rick Searle replied on Jun. 7, 2014 @ 13:01 GMT
Thanks, Cristi

I enjoyed your essay as well. Glad to see you made it into the top rankings.

Wilhelmus de Wilde wrote on Jun. 13, 2014 @ 15:33 GMT
dear Rick,

Congratulations with you high community score and admittance to the finalists pool.

I hope however that the discussions won't just end so I have the pleasure to sent you a link to my contribution : "STEERING THE FUTURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS" and hope for your comment(s) on my thread.

Good luck with the "final judgement" and

best regards


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Author Rick Searle wrote on Jun. 13, 2014 @ 16:20 GMT
Hello Wihelmus,

Agreed that the conversation should continue. Responded under your post.


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