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Robert de Neufville: on 5/25/14 at 1:04am UTC, wrote I wholeheartedly agree that we need to think of ourselves as one whole if...

Walter Putnam: on 5/24/14 at 12:53pm UTC, wrote Howard Bloom, in his argument for humans seeding the solar system with life...

James Hoover: on 5/24/14 at 3:22am UTC, wrote Walter, I do take comfort in history regarding the dysfunction and rancor...

Walter Putnam: on 5/22/14 at 17:34pm UTC, wrote I think two things: There will be wake-up calls, and even without severe...

James Hoover: on 5/22/14 at 16:53pm UTC, wrote Walter, Thank you for the attention given to my essay and my thoughts. ...

James Hoover: on 5/21/14 at 18:33pm UTC, wrote Walter, Compassion and reason are mostly the needed ingredients I cite in...

Walter Putnam: on 5/17/14 at 14:48pm UTC, wrote Thank you so much for your kind words, Arthur. I believe there are too many...

Arthur Woods: on 5/16/14 at 19:04pm UTC, wrote A beautifully written essay Walter - concise, to the point, encompassing,...


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FQXi FORUM
May 26, 2019

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: How Humanity Should Steer the Future by Walter Putnam [refresh]
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Author Walter Putnam wrote on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 20:46 GMT
Essay Abstract

The key to the advancement of humanity, into a solar civilization and beyond, lies not just with science and technology but in the element that most makes us human -- compassion for others. This basic belief has been at the heart of spirituality for centuries, and has formed the core of religions that have propelled civilization to new discoveries and new heights throughout history. Now, with the realization that our planet and its inhabitants face existential threats -- both natural and man made -- another great spiritual movement is needed for humankind to rise to the next level. Understanding and compassion must form the basis for this movement also, and provide a spiritual impetus to progress in science, economics, governance, the arts and every other human endeavor as we evolve from an earthbound presence to one that that is truly cosmic in nature. Unless compassion can be elevated above self interest, whatever advances to dominate Earth and its environs in the future will not be humanity but something else.

Author Bio

Walter Putnam is a writer who is retired from a journalism career of almost 40 years, more than 30 of them with The Associated Press. He is vice president of communications of Kepler Space Institute, president of Space Renaissance International-USA, and writes fiction under the pen name Rome Collier. He is especially interested in philosophical concepts, and how they have shaped history and will form the future.

Download Essay PDF File

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 03:25 GMT
Thank you Walter,

I enjoyed your essay greatly. I think you are on to something. We need to create change that begins from the heart and extends into what we do. The competitiveness of adolescence is something our culture has yet to outgrow, and the tool we need most for this is compassion. I would have liked to hear more about how you think the message of compassion needs to be spread, if not through religion or secular philosophy, and how this can help us assure a brighter future. Is compassion something that can easily be taught? Is the value of compassion that is obvious to you available to everybody?

We need all the pointers we can get. And I think you have more to say that would be helpful to share. I hope you will engage folks in the forum, and that more of your wisdom gets to be heard before the end of this venue. I wish you luck in the contest.

Warm Regards,

Jonathan

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Author Walter Putnam replied on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 15:29 GMT
Thank you, Jonathan. Fortunately, because this element of compassion is encoded in our very existence -- part of our DNA, if you will -- most people are willing to accept it as a guiding principle in their daily lives. That means we must deal mainly with the negative, the denial in favor of self interest. As you say, this involves creating "change that begins from the heart and extends into what we do." Fortunately, we do have religions and secular philosophy spreading the message throughout history, through churches and temples and mosques, art and literature, and forums such as this. Occasionally, leaders arise who focus renewed global attention on the imperative of compassion. Pope Francis exemplifies this. Although he certainly is not the only one, his tenure coincides with a crucial turning point for civilization. People who understand the existential threats to humanity, and even our planet, need to take advantage of this opportunity to counter an expanding trend of commerce and politics exploiting a growing culture of self interest. We can do it through many means, maybe the most important of all being through personal example. I try to do it through my writing, and that is the reason I entered the essay contest, hoping to further the message along. One thing I have learned is that at heart almost everyone believes the same thing. And that alone, to me, promises a brighter future for all.

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ioannis hadjidakis (narsep) wrote on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 11:39 GMT
It is astonishing how our essays have almost the same ideas. I think this an indication that we are on the right path.

Good luck, I. Hadjidakis

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Leo Vuyk replied on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 15:13 GMT
Dear Narsep,

Where can I find your essay?

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Author Walter Putnam replied on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 15:37 GMT
I think it is not just an indication but proof we are on the right path. If your essay is the one I am thinking of, I am equally astonished that ideas on information, as a dimension separate from space and time, could be shared by many others. But I guess that is just the nature of things.

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ioannis hadjidakis (narsep) replied on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 19:13 GMT
Our essay (I. Hadjidakis + T.Vidalis) is waiting for appearing in the list (one of these days).

narsep

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Anonymous wrote on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 15:56 GMT
dear Walter,

I read your essay and it could be the opening to my thinking explained in "Steering the Future of Consciousness ?

Indeed compassion is one of the qualities that mankind has to reinvent to chnahe its mentality from egoistic economy to sharing abilities.

I hope that you will find some time to read my essay and leave a comment on the thread there, and perhaps give it a rating that you think it deserves.

best regards

Wilhelmus de Wilde

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John Brodix Merryman wrote on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 17:24 GMT
Walter,

I also agree with your goals and see this contest as an opportunity to strategize how humanity can get from where we are now to a situation where we do function as part of the larger whole. Biologically it does seem that life on this planet would try to coalesce into something resembling a singular organism and human civilization does seem to be the potential central nervous system. Yet so far, we primarily seem to be top predator in an increasingly taxed ecosystem and that is not a good place to be.

Compassion certainly is a necessary ingredient, but it is not a strategy. For one thing, some hard decisions need to be considered and there are many people quite happy with the current situation and important numbers of them are in places to sustain this status quo for as long as they possibly can. Now the best strategy for dealing with such powers is not to fight them. In fact let them have about as much rope as they want and hope they trip and fall in it as quickly as possible. This doesn't mean we should not examine and understand what is currently happening, because the goal is to be prepared with a viable vision and course of action when this current power structure stumbles. I try to go into this somewhat, in my own entry, though I frame it more in terms of a physical process, than a social one. Given the size constraints, I don't dwell on detail, but if it seems I don't take the current religious, political and economic situation seriously enough, I am projecting to a point in the future where these structures have further deteriorated and basic physical realities are becoming harder to ignore. Rather than try to further explain a complex argument further, I do hope you have time to read and comment.

Regards,

John Merryman

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Author Walter Putnam replied on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 21:15 GMT
Thanks, John. I read your essay and agree with a lot of what you have to say, especially about economics and banking. Some sort of new system needs to be developed, and the closer it can come to the community level the better. I think the same could be said for any social structure. I'll provide more thoughts on your ideas in that thread. Here, I realize that compassion is not a strategy, but considering that any strategy is probably doomed without making this basic human trait the cornerstone we should make it the guiding light.

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 23:36 GMT
Walter,

I suppose that for me, having spent my life raising and training horses, compassion is a complex term that has to be considered in the context of every situation. One could start adding terms like love, duty, mercy, responsibility, pain, pleasure, etc and the situation becomes chaotic.

What I feel the need for is to be able to locate and recognize that sense of self in the other, almost as a magnetic force and be able to relate to it in responsible and considerate terms.

"Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you."

Regards,

John M

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Author Walter Putnam replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 01:05 GMT
John, I think what you have described is what I mean by compassion, recognizing "that sense of self in the other." And it should be applied not only in human relationships but in relation to all things -- other living creatures, the entire planet. This is not just a theory of how we can feel better about ourselves and maybe get along with others a little better. This is our responsibility.We need to consider it in everything we do, and that fact has been recognized for thousands of years. There is a reason that self interest is promoted and exploited, and it goes beyond the self interests of all adding up to the common good. It goes to the heart of the economic and financial system you characterize in your own essay, empowering and enriching the few at the expense of the rest of the world.

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Turil Sweden Cronburg wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 14:14 GMT
Walter, I think you might like my own ideas about promoting a healthy atmosphere for planetary procreation! If you have the time, and haven’t seen it yet, I think you really will enjoy my entry...

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Author Walter Putnam replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 18:38 GMT
Read it. Rated it. Good job!

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James Dunn wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 16:50 GMT
I can only tend to agree with your proposal if all life we have not yet encountered, and all diversity of life is included.

We are human-centric and that feature may at some point cause our extinction.

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Author Walter Putnam replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 18:40 GMT
I agree, James.

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Ioana Petre wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 19:35 GMT
Sometimes justice and compassion require different things. How would you combine compassion with retributive justice?

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Author Walter Putnam replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 22:21 GMT
The same way it is now. Although some might lean toward more leniency than others I'm not advocating letting murderers and rapists run wild -- or bankers either, for that matter.

Since you brought it up, however, I have given considerable thought to matter. The death penalty, for example. As an AP correspondent in Jacksonville, Florida, years ago I did extensive coverage of executions and...

view entire post


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Georgina Woodward wrote on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 08:25 GMT
Hi Walter,

You have highlighted an important, relevant factor lying in the path of a peaceful future, human nature. I may be an old cynic, I'm afraid I don't think, Will everyone just start being nice to everyone? is going to work. Some kind of (political science) social engineering is probably required, inculcating the desired culture. That might be done through some kind of political and media leadership,exposure of role models, focused education at all levels and ages, public information broadcasts, social pressure to comply with the new norm. I'm thinking something along the lines of anti smoking campaigns. This has been a very successful one. I hear young people using it to refuse cigarettes and in discussions about smoking. Smoking -not our future 2007, smoking- not our future 2009 Not exactly brainwashing but promoting the desired mindset (in an appealing way) that people can easily adopt as their own views. Thats thinking about how to steer though, rather than the heading. A pleasant read, Good luck, Georgina

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Author Walter Putnam wrote on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 21:40 GMT
Thank you, Georgina. The "old cynics" in all of us create a big stumbling block to a future in which compassion overrides self-interest in our dealings with others and our approach to problem-solving which will benefit our planet and all its inhabitants. Probably the best thing to do is get out of the way. The next generation is where you'll find a yearning for science and technology to be made relevant in a way that will lift humanity to a level of cosmic awareness in which greed, envy, ego-gratification and other self-centered traits now excused as just being part of "human nature" become vestigial remains of evolution. Despite what seems to be a popular perception that the young are preoccupied with their own narrow interests -- a preoccupation encouraged vigorously by a commercial culture -- I see signs every day of the opposite, especially among those absorbed in science, technology and dreams of space development. The "steering" is directing the beginning drivers along the road so they don't wind up in a ditch. To me, reminding them of the need for compassion, and concern for others on the highway, is an integral part of that.

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 02:00 GMT
Walter,

You are getting to the spiritual core. As Karen Armstrong has pointed out, the root of all deep religious traditions lie in compassion for the other. Compassion is certainly a deep element of our secular traditions as well. Some truths never change despite all our technology. Or even better, some ancient truths become even more essential because of our technology.

Thank you for reminding us of this.

Rick Searle

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Author Walter Putnam replied on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 15:50 GMT
Thank you, Rick. One thing I have learned by reading these essays is that everyone would steer the future toward a more ideal world. Otherwise, what is the point? By entering the contest we therefore imply some meaning or purpose, which to me affirms a spiritual essence of humanity.

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Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 14:29 GMT
Dear Mr. Putnam,

I can only hope that the judges of this essay contest treat your essay with as much care as you evidently put into its writing. The essay was caring, yet it was strongly optimistic of the true nature of man.

With strong regards,

Joe Fisher

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Author Walter Putnam replied on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 16:07 GMT
Thank you, Joe. Your kind words are very much appreciated. May the stars always guide you to the best of all possible worlds.

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George Gantz wrote on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 22:31 GMT
Walter - I could not agree more with the thesis of your essay! Of course, it helps that my essay comes to the same conclusion. :) If you get a chance I'd love you to read it - The Tip of the Spear.

As I note in the essay, I think there is good new research explaining how compassion / empathy got into our DNA - but those evolutionary forces are no longer in play. We are challenged to figure out how to make sure it stays there - and that it permeates all of our human institutions.

Thanks! - George

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Author Walter Putnam replied on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 04:56 GMT
Thank you, George. You are right about that being the challenge. Maybe the next essay contest should focus on how to ensure that those qualities so necessary for human survival, and the survival of our planet, continue to steer our institutions -- and thus the future.

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Vladimir Rogozhin wrote on May. 10, 2014 @ 15:26 GMT
Dear Walter,

I absolutely agree with your conclusions. Compassion and Great Spirituality, plus Knowledge. How? Need a new system of education. We must prepare not "specialists", but creative individuals. Therefore, Philosophy should be introduced in school, and Ethics in kindergarten. New generation of earthlings Information Era says: "We start the path." We must find the will for the future of our children and grandchildren! Hope - our compass earth

I invite you to my forum and my essay FQXi Essay 2012-2013.

I wish you good luck!

All the Best,

Vladimir

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Author Walter Putnam replied on May. 10, 2014 @ 17:14 GMT
Thank you, Vladimir. Good luck to you, too! I agree that a new system of education is needed to channel the qualities that emerged eons ago -- as you note in your essay -- with the first stirrings of cosmic consciousness. I believe that this is happening already and that the generation coming of age over the next 10 to 15 years, from all nations, will insist upon it for their children to become the sort of creative individuals the world needs. (Witness signs such as Pope Francis' remarkable enunciation on redistribution of wealth.) It is not inevitable, of course, but there seems to be a trend in this direction, and we can certainly do everything in our power through our writing and whatever political influence we can muster to ensure that it takes place.

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Vladimir Rogozhin replied on May. 10, 2014 @ 19:09 GMT
Yes, Walter, you're absolutely right. Here I remembered the words of Vladimir Solovyov about the importance of philosophy for more reliable steering the future of Humanity: "When asked what makes philosophy? - We answer: it makes a man – The Man. " Philosophy is particularly important for the information age - Philosophy as rigorous science and joyful. That Philosophy helped me to look at the world with optimism and then find my way to God. Best regards, Vladimir

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Arthur R. Woods wrote on May. 16, 2014 @ 19:04 GMT
A beautifully written essay Walter - concise, to the point, encompassing, insightful, inspiring, very relevant and wise.

I totally agree with your proposition that recognizing and embracing our inherent compassion is fundamental to steering humanity's future. As you say: "If we accept that there is a positive, creative force in the Universe then we must let it follow a natural course..." This awareness must surely be an essential ingredient of the Cosmic Choice that any technological species must make at some critical point in their evolution.

My essay shares your message: "..to create awareness of the rational basis of space development, seeking the abundance of resources available outside the gravitational sphere, while giving people a reason to believe there is a higher purpose behind it."

The ultimate benefit of going into space for most of humanity will be having a realistic hope in a peaceful and prosperous future with many new possibilities.

"Compassion as a guiding principle" is the crucial key to making this happen.

Good job!

ad astra

Arthur

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Author Walter Putnam replied on May. 17, 2014 @ 14:48 GMT
Thank you so much for your kind words, Arthur. I believe there are too many of us who understand the solutions offered by the Space Option for it to be ignored much longer by world leaders. Maybe "ignored" is not the right word because many of them are aware of the problems and solutions. I think the problem is that there are so many competing special interests that it behooves politicians and public officials to perform a balancing act. When global public awareness reaches the level that the balance shifts toward acting in the interests of the planet as a whole and all of humanity, then we should begin to see results. The key is to create that kind of awareness, which we can contribute to by through our writing. Again, thank you for your comments, and best of luck in this contest.

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James Lee Hoover wrote on May. 21, 2014 @ 18:33 GMT
Walter,

Compassion and reason are mostly the needed ingredients I cite in my essay. I speak of the common good because this is something lost in American culture, a culture dominated by forces of self-interest and greed.

I "look beyond" for transcendent thought and imagination and "within" for the capabilities of a mind that is a microcosm of the universe.

I would like to see your thoughts on my ideas, as they do relate to your own.

Jim

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James Lee Hoover replied on May. 22, 2014 @ 16:53 GMT
Walter,

Thank you for the attention given to my essay and my thoughts.

Your words, "Unless compassion can be elevated above self interest, whatever advances to dominate Earth and its environs in the future will not be humanity but something else."

In today's culture compassion seems to be lost, at least in the eyes of those who dominate media attention. Wake-up calls seem to need rather severe events, something that the great recession didn't bring about. What are your thoughts there?

Jim

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Author Walter Putnam replied on May. 22, 2014 @ 17:34 GMT
I think two things: There will be wake-up calls, and even without severe events there is an expanding awareness -- especially among those 30 and under -- that will create a sea change for civilization. I see signs of it throughout our social media. However, there are certain events taking place now, including dramatic changes in climate, political unrest in various places, and even the asteroid close call over Russia, that are creating a great unease among swaths of the over-30 population as well. The kind of issues and needs that we are discussing in these essays are being discussed in growing circles. The only thing preventing them from becoming part of a mass consciousness is a reluctance by political leadership to embrace them for fear of seeming elitist in outlook. Look at the fate of most politicians who have dared to challenge the status quo.

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James Lee Hoover replied on May. 24, 2014 @ 03:22 GMT
Walter,

I do take comfort in history regarding the dysfunction and rancor displayed in past times. I just finished "Team of Rivals" and have determined that the vitriol, the demagoguery, and meanspiritedness are not new. Then again I wonder if the strain on Earth's resources and climate change give us time for recovery.

Jim

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Robert de Neufville wrote on May. 25, 2014 @ 01:04 GMT
I wholeheartedly agree that we need to think of ourselves as one whole if we are to survive and prosper, Walter. Compassion for one another—and commitment to the idea that each of is as important as our own selves—is essential. I would add—and I argue in my own essay—that changing norms need to be accompanied by institutional changes that encourage is to work together rather than individuals. Thanks for the thoughtful essay—and good luck in the contest!

Best,

Robert de Neufville

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