of Future Generations:
A Step Toward
Professor Emeritus, Graduate Program in Studies of the Future
University of Houston - Clear Lake
would like to thank Ms. Patricia S. Markley and Professor Allen
Tough for their insightful comments on early drafts of this presentation,
and Dr. Tae-Chang Kim for his visionary ideas regarding multi-media
and the Internet which it recommends.
Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an exercise
in "visionary futures exploration" - the use of imagination
and intuition to discern transformational future possibilities and
their implications for present-day values, attitudes, policies and
decision making. A "guided cognitive imagery" script is presented
which, when read aloud, takes the hearer on a journey to different
time periods, both past and future. The journey ends by having the
participants first scan back across all the time periods they visited,
so as to get a more global sense of perspective on what is truly
most important; and in response, to imagine sending a message from
the future back to the present regarding, "What future generations
need from us. " It is recommended that the Future Generations
Alliance Foundation help make a multi-media version of this and
similar exercises available on the Internet as a way in which many
different types of participants could share and discuss their responses.
It would be a new and radically participative approach to "future
generations" research, communication and education.
What if we were able
to look at our present place in human history from the vantage point
of future generations? What would we find most important about this
particular era in human history? If we had the hindsight of "future
history" to guide us, what changes in underlying attitudes, behaviors,
laws and policy would we suggest as being wise - or even imperative
- in order to minimize the likelihood that future generations will
inherit a world that has in many ways been ruined by those who came
This paper offers a
way to do this. It presents a script for an experiential "guided
cognitive imagery" exercise which takes the participant on an imaginary
journey through various times and places in human history past and
The thematic focus of
the guided imagery journey is the exponential increase in "ecological
load" that can be seen as occurring across the major epochs of human
history, and which threatens to overtake the ecological carrying
capacity of the planet, with drastically negative consequences for
future generations if it long continues. Ecological load
may be visualized as comprising all the impacts that are flowing
from overall population times per capita consumption
(especially consumption of "non-renewable" resources).
Exhibit One depicts a graphical
view of this ecological load theme in a way which summarizes many
of the trends and emerging issues that need to be appreciated and
responded to by leaders, students, and other citizens. In some situations,
it may be good for participants to hear about and/or to discuss materials
such as Exhibit One before engaging in the guided imagery exercise
It is suggested that
the following script be read "as is" as a way to help a group of
people experience significant needs of future generations. When
doing so, please ignore the bold-face section titles and be sure
to read slowly, with long pauses when appropriate, to allow for
the inner experience of participants.
A SCRIPT for EXPLORING
the PAST and the FUTURE of the HUMAN RACE
Induction and Scene
One: Nomadic Tribe Facing Climate Change
What follows is an exercise
in imagination - an exercise in which your intuition can educate
you regarding what future generations may most urgently need from
us. You will be asked to imagine being in a series of historical
eras both past and future - in order to get a personal "feel"for
the impacts that previous policies and life styles may have on future
generations. You will also get a feel for whether there are any
changes that we may now need to make on behalf of those who
will be coming after us many generations in the future. It is easy
and fun to do, so just relax and be ready for an interesting adventure.
Here is the exercise:
Imagine that you are
a student in school. Your teacher is lecturing about history, hoping
that you will learn something about the management of social change
at different times and places on this spaceship home we call "Planet
Imagine that right now
the teacher is describing the very beginnings of civilization ...
a time when some nomadic tribes who lived by hunting and gathering
were facing great difficulty. Because of climate shifts, the types
of plants and animals they depended on for food were often no longer
where they expected to find them. So ... many of these peoples had
to figure out how to respond, if there were to be any future generations
coming after them.
The lecture is happening
just after lunch ind your stomach is comfortably full. It is a warm
spring afternoon and since the school room windows are open, you
notice that you can occasionally feel a breeze blowing on your face.
You hear birds chirping and bees buzzing outside, and as the teacher
continues what seems like a long lecture about history, you gradually
slip into a daydream in which you are actually there in that nomadic
tribe. You may wish to let your eyes now close if they ,ire not
already closed, so that you can more fully appreciate the details
of your imaginary daydream. If you could smell what it smells like
to be there in the Nomadic Tribe, What would it smell like? ...
See how people are dressed.
What do they look like?...
Look down and see how
you yourself are dressed - what you have on your feet, ... what
you have on your body. ... Are you young or old; male or female?
What part do you
play in the life of the tribe? ... What do the people you live with
depend on you to do for the tribe? ... What does the tribe do for
Let yourself be aware
of the food scarcity that your people are facing, and the uncertainty
that the future now holds. How do people in your tribe deal with
problems that threaten your future? ... What do they do to find
the answers they need? ...
Scene Two: Traditional
Village Facing Transition to Industrialism and Urbanization
O.K. Now imagine that
your teacher has changed the topic of the history lecture, and is
now talking about how the nomadic tribes eventually learned to domesticate
animals, to harvest plants from seeds they sowed, and to even build
villages - things that made it seem possible for the tribe to survive
in one place indefinitely. But with the coming of modem technologies,
the simple ways of traditional village life are giving way to the
complexities of large cities.
So your daydream shifts,
and you find yourself in the same region as in the first daydream,
but many thousands of years later; at a time when the impacts of
colonialism are being felt in all parts of the world and traditional
indigenous village life is giving way to the ways of industrialized
society. Imagine that you are now an elder in a traditional village
who is concerned for the future of your people.
You once again become
aware of the sights and sounds and smells of what is all around
you. Take a few moments to really get into all of that, receiving
whatever images come ...
As you continue your
daydream, become aware of what you, as a village elder, most deeply
value. What needs to happen in order that future generations
of your people will be able to realize these values, should they
so choose? ... How do people in your village deal with problems
that threaten their fututre? ... What do they do to find the answers
they need? ...
Scene Three: The
Short-Range Future - facing "limits to growth"
Your teacher has changed
the topic once again, and is now talking about how the spread of
advanced technologies all over the world has led to exponential
growth in population, pollution, resource depletion and other things
which, if they continue to grow, will exceed the very carrying capacity
of "Spaceship Earth" - both for human civilization and for other
important species which together spring forth in this planetary
Your daydream now shifts
into the future. In it, you imagine experiencing what things may
be like in about one generation - or twenty to thirty years - in
the future. What do you notice first?... What are the main things
that attract your attention?... Move to the last day of the
year, 25 years in the futlre, and tune in to a TV show that summarized
the big events of the year. To the extent that you wish to, imagine
really being there at each of the events that you see being reported.
What do you see? ... What is now possible due to new technologies?
... What progress has been made in dealing with problems such as
growth in population, pollution, and so forth? ... What do people
mainly find important when they consider these types of problems?
... What do they do to find the answers they need? ...
Scene Four: The Long-Range
Future - resolving limits to growth
While your teacher continues
to lecture about the future, your daydream jumps ahead still further,
to about 200 years, or eight generations into the future: the year
____ (e.g., 2197 - please write this date in the script before leading
the exercise with a group). If current forecasts prove at all accurate,
this is a time in which things are becoming decidedly clear - one
way or the other - how the whole issue is turning out regarding
humankind overrunning and despoiling much of the ecology of the
planet. In your daydream you find yourself alive here in the world
of ____ (date). You are able to sense what it is like here, and
what type of life you have. As you begin to be aware of this, What
do you notice first? ... What is the ':feel" of life here? ... What
actions by previous generations made things turn out this way? ...
How do people in this time and place go about guiding what the society
is about? ... What do they do to find the answers they need?
Imagine now that your
daydream shifts very far ahead - to some 2,500 years, or about 100
generations into the future. As you continue to experience your
daydream, things may appear very different due to the continued
changes stemming from new modes of exploration and learning and
living that have taken place over the past 2,500 years. If you could
perceive things in all the dimensions that are relevant, What
would you be aware of? ... What do you notice first? ... As you
become aware of yourself here, 2,500 years in the future, what else
do you notice? ... How are things now most different from what they
were like 2,500 years ago? ... What is your body like? ... What
is the world like? ... Have you learned about any worlds other than
the planet they call Earth? ... What are they like? ... Does the
concept, "Future Generations" mean anything different here than
it did back 2,500 years ago, when you were having the daydream of
being here now? ...
Scanning Our History
Now imagine that the
teacher has ended the lecture on human history, and that you are
going to be given a short quiz on the impressions you got from the
places and times you visited - both past and future. To help
you prepare for the quiz, you might want to scan back across them
all, to see what they have in common, what seems most important,
and so forth. ... So, recall your experience with:
The Nomadic Tribe
- facing climate change ... The Traditional Village - facing
transition to industrialism and urbanization ... The Short-Range
Future - one generation, or about 25 years ahead, facing limits
to growth ... The Long-Range Future - eight generations,
or about 200 years ahead, responding to limits to growth ... The
Very Long-Range Future - 100 generations, or about 2,500 years
ahead, possibly beyond currently perceived limits to growth ...
As you scan across all
of these and get a sense of what is common, what is different, what
would be your answer to the question: What things stand out for
you as most important? ...
Given what you now see
about human history, both past and future, if you could send
a message from the future back to the present, so as to communicate
what future generations most urgently need from us, what would that
message be? ... Now you may imagine that the teacher has ended
the history lesson. ... So you return from the daydream that you
have been experiencing, and return your attention to the room where
you are sitting, ready to write down or to share what you have experienced
and learned just now.
Suggestions for Facilitators
After leading a group
using the above script, it is useful to provide enough time for
participants to share what they experienced with others in small
"buzz groups" of two or three. Surprisingly, this can even be done
successfully in a large auditorium with theater-type seating. People
are usually quite conducive to sharing their experiences, even with
strangers. And if you are interested in collecting data on this,
you can have them fill brief survey forms that you give them.
Please note that ethical
concerns regarding this type of exercise may exist for some who
question the appropriateness of a guided imagery exercise designed
to create points of view likely to be quite at variance from the
"official" viewpoints currently held by most political leaders.
For this reason you may wish to have participants discuss this possibility.
Do participants who have experienced it view this exercise as
an "appropriate technology" for use in schools and other social
settings? If not, why not? What needs to happen instead?
Whether or not you have
participants share their experiences in small groups, it is useful
to provide an opportunity for a few participants to share with the
whole audience their answer to such questions as: "What did you
find most surprising in this exercise?" and, "What answer
did you get to the question: What do future generations most urgently
need from us?"
In order to fully appreciate
this exercise, and to be a good facilitator for others, it is necessary
first to experience it for yourself. An excellent way to do so is
to pre-record it on a cassette tape recorder, and then to play the
tape back, experiencing it as a participant, not as a guide. Among
other advantages, this will give the inexperienced guide a direct
lesson in timing, how important it is to read the script
slowly, and with what otherwise might seem like overly long
spaces of time during which the participants actively imagine, which,
after all, is the whole point of the exercise.
It may be worth noting
that the above script is based on methods I developed when a futures
researcher at the Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International)
and which I currently teach in a graduate "Visionary Futures" course
at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. This script was adapted
from a similar guided imagery exercise which I have used dozens
of times over the past 20 years with all types of audiences: small
and large, from students to professionals, and with all types of
education and background. It is easy and safe to use, and often
provides participants with a deep-seated change in viewpoint and
values that may be characterized as "global consciousness."
I strongly encourage
others to create guided imagery exercises on what future generations
may need, and the short bibliography which follows was selected
with this in mind.
I hope that the exercise
described in this article will inspire significant increases in
global consciousness for participants in all parts of the planet;
and that it will also stimulate the creation by other "Visionary
Futurists, " of their own guided imagery vehicles for "re-visioning"
the human future.
Due to the inspiring
leadership of its founding Chairman, Mr. Katsuhiko Yazaki, and the
strategic vision of its President, Dr. Tae-Chang Kim, the Future
Generations Alliance Foundation is in a position to make available
on the Internet a multi-media version of this and/or subsequent
exercises (featuring both a pre-recorded audio track and full graphics
capabilities). Participants could respond on-line for purposes of
dialog, and could also respond to research surveys such as the questionnaire
shown below, for subsequent analysis, summary and dissemination
on a global basis. This would make possible an entirely new and
radically participative approach to research and communication
on "What Future Generations Need From Us." If it happens, I
venture to forecast that the needs of future generations will fare
much better than they otherwise would.
A Sample Survey Form
What I Experienced
in the Visualization Exercise on "What Future Generations Need from
(When providing this to participants, please re-format the questions
to leave ample room for essay-length responses. If you use this
sample survey form, or one like it, please share what you learn
with the author and/or with the Future Generations Alliance Foundation.)
1. The most surprising
thing(s) that I experienced in the exercise:
2. Based on what I experienced, the future looks like:
3. The "message" I felt should be sent from the future back to the
present regarding what future generations need from us was:
4. Other things I want to say about this exercise:
Bry, A. (with M. Bair)
Visualization: Directing the Movies of Your Mind (NYC: Harper
& Row, 1978).
Galyean, B. Mind
Sight Learning Through Imaging (Long Beach, CA: Center for Integrative
Markley, 0. "Using Depth
Intuition Methods for Creative Problem Solving, and Strategic Innovation,"
The Journal of Creative Behavior (Vol. 22, No. 2, 85-100,
1988). Reprinted as Selection 40 in S. Parnes, Ed., Source Book
for Creative Problem Solving: A Fifty-Year Digest of Proven Innovation
Processes (Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation Press,
Vaughan, Frances, Awakening
Intuition. (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1979).
Tough, A. "What Future
Generations Need From Us," Futures, December, 1993, pp. 1041-1050.
[NOTE: Article copyright
© Oliver W. Markley; my copyright notation below refers solely
to the webformatting. WLS]