Part of the 2015 interview Jamais Cascio focused on the Global Catastrhopic Risks, Existential Risks and empathy. It was both fun and serious.
Transcript: We are surrounded by catastrophic existential risks – you know, personally, societally, civilizationally. The intriguing thing about them is that the chance of any one of the happening is extremely slim. So very low likelihood, very significant results. Yet there is a non-zero chance that at the end of this sentence a meteor will come down and strike me in the head. It didn’t happen, but it could – there is no physical reason why it wouldn’t and given enough time eventually something will happen.
So we face – We are dealing with existential risks, catastrophic, globally & civilizationally catastrophic risks all the time and it’s easy to ignore them. The problem – the dilemma – is when you have a slight uptake in the the likelihood of a catastrophic risk.
NASA has a risk scale for the likelihood of an asteroid impact that would and the damage that it would produce – we’ve never gotten above essentially a level 1 risk – out of 10 – at least since they started taking measurements. There has been a couple of times when the likelihood of this happening has gotten up to – I think the highest we ever got was a temporary 4 – but were pretty likely that this level of risk isn’t going to be maintained. But we have these metrics of deciding – ok these risks are plausible – how can we contextualize them? So we do that with telling stories.
We deal with catastrophic risks by creating mythologies – and what the mythologies do – mythologies here count as making movies or writing novels or engaging in speculative conversations.. and playing with toys.
We craft the mythologies as a way of understanding how these catastrophic events could play out, and more importantly, how humans respond to catastrophe.
So you know, recently there was a movie called “San Andreas” starring ‘The Rock’ – scientifically terrible – but ultimately it was a story about ‘how do humans respond to seeing each other in mortal terror? in mortal peril?’ and ‘how do we try to help each other?’ – and that I think becomes a really important ‘pedagogy of catastrophe’. It’s not about understanding the details of every possible dooms day scenario – it’s about understanding what our options are for helping each other afterwards, or helping each other avoid the catastrophe. And – I think all to often, especially the world of science/scifi/foresight, there’s kind of a dismissal of those kinds of ‘soft narratives’ “they’re not scientifically accurate therefore we can ignore them”. But I think we ignore them at our peril – because those are the stories that we viscerally, we as a human society viscerally respond to. We are driven by emotion, we are driven by empathy – and intelligence a way of contextualizing why we feel things – what our relationship is to things that we have emotional connections with. Allowing us to continue to have – our intelligence allows us to continue to have and maintain persistent emotional connections.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come to recognise the power of empathy, and how critical emotional connection is to building a viable future. We are as futurists all too often fascinated by tools – fascinated by gadgets and technologies – because they’re understandable, they’re quantifiable, they’re profitable. And we don’t pay enough attention to the feelings that surround us – whether we are talking politics or gender relations or all different kinds of things that are squishier, much more political, much harder to forecast – they’re harder to forecast because we shy away from them. We forget that these are the things that drive most of our behaviour – the desire to be liked, a desire to be wanted, a desire to be heard, a desire to connect.
Thought it was worth adding Jamais Cascio’s Eschatological Taxonomy poster
Eschatology: (noun) The study of the end of the world.
Taxonomy: (noun) A classification in a hierarchical system.
Cascio’s talk at BAASICS – Ready or Not (Doomsday talk in San Francisco, June 2012) – “I spoke at an event in San Francisco for a group called “BAASICS” (Bay Area Art & Science Interactive Collaborative Sessions). My talk — on the end of the world, and why it matters — was fairly brief (under 12 minutes), but reasonably fun….Highlights include old favorites the Eschatological Taxonomy, Legacy Futures, and the Singularity!”
Cascio gave the closing talk at GCR08, a Mountain View conference on Global Catastrophic Risks. Titled “Uncertainty, Complexity and Taking Action,” the discussion focused on the challenges inherent in planning against future disasters emerging as the result of global-scale change: https://vimeo.com/2712394