Category Archives: Quotes

I’ve grown impatient with the kind of debate we used to have about whether optimists or the pessimists are right. Neither are right. There is too much bad news to justify complacency. There is too much good news to justify despair. I am not afraid of the challenge of easing the throughput of human society back down within its limits–I think that can be done fairly easily and even with considerable benefit to the human quality of life.

— Donella Meadows

Quote: Watching a weather report (Polli)

Anticipation is the transformation of what we are able to see about the future into action. Watching a weather forecast is not anticipation. Watching a weather forecast and, as a consequence, taking your umbrella before going to work is anticipatory behavior.

— Roberto Polli, UNESCO Chair in Anticipation Studies, University of Trento, Italy, Jan 2017

In this video: Transforming the Future: Anticipation in the 21st Century


Quote: I just don’t do positive and negative (Sterling)

As a futurist, I just don’t do “positive” and “negative”. I actively avoid that kind of value judgment. Wishful thinking and fearful thinking gets in the way of an objective understanding of change-drivers.

Change occurs from pent-up energies: it’s like asking if a battery’s voltage is “good” or “bad.” All potential change has positive or negative potential: otherwise it isn’t even “potential.”

— Bruce Sterling, interview with Jon Lebkowsky, 2016

Notes: From “Homo Prospectus” (Seligman et al.)

Cover for Homo Prospectus These are quotes from a New York Times article summarizing the book Homo Prospectus, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Peter Railton, Roy F. Baumeister, and Chandra Sripada, Oxford University Press, 2016. (Also see the critical review of Seligman’s work in Psychology Today.)

[People think] about the future three times more often than the past, and even those few thoughts about a past event typically [involve] consideration of its future implications.


Most prospection occurs at the unconscious level as the brain sifts information to generate predictions.


Perception is manageable because the brain generates its own scene, so that the world remains stable even though your eyes move three times a second. This frees the perceptual system to heed features it didn’t predict, which is why you’re not aware of a ticking clock unless it stops. It’s also why you don’t laugh when you tickle yourself: You already know what’s coming next.


Even when you’re relaxing, your brain is continually recombining information to imagine the future, a process that researchers were surprised to discover when they scanned the brains of people doing specific tasks like mental arithmetic. Whenever there was a break in the task, there were sudden shifts to activity in the brain’s “default” circuit, which is used to imagine the future or retouch the past.

This discovery explains what happens when your mind wanders during a task: It’s simulating future possibilities. That’s how you can respond so quickly to unexpected developments. What may feel like a primitive intuition, a gut feeling, is made possible by those previous simulations.


Google can instantly provide a million answers because it doesn’t start from scratch. It’s continually predicting what you might ask.

— Martin E. P. Seligman and John Tierney, in “We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment,” New York Times, 19 May 2017

Quote: For we understand neither why this world exists (Gödel)

For we understand neither why this world exists, nor why it is constituted just as it is, nor why we are in it, nor why we were born in just these and no other circumstances. Why then should we fancy that we know one thing for sure, that there is no other world, and that we never were nor ever will be in another?

— Kurt Gödel, letter to his mother, cited by Karl Sigmund, Exact Thinking in Demented Times, 2017, p. 381.

Quote: The problem I see (Daly)

The problem I see is that vision is frankly teleological — it asserts or at least implies the causal efficacy of purpose in the real world. A vision of a desirable future functions as a lure, a pull toward itself. For the lure to be effective, like magnetic north, it has to embody real and objective value — not just subjective preferences of individuals.

I strongly believe in the causal efficacy of purpose as well as objective value, and it is a source of dismay to me that many others do not. Before we can save the biosphere, we will have to save the idea of purpose itself, or at least free it from the bondage in which it has been held by neo-darwinists for so long. Even those scientists who are too honest to deny the reality of purpose are nevertheless rendered half-hearted and feeble by the inconsistency between their personal life and the basic assumption of their science. It is hard to get excited about visions of a desirable future if you even half believe that purpose is an illusion.

— Herman Daly, Letter to Donella H. Meadows, June 1999

Reprinted in the Balaton Bulletin, Summer 1999