Every once in a while, out of the murky chaos of human life and society, glimpses appear of what real human beings in the future may think, feel, and desire. Lately, I have been watching a particularly interesting pair of trends, which may foreshadow a revolution in human thought over the next few decades. I’ve noticed signs that the numerous technological, environmental, and ethical interests of our modern era are coalescing into two different waves of paradigms and values.
One wave is being called Black Sky Thinking; the other could well be named Green Earth Thinking. Both focus on how human beings connect with our human nature, our place within the universe, and our technological capability, but they take opposite positions.
Green Earth Thinking centers on honoring the nature of things. It views human nature, our planet’s nature, and the essence of biological life, as things valuable in themselves, which are not to be destroyed or tampered with. It is a mindset of respect and stewardship for the environment, and of viewing humanity as one species coexisting with an incredible milieu of life on our planet and potentially in the universe beyond.
Black Sky Thinking, meanwhile, has emerged from the exemplary success of science and technology in the last three centuries, and the promises of human ingenuity for the future. The potentials of space colonization, transhumanism, and a technological Singularity lay at its inspirational epicenter. Its name emphasizes looking into the infinite depths of space, which are pregnant with limitless possibility. Where Green Earth Thinkers value Nature above all, Black Sky Thinkers esteem Evolution; to them, evolutionary expansion is a fundamental directive of the universe that humankind should embrace and master. They regard the current natures of life, technology, and human intelligence as stepping-stones to grander and wiser things.
“What does it mean to venture into Black Sky territory? It means that you have no past experience, or working models of what to expect from this space. Although such a prospect may provoke fear of the unknown for many, the Black Sky also represents radical new opportunities, with disruptive potential, for discovery and change.”
– Rachel Armstrong: architect, starship designer, and advocate of Black Sky Thinking
Taken together, Green Earth and Black Sky Thinking are ecological movements at heart, concerned with the direction of humans within a greater ecology of lifeforms and intelligences. This is plain in Green Earth Thinking, whose seeds sprouted with the rise of environmentalism, the sustainability ethic, and other “back-to-nature” movements during the last century. Black Sky Thinking is ecological too, though in different wise. It promotes the intentional design of future ecosystems involving biology, technology, and a variety of intelligences, in which human thought will only be the kindling to spark a blossoming fire.
So where will Green Earth and Black Sky Thinking lead, if they take off? In late October of 2013, Aeon magazine published an article on the topic by sociologist and philosopher Steven Fuller. Fuller puts their emergence in the guise of a global political realignment away from the old right wing–left wing dichotomy into a new “up-wing” and “down-wing” spectrum, referring respectively to Black Sky Thinking and Green Earth Thinking in Fuller’s terminology.
A political shift of this nature would be big news, and it seems plausible. But I hesitate to limit the Black Sky/Green Earth proto-movements to the political realm only. I think they go vastly beyond it. Black Sky and Green Earth Thinking are ethical paradigms about nothing less than the direction in which we will choose to evolve as human beings and as a planetary biosphere.
Nothing like this has ever happened before. If Black Sky and Green Earth Thinking emerge as a major force, the world will certainly change. Either mindset could fall, and the one remaining would determine the future of human evolution. Or both might exist in conflict or mutual correction. Or, strangest of all, they could lead to an ideological divide that splits humanity itself into two species: the Black Skyers who evolve to unguessed realms, and the Green Earthers who choose to follow to the familiar, practiced hand of Nature.
Time will tell. But if Black Sky and Green Earth both rise, which would you choose?