Is there an easy way to understand a complex field? Yes. To approach it from an earlier point in history, when it was simpler & cruder. The intention behind this website is not just to deal with the past, but also to make some of us, especially those living in Europe, define our future better. By repeatedly bringing past & future into the same context: that of an uninterrupted effort of self-reinvention & discovery.
As I’ll argue in a later posting (edit: here), this European perspective is not “Eurocentric”, but wide open to the world, & I’m not blind to the darker side of global discovery, or of the imperial conquests that often followed in its stream. Ideally, the account unfolding here will sculpt one single human story of exploration – but seen from where I happen to come from.
However, I do find it useful to imagine this continent of mine within a correspondingly single “space”, through which its specific part in the human adventure may display itself. I’m thinking of something analogous to William Gibson’s now all-too familiar 1982 concept of Cyberspace, yet at bottom more corporeal.
Gibson’s Cyberspace was indeed both abstract & physical, as well as unifying for all its participants. Still, its elements were mostly confined to the insides of a computer network. This is too limited for a future we can’t predict. Or for any past, before electronic networks appeared.
My metaphor for this space in which discovery unfolds is of a single ocean of discovery, defined as:
A unified & unlimited field of interaction, potentially common to all humanity, through which communication, invention, & discovery accelerates.
Such a space was not built or used by Europeans alone, nor even by them mainly, except for a few important centuries – which are, however, the ones getting extra attention in these pages.
This single space which can always be more widely opened, more fully discovered, this “ocean”, draws on at least 3 elements:
1. The physical ocean itself. Simple & unavoidable. The sum of all H2O around the landmasses of the Earth – including these landmasses themselves, when approached from the ocean. In other words everything, land & sea, physically linked to the Atlantic, Pacific, & Indian Oceans. I may repeatedly touch on how global ocean traffic, intensified by Europe from Renaissance to First World War (say 1453 to 1918) accelerated politics, industry, culture, & science – for better & worse.
2. Then there’s our inner ocean of simulated worlds. Not the personal universe of each, which is more for psychology than for a history of ideas. Rather the parts of our collective imagination which artists & visionaries succeed in making accessible to all, expanding the frontiers of what everyone considers conceivable. A mainstream literary novel or painting may certainly do this, but I’m even more caught by how the new tools of speculative fiction carry this out – that is, not just all novels but fantasy novels; not just all movies but science fiction (SF) movies; or even much more familiar historical or cultural processes, but shown through a new lens, like a strategy game or a graphic novel. I call this vast, rapidly expanding domain “simulated worlds“ to unite under a common banner realms which have some interpersonal existence beyond the purely imaginary, yet are not so immediately physical or “natural” as the Atlantic Ocean. The internet or a given computer simulation are of course also included here. They exist, but in an expanded sense of that word.
3. At the same time an entirely different ocean is emerging, no less real for being underused: outer space. Or real-world SF. Humanity, including Europe, the US, Japan, & now countries beyond BRIC, stand before that ocean much as Europeans stood before the newly opened Atlantic & Pacific in the Renaissance. An unknown space, famously called a “new sea” by US President Kennedy in 1962, which we may choose or not to explore. But if we do, the challenges are so great that overcoming them will surely accelerate everything – again, for better & worse.
Any former distinction between “simulated” & “real” worlds could thus end up less relevant here than this notion of several domains, simulated as well as more physical, forming part of only a single “oceanic” space, as each part interacts to shape one ever vaster, yet ever more unified, field of action, invention, & discovery.