Ed Finn is the Director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University. The Center was conceived as a place where people from radically different intellectual backgrounds come together to dream about the future—to “reignite humanity’s grand ambitions for innovation and discovery,” in their words. To this end, they sponsor everything from collaborative science fiction projects to big conferences about the future. We learned about the Center through this article and, if you want to dig a little deeper into their history, it’s a good place to start.
My conversation with Ed focuses on two interrelated subjects: dreams and narratives. Are we, as a society, adequately dreaming about the future or have we outsourced our dreams to distant experts? Do we have adequate time for dreaming? Has increasing specialization made it difficult for the kind of interdisciplinary thinking needed for the creation of radical new ideas? Ed advocates “thoughtful optimism” as he segues from dreams into narratives, suggesting that our more ambitious hopes can be realized through the right collective narrative. You will hear echoes of David Korten and Mark Mykleby, but I think one of the most interesting moments of the conversation comes when we talk about Lawrence Torcello and ask whether ambiguous narratives can get us further than a reasonable conversation.
Neil and I conclude the episode by discussing Douglas Rushkoff, Ethan Zuckerman, and whether a fragmented media landscape makes it harder (or impossible) to develop a unifying narrative. We also explore the idea of an ambiguous narrative in more detail, asking if a vague narrative is more or less likely to bring people together than an Enlightenment-style conversation about the Good.