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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


DE BEER, C S. The invention of a future 1: On the future, inventive thinking and language. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2008, vol.48, n.2, pp.147-158. ISSN 2224-7912.

The future poses unavoidable challenges to human beings. We have to take on these challenges; we have to confront the future; we have to figure out how to deal with it; we have to develop strategies to secure a sensible future for ourselves. We do not hold the future in our hands. It happens to us and very often in unexpected ways. These ways are most likely different from our plans and scenarios. Many maintain that the future contains something catastrophic and monstrous; thinking about the future is often loaded with despair, not to be separated from a kind of death wish. Despite the despair, the catastrophic, the monstrous and the death wish, human life can only be lived by directing the attention to the future in an imperturbable way. The significance of empirical data, of the demonstrable, to help us in this endeavour is limited, and so is its value. We must apply our capacity of thought to deal with the challenges. The urgency of thorough reflection can hardly be denied. This urgency is of a conceptual nature before it becomes political or ethical. But then thought and reflection of a specific quality are required. It must be reflection in the sense of comprehensive thinking, or inventive thinking, as the only mode of thinking that is capable of dealing with the complexity and enormity of the challenges. Thought as calculation is insufficient and needs the support and complementary input of thought as reflection, meditation and invention. An overview of the relevant literature clearly demonstrates the importance of thought and reflection. It becomes abundantly clear that this thinking places hope at the centre of its focus, whether it is hope articulated in terms of philosophy, theology, psychology or even politics and revolution. No single, one-dimensional approach will ever guarantee the future, immaterial of how important guarantees may seem to us and how much we are in need of them. This hope is continuously related to utopian dreams, imaginary expectations and even promising propaganda. It is not only a matter of thinking as a rational issue, but thinking as serious reflection on ethical responsibilities as well. Good thinking is the principle of morality. For the best possible future the best possible thinking is required. The inescapable directedness towards the future must always be a thoughtful directedness with 'the future as promise' in mind. While the promise is alive the possibilities of inventing a liveable future remains alive. Different approaches of making sense of the future have been considered, the valuable insights in the use and abuse of history with respect to the future can be particularly helpful here, but it seems as if a thoughtful orientation may be the most fruitful. For this to happen, thought of a certain order with a focus on meaningful information, language and life is recommended. The inspiration of thought, emerging from the convergence of a noetic disposition combined with imagination, phantasy and reason, leads to invention. For this reason inventive thinking in general is of decisive importance, but especially when the future is at stake. This way of thinking cannot be taken for granted; it must be educated in the sense of 'the formation of human thought as invention'. It is important to keep this kind of thinking alive. In order for this kind of thinking to flourish, language is needed. Language in its fullness and not language merely as a handy tool is needed. When language is merely a tool as often happens, then its use becomes mechanical and it exhausts thinking. Exhausted thinking is unable to invent a meaningful future. It can do nothing more than mutilate any expectations regarding the future, disturb all hope, and obfuscate any vision of a possible future. When language is allowed to faint, hope, expectation, destination, and life itself faint as well. This is when 'barbarism of ignorance' takes over in which case dogmatisms, reductionisms, mutilating theories, and ideological distortions pollute all endeavours to invent a future. Language supports any orientation towards the future, since the future tense, subjunctive and optative, mobilise and organise the future. In this sense language possesses the power of invention. For this reason poetry is important. It uses words to explore many possibilities. Poetry is indeed the thoughtful creation of possibilities. In poetry words are enabled to say as much as possible, to design a future. This is in contrast to ordinary language usage which says the minimum, tries to be 'economical', which very regularly happens in the case of scientific and technical language, as well as in teaching. Such instrumentalisation of language use kills language and is dangerous. Therefore, language in its dynamic fullness, together with comprehensive and inventive thought, must at all costs be kept alive.

Keywords : Future; hope; Utopia; language; noetic ability; reflection; thought; invention.

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