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Randall Auxier, Professor, Southern Illinois University - Carbondale

Professor of philosophy and communication studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, a musician, environmental activist, union advocate, and candidate (2018) for the United States House of Representatives, nominated by the Green Party in the 12th Congressional District of Illinois. He is a radio host for WDBX Carbondale since 2001, a widely read author of popular philosophy, and co-founder The American Institute for Philosophical and Cultural Thought.

Clusters of Possibility

When we look at the sky, we see billions of stars. Some appear in patterns, constellations, as if they are next to each other. In reality these stars are usually nowhere near each other. As such, a constellation to us wouldn’t be a constellation from the perspective of another galaxy, or even another planet in our own galaxy. But there are pockets of stars which truly are close together and are perceived similarly from any point in the universe. We call these star clusters. Future possibility and innovation work the same way: some inventions and creative courses of action aim at constellations of possibilities, others aim at clusters. Clusters of possibilities lure us toward a future which brings, often, more than we foresaw, because getting one or two possibilities in a cluster brings along the whole group. If you aim at a constellation of future possibilities, you may achieve one without making any real progress toward the others you associated with it. For example, consider violence and nonviolence. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, in effect, these are not constellations of possibilities, they are real clusters. Violence begets violence and solves no real problems. Nonviolence begets nonviolence and solves problems. Malcolm X disagreed. He treated violence as a constellation and nonviolence as a fool's errand. Similar arguments are associated with artificial intelligence, with technological progress (e.g., cloning), with economic relations, and so on. What people very often disagree about is how closely associated the various future possibilities are. How do we make sure we are exploring what’s really there (clusters), in our future, rather than what only appears to be there (constellations)? What can we know about the relations among possibilities? Perhaps more than you ever dreamed.



Each participant has the option to write an article with guidance and editorial comments from the instructor. Selected papers will be published, including opportunities to find coauthors and research partners from the Ideatrek community. 


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