From Chapter 41 of Future Rising: A Journey from the Past to the Edge of Tomorrow
In April 2018, Mike Hughes launched himself over five hundred meters into the air while strapped to a homemade rocket. His mission: to prove that the world is flat.
Hughes had a very clear and particular vision of the future. It was one where he debunked over two thousand years
of knowledge, and demonstrated once and for all that the world is indeed flat. Sadly, no amount of wishful thinking is going to change the reality that he was wrong. But you have to admire his dedication, even though it was eventually his undoing. Sadly, Mike was killed in a failed rocket launch on February 22, 2020.
Delusion is a particularly intriguing aspect of the human psyche. It has a lot in common with hubris in that it enables us to believe fervently in a future that isn’t overly concerned with reality. It draws on our capacity for imagination and creativity, and our ability to use our intellect to fill voids in our understanding with whatever best fits our dreams. And, while it’s easy to criticize the specks of delusion caught in the eyes of others, it’s often much harder to see the log sticking out of our own—because no matter how reasonable we think we are, each of us has our own delusions about the future.
For most of us, these delusions don’t rise to the level of those entertained by flat-earthers. And yet we’re biologically predisposed to create mental models of the world we live in, and the future we’re building, that don’t always match reality. There are even indications that the smarter we are, the better we are at justifying our beliefs in spite of evidence to the contrary.
Of course, the line between inspired imagination and delusion is preciously thin. Our power to change what’s coming down the pike arises from our ability to imagine futures that are different from the present. Yet, when our imagination becomes separated from reality, it slips comfortably into the realm of fantasy.
Ironically, ungrounded beliefs can still have a profound impact on our future. Believing fervently that you can fly, or that you’re invincible, is likely to lead rather rapidly to a future with a “you-shaped hole” in it. More insidiously, a belief that vaccines are highly dangerous, or that homeopathic remedies can cure cancer, or that climate change has nothing to do with human activities, can all deeply impact the future we inherit. What we learn from delusion is that it’s not always what we know that leads to actions that influence the future, but what we think we know, or what we perceive to be true, that matters.