Living Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Anticipation

pp 1-40

Date: Latest Version

Big History and Anticipation

  • Joseph VorosAffiliated withSwinburne Business School, Faculty of Business and Law, Swinburne University of Technology Email author 


This chapter will introduce the generic foresight process framework, examine a variety of different types of futures thinking, “locate” the use of macrohistorical models within the broader foresight process, examine some key aspects of the Big History perspective, and use this perspective to think systematically about the “contours” of the possible futures of human civilization at the global scale, as it emerges from the complex dynamics of the present. We will make use of the “eight-threshold” formulation of Big History due to David Christian and examine some of the conceptual possibilities that arise when we consciously and systematically consider the question of what the next major threshold in Big History – what we might therefore call “Threshold 9” – may look like in broad outline. We find that, of the four main “generic” archetypal futures identified by James Dator, the most probable global future currently in prospect – barring a major catastrophic shock, technological energy breakthrough, or similar low-probability “wildcard” event – is a slowly unfolding collapse or “descent” over a timescale of decades to centuries toward a “constrained” or “disciplined” human society characterized by ever-declining access to easy sources of fossil fuel-based energy. Such a future trajectory clearly has major implications for the level of complexity possible for human civilization. This suggests undertaking an anticipatory program of continuing research and exploration into both the underlying nature and the emergent characteristics of the coming transition to “Threshold 9,” in order to prepare for, and perhaps mitigate, its more unwelcome aspects.


Generic Foresight Process (GFP) framework Foresight methods Layered methods Prospective methods and prospection World futures Alternative futures Big history Big history thresholds “Threshold 9” Energy systems Energy Transitions Post-Fossil fuel civilization Energy descent