Learning from the Lessons of the Future

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 19 (August 1997)

As we gradually begin at last to find our way past the C-prompt sign, into the human brain:

We’ve found one type of format or “software program” to be especially useful for solving a wide range of problems, and for creating new designs, innovations and inventions. The “main menu” of this software involves visiting, in imagination, an advanced world a la science fiction, to make observations “there” that are useful to you “back here.”

Absolutely necessary to this format is your describing aloud, to a live listener or tape recorder (as potential listener), every detail that you can observe or bring yourself to notice. This describing-as-you-go, and this format, gives your subtler brain resources a very effective way to make known to you the designs, devices, answers, and even advanced scientific discoveries which “work.”

Jean Houston’s “Exploratory Anthropology” procedure (from Mind Games) is a direct ancestor to our present futures-visiting methods, but lacked (as did all her wonderful mind games) this concurrent describing-aloud feature which is so essential to development of the vision in each instance.

Also essential is to put aside the stereotypes and other expectations you might have, relevant to your area of investigation, before hopping over into that imagined future world. Let yourself be surprised by what comes up in the imagination or vision. Surprise is the indication that you are reaching beyond your conveniently loud (but narrowly focussed) verbal left brain and into your subtler reaches.

For example: during a workshop we were conducting back in 1977, during the energy crisis, one kid wanted to find a cheap source of energy. Along the way he also wanted to see futuristic cities and vistas. To his surprise and disappointment he found himself to be instead in what seemed to be an ordinary cow pasture, nothing else in view or vista except a fringe of trees to one side of that pasture. Worse, he kept stumbling over trailing cables….

Persuaded-upon to go on with his describing-aloud, despite his surprise and disappointment the kid finally focussed on those pesky trip-over cables. These led to that fringe of trees. The trees were so rigged that every time the wind moved them, they tugged along guywires or cables at one-way ratchets, which in turn drove little generators like old-fashioned car generators or telephone generators.

That looks to be a highly appropriate way to power hard-to-reach unelectrified rural regions. Beyond that: using trees as nature’s already-built windmills might indeed present an economical source of power. The sense was that a modest woodlot could power a neighborhood; a small forest put enough power into the net to supply a small city’s worth of consumption – certainly in the windier stretches of the country.

That system may or may not prove to be economical. The point is, though, that you need to set aside your expectations as to how things “ought to be,” and let yourself be surprised by what actually comes up in your imagination or vision. No way could have that kid have come up with the “nature’s windmills” invention had he clung to his expectations.

The third essential is to actually notice what’s happening in your imagination or vision and report that out in your describing.

Train THAT faculty to notice things, and you’ll be far better able to notice things “here” in the “real world” as well. For example, millions of Americans have visited Stockholm on tour or business. Not one has ever brought back with him for use here, any version of Stockholm’s traffic signal control system, which uses auditory cues along with the visual lights to direct Stockholm’s pedestrian-encumbered streets. The system is at least a half century old. Set up in most American cities, that same system or approach could be saving hundreds of American lives a year.

But no one has noticed, except persons practicing the “futures-visiting” process which trains one to notice……

Nor have any Americans noticed the Swedish use of hot-water feedpipes into bathrooms. Those hot water pipes are exposed as finished towel racks, adding a touch of real luxury at no cost. Some builders here in America could make a bundle if anyone noticed this.

We spend incredible sums in America on retirement homes and communities; these now competing rather ruthlessly with one-another. How many Americans have been in Italy? How many Americans are or have been musicians? Near the start of this century, Giuseppe Verdi began a successful retirement home for musicians, which is still going. The sensibilities of a lifetime, built up during a career in classical music, or a career in art, or a career in various types of writing—-these sensibilities are not easily surrendered. Other things equal, I imagine that such arts-specialized retirement homes and communities could be extremely successful here in the States – if anyone noticed!

To say nothing of the European nickel-cadmium battery which ran for a half-century without any American or American firm noticing it or exploiting it.

If you practice noticing what you are noticing, in these visits-in-imagination, you start noticing all sorts of things here in “the real world” – and some of these might be very beneficial or profitable..

–And much of what you view in your own inner vision may prove profitable as well! Take a good look at some of these visions following below which were not gotten, for the most part, by our invention-seeking procedures which might be expected to be productive of such things. These following visions were incidental by-products from other kinds of excursion into “the future” or from simple Image Streaming. If you use our futures-visiting procedure next time you can expect to run across – if you notice them as they are happening! – your own such visions of possibly useful products and developments and designs. Of the following visions: are there any you are (1) clever enough, and (2) situated to be able to, turn some of the following to gold?

Incidental By-Products of Einsteinian-Type “Visits to the Future”

In our various “excursions into the future,” especially with the procedures we’ve published in the new book DISCOVERING THE OBVIOUS:  Techniques of Original, Inspired Scientific Discovery, Technical Invention, and Innovation: in search of inventions, answers and other matters, we’ve necessarily run across a wide variety of both architectural and landscaping features. Some of these were attractive and some not. Some of these are easier than others to describe. Any architect, any landscaper, any design engineer who decides to use these inner-vision procedures to find rewarding new design principles and designs themselves, will be endlessly rewarded. At a layman’s level, let us cite a very few examples of what came up, not as result even of search for these, but as incidentals in support of the context of the various “futures” through which we were digging for various answers.


A garden planted with weeping willow, birch, wild cherry, aspen, other trees and shrubbery whose willowy branches and fronds move very responsively to even the slightest breeze.


Densely populated suburbia which looks like nothing but rolling countryside. In most areas, the houses are lowset and screened by smallish trees; section by section of the neighborhood is screened by shrubbery. Some sections of taller houses are screened by larger trees. Effect: viewed from any distance at any near-horizontal angle, you see what seems to be rolling wooded hills and fields. Streets are hedged and curve. It’s as if you were out in the fresh countryside on some road, neighbors to each side of you; theirs and your own house and the road the only artifacts in this densely populated bucolic-seeming setting. Supporting this effect are low ridges crossing over the region at intervals (perhaps to enclose utilities), 3-6 feet high and crowned by hedges or shrubbery to provide additional greenery screening in support of the bucolic illusion.

NJ Blocks

Where the town is run-down and the air polluted but people still have to live. Enclose entire blocks with ionized-and-filtered ventilation in this manner. The four to sixteen homes maintain a common wall to the street, and surround the rim of the block, like a Mediterranean great house surrounds an interior garden and patio. The whole is roofed over, possibly with glass, plastic or some sort of translucent panelling for part of the diurnal lighting, but airtight for the integrity of the ventilation system. Part of the open interior is commons to preserve a feeling of space; shrubbery partially delimits individual private areas. The housing of the common ventilation system and/or other utilities backs up to the chimney of the house which has the fireplaces, and also has mounted on it a deluxe barbecue pit with forced-draft automatic flue. The rest of the commons is an attractive yard/garden combination. Parking is on street.

Secure Blocks

Similar to above but in crime-ridden regions, with these adaptations: the above is up one floor. Ground-floor is small shops as in a shopping mall, a return in that sense to older midtowns where responsible owners are present at all times–by day in the shops, by night in the homes or apartments, and are in fact encouraged to be “snoopy neighbors.” Residential parking is in an interior, ground-floor or underground garage with security videos and one entrance, manned by security guard. Outside that one guarded entrance, there are no street-side exterior alcoves or recesses convenient for loitering or covert activities, and corners-mounted videos survey all four fronts. Yet internal living is spacious, clean, secure, and essentially as private as in the better residential suburbs.

Some of this writer’s visions were influenced by having read, long ago, R. Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House autobiography, which helps account for these two following–

Forest Spread

Suspend hearty cable between 2, 3, 4 or more stout trees, ends of such cable anchored in suspended heavy concrete blocks or other weights. Suspend a network of lighter cables over the heavier cable. Mount, above and below the cablework, layers of transparent or translucent fabric. The airspace between the layers is ventilated and provides thermal insulation. Thus enclose, for slight cost, a huge residential space most sectors of which, visually and by psychological feel, it becomes difficult to tell what’s outside and what’s inside. A ground-floor kitchen-and-utilities core supports balconied second-floor bedrooms and/or a multi-purpose open platform still with plenty of spacious headroom beneath the overhead canopy. The part of this “living acre” which fronts the main approach to this spread can be facaded to look more conventional (until neighbors and mortgage holders get used to such designs), the wall of which contains most of the storage spaces. This “glorified tent” can easily encompass 3-5 times as much livingspace as a conventionally built house of the same cost, and be far more pleasant to live in. Without trees, the same structure can be accomplished with strong poles supporting the initial strongest cables–but without forest around, the eventual results wouldn’t be nearly so much fun or pleasant. The interior furnishing of this “living acre” should, for the most part, help support the illusion of being unseparated from the woodland outside.


Another way of escaping from the 20th Century’s disease of having endlessly to look at one-another’s walls. This one might have been instigated in some futures by shifting property tax bases, from corruptible estimates of market value, to the amount of above-ground cubic space enclosed. Many versions and sizes of buildown have been seen, the counterpart of tall apartment complexes and office buildings only dug in around a common opening like an amphitheater, only with attractive balconies and promenades instead of row seats. From outside, one sees unspoiled countryside or pleasant, low-lying cottage-type effects. In some of these visions, there is one common “pit” perhaps an acre or half-acre, with trees, shrubbery, garden, recreational or leisure areas. In other such visions the “pits” and buildings are linked by a major thoroughfare which is strongly screened by greenery and baffle from the garden areas. Entire cities can be “trenched” out in this way, leaving nearly the entire countryside unspoiled or modestly suburban. Both drainage and ventilation pumps are powered in excess of need, and have independent power units for back-up, secure against almost any emergency.


Where a river has cut fairly deeply. Residential and/or mixed light commercial/recreational complexes, dug into offsetting areas of the riverbank. Natural riverbank, hanging garden, restored riverbank, natural or artificial waterfalls, and forest are what’s opposite each complex and, together with the river itself, is all that is in view from each river-fronting such complex. Topside service areas are carefully arranged to maintain recreational and leisure commons overlooking the scenic sectors of the river and opposite riverbank.

Grotto House

Single-household version of “Buildowns.” Dig a 20-or-so foot deep hole, bottomed by a sunken garden and pond or pool, walled with trailing greenery, waterfall, other effects. Wrap the much-balconied house around half to 2/3 of the hole to make an exceptionally pleasant grotto space for living.


For non-load-bearing interior walls and as insulating decoration on load-bearing walls. Very, very light-weight; in some visions seen literally as inflated like balloons, though it was not clear in instances checked thus far how pressures were maintained for the long run. In other instances pressures could be deliberately let out as part of a remodelling or moving process, then restored in the new setting. Other slabs would be like bubbled plastic or styrofoam, but lined permanently smooth, and colorful. Some, translucent, would be internally lit. Some of these would backlight a panel diorama or hologram which gave good illusion of a window looking out on some excellent scenery.


Whether a commercial restaurant or business place, a classroom, or even a livingroom, everything is in little platforms at different levels, with greenery, so arranged as for everything to appear to be little alcoves and platforms up in some great tree. When experienced, this seems to yield a great deal of at least atavistic satisfaction, a very attractive effect.

Space Habitats

From even before the time we developed these techniques and programs, we knew that the popular notion of large scale space habitats as rotating cylinders needed to be amended to idea of concentric cylinders realizing still greater economies-to-scale, per person and absolutely, and providing greater security to its inhabitants. Not all shells have to be at one gee. Realization in 1992 that only about 2/3 of the ship would be these concentric shells and 1/4 to 1/3 would be huge cylindrical open space, providing visual and psychological relief for its inhabitants while still substantially realizing aforementioned economies-to-scale.

One vision showed yours truly a popular way of getting around inside such large-scale rotating cylindrical spaces will be by glorified pogo stick; wasn’t sure about jet assist although the math seems to call for it. Have not yet read any S-F story envisioning people boinging around all over the place across the rotating space by these glorified pogo-sticks, so it seems to be an original vision…

Jovian Mine

First seen–a “Y.” Top part of “Y” on closer inspection a broad saucer, dirigible and supporting a small colony. Tail of “Y” a long, LONG stovepipe drawing up matter from far deeper in the gas-planet’s atmosphere, for processing. Automatic anchor boats outride on tether, at nearly the level of the inhabited dirigible-supported saucer, for added stability when and if turbulence further down reaches up to this level. Skimmer-jets ram-jet in hydrogen to climb from mine to near-space pick-up; conventional atmospheric breaking for the return voyage, with inflatable dirigible capability for flying around if miss the landing web.

Ending Hunger

Ending hunger by sea farms: pump air down to sea bottom to bubble up–usually by solar power, though differential currents, differential temperatures, or even waves can be a source of the needed power for the pumps. Bubbling air up from bottom (1) oxygenates the water and (2) brings up minerals to enrich the sea water, creating a rich habitat for fish. One such farm could provide 2-3% of the world’s protein needs: one standard-sized GM auto plant could if desired turn out 100 or more complete such farms per year. Addressing distribution issues is another problem, including the livelihood of those providing current sources of protein in the world market. Note that 2/3 of Earth’s oceans at the present time are essentially desert, very low in biomass production and support; most of this desert is over depths which are suited for such farming.

Hybrid Vehicles

Most notably, semi-dirigible helicopters, seen in several futures as the “family car.” Low-flying, slow, light, can’t fall, worst it can do is only to drift if its power fails; following radar/radio beacons like roads; low-powered and fuel efficient. No more traffic problems: just mount another beacon-channel to fly through between widely spaced poles; safety overrides force drift-down with distress beacon if leave pre-programmed channel or power fails. Wind and storm warning provisions built into override system. If drifts down onto water, will float indefinitely. Emergency anchors and anchor for normal tethering when onsite.

Going beyond these envisionings to detailed, workable inventions and true scientific discoveries: see DISCOVERING THE OBVIOUS:  Techniques of Original, Inspired Scientific Discovery, Technical Invention, and Innovation. A much shorter work is a kit for hosting a party whose central feature, for all that these are effective, serious techniques for viewing and learning from the future, by procedures like “Over-the-Wall” published recently in this column, are offered as an entertainment. Let your guests come in for fun, and unexpectedly discover that they can forecast (or invent, or problem-solve, or many other things) with uncanny accuracy.