Article image

Beyond the now: PBS series empowers us to reimagine the future

Dystopian views of our future abound in contemporary discourses, ranging from popular culture and journalism to scientific articles published in major academic journals. 

Whether the topic is climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, or viral threats (to name but a few), our society is increasingly inclined to see the future through a pessimistic, “doom and gloom” lens, leaving practically little or no hope for our development as a species and the health of the planet we inhabit.

Our undeniable power to build a better future

However, in A Brief History of the Future, a new six-part PBS documentary series written and directed by filmmaker Andrew Morgan and hosted by futurist Ari Wallach, a fresh perspective emerges. The message is filled with optimism about the future of humanity and our undeniable power to build a better tomorrow. 

The main question this documentary asks is how can we become the ancestors our future needs us to be. Thus, it advocates a type of long-term thinking and acting exploring what could happen if we significantly expanded our definition of humanity to include people and experiences that may not exist for decades or even centuries. 

Unique chances to save our planet

Such a future-oriented perspective, combined with fast and decisive action, could open unique chances to save our planet from the harm we inflicted upon it for more than a century, particularly since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

“We’re often told by society, ‘Here’s what failure looks like.’ I just went to a theater and watched one of those. But if you keep hitting that button over and over again, eventually we just become numb to it and we lose the imaginative muscle of what success actually looks like. And that’s part of the show, and very much the mission and mandate of Futurific Studios,” said executive producer Kathryn Murdoch.

Powerful perspectives on a sustainable future

The PBS series features interviews with a wide variety of contemporary thinkers, leaders, scientists, storytellers and entrepreneurs – including French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe, architect Bjarke Ingels, famous soccer player Kylian Mbappé, and many others.

Through these powerful perspectives, the series offers groundbreaking views on how to develop a better, more sustainable future in which humans and other creatures could flourish.

“The emphasis on the human was the only thing that was interesting to me,” said Morgan. “A lot of people are looking for hope and courage. It just led us to these amazing folks who articulated that in so many ways.”

Fighting against our own basic instincts 

Since, as Wallach put it, “as homo sapiens, much of the hardwiring in our biological systems hasn’t changed in the last 400,000 years,” and thus we still tend to focus on short-term actions that would immediately contribute to our survival, urgent interventions are needed to “fight against our base instincts.” 

Creating a better world for future generations 

Moreover, instead of becoming obsessed with everything that went wrong in the past, and everything that still goes wrong in our present, we should rather “talk about what’s working,” and how current actions could reverse the damage we inflicted upon our planet and ourselves and create a better world for future generations. 

Focusing a significant part of our attention and resources toward the next deadlines, exams, fiscal quarter reports, or elections, forbids us from seeing the larger picture and planning better ways to move forward.

Thinking beyond the now: A future-oriented perspective 

To explore innovative ways of overcoming these problems, Wallach embarks on a journey around the world to better understand what it means to be human, and find out how we could transcend our current condition by thinking about and acting on what lies “beyond the now” (as the first episode – which aired on April 3 – is titled), as well as beyond ourselves. 

As physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson argues in this episode, seeing the Earth from space fundamentally changed our awareness of our place in the cosmos. Similarly, a future-oriented perspective will help us change our awareness of the past and present, as well as our attitudes towards them. 

The concept of cathedral thinking 

To help provide a concrete example of what this means, Morgan and Wallach introduce the concept of “cathedral thinking.” By exploring the history of various cathedrals that were built over long periods of time, they wonder at the capacity of architects to begin projects that they would not see completed during their lifetimes and would benefit future rather than present generations. 

Such projects connect societies through time by building trust that future architects will continue the work that they started, leading to increasingly complex and majestic buildings. 

According to Wallach, in our contemporary times, cathedral thinking is at work, for instance, in the development of sustainable energy practices that would benefit generations to come rather than us directly. 

A chaotic society breeds fear

However, clarifying our future goals and acting towards their achievement is not an easy process. Our contemporary society is filled with chaos and complexity that is caused by increased globalization that leads to a “melting pot” consisting of a huge variety of cultures and worldviews, our rapidly deteriorating climate, or the nearly uncontrollable rise of artificial intelligence. 

This chaos often creates intense feelings of fear and disorientation, rendering us overwhelmed and incapable of action.

Humans have the capacity to overcome

Nonetheless, humans have powerful abilities to overcome such fears and initiate goal-directed actions. For instance, our capacity for storytelling, which emerged very early in human evolution, is a unique tool for making sense of the world and shaping our beliefs about what is possible. 

To be able to act in an ever-changing world, we need to revisit the stories of our past in order to understand who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. Moreover, since stories can always change, we must critically confront the narratives that have led us to our current predicaments and modify them in order to be able to build a better future.

The opportunity to create better tomorrows

Most importantly though, our capacity for deeply connecting with one another and building various types of communities are crucial for our present and future flourishing. 

Over our entire history, we have put our cooperative abilities to work for various reasons, ranging from building  cities and government structures to solving difficult scientific problems and constructing powerful technologies. This interconnectedness that constantly defines, shapes, and changes humanity is what gives us the opportunity to create better tomorrows in which future generations can thrive.

Exploring these fascinating topics – and many others – A Brief History of the Future is a must-see for everyone interested to expand their perspectives and help build a better world for us and the people to come. 

“At PBS we are focused on storytelling that highlights solutions,” said Paula Kerger, President and CEO of PBS. “We want to share how people can make a difference, and together build a brighter and better future. By opening a window to the worlds of possibilities, we seek not just to educate our audiences, but also to inspire and empower them. In this spirit, we are excited to share A Brief History of The Future with our viewers.”


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and


News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day