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Report: Co-emerging Economies by Reon Brand (Lecture)

Reon Brand, Senior Director Foresight and Socio-cultural trends at Philips Design inspires us with what some have called “the most relevant vision paper that has been published in the past decades”, namely Brands publication on co-emerging futures: four distinct, yet intertwined (and not entirely compatible) potential futures our society could be facing. Extracted from historical facts, present observations and future trends.

For those who want to hear or read even more on this matter: in this broadcast by RaRaRadio, Olga Mink, Director at Baltan Laboratories, interviews Reon Brand. And this article on the Baltan website could provide valuable additional background before or after listening to the lecture and/or broadcast.


Reon Brand introduces his study “Co-emerging futures” and how his work on socio-economic paradigms inspired him. He takes us back from an historical perspective of the Holocene to the current emergence of the Antropocene and its consequences for the environment and all living species on the planet.

Sixth extinction

We are already in the sixth mayor extinction of life on this planet. The first one that is not caused by a geological or astrological event, but by the actions of one species. Which means we can no longer look at the future form a socio-economic perspective, but we need to look at it from an existential/ecological perspective. What Reason calls a post-Antropocene vision.


An overview of how our socio-economic model has evolved towards the co-emerging futures. Introducing the four co-emerging futures (Etherea, Immortalia, Habitania and Gaia) and how they originate from two main mindsets (trans-mutation and transformation), which again each split into two. And how the way our technology is designed determines that each of these four futures will co-emerge.


A more in-dept dive into each of the mindsets that are the fundamental underpinning of the four models that will be discussed. Based on “the flower of memes and meaning” and tracing current intuitions and conventions (e.g. our sense of ownership, Western vs Oriental Healthcare…) back to ancient and historical philosophies and scientific theories (e.g. Newtonian vs Quantum Physics). Arriving at the notion of relationalism: that everything is interconnected.


The direction to transcend human beings (Homo Sapiens) through technological progress. It values human progress above all. Shaping the earth for human civilization on top of nature. Utalitarian and opportunistic (driven by individualist ideas). We see very powerful technologies that will enable us to pursue this future, be more powerful and live longer. The problem is that it is highly unlikely they will be available to any of us.


The future towards boundless intelligence and post-biological immortality. Related to the concept of singularity and the moment at which AI does not need human intervention to further develop itself. While humans need a biological reproduction cycle to develop themselves. So we could think of a future where we can advance human nature without the need of a biological body. Which e.g. would also be useful for space travel. The main challenge at this point is (human) consciousness, of which we still only have a very limited understanding. Plus, the whole notion of identity. There is incredible progress into this direction. E.g. by OpenAI, a company backed by Elon Musk, which works on artificial general intelligence, a form of AI that can learn in a similar way as children learn. Also for example at least four big projects who are working on the concept of the ‘substrate-independent mind: taking the human brain and cultivating it outside the human body in a non-biological format.


This is the well-known stream of sustainability we are all familiar with. About ensuring sustainable human habitation and quality of life within the boundaries of the planet. A resource-centric approach that relies on more cooperative practices between people. Brand sees two key issues however: (1) sustainable development (which in a way is an oxymoron) and (2) the ideal of safe spaces for nature (which is a model that very likely comes about 100 years too late). Which makes circular economy and sustainability a bit like the first aid by a paramedic: to stop the bleeding in anticipation of full recovery / reconstructive surgery etc.). And how this relates to the limitations of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).


Derived from the Greek goddess of nature. And the title of theory and a book by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis in the 1970s. Starting from the notion is that life is what makes our planet livable. It’s about recognizing the interconnectedness of everything. And not seeing humans as being on top of nature, but as being an integral part of nature. Knowing and acknowledging that resilience goes together with biodiversity. It’s about giving more space to nature and allowing it to regenerate itself. Rather than ‘us’ planting X amount of trees. Moving your focus from the building blocks of (eco)systems to interrelations.


Explanation of the four key things we need to do if we want to transform our future into Gaia. (1) How do we reconnect people with nature? (2) What do we do to regenerate healthy ecosystem (3) How do we design products and develop technologies with nature? (4) How do we transform from the growth-dependent economy that relies on ever-increasing consumption?

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