Short History of the Future The Historicists The Professional Prophets The Amateur Prophets
The Historicists Historicism: the belief that there exist timeless laws that govern the development of human history (Popper, `The Poverty of Historicism’) Greek and Hindu myth Vico Hegel and Marx Spengler and Toynbee
Mythology The world cycles through four ages We are now living in the worst age, or kali yuga
Vico’s Cyclic History Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) Saw history as the succession of four ages: the divine, the heroic, the human, and the ricorso.
Hegel (1770-1831) History is the working-out of a dialectical process, which takes us from primitive despotism, through democracy, to absolute monarchy.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) Replaced Hegel’s dialectic with dialectical materialism: society’s form is determined by the means of production used.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) Dialectical materialism takes society through a fixed sequence of stages: savagery, barbarism, feudalism, capitalism, socialism and communism. Each stage, except the last, is characterised by the dominance of a particular class.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) Impressive success: the Communist Manifesto (1848) predicted revolutions that would occur fifty to a hundred years later. Less impressive: doctrine of the immiseration of the proletariat.
Summer Earliest urban/civil societies; aristocrats vs. monarch Spring Feudalism; Nobility vs. priesthood Autumn Aristocrats vs. bourgeois Winter Materialism, non-symbolic art, democracy
Untergang des Abendlands Oswald Spengler, 1880-1936 All societies pass through fixed stages, ending in culture, civilization and decline. Western society is just entering the stage of decline.
Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History (1934-1961) Civilizations grow as they respond to challenges, decline as they fail to respond. ``Civilizations die of suicide, not murder.’’
Popper on Historicism Although history should be purely descriptive, most historicists seem to take it as a prescription for action: ``It’s good to move things in the direction they’re bound to go.’’
Popper on Historicism The historicist project is doomed to fail, since one major determinant of the form of society is technology, and we can’t predict future technology (if we could, it would be today’s technology).
Popper on Historicism Historicists may deny that there are timeless laws of human nature. But many examples exist, including Lord Acton’s dictum: ``You cannot give a man power over other men without tempting him to misuse it --a temptation which roughly increases with the amount of power wielded, and which very few are capable of resisting. ”
The Professional Prophets 1. Herman Kahn and the Hudson Institute 2. Limits to Growth 3. The popular prophets: Alvin Toffler, `Future Shock’ John Naisbitt, `Megatrends’
Herman Kahn and the Hudson Institute ``The great globe itself is in a rapidly maturing crisis -- attributable to the fact that the environment in which technological progress must occur has become both undersized and under- organised…in the years between now and 1980, the crisis will probably develop far beyond all earlier patterns’’ (from `Things to Come’, quoting von Neumann, 1955, Fortune)
Herman Kahn and the Hudson Institute (From `The Next 200 Years’, 1976): `By 2000, a quarter of mankind will live in post-industrial society, in which the task of procuring the necessities of life has become trivially easy. Virtually everyone will be rich and devote their leisure to cultured pursuits.’’ ``More than two-thirds of humanity will earn more than $11,000/year’’
Herman Kahn and the Hudson Institute (From `The Resourceful Earth’, 1984): ``Fish catches are resuming their long upward trend.’ ``There is no sign of climate change.’’ ``There is no evidence of species loss.’’
Limits to Growth (1972) A range of computer models, extrapolating existing trends, showed global catastrophe approaching within the next few decades (similar results were obtained by the Ehrlichs.)
``As we hurtle towards super-industrialism, a new ethos emerges in which other goals … supplant those of economic welfare’’ ``One of the healthiest phenomena has been the sudden proliferation of organisations dedicated to the study of the future.’’ ``To improve education… there should be a `council of the future’ in every school and community.’’ ``There should be whole new curricula, designed by futurists…’’ (`Future Shock’, 1970)
Criticism of the Professional Prophets 4. Evident self-interest: –Repeated emphasis on the growing importance of futurology Who funds the Hudson Institute?
The Amateur Prophets Science fiction and movies of this and the previous century: 1. In the future, everyone will dress alike. (Metropolis, Star Trek, `We’ by Zamiatin `Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley)
The Amateur Prophets 3. Application of the most recent technology will lead to a change in the moral character of mankind. ``That airplanes, by linking the Earth, will bring about lasting peace between these close-knit nations.’’ British aviators Graham-White and Harry Harper, 1914
The Amateur Prophets 3. Application of the most recent technology will lead to a change in the moral character of mankind. ``That the Web, by linking the Earth, will bring about lasting peace between these close-knit nations.’’ British aviators Graham-White and Harry Harper, 1914
The Amateur Prophets 3. Application of the most recent technology will lead to a change in the moral character of mankind. Example: The Airplane, in `Things to Come’ and Kipling’s `Easy as ABC’. See also: ``Through technological improvements, the human condition will improve, till it becomes as disgusting to kill a man as we today consider it disgusting to eat one.’’ ( Andrew Carnegie, 1900)
The Amateur Prophets 3a. That the most recent technology will produce a revolutionary improvement in education. ``Motion pictures will revolutionise our educational system, and in a few years will supplant largely if not entirely, the use of textbooks’’ Thomas Edison, 1922
The Amateur Prophets 3a. That the most recent technology will produce a revolutionary improvement in education. Computers will revolutionise our educational system, and in a few years will supplant largely if not entirely, the use of textbooks’’ Thomas Edison, 1922
Where is Technology Going? 1. Science leads technology: scientific advance makes new things possible, and these are the things that technology creates. 2. The needs of humanity direct technology: engineers work on products and problems for which demand exists. (This demand can be expressed either through the marketplace or by the elected representatives of the people.)
Where is Technology Going? 3. Managers direct technology: those who run enterprises choose which technologies to develop, then create a demand for their products. (Example: the conviction of GM, Standard Oil and Firestone, March 1949, for having criminally conspired to destroy the electric trolley system in Los Angeles and replace it by gasoline or diesel- powered buses.)
Where is Technology Going? 4. Military goals lead technology, which in turn leads to new military goals. Example: any arms race.
Conclusions 1.We can’t know the future if we don’t know the past. 2.Knowing the past will not allow us to know the future. 3.…but a knowledge of the past will help show us the range of possibilities