What, if anything, can be known about the future?

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What, if anything, can be known about the future?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Wed Sep 09, 2009 6:25 pm

Can we accurately predict the future? What can be known? What cannot be known?
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Re: What, if anything, can be known about the future?

Postby Rich G on Mon Nov 29, 2010 11:39 am

The easiest way to predict the future is to study and understand the past.
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Re: What, if anything, can be known about the future?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Sat Dec 04, 2010 8:37 pm

Thanks Rich. This question is pretty simple and I the reason why I included it is because prediction is one of the aspects of worldview according to the theory of the guy who I was partially inspired by, Leo Apostel. I guess some people don't believe that anything about the future can be known, even from carefully looking at the past. The 18th century philosopher David Hume argued that one could never predict the future from observing what happened in the past. He said just because the sun has come up every day so far does not mean that it will necessarily come up tomorrow. He said we can only know events once they happen, not before.

I disagree with this. I think we can reliably predict the future because through our observation of what has happened so far, we can actually get real knowledge of the laws of nature. I see the laws of nature as the plan that God put in place and it looks like God follows this plan quite closely. God can deviate from the plan since He is not in any way beholden to His own laws. But these laws are very real, kind of like as if God actually has this plan written down somewhere, and we can't actually see the plan itself but we can make good guesses of what is written on the plan through, as you said, studying and understanding the past.

Another problem with Hume's skepticism of knowledge of natural law is that he states his theory as a law of nature!. So when he says "one cannot know the laws of nature and because of this one cannot predict the future", he is essentially stating what he believes to be a law of nature and is essentially predicting the future (bad prediction though). Pretty funny :lol:
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Postby Clierlaverelt on Sun Jan 09, 2011 5:56 am

nice...
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Re: What, if anything, can be known about the future?

Postby gnomon on Wed Mar 23, 2011 3:57 pm

Rich G wrote:The easiest way to predict the future is to study and understand the past.

Apart from prophetic revelations that's the only way to know the future. Interestingly, neuroscientists have discovered that we use the same brain modules to think about both past & future, but not the present. What we can know about the future is nothing more than extrapolations of past tendencies.

However, the evolutionary purpose for a big brain is to allow us to anticipate what lies just beyond the range of our physical senses. So humans are pretty good at imagining the near future. But long-range predictions are inevitably obscured by the randomizing effects of statistical trend projections. That's why Market Analysts, Stock Traders, Futurologists, and Cyber-Systems Analysts must learn how to manage uncertainty and risk.

Prophets depend on faith rather than "margins of error" to explain their misses though. So they typically deal with erroneous predictions by re-interpreting them in terms of a shared myth. ;)
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Re: What, if anything, can be known about the future?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Thu Mar 24, 2011 7:16 pm

Hi Gnomon, it's been a while since we last communicated. It has also been a while since my website here has had significant posting activity. I actually put this thing on hold for the most part because I am working on research and writing what I hope will be a thesis worthy of publication by an academic institution. This is the direction I am going right now and later I plan on updating this website and attracting new visitors and posting more. I actually closed this forum off to new users temporarily.

This topic of prediction is quite interesting because we pretty much have to accept that we can predict some future events (denying this is actually a prediction of the future so that fails) but it is difficult to say what events and how we do this. I will say that this is very closely connected to the question of how we can know the laws of nature. If there are laws of nature that we can know then we can use them to make accurate predictions. This of course happens every day in science. So how can we use the scientific method to know the laws of nature? Some deny this is possible, but I disagree. I have recently read two books about the philosophy of science and each of these has chapters on induction and natural laws. I haven't quite pinned down a good description of how we come to know the laws of nature, but I am working on this. I don't think that just has to do with how many times we observe something and then generalize. The structure of observation is also important and also the holism of bringing together all kinds of experimental results at high levels like biology and low levels like chemistry and then somehow from all of this we can know some laws of nature - like gravity, the strong nuclear force, etc. If we know the present state of some system, then we can use the known laws of nature to calculate the expected future state. Scientists can do this sometimes. It is a work in progress for them as well ;)
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