Table of Contents

Predicting the Future in Science, Economics, and Politics

Predicting the Future in Science, Economics, and Politics

Edited by Frank Whelon Wayman, Paul R. Williamson, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Solomon Polachek

It is a puzzle that while academic research has increased in specialization, the important and complex problems facing humans urgently require a synthesis of understanding. This unique collaboration attempts to address such a problem by bringing together a host of prominent scholars from across the sciences to offer new insights into predicting the future. They demonstrate that long-term trends and short-term incentives need to be understood in order to adopt effective policies, or even to comprehend where we currently stand and the sort of future that awaits us.

Chapter 1: Scientific prediction and the human condition

Frank Whelon Wayman

Subjects: economics and finance, game theory, international economics, politics and public policy, international politics, international relations, public policy


In times of unprecedented prosperity, humanity risks unparalleled destruction. From Hiroshima as bombed in 1945 to Hiroshima rebuilt today, we see an extraordinary range of our era’s possibilities, from war’s misery to peace and prosperity. Not only nuclear weapons, but global warming and pandemics all threaten their worst while we enjoy some of the best. One might say that we live at the edge of collapse, of plummeting from where we have climbed in 200 years of material progress (and decades of growing peace), back to the hard times that faced all pre-modern human generations. In kinetic and potential energy, from Everest it is just a step – off the edge, you hit Tibet. Specifically, I refer to the Hillary Step, the last great, perilous obstacle to the ascent of Everest. Applying more generally this notion that the higher you go the harder the fall, one might say that modernization, while creating an unprecedented prosperity among the economically developed nations, has left those nations in an artificial and perhaps easily destabilized level of well-being. To avert foreseeable threats, anticipatory plans are surely needed. So we live amidst such ventures as the development and distribution of flu vaccines, to hopefully prevent catastrophes such as occurred in 1918 when the flu turned particularly deadly. Every purposive thing we do is an action now that we take for a better future, based on what we think the future might be like.

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