How Energy and Work Drive Material Prosperity
8. 8.1 Growth forecasting ON FORECASTING THE FUTURE There are several methods of forecasting the future. The oldest, no longer taken seriously in the West, is to rely on the positions of the stars, the entrails of a sheep, the ﬂight of a bird, or some version of the Oracle at Delphi. One wonders how such ideas got started, but they were well established in various times and places. All of these methods had the advantage of ambiguity, so that a powerful ‘client’ could hear what he wanted to hear. In 546 BC King Croesus of Lydia, in Anatolia, asked for advice from the Oracle at Delphi in regard to a possible conﬂict with the Persians. The Oracle replied ‘If King Croesus goes to war he will destroy a great empire.’ Accordingly, Croesus attacked the Persians under King Cyrus, and was utterly defeated. The Lydian empire (such as it was) was duly destroyed. The most famous example of comparatively recent times was the French doctor Nostradamus, who wrote his predictions in a book. Nostradamus’ trick was much like the Oracle’s, namely to make his pronouncements so ambiguous that they could be interpreted at will. Yet Nostradamus still has believers. The modern version of a seer is a ‘futurologist’ or simply an expert in some ﬁeld of interest. Examples of bad predictions by experts abound. A fascinating collection of embarrassing pronouncements by experts can be found in a little book entitled Proﬁles of the Future by Arthur C. Clarke...
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