Edited by Frank Whelon Wayman, Paul R. Williamson, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Solomon Polachek
Chapter 1: Scientific prediction and the human condition
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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