The Fundamental Assumption Underlying All Usable Predictions
In my previous post about the negative effects of ideological and other mental filters on the accuracy of predictions, I said the following-
Of course, all predictions are also based on the continued existence of human beings in a familiar biological and social form.
Almost every single person who makes a prediction or hears about one makes the implicit and largely subconscious assumption that human beings and civilization will continue to exist in a form not too different from the one around us right now. I call this assumption the ‘hidden precondition of continuity’.
It might seem rational to assume that people similar to us will exist in the near, if not the distant, future. However this belief is based on what occurred in the past. If we go back even further in the past, it is apparent that many now extinct creatures were around for far longer than us. Even Neanderthals were around for atleast half a million years, before they became extinct or were assimilated by anatomically modern humans. Trilobites thrived and diversified for around 300 million years before disappearing within a very short time, right down to the last sub-species. Megalodon, a very successful species of shark big enough to make the one depicted in ‘Jaws’ look puny in comparison survived for almost 28 million years. Then there is the case of theropod dinosaurs which dominated the terrestrial world for over 200 million years, constantly adapting to changing conditions and filling new ecological niches until something happened and caused their extinction.
A history of success and positive trends is no guarantee to continued existence in the future, let alone success.
While extraneous forces and events could always human extinction, either directly or indirectly, there is another class of scenarios. Humans might willingly or unwittingly evolve into something else, even something that is not quite biological in nature. Would a human derived entity or “species” that could exist in a multitude of forms, biological, augmented or otherwise, be anything like us? Would they care about jobs, work ethic, a suburban house, an ivy league education or even sex in the manner we do? Would a society of such entities be driven by anything even close to the social dynamics that drives contemporary human societies? Would they even have a society as we understand it?
But why go that far.. how many of the 20-30 something guys today are similar to their contemporaries a generation ago? Can you really say that exposure to a diversity of views on the internet, very negative experience with corporatism and feminism, the availability of ubiquitous HQ porn and social atomization has not changed them?
Once we agree that they are different, the next question is- how much? While I am not suggesting that Gen-Y men are a new species, it is quite clear that a significant and growing minority of them cannot be modeled by extrapolating existing assumptions about human behavior and society. While we could wish away the impact of such a change if the population was growing at a faster rate or the world was still a happy and optimistic place, that is not the case.
However all social systems depend on the type of human beings they are optimized for being and remaining the absolute majority.
While societies go to great lengths to maintain the status quo and create or bully people into becoming the type of human being that system is optimized for, they are powerless against large-scale changes. Nor are they willing to accept those changes and adapt to them. Indeed, a retreat into orthodoxy and tradition is the most common and consistent reaction to systemic changes which threaten the status quo.
What do you think? Comments?