Wednesday, May 19, 2010

138 / Extrapolation

One way to figure out what the future will be like is to "extrapolate" from the past and present. In fact, this is what we commonly do. Implicit in all efforts to know or predict the future by using techniques of extrapolation, whether formal or informal, is the premise that the nature of our current realities will continue to be, in the future, the same as it is today.

The technique may work for bugs in a bottle, and in other examples from the natural world, but can techniques of extrapolation truly tell us much about the future, if human beings are involved?

The momentum of the past does drive us forward, and so extrapolation can seem to be accurate, as a way to predict the future. I can never forget what Hannah Arendt has said, though, and will always be skeptical about how accurate predictions of the future will be, when such predictions are premised on the idea that things don't actually change in character, but only in amount:

"Objectively ... without taking into account that man is a beginning and a beginner, the chances that tomorrow will be like yesterday are always overwhelming.... [but] in the realm of human affairs ... men ... who have received the twofold gift of freedom and action can establish a reality of their own."

Hannah Arendt, "What is Freedom"
Between Past and Future

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