How Futurology Works

Author's Note

Back in 1929, when people still took book titles from the Book of Common Prayer, British physicist John Desmond Bernal wrote a work that Arthur C. Clarke, no slouch in the extrapolation game himself, would later call "the most brilliant attempt at scientific prediction ever made." "The World, the Flesh and the Devil" opens with the following statement:

"There are two futures, the future of desire and the future of fate, and man's reason has never learnt to separate them."

Bernal goes on to argue that the future is produced by the collision, or perhaps tension, between two forces: nature, which we (especially at the time) barely comprehended, and human desires, which we understand even less.

To me, human desire is the key to the future. Unfortunately, we tend to set it aside because we cannot fathom how it might play out -- an approach that strikes me as 180 degrees out of phase with the truth, which is this: Even as we drive our bland, outdated gas-guzzlers and dismantle our space program, some part of us will always want daft, cool things like flying cars, zeppelins and domed cities with pneumatic tubes, monorails and mile-high people movers. As long as we do, I think there might be hope for us yet.

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