Perils of Prediction and Prognosis: Have We Become a Generation of Idiots?
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
A humorous series of pictures is circulating in the internet world showing modern youth absorbed in i-phones and similar gadgets. This is used to highlight Albert Einstein’s wisdom in his statement: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots”.
Many long-range forecasters, including even the geniuses among them, like Einstein, earn a living by concentrating on worst-case scenarios. The Neo-Cons and Islamophobes are both paranoid about the aliens from the South overwhelming the civilized North.
Even in the North, as discussed in my article, “Information Explosion and Ignorance”, in the ezine http://www.theamericanmuslim.org April, 28, 2005, some fear that modern technology and modern education will produce a generation of apes who cannot think beyond the next banana.
One fear is that the era of the information explosion will make people more ignorant than they were before they had expanded access to objective knowledge. The theory is that the more people have individual control over what they read the more they will narrow their reading to whatever agrees with their own prejudices. Anyone with experience in e-groups probably has noticed that the new members are already in agreement with the bias of the particular group. Furthermore, the longer they are members the more biased they become until they become real extremists and finally only the extremists remain active in the group. Some Islamophobic listserves excel all others as examples.
A pessimist might conclude that we are entering an age of mass autism in which everything and everyone is so self-referential that all experience merely isolates one ever further from reality. Psychologists, like Michael Bull of the University of Sussex in England, postulates that the trend toward customizing one’s interaction with the world results from the common fear of loss of control in an era of both visual and audio overload. Furthermore this masochistic fear gives them a lot of pleasure.
In an era of 500-channel TV access from around the world, it is possible never to listen to anything outside one’s own favorite paranoia. We may be in an era of near total control of what we watch and hear, where the ultimate censor is not the Communist Big Brother as in the 1959 novel 1984, but every individual for oneself. Even in the White House, President Bush proudly announced that he got all his news from “objective sources”, which he called “my staff”.
As suggested in my article, “Educating Moral Idiots in America”, http://www.theamericanmuslim.org June ,16, 2008, the single most important issue in American education is whether the moral dimension will be crowded out of American life by preparing students to compete only economically, which is why for the past thirty years the hard sciences and quantitative knowledge are given not merely top priority but exclusive priority. This could produce chaotic results far beyond the indirect influence of TV and X-Box violence.
The article concluded with the warning, “We are educating generations of moral idiots. These idiots will rise in an idiotic culture to govern everyone else in pursuit of stability and national security and thereby consolidate the satanic drive to pursue power, prestige, plutocracy, and wanton pleasure as the national purpose of America and of all humankind. The supporting educational idiocracy will deny the very concept that human nature is designed to pursue the higher purpose of compassionate justice in the form of respect for human responsibilities and human rights”.
The best example of the pessimism that infects the entire professional forecasting community is the respected economics forecaster, Gerald Celente, as described in my article, http://www.theamericanmuslim.org Decem,ber 24, 2008, entitled “The Sky Is Falling: Perils and Pitfalls of Long-Range Global Forecasting”. He forecast in 2007 what he called the coming “Panic of 2008”, based on a sub-prime mortgage collapse that would cause “giants to tumble to their deaths”. This did indeed happen, to the surprise of the “elves” on Wall Street, but he went on to forecast that the economic devolution would produce a social and political revolution. As America deteriorated into an undeveloped nation, it would experience squatter rebellions by those who refuse to give up their homes or else take over the homes of others. “Christmas” he declared, “as a retail bonanza will be a distant memory”. He warned not only against the criminally insane but about ordinary crime at levels “worse than in the last 1929 depression”. “The growing wealth gap” he forecast, “between the rich and the middle class will threaten social order because the middle class everywhere in the world will become a revolutionary class using knowledge, resources and skills “to shape the transnational process in their own class interest”. He concluded, “There will be a revolution in this country by a huge underclass of very desperate people with their minds chemically blown beyond anyone’s comprehension”.
The latest such “sky is falling” forecast is in Chris Hedges article in Truth Dig, January 14, 2013, entitled “The Myth of Human Progress”. He writes, “The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest the awful truth about ‘catastrophic climate change’ and continue to resist the forces that are destroying us. … Even as our economic and environmental systems unravel … we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism. We have bound ourselves to a doomsday machine”.
Such doomsday thinking is no longer cultic but has become normal. The question then becomes whether prognosticators like Hedges and Celente and Einstein are reliable. Do they share common professional blinders that cause them to be so pessimistic?
As chairman of a big study on the subject in 1981-82 for Charles Williams Associates in a contract with the National Security Council, I found that all ten of the major, long-range, global forecasts up to that time had proved to be grossly wrong, and for two major reasons. First, they assumed either that humans would be reasonable or that they would be unreasonable. They were wrong on both counts. Secondly, they relied heavily on existing trends and ignored the exogenous variables that might still be under the radar or might be entirely outside what Thomas Kuhn in 1969 called the paradigmatic parameters of establishment thinking.
My conclusion in this study was that reality exists in quality more than in quantity, even though since the advent of the computer almost all forecasting techniques rely on quantitative analysis. Since the present is bound by the past, but the future is not bound by the present, extreme pessimism and entire forecasting industries, such as that of Islamophobia, must be questioned. Most importantly, a quantitative forecast may be qualitatively self-correcting before it becomes destructive of civilization
Einstein may prove my point. He can be wrong, even though he once said that his general theory of relativity was so counter-intuitive that it had to come from God. Someone else said that it came from his wife, who also was an accomplished physicist but with the addition of feminine intuition.
For example, Einstein postulated that nothing can move faster than the speed of light, which he said cannot exceed 186,000 miles a second. The CERN accelerator apparently proved him wrong two years ago, thereby opening up a new frontier of communication at superluminal speeds, perhaps millions of times faster than the lazy old speed of light. Although peer review is still on-going, the initial report stated on September 22, 2011:
“CERN says a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab 454 miles (730 kilometers) away in Italy traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. Scientists calculated the margin of error at just 10 nanoseconds, making the difference statistically significant. But given the enormous implications of the find, they still spent months checking and rechecking their results to make sure there were no flaws in the experiment. ‘We have not found any instrumental effect that could explain the result of the measurement’, said Antonio Ereditato, a physicist at the University of Bern, Switzerland, who was involved in the experiment known as OPERA. The researchers are now looking to the United States and Japan to confirm the results.”
Furthermore, an equally astounding report from Caltech last week indicated that planets around stars are not only the norm but universal, which is more important that Columbus’s “discovery” of America:
SPACE.com Staff Published: 01/02/2013 05:13 PM EST on SPACE.com
Our Milky Way galaxy is home to at least 100 billion alien planets, and possibly many more, a new study suggests. “It’s a staggering number, if you think about it,” lead author Jonathan Swift, of Caltech in Pasadena, said in a statement. “Basically there’s one of these planets per star.”
Swift and his colleagues arrived at their estimate after studying a five-planet system called Kepler-32, which lies about 915 light-years
from Earth. The five worlds were detected by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which flags the tiny brightness dips caused when exoplanets
cross their star’s face from the instrument’s perspective.
The Kepler-32 planets orbit an M dwarf, a type of star that is smaller and cooler than our sun. M dwarfs are the most common star in the Milky Way, accounting for about 75 percent of the galaxy’s 100 billion or so stars, researchers said.
Further, the five Kepler-32 worlds are similar in size to Earth and orbit quite close to their parent star, making them typical of the planets Kepler has spotted around other M dwarfs. So the Kepler-32 system should be representative of many of the galaxy’s planets, scientists said. [The Strangest Alien Planets (Gallery)
“I usually try not to call things ‘Rosetta stones,’ but this is as close to a Rosetta stone as anything I’ve seen,” said co-author John Johnson, also of Caltech. “It’s like unlocking a language that we’re trying to understand — the language of planet formation.”
A third breakthrough in correcting the latest findings of science with still later ones was the discovery, reported on January 11th, 2013, that the universe is not homogenous as would be predicted from current thinking about the big bang. According to Mike Wall, reporting for Space.com, “Astronomers have discovered the largest known structure in the universe, a clump of active galactic cores that stretches 4 billion light years from end to end. The structure is a large quasar group, a collection of extremely luminous galactic nuclei powered by supermassive central black holes. This group is so large that it challenges modern cosmological theory. … Author Roger Clowes of the University of Central Lancashire in England said in a statement, ‘This is hugely exciting, not least because it runs counter to our current understanding of the scale of the universe.’ To put this in perspective, our Milky Way galaxy is about 100,000 light years wide.”
This new finding from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey not only counters the cosmological assumptions that no structures larger than about 1.2 billion light years should exist, but suggests, at least to me, that the force of attraction operates almost infinitely faster than light, which, in turn, would suggest, as some scientists are saying, that the existent universe is merely a contingent manifestation of a higher reality beyond space and time.
These three findings combine to suggest that perhaps the existence and flourishing of life, even intelligent life or sentient beings, is the norm in the universe. The survival of only two thousand humans on planet earth 125,000 years ago, as indicated by linguistic specialists on the Ur or Nostratic language (from the Latin noster or our), would indicate that natural law shows a predisposition to promote and sustain life and perhaps sentient life.
From this one might further conclude that Einstein was wrong in suggesting that modern technology will lead to a generation or more of idiots. As a professional long-range global forecaster most of my life, I am more optimistic, especially the further out one looks, so one can never be proven wrong. Evolution shows a propensity to correct errors as a means to survival, even though such “errors” themselves may be an essential means for creativity in responding to challenges, as suggested in my now rare book of 1997, Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response.
As civilization begins to implode in the modern era as a result of the Westphalian paradigm of positivist law and the invention of the modern state based upon it, one would expect that within the next few decades (or perhaps a thousand years from now) the “error” of technology addiction would produce a normative paradigm as a revival of the classical jurisprudence known as the maqasid al shari’ah. This is a theme in my latest book, entitled Global Awakening: The Role of Global Ethics in Rehabilitating the Role of Religion in the World, which is being revised from its initial publication in http://www.theamericanmuslim.org in May and June 2009, except for a 70-page chapter on economic justice, as a prolegomena or introduction to my project for a Justice Encyclopedia of Global Ethics and Normative Jurisprudence.
This series of “perhaps” and “mights” in speculating on the impact of contemporary change does not prove anything, especially if one relies on the always erroneous method of trend analysis, but it suggests that the era of idiot nerds is merely a passing phase in the history of intelligent life on earth, through which life on all of the billions of planets in the universe must pass, either for better or for worse.