Why Narrating the Future May Be Better Than Trying to Predict It

In 1972 the Club of Rome, an international think tank, commissioned four scientists to use computers to model the human future. The result was the infamous Limits to Growth that crashed into world culture like an asteroid from space. Collapse, calamity, and chaos were the media take-aways from the book, even though the authors tried hard to explain they weren’t making predictions but only exploring what would happen if population and economies continued their exponential growth. People, however, wanted predictions even if the book wasn’t really offering them. That gap between the authors’ intentions and the book’s reception tells us something critical about flaws in the way we think about the long-term future. Just as important, it points to new and different ways to think about the future at this strange moment in

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus5 min read
The Deepest Uncertainty: When a hypothesis is neither true nor false.
Georg Cantor died in 1918 in a sanatorium in Halle, Germany. A pre-eminent mathematician, he had laid the foundation for the theory of infinite numbers in the 1870s. At the time, his ideas received hostile opposition from prominent mathematicians in
Nautilus5 min read
The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years
One of my favorite words is lox,” says Gregory Guy, a professor of linguistics at New York University. There is hardly a more quintessential New York food than a lox bagel—a century-old popular appetizing store, Russ & Daughters, calls it “The Classi
Nautilus5 min read
Dark Matter Gets a Reprieve in New Analysis
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. The galactic center shines too brightly, like the glow of a metropolis at night where maps show only a town. To mend their cosmic cartography, astrophysicists have spent years debati