Future Studies Ex-Futurol​ogy Art, Science or Self-Servi​ng Bias Charlatani​sm? — Written 06/04/2012

The Future Studies:



“Futures studies (also called futurology) is the study of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. There is a debate as to whether this discipline is an art or science. In general, it can be considered as a branch of the social sciences and parallel to the field of history. In the same way that history studies the past, futures studies considers the future.”

The Questions:


“This evolving hypertext is a systematic statement of what humanity does and does not know, and can and cannot know, about the answers to these and hundreds of other such questions.  It summarizes what human civilization has learned, identifying for each subdivision of human knowledge its fundamental concepts, principles, mysteries, and misunderstandings.  It asserts a worldview of scientific positivism and libertarian capitalism that it predicts will guide future human thought and action.”

The Answers:


“Humanity will enjoy increasing political and economic liberty, as well as increasing freedom from ignorance and superstition. Humanity will enjoy increasing prosperity and steady progress within the limits defined by the laws of physics. Effective immortality may result from technology allowing the human mind to sustain its brain or perhaps reincarnate itself as an intelligent artifact. Human civilization will experience neither salvation nor extermination by nature, machines, aliens, or gods. Humanity will spread throughout the Solar System and into the Milky Way, and be enriched by contact with other intelligent species and artifacts. Eventually humanity’s descendants will so improve their genes and minds that Homo sapiens will exist primarily as a revered memory. ”


“Strategic foresight is a fairly recent attempt to differentiate “futurology” from “futures studies”. It arises from the premise that:

  • The future is not predictable;
  • The future is not predetermined; and
  • Future outcomes can be influenced by our choices in the present.

Strategic foresight may be used as part of the corporate foresight in large companies . It is also used within various levels of Government and Not for Profit organisations. Many concepts and tools are also suited to ‘personal futures’ thinking.

Strategic foresight can be practiced at multiple levels, three different levels being:

Pragmatic foresight – “Carrying out tomorrows’ business better”

Progressive foresight – “Going beyond conventional thinking and practices and reformulating processes, products, and services using quite different assumptions”

Civilizational foresight – “Seeks to understand the aspects of the next civilisation – the one that lies beyond the current impasse, the prevailing hegemony of techno/industrial/capitalist interests”.

Two approaches to futures studies that are especially focussed at those last two levels of strategic foresight are Critical futures and Integral futures.

Strategic Foresight Group defines foresight as a combination of forecasting with insight. While forecasting requires methodologies, generated by computers or otherwise, insight requires deep understanding of the subject concerned. Foresight is developed by applying forecasting methodology to the insight. Strategic Foresight relates to foresight of strategic issues. Thus, strategic foresight can be developed by scientific study. It is not about intuition or guess work. The difference between strategic foresight and futurology is that strategic foresight provides alternative scenarios for the future. Futurology attempts to provide a definitive picture of the future.”

The Risks & The Rewards:


“The optimism bias (also known as unrealistic or comparative optimism) is a self-serving bias that causes a person to believe that they are less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others. There are four factors that cause a person to be optimistically biased: their desired end state, their cognitive mechanisms, the information they have about themselves versus others, and overall mood. The optimistic bias is seen in a number of situations, including people believing that they are less at risk of being a crime victim, smokers believing that they are less likely to contract lung cancer or disease than other smokers, and first-time bungee jumpers believing that they are less at risk of an injury than other jumpers. Although the optimism bias occurs for both positive events, such as believing oneself to be more financially successful than others and negative events, such as being less likely to have a drinking problem, there is more research and evidence suggesting that the bias is stronger for negative events. However, different consequences result from these two types of events: positive events often lead to feelings of well being and self-esteem, while negative events lead to consequences involving more risk, such as engaging in risky behaviors and not taking precautionary measures for safety.”

“Take hold of your future or the future will take hold of you (Patrick Dixon Futurewise publ 2005)”

“Several authors have become recognized as futurists. They research trends (particularly in technology) and write accounts of their observations, conclusions, and predictions. In earlier eras, many of the futurists were attached to academic institutions. For example John McHale, author of The Future of the Future, published a ‘Futures Directory’, and directed a think tank called The Centre For Integrative Studies within the university setting. Recently, futurists have started consulting groups or earn money as speakers. Alvin Toffler, John Naisbitt and Patrick Dixon exemplify this class.

Many business gurus present themselves as pragmatic futurists. One prominent international “business futurist” is Frank Feather.

Some futurists share features in common with the writers of science fiction, and indeed some science-fiction writers, such as Arthur C. Clarke, have acquired a certain reputation as futurists. Others make a stricter separation between fiction and prediction. For example, in the introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote of prediction as the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurists, not of writers: “a novelist’s business is lying”.

A survey of 108 futurists found the following shared assumptions:

We are in the midst of a historical transformation. Current times are not just part of normal history.

Multiple perspectives are at the very heart of futures studies. Multiple methods, finding ways out of the box of conventional thinking, internal critique, cross-civilisational conversations, are among the ways they are expressed.

Creation of alternatives. Futurists do not see themselves as merely value-free forecasters but as creators of alternative futures.

Participatory futures. Futurists generally see their role as liberating the future in each person. Creating enhanced public ownership of the future. This is true worldwide.

Long term policy transformation. While some are more policy-oriented than others, almost all believe that the work of the futurist is to shape public policy so it consciously and explicitly takes into account the long term.

Part of the process of creating alternative futures and of influencing public (corporate, or international) policy is internal transformation. There was no divide between institutional and inner transformation that one so often notices at international meetings. Futurists saw structural and individual factors as equally important.

Complexity. Futurists believe that a simple one-dimensional or single-discipline orientation is not satisfactory. Trans-disciplinary approaches that take complexity seriously are necessary. Systems thinking, particularly in its evolutionary dimension, is also seen as crucial.

Futurists in general were motivated by a passion for change. They are not content merely to describe the world, or to accurately forecast it. They desire to play an active role in transforming the world, or playing a part in its transformation.

The significance of hope cannot be stressed enough as a pivotal force in creating a better future.

However, even with hope as a “strange attractor”, pragmatism is not lost sight of. Most believe they are pragmatists, living in this world, even as they imagine and work for another. Futurists understand that they are in a business or mission for the long term. Merely one article, book or vision does not make for transformation. Rather it is consistent effort over a lifetime that can help create a better world future generations.

Sustainability was a recurring theme. Sustainable futures, understood as making decisions that do not reduce the options of future generations, that thus include the long term, the impact of policies on nature, gender and the other, appears to be the accepted paradigm. This is so for the corporate futurist and the NGO. Moreover, sustainability, in its environmentalist sense, is reconciled with the technological, spiritual and post-structural ideal of transformation. Sustainability is not a “back to nature” ideal but rather is inclusive of technological and cultural change.”




“But the best advice for aspirant futurists these days is: think small. The best what-lies-ahead book of 1982 was “Megatrends”, by John Naisbitt, which prophesied the future of humanity. A quarter-century later, its counterpart for 2007 was “Microtrends”, by Mark Penn, a public-relations man who doubles as chief strategy adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. “Microtrends” looks at the prospects for niche social groups such as left-handers and vegan children. The logical next step would be a book called “Nanotrends”, save that the title already belongs to a journal of nano-engineering. ”


“The next rule is: think short-term. An American practitioner, Faith Popcorn, showed the way with “The Popcorn Report” in 1991, applying her foresight to consumer trends instead of rocket science. The Popcornised end of the industry thrives as an adjunct of the marketing business, a research arm for its continuous innovation in consumer goods. One firm, Trendwatching of Amsterdam, predicts in its Trend Report for 2008 a list of social fads and niche markets including “eco-embedded brands” (so green they don’t even need to emphasise it) and “the next small thing” (“What happens when consumers want to be anything but the Joneses?”).”


“A third piece of advice: say you don’t know. Uncertainty looks smarter than ever before. Even politicians are seeing the use of it: governments that signed the Kyoto protocol on climate change said, in effect: “We don’t know for sure, but best to be on the safe side”—and they have come to look a lot smarter than countries such as America and Australia which claimed to understand climate change well enough to see no need for action.

The last great redoubt of the know-alls has been the financial markets, hedge funds claiming to have winning strategies for beating the average. But after the market panic of 2007 more humility is to be expected there too.”


“A fourth piece of advice for the budding futurist: get embedded in a particular industry, preferably something to do with computing or national security or global warming. All are fast-growing industries fascinated by uncertainty and with little use for generalists. Global warming, in particular, is making general-purpose futurology all but futile. When the best scientists in the field say openly that they can only guess at the long-term effects, how can a futurologist do better? “I cannot stop my life to spend the next two or ten years to become an expert on the environment,” complains Mr Naisbitt in his latest book, “Mindset” (although the rewards for Al Gore, who did just that, have been high). ”


“A fifth piece of advice: talk less, listen more. Thanks to the internet, every intelligent person can amass the sort of information that used to need travel, networking, research assistants, access to power. It is no coincidence that the old standard work on herd instinct, Charles Mackay’s “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”, has been displaced by James Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds”. ”




“The charlatan is usually a salesperson. He does not try to create a personal relationship with his marks, or set up an elaborate hoax using roleplaying. Rather, the person called a charlatan is being accused of resorting to quackery, pseudoscience, or some knowingly employed bogus means of impressing people in order to swindle his victims by selling them worthless nostrums and similar goods or services that will not deliver on the promises made for them. The word calls forth the image of an old-time medicine show operator, who has long since left town by the time the people who bought his “snake oil” or similarly named tonic realize that it does not perform as advertised.”


“In reported spiritual communications, a charlatan is a person who fakes evidence that a spirit is “making contact” with the medium and seekers. This has been challenged successfully by skeptics who wrote passwords and gave them to people of trust, containing a password that should be spoken by the person if he ever tried to make contact, to validate the truth of the claim. No such claim has been verified. Notable people who have successfully debunked the claims of purported supernatural mediums include Brazilian writer Monteiro Lobato and magician Houdini.”




“This is where he gets to his most controversial conclusions, such as: “Within 10 to 15 years, we will create machines on par with humans in terms of intelligence and interactions.”

He feels that it is likely that by 2029, we will be able to stop the ageing process.

Even the more mundane elements of his presentation are deeply challenging. By the time he reaches the point of concluding that humans may live forever, you wonder whether humans themselves will be able to handle this pace of technological change, much less the ethical and philosophical issues.

Evans’s answer is routed back in the realm of prediction. If our own brains can’t handle it all, he says, it’s quite likely that we will be able to start augmenting our thinking capabilities with future technologies anyway. “I think we have tremendous ability to take what is coming at us,” he says with a grin. Wait around for 10 years, and you can see if he is right.”


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