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Can we by any means predict the future condition(s) of a society or country

1. provided we have some data like, say, the dominant philosophy or culture of that place,

or

2. by any other means?

I would say, not precisely but probabilistically it is possible. So out of 100,000 people, some percentage will die in a traffic accident next year. But which ones will die, not so much.

Government taking over or privately monopolizing the money supply will led to an inflated currency. Not necessarily, but in all likelihood. The establishment of a strong welfare system will increase out of marriage birthrates. Etc.

These sorts of predictions are possible, but again it is only highly probable and not causal in a 1 to 1 way. Nothing, for example would prohibit a government from deflating a currency. It just isn't likely since they would not as often benefit by it in an immediate short term way.

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What's far more difficult to predict is that people will change their minds and realize that inflating the money supply is worse than they thought, and then do something to lessen it: consider the US economy in the 70's versus now. [One problem is that some people change their minds and others don't, and it's tough to predict how many will go each way.]

I think those turning points are difficult (if not impossible) to predict. For instance, take religion: it is clearly a growing force, not in numbers, but in respectability. (Even CNN has a program called "What would Jesus Do?", liberal Harvard recently added a religion-study requirement to its curriculum, etc.) Yet, if it becomes too intrusive, what then? Will it start to take over the country and move the US toward a religious state, or will it reach a point where less philosophically-inclined people also start to realize its threat and beat it back to where it belongs? I think that's the hard thing to predict.

One would be pretty safe predicting that someone, some day will figure out a way to combat cancer, either by preventing it or by curing it, because there is no set of people working to stop such a cure. However, if -- for whatever reason -- a cancer worshipping camp emerges or an anti-research camp emerges or an anti research-business/funding camp emerges, then the prediction becomes more difficult.

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Clearly we can predict some things. What things and for how long? Back before the elections in 2004, you could predict that GWB would win, I supose about 3 weeks before the elections. Back before September 2001, you could not have predicted the current political condition in America. You can also predict that America will become slowly more socialist and that law will become more subjective, and this will be so for many decades -- or until a catastrophic event which changes everything on a massive scale. Such a disaster on the day before an election could make life really strange.

The idea of "prediction" implies a well worked out scientific model, something like exists in the physical sciences where you can actually take a quantity of sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, and predict exactly how much salt you can get from it. Not "have a hunch", but actually say the truth in advance of the event. Asimov has a trilogy on the topic, and it is, indeed, science fiction.

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The idea of "prediction" implies a well worked out scientific model, something like exists in the physical sciences where you can actually take a quantity of sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, and predict exactly how much salt you can get from it. Not "have a hunch", but actually say the truth in advance of the event. Asimov has a trilogy on the topic, and it is, indeed, science fiction.

Does prediction necessarily have to be 100% accurate to be prediction? If 1/18,412 car occupants in 2006 die from traffic accidents, could we not predict a similiar amount in 2007 assuming no major changes in population or transportation technology occurred in that year? I don't know what the variation is from year to year, but it seems factual to say that(if this were the variation) between 1/18,002 and 1/18,912 car occupants will die this year in an accident.

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The idea of "prediction" implies a well worked out scientific model, something like exists in the physical sciences where you can actually take a quantity of sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, and predict exactly how much salt you can get from it. Not "have a hunch", but actually say the truth in advance of the event. Asimov has a trilogy on the topic, and it is, indeed, science fiction.

Well, yes. But Psychohistory is overrated and has flawed assumptions. besides, it was badly named :D

Human action is based largely on predicting the future. Decisions are made, largely, by predicting the outcome of each available alternative. How do we learn to make successful, or partly successful, predictions? I think it's part experience and part observation.

Naturally these predictions aren't always right. They can be partially correct, and sometimes that may yield an acceptable result, sometimes not. For example, you have an appintment uptown at 10, so you make an estimate of how long it will take you to get there. If your prediction is correct you'll get there in time. If it's partly correct, you may still arrive in time if you allowed a suffcient margin for unexpected events (like traffic accidents). If you're wrong, you'll be late.

Now, assume in the above example you're entirely correct. What you can't predict is which cars you will find on the road, much less why each is in your route at any given time (are they going to the same area you are, or are they passing through?). For your pusrposes that's entirely irrelevant.

If the future were entirely unpredictable, people couldn't do any planning at all. In fact, we couldn't make much in the way of decisions. How would you decide whther to invest in, say, a new business or in the stock market if you have no way of knowing even the odds of a good return on either? How would you know what to eat, if you can't predict the effect either chessecake or salad will have on your body?

I suppose you can see where I'm going with this.

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Does prediction necessarily have to be 100% accurate to be prediction?
No, I think the concept doesn't imply perfection. The point I'm making is that you can say anything you want, and if you look at the sum total of psychic predictions, they've done a remarkable job of predicting the future. Very frequently, some lucky guy somewhere is able to predict what 5 or 6 2-digit numbers will be spewed out by a machine on Tuesday night, or Friday, or whenever. I would not call those predictions, they are simply lucky guesses made at random. The concept of prediction, in the meaningful sense, refers to a reasoned prediction, one that is based on knowing the causal factors, for example knowing the composition of lye and HCl and how they combine to make salt. Those laws are well enough known that the prediction can be very accurate, but you can still make a meaningful prediction based on a fragment of a theory. When it comes to traffic deaths and things like that, I think you have a bunch of statistics from the past and a broad by unfounded notion that "the future will be the same as the past", which I argue isn't a causal explanation that really predicts, rather it's just a restatement of something that has already happened, coupled with the confidence that nothing will change in the future.

Where did you get that number? I'm looking at the DOT FARS figures and can't find it. The rate is not constant so the question of variation is not so important: what would matter is knowing what causes an increase of decrease. There has been a steady decrease since 1994 in the per-mile rate, a wobbly somewhat downward trend in the per population rate, a less wobbly downtrend in the per vehicle rate. If you're willing to accept a certain amount of slop, I'll give you my prediction for the next year: 36,250 (total), give or take 300. You can call that a prediction, if you would like. But it's not based on anything any more sophisticated that saying "whatever happened in the past, that's what's gonna happen in the future."

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Social prediction may be possible to some extent and has been done with some success for a few decades. A recent documentary titled "History's Hiden Engine" can be viewed free at www.socionomics.com. You be the judge. Forecasts and commentary can also be viewed at www.sociotimes.com

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I suppose you can see where I'm going with this.
Not exactly. Going back to the original question, which was based not on numeric correlations of events (such as number of cars and number of traffic deaths, or time of day and travel time), I understood the issue to be about principled prediction and not educated guessing, based on data mining and regression analysis.

I'm not claiming that you can't use regression as your primary cognitive tool, I'm just claiming that if you depend on regression and ignore causal factors, you're screwed when a confounding variable raises its ugly head above the horizon, and causes people to hijack planes, and change the course of history.

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Sorry for the late reply. I was caught up in work.

The reason that I asked this question was that the claim of some that "the philosophy of a society determines its future" sounded a bit historicist to me. However, Ayn Rand's reply to the interviewer in her Playboy interview was:

PLAYBOY: Do you believe that Objectivism as a philosophy will eventually sweep the world?

RAND: Nobody can answer a question of that kind. Men have free will. There is no guarantee that they will choose to be rational, at any one time or in any one generation. Nor is it necessary for a philosophy to "sweep the world." If you ask the question in a somewhat different form, if you say, do I think that Objectivism will be the philosophy of the future, I would say yes, but with this qualification: If men turn to reason, if they are not destroyed by dictatorship and precipitated into another Dark Ages, if men remain free long enough to have time to think, then Objectivism is the philosophy they will accept.

Source: http://www.ellensplace.net/ar_pboy.html

And, as far as statistical predictions go, I have to say that they are some caveats on that too. For an example of a caveat, if 300 people in a town were killed by road accidents in one year then the statistics would say some similar number would die the next year. Now say the town is destroyed (by, say, a tidal wave), then naturally the statistics would not hold for the next year.

The socialists' predictions that communism will replace capitalism has no basis in fact, but is just as valid (or invalid) as an astrologer saying the fates of people and countries are in the hands of the stars.

In conclusion, saying:

You can also predict that America will become slowly more socialist and that law will become more subjective, and this will be so for many decades -- or until a catastrophic event which changes everything on a massive scale. Such a disaster on the day before an election could make life really strange.
is not right (unless it is said in jest) as we have no way of predicting the future by some arbitrary conditions.

Also, I would like to know the non-historicist reasons, if any, against state interventionism. By that, I mean:

Historicist reasons for anti-interventionism would go like: "If the government interferes, the economy will be destroyed". That sounds historicist to me.

Is there any non-historicist argument against interventionism?

P.S. Sorry for the long post

Edited by Whoisjohngalt
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In conclusion, saying:is not right (unless it is said in jest) as we have no way of predicting the future by some arbitrary conditions.
It is completely right, because it is based on knowing how politics works, at present. If the prediction were made on the basis of arbitrary conditions, I would agree, but it is based on reality, on analysis of electoral trends, lawmaking trends, the underlying philosophies of lawmakers and so on. Rational people do not change their philosophies randomly, they change their philosophies based on a perceptual fact. One kind of dramatic fact that can cause many rational people to rapidly change their philosophies is a concretization of evil, such as terrorists attacking a monument of western civilization and murdering thousands of innocents in an instant. Another less precipitous change will come when people are slowly persuaded of the value of a rational philosophy. Persuasion implies that someone acts -- who is acting? Who is teaching a rational philosophy in the schools, who is demonstrating a rational philosophy in our culture? And who is working against reason? Until the existing philosophy is replaced with a rational philosophy, where man's rights are properly identified and respected, American politics will continue on its subjective, socialist trend for decades. In other words, every word of what I said was right.
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The reason that I asked this question was that the claim of some that "the philosophy of a society determines its future" sounded a bit historicist to me.
Could you explain what you mean by "historicist"? Does it means something other than: "based on the observation of past experiences"?
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Could you explain what you mean by "historicist"? Does it means something other than: "based on the observation of past experiences"?

A theory that events are determined or influenced by conditions and inherent processes beyond the control of humans.
(source)

To answer your question, it may be based on past experiences. But my question is: Can we predict the course of a society or country based on the past or present state of that society or country. Unless one is a determinist, I do not see how one can claim that the future of a society will follow its past or present.

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But it's not based on anything any more sophisticated that saying "whatever happened in the past, that's what's gonna happen in the future."

Well what it really is is "whatever happened in the past, that's what's likely to happen in the future". But I mean, that's pretty much what most predictions are. Take the people that work in finance for instance -- their job is pretty much trying to predict the future. A lot of their predictions are based on facts, but a lot are also simply based on pattern recognition and the regression of said pattern (that's pretty much all technical analysis is).

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Well what it really is is "whatever happened in the past, that's what's likely to happen in the future". But I mean, that's pretty much what most predictions are. Take the people that work in finance for instance -- their job is pretty much trying to predict the future. A lot of their predictions are based on facts, but a lot are also simply based on pattern recognition and the regression of said pattern (that's pretty much all technical analysis is).
As I say, this regression-type "prediction" is a mockery of the concept of prediction. It's a cheap heuristic and it is not what most predictions are. Most predictions, as implemented in technology such as the computer, is based on an actual understanding and theory of cause-effect relationships. The facts "X happened in the past" does not cause X to happen in the future. The practical need to resort to such witchcraft as regression analysis is dictated by the fact that (1) it's cheap and easy and (2) gives you results that succeed more times than fail. That's not a prediction, it's fish-gut, turtle-bone divination. When you can't be bothered to understand cause and effect relationships, especially when dealing with men who have free will, then I understand why people retreat to the old ways of divination, to instill confidence in their victims that somehow these charlatans can "see the future".
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When you can't be bothered to understand cause and effect relationships, especially when dealing with men who have free will, then I understand why people retreat to the old ways of divination, to instill confidence in their victims that somehow these charlatans can "see the future".

Let's see if I understand. On the one hand, a man might say "I predict the Sun will rise tomorrow, because it did so today, and yesterday, and the day before that, and so on as far back as I can remember." On the other hand, one might say "because the Earth's position relative to the Sun, and because the Earth rotates on its axis and thus exposes all its surface to the rays of the Sun, I can predict the sun will rise tomorrow"

Have I got it right?

If I do then anturally it's safe to make predictions on regular occurences such as sunrise. On the other hand, it's imossible to rpedict other things. For example, the fact that a building has withstood medium-magnitude earthquakes in the past does ot mean it can withstand high-magnitude ones in the future. An engineer could tell you the chances that it would, or that it would not, with a fair degree of precission.

So where do statistical predictions, such as actuarial tables, fall into? I know for a fact actuarial tables are based on more than just "how many people died last year and at what age?" but not on how much more.

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So where do statistical predictions, such as actuarial tables, fall into?
By "statistical prediction", I presume you mean a conclusion based on no actual knowledge of causal relationships. I don't think there is a huge difference between actuarial tables and weather history, except the number of observations (i.e. we probably have more days / environment weather data pairs than death / social fact pairs). If you don't know whether it will rain some time in May, you can consult a table that will tell you how often it rains in May, and you can even ask "How often does it rain in this town, in May". Same with people dying. If you act based on an observation of what has happened 75% of the time, I'd guess, though not based on a rational grounds for guessing, that you would probably be right at least 50% of the time if you went with the statistical guess.

Of course, if you luckily landed on a proposition that eschewed man's free will and focused on well-understood physical laws, you could do a lot better than 50%.

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  • 1 month later...
Can we by any means predict the future condition(s) of a society or country

Of course. To see why, consider predicting the condition of our society one picosecond from the current time. I predict that in one picosecond, society will basically be the same as it is now. Hey, I'm right! Other predictions are not categorically different from this prediction, they're just harder.

DavidOdden's claim about our inability to predict the post-9/11 political climate is, strictly speaking, false. After all, we could have predicted it if we knew what would happen on 9/11, and we could have predicted 9/11. Of course, what he probably means is that if we made our prediction assuming that 9/11 was not going to happen, we would probably have been wrong.

Given that I have a certain set of information available to me, and a certain amount of time to think about it, there is a procedure which will yield the right prediction about some topic more often than any other when the unknown information ranges over all possible values weighted by their particular probabilities. Now, if this best procedure isn't very good, we might say as a manner of speaking that we cannot make predictions about that topic, but in fact we can, it is just that we can only do so well.

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DavidOdden's claim about our inability to predict the post-9/11 political climate is, strictly speaking, false. After all, we could have predicted it if we knew what would happen on 9/11, and we could have predicted 9/11. Of course, what he probably means is that if we made our prediction assuming that 9/11 was not going to happen, we would probably have been wrong.
No, actually I meant that we could not predict the current state of affairs because we could not have known what happened on 9/11. As of about 10:30am on Sept. 11, the essential facts were available and within two weeks the future was quite clear. I think we could have predicted some significant terrorist event in the 20 or so year future (by "predict", I mean an actual prediction and not a Jeanne Dixon-style vague random "prediction"), but not the specific attack and its extent, which played a very significant role in modern politics.

There are numerous reasons why the event could not be predicted, but they boil down to the fact that man has free will and must choose to act in a particular way. The mind is not a simple, automatic physical system, like an orbiting planet or subatomic particle.

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No, actually I meant that we could not predict the current state of affairs because we could not have known what happened on 9/11.

If you mean it was very hard to know, then you are right, but "Could not have known" is wrong. I understand that US intelligence had some inkling of what OBL&co were planning, and in principle they could have looked into it with a fairly high degree of thoroughness. Even if we had no inkling, we could probably have put a sufficiently large amount of resources into intelligence gathering that we would have discovered their plan, and thus discovered what would happen and what its effects would be.

There are numerous reasons why the event could not be predicted, but they boil down to the fact that man has free will and must choose to act in a particular way. The mind is not a simple, automatic physical system, like an orbiting planet or subatomic particle.

What about this says anything about the predictability of human action? Free will does not imply unpredictability. If I offer you a cool billion in cash, no strings attached, I know that you have a free choice in the matter of whether or not you'll take it, but I'm also pretty sure you'll take it. We have free will, but we also have certain needs and desires which can be known to a third party, and all else being equal we will choose to act to satisfy those needs and desires.

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I understand that US intelligence had some inkling of what OBL&co were planning, and in principle they could have looked into it with a fairly high degree of thoroughness.
Okay, but I am not a spy, nor are virtually all people in the US spies, so we could not know, even if someone could know. I don't consider your "with sufficient work, could know" claim to be established as fact -- it's a conjecture based on the motto "anything is possible".
What about this says anything about the predictability of human action?
That it is not possible to know with certainty that a person will select action A versus B. You might turn out to be right about your estimation of the man's unswerving dedication to self-destruction so that you can be 95% certain of his intent to destroy himself and the plane he is in, if you know an awful lot more than you do actually know. Free will means that even if an Islamist has a very strong commitment to the destruction of western civilization in favor of a mystics dictatorship, he can still chose to not act, and if he opts to not act, the plane will land safely.
If I offer you a cool billion in cash, no strings attached, I know that you have a free choice in the matter of whether or not you'll take it, but I'm also pretty sure you'll take it.
You are completely wrong, and I can prove it to you.
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Free will does not imply unpredictability.

It certainly does imply unpredictability. It has to, or else it isn't "free". In fact the only reason that I am able to accept that human choices "could have been otherwise" - which on its face would seem to be an arbitrary statement since nothing that ever was can be shown to have actually been otherwise - is to treat the issue as epistemological, i.e. it is the unpredictability of human choice that enables us to say with any sense at all that such a choice could go either way. Take away the the unpredictability, and you've taken away free will altogether.

When critics of Objectivism quibble with the notion that human free will somehow creates a loophole to causality, what they fail to see is the epistemological nature of the problem. As far as I know, metaphysically, human neurons obey the laws of physics like anything else. I do not believe (though someone may correct me) that Objectivism claims that human minds have any metaphysical special rights to operate free from causality. To the contrary, it claims that everything acts according to its nature. The concept belongs to epistemology. You don't need quantum mechanics to explain free will. All you need is to understand that the issue relates to our inability to *predict* human choices, that that is fundamentally what makes free will "free".

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If I offer you a cool billion in cash, no strings attached, I know that you have a free choice in the matter of whether or not you'll take it, but I'm also pretty sure you'll take it.

I wouldn't take it. Do you have any idea what kind of hassle that much cash would be? I would probably end up being interrogated by the police, not to mention the fact that a billion dollars in cash (since you can't get bills over $100 any more) weighs more than eleven tons.

Heck, I probably wouldn't even accept it if you just walked up to me in the street and offered me ten dollars, because I have no idea what your motivations are. What a silly example.

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