Future Studies

Future studies is an emerging academic discipline to rigorously examine claims about the future. It is epistemological in that it centralises the arguments about what is knowable, such as sorting through the discourse to separate 'scientific analysis' from general criticism. This is a sorting process of discerning hard and soft science, to give academic rigour to the domain. It makes the distinctions between what is possible, what is probable and what is desirable.

Some of the terms which are specific to this domain include General Purpose Technology and its effect on the economy. Marshall McLuhan and his Tetrad of Media Effects. Nikolai Kondratiev and the Kondratiev Wave.

Future studies are cross disciplinary and draw on established traditions such as economics, analytic philosophy and mathematics to evaluate applicability and probability. It also draws from emerging disciplines such as neuroscience and consciousness studies to understand our (often poor) performance on tasks like foresight. The book Thinking Fast and Slow (by Daniel Kahneman) did a lot to make this area of cognitive science accessible to a general audience. Books by Nassim Taleb explore our poor performance on conceptualising the likelness of catastrophic events. This is the area futurologists call Scenario Planning which has its roots in the earliest development of bureaucratic civilisation when governments planned for food security by examining the numbers behind production and consumption. This later developed into the planning of risk through insurance and later the data science behind mortality rates and Public Health.

Another explanation is to imagine a sociology about a world that doesn't (yet) exist. You can still apply the same critical rigour to (hypothetical) arguments about such a fictitious world. Now imagine that as time progresses, evidence about that fictitious world becomes observable in a verifiable way and that (hitherto counterfactual) arguments are now falsifiable. This would then form a credible domain for discourse which can be peer-reviewed.

For this very reason, there is a sub-domain of future studies called paleofutures which re-examines historical visions of the future to understand how we were/weren't able to anticipate or foresee some if any events.