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There is nothing wrong with exploiting the symbolic and literary affordances of an unknown future, just as there is nothing wrong with fantasizing about imaginary countries populated by dragons and wizards.Yet it is important to attempt (as best we can) to distinguish futuristic scenarios put forward for their symbolic significance or entertainment value from speculations that are meant to be evaluated on the basis of literal plausibility.
Very often, the future has served as a projection screen for our hopes and fears; or as a stage setting for dramatic entertainment, morality tales, or satire of tendencies in contemporary society; or as a banner for ideological mobilization.
It is relatively rare for humanity’s future to be taken seriously as a subject matter on which it is important to try to have factually correct beliefs.
Traditionally, the future of humanity has been a topic for theology.
All the major religions have teachings about the ultimate destiny of humanity or the end of the world.
The fact that we “need” realistic pictures of the future does not entail that we can have them.
Predictions about future technical and social developments are notoriously unreliable – to an extent that have lead some to propose that we do away with prediction altogether in our planning and preparation for the future.
For example, whether and when Earth-originating life will go extinct, whether it will colonize the galaxy, whether human biology will be fundamentally transformed to make us posthuman, whether machine intelligence will surpass biological intelligence, whether population size will explode, and whether quality of life will radically improve or deteriorate: these are all important fundamental questions about the future of humanity.
Less fundamental questions – for instance, about methodologies or specific technology projections – are also relevant insofar as they inform our views about more fundamental parameters.
The scale of human social organization has also grown, creating new opportunities for coordination and action, and there are many institutions and individuals who either to consider, possible long-term global impacts of their actions.
Climate change, national and international security, economic development, nuclear waste disposal, biodiversity, natural resource conservation, population policy, and scientific and technological research funding are examples of policy areas that involve long time-horizons.