Regularity and predictability:  piecing together the “unseen unknown” of the future

By Michael Lee

“If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.”
Henri Poincaré, The Foundations of Science (1913)

How much of what happens in nature, so admired by scientists from Galileo to Poincaré, conforms to its known rules? And, for futurists, how much of the future is written into nature’s rulebook?

When types of behaviour in nature and society obey scientific laws or established principles, it opens the way for potentially robust predictions of their future states and outcomes. In particular, the more regular behaviour is, the more predictable it should prove to be. The Latin word praedicere means to “make known beforehand” and predictions make statements about what is going to happen, often as a consequence of certain causes, both direct and indirect. But when behaviour is apparently, or actually, random, the degree of difficulty for predictions rises accordingly. Underlying regularities, which enable causal influences and universal behaviour to be unveiled, provide a theoretical framework for what South Africa’s leading scenario strategist, Clem Sunter, has called the science and art of making predictions.

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