Why do we think about the future?

The future has been one of the greatest mysteries to humankind. Since ancient times, human beings have been trying to predict the future. Our ancestors turned to magic, various rituals and prophecies for answers concerning our destiny. While today, we resort to numerous scientific tools to satisfy our curiosity. However, no matter what humankind turns to, our future still remains a mystery. Even though scientists are able to predict natural events, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, eclipses, impacts of climate change etc., there are no reliable technique to predict social incidents. As they say, life is full of surprises, good and bad ones. But what makes the future this important? Why do we want to know our future, or try to predict it?

To start off, one could argue that, if we were able to accurately foresee the events that are going to happen, we can prepare and get ready for them. Be it a natural disaster or the coming of a new popular technology that you can make profit from . Accurate predictions can also provide stability, or at least a sense of stability, which is desired by many. However, comprehension of the future changed a lot since the antiquity.  Prior to the linear conception of time, which was discovered by St. Augustine (354 AD-430 AD) and is what we are used to today, the Ancient Greece, for example, people believed that time had a circular pattern; that the future and the past was a part of a continuous circle. They thought that the universe was infinite in time without any specific start or end. Unlike today, where scientists are trying to investigate what happened with the Big Bang and how the universe came to be.

Since the Industrial Revolution and modernity, social change gained speed. Before the Industrial Revolution, people were not as concerned with the future as we are today. Social change was so slow and there was almost no generation gap. It is possible to argue that with accelerating social change, people have started to worry more about their future more as it is not that easy to predict what is going to happen. It makes it harder to imagine and predict how our everyday practices are going to evolve during the next ten years; creating a feeling of despair. All these rapid changes that are occurring are out of our control and all the massive amounts of information circulating make us feel powerless, and helpless.

Today, we are constantly being bombarded with vast amounts of information and news from all around the world, and things are happening and circulating much faster than it used to. However, there are always two sides of the medallion. On the one hand, we have the rapid advancement in technology, which has allowed us to witness all kinds of fascinating developments, such as artificial intelligence, innovative energy solutions, space travel, self-driving cars, drones, bio-engineering and the list goes on. However, on the other hand, we are also experiencing numerous undesired phenomena, such as climate change, political instabilities, corruption, global inequalities, xenophobia, global acts of terror, wars, the spread of deadly diseases, genocides and many more. At this point, one can start to wonder, are we going to have a brighter future or a darker one? Answering the question, naturally, requires a comparison with the past. But without a doubt, there have been improvements in our everyday life, science and even in politics.

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Statistically speaking, our world is becoming a better place; people are becoming less violent and increasingly more tolerant, we are overall living healthier lives and both poverty and hunger is declining globally. More and more people are gaining access to education, to drinking water, and basic infrastructure has improved. Most importantly, we are experiencing far less wars. Philosopher Peter Singer argues that, “the world’s in a much better situation than it’s been in past periods, despite the headlines on the war in Syria and other places where bad things are happening. There have been fewer people killed in wars, or genocides, or other forms of violence in the last decade or two than there have been in any other decade. We ought to take consolation in that.” However, despite this evidence showing that the world is becoming a better place, the majority tends to believe that our future is not that bright.

A way to potentially explain why the majority believes in a darker future, is the increase in globalization and interconnectedness. First, we are constantly exposed to  tragic events happening worldwide, no matter how far we live from the area. The level of interconnectedness and the speed of which information spreads, plays a crucial role in laying the foundations for a pessimistic view of our future. Another important factor could be that we tend to forget our past. As the facts in the previous paragraph shows, the life we live and have today, is significantly improved in comparison to the lives of humans had half a century ago. There are also no guarantees that new technologies and developments are going to be used for good, just how artificial intelligence and advancing drone technology can be utilised to construct autonomous killer-drones. So, when there is a possibility that we might face a new and more dark and deadly era. Thus, the unpredictable nature of the future, creates a sense of despair and there is no way of getting rid of the feeling, unless one stops to think about the future.

Whether or not we have a brighter future ahead of us, the human aspiration to foresee the future is not going to end anytime soon. Therefore raising even more questions. If there is going to be a brighter future, is it going to be brighter for everyone and everywhere? For instance, as I said before, global poverty is declining while the poverty among women is increasing. Even if the world is becoming a better place, this doesn’t mean that it is becoming a better place for everyone. At this point, one could ask “Is it better to think about tomorrow instead of today?”

Sarper Sarıkaya

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