Prediction: The Past and Present of the Future (Gen Ed 1112)





How and why do humans try to divine their own futures?


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Alyssa Goodman

Human beings are the only creatures in the animal kingdom properly defined as worriers. We are the only ones who expend tremendous amounts of time, energy, and resources trying (sometimes obsessively) to understand our futures before they happen. While the innate ability of individual people to predict has not changed much in the past few millennia, developments in mathematical and conceptual models have inordinately improved predictive systems. These systems have integrated comparisons to past results and quantified how “certain” we can be about various aspects of the future -- processes that were, in many cases, inconceivable at one point in the past. This course is a coordinated investigation of the history and future of prediction, beginning with Ancient Mesopotamians reading signs in sheep entrails and ending with modern computer simulations for climate, health, wealth, and the fate of our Universe. In this class, you will design your own predictive systems to critically engage with assumptions about how the world works and situate your explorations in a study of how motivations and techniques for divining the future have changed–and not changed–throughout human history.

For more information, see the Prediction Project website:

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