RE: future language

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Thu May 02 2002 - 13:19:40 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: future language
    Date: Thu, 2 May 2002 13:19:40 +0100 
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            <If you talk to the meteorologists (and I did, quite a bit, simply
    > because I fly often), you find out exactly how much thought and
    > calculation goes into weather prediction. You also find out exactly how
    > useful it is today, and how accurate. I feel perfectly confident in
    > stating that if for some reason no one did weather predictions for a
    > day, our civilization would stop being a civilization, for a day.>
            Hyperbole surely?

            <There is actually a number of ways. They differ mostly in accuracy
    > prediction. The fact that the weather system might be chaotic (there is
    > a difference between our models of w.s., which usualy turn out to be
    > chaotic, and actuall weather, that might or might not be so) doesn't
    > change a bit the fact that we can today predict weather with accuracy
    > unheard of even 50 years ago.>
            Is our long term forecasting ability any better than 50 years ago?
    I don't know, but I bet it isn't.

            <You are engaging in the well-known human propensity for focusing
    > on the exceptions. :)
    > And anyway, I never claimed that w.p. is perfectly accurate all the
    > time. :)>
            My point was that it was an illustration of how satellite-enabled,
    multiple model-enabled meterologists miscalculated the liklihood of the
    storm's arrival (and people died as a result of that storm). I don't regard
    it as indicative of general predictive trends, only as an illustration of
    how weather predicition remains imperfect. I've no idea what the relative
    balance between success and failure in forecasting actually is. At the risk
    of offering another ddogy form of argument, the argument from anecdote,
    living in Britain where the weather is predictably changeable :-), weather
    forecasting appears to be frequently wrong (as least in the local sense).
    Maybe in the Namib desert it's more predictable.

    >> Prediction of, say, the motions of the planets is different
    >> one can predict the position of the planets with accuracy.

            <Nope. Anyone who has ever been involved in orbital mechanics of the
    > asteroid watchers, or modelling the moons and rings of Saturn and
    > Jupiter, is going to tell you that this is again just a question of
    > timescale. Quite a few bodies in our system exhibit chaotic behavior.
    > And I won't even go into the orbital mechanics of some of the more
    > complex human exploration missions, like Galileo (where you had a
    > spacecraft use gravity-assist slingshots to tour the moons of Jupiter -
    > a n-body problem with asymptotic chaotic solutions)....>
            I was talking about the planets, not their moons (a couple of
    Saturn's behave funnily I believe) or asteroids, and we can predict with
    relatively high levels of accuracy where Mars, for example, will be, in
    months and years of time, which is categorically what we can't do with the

    >> Social phenomena
    >> are more like the weather than the planets in that sense, so
    >> predicting
    >> future social changes is difficult in the extreme.

            <Difficult is not equal to impossible. My point about the predictive
    > tools that we have today still stands. All of our science is here
    > mainly because we have biological urge to ask "And what then?".>
            Actually, under current levels of understanding of social phenomena,
    I would say that it is impossible currently to predict social change with
    any acceptable level of effectiveness. Remember there's a major difference
    between making general claims about social change, and specific claims. The
    former is no great trick, politicians do it all the time (and how successful
    are they?).


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