Future Perfect

Many futurologists - professional (Toffler) and less so (Naisbitt) - tried their hand at predicting the future. They proved quite successful at predicting major trends but not as lucky in delineating their details. This is because, inevitably, every futurologist has to resort to crude tools such as extrapolation. The modern day versions of biblical prophets are much better informed - and this, precisely, seems to be the problem. The cluttered information obstructs the outlines of the philosophically and conceptually most important elements.

The futurologist has to divine which - of a host - of changes which occur in his times and place ushers in a new era. Since the speed at which human societies change has radically accelerated - the futurologist's work has become more compounded and less certain.

It is better to stick to truisms, however banal. True and tried is the key to successful (and, therefore, useful) predictions. What can we rely upon which is immutable and invariant, not dependent on cultural context, technological level, or geopolitical developments?

Human nature, naturally.

The introduction of human nature into the equation which should yield the prediction may further complicate it. Human nature is, arguably, the most complex thing in the universe. It is characteristically unpredictable and behaviourally stochastic. It is not the kind of paradigm conducive to clear-cut, unequivocal, unambiguous forecasts.

This is why it is advisable to isolate two or three axes around which human nature - or its more explicit manifestations - revolves. These organizational principles must possess comprehensive explanatory powers, on the one hand - and exhibit some kind of synergy, on the other hand.

I propose such a trio : Individuality, Collectivism and Time.

Individuation is the Separation principle, the human yearning for uniqueness and idiosyncrasy, for distinction and self sufficiency, for independence and self expression.

Collectivism is the human propensity to agglomerate, to stick together, to assemble, the herd instincts and the group behaviours.

Time is the principle which connects both. It is the bridge linking individual and society. It is an epiphenomenon of society. In other words, it arises only when people assemble and can compare themselves to others. This is not Time in the physical sense, which is discernible through the relative positions and physical states of physical systems. Every human - alone as he may be - is bound to notice it. No, we are discussing the more complex, ritualistic, Social Time. This, admittedly, is a vaguer concept. It corresponds to human individual and collective memory (biography and history) and to intergenerational interactions.

An individual is devoid and bereft of any Social Time notion and feeling if he has no basis for comparison with others and no access to the collective memory or, at least, to the memories of others.

In this sense, humans are surprisingly like subatomic particles. The latter also show no Time property. They are Time symmetric in the sense that the equations describing their behaviour and evolution are indifferent to Time.

The introduction of negative (backward flowing) Time will not alter the still accurate results. It is only when masses of particles are gathered that Time is discernible and important in the description of reality. In other words, Time "erupts" or "emerges" as the complexity of physical systems increases (see "Time asymmetry Re-Visited by the same author, 1983, available through UMI. Abstract in: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/6297/time.html).

Human history (past) its present and, in all likelihood, its future are characterized by an incessant struggle between these principles. One generation witnesses the successful onslaught of individualism and declares, with hubris, the end of history. Another witnesses the "Revolt of the Masses" and produces doomsayers such as Jose Ortega y Gasset.

The 20th century was and is no exception. True, due to technological innovation, it is the most visible century, more exposed to scrutiny and reactions of shock or elation. Still - as Barbara Tuchman pointedly entitled her masterwork, we are merely a Distant Mirror of other centuries. Or, in the words of Proverbs: "Whatever was, it shall be again".

This century witnessed major breakthroughs in both technological progress (a word which should be denuded of its value content) and the dissemination of existing and newly invented technologies. This tended to encourage the individualistic camp in this permanent battle.

But people tend to confuse cause and effect. Man has not turned individualistic because of technology. The latter assisted, in past centuries, in forging alliances and collectives. Agricultural technology encouraged collaboration, not individuation, differentiation or fragmentation. We give direction and meaning to