Hasok Chang, Foresight in Science (Darwin Lectures Series)
Friday 08 February 2013
We may ask two questions about foresight in relation to science: (1) whether science can foretell future events, and (2) whether we can foretell the future of science itself. Regarding the first question, many philosophers and scientists (including Lakatos and Popper) have especially valued the ability of science to make novel predictions, sometimes to the point of regarding it as the defining characteristic of science. I will argue that the acknowledged ability of modern science to make successful predictions is only as valuable as its ability to organise and explain previously known phenomena. Regarding the second question, I will argue that scientists and others have been very unsuccessful in predicting the course of the development of science itself. The uncertainty about the staying power of scientific theories, even predictively successful ones, actually raises a serious question about the value of predictive success. The final lesson from these reflections is one of humility: true foresight consists in recognising the limits of our foresight.