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Seeing into the Future

A Short History of Prediction

The ability to predict the future is essential to modern life. Planning for population growth or changes in weather patterns or forecasting demand for products and managing inventories would be impossible without it. But how have people through the ages gone about making predictions? What were their underlying assumptions, and what methods did they use? Have increased computer power and the newest algorithms improved our success in anticipating the future, or are we still only as good (or as bad) as our ancestors bent over their auguries? From the ancients watching the flight of birds to the murky activities of Google and Facebook today, Seeing into the Future provides vital insight into the past, present, and—of course—future of prediction.

288 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

Art: Art--General Studies



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"What will the weather be like tomorrow, next week, next year? Will there be another war, famine, global pandemic? Will the stock market rise or fall? In Seeing into the Future, military historian and theorist Martin van Creveld provides an overview of some of the myriad methods humans have devised over the millennia to foretell what is to come, from the ancients’ use of prophecy and astrology to today’s mathematical algorithms. In addition to delving into when, where, why, and how those techniques originated, he discusses such questions as why prediction is so difficult, whether modern humans are any better at making predictions than our ancestors were, and whether knowing the future is a good thing."

Physics Today

"Van Creveld summarizes this book by considering just how accurate these models can be, and indeed how accurate they should be. Any real ability to foresee the future is, he suggests, likely to be just as dangerous as past rulers thought they would be when they sentenced prophets and mystics to the flames or the axe! . . . This is an interesting book on a topic which we have all pondered at some time, and provides a great deal of food for thought."

Magonia Review of Books

"Creveld covers a broad range, from tribal shamans to Greek sibyls, Israeli prophets, the Prophet Muhammed, Hildegard of Bingen, Nostradamus, and contemporary mediums. In addition, Creveld describes such systematic approaches to prediction as omens, numerology, and the Bible and looks at the contemporary use of mathematical models, artificial intelligence, war games, algorithms, and the Delphi method, which solicits predictions from a number of people, all using their preferred methods for assessing the future. . . . Recommended."


"Creveld’s new book, Seeing into the Future, examines the principal methods that have been used for looking into the future throughout history. . . . Creveld’s original emphasis on the historical methods of prediction enriches previous scholarship. The book explores a number of predictive methods prevailing over time: speculation, deduction, extrapolation, polling, and modelling. . . . Creveld’s historical overview could have modified Abraham Lincoln’s aphorism: the best way to predict your future is to engineer it."

Technology and Culture Journal

"Martin van Creveld’s Seeing into the Future is a widely informed and deeply thoughtful examination of a critical area of human concern. Anyone seeking insight into the futurology and forecasting, with its manifold involvements in religion, sociology, science, and practical affairs will profit from this instructive and insightful work."

Nicholas Rescher, distinguished professor of philosophy, University of Pittsburgh

Table of Contents

Part I: A Mysterious Journey
1 A Villain of a Magician
2 In the Name of the Lord
3 Oracles, Pythias and Sibyls
4 A Dream to Remember
5 Consulting the Dead

Part II: Be Sober and Reasonable
6 Searching the Heavens
7 Clear and Manifest
8 On Birds, Livers and Sacrifices
9 The Magic of Numbers
10 Decoding the Bible

Part III: Enter Modernity
11 From Patterns to Cycles
12 With Hegel on the Brain
13 Ask, and You’ll Be Answered
14 The Most Powerful Tools
15 War Games Here, War Games There

Part IV: The Lord of the Universe
16 Looking Backward
17 Why is Prediction So Difficult?
18 Is Our Game Improving?
19 A World Without Uncertainty?

Further Reading

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