WIT Press

Beyond Predictability


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WIT Press


W. Timmermans, J. Jonkhof, V. Kuypers & O. Braadbaart


This essay deals with the interrelationship between climate change, the flood, the Brent Spar, one hundred years of discussion about sewerage systems, the weather, the Anazasi Indians, Pim Fortuyn (a Dutch right-wing politician assassinated on May 6, 2002), soccer fans, ecosystems, and innovation. 1 Unpredictability History is a succession of quiet and turbulent times. Developments that have been emerging gradually over the years may suddenly and apparently without warning start accelerating, assuming a dramatic or revolutionary character. It is of vital importance for any society to be able to counteract these changes by alertness and preparedness. The biblical Noah was no fool when he obeyed God’s command and built an Ark. His actions seemed absurd: who would be so foolish as to build an ark in the middle of a desert, miles away from the coast? Noah, however, built his ark with hazardous times in mind. He prepared himself for an event that no person in his right mind would ever consider to happen. Unlike so many others, he was determined not to be taken by surprise. The dinosaurs did not give a toss about comets, did they? The world could not imagine that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in 1914 would lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of soldiers in muddy trenches a couple of years later. In order to be able to understand how an event in a remote place can cruelly disrupt our peaceful little lives, it is necessary to study unstable dynamic systems. These are systems whose long term state of quietness and equilibrium suddenly changes due to seemingly minor marginal changes and turbulently transform into a new and unexpected state of equilibrium. First, however, I will dilate upon the issue of the predictability of the future. Is it possible for us to know everything, anticipate everything, and prepare