There was a book titled ‘The Kids’ Whole Future Catalog’ that I bought nearly a quarter century ago. It was meant for sharp youngsters with a taste for science and science fiction, and it was filled with articles on, and artists’ impressions of, the many kinds of ways in which the world was going to change over the next thirty years or so.
Since then, I have become much older and much less starry-eyed. I have also kept a close watch on the world, and remembered much more, and that much more keenly than the average man. I can hear men and women of my own age group gushing or moaning all around me about how drastically the world has changed in our time, but I know much of that is nonsense. In fact, what I find really surprising is how much has not changed at all, or changed minimally, and how many of the confident-sounding predictions in that book have gone hopelessly wrong. Let me make a little list of the things that have come true as forecast, and things that have not.
The most obvious (and to my mind, deplorable) change that has taken place is that the human population has swelled enormously – even the
While certain areas of science and technology have
At the most basic level of physics – the ‘queen’ and trendsetter of all the sciences for three glorious centuries since
Add to all this the fact that the public has understood at least two things rather clearly over the last half-century – that scientific ‘progress’ has severely harmed the natural environment that sustains us and very greatly magnified our power of mutual destruction through terrorism and war – and it’s no wonder any more that all over the world there has been of late a great ‘turning away’ from science, at least science of the ‘pure’ variety. Of course some wizards are still making vast fortunes by turning this or that application of science into enormously profitable businesses in the footsteps of
Some of the best minds in basic physics have been taking a speculative, not to say metaphysical turn in recent times. Men like Fritjof Capra, Frank Tippler, Mani Bhowmik, Freeman Dyson and
Since scientists are laying claim to ever larger funds for supposedly important research from the same public whom they cannot (or do not seem willing and eager to) convince about that importance, legislators in many advanced nations have greatly slashed many projects, if not cancelled them entirely – as has been the case with artificial intelligence and ever bigger particle supercolliders. Research into more advanced weaponry, on the other hand, just like research to develop ever more tantalizing cosmetics, keeps going on at a
‘The best lack all conviction/ the worst are full of passionate intensity’. This was written a long time ago, but it might have been a description of the present day. A majority of young people all over the world today – well-fed and supposedly well schooled – cannot spell or do math in their heads; they find both science and Shakespeare boring, last year to them is prehistory, and nothing apparently interests and excites them other than shopping, rave parties awash in drugs, inane sports like football and cricket, the celebrity of the hour and fashionable clothes to be bought and thrown away with hysterical frenzy. Real adventure of any kind is as anathema to them as charity; they hate hard work, they eat like pigs, and truth to them is what TV ads say it is. I know the old have always complained of the dissoluteness of the young, but look, I am not yet such an old man myself, and I have seen galloping decadence with my own eyes as a teacher in the last twenty-odd years. I can at least see how the Roman emperors kept the mob happy with
Another area where there has been no progress at all is with regard to the dream of a world government, which will have only the interests – especially the long term interests – of Man at heart. The Upanishads dreamt of a world which would live by the dictum of vasudhaiva kutumvakam, the world is my family, the earth is to be held in trust for posterity.
Then, when I was nearing thirty, there was sudden cataclysmic change again. The Soviet Union collapsed and vanished, and there was
So on the whole the book raised far more exciting possibilities than have actually materialized; and the world to me today seems much darker than it had hoped for. This I say though I have been very, very lucky not to have suffered seriously myself over these last 25 years:
((begun January 1, 2007 , finished January 6, 2007)