We like to see ourselves as marching off into the future, heroic in our stance, “going were no one has gone before.” But the fact is that we go into the future backwards, with at best a dirty, cracked hand mirror to guide us. We do not directly look into the future, we can only look into the past and get a dirty, clouded reflection of the future. We know where we have been, but we have an imperfect grasp of where we are going. We can plan or predict based on the past performance. That is our rear view mirror. But we don’t know what is relevant to the future in the present or the past, and our awareness of life, the world and things in general is usually sorely lacking.
Usually, when you look at something chronologically, you look at in the past, present, and then future. But, the way we really look at things is first in the present with a dim awareness of where we “are,” then the past which is where we have been, and only then into the future, which is where we are going, and which is seen but dimly through the filter of the past.
This cloudy mirror works through reason and rationality, there may be other levels of interaction with the world, such as instinct, intuition, artistry, etc. With the mirror, we are re-acting to the world, in an imperfect way. With instinct etc, we may have something more immediate, and at times glimpses of something divine, where true immediacy occurs, the event and the “reaction” are simultaneous. My point here is, is that this cloudy, dirty mirror is not the only way we participate in the world. It is though, the way that is important for calculating and guesstimating the future.
Plato believed that a navigator has a particular kind of knowledge, he could get you across a river, what he could not tell you is whether it was a good idea for you to go across the river, or stay on this side. The navigator’s knowledge does not extend that far. A carpenter uses artistry (techne) to build a house, what he cannot tell you knowledgeably is whether or not buying a house is a good idea. The government can give us all kinds of incentives for house ownership, but the fact is that we still cannot know it as a good idea. For some people it worked out, for others it did not, but even for the people for whom it worked out, what they had when they made that decision was not knowledge, but opinion which turned out to be true. They got it right, but they could not have known all the variables that went into the equation of whether or not it was a good idea.
It should be understood that for Plato there is false opinion, true opinion and then knowledge. In Plato, the bar for (true) knowledge as opposed to right opinion is quite high. Knowledge is something that is rock solid, that will not let you down. The impressions we get from the dirty, shaking hand mirror giving us the image of the future are not deserving of the certainty that Plato advocates with his term “knowledge.”
In my own rearview mirror, I don’t know if cold fusion will be a good thing. I also don’t know if it will be a bad thing. However, while I don’t know whether cold fusion will be good or bad,I do believe that it will happen, it will be a force in our future. How close that future is, or how far away, I am not sure but it does sound like we are coming to a historical watershed. It sounds like technologically cold fusion is just around the corner, but societally and culturally there are still obstacles which are obscure but nonetheless there.
Caution, objects in the mirror may be closer than they seem (or they may farther away). We have a problem with getting a perspective on cold fusion. Ultimately, we cannot estimate how big its effect will become. And when it gets that big, we will have difficulties in imagining how things were ever otherwise.
We may wish and think of only good things for cold fusion, but the law of unintended consequences will probably in some fashion or another nip us on the backside as it does on all new technologies. We should expect the unexpected, and not cry when the check comes due. We will learn how to live with the new costs, as we do with the new benefits. We have done it before, we have always done it with the introductions of new technologies, and we can do it again. There are changes that happen in human life, but there are also constants like how we adapt to change, and that is good too.