Scientific Soothsayer

Peter Bishop can tell the future without a crystal ball

When Dr. Peter Bishop introduces himself as a "futurist," he knows that some people probably expect a guy wearing an electrode helmet and blue space suit who answers to the name "Zoran of the Fifth Dimension." But the very regular Earth inhabitant and chairperson of the Studies of the Future program at the University of Houston takes it all in stride. "Once I was introduced by someone who said, 'He even lookslike a real person!' " Bishop says. "I'm not quite sure what she expected."

Bishop's take on futurism involves a lot more forecasting and planning than what it takes to predict the winner of the Super Bowl or the last tribe member on Survivor. He'll share his thoughts in the lecture "Thinking About the Future Without a Crystal Ball" at the Museum of Printing History.

"I'll lay out the theory and tools for thinking about the future," he says. As to how someone can truly comprehend something that hasn't happened yet, Bishop says that it's often a matter of looking at what hashappened. "All important knowledge is about things we cannot directly observe: economics, politics, social relations and spirituality," he notes. "Therefore, we must go from observable data to unobservable knowledge through the process of interference."

Futurist Peter Bishop
Courtesy of Peter Bishop
Futurist Peter Bishop

If your eyes glazed over there, let the good doctor put it in more tangible terms. "We do it all the time, from calculating the size of the universe to finding out who spilled the jelly in the kitchen."

As for the national forecast, Bishop warns about the economy. "Running up debts now is borrowing money from the future to support the present," he says, citing a study predicting we'll have to double social security taxes, cut benefits or even -- gasp -- close portions of the federal government to cover the expected future medical costs of baby boomers. Think about that next time Dad wants to super-size his Value Meal. You don't need a Magic 8 Ball to predict that the outcome can't be good.

 
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