the ubiquitous fictionality of narratives of futurity

Doing that thing where one quotes a famous and respected person saying things one has been saying for years, in the hope that it’ll be more palatable coming from someone famous and respectable. Once again, it’s yer man KSR, of course:

All attempts to speak of the future are science fiction stories, and thus bound to be wrong. The polling done for the recent election, which turned out once again to be notoriously wrong — that seems weak and unprofessional until you consider that in evaluating the present to suggest what will happen in the future, polls too are science fiction stories, so it shouldn’t be surprising when they get it wrong. The future just can’t be predicted. Anyone who says they can do that is operating some kind of scam, even if they believe it themselves. In finance, for instance, you have futures markets; these and many other financial instruments gamble on predictions, and of course try to hedge their bets, being so uncertain. Once you have to put your money where your science fiction story is, the uncertainty gets very obvious.

I made this claim in one of my earliest papers (co-written with Shrin Elahi), and I still get push-back on its supposed universalism now; most people seem willing to accept that some narratives of futurity are fundamentally fictional, but anything that retains a sheen of quantitative science and/or technological magic—finance being a prime example—has a rhetorical tenacity which is incredibly hard to shake off.

But the advantage of having had the claim accepted for publication (though not without some classic “Reviewer B” vitriol, mind you) is that I’ve been able to refer back to it for re-use in subsequent work. If you’d like to do the same, you’d be very welcome! And if you want a gloss on this particular claim from the author themselves, allow me to state it as succinctly as possible: any description of a chain of events whose timeline extends into time which we have yet to encounter—regardless of medium, authorship, political intentionality or moral position—is a fiction, and can be critiqued and analysed as such.

(Ironically, that paper picks up a fairly regular stream of citations, but rarely for this particular claim, and quite frequently for claims upon which it has no bearing at all. Academia, amirite?)

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