Scientific Prediction


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Scientific Prediction

 

a type of theoretical activity that consists in determining and describing various natural phenomena, social phenomena, or mental states that are absent or unknown at present but that may arise or be studied and discovered in the future.

Scientific prediction arose out of prescientific forms of prediction that originally developed within the framework of practical activity. Prediction in the form of prophecy, soothsaying, and fortune-telling was known in remote antiquity. In ancient Greece, India, China, Egypt, and Babylonia prediction was divided into three main branches: natural phenomena (solar eclipses, harvests, changes in weather), social phenomena (the onset or outcome of war, the victory or defeat of a political faction), and events in the life of the individual (death, illness, birth, marriage, the acquisition of wealth).

Initially, prediction often assumed a mystical, irrational, and religious form and was monopolized by special groups, such as priests, oracles, prophets, and shamans. Even at that time, however, prediction and foresight based on personal “secular” experience and the rudiments of scientific knowledge were also known. An example is Thales’ prediction of a solar eclipse (585 B.C.) and a rich grape harvest. The demand for prediction stemmed from the need to regulate society, industry, and trade, to organize agriculture, and to plan political, economic, and cultural measures.

Scientific prediction evolved concurrently with the development of modern science between the 15th and 17th centuries. A scientific theory, which is a chain of causally related, logically connected laws, is the basis for scientific prediction. Consequences containing information on the properties, relations, and other characteristics of a given phenomenon are derived from certain laws on the basis of previously established procedures. Applied to the future, the derived consequences become acts of prevision. A prevision that is more or less localized in time and that contains fairly complete information is usually called a prediction, for example, the description of the chemical properties of some as yet undiscovered elements on the basis of Mendeleev’s periodic law and P. Dirac’s prediction of the positron.

A prediction may be made according to either a deterministic or a probabilistic scheme. In the first instance each phenomenon is predicted with a high degree of accuracy and is strictly localized in time or space. The more complex the phenomenon, the more often it is necessary to use probabilistic-statistical methods of prevision or prediction. The deterministic forms of scientific prediction are generally used in such fields as mechanics, classical physics, chemistry, and a number of branches of astronomy. To predict phenomena belonging to complex systems and influenced by numerous factors that cannot be completely accounted for (as in quantum physics, economics, politics, or psychology), various schemes of probabilistic-statistical prediction, prevision, and forecasting are used.

In the sphere of social phenomena, scientific prediction has become possible through the discovery, within the framework of historical materialism, of the basic laws related to the functioning and development of social systems. A new socioeconomic formation (communism), the need for a socialist revolution, and the dictatorship of the proletariat were predicted on the basis of these laws. The nature of a scientific prediction and the degree of its reliability depend not only on the structure and objective truth of the laws of a particular branch of science, but also on the accuracy and completeness of the empirical data describing the initial circumstances of the given event.

Under socialism the prediction of the main trends and events in society constitutes the basis for the scientific guidance of society. A methodology of scientific prediction, including the study of the logical structures used in various schemes of prediction and prevision, is necessary for working out special methods of exact quantitative forecasting. Moreover, one must bear in mind that each act of scientific prediction affects, according to the feedback principle, the course of historical events by altering them within the framework of objective laws.

In a bourgeois society the prediction of social processes and events is complicated by disorganized, unplanned production, uncontrollable socioeconomic crises, voluntarism, and other factors that are characteristic of capitalist economies, politics, and culture. This has given rise to concepts that deny the possibility of predicting the development of social phenomena.

The main trends in the study of the principles of scientific prediction are the logical investigation of its structures, comparative investigations of scientific prediction in the natural and social sciences, the methodology of the scientific prediction of the main social processes in contemporary society, and the methods and techniques of various special types of prevision, prediction, and forecasting that are used in the national economy, politics, culture, and the sphere of individual behavior.

REFERENCES

Vinogradov, V. G., and S. I. Goncharuk. Zakony obshchestva i nauchnoe predvidenie. Moscow, 1972.
Vinogradov, V. G. Nauchnoe predvidenie (Gnoseologicheskii analiz), Moscow, 1973.
Rudenko, K. P. Lohika i naukove peredbachennia: Lohiko-hnoseolohichnyi analiz. Kiev, 1972.
Siciński, A. Prognozy a nauka. Warsaw, 1969.

A. I. RAKITOV

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