Wells the discoverer

H.G. Wells famously grew more pessimistic as he grew older (see Mind at the End of Its Tether…).  He certainly started out optimistic about the possibility of foresight. Here he is looking down from the summit of Laplacean confidence in January 1902

“Until a scientific theory yields confident forecasts you know it is unsound and tentative. The splendid body of gravitational astronomy, for example, establishes itself upon the certain forecast of stellar movements. The whole body of medical science aims, and claims the ability, to diagnose. The chemist forecasts elements before he meets them. If I am right in saying that science aims at prophecy and if the specialist in each science is in fact doing his best to prophesy within the limits of his field, what is there to stand in the way of our building up this growing body of forecast into an ordered picture of the future?”

This is the preamble to the extracts the New York Times published from a lecture at the Royal Institution on The Discovery of the Future.

This was around the same time he wrote Anticipations, widely regarded as the first true futurist text (by Warren Wagar, for example). It seems fair to regard the lecture as some kind of high point in the plot of belief in a combination of prophecy with progress – never, I think reached again. Contradictions welcome…

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