What If a Pencil and Paper Is All You Need to Approximate the Future?

Get curious about innovative methodologies with Adolfo Espíritu as he applies his curiosities about conceiving the future in the second part of a series on approximating the future for the Corporation of Tomorrow.

What if humans started making predictions before computers, cars, electronics, rockets, and any other technological achievement that you can think of? The Greeks were fascinated with symmetries and geometry; and they already had methods to compute areas, volume, the radius of the Earth, the size of the Moon, etc. What if throughout human history, human curiosity has pushed our powers of prediction beyond our technology?

I consider that the big boom in predictions started with the rise of calculus, since this branch of math studies change and evolution. Next, the ideas of Leibniz and Newton started one of the most important languages of natural sciences (with algebra, of course), since natural sciences are about understanding how nature works; this powerful tool enabled physicists to describe natural phenomena using only paper, pens, empirical evidence, and their creativity.

For example, Newton’s ideas are the foundation of classical physics, which embodies all physics before Einstein and quantum mechanics and are still used in the industry. Calculus is the natural language of change, and through differential equations, which are dynamical laws that tell objects how to move or, more generally, how to change one variable respect to others, one can start making predictions of how the system is going to evolve. Laplace once said (Susskind, 2013):

We may regard the present state of the universe as the effects of its past and the cause of the future. An intellect which at certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data into analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before his eyes.

This phrase has profound implication, since it means that given the least amount of information (initial velocity and position) of all the objects of the universe, then nothing would be unknown at any time (unluckily, Quantum Mechanics doesn’t allow it); however, calculus has enabled us to make simple predictions as how much will I have to pay for three candies, which each cost $0.50 (in math terms, this means a change which is constant) to how I must design a rocket, computer, cellphone, car… you name it. And remember, what if Margaret Hamilton sent Apollo 11 using only paper and pencil!

Want to learn how physicists think about the world, i.e, how do they construct models? Check out The Theoretical Minimum. Want to learn more about Margaret’s achievement? Check out this video.

Want to learn how to construct a model? Stay tuned for the next entry.

We'll be exploring questions like these live with curious people from all over the world to connect and collaborate in building the Corporation of Tomorrow (along with the School of Tomorrow), today!

Adolfo Arana Espíritu Santo is a student at the Monterrey Institute of Technology & Higher Learning and loves getting curious about, Math, Physics, and Quantum Computers.

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