(C) Copyright 2001 by Edward Lewis
There is something called a scientific method. Science develops through repeated theory formulation and testing of theory. The reformulation of the very basic theories or paradigms of physics have happened at more or less 80 year intervals. This timing of the development of physics has set up similar timings in the development of technology and of economies. That is, technological development exhibits more or less an 80 year periodicity, and there is a related periodicity of economic depressions. This is a fact that is very valuable to know, since then the future events are a little more predictable, since a consistant past pattern is established. Of course, this doesn't mean the future development is clearly predictable.
Why does this happen?
What sets up the timing in the development of physics? Two constraints on people's learning of ideas. There are two limitations on people's learning of physics or technological ideas. One is that older people learn new ideas slower or not at all, especially ideas that are very different than their own ideas. The other limitation that constrains people is that theoreticians are not usually the best experimenters or technicians, and vice versa.
This second constraint may have nothing to do with anything intrinsic to human learning and work, but may simply be an outcome of timing of development. That is, the best technological development and the best experimentation on a theory happens only after the theoretical development is completed, and the theoreticians may simply be too old to contribute any significant invention or experiment when they complete development of a theory.
I generally call the two constraints: inhibition of apprehension of new theory by the older and more experienced, and the difference between theoreticians, and experimenters and technicians. Due to these two constraints on the scientific method that are well known and Kuhn also talked about, the scientific method requires the work of three generations for a physics paradigm change. Basically the older and more experienced scientists don't accept or at least don't help to develop new theory. And theorists are usually not the best experimenters and inventers of a paradigm.
Historian Thomas Kuhn wrote: "
...what scientists never do when confronted by even several and prolonged
anomalies. Though they may begin to lose faith and the to consider
they do not renounce the paradigm that has led them into crisis."
"anomalies are seldom just an increment to what is already known. [Their]
assimilation requires the reconstruction of prior theory and the
re-evaluation of prior fact."
Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962.
So scientific revolutions happen at 80 year intervals, and industrial revolutions also happen with this frequency, and so productivity growth rates exhibit an 80 year periodicity.
There are economic depressions during both the times of productivity growth slump: ie 1790, 1890, 1970; and during the times in the middle of industrial development when productivity growth accelerates: ie 1820s and 1920s and the late 1990s. What this might mean for the future is that due to the productivity growth acceleration, there might be a depression.
The 80 year periodicity of industrial revolutions is clear; except because Franklin's fluid theories were widely accepted very early on, 55 years after his formulation, there was an industrial revolution in Britain in 1800 instead of 1810 or 1820 as would have been usual.
Theory for the mid-life and industrial revolution depressions is explained on http://www.scientificrevolutions.com, but during the last ten years others including Szostak and Dent have published similar economic ideas and sociological ideas.
Predictions based on the theory:
So the only prediction for the next 10 years that is possible based on past performance of industrial development: continued high labor productivity growth rates that should peak after 2010. There will be a boom economy for the industrial leader, but there will be increasing replacement of human labor by automation, leading to increased unemployment even as the productivity boom continues, actually due to the productivity boom. If things happen as in the 1820s and 1920s, then there should be a technological acceleration induced depression beginning sometime this decade or perhaps just after 2010. The major signal being increasing labor layoff and increasing difficulty of finding work in a boom economy, as happened in late 1920s. If things happened as during the 1820s and 1920s, another signal of the coming depression will be a cessation of new product introduction.
I would welcome comments.