JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 541
our friends are true and our happiness is assured. Ambrose Bierce, Devil's Dicitonary
Looking "into" what the future might hold is a nasty business suited for hairshirts, geniuses and fools--except of course to say that there will be what would seem to us to be shock and awesome display that will wash over future generations like the shock of Darwin washing over those in the 1870's.* Looking into the past of looking into the future is far more approachable but not necessarily "easy". The major difficulty in finding the future amidst all the historical majors and minors is that given the optical distortions in the broadening of our depth of field to our WayBack Vision. It is harder to see things that are out-of-place to a given time given our familiarity with it.
(Neil R. Jones (1909-1988), a relatively obscure scifi writer, seems to be the first to introduce the concept of a history of the future in his Amazing Stories article of July 1930 called "The Jameson Satellite". (It is interesting to note that at about the same time he also introduced the word "astronaut", and, further into the decade introduced some of the first appearances of cyborg/robotic story characters.))
The idea of identifying these parts of future history is certainly easier when they identify themselves so, as seen in the caption of this wonderful you-are-there image of a person flying in an aeroplane over the Eiffel tower, and printed in the redoubtable Illustrated London News for 1909. The writer leaves himself plenty of wiggle room, though still firmly convinced that even though flying was still in its relative infancy in Europe, the time would certainly come when people would flit about it planes simply to see great wonders.
Images of at the edges of contemporary technical capabilities and whose skill hints at bigger things to come are trickier to see. Take for example the following engraving found in the Encyclpoedie methodique*, published in Paris from 1782 to 1830. This engraving depicts a ship of the line in an unusual perspective, best suited I think to show th eshape of the hulol, and looking to me extremely similar to a computer-generated graphic.
Also, the fantasitically articulated and probably unworkable set of metalic artificial limbs was another peep into the future--I think that the technology necessary for these limbs to be anything close to operational just escaped its manufacturer when they were designed in the 1760's.
In any event the exercise of finding the future in contmeporary writings of the past is interesting and fruitful, and really does make you pay attention to your sense of history and what modern prejudices one brings to it.
*"We may expect that a series of shocks of the type of Darwinism will
be given to established opinions on all sorts of subjects. One cannot
suggest in detail what these shocks will be, but since the opinions on
which they will impinge are deep-seated and irrational, they will come
upon us and our descendants with the same air of presumption and
indecency with which the view that we are descended from monkeys came
to our grandfathers. ..
JBS Haldane, "Daedalus, or Science and the Future
** The L'Encyclopédie méthodique ou par ordre de matières par une société de gens de lettres, de savants et d'artistes; précédée d'un Vocabulaire universel, servant de Table pour tout l'Ouvrage, ornée des Portraits de MM. Diderot et d'Alembert, premiers Éditeurs de l'Encyclopédie appeared in over 200 volumes, and was a version of the famous Diderot encyclopedia,m though expanded, and ordering its iformation according to subject area rather than alphabetically.