I was watching a show on the Science Channel last night, and a scientist made the following statement:
Contact with an alien intelligence would change the future history of our society.
Now, I understood immediately what he meant, and maybe that's all that counts in any language. Still, the term future history struck me as somewhat incongruous. I Googled the term, and came up with several websites dealing with predictions for the future, but nothing addressing the term itself.
I don't think I'd call it an oxymoron, and I don't think I'd use the term myself, preferring to replace it with evolution or perhaps just future. But I'm wondering what other forum members think about that term. Is it logically inconsistent? Am I being too critical? Like I said, I knew what he meant.
I like future history as coined in this context. Any future event can change the course of civilization, even seeming trivial ones. But this phrase implies that such an event would be of so great, obvious, and lasting significance that it would immediately and forever be discussed as a turning point in history.
The term future history does not imply all that (by itself). It's just an interesting combination of words for which the meaning might not be immediately obvious, even though the meaning was clear to me in its original context (first post of this thread).
And I think that's what Glenn was saying, based on the context in which it was used. The impact of discovering an intelligent alien civilization would no doubt change history, but it hasn't happened yet. Doesn't prevent us from talking about future changes in history, even though it stretches the normal use of those words.
You could say the same thing about fusion power, faster-then-light travel, global warming, world peace, etc.
My point further points out that many events might change the future. The killing of Pat Tillman might well have changed the future, but probably not future history: in three generations, few will hear of it. But some events change future history, such as Neil Armstong's step.
Such events not only change what the future is, but also change how future people talk about their past. Isn't that what history is, the story people tell about the landmarks of their past?
In boringly literal mode, which is what I find most natural, I can find little defense for "future history".
> Since "history" means written records (oral records are not history, technically, nor are artifacts such as old burial grounds and stone tools), it's necessarily about the past. No record of the future exists yet, so the record can't be changed.
> If you do something that will be recorded and remembered by future historians, you will not have changed history, you will have made it. (I'm agreeing with RobertB, here.)
>In fact, still going with boring literalism, you can't change any event. Whatever you do, that is the event. I enjoyed Back to the Future, but it shares the sloppy thinking of many time-travel stories in its worry about changing the past.
There is one use for the term that I don't complain about: When a sci-fi author writes a number of stories about a consistent future, this future used to be called his "future history". Nowadays they just call it his "universe"; thus we have universes described by David Weber, JRR Tolkein, Anne McCaffrey, Isaac Asimov, Niven/Pournelle (I'm thinking here of the Motie universe but Niven's made others) and so on. But Heinlein's is called his "future history", which I suppose works alright.
C S Lewis speculated that what we call "remembering" is not, as we assume, simply replaying a recording but may be a form of actual time travel. I don't take the idea very seriously, but it's interesting.
And there's one datum in its favor: If you're a Christian, or for any other reason hold the belief that we will continue to live and remember after our bodies die, you have to wonder where those memories come from after the brain has rotted away. I'm committed to a belief in life after death, and am at least convinced that we will remember; and if it's true, the brain cannot be the repository, or the only repository, of my experiences. Maybe Lewis wasn't completely wrong.