Research & Studies

Each Balance Sheet Has Two Columns by Norbert Kroó

Motto: I never think of the future. It comes soon enough. (Albert Einstein)

Great discoveries have significantly changed our life in the last two centuries and this tendency can be forecasted for future decades too. Isaac Newton’s discoveries of the rules of gravitation have been the basic driving force of the industrial revolution in the first half of the 19th century, the steam engine has been invented and human and cargo transport has been revolutionized. The discovery of electromagnetic radiation in the second half of the 19th century sparked the electronic revolution, lighted up the world and widened the access to information via radio broadcasting. The discovery of the strong and weak nuclear forces in the first half of the 20th century opened the way to the nuclear age, we learned how the Cosmos works and from the works of Albert Einstein, first of all from the E = mc2 equation we know, the mass and energy can mutually transform into each other.

The other decisive development of the science of the first part of the 20th century was the invention of quantum mechanics and the discovery of the basic rules of the quantum world. These rules sparked the digital revolution, helped to invent many new devices, like the transistor and the laser. We could understand the DNA molecules, contributing to the revolutionary development of medicine. In the last two decades, we even learned to manipulate the quantum mechanical phenomena, creating extremely sensitive sensors, developing methods for quantum cryptography and opening the way for radically new ways in computation with the quantum computers.

These developments resulted in fundamental technological, political, social and cultural changes and they ignited financial, economic, political, social, and cultural crises. We experience the decline of the old industries (together with their value system), the increase of the knowledge added value of products and services and the increase of the competition, combined with decreasing social safeguarding. There is an increasing need for making use of the full range of human capacities as well as for „creative“ labor forces. We can also observe an increasing heterogeneity in the populations of ‘national’ states. The failures of national education systems are also sources of concern.

The world is facing challenges as never before: they include issues such as energy and raw materials supply, the preservation of the environment, competitiveness and employment, health and the security of people.

The industrial revolution was guided and stimulated by the needs of the real world, brought positive changes, but simultaneously created many problems e.g. the „poisoning” of food, water, soil, and air.  It increased the need for energy in transport, manufacturing, heating and cooling, resulting in wasting our non-renewable resources (oil, gas, metals, etc.), in overusing of water in industry, agriculture and homes. The topographical changes on the land surface have been leading e.g. to floods, etc.

As a result of all these developments by now, we know so much about the qualities of the material world and the forces shaping it, that instead of forecasting the future we can extrapolate the developments to come. Certainly, the unexpected jumps, rooted in future great discoveries can always significantly change the landscape and cannot be predicted. The case of the social changes is certainly much more complicated. Still here also many changes can reasonably well be predicted by extrapolation.

And now briefly on the other column of the balance sheet. In order to illustrate my remarks on predictability, let me refer (as an example) to one of the short articles of the June 2010 issue of the Scientific American journal. The cover page of this issue refers to 12 EVENTS, THAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING (and not in the way you think). The article I am mentioning was written by Katherine Harmon and refers to the epidemy of the H1N1 influenza virus, which turned out to be less harmful than expected. In spite, however, of the medical advancement since that time she discusses another potential illness, which could turn out to be more harmful and ruin populations, infecting the social, economic, political and legal system of our globe. It could kill millions, nations could close borders, discriminations could be introduced, and international trade and commerce could drop, causing giant financial problems. These instabilities and irregularities, according to the article, could last even for a few years. Politicians would be forced to make tough decisions, without being properly informed on the background situation needed for these decisions. And some basic human rights could also be violated by these governmental decisions aiming at stopping or at least slowing down the spread of the deadly pathogen. Is this picture not similar to our current global experiences with the Covid-19 pandemic?

Written by Norbert Kroó (HAS, iASK)