Dr. Patrick van der Duin is a futures researcher at TU Delft. With countless publications under his belt, Van der Duin is the man to talk to if you want to know about the future.

But if you‘ve got a question about an upcoming history exam, you won't get any crystal ball predictions out of him: he’ll tell you to throw away the history books and start thinking about the future.

‘Futures Researcher' is a fantastic job description. If you hand someone your business card at a cocktail party, what's their first reaction?"They look at me with a puzzled expression. Indeed, futures researcher is not a common job title. So I always have a bit of explaining to do. A futures researcher is someone who is interested in the future, who realizes that the future is an important area in which you can change your life, and who is convinced that you can develop knowledge about the future without having the ambition of fully predicting it. The plural, 'futures' means that the futures researcher thinks about various future alternatives and 'researcher' refers to his attitude of curiosity towards the future.Why do you think students should study the future? How does this benefit them?"Every human being has the talent to think about the future. Indeed, living without such a capability is rather impossible. If students develop a sense of the future, if they 'know' what they want to be when they're older and in their working life, they can better decide which courses to follow and what skills to develop. And if you know why you are doing the things you're doing, then that will be much more motivating."Do you think it is inherently optimistic to 'study the future'?"Yes, I think so. Being occupied with the future also teaches you that the future is 'open'. People who don't think much about the future either think that the future is unpredictable, so why bother, or else they think the future is completely determined by historical forces, so the future cannot be influenced. Both attitudes are negative and fatalistic. A futures research realizes the future has certain degrees of freedom and is largely the result of actions in the present."Who are your biggest critics?"Historians, people who think incrementally and think that the future is only the result of adding up the short term. In general, people who do not have a stake in the long-term by only having short-term incentives. Also, some scientists who say that the future doesn't empirically exist, and in saying this, they show a narrow-minded view of what qualifies as science."What would you say to people who would argue that we can learn more from studying the past than making educated guesses about the future? And how do you respond to that cliché, 'history repeats itself'?"I'd say that they make the biggest mistake of their life. An essential aspect of history and of studying it is that history doesn't repeat itself. Having such ideas only means that people are too lazy to think. After all, saying that there is nothing new, that everything has always been there and that nothing new happens, makes life very easy. Just look for a historical analogy and you're ready. As every historian knows, but are often reluctant to admit in public because it might undermine their status and weakens their position in the public debate, history doesn't repeat itself. The word 'historic' itself always refers to something unique, something which hasn't been, and is therefore the hallmark to a new period."How much can we actually predict?"That depends on which topic and the time frame. Very detailed predictions for about 30 years from now are indeed difficult. But more general statements, keeping in mind to prevent unfalsifiable statements, can be quite reliable. Often wrong predictions aren't wrong in terms of the predicted outcomes, but only in their timing."Do you consider 'futures research' a science?"Certainly. Science is a process. You consider a research activity scientific if it meets certain requirements, such as transparency and falsifiability. Looking to the future, doing futures research, can meet these requirements. The fact that 'the future' does not empirically exist as something that's tangible isn't relevant. The simple fact that people do certain things, which are indeed visible and tangible, based on an image of the future they have, makes the future also very concrete. The future isn't out there, it's here, in the present."Why do you prefer to limit your predictions to 10-15 years in the future?"Well, the time horizon is dependent on the topic and the method you use. For certain topics looking to the future 10 to 15 years from now is a good time horizon. For other topics, such as the stock of fossil fuels, 20 to 39 years might be a better time horizon."As students, we're in a position to enjoy the 'future' for quite awhile. Older generations however may take less interest in what's coming next. Do you think it's equally important for everyone to take an interest in this, or is it enough if a few researchers take the lead and translate their research back to the public?"No, everyone should be involved. The future is much too important to be left to experts only. Looking to the future should become more democratized, and everyone has the gift to look to the future. And although older people have less future left, they are often very powerful and decisive for other (younger) people's future lives. The attitude in which people say that they don’t care about certain things because 'by the time that happens they'll be dead' is exactly the wrong attitude that causes society so many problems. It’s a short-term attitude and therefore detrimental to the long-term."Dr. Patrick van der Duin. (Photo: Sam Rentmeester/FMAX)

‘Futures Researcher' is a fantastic job description. If you hand someone your business card at a cocktail party, what's their first reaction?"They look at me with a puzzled expression. Indeed, futures researcher is not a common job title. So I always have a bit of explaining to do. A futures researcher is someone who is interested in the future, who realizes that the future is an important area in which you can change your life, and who is convinced that you can develop knowledge about the future without having the ambition of fully predicting it. The plural, 'futures' means that the futures researcher thinks about various future alternatives and 'researcher' refers to his attitude of curiosity towards the future.Why do you think students should study the future? How does this benefit them?"Every human being has the talent to think about the future. Indeed, living without such a capability is rather impossible. If students develop a sense of the future, if they 'know' what they want to be when they're older and in their working life, they can better decide which courses to follow and what skills to develop. And if you know why you are doing the things you're doing, then that will be much more motivating."Do you think it is inherently optimistic to 'study the future'?"Yes, I think so. Being occupied with the future also teaches you that the future is 'open'. People who don't think much about the future either think that the future is unpredictable, so why bother, or else they think the future is completely determined by historical forces, so the future cannot be influenced. Both attitudes are negative and fatalistic. A futures research realizes the future has certain degrees of freedom and is largely the result of actions in the present."Who are your biggest critics?"Historians, people who think incrementally and think that the future is only the result of adding up the short term. In general, people who do not have a stake in the long-term by only having short-term incentives. Also, some scientists who say that the future doesn't empirically exist, and in saying this, they show a narrow-minded view of what qualifies as science."What would you say to people who would argue that we can learn more from studying the past than making educated guesses about the future? And how do you respond to that cliché, 'history repeats itself'?"I'd say that they make the biggest mistake of their life. An essential aspect of history and of studying it is that history doesn't repeat itself. Having such ideas only means that people are too lazy to think. After all, saying that there is nothing new, that everything has always been there and that nothing new happens, makes life very easy. Just look for a historical analogy and you're ready. As every historian knows, but are often reluctant to admit in public because it might undermine their status and weakens their position in the public debate, history doesn't repeat itself. The word 'historic' itself always refers to something unique, something which hasn't been, and is therefore the hallmark to a new period."How much can we actually predict?"That depends on which topic and the time frame. Very detailed predictions for about 30 years from now are indeed difficult. But more general statements, keeping in mind to prevent unfalsifiable statements, can be quite reliable. Often wrong predictions aren't wrong in terms of the predicted outcomes, but only in their timing."Do you consider 'futures research' a science?"Certainly. Science is a process. You consider a research activity scientific if it meets certain requirements, such as transparency and falsifiability. Looking to the future, doing futures research, can meet these requirements. The fact that 'the future' does not empirically exist as something that's tangible isn't relevant. The simple fact that people do certain things, which are indeed visible and tangible, based on an image of the future they have, makes the future also very concrete. The future isn't out there, it's here, in the present."Why do you prefer to limit your predictions to 10-15 years in the future?"Well, the time horizon is dependent on the topic and the method you use. For certain topics looking to the future 10 to 15 years from now is a good time horizon. For other topics, such as the stock of fossil fuels, 20 to 39 years might be a better time horizon."As students, we're in a position to enjoy the 'future' for quite awhile. Older generations however may take less interest in what's coming next. Do you think it's equally important for everyone to take an interest in this, or is it enough if a few researchers take the lead and translate their research back to the public?"No, everyone should be involved. The future is much too important to be left to experts only. Looking to the future should become more democratized, and everyone has the gift to look to the future. And although older people have less future left, they are often very powerful and decisive for other (younger) people's future lives. The attitude in which people say that they don’t care about certain things because 'by the time that happens they'll be dead' is exactly the wrong attitude that causes society so many problems. It’s a short-term attitude and therefore detrimental to the long-term."Dr. Patrick van der Duin. (Photo: Sam Rentmeester/FMAX)