Quantcast Celebrity Status Quo: The End? - Doomsday Equation

Friday, June 12, 2009

The End? - Doomsday Equation

Heinz von Foerster

Heinz von FoersterHeinz von Foerster (November 13, 1911, Vienna – October 2, 2002, Pescadero, California) was an Austrian American scientist combining physics and philosophy.

Together with Warren McCulloch, Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Lawrence J. Fogel, and others, Heinz von Foerster was an architect of cybernetics.

A 1960 issue of Science magazine included an article by von Foerster and his colleagues P.M.Mora and L.W.Amiot stating that the human population would reach "infinity" on this date, and he proposed a formula for representing all the available historical data on world population and for predicting future population growth.

The formula gave 2.7 billion as the 1960 world population and predicted that population growth would become infinite by Friday, November 13, 2026 - von Foerster's 115th birthday anniversary - a prediction that earned it the name "the Doomsday Equation."

Based on population data obtained from various sources, von Foerster and his students concluded that world population growth over the centuries was faster than an exponential. In such a situation, doubling-time decreases over time. Von Foerster's tongue-in-cheek prediction of Doomsday on November 13, 2026, was based on an extrapolation into the future of doubling-time, with the finding that doubling-time would decrease to zero on that date.

Responders to his Doomsday prediction objected on the grounds of the finite human gestation time of 9 months, and the transparent fact that biological systems rarely persist in exponential growth for any substantial length of time. Those who knew von Foerster could see in his rejoinders an evident sense of humor.

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