Counter-factual history: playing "what if"

In a Long Now confrontation yesterday, historian Niall Ferguson and futurist Peter Schwartz squared off over how to assess the past and future. What biases do we bring to an interpretation of the past or of what might happen in the future? The following passage appealed to me because it suggested that wide thinking is needed about deep causes.

Also, I dig the idea of "counter-factual history."

Historians also have heuristic biases, Ferguson added, such as their expectation that 'great events should have great causes.' Historians have much to learn from complexity theory and evolution, he said. His own work with 'counter-factual history' helps expose critical moments in history and provides a way to 'think about what didn’t happen.' The counter-factual technique is an application of scenario thinking to the past.

The Long Now seminars, which have recently featured people such as Craig Venter, Paul Saffo and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, are archived here. Use this link to subscribe to the podcasts.


Wikipedia: counter-factual history