Drew, the point in Asimov's Foundation that I was making was that he made the assumption that with enough knowledge, prediction would be close to perfect. SF? Yes. But Asimov was also a Ph.D in molecular biology, writing pre-Lorenz.<quoted text>
Did any scientists ever *seriously* believe that?
Or is that more like the "Scientists used to think that the Earth was flat" story?
Lots of him (both fiction and non-fiction).
Yes, that's why it was called "science fiction".
I have serious doubts that it was ever alive. Can you provide any evidence that it was?
If we go back to the early days of Chaos theory, Lorenz assumed that predicting the climate using variables to 3 decimal places would give results approximately equal to the same predictive model using 4 decimal places. He was genuinely surprised when that proved not to be the case, to the point where he thought there was an error. The models correlated closely for a few days than followed radically different predictive paths.
"In 1814, Laplace published what is usually known as the first articulation of causal or scientific determinism:
We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.
—Pierre Simon Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities"
Note the world view embodied in that statement, by one of the great mathematicians and scientists of the time. It is not to say that he imagined we would ever reach that point of supreme intelligence and perfect prediction, but that such a view was conceivable and we would become better and better at predicting given more accurate information.
To go back to Lorenz...the idea that given 10 decimal places, or 100, or 1000, we would be able to successfully predict weather further and further into the future.
Its really only since the effects of feedback and "increasing returns" and non-linearity in general has been fully appreciated that this world view has been shattered. Tiny events can have effects that compound massively beyond simple expectations. I could give and example - one random mutation in one strand of DNA may conceivably have altered the course of human evolution and be therefore "responsible" for everything from the Great Pyramids to Beethoven's 5th to the birth and death of the Twinkie. That is not the world view embodied in Laplace's famous statement.