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2023 COMMENTS, CONTRIBUTIONS & CONCLUSIONS | “What is it that distinguishes the thousands of years of history from what we think of as modern times?”

2023 COMMENTS, CONTRIBUTIONS & CONCLUSIONS | “What is it that distinguishes the thousands of years of history from what we think of as modern times?”

by Starling Insights

Starling Insights Editorial Board

Jun 07, 2023

Compendium

In his classic, Against the Gods, Peter Bernstein suggests that the modern age began with the mastery of risk: “the notion that the future is more than a whim of the gods and that men and women are not passive before nature.1”  The heroes of his story are those brilliant thinkers, running from the Renaissance through the 20th century, who collectively established, refined, and ultimately reified probabilistic mathematics. Torn from the hands of fickle gods, risk became a matter of choice rather than fate, allowing us to define and choose from among possible futures. Such a mastery of risk allowed for greater risk taking — indeed encouraged it — and this in turn drove unprecedented progress and prosperity:

Without a command of probability theory and other instruments of risk management, engineers could never have designed the great bridges that span our widest rivers, homes would still be heated by fireplaces or parlor stoves, electric power utilities would not exist, polio would still be maiming children, no airplanes would fly, and space travel would be just a dream.

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