It is sometimes claimed that our knowledge of the future is foggy and lacking in detail, that we know very little about the future, except in a general way. I will argue that if we discount eschatological considerations, we know a lot about the future, and with a lot of specificity. So, for now, let us discount eschatology. Then, I know that American history textbooks in the year 2040 covering the first decade of the 21st century will contain a statement entailing that GWB was elected in 2004.
I know that a record of this post will be available encoded in an operating or recoverable electronic form in 2015. Anything on this blog is currently found on at least dozens of hard drives, including yours, dear reader, if you're reading on a hard-drive based computer, and including hard drives in blogspot's servers, on my home server (both the main and the backup hard drive), etc. Granted, it may be that all this data will be overwritten, but it will still be recoverable if enough effort is put into recovery (see this story on recovery of data on a hard drive in the Columbia disaster). I also know this for a lot of other information on the Internet. I also know that at least one copy of the complete works of Shakespeare will survive to 2040.
In fact, if eschatology can be discounted, I submit that I know just about as many pieces of information about how things will be in the future as I do about how things were in the past. Of course there are many things I don't know about the future, just as there are many things I don't know about the past.
So why is it that we feel that the future is so much less known than the past? I want to offer two hypotheses. The first is that we have an awareness of eschatological possibilities, of the fact that we cannot really estimate the probability that, say, in one year God will step in and really change things heavily. I am not sure this hypothesis accounts for the phenomena, though. Non-religious people are also prone to feel that the future is less well known than the past. And I can probably modify at least some of my predictions so they take the eschaton into account. Instead of talking about history books, let's talk about knowledge: I know that some people will know in 2020 that GWB was elected in 2004 (these people might be in heaven, but that doesn't affect the claim). In fact, I know quite a lot about what people will know in 2020—just about every major widely known fact about the world as it is now will be known by somebody.[note 1]
My second hypothesis as to why we feel there is an asymmetry is that this is simply because so many of the things about the future which we want to know are unknown, while comparatively fewer things about the past which we want to know are unknown. The asymmetry, then, perhaps isn't in what we know about the future or past, but in what we want to know. There is a lot more unsatisfied desire in us to know the future than there is unsatisfied desire to know the past. Or at least so it is in our culture.