Against Ludditism: An Essay on the Perils of the (Mis)use of Historical Analogies in Technology Assessment

E. Donald Elliott, Yale Law School


Conscious of the past, with all its horrors, we humans stand terrified as we confront an unknown future. Desperately, homo sapiens, the toolmaker, seeks a tool to aid and comfort us in our fear of the unknown. History is the tool for which we reach to try to understand and thereby control an unknown future. It is a natural human tendency, built into the biology of our species, to try to understand the new by analogy with the familiar. Kahneman and Tversky call this tendency the "anchor and adjust" heuristic. When confronted by something new, the human mind assimilates it to the pattern of something familiar then adjusts the model in the light of experience.