Predicting the future is dabbling with the black arts 3


Photo by Sean McGrath

I’m sorry, but we need to talk about predictions, risks, probability and estimations, and I will expound on the subject in a few posts here. But first, let me try to convey how sensitive I am when it comes to this.

Make no mistake, people who pretend that they can predict the future make my nose bleed. The more sure they are of their guesswork, the more I bleed. I even consider meteorologists to be dabbling with the black arts, and they’re not even the biggest sinners. Their attempts at clairvoyance at least involve a small streak of science.
I have been known to throw stuff at my television set when people appear broadcasting predictions about the future, and make their nonsense drivel sound as if they can actually predict that which has yet to be.

– The market will go up, says the empty suit-guru on the news.
– Sorcery! I scream, and cross myself violently.

Whenever the weather report is on I start frowning. My girlfriend, who accepts my idiosyncrasies, bless her heart – patiently changes the channel, saying:
– That’s okay dear, we’ll know tomorrow what the weather will be like, why spoil the wonderful surprise? Come now, let me get you a cold beer. Just lie back here on the couch and relax and let me rub your feet with oil and…

…no, not really. At least two thirds of that last paragraph is wishful thinking, and, incidentally, so is clairvoyance.

So why this extreme aversion, you ask. Well, one of my main mantras in life is “research, not opinion” (another one could be “weather is not news, but it’s not, and by the way, it’s not) and it’s terribly difficult to research the future. You can do this without me going postal though, just by being humble.

If you admit that you really don’t know anything, and if you tell your tall tales of the future in a light hearted spirit, I might play along. It also helps if you label whatever you are saying “guessing”.

For as so many intelligent people have demonstrated, we live in a random and unpredictable world populated by irrational people. There is a limit to how much analysis you can extract from what was yesterday and what is today, and extrapolate onwards into the unknown future. Not recognizing these limits is just outrageously stupid. Yet, a lot of people will ask you to perform remarkable feats of clairvoyance in your field of work, and you have to refuse!

In posts to come I will try to dig deeper into this, but right now I must lie down and rest after my tantrum. So there.


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