We can’t predict. No one can. Not with deep anthropological or historical knowledge, economical, political, social or any other type of knowledge whatsoever. Not using advanced statistics (correlations, regressions and other fancy words & techniques) or complicated mathematics.
Nassim Taleb makes a very good point in his bestselling book “Black Swan“: if you can predict something, then it’s probably already in the making. Otherwise you just couldn’t predict it.
History does not crawl, it jumps.
Nobody could predict the computer, the internet, the recent economical crisis that started in US, the conflict in Ukraine or the collaborative economy. Yet, they had and have a huge impact on how we live our lives today.
Life is very complicated and it doesn’t have a script (that’s why improv looks a lot like it). Basically we know less than we think we do, about the future and about everything around us. And we cannot be really objective.
We are biased and it’s part of how we function as human beings.
A dual mode of thinking OR how we can “get wrong” even the present
Daniel Kahneman (with Amos Tversky and others) conducted a series of experiments and reached a conclusion that he presented in “Thinking Fast and Slow“.
They mapped our activities into a dual mode of thinking: System 1 & System 2.
System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control (…) it continuously generates suggestions for System 2: impressions, intuitions, intentions and feelings.
System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice and concentration. (…) If indorsed by System 2, impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs and impulses turn into voluntary actions.
Errors of intuitive thought are often difficult to prevent because System 1 cannot be turned off at will and most of the time System 2 adopts its suggestions (also because the self-control task System 2 has is tiring so it tends to work less in those “most of the times”). Basically, our mind can play us tricks in interpreting data, the present, life.
Here are some examples of biases, tendencies and errors we make daily:
- illusions – we all know them, and even though we know it’s an illusion we still see it “wrong” (the circles in the middle are of the same size). There are illusions in real life, too. All sorts of them (like the illusory superiority).
- our brain is pretty lazy and it likes the obvious, we don’t think things through (Ex: Is this a valid conclusion: “All roses are flowers. Some flowers fade quickly. Therefore some roses fade quickly”? Most of the people in a study said yes, although it actually isn’t because roses can be amongst the flowers that do not fade quickly)
- priming and anchoring – it means that we tend to be influenced by some “first impressions”. Take care in negotiations! Ex: Do you think Turkey’s population is more or less than 30mil people? Write down an estimate and then look at the end of the article for the answer
- a reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth AND mere exposure can make us feel that the exposed object/idea is “good” – so if you say something over and over at some point people will start to believe it’s true
- bold, clear text is more believable than a text written in mild shades of green, yellow or pale blue
- we are more likely to believe some ideas are true if they are presented in verse (a fault confessed is half redressed vs. a fault admitted is half redressed)
- when in a good mood, we become more intuitive and more creative but also less vigilant and more prone to logical errors
- the B and the 13 in the picture below are the same symbol, but we tend to see things depending on context
- confirmation bias or WYSIATI (what you see is all there is) – we tend to look only for proof that sustains our point of view not proof that could discredit it. It’s easy to see how this distorts the truth.
- the narrative fallacy – our tendency to construct stories around facts, which in love for example may serve a purpose, but when someone begins to believe the stories and accommodate facts into the stories, they are likely to err
- Also this:
The unpredictable future OR how we can never know what is going to happen next
There are so many factors that influence everything, from a flapping of a butterfly to an earthquake. Taleb argues against our tendency to put everything on a Gauss curve. Most of the times the 5% representation on the Gauss curve has more impact than the 90%. We’re living in Extremistan, not Mediocristan, so he advises not to trust our (or so called experts’) predictions so much.
It’s all too complicated and thus unpredictable. You might look in Picture A and think that the trend will go like in picture A*. But in reality Picture A can become Picture B or even C. And Taleb has a great analogy: life of a turkey from a farm is very calm and good, he receives food everyday, has a shelter, there are no predators that threaten it. Until Thanksgiving day comes and he gets cooked. Maybe in hindsight he could see some proof of what was going on, but this doesn’t help so much.
What can we do AND what’s the point of this whole article
I think it’s very important not to believe easily everything we read in books with interesting covers or titles, we see on the news or we hear “smart people” telling us. We should practice (critical) thinking more.
I also believe that a main cause of conflict is that we have different opinions and we try to enforce them or we’re too in love with them. Having different opinions is ok (maybe even helpful). But if we admit that we might not know everything, that we are prone to make errors, that we are biased, we might be more relaxed, more open, more friendly, conflict-free, and not so “taken by surprise” by surprises. We know they’re out there.
So, don’t believe me, but think about these 5 things:
First: read these two books for a good “reality check” of how our mind can trick us when assessing life or making decisions (it’s from where I took most of the information for this article).
Second: learn to learn – this gives you the ability to adapt faster to whatever situation.
Third: focus more on learning how to think than on learning what to think – the what changes very fast.
Forth: don’t trust everything you read or you’re being told. Run or look for experiments that test assumptions (as anchored in reality as possible).
Fifth: practice improvising – be present, listen, say yes, adapt, create. (we can help you with that! :) )
*Turkey has a population of 76mil. Most of the people estimate a number between 20 and 45 mil. They are anchored to the “30mil” from the question. Were you? :)