Predicting Future Truth and Consequences

Why we cannot make our plans entirely based on predictions

Mark Lilla wrote a great article for the New York Times in May 2020 entitled “No One Know What’s Going To Happen”. If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you do.

During this pandemic period, there is a lot of frustration that things are not ‘back to normal’. Yet, can our society ever go back to pre-pandemic life? Many things will return, such as gathering with friends, shopping, and eating out. But, some things will never be the same.

How exactly will things change? We can’t know for sure and no prediction can be reliably accurate.

What we do know is that these changes can take a variety of directions. As new developments unfold during a crisis, we cannot afford to passively expect a specific outcome just because someone predicted it that way: this approach has proven to be the death sentence for many a civilization and community.

Instead, we should try our best to influence and take part in these changes.

The whole course of human history consists of a series of unexpected contingent events and interruptions. Over the past 6,000 years of recorded history, no one, not even the most powerful empires, absolute monarchs, or most learned scholars, was able to predict the fate of their societies. Yet, the human community rapidly evolved and came out of crises, bigger and more prosperous than ever before.

One thing history has shown clearly: institutions and societies that were too static, resisted change, and tried to cope with new problems using obsolete schemes and blueprints, decayed and collapsed. The temple economies of the Archaic Middle East, the Greek city state polities, the Roman imperial system or the Byzantine bureaucracy all faded and collapsed under the stresses of new challenges that they were not flexible enough to overcome.

The institutions that were flexible and rapidly adaptable, those that innovated and embraced change, these are ones ones that revived human society from whatever disaster had befallen it.

Individuals and groups who constantly innovated and took advantage of new opportunities and challenges, whether they did so in the economic, political, or intellectual spheres are the ones that helped humanity survive over its long history.

Life is built upon change. Change constantly happens. We adapt and develop and come out better each time.

Trying to predict the future, and therefore how to direct your life knowing the future, is impossible. Even with all the data, meta data and analytics on the planet, we can’t predict the future.

The best thing we can do is be flexible and adaptable. Companies must be flexible, families must be flexible, and governments must be flexible. Yes, this is very hard for some people, but it is not impossible.

As Lilla writes:
‘A dose of humility would do us good in the present moment. It might also help reconcile us to the radical uncertainty in which we are always living. Let us retire our prophets and augurs. And let us stop asking health specialists and public officials for confident projections they are in no position to make – and stop being disappointed when the ones we force out of them turn out to be wrong”.


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