Archive for August 28, 2012

Ideological Filters and Predictions about the Future

August 28, 2012 8 comments

It is hard to spend any significant amount of time on the internet and not come across a few overt, and not so overt, predictions about the future. The majority of such predictions display a high degree of certainty and are the products of ideologically committed minds aka zealots. I would go so far as to say that a high degree of ideological, monetary or emotional investment in any particular world view by the ‘prophet’ is the best indicator his predictions will turn out be grossly incorrect.

It is hard to predict the future accurately, especially if you have tunnel vision and ideological autism.

The more accurate predictions about the future are based on the recognition of certain largely ignored aspects of physical reality and human beings:

1. It is impossible for individuals or groups, irrespective of their ability, to reliably create a desired long-term outcome of any significance.

The world is incredibly complex and has too many hidden feedback loops to make it behave in a predictable manner. Case in point- Eugenics was an idea that seemed right until some guy with a funny mustache came to power in 1930-era Germany. After that, a belief that was the mark of progressive thinkers quickly became something few sane people would associate themselves with. Similarly nuclear weapons, which were developed by the USA to dominate and enslave the world, quickly became the means by which the USA and other western countries lost that ability. I could think of many more beliefs, ideologies, actions, inventions and discoveries which ended up doing the opposite of what they were intended to achieve, but that is best discussed in another post.

2. Complex systems do not display linear behavior outside a narrow and constantly changing range.

I have discussed this in a few previous posts in more detail, but will summarize it once again. Trends that link ‘x’ to ‘y’ and/or assume constant rates of change over time are ephemeral. For example any prediction that the Chinese GDP (in USD) will exceed that of the USA in any given number of years assumes that the either or both countries will still exist at that date in their current form and that world trade will still occur in USDs. It also assumes that the nature of the economy and governance in both countries will remain roughly similar to what it is today. Such predictions are akin to predicting world events in 1955 based on the “best” information available in 1940.

3. Modeling the behavior of people based on widely held beliefs about their motivations and abilities usually turns out to be wrong.

In previous posts I have said the best explanation why the rich want more money is linked to their conscious or subconscious desire, to deprive others rather than enjoy their wealth. While this explanation does against conventional beliefs of why people accumulate money beyond the point of rational usability, it is a better fit to evidence. Now consider the implications of believing in either viewpoint on modeling human behavior for the purpose of predictions. If you believe that rich people want more money for reasons other than depriving others then giving them more money could be seen as a way to benefit the society that made them rich. So how has that worked out in practice? Has giving the already rich more money benefited the societies that made them rich or has it just made the rich more greedy and arrogant? If the elites of western countries were so smart and competent, why did they lead their countries into mostly humiliating and horrendously expensive disasters such WW1, WW2, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan? Could it be that the elite are lucky egoistic pretenders and bullshitters who are drawn to situations which expose their incompetence or react in ways that ensures their downfall?

Of course, all predictions are also based on the continued existence of human beings in a familiar biological form. I will explain what I am hinting at in a future post.

What do you think? Comments?

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