Tuesday 01 January 2008

The Fallacy Of Prediction

It is human nature to think we can predict the future. Perhaps out of our own arrogance, we seek to put order into chaos and uncertainty, however unsuccessful our effort may be. Yet, the “art” of making predictions had been a pervasive practice throughout human history. In 1555, Michel de Nostradamus published Les Propheties—a compendium of self-proclaimed prophecies which predicted many catastrophic world events that were to come true supposedly since then in some cryptic fashions. Even to this date, Nostradamus’ words continue to fuel endless strings of urban myths, grand conspiracies, and fraudulent hoaxes in popular culture. This is despite the fact that reputable scholars have universally discounted these prophecies to be both unprovable and prone to misinterpretation.

Today, we continue to make lofty prophecies, only in more subtle forms. We cleverly disguise our guesses by relabeling them as predictions, prognostications, and forecasts, in a vain attempt to fool ourselves in believing that our foresights are superior than those of our ancestors. Worst yet are individuals who misuse science to defend their claims and to capitalize them for financial, political, or religious gains. After all, human nature rarely changes—we seek to master what cannot control and benefit from it.

By Philip Jong • At 12:11 AM • Under Column • Under World
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