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A train of thoughts on prediction that arose from finding a book in a puddle.

April 15, 2012

I found a book on medieval philosophy lying in a mud puddle when I went for a walk in London. That is a true story. I opened the pages randomly and the first thing I read was about astrology, a perfectly respectable science at in those days. It then dawned on me that there are basically three ways of dealing with the human future: 1. The astrological way, meaning you look for signs. 2. The “so called” rational way, where the objective truth about the future can be calculated using statistical reasoning. 3. And the one that holds that you cannot do anything but guess. Assuming that the world is not deterministic, 1 and 2 must be wrong. However they are the the most widely used. Most fields of research in the humane sciences that claim some level predictability do so using either signs or statistics. I am in favour of reconsigning the uncertain way. In fact, I would say it as strongly as this: In the humane sciences there is no proof of such thing as a permanent pattern, scientific constancy or intrinsic correlations. There is only a neural network of biased perceptions seeking coherence, fuelling loops of action and reaction into the very future it seeks to predict. This can be observed clearly in political history, but even more clearly in financial markets, which in many respects is a branch of the former.

Said differently, when trying to predict in fields like history, economics and sociology, guessing is as good as anything.

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