flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘prediction

Yikes, our psychology is old fashioned

Here we are close to 2010, wrestling with philosophy and physics that was well documented half a century ago.

Let’s look at what most of us think of as science.

If I throw a stone, in theory, I can predict where it will land.   I like that. It is certain. I like that I know exactly what is going to happen.

But, of course, I don’t know where it will land.

  • I am no good at throwing stones.  It could go anywhere.
  • My ability to calculate the physics of the trajectory is limited (I’ve forgotten and can’t do it in my head in real time).
  • And other factors kick in such as the wind.

All in all, that stone becomes unpredictable. Oh, I don’t like that.

I don’t like the idea that what I thought was certain is not. It’s as if the earth shook under my feet.

Let’s look at what we think of as weakness of character

I hate it even more when I become unpredictable.  Yesterday, I woke up thinking a project was hopeless.  By the evening, I was so excited about the exact same project that I could not sleep.  My judgement should not swing about like that ~ at least if I am a person of substance, or so we are brought up to believe.

The truth is that nothing is predictable.  Least of all us.

So why do we persist in believing the world is under our control?

This is how it works. We have is a few factors under our control.  When we focus on those factors, we feel calm.  We feel efficacious.  And therefore we persist in whatever we are doing.

It doesn’t mean that we are effective.  It just means that we are willing to persist.  We pay attention. We are more likely to do what we are thinking about than what we are not thinking about. So we get done what we are thinking about.

In a circular fashion, we think we will succeed, we feel in control, so we persist and therefore we try, and sometimes we do succeed.

There is still a huge factor of chance involved though.  There is  so much else happening around us that can affect an outcome.   We’ve simply narrowed the range of outcomes by paying attention.

Is it a good thing to control our attention?

It’s interesting that in the western world that we put such a high premium on predicting results.  We really want to feel in control, of course.  Not be in control, feel in control.

We aren’t really in control. We are just ignoring what is out of our control. We are just writing a story of us in control. It is the story of being in control that we love! Take that away, and we really feel helpless!

You don’t believe  that we just like to think we are in control?

Let’s look at the west. It is more successful than the rest of the world. It is richer.

Yes, it is. And dirtier. Where do the emissions come from? How much energy is used to make this life style?

We are richer because we consume. That’s what wealth means in this sense. We have learned to consume a lot.

And if that is a marvellous thing, then aren’t we are being silly ~ we are destroying the world’s ability to sustain the thing that we say is so important.

Aren’t we just behaving like a person who barges to the front of the queue? It is true we get there. But at the expense of becoming very unpopular.

The point is that we barged to the front of the queue, not because being in the front was important, but because we wanted to feel in control. Now we are in the front, do we feel in control? No we don’t. All those people behind us will get their own back at the first opportunity! We’ve reduced our control.

High control needs

Now I am an in control type of person. Anyone who knows me, knows that. I like being in control. I look for ways to understand the world. I think we do more when we understand the world

But I shouldn’t mistake

  • My desire to be in control
  • The mechanisms that explain the behaviour of plants, animals, things and other people
  • My ability to control all these things

These are three different parts of the system.

Paradoxically, to be in control, I must give up control and join a system in which many mechanisms interrelate.

Oh, I can carry on being me. Enthusiastic, energetic, zestful. But that is just me being exuberant. Exuberant people are part of the universe. Take us into account in your calculations!

But my wish to control does not make things controllable. It means I will spend a lot of time researching what is controllable. I will not stop trying to make things controllable. But that does not make things controllable. I must distinguish my urge from reality.

The truth is that all the forces of the world exist because other forces exist and interplay with each other. I can learn what is humanly possible. I can learn as much as I can of the considerable knowledge of the world that there we have at our disposal. I can try to use the knowledge.

But I should never confuse my need to control with the ability to control. Indeed if I want to be effective, I should stand back a bit and not confuse the tunnel vision of will with the mindfulness when we pay attention to the world around us.

When we enjoy the world, when we celebrate everything around us, we get a lot more done.

Am I making any sense? This is hard to get.


Presentology or futurology?  Which is your pick?

I think most of us think that it is good to defer gratification. Well we know it is.  We all know by now the story of the kids given a marshmallow and told they will get another if they leave it untouched until the experimenter gets back. The 30% of kids who resist the urge to wolf down the marshmallow do better in life.

So it is better to be a futurologist?  Not so?

But what is the future?

Our fascination with the future rests in a great part on a fallacy of prediction.

Since mankind has kept records we have been pretty keen on consulting oracles, reading the tea leaves, listening to the weather reports ~ anything to allow us to know what will happen and to be on the right side of history.

We desperately want to know and we desperately want the world to be as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning.

Some predictability is good

I see nothing wrong with that.  Personally, I like my keys to be where I left them.  And I quite like it if my black dog doesn’t lie in a dark passage way for me to trip over him.

Here in lies the important point.  It is not forecasting the future that is important.  It is understanding how the world works that is important.

If there is no one else in the house it would be jolly strange if my keys moved from where I put them.  If there is anyone else in the house, even a black dog who likes keys, some dogs do, then my keys might not be where I left them.  It is the mechanism not the prediction that is important.

When we know the mechanism, then we can do something about it.  We must know the mechanism and all the mechanisms that are relevant. Keys rarely move by themselves but other people might move them without telling me.  Mechanisms introduce randomness and it is better to allow for randomness than get fixated on certainty.

Let’s take my dear black dog as a second example.  He might lie in the dark passageway quite often, but I can’t predict when he will.  I can only allow for the possibility that he might and either walk more slowly or whistle and hope he moves and makes a noise so I can hear him.  Knowing how the world works and the range of possibilities we might encounter is what matters.

So what is better: presentology or futurology?

Now I have explained this like this, it seems quite obvious but what does this affect the choice of presentology or futurology?  How does this relate to the kids and the marshmallows?

I need to know the mechanisms to know what I  can do now, RIGHT NOW.  Because the future follows from now, I want to know how I can change now.

  • I want to change now so that now is better.
  • And I want to act now because now is the only time we can act.
  • I want to act because I like action. Action makes us feel good.
  • And I want to change now because it makes the future more interesting!

Instead of worrying whether or not I will trip over my black dog, I ask myself what mechanisms I can manage to walk safely to my destination.  Calling to my dog is one of them.  If I want to get to the end of the passage safely, I must manage all of the mechanisms, on their own terms, as they come up.

Knowing that I want to get to the end of the passage safely or knowing that I get to the end of the passage safely 90% of the time simply doesn’t help me.

But knowing that a black dog tends to lie there quietly, and knowing that dogs do respond when you call, knowing these mechanisms helps me manage possibilities and helps me rearrange NOW, in this case what is going on in my head.   By understanding now and rearranging it, I allow possibilities to evolve that I might enjoy.

Presentology : the art of now

What needs to be done now?

We are all talking about now. Personal kanbans, productivity, mindfulness, solidarity, happiness. It is all about being master of the present ~ master of what is happening this minute!



Note:  The late Russ Ackhoff used the term presentology to describe his philosophy of management


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