Should We Try To Predict The Future?

Despite many thousands of years of practice, human beings are mostly unable to predict the future. After failure upon failure, the question arises: should we even try?

From big events to trivial ones, we humans are really inept when it comes to divining what comes next. There are some very basic things — the sun will rise tomorrow — and that’s about it. Jobs are unstable. Health issues can arise at any time. Marriages fail regularly. And of course, the farther out in the future you go, the less certain things get.

Admittedly, as our understanding of the universe grows, some predictions come easier. For example, scientists can predict with great accuracy solar and lunar eclipses.

And yet, even science has its limitations. Predicting exactly when a particular breakthrough will or will not happen is an exercise in futility. Science is, inherently, an exploration of the unknown, which means that progress is inherently unknowable.

None of this stops us from trying to predict what comes next. From taking your umbrella with you when you go out for the day, to selecting the numbers for the lottery jackpot, we can’t help but guess what will happen next.

A lot of time, effort, and money is spent regularly on prognostication. Insurance companies have armies of actuaries. Pundits get paid to sound confident in their predictions of the next election, even if they were completely wrong about the last one. Meteorologists use the latest in cutting edge technology in forecasting the weather.

Could all this time, effort, and money be put to better use? Would our lives be better without the constantly mediocre attempts to predict the future? Or is it the case that our efforts in that direction is what drives us to learn? To make new discoveries that can make our lives better in other ways?

Related questions: What is time? How much does your past determine your future? How do you plan for the future? What is your five year prediction? Ten?

Should We Pay Attention To The News?

Sometimes it seems that trust with our journalistic enterprises is at an al-time low. Should we even pay attention to the news?

One problem with the way we consume our news is that it is becoming ever more partisan. Whatever your political beliefs may be, there is a cable channel, website, or newspaper that will reinforce that view. Other sources are, of course, “fake news” and must be lying.

In addition, the way the news is currently being reported is hyper-sensationalized. If it bleeds, it leads, as the saying goes. Whatever gets ratings or clicks is what tends to drive news cycles these days.

So that seems like a problem with how the news is presented, not with the news itself. If we could simply supply some journalistic standards, maybe we could fix the current problem of divisive, misleading  coverage that oftentimes spills over into overt propaganda.


Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss the related question: ‘How much of our thoughts are our own?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘How much is enough?’


But even politically neutral, factual reporting creates a problem: a distorted view of reality. Negative stories tend to be more noteworthy than positive ones. A child being abused is news, but 10,000 children not being being abused isn’t.

If you hear a constant drumbeat of negative news stories, your natural inclination is to think the world is worse than it actually is. To illustrate, violence has been falling in the U.S. for decades now, and yet many Americans think crime is worse than it has ever been.

And yet, in order to have a functioning democracy, you need to have a well-informed electorate. How can we, as a society, be well-informed without reporters reporting on that society?

Is there a way to tune out the news and yet stay informed? Is there a way to fix the current broken system to make it work better for us? Should we pay attention to the news, or ignore it for our own well-being?

Related questions: What news from the last year made you optimistic? How can we encourage debate? How do you know who to trust? What is the greatest problem facing humanity?

 

 

Will Technology Save Us?

There are a number of problems facing our society, from climate change to civil unrest, from hyper-partisanship to a global pandemic. Many of these, and other, problems have been caused or been exacerbated through our use of technology. But can technology save us as well?

Our industrial growth has spewed greenhouse gasses into the air. Evolving news outlets and the rise of social media platforms have increased the division that already existed in our society.  International travel hastened the spread of a highly contagious and deadly disease.

If these problems have been hastened by technology, is there some hope that technology is also the potential solution?

Maybe we’ll rapidly discover and deploy a vaccine to combat the pandemic. Maybe carbon capture devices will halt or even reverse the level of greenhouse gasses. Or maybe cell phone and body cam footage will continue to make painfully clear the instances of racial bias that, in the past, might have gone unnoticed or disbelieved. ¬† The internet offers the possibility of exposing problems that must be addressed, or, in other cases connecting us, rather than dividing us.

But is it realistic to count on the very thing causing some of our problems to also be the cure? It might be that any efforts to develop a technological solution may just will only introduce new, and potentially even worse, problems. Or it could be that we need to use all the tools in our toolkit — including technology — to tackle the difficulties we currently face.

What do you think? Is tech to blame for the challenges we face? Will it offer us a way to address those them? Will technology save us?

Related questions: What new technology do you want? What skills have you lost due to technology? Is technology neutral? What role does technology play in your life? What is the greatest problem facing humanity?

What Mistake Taught You The Most?

It can be argued that a mistake teaches you more than success does. We learn what not to do, as well as how to deal with adversity.

No one is perfect, and so for each and every one of us, errors are bound to happen. How we respond to our flubs and gaffes can be show us a lot about ourselves.

These mistakes can happen in any area of our lives, but no doubt some are more significant than others. Errors we make as children in school can be formative.

Similarly, learning from a screw-up on the job can ultimately make you a better co-worker or leader. And how you react when your let down your loved ones — and how they react to you in those instances — can inform your personality.

Can you think of a particular mistake that taught you the most? What lesson did you learn? Were you shaped by something that you got wrong — or your response to it?

Related questions: When is it useful to fail? How do you define success? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong? What’s the most useful thing you’ve ever learned? What is uncomfortable but rewarding?