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?

How Are You Fortunate?

It can be important, for a variety of reasons, to recognize the ways in which you are fortunate.

There are different ways fortune might smile upon you. A smart decision you made in the past might have delivered a good outcome. The assistance of a friend or family member might have made things easier for you. You might have even received a lucky break now and again. Or some combination of those.

It can be good for your mental health to acknowledge ways in which you are fortunate. Doing so can even take the edge off an unlucky or unfortunate turn of events.


Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘How do you show thanks?’ We discuss another question as well, ‘What book has had the biggest impact on you?’


There are other ways that recognizing your fortune can help. You can become more attuned to people who are not as fortunate — or are fortunate in different ways. If you can identify them, you might even be able to determine ways that you can reproduce that fortune, and improve your life even further.

How are you fortunate? Is your fortune the result of conscious decisions, or due to blind luck?

Related questions: How has luck shaped your life? What are you grateful for? How do you show thanks? How can we appreciate life more?

How Has Luck Shaped Your Life?

When we think about the events in our lives, most people do not acknowledge the role of luck in what has happened to them.

If something good happens, you may be tempted to ascribe it to something that you did, or something that you earned. Good things happen because you worked hard. Or because you planned. Maybe you were smarter than others, which allowed you to succeed.

Similarly, negative events can often be blamed on a conspiracy against you. If you don’t get that raise at work, it is because your boss doesn’t like you. Even if you accept the blame — you didn’t get the raise because you didn’t work enough overtime, for example — that may not be accurate.

Luck plays a larger role in our lives than many admit. Most of the big decisions in your life, like where you live, what company you work for, who you are married to, where you went to college, etc. often come down to luck.

Maybe you chose to look at one open house and not another, and the one you picked is the place you currently live. Why did you choose one over the other? You got lucky.

You might have selected one party instead of another, and at that party you met the love of your life. In hindsight, it was a wise choice. But at the time you made it, it was the equivalent of a coin flip.

This is not to say that no one deserves anything in their lives, good or bad. People make bad decisions. Then they must live with the consequences of those bad decisions. But not every bad outcome is due to a bad decision, and not every benefit in life comes from merit.

How has luck (good or bad) shaped your life? Do you think you have had more good luck, or bad? Or is it about equal?

Related questions: What is luck? Can you make yourself luckier? How do you define success? When is doubt helpful?

A special thanks to Meagan O’Brien, who suggested the question.