Everything looks so simple in the rear view mirror! As Malcolm Gladwell notes in a New Yorker essay (10 March 2003 issue; see and/or esp., people have a natural tendency to make up stories that purport to explain past events. They focus their attention on bits of evidence that, after the fact, make the pseudo-explanation seem obvious. People also have a strong propensity to remember that they "always knew" something would happen, even when they actually held the opposite belief beforehand.

How trivial it all seems, to a post-hoc-ist! How could anyone fail to connect the dots? Mere child's play!

But in reality, the right dots are stars, indistinguishable from a galaxy of other points that wipe out any signal until events --- unpredictable in principle as much as in practice --- crystalize into historical fact. The best that one can do beforehand? Estimate uncertainties, explore alternative scenarios, prepare for a range of possibilities ... and then plan to change course when the storm hits.

(see also PlansAndSituations (13 Aug 1999), AntiAnthropism (26 May 2000), EpistemologicalEnginerooms (10 Aug 2000), ImperfectStorm (28 May 2001), ThermodynamicsOfTerrorism (15 Jan 2002), OpaqueJustice (29 Jan 2002), MuddlingThrough (21 Aug 2002), DeadBeginnings (28 Sep 2002), ...)

TopicSociety - TopicThinking - 2003-03-07

(correlates: AsymmetricChallenges, ProbabilisticTragedy, SelfConfidence, ...)