I have been obsessed lately with my blind spots in predicting long-term trends.
For the last several years I’ve been looking at the past and the present, and evaluating what things I could have predicted and which things I never would have thought possible. And I think I’ve found a pattern.
My biggest problem seems to be with large-scale systems where it seems like it’d be trivially easy to disrupt a state of equilibrium. Here are a couple of examples. I’ll add more as I remember them.
- If someone would have told me, 300 thousand years ago, that bacteria, viruses, and humans would battle for supremacy for hundreds of thousands of years, but neither would die out, I’d have told them they were crazy. How do you kind of almost die thousands of times during your lifespan, but somehow beat the bug? And how does it stay only strong enough to do the exact same thing again the next time? For billions of humans (and other species) over hundreds of thousands of years?
- If someone would have told me, 50 years ago, that we’d have a society where it’s trivial to get guns and explosives, all throughout the United States, and the world would be FULL of tens of thousands of people who would love to kill themselves to harm us, that we’d still have a VASTLY open and safe society, I’d have told them they were insane. My bet would have been on massive unrest due to the sheer ease of causing chaos in such a society. 50 pipe bombs per day, mass shootings all over the place, etc. That this doesn’t happen boggles me.
- If someone had told me, in 1900, that there was so much sun stored as oil beneath the ground, that we’d build little explosion machines and power them with these sun storage molecules, I’d have believed you for a small city, for a few decades. But not for the entire world, for a century. This one is easier to grasp and predict, but I still would have gotten it wrong.
These aren’t great examples, and I’ll add more as I remember them, but hopefully you can see the blind spot.
I want to fix it.
I want to identify, name, and call out this bias problem I have with not accounting for stability in some way. I need to figure out how equilibrium has its own inertia, perhaps. And that it often takes significant energy to disrupt it—even if it seems easy to do so.
Or maybe that’s wrong too.
The point is that my sensors are broken in a specific way, and I’d like to repair them. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
- So one answer to #1 is that the bugs probably did win in many, many cases. And most species that have ever lived are in fact extinct. But even then it’s not something I would have predicted.