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Predicting the Future

Some people are better at predicting the future than others. I don't really mean being able to make money on the stockmarket or the horses, I mean more being able to know which forces are significant and which things aren't, what will last and what is emphemeral. Humans value the spooky ability to make super precise predictions- precisely because it is rare; we're much better at more general predictions...maybe because time isn't quite what we think it is.

Nicholas Eliot, the MI6 spy who was befriended by Kim Philby and remained a staunch defender even when the evidence mounted up (finally he saw the light and it was his confrontation with Philby in Beirut that made the traitor flee) was, later in life, remarkably prescient about such things as the breakup of the USSR, the growth of Chinese power and the way America would intervene in the world. He couldn't see a bald faced liar in front of him but he could see into the future. So the skills needed must include a lack of emotional bondage to the subject, yet at the same time, considerable interest and knowledge about it. The problem is, when we get interested in something we get emotionally caught up with it. Bias is inevitable. But if our decisions have real world conseuquences then we learn to build in a certain 'bias-offset'. We assemble over time an intricate web of checks and balances in order to be able to glimpse the future of somethng we are interested in.

It is said that 90% of investors rely on something very simple- the future will largely resemble the present and the recent past. Every now and then this gets whacked in the face by something completely unexpected, but in many areas it holds true. When I predict my household expenses for the year i can be pretty accurate. So one skill is having a feel for the natural volatility of something. What are the constants in human history and what is something of the moment? 

Being attracted to things of value from the past, attuned to the interests and inclinations of those who came perhaps a long time before us may not help you make the future, but it might help you predict what will last.


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