Predictive imperative



“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."

Søren Kierkegaard

Walk into any bookshop and you will almost certainly see shelves and shelves of history books. I checked today and Amazon are offering 3,804,616 history books. The next largest category is Science and Nature with 2,401,191. We like reading about the past. It is familiar, safe and helps us understand life but as Kierkegaard said life has to be lived forwards, and this is a very different proposition. The future is unknown, risky and worrying. Progress is all about the future. It is meaningless to have a goal set in the past because you cannot change the past. Setting the goal ‘I want to lose a stone in weight over the next year’ is fine but the goal ‘I want to lose a stone over the last year’ doesn’t work.  To make progress, you need to know about the future. A useful idea must make a prediction that tells you something that will help you achieve your purpose. The more information, the greater its predictive power and the more useful it is. A weather forecast that predicts rain is about the future but tells you almost nothing because it does not say when or where it will rain. More information must be added to make it useful e.g. It will rain between 12 pm and 2 pm next Saturday in your hometown. Now you know when to avoid having your barbecue. An idea with no predictive power may be entertaining, it may be funny, but it is not useful. Knowing this allows you to look at ideas more critically and identify those that can help you make progress and weed out those that can’t.