A Time for Imagination
From a letter to my son. By Alessandro Cassin Dear L. I know your job involves making predictions about the short, medium and long term. That is what those who trade stocks,
From a letter to my son.
By Alessandro Cassin
I know your job involves making predictions about the short, medium and long term. That is what those who trade stocks, bonds, currencies, and derivatives do.
Yet in a time when the future is completely unpredictable, I believe it becomes necessary — individually and as a society— to admit that we have no idea what awaits us. Instead of relying only on “forecasting professionals” (scientists, virologists, economists or philosophers) we need to exercise our imagination.
Man is very good at doing many things, but not at making predictions.
What we now call outlook, forecasts, predictions, throughout history have been describes with other notions and names. Names that were progressively shelved and derided: conjectures, presentiments, intuitions, oracles, prophecies and omens. In almost every case, they did not prove to be accurate…
The charm and persistence of Cassandra’s story (in all its re-tellings, from Aeschylus to Christa Wolf) lie in the realization that a person who really knows how things will end, is never believed or taken seriously.
The advent of science and statistics has only apparently increased our accuracy in predicting the future.
Let us fast forward to the twentieth century, my century:
(I am quoting Gianrico Carofiglio a writer and former anti-Mafia judge) “In the 1910s Charlie Chaplin stated that the public was not interested in seeing moving figures on a screen, but only human beings in flesh and blood on a stage … In 1932 Albert Einstein declared that man would never succeed in producing atomic energy. In 1943, IBM’s President, Thomas Watson claimed that there would be a maximum of five people in the world interested in buying a computer in the future. In 1995 Robert Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, stated that the Internet would soon become a supernova and collapse by 1996. In 2007, Steven Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO, said there was no chance of the iPhone gaining any significant market share.” I could go on. A Berkeley professor, Philip Tetlock, analyzed tens of thousands of predictions made by hundreds of experts over ten years, stating that the accuracy of these predictions was the same of those generated by computer in random mode. In your own lifetime, political scientists failed to predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 and the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. More recently, I am sure you remember the “Y2K”fear: a widespread predictions of the of havoc that passing from 1999 to 2000 would cause to computers.…
I don’t like giving advice but I do recommend at this time, to try not make predictions. Instead, use your imagination to outline what you would like from yourself and for the world after the pandemic …
You know how to train your body and your brains: this is the time to train your imagination. Let’s begin.
Image: Nam Jum Paik, TV Buddha, 1976