Rebirth of Reason

Favorite EditSanction this itemFuture Babble by Dan Gardner
Future BabbleThis was an interesting and though-provoking book.  The book discusses predictions about the future.  Obviously there are religious predictions, but talking heads on TV are constantly making predictions.  There are many books out there that make predictions.  The author brings up several familiar names, like Paul Ehrlich and Peter Schiff.  He describes, with many quotes, their specific predictions and how those stood up.  In general, people aren't very good at making predictions!

One distinction he makes early and often is between the "fox" and the "hedgehog".  The hedgehog knows one thing very well, and the fox knows lots of things.  Foxes tend to be better at predicting because they bring more to the table, are used to dealing with and respecting complexity, and are generally more humble in their ability to predict.  Hedgehogs latch onto one idea they think explains everything, and make sweeping statements and predictions based on it.  Their confidence is much higher, and their accuracy much lower. 

As an aside, I think many Objectivists are hedgehogs.  They understand Objectivist theory to some extent, and then think they can make sweeping generalizations and predictions.  Those philosophers that are certain they know the best choices for foreign policy are one example.  But there are lots of examples of people thinking they know everything because they read a few Rand books.  It's something we all need to watch out for.

The book mixes details of actual predictions with a lot of psychology.  It describes some person's predictions, how far off they were, and then in a follow up interview you see that those people didn't even realize they were wrong.  Confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, and the like explain some of this.  It also describes why people are drawn to people who predict who are absolutely certain they know what will happen, even though those are the most likely to be wrong.  He describes some experiments showing biases people have, and how certain kinds of predictions are more appealing than others.

It's an easy read packed with lots of interesting thoughts.  He is a little repetitive in his examples, bringing up Paul Ehrlich's books repeatedly as one example.  I didn't really mind, though.  He was focusing on different issues each time.  It didn't subtract from his points at all. 
Added by Joseph Rowlands
on 9/23, 4:53pm

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