In many sports, statistics are used to extrapolate what future performance could be. But what does it mean when a baseball player has a ten game hitting streak? Is he more likely to hit in the next game than a player who did not have a hit in the previous game? Or if a basketball player has made his last 50 free throws – does that make number 51 any more probable? Or improbable?
There is the notion of momentum which usually has a somewhat short term implication based on motivation or self confidence, but when it comes to more complicated predictions like that a successful away team is very likely to win at a team that is relatively unsuccessful when playing at home, I have some doubts. Too many things that could change the game can happen. The home team may work on their weakness and play with a new tactical setup. The away team may take the win for granted and play less intense and so on and so on.
The more complex a situation and the more complex a system, the less it makes sense to derive a prognosis based upon extrapolation of the past.
Last Saturday I was at a presentation given by a regional member of the Club Of Rome, a political think tank composed of extremely bright people, including the presenter. He talked about sustainability and the challenges the world faces. I like what organizations like the Club Of Rome do, as they play an important role in the political agenda setting process. However a large part of the presentation was based on ideas derived from extrapolating the past.
Global population growth, availability of oil, limitations in food production, etc. are severe problems that we should look at seriously. But they are also taking place in very complex systems. The problem I personally have is that anytime I try to look at these points from a perspective that is not in line with the extrapolated trends, someone will stop me and remind me of “the facts”.
There are no facts. The future is blurry.
Maybe population growth will slow down significantly due to decreasing poverty on a global scale. Maybe breakthroughs in renewable resources, drilling technologies or coal conversion into clean fuel may happen. Maybe genetic modification will stop hunger. Maybe not.
The issue is that exclusively accepting extrapolation as a sound basis of scenarios hinders us from finding creative solutions. It’s just too simple to point at the “facts”, as it is clear that an argumentation based on an extrapolation of the given past will sound more convincing than the fuzzy “what if?” dreams I gave as an example.
I am not a blind optimist but I feel that the arrogance of how any non extrapolating view is killed by the fact believers kills a lot of creative energy and potentials.
Don’t ignore how we got here. The problems are serious. But also don’t allow the arrogance of extrapolation to stop you from thinking ahead in a creative way. The world we live in is so complex that there may be great solutions no one has ever thought of before. All we have to do is to find them. Looking back at the facts from the past is probably not the best way to achieve this.