Revolution as Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Can we predict the future? Sure we can. But the question is how often are our predictions right. How successful are we when we predict the future? One principle seems clear: Near term predictions are more likely to be correct than longer term predictions. Weather models are good out to about 5 or 7 days. We can predict eclipses and orbits of the planets for hundreds of years very accurately. But here too as the time into the future increases, the predictions become less accurate.

What about social stuff? Some things are harder to predict than others. Will the US continue to exist in 2020? Most likely, almost surely, yes, in one form or another. Will it exist in 2100? Surely nobody knows or can know. Are human activities causing global warming? Very likely yes. Will present trends continue through 2100? We really don’t know. If they do, it is very likely bad things will happen. Notice that some of these statements are not very specific. More specific situations are less likely to occur than less specific situations. Certainly some bad things will happen in 2100 no matter what else happens. Certainly some good things will happen in 2100 too. So it is easy to make correct predictions if the predictions are general enough. The particular is harder to predict accurately than the general.

Sometimes global properties of collections of things can be accurately predicted even though the actions of the specific things in the collection cannot each be predicted. The random motions of molecules in a confined gas give rise to simple relations between the gas temperature and its pressure even though we can’t possibly know what each molecule is doing. Macroeconomics is based on a similar idea. So there may be some hope of making accurate predictions regarding the behavior of collections of people.

On the other hand, Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” says:

“The often used image of the ‘march of history’ implies order and direction. Marches, unlike strolls or walks, are not random. We think that we should be able to explain the past by focusing on either large social movements and cultural and technological developments or the intentions and abilities of a few great men. The idea that large historical events are determined by luck is profoundly shocking, although it is demonstrably true. It is hard to think of the history of the twentieth century, including its large social movements, without bringing in the role of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong. But there was a moment in time, just before an egg was fertilized, when there was a fifty-fifty chance that the embryo that became Hitler could have been a female. Compounding the three events, there was a probability of one-eighth of a twentieth century without any of the three great villains and it is impossible to argue that history would have been roughly the same in their absence. The fertilization of these three eggs had momentous consequences, and it makes a joke of the idea that long-term developments are predictable.” — Kahneman p. 218.

So what does all this have to do with the revolution? The idea is that if we can change enough people’s minds about certain things — in particular about our economic and political systems —  then this will change their behavior towards these systems and they will change these systems so that the systems work towards the human goals of fair and just distribution of the human necessities to all people. And we have said that if most people can come to understand, accept, and use the new scientific knowledge about how human thinking actually works, as described in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (and elsewhere), then they will improve their own thinking and thus be less susceptible to propaganda, more open to change, more able to see the need for change, and more able to make the changes needed.

So this is a kind of social prediction. Does Kahneman’s comment make this prediction an absurd joke? No it does not because we are not counting on just the simple random diffusion of ideas. We are going to push the ideas for the changes to our economic and political systems that we want, and we are going to push the ideas that will help people think better, help people make better choices and decisions. Simple diffusion might get us there, but a real goal directed revolution where we spread the revolutionary goals and ideas, and where we also spread ideas that support and encourage and facilitate the acceptance and use of the revolutionary ideas, is much more likely to get us there, to get us to better systems, systems that more justly distribute the earth’s limited resources and the produce of human cooperative work to all people. And the changes will happen faster.

Rather than a passive diffusion of new ideas, the revolution is an active process of spreading not only new ideas but also new and better methods of generating, spreading, and getting people to accept and use new ideas. We want to identify and spread new ideas that speed up the generation, spread, acceptance, and use of new ideas. This is one thing improving human thinking does. This is why Kahneman’s book is relevant to how to make a revolution.

The revolution is a self-fulfilling prophecy.


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