Reflections on What Makes a Good Predictor, Part 1

Perhaps,  forming resolutions for the new year, you would like to include, “become a better predictor.” But so formulated, it sounds like a demand for performance, rather than a change one could actualize on one’s self.

IARPA, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, actually has an interest in this. I’d like to help sort this out. Unfortunately, since I am not administering an IARPA program, the only example available for study here is myself. There are many ways to skin a cat, and people compartmentalize themselves in amazing ways. Since I don’t know what the limits of compartmentalization are in other people, let’s assume that the things I know about myself, and which might presumably be useful to some other people, constitute the whole person.

In other words, maybe you could be a bigoted, card-carrying member of some extremist organization, or an incessant political ranter. Perhaps, more mildly, you have dedicated your life to a worthy cause. Maybe, through some miracle of compartmentalization, you could be a good predictor.

I couldn’t, because my compartmentalization skills are limited, confined to the grim realities of existence. So I have a hunch that there is a useful division between doers and observers. The world is full of people who do and see nothing, those who only desire to “do”, and those who observe, some with particular acuteness. The competition among persons for the opportunity to make or change history is acute. Many individuals augment their participation as voters in democratic government with activism, a great thing. But others channel the “do” drive into a blind alley of excess emotion. This is frequently expressed as “frustration with the ways things are going.”

Even with the religious reference removed, the Serenity Prayer still offers one of the basic foundations of being a good predictor:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

In purely secular vocabulary, a certain level of detachment is basic to predicting. We cannot allow what we wish to be to influence the prediction. And while there is no shortage of people who want to change things, there is a severe shortage of clear vision.