On How Society Loves to Predict, but It’s All Invented

by Augusto Cuginotti

It is very easy to get caught in the idea that society can predict things that will happen. Stories we tell in our society serve as a predictive tool, a meaningful construct for our minds.

Prediction is really important in order to avoid anxiety. We look at what happens by making sense of the happening in a way that fits or do not fit our expectations.

A lot of uncertainty drives us mad: how do I behave in this society? How do I know that she is qualified? How do I guarantee he will pay?

Society is about the constraints we create to be less anxious. Those creations are coded as systems: cultural, educational, laws and economics, etc.

The Natural Systems


This also applies to what we call nature, the environment of society. In our relationship with nature, we have created a ‘natural system’ that usually is brought into society by a man-made scientific language. Here too we aim to predict natural phenomena to avoid anxiety.

The difference between natural and social systems is that on the former we did create a prediction process to code for the laws of nature that in principle has been serving our purpose for more than a couple of generations.

We are still not able to predict the complexities of hurricanes and some impact of man-made activities, but we can hold the illusion of control by being able to apply causality to most of the natural phenomena after they happen.

With the illusion of prediction comes the illusion of control. The next step is to fantasise that we are able to apply causality before events happen and that we might be able to control them to a certain extent.

Based on the tradition for natural sciences, the social sciences also carry the fantasy of prediction, causality and control.

The Social Systems


Building intention over a designed system is indeed the best we can do to feel we are agents of change, but that does not change the fact that our prediction of how a system will behave is made up by our own minds as much as success in the system is a human construct.

Fail to recognise this is what generates the idea of changing paradigms or the duality tradition-innovation.

In the end it is all invented right at this moment to give meaning to what has just happened. Here are possible two ways our predictions can turn out:

  • If we can interpret the event in a way that confirms or re-confirms our idea of prediction, we can go as far as to say that a theory, a formula was discovered or has emerged as a pattern;
  • If we are unable to narrate the event in a way that we can fit our prediction, we have two options: first is to discard the event as a meaningful one, deleting from the system; second is to create a new interpretation that might serve as our new prediction tool.

This is not to say that we should not continue to plan as if we could control an outcome, it would actually be silly not to. On the other hand, the idea of giving prizes to an outcome that turned out as predicted and punishment to the ones who didn’t will not make any sense.

If that is true, what would happen to society’s heroes and villains, to the child that did well in school and to the entrepreneur that failed on a business venture?