Why this often-used statement about the future is so wrong

Some futures carry higher degrees of uncertainty than others

Why this often-used statement about the future is so wrong
Photo by Marin Tulard / Unsplash

There is a blanket, widely-accepted statement that you will read and hear just about everywhere that is so fundamentally incorrect, that it’s frankly dangerous.

The statement that I’m referring to?

‘The future is uncertain.’

You’ll find it in TED talks, articles written in prestigious journals and magazines; it’s used by academics and business leaders and politicians everywhere around the world - AND IT'S INCORRECT.

It’s inaccurate because it’s a lazy, gross oversimplification.

Yes, there are certainly no concrete facts about the future, there is no undeniable, absolute 100% truth of the future, but there is also no 100% uncertainty of the future either.

Rather there are most certainly degrees of probability [1% - 99%] of individual futures potentially manifesting - an educated judgment and assessment of which we can attempt to offer. This is the skill that poker players master. They play the game and make bets based on their mental calculation of probability.

As a simple everyday example - the probability that the sun will rise over the Western Cape mountains tomorrow is very high. You could assign a probability of perhaps 99.9% to that future outcome. There is a very low degree of uncertainty attached to that particular forecast. It’s far more certain than it is uncertain.

Whereas the probability that Boris Johnson will remain the leader of the British Conservative party till the year 2025 is fairly low. It’s not impossible, I guess, but it's certainly not certain; which is why that particular future scenario you would label as ‘uncertain’.

Different futures can therefore be considered to be either ‘possible’ (if the probability of it happening is considered to be lower than 40%, i.e. the trajectory of the factors of change influencing this outcome are uncertain) or maybe ‘probable’ (if the probability of it manifesting is greater than 70%, i.e. the future trajectory of the factors of change influencing this outcome are more certain) or ‘plausible’ (these futures are considered to carry a mid-range probability of happening - the pathways of the factors involved are a mix of certain and uncertain).

Saying things like; ‘The future is uncertain’ is like saying ‘The sky is blue’.

The sky might be blue where you are standing (at the exact moment that you make the statement), but the statement itself is not universally true. It’s an oversimplification that leads others to then make the assumption that this is always the case.

Stating that ‘The future is uncertain’, is obviously nonsense - and gives people the impression then that they are victims to the wild gyrations of a deterministic monster of time that’s unpredictable and uncontrollable.

The truth is that some futures carry higher degrees of uncertainty than others and the degree of uncertainty changes as time unfolds, from the present, towards those future destinations.

It's primarily the job of people like futurists to better understand these complexities and assist people / clients make better judgements (or bets if you will) based on this insight.