Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Predictions all awry: war makes fools of experts
'Henry Adams, historian and mordant observer of the ways of Washington, declared in his autobiography that in all great emergencies, he "commonly found that everyone was more or less wrong".'

'The second error is that identified by George Orwell shortly after the second world war, as he sadly catalogued his own erroneous predictions in that conflict. "In general, one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality - we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps against the solid reality, usually on a battlefield."

'As a partial remedy, Orwell suggested keeping a journal and forcing oneself to look at it and ponder one's frequent errors and scarcer correct predictions. Having bumped into reality on the battlefield, many of us would do well to open such a diary and, next time, be wary of our own certainties.'

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