“He is careful of what he reads for that is what he will write, he is careful of what he learns for that is what he will know” – Andy Diller
Do you want to predict the future? Well in Algorithms to Live By written by Brian Christian, in Chapter 7, he explains just how to do that. We predict the future by looking at the past. Let’s say we wanted to predict how much longer the Wall of China is going to stay up. The Wall of China has been up for more than 2300 years, so using Bayes’ Law we can predict that the wall will stay up for another 2300 years. We can use this law for anything in life. How much longer will your dishwasher last? How much longer will your marriage last? Take the amount of time that has passed and multiply it by two and that is how much longer it will last.
A problem arises though when we add prior knowledge to the formula. For instance, we can’t assume that an 80 year old man will live to 160. The reason for this is because of our knowledge of human anatomy prior to that prediction. Throughout our life we are constantly learning, whether we do it consciously or not that is another story. Therefore, each person’s prediction of the future will be different based on the prior knowledge that they have gained throughout their lives.
Christian states in the book that the amount of car crashes we have seen is about equal to the amount of plane crashes we have seen in our lives. Using this information, we could predict that the amount of people who died in plane crashes is equal to those who died in car crashes. However this is not the case. The amount of people who died in plane crashes couldn’t even fill up half the spots in Carnegie hall, but the amount of people who died in car crashes would be the equivalent to the population of Wyoming.
What this teaches us is that our prior knowledge is extremely important for how we predict the future and base our decisions. The internet, smart phones, and televisions all fight for our attention, trying to invade our minds with unnecessary and sometimes incorrect information. With the amount of data available at our finger tips at this very moment, it is important we choose carefully what we listen to and read. Sometimes that means we must turn off the news and throw away the paper and instead choose to read or watch something we know is factually correct and interests us rather than the subjective opinions of others.
Therefore, I encourage you to question what you hear and think critically about what you read because what you know and how you think is who you are.
“The mind is everything. What you think, you become” – Buddha
This is only one chapter in the book Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian. This is one of my favorite books I have read this year, a great change of pace from the other personal development books I have read. This book is definitely in my top 10 books for 2016. Let me know if you guys decide to check it out!