How does the stock market work? Is it predictable? Which new firms will succeed next year? Which ones will fail? Which products will be popular? Why exactly? Will you lead a healthy life? How much control do you have over it?

More importantly… How much of all these will depend on chance? What is the weight of randomness in all of this?

Somehow, the understanding of randomness does not come naturally to us. And by us, I mean humans.

Is an outcome considered random because we do not know how it was generated? Or was it really randomly conceived? A bit of both maybe?

How does one characterize or even recognize chance events?

The problem is that, possibly, we are not yet equipped with the innate statistical sophistication that is needed to understand such issues intuitively. Humans have been living on earth for a very… very long time. The probability theory that deals with the understanding of randomness is only a few centuries old.

The first discussions about such concepts are found in the letters that went back and forth between Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat. Both brilliant men, their primary concern was to decipher and possibly better perform in gambles. The letters date back to 1650s.

Hence, given the relative recency of our adventure with randomness, it might be that we will need several centuries more to evolve and fully grasp its nature and consequences.

We are still primitive in the face of randomness.

Future perfect

“I knew that was going to happen” is something that I used to say frequently as a child. Obviously I was wrong and annoying for saying that often, mostly because I did not know what was going to happen, but after the fact, it felt as if I knew it all along.

This is called the hindsight bias, which is related to how things seem foreseeable once they occur. We tend to forget that what had occurred was only one of the possibilities. Now that we know what happened, everything seems obvious. Hence, “I knew that was going to happen.”

This is a problem, but some people saw the upside. If we are so good at “predicting” things backwards, what if we do the same thing before they actually happen. This is the essence of “future perfect thinking.” When you are trying to predict something, you transport yourself in your mind to a distant future where the outcome you are trying to predict has already happened. Then you look back from that hypothetical place to guess what has happened. It turns out, this exercise will give you a clearer idea about what might actually happen.

Makridakis, Hogarth and Gaba’s extensive discussion on future perfect thinking by can be found here. Some scientists applied this concept to the organization of Sydney 2000 Olympic events (can be found here).

I was wondering whether or not one could use this method to improve the creative process. I could not find any suggestions or clues on the subject.

Say, you are tying to come up with some original music. Would it help if you started thinking about people’s reactions to it when they will have listened to it? Or your feelings once you will have finished playing it?

Would it lead to enjoy the creative process more?