By Nate Shames
Dec 15, 2017
Yogi Berra was a profound philosopher in the tradition of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein who also happened to play and coach baseball. In one of his more famous witticisms, he remarked that “the future ain’t what it used to be.” Wrapped up in this brief statement is a remarkably thoughtful and accurate commentary on human psychology that has important implications for our work at Jungle Disk.
Despite the existence of entire industries and thousands, if not millions, of livelihoods that depend upon or engage in predictions, human beings are very bad at making predictions. We desire certainty and hate ambiguity and therefore love making predictions but, as Saint Paul said, we “see through a glass darkly”, leading to conceptions of the future that prove to be completely wrong. We have a propensity to predict, but we have very little capacity to predict. This leaves us in an interesting spot, the paradox so succinctly captured by Berra’s statement.
John Maynard Keynes, the economist, was originally trained as a mathematician and a philosopher, a fact that most likely accounts for his influence and depth of thought. Indeed, it does seem that the less training in economics that you possess, the better economist you will be. For his doctoral dissertation, Keynes wrote “A Treatise on Probability” where he explored the philosophical implications of probability, specifically as it relates to what we can know and to what degree. This unusually insightful text provides helpful guidance for how to deal with the limits of our abilities.
Keynes writes in the early pages, “In metaphysics, in science, and in conduct, most of the arguments, upon which we habitually base our rational beliefs, are admitted to be inconclusive in a greater or lesser degree.” This is not a rallying cry to establish everything on the grounds of 100% certainty but rather an acknowledgement of epistemic humility. We need not refrain from acting or making judgements entirely but rather understand our weak spots and work to not stretch our predictions too far and then open ourselves up to being very, destructively wrong.
Nobody at Jungle Disk can predict the future. We do not know if a cyberattack that cripples the Eastern Seaboard will occur or whether a credit crunch will strike or what cybercriminals will invent next. We don’t know what will happen in North Korea, or Ukraine, or along the San Andreas fault.
We do know, however, that there are thoughtful measures that people can take right now to protect themselves against whatever the future may hold. These concrete steps like having an encrypted backup and network security emerge out of a position of epistemic humility, of a recognition that we don’t know what will happen for the future but we can help you take sensible action in the present.