The Democracy of Fortune Telling: Predicting Our Own Future

Porsche 2011
The Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid – a beautiful example of future-making

Nostradamus? The Web-Bot? Political pundits? When it comes to predicting the future, nothing is more powerful than our own imaginations.

I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had last week with a close friend about predicting the future. There’s been a lot of excitement in the media around this topic of late. Everyone from CNN to The History Channel would have us believe that the events unfolding around the world are tumbling dominos leading humanity to some great disaster. Even though it may seem a bit dramatic, something about it also rings true. That’s because our brains don’t just compute facts. They contend with something much more influential—our imaginations.

Our imaginations take the components of our reality and draw them into a narrative so we can connect with what’s happening around us. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are based on our aspirations, and a fuller, wiser, more harmonious self—but often they take the form of nightmares based on our fears and insecurities.

Self-proclaimed soothsayers throughout history have spoken about a coming apocalypse, great cataclysms, cities shattering into the sea. They theorize on terrorists and dictators and nuclear weapons gone rogue. They point at ancient tablets forecasting the day the sun will finally blink out, and point to the sky and predict when the aliens will descend. As listeners, we receive all these things and draw them in, assuming that we’re smart enough to know what is real and what is not. But what we don’t realize is that we often take this grab bag of fact and fiction and assemble it into our own story of what the future will be. And that can be a good or bad thing.

Frankfurt, Germany
The newly minted skyline of Frankfurt, Germany imagines an exciting future for its citizens.

Our imaginations create the future.
When we believe something will happen, we begin to make choices—everyday choices, even the slightest things—that will lead us to that reality. If you wish to be destroyed, then you will be destroyed, because you will write that story for yourself. And if you choose to create and evolve, then that is what you will do. The result is a great global democracy of future-making where we each effect the balance one way or the other. The question each of us needs to ask ourselves is which side will we choose? This theory is best illustrated through the work of NYU faculty member Bruce Bueno de Mesquita who’s famous method of prediction is based on people’s “brazen self-interest” and has been used by the CIA for years—with a 90% accuracy rate. You can watch his TED Talk below to see how it works.

Innovation helps us craft the future.
It may seem like an odd example, but this video about the development of the new Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid hit upon a similar note of future-making. One moment in particular—a quote from Design Chief, Michael Mauer, when he says “We wanted to have this symbol—that there is a future.” I realized that this is the promise at the heart of any innovation—that this thing, whatever it is, will help carry us toward a better state of being. And when we acknowledge these innovations, that’s us saying yes, we believe in that future too.