Understanding the limitations of mathematics to predict the future: Ronald Meester at TEDxLeiden


 

Before you watch the TEDx talk, here is one important question. What is the similarity of:

1. A dike designed to withstand a very huge, catastrophic flood with a probability rate 1 : 1000, or which means, a catastrophe can only happen once in a thousand years?

2. A news article which reports that many children born in 21st century will live up to 100 years old?

3. A computational model which can ‘accurately’ predict that a political party’s program, on certain measurements, can either increase or decrease 50,000 votes for every step it takes?

The answer: all these mathematical models are thoroughly false. Full stop.

Reality is not as simple as mathematical models can always predict about every decision we make. One of the most fundamental flaws in it, despite its overpowering usefulness in modern technologies (like Google), is that it can’t make uncertainties certain. Engineers can proudly say that the dike they design can withstand a flood for a millennium, but who knows if God, universe, or aliens you name it, decide to play dices with our fate? That’s where, even our most sophisticated knowledge of mathematics, becomes greatly fallible.

Ronald Meester, a statistics expert, gives this TEDx talk with one very simple, yet abyssal, message: we can’t predict the future. Accept the uncertainties. Full stop. Listen to his talk and think deeper.

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