This is an excerpt from a moving essay by the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Lord Jonathan Sacks.
“My new year prediction is that tomorrow never knows
The beginning of a new year tends to be a time for predictions. Have you peered into the crystal ball, read the runes, consulted the astrologists and listened to the soothsayers? Good. Then you know what’s going to happen. My prediction, which I make with total confidence, is that total confidence in predictions is never warranted. They turn out, more often than not, to be wrong.
Here are some of my favorites. “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible,” said Lord Kelvin, president of the Royal Society in 1895. “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home,” said Ken Olson, president and founder of Digital Equipment, a maker of mainframes, in 1977.
“Everything that can be invented has been invented,” said an official at the US patent office in 1899. And Charles Darwin wrote in the foreword to The Origin of Species, “I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone.”
Politics and Predictions
Despite the many political experts, research institutes, think tanks, government and university departments, no one foresaw the bloodless end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Few foresaw the possibility of a terrorist attack like 9/11, that changed our world.
I was once present at a gathering where Bernard Lewis, the scholar of Islam, was asked to predict the outcome of a certain American foreign policy intervention. He gave a magnificent reply. “I am a historian, so I only make predictions about the past. What is more, I am a retired historian, so even my past is passé.”
We Know So Little
We know so much at a macro- and micro-level. We look up and see a universe of a hundred billion galaxies each of a hundred billion stars. We look down and see a human body containing a hundred trillion cells, each with a double copy of the human genome, 3.1 billion letters long, enough if transcribed to fill a library of 5,000 books.
There remains one thing we do not know and will never know: What tomorrow will bring. The past, said L. P. Hartley, is a foreign country. But the future is an undiscovered one. That is why predictions so often fail. They don’t even come close.
Why, when even the ancient Mesopotamians could make accurate predictions about the movement of planets, are we, with all our brain-scans and neuroscience, not able to predict what people will do? Why do they so often take us by surprise?
Freedom Beats Predictions
The reason is that we are free. We choose, we make mistakes, we learn. People constantly surprise us. The failure at school becomes the winner of a Nobel Prize. The leader who disappointed, suddenly shows courage and wisdom in a crisis. The driven businessman has an intimation of mortality and decides to devote the rest of his life to helping the poor.
This is something science has not yet explained and perhaps never will. There are scientists who believe freedom is an illusion. But it isn’t. It’s what makes us human.”
Compiled by Evan Moffic,
A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO MY READERS AND FRIENDS!