Worse than expected! What turkeys have in common with Fukushima

For the scientist Nicholas Naassim Taleb, the idea of predicting the future is insane. We have a “turkey problem.”

Drawing conclusions from the past to the future because we cannot do otherwise

Just as cheerful turkeys would do, clucking happily on their farm. If one were to ask them what forecasts they have for the future, the Putengesellschaft would of course take a very rosy view of them. Why would the fowl think that way about future times? Because of her past experience!

So far they have been well looked after by the farmer. He brought meals every day, provided a nice warm stable and always made sure that they lacked nothing.

The turkeys – of course – do not remember a Thanksgiving. None of them would have the idea of anticipating their own stuffing and slaughter.

For Taleb, the turkeys illustrate the striking problem of our prevailing model of thinking

Companies, institutes, newspapers, strategists, financial advisors, schools and public authorities – they all take it for granted that the future is predictable.

Entire professions, such as management consultants or risk managers, even live on this assumption. They make their forecasts on the basis of the reproduction of the past.

No loadable data record

Forecasts based on past experience can lead to unpleasant consequences because past events cannot be used as a yardstick for the future.

To put it succinctly – the future can still surpass everything that has happened so far. It does not stick to worst-case scenarios or to best-case scenarios from the past.

If forecasts were possible, there would have been no reactor accident

For the scientist, events such as the reactor accident in Fukushima are proof of his thesis – namely that the future is neither predictable nor predictable.

Fukushima was built on the basis of past experience. This experience was the most violent earthquake Japan has ever experienced. Fukushima could have endured such a thing. The designers have calculated this.

But the future brought more violent shocks and quakes in 2011. This led to the destruction of the reactor in 2011.

We humans can’t predict events any more than turkeys can predict Thanksgiving, says Taleb.

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