Pre-Hindsight

by Mike Sententia on June 3, 2013

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A story from a recent workshop:

An engineer sent a chip for testing. The report would say whether the chip broke under stress, or whether it worked properly. As the guy is coming to deliver the report, the engineer can see from the man’s face that the chip failed. Instantly, the engineer knows how the chip failed: A crack in this location from this much heat. He didn’t read the report — simply knowing the chip had failed was enough to make his mind come up with the most likely explanation. And as an expert, his most likely explanation is usually right.

That’s hindsight: Once X fails, your mind is great at telling a reasonable story for why X failed.

Which brings us to pre-hindsight: Before you attempt X, imagine a future where you know X failed. You’re getting that report. And let the hindsight part of your mind engage and tell you the most likely reason X failed. Then, in light of this insight, consider if you want to adjust your approach and instead do X+1.

I’ve been using this in my own magick work, when considering how to research certain techniques, and it’s been quite useful.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

John W. A. June 3, 2013 at 4:01 PM

Hey there. Isn’t that just foresight and prediction, rather than pre-hindsight?

I mean, I often use that to predict where something could go wrong, and fix possible problems before they happen – both in my mundane life and my Spells.

I think this is something many of us to, although some go as far to obsess about this and transform it into anxiety, or they go off into those “infinite ‘What-If’ tangents” that never stop. And that is something that really does hinder one’s ability to cast Spells/rituals and/or perform magickal acts of any kind, really.

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Mike Sententia June 4, 2013 at 9:42 PM

Pre-hindsight is specifically about imagining that the plan has failed, so your hindsight can create an explanation. I’ve found it rather helpful, above and beyond simply imagining what might go wrong. If it makes you happy, you can consider this a form of foresight — I’m just sharing something I learned and found useful.

On your last paragraph:

-Obsessing about infinite what-ifs is indeed undesirable. But that’s not the subject of this post. If you find that engaging in pre-hindsight triggers an infinite chain of what-ifs, then don’t do it.

-There’s a common idea that doubt hinders your magick. In my experience, it does not, but that’s because I’m consciously directing my mental muscles and consciously controlling the messages I send to ethereal software. Magick that’s more unconscious would probably be affected by doubt. Anyway, that’s why I don’t write about belief much, and why I’m not worried about thinking about failure scenarios.

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John M December 31, 2013 at 1:28 PM

Hi Mike,
I’m really interested in this topic. Do you have material somewhere that I can purchase or directions to where to go to read further?

Thanks,
John

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Mike Sententia January 1, 2014 at 4:20 PM

Hi John, I encountered these concepts in a workshop from the Center for Applied Rationality:

http://rationality.org

They grew out of this blog / wiki:

http://lesswrong.com

Both have been very much worth my time, and both have meetups and events throughout the US, and maybe even internationally.

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Mihai September 8, 2016 at 6:37 AM

In this TED Talk Daniel Levitin mentions the same idea (he labels it “prospective hindsight”), and says he got it from Daniel Kahneman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jPQjjsBbIc

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Mike Sententia September 10, 2016 at 10:52 AM

Thanks! That doesn’t surprise me — I got the concept from the rationalist community, and they read a lot of Kahneman too.

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