The End of History Illusion

Living in an Illusion

I was listening to the Podcast The Education System this morning from Educated Machine when the concept of the End of History Illusion managed to hold my attention. This is a phenomenon that I have noticed in myself but up until today I hadn't come across a concept that accurately described it. Here is a description from Wikipedia that sums up what this illusion is all about:

The end-of-history illusion is a psychological illusion in which individuals of all ages believe that they have experienced significant personal growth and changes in tastes up to the present moment, but will not substantially grow or mature in the future. Despite recognizing that their perceptions have evolved, individuals predict that their perceptions will remain roughly the same in the future.

If you are anything like me then you might think that this is a freakishly accurate description of huge chunks of my personal perception.

The Past is not in the Future

I think that one of the key blind spots of human nature is highlighted in the End of History Illusion. This blind spot being just how notoriously bad we are at predicting the future.

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.

This quote was made by Thomas Watson of IBM in 1943. The key thing to note here is not the absurdity of the prediction, we are all geniuses in hindsight, but that he was speaking in an era where a computer was almost the equivalent of the size of a house. Key future variables were not available to him in his present such as the exponential increase in computer processing power coupled with a decrease in manufacturing cost, such an observation was later noted in Moore's Law .

Bringing it Back to Us

Although I am an avid online learner and I spend large chunks of my days learning new skills, I still have the tendency to limit my future projections with my present understanding. If I think about it logically, from observations of my past progression, then it isn't possible that my future will have the same variables as my present. This is not how my personal past and in fact world history has played out, it would be going against logic to think that there will be no new variables and no new evolutions in the future.

There is hope however. I have found that when new concepts gradually enter into my awareness then new choices also begin to appear. For instance, the next time I experience a sudden debilitating burst of electrical current from my default thought of 'that isn't possible for me' when I contemplate doing something new, I now have the possibility of a counter thought of 'well what about the End of History Illusion?'. This will give me more space to take new and more proactive action.


Did this blog post help you? Do you sometimes think that you have evolved as far as you can, even though an objective look at the past would prove otherwise? Would you like to have a clearer head? If you have any insights, questions or recommendations feel free to leave a comment or drop me an e-mail.