Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

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Predicting the Future

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | April 17, 2018

No. 1,470

Image: Boston Herald

While driving around last Friday afternoon I heard numerous predictions of the outcome and score of Friday night’s hockey game.  The Penguins had won every game against the Philadelphia Flyers during the regular season.  The first playoff game had been a 7-0 slaughter.  The Flyer’s goalie situation was a mess.  The Penguins had recently been playing their best hockey.

Almost all of the predictions I heard were straight  line continuations of the past.  Some of them went on to predict details, including who would score and how the game would unfold. Victory for the Penguins was perhaps a safe prediction.  But it wasn’t the correct one. Only one person said that the Flyers were overdue to win one.   The Penguins lost that game to the hapless Flyers by a score of 5-1.

Predicting the future is tricky business.  Even if an outcome of an event could be known to have a 5% probability, this might be one of those 5 white balls in a jar that has 95 black balls. Of course we don’t know what the real odds are.

It is comparatively easy to predict the outcome of a single transaction. By a transaction I mean when a single person does something and another single person responds.  For example, if I send you an email asking a question and you send an email with an answer in response, that is a transaction.  If I hand you a dollar and you hand me a cup of coffee, that is also a transaction.  There is a high probability that we can predict the second leg of that transaction correctly.  But the odds are never 100%.  When the email reached your computer, you might be hauled away in an ambulance, never to respond.  There are an infinite number of reasons why you don’t respond.  Or you might respond but not answer the question, again for an infinite number of possible reasons.

But a Hockey game is not a single transaction.  It is a cluster — a very large cluster — of transactions.  Moreover, there are a large number of actors involved, including players, coaches and even fans. All can have input in varying degrees to millions of transactions in a long string.  And while each response is limited, to some extent, by the transactions preceding, each of the choices by the parties involved are, for the most part, infinite.

When we make a correct prediction, we are encouraged to believe we understand the process.  We can learn by study and improve our rate of correct predictions.  But the future is only partially predictable through reasoning and its the part that is not that is the most fascinating.

The mystery of the future is a good reason to explore settlement of litigation or potential litigation, even with a case that appears to be very strong.  Once battle is joined, strange things can happen.  Even a settlement has its risks.  But if you do a good job, the risks can be greatly limited and the outcome can be improved.  A small but collectable settlement, for example, may be more valuable than a larger but uncollectible one.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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