In presence of uncertainty about future outcomes, people form what are referred to as ‘expectations’. An expectation is the event or outcome that is expected to be most likely to occur at some future date. In presence of uncertainty, there always exists, however, a strictly positive probability that what is expected to be most likely to occur does not in reality occur.
For illustration, it might be expected that Senator Warren is the most likely to secure nomination of Democrats for President of the United States of America. But then again, the nominee could turn out to be Senator Kamara. If Senator Kamara wins the nomination, the expectation formed in the lead up to the primaries is not realized. We have then that in presence of demand for forming of expectations that there always is risk that outcomes which obtain in future deviate from expectations that were formed in past. This leads to an important inference, which is, observing the outcome that Senator Kamara won the nomination does not imply that she was the favorite to win.
An outcome does not necessarily coincide with what people expected a priori to be most likely to occur.
Suppose then a matter that lies in entirety within your control. Could you form expectations around such a matter?
If it lies in entirety within your control, you have the power to decide the outcome, meaning there does not exist any need for forming of expectations. It is straightforward to see then that expectations matter only when a matter does not reside in entirety within your control.
If there is a demand for forming of expectations, the matter in question resides outside of your control, is not in entirety up to you.
Consider then the notion of a ‘self fulfilling’ prophecy. It is straightforward that a matter which requires forming of an expectation cannot devolve into a self fulfilling prophecy. This is evident in the fact that whereas demand for an expectation implies presence of matters that do not reside in entirety within your control, a self fulfilling prophecy can occur only in context of matters that reside in entirety within your control.
For illustration, suppose a guy believes that a gal who smokes tends to cheat (no pun intended or implied). So then, no matter how much he is attracted to a gal who smokes, he avoids such gals. Clearly, it is a self fulfilling prophecy that the guy’s girlfriend or wife cannot be a gal who smokes. In presence of certainty of the outcome — which is, the fact that the guy’s wife cannot be a gal who smokes — the matter resides in gambit of a self fulfilling prophecy.
With the foregoing in mind, we arrive at the inference that self fulfilling prophecies relate to beliefs that guide people’s actions in contexts within which outcomes reside in entirety within their control. Extrapolated to a society, only in the event that an entire society holds exactly the same beliefs in respect of a matter that resides in entirety within their control can outcomes within the society have characterization as self fulfilling prophecies.
When it comes to self fulfilling prophecies, outcomes provide perfect statistics for beliefs that were held a priori — outcomes cannot deviate from beliefs.
We arrive at an important distinction, which is, a self fulfilling prophecy cannot double as an expectation, and an expectation cannot have characterization as a self fulfilling prophecy.
Consider then beliefs. A self fulfilling prophecy is a belief, but not all beliefs are self fulfilling prophecies. But if a belief is not a self fulfilling prophecy, does it automatically qualify for characterization as an expectation?
For illustration, consider that a person may believe that the weather tomorrow will be gloomy. Suppose, however, we consult all weather forecasts, and 80% of all available forecasts predict sunny weather tomorrow, 20% predict incidence of mild weather tomorrow, and none predict arrival of gloomy weather tomorrow. In presence of the probabilities, the expectation for tomorrow is sunny weather (higher than 50% probability). On basis of the probabilities, it further is not possible to arrive at the expectation that the weather that obtains tomorrow will be gloomy.
Regardless, a person may continue to hold on to the belief that the weather tomorrow will be gloomy. Given the belief that the weather tomorrow will be gloomy cannot be related to any available information, the belief cannot be characterized to be an expectation. Given the weather that obtains tomorrow does not reside within control of the person who expects gloomy weather, if somehow the weather were to turn gloomy tomorrow, the outcome cannot be construed to be a self fulfilling prophecy.
We arrive at the important distinction that not all beliefs are self fulfilling prophecies.
We further conclude that a belief can be characterized as an expectation only if there exists any indication based on available information that the belief can materialize in future.
Just as an expectation can fail to materialize in the future, so also a belief that seems not to be probable today (zero percent probability of gloomy weather tomorrow) can, ex post turn out to be possible.
Sometimes people label outcomes that obtain in context of expectations — outcomes that are affected by many different people, as such by many different expectations — ‘self fulfilling’ prophecies. Given such outcomes reside outside of any one person’s control, however, they cannot be characterized to be self fulfilling prophecies.
Whenever a matter of expectation is mischaracterized as a self fulfilling prophecy, this is abuse of the notion of expectations.
Whenever a belief that cannot be related to currently available information, OR a self fulfilling prophecy is characterized as an expectation, this is abuse of the notion of expectations.
The next time someone attempts to characterize an outcome you encounter, an outcome that did not reside in entirety within your control as a ‘self fulfilling’ prophecy, you either can chuckle it off and be confident you are more knowledgeable on the subject, or you can take them (ahem, figuratively) by the ear, and provide them with a gently enlightening earful.
The choice in entirety will be yours to make.