This week: Predictions Edited by: Robert Waltz
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|Every generation witnesses atrocities. People in power try to fulfill prophecy.|
Indeed, the hereditary gift of prophecy will go to the grave with me.
I don't make mistakes. I make prophecies which immediately turn out to be wrong.
|It is traditional at the beginning of a calendar year for people to make predictions for the coming year.|
Well, I'm not going to do that here, except to say that I don't see that tradition ending anytime soon. What I am going to do is bang on about predictions in general.
Call them what you like: predictions, prophecies, prognostications, precognitions, other "p" words... some people claim to know the future, and others claim to know enough about the present and past to extrapolate into the future.
There are, of course, some things that can be predicted. For example, we know that there will be a total solar eclipse visible along a path over parts of Mexico, the continental US, and Canada next year (2024). Thanks to the awesome power of mathematics, we know to the second when, at any given spot along the path, the eclipse will begin and end, and how long totality will last. Orbital mechanics, at least over human timescales, is highly deterministic and can be predicted with great accuracy.
On the other hand, no one knows if it'll rain, snow, or be sunny where you live a month from now. Well, unless you live in the desert, in which case the prediction is probably "sun," but even that is subject to some uncertainty.
When it comes to human behavior, things get even more murky.
But that doesn't stop us from wanting to know the future, or, at the very least, believing that we want to know the future. And predictions are part of many a Fantasy story—in case you were wondering how I was going to relate this topic to the newsletter theme.
Whether it's the perennial "child of prophecy" or "chosen one" tropes, or some seer predicting a character's future, you see it a great deal in fantasy, and to a lesser extent in science fiction. Maybe a kid is born under a certain astrological configuration that makes her destined for greatness, or a fortune-telling session sets up the plot or conflict. It can be a cliché, but such tropes can also be handled in a way that subverts them.
As a writer, you can decide whether the prophecy comes true, or gets avoided, or seems to get avoided while still fitting the prophecy through some twist of language or circumstance. In the actual world that we inhabit, no one (that we know of) has any special power to predict the future; any alignment with actual events as they unfold is coincidental. For example, if I said, "this year, the stock market will crash," and it happens to crash before the end of the year, I'll look like a prophet—whereas really, I was just exercising my usual pessimism.
Arguably worse still is the self-fulfilling prophecy, where someone works to make something happen that is in accordance with the prediction.
We tend to remember the guesses that come true, and forget the ones that don't. Periodically, I'll see a story about science fiction writers who "successfully predicted the future." Well, no. Someone read about some technological idea some science fiction writer had, and made it happen. Like the flip-phones that looked an awful lot like original Star Trek communicators. Would they have happened if Star Trek hadn't embedded itself in the public consciousness? Maybe, maybe not. But since it did, it looked like a prophecy, but it was really nerds who saw Star Trek and paid homage to it with the invention of the flip-phone.
And that's one of the major issues with predictions: if someone really does have special inside information about the future, that alone could change the future and negate the prediction. It can lead to paradox. To use my stock market crash example, if I know for sure that the market will crash, I'd short all the stocks I could. Which would signal the markets that something's going on, and might even avert the crash, so I didn't know it for sure after all, did I?
If a prediction is vague enough, it can apply to many different outcomes. The prophecies of Nostradamus fall into this category. If it's specific enough, it negates itself, causing a paradox. Handle them with care in your stories, and don't believe the ones you see on the internet.
|Some fantasy for your reading pleasure:|
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Last time, in "Chocolate" , I talked about delicious cocoa.
Annette : The effects of chocolate were known not only to Aztecs, but to ancient Greeks also. They knew how powerful the stuff is as they called it "Theobroma cacao" which means "food for the Gods."
For a while, there was a hypothesis making the rounds that the Atlantis legends were based on trade/communication between the cultures of the Mediterranean and the Olmecs (mostly in the Yucatan area, so they had chocolate); and when Thera erupted, the method of travel was lost. In this story, it turned into legends of Atlantis itself being lost. I don't think there's any evidence to support this, and as I understand it, it's been discounted, but it's certainly worthwhile fodder for Fantasy stories.
buddhangela 🏳️🌈Crow : Of course I love chocolate - and you don't have to sacrifice your principles for it. Purchase chocolate brands marked "Fair Trade" and you'll be on a much better track than when you buy cheaper waxy chocolates made by huge corps. I get mine at our local co-op, but you can get it at upscale grocery stores or online. Enjoy your chocolate!
Also, they tend to taste better. Not sure if it's because they have fewer extra ingredients, or because the tears of the oppressed don't make very good flavoring agents.
So that's it for me for January! See you next month. Until then,
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