Monday, May 9, 2011

The Problem with Prophecy

With so many big things happening in the world lately it got me thinking about predicting the future.  I often fantasize about going back to school with everything I know now - not to do better with the ladies or to make great investments (though I have memorized the winning numbers for a giant lotto jackpot just in case) but mostly for the essay writing.  (I did warn you, I'm pretty strange).  See I loved that part of High School, getting to write essays in Afrikaans and English classes were some of my favourite things to do, second only to watching our extremely hot Biology teacher on the days she wore a mini skirt to school.  So I often fantasize about being back and writing essays featuring the storylines from hit movies and books not yet released or including world changing events that haven't happened yet.  Not just for the good marks I would get (because I got those anyway) but more for the brainsplosions it would cause in my teachers years later.

That is usually the point though when I start thinking about all the problems with prophecy.  Lets suppose I was either a time traveler or a true clairvoyant, the next Boer Nostradamus.  I don't just predict earthquakes in California or tornadoes in Texas*, I can foretell the future completely accurate: names, dates, places, body counts, every necessary detail.  I think that would simultaneously make me the best and the worst prophet of all time.

For anything that happens there is usually a chain of causality.  The problem is that you interfere with that chain the moment you make your prophecy.  On the one hand your prophecies could be self fulfilling, i.e. people could make sure that what you said happens simply because you said it and they want your words to come true.  For instance, if I predicted that someone would make an attempt on the president's life on 17 June, someone who believes in the accuracy of my prophecies and who also want the president dead may decide that June 17th is clearly the ideal day to try to shoot the president.  On the flip side, accurately predicting when something would happen could cause it not to happen.  For instance if I predicted the September 11 attacks and Al Qaeda read my prophecy and knew people took me seriously they would probably have decided to rather pick a different day/target when/where the authorities (who believe my prediction) would totally not expect them.  This would then make my prophecy wrong, even though it was 100% correct when I made it!  The moment you mess with one variable you can't help but affect everything else.

There is a niche though namely natural disasters.  Since they cannot be altered or prevented you can predict them all you like and they will happen exactly like that.  Only problem is that there are already scientific methods of detecting these things beforehand and we are getting better at it all the time so eventually your abilities will be obsolete.

I guess you could still be a prophet about world events but then  you could only tell a select group/cult of followers so that the word doesn't get out into the real world.  Alternatively you can dress up your prophecies in symbolism and metaphor so that they only become clear after the fact.  Neither of those options sound very good to me because then what are you good for?  All that gets you is the opportunity to say "I told you so" after the bad thing already happened.

Probably better to just look into the future one second at a time, just like everyone else.  Far less pressure!

Knowing the future seems like a lot of responsibility...

*How does that make you a prophet?  That just makes you someone who reads the news!  Looking at you Rick Joyner!


GumbyTheCat said...

The problem with prophecy is that it's always getting into the quadrotriticale. Oh wait, that's not the problem with prophecy, that's the trouble with tribbles.

S.M. Elliott said...

Prophecies are never specific enough to be of any help. They just leave believers with a sense of impending and unstoppable doom. I was thinking the other day that if I was a prophet, and something really was coming down the line in 2012, I wouldn't say anything. Let people enjoy their final year in peace.

digapigmy said...

I enjoyed the alliteration of your title, it reminded me of the aforementioned "Trouble with Trimbles" Star Trek episode, which Gumby accurately predicted I would think of 4 hours ago. Gumby then ensured this prophecy by mentioning it just in case I didn't think of it before I clicked on commments (I did).

Seriously, this is all well and good, but I don't know how much time I want to spend thinking about is considering the world is going to end in 12 days anyhow.

Eugene said...

@Diga - you got prophecie'd! (It's like getting punk'd except really confusing)

@SME - You have remarked on this often concerning Alex Jones and I have to admit that is the strangest phenomenon to me regarding prophecy/predictions. You would think that if you sincerely believed the end is coming you would spend your last days being as happy as possible. Instead people who buy into these things are the most miserable people you are likely to find outside of children in an Asian sweat shop! They are unhappy, constantly upset and seemingly permanently teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Whats up with that? They live as though the apocalypse already happened!