Saturday, May 15, 2010

Medium density

I feel I should say a few words in defence of psychics, since there are certain right wing bloggers who would outlaw them altogether. Now certainly there are shysters in the trade, and this is made all the easier by the nebulous state of prophesy. How can one really tell whether someone can read the future?

Well the first place to start is by looking at the most high profile cases. Jeanne Dixon had a fairly shabby record, all except for one case: the assassination of President Kennedy. This was the one event she was adamant - frantic -  would occur, and sought to prevent and couldn't.

In older cases there is, of course, Nostradamus and his celebrated prediction of a tyrant named 'Hister' who would rise to power in the 20th Century. I'd be very interested in seeing how doubters debunk that one. Another esteemed psychic (I use the term rather than 'prophet', which implies someone who has followers or claims a religious or spiritual base, and 'fortune teller', for the less serious carnival spruikers telling you your lucky numbers) was Mother Shipton. And then there's the guy who has predicted every Pope from his own time until now. Obviously that's a very difficult task and not something one would attempt if they were only interested in deception. For a start, there's no reward in it if you are right. And these pontiffs are going to make their appearance when their predictor has long turned to dust.

The fact that the Pope commands a large flock but no longer has most of the world in thrall, may make the present day sceptic or rational thinker wonder at the focus but, according the Church, here was God's representative on earth. Number their days and you also forecast the end.

Millenial prophets are a dime a dozen and draw their inspiration on - sorry, from - commonplace objects. But here the specifics give us a more definite measure.

The hardbitten cynic will see the correlations and the code to be circumstantial, but that doesn't detract from the genuine fascination.

With Nostradamus I have heard how predicted modern weapons and transport technology could have been simple pitch fired from a catapult writ large. But who the hell is 'Hister'?

Here is where I think many critics make their fatal mistake. They look at the evidence unfolding, the devastating accuracy with which this seer predicts the future, centuries hence, and they are impressed. But then the force of their own belief system rights itself and they decide either that they are Christian and  it smacks too much of forbidden magic or runs against the notion that 'no man may know the day' (because,  as with the papal predictor, the prophesies take us right through to the end and give us all the yardstick to see how long we have. Or you decide you are not Christian and so this prophesying is too clearly in the Christian tradition to be true.

Here's what I think: Nostradamus was genuinely a seer, and one of great power, but was also a man of his time, and couched his predictions in his own understanding of what was to come through how the world was. As twentieth century theorists have shown, we can only be of our time, and view other times and other climes through our set of sensibilities as formed by our surrounds. This can only be more so the further back in time you go, because there is ever less knowledge of the world and its people.

We mortals, trapped in the here and now, see things only decades old as quaint, of a different era, yet no one seems to have considered to what extent someone that far back in time would make of our customs; of how we have changed. We can gain much from treating his work seriously, and seeing, as we would with any ancient parchment, if we can understand it through the prism of our own world view.

To a certain extent this has become a staple of SF (think of 'horseless chariot' references) yet has not penetrated to the real world correlative. And yet it is no more mysterious or problematic than testing the word of an unsteady witness who has a little trouble describing the driver of the getaway car.


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