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“It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” said someone clever.  It is difficult, and yet people keep doing it.

I have written that I tend to believe the predictions made by scientists more than those made by mystics. Of course, Sir Isaac Newton throws my theory against the wall with his predictions of the end of the world that he based on The Bible.

Scientists don’t always get it right, but sometimes science fiction writers do a good job of predicting. The best science fiction is probably fiction that is actually grounded in real science. Some of my favorite sci-fi writers, such as Philip K. Dick, have gotten it right and also a lot of it very wrong.

Isaac Asimov was born in Russia in 1920, but his family immigrated to the United States when he was three years old. His parents owned a candy store in Brooklyn and young Isaac spent a lot of time there – and reading the store’s popular magazines which included “pulp fiction” that included science fiction.

At 21, this very prolific writer wrote one of his most anthologized stories, “Nightfall.” The story was inspired by a conversation with his friend and editor John Campbell. Campbell had been reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature and noted this passage: “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which has been shown!” Asimov wrote a story about a planet with six suns that has a sunset only once every 2,049 years.

What did Asimov predict back in 1983 for us living in 2019? (And why did he pick 36 years in the future to target?)

“The consequences of human irresponsibility in terms of waste and pollution will become more apparent and unbearable with time and again, attempts to deal with this will become more strenuous.” A “world effort” must be applied, necessitating “increasing co-operation among nations and among groups within nations” out of a “cold-blooded realization that anything less than that will mean destruction for all.”

Is that the climate crisis? It was obvious to some scientists in 1983 that things were headed in the wrong direction.

He was more positive that we would be dealing better with overpopulation, pollution and militarism.  We probably are dealing better with those issues, though we haven’t “solved” any of them.

Education – a career and life choice for me – was something he predicted “will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.” I wouldn’t use “fun” as my main adjective for education today, but through MOOCs, alternate degrees, customized programs and other DIY educational paths there is more education “bubbling up” than ever before.

What about technology? Like others, he believed that the increase in the use of everyday technology will enable increased quality of life and more free time for many people.  He said that “… more and more human beings will find themselves living a life rich in leisure. This does not mean leisure to do nothing, but leisure to do something one wants to do; to be free to engage in scientific research. in literature and the arts, to pursue out-of-the-way interests and fascinating hobbies of all kinds.”

You can read his full essay at The Star. I was alerted to his predictions by an article on the always interesting Open Culture website.

We don’t even have to pass through the equinox’s tilt into autumn before people start searching and finding a post I wrote here about signs in nature that might predict the winter to come. We want to know about things before they happen.

But weather is really difficult to predict too far in advance. All of us have watched or read a weather report at night for what tomorrow will be, and then found the actual day to be quite different. Maybe that is why some people seem to trust old weather lore that looks at nature for predictions.

People have been observing changes with insects, animals, birds, plants, the Moon and the stars and trying to connect that to the weather world around them. The problem with most predictions about weather, politics, the end of the world or anything is that we rarely go back months or years later to check on the predictions.

You can look back at the older posts and follow the instructions and do your own predicting. Just be sure to write it down and then check back when spring arrives. Did the predictions come true?

Did the black bands on a woolly bear caterpillar prove to be accurate?

What about those squirrels – gathering food early, bushy tails?

I did not notice any ant hills that were particularly high in July. So, winter should not be snowy. And yet, the first week in August was unusually warm, and that should mean that the coming winter will be snowy and long. Should we believe the ants?

The leaves have barely started to fall here. When leaves fall early, fall and Winter will be mild, but if they fall late,winter will be severe. Start falling leaves!

You can at least pay attention to what is happening in October:
– Much rain in October, much wind in December.
– A warm October means a cold February.
– Full Moon in October without frost, then no frost until November’s Full Moon.

And check the skins of corn (husks), apples and onions. The thicker they are, the tougher the winter. Do you notice a pattern here? When things in nature toughen up, they are getting ready for a tough winter.

Pay attention.

In 1704, Isaac Newton predicted the end of the world. He said it would end in 2060 or sometime around or after that “but not before.” He based this on some strange series of mathematical calculations based on the supposed prophecies of the book of Revelation.

You might find it surprising that this astronomer and physicist would be doing predictions based on the Bible, but Newton (who also dabbled in alchemy) believed his most important discoveries might come from deciphering ancient scriptures and uncovering the nature of the Christian religion.

300 years later, people are still predicting the end of the world. Some of them are still using codes and clues they find in the Bible. I believe in science, and the two worlds of research don’t usually overlap.

For about 50 years, some industrialists and scientists with money who are known as the Club of Rome have been looking into conspiracies and the end of the world. They latched on to a computer program developed at MIT back in 1973 that was developed to model global sustainability. But instead, the program predicted that by 2040 our civilization would end.

Why should we believe the computer program? Well, some people would say because what the computer envisioned in the 1970s has by and large been coming true.

The program was called World One because it looked at the world as one system. It looked at manmade behaviors starting in 1900 and modeled where that behavior would lead.

The computer’s predictions are not pleasant. End-of-world predictions usually are bad. It predicted worsening population growth and pollution levels and dwindling natural resources.

By 2020, the model predicts that we pass the point of no return and the quality of life is supposed to drop dramatically.

The Club of Rome issued a somewhat hopeful report on the limits of growth.  It was hopeful in that it suggested that if some nations like the U.S. cut back on consuming the world’s resources it would lead to “low consumption prestige” for acting responsibly. That has not come to be.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), 90% of the people around the world breathe air that has high levels of pollution. WHO estimates that 7 million deaths each year can be attributed to pollution.

If I had been asked to make a prediction back in the 1970s about where we would be in fifty years, I would also have predicted – without the help of a computer – that there would be worsening population growth and higher pollution levels and dwindling natural resources.

I learned about Robert Malthus in high school. Back in 1798, he predicted what has become known as a Malthusian catastrophe. It is a prediction that population growth will outpace agricultural production and that there will be too many people and not enough food. I would add water to that prediction. Although Malthus is known for his influence in the fields of political economy and demography, he was also an Anglican cleric and he saw this catastrophe as divinely imposed to teach virtuous behaviour.

Though I will stay on the side of science, consider what Jesus said (according to Matthew 24:35-36): “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

That hasn’t stopped predictions about the end of our world from first century CE Early Christianity predicting a Second Coming in that time, to a half-dozen crackpot dates in 2018 that were supposed to be The End.

We are still here. I can sleep more peacefully with the prediction that it will all end in the 200 millionth century (20 billion years from now). Based on the current rate of expansion of the universe, by then the universe could be expanding so rapidly that atoms will no longer be able to hold on to their electrons. This predicted event is known as the “Big Rip.” I blame dark energy.

We haven’t really nailed down what dreams are all about and there are still differing theories. In the explanation that Freud promoted, dreams are a way to see into our subconscious desires, thoughts and motivations. This is where we get the idea that the things in dreams (manifest content) are really symbols for the latent, or hidden, content.

Other theories view dreaming as a way the brain generates new ideas and creativity. This explains how people wake up with a poem or the solution to a complex problem.

A more everyday variation on this theory is another that posits that dreams are the way we process the day’s information. In sleep and dreaming, we categorize, prune away and store memories.

However, none of these explain the persistent idea that dreams, at least sometimes, seem to predict or foreshadow future events. The three theories first mentioned all deal with the past, whether it be the past 48 hours, or our childhood years ago.

If you have ever had a dream that later turned out to be “true” or prophetic, you probably have some belief in precognitive dreams.

J. W. Dunne, a British engineer and amateur philosopher, proposed that the way we believe we experience time as linear was an illusion. Human consciousness fools us into believing that, when in fact past, present and future were continuous in a higher-dimensional reality. We have imposed this sequential time mental perception of time as a way to understand it.

He wrote about what he called “serial time” is a series of books beginning with An Experiment with Time (1928) , The Serial Universe (1934), The New Immortality (1938), Nothing Dies (1940) and Intrusions? (1955).

As the years passed, he connected “serialism” to psychology, parapsychology, theology, relativity and quantum mechanics. Several famous novelists were fans of his theories, including James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Aldous Huxley.

Vladimir Nabokov was another novelist who was taken with the Dunne’s idea that serial time allowed for dreams to “predict” a future we had already experienced. It also explained the déjà vu phenomenon.

In a recently published collection titled Insomniac Dreams,, we can see an experiment in time that Nabokov conducted himself.

Every morning for about three months, he would write down immediately upon awakening what he could recall of his dreams. Then the following days, he paid careful attention to anything that seemed to do with the recorded dream. This dream journal was recorded on index cards, which has also been his compositional method when he wrote Lolita.

He is surely not the only dream journaler who has believed that dreams are not just fragments of past impressions, but are both past and future events. Dunne said this was possible in his serial view of time because time then is not unidirectional but recursive.

Dunne would also say that the only way to observe the predictive nature o dreams is to pay careful attention to the content of dreams, as Nabokov and journaling do, and the events that follow in waking life.

Nabokov finds some instances of prophecy in his recorded dreams, but nothing I would consider extraordinary despite his idea that when you are confronted with predicted outcomes that might be explained as coincidences multiple times, you cease to believe they are coincidences and believe they “form the living organism of a new truth.”

I am more in the coincidence school of belief about the predictive aspects of dreams, and that they are given more weight when we pay closer attention, as Nabokov did.

Perhaps, I should do my own experiment paying closer attention to the followup days  and dream self-reflection. Though lately, I have not had any dreams to record as they seem to disappear before I even wake up with my dream journal beside me. What’s that all about?

 

fox and hedgehog

Are you a hedgehog or a fox?

“The Hedgehog and the Fox” is an essay by philosopher Isaiah Berlin which was published as a book in 1953. Berlin said that he never “meant it very seriously. I meant it as a kind of enjoyable intellectual game, but it was taken seriously. Every classification throws light on something.”

But he didn’t invent this way of viewing people. The Greek poet Archilochus  (680 –645 BC) wrote “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one big thing.” In 1500, Erasmus wrote his Adagia (adages) and one of them was “Many-sided the skill of the fox: the hedgehog has one great gift.” Erasmus’ interpretation favored the hedgehog.

[S]ome people do more with one piece of astuteness than others with their various schemes. The fox protects itself against the hunters by many and various wiles, and yet is often caught. The echinus [hedgehog] … by its one skill alone is safe from the bites of dogs; it rolls itself up with its spines into a ball, and cannot be snapped up with a bite from any side.”

Later interpretations have gone both ways. Hedgehogs view the world through the lens of a single defining idea. Examples often given include Plato, Dante Alighieri, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Marcel Proust.

Foxes draw on a wide variety of experiences. For a fox,  a world view can’t be contained in one idea. Fox examples might include Aristotle, Erasmus, William Shakespeare, Goethe, and James Joyce.

I had heard of this concept somewhere in my undergraduate days but had totally forgotten about it until recently when I came upon the book, On Grand Strategy. It is by John Lewis Gaddis who based it largely on a class he has co-taught at Yale for about twenty years.

Why have Yale students competed to get into this “Studies in Grand Strategy” seminar? (It is actually taught by Gaddis, Paul Kennedy, and Charles Hill.) The premise of the seminar is that this is a way to prepare future leaders by looking at lessons from history and the classics.

In his book, Gaddis looks at how leaders and decision makers fare as foxes and hedgehogs.

Political psychologist Philip Tetlock had earlier studied people who made predictions for a living. These people are at universities, think tanks, in governments and nowadays in the media. He found that the foxes were more accurate because they were more intuitive thinkers and could piece together information from different sources. Hedgehogs tended to be ideologues with big ideas to explain the world. But for television and headlines, hedgehogs are better guests and interviews. Easy sound bites rather than those discursive foxes.

One situation Gaddis looks at leaders during wartime. Who would you follow into battle – a fox or a hedgehog?

Though not everyone agrees on which is the best approach, but the fox and the hedgehog concept has influenced many people.

In The Signal and the Noise, forecaster Nate Silver (who received much attention during the past election cycles) sides with being “more foxy” and a fox is his website’s logo.


A short clip of Gaddis explaining how a “grand strategy” works in the real world.

 

On the podcast Hidden Brain, I heard a modern day story about a hedgehog surgeon.
In “The Fox And The Hedgehog: The Triumphs And Perils Of Going Big,”
you’ll hear about how he hesitantly became a pioneer in gender reassignment surgery.   LISTEN www.npr.org

I’m a weather watcher. I’m also a nature watcher. Sometimes the Venn diagram overlaps those two areas.

I know by my blog stats that my posts here about predicting the weather by observing nature have a perennial popularity, even though they are not usually backed by science and are more of “weather lore.”

Meteorologists, on the other hand, look at things such as the La Niña conditions as very real. She is showing her effects in the Pacific now with cooler than normal sea surface temperatures across most of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific. It started in October and continued into this month.

I suppose it’s not exactly “chaos theory” when it comes to weather patterns, but I find it fascinating that cooler than normal sea surface temperatures far from where I live will affect my local weather. That is a big butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the world.

Don’t confuse La Niña with its opposite partner El Niño which is officially the “El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO.  La Niña (Spanish, “the girl”) and El Niño (“the boy”) used to be seen as one thing and was once called El Viejo (“the old man”).

With all the talk about climate change, you often hear about what seem to be very small changes in the temperature of the oceans. But very small changes – a degree or two – have very big effects and La Niña and El Niño disrupt normal patterns of precipitation and atmospheric circulation not only in the Pacific but across the globe. A La Niña often, though not always, follows an El Niño.

During a period of La Niña, the sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean will be lower than normal by 3–5 °C.

It is expected that weak La Niña conditions will continue through the winter until probably February. But what does that mean for North America’s weather?

La Nina map

Cooler than normal sea surface temperatures indicative of La Niña conditions stretch across most of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific. (Source: earth.nullschool.net)

Usually, La Niña means below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures in the southern part of the United States, and colder and wetter conditions across the northern U.S. and Canada. It even affects the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

Though my East Coast has been in a drought, the Pacific Northwest had a very wet October, though that probably can’t be explained by just La Niña.

I hope the colder and wetter than normal prediction for the Paradelle area is wrong, but I’ll add it to what the wooly bears and other winter predictions showed this year and check back in the spring.

 

 

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