Sunday, October 7, 2018

Before You Predict The Future, A Few Notes on Technique


So once upon a time, in sixteenth century France, a third generation converted Jew took a pen name, Nostradamus, and made a living writing popular non-fiction, that attempted to predict the future.  If we look more closely at his body of work and at why he has maintained the interest of many people over the years, there are some lessons to learn.

His most important non-fiction, from the point of view of making a living as an author, was, I think, his Almanacs.  If you think about it, an Almanac is  a collection of knowledge about the past intended to be of use to those whose livelihood is based upon events in the near future.  Anyone in the classic business of agriculture would fall into this category. What is the best day for planting? When do the rains come?  When is the Summer Solstice?

But of course his notoriety comes from his more obscure, long term predictions that have been used to predict the end of the world, etc.  There are some lessons from his work that I think are of interest to anyone who might want to predict the future.

First, some basic "facts", if anything about this work is factual.  They were written as entertainment. They were written as 4 line poems, quattrains.  They were not written in the French of the time, although many people do not realize this.  They were written in an obtuse language that seemed like French but was actually a well known esoteric language known to alchemists and others. This was a useful way to avoid getting burned at the stake, by the way. And finally they were intended to not be usable to predict an event before it happened (which would be sorcery,  perhaps) but to be sufficiently detailed that when an event happened, you might believe that he had indeed predicted it.

This is a tricky business and not all that easy to do.  But here is an example made up on the spot.  Suppose I wrote a poem that said "The king will be killed.  The assassins bullet will strike home, who knew a library could be so evil?, the people mourn".  From this, you could not predict JFK was the subject.  But after the fact, you would say, "How did he know about the book depository?"

So going forward, as you predict things, keep that in mind.  Be specific, but in an obscure way.

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