Crystal Ball

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May 14, 2007

"I know what you'd spend 500 million dollars to see: the future."

– Ben Affleck as engineer Michael Jennings , in Paycheck (2003)*

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Last night my wife and I saw the movie Next, based very loosely on a story by Phillip K. Dick and starring Nicolas Cage, Jessica Biel, and Julianne Moore. Cage plays a low-key Las Vegas stage magician named Cris Johnson who actually has a magical power: He can see two minutes into his own future. [Warning: Minor plot spoilers ahead].

Ordinary humans are stuck with mere guesswork about the future, although we do have an amazing ability for analysis and for what Leonard Shlain calls deep-time navigation.** Still, people do not sense the future but instead simulate it in their minds; we compute possible futures rather than detect them directly. Thus, we cannot dodge bullets (as Johnson does) by seeing precisely when and where the bullets will be coming. In Next, Johnson does even more than that; he can preview dozens of different versions of the future, trying them out as he considers different approaches to, say, introducing himself to a woman in a diner. He doesn't have to guess how the woman will react: He sees her reaction as if it were happening right now. For Johnson, a bad event – whether that means getting shot dead or merely making a bad first impression – doesn't have to happen in this timeline; Johnson not only sees his future but can change it.

There is some experimental evidence that humans (perhaps only some of us) have a vague, limited ability to sense the future, especially when high-valence events are about to occur. This sense is small, weak, and unreliable (if the ability exists at all), but the possibility of any future-sense in humans is intriguing nonetheless. Anecdotal evidence suggests that occasionally someone may even have a clear, vivid, and accurate view of the future.

I remain agnostic on whether we have such a sixth sense, but the advantages of any ability to predict what is coming are obvious. Oracles and fortune-tellers of all types, along with methods alleged to help foretell the future (palmistry, the reading of entrails, "throwing bones," the I Ching, Tarot reading, and so on) have been popular throughout history and surely long before recorded history. Modern investment services, insurance actuaries, and many other businesses and professions are involved, to one extent or another, in predicting the future, at least statistically.

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Writers, like everyone else, see the future. I press the "a" key on my keyboard and expect the letter "a" to appear on my computer screen; I drop a glass in my wood-floored kitchen and expect the glass to shatter when it hits; I walk across the porch to the door after working outside and expect Zoomer to bark at my approach and then jump up to greet me, body wriggling and tail wagging, when I step inside. Like me, Zoomer sees the future often, as when he hears me preparing a meal and rockets into the kitchen in response – "food!" Zoomer says (predicts) to himself, in that non-verbal, midline-consciousness way that dogs have, and that humans also have, if they listen to their feelings.

Moving farther into the future, into the deep-time that only humans seem aware of, I see other things as well, although not always as clearly. Old feelings and prejudice from various sources (genetics, for one) can distort the view; if I am pessimistic by nature, how well can I disconnect that effect from the history and data I am using to predict, say, an economic downturn?

Despite that conundrum, when enough history and current data point in a given direction, I begin to feel increasingly certain about related predictions. For example, in Destruction by Paradigm, I predicted increasing trouble for the dollar and for the U.S. economy, and explained why in great detail. I have seen no reason to change that prediction, and continue to see signs that we are headed for an epic downturn. For example, the stock market "highs" of late are nothing more than an expression of the continuing erosion of the dollar – not that you'd know it from listening to the Major Media. Here's Peter Schiff on the topic:

What Record High?

Peter Schiff

Apr 27, 2007

As the Dow burst through the 13,000 milestone this week, few understood the hollowness of the achievement. Measured against the rising dollar-denominated prices of just about everything else on the planet, the Dow has actually lost value over the past seven years. Measured against the truest benchmark, the price of gold, the record high for the Dow was set back in January of 2000 when its price equaled approximately 43 ounces of gold. Today it is only worth about 19 ounces.

To better appreciate just how much of stock gains can be attributed to inflation, consider that the record high for the Dow in 1929 of approximately 380 also equated to 19 ounces of gold. So despite all of the hoopla and a thirty-fold increase in stock prices, the Dow has actually gained no real value during the past eighty years. The entire rise from 360 to 13,000 has been an illusion made possible by the magic of inflation.

. . . Despite its recent eclipse of 13,000 the Dow now buys 30% fewer euros than it did then back in 2000 when it was priced at approximately 11,500. It also buys 35% fewer gallons of milk, 40% fewer bushels of corn or wheat, 65% fewer ounces of silver, 70% fewer barrels of oil, 80% fewer pounds of copper, and 90% fewer pounds of uranium. Try figuring what the Dow will buy in terms of other necessities, such as housing, insurance, college tuition or hospitalization. Any way you measure it, the Dow is worth far less today then it was in January of 2000. [Emphasis added]

Another prediction of mine – couched as a concern, but then, what is a concern if not a worrisome prediction of less-than-100%-certainty? – is that the $385 million dollar contract (to Halliburton) for a gulag of detention camps in the United States signals the potential for an impending democide here in our own nation. (See An Open Letter to the Red Cross).

New events and revelations continue to feed my concern about where our police-state path is leading in this country. Recently, for example, it has come to light that "homeland security" types see libertarians as "terrorists" –

-- Who are Terrorists?

-- In Alabama, Libertarians are Terrorists

Recall that by labeling someone a "terrorist," the government can now imprison that person indefinitely without trial, without habeas corpus, and without any consideration of their rights to humane treatment; the "terrorist" can be tortured or even executed on the flimsiest of evidence, including third-hand hearsay, without a civilian jury trial or any of the other niceties Americans (and their British ancestors, going back several hundred years) have always taken for granted. Other than Keith Olbermann, I cannot recall anyone on television expressing the slightest concern about this (and my apologies to anyone else on the tube who has also stood up for human rights and simple decency in this regard).

Not every prediction of mine has been dire; in particular, I have repeatedly predicted that a widespread understanding of the duality of love and freedom (should such a thing occur) would lead to a healthier, more free and compassionate world. In particular, I have predicted that compassionate treatment (i.e., love and freedom as opposed to unlove and tyranny of any type) of pregnant mothers, newborns, infants, and children would literally change the character of the human world in a profound and positive way.

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The film Next highlights the idea that if one can see the future, one can change it. Humans have always been attracted to the idea of fortune-telling for exactly that reason: seeing the future (or at least having a reasonable guess about where things are headed) can help us avoid disaster and create positive outcomes. Too often, the vision of the future we are given by the big-power media and by government interests is designed to create support for tyranny and special interests. I encourage readers to think carefully about the future we are being shown by the power elite and to ask whether the realities of the present are aligned in harmony with a future that will benefit humanity in general – or that will preferentially benefit those in power, at the expense of the rest of us.

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* Paycheck, like Next (and Blade Runner and several other SciFi films), is based on a story by Phillip K. Dick. The rumor that EVERY science fiction film ever made is based on one of Dick's stories is clearly overblown, however.

** Shlain uses the term "deep-time navigation" in the sense of mentally revisiting the past and simulating the future to learn from experience and to plan ahead, something that the hugely enlarged human neocortex is extremely good at. See Shlain's Sex, Time, and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution.

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Glen Allport's picture
Columns on STR: 111

Glen Allport co-authored The User's Guide to OS/2 from Compute! Books and is the author of The Paradise Paradigm: On Creating a World of Compassion, Freedom, and Prosperity.