Reading the future - Hussain H Zaidi - Sunday, January 09, 2011

Source :

“Look, every Tom, Dick and Harry is divining the course of events in the New Year. I myself can’t resist the temptation of jumping on the bandwagon and predicting the state of things to come.”

“But you are hardly qualified to do so. As far as I know, you are neither a palmist nor an astrologer, nor a tarot-card reader, a numerologist or a clairvoyant. You need to be well-versed in occult sciences to read the future.”

“My dear friend, there’s no such thing as an occult science. The discipline called science deals only with observable phenomena, by a method which is open to public scrutiny. The occult, by its very definition, is beyond the scope of science. To me, an occult science is a contradictory term.”

“But, then, how come people predict the future?”

“To predict the course of events, all one needs is a little bit of common sense and some understanding of the contemporary world. Use of esoteric terms such as those pertaining to the zodiac signs and movement of the heavenly bodies always comes in handy. And, of course, if one has the gift of the gab, it’s of immense advantage. The important thing is to couch your divination in ambiguous and vague language, so that on no account it is confuted.”

“You are making it look too easy.”

“Yes, of course. You know our economy is crumbling and our politics are marred by grave uncertainty with a change in the government, and even the possibility of a military takeover always looming large. The menace of religious bigotry and fanaticism has assumed horrendous proportions. On the basis of these facts, it’s not difficult to come out with predictions as to what is in store for us. Here are some examples. Prediction 1: The year 2011 will be a difficult year for the people. We can hardly disagree, as no one expects that the economy will be put on track, inflation tamed or unemployment driven down. Similarly, it’s highly unlikely that the militancy menace will fizzle out and the law-and-order situation get better in the foreseeable future. Prediction 2: The New Year will be one of political change. Yes, but what’s meant by political change? Does it mean a change in the government? Does it mean a new person moving into the Prime Minister House’s? Does it mean a few fresh faces will enter federal or provincial legislatures because some existing lawmakers are unseated or simply pass away? Or does it mean fresh elections? That there will be some political change can’t be ruled out. So the prediction will come true in any event.”

“Yes, I recall that the other day when an astrologer was reminded by a TV anchor, rather bluntly, that her prediction of a change in parliament in 2010 didn’t come true, she retorted that the change she had forecast did come about, because some parliamentarians were disqualified for having fake degrees.”

“Here you are. A clever soothsayer either doesn’t define his or her terms, or defines them in such an all-encompassing manner that they will always stand the test of time. I have a few more examples for you. A familiar question put to these so-called occult scientists is: Will Mr A get back to power? The answer: yes, he can. Here the key word is ‘can,’ which implies a possibility, and a possibility may or may not be actualised. So if Mr A is back in power, the soothsayer will of course take the credit for a valid prediction; and if he doesn’t, she will maintain that she never claimed he would, and that she had only seen his prospects because stars were in his favour, but that he failed to use the situation to his advantage. On a more mundane level, a common question is: I love B but my parents want me to marry C. Whom will I wed? The answer is: The movement of the stars shows that you’ll marry B, but you’ll face some hindrances. Now, again, if by a stroke of luck the client weds B, the astrologer stands vindicated; and if he doesn’t, then wasn’t he warned of the hindrances? Questions relating to getting a job, going abroad and recovering from illness are addressed in a similar fashion.”

“You examples are well taken. But you’ll agree that science forecasts the future. What’s wrong if these poor soothsayers also do so?”

“Well, the singular characteristic of scientific forecast is that it is based on causation analysis. You can’t understand the effect without understanding the cause. When scientific analysis predicts, for instance, that the stock market will crash, the prediction takes stock of various forces that bear upon the sale and purchase of the shares. Non-scientific forecasts, by contrast, don’t distinguish between causation, and mere succession or precedence. Another important difference is that of attitude. The scientist makes predictions with a lot of humility and never claims infallibility, whereas the soothsayers boast of being infallible.”

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email:

No comments:

Post a Comment