The Crystal Ball

My crystal ball is on the blink again. I think one of the cats peed on it.

Fortunately it still works as well as anyone else’s. None of us knows the future.

It is a curious thing of being human that we want to treat time as a two way street, seeing ahead as we see behind.

We peer into the cloudy future populated with unborn people and prognosticate: “we’re on the right side of history” or “the future is clearly less religious than the past” or– A million other things.

Now before you point at me and say “you do that too” – of course I do. Science fiction is to an extent the collective dreaming about the future. Sort of like a kid lying in bed at night and daydreaming of being grownup.

In other words, what separates the feeling of reading fantasy from the feeling of reading science fiction is that science fiction is marginally plausible.

Oh, the details might be wrong, the science might change, but how many of us reading it almost think we could be part great great grandparents to Johnny Rico? (In which case the chronology is wrong too, but we know that.)

Part of the thrill of science fiction is “it could turn out that way” while with fantasy, well, no.

But the important thing to keep in mind when peering into that sort of crystal ball is that what we’re actually seeing is not a crystalized image, a hard-nosed reality. It’s fiction. Fiction written in the light of research interacting with the writer’s own predispositions and prejudices. By which I don’t mean the litany of SJW evils like racissss and sexisss and – d*mn it, can’t they come up with a word for homophobe that ends in isssss? – but the opinions and ideas the writer brings with him to writing. You can’t be of an age to write a novel without having some opinions you’ve integrated to the point you don’t examine them. Whether those opinions are that women are exactly the same as men, or they are that men (or women) are inferior, all these are prejudices.

The other important thing to keep in mind is that “research” part. And by research in this case I mean that anyone who would make prognostications about the future, even “we’re on the right side of history” blurted on their blog needs to have read broadly enough in history and the biographies of people who lived at the time, to be able to say so with any degree of confidence. This reading should not confine itself to a single point of view, or a single century.

Now, I have done this – no great virtue, I read history for fun – and I can look to the past and see some trends for the future. I can see our self proclaimed elites as not all that different from various out of touch classes of the past, which is why I say in the end we win, they lose.

OTOH the past is an imperfect mirror. We now have technologies and abilities they didn’t have, and furthermore could acquire new ones at any minute. One of those “mind-control” things that DARPA is rumored to be studying comes through and it’s game over. The elites can control a mass of sheep and the boot stomps on the human face forever. (Or does it? Perhaps sheep controlled by mind rays don’t produce enough food. Perhaps nutritional deficiencies loosen the mind control. Perhaps–)

That is the other important thing to remember. The past through tomorrow might be a good idea for time travel, but tomorrow through the past is always imperfect. You’re reading shadows and penumbras.

Humans are complex creatures and the civilizations they create are infinitely complex and confused. You can’t ever be sure you have all the factors that led to the fall of Rome, for instance. At least every other year we get another theory that “explains” it, but all of them together they’re still not complete.

You can look at our society and see certain trends seen in Rome or China or monarchic France and say “we’re in trouble.” What you can’t say is “we are doomed.”

Many of these same trends were present in Regency England, and yet the greater glory of the Empire under Victoria was ahead of them. Heck, many of the trends were present in England during the War of the Roses, but look what was yet to come that would project that island out of its bonds and into global prominence.

Granted, none of this is as crazy as the SJWs claiming they’re on the right side of history because they’re victims and therefore they’ll win while fighting against the twin forces of Christianity/capitalism which brought most of the improvements in the treatment of minorities/oppressed we see today. (That setting all the captives free thing? Yeah, not an accident.)

But it’s still crazy.

The thing about the future is that it’s so hard to predict.

Which is why there’s so much room for science fiction. And why science fiction is needed. And why diversity of points of view on what the future holds is needed too.

If you only read 1984 and that was the only book ever written about the future, you’d think it was inevitable and interpret every corroborative detail in the present as “this is where we’re headed.”

But if you read … oh, Friday too, you start wondering if 1984 maybe is only in Britain, and what is happening in the rest of the world?

Then you can see “this trend leads here, but his one leads there” and start choosing what to reinforce and what to undermine, according to your beliefs and knowledge.

Here’s the thing: no SFNal future is true. No prediction of politician, dictator or king will ever be true. Not in its entirety. The smart thinkers with thick knowledge of history will be right some of the time.

However prophets of total doom or total victory for their side are almost always totally wrong. The future like the past is never unambiguous.

Which is why I can say I think we’ll win this one, but I won’t say “we’re on the right side of history” nor do I seek moral authority from it. My moral authority resides in the side that has made life the most comfortable for the most people in all of history, and in believing more comfort and more people are a good thing.

I don’t seek the approval of future generations, who likely will have their own priorities, nor do I rest on their imagined backs to say “Oh, look, I’m moral because generations yet unborn will agree with me.”

Beware of anyone who does that. He’s either brainwashed, a fool or a charlatan.

Or “yes.”

218 thoughts on “The Crystal Ball

  1. When it comes to *serious* predictions of the future (not fictional futures), the more I hear of them the more I think of the Old Testament definition of “False Prophet” and the punishment for being a “False Prophet”.

    Oh, the Old Testament definition was “If *one* of your prophecies turn out to be false, then you’re a False Prophet” and the punishment for a being a False Prophet was death. [Very Big Evil Grin]

    1. See, that’s one of the things that kind of bugs me. Because a successful prophet’s prophecies don’t happen. Successful, as in the people they go to prophesy to actually listen. Like Jonah. He goes to Nineveh, says ‘all y’all gonna die’, they repent, they don’t die. (Of course then he goes and throws a temper tantrum about it, but that’s another topic.)

      1. Those sort of prophecies have implied (or expressed) “unless you repent” attached.

        IE they are warnings what will happen unless you “change your ways”.

        Now Jeremiah’s prophecies were “It’s too late to repent, God’s going to punish you and you can only make the punishment worse”. [Smile]

    2. And there was a time limit, too. Which is why the bit at the end of Daniel where he’s told not to tell is actually significant. They weren’t going to happen in the time limit.

  2. “In other words, what separates the feeling of reading fantasy from the feeling of reading science fiction is that science fiction is marginally plausible.”

    Logically the problem is that many fantasies are not scientifically impossible, whereas many SF stories are. . .

    FTL travel? No can do. Ghosts? Got a scintilla of evidence that they can’t happen?

    1. Some methods of FTL is theoretically possible with a supply of unobtainium and as long as you don’t just increase the thrusters.

    2. FTL travel is only theoretically impossible. Theories change. Remember that at one time it was assumed that faster than sound travel would be impossible as well. We all know how that turned out. No, I don’t expect the theory to change right away, but we’ve been wrong in the past and there is at least one physicist out there, whose name escapes me, that believes that warp travel just might be possible.

      As far as ghosts…

      Who knows? They’ve never been scientifically disproven. We’ll just have to see what we can/cannot prove in the future. I for one HOPE they don’t exist (Lord knows I don’t want to be trapped here when I die) but that’s a LOOOOOOOOONG way from being able to declare that they don’t.

            1. Relativity doesn’t disallow faster than light velocities. It does have a nasty singularity if you try to move from slower than light to faster than light. Currently, no technology exists to keep that singularity from blowing up. Surely everything that can be thrown at the problem has not been thrown yet. Quantum mechanics is all about breaching seemingly impossible barriers, and a theory that combines relativity and quantum mechanics is still in progress. It is at least possible that something promising could come out of that. Certainly we don’t know how to build an FTL ship today. I don’t see how it follows that we will never be able to.

            2. Last talk I watched on the Higgs-Boson and implications does reference a theory in quantum physics that negates the possibility of ghosts. And souls.

              I referenced it here some time back, but I have no access to find the link. Sorry.

                1. The assumption lies in the belief that they’ve discovered the last quantum particle to close the unified theory. Since they’ve found no mechanism to support additional unidentified energy states and they see no holes in their theory — no such mechanism exists.

              1. Well, pretty much every theory of cognition, thought, sapience – says it is all electrochemistry. No mass to have electrochemical reactions in, no person, so no ghost.

                Of course, that does not mean that all of those are *correct*. I do keep an eye out for anyone who might repeat (with better instruments) the experiments of the guy who measured the mass of a person just before and just after death. He had some indication that at death a physically unexplainable mass was lost. (But the error bars on his measurements would be laughed out of discourse these days.)

                1. Unless the biochemical things we observe are caused by the same thing that makes sapience– such theory of which could be given evidence against if we could recreate the electrochemical effect rather than just observing it.
                  Right now, we even manage to screw up on if it will restart again or not in highly damaged sapient beings, and don’t always identify it when it was actually there. (folks who read as having no higher brain function, but later can recount conversations that happened while they were “brain dead”)

                  1. Nod. Not “evidence” really but my sister had complained that Mom didn’t know her when she visited Mom in the nursing home. However, Ruth (my sister) visited Mom on Mom’s birthday, Sept 1st. Ruth reported that Mom was very responsive to her as if Mom knew who Ruth was. That was Ruth’s last visit to see Mom before Mom died on Sept 15th. Miracle or what?

                    1. I also remember a fairly recent newspaper story of a Finnish woman who had lived mostly a completely normal life, with pretty good education and employment in some fairly high level office type of work, only suffering from frequent headaches, and then when she was middle aged the doctors did a scan of her brain. Turned out she had only about half of it, one hemisphere was there, the other was mostly missing (don’t remember which sides). Possibly one of those hydrocephalic cases. And I don’t remember if the headaches were connected to it, or from something else.

                    2. I remember seeing a Science Channel, or Discovery Channel (can’t remember which) show specifically on hydrocephalic cases, and one of the cases had significantly less than half of his bran functioning. And he was considered above average intelligence.

                      But I can’t find anything about it anywhere I look.

                    3. Apparently it’s common enough for kids with the condition to be above average verbal intelligence that they also found a pattern of them having a higher-than-average tendency to have issues reading, which is the opposite of normal. (Kids with reading issues have verbal intelligence issues, too.)

            3. Lots of people have theories that preclude ghosts, once you get to a reasonably tight definition of “ghost”.

      1. Depends what you mean by “FTL”. Traveling faster than light in the normal universe with pure acceleration? No. Making wormholes, quantum jumping, hyperspace jiggery-pokery . . . maybe. And maybe is enough for SF.

        1. Theories by definition are never ‘proven’. There is data that supports them – a much weaker idea. Special and General Relativity all have singularities in them where God divided by zero.

          Is there really a singularity at the center of a black hole? Is there really a singularity at c=1?

          Or is there a better theory waiting for the next Einstein to find?

          1. *nod*
            Last I heard, there was serious argument about if the assumptions made in “proving” time dilation were correct or not– basically, what if the constants aren’t constant that way, the way that assuming earth-at-sea-level gravity as a norm is wrong when you get far enough away.

        2. My recollection of Special Relativity is that it proved that information cannot travel faster than light. That would rule out all of the above.

          As another commentator said however there is apperently at least one physicist that believes otherwise so YMMV.

          1. There’s a NASA guy that has figured out how to get the energy requirements of an Alcubierre Warp drive down from the mass of Jupiter to the mass of Voyager for a 10c equivalent. IIRC, it was Dr. Harold White. He also worked on or is working on quantum thrusters for normal space drive.

      2. Currently the tools for collecting that kind of data are fairly limited. Investigation into the paranormal has a lot of wacky attached from a large number of directions and it’s incredibly frustrating when you are trying to collect data and people think it’s a joke and fake the stuff.

        Advances in IR and UV spectrum technologies are helping it, but costly.

        Most are stuck with EMF readers, temp gauges, IR cameras and audio recorders.

        UV spectrum cameras are definitely coming down in cost, but when I left the field about three years ago they were only just then catching.

        1. There seems to be so damn much anecdotal data that one is inclined to think something exists. People lie, but not all people all the time. What exactly exists is of course a different question.

          1. Heh. I am one of those folks dear. I got to investigate a former-hydro electric dam three times. I could write so many short stories right now. But I had have two years until I write them under statue of limitations, Tennessee state limits. :-/

            1. 🙂

              I know it’s rare for a human spirit to be stuck here.

              And before anyone attempts to dispute that, how many decades are we at now where the population is in the billions? 😉

    3. OTOH, what of fantasy grounded in history? Land at latitude such-and-such with such-and-such soil and such-and-such technology can support a certain population density. Terrain and resources dictate what is plausible and where the people live. Domesticated animals aren’t machines and must be cared for or they will die. Magic must have internally consistent rules, and so forth and so on.

      1. I’d settle for fantasy that paid attention to the alterations they made in their own dang world…. Grumble, grumble, nobody using magic to do useful stuff, just for fighting or special effects, grumble…..

          1. You probably did the same thinking I did about those missing folks in the D&D world– or a lot of other very shallow fantasy, too… just drives me nuts! Why go out adventuring when you could be the local locksmith and work with the blacksmith? (open, mend and daze animal– and that’s base level) Alright, so it’s slower– who cares, you’re less likely to die horribly. It’s not like it even takes a lot of creativity, any more than casting “wall of force” in front of the diving dragon does.

            1. Or coming up with something like a “Decanter of Endless Water”: the impact of a clean, reliable water supply on medieval society…..

            2. Why go out adventuring when you could be the local locksmith and work with the blacksmith?

              Which TOTALLY explains the difference between 20 year old women and 20 year old men.

            3. I like the idea, at least for OD&D retro-clones, that the setting is in a unsteady state. There has been a catastrophe, and the human occupied area is either collapsing inwards, or is rapidly settling or resettling areas to support the surviving population.

              Steady state, with enough land and security, it absolutely should be as you say.

              You don’t look for a electrical engineering job when Communist Paratroopers are landing in your city, or when your 100k space city only has enough air for 1k for a day, as long as the well equipped platoon of Space Pirates holds environmental. If instead your polity is fighting communists or space pirates further away, you might do that or you might do some really nice engineering work.

        1. Especially when they assume modern things without realizing the tech behind them, so they COULD do them magically but don’t.

        2. This is one of my favorite parts of Harry Potter. Yes, there are some massive magical battles, but there are lots of everyday uses for magic too. Think about it.

          Molly Weasely uses magic to wash her dishes. Letters are sent by owl. Hermione fixes Harry’s glasses. Brooms are basic transportation. Three words: Zonko’s Joke Shop.

          So it does happen, but it’s not where the emphasis is. Also, at least in the older versions of the AD+D Players Handbook it was noted that most magic users are fairly weak and use their magic for more mundane purposes. It’s the exceptional people who go off adventuring.

          1. That note actually makes it worse, because you don’t see any of the effects.

            The thing that actually got me looking at this was trying to figure out what the real economy for gold/silver/copper was going to be, since the “ten coins” thing was so obviously for ease of use…. wow, was it way off.

            1. That’s not magic. That’s basing the price system on the California gold rush on the assumption that adventurers keep the economy awash with gold and so inflation hit.

              1. Oh, yes. They tried to address this in AD&D 3 / 3.5 by having basically 2 price levels, one for “the adventurer economy” and one for everyday living. Sort of ignored the fact that everyone from farmers on up would only want to sell at “adventurer prices”.

                And some of the modules didn’t help either. S1 Tomb of Horrors was the most garish example: The tomb doors are described as being solid mithril 10′ x 10′ by 1 foot thick. As soon as the DM described that, we took the doors off, left, and proceeded to more or less buy the entire world. 😎

                1. And some of the modules didn’t help either. S1 Tomb of Horrors was the most garish example: The tomb doors are described as being solid mithril 10′ x 10′ by 1 foot thick. As soon as the DM described that, we took the doors off, left, and proceeded to more or less buy the entire world. 😎

                  1. Yeah, especially when we went through all the books, calculated the cost including contents, and bought the city of Greyhawk. 😎

              2. Which would work, except that they also specifically don’t have that as the reason– it’s established that normal people don’t have anything like that much, even the ones selling you stuff, and the gold rush had a lot of people getting rich supplying the miners. Plus, adventuring is supposedly rare, in which case where’s the inflation?
                And if basic food and supplies are actually really that valuable, there’s all the more reason for people putting their magic and skills into that….

                1. There’s a (reasonably good sounding to this economic illiterate) “fix” for the D&D 3 economy out there which I once found. Basically, there’s three: the peasant’s carrot economy, the adventurer’s gold/magic item economy, and the epic souls/artifact economy.

                  The basic idea is that there is no amount of carrots you can sell to buy a wand of fireballs. Even if you could afford it, what stops the next bandit or adventurer coming by from confiscating it? As a consequence, gold coins aren’t worth anything to peasants, because there’s nothing they can buy with them. Meanwhile, gold is worthless to a higher wizard/minor god, because they can get as much gold as they can possibly use, so they trade solely with… souls.

                  DuckDuckGo isn’t finding it (and I refuse to use Google unless necessary), so I can’t find the original post.

                  On the other side of the spectrum, the Tippyverse posits a kind of post-scarcity result when you add rules-as-written 20th level wizards to a fantasy setting: a few enormous cities linked by teleportation circles, fed by Create Water/Food traps, and ruled by the aforementioned 20th level wizards. I’d think it’d be interesting, though one of its postulates is no interference from the gods (which could simply force the population to perpetually stay in a conveniently Dying Earth-esque adventure fantasy world.)

                  Or we can just realize that a game where Pun-Pun is a possible consequence of rules-as-written supplements is not a game that will end with a sensible economy in the first place.

                    1. And now the thought occurs to me that this might actually make a good setting. The world is secretly ruled by Pun-Pun, in his attempt to prevent another Pun-Pun from seizing power…

                    2. Down that road lies madness. I don’t role play any more. Got burned out helping play test my friend’s “system”. Over the years, he completely trashed the combat and experience point system at least twice, starting over with something completely different. It’s really hard to keep your enthusiasm for a game when a character you’ve spent months or even years optimizing for a particular set of rules suddenly doesn’t work. After a while, it just isn’t fun anymore.

                    3. I hit that with World of Warcraft. Pali-tanked for my husband’s rogue in vanilla– didn’t know enough to know it was ‘impossible’– and raid tanked the next two expansions, plus leveled a priest to heal.

                      First they broke my shadow priest so she wasn’t fun or effective, then broke her Discipline, and then they basically recreated the whole system so my pali was nothing like she’d been the last several years. If I was going to be forced to play a new game, well, I’d go find one that was cheaper and wasn’t spitting on the lore…..

            2. The 10 coins wasn’t even the worst part of it; it was when they said that 10 coins was 1 pound of metal. I understand why they did that (to limit what the greedy adventurers could carry away), but dayum.

              1. I actually hadn’t even thought too hard about the weight when I started– I was curious about what size they’d have to be, and similar issues, and I wasn’t sure what the relative value of gold had been historically or how it might be hand-waved by “because magic” and still be reasonable.

                I think the first calculations I did were to find the size of a gold coin, and then try to calculate the thickness based on that… not sure what they put with gold, there!

                1. They used alloys. Had to. Pure gold would be too soft.

                  Debasing the coinage has been a long tradition of governmental extortion. When Rome conquered Egypt, they kept their money, because it was debased, and required to be used within the country, and they wanted to take over the money-changing business, which made a mint.

            3. The issue wasn’t the 10 coins… it was ’10 coins of the same size’. It could be done by figuring out the relative value of the metals and adjusting coin size accordingly. Going back to the assumption that a coin is just a bit of metal of a specific weight and the stamp of the ‘coin’ simply says who guarentees that.

              1. I didn’t see it as an inherent problem, I just saw it and recognized it was almost definitely handwavium for ease of calculation.

          2. Nod. When deciding how much “magic” and how it’s used in a fantasy world, you need to decide “how powerful” and “how common” magic users are.

            Of course, even if “magic” is common, there’s the problem of “how easy is it to do”. If it takes more time to do a simple household task with magic than it would to do it without magic, then the average magician would likely rather hire a maid than do the task magically. [Smile]

            Oh, James Blish had a modern magician ask for travel expenses paid by his client.

            The client asked “why not use your magic to travel”?

            The magician told his client about all the steps it would take to travel using magic and said “it’s easier/quicker to buy an airline ticket”. [Very Big Grin]

  3. d*mn it, can’t they come up with a word for homophobe that ends in isssss?

    Well, if you change the “fear” to “hate”, and switch out the Latin, you can do this:
    miso + sodomist = misodomist


    1. Upside, more accurate; downside, more accurate, especially in the lack of it being proof of insanity to disagree with them, and of it being an activity rather than a desire which inspires the negative reaction.

    2. And think of the fun you could have with it!


      SJW: The only reason you don’t wholly embrace this is because you”re a homophobe!

      LIT: I’ll thank you to not impose your queerist cultural othering labels on me. The correct term is “misodomist.”

  4. ” (Or does it? Perhaps sheep controlled by mind rays don’t produce enough food. Perhaps nutritional deficiencies loosen the mind control. Perhaps–)”

    How about; the mind control gadget is high tech, and needs a good deal of technical support to work well, if at all. It needs people who have strong backgrounds in computer programming AND neuroscience. The “elites” are almost perfectly unsuited to do a damn thing with it.

    So what evolves is a society where there are cities where the “elite” are concentrated, in which they are more or less completely isolated from all evidence that their Grand Plans do not work, and in large part are never implemented. The people capable of using the mind control devices use them primarily to keep the elite under some kind of control; this is much more practical than attempting to control a population a hundred times the size of the “elite” population. The great mass of people enjoy a relatively free society, what with most of the “planner” being sunk in dreams. Whenever a “normal” shows signs of being interested in ruling others, they are steered into the “elite” cities, and placed under control to keep them out of mischief.

    It’s kind of like what I foresee as the future of “Facial Recognition”; it CAN’T be as simple as it is made to sound. It has to require expert control. It isn’t going to react well to GS drones.

    1. I’m thinking that facial recognition will end up really taking off when it has commercial application, most likely either in customer service or in gaming. When having your systems be able to recognize your customer as an individual and tailor your service to them results in serious $$$, things are going to happen in a big way.

    2. I look forward to reading your novel. A young Elite escapes the cocoon? A young tech foolishly tries to rescue the Elites from their imbecility?

    1. It occurs to me that we play with way more C4 than would probably be recommended by most safety experts. I’m just sayin’…

    1. There are leftists who declare that society always moved leftward. Point out that this is done by the Ministry of Truth rewriting history so that the Progressive stuff that gets ejected is no longer left, and they don’t have coherent answers.

        1. They often have coherent answers as long as you remember that their logic is hermetically sealed. Talks-With-Plants has a coherent system, just a flatly insane one.

          1. Welllll, maybe if you stop them talking before they get to the second paragraph. After that, their insanity means that they blow internal consistency. They believe soooo many mutually exclusive things.

      1. The “liberals won” meme? (Nevermind that more than a few of the “liberals” from one point in history had views completely opposed to the “liberals” of today.)

        1. In a funny way, the Left is pretty much gone around the circle, and is on it’s way to become the Aristocracy… in attitude, at least.
          And the old, Sun King era of foppish lickspittles, not the more vital aristos of earlier eras.

    2. *snark*
      More likely they’re teenagers who were never raised….
      (Yes, it’s just a turn of phrase, and not especially clever, but with JUST enough of a sharp edge to be worth writing.)

  5. I don’t seek the approval of future generations, who likely will have their own priorities, nor do I rest on their imagined backs to say “Oh, look, I’m moral because generations yet unborn will agree with me.”

    If I’ve done my job right, if we’ve done our jobs right as people and Americans — future generations will pay us no more mind than we do to the goings on in 1802. Or 1902. Pick a benign year, and run with it.

    My hope lies in a future where people can pursue their happiness without much more than a fond thought for the successes of the generations before. I want to impart no weight, no chains, no restrictions on future generations — I would see them fly free.

    Little note: I’m likely to be largely away from the computer for the next 2-3 days. I may have intermittent poking around on my phone, but otherwise… So I’ll catch you folks on Saturday!

        1. What will make our generation ignorable is if we manage to pass on the wisdom despite the SJWs.

          As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
          I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
          Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
          And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

          We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
          That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
          But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
          So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

          We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
          Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
          But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
          That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

          With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
          They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
          They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
          So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

          When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
          They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
          But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
          And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

          On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
          (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
          Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
          And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

          In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
          By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
          But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
          And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

          Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
          And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
          That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
          And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

          As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
          There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
          That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
          And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

          And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
          When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
          As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
          The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

          1. If wishes were horses, the resulting unstoppable explosion in the equine population would doubtlessly destroy the local ecosystem, soon even overrunning all farms and exhausting the water supplies, resulting in a kind of post-apocalyptic world where soon everyone was a beggar, riding or not. Any wishes for this to cease or longing yearns for the antequinoclasm era would perpetuate the cycle. I suppose we would all learn to eat horse meat and drink fermented mare’s milk (and try unceasingly not to desire anything else while also avoiding any Godelian wish-to-not-wish wishes least the arrival of these new horses disrupt the cooking/distilling processes.)

            (Which brings the question: does killing a wish-horse destroy the wish as well? Or can you transfer wishes to horses and vice versa at will? Do different wishes spawn different kinds of horse; say, the stronger the wish, the better the horse? Perhaps trained wishers would serve as couriers and cavalry, with the requirement to be perpetually deprived of the objects of their desires so as to still wish for them.)

  6. Predicting the future is ahh… Interesting. It’s been tried a bunch of times and it only works if you can fudge the numbers and obfuscate. Seriously, that’s why the Pythian Oracles were so good at their job. They said something that could mean ANYTHING and then interpreted their mutterings as being correct after the fact. (I tend to be pretty good at predicting things after they happen too. Seriously. My crystal ball says that things aren’t going to go so well in the 1992 election. Call me crazy…)

    Part of this is because even when you’re right you’re wrong. Think about it. It’s often claimed that Captain Kirk had the first flip phone. The thing is, the communicator as included in the series worked more like a walkie talkie. It wasn’t even held up to the ear/mouth like a phone. And while there is such a thing as speaker phone, it’s not the most widely used method of telephone operation even now. But does that mean we should give up? No.

    The important thing is to keep guessing. Inspire the young ‘uns. Be patient if that is what’s required. Myths of humans flying go back to AT LEAST to the Ancient Greek tales of Icarus and Daedalus but flight has only been achieved in the last hundred and ten years. It’s not all going to happen tomorrow. There has been some work on building a transporter, but so far all they’ve been able to transport are neutrinos. That’s not going to get solved today. I’m guessing it won’t tomorrow and, put bluntly, next week isn’t looking all that good either.

    The way to fight ideas is with ideas. The way to fight tyrannical government is by any means necessary, up to and possibly including flat out armed rebellion. The thing is, if you want to have the numbers to win you have to CONVINCE people to support our side. Fight hard, but fight smart. Tell the story, but don’t pound people over the head with the point. Make it exciting. Make it worth spending time and money on. That’s how we’ll win the war of ideas and to Hades with being on the “right side of history.” At this point I’m happy just not being on the LEFT side of history.

      1. Probably–much for the same reason they made it in the original Trek–it’s a reasonable form factor.

        1. Especially for rough and tumble– my parents have them, because if you drop it and run over it, the flip phone design can be made to most likely survive. Which is really important when you’re a long ways from anywhere.

          What they need to do is hurry up and move from towers to satellites…. (No, I don’t know how they’d get past the delay; it would require something that moves faster than radio waves, wouldn’t it?)

          1. There’s always high altitude solar powered drones. They might get practical in the next few years.

            1. Oooh, thank you for reminding me! I’d forgotten about that balloon-cell-tower idea they had and proto-tested a while back, and now I’ve got delightful images of a network of solar powered dirigibles going along, being a self-healing network that can adjust for demand….. TOO COOL!

          2. Actually, a 50,000-mile round trip isn’t as much delay as there used to be in coast-to-coast telephone calls. It’s slightly less than 1/3 of a second.

            IIRC, also, some company tried to set up a comparatively low-orbit satellite com network some years ago, but it failed as a business venture, but that would have reduced the lag to unnoticeable levels.

        2. I get teased for still having a flip phone. I just tell them that I have waited my whole life for my Star Trek communicator and I’m not giving it up now that I finally have one!

      2. We’re never going to have a Trek communicator, now, though, unless someone builds something that looks like one just because. The computer power available by the time we have the need will be enough that your wearable computer will be able to tell from context that you want to talk to someone. When you say, “Jeeves (or whatever you named your computer), put me in touch with Bill Jones”, it will know that you’re talking to it, and who Bill Jones is likely to be, and will contact that person’s computer to start a conversation.

        I mean, heck, we already have voice calling, it’s just going to get more conversational in nature, rather than specified voice commands.

    1. Mental image of a man with a stack of books and a table at a SF con. The caption reads “No, but I do write economic forecasts.”

      1. I’m reminded of the old Alexis Gilliand cartoon, with the King glaring at Wizenbeak the Wizard of a pile of smoldering junk, as Wizenbeak indignantly says, “Of COURSE my model of the economy self-destructed, your Majesty! I DO GOOD WORK!”

  7. I think at least some of those people really want to be on the Might Makes Right side of history.

    1. Might may not MAKE right, but with enough might, right IS irrelevant. That’s been proven by every Communist country (and their associated massacres) EVER. The key is to gather the might to OUR side and face the fact that we may have to use it.

      1. Which is why all the nominally Communist countries are more or less faking it? The closest they have to a stable one is North Korea, which is actually a hereditary absolute monarchy.

        1. Just gotta include all the flavors of communism– including the more honest ones, like those African warlords, or ISIS. (“We have the ability to kill you. Give us your stuff, and keep supporting us, or we will. And we’ll probably kill you anyways when you don’t manage to give us more than you make right now when you’ve had a third of your people killed, half of the rest are seriously wounded and we’ve told you to do stupid stuff.”)

          1. Well, Socialism as a pretext for warlordism or classical tyranny is as good a theory as any I have heard.
            Fits all the symptoms, which is better than most definitions I’ve run across recently.

  8. My forecasting has been wrong in the past, I’m almost certainly wrong on at least something at present, and I expect to forecast incorrectly in the future.


      1. My custom is to make many predictions.

        If I don’t die real soon now, numbers alone should require that some of them be incorrect.

        Alternatively, maybe I fake humility in an attempt to convince myself. I am very arrogant, and my head needs to fit through doors. 🙂

          1. When Obi Wan said “only the Sith deal in absolutes”, was he confessing to being a Sith, since that statement is itself an absolute?

              1. One of my favorite “wind the husband up” topics is that– we pretty much decided that there must have been a ton of “gray” force users who spent a lot of time hiding from the Jedi kidnap-and-brainwash things, and the more-generally-murderous Sith.

                1. So did that ‘bring balance to the force’ thing simply mean ‘get the jedis away from the monastic order and let them marry and have normal family relations, and let the future jedis be brought up by their parents’?

                  I know that Luke Skywalker does marry and have kids, or at least one kid, in the extended universe novels (I haven’t read more than the first three by Zahn), it will be interesting to see if they have kept that in the new movies (didn’t they officially drop all the EU novels from the canon when Disney bought the franchise?). I suppose it’s more likely he will now be more like old Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first trilogy, an old hermit or maybe headmaster type with no family besides his sister’s who just trains others’ kids (unless he has gone Sith).

                  1. I haven’t been following the lore since the huge blow up when Lucas retroactively REMOVED a ton of novels from canon. The whole big to-do was that all the Star Wars books were canon….

                    1. Yes, I remember they used to be. But I think now none are. I haven’t been following this on purpose for at least two decades, although if I have accidentally stumbled on articles I usually did, and do, read them.

                      Pity, I guess. I did like the Zahn trilogy.

                    2. I heard some rumors that they were going to try to reintegrate the books’ continuity, or maybe draw from it, but I don’t know if that was wishful thinking.

                    3. Let’s just hope that the good guys are still good. Well, from the trailer, Han probably is, but who knows about Luke. Yes, it would be quite dramatic, I guess, if he had turned bad, but I very much hope not.

                      And if they have kids… okay, I do know that some of those in the novels did go bad, and there were some sort of siblings fighting each other on the opposite sides kind of development, but I’m afraid that actually is among the parts I wouldn’t mind getting dumped. I very much prefer siblings fighting but finding common ground stories. Cain and Abel may be a classic, but it’s also so popular that not getting it is always a nice surprise. 😀

            1. There are few things that afford a writer more chances to show off the depths of his shallowness than trying to put a sage into a work.

  9. If you go by the Many Worlds Interpretation rather than the Copenhagen Interpretation, then foreseeing the future is impossible because there is no single future, but a cloud of possible futures of varying probability, one of which will become your future and the rest of which will branch off to become other worlds inhabited by your dimensional twins — and the branching is constant, every time any sort of quantum event happens . And even with the Copenhagen Interpretation, you’ve still got to consider observer effects and how they might alter the future through the very process of foreseeing and reporting upon it.

    Frank Herbert portrayed prescience as a trap in his _Dune_novels, before they decayed into Just Another Space Opera in _Heretics of Dune_. Ted Chaing drew a similar conclusion in one of his short stories, in which the protagonist learned an alien language that enabled her to foresee the future and thereby lost her free will and became a puppet of history. It creeped me out (which is why prescience in my fiction is always of the “overlapping images of futures of greater and lesser probability” variety), but there are always people who would prefer the security of certainty to freedom.

    1. “If you go by the Many Worlds Interpretation rather than the Copenhagen Interpretation, then foreseeing the future is impossible because there is no single future,”

      Except when you actually get someone who can look into that cloud and see a future. At that point, you have created a paradox: That future will be more likely to become true because you saw it from the past.

      That would explain Heinlein’s quote that an authentic soothsayer must be shot on sight; what if they catch a bad one?

      1. Maybe it’s more likely, maybe it’s less. As we all know, foretelling a fortune can bring it about by the very means meant to prevent it, or what was foreseen can be very different than it looks at a glance.

        1. The universe where you didn’t regain control of the vehicle before it left the road would be more exciting, momentarily.

          1. Yep.

            ::Image of somebody complaining about being bored who is then dropped into a war zone. Person then cries out “I want to be bored again”::

            [Very Big Evil Grin]

            1. “Adventure is something exciting happening to someone else in some other place.”

              (I don’t think that’s quite the quote, BCE…)

            2. There was a cartoon along those lines a long time ago. Every episode, the sad little turtle would ask the wizard to send him to do something interesting. Every time, the little turtle would wind up in over his head, and have to call the wizard to bring him home. Don’t remember the title, but it was old enough to be in black and white.

                  1. I remember seeing that one as well but haven’t thought of it for years. [Smile]

                1. Years ago, my senior year at the Blue Zoo, a bunch of us were down in the locker room getting ready for yet another phys ed class. It’s February, it’s cold, we are tired of being there and graduation is still months away and Christmas vacation emotional high has worn off. We called that time of year “The Dark Ages” because it was so depressing.

                  All of the sudden from some back corner of the the locker room we all hear: “Help Mr Wizard! I don’t want to be a cadet any more!”

                  The place cracked up.

    2. “Watchmen” did something similar- Dr. Manhattan saw past, present, and future pretty much simultaneously, and was pretty much powerless to do anything about it (until the end, when he left for another universe).

      1. I wonder if he became a prisoner of his foreseen future or merely accepted it because the alternatives were infinitely worse?

        1. He seems to indicate that there’s nothing he can do, as it is already happening to him.
          My favorite fan theory is that he knows he’s in a comic book, the story is set, and he knows he can’t change anything. Once his part in the book ends, whatever happens after that is unknown to him.

    3. If we assume the Many Worlds alternative, and a person who can see into the future, would it be more possible to steer towards the possible future you’d prefer, once you knew it really is possible – presume that the seer sees true, then one should perhaps only see not only what can happen but what is more likely to happen, at least if we assume that the more likely alternatives should push into becoming more easily seen. Especially if you could perhaps also figure out the factors which would be needed for that particular, preferred future to become the one you will find yourself in?

      1. That seems to be the approach taken by Weber in his Bahzell series of fantasy books, and Harmon’s “Wearing the Cape” superhero series.

      2. There was one fantasy novel where the back-story of one of the characters was a “Seer” that during a war was able to maneuver events to insure that his side won. The problem was that he wasn’t able to prevent the events he started that resulted in the death of his family. [Frown]

    4. My problem with Many Worlds. Where does the Matter come from to construct a whole new universe for every flip of the coin?

      Or, how big of a difference does there have to be to make a new universe? What’s the Threshold? And why do we assume it’s a human event like something so insignificant as a presidential election :-)?

      Or, maybe the many words only differ “Locally” and the many possibilities only split off where they actually make a difference, and collapse back where they become the same enough.

      1. “Dark Matter” (ie the missing matter) is the matter in the alternate universes that we can’t detect. [Wink]

        Oh, in one SF series we learn that alternate universes exists and one apparently alien species is able to travel between them without “devices”. They are able to create machines that also travel between the alternates and have been changing history on all the worlds they visit. They claim that they are wanting to prepare these worlds to face a great alien invasion that happens years in the future across all alternate histories.

        Later in the series, the Main Character learns the truth. It seems that the “aliens” are a human offshoot and has learned that periodically the “alternate universes” collapse. After the collapse, only the high probability universes survive. Since the beings are from a low probability universe, the collapse will wipe them out. So the beings are meddling across the alternate universes in order to ensure their survival.

        Unfortunately for them, all the beings accomplish is to ensure the collapse happens sooner and for all their meddling they will still be wiped out.

        1. Let’s see if I got this right. Dark matter arises from alternate universes. Alternate universes arise from conscious choices in the mind of a sapient. So, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter?

          1. ::Acknowledges Joke::

            Seriously, I don’t think alternate universes are created every time a person makes a decision one way or the other. IE there won’t an alternate universe created where I go back to bed in five minutes and one created where I stay up. IE Larry Niven’s “All The Myriad Ways” isn’t going to exist. (Oh, that’s a nasty one from Niven, not a badly written story but the mindset involved.)

            Actually, I should say that even if different universes come into being based on an individual decision, they likely “merge” into the most likely universe. [Smile]

            1. Well, separate timelines “annealing” back into a more probable reality would explain all those times when someone gives you a vivid description of how something happened, when you have a an equally vivid memory of it happening another way.

            2. If there are branching timelines, it’s not likely that they will branch when decisions are made, but be immeasurably more prolific, branching ever possible way that quantum mechanics says every particle can be, causing each infinitesimal time tick to result in ridiculously many universes. Traveling to alternates would be a real problem finding the way back.

              1. Maybe. I’d be more inclined to say that the worlds split when a decision happens whose butterfly effects don’t get counteracted by something else.
                These decisions, mind you, while including the big ones, may also include significant smaller ones. Good luck figuring out what’s what.

            3. My favorite notion is that all the possibilities are there to be seen with non-being driven precognition focusing on the most likely possibilities which means predictability is more accurate short rather than long term. The catch is this: the possibilities aren’t ‘real’ they’re just possibilities, shadows until the moment of decision makes them real and the others fade into even more insubstantial shadows. The being-driving (The Almighty being the only one I think who’d have this perspective but I haven’t toyed with the idea enough beyond that.) can have a higher degree of accuracy because, due to his perspective, he actually can see all the decisions being made at once so can actually accurately predict anything. (If you are He Who Made The Rules prediction becomes easy.)

  10. From experience of trying it, we know extrapolations from history are unreliable, and that the degree of unreliability increases (rapidly) the further into the future you try to take them.
    What I don’t know is the shape of that reliability function vs. time – i.e. is an extrapolation 2 days into the future 1/2 as reliable as 1 day into the future, or 1/4 as reliable, or (likely) some fuzzy math depends-on-the-intellectual culture-of-the-historians-involved thing?
    What would it do to a story if you could say “because the source data is from the 2nd Empire, we can predict to within 25% what will happen to X in 2 years’ time”?

    1. I think there isn’t any such reliability function. In part because the quality of a prediction depends on both methods and goals.

      Forecasts by the same person can have hugely different associated certainties.

      I think thermodynamics will not be violated.

      I think it likely the sun will rise tomorrow.

      I think I very likely that I’ll make incorrect predictions in the future. The ways I can see for this to be false are soon dying, being perfect, or not being curious. These possible exceptions at least are not certain.

      Obama may say something in public inside the next six months that is likely a falsehood.

      I very frequently make assessments about how well I could execute a particular concept for a project. These have a fairly notable dud rate.

      I was programming a character generator for an OD&D retro-clone. I had vague notions of straight-forwardly importing the results into a combat simulator. It turned that it would be easier, more boring and more difficult than I would have thought, and I shelved the idea of going in that direction.

      Some areas are inherently screwy. ‘What are we going to have this Tornado season?’ A lot of people think you can do simple straight line models of population changes over decades. Green Bear has worked some in that area, and tells us that his experience is that these models go wacky much more quickly.

      Famously, reliability of o-rings at a given temperature was extrapolated from known data. Note, not interpolated.

      Barring the New Jerusalem, or some cognate in another faith, we can expect people will murder and fornicate. How much is another question, and the answers less reliable. How the people might be convinced to alter their rates is yet a different matter, likely even more difficult to assess, and even harder to experimentally verify.

      What question is being asked? Who is answering? What are their methods? What is their track record with these methods for that type of question?

    2. Well, I can’t find the cite, but for weather predictions the statistically most accurate weather prediction is “just like yesterday.” I suppose for political predictions that works too – on any given day the political climate in the Soviet Union was just like yesterday, until it wasn’t.

      The question is, how many “not just like yesterday” change-days happen in a given time span, leading from, say, Roman Iberia to Moslem Al-Andalus to Christian Spain.

  11. . At least every other year we get another theory that “explains” it, but all of them together they’re still not complete.

    One big lightbulb moment for me was when I realized that almost all of the “corrections” and “explanations” and stuff had a ton of assumptions built in. They were OK-to-great with the big ‘if’ of knowing what the folks who made them were taking for granted– for example, the “Founders are dead white slave owners” thing. IF you take it with all the other stuff they were– men of their time who really were risking their rather good lives, folks who made an amazing system, philosophers of high caliber, tons of individual personal praise-worthy things– then it’s good to keep in mind they were men with failings, not ascended beings of light and song and perfection.

    Taking it as a too-big chunk of the truth was poison.

    1. Yes.
      I get really annoyed whenever I read the words “But 1700s England wasn’t really democratic, as less that 4% of the population could vote…”
      Well, buddy, it was more democratic than anywhere else in the world at the time, except maybe Switzerland and the Colonies Thirteen.
      Temporal provincials who claim to be cosmopolitans. Ugh. At least I claim my provincialism.

  12. Further complication on prophesy: there is no way that what you say will not be misunderstood. You can flatly say “he will be known as god among us,” and people will look for a guy whose name means god among us…. 😀

  13. I can say with out a doubt that I am on the right side of history. Sure in the end it may be the losing side and we or our decedents with similar ideas all wind up being marched to SJW/Marxist/theological reeducation/death camps with us and our ideas being completely erased from known history, but I still believe… no, know it is the right side to be on.

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