Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Ambiguous predictions

I consider myself uncannily good at making predictions. At work, I always like to guess in my head what drink a customer is going to order and have something like a twenty percent success rate on first drinks and maybe 90% on second drinks (most people drink the same thing all night). Regular readers will have already observed that most of my predictions for 2014 have come true: just pumpkins, moustaches and Xmas to go.

A family story tells that when I was a little boy, my mother bought some heather or a rabbit's foot or something from an old gypsy lady. The gypsy pointed at the ginger-locked toddler accompanying my mother and said: "That child will never have a grey hair!" My mother, who wanted me to grow up to look like 80s newscaster Nicholas Witchell, was delighted by this. But when I was old enough to understand the prediction, I saw it for what it was: a curse. However you read the gypsy's prediction, I would die before a grey hair appeared on my scalp. At what age do people start to go grey? I wondered. Forty? Thirty? How long did I have?    

For a really long distance prediction, you need to instill a degree of ambiguity. There are two main ways of doing this. Ambiguity of date and ambiguity of encryption.

Ambiguity of date works as follows: I might make a prediction for Scottish Independence, say, but as long as I don't specify a date for the referendum/revolution/destruction-of-England-in-nuclear-war my prediction will never be wrong, just in a kind of "hasn't happened yet" limbo until it happens. Successful religions employ this kind of ambiguity with their Second Comings and Judgement Days. Never be pinned down to a date. You just look like an idiot when nothing remotely apocalyptic happens on the 15th March 2015.

Ambiguity of encryption is the type of prediction practiced by Nostradamus and his ilk. The cryptic signifies that we have entered the realm of prophecy. With sufficiently cryptic prose you can claim to have predicted any momentous event after it has happened:

When winter winds wind widdershins,
Then thorns that threaten thrice
Shall sink Scotland's shallow shining sun.

(Worryingly, when I googled Nostradamus for the above link to his Wikipedia page, the third link was to an article by online stocktrader rag Business Insider hailing Michele de Nostredame as a savant genius.)

My first grey hair came and went years ago. So our gypsy's oral prediction of my early demise has not come true. But a third ambiguity may come to her rescue. An ambiguity of sound perhaps in the form of a homophone. I have never possessed a grey hare.  

1 comment: