FUTURE PROPHECY LAB
Principles: Vision, Oracle, Return
Author: Anna Longo
Post I – Introduction
What is a prophecy? What is the difference between a prophecy and a scientific prediction? What kind of knowledge of future is a prophetic vision? Is the art of prophecy lost today? Who are the modern prophets? Can we prophesize the return of the prophetic as a way of calling for a new way of thinking the future?
This lab is a journey back and forth in time to explore the ancient and modern art of prophesying. It tells the story of how prophecies have been travelling in time through the multiple events of their supposed fulfillment. It presents past and present prophets to prophesize about future prophetic figures and their role in society. It proposes a transdisciplinary journey showing how this overlooked art has been fundamental in shaping many cultural fields such as philosophy, literature, and even economics or science. It will help you to tell real and fake prophets apart and it will invite you to become the prophet that the future needs. This lab is my oracle, a dissemination of dots to be connected to reveal your mission in bringing about the future.
Image: "The Oracle of Delphi Entranced" by the German artist Heinrich Leutemann (1824-1905).
POST_002: THE PROPHETS I
In Century 9, Quatrain 95, Nostradamus is said to have predicted the rise of super-soldiers and the armies of tomorrow:
"The newly made one will lead the army, almost cut off up to near the bank: Help from the Milanais elite straining, the Duke deprived of his eyes in Milan in an iron cage.”
Nostradamus (1503 – 1566) is a French mystic who wrote a book of catastrophic prophecies some of which are supposed to have been fulfilled already while many others might be fulfilled in the future.
The poetic and ambiguous verses are open to the reader’s interpretation and can easily apply retrospectively to most of the disasters one can witness in her life. The power of prophecies is not in their truth, but in the capacity of making us experiencing any present as the revelation of destiny. Now is the future that was meant to be, the spectacle that has been prepared for so long.
POST_003: THE PROPHETS II
In Century 8, Quatrain 59, Nostradamus made references to a conflict between the West and the East that might be the Third World War
"Twice put up and twice cast down, the East will also weaken the West. Its adversary after several battles chased by sea will fail at time of need."
Contrary to scientific predictions, prophecies are produced according to special techniques that are meant to find in the present the seeds that grow as vague visions of the future in the medium’s mind.
Nostradamus probably practiced bibliomancy, the art of finding in old books the passages that can orient into the future. Contrary to scientific predictions that are rapidly obsolete, prophecies and books do not lose their value as time passes by.
During the trial reported in Plato’s Apology, Socrates refers to an oracle allegedly received by his friend Chaerephon at Delphi many years earlier.
“Well, one day he actually went to Delphi and asked this question of the god, what he asked was whether there was anyone wiser than myself. The Pythian priestess replied that there was no one. “
Puzzled and doubtful, Socrates started questioning the wisest men to find out what wisdom actually is. This was the beginning of Socrates’ philosophical enquiry. The prophecy was then fulfilled and Socrates became an influential philosopher by distrusting his own knowledge. The fulfillment of the prophecy consists in Socrates’ search for wisdom as an effect of his skepticism about the oracle’s claim.
This is how prophecies works: they do not tell the truth but what one needs to hear to engage with her destiny. It comes with no surprise that the motto at the entrance of temple in Delphi said “know thyself”. This is the prophecy that Socrates fulfilled for himself and for the people he questioned by making them realize that they were not so wise after all. As future philosophers, what the oracle would tell us?
Image: A memento mori mosaic from excavations in the convent of San Gregorio in Rome, featuring the Greek motto.
POST_005: ECONOMICS AND FINANCE
“Cartwright Millingville had never heard of the Thomas theorem. But he had no difficulty in recognizing its workings. He knew that, despite the comparative liquidity of the bank's assets, a rumor of insolvency, once believed by enough depositors, would result in the insolvency of the bank.”
In his paper “Self-fulfilling prophecy” (1948), Robert Merton introduces W.I. Thomas’s theorem: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”. The economist shows how it applies to the bank failures on what is remembered as Black Wednesday (1932). By telling the story of Millingville, the director of the National Bank at that time, Merton explains how rumors about negative future events can bring them about for real.
In contemporary financial markets there are many examples of self-fulfilling prophecies such as speculative bubbles and their sudden explosions. When investors are persuaded that prices will go up, they behave in such a way that the prediction turns out to be true. This holds until opposite rumors start spreading by provoking instantaneous falls. However, despite their name, such phenomena share nothing with prophetic oracles and they can be easily explained as the effect of imitation among gambling strategies.
POST_006: ANCIENT PROPHECIES (AZTECS I)
When the Aztec king Moctezuma II was crowned, the astrologer Nezhaulcoyotl gave detailed warnings of a new astrological age. One of the omens was a famine which actually developed in 1507. Then an earthquake occurred after the "Lighting of the New Age" ceremony inaugurated by Moctezuma II. Finally, in 1518 a comet was observed with three heads and sparks shooting from its tail, and seen flying eastward (today it is said to be the Halley’s Comet). This phenomenon appeared for 40 nights. A short time later, Cortes invaded Mexico and destroyed the Aztec civilization.
Did Nezhaulcoyotl really prophesize the end of Moctezuma’s empire? Were the omens real warnings of the impending catastrophe? If the Aztecs probably justified their destiny as the will of the gods, Spanish Christian conquerors turned the prophecy to their own advantage (more to come…)
Image: Aztec Sun Stone, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City.
POST_007: ANCIENT PROPHECIES (AZTECS II)
The Aztecs called their era the time of the 5th Sun—there had been four previous versions of the earth each ruled by different gods. Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, ruled over this era and he was supposed to come back at the end of it. According to the Aztec calendar, Moctezuma II’s kingdom was the last before the return of Quetzalcoalt and omens have been announcing the upcoming end the world. While considering Aztecs as superstitious, Spanish conquerors saw in the myth the reason for the defeat of pagans. Their version of the story is that Moctezuma mistook Cortez for the returning God so the Aztecs welcomed the enemies and provoked their own ruin. The prophecy was then fulfilled not because it was true but since false beliefs lead to perdition.
However, does the conquerors’ rational interpretation of the fulfillment of the prophecy actually prove the myth to be false? Weren’t the Christian believing in the prophecy of the triumph of their own truth?
Image: Representation of Quetzalcoatl (Codex Borbonicus, p.22)
POST_008: OMEN (HALLEY'S COMET, I)
“I came in with Halley's comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together”
This is a quote from Mark Twain’s autobiography. The writer was born on 30 November 1835, two weeks after Halley’s comet perihelion, surprisingly he died on 21 April 1910, the day following the comet's subsequent perihelion.
The periodic passage of the Halley’s comet has been seen as a prophetic sign since the beginning of the history of humanity… (more in the next post)
Illustration of the end of the world that was expected in May 1910 at the passage of the Halley’s comet
POST_009: OMEN (HALLEY'S COMET, II)
The Halley’s Comet is visible from Earth any 75-79 years and, since the first historical records, it has been considered the sign announcing peculiar events. For instance, the apparition of 87 BC was recorded in Babylonian tablets which state that the comet was seen "day beyond day" for a month. This appearance may be recalled in the representation of Tigranes the Great, an Armenian king who heralded the New Era of the brilliant King of Kings. As everybody knows, the comet has been seen as the sign of the birth of Jesus (are the Christians less superstitious than the Aztecs?). In 1066 it was observed in England and considered to announce the death of king Harold II at the Battle of Hastings after which William the Conqueror claimed the throne. In 1456, the year of Halley's next apparition, the Ottoman Empire invaded the Kingdom of Hungary, culminating in the siege of Belgrade in July of that year. In 1910, the passage of the comet busted the Xinhai Revolution in China that would end the last dynasty in 1911: people believed that it indicates calamity such as war, fire, pestilence, and a change of dynasty.
The Halley’s Comet will be back on 28 July 2061: what’s your prophecy?
POST_010: CASSANDRA, OR NOBODY IS A PROPHET IN THEIR OWN LAND
Have I missed the mark, or, like true archer, do I strike my quarry? Or am I prophet of lies, a babbler from door to door?" (Cassandra. Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1194).
Cassandra was a Trojan priestess of Apollo in Greek mythology cursed to utter true prophecies, but never to be believed. She foresaw the destruction of Troy. She warned the Trojans about the Greeks hiding inside the Trojan Horse, Agamemnon's death, her own demise at the hands of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, her mother Hecuba's fate, Odysseus's ten-year wanderings before returning to his home, and the murder of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra by the latter's children Electra and Orestes. Cassandra predicted that her cousin Aeneas would escape during the fall of Troy and found a new nation in Rome. However, her warnings were all disregarded and she was considered as a poor mad woman.
Real prophecies are usually overlooked when they are announced since the scenarios seems not only unlikely but they contradict general expectations. A tip: to tell prophets and predicators apart, consider their present influence. While prophets announce the unbelievable and they do not provide any reason for people to believe, predicators strive to persuade the largest number of people. While foresight is a curse, persuasion is a rewarding technique.
Image: Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan, 1898.
POST_011: SCIENCE FICTION: PROPHECY OR PREDICTION?
Consider the following amazing predictions by Jules Verne in From Earth to the Moon which came to pass:
The United States would launch the first manned vehicle to go to the moon.
The shape and size of the vehicle would closely resemble the Apollo command/service module spacecraft.
The number of men in the crew would be three.
A competition for the launch site would ensue between Florida and Texas which actually was resolved in Congress in the 1960s with KSC as the Flordia launch site and Houston, Texas as the Mission Control Center.
A telescope would be able to view the progress of the journey. When Apollo 13 exploded, a telescope at Johnson Space Center witnessed the event which happened more than 200,000 miles from Earth.
The Verne spacecraft would use retro-rockets which became a technology assisting Neil Armstrong and his crewmates in their journey to the Moon.
Verne predicted weightlessness although his concept was slightly flawed in thinking it only was experienced at the gravitational midpoint of the journey (when the Moon and Earth gravity balanced).
The first men to journey to the Moon would return to Earth and splash down in the Pacific Ocean just where Apollo 11 splashed down in July of 1969.
Was Verne a prophet? or was he just very good in predicting the development of technology?
Image: From Earth to the Moon, illustrated edition 1886. Link: https://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/chapter23.htm
POST_012: THE ORACLE IN THE MATRIX
Neo: Do you already know if I'm going to take it?
Oracle: Wouldn't be much of an oracle if I didn't.
Neo: But if you already know, how could I make a choice?
Oracle: Because you didn't come here to make the choice. You've already made it. You're here to try to understand why you made it.”
As it is evident from the inscription over the Oracle’s door, “Know Thyself,” the Wachowskis adapted their Oracle from the mythical Oracle at Delphi, who, according to legend, once declared Socrates the wisest man in the land. Like Socrates, Neo is aware of his own ignorance. However, since the Architect revealed the Oracle to be "a program designed to investigate the human psyche", her power of foresight, is probably not a foresight based on knowledge of a pre-determined future, but rather a calculation. How it becomes clear in the films, the Oracle’s power cannot be used to predict Neo’s behavior, who possesses free will. If machines are very good at making predictions, they shouldn’t be confused with prophets!