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The future of the future teller

Background: Rednova recently publised an article, ‘Can This Black Box See Into the Future’ about a new machine developed by the scientists at Princeton that can predict future events. It relies on two main things : random number generation and the power of the collective human conciousness to ‘influence’ that random number generation. This is not your usual conspiracy theory kind of stuff, about 75 respected scientists from 41 different nations have thrown their weight behind this idea.I dont want to go into more details on what is already given in the article, but heres my two cents to the noise that the article has already generated:

(1)My own future:
One of the main criticisms about the Global Conciousness Project and the use of the Black box to predict a world event is that there are so many events happening in the world at any given time – so it must be easy to relate a set of data points to some event. Now this is a very valid argument. Moreover, the definition of a ‘world event’ or an ‘event’, for that matter, is very subjective. What maybe eventful to me may not be eventful to someone living in Africa. I may not even come to know about a major political turmoil that happened, say in South America. So who is to decide what is an event? However, if the researchers at Princeton want to argue that the human subconcious can predict the future of the world, they should also be able to reproduce it at an individual level. Along the same lines of logic they have used, can I train my subconcious to predict my own future? In this case, there is no ambiguity in the definition of an event. I ‘influence’ the egg. I decide what an event is. And if the egg can read my thoughts (about the future) and show it to me now, the egg works! Feels kinda sad that I need an egg to read my own mind! Hmm.. we have a new strain of shrinks? I am not a sceptic, but just couldn’t resist the dig.

(2) One global conciousness is not a new concept:
The central theme of the global conciousness is not a new concept. This was exactly what was propounded centuries ago in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a very revered book that many Hindus, including me, still hold on to. The Gita is quite clear on what it wants to say (my simplified interpretation): At the beginning of the world, all beings are created from one central source. At the end of it, they go back to that one source. If you die and you had understood the true meaning during your lifetime, you attain nirvana and become one with the one global conciousness. If you dont, you are reborn again and again, till you eventually ‘get it, duh’. But the point is, you share one conciousness with everyone else around you. You are just one small figment of the great collectivity ( as I write this I, am beginning to wonder if the Gita had anything to do with the rise of communism).

(3) Data can lie, often very convincingly:
I am not a sceptic to this theory. As much as I am a logical person, I intuitively believe that it is possible to predict the future. I have had a few, very clear ( god forbid, I never want to experience them ever again) deja vu’s. Several astrologers (like a good Indian, I have visited a fair share of astrologers, admittedly more because of intellectual curiosity about the paranormal) have predicted events in my life with amazing accuracy. And more importantly, they have generally been accurate in predicting my state of mind, which has never failed to surprise me. And from a physics perspective, if time is the fourth dimension, shouldn’t you be able to travel back and forth like we can in the other three dimensions. It seems more difficult to believe that the fourth dimension is different from the other three, than to believe that it is similar. So, I dont have problems believing the results per se. But I am a sceptic when it comes to the methodology. A random number generator with 1s and 0s over years – that is a lot of data points over a very small range. It seems to me like data that is difficult to read – and data that can be easily manipulated. Mind you, I am not accusing anyone of anything. I have full faith in the integrity of all involved. But I used to work as an analyst and one of the first things that I learned was that you can always make the data say what you want it to. If you dont believe me, read the book ‘How to Lie with Statistics’ by Darrell Huff. And sometimes it is not a matter of intentional effort. When you want to see a particular result, it is possible that your mind subconciously picks on that trend and only that trend. This is nobody’s fault – it is just an extension of the saying ‘The eyes can only see what the mind wants it to’. I would be hard-pressed to believe that the people who want to make us believe about the powers of human subconcious to predict the future cannot believe that the same subconcious is powerful enough to cloud an individual’s and possibly several individuals’ judgement. And another issue is just how random is this random number generator? Isnt it mathematically impossible to achieve perfect randomness, in which case doesnt this methodology rely on pseudo random numbers? So, this is one set of data I would be very careful in analysing and interpreting and drawing conslusions from.

(4) The future of the future teller:
I think the future of the future teller depends on how open the human race can be to new ideas. To a person who lived thousands of years ago, travelling to the moon must have sounded as impossible, if not more improbable, than predicting the future. But we humans have achieved that land mark. So, why are our scientists still afraid of being ridiculed? ‘To make matters even more intriguing, Prof Bierman says that other mainstream labs have now produced similar results but are yet to go public. ‘They don’t want to be ridiculed so they won’t release their findings,’ he says.’ Now that I think is sad. I like to believe that we have moved past the age of Coppernicus. Or havent we? Human beings are sceptics by nature. But lets forget that for the moment. May be the ideas are wrong. But lets not brand it that, till we have proven so. So, lets be optimistic. Open minded. Ready to listen. And slow to ridicule. And who knows, we may just be able to read the future enough to know whether we will be able to read the future in the future.

Posted in Musings, Science on February 16, 2005

13 Responses

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  1. Srijith says

    You asked “how random is this random number generator? Isnt it mathematically impossible to achieve perfect randomness”

    Maybe the eggs “work” precisely because the RNG are not purely random. Pure randomness would meant that *nothing* can influence the outcome.

  2. Surya says

    Hmm..hard to believe..does that mean that the less random the RNG is, then the more it can be influenced by external sources and thus possibly more accurate?

  3. Prav G says

    WOW! Thats an amazing piece of info & whats “RNG” ? r u guys talking about the “REG”?

    I got reminded of the movie “Pi”


  4. Surya says

    RNG is short for random number generator.

    Havent got a chance to watch Pi yet, but have heard its pretty cool.

  5. Prav G says

    oh ok, I thought u were talking about REG – Random Event Generator

    anyways PI is about a guy, a super mathematician(not as good as me) has a theory, that everything is based on numbers, everything has a pattern (which I believe too) he tries to prove that even stock exchange has a pattern…u gotta watch it with patience though

  6. divya says

    Very interesting. I have had a few experiences too. The fact remains, if you think something is possible then it is probably real. When you have a Yes and a No, nature presents the whole spectrum inbetween.

    I dont know about the central source and I am kinda agnostic about that. I dont believe in a central repository (an idea pre 00’s).

    It is, in general, hard to believe something that is contrary to the happenings of the current world. If you tell me we can have civilization on Alpha Centuri, I will laugh at you, and that we will have a war with those people I will slap you. Its a belief that it cant happen, not in a million years -which is why such events get featured in “Science Fiction”.

  7. Anonymous says

    Making a mathematical model of the world and running simulations under different conditions to obtain “predict the future” evolved models is a reality. The futures thus predicted will also have an associated probability of realisation. However, generating of a good model is the key step in this.

  8. billy finch says

    what will i be when i grow up

  9. Surya says

    Que Sera Sera…

  10. sajan Kavinda says


  11. miaris says

    I do agree completely with your article

  12. Surya says

    Miaris, thanks!

  13. bob says

    if you had to design something that could acheive perfect randomness, what would it be?

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