Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Yestradamus or Nostradamus?

The recent tear-ups in Libya and other countries, where the populous is sick and tired of the existing regime and is now up and shouting and demanding something different, has left politicians around the world standing round, puzzled as to how to approach this difficult situation and often trying to pretend they were never friends with <insert name of dictator/head of regime>, that they never hung out together and they always thought that he was Bad Hat.

Now while we all watch the developments in these countries with our fingers crossed, hoping that outcomes are as good as possible, my mind was drawn to that jolly old soul Nostradamus and his works. 

I recall one day at school, when I was but a young’un, someone mentioned this fellow’s name and, in hushed tones, explained how he had predicted all sorts of things like the two World Wars and comets and stuff and how he had predicted the end of the world.  Being of an age when all things supernatural hold a certain allure, all the listeners (myself included) were duly impressed by this stuff and the standing within the group of the teller of these mystical tales duly grew.  However, sheer laziness on my behalf precluded any further research, along with the feeling that vampires and stuff were way cooler anyway with their teeth, handsomeness and general dark fabulosity that makes them mad, bad and dangerous to know (catnip for teenage girls).  Some things change with time, but the phenomenon of teens loving vampires is eternal. Oh, and just to make something clear: Lestat could kick Edward’s arse any day.  Edward would be a smear of grease on the floor. In your face, sparkleboy.

The memory of Mr Nostradamus has obviously been lurking around in my brain since then, as today for some reason he popped back into my head, albeit wonkily as a conversation I had illustrates:

“Who’s that predicting fellow?  You know, the one from the past who predicted all those things?”

“Umm, I know the one you mean.  Not sure though.”

“It’s definitely not Nosferatu.  It’s a Nos- something.  I’ll check Google.  Bingo!”

Anyway, the reason why his name fell into my head was that when things are going a bit bonkers in the world, people quite like to look for a doom-laden reason.  A quick Google search of the man’s name and 2011 gave me a satisfyingly long list of individuals predicting various huge events - I couldn’t be bothered to actually go into any of the sites as the info under the entry in the Google listings seemed sufficient to give me a flavour of people’s opinions and I doubted if it was worth getting in an actual stew about when the world is allegedly going to end.  Should we be worrying about this sort of thing? 

Yestradamus or Nostradamus?

Consider this, if you will:

Apparently people have identified in his works a whole list of major world events but, crucially it would appear that the identification has taken place after these events have happened, something which could be described as postdiction - an effect of hindsight bias that explains claimed predictions of significant events.

And this, pinched from the Wikipedia article on the man himself:

“The latest research suggests that he may in fact have used bibliomancy for this—randomly selecting a book of history or prophecy and taking his cue from whatever page it happened to fall open at.”

Interesting. I think I’ll avoid getting worried by any of these predictions, despite the fact I do occasionally get freaked out by tales that predict the grim future of the world. 

The film ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, with its dropping temperature and general feeling that humans can do nothing about the massive kicking about to be bestowed by Nature, left me feeling pretty drab.  Fallout 3, a computer game set in a futuristic post-apocalyptic wasteland, made me think that the future looks pretty mucky and horrible.  These are just stories and game, designed to freak out and entertain in equal measures. 

If one was to think really closely about the actual real things out there that are actually, really happening (pollution, droughts, the butterflies and bees disappearing, climate change, overfishing until the seas are emptied, oil spills, poverty, uprisings, wars – on could go on and on) one quickly realises that there is plenty of evidence-based stuff to properly freak out about. 

So, on balance, I think I’ll spend my time worrying about that stuff rather than about the advent of a certain comet and what that may mean. 

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