Ten Mistakes—2. The Prophets Among Us
Perhaps the most universal of all hoaxes and scams is, "prophesy," the claim that one is able to foresee or predict the future. From palm readers to pseudo-scientists predicting "global warming," none of these frauds could be put over if one simple inviolable fact of reality were kept in mind, no one can predict the future—EVER!
This must no be confused with, "contingent predictions," which are based on the nature of principles, and are not really predictions but statements of "how things work." No one can predict what will happen in the stock market tomorrow, but anyone can predict, if XYZ company announces it had no prophets for the last year, the price of their stock will be going down, or if one never changes their oil, their car is going to cease running.
Are There Valid Predictions?
In one sense, every choice we make is a kind of prediction—a prediction that what we do will have the result we expect and that all the things that outcome depends on will be what we expect them to be. If the things our prediction depends on are physical principles, such as those that correctly describe the nature of things, (like the chemical nature of the elements), the prediction that a specific chemical reaction will occur under the specified conditions, for example, are valid. If the things our prediction depend on are current facts contingent on anything unknown, the prediction at best, is only a statistical possibility. That is the reason things like the weather can never be predicted with certainty, and things like future climates cannot be predicted at all. [See the article, "Disorder, Chaos, and Existence."]
Living Behavior Can Never Be Predicted
While some physical events can be predicted (the length of a day, a solar eclipse, the tides, etc.) because they are determined by physical principles, all events which depend on the non-physical, that is, those depending on the behavior of living organisms, conscious organisms, and human beings can never be predicted, because living behavior is not determined by physical principles alone. [See the articles, "Physicalist Superstition," and, "Unpredictability and Environmentalism"]
The behavior of living organisms cannot be predicted, no matter how well the physical aspects of an organism are identified and understood. From the simplest prokaryotes (single-celled organisms) to the most complex eukaryotes (multiple-celled organisms) what any single organism will exactly do at any moment cannot be predicted. Within the scope of physical possibility and the nature of an organism, it's specific behavior is determined by its own nature as a living organism.
The biologist can study the behavior of organisms to discover what they do, from the botanist's description of how plants reproduce, propagate, and grow, to the zoologist's description of the behavior of animals, but those descriptions can only be based on observing those organisms behavior and can never describes what any specific organism will do at any moment, or even over time. No one can predict in which direction a bird will fly, or what exact path a cat will take in search of prey, or even which why a charging herd of antelope will turn. The behavior of living organisms cannot be predicted because their behavior is not determined by physical laws, but by the life that differentiates them from the mere physical.
Human Behavior Always Unpredictable
In addition to the fact that human behavior is unpredictable, because they are living organisms and the behavior of all living organisms is unpredictable, human behavior is unpredictable because they are volitional beings, which means, everything they do must be consciously chosen. [See "The Nature Of The Mind," and "The Moral Nature."]
To keep this as brief as possible (and because this subject could easily require a treatise) I can only make some undeniable observations of the unpredictability of human behavior.
Invention—There is no way to predict human creativity. Human history is largely the history of human invention, from the printing press to modern machines that literally changed the world but never could have been predicted.
Discovery—In the same way that invention has changed the world in unpredictable ways, so has human discovery of everything, from the nature of the solar system to the nature of disease. None of those discoveries and how they would change all the future could have been predicted.
Wars and Revolutions—Every war and every violent revolution in history, was at the time, a, "surprise," because they were determined entirely by human choices, which in retrospect, can be explained, but could never have been predicted.
Cultural Changes—From diets to fashions what will be popular or in demand and what will be loathed and rejected, even next week much less in a year's time can never be predicted. Whatever is in style or popular today will surely be considered, "old fashion," in a few years from architecture to art, and cannot be predicted.
Intellectual Changes—Popular beliefs, philosophies, ideologies, and religions that dominate the academic and intellectual world with, "certainty," today will all be overthrown in the future, and what will replace them cannot even be imagined except by the best of fiction writers. They certainly cannot be predicted.
All The Future Is Unpredictable
The universe is a place of infinite complexity which can never be known in its entirety. Everything is related and everything is to some extent contingent on everything else in the universe. Reality is just too big to be predictable. It is that fact that makes life an adventure of learning and discovery, because there is always more to learn, experience, and know.
There will always be those who claim to know the future, to know that tomorrow will be like today or that some great and terrible disaster is certain, almost always as an excuse for demanding (or forcing) others to do something they would never otherwise choose to do. It is the chief instrument of government policy makers and con men, and is extremely effective.
What to remember:
No One Can Predict The Future!