In our series “Myths Under the Lens” you have already read articles on a variety of subjects ranging from numerology to the efficacy of vaccines. The same author, in this article discusses a question which has remained unanswered ever since the human being developed her thinking and analysing power. The way MK builds up his arguments (and then demolishes them too) makes it an interesting reading. Have a go!
If you believe in astrology or other occult practice, you will perhaps immediately say ‘yes’. If you ardently follow scientific temper, I am expecting a ‘no’ from you. But the answer I am proposing here is not an absolute ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It also is not an uncertain ‘may be’.
Let us start with asking ourselves, ‘What is future?’
In time scale, future is whatever happens after the present moment. In my life, whatever has passed from the day I can recall till today is the past; the present is a thin stretch of time lasting only minutes, hours or days; and the future is from now till I die. The time scale would be small or big depending on whether we are talking about a project, a human life, humanity, the earth or the universe.
Things have already existed and actions already taken in the past. The present is like a slice of time that we experience just now – and it slips into the past, minute by minute. Most of the results of the past actions lie in the future. Again, depending upon the scale we take, the result for that action will go that far in future. For example, if I just now throw a ball upwards, the ball will fall back in a few seconds (in future) but if I launch a moon mission right now, it will take some days to land on the moon.
So, we humans keep seeing future without realising it. We take it in our stride when we see it our daily life, in our career, even in our entire life-span. When we go to bed at night, we are sure there will be a day after some hours, we will feel hungry and our work-places will open after a while. Everything happens as we believe it to happen, almost everyday. We pay a fee for some service in advance, knowing for sure that the service will be delivered and we will live to enjoy that service. We plan the career of our own and our children – with a future in mind.
The list of an old man’s peeps into the future, during his long lifespan, can run into millions. Out of them, the majority of events that he foresaw would occur precisely and some with less precision; the failure rate would be rather small.
You got it, but let me still dwell on an example – how I could see future this particular day. I went to the office, sure that I would return home in the evening. The exact time of my arrival depends on hundreds of factors, many not in my hand, and thus I cannot predict it – but I know that I reach home between 6:30 and 7:30pm. My wife called me up at noon, saying that an important guest was likely to reach home at 7pm and would leave in just half hour. So, I planned to reach home before that time. I asked permission of my boss to leave early. I also took the metro instead of the usual cab, so that I would not be caught in a traffic jam.
You may laugh at this routine example, but I suppose you would agree that I was able to see the future, however ordinary or insignificant it might have been. My child aged 4, or my pet dog, could not see the future the way I could. Please also note that I could even mould what lay in the future that evening.
Let us move from mundane to a bit significant. Let us examine the cyclicity all around us. We have days and nights, cyclic moonlight patterns, seasons, years. The sun is supposed to have a peculiar cycle of 12 years in which it throws out flares. Astronomy tells us of hundreds of celestial events recurring at some known (or yet unknown) time interval. With the modern tools available, it is possible to predict the exact time when the sun would rise at a particular place a week from now or a month later, and the exact time when the Aries constellation will be visible at a particular place on a particular night.
Think of someone who was born and brought up in a forest and continues to live there without being exposed to what we call modern civilisation. You set an alarm on a clock and place the clock in a dark corner of his hut. He will marvel at your magical powers if you tell him in advance that there would be a ringing sound in his hut as soon as the sun sets. An ordinary device like an alarm clock becomes something unbelievable for that man – just because you have the knowledge and tools much beyond his comprehension. However, it is imperative to mention here that this man may have much more knowledge about several other things (or phenomena) happening in the forest about which you do not have any knowledge.
What am I driving at?
The examples given above tell us that:
- We can predict future happenings if we have the knowledge and tools to analyse our past observations and, based on them, to make correct inferences.
- The right knowledge and tools allow us not only to make forecasts or knowledge-based predictions but also to explain what looks like magic or clairvoyance to the one without these enablers.
So far so good. Isn’t it?
No. The question we posed at the beginning has a hidden intent: ‘Can we predict those things in future for which the person has no scientific knowledge or tool? Can we predict future events by defying the present knowledge?’ Plainly speaking, ‘Could Nostradamus have seen the future?’
Well, this article is not about trashing or proving occult. (We may perhaps discuss that some other time.) Let us just examine whether it seems possible to see the future.
Let’s start with what an astrologer tells about his science: This is age-old knowledge, established by someone who had divine knowledge… the celestial movements were studied by seers for ages and they came to this conclusion based on their scientific discoveries… all stars and planets are made up of the same elements as our bodies are, and so their movements impact humans… astrology is based on advanced knowledge of astronomy possessed by seers thousands of years ago and which still holds true… I have made correct predictions about hundreds of people… many events in recorded history were foretold by some people…
Now look at how a non-believer counters astrology: Distant stars cannot have any impact on humans… many scientific studies have found that astrological predictions are just as good or bad as common sense… astrologers are always vague and thus can show themselves right in a wide range of situations… astrologers make intelligent guesses based on the information they gather from clients…
Come to the influence that celestial bodies may exert on humans. Science itself has proven that movement of celestial bodies do have an impact on human health and moods – and consequently, actions. The rotation of the earth causes the diurnal system, which in turn causes cyclical patterns of light, weather, temperature, magnetism and perhaps many unknown substances and energies. The two other major celestial occurrences about which science has no doubt – the revolution of the earth around the sun and that of moon around the earth – also cause cyclical, predictable effects on living and non-living things on the earth. Now it is also known that the sun affects the earth in many unseen ways through its ‘solar flares’, etc. Moon’s movement is known to cause sea tides. It is known to affect our moods, possibly also sleep patterns. We keep seeing new evidences of associations of moon with human biology that were earlier thought of as unscientific.
On the face of it, there does not seem to be an association between a constellation appearing on the sky in a particular way and a person’s health. But suppose, I were to analyse, using a super-super-computer, the effect of such stellar occurrence on all human beings and draw correlations. Probability is that there would be no significant correlation; but, that is an assumption that might fail. At least in the case of some nearby celestial bodies, I might find some uncanny associations with human health, emotional well-being, thoughts etc. If that happens, I would have better knowledge and tools to see the future.
Let us include the sixth sense or clairvoyance into our discussion. While astrology depends on astronomical observations and use of some formulas to arrive at conclusions, future-telling using the sixth sense is random. It does not calculate the future, it just sees the future. So, for the sixth sense to be a reality, it should be possible for humans to somehow visualise or sense future events without a known basis/ logic.
If you have the sixth sense, or human ability to see things in the future, you do not have any props that an astrologer has. In the eyes of a rationalist or one with ‘scientific temper’, you are presumed guilty till you prove your innocence.
I would like to walk with the rationalist. Let me say that all predictive practices that are not based on science (science would include statistics etc that can be used for making projections, etc) do not have a solid ground. They do not stand the scrutiny that modern science demands. So, we can predict the future only to the extent the right knowledge and tools of prediction allow us do.
That was a grand statement, full of logic. But if I use the statement to infer that anything that cannot conform to today’s science is bunkum, I might not only be irrational but also arrogant. The idea of seeing the future, on the other hand, presents to humanity the possibilities of unseen proportions.
Because science, as it stands today, has not even scratched the surface of the ultimate reality.
Science might have progressed rather well in certain areas but it has ignored the study of human faculties beyond biology, perhaps because anything that did not conform to physical or chemical biology looked illogical, unscientific to mainstream science. Can it not be true that keen observers, over a long period – even generations, could find some correlations between some stellar happenings and human behaviour/ actions? Perhaps it was easy for them to make certain correlations because human activities were limited and had very few outside factors disturbing them. Perhaps, over time, observations stopped and the ‘science’ behind earlier known correlations stopped to exist. Then it got further corrupted as smart people made an art out of the knowledge to serve predictions to a believing clientele.
Let’s now come to sensory perceptions that forewarn of future events, which could be a primordial form of sixth sense. Some animals are known to have that better than us. For example, you and I will perhaps not know of an impending earthquake but some creepy creatures are supposed to come out of their holes before an earthquake. Similarly, before rains, ants are seen moving their colonies (with headloads of eggs) to higher levels so that they don’t get flooded. These constitute a form of prescience, isn’t it?
Scientists have been very backward in studying the properties of the human body beyond its biological self. Till two hundred years back, there was no psychology and no concept of psycho-somatic diseases. We don’t even know how some weird hand movements (e.g. mudras) can cure diseases. We can’t decipher the sounds of animals. We are yet to know how plants communicate. The extent of ignorance about our own self and our surroundings is pathetic. Perhaps the sixth sense lies unexplored because we still do not have the knowledge and tools for exploring it.
Can we settle for now that it is possible to see the future, with varying degrees of certainty? Seeing would include predictions based on knowledge and tools available to us now and those we would discover in future (pun not intended). Perhaps this question will become irrelevant when the human brain evolves to a hundred thousand times of what it is today or some super-super-computer helps us see the future, like the proverbial oracle. Perhaps.
*About the author: This article has been contributed by Manoj Pandey. He does not like to call himself a rationalist but insists on scrutiny of apparent myths as well as what are supposed to be immutable scientific facts. Please don’t take the views of the author as the views of Raag Delhi.