Ariana Grande And The Limits Of Prediction

Ariana Grande And The Limits Of Prediction May 23, 2017
matthew currie patheos ariana grande
source: Just Entertainment via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Many of you who come here to the Spirituality Channel on Patheos are likely familiar with the concept of “getting a reading,” whether from a Tarot reader, clairvoyant, astrologer, or whatever. A Facebook Friend of mine (not an “actual” friend in any usual pre-social media sense) recently asked (upon reading my astrological analysis of the recent explosion at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England) why it is that (if astrology is “for real”) no one ever seems to predict horrible things like this in advance.

(An aside: The Facebook Friend pretty much disagrees with me about anything the least bit related to spirituality or politics, and we frequently get in each other’s faces when one of us sets off the other guy’s Bullshit Detector. I don’t know why he keeps me around, but in my case, I keep him around because I suspect that no matter how much we may disagree, his heart is still in the right place. I think we should all have someone like that in our lives because, if nothing else, the moment you start thinking you’re right about everything is probably the moment you start down the path of being terribly wrong about something.)

The answer to my friend’s question is (like so many things in life) both simple and complicated. First, the long-winded but simple answer:

There is a guiding principle in diagnostic medicine: “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” In other words, don’t automatically reach for the most exciting or exotic or terrifying conclusion — go with what’s most likely. That’s perfectly logical. Try it yourself: go to the WebMD Symptom Checker and tell it you have a mild fever, fatigue that gets better with rest, and mild anxiety (which I’m sure many people checking their symptoms online are experiencing anyway). Common sense dictates that it’s probably the flu, and you’re just worrying too much. But according to the results one gets online it could be an abdominal aortic aneurysm, dementia caused by head injury, Chagas Disease, or bubonic plague. Obviously, odds are very good it’s just the flu, so take the day off, get some rest, and quit worrying about it.

However: sometimes, there are zebras. Looking at Ariana’s transits for that terrible evening, any decent astrologer could have said that there would be tension and emotional issues that specific evening, and that the evening in question happened within a larger period of time that could make for more serious problems. But, psychological scarring caused by a terrorist attack? Yeah, that’s zebras, right there.

Having said that: I’ve also written about the death of Prince and the odds that an astrologer could have provided a useful warning, and the answer is a much more definite “yes” than it is in the case of the Manchester attack.

Now, the more complicated (though easier to explain) reason as to why huge sudden disasters are hard to predict? As with any other living system, your life operates as a result of a limited set of simple rules that can multiply to form a spectacularly complex fractal pattern of possible outcomes. The British Government (like many governments around the world) have invested a huge fortune and the work of thousands into successfully predicting and/or preventing terrorist attacks… a cause of death that, statistically, is far more unlikely than dying from a lightning strike, food poisoning, or a decent heat wave… and obviously they weren’t able to stop the Manchester bombing.

So, when it comes to doing readings that help provide guidance and practical solutions to real issues? I can stand by my record. As for the complex nature of life that makes specific huge triumphs and gigantic disasters much harder to predict in some fields of endeavor (looking at you, Economics, Psychiatry, and Sports Betting)? As I sometimes say to my clients about life in the Universe: please direct your complaints to The Manufacturer.

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