Divination & Coincidences

April 8, 2007

nostradamus_prophecies.jpgAll right guys, I’m stepping this up a notch so hold on. I’d love to spend an entire journal talking about what I’ve found on this subject but I’ve got bigger fish to fry so divination gets one article for now.

What is divination? Divination is being able to know something that you wouldn’t normally know. Specifically, it is the ability to predict events or occurrences usually in the future, or deep in the past, or in the present outside of your normal five senses. You can tell if a prophecy is accurate by if it reflects reality. If it’s a billion years in the future, or if it’s so vague it could be anything then it lacks falsifiability. And if it concisely describes events then we can say it has parsimony.

This is about the time I realized something Fishy was going on… that sounds a lot like science.

I was talking with my sister in law Katie about probability and coincidences and I used this analogy. “Let’s say that you went to school in a white shirt and blue jeans and you found out that everyone else at your school was also wearing white shirts and blue jeans. Well if that happened one day you would think it’s an odd coincidence, nothing more. If you came in the next day in a red shirt and khakis and everyone else was wearing the same thing, that would be a whole lot wierder. Then let’s say that everyone agreed not to tell each other what to wear and tried to be as original as possible but all wore the same thing for 50 days, no matter what. That’s stretching probability. Any single event can be dismissed with a rationalization. But if you have 50 concurrent events and 50 separate rationalizations probability says there’s probably an underlying cause.” Ever heard the phrase “There must be a scientific explanation for this!” Well sure, there probably is, but people have been making a mountain of ‘scientific explanations’ (or rationalizations) for as long as things that don’t match our view of the world have been around.

In the scientific field we come up with a theory to model the data present. The theory should match all existing data as well as make additional predictions about observable events to confirm the theory. The power of a scientific theory is its ability to explain the present data as well as predict future data. That’s what we do in science. How is that different from prophecy, or divination? Well, it’s the way you get there. Nostradamus states in the opening paragraph of his book that he observed astronomical revolutions. Exactly how stars relate to events in France I would love to know, but we can measure the results and predicting power regardless. I can feel some people rolling their eyes but I’d encourage you not to discredit anything without empirical evidence. So I’m going to look at various examples of Divination and evaluate them on predicting power, falsifiability, and specificity.

Since I started with him and because he’s so well-known, Nostradamus is my first example. First off, (before all this eye-rolling halts the rotation of the planet) I would like to ask how many people have actually read the works of Nostradamus? No one? Ok, me neither. I’m composing a book list actually. I did a search for “statistical study Nostradamus” and didn’t come up with anything useful. I have to fall back on personal experience. Here’s one data point you can consider, unedited and first hand. I was on a message board in 1998 when we were discussing a prophecy that the author felt pointed at New York. I believe this is the original passage:

At forty-five degrees latitude, the sky will burn,
Fire approaches the great new city.
Immediately a huge, scattered flame leaps up,
When they want verification from the Normans [the French].

–(Quatrain 97, Century 6, The Prophecies of M. Michael de Nostradamus .)

Most people were convinced that this was a prophecy of an attack on New York. It was “obvious” this was a nuclear attack. They even did the math for what kind of yield you would need to take out New York and did plenty of research on the nuclear missiles that are missing from Soviet stockpiles (true). I remember one person saying “We need to warn the government about this, they should know!” I pointed out that even if they were right no one would listen. What’s the date on this? There is none. Where did it come from? Apparently the French attacked us, now that seems out of character, normally they just whimp out and surrender. The only useful information you could pull out of this prophecy is ‘don’t live in New York’. That’s personal advice, you can’t run a government on it. This is a good example of an attribute I see common to prophesy, it’s not really useful to stop an event because you can’t see it til it has passed. Sorry, I wish it was another way, but in a general sense I knew that New York was going to be attacked and there wasn’t anything I could realistically do. So how about a more specific prophecy?

Bible Code
The Bible Code is a software program that extracts words and phrases encoded in the original Hebrew Torah by skipping a set number of characters between each letter of the message. The implications of this one honestly bothers me and I’m going to do more research on it including getting a copy of the software or writing my own. Most of my info is from interviews on the History Channel. The author, Michael Drosnin, accurately predicted that Israeli Prime Minister Rabin would be assassinated 9 months before it happened. In fact, the Minister of Defense was notified about it but it still wasn’t stopped.

Comments from the Future 2016: I researched the Bible Code more thoroughly on my own, including using the program and writing my own.  It’s totally bogus.  It’s another case where people can trick themselves into thinking something by providing the information to the program, then being surprised when it comes back out again.  This happens in programs like Avida too.  For me, it was important to experiment myself instead of just taking someone else’s word or dismissing it because it sounded silly.

Jonathan Swift, in his famous series “Gulliver’s Travels” described the characteristics of two moons on Mars, long before it was ever possible to observe any moons. So when we go taking a closer look at Mars we find it actually does have two tiny moons with approximately the characteristics old Jonathan Swift described. That’s a little eery. Here’s the full quote.

squid_nautilus_viewbay.jpgLive Giant SquidJules Verne in his book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea described the adventures of a crazy submarine captain powered by strange science. Probably the most unbeleivable part of the whole tale is his imaginary creature called the “Giant Squid” which is basically the sea equivalent of Earth vs. the Spider. Now don’t try and pretend you thought that thing was real, until we pulled one out. In fact, we’ve been finding lots of giant squids now that we’re looking for them and no one has even cashed in on a living version of one of the really big ones that we know exist. Now I guess it’s reasonable to say Jules Verne probably pulled the idea from ancient myths about the Kraken, but it should make you take a closer look at all those silly myths. People were drawing sea monsters on the maps how recently? Maybe they weren’t kidding.

J.R.R. Tolkien is the somewhat famous author of Lord of the Rings. He also wrote a couple other books, most of which went unpublished until he died. Recently, I found out he wrote a very eccentric book called The Notion Club Papers about a group of ordinary people that might be psychics. One character discusses having lucid dreams where they could see into the future. The “Papers” are regularly interrupted by fictional commentary from people who discovered them in 2012. They point out as evidence that the book could not be written in the 1940’s because it mentions the great storm of 1987. Problem is, there really was a Great Storm of 1987 and Tolkien died in 1973.

I understand the human impulse to rationalize things. It makes the world a lot less wierd or scary and it keeps our feet firmly planted on the firm foundational security that we know all the really important stuff. I’ve never found rationalizations to be particularly surprising, I can conjure them all up myself. In fact, I could carry on a conversation on both sides, presenting evidence and then coming up with a dismissal for each peice, but I don’t do that because I really don’t find that path convincing or scientific (plus if I get caught talking to myself people think I’m CRAZY). I could pile up plenty more examples. If you are interested I’d suggest you check out the amazing astrological accuracy of the Mayan Calendar: explanation, 2012 in depth, History Channel.


A person’s Religion gives them a framework to make Scientific Predictions.

(Next, breaking into lots of nasty scientific data most people would prefer not to talk about in We’ve Got Problems!)

Further Comments: I didn’t learn about Edgar Cayce until recently.  He is apparently, one of the most prominent clairvoyants to ever live and he was in America around World War II.  In retrospect, he seems to have basically kicked off the New Age movement which is pretty ironic considering he was a devout Christian.  Reportedly, he produced many volumes of written material of transcripts of what is basically a hypnotic trance.  To me, this seems like a gold mine of material because it’s enough of a foundation to tabulate and actually calculate a correlation coefficient between what he said and what happened.  Basically, you could say “Edgar Cayce was right X% of the time” and do statistical analysis.  Unfortunately, while we still have the written documents the trail of evidence of people he did readings for is rapidly growing cold (many are already dead).  Plus, how would you ever find a neutral investigator?  None exists!  And anyone who would be interested enough to invest the energy would also be hugely biased.  So close, yet so far away…



  1. One thing to remember with predictions is, if you are looking for something, you are far more likely to find it. Some of the most impressive discoveries have been when scientists were looking for something else. But if I make a prediction of some great city that it will be attacked, and people are looking for it, then if and when it happens, people can point back and say that must have been what I was referring to.

  2. This is undoubtedly one of my favorite articles that you’ve posted so far. It’s so interesting to look into these unexplainable anomalies like real life sea monsters, hidden moons, and anticipated calamaties. The remarkable thing about the Bible Code, from what I saw of the Discovery Channel special, is how specific the references are. It includes names and dates, not just vague predictions which any later event could be substituted into. Keep up the good work; I’m looking forward to your future articles.

  3. postdiction is very prevalent in today’s society. Going back to Nostradamus, “At forty-five degrees latitude, the sky will burn, Fire approaches the great new city.
    Immediately a huge, scattered flame leaps up,…” This could also reference the Tunguska event, WW2 Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Chernobyl… Anyway, all of these events including the world trade center are not exactly at 45 degrees N. latitude there is quite a bit of difference in distance.

    Furthermore, it is a very common habit for people to start making coincidental connections with unrelated events. Everyone is trying to make sense of the world. More responsibility should be taken when making such assumptions, especially when those assumptions can seriously affect one’s own beliefs and world views.

  4. Hello Topher,

    That was a very sober comment. It’s very true that people are trying to make sense of our world today. There are a lot of things going on and it’s easy to forget that we have access to an unprecedented amount of information through the internet and modern news media so our ability to correlate information is pretty extensive. To me, it seems there are certainly a lot of purposely vague predictions that can get skewed one way or another as well as just random coincidences and lucky guesses for probable outcomes.

    To say that humans have no ability to predict the future is also in error. I live in California, tomorrow will be overcast in the morning, then it will lighten up by ten and be warm and clear skies the rest of the day. America will get into a war in the next 20 years. It just seems to me that the coincidences pile up too fast. How did Tolkien get the Great Storm of 1987 down to the year? “It was the worst storm to hit England since the Great Storm of 1703 and was reportedly responsible for the deaths of 23 people.” These storms are 284 years apart so it seems hard to call it a lucky guess based on a predictable cycle. These kind of coincidences caught my attention and made me think.

    For those interested, here is a more detailed Native American prophecy that seems worth consideration. It’s a very comprehensive view of history. Since this went public in 1950-1986, events after that cannot be considered postdiction.

  5. that too is very sobering Photoreceptor. However, keep in mind that weather patterns are based on passed historical records. Did the weather channel mention any probabilities? There isn’t a dude wearing a head dress getting “high” and making stuff up. Furthermore, we use satellite imaging and dopler radar to help improve are “predictions”

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