Do we all not long for just a glimpse of what our future holds? Humans have continually been searching for ways to see into the future.
We make sacrifices today for a better tomorrow. We work, study, pray, do good deeds for future reward, have we no right to have an idea of the shape of our future? Faced with the reality that no one can predict the future, we are not discouraged. We keep trying.
Why do we contemplate our future?
Scientists believe we are terrified of the unknown and uncertainty makes us worry. As it turns out, humans are hard-wired to worry. Our brains are relentlessly imagining futures that will meet our needs, then we worry about obstacles that can stand in the way. Worry occupies our attention to no good effect.
There are many reasons for the appealing nature of the dark future, so we seek fortune-tellers to shed some light on it.
Fortune-telling has been practised for millennia, using a hundred varieties of methods to carry you on a trip to wonderland, your future. Such methods are still in practice today, as is the yearning for a knowledge of the future.
Some believe in consulting Tarot cards, staring at the lines of your palm, or better still, have a cup of tea and there is your future among the tea leaves. No luck if you are using a tea-bag, do not despair, try coffee. See all the lines curves, circles, angles in the coffee stains, that is your future, right there. While these methods are still taken seriously, some bizarre ones are laughable, like the bumps on your skull. This is how far people would go, even the well-educated during the 1800s, to get a clue of their future.
Dreams have also been considered a future-telling tool. Interpreting your dreams involves symbols such as dreaming about a walnut. Do try and avoid that because it means losses and fundamental ruin awaits you.
Whatever form the fortune-telling takes, the basic process is the same, seeking meaning in the random patterns and phenomena.
The human brain is very good at finding, or creating meaning, even when there is not. Random patterns serve this purpose. Have you ever seen faces, or other images, in clouds, Rohrschach blots (ink stain blots), coffee stains, etc? Surely we all have.
This is a phenomenon called pareidolia, well known in psychology. It is one of the common fortune-teller tools, unfortunately they do not work, or we would have avoided wars, floods, tsunamis and countless other world events and saved millions of innocent lives. Besides, if any of these methods worked, why would there be so many? Why not stick with a proven reliable method instead of creating hundred methods.
Instead, all fortune-telling methods are equally valid or invalid, all based on the premise of predicting destiny. Even books on the subject admit the techniques are unreliable.
How about astrology? It is a specialised branch of knowledge which helps appraise our personality traits as well as visualising our progress through time. How? On the basis or configuration of the motion of the stars and planets. It is based on the assumption that there is a reciprocal dynamic relationship between objects, events on the earth and other parts of the universe and the celestial bodies.
Is that why we grab the morning paper and look at our zodiac sign and its predictions? If astrologers look for financial gain they are shunned by serious astrologers like Sheikh Mohan Singh Japu of India, who cautions: “So understand once and for all that astrologers are not supposed to be fortune-tellers.”
What about Nostradamus, the most famous astrologer and physician in history who published his book in 1555 containing 942 quatrains, predicting future events, many of which came to pass, such as the Great Fire of London (1666), Hitler, Pasteur, the French Revolution, and others? Was he a quack or a prophet? He did prophesy future events, but not for financial gain.
What about free will vs determination, which is it?
Most people prefer to believe they control their own actions, make their own decisions, but whatever is happening here Destiny is at the root of everything. Logically you really cannot control your own destiny.
The future remains uncertain. Is this fair?
Religion has an answer. Blindness to the future is a blessing from God Almighty to save us from sorrows and sufferings, deaths and diseases, to keep the cycle of life going. Otherwise, would we not try to end our lives?
This conforms that that our destiny is predetermined, according to physics, or at least determinable laws.
Fate is what puts opportunity in front of us but our destiny is definitely determined by our decisions. Can we fight our fate? The answer is obvious.
Neuroscientist Jack Panskepp writes in his book Affective Neuroscience that of the seven core instincts in the human brain — anger, panic, grief, pleasure, lust, maternal care, play, and seeking — seeking is the most important. “The fact that we do not know everything is exactly what makes life so fulfilling.” That is what gave us science. It is about questioning everything.
Therefore, question all you want, but remember that the future is written.
Funny that it is all summed up in a simple song of long ago: “Che sera, sera, what will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see, che sera, sera.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly