Leviathan 8: Prediction vs. Causation.

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Among my favorite authors is Frank Herbert, and of his work I am deeply influenced by his Dune saga. If you haven't read the Dune saga, you should—it’s massively thought-provoking and there's a reason that it's the top-selling science-fiction series of all time. But more specifically, you should read the Dune saga because a central theme in its development is the question of prescience. 

The Dune saga treated a variety of subjects, but if you care to do so, you can look at the entire saga as a treatise on the dangers of divination. So Herbert hypothesized in his work, divination is not the act of predicting the future, but of causing the future. According to his argument, the future is a blank slate and should ideally remain that way because it permits the widest number of divergent pathways to emerge. But when somebody peers into the future with some method of divination, the future is changed: all possible futures except for one are eliminated, and now for better and for worse only that single single path is available.

I don't believe that divination creates the future, but I do believe that divination creates a cognitive bias in the mind which focuses attention onto a single path at the expense of all other possible choices. Through the magic of selective validation, the fortune-teller or the sitter will choose for him or herself to see his or her preferred fantasy at the expense of actual reality. 

This is why one of the most serious concerns that fortune-tellers face is that they could leave their sitters in a worse condition after the performance than before it began. It's true enough that the fortune-teller is not responsible for his or her sitter's decisions—only the sitter can take responsibility for him or herself—but it's also true that sitters make choices based on what they’re told during a performance. Speaking for myself, I always act within the boundaries of the law and I absolutely never tell my sitters how to handle choices regarding their health, finances, or legal decisions. 

And this isn't something that's specific to fortune-tellers: in most jurisdictions it's illegal for anybody who isn’t a physician, banker, or attorney to advise anybody on such matters. In these situations, I tell my sitters that I’m obligated to respect the law of the land and am not permitted to read for some kinds of questions. They might gently carp at me for refusing to help them, but in those situations I’ll remind them that if even the professional basketballer Michael Jordan couldn’t make 100% of his free-throw shots, how could I reasonably be expected to make an accurate prediction every time? In matters of grave concern, it’s best to rely on the advice of lawfully appointed professionals.

Fortune-telling may be an entertaining deception, but fortune-tellers who don't want to meet their sitters in court (or suffer a black mark on their name) would do well to remember their limitations and work within them, and fortune-tellers whose livelihood is made on the performance of Tarot would also do well to cultivate repeat business by not endangering the mental, physical, or financial safety of their sitters. It's not the fortune-teller's responsibility to ensure that his or her sitters NEVER JUMP off a bridge, but it's definitely the fortune-teller's responsibility to never tell his or her sitters TO JUMP off a bridge.

Fortune-tellers have the power to create imagined realities in the minds of their sitters. Depending on why the sitter has asked to be deceived, this imagined reality can be cathartic, insightful, motivating, or stimulating. But then, it can also be terribly dangerous. If you want to remain friends with your sitters, or even just profit from their repeat business, you must be careful with your advice and predictions. If you disregard this warning, you will surely suffer the consequences.