17.586 oracles

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Jan 30 2004 - 04:00:10 EST

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 586.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 30 Jan 2004 08:13:42 +0000
         From: Alexandre Enkerli <aenkerli@indiana.edu>
         Subject: Oracles of the Future

Interesting thought-bait. And there are, as always, many issues at stake.

One is an obvious distinction between approaches to the future. Most
likely, the Chinese "oracle bone" (and other similarly sibylline methods)
share with Western Science Fiction literature most of the well-known limits
of prognostication. Yet, enigmas do not impose limits on imagination. The
difference in precision might relate to different views of time as some
systems put more value on precise dates and features of The Future while
others focus on specific outcomes of specific actions. Time depth and
qualitative/quantitative views of time are distinct axes of this opposition.

In fact, divination systems (Peek 1991) often summon conscious efforts to
both know and change the future while futuristic ideas are closer to
"wishful thinking" and musings on what might come. This distinction may
relate to a difference in beliefs but it also implies different conceptions
of agency.

There might be a middle-ground in the way the Global Business Network
(Garreau 1994) elaborates possible scenarios of the future and then lets
users decide which scenario they prefer, taking measures for it to come
true. Thus, possibly, oracles of the future will use sophisticated methods
of "scenario planning," coupled with acephalous social networks, to allow
for increased diversity to shape the future in unthinkable ways.

Peek, Philip M. (ed.) 1991 /African Divination Systems: Ways Of Knowing/
Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Garreau, Joel (1994) /Conspiracy of Heretics/ Wired 2(11), November 1994

Alexandre Enkerli
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology
Indiana University

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