Wednesday Word: 1 September 2021

Humans are the planning species. There may be other species that prepare for the future. Ants certainly come to mind. There may be other species that wonder what will happen if… Crows are big ones for this sort of experimentation, seeming to enjoy the fiascos as much as the successes. (It’s all about The Process with crows.) But humans may be the only species that creates plans, often for more than one possible future. We make sketches of things we’d like to build rather than just building the thing. We make maps of our paths from here to there rather than just setting one foot in front of the other. We make lists. Exhaustive and detailed lists. For everything from what things we’d like to acquire to how we want to live our lives. We are obsessed with planning.

Likely because of this propensity to plan we are also the species that wants to know the future. We want to know the weather. We want to know the mood of the stock market. We want to know if the harvest will be good. We want to know how long we have left on this planet. We really want to know what happens after we are not. We write stories about the world of the future. We imagine what people alive a century from now will think of us. We want to know that they will think of us. We don’t like leaving anything to chance. We want solid predictions.

Look at that word: prediction. We put faith in someone merely saying (dict) what the future will bring. Isn’t that odd? That very few predictions ever come to pass as stated has not dimmed our ardor for them. Isn’t that odd as well!

And look at the methods we use. There are the silly mind tricks like staring into crystal balls and reading tea leaves. These normally work (if they work) by relaxing the conscious mind enough that we can allow our brains to chew on something until some new insight comes along. This is just a form of logical projection, but it can be rather uncannily accurate as long as the fortune teller has sufficient information. Still, we don’t put much faith in these forms of fortune telling officially — though there is a daily horoscope printed in many newspapers and, given the number of people peddling such things, it appears that many people are willing to pay money to have a birth chart drawn up for them. But even our less fuzzy methods of looking into the future are… still pretty fuzzy.

We make computer models to predict what will happen, and we take the results of these model runs very seriously. We make huge decisions based on computer modeling. But those models are really not much different that using our brains to project current conditions into the future. The computer can do it faster, but not more effectively. The computer might be able to handle more variables. Maybe. But it only predicts based on the information we feed into it. The computer can’t predict something that is utterly without precedent or that is affected by some variable that we have not programmed into it. Computers are helpless when it comes to Unknown Unknowns and Black Swans.

And we are heading deep into the Unknown Unknown Black Swan Era. With nothing more accurate than a crystal ball to guide us. We don’t know how to plan for this future. We are deeply distressed by this.

I’m deeply distressed. I’m trying to build a garden and home that will be cheap to maintain and will provide for my needs. But I don’t know so many things about the next twenty years. Will apples still get sufficient chill hours to be productive by the time the trees I’ve planted are mature? Will there be enough summer moisture to grow squash or potatoes? Will my town be overrun by interlopers? Deer, coastal urbanites, ticks, Proud Boys, Japanese knotweed, novel viruses. Will there be firewood? Will there be electricity? Will there be wheat? If I project from current conditions, many of these questions do not have favorable answers. And then, how do you plan for Unknown Unknowns in the garden? Or Black Swans in the basement? But on the other hand, how do you make a garden or a home with no planning? 

So, I am distressed. I need to plan, but I don’t know what to plan for. And I’m sort of afraid that this might be the summary of human existence going into this future we’ve made.

Wednesday Word

for 1 September 2021


You can respond in the comments below or make a Twitter post to the Wednesday Word. Either way, begin your response with #scrying. Your response can be anything made from words. I love poetry, but anything can be poetic and you needn’t even be limited to poetics. An observation, a story, a thought. Might even be an image — however, I am not a visual person, so it has to work harder to convey meaning. In the spirit of word prompts, it’s best if you use the word; but I’m not even a stickler about that. Especially if you can convey the meaning without ever touching the word.

If responding in Twitter, you are limited to the forms of Twitter. I would prefer that there be no threads because that is difficult. So if you have something long, post it in the comments below. That said, please don’t go too long. Keep it under 2000 words. I’m not going to count, but I’m also not promising to read a novel. Unless it’s really good!

If I receive something particularly impressive, I’ll post it next week. If not, well, that’s fine too. I know you all are busy. But if you’ve read this far, then I’ve made you think about… scrying.

reading water

i held the black mirror
in the springing dawn light
with fogs from dying bogs
cleaving to credulous airs
and the soughing of meadow mists
swamping sight
in bowl of soot and water
i decried this path before me
all murk and muck and darkness
held in quaking hands
this black mirror
revealing what we will not see
but what will clearly be
in these hands
i held time not made
and saw no seemly ending

©Elizabeth Anker 2021

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