Search Results for “Prophecy”

September 17, 2012

Self-defeating Prophecy

Year 2000 problem

A self-defeating prophecy is the complementary opposite of a self-fulfilling prophecy: a prediction that prevents what it predicts from happening. This is also known as the ‘prophet’s dilemma.’ A self-defeating prophecy can be the result of rebellion to the prediction.

If the audience of a prediction has an interest in seeing it falsified, and its fulfillment depends on their actions or inaction, their actions upon hearing it will make the prediction less plausible. If a prediction is made with this outcome specifically in mind, it is commonly referred to as reverse psychology. Also, when working to make a premonition come true, one can inadvertently change the circumstances so much that the prophecy cannot come true.

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February 28, 2012

When Prophecy Fails

the seekers

When Prophecy Fails is a 1956 classic book in social psychology by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter about a UFO religion that believes the end of the world is at hand. Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance (holding conflicting thoughts or feelings at the same time causes distress) can account for the psychological consequences of disconfirmed expectations.

Festinger and his associates read an interesting item in their local newspaper headlined ‘Prophecy from planet Clarion call to city: flee that flood.’ A housewife given the name ‘Marian Keech’ (real name Dorothy Martin, later known as Sister Thedra), had mysteriously been given messages in her house in the form of ‘automatic writing’ from alien beings. These messages revealed that the world would end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, 1954.

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February 2, 2012

The Celestine Prophecy


The Celestine Prophecy is a 1993 novel by James Redfield that discusses various psychological and spiritual ideas which are rooted in many ancient Eastern Traditions and New Age spirituality. The main character of the novel undertakes a journey to find and understand a series of nine spiritual insights on an ancient manuscript in Peru. The book is a first-person narrative of the narrator’s spiritual awakening as he goes through a transitional period of his life and begins to notice instances of synchronicity, which is the realization that coincidences may have deep meaning. Redfield has acknowledged that the work of Dr. Eric Berne, the developer of Transactional Analysis, and his 1964 bestseller ‘Games People Play’ as a major influence on his work. Specifically, the ‘games’ which Berne refers in his theories are tools used in an individual’s quest for energetic independence.

The novel has received some criticism, mostly from the literary community, who point out that the plot of the story is not well developed and serves only as a delivery tool for the author’s ideas about spirituality. Redfield has admitted that, even though he considers the book to be a novel, his intention was to write a story in the shape of a parable, a story meant to illustrate a point or teach a lesson. Critics point to Redfield’s heavy usage of subjective validation (a cognitive bias by which a person will consider a piece of information to be correct if it has any personal significance to them) and reification (making something real). Another point of criticism has been directed at the book’s attempt to explain important questions about life and human existence in an overly simplified fashion.

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September 23, 2018

Belief Perseverance

Belief perseverance (also known as ‘conceptual conservatism’) is maintaining a belief despite new information that firmly contradicts it. Such beliefs may even be strengthened when others attempt to present evidence debunking them, a phenomenon known as the ‘backfire effect.’ For example, journalist Cari Romm, in a 2014 article in ‘The Atlantic,’ describes a study in which people concerned about the side effects of flu shots became less willing to receive them after being told that the vaccination was entirely safe.

Since rationality involves conceptual flexibility, belief perseverance is consistent with the view that human beings act at times in an irrational manner. Philosopher F.C.S. Schiller holds that belief perseverance ‘deserves to rank among the fundamental ‘laws’ of nature.’

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March 12, 2018


Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab

Precognition (Latin: ‘acquiring knowledge’), also called ‘prescience,’ ‘future vision,’ or ‘future sight’ is an alleged psychic ability to see events in the future.

As with other forms of extrasensory perception (ESP), there is no reliable scientific evidence that precognition is a real ability possessed by anyone and it is widely considered to be pseudoscience. Specifically, precognition appears to violate the principle that an effect cannot occur before its cause.

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March 4, 2016

Affective Forecasting

stumbling on happiness

hedonic treadmill

Affective forecasting (also known as the ‘hedonic forecasting mechanism’) is the prediction of one’s affect (emotional state) in the future. As a process that influences preferences, decisions, and behavior, affective forecasting is studied by both psychologists and economists, with broad applications.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman and business school professor Jackie Snell began research on hedonic forecasts in the early 1990s, examining its impact on decision making. The term ‘affective forecasting’ was later coined by psychologists Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert. Early research focused solely on measuring emotional forecasts, while subsequent studies examined accuracy, revealing that people are surprisingly poor judges of their future emotional states. For example, in predicting how events like winning the lottery might affect their happiness, people are likely to overestimate future positive feelings, ignoring the numerous other factors that might contribute to their emotional state outside of the single lottery event.

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November 16, 2015

Great Disappointment

everything dies by box brown

The Great Disappointment was the reaction that followed Baptist preacher William Miller’s proclamations that Jesus Christ would return to the earth in 1844. Many Millerites had given away all of their possessions and were left bereft when the prophecy proved false. Despite this, the movement wasn’t entirely disbanded, and eventually developed into several other denominations of Christianity, notably the Seventh Day Adventists.

The event is viewed by some scholars as indicative of ‘cognitive dissonance’ (discomfort from holding conflicting views) and ‘true-believer syndrome’ (maintaining a belief in the face of evidence to the contrary). The theory was proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger to describe the formation of new beliefs and increased proselytizing in order to reduce the tension, or dissonance, that results from failed prophecies. His theory was that believers experienced emotional strain following the failure of Jesus’ reappearance in 1844, which led to a variety of new explanations, some of which outlived the disappointment.

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April 10, 2015


monkeys paw by matt verges

In terms of fiction, a quibble [kwib-uhl] is a plot device, used to fulfill the exact verbal conditions of an agreement in order to avoid the intended meaning. Typically quibbles are used in legal bargains and, in fantasy, magically enforced ones. In one of the best known examples, William Shakespeare used a quibble in ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ Portia saves Antonio in a court of law by pointing out that the agreement called for a pound of flesh, but no blood, and therefore Shylock can collect only if he sheds no blood.

A ‘pact with the Devil’ commonly contains clauses that allow the devil to quibble over what he grants, and equally commonly, the maker of the pact finds a quibble to escape the bargain. In Norse mythology, Loki, having bet his head with Brokk and lost, forbids Brokk to take any part of his neck, saying he had not bet it; Brokk is able only to sew his lips shut.

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March 24, 2015



According to critics of paranormal beliefs, postdiction [pohst-dik-shuhn] (or post-shadowing, retroactive clairvoyance, or prediction after the fact) is an effect of hindsight bias that explains claimed predictions of significant events, such as plane crashes and natural disasters. In religious contexts it is frequently referred to by the Latin term ‘vaticinium ex eventu,’ or ‘foretelling after the event.’ Through this term, skeptics postulate that many biblical prophecies (and similar prophecies in other religions) appearing to have come true may have been written after the events supposedly predicted, or that their text or interpretation may have been modified after the event to fit the facts as they occurred.

Skeptics of premonition use these terms in response to claims made by psychics, astrologers and other paranormalists to have predicted an event, when the original prediction was vague, catch-all, or otherwise non-obvious. Most predictions from such figures as Nostradamus and James Van Praagh are written with such seemingly deliberate vagueness and ambiguity as to make interpretation nearly impossible before the event, rendering them useless as predictive tools. After the event has occurred, however, details are shoehorned into the prediction by the psychics or their supporters using selective thinking — emphasize the ‘hits,’ ignore the ‘misses’ — in order to lend credence to the prophecy and give the impression of an accurate ‘prediction.’ Inaccurate predictions are omitted.

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December 13, 2014

Fortune Cookie

fortune cookies

A fortune cookie is a folded wafer cookie with a piece of paper inside with words of wisdom, an aphorism, or a vague prophecy. The message may also include a Chinese phrase with translation or a list of lucky numbers used by some in lotteries (some of which have become actual winning numbers). Fortune cookies are often served as a dessert in Chinese restaurants in the United States and some other countries, but are absent in China.

The exact origin of fortune cookies is unclear, though various immigrant groups in California claim to have popularized them in the early 20th century, basing their recipe on a traditional Japanese cracker. Fortune cookies have been summarized as being ‘introduced by the Japanese, popularized by the Chinese, but ultimately … consumed by Americans.’ In 1992, Wonton Food of Brooklyn, NY attempted to expand its fortune cookie business into China, but gave up because the product was considered ‘too American.’

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November 17, 2014


ironic by Lindsay Mound

Irony is when something happens that is opposite from what is expected. In literature, it is sometimes used for comedic effect, but it is also used in tragedies. There are many types of irony, such as ‘dramatic irony’ (when the audience knows something is going to happen on stage that the characters on stage do not), ‘Socratic irony’ (when a teacher feigns ignorance to his students), ‘cosmic irony’ (when something that everyone thinks will happen actually happens very differently — as opposed to ‘situational irony’ that only affects a small group or individual), ‘verbal irony’ (an absence of expression and intention or the use of sarcasm), and ‘ironic fate’ (misfortune as the result of fate or chance).

The word ‘irony’ comes from Ancient Greek (‘eironeia’: ‘dissimulation, feigned ignorance’), in specific terms it is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or event characterized by an incongruity, or contrast, between what the expectations of a situation are and what is really the case, with a third element, that defines that what is really the case is ironic because of the situation that led to it. Verbal, dramatic, and situational irony are often used to underscore the assertion of a truth. The ironic form of simile, used in sarcasm, and some forms of litotes (understatement used to emphasize a point by denying the opposite) can highlight one’s meaning by the deliberate use of language which states the opposite of the truth, denies the contrary of the truth, or drastically and obviously understates a factual connection.

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June 30, 2014

Cassandra Complex

martha mitchell effect

cassandra and apollo

The Cassandra complex occurs when valid warnings or concerns are dismissed or disbelieved. The term originates in Greek mythology. Cassandra was a daughter of Priam, the King of Troy. Struck by her beauty, Apollo provided her with the gift of prophecy, but when Cassandra refused Apollo’s romantic advances, he placed a curse ensuring that nobody would believe her warnings. Cassandra was left with the knowledge of future events, but could neither alter these events nor convince others of the validity of her predictions.

The metaphor has been applied in a variety of contexts such as psychology, environmentalism, politics, science, cinema, the corporate world, and in philosophy, and has been in circulation since at least 1949 when French philosopher Gaston Bachelard coined the term to refer to a belief that things could be known in advance. The Cassandra metaphor is applied by some psychologists to individuals who experience physical and emotional suffering as a result of distressing personal perceptions, and who are disbelieved when they attempt to share the cause of their suffering with others, and they feel like they are being ignored.

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