Back when they were conveying knowledge to the masses, David Wallechinsky and his family produced The People’s Almanac (1975). For their very first chapter, they obtained predictions from many contemporary psychics. So, 38 years later, how did the psychics of the 1970s do?
In general, not too well. There are few successful predictions. David Bubar must have seen Nancy Reagan’s astrologer when he predicted that “[p]sychics will hold important government positions” in the 1980s. Criswell, he of Plan 9 from Outer Space fame (see at right), made a prediction that the devil will rule the earth from 1975 to 1978; that was a bit off for the Carter Administration. Joseph DeLouise said there would be an economic panic by 1980, but that’s kind of a given, sort of like predicting there will be earthquakes. Similarly, Ann Jensen wasn’t going too far out on a limb in predicting the Vietnam War would end by 1980. There were some other no-brainers that didn’t require psychic ability to predict.
On the other hand . . . Malcolm Bessant predicted that New York would be underwater “in a few years.” Several other psychics made similar predictions; I guess losing Miami to the same coastal flooding didn’t seem so important. David Bubar was certain the generation of the 1980s would be grotesquely tall; maybe he got confused and mistook height for weight. Criswell (1907-82) predicted an “Aphrodisiacal Era” in 1988-89 when clouds of aphrodisiacs would float over the United States. My love life could have used that. Jeane Dixon (1904-97), one of the few psychics mentioned whom I remember, went all Biblical Revelation with the Cold War going hot around Israel during 1988-2000. Ann Jensen saw a woman at the head of a world government by 2000. (Several other psychics thought the United States would have a woman President by now.) Olof Jonsson (1918-98) saw the automobile outlawed by 2000, presumably by that female-led world government, I suppose. And Alan Vaughan had apparently missed reading about Chappaquiddick, because he predicted Ted Kennedy would become President in 1976. That probably would have set back having a female President for a few more years.
Some of these people faded away before the Internet became popular, and so they’ve left little trace of their existence on the web. Others are still in business today, despite their inaccurate predictions. And it’s not as if these predictions have been forgotten; while writing this entry, I found at least two other articles on the web discussing this chapter of The People’s Almanac.
Personally, I’ve never been too keen on the idea of psychics predicting the future. If someone can reliably know the future, then that means the future is fixed. It also means the psychic either can a) obtain thoughts or sensory data from a large number of people in the future without their being aware of it, or b) have some form of transcendental mechanism that allows them to see and perceive things from perspectives unavailable to normal humans, or c) can grasp the entire working state of the universe and understand exactly how it will evolve over time.
And yet, I can see the lure. Prophesy implies that one’s actions are cosmically significant, and who wouldn’t want that? In real life, prophesy has been used to put a divine seal of approval on people and events; Suetonius is loaded with prophesies, portents, and omens about the rise and fall of the first twelve Roman emperors (counting Gaius Julius Caesar as the first). In fiction, prophesy can provide the protagonist with a destiny, a puzzle, a paradox, or even a curse. And the protagonist always has the choice, to accept or to try to defy a prophesy. It’s good drama. Just ask Éowyn and the Witch-king of Angmar in The Lord of the Rings.
I’ll leave the last word to Mother Shipton (1488-1561): “The World to an end shall come / in Eighteen hundred and eighty-one.”