Wishcasting is when a forecast or prediction is shaded in the direction the forecaster or predictor wants the event to happen. For example, if you forecast this weekend’s weather, you might be inclined to discount evidence that it will rain. Similarly, if you predict which team will win tonight’s game—your home or the away team—you might exaggerate your team’s chances.
The potential for wishcasting is stronger the more interest the forecaster has in the outcome. Observe any gambler to see whether this is true. Wishcasting can be eliminated, but only by approaching uncertainty with a kind of Buddhist calm. This state is difficult to attain and even more difficult to retain.
All of us are interested in the future of humanity, many of us intensely so. This is one of the reasons why making guesses of what will happen is so difficult. We badly want events to turn out this way or that, and depending whether we’re naturally gloomy or bright, we misestimate the odds of the event turning out against us or in our favor.
Thus it must be for Harold Camping and Robert Fitzpatrick, who Fox News reports is a “a 60-year-old Staten Island resident” who “spent his entire $140,000 life savings advertising his prediction that the world will end May 21.”
Camping and Fitzpatrick belong to Family Radio Worldwide, a group which not only broadcasts its predictions, but has bought (or rented?) a fleet of buses which carry signs announcing that May 21st is it.
The followers of Camping are gloomy. They have heard of wars and rumors of wars, which they have interpreted as a sign that the end is nigh. But they have forgotten or given little weight to the warning that these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
I say they formed their prediction in such dark terms because these men want the end to come. Why?
They follow the news and the news depresses them. Perhaps they read the story where NASA’s very own James Hansen is helping five teenagers sue the federal government over global warming. The precocious (are there any other kind?) teens are not pleased that the (operationally defined) global mean temperature might soar a tenth of a degree Centigrade, perhaps even two-tenths of a degree, in fifty yeas time.
Now I ask you—is that not a depressing thing of which to hear? These kids, in the oft-used vulgar term, are our future! Doesn’t that, just a little, give you the idea that the world would be better off without that future?
(Of course, those teens, whose press release admits their “profound interest in ensuring our climate remains stable enough to ensure their right to a livable future,” are themselves no strangers to wishcasting.)
Perhaps Camping and Fitzgerald, proprietors of a radio station, decided one day to spin the dial and have a listen to the competition. If so, they would have made the same judgment as the New York Times:
It’s some kind of milestone: Three of the Top 10 hits on last week’s [March 7th] pop music chart have choruses that can’t be played uncensored on the radio and won’t have their original lyrics quoted in this family newspaper. All three use variations on a familiar, emphatic, percussive four-letter word.
Not only is this music popular, but it is award-winning, too. Goethe said that the true mark of barbarism is a culture that fails to appreciate the excellent. So would not hearing “Cee Lo Green”, the “Beatles”, or “Pink” assaulting the English language and insulting Bach cause you to believe that you have discovered an infallible proof that next Saturday a blissful silence will finally ensue?
Or perhaps the folks at Family Radio turned on the news only to see that Health Department of New York State proposed banning the games “Capture the Flag, Steal the Bacon and Red Rover” at summer camps because, and I quote, “these activities pose a significant risk of injury.”
True, the governor, in a rare show of sanity, kicked the rules down the stairs, but that they were even proposed is an evil omen so ominous that even your author has taken to spinning his head around at any noise that sounds like hoofbeats.
“Behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” The sociologist Robert Nisbet took great pains to show that our government was becoming like a royal institution, so interpreting that crown takes little imagination.
At least, that is how it must appear to Camping and Fitzgerald, who desperately wish it would all just end.
Update As will be by now obvious, the world did not end last night. The New York Post reports on one poor soul who stood counting in Times Square. When the event did not happen, he realized that he had to return home to his dirty dishes.
If you find yourself in a gleeful mood, congratulating yourself of your superiority over Camping and his foolish followers, consider what it says about you that you can be so pleased over such small victories.
E.g., Stephen Fry tweeted, “Marvellous news! Rapture doesnt mean end of world; apparently all the planet’s imbeciles disappear in one go.â€