Sunday, September 12, 2010
ABC News is carrying a report that Professor Richard Berk of the University of Pennsylvania has developed "software ... already used in Baltimore and Philadelphia to predict which individuals on probation or parole are most likely to murder and to be murdered. In his latest version, the one being implemented in D.C., Berk goes even further, identifying the individuals most likely to commit crimes other than murder." The critical factor for future predictions depends on the age at which an individual first previously committed certain crimes.
While this algorithm for destiny is a far cry from the kind of thing depicted in Minority Report, the idea of fate that can be pre-determined through the manipulation of a myriad of personal details makes me think of London Fields by Martin Amis. The novel is crafted around one female character, Nicola, who is designated the 'murderee.' The novel reveals how an undetermined fate becomes a determined one, due to the overlap of the characters' perspectives and intentions. The novel suggests that murder is one possibility in many, but only one set of actions sets off the chain reaction that leads down the road to inevitability - yet part of that inevitability is intention ahead of the fact on the part of all parties involved.
This reminds me as well of the arcane field of Forensic Astrology, defined by one of its aficionados as: "a discipline using a specific time & location ... get a snapshot (chart) of the mathmatically calculated positions/motions and interacting energies among all the planets including the Sun & Moon at that moment, then coming to interpret their influence/physical effects on our Earth/us." These astrologers speculate about violent crimes and of victims in order to help solve them. They read birthcharts to assess their supposed predisposition for encountering dangerous situations. Forensic Astrologers also read the planetary charts for the last-seen locations of victims. And they try to fill in unknown blocks of time during which crimes were committed by studying the fateful predispositions, as signified by plantery positions, for those periods. The case where this kind of astrology caught my eye was the tragic death of Morgan Dana Harrington, a teenager who disappeared after attending a Metallica concert in Virginia in October, 2009. A Forensic Astrology discussion on that case is here and an initial chart for Morgan Harrington on the night of the concert, drawn by one of the forum members, is here; her chart 40 minutes later is here; these are her surrounding circumstances here; a chart for a witness is here; she was last sighted on a bridge; the chart of the perpetrator is here. Formal charts are here.
All three examples demonstrate our conviction, in the face of much skepticism, that terrible future events have a fateful aspect about them that is somehow quantifiable in the past and present.