Searching for Our Destiny in Data

Perhaps our modern obsessions with predictive algorithms and numerical forecasts are best understood as a continuation of the ancient divinatory impulse.

Since the beginnings of history, our ancestors sought knowledge and understanding about their lives, their relationship with the cosmos, and perhaps take a peek into their future. In such effort—long before the answers of science—earthlings developed a rich variety of divination practices and systems. Many forms of divination survive to this day, and can’t be easily dismissed as irrational nonsense, or mere curiosities of a bygone age. On the contrary, divination seems to be essential to culture.

Our modern forms of divination—based on AI and big data, with “corporate astrologers” dressed in suits—offer little from a purely rational perspective, given that their track records are hardly any better than astrology. Yet we are drawn to these forecasts. Evidently, there are deeper forces at play. Perhaps these modern forecasts, with their own peculiar esoteric symbols and mysterious jargon, serve to satisfy an essentially magical, divinatory need. Understanding this explains, in part, why astrology continues to thrive (despite every effort to eradicate it) alongside its modern, data-driven successors.

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