The Curse of the Sibyl

As I have alluded to before, my day job requires me to predict the future like a modern day sibyl.  In these modern times, I am no longer required to check fresh poultry entrails, inhale volcanic vapours whilst sitting atop a tripod or prepare and over-interpret detailed star charts.  Instead, the “gift” comes from within – through an admixture of relentless logic and pure guesswork.

Whilst the soothsayers of old could leave the future behind them when they clocked off, putting away the gizzards, tripod, tea leaves or cards, I carry the future with me into my home life.  At its simplest, I find myself regularly dating cheques in the distant future – however, there are also more disturbing consequences of a mind rather weakly anchored to the present.

Police procedurals or detective dramas can be all too predictable as a little knowledge of basic narrative structure allied to some forecasting ability makes it all to easy to predict who done it (and the likely twists needed to keep the denouement at bay until the allotted running time is up).  More worryingly, I find myself applying the same principles to crime stories in the news – an arena in which narrative convention is rarely properly served.

This evening, I found myself (inadvertently) using my second sight to anticipate punchlines coming up in The Now Show – and then feeling both strangely pleased, and slightly disappointed, when the skit or joke developed in the expected fashion.

However, the most alarming incidence occurred in my working life a few years back.  In an earlier phase of my job sequence (aka my career) I spent a lot of time going to long committee meetings (10 hours was not at all unusual) and taking the minutes (whilst the hours were taken from me – ah, the cruel irony).  As you might imagine, this was not always totally stimulating and I developed a number of strategies to entertain myself (of which more, perhaps, in later posts).  Perhaps the most basic was to use the lacunae between moments of interest to study the other committee members (I think perhaps I am a frustrated anthropologist).  Over time, I was able to construct quite effective internal representations of my fellows and began to find their actions somewhat predictable.

In a moment of madness, I decided to write the minutes before the meeting began.  I then took this “draft” and a PC (by which I mean a computer rather than an officer of the law, though that might also have been fun) to the meeting (a mere 5 or 6 hour session as I recall) to make any necessary adjustments during the meeting.  As it transpired, almost nothing needed to be changed and everyone behaved as predicted, I had only to add a couple of items of Any Other Business which I had failed to foresee.  I was then able scamper upstairs (to a nearby printer), print the minutes and hand them out as people were leaving the meeting.  I never did this again, I scared myself too much – I think it may have slightly alarmed everyone else as I clearly had typed virtually nothing over the preceding hours.  How did he do it?

On that day, I decided that in future I should only use my gift for evil – never frivolously.

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