This is the WASTED BLOG. For my main author website, click this link.

Awards: WASTED won the Read it or Else category in the Coventry Award and was runner-up in the North East Book Award. It is longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the Manchester, Grampian, Angus, and RED Awards.

Thursday, 13 May 2010


After I blogged about fortune-telling and Fantastic Farantella at the weekend, a reader sent me an amazing story. She doesn't know how to explain it and she's not saying it proves anything. I also don't know how to explain it. It doesn't shake my conviction that the future isn't like this, but I still don't know how to explain it. If I didn't respect the person who gave me the story, I'd say that there was a degree of mis-remembering, but I can't really say that. But I do think that when we tell stories, even when we tell true stories, we tell them in a way that sometimes does what magicians do: makes you focus on the bit the magician wants you to see by hiding the rest. When a fortune-teller tells something that turns out to be true, I want to know how many times they have turned out not to be true.

However, this is indeed a remarkable story and I believe that the teller is telling it honestly.

I'd love to know what you think. More to the point, in view of the Oedipus story I talked about yesterday, what would have happened if the clairvoyant in this story had actually told the girl and the girl had told her brother not to get out of bed?

Now that is the really interesting question, in my view.

Here is the story, exactly as told to me:
As a postgraduate student from Australia I lived in an international student hall of residence in London. One Sunday afternoon a Chinese friend invited a number of us to afternoon tea in her room.  This was because she had an Indian friend visiting from Singapore.  Su had already told us that her friend Parimala had a reputation for being able to ‘see the future’.

About nine of us sat (rather like sardines) drinking cups of tea and chatting for sometime before someone inevitably asked if Parimala was going to tell our fortunes.  Although the others seemed eager and even light hearted about this it made me feel very uncomfortable.  I therefore just said, “Thankyou but I would rather not know.”

Parimala gave me a rather odd look but she accepted it without comment. She then proceeded to go around the other girls in the room until she came to an American student. She was silent for a moment and then shook her head and said, “I’m sorry. I can’t tell you anything.” The other students seemed to find this rather amusing but I sensed Parimala was feeling uncomfortable too.

A little later the party broke up but I stayed behind for a moment because Su wanted me to look at something. When all the other students had gone Parimala closed the door quietly and said,
“I could not tell her anything because her brother will be killed in an accident riding his motorbike tomorrow.”
Parimala had never met the American before and knew nothing about her family. I don’t believe any of us were aware that the girl had a brother or that he rode a motorbike.

She looked at me again and asked, “Did you know too?”

I shook my head and said, “No. I just felt very uncomfortable.” I felt I could not tell her that I did not believe it was possible to foretell the future.

I still felt uncomfortable but my extreme discomfort lifted with the knowledge she had given me.

There was a telephone call the next morning to say that the American girl’s brother had been killed riding his motorbike along a highway in South America. 

I have no explanation for this, nor have I had another experience like it.

So, what do you think?

I should stress, by the way, especially for the benefit of younger readers who might be very spooked by this: I personally don't believe that the future is laid down in this way. I don't believe that it was inevitable that the brother would be killed by a motor-bike. And I do not recommend that you ever go to a fortune-teller if you even believe a little bit. I have no explanation for this story but I do know how many fortune-tellers and apparent psychics often appear to get things right. They also very often get things wrong....

Meanwhile, don't forget to enter Farantella's competition. All you have to do is guess! By the skill of my psychic powers, I predict that someone will win...


Becky said...

Spooky. I don't really believe in fortune telling either but I do believe that sometimes you can just get a feeling that something is going to happen.

Stroppy Author said...

Nicola, don't confuse predestination with foresight. Seeing the future does not mean it is pre-ordained; seeing is not causation (we'll leave out quantum entanglement and the role of the observer for a moment). You see the sun set because it sets - you seeing it does not cause it to happen. (I think it was Tolstoy who used that example to explain it, but I may be wrong there.) So (if) a fortune teller can see the future, they are only seeing as we see things contemporaneously. The idea of seeing across time as we see across space only requires a notion of predestination if you view time as linear and fixed - and since we know since Einstein that it isn't, the problem disappears. That doesn't mean we can explain it, but it means we can know there can be a scientific explanation that is currently beyond our grasp. Which is a more comfortable position than a bunch of supernatural explanations, at least.

Anonymous said...

Very Spooky - made my hairs stand on end!

I personally don't believe the future can be fortold - after all it hasn't happened until it has happened.

I agree with Becky in that sometimes you can feel that something is going to happen - for example before I turned up to my Piano lesson yesterday the boss had commented that I was about to arrived moments before I did.

I put it down more to the time being just past 6:15 which is when I have my lesson and it being a coincendence that I rang the door moments after he mentioned it.

Nicola Morgan said...

Anne - I'm not confusing them, honest guv. But if foresight is possible in any more than either the form of a guess or else an obvious deduction from one set of circumstances to another, then the future has to be pre-determined. I don't believe it is pre-determined, so I don't believe it can be foretold. I am certainly not suggesting that seeing is causation! I certainly don't believe that the clairvoyant saying it would happen made it happen - after all, she didn't tell the future victim. But the clairvoyant beleived that she'd seen the future and I don't believe the future is knowable in that sense, because until it happens it doesn't have to happen. Everything possible is possible until it isn't.

Jesse - I think your analysis is spot on. Also, I think we simply don't notice the many many times when we had a thought and it DIDN'T come true.

Creepy Query Girl said...

I believe in everything. Ghosts, future telling, paranormal activity, demons, angels- you get the idea.
Thanks so much for sharing this story! It was really interesting!

Clare said...

What a fascinating story.
My only experience of fortune-telling was at a Primary school fair when two children "saw" me with a pen and a book and decided I was going to be an author. I am now working on making that fortune of years ago come true!
INTUITION is what fascinates me.
How do I "know" that a patient, due for discharge, is about to have a cardiac arrest when she is apparently symptom-free? Such incidents are common in nursing.
Recently, I was working on the computer when out-of-the-blue I had the notion to go downstairs and make some toast. Before I finished the sentence I was typing, my dog, in another part of the house, woke from a sound sleep to go and sit by the breadbin? Co-incidence? Possibly. But there are so many instances of animals apparently "predicting" events to give credence to the idea of some kind of sixth sense at work.
I don't have any answers but I don't believe all apparently-psychic phenomena are fake. Unfortunately it's a bandwagon that's easy to jump on and there are always charlatans willing to prey on the vulnerable.
Had the fortune-teller "warned" the girl, who knows the potential outcome? Would her brother have heeded a warning? Would the girl have endured the guilt of not warning her brother? Would the accident - a random event - have happened? If not, would we have heard of the "fortune" that didn't come true? Unlikely!

Anonymous said...

Your blog was passed on to me for comment. In my culture (Indian) it is common to believe in many things that are dismissed in Western culture.
I was present at that afternoon tea. On the day I thought of the foretelling for members of the group as a little lighthearted fun.
What happened afterwards and the distress it caused the American, Parimala and the writer are not matters to be taken lightly. If the future can be foretold (and I will not say it can be, you must decide that for yourself) it would be a burden most individuals would find too great to bear.
If your book encourages young people to choose their actions with care then it will have done a great service.
Best wishes, Sudha Hazarikah

Nicola Morgan said...

Clare - really interesting questions in your last para.

Sudha - I agree that it would be a terrible burden.

It is certainly more comforting to disbelieve!

Catherine Hughes said...

Two of the characters in my most recently-completed novel can see the future; one is very good at it.

What she does, however, is not magic but science. She is a telepath, so she can read other people's feelings and thoughts, and she also has an analytical ability of the highest order. Her excess knowledge and her unique abilities enable her to prognosticate with some accuracy, but she doesn't just 'see' one future, but several possibities (anyone read Dune and know about Paul's ability to see the weave of what might be to come?).

This character is my attempt at explaining what I have witnessed and experienced on more than one occasion.

Cat x

AnneR said...

Clare - as a nurse sensing a patient is about to have a cardiac arrest or similar, this need not be remotely spooky. There has been plenty of research into using animals to detect people about to go into cardiac arrest, epileptic seizures and so on, and some of dogs to detect cancer. It is their sensitivity to chemical changes (through smell/taste) which makes them able to do it and I imagine you are doing exactly the same - subconciously detecting tiny chemical changes in a patient you are familiar with. It's very lucky for your patients that you have a level of sensitivity in this area that is greater than that which most people have - brava!