The word “prophet” used to apply only to humans. We used to think that human beings have the capacity to predict the future through supernatural or psychic powers. Now comes Paul, an octopus who lives in an aquarium in the western German city of Oberhausen. Paul seems poised to debunk our belief that only human beings are endowed with the ability to divine the future.
Paul does not need to look into the entrails of a sheep, gaze at a crystal ball, or shuffle tarot cards to foretell the future. To pick the winner in the ongoing World Cup football tournament, Paul plays the prophet by simply eating a luscious mussel.
A facebook site has been opened exclusively for Paul’s fans and detractors alike, the former exalting Paul’s powers, the latter simply wishing to cook and eat it.
Paul’s accuracy in predicting winners in the World Cup (almost all of these, though, involve games with Germany as a competitor) comes at a time when scientists are perfecting a new field known as “threshold and pattern dynamics” to predict the occurrence of major upheavals in the world, like earthquakes, tsunamis, and the rise and fall of the stock market. Threshold and pattern dynamics use mathematics and computers to predict when vital thresholds and patterns will be crossed, thus creating a dramatic shift in world events.
Scientists working in this field admit that it is extremely difficult to identify and measure tell-tale things that point to a future threshold being crossed or a pattern being broken. In short, their computers and mathematical computations afford them, at best, educated guesses, sort of sophisticated crystals balls.
Octopus Paul is a timely reminder to many of us that there are many things that remain outside our ability to accurately observe and predict. Despite the exponential increase in scientific discoveries and technology reality remains, to a great extent, a riddle that is difficult to fathom. Pride in our scientific achievements can blind us to the fact that our knowledge is infinitely less than the sum of our ignorance.
Octopus Paul may be right in telling us who to bet on in the coming World Cup finals. But it may also be right in reminding us that there is still a lot to learn from our neighbors in the animal kingdom whom we regard merely as creatures fit to be used, abused, and extinguished.