Big Ideas from Oracle Em
In the year 2000, while everyone was worried about Y2K, I was fed up with my career as a TV writer/producer and comedian and trying to decide between two new career choices: Scientist or Oracle.
Oracles and Scientists both traffic in Big Ideas (which scientists call “Theories”) and Predictions. In both these things, Oracles have a clear advantage over Scientists. After all, it was a physicist, Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr, who said: “Prediction is difficult, especially about the future.”
Sure, because scientists have to prove their Big Ideas. They have to run experiments and submit the results of those experiments to peer review. Also, they have to know math.
Oracles, on the other hand, don’t need to know math or to prove anything. If you ask the Oracle a question and her prediction doesn’t come true, it’s not her fault, it’s yours: you misinterpreted her.
Take King Croesus, he of rich-as-Croesus-fame, who in the hey-day of Oracles, in the sixth century BC, asked the Delphic Oracle: “Should I make war on the Persians?”
“Do so,” said the Oracle, “and a mighty empire will be destroyed.”
“Aha!” said Croesus, “Mission Accomplished!” And off he went to what he thought was certain victory. It never occurred to him that the mighty empire to be destroyed was his.
Big Idea #1: Croesus was stuck in the wrong thought frame.
A thought-frame is like a mind-set or a paradigm: an integrated set of assumptions that tells us who we are, what we’re doing here and how we fit into the universe. Whew, now that we’ve got that settled, we can concentrate on more important things, like “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” think pieces on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” and the Home Shopping Channel featuring clothing lines by "the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”
After a while though, we forget that the thought-frame is based on assumptions; we think it’s actual reality. It hardens into ideology. So when things change and new information challenges “the way things are”, we perceive it as a threat. To our identity. To our integrity. To everything we were taught to believe.
What ensues is something called “Paradigm Paralysis.” In the face of change, people deny the new information; they cling to old certainties. They look backwards. Towards the Founding Fathers. Towards the Bible. Towards Ayn Rand, for crying out loud. Gripped by fear of uncertainty, we lose our most precious asset, our imagination. We can no longer imagine a future, how we might adapt to change, how things could be.
Big Idea #2: America has paradigm paralysis.
So now you know why I became an Oracle. Not for fame and fortune, although, I am currently seeking Oracle representation. What could be more interesting than a woman who lives in a cave with a natural gas deposit whose fumes send her into a state of altered consciousness from whence she derives her hazy visions of the future and whose lover is the Sun God Apollo?
Okay, maybe not that interesting and anyway, I live in Inverness where the Sun God rarely makes an appearance and all I’ve got going for me in the trance-inducing department is the new book – any book – by Jonathan Franzen.
Absent those perks, it’s all about the mission: using jokes, tweets, predictions and, most especially, Big Ideas to move America beyond its paralysis and into a new thought frame called Emily’s Universe.