What techniques should be used to find the already written future of me?
February 5, 2013 2:41 PM   Subscribe

Let's say that certain phases of my life were already written in a book 70 - 100 years ago by someone, who was either a futurist of a scifi-writer. Let's also say that there are people, who want to make sure - for some yet unknown reason - that I live through those phases and that my personality gets developed similarly to some character's personality in that book. The book would have been written a long time before I was born. Now, what kind of search engines and what kind of search strategies I should use to become sure that there actually is such a book? There might exists traces of revitalizing of the book, if the original writer didn't make good enough guesses about the future.
posted by spctrm to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
"Traces of revitalizing of the book"? I'm not sure what that means. Also to what extent is the book predictive? Presumably it's not simply a portrait of your current life (or you could just google your name and names of significant others in Google books). But how "meta" is it? That is, let's say you're a captain of industry, might it be a book about, say, a person who rises to become king of some fantasy country? Or would that be too far astray? Or if you have grown up in America could it be set in Australia?

I think the parameters need a little bit of clarifying before a useful answer can be proposed.
posted by yoink at 2:48 PM on February 5, 2013

Write up a brief account of events in your life that seem as if they might have been manipulated or manipulable, claim it's the plot to a really old SF book you read, and ask reference librarians, SF mailing lists and forums, AskMe, etc. for help in "remembering" the title.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:52 PM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

John Scalzi's Redshirts has something fairly similar as a plot point. As does the underrated movie Stranger Than Fiction, with Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson.

Not that this should rule out your using this as an idea in a novel or screenplay, I hasten to add! But you might want to see what other people have done with it.

Back in the pre-Internet days, one of the easiest ways to answer questions like "in what books do dragons befriend humans?" was to check Masterplots. Old editions of same might be a good way to find the plots of out-of-print books.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:40 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Agree that your protagonist asking booksellers and librarians about their life as a vague plot outline would be a logical way to do this (also a great way to introduce a love interest for your protagonist).
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:42 PM on February 5, 2013

If it were me, I'd spend a week looking at TVTropes and finding all the "plot points" I thought were relevant, then do a conglomerate search engine query that required all of those points to be present on the same page.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:08 PM on February 5, 2013

If the People Who Want To Make Sure are some kind of organisation or cult, then contacting someone who has made it their business to watch or study that group could lead to information about their book.
posted by anonymisc at 4:12 PM on February 5, 2013

Response by poster: yoink, "Traces of revitalizing of the book" referred to written or recorded discussions about such a book. If such could be found, one might be a step closer to the truth.

People like to speculate about all kinds of issues, but that can be considered less entertaining than actually making arrangements that assure certain kind of future (for someone). A book could be used as a basis of discussion for such arrangements.
posted by spctrm at 4:17 PM on February 5, 2013

Was this widely published, or is it a secret text that only the initiated know about? If the former, reference librarians and SF bookstore owners know all, as has been mentioned. If the latter, how would you have gotten the idea that such a book exists, and how much would you know about it?

If random strangers on the street let slip that you're the Chosen One as Jules Verne foretold, a trip to France to visit the Jules Verne Society (who published some of his works as late as the 1980's--JV seems like a good candidate for an author here, if you want a real one) might be necessary. Insert an appropriate organization or university where your author's papers and works might be housed as needed.

If you came across the book somehow and just needed to confirm its existence outside of some weird prank, the Library of Congress seems like a good place to check, assuming it was published in the United States at some point.
posted by lemonadeheretic at 4:18 PM on February 5, 2013

Response by poster: lemonadeheretic, I was thinking about a book that wasn't intended to be hidden from the public.

I mentioned a futurist and a scifi-writer, because many of them have made quite accurate guesses about the future, but they haven't been able to live long enough to see how the world reaches the advanced levels of technology, which this someone described in his book.

One of their books might tell a tale of a man, who was kept away from something by making him choose between paths, which would only make it harder to reach that something. For example, by making one choose a certain kind of educational institute might force him to graduate from it, because alternative would be to be unemployed.
posted by spctrm at 4:53 PM on February 5, 2013

I guess I'm wondering whether other people in the protagonist's life would be familiar with the book unbeknownst to him, or if the protagonist would stumble upon the book and have nobody know or believe what he was talking about.

Those seem like they'd be two quite different stories, with the added complication in the second story that people would be likely to think the protagonist was experiencing delusions (as in Conspiracy Theory or even Donnie Darko.)

The first story sounds a little bit like Stephen Fry's novel The Liar, which handles the theme fairly interestingly.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:15 PM on February 5, 2013

Response by poster: Before this discussion gets buried, I'd like to mention about the possibility of using sophisticated mathematical algorithms, which could compare real life person's history to happenings in multiple books. Then, question would be: how to ask such a question from a computer? It would also require modeling the behavior, characteristic traits and all kinds of milestones etc., so that they could be compared.

Alternative, but slow and limited technique would be to use websites like Small Demons, which allow one to search for people, places and things, which have been mentioned in a book.

Thanks to neuroscience in particular, making predictions about future behavior of named person, is becoming easier than ever. Also, in some cases it is quite enough to register how multiple on/off -type sensors are been used by a person. For example, here's one study related to such: Modeling Human Behavior from Simple Sensorsin the Home (possibilities are limited, but researchers certainly are interested to use more high level information)

Excerpt from the text: "Many of the common sensors today are binary, e.g. IR motion sensors, door close sensors, and floor pressure pads. Predicting user behavior is one of the key enablers for applications. -- -- However, n-gram models do not take into account higher level information such as task, activity or goal. Systems which integrate such high level information with low level analysis have been shown to be effective in modeling human activity. We plan to explore building a similar hierarchical system on top of our existing framework."

I mean to say that, if there are people, who are willing to arrange the life of some other, they need to know all kinds things about the person in question. There seems to be 460 search results between years 2000 and 2013 for the words "human behavior prediction" in the IEEE Xplore, so I guess the matter is been studies quite actively.
posted by spctrm at 10:16 PM on February 5, 2013

if the author was an academic futurist such as a philosopher-engineer, they may have published a newsletter. This might have online and offline histories. Perused by the protagonist in childhood while searching for anything to entertain. A memory of the text is part of the community history.
posted by parmanparman at 12:26 AM on February 6, 2013

One thing you might need to keep in mind is whether the predictions are specific or are they more metaphorical? Using the Bible for example, the Old Testament is full of predictions which "came true" in the life of Jesus. The Book of Revelations is supposedly a prediction of some future events and people in every era have claimed to have matched those signs to someone in their own time. But if you look at the specific words of the prediction, there are many ways to interpret what the event would really look like. Even today, we have people saying that the "666 mark of the beast" is manifest in RFID tags on student ID cards. The bible never mentioned RFID tags.

Another thing is whether the book could be read by multiple people around the world and if more than one person could shape events in their own or their protege's life to match what they read.
posted by CathyG at 11:06 AM on February 6, 2013

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