🌰 novels can predict geopolitical conflict 5 years in advance

This is one of my favorite facts.

I recently came across Tracy Durnell’s response to Lincoln Michel’s piece When Will Novels Fix Society Already?. To oversimplify both pieces, they explored the question of “How does literature impact society, if at all?”, which reminded me of one of my favorite facts.

According to the Guardian, novels can accurately predict wars 5 years in advance. It’s a complex algorithm– equal parts art and science– taking into account content, government response, critical acclaim, and popularity. And the results are striking:

In February 2019, two years after Wertheimer’s team had identified Algeria as a region of interest, civil protests broke out in Algiers and several other cities, culminating in the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

What’s unclear (and perhaps unknowable) is which is the more important part of the feedback loop. Do novels reflect societal sentiment, which can then be extrapolated to long-term geopolitical consequences? Or do skilled novelists plant political seeds? One of the researchers on the Cassandra project implied that it goes both ways, saying:

“We realised that literature can also help solve or lessen conflicts,” Schlicht says. “Not every book divides opinion.”

This raises two interesting points. The first is that despite Michel’s concern that literature no longer has the audience it once did, novels are still hugely relevant. The second is that perhaps novels play the long game of influence. In his piece, Michel quotes Kurt Vonnegut as saying:

“During the Vietnam War … every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high.”1

But perhaps those respectable artists were part of why the Vietnam war went the way it did. After all, between 1967 and 1971, the percentage of Americans against the war grew from 30% to 60%.2 If Project Cassandra can link novels to wars two years out, who’s to say art didn’t make a difference here too?


  • Source: [[Can novelists see the future The German military decided to put that premise to a test]]
  • Related to: [[🌰 How to Make a Prediction]]

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Every post on this blog is a work in progress. Phrasing may be less than ideal, ideas may not yet be fully thought through. Thank you for watching me grow.