Friday 3 January 2014

For the New Year: Living in hope and fear


You and I know that the end of a year is a milometer event, the mere completion of one solar orbit, the defining point set somewhere in mid-winter in Europe, but at other points elsewhere. It is no achievement on our part, though something of an achievement to have worked out that the solar year repeats itself, and a further achievement to have worked out why in terms of Newtonian physics.

Nonetheless, this is a time for hoping that the next year will be better, suggesting that for some mysterious reason the last year had established some sort of aura or depressive groove which can be reset by the magical change of number. At least the Chinese have a better cover story, naming their years so as to allow citizens to ascribe characteristics to them. So, we hope for better, but fear worse. This is also the time for frightening predictions, about obesity, climate change, and sundry popular worries.

With that in mind, I predicted that hope would always predominate over fear, for the simple reason that reproduction requires optimism. I turned to N gram for confirmation, and found my views substantially confirmed. There was also a surprise: peaking in 1830, hope and fear have since been in free fall. Both words have reduced in frequency over 200 years, and by the Millennium were almost at par. Any reasonable computer model would have predicted fusion, or even a cross-over, with fear in the ascendant. For some reason there has been a rebound. Why?

It has nothing to do with the sin of greed, nor is it anything to do with optimism and pessimism. On this scale they are irrelevant. Neither do boom or bust figure, nor stocks or shares. Not even recession shows an effect.

Perhaps it is simply a song with those words in it, but we have begun to hope and fear again. Perhaps you can suggest why.



  1. I expect it has to do with the increasing rate of technological progress (drones, 3D printing, self-driving cars, genomics, virtual reality, Moore's Law and so on). We simply have more stuff to be hopeful about, and more stuff to be fearful of.

  2. Nope, something more obvious.

  3. obama, and left (hope) and right (fear)

  4. nope, effect is more important and prior to that.

  5. It seems in modern times, fear/hope mentions are inverse to recession, according to the chart. Once economic stability increases, we climb the Maslovian pyramid and feel safer externalizing - through reading and writing - our hope and fears.