Oracle Bones Michael Sacco

Oracle Bone Divination

Oracle bone divination involves the process of using heat to crack bones. These cracks are then interpreted to create predictions and provide insight into the future. Learn more at:


Oracle bone divination tends to fall under multiple aspects of the framework for predictive systems. While it seemingly randomized, as the human heats the bone and then cracks form, as it became more popular there were efforts to control the effects of the heat. Eventually, practiced diviners were capable of producing similar results through different trials. This is why I would also categorize oracle bone divination as deterministic. After the cracks are observed, predictions such as the quality of a year’s crop yield would be made. There doesn’t appear to be evidence of how diviners would measure the accuracy of their predictive systems. Rather than measure the accuracy of their predictions, they worked towards controlling the burning of the bone in such a way that they could output a certain prediction based on their method of burning.

During the dynastic period of China, from 4000 BCE to 1000 BCE the Shang Dynasty heavily used this method of divination. It became an essential part of their culture, as it was used to make decisions in political, social, and economic fields. Essentially, the control of the bone cracks shaped how these societies and groups of people grew and developed.

In terms of free will vs. determinism, the idea of oracle bone divination relies on the knowledge of the person seeking a prediction. If this person is familiar with the methods of bone burning, then they perhaps may be aware of the fact that the diviner can in some ways control the outcome. By this logic it is difficult to refer to this process as determinism, as the person knows that the outcome is being decided by the diviner. The predictions however may still subconsciously provide guidance to the person and influence their free will. If the person is not aware of these methods, and believes that the cracks are random and truly capable of predicting somewhat accurately, then this person’s beliefs will likely fall under deterministic ideology. This is because they believe that the cracks are indeed predicting the future, and that it is already set in stone or more appropriately, bone.