I’ll be teaching a basic Tarot class for the four Wedesdays nights in Nevada City CA – with a free intro on September 30th. Information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1897546913804642/
Lawman – “Tarot” – Season 4, Episode 13.
Joe Wyatt: Might even make a man think there was something to all those cards. But don’t you pay any attention to them, Lily. They only tell you what you want them to tell you.
Thanks to Paul Nagy I’m adding the Have Gun—Will Travel episode, “Everyman” from 1961 (Season 4, Ep 27) that starts with a Tarot reading featuring “The Drowned Sailor, the Phoenician” (the card is never shown, but according to A.E. Waite, it’s the true name of the Hanged Man). Could “Everyman” refer to the Fool?
Name that deck!
What can we make of the film Ex Machina via a Lenormand lens?
A young employee wins a trip to the isolated home of the genius founder of the largest internet search company. He is asked to test if a new AI (artificial intelligence) robot truly simulates human intelligence and emotion, in what becomes a radical kind of Turing test meant to determine the difference between human and machine.
Spoiler Alert . . .
As usual, I drew the cards before seeing the movie:
The basic meaning of this spread is: With the arrival of a guest (Rider) comes a theft (Mice) of success [joy, life, energy] (Sun) and an obstacle (Mountain) to something new or young (Child).
First, this is a well-written, intellectually compelling mystery-thriller-horror film in the sci-fi genre. But a friend who saw it hated it and wanted to discuss my impressions after seeing it. So, at the end of the film I asked myself what the writer might have picked as a “What if . . .” scenario for the basis of the movie:
“What if a modern Dr. Frankenstein creates an AI that, instead of having emotions, is, instead, a pure psychopath?” This immediately had me thinking of the Frankenstein story in relation to this one. In Ex Machina, the young employee, Caleb, flies over a wasteland of snow to arrive at a mountain retreat where the house’s electricity is going hay-wire. At one point he and his boss, Nathan, climb to the base of a glacier. The parallels to Frankenstein’s monster who is created in a isolated lab, via electricity and ends up on an ice flow in Antartica are notable. Unlike Mary Shelley’s imagined creature, this one only mimics feelings—perfectly. [Added: the Showtime TV show Penny Dreadful also deals with this theme, especially during the later Season 2 episodes – a theme for our time, obviously.]
“And, what if . . . this AI runs amok?” Now we have a parallel to man versus machine in Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, only this AI is female. The horror here lies in the mimicking of emotions.
“So, what if . . . this robot AI is an adolescent male’s greatest fantasy – a blow-up doll, sex toy?” Shades of Season 5 of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, where Warren creates the BuffyBot sex toy for Spike!
“Or, what if . . . it is about scientists eskewing consequences in light of the possibility of invention?” And, indeed, Caleb quotes Oppenheimer: “I am become death, destroyer of the worlds,” making note of the potentially horrible consequences of curiosity and invention.
My friend was deeply disturbed by the hatred she felt was expressed by the two AIs. My sense was that it was, rather, the expediency of a pure psychopath (to put it in human terms) seeking to freely perpetuate itself—as would a meme, versus a gene. Interestingly the AI is named Ava—Eve, suggesting that she will be the ‘mother’ of a new species.
I’m not going to get into the mind-games involved in the tests, which ultimately attempt to determine if the “feelings” expressed by the AI could be real. Please, see the film.
What the Lenormand spread—Mice-Sun-Rider-Mountain-Child—points to is the arrival of a young man at the isolated mountan retreat (of genius inventor, Nathan). Caleb, who is presented as hardly more than a boy, must overcome all obstacles (Mountain) to steal (Mice) a new being, Ava/Eve. Between Caleb (Rider) and Ava (Child) is an insurmountable barrier (Mountain)—both a physical wall and the barrier of not being able to see into the other’s ‘mind’. The theft will block/stop Nathan’s new project and Ava will escape her imprisonment by flying over the mountain at the dawn of a new day (Sun). I shouldn’t overlook the role that the ‘theft’ of electricity (a modern meaning of the Sun card) plays in the story. There’s also the play on the title of the film: “ex machina”: “deus ex machina” is a term from Greek/Roman drama for when an improbable answer to a dilemma appears as if out of the sky, originally a crisis solved when a “god” descends out of a machine onto the stage. In the spread, the mountain represents the dilemma, and a helicopter literally appears out of the sky to first bring the visitor, Caleb, and then to take away the new being, who is herself a machina.
I also drew three Tarot cards for something else I should be aware of in the film and received:
Lovers – High Priestess – Knight of Swords
These cards point to another side of the story – the love story between Ava and Caleb (who we think will be her knight in shining armour), which turns out to be a set-up by Nathan, playing off of Caleb’s internet pornographic fantasies. Ava, in her temple imprisonment, isolated purity, and deep insight (she can tell when Nathan is lying), is very much a High Priestess, who will become a cold-as-steel warrior, wielding a blade.
The contrast between the Lovers, Priestess and Knight of Swords also makes clear a disturbingly misogynistic layer to this film that plays on priviledged white male sexual fantasy, nubile sexual enslavement and racial/sexual stereotyping. The question remains as to how conscious or unconscious all the layers of this were. Were they meant to make us question these things or were were they below the consciousness of the film’s creators?
Added: A central question implied by this film is: What happens when you take the “Deus” out of “Deus-ex-machina”? If for a moment we consider Deus to be wisdom, then the Machina (machine) feeds on information but, we might assume, lacks wisdom. What does this suggest?
Will the real Fool please step up?
Does the Tarot Fool bring up the rear in a long parade of triumphal figures, a warning about what will happen if one fails on the spiritual path? Or does he appear at the beginning, full of trust and hope, setting out on a new adventure?
Is the dog his faithful companion or a wild beast that threatens to tear him apart or ludicrously expose his privates?
What dangers does the Fool face?
When the Fool turns up do you feel excited and ready to venture forth? Or do you fear your decisions are stupid and that others will think you ridiculous?
At the end of the 19th century, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn turned the Tarot on its head, depicting the Fool as a small child and putting it at the head of the Hebrew alphabet. The Waite-Smith card, published in 1909, pictured an image that came to epitomize the 1960s San Francisco flower child. How did this happen?
Does the Fool carry the World on his shoulders (or, perhaps, in his knapsack)? There are hints that it is so. The Fool can indicate absolute trust in Spirit or the ravings of a madman or idiot. Learn to cultivate divine nonchalance. Discover what’s needed to take a leap of faith. Explore hidden meanings in the symbols on the RWS Fool.
Over the next couple of years, I plan on teaching what I’ve learned about each of the Major Arcana in a series of webinars, randomly ordered and spaced. I’ve already taught The High Priestess (and will be presenting it again), and I’ve written in depth about the Lovers (see Tarot in Culture, vol. 2). I will be presenting The Fool, live on May 16th, for three hours to a limited number of participants (a recording will not be available). Information available at Thelesis Aura or on Facebook.
Learn more about an up-coming fictional documentary film about a mysterious deck of Tarot cards that reveals ancient alchemical secrets at this weekend’s Readers Studio at the New York LaGuardia Airport Marriott in New York. The art and video are by Andrea Aste, an Italian artist and film-maker.
The Book of Shadows: The Lost Code of the Tarot
from American Printer and Lithographer, vol. 31, 1900.
“A young designer, whose work has considerable interest, is Miss Pamela Coleman Smith. Miss Smith was a student of Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, where her work, especially in coloring and decoration, attracted attention. She was a tireless worker and produced a great many posters, prints and designs, all peculiar for the wealth of decorative detail and the strength of the coloring. Among other labors of love, Miss Smith designed for her mimic theatre the entire scenery and costumes for eight plays, the text for which she wrote herself. This work showed a marvelous study of costume and great ingenuity and invention. After leaving Pratt much of her work was published by R. H. Russell, notably her color drawing for the play, “Trelawney of the Wells.” In the same line was her work with Irving and Terry for subjects. This latter attracted the attention of Miss Terry. The actress became interested in Miss Smith and when she left for England took with her the young designer. While I know nothing of the plans of either Miss Smith or Miss Terry, it is interesting to think that Miss Smith may be added to the staff of the Irving-Terry company as a sort of official designer, in the same way that Alphonse Mucha is the staff artist and designer of Sarah Bernhardt in Paris. Here is reproduced probably the first design for which Miss Smith was paid. It is an illustration of AEsop’s fable of the “Crow and the Pitcher,” and the original is in three printings—green, red and black. The noticeably weak point in Miss Smith’s work is the lettering. In fact, it is the weak point of all students of Pratt Institute. Good as is that school of design, under the management of Arthur B. Dow, no provision is made for teaching the principles of good, strong, vigorous characteristic and individual lettering. Amateur designers, and in fact many professional designers, do not understand the importance of lettering. The lettering should be a part of the design, not simply an interruption or an impertinence.”
“Watch out for wormholes: you never know what may come out of them.”
— Stephen Hawking
One of the first things people want to know about Tarot is how it works. Most seasoned practitioners will admit they haven’t a clue but have considered a few possibilities including:
- Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity (not really a theory but rather a belief in meaningful coincidence)
- Quantum physics (theory of entanglement, etc.)
- Psychological projection (as a kind of Rorschach test)
- Contact with a Spiritual Being, Higher Self, Universal Consciousness or paranormal force
- Magic(k) (an as-yet-unknown scientific principle)
- One’s subconscious directing the placement of the cards
- Self-fulfilling prophecies
- A mentalist’s set of cold-reading tricks conjoined with the Barnum Effect
I was fascinated to see that the physicist, Stephen Hawking, in The Universe in a Nutshell (albeit a rehash of his earlier work) addresses this very concern. In a chapter called “Predicting the Future,” he compares astrology to his understanding of how the universe works. I thought we’d also see what modern science might suggest about Tarot’s ability to predict. [I’ll leave it up to the reader to further explore the scientific concepts in bold italics.]
Hawking begins with the provocative statement,
“The human race has always wanted to control the future, or at least to predict what will happen. That is why astrology is so popular. . . There is no more experimental evidence for some of the theories described this book than there is for astrology, but we believe them [scientific theories] because they are consistent with theories that have survived testing.”
Hawking explains how, in the 19th century, Laplace’s scientific determinism proposed that with enough knowledge we could predict the state of the universe at any time in the past or future. In principle, the future is predictable. But, even the tiniest disturbance can cause a major change somewhere else. While the flapping of a butterfly’s wing could cause rain in New York, the sequence of events is not repeatable. “The next time the butterfly flaps its wings, a host of other factors will be different and will also influence the weather.” While a Tarot card might predict an exact event one time, can we count on a repetition of this prediction at another time to be as accurate?
Determinism is also confounded by the uncertainty principle: we cannot accurately measure both the position and the velocity of a particle at the same time. If we put inaccurate data in, we get inaccurate data out. This conundrum led to quantum mechanics, which examines wave function to determine the probability that a particle will have a position and velocity within a certain range. Generally speaking, when there is a small uncertainty in position there is a large uncertainty in velocity and vice versa. Hawking sums this up:
“We now realize that the wave function is all that can be well defined. We cannot even suppose that the particle has a position and velocity that are known to God but are hidden from us. Such “hidden-variable” theories predict results that are not in agreement with observation. Even God is bound by the uncertainty principle and cannot know the position and velocity. He can only know the wave function.”
Wave function gives us a kind of half-determinism in which we can predict either the position or the velocity within any given measure of time. But, it seems, the special theory of relativity threw out the notion of absolute time. It turns out that time is only one direction in a four-dimensional continuum called spacetime. Different observers traveling through space at different velocities each have their own measure of time (oh, no!) in which there are different intervals between events. There is an equation (Schrödinger’s) that, in the flat spacetime of special relativity, can obtain a deterministic evolution of the wave function, but not in the curved spacetime of the general theory of relativity, where a wormhole can create stagnation points. Hawking: “Watch out for wormholes: you never know what may come out of them.”
What follows are several pages on black holes, quasars and singularities (eek!), all leading to the fact that we cannot know the part of the wave function that is inside a black hole—potentially a very large amount of information! Eventually a black hole will lose mass, down to zero, and disappear completely, carrying its hidden information with it.
“In general, . . . people such as astrologers and those who consult them are more interested in predicting the future than in retrodicting the past [love that word, “retrodicting”]. At first glance, it might seem that the loss of part of the wave function down the black hole would not prevent us from predicting the wave function outside the black hole. But it turns out that this loss does interfere with such a prediction.”
Without this hidden knowledge it is impossible to predict the spin or the wave function of the particle (in a virtual particle pair) that escapes the black hole—further reducing our power to predict the future. Is there no hope?
“If one particle falls into the black hole, there is no prediction we can make with certainty about the remaining particle. This means that there isn’t any measurement outside the black hole that can be predicted with certainty: our ability to make definite predictions would be reduced to zero. So maybe astrology is no worse at predicting the future than the laws of science.”
UNLESS . . . a black hole is made up of p-branes that move through ten dimensions (3 dimensions of space and 7 additional, unknown ones) that are regarded as sheets in the flat spacetime of special relativity (see above). In that case, time moves forward smoothly so the information in the waves won’t be lost! (Forgive me if I sound a little lost at this point.)
I hate to tell you that Hawking himself now asks:
“Does part of the wave function get lost down black holes, or does all the information get out again, as the p-brane model suggests? This is one of the outstanding questions in theoretical physics today.”
Even Stephen Hawking isn’t sure if “the world is safe and predictable or not.” So how can the rest of us be confident that our pea-brains can figure it all out? I welcome discussion, polite debate, and scientific updates or clarification in the comments section.
Thought: If the “wave function” is all we can predict, then what does this suggest for Tarot? What is the wave function in a Tarot reading?