“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. Butterfly-300x235In 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

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, spacetimein 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. 

black holeHawking explains: 

“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.

p-braneUNLESS . . . 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?

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