For The Mother: Foresight and the Future

>> Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Mother asked: Does knowing something about the future alter it? Does Heisenberg apply to Tarot?

I like your question, the Mother. I won't pretend I have the answer, but I will tell you what I think.

Let's presume that foresight is possible or we won't get anywhere. I'm guessing that's not a notion you embrace, but who doesn't like to play, "what if"? So, there are three possibilities.

First, there's the possibility that the future cannot be changed, whether we see it or not. Heinlein's first short story, "Lifeline" was based on this notion. The specifics around the main events might not match exactly but the privotal events are not changeable. This works with the notion of Karma or destiny, that everyone has particular fates that cannot be changed. Sometimes, this is expressed as people knowing they're making a mistake and yet not being able to stop themselves. I'm not a big fan of this kind of thinking - the "I-can't-help-myself" thinking because I think it is a way of avoiding responsibility. I generally tend to think we make our own destiny; however, I also feel like my husband and I were destined to be together. I am a hopeless romantic, after all. What I'm saying is that I believe that there are things we can't change, knowing about them or not, because they are beyond our control. And there may be decisions that we can't change because any other decision is unconscionable. I have played with both situations in fiction.

Secondly, there's the possibility that foreknowledge will allow you to shape the future, avoid unhappy events without impinging on foreseen successes. Unfortunately, there's always a possibility that the changes you make will lead to new events as bad or worse in a "Monkey's Paw" kind of way. Still, the thinking that knowing the future can help us shape it is probably what drives many to seek fortune-tellers and oracles. However, I think just as many people just want to know what to expect. The unknown is often scary and knowing, even if it's not the answer you wanted, can be less frightening than not knowing. It's interesting that, though I favor the notion that free will, this isn't a path I often write about. I guess I'm a believer in balance, that trying to make it all good will backfire.

Thirdly, there's the possibility that actions you take to avoid your fate actually make your fate come to fruition. From a fiction standpoint, this is one of my favorites and I use it in the Tarot Queen stories all the time. It's sort of a variation on the first one, that your fate cannot be avoided, but I'm not sure that it's the same thing. It's like the time travel stories where you went to the past only to find out that it was your going back in that changed the past into what it was.

So, having said all that, do I think knowing the future changes the future? I think it can - if the future is mutable. That doesn't mean, however, that changing the future is a good idea. Ironic, no?


  • Roy

    Hmmmm... Since the Tarot is a way of observing a particular stream, I'd assume Heisenberg applies. We certainly interfere by our interpretation of what the cards say, and often act according to the interpretation. Self-fulfilling prophecy, maybe?

    There's also the "many universes" hypothesis, where every decision creates a branch - the old direction, and the new direction the decision sends us in. And after all, isn't that one way the future changes the future?

    But then I may be the wrong person to talk about the Tarot and the future, because that's not what I do when I read it (or the I Ching or the Runes). I'm very Jungian in my approach, and see such oracles as a way to use universal archetypes read a person's inner dialogue to resolve problems or determine a course of action. For me, they don't predict the future, they show us how we can create it. And that's Heisenberg to the max!

  • The Mother

    I'm afraid I have to agree, on everything except the possibility of foresight in general (which, of course, you anticipated). Not that it isn't theoretically possible--the rules of science work in both time dimensions. We just seem to perceive time as moving forward, and no one has been able to scientifically prove prescience.

    Still, I refuse to believe in predestination (one of my beefs with the Church in general). I do believe we all control our own fates (although, as you point out, certainly not all elements of our lives).

    So, if we grant prescience, then I must decide, based on my own prejudices, that any future postulated is only one of the possible outcomes, and that outcome can be changed.

    And since we're guessing anyway, I'm guessing that I'm right.

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