For Soubriquet: Reconciling the Mystical and Science

>> Monday, January 11, 2010

Soubriquet asked: How does a rocket-scientist reconcile Science with Tarot and Palmistry, and other mystical phenomena? It's a serious question. Do you believe that tarot cards can predict the future, that a person's fate is written in the lines of their palm?

I think it's an excellent question (though I've touched on it before). I actually thought I could do some searches and provide examples, but I probably didn't label it well. I rarely do.

What I've said before, and I hold by this, is that there is no conflict for me.

I understand and accept that data and facts are required, as well as rigid adherence to the scientific process, for something to be scientifically valid, to be science, whether it's a "fact" or a theory (which is subject to challenge). Reality is not forgiving and doesn't give partial credit. When someone says they "believe" something will be strong enough or powerful enough or reliable enough for human lives to depend on, they better have the data to back it or I'll be asking some hard questions and, on a few occasions, providing a formal protest.

But I'm also a living breathing person with imagination and feelings and all that goes with it. I dream. I envision. And I don't disbelieve in anything that can't be readily disproven.

Does that conflict with my scientist persona? Absolutely not! Why would it? The world is a fascinating and amazing thing. People do things no one could imagine. I'd be twenty times the fool thinking I know so much that, if I can't explain it or prove it, it can't be. I'm not that arrogant. And most of the good scientists I know are equally slow to discount something out of hand.

Some of the mystical things I believe, some I don't. But I don't disbelieve any of them. I, personally, believe in reincarnation and the potential for psychic power - or magic if you prefer -, a higher power or deity, souls and magic. I don't personally believe in heaven or hell, Satan, demonic possession or Santa Claus. I don't take the Bible as a literal translation of anything but the words of other people (and even that is doubtful). I don't believe in anything that argues treating others with hatred and fear.

I don't insist or expect anyone to share my beliefs. I'm perfectly satisfied with my beliefs as they are and, in fact, will discard one if it can be disproven. I don't discount the possibility that things I don't believe in to be true; I just don't personally believe they are. However, in either case, my beliefs and my what I don't believe, neither is fact and I'm careful not to let what I believe put myself and others at risk. I don't confuse it with science. Why would I?

I believe my children are wonderful. I love them dearly. Neither of those are scientifically derived, yet they are both true. By which example, I can demonstrate that what we have accepted as science does not encompass all that is true. I don't know what else is true.

Now, I don't hold with things that are demonstrably false and, therefore, potentially dangerous, such as anti-vaccine nonsense or that people have no appreciable effect on the climate. Others aren't potentially dangerous, like the lunatics who believe we never landed on the moon, but I don't see any reason to pander to them either.

The mystic, however, can neither be proven or disproven. I am an advocate of freedom of religion and/or belief as long as those beliefs harm no one else. I have frequently (but don't remember to on every post) encouraged people not to take tarot readings too seriously. Do I think they truly tell the future? Well, I don't know. I discount the possibility. It could be that, at best, you see what you already knew to be true in the cards whatever turns up. It could be more than that. Originally, I didn't think they could do anything. Now I'm not so sure. I do believe people can understand each other, communicate on some unexpected wavelength that allows one person to discern truths a person has not even acknowledged themselves, but I believe it comes the questioner. But it's a belief, not science, and I've never tested it and would never recommend anyone build their lives based on what a tarot reading told them.

People who refuse to have their children treated for treatable illnesses, like diabetes, I have no respect for. Pray all you want, have whoever you want put their hands on her, try any non-dangerous mystic cure you care to - but don't fail to take advantage of modern science while you're at it. If my child were in danger, I wouldn't turn my back on any solution that could help (as long as it did no harm).

Apparently, many people have a hard time with separating the two. I have to admit, that just confuses me. My openness to what hasn't been proven or disproven, I consider part and parcel with being a scientist. Many a great scientist was also a great mystic or deeply religious. After all, part of being a scientist is admitting what you don't know...


  • Jeff King

    great points...

  • Relax Max

    I accept that explanation. You are still a good scientist. :)

  • Yorkshire Land Rover Owners Club

    I think I'm still none the wiser.
    I suppose I was hoping you might have some empirical evidence to support either tarot or palmistry.
    I wonder to what extent the success of either relates to the ability of the reader to assess the subject. I am absolutely convinced that we can communicate more non-verbally than we are aware of, and that some people are more adept than others at interpreting non-verbal clues.
    But I can't, no matter how I try, see how a bunch of cards can predict the future.
    Nor astrology. I wonder if anyone has ever followed the lives and careers of babies born in the same time and place? If astrology has any truth in it, surely there should be a lot of similar twists in the fates for children born on the same day in the same hospital?

  • Stephanie B

    I don't have any emperical evidence either. The thing is, I'm not sure we could get any and have it mean anything.

    Take the potential for psychic power. When I was a kid, I would often be at school and have some song (I often hated) roll through my head all day. When I'd get home, my sister (who I'm quite close with) would be singing it. Now, where there non-verbal clues? Nope. Could it be coincidence? Of course, even though it happened multiple times. Could it be psychic power? Yes, but it's impossible to prove one way or the other. Just because you can read from one mind, doesn't mean you can read from another or always can read from the first. I came home to find my sister singing many times without picking up the tune remotely.

    That's the problem with such things. People who already believe don't need convincing. People who will never believe won't believe it even if it's true without that empirical evidence. People who don't discount the possibility will note that the story neither proves nor disproves anything.

    That's the problem with the cards and astrology, too. It's subjective. Hell, eye color is subjective. If someone says you've loved and lost when you're 40 and asking if "he's the one," is it because the reader knows or because it's a reasonable guess given the circumstances. The meanings of the cards often have tremendous leeway.

    To be honest, I was entirely with you on the Tarot before I tried it (long story behind that - research for a series of fantasy stories) - how could the fall of the cards tell the future? That's physics. Except, I was surprised how often I managed to discern real answers. And I can't explain it.

    Maybe it's a matter of someone who has a precognitive bent just using triggers to find what they already sensed. Maybe it's nonsense and nothing more than coincidence. I don't know.

    I do know that I don't have to "know" for it to be an interesting hobby and to dabble for entertainment. Ironically, while I seem to have a knack for reading other people's fortunes, I can't do so for myself. Mine always come out muddled or indeterminate.

  • soubriquet

    I'd relabel my earlier comment if I knew how... but it was me, anyway, looking for evidence.

    I'll have to keep tarot and palmistry in the section marked "nonsense" until some evidence turns up to persuade me otherwise.

    But then. I've very definitely seen a ghost, or experienced that ghost's actions. And I'd have said I don't believe in ghosts.

    And some people don't believe in ball lightning. I do, because I shared my room, in a thunderstorm, for a while with a mysterious floating, fizzing, crackling ball of light. I got out of its way, rather quickly, and it meandered.... and then faded and disappeared, leaving no residue other than a smell like that you get around high voltage switch gear.
    So, there are things I can't begin to explain that I'm sure exist.
    I knew two girls, we knew them as the blondie twins, they had a certain Debbie Harryness about them.... and they did seem to be able to communicate over distance. Each seemed to know when the other would walk through the door, even with their backs to the door. They became distressed if separated and the other was hurt. Maybe it was illusion, but it seemed genuine.

  • Stephanie B

    By all means, do. I am not trying to convince you otherwise. I don't have a strong opinion about palmistry - the only time my palm's been read, she insisted I'd had three children. She was quite adamant. I was equally adamant that she was wrong.

    As for tarot, I felt the same until I started to do it myself. Even now, I couldn't tell you why I've been won over.

  • The Mother

    I think your explanation is quite good. I would like to add, though, that there is a million dollar prize just waiting for anyone who can prove psychic ability under proper test conditions. The "big" names have never even applied to be tested--which says something, doesn't it?

    I play with tarot, too, but I never pretend it's real. It's important that we never take advantage of those who might believe; this is the worst possible treachery (think the tv psychics who prey on people and their emotions).

  • Stephanie B

    I do make an effort not to dupe anyone or pretend that anyone should live their life based on my reading.

    I find, actually, that the reading tends to tell me the same advice I would give them if they had just asked me.

    That might not be coincidence.

  • Aron Sora

    How bad is this? Should I worry? What can I do to increase public support of space?

  • south university virginia beach

    It is so nice to learn that you are comfortable with both science and art. People should be like that -- a little more holistic, a little more open minded. If you are all facts, you tend to see the beauty of abstract things that makes life beautiful and colorful. If you are all art, you tend to lose hold of reality that makes you all dreamy and all believing. You have a good balance. Kudos to you!

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