Can Tarot cards predict love?

Can Tarot cards predict love? Ahh, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a decisive answer to this question. How much wisdom we would gain about perhaps the most popular questions put before the Tarot cards.

Can Tarot cards predict my love or that of another?

First, there is a quotidian and normal, non-mysterious sense in which Tarot cards can be good dating advice insofar as they help us reflect upon, work through, and process our complex relationships to ourselves, the world, and the people we are involved with.

I won’t be speaking about any of that in this post because the answer is pretty noncontroversial (to me, least): Tarot cards can be useful psychological tools for introspection, basically just elaborate symbolic diaries based on archetypal images, random chance, and a healthy dose of creative mystery.

Since I won’t be discussing the common-sense approach to Tarot and love, I will be tackling the question we are all actually interested in: can Tarot honest-to-god predict love?

First, we have to answer whether Tarot cards can predict anything.

If it can’t predict something simple, why would we expect it to be able to predict that oh-so complicated and fickle emotion: Love. I have already written at length about the Tarot’s supposed capacity to predict the future (the answer is: it depends.)

Second, and more importantly, we have to establish whether anything can predict love. For what if love is subject to Laws of Nature that have no deterministic basis? After all, it is a feeling, a mental experience. Can there be a deterministic science of the mind?

In other words, to know if Tarot cards predict love, we have to quickly dive into some deep waters of philosophy, concerning the supposed freedom of the human mind and its relation to deterministic causality.

Do minds even exist?

Some people are eliminativists about the mind and say that “minds” do not exist. Everything that exists is physical. Minds cannot be reduced to the physical, not because they are immaterial, but because they just don’t exist at all.

The eliminativist says, sure, we have linguistic and cognitive structures that make reference to minds. But those are essentially social fictions. Narratives. Stories. But in reality, the most fundamental ontological category of “stuff” is just physical stuff. Not consciousness. No experience. No mind. Just swirling physical contingency.

Now, the entire presupposition of modern science is that behind every physical phenomenon is a cause. Everything that exists is the collection of all the phenomena. And behind everything there is a cause, including all things manifest phenomena associated with people being in love, falling in love, expressing love, feeling love, etc., etc.

According to this view, the current consensus is that the most plausible causal candidate for explaining the phenomenon of love is the biological body of human beings, specifically the neurological structures of the nervous system and the systems it interacts with.

According to this model, the “feelings” associated with love are really just elaborate and complex modes of physical existence happening in fantastically complicated ways, on a scale of existence ranging from the smallest quanta to the largest galaxy.

Now, for purposes of this essay I will be bracketing concerns about if physical phenomena are fundamentally governed by quantum mechanics, and quantum phenomena are inherently non-predictable, being of an inherently random or probabilistic nature.

Introspection corrupts the inquiry into the nature of consciousness

When we reflect on the question of, “Is consciousness really just physical?” we set off an “internal” process of introspection. According to the eliminativists, the process of “internal introspection,” of reflecting on what-our-consciousness is-like, is really just a series of physical events/functions/contigencies happening, likely in our nervous system, interacting with our body and the world. Associated with such phenomena is what we think and speak of as “qualia,” or what-it-is-likeness.

Since to reflect on the brain, the process of introspection, itself a brain process, interacts with the brain, influencing it and changing it.

Thus, because there is something-it-is-like to introspect, and arguably all human explicit inquiries into the nature of consciousness are done through introspection. If we introspected on consciousness and were not able to put that introspection into an explicit, communicable structure, not explanation would ever get off the ground. All we would is pure intuition, which, while valuable, does not an explanation make.

We have and use this language of feeling. There is something-it-is-like to fall in love. Love exists as a feeling. We have a loving perspective on a person. We experience the person as an object of love.

Great, this is all language we can use to express and think about the mind. But we can also use the term “money” to talk about the value of money, which, according to the physicalist, does not exist in the same primitive, fundamental ontological category that physical phenomena exist in/as. Money is just an elaborate social fiction. It is not “real” in the same fundamental sense as the physical. What if the mind is in a similar ontological category?

If the physicalists are right about love, we might raise the question: if love is just a complex physical phenomenon, is it determined? That is, does the combination of the laws of the universe at the Big Bang, and throughout the entirety of space and time, act together in such a way so as to set my love for my partner in stone, such that if you could rewind the universe, and played it back, I would fall in love all over again?

If eliminativism is true it doesn’t entail materialism is true.

You could be an eliminativist about the physical. Suppose everything that exists is mental. Literally substitute the term “mental” for “physical” in every instance of the physicalist’s above argument.

The logic is the exact same: the only difference is that the eliminativist has a special answer to the question: why do I eliminate the physical in favor of the mental?

Well, simple: I have direct access to the mental. I only have indirect access to the physical. This is Kant’s hard wall between the phenomenal world and the noumenal world.

The idealist applies Occam’s razor to Kant’s distinction, and in the interest of simplicity, uses eliminativist logic to say: I only have access to the phenomenal i.e. mental experience, i.e. experience, i.e. the mental.

So why suppose there is physical stuff? I have everything I need right here: mental stuff. I can experience it. Feel. Be it.

This is why Descartes said he can doubt everything except that experience is happening.

Ahh! You might say. How do you explain those…uh…other people over there? Are they just figments in your imagination? Am I a figment in your imagination?

Not at all. But maybe we are figments in someone else’s imagination. And this someone is big. Bigger than us. Bigger than the world. Bigger than the Cosmos. Maybe is the Cosmos.

So, who are we to believe, the mental eliminativist or the physical eliminativist?

They both appeal to Occam’s razor. They both can “explain” stuff by pointing at the “stuff” that constitutes the phenomena. The physicalist points to brain stuff and says “that explains love.” The idealist points to the brain and says “the brain is really just mental stuff and mental stuff explains love.”

But what about physics? Science? Isn’t the advantage of physicalism that it has explanatory power?

Well, it’s not so simple. The mathematical model has the explanatory power. Is math physical? Is the number 12 a physical thing? The math explains the laws of “nature.” They’re what we use to predict things in a reliable, statistical fashion.

But what is most natural to exist? Material stuff or physical stuff? The idealist could just say there is a structure and logic to the Great Mind of the Cosmos, the Big Consciousness that subsumes all the smaller consciousnesses, and that structure and logic is stable and predictable enough such that the human mind is capable of using math to model it and make successful predictions about both the modes of Big Consciousness and the modes of the smaller consciousness.

The idealist would just say you are making predictions about the Laws of Mind, which governs the reality of mentality.

But what is the point? Isn’t this just verbal games? A matter of debating about which words to use? Physical? Mental? Schmental?

At the end of the day, those words are just empty signs, pointing this way or that.

But what are they pointing at? The very fact that it’s so intuitive that words and thoughts and beliefs can “point” to things at all is pretty cool. My experiences are of something. That word means something. That concept means something. That experience was so meaningful. 

This is what philosophers call “intentionality.” I think of this as a kind of mental archer, who shows the arrow of “intending” from one thing to another, from our mind to the mind, from the mind to the other, reaching out over the distance between the mental and the object of the mental.

And what is that other? Is it just dead stuff? Those dust particles floating around? What are they? Lifeless, non-mental stuff? Well, if everything is mental, then everything has intentionality, everything is conscious, everything has a point of view, everything has a phenomenology. From the smallest quanta to the biggest atom, the smallest bacterium to the biggest boulder. The densest blackhole to the brightest star.

But this raises a nesting problem.

Is a galaxy conscious? Is a tribe? A solar system? A family? An assemblage of organs? A colony of ants? A set of computers?

The greatest explanatory power of idealism is that you can explain the mystery of consciousness i.e. why does consciousness exist at all, as opposed to just being physical stuff only with no consciousness, by postulating that, well, everything is consciousness.

But that raises another mystery equally challenging as the first: at what level of reality does the galaxy exist?

Does it exist at just the particle level? But quantum mechanics says that both particles and waves exist. Light is both a particle and wave. It acts-as-a-particle and acts-as-a-wave, depending on the context. So is the ocean conscious or just the atoms of H20?

This problem crops up in philosophy a lot. We don’t know how to carve reality at its joints. We don’t even know if it has joints! Does a Great Cosmic Mind have joints? Does the physical space-time loaf have joints? If it does, how would we ever know what they really are? What if the act of carving influences the nature of the joints themselves?

Wow, I really got off track. What does anything of this have to do with whether Tarot can predict love?

Because knowing whether Tarot can predict love is the easy question. Knowing whether love is the type of thing that is predictable is the hard problem.

Which raises the next question, arguably more important than the first: should you try to predict love with the Tarot?

This topic deserves an entire post unto itself. Stay tuned.

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