BLIND SPOT: Are you a fortuneteller or a psychic?

As with any profession that is not institutionalized, if you’re good at what you’re doing will spread by word of mouth. As a Tarot reader I often get referrals from people with these words: “Such and such X and Y told me that you are a good reader and a psychic.” Now, while it pleases me to hear about the first part, I’m not so keen on the second, even though being a psychic in certain circles is as accepted as hot bread.

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Embodying realities. Selfie for my father, magician and mathematician, dead for 4 decades.

As I’m not known to have visions – though I practice dream yoga in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition (Kagyu school) – and I only rely on my intuition to the extent that I have very good reason to rely on it, I always insist on setting the record straight: “I’m a good card reader,” I say, “and that’ll all.” “But, X and Y said that you’re a good reader AND a psychic”, the other party also insists, and which makes me adopt a blunt attitude and say, “Now listen: who are you going to believe, X and Y, or the source, myself, that is?”

“So, you’re not going to tell me about the future, then?” “No,” I say, “I’m going to tell you about the present.”

Then I explain my philosophy. I use Tarot as a window into an alternative reality that takes care of my blind spots. If I can relate to what I see right there on the table, then that gives me an opportunity to change a pattern, especially if what I see is not something that I like. Only under such conditions does it make sense to project into the future how my choice to change things will influence the future.

If I were to, furthermore, drag my Buddhist orientation into it, I would also say that changing patterns of behavior as I go with change itself is a matter of practicing life beyond likes and dislikes. As a nondualist, I pay attention to my mind, so I don’t have a habit of getting excited about what I like and what I don’t. As an academic, I pay attention to language and its fictional nature. Which amounts to the same thing, really.

Now, I often advise people who are involved with married subjects. This state of affairs I only hear about after reading the cards, as I never ask anything about the querent’s background before I get to it.

As a card reader, I read cards, and that’s all. Any information about the subject I read for is completely irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. As a psychoanalyst, however, and when the subject insists on volunteering information, I give advise in accordance with what I find commonsensical to say about human nature in general. If the cards clearly indicate that the subject has been deluding herself about some fool, or some brainless seducer, I say so.

While my direct approach always hits a nerve very hard, some subjects like to insist: “but there is great love between us.” Right. This makes me sympathize genuinely, as I never take anguished love lightly, but I can’t help wondering what it is that makes people go against their own better judgment. What I do with the cards is actually help them see what’s been there all along, but willingly ignored for whatever reason.

I call it the nasty blind spot, the knowledge that refuses to acknowledge the fact that the man is never going to leave his wife – even when these days such an outcome is more likely than unlikely: marriages go poof all the time – because he rather likes the function that the wife often fulfils, namely to service him.

A lover often sets the bar of excitement higher than in a conventional marriage, “but higher ground ain’t what the man is looking for,” or so I’m told by my clients repeatedly, the same clients who, however, have just seen the light, which I made sure that they did.

But interestingly enough, such moments of realization are not the most caressing of moments. They are harsh, based on hard fact, and merciless. This often goes against what I value the most in my Tarot readings, namely, figuring out what is tender in someone’s situation. Only when we can arrive at that do we make a difference, and thus are able to see how the resolved blind spot can transform into an authentic potential for change.

This being the case, namely, that one can give advise all in accordance with what one literally sees in the cards and nothing else, the question begs itself: why do people still insist that a good card reader must also be a psychic? Perhaps simply because the imaginary story of what a psychic may see beyond the cards is just more exciting than the subject’s own current life.

There is great value in the type of storytelling that two unrelated facts can make, and conjoining them hardly has to do with people merely being stupid. I’m thinking here of the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, a couple of very influential cognitive psychologists, and whose work culminated in the winning of the Nobel prize for economics (yes, economics) for Kahneman in 2002 (Tversky was dead at the time of nomination). One of their most cited papers deals with their proving that people base their choices on irrational acts.

They invented a character named Linda, and they ‘framed’ her life story to these events: Linda was in her early 30s, she majored in philosophy, she was an activist concerned with issues about discrimination and injustice and participated in antinuclear demonstrations. After this scenario was set up, Kahneman and Tversky did a test in which they asked people to participate in answering a question regarding which alternative about Linda’s current life was more probable:

  1. that Linda is a bank teller.
  2. that Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

85 per cent of the asked participants went for option 2.

Now to the laughing part. Logically speaking option 2 is redundant. Option 2 is already fully contained in option 1, that is, in every case of Linda being a feminist bankteller she is also just a bankteller, and therefore numerically speaking option 1 is much more likely to be true. So, there’s no need for the redundant information.

Kahneman and Tversky called this the “conjunction fallacy” and they were crowned kings of human errors for it. But now also to what is nagging about this. Granted, the two psychologists made a point that brings out their brilliance against the background of many a dumb folks.

Granted also, that most people miss the obvious in the most obvious of situations. And yet, there is this suspicion, at least where I’m concerned, that the reason why 85 percent of the people involved in the test got it wrong has more to do with their seeing some potential in option 2 – as it makes a better story – than because they are incapable of seeing the logic in that sequence. By the same token, the story of my being a good Tarot reader and a psychic is a better story than the one in which I’m merely a good Tarot reader.

As Kahneman and Tversky also rightly pointed out in their paper, “Prospect Theory,” in which they developed the idea of the “availability heuristic,” we make decisions based on the material that is available to us, or which comes to our minds by way of activating our memory. So, in reality, what we call fallacious decision-making has more to do with our desire to go with the better story, than with our faulty feelings. And what else is new? Isn’t perhaps the whole media circus based precisely on the better story? Who cares about truth?

One should have thought that after we’ve been presented with some rather commonsensical arguments as to the fact that truth is a construction, there’s little use of cognitive psychology that tries to account scientifically for the workings of our neurons, logical patterns, and economical thinking, when all we care about is good storytelling.

It would have been really interesting to hear what the two psychologists have to say about decision-making that is based not on projective prejudice but on seeing imaginary solutions. Choices are choices, and once they are made, whether they are rational or irrational is beside the point. In other words, demonstrating the fact that most people are delusional, and that they love inventing stories about themselves that then they identify with fully, will not make this fact go away. We must acknowledge that.

When asked about intuition and divinatory systems, Kahneman and Tversky simply responded that such things don’t interest them. Which is fair enough. However, as they emphasize that the “availability heuristic” is very much anchored in what presents itself as unusual, one is tempted to speculate on what ground we decide that if some events are odd, and then because they are odd they fall outside of the pattern of rational explanation, they do not end up as reality just we well.

Just because someone proves that there is no corresponding system between coincidences has not stopped people from believing in fortunetelling, ESP, and some other related irrational systems. And why do they exist?

Well, precisely because we can imagine them. I find formalizing theories about decision-making uninteresting if they fail to say something about how narrative, the stories we like to tell ourselves, enter into the equation of what is possible and probable. While intuition may get us in some unlike situations, it often leads to invented stories, which, under certain conditions, can easily become someone’s reality.

If rationalism proves anything, then it proves its own lack of freedom. In other words, what scientists should be looking into is not how to prove that 85% of us are logically impaired, and then say, hallelujah, we all live according to the irrational choices we make, but into why, even when we know better, we go with the story that makes us feel better.

By the same token, if I myself went around asking people: what is more probable, that I’m a good Tarot reader, or that I’m a good Tarot reader and a psychic, 85 percent will likely go with option 2, in spite of its logical redundancy.

In this case here, however, it is obvious that the reason why option 2 would be many people’s preference has not so much to do with people’s blind spots, but rather with their simple desire to go for the better story. We must also acknowledge that.

What is also clear to me in this context is that we need tarologists, or poets, or artists to enlighten us as to what is there that is worth looking at, rather than to what is there that we must always dismiss in the name of some reductive scientific claim.

For my part, I go with the imaginary solutions that have a much greater potential to become someone’s reality, and will thus be much more consistent with that reality than anything else. I leave parroting to all those who will end up parroting alone. When that is said, what I also preach as a matter of Zen inclination is that if we do make up stories, the wilder, the better, then we must remember how completely insubstantial they are, and hence avoid identifying with our own fictions. Woo the story, but don’t marry it.

Now, why is this relevant for a Tarot reader? Perhaps because what we operate with in Tarot is precisely ways to activate what a subject already knows. If, however, a subject may choose to go on with believing that some day Johnny will see the light and return to the bosom of Mary’s love, in spite of contrary evidence, and in spite of there being nothing left to return to – other than a fantasy – then what good will it do the Tarot reader to insist that logic must be enforced and that the rule of ‘get a grip on yourself, woman’ must be applied?

If Mary and Johnny make a good story together, then they make a good story together, and that’s all there is to it. So, my point is that while a Tarot reader may find a reason to ridicule the lack of coherence in a subject’s tormented life – and perhaps even say, oh, dear, there goes another one deluding herself – there’s little point in instructing the subject in the benefits of higher awareness.

What one should focus on instead is how to make the story seen in the cards on the table become a better story for the subject than the one she or he comes to the tarologist with in the first place.

Here’s a quick concrete example about what I mean with allowing space for the imaginary solution to develop into a reality, however illogical its basis may be. The point is that we are all better served if we focused on alternative stories that can be made to co-exist with some other kind of awareness without always having to entice the subject to cut herself off from a so-called unhealthy relationship.

Just to get a sense of how my own sensibility develops in relation to the people who seek my advise, I often consult the Tarot on what cards might best describe me as a tarologist at a certain point in time.

Here’s a recent 3-card example:

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6 DE COUPES (SIX CUPS), LE BATELEUR, (THE MAGICIAN), JUSTICE.

At first sight, the straightforward reading would go like this: I look with suspicion upon deception and all things love related, and while I can invent all sort of stories about infinite mirroring and soul-matching, I end up cutting out all that which is redundant. Or so it goes, if we stick with the assumption that I’m a good Tarot reader.

If I go with the better story of me being a good card reader and a psychic, I might say something of the following: the cutting is only an act, a trick of the imagination. The mentalist magician pulls out of his hat infinite strings and strings of cups and ribbons, while secretly being in cohorts with the judge.

So, what may first seem like a straightforward picture of a castrating woman who takes the law of the useless penis in her own hands, ready to snatch from the magician’s fingers just what’s left of the chopped off organ, and then have it weighed and measured, may well turn into a great story about the love affair between the plotting two (against some dishonest man).

As a ‘psychic’ I could even say that my feeling is that the 6 of cups has little to do with how they love each other, but rather more to do with how they deconstruct love. How they demystify the myth of the ultimate Other. Their love is their work together, as a playing of games with the idea of what you see (The Magician’s traditional task) and what you get (Justice’s task to give you just what you deserve).

In their work, The Magician and Justice assist each other to perfection. What for him is a wondrous accomplishment of an impossible act (how to create the continuum) is for her the consecration of this act (how to live in the continuum). The unreal becomes real. The poof becomes proof. And a good Tarot reader becomes a good Tarot reader and a psychic.

Note on the deck: Jean Noblet’s Tarot de Marseille, 1650, as restored by Jean-Claude Flornoy

For an essay on intuition, see also my post: What is Intuition?

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One Comment

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  1. Here are a few comments left on Facebook:

    RACHEL POLLACK

    In the experiment they neglected to tell the people to consider the choices as a problem in logic.
    If you say to most people the options are:

    1. Linda is a bank teller
    2. Linda is a bank teller and also an activist

    they will assume that option 1 means she is nothing else. Logically it says only one piece of information about her, and indeed is more probable than a choice that has that plus a second piece of information. But since people were not told that the purpose of the experiment is to see how “rational” they are, they will assume that there must be some sort of contrast between 1 and 2. this is, in fact, a logical assumption. And the only sensible contrast is that the first statement is a closed condition, she is a bank teller and has no other significant activities. So the choice is not irrational at all, the people are just trying to make sense of the question. Psych experiments so often strike me as a form of sadism practiced on unwitting volunteers. Indeed, some have even had to be stopped because the level of sadism ran so high.

    People assume you are a tarot reader and a psychic simply because they have learned from their culture that those two activities go together. Since they do not have a clear idea what either term means they figure they should cover the issue by saying both. I’ve now and then had people ask me “do you still do astrology?” or something like that. If people are only mildly interested in something they will absorb just enough information to stick it in some dusty corner of their memory palace.

    tlc

    CAMELIA ELIAS

    Rachel, I appreciate your response, and I like your hammering the point. It is good to remind ourselves that empirical studies in the human and social sciences can indeed rely on some very sadistic methods, and that just because someone is considered a good logician, because he or she has enough papers to prove it, should not impress us. I’ve always been suspicious of polls and research that is based on asking random people to address a very cleverly framed question. As the match has an unfair start, it is no wonder that the outcome will be in favor of the one asking the question. What is outrageous is that although such people obviously know what effect ‘framing’ has, they go ahead with formulating grand statements based on very little, as if such an activity was the most ‘natural’ thing on the planet, disclosing the deepest ‘truth’ about a certain sad state of affairs, such as people’s incapability to think logically. Let’s just say that I myself find it amazing that some logicians are simply incapable of figuring out what their own serious blind spots are. They should all consult a tarologist– well, Kahneman and Tversky did, I bet, but then, why should they acknowledge the inspiration that comes from such unreliable sources? It’s good there are still unwitting volunteers around who can help researchers with their rational arguments.

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