Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Science Tarot

If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you know that I'm a sucker for a good sciart project. What you may not know is that I'm also a Tarot and all-around esoteric enthusiast.

This isn't something I discuss a whole lot, as people are usually ready to jump down my throat or ascribe certain beliefs/character faults to me that are, frankly, untrue. They assume I'm like William Shatner or that old guy in that Twilight Zone episode—no, not Terror at 28,000 Feet, I mean Nick of Time—which really could not be further from the truth.

I like the symbolism of the cards, I like how people interpret them in new and creative ways, I like using them for stories and writing, and once in a while they're even a useful tool for clarifying your own thinking on a topic. Personally, I think the art of reading meaning into a bunch of randomly-generated symbols is a useful life skill to have, whether it's Tarot or runes or I Ching or tea leaves or whatever. It can help you look at a problem or an issue from a completely wack-a-doo angle that nonetheless gives you the perspective you need.

Imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered The Science Tarot. I think it may have originated on Etsy, but now you can purchase the deck via their standalone website. (Good for them!)

If you don't already know, a Tarot deck consists of 3 groups of cards: the Major Arcana, or Trumps, which are probably what you think of when you think of Tarot;

The Magician (Pamela Colman-Smith/Alfred Waite)

 the Minor Arcana, or pips, which have four different suits numbered from Ace to 10;

3 of Swords, ibid.

and the court cards, most of whom you probably would recognize in a contemporary playing card deck (same as the pips).

King of Wands, ibid.

(A big thanks to Wikipedia editor Fuzzypeg for dutifully scanning and uploading the images from the original, public domain 1909 Colman-Smith/Waite deck!)

Put together by a team of artists, scientists, and artists/scientists, The Science Tarot has reimagined each group of cards while attempting to retain their original meaning. The Major Arcana are now "science stories," such as Mendel and his peas or Schrödinger's Cat. The court cards are, intuitively, famous scientists. categorized based on Helen Fisher's work in personality and attraction. The Minor Arcana are illustrated scientific concepts, like chaos theory, cocoon, fusion, or catastrophe. For example, here is The Science Tarot's 2 of Swords:

2 of Swords from The Science Tarot, art by Shari Arai DeBoer.
Sitting under the apple tree, we contemplate a choice to be made. The tree branch lifts an apple high in the air, and gravity continuously pulls it toward the ground. These equal and opposite forces hold the apple in place. But soon the balance may shift and the apple may fall, releasing the branch from its burden and shaking the leaves as they swing upwards.

Isaac Newton observed that every action caused an equal and opposite reaction and so reasoned that every reaction could be predicted from the action that triggered it. Like a game of billiards, Newton's world is a predictable knocking around of objects: the force of the impact equals the mass of the moving object times its acceleration. To send an apple flying in a specific direction, we only need to know where to hit it and how hard. To move a gigantic apple, we'll need to hit it with a great deal of mass, or we will need a running start.

A decision is hanging over your head. You can choose to leave the apple suspended in the tree, or you can apply enough force to bring it down. Either decision may bring good results, but if you wait too long, the apple may fall on your head.

Hero's Journey, Step 2: Refusal of the call. The hero is reluctant to use this new power.
The suits of the Minor Arcana (swords, wands, pentacles, cups) are also given their own particular theme: Wands as creation, the nuclear fusion burning in each star; then Pentacles as exchange, elements forged in the star now coalescing into matter; Swords as scientific observation, the higher thinking of conscious life and the beginning of abstract, scientific fields like mathematics, chaos theory, and physics; and finally Cups as the integration of the scientific consciousness into a more holistic picture of life and the return of the scientific observer to a participant in the system. The deck creators also employed Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey to tell the "story" of the Minor Arcana suits, for that extra layer of meaning.

There is obviously just so much thought and attention to detail in this deck—but then, would you expect anything less from a science-themed Tarot deck?—and I am just in love.

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