Rationality and UPG

As a quick search though my blog entries will show, I’ve long been committed to the scientific rationalistic view of the world. While that has not changed, I have been exploring some ideas that I once would just have poo-pooed as ridiculous. Namely, tarot cards and astrology and magick in general. I don’t think that the locations of planets and stars really affect us in any kind of scientifically measurable way, and astrology definitely does not have the clarity and testability of actual scientific predictions. What I have noticed in its favor is the way it makes me feel more of a sense of connectedness with the natural world. I don’t really understand exactly why, and I know that is it all very subjective. It’s something I want to explore further.

I appreciate tarot for its symbolism and total randomness. It’s been useful for pulling me out of my accustomed thought patterns and showing, not an actual prediction of the future, but possible futures that I may not have considered on my own. It helps to spark my intuition, I think.

I’ve always had difficulty with the idea of intuition. Hell, I’ve always had difficulty trusting my own observations and judgment in the absence of external verification. It’s not just about admitting that I could be wrong — I could always be wrong — but that sense that someone else is less likely to be wrong than I am. That feeling that if someone else agrees with me than I am more likely to be right. It’s about the need for some kind of authority to back me up, whether it’s religious or scientific. Nothing wrong with external verification, but I think I need to learn to trust my own intuition.

In my pagan readings I’ve come across the term UPG, or unverified personal gnosis. I understand this to mean things you take as truth personally, with the understanding that other people have no reason or obligation to accept it as true. (If Christians who have tried sharing their ‘personal testimony’ with me understood the idea of UPG it may have resulted in much less conflict … but that is a digression. ;))

In all this exploration I am making use of my skeptical background and taking care not to jump down the rabbit hole of total nonsense. Pseudoscience — that is non-science pretending to be science — is still a big problem. Things like homeopathy that claim to be scientific pull people away from scientific treatments that may actually help them. In fact, anything calling itself ‘alternative medicine’ must to be looked at carefully with a sceptical eye because while some things (like certain herbal medicines) have merit, there is frankly a lot of  quackery and charlatans and people claiming to be able to do miracles when they cannot. And charging people boatloads of money for it. The same may be true with tarot and astrology, when charlatans charge a lot of money claiming to be able to predict the future and change people’s lives when objectively they can not.

The point I am trying to make is that I am looking at things like astrology and tarot from a different angle from the hard skepticism that I’ve been accustomed to in the past. While treading very lightly, and taking care not to confuse the scientific with the subjective and spiritual, I may find some personal value in things I once dismissed as bunk.

Featured Image Credit
Robert Lukeman

2 thoughts on “Rationality and UPG

  1. You know my UPG. I learned the tarot almost 20 years ago. The one thing that stands out, putting aside labels of magical thinking and psychic gifts, is that it serves as an effective device for meditation. And contemplation, as you’ve seen. And because I also have a tendency to rationalize myself out of what comes during a reading, I found a glass of wine or two helps facilitate the intuitive thoughts. No joke!
    Some decks speak better than others, too. A lot of beautiful art has gone into creating different decks.

  2. This sounds very similar to how my friends and I use tarot and astrology, as a set of symbols through which to explore our experiences and look at things from a different perspective. I’m awful at reading for myself but reading for friends is always a great excersise, as I get to apply my personal knowledge of a person to the symbolism in the cards to derive more personal meanings. 🙂

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