Reading the Tea Leaves

tea readers

This morning, I brewed a little pot of tea in the old way and so I ended up with some tea leaves in my cup. And I did a bit of reading the tea leaves.

You’ve probably heard about that and I’m not claiming that tasseography (or tasseomancy or tassology) works, of course. But divination by interpreting patterns in tea leaves is quite an old practice.

Tasseography comes from the French word tasse for “cup” (which comes from Arabic tassa) and the Greek suffixes -graph (writing), -logy (study of), and -mancy (divination). You get a bit of history by looking at the word and see who practiced this art. It is also done with coffee grounds and wine sediments, but tea leaves are the most common method.

I know there is no scientific evidence that the future can be determined through any method, so you can view this as just a party game – but I do have an affinity for things that are interpretations of synchronistic events.

The methodology is simple: pour a cup of brewed tea made without a tea strainer into a white cup and drink the tea. (I don’t think you should just pour it out.) Some things I have read say to shake the cup but that seems like some deliberate changes to the leaves, so I leave them be unless they are all in a lump. I did give a final swirl before I finished the last sip. There aren’t that many rules about what to see and much of the interpretation is in the eyes and mind of the reader.

Look for a pattern: a letter, a shape, a face. There are books that give clues, much in the way that dream interpretation books suggest meanings and symbols. But the meanings are supposed to be so personal that you need your own system to interpret your future.

Guides will say that a heart means your love life, a snake is falsehood, a spade is good fortune, a road or mountain is a journey, though the mountain might be an obstacle along the way. Pretty standard interpretation stuff and far too generic to have much personal meaning. Maybe, for you, a heart indicates actual heart health. Maybe snakes are pets to you, or perhaps you just saw one in your garden this morning. Meanings are personal. You could certainly anger some people by saying that a cat represents “a deceitful friend or relative” while a dog is “a loyal friend or relative” as I read online.

I was taught (by a girlfriend in college) that you read a cup starting at the rim by the handle as the present, and down to the bottom as the future. If you’re able to do it, some readers can see not only images in the dark tea leaves, but also the reverse images in the white negative spaces (the dark leaves are then the background).

tea leaves

What did I see of my future in my cup of plum tea?

I think near the handle I do see a mountain.
Those two blobs to the left? Clouds?
On the bottom, I see an alligator with its mouth open at the left. Not sure what is below it.
So, am I facing a mountain that I must climb soon? One obscured by clouds or something?
To the future, that alligator doesn’t bode well. Unless, it’s a lucky dragon.

I think I’ll stick to my casting of the runes.

The End and Stephen Hawking

Some of Stephen Hawking’s predictions are things that I don’t want to be around to see as they focus on the end of human life on Earth.

For one thing,Hawking was quite fearful of the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). He joined in an open letter with other scientists saying that when AI becomes equal to or exceeds human intelligence, the “robots” were likely to destroy the human race.

But he also feared an old enemy – ourselves. He feared that human aggression in the form of something like a major nuclear war could lead to the extinction of the human race.

And he warned about another enemy – alien life. He was of the belief that if intelligent alien life does exist, it is more likely not to be friendly towards humans. Conquering and colonizing Earth would be their logical plan for Earth.

I had heard these and other theories of Hawking’s in a 2010 documentary, Into the Universe. His is a rather pessimistic view of the future. The depletion of our natural resources and the warming of the planet until it is as inhospitable as Venus are also possibilities for the end of us in his predictions.

I hope he’s wrong about all of these futures.

Isaac Asimov Predicted Some of 2019 Back in 1983

“It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” said someone clever.  It is difficult, and yet people keep doing it.

I have written that I tend to believe the predictions made by scientists more than those made by mystics. Of course, Sir Isaac Newton throws my theory against the wall with his predictions of the end of the world that he based on The Bible.

Scientists don’t always get it right, but sometimes science fiction writers do a good job of predicting. The best science fiction is probably fiction that is actually grounded in real science. Some of my favorite sci-fi writers, such as Philip K. Dick, have gotten it right and also a lot of it very wrong.

Isaac Asimov was born in Russia in 1920, but his family immigrated to the United States when he was three years old. His parents owned a candy store in Brooklyn and young Isaac spent a lot of time there – and reading the store’s popular magazines which included “pulp fiction” that included science fiction.

At 21, this very prolific writer wrote one of his most anthologized stories, “Nightfall.” The story was inspired by a conversation with his friend and editor John Campbell. Campbell had been reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature and noted this passage: “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which has been shown!” Asimov wrote a story about a planet with six suns that has a sunset only once every 2,049 years.

What did Asimov predict back in 1983 for us living in 2019? (And why did he pick 36 years in the future to target?)

“The consequences of human irresponsibility in terms of waste and pollution will become more apparent and unbearable with time and again, attempts to deal with this will become more strenuous.” A “world effort” must be applied, necessitating “increasing co-operation among nations and among groups within nations” out of a “cold-blooded realization that anything less than that will mean destruction for all.”

Is that the climate crisis? It was obvious to some scientists in 1983 that things were headed in the wrong direction.

He was more positive that we would be dealing better with overpopulation, pollution and militarism.  We probably are dealing better with those issues, though we haven’t “solved” any of them.

Education – a career and life choice for me – was something he predicted “will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.” I wouldn’t use “fun” as my main adjective for education today, but through MOOCs, alternate degrees, customized programs and other DIY educational paths there is more education “bubbling up” than ever before.

What about technology? Like others, he believed that the increase in the use of everyday technology will enable increased quality of life and more free time for many people.  He said that “… more and more human beings will find themselves living a life rich in leisure. This does not mean leisure to do nothing, but leisure to do something one wants to do; to be free to engage in scientific research. in literature and the arts, to pursue out-of-the-way interests and fascinating hobbies of all kinds.”

You can read his full essay at The Star. I was alerted to his predictions by an article on the always interesting Open Culture website.

The Season To Come

We don’t even have to pass through the equinox’s tilt into autumn before people start searching and finding a post I wrote here about signs in nature that might predict the winter to come. We want to know about things before they happen.

But weather is really difficult to predict too far in advance. All of us have watched or read a weather report at night for what tomorrow will be, and then found the actual day to be quite different. Maybe that is why some people seem to trust old weather lore that looks at nature for predictions.

People have been observing changes with insects, animals, birds, plants, the Moon and the stars and trying to connect that to the weather world around them. The problem with most predictions about weather, politics, the end of the world or anything is that we rarely go back months or years later to check on the predictions.

You can look back at the older posts and follow the instructions and do your own predicting. Just be sure to write it down and then check back when spring arrives. Did the predictions come true?

Did the black bands on a woolly bear caterpillar prove to be accurate?

What about those squirrels – gathering food early, bushy tails?

I did not notice any ant hills that were particularly high in July. So, winter should not be snowy. And yet, the first week in August was unusually warm, and that should mean that the coming winter will be snowy and long. Should we believe the ants?

The leaves have barely started to fall here. When leaves fall early, fall and Winter will be mild, but if they fall late,winter will be severe. Start falling leaves!

You can at least pay attention to what is happening in October:
– Much rain in October, much wind in December.
– A warm October means a cold February.
– Full Moon in October without frost, then no frost until November’s Full Moon.

And check the skins of corn (husks), apples and onions. The thicker they are, the tougher the winter. Do you notice a pattern here? When things in nature toughen up, they are getting ready for a tough winter.

Pay attention.

The End of the World

In 1704, Isaac Newton predicted the end of the world. He said it would end in 2060 or sometime around or after that “but not before.” He based this on some strange series of mathematical calculations based on the supposed prophecies of the book of Revelation.

You might find it surprising that this astronomer and physicist would be doing predictions based on the Bible, but Newton (who also dabbled in alchemy) believed his most important discoveries might come from deciphering ancient scriptures and uncovering the nature of the Christian religion.

300 years later, people are still predicting the end of the world. Some of them are still using codes and clues they find in the Bible. I believe in science, and the two worlds of research don’t usually overlap.

For about 50 years, some industrialists and scientists with money who are known as the Club of Rome have been looking into conspiracies and the end of the world. They latched on to a computer program developed at MIT back in 1973 that was developed to model global sustainability. But instead, the program predicted that by 2040 our civilization would end.

Why should we believe the computer program? Well, some people would say because what the computer envisioned in the 1970s has by and large been coming true.

The program was called World One because it looked at the world as one system. It looked at manmade behaviors starting in 1900 and modeled where that behavior would lead.

The computer’s predictions are not pleasant. End-of-world predictions usually are bad. It predicted worsening population growth and pollution levels and dwindling natural resources.

By 2020, the model predicts that we pass the point of no return and the quality of life is supposed to drop dramatically.

The Club of Rome issued a somewhat hopeful report on the limits of growth.  It was hopeful in that it suggested that if some nations like the U.S. cut back on consuming the world’s resources it would lead to “low consumption prestige” for acting responsibly. That has not come to be.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), 90% of the people around the world breathe air that has high levels of pollution. WHO estimates that 7 million deaths each year can be attributed to pollution.

If I had been asked to make a prediction back in the 1970s about where we would be in fifty years, I would also have predicted – without the help of a computer – that there would be worsening population growth and higher pollution levels and dwindling natural resources.

I learned about Robert Malthus in high school. Back in 1798, he predicted what has become known as a Malthusian catastrophe. It is a prediction that population growth will outpace agricultural production and that there will be too many people and not enough food. I would add water to that prediction. Although Malthus is known for his influence in the fields of political economy and demography, he was also an Anglican cleric and he saw this catastrophe as divinely imposed to teach virtuous behaviour.

Though I will stay on the side of science, consider what Jesus said (according to Matthew 24:35-36): “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

That hasn’t stopped predictions about the end of our world from first century CE Early Christianity predicting a Second Coming in that time, to a half-dozen crackpot dates in 2018 that were supposed to be The End.

We are still here. I can sleep more peacefully with the prediction that it will all end in the 200 millionth century (20 billion years from now). Based on the current rate of expansion of the universe, by then the universe could be expanding so rapidly that atoms will no longer be able to hold on to their electrons. This predicted event is known as the “Big Rip.” I blame dark energy.

Dreaming the Future

We haven’t really nailed down what dreams are all about and there are still differing theories. In the explanation that Freud promoted, dreams are a way to see into our subconscious desires, thoughts and motivations. This is where we get the idea that the things in dreams (manifest content) are really symbols for the latent, or hidden, content.

Other theories view dreaming as a way the brain generates new ideas and creativity. This explains how people wake up with a poem or the solution to a complex problem.

A more everyday variation on this theory is another that posits that dreams are the way we process the day’s information. In sleep and dreaming, we categorize, prune away and store memories.

However, none of these explain the persistent idea that dreams, at least sometimes, seem to predict or foreshadow future events. The three theories first mentioned all deal with the past, whether it be the past 48 hours, or our childhood years ago.

If you have ever had a dream that later turned out to be “true” or prophetic, you probably have some belief in precognitive dreams.

J. W. Dunne, a British engineer and amateur philosopher, proposed that the way we believe we experience time as linear was an illusion. Human consciousness fools us into believing that, when in fact past, present and future were continuous in a higher-dimensional reality. We have imposed this sequential time mental perception of time as a way to understand it.

He wrote about what he called “serial time” is a series of books beginning with An Experiment with Time (1928) , The Serial Universe (1934), The New Immortality (1938), Nothing Dies (1940) and Intrusions? (1955).

As the years passed, he connected “serialism” to psychology, parapsychology, theology, relativity and quantum mechanics. Several famous novelists were fans of his theories, including James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Aldous Huxley.

Vladimir Nabokov was another novelist who was taken with the Dunne’s idea that serial time allowed for dreams to “predict” a future we had already experienced. It also explained the dĂ©jĂ  vu phenomenon.

In a recently published collection titled Insomniac Dreams,, we can see an experiment in time that Nabokov conducted himself.

Every morning for about three months, he would write down immediately upon awakening what he could recall of his dreams. Then the following days, he paid careful attention to anything that seemed to do with the recorded dream. This dream journal was recorded on index cards, which has also been his compositional method when he wrote Lolita.

He is surely not the only dream journaler who has believed that dreams are not just fragments of past impressions, but are both past and future events. Dunne said this was possible in his serial view of time because time then is not unidirectional but recursive.

Dunne would also say that the only way to observe the predictive nature o dreams is to pay careful attention to the content of dreams, as Nabokov and journaling do, and the events that follow in waking life.

Nabokov finds some instances of prophecy in his recorded dreams, but nothing I would consider extraordinary despite his idea that when you are confronted with predicted outcomes that might be explained as coincidences multiple times, you cease to believe they are coincidences and believe they “form the living organism of a new truth.”

I am more in the coincidence school of belief about the predictive aspects of dreams, and that they are given more weight when we pay closer attention, as Nabokov did.

Perhaps, I should do my own experiment paying closer attention to the followup days  and dream self-reflection. Though lately, I have not had any dreams to record as they seem to disappear before I even wake up with my dream journal beside me. What’s that all about?