Tarot As Interactive Media

Related articles: Frater Papyrus’ Prodigious Paper Paradigm

Interactive media is not limited to electronic media or digital media. Board games, pop-up books, gamebooks, flip books and constellation wheels are all examples of printed interactive media. Books with a simple table of contents or index may be considered interactive due to the non-linear control mechanism in the medium, but are usually considered non-interactive since the majority of the user experience is non-interactive sequential reading. // Wikipedia: “Interactive Media”

Tarot is technology. Some of its uses:

  • intuition amplifier (thanks to Rhett Gayle for that term)
  • supplementing requisite variety with random selections (cf. W. Ross Ashby, An Introduction to Cybernetics, “13/18. Supplementation of Selection,” pp. 258–259)
  • attenuating anticipated variety in the environment (cf. requisite knowledge)
  • lateral thinking (cf. The Creative Whack Pack)
  • mnemonic device (Paul Foster Case teaches this through his BOTA curriculum)
  • conceptual framework for organizing and sharing experiences as coherent narratives
  • elements of ritual composition or performance


Frater Papyrus’ Prodigious Paper Paradigm

My first paid programming job was a HyperCard program for a literature course at my high school. It was like creating an electronic pop-up/movable book.

As an occultist, I love old grimoires and scrolls, and finely crafted esoteric books. As a a designer of interactive multimedia, I receive inspiration from ways of interacting with paper: pop-up and movable books; paper toys, tools, crafts, and masks; paper automata; etc. I have often wondered why there are not more pop-up and movable occult texts. I have a fantasy of developing an entire ritual practice around paper crafts, tentatively titled Frater Papyrus’ Prodigious Paper Paradigma paragon of peculiar practices in prophecy and prestidigitation provided by the plentiful and playful plasticity of paper and parchment.

Here are some re/sources that turn me on to this sort of thing:

Interactive Multimedia Ritual Design

In contrast to the simulations of virtual reality, responsive environments and contexts such as intelligent architecture and interactive installations tend not to create a representation that corresponds with physical reality but rather utilize real space in a way that renders it virtual and enables alternative, expanded forms of experience and reality awareness. // Edward A. Shanken, Art and Electronic Media

What happens when a magician […] “does magic,” is that the magician’s state of consciousness is altered. Sometimes this is done through dancing and chanting or singing, sometimes through the use of herbal potions, and sometimes through meditation or other methods. Most commonly, the magician creates a multimedia psychodrama, which is a sort of theatrical performance using sounds, sights and smells designed to create a certain mood within the magician (and any onlookers) and to focus attention on the target and goal […] of the ceremony. // Isaac Bonewits, Authentic Thaumaturgy (emphases in original)

Altered states of consciousness are the key to magical powers. // Peter J. Carroll, Liber Null and Psychonaut

By now the word “hypertext” has become generally accepted for branching and responding text, but the corresponding word “hypermedia”, meaning complexes of branching and responding graphics, movies and sound — as well as text — is much less used. Instead they use the strange term “interactive multimedia”: this is four syllables longer, and does not express the idea of extending hypertext. // Ted Nelson, Literary Machines

The big idea: map the tools and techniques that magicians use in rituals — sigils, mantras, gestures, wands, etc. — to new media, and make the media interactive via sensor-actuator networks, so the ritual is interesting and non-trivial, and embodies reflexivity in magic. Also, use metaphorming and conceptual blending to design such rituals, because it is generative to do so, and because it is a recursive reflection of the Big Idea (i.e. blending interactive media and ritual performance). Here is a mind map (created with FreeMind) showing some possible connections (click to enlarge):


Communication vs. Manipulation

Two big, competing metaphors in HCI are (1) dialogue/communication/conversation, and (2) direct manipulation [1]. An example of (1) is typing a command on a keyboard (speaking), waiting for the computer to process that command (thinking), and waiting for the computer to return a signal to the monitor, acknowledging that the command has been processed (listening) [2]. An example of (2) is using a mouse to double-click a window’s title bar in order to expand the window’s size.

In developing cybernetics, Norbert Wiener proposed that all control is a subset of communication:

When I give an order to a machine, the situation is not essentially different from that which arises when I give an order to a person. In other words, as far as my consciousness goes I am aware of the order that has gone out and of the signal of compliance that has come back. To me, personally, the fact that the signal in its intermediate stages has gone through a machine rather than through a person is irrelevant and does not in any case greatly change my relation to the signal. Thus the theory of control in engineering, whether human or animal or mechanical, is a chapter in the theory of messages.
// Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society

Control […] is nothing but the sending of messages which effectively change the behavior of the recipient. It is the study of messages, and in particular of the effective messages of control, which constitutes the science of cybernetics.
// Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics: Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine

Communicative and manipulative acts both involve feedback: I do something (deliver a message, manipulate an object), monitor for a response (has the message been successfully received, or the object successfully manipulated?), and based on that response, I do the next thing (which may repeat the previous thing I did). Usually this is not experienced as a series of discrete steps, but as a continuum of (largely unconscious) interactions between me and my environment (during which we co-evolve). It becomes discrete — it breaks down — when (as) I analyze it.

Cf. Speech-Act theory.

Perhaps communication is actio in distans. Paul Pangaro said that the Industrial Revolution was about amplifying our muscles, and the Information Age is about amplifying our nervous systems [3]. Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela have talked about the consensual (i.e. ”to sense together with”) coordination of actions (and actors), and language as the coordination of coordination of actions [3]. The ability to ask someone “over there” to pick up an object, instead of walking over there and picking it up myself, greatly increases the variety of things I can do and that we can do to together. Cf:

Where man’s word goes, and where his power of perception goes, to that point his control and in a sense his physical existence is extended. To see and give commands to the whole world is almost the same as being everywhere.
// Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society

There is one (seeming) difference between communicative and manipulative acts, that I want to point out: how they relate to autonomous systems or non-trivial vs. trivial machines. Simply put, the more “living” a system is — the more complex, adaptive, autonomous, and self-organizing it is — the more we use language to interact with it (and the more complex is the language we use; cf. speaking “robot turn on” vs. discussing a romantic relationship, with a lover). It is “wrong” to ask a rock to move, or to “push around” a person, or to use language to “manipulate” someone (i.e. use it in a way that disrespects her sovereignty).

Cf. the use of gesture in animal communication. Gesture is a like a middle ground between manipulative and communicative acts, having a high degree of physical similarity between what is acted and what is meant.

Cf. Sheizaf Rafaeli’s definition of interactivity — “Interactivity is a an expression of the extent that in a given series of communication exchanges, any third (or later) transmission (or message) is related to the degree to which previous exchanges referred to even earlier transmissions” [5] — to Heinz von Foerster’s description of non-trivial machines: “Their input-output relationship is not invariant, but is determined by the machine’s previous output. In other words, its previous steps determine its present reactions” [6].

Cf. theories of sentient rocks.

For consideration: manipulation : enchantment and divination :: communication : evocation and invocation.

Enchantment – making things happen directly by magic
Evocation – making things happen through the agency of various demons and elementals
Invocation – the summoning of various entities and thought forms for the inspiration of their knowledge and conversation
Divination – obtaining knowledge by direct magical means.
// Peter J. Carroll, Liber Null and Psychonaut

One might also compare expressive, performative, and pragmatic ritual activities and interpretations.

Notes & References

1. Manuel Imaz and and David Benyon, Designing with Blends: Conceptual Foundations of Human-Computer Interaction and Software Engineering.

2 Cf. the listening-thinking-speaking model of interactivity in Chris Crawford’s The Art of Interactive Design: A Euphonious and Illuminating Guide to Building Successful Software.

3. Paul Pangaro, “How Can I Put That? Cybernetics in the Age of ‘Conversational Media'”. Others have said similarly about how some machines supplement human work power and other machines supplement thinking — see e.g. Pierre de Latil’s Thinking By Machine: A Study of Cybernetics and Edmund Callis Berkeley’s Giant Brains: Machines That Think.

4. Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. See also Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores, Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design.

5. Sheizaf Rafaeli, “Interactivity: From New Media to Communication”.

6. Heinz von Foerster, “Perception of the Future and the Future of Perception”.