LEVI VAN GELDER
The Human Internet (My Fortune Teller Said I Will Discover A Talent for Posing Next to Expensive Cars)
In my latest voyage into the world of Tarot cards, I tried to create a system that combines the general, generic and quite meaningless connotations of Tarot-cards with a random, almost encrypted way of finding meaning in these cards using image search on the Internet. I conceived a simple coding system, in which the first three letters of the French names of the original Tarot de Marseilles created a 3-6 number cipher. On an online random personal picture finder I turned these ciphers into file names; MOR (for death) turned 131518.jpg for example, after which a tidal wave of completely unrelated images flooded my computer screen, their only similarity their file names.
These semi-arbitrary images formed the foundation for the depictions on the Tarot cards, and their interpretation. In order to not completely decontextualize the Tarot cards, I used their original (English) card names, included some images referring to their authentic meaning and I wrote (or re-wrote actually) a typical, generic reading. Following is one case of an exclusive and very all-encompassing explanation of the first card of a standard Tarot deck: The Magician (Upright.)
"The Magician card represents success, achievement and manifesting. It is a good omen. He is able to communicate the powers and gifts the universe has to offer. This is a sign to tap into your intuition. The Magician is self-aware and not afraid to act. His great strength gives him the freedom to make choices. He makes things happen and is in control as if by magic. This indicates somebody with great skills, be it yourself or perhaps another individual. This is also a sign that you need to take control of your life. Don't tolerate those who might have abused you in the past. Dilemmas arise with choice - should he act morally or forsake ethics for personal gain? Depending on the chosen path he might represent great strife going forward."
The advantage of such a description is the fact that anyone (or anyone open to it actually) can envision this depiction being true or relevant to his or her own life. 'I do have a big test next week.' Or: 'Maybe this relates to my colleague's uncle who is dealing with cystic fibrosis.' To which the medium will say: 'It probably does.' The flipside is that you paid ten euros to tell your own future. (Or you had a very unsatisfying 15 minutes with your great aunt.)
So I added other meanings, arbitrary ones, only substantial in code. If you look at the search results of the random personal picture finder a world of images, symbols and associations unfold before you. For all we know, hidden in the meanings of these random images could be the great unknown truths about our future that the universe is cosmically trying to beam towards us. The Internet (specifically the random personal picture finder) becomes the oracle other mediums or Tarot card descriptions do not dare to be. At last specific, explicit. Meaningful. Let's take a look at the Popess in upright position.
"Just like when Norwegian singer, television personality and model Lene Alexandra discovered her talent for singing in 2007, something hidden inside you will be revealed. The Popess stands for power and intuition, and for becoming aware of unseen truths that were hidden before. You are in a patient position, ready to unearth a new power or knowledge. This talent may lie in the field of:
Posing next to expensive cars"
Back to Google Translate. People (including myself) tend to be very reluctant to use Google Translate. Where in both online and physical dictionaries common sense and reason is used to come to an appropriate translation, Google Translate (when used in sentences or even bulks of text) tends to use no human nuance or logic in creating a suitable version of the original text. This is quite logical; Google Translate is simply not human. It uses algorithms that are based on statistical analysis and only imitates humans by detecting patterns in documents that have already been translated by human translators. In this way Google Translate 'guesses' what an appropriate translation should be.
Due to the statistical analysis, Google Translate can make very obvious errors and create sentences that do not remotely convey the meaning of the original text. After all, Google Translate is a machine. Though these are very inhuman flaws, or even glitches, I feel like there is a very human-like quality about Google Translate attempting to convert these bulks of texts and failing miserably. I remembered a game I used to play. A game where someone thinks of a short story and whispers it into another person's ear, after which this person has to remember the story and whisper it repeatedly to the next person. Eventually the last person (this could be the third or the thirtieth) told the story out loud and obviously it would be a completely different story. Everyone had a laugh, and celebrated the flawed perception and memory of the human being.
It turns out, inhuman Google Translate, using its statistical analysis, can play this game too.
"The reversed Empress signifies indecisiveness, inability to take action, dependence, poverty an infidelity. Additionally, there is an 80% chance that you or an individual close to you is infertile. This might be not the best time to have a female visit your home; this woman might want to take over the household. This includes women with lip implants, women with hair like Sharon Osbourne (but not Sharon Osbourne herself), infant girls with bows, women called or referred to as; D Ana, Min Jae, Su Min, Na Hyun, High D, Eui Jin, New Sun or Alicia Keys."
After translating from English to Latin and back.
"Fortuna means is reversed indecisiveness, inability to take action, dependence, poverty unbelief. In addition, there is that which, perchance, do you that all the nigh unto Himself by means of a hundred and eighty, give a production of. In fact, this is the best time that I will visit thy sheep; I wish the family. This includes, when the lip women, even women with hair Sharon Osbourne (but do not Sharon Osbourne), baby girls and women, and she referred to as a bow; 500 Min Jae Ana, Su Min boy Hyun High 500, whose Jin, Song of the new or the sun."
After repeating this until the changes remained stable (this was approximately 15 times.)
"In addition, for almost a hundred and fourscore and when they could publish. In fact, this is the best time to visit, and I would like eggs. This includes women with a washtub and women with hair Sharon Osbourne (Sharon Osbourne, and they do), baby girls and women, also referred to as a bow; Su Min Jae Hyun Ana, the number of young people 500 min; and 500, of which the Jin, the sun, or the Song of the New are."
The inhuman glitches of the translation machine suddenly remind me of the flawed quirks of human memory, human intelligence or just humanity. Human associations work mysteriously incidental and completely different from one person to another, but how random and haphazard they may look, they are always connected with a memory; an inscription or cipher in your brain that attaches it to another memory. This is the same for our dearest translation device. He associates a word with one or more of the hundreds of millions documents in his reach. The procedure is systematical, analytical and robotic, but the outcome can be: "and I would like eggs." It is almost like one kid playing the game during recess decided to pull a little prank and whisper a random sentence in between the remembered story.
Viewing the entire digital cluster of data, roaming on the Internet as a pool of aimless, random associations that somewhere have a coherent connection with a memory in the physical world (when someone logged into his of her computer and created this piece of data), is perhaps a more comforting way of looking at the Internet. It is something we understand, since our brain works in the same way. If the Internet is a map, we know the whereabouts of the city we live in, or in the case of the Internet; the websites we frequently use. In this way your moms Facebook page could be your parental home, your favorite porn video the falafel stand you always drunkenly end up after going out and your old MySpace account could be the Madame Tussauds in Vienna where you went that one time in 2009. (After all, who still uses MySpace, and who still goes to Madame Tussauds?)
However, if you search in the random personal picture finder you are transported to the 'Irgendwie Irgendwo Irgendwann' of the Internet. You could be instantly transferred to an aggressively spray-painted Dutch transportation truck, it could be eight Muslim men reading the Koran, a (seemingly) dead honey badger or a pink-themed Bachelorette party on a scuba diving boat. (All real examples and all cosmically linked to one another by the mystifying title of imag.0033.)
You discover a miraculous and completely random compilation of human culture that effortlessly crosses any prejudice, boarders, units of time, classification, design or common sense. You cannot but conceive associations, compose narratives and conceptualize an overlapping theme about these images. The systematical associative brain of the search engine awakens your own, which searches for mental connections in your own database of memories. Is this physical, human database any less systematical and programmed, though? The variations of imag.0033 spark memories almost automatically, without me picking our choosing to which I want to be remembered. Some recollections are from years and years in the past, some I might as well have forgotten if I weren't remembered to it on that very moment. It can be like smelling a scent, and knowing you have smelled it before, knowing it's a scent from your childhood, but not being able to remember to which memory it is attached. Is this mental connection perhaps deleted, but with the link still existing on another website.
Decontextualization of images and translations, in this case, is like isolating our own memories.
If you look at services like Google Translate and a random personal picture finder, they are portals into the endless data of the Internet, just like any other search engine or online tool. But look at it again, and you will see the flaws of a human being mirrored into these almost human-like machines. This is logical of course, since machines, the Internet and search engines are made by men. We will never be able to create a flawless machine, robot, AI, system or utopia, since humans are flawed in their very core. The systems reflect our own imperfect ways of accessing our memories, and creating new ones. Our eyes that have never really evolved to look above water, our ears that glitch after a night of loud partying or our brain that forgets, deceives, gives you intrusive thoughts and déjà vu's and then forgets again. Could we look at search engines and online devices as senses, organs to a larger organism that is just as flawed as a human being?
So let's get back to the Tarot cards. What I keep considering the most captivating aspect (and the reason why I wanted to delve into this theme in the first place) of Tarot, or any paranormal way of uncovering hidden knowledge really, is the way we humans very humanly/desperately search for connections with our lives, hopes, fears and dreams. Now is a normal Tarot reading not the most difficult thing to project your own life into, but still; you need creativity and a certain amount of believe to make the mental connections needed to complete a successful reading.
Making mental connections in this predetermined context is one of the many ways we humans generate associations. We write, speak, ponder, imagine, remember and dream, but these are all our own associations, coming from our own database of memories. This is exactly why I love to use the systemic but flawed online search engines, translators and other devices. I get to access not only my own network of mental connections and memories, I get to entry a database of associations and memories of the entire (online) human culture. These systems may be flawed and imperfect, they probably don't access the entire Internet and probably not as arbitrarily as the title of the Random Personal Picture Finder suggests, but our brain works the same way.
Earlier I asked if we could view such devices and engines as parts of an organism that is the Internet, but I feel like the question must be altered, and maybe it shouldn't be a question at all. If I look at the Random Personal Picture Finder, I see a digital organ almost, which makes the entire Internet an extension of my own associative mental database. Maybe that's the way to look at the endless amount of information stored in humongous data centers, shooting through fiber optic cables, floating in electromagnetic waves or radio waves or whichever waves. A physical, flawed and very human extension of my brain. After all, the Internet is so connected to human beings that no one would even be able to access it if the humans were gone.
So, I dare you, call upon the extension of you brain. And maybe, when you attend your next Tarot reading, instead of looking into your ordinary pool of associations and memories, explore your digital, online database for signs to what these cards may refer. Maybe you do have a talent for posing next to expensive cars.