Quantum Tarot: the Hermit


The Hermit shows us a long-haired, middleaged man, backlit as if he were a divine being, facing the left side of the card (his feminine - Goddess aspects, perhaps, or his past). In his right hand, his arm crossing his chest protectively, he holds a starlike, lanternlike six-pronged spin of light, each of its six beams also spinning.

The Hermit travels alone, and has to deal with the Difficult Stuff unaided. Unlike the Emperor, he has no centurions or public servants. Unlike the Hierophant, he has no priesthood and no Bible. Unlike the Magician, he doesn't have a table of tools with which to shape his reality. In fact, even the Fool is better-equipped than he is, with his tattered Karmic Bundle on a stick, and the companionship of a watchful dog. All the Hermit has is light.

And this particular Hermit's light is made up of what we thought until recently were the ultimate fundamental particles: the quarks that make up protons and neutrons and thence all larger particles. Who is he, really, this Hermit? He may be quite simple and easy to understand, but no one will ever come close enough to him to know. What are quarks? They are too small to be seen, so again, we can only infer that they come in six flavours, and that only three of them make up most of the matter we know. And in fact, they are too far away from us in their size for us to know much about them at all - we can only theorise about the tiny, immensely tensioned strings that may build themselves into quarks, separating, merging, and fizzing with oddness at the quantum level of reality just as the Hermit fizzes with oddness compared with workaholics and shopaholics.

I wonder what would happen if, in his wanderings, the Hermit were to decide to turn around, and face his future instead of his past, his masculine godhood rather than his feminine spirituality. Would the yellow-white blaze of the quarks in his hand abruptly turn into the blue-black blaze of their supersymmetrical partners, the six flavours of squarks? Would he annihilate himself? Would he annihilate us? Or merely a tiny fragment of an immeasurably small part of one of us?

And where can the Hermit go from here? I cannot know. Even he cannot know. All he can do is follow the glowing, spinning bundle of quarks in his hand in trust that it will light his way for him.


The Hermit is about looking inward, and I made a parallel with this and looking within the atom. Subatomic physics is a process of delving deep within the invisible, tiny building blocks of matter and it can take us to some strange and unfamiliar places. I wonder if the early quantum theorists felt like Hermits as they plunged into this weird and wonderful world, which they knew was incomprehensible to most of the people around them. It still is incomprehensible to many! Trying to understand this stuff is a little like following the Hermit's lantern into dark and deeply unfamiliar territory. It can get a little weird and scary for our poor egos. ;)


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