Asking the right questions

When you’re looking for answers that can’t be found through regular channels, you might decide to ask an oracle of some form (tarot, tea leaves, runes, ogham, etc.). If you’ve done it before, you might have discovered this already: it’s surprisingly difficult to ask a question that will actually help you, and get to the heart of the problem. 

For example, you might ask ‘Will I be moving house soon?‘ because you’d like to move out of the place you’re at. It might seem like a totally fine question, but it’s not going to really help you in any way. The first problem is that ‘soon’ isn’t a clear term. It could mean ‘within a week,’ ‘within a year,’ or ‘in the grand scheme of things, within the next millennia.’ You want to reword that question to put a definite time frame in. Something like ‘Will I be moving house within the next 3 months?

The next problem is that this can be answered with a yes or a no. That severely limits the information the oracle can give you, and will often result in a ‘maybe?‘ because your actions (or inaction) will impact the result.

While it’s bad enough that maybe leaves you in the same state of confusion that you started in, yes and no can also be extremely unhelpful. The future isn’t set in stone – but when you ask, ‘Will X happen?‘ and you get a ‘No,’ there’s an implication there that you can’t do anything to change that. That’s not usually the case – it might just be difficult, or require that you act at all. This brings us to:

The Paradox of Yes/No questions

In the case of moving house – if you want to move, you usually need to go looking for a place to live – you have to look at real estate websites, ask people you know if they know of good places, do research on the places you might want to move to, etc. There’s a level of effort required. When you ask your oracle ‘Will I be moving house within the next 3 months?‘ the answer the oracle gives you might change how you act. It’s confusing as all get out, but here’s a hypothetical situation that will (hopefully) explain it:

In this hypothetical, Tim will move to a new house, but only if he puts extra effort in. If he is lazy, he won’t.

If the oracle tells Tim ‘Yes,‘ he will relax. He won’t put in the extra effort he needs to find a new place because he expects that it will all just come to him. Put another way, the answer of yes will cause him to behave in a way that means he won’t move. Yes creates no.

If the oracle says ‘No,’ Tim will end his efforts. He definitely won’t move house.

If the oracle says ‘Maybe,’ Tim will put more effort in, and he will move within the time frame given. So the oracle should give him a yes in order to be accurate, but it can’t because if it gives him a yes, he changes his behaviour, resulting in a no.

The oracle either has to give him the unsatisfying cop-out answer of ‘maybe,’ or give him a no. He can’t get a yes for this question.

This isn’t the only possibility of course. Consider Jane – she’s the type of person that doesn’t like to take no for an answer. She consults an oracle and asks ‘Will I get a promotion by the end of the month?

If the oracle gives Jane either a yes or maybe, she won’t work any harder than she has been, and won’t get the promotion.

If the oracle gives her a no, though? She takes it as a challenge. She has to prove the oracle wrong. She hates the idea that some know-it-all deck of cards has told her she can’t have what she wants, so she puts in ten times the effort – her efforts are noticed, and she gets the promotion.

In this case, the oracle is forced to be wrong if it wants Jane’s life to improve. As thanks for it’s efforts, Jane will be less likely to trust the oracle in the future. She might even gloat a bit about how it was wrong, not realising that deliberately answering incorrectly was the only way it could help her.

How do you fix that?

Think about what you really want, and consider ways to reword the question so that the oracle can give you answers that help you create that outcome.

If your question is ‘Will I be moving house within the next 3 months?,‘ and you’re asking because you don’t like where you’re currently living and want to move out ASAP, you might change it to ‘How do I find a nicer place as soon as possible?‘ or ‘What should I be looking for in a new house?‘ or perhaps ‘I need to break up with my current housemates so I can move out by myself, and I need advice on how to do it.‘ – this last one isn’t a question, it’s a statement. That’s fine – it still works because it expresses exactly the kind of information you are looking for.

In summary: Avoid questions with yes/no answers: these tend to start with ‘is,’ ‘should,’ or ‘will.’ If you ask a question that can be answered with yes or no, it really limits the information the oracle can give you, thus limiting the usefulness of the reading. Questions that can give you better information tend to start with ‘how’ and ‘what.’

To help you out, here are a few more examples:

  • Instead of ‘Is now a good time for me to move house?‘ try ‘What challenges will I face if I move house now?‘ or ‘How can I make moving house right now as easy as possible?
  • Instead of asking ‘Will I graduate from uni?‘ try ‘What can I do to ensure that I graduate from uni?
  • Instead of asking ‘Should I start dating again?‘ try ‘If I start dating again, what should I keep an eye out for?‘ or ‘What can I do to make sure I’m ready to start dating again?
  • Instead of asking ‘Am I going to have a good year this year?‘ try ‘How can I make this the best year possible?

These questions give you the power to change a bad outcome through action. They give you information about the types of challenges you may face. They help you create the kind of future you want.

If you’re just looking for a simple yes/no forecast, it might seem like these ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions are going to miss the point, but you’d be surprised. A question like ‘How can I make this year the best year possible?‘ usually gives you a pretty solid forecast of the challenges you’re going to face, and how difficult those are going to be to overcome. If your answer says ‘You’re going to want cut down on luxuries and save as much as possible,’ it usually also says ‘because times will be difficult financially.’ The warnings and reasons for warnings kind of come hand-in-hand, and those specific reasons are a lot more helpful than just ‘No, it’s going to be a rubbish year‘ could ever be, because if you know you’re going to have money trouble in advance, you can prepare. Then  your money troubles won’t be as troublesome. Isn’t ‘No, it’s going to be a rubbish year, but here’s how you can make it better:‘ better than a straight no?


May the cards fall in your favour,


PS. If you’re interested in this kind of paradox, consider looking up the ‘Oracle’s Paradox,’ ‘Boscovich’s Demon,’ and ‘Laplace’s Demon.’ Stuff written about these philosophical problems tends to be quite dry and difficult, but if you’re into that kind of thing, these are fun concepts.

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