The first palm reader I ever met, Tess Morrison, started reading palms as a party trick. Although she had no training or specific knowledge, she was good at reading people, and she realized that no one will object to hearing good things about themselves. In my experience, what she said holds true. Although I started as a skeptic, I couldn’t argue against palm reading when Tess told me that I am a natural leader, emotionally intuitive and a good friend.
Palm readings are based on the idea that our physical attributes reveal something about our personalities and our futures. There is no biological data that supports this idea, and there are no studies that prove palmists’ predictions come to fruition. Even though it is illogical, palm reading still holds a spot in our collective attention, along with similar pseudosciences such as astrology, tarot cards and fortune telling. For Tess Morrison, the “validity” of palmistry is beyond the point. It simply provides a framework from which she can interpret the emotional information she collects from every interaction.
Sometimes, when waiting for a drink at a party or walking to a frat house, I will entertain people by telling them I can read palms. I gain credibility from the fact that Tess once told me I have “the gift.” Every time I reveal this fun fact, it elicits the same reaction: People who, moments ago, were talking about how they don’t believe in stuff like that blurt out requests to have their palm read. No one believes that there is science behind what I am telling them. But when I tell someone they are kind, driven and destined to fall in love, why would that matter?
Spirituality allows us to see people in ways in which they don’t always feel seen. It allows us to confirm what they already know about themselves but worry people don’t see. It allows us to connect on a level no logic can reach.
Palmistry, like other spiritual pseudosciences, requires a willing suspension of disbelief, a departure from the constraints of logic. Such leaps of imagination seem out of place at Yale, where we are surrounded by p-sets and research papers. Our University idolizes logic and problem-solving — a narrative espoused on every Yale tour, when the tour guide brings the group into Sterling Memorial Library. The guide tells the creation lore of the library: An architect wanted to construct a cathedral for Yale, but since it was a secular university, he built a library instead. Sterling functions as a shrine to knowledge. But what the tour guide’s narrative forgets is that Yale was not secular. In fact, Yale’s curriculum didn’t expand beyond religion until the American Revolution.
The construction of Sterling Memorial Library actually coincided with an active attempt to secularize Yale. James Gamble Rogers, the project architect, planned to construct a library as well as a chapel at the opposite end of Cross Campus. In 1924, Yale stopped requiring undergraduate chapel services, and the chapel Rogers dreamed of was never built.
Spirituality and religion are not the same, but they are similar in many ways. Both rest upon the belief that there is something greater than ourselves in control, both allow us to form connections to others and both require a significant amount of faith. While most religious people have anecdotal evidence, and there are many academic texts arguing in favor of a divine creator, it is impossible to conclusively prove or disprove the existence of a God. Religious believers and believers in palmistry must believe beyond logic, a daunting requirement.
Since Yale was founded, it has moved markedly away from its religious roots. This August, incoming first years answered a survey with questions about religion, among other topics. The results, published in the News, revealed that there were more first years who observed no faith — 36 percent — than first years who planned to engage in religious services at Yale. There were no questions about first years who planned to seek other spiritual opportunities, but I would guess that it would be a similarly small number.
The purpose of astrology, palmistry and most other types of spirituality is for us to “see” one another on a deeper level. Given the emphasis Yale places on community, this is an especially important goal. We need to make sure everyone feels welcome and “seen” in our community. We need to engage on emotional and spiritual levels, not just intellectually. Even at a liberal arts college, we miss out on an emotional education. We need to create space for illogical beliefs. Read a book about palmistry, go to a psychic with your friend or read your roommate’s horoscope. Spend time connecting with the people around you, and don’t worry about whether it makes sense.
Phoebe Cardenas is a first year in Benjamin Franklin College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .