Friday, August 29, 2008

Winged Cats and the Paranormal

I've commented before that I see an enormous difference between "supernatural" and "paranormal" explanations for events. Skeptics generally treat the terms as interchangeable but in fact they don't mean the same thing. A supernatural event is somehow above and beyond the bounds of nature, not just as we understand it but in an absolute sense. It is axiomatic that anything supernatural is not only incomprehensible according to the current state of scientific understanding, but that it is actually impossible for any future science to ever understand it. Seeing as Arthur C. Clarke was right on the mark when he stated that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magick, any supernaturalist explanation of the world is in the same realm as the Christian concept of religious faith. It may be believed, but it cannot be proven or demonstrated.

Seeing as anything that influences the physical world must interact with physical objects it should be clear that if supernatural processes and forces exist in some sense they must pretty much by definition be completely useless. I think it's closed-minded to dismiss people who believe in supernatural forces or entities, but for anyone to expect a supernatural force to be able to accomplish material changes of any sort doesn't understand what they're saying or doesn't understand the implications of their own beliefs.

Paranormal is a qualitatively different term. It means above and beyond the normal, not above and beyond nature. The forces used by ritual magicians are paranormal forces, not supernatural ones, and they influence the physical world by making unlikely events more likely. They are also amenable to scientific research to a degree, such as the Princeton quantum diode experiments. We still lack a good experimental instrument to measure consciousness, but once such an instrument is perfected empirical magical research should be able to proceed at a much faster pace than it has historically.

That brings me to the winged cat. In The New Inquisition, a slapdown of the skeptic movement by the late Robert Anton Wilson, he comments that in the early part of the twentieth century the Fortean Society documented a report of a winged cat. Seeing as I had no idea how such a thing could be possible I've often joked about it over the years, but as it turns out the joke is on me barring some sort of photoshop scandal. The winged cats are apparently real, the result of a rare genetic mutation.

In fact, polydactylism (extra toes) is common in cats, so there's no reason to think extra appendages are that unbelievable. "Wings," though, are rare enough that you don't see them very often, even over the course of many years. They are, therefore, paranormal rather than supernatural, and scientific investigation of this specimen may even tell us which genes are involved. Now, if some enterprising individual starts breeding these as pets and they catch on, what was once paranormal could become normal. Assuming that there are no averse health consequences associated with the "wings," I would certainly consider keeping one. It would make a great conversation-starter.

So I suppose what I'm saying is that magick is like a winged cat. It's rare enough that people don't have much normal experience with it, but with better tools and more advanced science it can and almost certainly will be investigated.

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4 comments:

Tim said...

There's a corollary to Clark's statement, thought I forget the attribution. paraphrased, it essentially says that "Science is nothing more than magick that works consistently". (It may be R.A. Wilson, but memory fails at the moment.)

It always puts me in mind of Nietzsche's aphorism from 'Beyond Good and Evil'-"That which an age considers evil is usually an unseasonable echo of what was formerly considered good--the atavism of an old ideal." - though the similarity is more structural than content driven.

If we look at old heretics like Galileo and Bruno, we find this to be the case- their cosmological heresies, which were founded on a combination of observation, ancient metaphysics, and esoteric influences later became viewed as "science", when shown to be more or less correct descriptions of the structure of the solar system.

The same can be said of Leibniz calculus and his monadology There is much in them that suggests influences from the hermetic and European qabalistic traditions, possibly via association with Francis Mercury von Helmont, with whom there is known to have been some correspondence and possible association during Leibniz early (and brief) career as a court alchemist.

Ananael Qaa said...

There's a corollary to Clark's statement, thought I forget the attribution. paraphrased, it essentially says that "Science is nothing more than magick that works consistently".

The trick is how you define "consistently." I've found that the probability shifts produced by magick are pretty consistent, but it's still a probability shift rather than a guarantee. A lot of skeptics come at paranormal effects like they should follow some sort of Newtonian model in which "likelihood" is meaningingless and only 100% repeatable success counts.

Those standards make it impossible to demonstrate any sort of magical effectiveness. Because of the role of consciousness in magical operations, magick is going to be stuck in the pseudoscience/protoscience phase of research until we can reliably measure states of mind and relate them to the statistical effects.

Tim said...

I think we largely agree, but let me expand my views for clarity. The problem is the model of causation that we have inherited- even so-called Newtonian effects are not 100% repeatable- but only repeatable with a range - and even then, there exists a failure to satisfy Hume's requirement of necessary connection between cause and effect. Without understanding the necessary connection, we only partially grasp the relationship of C & E. Ontologically messy at the very least.

So, "consistency" for me does not require 100% repeatability, but rather a strong tendency toward a particular result- a repeatable and clearly defined change in the odds of an event occurring.

I tend to see magick as a two-fold study- first of the tools and means of causing a particular effect with paranormal means, and secondly the study of the nature of the causal relationship created through an operation. The aim being the production of consistent results through the execution of operational formulae. Over the long term, any particular magickal operation - particularly one which aims at material effects, should be able to produce an object of desire for magickal operators at a consistently higher rate of success than the same object occurs for individuals NOT working magick. The biggest hitch at this point being the capture of a specific data set from which to work- and given the highly idiosyncratic components of a successful working - sufficient motivation of the operator etc. - I'm hard put to construct a sufficiently laboratory-like scenario in which such a test could occur that would satisfy the modern scientific establishment.

The ultimate problem with scientific magick, I think, is that we all start with the same core source materials, but only rarely do we see a new texts made public that provide full disclosure of both operation and the results obtained - or not obtained! - from which we can build and work forward. A complete lab note-book as it were. So the essence of the problem is the creation of a foundational data-set that indicates what could or should be measured. This might be solved in a number of ways, but it all basically amounts to publication of magickal diaries, and the development of the discipline to document the entirety of the process from inception to result or failure, on the part of the magickally inclined.

Certain disciplines taken up by magickians - yoga and meditation - have well-known and much documented effects on human beings. and these effects are largely repeatable by persons who take up these disciplines, regardless of their belief systems. For how long were they regarded as mystical gobbledygook before tools such as EKG and EEG appeared that facilitated analysis of the associated brain function changes? But once those changes were documented and established, institutional science began looking at them with increased seriousness. So too, I think other aspects of magickal practice can be studied and understood, when sufficient data illuminates for us the proper tools for analysis of the causal chains.

Ananael Qaa said...

So, "consistency" for me does not require 100% repeatability, but rather a strong tendency toward a particular result- a repeatable and clearly defined change in the odds of an event occurring.

Agreed. Quantum mechanics pretty much throws anything other than probabilistic relationships out the window.

I'm hard put to construct a sufficiently laboratory-like scenario in which such a test could occur that would satisfy the modern scientific establishment.

I think what we need to do here in order to move forward is to take our scientific models more from psychology than from physics. Not in the sense that magick is merely psychological, but in the sense that experimental psychology methods are better at identifying trends that are above chance but far from guaranteed.

That being said, as I've written elsewhere I don't really care very much about convincing the scientific establishment - I just want practitioners to be able to objectively measure their results. Conventional scientific "repeatability" is problematic simply because what works for one individual might not work the same for another. My own magical work is pretty repeatable for me over time, but formal science demands that for my results to be accepted any other random person should be able to follow my procedures and get the same results - but the thing is that I'm part of the procedure.

My solution for objective testing is simple - Powerball lottery numbers. There are two drawings per week and the numbers are completely random. When testing a technique, I do two runs of playing the lottery, one with the technique and one without for the control group. Then you do statistical analysis between the two groups. If you see a probability shift - that is, you match more numbers in the experimental group than in the control group - the technique works. The degree of statistical divergence then determines the effectiveness of the technique compared to others that have been subjected to the same test.

The ultimate problem with scientific magick, I think, is that we all start with the same core source materials, but only rarely do we see a new texts made public that provide full disclosure of both operation and the results obtained - or not obtained! - from which we can build and work forward. A complete lab note-book as it were.

YES! This is exactly the reason that I started blogging and making my techniques available. The money spell ritual that I have posted here passed the lottery test, averaging 1-2 numbers per draw and topping out at 3 while the control group remained completely random. My best results still come from evoking the Enochian Kings (topping out at 4), but that procedure is more complex and less standard - the way I use Enochian is pretty idiosyncratic and requires a lot more explanation.

So yes, we are in agreement. More magicians need to do objective testing, and they need to publish their results. Secrecy helps no one as far as the discipline of magick is concerned.