Tuesday, May 4, 2010

More Thoughts on Equations and Models

In my previous post regarding the operant equation and magical models, reader T posted an interesting comment that I think deserves a longer and more detailed response than what I generally post on my comment threads. So here goes.

I came across Carroll's magickal equation many years ago and while I think it's a great idea, it's also really bad science.

Actually, I would go so far as to say that it's not science at all - it's just a hypothesis about how magick works. It doesn't become a scientific theory until it is supported by repeatable, peer-reviewed experiments. So far I've never come across a magical model, including my own, that merits the theory designation because magick involves too many subjective elements.

Carroll formulated this equation based on his own assumption about how magick works. From his assumptions he attempted to derive a formula
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There's nothing wrong with that per se - I'm assuming that Carroll derived his equation from his own experiences and those of other magicians with whom he worked as he claims in Liber Kaos. The first step of scientific inquiry is observation, the second is the formulation of a hypothesis that attempts to explain those observations. From that point forward, though, scientific investigation requires empirical experiments that demonstrate the predictive power of the hypothesis.

Now maybe I'm wrong and we derived this from experimental data, but when the data isn't published, it might as well be non-existent.

This is accurate from a formal scientific perspective, but from a practical perspective I would much rather work with a model derived from the experiences of even a small group of magicians rather than one that is completely made up. Data from such a small sample size is never going to be all that scientific anyway, and we're never going to be able to consistently replicate magical results in a scientific fashion until we have an instrument that can measure consciousness.

There is an assumption in the magickal community that we need a magickal model to work magick.

Maybe there's a general consensus in the communities that magick follows some sort of model, but I have known many practitioners who don't really care about what the "right" model is and just do their practices because they work.

This notion of a model leads us to believe that magick works along a set of rules and guidelines that we simply don't understand. But is that really the case?

For a magical process to interact directly with the physical world there must be some point at which the influences summoned by magicians conform in some way to physical laws that are not currently understood by mainstream science. If you believe that direct physical effects are possible there really isn't any other conclusion that can be drawn. However, prior to this point of manifestation there's a lot more leeway in terms of how the magical process can work.

Does magick work according to a set of rules with their own inherent logic or non-logic?

I don't know that I would ask that question regarding the principles of physical science, let alone magick. Is it logical that the speed of light in a vacuum is invariant no matter how fast you're moving? The answer is that it doesn't matter - if you measure the data that's always what you will find. In my own practices it's much more important that a particular method works rather than how logical it seems.

If magick works according to a set of rules, does it work according to the same set of rules for all individuals?

There are individual differences among magicians, and it's hard to say how extensive they are. For example, maybe Peter Carroll really does need to forget his magical operations for them to work, but I've never found that to be the case in my own work. Joseph Lisiewski's model of grimoire magick is so alien to my own experiences even when working with traditional grimoires that it wouldn't surprise me to find that magick works very differently for him than it does for me. There are also differences in relative aptitude between individuals, which is what the S variable of my equation tries to represent.

If there are rules of magick, are they constant? I've always thought of magick as alive, even sentient and with a sense of humor. If magick is alive or even a product of life, then it should be in a state of continuous change
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In my experience spirits certainly have their own sentience and in many cases senses of humor, though that depends on the spirit. As far as magick itself goes, though, it's a lot harder to say whether or not this is the case. One of the issues that these equations don't address is the quantum landscape of the universe, which is continually changing and shifting. If the quantum landscape surrounding the target of your spell is unfavorable to the spell's manifestation it probably won't work, whereas if it happens to be favorable the spell will work quickly and easily. This makes an exact probability rating hard to calculate. It's likely possible to come up with some sort of topological method to map the quantum landscape, but that would be a very difficult task at our current level of scientific and technological understanding. The first person to work it out will probably win the Nobel Prize, and I think it would be downright hilarious if that person turned out to be a magician rather than a physicist. Imagine the scandal in academia!

It certainly seems that the practice of magick is an ever changing art. This has been explained as a function of shifting cultural beliefs and whatnot. But hell, it could just as easily be that we modify our practices as magick changes.

I don't personally think that cultural beliefs have much to do with the effectiveness of magick outside the social sphere. If I can summon a probability shift of X with a spell, whether or not my neighbor believes in magick is not going to change that value one bit. From a practical standpoint it might be easier to work magick in a society of believers simply because if you inform someone that you've cast a spell on them they are much more likely to engage in behaviors and ways of thinking that reinforce the spell, in effect doing a lot of the work for you. But for magick practiced in secret or spells directed at physical processes rather than individuals I'm convinced that the general consensus of society at large is irrelevant.

The entire point of a magical model is to give you a starting point, a baseline hypothesis, from which you can begin to conduct your own empirical tests. Your own data is always going to be better than that coming from someone else if you're doing the work in a rigorous fashion. My operant equation was originally derived from my empirical work with Carroll's equation. In the course of those experiments I concluded that for me and the magicians I work with some of Carroll's factors behave differently from how they are explained in Liber Kaos. It wouldn't surprise me at all if someone else were to work with my equation and find some differences in how magick works for them or come up with further refinements of its terms. In fact, I hope they do - if magick is to develop as a discipline it should evolve and new, more accurate models should replace the old ones over time.

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2 comments:

T said...

Ananael, thank you for such a detailed and well thought out response to my comment. Let me offer a clarification of some of the statements and questions I made. When I asked

Does magick work according to a set of rules with their own inherent logic or non-logic?

what I was trying to get at is that while the speed of light may not appear logical, we know certain properties of light that possess their own inherent logic from which we can derive answers about physical phenomena. For instance if we observe a star emitting light at a certain frequency, we can infer the relative velocity between us and this distance source of light by measuring the frequency of that emission. A shift in frequency from the normal hydrogen emission spectrum implies that there is relative velocity between us and the star, such as a red shift that occurs when the star (or the space-time it exists in) is moving away from us. A shift towards the red spectrum implies a lower frequency of light implying a relative increase in distance between us and the star. A -> B -> C
Thus we can use a theory to make predictions, that is the strength of such a model. I question whether we can do the same with magick. Will the same logic of A implies B implies C work here? Carroll's model assumes this is the case and maybe it is, however I think that until evidence suggests otherwise, it may be worthwhile to consider that magick may not conform to such logic or allow us to make predictions. For quite some time the magickal community has embraced the notion that magick can be viewed as advanced science, something not yet understood by the majority but will one day be understood to contain it's own internal logic and rules, which is exactly what Carroll was attempting to demonstrate with his formula. This may or may not be the case.

You mentioned that
For a magical process to interact directly with the physical world there must be some point at which the influences summoned by magicians conform in some way to physical laws that are not currently understood by mainstream science. If you believe that direct physical effects are possible there really isn't any other conclusion that can be drawn.

I agree that magick must be able to influence the physical in some way to bring about certain effects, but I'm not convinced that it has to conform to those physical laws, it only needs to give a little push in the right direction and then the physical laws, understood or not, kick in and keep the ball rolling. Obviously magick appears to take place at a level where there exists some degree of interaction between the mind and the universe, such a place may be very strange indeed. I wonder if the laws of magick that we may find may in fact be the laws of our own mind, each mind able to interact with the universe in a different way, and as the mind changes, so do the laws that govern magick. This could be something akin to the quantum landscape you suggested so we may only be disagreeing because of semantics.

Coming back to Carroll's equation, my problem isn't with his idea. I think it's brilliant that someone finally tried to really nail down magick, even if that isn't possible. I'm just very interested in the experiences he and the people he was working with had that lead them to that formula. It is an unfortunate consequence of centuries of secrecy that magicians still rarely recount their actual experiences, only the conclusions they derived from them. I mourn the lack of published data because I know it's there. There are some secrets that practitioners need to keep, but most magickal experiences are better shared.

N

Ananael Qaa said...

Thus we can use a theory to make predictions, that is the strength of such a model. I question whether we can do the same with magick. Will the same logic of A implies B implies C work here?

Within an individual's sphere of consciousness you're right that you can't really make that assumption. After all, there are probably as many variations on magical methods as there are practitioners. What both Carroll and I are trying to do is identify common features of those methods, but looking at the differences between the two equations it's clear that even when two people are looking at a problem from a similar perspective the results won't necessarily match up.

"Gnosis" is a particularly vague term in both equations. It refers to a certain type of consciousness shift, but beyond that the method by which this shift is achieved is completely open. It's also a "know it when you see it" sort of term. I can tell you with what I consider to be a high degree of certainty that hyperventilating is not Gnosis (as a chaos magician I used to know once tried to convince me) but at the same time how do you really rate or evaluate such a subjective experience in another person?

I agree that magick must be able to influence the physical in some way to bring about certain effects, but I'm not convinced that it has to conform to those physical laws, it only needs to give a little push in the right direction and then the physical laws, understood or not, kick in and keep the ball rolling.

My contention is that there are a very limited number of ways for a mental/magical/spiritual/whatever you want to call it influence to affect the physical world. A direct probability shift that affects the quantum landscape has to influence the Schroedinger functions of some group of particles. At the point of manifestation there really is no other option, and the laws of quantum physics are pretty well-defined. Prior to that point, though, as I said above there's a lot of leeway in terms of how the influence itself reaches the point just prior to generating that quantum influence.

I wonder if the laws of magick that we may find may in fact be the laws of our own mind, each mind able to interact with the universe in a different way, and as the mind changes, so do the laws that govern magick.

As a trained experimental psychologist I do expect to find that there are more similarities than differences between individuals. While many people see themselves as totally unique individuals I can predict their behavior with a reasonable degree of accuracy in most situations. That's true of me too - in much of day-to-day life I'm often rather predictable in my reactions.

I mourn the lack of published data because I know it's there. There are some secrets that practitioners need to keep, but most magickal experiences are better shared.

I couldn't agree more. One of the reasons I set up this blog in the first place was to publish my models and hypotheses and see how well they explained the observations of other magicians, or if there were sections that I could revise based on the magical results of others that would make my work more effective. If we ever want to have a knowledge base of magical lore that's anywhere close to the knowledge base of the physical sciences we need to share our results and review those of others.