Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thoughts on Rob's Rules of Magick

The second section of Rob's article on the laws, rules, and right of magick deals with what he calls "magical rules," which he treats as similar to laws except that they are neither as strong nor as universal. As I noted yesterday in the first article of this series, the "laws" of magick tend to be probabilistic rather than deterministic, so another way to think about these two classifications might be as "strong rules" versus "weak rules" or something similar.

Rule of Spatial Distance

The Rule of Spatial Distance states that despite appearances, ‘every point in the universe is right next to every other point’. Right away there are some obvious problems with this rule.

First off this rule contradicts the Law of Attraction. The Law of Attraction tells us that different things are in different locations, and that the location a thing inhabits is based on its qualities and the other things it is attracted to.

Secondly the rule contradicts what we know of physics. We know that location is a real thing. We know that spatial distances are real and they exist, and they have a very real effect on us. We don’t have to worry about accidentally walking into the sun, because it’s not going to happen.

A better way to state this rule might be as follows: magical links do not depend on spatial distance, at least at any scale with which we are familiar. It might be that there is some sort of distance limitation that could preclude, say, psychic contact with alien magicians on a world orbiting a distant star, but in practice a link's power is independent of any distance that I've been able to observe. So in a magical sense linked objects are "close together" regardless of where they are in space.

The difficulty in connecting to a target that arises when it moves out of the magician's line of sight is related to the Law of Similarity - while you're observing an object the image of it in your mind is as perfect as it could possibly be because you are perceiving it from moment to moment. When you transition to working from a memory the similarity link weakens because it is a less accurate observation. However, as this rule states, the spatial distance itself is still not a factor that needs to be taken into consideration.

The First Rule of Time

The First Rule of Time states that ‘time does not progress within a single direction but can be moved through in either direction’. This concept was touched upon in the Law of Reversals, and within that discussion it was mentioned that a similar idea exists within physics. Just to clarify the rule it states that the perception that time is moving forward is an illusion and that time may be moved through forward or backwards.

The idea that time is reversible is a key physics concept and in magick it works much the same way. However, it is also necessary to take into account the principle of entropy as it affects probability gradients. Ordering something is difficult, while disordering it is easy. It should be possible to reverse the flow of time and reassemble a cup that has fallen off a shelf and broken, but it's much easier to break the cup in the first place. This can be understood from a probabilistic perspective, in that most of the possible states that the molecules of the cup could find themselves in are equivalent in an absolute sense, but there are far more of those states in which the cup is broken than those in which the cup is not. For a magical spell to accomplish such a reassembly the probability shift produced must overcome P(cup not broken) / P(cup broken), which is a hard gradient to beat.

The idea of "retro-enchantment" touched on here has been floating around the occult world since the beginnings of chaos magick. While in many cases spells must in effect influence the past in order to produce results, when I've tried to do it consciously and deliberately the spell in question has never worked all that well. In my opinion the "retro" portion of such spells behaves kind of like the famous Schrodinger's Cat paradox. At the macro scale the wavefunction collapse related to an event is not absolute until information about the event reaches you, and it is within this uncertainty that spells act.

As an example of this, consider a more elaborate version of the Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment in which not only do the scientists place the cat in the box but also lock themselves into a room with reporters outside waiting to find out whether the cat is alive or dead. The scientists run the procedure, in which a poison capsule in the box is either broken or not depending upon a quantum event.

  1. The cat knows whether it's alive or dead right away, so from its perspective the wavefunction collapses instantly.
  2. A scientist opens the box and inspects the cat. From the scientist's perspective, it is at this point that the wavefunction collapses.
  3. The scientist opens the door, walks out, and shows the reporters the box containing either a living cat or dead one. At this point the wavefunction collapses from the reporters' perspective.

So it's not merely the case that the cat is simultaneously alive and dead while the box is closed, it's also that the related wavefunction is at the same time both collapsed and not collapsed depending upon the information that each individual involved has perceived. This has a number of interesting implications, among them that until you perceive the outcome of your spell all of the events leading up to that success or failure are similarly indeterminate. This is why, for example, you can use simple intuitive magick to control traffic signals even though they run on deterministic cycles. The real variable is the exact moment at which your car approaches the signal, but until you reach it the information you have about its state remains indeterminate and is thus susceptible to magical influence.

The Second Rule of Time

The Second Rule of Time states that, “between two points in time there does not exist a single linear path, but rather between those two points there exists a multitude of points leading to a multitude of different destinations”.

At a glance this rule may be a bit difficult to comprehend, especially since most people are used to looking at time as a linear progression from one point to another.

I'm still meditating on this one and trying to work out whether or not it's correct. When you project your mind forward you certainly experience a sort of web that branches out all over the place, and when you do the same backwards you can identify the points at which different timelines "break off" and lead elsewhere. You can also set up a thought experiment involving all of the particles in the universe moving through their many states and come up with different paths through time to reach the same configuration, but that says nothing about whether it's a common enough state of affairs to be useful in any way. It might have some implications for wavefunction collapse as I explained above, in that one way of thinking about it might be that until you have the information regarding the success or failure of a spell the event in question has a number of "possible pasts" to choose from.

Rule of Dream Achievements

The Rule of Dream Achievements states that, “anything which has been achieved within a dream can also be achieved within the physical world.” This means that if last night you had a dream that you flew through the air like Superman, it’s possible for you to fly in the physical world. It also means that if you dreamt you showed up to school naked last night, it’s possible that one day you may forget to put clothes on before leaving your house.

You might be thinking that this all seems absurd. After all a lot of people have dreamt that they can fly, yet you don’t really see very many people flying around. It’s possible that you yourself have dreamt that you can fly, but if you jump out your window right now all that’s going to happen is you’ll fall to the ground.

After a bunch of solid points this one sticks out because, quite frankly, it doesn't just seem absurd - it is absurd. Dreaming and physical reality are different realms of being. There is no reason to believe that what can be done in one can automatically be done in another. Dreams are made of pure thought rather than matter, and as a result infinitely malleable. Perhaps that's why this one is a "rule" and not a "law," but still. It's way too easy to come up with all sorts of thought experiments showing this to be false. "I dreamed last night that I could fly from the ground to the top of a building by flapping my arms." That's never going to happen without massive technological assistance such as a city built in zero gravity. Note that "by flapping my arms" precludes hang gliders, jetpacks, or whatever sort of thing might "allow" you to accomplish this miracle.

"I dreamed I could swim and breathe underwater at the bottom of the ocean without scuba gear" suffers from the same problem - not only do you need to breathe, but how do you keep from being crushed by the weight of the water? And don't even get me started on lucid dreamers, who I'm sure could conjure up many things that are essentially impossible in the physical realm with ease. While it's literally correct to state that nothing is truly impossible from the standpoint of quantum mechanics, just extremely unlikely, or that anything is possible if you allow for the existence of arbitrarily advanced technology, neither of those points is particularly useful from the standpoint of what is likely to happen in the here and now.

It's important to note that even Australian Aborigines, whose entire spiritual system is based on the concept of Dreamtime and likely has been that way for millennia, consider the Dreamtime to be a separate realm that can influence physical reality but which at the same time is not identical with it, and thus reject this rule as stated. I also have never before met another magician who seriously suggested it as a valid principle with which to engage the external world. Dreams can inspire us and in doing so guide aspects of our spiritual exploration, but they tell us little about physical reality and especially little about the limitations inherent to material existence.

Rule of the Reversible Flow of Energy

The Rule of the Reversible Flow of Energy states that, ‘Any force that can be moved in a single direction along a set path can also be moved in the opposite direction along that same path.’

Rob went into greater detail regarding practical applications of this rule in his more recent article on empath sickness, and in my experience he's correct in his assessment. It is quite difficult to build a "shield" that allows information to pass through it via your psychic senses but which also exclude psychic or magical attacks. Much like a firewall on a computer network, any sort of protective spell that allows psychic impressions will also have openings that a skilled magical attacker can exploit. In my experience magical attacks are pretty uncommon, but the sort of things covered in the empath sickness article are relatively common and the suggested remedy is spot-on. You are much better off learning to balance and convert your internal energy more effectively than you would be walking around "shielded" and thus cut off from any sort of spiritual perception.

Rob's second point regarding this law is also valid. Magical links run both ways. This is one reason that I strongly recommend containment structures when doing any sort of magick that might be perceived by your spell's target as negative, even if you are working with allied spirits for whom such a device is not strictly necessary. Containing the link means that any spell sent back along the connection used to send the original one will have to work much harder in order to reach the initial caster than it otherwise would.

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