Thursday, April 7, 2016


So I just received word today that my Emotiv Insight headset is finally going to ship. For those of you don't who remember me talking about this a couple of years ago, my wife and I are Kickstarter backers for the Insight, a new high-performance consumer EEG headset. At the time, Emotiv Systems was selling the Epoc, an EEG headset that worked but which had several drawbacks that the Insight was supposed to improve upon.

Kickstarter can be hit or miss. My wife is still waiting on a 3D printer she backed years ago, and the Insight has also taken a long time to develop. But I will finally be getting the darn thing, which means that I can move on with a particular project that my lack of a functional headset has been holding up. It will still be a couple weeks before I have it, but have it I will. My research will be able to go forward.

Here's the idea. In my original Operant Magick manuscript, I proposed a simple model of the brainwave changes that may occur during magical operations, derived from studies of advanced meditators as reported in James Austin's 1999 book Zen and the Brain. The model was pretty simple - overly simple, as it turned out, based on subsequent research done during the following decade.

The model relied on the idea of tonic - that is, synchronized - brainwaves starting off in the low-alpha/high-theta range induced by basic relaxation meditation, and then shifting into full alpha, beta, and finally gamma at the climax of the ritual before shifting back to the alpha-theta baseline. It made sense with the information I had available, but that information dated back to the late 1990s.

Austin published Zen-Brain Reflections in 2008, which included more studies that thoroughly muddied the picture presented in Zen and the Brain. Better EEG technology meant that specific areas of the brain could be monitored with axial positioning sensors, which revealed that aggregate brainwaves gave a massively oversimplified view of what was going on.

In order to really break down the brain correlates of magical consciousness, areas of the brain in which firing increases and decreases in response to particular subjective states of consciousness must be mapped. Crucially, the Insight has a positioning sensor, unlike the Epoc which only tracked aggregate values. Without a positioning sensor, I'm limited to working with something like my old model.

So in order to get a handle on what I'm hoping to measure, I simply need the Insight if I want my data to be relevant to the most modern research. And here's the goal - to measure the brainwave changes in specific areas that occur during a magical ritual, and then hopefully correlate specific firing patterns to strong probability shifts in the material world.

It's not a consciousness measure, but if we assume that consciousness and the brain are tightly entwined in whatever configuration, that suggests brain function should follow consciousness or consciousness should follow brain function, depending on your opinion of what's what. That's pretty close to what I need to more fully explore how practical/physical magick works in a scientific manner.

If I can find a pattern, based on (A) the structure and coherence of the ritual itself and (B) the brain activity exhibited during the ritual, I should be able to predict ahead of time what the probability shift produced by the ritual will be. Predictive power like that is huge, and will go a long way towards a physical model of magick.

If we are operating from the assumption that spirits are external entities and not aspects of personal consciousness, it is true that this won't address the effects of conjuring spirits on results. But there may be some other one-off measures that can suffice for that and help me draw some meaningful conclusions.

For example, I could test probability shifts for spirit/no spirit versions of the same operation, and if the brain activity is the same but the spirit versions create stronger shifts (which is what my anecdotal observations suggest) that implies spirits are external entities and not "part of the brain."

I've also done some preliminary work with base/peak EMF measured in the center of the Table of Art suggesting that might be a possible approach, but I need a bigger sample size to be sure that it's relevant data and not some sort of fluke. It also would help to have an EMF sensor that could log the data automatically to my computer, just like the Insight can with EEG information.

That would give me a full graph of brain and EMF activity moment by moment, and if a pattern emerges linking both of those to probability shifts, I would have hard data linking everything together that I could use to tweak my overall operant magick model. It will be a lot of work to compile all that information, but totally worth it.

Now, keep in mind that the data may not show any relationships at all. The point is to do the work and find out, because that's how real science works. In some circumstances a negative result can be just as revealing as a positive one in terms of modeling particular phenomena.

This also means that I'll be able to get to work revising my Operant Magick manuscript based not only on the latest brain research but on experimental work I can do myself. That's exciting, and it means that the book will be that much better because it will rely less on subjective speculation and more on measurable, hopefully repeatable results.

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