Monday, December 31, 2018

Of Magical Personas and Cartesian Dualism

Whither Magick Mondays. I know that the last few months have been pretty erratic, with the magick posts showing up in the middle of the week about half the time and occasionally not at all. I'm hoping to get better at that in the New Year. It's not a "resolution" because I think those are dumb, but rather the observation that I should be less distracted going forward than I have been during the latter part of this year. I have several projects that are wrapping up soon, and once they do I should be able to do a better job of keeping up with things here.

At any rate, earlier this month Frater Barrabbas put up a new post covering what he sees as the necessary components for getting a good start as a magician. It is a long and very informative article that I recommend any beginning magician should read it its entirety. I agree with the vast majority of it. What I'm going to talk about here, though, is one key point on which my operant magical system differs from Barrabbas' work.

To be clear, Barrabbas and I are friends and many of his ideas have informed my practice over the years. The difference that I want to highlight here is not a case of me being critical or thinking that his perspective is somehow objectively wrong. The operant system, though, does have a slightly different emphasis that works better for me, and if you are wondering which way you should go I invite you to try out both approaches and see which one works best for you. As always, my first rule is that if it works it works. Here are the points in question, with my comments.

The first objective is to elevate the self-image so a person is able to establish the credible belief and confidence that he or she can perform magical rituals that produce effective results. In this fashion a person assumes and becomes the persona of a magician with all of its associated practices and expectations. This means that the individual undergoes some kind of change or basic transformation that allows for paranormal phenomenon to occur, and it colors the way that he or she perceives themselves and the world around them. Self development of a particular kind, such as meditation practices, yoga and breath-control can help to build a foundation; but at some point the erstwhile magician must adopt the persona of a practicing magician.

Now I wouldn't say this first paragraph is that different from what I do if what we are talking about is the beginning magician developing confidence in his or her ability to produce paranormal change. It also is not that different if what we are talking about is dispelling doubt - remember, as per the operant equation magick is not powered by belief, but rather inhibited by doubt. I do this by pushing people into working practical magick as soon as they know the basic forms, because the best way to become confident in your ability to make things happen is to make things happen.

Going much further than that, though, I don't really buy the idea of building up an artificial "magical persona" that is essentially a separate part of your consciousness that you use only for working magick. At least, I personally have never found the idea very useful. I am aware that it is a common teaching in the tradition and some students do find it useful, so again, I'm not trying to tell anyone that they should abandon a practice that they find useful. But if as a beginning magician you are looking at this and wondering if it really is something you absolutely need to do, the answer is no.

The whole "persona" idea, in fact, is influenced by the Jungian psychological model that is built on the foundation of psychoanalysis. As I've pointed out on many occasions, the psychoanalytic model of cognition is entirely wrong, and while the Jungian model does include some interesting ideas it really doesn't stand the test of what modern science now knows about memories. I'll summarize that a little bit here rather than linking back through the stack, because I still see psychoanalytic ideas showing up in magical teachings and it should be pointed out that these concepts have no scientific basis whatsoever.

In both the Freudian and Jungian models the basic assumption about memory is that "it's all in there." That is, if a person could think about any event in the past without interference, he or she would be able to recall literally any event with accuracy. But now we know that isn't true. Only a handful of details are really "stored" and the rest is reconstructed - and re-encoded - every time you recall the memory. What that means is that your memories are a lot less accurate than you think they are, and much of what you experience when you recall them is being made-up on the fly.

Freud and Jung get around the problem of why you can't instantly remember everything by proposing a sort of "psychic censor" that prevents traumatic memories from being recalled. These memories are instead "repressed," meaning that you are not consciously aware of them. Apparently, though, they suck up cognitive energy anyway, which is what creates neurosis. I use the term "psychic censor" because that is what this non-existent mental faculty is called in chaos magick. There are practical ramifications here - the idea that magick works by bypassing the "psychic censor" is nonsense because there's no such thing.

At one time I believed Freud came up with this idea because he first worked with hypnosis and found that patients were able to recall events under hypnosis that they could not recall while fully awake. I assumed the problem was that he never corroborated any of those supposedly "recovered" memories, and therefore did not realize how inaccurate memories recalled under hypnosis really are. Memory seems to have some sort of "checksum" associated with it that prevents you from recalling anything that looks too inaccurate, and all hypnosis does is shut that mechanism off.

More recently evidence has emerged suggesting that Freud may have falsified many aspects of his patient files. At the very least, he cherry-picked the cases that best fit his theories of cognition and ignored the rest. Jung seems to have at least reported on his cases accurately, but he saw himself as more of a therapist than a researcher and eschewed anything resembling controlled experiments. The experiments that were finally done wound up showing that the psychoanalytic models show the same success rate as "sham therapy" that employs no therapeutic model whatsoever. That is, from a scientific standpoint they do nothing.

To diverge a little further - maybe further than I need to, but stick with me - Jung's idea of breaking aspects of the psyche into "complexes" that could operate on a semi-autonomous basis is rooted in another basic misunderstanding about how cognition seems to work. The mind operates using three basic systems that interact but which can be separated from each other. The Thinking System is what we normally call the conscious or discursive mind. When you're "thinking about" something, the Thinking System is in operation. The second system is the Feeling System, which deals with emotions. The Feeling System is conscious, just like the Thinking System, because when you are feeling something you are aware of what you are feeling.

The third system is the Conditioning System, which we share with the majority of species on this planet. The rules of classical conditioning were worked out by Ivan Pavlov in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the rules of operant condition were explored later in the twentieth century by John Watson and B. F. Skinner. Conditioning is unconscious until it activates, but that is only because it is basically mechanical. You don't have a "conditioning mind" with intentions or goals or anything like that. You have something more like an old computer that follows a very simple program.

The program is this - repeat actions that are reinforced, avoid actions that are punished (so long as the source of punishment is present, and important caveat), and "extinct" actions that are no longer being reinforced. Usually the problem with this system is that the third process there takes a long time. When the Buddhists talk about impermanence causing suffering, what they really are talking about is how your conditioning is optimized for the situation in which it was formed, so for example a behavior that was reinforced in childhood (that is, it worked and was therefore reinforced) will tend to be repeated in adulthood, even when it produces suboptimal or outright bad results.

Most of the early model of cognition, including psychoanalysis, make the mistake of lumping the three systems together. In the Jungian model, everything in the mind is made up of "complexes" that combine thoughts and "feeling-tones." These may be conscious or unconscious. The latter of these are always "running in the background," so to speak, and under certain circumstances may intrude into consciousness as "affects" which prompt behavior. But once you know about the three systems this is easy to tease out. Thoughts originate in the Thinking System, feelings originate in the Feeling System, and "affects" emerge from the conditioning system - which does not do any processing at all aside from recognizing situations that activate conditioned behaviors.

Not only does this three-system model better explain the operation of cognition without invoking some sort of "psychic censor" for always-accurate, always-persistent memory, it also lines up with what we know about trauma and how it behaves. The problem with PTSD is not that patients suffering from it can't think about what happened, as the psychoanalytic model would suggest, but rather that they can't stop thinking about to the extent that it interferes with their day-to-day lives. The Freudian approach of "bringing the trauma into consciousness" is meaningless, since it's already there. But deconditioning methods that address the Conditioning System itself are effective for mant patients.

So I think Barrabbas may be rubbing off on me a bit here, in that this is a very long-winded answer to a fairly simple question. If the Magical Persona/Magical Identity works for you, great. But if it doesn't, don't feel like it's something you need to master or even work towards. I expect my students to use magick in their day-to-day lives to accomplish all of their tangible goals with greater efficiency, magical or mundane (and I Think that's a false dichotomy anyway). while I have been accused of "using a jackhammer to drive in a single nail" in asserting that you should use powerful magick for basically everything, all that means is those nails get driven in really well.

Given all that, you probably can guess where I'm going in response to this next paragraph.

The second objective is to establish an artificial boundary between a world that is defined by magic and one that is defined as commonplace or mundane. In the material world, which is effectively defined by science, magic doesn’t have any factual basis, but in the world defined by magic, there are subjective powers and forces that can indeed cause the magician and his or her world to change, however modestly or profoundly, in accordance with their will. This boundary starts with the self as defined by magic and continues to define the practices, beliefs and the magical equipment as being set aside from the material world in order to be part of the magical world view.

Here is where Barrabbas and I entirely part company. The entire point of the operant system is that magick should be completely integrated into every aspect of your life, and you should use it whenever necessary regardless of circumstances. There was a study done awhile back comparing eyes-open and eyes-closed forms of meditation. I don't have a citation for it off the top of my head, but it found that eyes-closed meditation got subjects into a meditative state more quickly, but eyes-open got them to the point where they could integrate meditative consciousness into their regular lives. My system is entirely eyes-open - learn to do magick so that you can do magick. For everything. All the time.

Magick and science are not opposites, and they certainly are only enemies when you are talking about extreme capital-S Skeptics. Magick is hard to explore using the formal scientific method only because (A) one of the key variables is consciousness and we lack any sort of instrument that might allow us to measure it and (B) the probability shifts it produces are relatively modest compared to those of near-deterministic Newtonian phenomena. Maybe if you were raised with the idea that magick was evil or stupid or silly the answer is not to separate off your magical work from everything else, but rather to rework that conditioning.

The best way to do that? Do practical magick for everything. Every positive result you get will reinforce your magical work, provide insight into your will, and so forth. Success in the material world should be you focus, or at least one of them. You should always be skeptical of magicians who have never been successful in any area of life besides writing magical books and selling magical supplies. This is because you have no idea if their methods are even remotely applicable to your situation.

I compare a lot of those folks to motivational speakers. Motivational speaking is a really weird business. Most of the people in it have never had remarkable success at anything but being motivational speakers. If you pay them a bunch of money for their insights (which is what makes them successful motivational speakers) but have no desire to become a motivational speaker yourself you are probably wasting your money (and if everyone followed that advice, the individual in question would no longer be a successful motivational speaker).

The same is true of "business gurus" who make most of their money selling books and seminars. Presumably, if they were any good at business in general, they would be running business for a living instead of hustling books and seminars. If you want to learn about business, you need to learn from someone who actually has been very successful in business, and not just the business of hustling books and seminars. Personally, I would put a lot more stock in a business book by, say, Bill Gates - who built Microsoft up from practically nothing into one of the most dominant companies in the world - than I would anything by one of those so-called gurus.

So back to success in the material world. Since most people don't do magick, if you can learn to do it well you will have a big advantage wherever you use it. I occasionally see people describing the use of magick as "cheating" but that's just silly. Yes, some people have more natural talent for it than others. But you can say the same thing about intelligence or athleticism or pretty much any human ability. We aren't expected to refrain from using our intelligence at work or refrain from using our athleticism when we play sports, even for fun. Magick is no different and should not be treated differently.

Note that none of this is to argue that mystical practices are somehow inferior or meaningless. They are very important. One of the areas in which my practice has been influenced by Barrabbas' work is the inclusion of the basic Godhead Assumption technique as the preliminary invocation for all practical operations. That way, while you're doing practical magick for everything you are also uniting your consciousness with the divine at the same time. So you're still going to get enlightened. The difference is that while you are going through that process you will be more successful and probably happier (since happiness comes from the accomplishment of goals) than somebody who works at mysticism alone.

Mysticism on its own is one of the reasons that the image of the poor, struggling magician is practically a cliche. If you avoid working with the material world in favor of working with your consciousness alone, the likely result is that your material circumstances will be worse than they otherwise should be. Cartesian dualism - the idea that matter and mind/spirit are entirely separate, or even opposed - is a tenet that I find both insidious and incorrect. As I see it, quantum information is a property of matter and consciousness is a property of quantum information (basically I'm a panpsychist, and believe that a field of consciousness pervades the entire universe). Given that, magick is a phenomenon like any other. It just happens to be hard to measure with the tools that we have now.

Therefore, in my opinion magicians who try to argue that magick should not be investigated scientifically are just being silly. There's plenty of psychic research out there that is yielding results, it just is considered a "fringe" area by a lot of mainstream scientists and much of that is political. Psychologists admitted back in the 1960's that J. B Rhine's parapsychology work at Duke University was sufficient to be convincing on basically any subject besides the existence of psychic abilities. James Randi and Skeptic crowd have tried to dismiss the PEAR quantum diode trials for years, but all they can really come up with is to suggest cherry-picking trials on the part of the researchers, when the experimental protocols were deliberately created to rule that out. And those are just two high-profile examples.

One of my early observations about mysticism is that coherence of consciousness is the real key to unlocking higher mystical and spiritual states, and along with them greater practical abilities. Coherence has two components, consistency and self-referentiality. That second one is a long, stupid, made-up word because I don't know of a proper term for what I am talking about. A coherent mind is one that is (A) not divided and (B) actively engaged in observing itself. The term meta-awareness is related to that, and it is no accident that the word in the Gospels that is translated as "repentance" is actually the Greek metanoia - which more properly does in fact mean meta-awareness. Or, if you will, enlightenment.

It seems to me that a divided is one that separates both phenomena and consciousness along the lines of "magical" and "mundane." Maybe it does allow practitioners to cultivate more meta- or enlightened states of consciousness within the limited confines of what is "magical" rather across their entire consciousness. But even if that is true, it seems to me that the divide must be overcome at some point in order to unify awareness into a coherent whole. Why not get that issue out of the way as soon as you can, rather than somewhere down the line?

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