Monday, April 19, 2010

It's Only a Model...

...but I'm going to post it anyway!

The recent crop of articles about magical models seems to be as good a context as any in which to get back to some serious magical theorizing on this blog and further discuss my operant model of magick. Obviously I don't think there's anything wrong with developing a model of how magick works since I've gone ahead and developed one, but at the same time I've also seen a lot of silliness arise when magicians mistake their particular maps for the territory. Keep in mind that this last statement is not an attack on anyone in particular and the silliness I'm talking about is not limited to online discussions, but includes personal interactions and occasionally published works as well.

Most of the problems with magical models arise because of their univalence - magick is "only spirits" or "only energy" or "only information," those being the three main models that I've see discussed within our network of blogs. The key to working with a model is that it needs to be treated like a working hypothesis in the physical sciences, in that the model must fit the data and not the other way around. This can be difficult even in the physical sciences where data is much more definitive than that found in the magical arts, as Thomas Kuhn noted in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, so as magicians it is even more important that we avoid becoming too attached to our preferred hypotheses.

In my opinion both Spirit-Only and Energy-Only have problems with different sets of data. Spirit-Only fails to explain intuitive magick - that is, making a change in the physical world by simply willing that change to occur. I can do this myself and I assume that Spirit-Only practitioners can do it too, so I would be very interested in hearing how the Spirit-Only model explains this phenomenon. Similarly, the Energy-Only model has difficulty explaining why many magicians, including myself, get better results when working with spirits than they do when operating under their own power, so to speak. Even if a spirit is represented as a source of additional energy it's still a spirit and it still exists.

I find the Information-Only model basically sound as far as formulating and communicating magical intent, but under that model what are you supposed to be communicating with? I've long worked with the idea of transmitting information from my own consciousness into a quantum field linked to the target of a spell, which strikes me as one possible explanation. However, I was assured in a previous discussion on this blog by Patrick Dunn, the author of two books on the information model, that this is not what he's talking about. In this recent article he mentions "ultimate consciousness" but it seems to me that if discarnate consciousness can exist at all there's no reason to discount the notion that that the universe could be filled with many discarnate intelligences (such as spirits) rather than just one big one.

As Jason Miller comments in his own article on the subject, "when did we start accepting the idea of Energy OR Spirits rather than Energy AND Spirits?" The obvious solution to the problems with these univalent models is to combine various aspects of those models into a composite that fits the current data - and then keep in mind that the result is still only a model that must remain subject to revision on the basis of new empirical observations.

(UPDATE: While I was writing this post Jason posted a new article making most of the same points that I do above. In this we appear to be on the same page as far as I can tell.)

As those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile probably recall, the operant equation that I posted here awhile back deals only with the individual magician or magicians and therefore doesn't address working with spirits. It's based on Peter Carroll's magical equations first published in Liber Kaos with several significant revisions and may be summarized thus:

M = S * (G * L * E * (1 - A) * (1 - R))

M is the Magical Effect of the overall operation, measured as a whole number. 10 would be a probability of 10 to 1, 100 would be a probability of 100 to 1, and so forth. This probability value is added to the natural probability of the spell's intended outcome in order to determine how likely the spell is to succeed.

S is the Strength of the individual magician, measured as a whole number in the same manner as M. S represents the highest probability shift that an individual magician can produce when casting a spell perfectly. This value varies from one individual to another at any given point in time.

G is Gnosis as in Carroll's equations, measured as a value ranging from 0 to 1.

E is the Energetic State of the subtle body. This can be thought of as Qi or Prana, and also as the overall firing rate across the brain and nervous system.

L is the Link to the spell's target as in Carroll's equations, measured as a value ranging from 0 to 1. For a spell targeting the magician him or herself this value is always 1.

A is Attachment, measured from 0 to 1. This replaces Carroll's "Awareness." You don't need to forget a spell in order for it to work, but you also can't obsess and become attached to its outcome if you want it to work effectively.

R is Resistance, measured from 0 to 1. I don't buy Carroll's "psychic censor" hypothesis so I think of resistance differently than he does. Doubts in one's magical abilities can produce resistance, as can mixed emotions about the objective of the spell. Also, as in the information model, a poorly formulated intent generates a lot of resistance.

When dealing with a group of magicians you can calculate M for each magician in the group and add the probability values together to get the combined Magical Effect, keeping in mind that group work usually lowers the Gnosis value somewhat because of the inherent complexities involved in coordinating the various participants.

In my experience when working with spirits a similar effect occurs, in that every spirit has the capacity to create a Magical Effect of a particular degree. If a spirit is called upon to accomplish a task within its sphere of influence the spirit's M-value can be added to that of the summoning magician. Spirits don't seem to have to worry about the consciousness-based factors of the equation, though the quality of the magical Link is always a factor in any ritual directed at an external target. This means that for a spirit the equation can be simplified to M = S * L. Resistance for spirits seems to be 0 within their sphere of influence and 1 outside it, at least from my perspective as a magician.

While the operant model explains my own observations and probability tests as far as magical rituals are concerned, I'm actually rather curious to find out how well this lines up with other magicians' experiences. So if you have experimental data that you think refutes or supports some portion of my model go ahead and post it. Also, if you can answer some of the questions I pose above about the spirit, energy, or information models, or feel that I'm mischaracterizing some aspect of one or more of them, go ahead and let me know.

Just remember - it's only a model!

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1 comment:

T said...

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.

Carroll formulated this equation based on his own assumption about how magick works. From his assumptions he attempted to derive a formula. 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.

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

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

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

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.

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.