Thursday, May 27, 2010

God Sends Forth the Naked Menace

The Lord works in ways that are hard to understand. His communications with mere mortals like ourselves can open our minds to the great mysteries of the universe or enlighten us with some portion of supreme cosmic realization. But sometimes he just tells one of us to walk around naked.

Shafiq Mohamed was arrested for walking naked down the street of Thibodaux, Louisiana, after police responded to an obscenity complaint at about 2am on Thursday morning.

Mohamed reportedly explained to the officers that 'America raped him' and that God had told him to walk around naked in order to save his soul.

He was taken into custody, where he was charged with obscenity and was awaiting bail.

This sounds a lot like a practical joke on the part of the Almighty. Maybe he was just trying to see if the guy would really do it. Whatever the case, it demonstrates that God can have a nasty sense of humor, since winding up in jail naked can't be a good thing.

In addition, England was recently struck by naked yoga, so I guess that means the Hindu gods are getting on the action as well. There's so far no word on whether or not they've taken an interest in the Afghan war, but this particular naked protester sounded pretty sure of herself.

A naked woman stopped traffic near the Houses of Parliament yesterday, by clambering on to a black cab for a five-minute ‘yoga protest’.

She yelled ‘Troops out of Afghanistan’, as the cabbie tried to shift her and tourists looked on.

So could all this nudity be a sign of the Apocalypse or something? Probably not. But it could mean that deities of whatever stripe appreciate a free show.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Austrian Druids Battle Traffic Fatalities

Remember the article awhile back about the English town that put the power of prayer to work bringing down the crime rate and reducing traffic accidents? Not to be outdone, Austrian druids are putting their own practices to work protecting the country's commuters - and just like the Christians, they seem to be getting some positive results.

As well as using quartz standing stones to restore the area’s ‘natural energy’, the druids have come up with a cheaper modern-day option – burying plastic slates with magnets in the ground.

Arch druid Ilmar Tessmann was called in as a last resort after a high number of fatal accidents were reported on a straight stretch of motorway near Salzburg.

He said the crashes were caused by radiation from a nearby mobile phone mast disrupting the area’s normal ‘terrestrial’ radiation.

Installing the monoliths has successfully counteracted that, he claimed.

Austrian motorway authority ASFINAG said it was sceptical at first and kept the project a secret. But it went public after the druids’ efforts cut the number of deaths at the notorious crash site from six a year to zero in two years.

Considering that the Earth is bathed in electromagnetic radiation of all sorts and that magnets have a very limited measurable area of effect, it's pretty clear that if all we're dealing with is something physical the explanation has to be bogus. The thing is, this is magick, and in that context it's possible that the radiation could have some sort of spiritual correlate that the magnets and crystals address. Or there might be a more obvious explanation, like people wanting to talk on their cell phones while driving in areas where the reception is better.

‘Natural sciences need evidence. ‘Whatever can’t be measured, does not exist,’ Dr Georg Walach from the geophysics department at Leoben University in southern Austria said.

‘These energy lines and their flow cannot be grasped or measured therefore their existence is rejected by scientists.’

But Mr Tessmann claims the proof is in the results. ‘If you ask me to give you a scientific explanation, I can’t, I just know it works, and even critics can’t argue with our success rate,’ he said.

As a magician I tend to agree with Tessman, though it should be pointed out that a drop in fatalities from six to zero is not all that statistically impressive, especially if those fatalities involved multiple people in the same car or cars. The article doesn't mention if the overall accident rate was reduced, or if the accidents were just less severe.

I'm also wondering how secret the program really was. Putting up a quartz monolith by the side of the road isn't exactly invisible. If people know that someone is going so far as to set up magical rocks at a particular patch of roadway it might prompt them to pay more attention while driving through that area or at least stay off their phones. I'm thinking the Christian effort probably succeeded for similar reasons - it involved the whole town and everyone knew about it, which could have prompted local residents to drive more carefully.

Of course, as a student of Aleister Crowley I would still point out that both efforts are magical even if they involve human psychology rather than paranormal forces. These magicians willed a particular change to occur in their environment and used the tools at their disposal to make that change happen. But the mechanism is not irrelevant - if the effect is caused by special attention being paid to particular areas it probably won't work well to scale it up to whole country. If everywhere is the same, no particular area is special and I'm guessing folks will revert to their old driving habits.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Living on Air?

One of the most bizarre concepts I've seen come out of Indian mysticism is the idea of "Breatharianism," or living on air. Breatharians claim that it is possible to survive without food or water, partaking all of one's nourishment from either inhaled air, some sort of prana-based spiritual practice, or even sunlight. It's a rather extraordinary claim that has a pretty dubious track record as far as scientific investigation goes.

Jasmuheen (born Ellen Greve) was probably the most famous advocate of breatharianism during the 1990s. She claimed "I can go for months and months without having anything at all other than a cup of tea. My body runs on a different kind of nourishment." Several interviewers found her house full of food, but she claimed the food was for her husband. In 1999, she volunteered to be monitored closely by the Australian television program 60 Minutes for one week without eating to demonstrate her methods. Greve claimed that she failed because on the first day of the test she had been confined in a hotel room near a busy road, saying that the stress and pollution kept her from getting the nutrients she needed from the air. "I asked for fresh air. Seventy percent of my nutrients come from fresh air. I couldn’t even breathe," she said.

Investigators went ahead and complied with her request to moved to a location with cleaner air. But while Greve was able to maintain the discipline of fasting in this new location, after four days it was clear that her health was in serious danger.

On the third day the test moved to a mountainside retreat where she could get plenty of fresh air and live happily. After Greve had fasted for four days, Dr. Beres Wenck, president of the Queensland branch of the Australian Medical Association, urged her to stop the test.

According to the doctor, Greve’s pupils were dilated, her speech was slow, she was "quite dehydrated, probably over 10%, getting up to 11%". Towards the end of the test, she said, "Her pulse is about double what it was when she started. The risks if she goes any further are kidney failure. 60 Minutes would be culpable if they encouraged her to continue. She should stop now".

Wiley Brooks, founder of the Breatharian Institute of America, is another supposed Breatharian who was caught in an embarrassing situation in 1983. Brooks does admit that he still needs to eat some amount of food, but has stopped teaching in order to work on this "problem."

Wiley Brooks is a purported breatharian, and founder of the "Breatharian Institute of America". He was first introduced to the public in 1980, when he appeared on the TV show That's Incredible!. Wiley has stopped teaching in recent years, so he can "devote 100% of his time on solving the problem as to why he needed to eat some type of food to keep his physical body alive and allow his light body to manifest completely."

This reminds me of a story that I heard years ago. I don't know if it's true or if it's an urban legend, but apparently there was this mechanic who was working on developing a car engine that would run on a mixture of water and gasoline. He had apparently gotten the mixture up to about 70% water, and explained that his goal was get the engine to run on 100% water and thus eliminate fossil fuels. It's been long established that people can massively reduce their food intake for extended periods of time - the extraordinary claim is that a sufficiently advanced mystic can defy the rules of entropy and consume nothing.

And as for that embarrassing situation?

In 1983 he was allegedly observed leaving a Santa Cruz 7-Eleven with a Slurpee, hot dog and Twinkies.

Might Brooks have believed that Slurpees and Twinkies consist mostly of synthetic chemicals neither counts as food? If so, in the age of processed food there must be plenty of his sort of "Breatharians" out there.

Hira Ratan Manek (born September 12, 1937) claims that since June 18, 1995, he has lived exclusively on water, and occasional tea, coffee, and buttermilk. He says sunlight is the key to his health, citing the Jainist Tirthankara Mahavira, ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Native Americans as his inspiration.

According to his website, three extended periods of his fasting have been observed under control of scientific and medical teams: the first lasting 211 days in 1995-96 in Calicut, India, under the direction of Dr C. K. Ramachandran. During that period he is reported to have lost 41 kg.

What's amazing here is that Manek had 41 kg (almost 100 pounds) to lose over this period. That suggests he started out his fast rather overweight. My immediate thought is that buttermilk is rather high-calorie, and perhaps Manek was consuming it a little more often than "occasionally." Under observation probably just reduced his intake of it resulting in the weight loss.

So has anyone ever succeeded in demonstrating such an ability under controlled conditions?

Prahlad Jani, a Jain holy man, spent ten days under strict observation by physicians in Ahmedabad, India, in 2003. The study was led by Dr Sudhir Shah, the same doctor who led the study of Hira Ratan Manek. Reportedly, during the observation, he was given only 100 millilitres of water a day to use as mouthwash, which was collected and measured after he used it, to make sure he hadn't consumed any. Throughout the observation, he passed no urine or stool, but doctors say urine appeared to form in the bladder, only to be reabsorbed. However, despite Jani's claim to have gone without food for decades, Jani was not engaged in strenuous exercise during the ten-day trial, and longer trials were not recorded under similarly strict observation. Further, his weight did drop slightly during the 10 days, casting some doubt on his claim to go indefinitely without food.

Prahlad Jani recently underwent another study, this time for fifteen days. Again, the researchers observed no apparent ill effects from starvation or dehydration, even though without water most people die from dehydration after three or four days.

Jani, who claims to have lived without food or water since his childhood, was under the close watch of three video cameras 24 hours a day. Researchers conducted various medical tests on him. The research team, consisting of 35 scientists, could not find any evidence that Jani ate or drank anything during the 15 days.

Doctors have not found any adverse effects in his body from hunger or dehydration. They think that yoga exercises may have caused Jani’s body to undergo a biological transformation. The researchers said tests found that his brain is equivalent to that of a 25-year-old.

In fact, according to the Daily Mail, the doctors said that after fasting for two weeks, Jani was healthier than the average 40-year-old.

My conclusion would be slightly different here. If the data is taken at face value, Jani must have some sort of mutation that makes him a lot less susceptible to dehydration than usual. Since he claims to have been going without food or water since childhood, I don't think that yogic practices could be entirely responsible - though they probably have allowed him to keep his body so much healthier than it otherwise might be.

The Wikipedia article notes that Jani was allowed to bathe during the previous study and I'm wondering if his special ability is that he can absorb water through his skin. Most of use can do this to some degree, but, say, if he can transport water efficiently through his skin and into his lymphatic system it might allow him to rehydrate himself by soaking rather than drinking, and since he doesn't appear to urinate the only water his body would need to replace would be that lost through breathing and perspiration. Still, that doesn't explain how he manages to go without food since the body is expending energy all the time and it has to come from somewhere.

Regardless of whether or not a biological explanation is forthcoming from this most recent study, Jani does indeed appear to possess a paranormal ability that no other individual has been able to successfully demonstrate under controlled conditions. It just goes to show that there are still plenty of remarkable human abilities out there that mainstream science has yet to explain, even though there are also people who claim to have such abilities when in fact they do not.

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
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
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.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Tiger Woods Needs a Sorcerer

The saga of Tiger Woods trying to win tournaments without magical assistance just keeps getting worse. At the Masters three weeks ago Woods did well but not quite well enough to win the tournament, tying for fourth place. But last Friday he played one of the worst rounds of his professional career and missed the cut at the Quail Hollow Championship.

In a shocking meltdown Friday at the Quail Hollow Championship, Woods missed the cut for only the sixth time in his career with a performance that was incomparable for all the wrong reasons.

He shot a 79, his worst score on American soil as a pro and the second-highest of his career. He matched his highest score on nine holes with a 43 on the back nine, and that was with three solid pars on the tough closing stretch. His 36-hole score of 153 was the highest in his 14 years on the PGA Tour.

Tiger Woods clearly either needs to get his church back, which doesn't look likely, or hire himself a sorcerer to boost the quality of his play if he ever hopes to regain his status as the world's top golfer.

Maybe he should get in touch with Jason Miller and pick up one of those cool spirit bottles.