Sunday, March 6, 2011

Information and Energy

I stayed out of the first couple of rounds of the ongoing energy debate between Jason, Patrick, AIT, the Scribbler, and others but after reading over most of the discussion I think I finally have something worthwhile to add. This is in some ways an expansion of the comment I left on RO's blog the other day. So let's get to it.

The root of the debate seems to be that the strict version of Patrick's information/semiotic model disappears the experiences of "energy work" practitioners. Patrick has added comments suggesting that he believes anyone using "energy" in a magical context can only mean physical energy that would be measured in joules, but this strikes me as a bit of derail - I don't see anyone in the debate conceptualizing Chi or Prana that way, and the only example offered so far has been some ignorant New Age website talking about "crystal energy" and trying to relate it to the piezoelectric effect.

It seems to me that the best resolution to the debate would be to work out, in signal processing terms, what this "energy" could consist of in the context of the semiotic model. Until we do that there's a lot of apple-to-oranges comparisons being made. So here's my take - the signal sent by a magical ritual has three essential components: coherence, content, and intensity. The content of the signal consists of the information being transferred, the coherence refers to how clearly that information is communicated, and the intensity refers to the signal strength.

This diagram shows how a modulated signal is encoded into a carrier wave. In the case of magick, the resulting function is the full content of the information transmitted, the Modulated Result. Some have apparently asserted that the carrier wave is the "energy," but this is not really correct, as in the context of consciousness the carrier wave also consists of information. The fact is that we're not entirely sure what consciousness consists of, but we are fairly sure that it is not composed of any known form of physical energy. I've hypothesized that it may occupy the same "space" as quantum wavefunctions, given studies that show consciousness can affect quantum diodes, but that's pretty speculative at this point and pretty much impossible to measure reliably given our current level of technology.

In this simple example the regularity of the wave represents its coherence. According to the schema I'm proposing, coherence refers to the precision with which the content is transmitted. Coherence can be degraded by nonsensical or imprecise content, and also by the quality of the magical link to the spell's target. Patrick's model focuses on these aspects of magical operations - make your signal logical and precise, and clear the link to the target as thoroughly as possible. The working semiotic model hypothesis is that when magical operations fail one of these aspects is responsible for that failure and this is where the magician must concentrate his or her efforts to improve the spell.

However, from the standpoint of communications theory signal intensity also must be a factor. A radio signal contains the same information whether it is being broadcast from a 100 watt or 100,000 watt transmitter. It is my contention that the "energy" that energy work practitioners are referring to is directly related to the signal intensity, not the signal content. Enough research has been done to at least suggest a mechanism behind this as well - breathwork techniques like Qigong increase the oxygenation of the blood which allows for higher firing rates throughout the nervous system. This is what produces the tingling sense of "current" when you're doing it correctly, and since neural firing is electrochemical in nature "energy work" is in fact not a bad term for this sort of practice.

The relationship between neural firing rates and states of consciousness has also been measured to some degree. In Zen and the Brain neuroscientist James Austin cites a study in which advanced meditators' brainwaves were monitored as they reported reaching a state of samadhi. The state seemed to be strongly correlated to high-frequency gamma waves, which would be facilitated by the heightened level of oxygen in the blood produced by breathwork. As Patrick points out, consciousness is still essential to this process because without it there's nothing for the electrochemical energy to facilitate. But this energy also influences how consciousness processes information and by extension should also affect the intensity of a semiotic communication.

I see the semiotic model as useful because it focuses on the quality of the communication rather than merely its intensity. Many energy model practitioners in my experience tend to do the opposite, concentrating their efforts on increasing the intensity of their communications rather than tuning their signal quality. Energy practitioners who work exclusively on signal intensity could be seen as akin to the ignorant tourist who believes he or she can make a foreigner who speaks a different language understand English by shouting. Both aspects of the work are important, though, and it should go without saying that the most effective magician is going to be a practitioner who can do both.

Today's question for Patrick from Jason was what sort of "energy" is contained by a fluid condenser. His response is pretty clear, though it seems to me that he's imparting all sorts of beliefs to people who talk about "energy" that I don't personally share. He also has no problem talking about "power," which has a physics definition just like "energy" does and seems to me just as easy to misinterpret. In the combined schema I'm proposing, a fluid condenser is a substance linked to a field of consciousness that has been modified by a magical operation, in terms of both semiotic content and field intensity. Sending Chi into the condenser does not alter the information bound to the field, but increases its intensity. Communicating a magical charge to the field changes the information that the field contains to serve a particular magical goal.

The existence of spirits in this schema remains open to debate. There's no good empirical test to determine whether (A) consciousness requires some sort of matter or physical energy in order to remain coherent or (B) consciousness can be coherent and self-sustaining without a material body or anchor, because we still don't have a clear physical model of what consciousness is. My experiences suggest (B), in that my probability shifts are better if I augment my own abilities with that of a spirit, and furthermore many spirits seem to have their own agendas, but there's always the possibility that a belief in spirits could simply allow me to access a higher percentage of my personal magical power (note: I didn't say "energy"). I went into this a bit in my comment over at RO's, but it's really a separate subject that deserves its own article.

So under the semiotic model can we describe "energy work" as "work to increase signal intensity?" If so, that implies that the whole discussion is over nothing more than terminology. If, on the other hand, the semiotic model is set up in such a way that signal strength is irrelevant I'd like to see some further explanation as to how that makes sense in the context of consciousness when it is extremely important in communications theory overall.

My follow-up article on how spirits can be considered within this schema can be found here.

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Imago said...

Excellent analysis. I think this will add a great deal to the conversation, and I appreciate how you've elegantly included the energy/power experience in magical practice.

Jason Miller, said...

This is a fantastic post! More later. Well done.

Scott Stenwick said...

Thanks, Michele and Jason! I noticed over on Patrick's blog that he liked it as well.

This explanation is just a start, but I think it's at the very least a good direction to go in as far as assembling a model that incorporates both the "energy" and "information" perspectives.

Unknown said...

Great post, very interesting analysis!

The Unlikely Mage said...

Man, this is almost approaching a Grand Unified Theory of magic. Most impressive!

Scott Stenwick said...

Thanks again!

For this to really approach a "unified theory" it needs to address the nature of spirits, which I'm in the process of working out. I touched on the basic idea in my comment on RO's blog - the existence of spirits depends on whether or not whatever consciousness is made up of can exist on its own apart from any material anchor, and/or whether or not experiments like my EMF work demonstrate that spirits are at least composed of a small amount of tangible electromagnetic energy. Without answers to those questions it seems a bit premature to bring spirits into the equation.

That won't stop me from trying, though, and I'll state up that I do think spirits have their own fields of consciousness that are as separate from mine as that of other individuals - that is, at the nondual level they are part of the continuum that some Buddhists call "big mind" but from the perspective of day-to-day reality behave like distinct individuals.

The energy and spirit models integrate pretty cleanly if you assume that you as an individual magician can call upon a certain amount of energy and spirits can do so as well. This is a better match for the experience of most practitioners I know, who find that they can do magick on their own but get bigger probability shifts when working with spirits.

I'm thinking that from a semiotic perspective a spirit represents another field of consciousness into which a signal can be transmitted and which can then influence matter through the medium of its own consciousness, but without more work it can get confusing. If you're postulating that every object has some level of consciousness does it really make sense to transmit a signal to a spirit who then transmits it to the object that you want to influence? It might if the spirit had a better connection to the object than you. But then what happens? Does the object receive a signal from the spirit, or maybe from both of you?

At any rate, I'm in the process of working that whole thing out. Maybe once I do I can call it a unified model and we can move on to designing experiments to test its predictions.

Beneath the Firmament said...

The problem is, this supposes psychic/etheric-energy really does exists in some form or another and is dependent on some kind of physics, pseudo or not.

Without borrowing from eastern systems as Theosophy(and to a lesser extent GD) did, there is really little evidence in the west for any kind of spiritual-electricity model as it were.

Most of the old texts speak mainly about the connection between hypostasis of mind(ideas), spirit, and body on the great chain of being. This is almost close to the consciousness/information model of today, but the prior being much more animated and suited for genuine western-occultism and thus not needing some unified-theory.

Scott Stenwick said...

The problem is, this supposes psychic/etheric-energy really does exists in some form or another and is dependent on some kind of physics, pseudo or not.

The point at which magick must be governed by some sort of physics is the point at which it interacts directly with the physical world. I think that's pretty much axiomatic. If you believe that magick can never do this, you're off the hook - you can build a model that involves no connection to physics at all. However, most of us have found that magick certainly seems to be able to influence physical events in ways that would imply some connection between the realm of consciousness and the realm of matter.

That doesn't mean the "consciousness" that this model addresses has to be made of energy, though - let's say it operats in wavefunction space like a quantum computer does and can shift probability functions before the collapse of a particle's wavefunction? I'm not saying that's necessarily what's going on, but it's one plausible example for which it seems to me that "energy" would be a very poor descriptor.

Anonymous said...

I've toyed with the notion that magic interacts with physics by selecting a reality from adjacent possible realities in the configuration space of the universe. But then I get rapidly out of my scientific depth, I'm afraid.

The Unlikely Mage said...

...the existence of spirits depends on whether or not whatever consciousness is made up of can exist on its own apart from any material anchor, and/or whether or not experiments like my EMF work demonstrate that spirits are at least composed of a small amount of tangible electromagnetic energy.

I've written a little bit about this in my blog, but here's some further thoughts.

I agree with Farber that spirits are a lot like memes, self-perpetuating symbolic sets that leap from mind to mind through various media. In this instance, having the media allows the spirit to perpetuate itself through time, rather than remaining just the internal perceptions of one human. When knowledge of an entity becomes such that it inspires a human to pass that spirit's information along to another human in a different media, that spirit gains further strength due to the extra attention.

In terms of your model they remind me of standing waves. We can tune into them and receive that resonance in ourselves (invocation) or send our own waves of symbols and information (spells) out to them and have that be modified by the spirit's wavepattern for different effects (evocation). A spirit's seal and name are a visual and audible representation of that waveform, just as the sound of our own names and pictures of us have a connection with our own bodies.

Resonance between that spirit's standing waveform of information and with those things that the spirit has abilities over gives it the ability to modify those particular symbol sets. Giving a spirit energy, in the form of attention, increases the intensity of that spirit's waveform. Perhaps this is why spirits prefer some offerings and hate others. They boost or cancel that waveform pattern.

Perhaps in one level we're all just standing waves existing within the field of consciousness? Or perhaps everything is?

I don't know nearly enough about EMF and its relationship to spirit manifestations to go into the second question.

Scott Stenwick said...

@Patrick (pomomagic): If you're looking at taking your model in the direction of adjacent possible realities associated with consciousness I highly recommend you take a look at Science, Sense, and Soul by Casey Blood. The book proposes a model of consciousness involving the "many worlds" model of quantum physics, and explains a lot of the underlying science for a general audience.

@Unlikely Mage: Your summary is pretty similar to how I'm thinking about incorporating spirits into the model, so I'm glad to see I'm not the only one thinking along those lines. As I see it working with a spirit is like tuning a radio to a specific frequency over which you can then transmit and/or receive depending on your intent. The power of your spell then arises from the interaction between you, the magician, and the spirit.

As I said, though, fleshing out all the details requires more work before I'm ready to assemble it as a working hypothesis. There are also some basic assumptions involved about the nature of spirits that are difficult to verify in any empirical or experiential way, so whether or not someone looking at the model accepts those will determine whether the inclusion of spirits is meaningful for them or not.

Anonymous said...

I love this post. And I totally disagree with it. The two feelings are related.

I love how you describe amount, signature / vibration, and coherence as different properties.

But then you use energy as a medium for sending out an intent or request for some event to happen. Which makes no sense.

If I want to send a message to, well, whatever interprets magickal requests to make something happen, most of this model becomes irrelevent. You only need clarity of message, not quantity of energy. It seems that energy is the wrong model for a task like this, which is maybe Patrick's point.

But for things like energy healing, activating magickal structures, and the like, your model is awesome. And for implementing the telepathic communication that lets you send a clear request for some event, your model of energy is also really helpful.

Which makes me wonder, do you guys model how sending that message works? Do you include energy healing and similar skills in magick?

Scott Stenwick said...

But then you use energy as a medium for sending out an intent or request for some event to happen. Which makes no sense.

Well, it's also not how I intended this article to read. The issue of a medium for the signal is left open and deliberately not addressed. Light travels through a vacuum and thus needs no medium. Sound travels through air and requires one. Since we don't clearly understand the nature of what consciousness is "made of" it's hard to say which model is most accurate. But for both light and sound communication, and for the purposes of this analysis, signal strength is always relevant and important, medium or no.

I think you might be making an assumption here that I initially made as well about Patrick's model, which is that there is a particular thing that you have to communicate with in order to work any sort of magick. As Patrick defines the Information Model this is not correct. What you need to communicate the signal to is whatever you are trying to influence, which is modeled as being permeated by its own field of consciousness. So you transmit information from your field of consciousness to that of the target.

As an example, let's say you want to heat up a rock. In the Information Model what you need to do is transmit the idea of "hotness" from your mind to the field of consciousness pervading the rock. If your transmission is successful, the rock heats up because its field of consciousness now contains the information corresponding to "hotness" and the field then influences the behavior of the matter it permeates.

Why I'm hypothesizing you need to take into account the signal strength of your transmission in such an example is that you aren't the only transmission the rock is receiving, and in order for the "hotness" to rise to the level of producing a physical effect it would need to be imprinted both as strongly and as clearly upon the rock's consciousness as possible.

To answer your other question, as far as magical skills go I would definitely include energy-based healing methods such as Qigong among them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. That makes the information model it a lot more concrete. It's like object-oriented programming, where the rock handles all magick done on the rock.

It doesn't seem accurate to my experiences with magick, though. There are times I'll exchange ideas with a god-object (I call them "systems"), and it's like having a conversation, where thinking in terms of information seems useful. But when I heal a person, it's not like a conversation at all, it's more like repairing electronics by checking where each wire (each energy path) goes. I suppose you could say that it's all information, but they are clearly different types of interactions, with different things being passed between my mind and what I'm working with, that I don't see where calling it all "information" gets you.

I'm curious: Do you find the information model useful for your magick? For some tasks but not others? I don't want to put you in the position of explaining someone else's model that you don't use yourself. Do you have posts outlining the model you use for magick?


Scott Stenwick said...

I agree that there's a difference when you're working with gods and/or spirits than when you're working on objects directly, if that's what you're saying.

I addressed that in more detail in the follow-up post to this one on how spirits fit into this combined information/energy model. As I understand it Patrick doesn't work with spirits at all and relies on influencing objects directly, like in the rock example. That's a big difference between our methods, because I do both depending on the circumstances and personally find it a little incongruent that Patrick considers rocks conscious but doesn't think the same about spirits.

Basically working with spirits feels different because it is. When you're communicating your intention to a spirit it's like a conversation in which you're saying "help me out with X" where X is whatever your intention happens to be. In effect you're passing the thoughtform of what you want to the spirit, which then modifies it as appropriate and passes it on to whatever object needs influencing.

This post and the follow-up to it pretty much outline how I conceptualize magick from a very broad perspective. As far as the Information Model goes I think it's incomplete because it fails to incorporate spirits and the signal strength concept, which relates back to energy work. But what I've incorporated from it is conceptualizing magick more like a form of communication than an electric charge.

I go into a little more detail on that here in reference to a more traditional Golden Dawn practitioner's use of ritual forms as compared to my own.