In Terms of Another
March 4, 2012 5 Comments
A computer is a mechanical and/or electronic device. It takes in electricity and input from a device like a keyboard or a mouse or a touchscreen, and uses electricity to perform logical operations on input. The output is redirected and is used as further input or is used to display information on a device like a monitor or printer. There are lots of models to show how computers work, from the mathematical (why input becomes particular output), physical (how supplied electricity is transformed into motion, light, or sound), and logical (how input and stored data is manipulated in an abstraction of a machine). It does not, however, make sense to describe how computers work in terms of biology with cells, protein folding, evolution, and so forth. The two are completely separate systems of knowledge and use different abstractions, terminologies, definitions, and assumptions. Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to describe the involuntary actions and processes of a human body in terms of formal types, data representation, or logical operators.
Languages rely on complex rules of word formation, ordering, and meaning, collectively termed grammar and semantics. An English sentence, such as the one you’re currently reading, is made intelligible through the rules of English grammar and the meanings of English words according to an agreed-upon dictionary. It doesn’t make sense for an English sentence to be analyzed according to the grammar or lexicon of another language, like French or Chinese, because the rules and definitions don’t apply. Comparisons can be drawn, and translations can be performed, but you can’t simply drop an English sentence into a Chinese input terminal and expect to get any processing done. Further, you can’t analyze or make sense of an English sentence if you’re trying to describe it in terms of multivariate calculus. The two are just radically different systems of knowledge with different purposes, uses, languages, and so forth. They’re both useful and necessary, sure, but not in the same way, and can’t be used in place of each other.
So, given this, it annoys me when people try to make me explain, justify, or validate magic or the occult in terms of the laws of physics or other physical sciences. It’s like trying to explain a computer in terms of biology, or English in terms of calculus. You’re asking me to explain something spiritual and inherently non-physical in terms of the non-spiritual and physical? I can’t do anything with that. I don’t have the tools, the rules, the definitions, the terms, the background for what I need. I can use philosophy to illustrate some of these things, sure, and religion to make sense of other things, but that’s like the English sentence/Chinese grammar situation above.
Am I saying that magic is completely detached from the physical world? No. Am I saying that magic has no effect in the physical world, nor any measurable metrics? No. Magic does affect and can effect the physical world, but doing so can’t be described in an entirely physical model, because magic doesn’t directly affect the physical world like how observable physical processes do. Magic assumes the backdrop of a chain of manifestation, it assumes things that aren’t physical and can’t (always?) be detected physically. If you’re asking me to explain something spiritual and non-physical, and only allowing me physical explanations to do so, you’re setting me up for failure. If you want to discuss spiritual matters, then let’s use spiritual methods, languages, and definitions; we can draw parallels or comparisons between the spiritual and nonspiritual, physical and nonphysical, and that’s awesome. But I can’t explain something in terms of what it’s not and what it can’t be. If you want to talk to me about spirituality, let’s talk in spiritual terms, or at least allow for the possibility of spirituality.
I understand that atheism is a growing worldview and mindset of modern people, and there’s a good reason why: it makes sense. It makes do with the tools and observations we have at our disposal and starts from there to make sense of the world. If there’s no evidence for something, it doesn’t make sense to believe it if there’s a simpler explanation out there that, even if it’s theoretical, if it’s plausible, it can be accepted (Occam’s razor). However, just because there’s no evidence in the Universe for a particular thing doesn’t mean that it’s evidence against that particular thing, either; just because there’s no meaning supplied by the cosmos doesn’t mean that meaning is completely denied, either. Plus, modern science is not the be-all-and-end-all of all knowledge: we are constantly discovering new things all the time, and we are constantly revamping or reconstructing our current models of understanding to make sense of more stuff. Further, we try to use a consistent system of logic to prove that something is true, “consistent” meaning that a well-structured proof with true hypotheses will yield a true conclusion. It is impossible that a consistent system of logic can prove all provable things; in other words, I know something that’s true and you can’t show that it’s true (Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem). In order to prove that something-unprovably-true, you need to use another system of logic, another kind of science.
It even gets me more riled up when people say “let’s establish empirical reality here” and try to dismiss my point of view out of hand. First, “empirical” means “known through experience or experimentation”. In my experience, magic works, nonphysical entities exist in some nonphysical form and can be interacted with in nonphysical (and sometimes physical!) ways, and there are worlds and phenomena that exist and can be interacted with nonphysically. In my repeated experiments, under a particular setting and environment, I can call up angels or demons and chat with them or achieve some goal or desired end. This is my experience, this is my reality that I work with. If you want to disregard my reality, fine, but don’t try to argue with me about it. My experience is not your own, and your experience is not my own. If you want to try to convince me that something doesn’t work, try doing the same experiments I have and obtaining the same experiences I have, and then get back to me. Trying to use “objective reality” to dismiss my experiences doesn’t really work: (a) everything has to be perceived in some way or another, leading to a subjective experience of reality (b) “objective numbers” obtained by tools made by mankind also have to be interpreted, and are obtained by machines that return numbers geared for a specific physical phenomena that doesn’t capture all known or experienced knowledge, but only a highly-specific subset of desired (subjective) knowledge (c) the models of “objective reality” don’t reliably account for the experiences that I and countless other people have.
Don’t try to ask me about my worldview if you’re just going to dismiss it. It’s apparent from how you refer to me and my hobbies, that don’t influence or affect you, how you feel about them. Feel what you want, please! But if you don’t know about occultism, if you don’t want to know about occultism, and if you’re dead set against the possibility of occultism, don’t try to have me waste my breath or keystrokes to explain myself. If you’re just going to call me crazy, save all of us the time and do so, and let me ignore you in peace. If you don’t want to listen to me, ignore me! I’m not going to be offended. Magic isn’t for everyone. Neither is any given religion, neither is art, neither is philosophy, neither is any given sport, neither is any given field of science. But they all have worth, they all have meaning, and they’ve all been around for thousands of years for a reason. Don’t try to discredit any one of them just because it doesn’t make sense in another one.
I don’t believe and work with this stuff for the hell of it. What I do isn’t random and it isn’t haphazard. What I do is researched, contemplated, discussed, planned, worked out, described, and analyzed. The results I get are compared to my expectations, previous results I’ve obtained, and the results of others. If I were crazy, I sure as hell wouldn’t be putting in as much effort or documentation into what I do. If I had multiple personality disorder, I must be unique in being able to control when I talk to a particular alt-Polyphanes under certain circumstances. If I were just deceiving myself, it’s gotta be a pretty damn big deception on a NWO-conspiracy-scale to be documented and discussed for as long as there’s been writing, and longer. What I do isn’t physical and isn’t geared towards the physical or mathematical. I wouldn’t use algebra to generate a change in consciousness; I wouldn’t use a computer to explain to me how to be happy. Why ask me to explain spiritual things with physical processes? It doesn’t work. I use physical and material processes to affect the world in terms of energy and matter; I use spiritual and mental processes to affect the world in terms of thought and spirit. The two don’t mix.
It largely comes down to an issue of worldview and values. If you believe that the ultimate expression and mode of reality is material reality, and that only material reality is the only thing of value and worth, awesome. That’s not my philosophy, and I don’t expect my own philosophy to be yours. My philosophy is that material reality is only one part of a grander part of reality, with each part being interactive and interactable. If that’s not your philosophy, awesome. But don’t try to say, explicitly or implicitly, that your worldview or philosophy is better than mine, because you don’t have the grounds to do that. Logic doesn’t work in terms of things of worth or value, and I would hate to see someone supposedly so rational and logical to be so illogical in their approach and discussions when they continue to claim to be even more logical and rational than I am. Hell, even more than logic, what I want is open-mindedness. You don’t have to accept that what I do is sensible, you don’t have to accept the background or frameworks I’m working with, but please accept that it’s not baseless, not without cause, and not without effect. Ascribe whatever physical explanation you want to it, be it psychological or pathological or whatever, but know that in doing so you’re trying to compare, not just apples and oranges, but apples and anvils.
In the words of the archdruid John Michael Greer:
The apotheosis of this sort of thinking is Arthur C. Clarke’s famous Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I mean no disrespect whatsoever to Clarke, who was among the best of SF authors; it’s hardly blameworthy that he shared misunderstandings of magic that were all but universal in his culture. The point remains that since magic does not do what technology does, and vice versa, the Third Law should properly be renamed Clarke’s Fallacy; no matter how advanced a technology may be, it does the kind of thing technologies do—that is to say, it manipulates matter and energy directly, which again is what magic does not do. I’d like to propose, in fact, an alternative rule, which I’ve modestly titled Greer’s Law: “Anyone who is unable to distinguish between magic and any technology, however advanced, doesn’t know much about magic.”
There. My obligatory occultist’s rant on being accosted by hardline atheists. I’m allowed to rant on my own blog, after all. If you want to talk to me about the possibility of magic in a spiritual setting, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame, and I’d be up for that. But let’s keep stuff within the same discipline and language, alright? Thanks.