Chapter 2

Science and Magick



Science and Magick



Science


Before we take a look at the nature of science and particularly the notion of what constitutes a theory, we need to understand what a paradigm actually is, especially in the context of magick. This is important since we will be seeing a lot of this word as much of the book is devoted to presenting new magickal paradigms in the context of science and technology. Anyway, if we look in a dictionary we get the definition as:

A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.”

It is crucial to note that the same set of known facts can generate quite radically different paradigms. Take, for example, the game of Ouija that we will be looking at in much greater depth later. The facts are that people gather around a lettered board all touching a planchette on its surface, then ask a question. The planchette moves to spell out an answer. The usual paradigm the participants embrace is one where unseen intelligent entities of the spirit world use the energy of the people involved to spell out the messages, which are typically attributed to someone who has died, or “passed over” as the paradigm's specialist vocabulary puts it. Yet a completely different paradigm can be assigned to that set of facts and practices that involves no spirits, or afterlife or anything supernatural at all and which involves group psychology and unconscious manipulation of the planchette. So one set of facts can give rise to, or support, diametrically opposed world-views.
What we are going to do is take aspects of science and technology and reinterpret them in a magickal context in a manner that lends itself to practical workings, often of unique scope and power.
Needless to say, the greatest overall magickal paradigm, or belief system, that we currently have is science, yet few people know what it is. The most common understanding is a vague notion of “Doing experiments and discovering things about Nature”. That, though, is only part of the story. Science attempts to find or define facts. That is, seemingly irreducible items of data that (nearly) everyone can agree upon and verify for themselves (in principle at least). These are then linked into a theory in such a way that it makes predictions. These predictions, or pointers to new facts, are then tested by experiments to see whether those supposed facts actually exist. If they do, the theory continues onwards. If not, the theory is shown to be false. A theory is deemed scientific if it makes testable predictions that distinguishes it from existing theories and which could in principle falsify the theory. Overall, it is a fairly good way of going about things and has indeed led to the modern age. However, it does rely on a number of generally unspoken assumptions. These are:

  • That there is an external reality that we can all agree upon.

  • That it is logically consistent.

  • That this reality is independent of our belief in it, a corollary of which is that consciousness has no physical effects and that the experiment and experimenter can ultimately be separated.

  • That at base this reality is essentially unchanging.

  • That the regularities discovered, called the Laws of Physics, are a consequences of more fundamental Laws. In other words, it is all linked into one undivided whole. It is this latter belief that spurs the search for a Theory of Everything or TOE for short.

  • That mathematics can describe deep aspects of this reality and that the logic underlying mathematical processes is the same as that which governs reality.

  • That we can ultimately understand the nature of reality

There are some other lesser working assumptions that are of interest. These are:

  • Occam's Razor, which states that given two possible explanations for a particular phenomenon the simplest is more likely to be correct.

  • A prejudice that says that the most aesthetically pleasing theory is the one to be preferred, all things being equal. Which is remarkable in its own way for being an acknowledgment that reality shares our sense of beauty, or more likely that we get our sense of beauty from the deepest features of the world around us.

  • And finally the concept of Causality. This is the belief, which is looking increasing shaky, that causes must precede effects and information can only travel forwards in time.

To understand these further we need to take a different view of the nature of theory. This is best done by using an analogy, specifically the children's picture book game of “join the dots and make a picture”. Typically there are dozens of dots on a page, seemingly random, and each dot is numbered. As the dots are joined together by moving a pencil from one to another in numerical sequence a recognizable picture appears.
In science the dots are facts, or data elements and the picture one draws is the theory. The complications arise from a number of sources. First, the dots are not numbered so we do not know in what order they need to be joined. Second, we do not know how many dots there are, or whether we have missed any in our current part of the drawing although we do know with certainty that we do not have all the dots. Additionally, we do not know exactly where to look for our missing dots except by joining up the ones we have as best we can and seeing if the resulting picture suggests an area worth a looking at in greater depth. It's a bit like saying: “I think this might be the nose of a dog – let's have a look for some dots where its nose should be!” So, we have a look and find some more dots there and people say: “The picture must be a dog”. That's the dog paradigm.
However, there is a lively debate between those who think it's a dog, and those who think it's a cat. Then a heretic comes along and claims the picture is actually a Tyrannosaurus Rex! After a while, when it is obvious that the animal has very short front legs, very big back legs and a very long tail there is a paradigm shift, and now the picture is that of a dinosaur. Then a crank comes along who says that it's not really anything anyone has seen before and that the best way of joining the dots is not to make a picture at all but to make the shortest possible line that can link them all together. Amid much ridicule the crank persists and shows beyond doubt that his method leads to the discovery of a far greater number of dots than the “looks like an animal method. Now it is claimed that picture is not of an animal but of an abstract painting of beautiful and subtle symmetries. So we come to the modern view of a scientific theory, that it is just the most efficient way of joining the dots that leads to more dots.
This is in fact strongly related to another facet of the nature of a theory, which is that it is the shortest explanation for linking diverse numbers of facts by looking at what they have in common. For example, we have the diverse facts that if you drop a brick it falls. If you drop an apple it falls. If you drop an elephant it falls. What could possibly link bricks, apples and elephants? The answer is the Law of Gravity – that if you drop (almost) anything it will fall. So we have joined the brick, apple, elephant and falling dots and come up with a famous picture, and in doing so have reduced millions of such facts down to one simple idea, or in terms of information theory, we have created an algorithmic compression of the data. The Laws of Physics (or any science) are then simply the large scale patterns or symmetries that we see in our abstract picture. The problem with this efficient new method is threefold.

  • Except for very simple systems there is no way, even in principle, that one can determine whether one has the best picture. Indeed, there may well be better ones or any number of others that fit the facts just as well. It means that if we come up with a TOE that fits all known facts it is very likely we can never prove it is the best, or only, such theory.

  • We mistake the picture we draw for being reality. The map is not the territory.

  • The picture gets drawn solely from using data points everyone can agree upon. That is, it's a map of consensus reality and by definition cannot handle subjective information. The problem here being that all we have to work on is a theory our brains builds from sense impressions. Indeed the very idea of brains and sense impression is itself a theory concocted by our mind in order to explain itself. A manifestation of this latter problem occurs in at least one area of science, that dedicated to understanding the nature of consciousness, and many scientists suspect that it may well spill over into other areas from Quantum Mechanics to Artificial Intelligence to cosmology.

So, we are going to take a rather partisan look at modern scientific theories to see what magick we can mine from them. There are the usual New Age suspects like Quantum Mechanics, but also a few others of a more speculative nature. However, we look to them not because they are “true”, but because they embody the Zeitgeist of the contemporary world of thought. So do not take any of this too literally, and certainly not to the extent my Victorian predecessors did who tried to put the occult on a scientific basis by invoking cutting edge 19th Century physics with notions of “vibrations” and “ether”! It's all just pictures – let their utility speak for itself.

Magick


This leads to interesting views of magick. One such is it that it is an engineering of states of consciousness within the above “gray areas” of the scientific paradigm. The other is that mind underlies everything and that science is merely one manifestation of magick. Peripherally related to this is the kind of science mythology whereby facts lead to theories which lead to more facts plus technologies based upon the successful theory. The true situation is that it is often the other way around, and that theory follows on from engineering and technology, or to put it another way, invention precedes theory rather than follows it. In a magickal paradigm where belief is all the only thing that makes any sense are the results. And in the game we are playing the most intractable of the rules are known as The Laws of Physics. However, like all the rules we can revise or change them by joining the dots differently (and maybe only temporarily) to draw a more suitable picture. All we have to do is create one. It does not even have to be true – just useful!

Science, Proof and Power


An incredibly powerful magickal technique is to base ones spells (in the widest sense of the word) upon non-disprovable propositions that are then logically expounded and developed in all their consequences. It means that they have a foundation that is immune to scientific attack and can only be overturned by a greater Act of Will bolstered by an axiomatic system of equal or greater power. Traditionally such systems have been extensions of conventional theologies which have been stripped of their pseudo-scientific baggage of explanations for physical phenomena. In the West we have examples such as the Cabala, and in the East Buddhism with its axioms being The Four Noble Truths. The key requirement is a set of propositions, or axioms, that not only are not amenable to testing but offer a base of sufficient complexity that a self extending structure of logical consistency can be built upon them. Finally we need a method of tying that derived logic to the desired spiritual or material aims of the practitioner. In summary, these points are:

  • Untestable proposition that cannot be derived from simpler ones

  • Propositions that are sufficient to support a logically derived structure of sufficient complexity

  • A method of tying that structure to “reality”

Usually, that method is one of the initial axioms which posits that X = Y where X is some element of the new system and Y corresponds to an element of the world or of the magician.
In the modern world one specific variant of the above is that of mathematical axioms which lead to the whole of mathematics. And when, (say) X is mapped to a physical property such as time or space we end up with the immensely powerful magickal construct of mathematical physics. However, in more conventional magickal operations X is usually mapped to an internal mental or spiritual state of the practitioner. Even more conventionally, we end up with belief systems that are in effect religions, political ideologies or ethical frameworks.
By now it should be obvious that the set of rules known as the “Ten Commandments of the Old Testament” are a crude attempt at creating an ecological system of belief and control capable of affecting, predicting and manipulating the behavior of individuals and societies. It does this by the mapping X (which is “God”) to the internal elements of self interest and assorted desires for control and stability inherent in all higher lifeforms. The problem is, however, that each of the Ten Commandments can be broken down into simpler propositions simply by questioning them, once one of them is denied. Namely, if an axiom of a competing system states “There is no God” all the others fall once it becomes legitimate to ask “why?”. The reply “Because God commands it” is no longer sufficient and falling back to a second tier of explanation for each of the commandments further dismantles the overall original construct. For example, each of the commandments then becomes conditional. “Thou shall not steal” becomes a question and answer session about needs, Rights, political power and the very definition of theft. However, before that dismantling happened two subtle conditions needed to exist. The first was a recognition, or assumption ( an axiom of a new system) that “God” used logic and logic was permissible in analyzing religion and religious belief. Initially this led to complex theologies that bolstered the existing system, but it also led onto what by now had become legitimate questioning of the motives for God's decisions. The Commandments were no longer beyond analysis and they fell, slowly but surely, from their pedestals. Nevertheless, the construct could adapt to that as we see today, even though it bears little resemblance to its original forms. The second element followed from the first, which was the notion of testing for truth by experiment, and led to the development of modern science. While it did not disprove a key axiom of the old system, it sidelined it.. “God” is no longer viewed as being a necessary element for explaining the entirety of the physical world, despite what a minority of “Creationists” might claim. Once this happened it was natural to ask why one needed the concept of a God at all.
The lesson for the magician is plain – choose your axioms wisely, and do not have too many of them. Whether one can have too few is an interesting point given that a rather powerful one is “There is no reality”. So, a summary of the requirements for choosing the propositions to underlie a new magickal systems are:

  • The axioms must be untestable

  • The axioms must be consistent with each other

  • They must be incapable of decomposition into simpler statements

  • Do not choose too many, or the complexity will explode to unmanageable levels

  • Choose at least one of the axioms to be a mapping to True Will

Like all good magickal advice, by negating any or all of the above one can create a rather interesting variant that does have its uses, but I will not elaborate on that!
The key axiom, and one which is often hidden as an underlying assumption, is the question of how the system is mapped to any kind of reality.

Back