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Magick vs. Science

I attended college back in the 1970's.   I remember, more than once, sitting with a group of friends, maybe in a restaurant, maybe in a dorm room, late at night, me smoking my pipe, scratching my beard occasionally, while the conversation turned to Deeper Philosophical Stuff.

Somebody would say, "We don't know what reality is.   Your reality may not be the same as mine.   Last night, you dreamed you were a butterfly; right now, maybe, you're a butterfly dreaming that you're a man."

Everyone would nod quietly.   It made sense.

I remember when the same discussion came up many years later ... you know, the idea of objective reality.   I was a bit more mature in my thinking, and I said, "No.   Maybe we all have different perspectives, but a brick wall is a brick wall.   It doesn't matter what you think about it; it's really there.   If you're starting to feel all fuzzy-brained about what's real and what's not real, just get a good running start and charge right into that brick wall, full speed.   Then we'll see how relative reality is."

I had changed from a liberal thinker to a conservative thinker.

And now lately ... the circle is turning again.   Is everything "either/or?"   Is anything "either/or?"   If I come up with a proposition, couldn't you assign a "believability number" to it, from one to ten?

For example:

•   I say, "The sun will rise in the east tomorrow."   Do you absolutely believe this (10)?   Do you absolutely not believe it?   Somewhere in between?   Where?   6?   8?

•   I say, "The lady down at the Moon Goddess Shop can sell you an herb-treated candle that will bring you lots of money."   Do you absolutely believe this (10)?   Do you absolutely not believe it?   Somewhere in between?   Where?   4?   9?

•   I say, "I cast a circle last year and asked for healing for my brother's liver problem, and it worked ... the infection went away completely."   How strongly do you believe this (that is, the cause and effect relationship between the healing and the casting of the circle)?

•     A newscaster says, "Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks."   What is the basis for your belief in this statement, or lack thereof?

Millions of events are recognized by our nervous systems.   We receive millions of messages, through our eyes, through hearing the spoken word, through what we read.   Each message is different and in some respects unique, and onto many of them we affix the label "reality," which helps us classify things, but also lulls us into forgetting their differences.

Thus, it is not accurate to say that the world of our perceptions   —   the sensory/sensual world   —   is real.   Such a statement suggests that everything else is unreal.   More accurately, we should say that we find it convenient to label that world as real most of the time, and sometimes we have to change the label and replace it with a different label such as

  •   optical illusion

  •   wishful thinking

  •   hallucination

  •   stage magic illusion (sawing a lady in half).

And it does not appear accurate, either, to say that the world of our most abstract concepts   —   the mathematical/scientific world   —   is real, which implies that anything else, including the sensory world of ordinary perception, or of art, is unreal.   More accurately, we should say that we find it convenient to use a specific mathematical model to solve specific problems, and that sometimes we have to throw out that model and create a completely new one.

The world is not the colorful model created by our senses, nor is it the abstract and colorless mathematical model created by our frontal cortex.   These merely represent various ways of making maps of the world.   The map is not the territory.   The conflict between magick and science turns out to be a conflict between different maps, and no single map can show everything.   A political map is not inaccurate just because it shows a different reality-tunnel from a weather map.

Many years ago, before I entered the world of Paganism (and started down the Path), I sneered at some of the "explanations" of magick that I heard.   It was said that "magick rearranges one's thinking, opens up the mind to possibilities, teaches you a new way of looking at the world, a new sensitivity."   I thought, "Yeah, right.   In other words, you just have to stop thinking critically, let your guard down, and then it becomes 'real' to you, regardless of the fact that there's a lack of (a) objective evidence and (b) measurable, repeatable results."

In other words, the idea seemed to be that you can't see magick if you're not looking for it.   And one sees what one expects to see.   One believes what one wants to believe.

So ... is this criticism valid for the skeptics also?   Have they shut off an important part of their thinking when they demand absolute scientific repeatable proof of supernatural phenomena?

Skeptics will point out that we Witches do our spellcasting in dark rooms among people who are like-minded, people who are willing to "forgive" (a) when the spell doesn't result in a safe trip, or a good crop, or the normal childbirth, or whatever we had asked for or (b) when the desired result doesn't come immediately.   In other words, when magick fails, the faithful don't abandon it and move on to something else.

Skeptics want magick to work like a cake recipe: measure the right amount of flour and water and baking soda, add the sugar and eggs, pre-heat the oven, set the timer, and you get the same cake every time.   Every time.   Magick should work like a predictable recipe.   Why would a recipe produce a perfect cake one time, and the next time produce nothing?

Skeptics sneer at us when we say that magick won't happen in a laboratory under bright lights with test tubes and clipboards.   They say, "Of course!   You need the cloak of darkness so that you can engage in chicanery, or create some 'mood' where people are susceptible to sentimental appeals.   You use costumes and candles and talismans and funny words and other theatrical stuff.   You're tapping into the emotional part of people's brains (including your own), not the rational part."

This brings me back to the belief scale, from one to ten ("I absolutely believe it" vs. "I know it's a lie").   On my most rational, skeptical days, I can't completely deny the possibility that witchcraft is an actual, valid phenomenon that exists completely apart from wishful thinking ... maybe because it's just too appealing.   And on October 31 at sundown, as I light the candle and tie the cingulum around my waist, I still don't completely believe in magick.   Not 100%.

I think this is called being a flawed human being.

—   inspired by Cosmic Trigger II (by Robert Anton Wilson)


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