Is Your Idea a ‘Might Be’ or an ‘Is’?

by Mike Sententia on September 22, 2011

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How to tell the difference between an accurate understanding, and an idea that might be.

Most people live at “might be” when they model magick: Belief might alter reality. Your unconscious might instinctively know how magick works. Magick might operate by altering quantum probabilities.

A “might be” is a plausible story that lets your mind stop being curious. But it doesn’t let you do anything. Either it’s so vague it doesn’t suggest any new techniques (which quantum probabilities does magick alter?), or you just avoid thinking through the implications (if belief alters reality, why aren’t schizophrenics powerful mages?). Either way, a “might be” doesn’t open up new insights. It just lets you keep doing what you’re already doing without being nagged by “why.”

The other pole is “is.” If your model predicts behaviors, and you test them, that’s an “is.” If you use sensory connections to directly observe each step as you do magick, that’s an “is” too. “Is” covers anything you know because, if it weren’t true, that would contradict your own experiences.

When I say that psychic intuitions come from a system, that’s not something I heard somewhere. I know it because I’ve worked with psychics, followed the connections from the systems, and seen the information coming in. I know it’s true because I’ve seen it for myself.

Don’t confuse “seen it for myself” with “that’s what I visualize when I do magick.” Your mind creates visualizations based on what you already believe is true. They’re projections, not observations.

So how do you tell the difference between “might be” and “is”?

You can’t rely on a person’s words. I’d say “Psychic intuitions come from systems,” and someone else would say “Magick works by altering quantum probabilities.” Everyone phrases their model as “is” instead of “might be.”

I actually use “might be” for ideas I haven’t tested yet. So maybe it’s a reverse-indicator: If someone says “might be,” it means that the rest of the time, their “is” really means it. But I wouldn’t rely on that.

You also can’t tell by what a person says. You could say “psychic information comes from systems,” and be thinking about all the times you’ve seen the connection and followed the information. Someone else could repeat your words, but if they don’t have those experiences, it’s just a “might be” for them. The “is”-ness lies in the reason behind the belief, not the belief itself.

So, how to tell the difference? Ask what their next question is.

A person living at “might be” won’t have one. The whole point of the explanation is to quiet their curiosity — to avoid having a next question.

But a person living at “is” tries to see the holes in their model so they can ask questions, develop a better understanding and better techniques. That’s the whole point of the model.

A few examples of my next questions:

  • Energy Healing: Energy signatures seem to affect how cells behave over time. I’d love to test this with some cultures in petri dishes.
  • Communication: When I draw signatures from my mind, how do I adjust them so that, when I place them in someone else’s mind, they produce the same thoughts?
  • Systems: How does the underlying operating system that drives the system’s logic work?

But the real point of this isn’t to categorize the person you’re talking to. It’s to figure out whether your own ideas are “might be” or “is.”

So, what’s your next question?

Related Ideas

I drew some of these ideas from the Less Wrong blog. See semantic stopsigns and mysterious answers for more.

If you liked this post, consider visiting my current blog at mikesententia.com.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ananael Qaa September 23, 2011 at 8:42 AM

I would argue that what you call “might bes” can be extremely useful if they suggest a hypothesis that can be tested. When applying the scientific method the first step is to examine a problem and formulate a hypothesis. At that stage the hypothesis is very clearly a “might be” as you define it. You can’t be sure whether or not it’s true because you haven’t tested it, and you don’t know what the right “next question” is because in order to formulate that you need to know whether or not your hypothesis stands up to experimentation.

In general, though, I see what you’re getting at. A magical practitioner who decides that their working hypothesis “must be true” and never tests it out is not going to make much progress in understanding how magick works. Similarly, people can fall into the “single theory to explain everything” trap in which they render a hypothesis as so overly broad that it can’t possibly be tested because it explains every possible observation. This one isn’t just limited to magick, psychoanalytic theory for example suffers from the same problem.

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Mike Sententia September 23, 2011 at 9:52 AM

You’re right, that’s a distinction I make in my head, but it didn’t come out in writing. A hypothesis is a different sort of “might be.” If you say “Magick might be caused by altering quantum probabilities, and here’s how it works in Schrodinger’s Equation, and here’s an experiment I intend to run where we test events controlled by a single ion vs multiple ions, with the expectation that, if magick works via quantum probabilities, it will work more easily on one ion than many,” that’s completely different than saying “Magick works by altering quantum probabilities. By the way, I’m an art major.” It’s in why you believe it, and where you go with it.

I’d say the best way to tell is, someone using the non-exploring form of “might be” that I’m talking about in the post will usually phrase it as a certainty. Whereas someone proposing a hypothesis they intend to test will usually realize it’s a “might be,” and phrase it that way.

From your second paragraph, I think we’re ultimately on the same page with all this. And good point that this applies to knowledge broadly, not just magick models.

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