Results vs Mechanics

by Mike Sententia on January 31, 2012

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There’s a difference between focusing on results, and focusing on mechanics.

If you’re focused on results, you do what works right now. Then you tweak it so it works a little better.

If you’re focused on mechanics — how magick works — you don’t spend much time tweaking. Instead, you disassemble what works right now, figure out how each step works, then reassemble it into something new.

Making something new requires a lot of parts. Understanding one step probably won’t help. So you won’t see much immediate improvement of your results. But if you stick with it and understand all the steps, you’ll be able to make a new technique, and you’ll see a big jump in results.

Mechanics is a longer path. But it leads to a more interesting and useful place.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Ananael Qaa January 31, 2012 at 3:07 PM

Of course, this isn’t either/or. There’s a place for both approaches and most successful magicians I know explore both in the course of their regular work.

As I see it, the real danger with focusing on mechanics is that you can come up with a theory or model that is logical, but which fails to produce results. You need to make sure that you do solid probability testing on your mechanics as you go, to verify that you’re tweaking your mechanics in the right direction.

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Mike Sententia January 31, 2012 at 3:31 PM

That’s a good point. I see a lot of mages dream up mechanics and run with them, but the mechanics don’t actually correspond to anything useful.

At this point, I use sensory connections to watch all the parts as I do magick, which makes models much easier. But that’s not an option for a lot of mages. I’ll need to think more about how to build effective models that actually do correspond to the underlying mechanics. Any thoughts?

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Ananael Qaa January 31, 2012 at 4:25 PM

The trouble with trying to sense what’s going on is that it’s fundamentally subjective. From what I’ve seen you develop a “magical sense” over time as you practice, but it maps to different combinations of senses depending on the individual. I would think that any set of mechanics based on how you personally perceive magick is not going to work for everyone. Maybe it will work for others who perceive magick the same way as you do, but even then there are other individual differences that need to be taken into account.

So my thoughts here are quite simply that we’re not there yet, at least not from a scientific standpoint. What we need is some sort of a tool that either directly or indirectly measures states of consciousness. We’re closer than we were ten or twenty years ago, but we’re not going to get true repeatability until we can say “state of consciousness X” produces “probability shift Y.” For that we need to measure both the probability shift and the operator’s state of consciousness. Without repeatability, you may very well be able to work out a system of mechanics that is quite effective for your own use, but it’s probably going to be less so for other practitioners.

An example – your post about how you want to be able to perform magick with words rather than images and symbols. That’s great if it works for you, but I don’t happen to think in words myself and don’t have much interest in working that way. To my way of thinking, translating my thoughts into words is an extra step that I don’t really need to do. On the other hand, I can see where a verbal thinker could have a strong interest in doing Verbal Thought –> Magick as opposed to Verbal Thought –> Images/Symbols –> Magick because it would be more efficient for them. Just not for me.

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mike February 1, 2012 at 1:01 PM

Are you familiar with Phil Farber’s work? He’s very much into dissecting magick, and the neurology behind magick.

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Mike Sententia February 1, 2012 at 1:21 PM

I’ll check him out. Thanks

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Lisa February 1, 2012 at 1:13 PM

Ananael,

I believe we have the tools now to accurately measure brain processing during states of magick producing consciousness. For example, note this excerpt from today’s Science Daily news. This article describes a recent experiment conducted on interpreting neuronal activity. “Scientists have succeeded in decoding electrical activity in the brain’s temporal lobe — the seat of the auditory system — as a person listens to normal conversation. Based on this correlation between sound and brain activity, they then were able to predict the words the person had heard solely from the temporal lobe activity. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120131175158.htm
Additionally, several groups of researchers have been investigating outcomes of magical work and a list of rigorously controlled experiments is referenced in the book The Intention Experiment. (experiments that do not meet level I, II or III scientific experimental design criteria are also described in the book)
This excites me because we will be able to evaluate different models of magick and can create tools to improve skill and thus outcomes. ( just as professional athletes consistently videotape their performances and have them analyzed by a physics software program to point out the weaknesses in their throws, jumps etc so they can effectively modify their actions)

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Mike Sententia February 1, 2012 at 1:20 PM

Very cool. I’d love to study magick at that level of neural imaging.

One thing to keep in mind, though: Your mental muscles are magickal structures. They connect to your nerves, but they are separate from your nerves. So, seeing the nerves that fire as I do magick would show you how I’m directing my mental muscles, not how they are doing magick. And someone engaging the same nerves, without awakening their mental muscles, wouldn’t produce magick (though they might start awakening their mental muscles, and learn magick eventually).

But that kind of neural imaging looks like a great way to investigate the brain–>mental muscles part of the puzzle.

Ananael: On modeling magick, I hope to change your mind after writing more about sensory connections, the technique for observing how magick works. Thanks for the reminder that I haven’t hit the mark on that yet :)

And I hadn’t even thought about people who prefer images to words. Really good points.

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Ananael Qaa February 1, 2012 at 2:10 PM

Lisa,

That’s the sort of research I was referring to when I commented that we are a lot closer now to understanding these processes than we were ten or twenty years ago. There have been similar studies with vision as well.

But the big hole that still exists in the research is this: what brain processes correspond to Gnosis? The experiments that have been done with advanced meditators have produced some good avenues for exploration, but their sample sizes are too small to generalize. One of the basic problems researchers have to contend with is that there are very few advanced spiritual practitioners to begin with and many of those are not particularly interested in working in a laboratory just so scientists can study them.

Then there’s also Mike’s point – many people working in neural imaging are pretty convinced that the brain is all there is, whereas many of us are of the opinion that consciousness is to some degree its own thing that correlates with neural processing but is not necessarily limited to activity in the brain.

Still, I think the progress we’re making is in the right direction and someday I hope to see these issues resolved.

Mike,

Just as a point, it’s not a matter of “preferring” images to words, but rather a matter of which medium your mind naturally runs in. There are both verbal and imagistic thinkers out there, and when breaking the mechanics of magick down to the degree that you do I think you need to consider those individual differences.

At first everybody naturally thinks that other people think the way they do. For the longest time I couldn’t believe anyone out there “really” thought in words. To me that would feel like being stuck with a radio instead of a TV.

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Taylor Ellwood February 1, 2012 at 3:56 PM

Good Post. I tend to favor a combination of the two. I think you need results to determine if your mechanics (or I’d call it process) works in a meaningful way. At the same time, focusing on just results doesn’t tell you how magic works or allow you to improve on what you do. Being a person who favors improving how he works magic, I prefer process over result, but use results to determine if the process is doing what I want it to do.

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