Calling BS on Fake Wisdom

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One last update: Ananael filled me in on some backstory of the quote. Apparently, it was intended to be satire. Looks like I’ve fallen into the trap of taking a satire seriously and railing against it. My bad. I’m leaving the posts up because (1) I believe in owning up to mistakes, not covering them up, and (2) these posts might be useful someday, when I have some legit word games to call BS on.

Note: Read this post first, it explains why calling BS matters.

I’d written this a few weeks ago, but never posted it. The experiments on quartz will resume tomorrow.

Sometimes, bullshit is a perfect example for showing how fake wisdom works, so you can recognize it quickly in the future. That’s what today’s post is about.

Frater SeA and Strategic Sorcery had a discussion about, “All that magick changes is you.” Someone else said it, they were discussing it.

If it meant, “Magick is just placebo and personal growth,” I’ll disagree, but I wouldn’t call BS. But the person who originally said it meant something like, “Magick only changes you, but we’re all one, and we’re all part of God, so really, you are everything around you.” Which is, like, totally deep, man.

Wait, no, sorry, not deep. The word I meant was bullshit.

Neither Frater SeA or Jason of Strategic Sorcery made the initial statement, and Jason discussed how it was a bad model, but they both treated it more seriously than it deserves. So, allow me to call BS, and show you why, so you can call BS on fake wisdom, too.

When you hear “Magick only changes you,” it sounds like the person is making a strong, concrete statement about the limitations of magick. No external changes.

Then you hear the re-definition: By ‘you’ they mean “Everything around you.” Now it sounds doubly-deep. Because you’re not just you, you’re, like, everything, man.

Specifically, it sounds deep because of the inconsistency between the standard definition of ‘you,’ and the re-definition of ‘you.’ Because humans don’t immediately replace words with definitions. No, when we hear the sentence, we react to the standard definitions of all the words, and only later does the logical mind kick in to do the translation.

Here’s a more obvious example, so you can see how replacing a definition works: Let’s say my friend, Bob, wants to give a futuristic-sounding talk, but he doesn’t really know anything. So he re-defines “car” to mean “Vehicle that transports people.” Then he talks about “water-faring cars” and “flying cars” and so on. It requires a conscious step to translate “flying car” into “airplane,” so you imagine a Jetsons car every time, even before you really process what he said. Translating into normal English takes effort, and dispelling that futuristic feeling takes effort, so most listeners don’t bother. And Bob gets to sound like he’s talking about a futuristic world, when he’s really just discussing 747s.

Try this: Replace the word with the definition. “Magick only changes your body plus everything around you.” Yeah, not so deeply-mystically-wise anymore, huh?

And that’s why it’s bullshit: It sounds deep and meaningful, but once you sort through the word games, it’s not really saying anything.

After writing this, but before I posted it, others weighed in too. Ananael does an excellent job of analyzing the “you are everything” model, though I think taking it seriously in the first place is a mistake. RO takes it seriously, disagrees with the idea, but doesn’t quite call BS. And Patrick Dunn makes a nice rimshot, which I think is roughly the right response.

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9 Responses to “Calling BS on Fake Wisdom”

  1. inominandum says:

    Ummmm. I specifically wrote AGAINST the idea that all magic changes is you.

    If by making a post about it at all constitutes taking it seriously, than what exactly have you done here?

    • Hi Jason, sorry for not making that clear, you were indeed against the model. I’ve updated my post.

      But would you agree that there’s a difference between calling something inaccurate, vs calling it silly or BS?

  2. inominandum says:

    There can be, if the person saying it is innaccurate is somehow lending it credence anyway or saying that it is an understandable conclusion, but that is not what happened.

    Throughout my piece, as well as my response to Frater SEA I went to great lengths to point out that when you extend it to include all phenomena within ones field of experience, that effectively you are not saying anything at all.

    In a response on SEA’s blog I wrote: “The idea that magic only changes you can be true if you extend “you” to all or reality, but then you may as well not say it at all.”

    Again, you can say that the idea is not worthy of a response, but you are responding to it here.

    You can say that the entire idea is BS, but than why are you denigrating those of us who also think it is BS and simply argued in a very slightly different fashion than you did?

    The idea HAS perpetuated among enough sectors of the occult for enough time, that BS or not, it has to be dealt with on one fashion or another.

    If you are going to respond to something a month after it happens, be smarmy and arrogant to the people who disagree with you and who disagree with you, the least you could do was be accurate.

    • Wow. Clearly I’ve hit a nerve. I meant to poke the guy who originally said that magick only affects you, because I think we need to call BS on word games like that. But I didn’t intend to poke you, SeA, or anyone else, except for a mild “We should call BS on this more directly.” Sorry to have upset you, and sorry to anyone else that’s feeling like Jason.

  3. Ananael Qaa says:

    If what you took away from my explanation of the “reality selection” model is that it reduces to “you are everything,” then my analysis couldn’t have been that good. Because that statement isn’t what I was trying to imply, and it isn’t what I meant. Selecting one of many “reality tunnels” for a desired outcome does not mean that you and the tunnel are one. In fact, it maintains the distinction between the two.

    As I noted in my article, whether or not the reality selection model is accurate depends upon the accuracy of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory. If you think that’s not an idea that should be taken seriously, there are quite a few quantum physicists who would disagree with you. Personally, I find that the problem with the model is how you represent partial successes – how do you talk about a reality tunnel that was “close” to what you wanted without some sort of coordinate system (to meaningfully say, for example, that tunnel A is closer to tunnel B than tunnel C)?

    Anyway, no worries about me being bent out of shape here, just in case you were wondering given the previous discussion. At this point I still think wavefunction collapse explains things better, so it’s not even my preferred model. I just think it merits more consideration than you’re giving it.

    • I’d written this post a few days after Jason’s came out, then put it in a folder with a bunch of other posts I haven’t gotten to. (I save them for when I’m traveling and don’t have much time to write). I actually thought I’d posted it, and was wondering why no one was linking to it when they recapped the conversation. So that’s why it didn’t really take your post into account.

      I just posted what I think is a better explanation of why calling BS matters:

      The rest of this comment assumes you’ve read that.

      I like the model you proposed, about selecting a quantum path. “Magick works by influencing quantum collapse, to select the future world you’ll wind up in,” or something to that effect, is a clear, well-defined statement. I think it’s inaccurate (or, more precisely, that we don’t have sufficient evidence to warrant a positive belief in it), but whatever it is, it’s not BS.

      But that’s not what the original speaker said. Not even close. Maybe you can figure out what he meant through private conversation, and if he were a non-writer or a new blogger, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. But when an established writer starts a popular meme by speaking in circles, I think we need to address what he said, not what he meant, and call BS (He’s a professional writer, so I think we can assume he knows how to write clearly, and simply chose not to). The problem isn’t the idea itself, it’s the word-games and circular logic in the presentation.

      Which is what I should have said this post, and what I tried to say in the post today.

  4. Ananael Qaa says:

    Okay, I see what you’re saying after reading your other article. However, I don’t think this is a case of Lon DuQuette choosing to mislead people as it sounds like you’re implying.

    The original “all in your head” statement from Chicken Qabalah could easily be glossed as a “you are everything” model, but it’s presented in a humorous, satirical context in a book that is clearly identified as such. People just remember it from there because it’s funny. In later more serious books, he does expand on the idea and explain it in more detail.

    I also will say that when I posted my article, Lon DuQuette sent it out to all his Facebook fans saying that it was exactly what he was talking about. So if this is some point that he’s trying to keep from people, publicizing my analysis was not a very effective way to do it.

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