You found my old blog. Thanks for visiting! For my new writing, visit mikesententia.com.
After posting Why There’s No Published Research on Magick, lots of you wrote in about researchers who had published results but were ridiculed out of their jobs, or with warnings about threatened industries (like big pharma) drowning researchers in legal fees.
It got me thinking about how to publish your magick, and how to avoid the problems those researchers had. And I think I have an answer.
First, what they did wrong: They published the first result they found. The technique was unreliable, hard to test, and not immediately useful. Now, that’s how science normally works — you discover a tiny advance, publish it, and repeat until you develop something really cool. But it won’t work here.
The problem is, publishing magick is less about science than it is about marketing and publicity. You need a genuinely amazing result as the first publication. Something reliable, undeniably obvious, and so useful that people will clamor for the service, creating political pressure to not shut you down. Something you can do out of Africa or Eastern Europe if needed, with medical tourists flying in, so you can build the studies and successes to make it in the US. It needs to be a fully-realized product, not an initial result.
And, before you publish, you ought to have a bunch of fully-realized products. First, that lets you pick the best one for publication — a healing technique that works immediately, rather than one with a 1-month delay, for example. Second, that lets you follow up with more studies, building a stack of successes, rather than a one-off kooky publication. Third, it’s better for rolling the publicity into a successful business.
Thanks for sending me the pointers to those researchers. Seeing what they did wrong will help me do it right. Any other thoughts?If you liked this post, consider visiting my current blog at mikesententia.com.
Tags: Publishing, Science
I don’t know that you necessarily need a truly amazing result to avoid damage to your scientific reputation, but you do need an extremely replicable one. No matter what you’re studying, if other scientists can’t repeat your results they won’t be seen as scientifically credible.
Pons and Fleischmann ran into this problem with cold fusion, and they weren’t proposing anything that’s generally considered paranormal. Their suggested mechanism made logical sense and didn’t seem to contradict any physical laws. Still, when other scientists couldn’t repeat their experiments they ran into the same problem a lot of paranormal researchers wind up facing.
The biggest problem I anticipate is that my results would only apply to experienced, trained mages. They wouldn’t be the sort of thing where you get the right equipment and can do it yourself. It’s more like testing a surgical technique than testing a chemical reaction.
My thinking is to offer an extremely useful result to make at least some people want it to succeed, so they work with me, rather than complaining that untrained non-mages can’t produce the same results. But you’re right: The technique must be reliably reproducible, at least among trained mages.
I hadn’t read your original post on this, which is interesting because I have been thinking about some of your questions and issues for a long time.
I look at magic in the same way that I look at Religion, which is something that I have a Ph.D. in, and so I know a little bit about the academic world in this area. You will not find “practical” research in Religion – that is to say, research that deals with questions of efficacy and use (does prayer work? does God manifest in our lives, and how?) unless you shift the methodology to an adjunct field, like the quantifiable social sciences or the “purer” sciences. The Templeton foundation has been doing this for years, as when they funded an infamous study on the relationship between prayer and medicine, “experimenting” with cancer patients at Duke University. Lots of money for a failed project – sort of like what happened with Benveniste, but without the shame of personal failure. The other area where “practical” research goes on in Religion is in the field of Theology. This is where questions for believers get answered: how does God work? what is the nature of that work? how do we get God to engage us? etc etc. Pretty much hermetically sealed research, in that one must accept the terms of the game: theology, by and large, is a discipline for Christians and the other faithful. It is a given that non-believers cannot do theological studies, as it were, unless you get the gnosis, LOL.
My point is (and I am sorry if it is a long one) that the discipline, of magic has no corollary academic field to that of theology. There are people like you and others who seem to be translating the language and methods of magic into those of the social sciences/nat. sciences. There seems to be a nice middle ground forming between Religionists, Scientists, and others in the fields of consciousness psychology and paranormal studies, but there is great hostility and suspicion between the “sciences” and the humanities, mainly over “turf.” I myself see some of the best material on “magical healing” in field studies coming from medical anthropology. That’s the direction that I would recommend for research, because it is a growth industry.
So I would say this is something that is happening, but at a snail’s pace.
Excellent conversation. I have many opinions about publishing, too.
I read about the prayer study, demonstrating that random people with no magick training, using only a person’s name (not even the full last name), were unable to heal. It seems like the wrong way to investigate magick, like they funded a test of a popular belief, rather than a test that expert healers would expect to succeed. Kind of like testing surgery by asking 12-year-olds to read the wikipedia page and give it their best shot. Do you have any insight into how they picked the hypothesis to test?
That’s neat about Theology. I hadn’t realized there was any academic field I could use as a template. How would you adapt it to godless healing and other magick?
If you write a post on this, please post a link here.
In this post and the prior one you talk about a finalized product in the scope of published research. I’m a bit confused, are you talking about a product to sell to the masses?
Is that the end game you are after. Both Ananael and Yvonne make very good points but both are in the scope of scholarly research. Here is one example of a group of scientists, engineers and psychologists working together to produce products for sale.
ICRL was once the PEAR institute at Princeton university. Read their history it’s pretty awesome. I just wish I knew about the program before it closed!
@Yvonne – I disagree with your point that magic has no corollary academic field. I find that Theology is it’s main corollary field. Most magic is based in theology and I’m hard pressed to think of many examples of where it isn’t (with the exception of fantasy & fiction). You can even obtain a Graduate degree from Rice University in Gnosticism, Esotericism and Mysticism from their dept of Religious studies. I would be curious to see if any of those students wrote papers on the efficacy of the rituals they found in their studies.
It would be nice to see magic separated from theology but most texts and history point to humans using deities, spirits or other powers to fuel their magic.
This is such a great conversation and so important too. I wish that all practicing magicians could think through the larger implications.
Yeah, I wish that was the case. I actually just returned from Rice from a review of their Religion program. No theology there, but some of the graduate students are starting to think about how to theorize magic as a practice. Like I said, there is some movement toward this stuff in academia, but it is at a snail’s pace, and it certainly isn’t a formal theology…yet?
I am thinking of applying to Rice’s Religious Studies for the Mysticism specialization. Would I be disappointed if I got accepted?
Also, as a community do we want to create a theology out of magic? Granted we can’t call it Magical studies or Masters of Wizardry (mainly do to the laugh factor and no one would ever take us seriously). Personally I work very hard to separate the gods, god or spirits from powering my practice. Wouldn’t it be a lot of the same we are reading now from the Golden Dawn to Wicca?
Or maybe it should. I don’t know. I just envision the ability to study such topics with an empirically set of standards in an institution where the sciences and the don’t have a such a sway on the topic.
As well I’m really enjoying this discussion!
Amonjin: The point of publishing research is to build publicity for a business. Or rather, the point is to get more people solving more problems with magick and making everyone better off, but if you’re going to put in the effort to publish, you’d darn well better have some business to funnel that publicity into. More here:
What I’m saying is, there’s one threshold for research techniques, where something mostly works well enough to demonstrate, and might be useful if combined with other things. There’s another threshold for a product or service you can sell: It has to work reliably and solve a problem people care about, like healing a serious disease. Science normally uses the research threshold, but when you publish research-threshold-level magick, you lose. It’s not reliable enough, and it’s not compelling enough. If you instead wait for product-level-magick, it will be both reliable and compelling, and be much harder to dismiss, both practically (it’s easier to demonstrate) and politically (people want that healing / product / service).
On creating a theology out of magick: I would actively oppose that. We need people who understand how to use connections and energy and the other building blocks of magick to alter the physical world. If you make it into theology, you just learn to channel a spirit. If building your own magick is like cooking, then channeling a spirit is like ordering takeout food. You can get some of the same results, but it’s not the same thing at all.
But, if theology tests the efficacy of prayer, it seems like a useful template for what we’ll end up doing in testing the efficacy of healing. I’m also looking at nursing’s Therapeutic Touch (I think it’s called) and medical research on Reiki and Qi healing.