Ananael’s Science Smackdown

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I’ve fallen behind in reading other magick blogs. This week, I’m catching up, linking to particularly interesting articles as I go.

Today: Ananael’s blog, Augoeides.


Following up on his previous acupuncture post, Ananael writes about a new study:

The latest meta-analysis of acupuncture research, published two days ago in the Archives of Internal Medicine, conclusively shows that acupuncture does in fact work for chronic pain. Notably, this latest study also found a clear difference between traditional acupuncture in which needles are inserted at specific, defined points versus so-called “sham acupuncture,” in which needles are inserted at random points in the same general area.

Then he lays into skeptics who misrepresent these sort of studies:

The problem skeptics have with acupuncture seems to be that nobody has figured out exactly how it works. […] Either said skeptics just don’t have their facts straight, or they’re deliberately confusing them to push what I would have to call an anti-science agenda. The whole point of the scientific method is that you don’t get to pick and choose only those studies that confirm your personal biases.

If you were wondering, that’s the smackdown from the title. Well said. (Full article here.)

Manifesting a Hot Tub

You know how I love case studies, and Ananael just posted one about manifesting a hot tub. In particular, note the unlikely path his wife took in finding the yard sale with a well-priced tub, and some lucky breaks he had in deciding where to put the tub.

One question for Ananael: It seems like some of your luck went beyond just “Finding a hot tub,” like placing it in a better location and finding that couch. Do you think the way you phrased your goal helped with this? Was it particularly broad, and do you have a general practice of making it broad? Thanks.

The Just World Hypothesis

Another new study, this one showing that:

People perceive rituals which are more complex or time-consuming as much more effective.

(Full article here.)

I’ve seen that in my own practice: Because most of my work only takes a few minutes, and just involves me sitting and thinking, I sometimes feel like friends are underwhelmed. Maybe I should add some theatrics…

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15 Responses to “Ananael’s Science Smackdown”

  1. Ananael Qaa says:

    In the case of the hot tub, I did do a broader statement than what I would normally recommend to students, especially if they’re starting out. One of the neat little shortcuts in Thelemic magick for manifesting anything in the best possible way is “in harmony with my will.” It cleans up a whole bunch of stuff related to undesired unforeseen consequences. So the statement I used was pretty much “obtain a hot tub in harmony with my will.”

    What’s also particularly useful about this method is that it can result in unforeseen consequences, but those consequences are almost always positive and helpful. I didn’t know I really really wanted an enclosure until I had one, and the size of the structure meant that the tub wound up in pretty much the only legal spot in my back yard even though I had planned on doing something different. Also, if you conjure using it for something that is really out of harmony with what your will wants, the magick just won’t work – and in those cases, it’s a good thing.

    A possible downside is that if somebody is really disconnected from their will the results might be really disconcerting and unexpected. The results line up with your will, not your conditioning, and for somebody who is primarily operating from the perspective of the latter the technique might not be of much use. I picked it up when I was pretty far along in my practice and already had a pretty good connection with that aspect of my mind.

  2. KeeCoyote says:

    I think all the theatrics in early magick was exactly that. Wave your hand say “You are cured”, or have them go look for a hard to find item, sit while someone drums over your body while the shaman waves a small bit of smoke over you. What would you think would be more look more effective? :) Well you could also be doing all that to hide how you realy do your magick from other magicians.

    • Hard to say. I don’t think it’s necessarily a conscious misdirection on the part of the shaman. After all, he probably has the same bias, and expects more complex rituals to work better. Plus, staying in the shaman’s care — in a relatively clean environment, with adequate food and water, resting, out of the sun, and probably with spirits and good energy and whatnot — probably produces a better outcome, regardless of the particulars of the rituals.

      • Ona says:

        But isn’t that related to the comment below about complexity of ritual? When we do more complex things we show more intention, no? If it’s your wife’s birthday and you come home and toss a card on the dining table, that shows far less attention/intention than if you take her out to dinner, take a long walk in the moonlight, and sing a song you wrote (and you may care equally deeply either way – it’s not about how you feel, but about symbolizing how you feel so others can see it clearly).
        A person cared for by the shaman during an hours long ritual will feel more cared for than one who is handed a packet of leaves and told to go home and make tea for their illness. The ritual and/or tea may be equally effective/not effective scientifically, but the attention given to the matter makes a difference in how everyone involved feels about things.
        Complex ritual can have a deeper effect simply because it requires more time be spent engaged with the intention behind it.

        • I don’t disagree with any of that, but realize that you’re talking about maximizing placebo (how people feel about the ritual and how well they expect it to work), rather than maximizing the actual effect of the herbs or energy or whatever actual technique you’re applying.

          I think this is the difference between a healer (you), using whatever they can to make a person feel better, and a scientist (me), trying to tease apart the actual mechanism of the healing, so we can eventually build a better technique. Just a different set of goals.

          • Ona says:

            What I’m pointing out is that placebo is part of the mechanism of healing. Stress impacts immune function. Feeling safe and cared for reduces stress. People heal faster, feel better, and fight off illness more effectively when they are more hopeful, happier and more comforted. Besides which tons of illnesses are heavily caused by stress alone (or can be induced by the “nocebo” effect – being told a placebo will cause side effects, you’ll start feeling dizzy and throwing up). That’s not unscientific. The brain is part of the body…

  3. Simon says:

    Its funny that I was just re-reading Alan Chapman’s book ‘Advanced magic for beginners’ and the chapter that deals with adding complexity to workings. Interesting idea there that it doesn’t add quantitatively to your outcome- but instead qualitatively.

    This idea rests not on the ‘just world hypothosis’ but on a synchronicity based view of reality. In very simple terms if you put more ‘meaning’ into the ritual via symbolic complexity you get more ‘meaning’ out often in the form of a greater richness of depth being available.

    I know this verges on ‘chaos magick’ perspectives that you’re not that keen on but I’ll admit that any simple paper sigil experiments i’ve done – whilst as effective as anything else in actually having an effect (sometimes more effective than anything else) are quite limited in their scope/depth.

    They seem to work mostly around the ‘manifest me $50 that I find in the street’ level. ‘Deeper’ issues that need something else are often not ‘bigger’ goals. In fact often its subtle, like trying to change a conditioned emotional reaction to something etc. Here simple paper sigils that take 5 minutes don’t seem to really work where it seems an hour long middle pillar rite repeated multiple times over a month can.

    • Interesting idea, but I don’t buy it. I can’t see a mechanism for “conservation of meaning.” As long as you can clearly state your goals, adding repetitions and additional complexity shouldn’t matter. Always glad to encounter new ideas, though, and who knows, maybe conservation of meaning will be a useful concept one of these days.

      • Simon says:

        Yes, its true there’s no obvious mechanism. I suppose I wasn’t offering it up as something that could be incorporated into your mechanistic- moving parts approach. The synchronicity approach Chapman outlines is an entirely different animal that is basically at odds with yours.

        But anyway… I was really thinking about something much more obvious here regarding complexity: Would a language that has a vocabulary of 10 words be capable of communicating as much depth of meaning as one that has several thousand? Maybe In some cases the language with 10 words does the job at hand better because there’s no room for ambiguity and is as ‘powerful’ in a quantitative sense. But in other spheres you need the 10 thousand word language.

        On the other hand maybe i’m reading too much into this and we should just limit the discussion to the validity of adding more ‘stuff’ – more incense and robes, clock hours and big gold wands etc.

  4. Ona says:

    Ananael said: “if somebody is really disconnected from their will the results might be really disconcerting and unexpected. The results line up with your will, not your conditioning” and “if you conjure using it for something that is really out of harmony with what your will wants, the magick just won’t work – and in those cases, it’s a good thing” …

    and Simon pointed out the possible limitations of sigil magick for self-transformation. I think those are both interesting points.

    I strongly suspect that ones will has a heavy role in what works, but I don’t know how/whether that can be included in your view of magick, Mike?

    And regarding using sigils for big self-transformative stuff – I haven’t bothered much, really, being the sort who prefers devotional work; though you can certain do a sigil to “be motivated to meditate every day” or “find the courage to bear this difficulty I’m facing” or other such supports for longer term projects and personal development.

    • Simon says:

      “supports for longer term projects and personal development.”

      Yes.. that’s basically my strategy for using sigils. I’m interested in the idea that Mike’s sigil for the ethereal software could replace the drawing of different sigils and then eventually replace the involvement of any sigil at all.

    • Interesting question. You’re right, I don’t think about will much.

      Thinking about it now, the concept of “will” seems muddled, like a combination of a lot of different attributes. One is the ability to persist in an activity despite having no results yet. Another is the ability to resist the influence of other people. Then there’s imagining the world as it could be, and holding that image firmly in your thoughts.

      Those traits are related — it’s easier to persist despite having no results if you’re used to ignoring the doubts of the people around you. But I don’t think “will” is a single thing.

      Does will affect magick? Well, persistence and resisting influence are important for putting in the time and effort to learn magick, but there’s nothing inherent to them that makes you better at magick. And I could imagine some ability to choose the particular signature of energy you produce, or to resist unwanted energy signatures, that we could consider to be part of “will.” But I just think it’s more useful to talk about the particular abilities that make up will.

  5. Ananael Qaa says:

    What I call will sure looks like a single thing on an fMRI or PET scan. It correlates directly to heightened frontal lobe function, usually in the dominant brain hemisphere. This is the area responsible for “executive functions” according to neuroscience, and as those functions direct other areas of the brain they show up in many different areas. However, it all relates back to a particular area in the frontal lobe that’s “calling the shots” and setting the overall vector of consciousness. That’s what I mean by will.

    One of the points Aleister Crowley makes over and over again in his writings on Thelema (and needs to, because it gets ignored all the time) is that “Do what thou wilt” does not mean “do whatever the heck you want.” People with poor frontal lobe function have little impulse control, so they often fail to restrain their actions. This is not will, and any brain scan is going to tell you so. On these folks you’ll see diminished firing in the same areas that light up for “executive functions.”

    I suppose one could make the point that what you call “mental muscles” might be related to this sort of forebrain function. Obviously I’d need to see some data to back that up (relating magical efficacy and heightened brainwave activity in that region) but it would be pretty useful from a neuroanatomy perspective if there turned out to be a connection.

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