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There’s a meme that magick is somehow “made of thought.” After all, you direct it with thought, so it has to somehow be thought, right?
Nope, not right. Except, not 100% wrong, either. It’s a subtle but fundamental error, something that leads you astray slowly, only causing problems long after you’ve bought in. I’m going to explain in an analogy, so you can think about the meme yourself.
Imagine an EEG hooked up to a computer. The EEG reads brainwaves, sends them to the computer via wifi, and you control a game by thinking. (This is a real thing, by the way.)
Now, imagine you take someone from a few hundred years ago, who’s never seen a computer. You embed the EEG into their hat, so they don’t see any of the technology. Just their hat and the screen.
“Wow, Mario does whatever I think. He must be made of thought.”
No, you say. Thought is electrical impulses in the brain. This is a computer. It’s made of transistors.
(Some trickster you are, intentionally fooling this old soul. Shame on you. But back to the story.)
“But it reacts like it’s alive, like it’s intelligent. It may be made of physical matter, but surely, it must also be made of thought.”
No, you say. You show him a transistor, explain how it works.
“Aha! So each transistor processes information. It contains a tiny bit of thought. That’s why you can put them all together to produce this game.”
Well, transistors do process information. If you squint just the right way, you can sort of agree with him. But there’s a danger in using the same word for transistor-thinking and brain-thinking:
“My thinking causes the game character to move. So, the game must be made of thought. Then this fellow tells me the game is made of transistors, so transistors must be made of thought. And, since they’re made of thought, it’s not surprising at all that my thoughts interact with those transistors.”
Did you notice what happened in that last sentence? He skipped over the EEG, the wifi, and a bunch of other technologies.
Sure, he understands enough to play the game. With trial and error, he might even discover complex commands. (Maybe entering alpha state for 2 seconds, then beta for 1 second, then gamma opens a new program.)
But hand him transistors, and he’ll expect to control them by thinking. Block the wifi signal, and he’ll think Mario is dead. It’s not that transistors don’t think, because if you squint the right way, they sort of do. It’s that, while he’s not wrong, he’s also very much not right.
“Thought affects thought” sounds so simple, so sensible. Which makes it easy to elide the system’s true complexity.If you liked this post, consider visiting my current blog at mikesententia.com.