Materialist Magick

by Mike Sententia on April 30, 2014

You found my old blog. Thanks for visiting! For my new writing, visit mikesententia.com.

Like most scientists, I’m a materialist. That means I believe everything can be broken down into smaller parts, and that thought and consciousness are the result of nerves firing.

Simon asks:

I think its interesting that you’ve recently come out and explicitly called yourself a ‘materialist’. I wonder if you could expand on your take on this a bit more. You must be one of the very few people writing who call themselves a materialist who also engages in spirit communication! Do you consider spirits are physical matter -just of an unfamiliar kind?

Let’s start with what materialism is, then discuss how we get to spirits and magick.

Materialism

From wikipedia: In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that all things are composed of material, and that all emergent phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material properties and interactions. In other words, the theory claims that our reality consists entirely of physical matter that is the sole cause of every possible occurrence, including human thought, feeling, and action.

This is roughly what I mean. Consciousness and though are not things unto themselves, but rather emerge from the firing of nerves, hormones, and other physical matter.

Keep in mind, no serious thinker limits “physical matter” to “things we can touch.” We all believe in magnetism, gravity, and dark matter. There are many types of physical matter, and some of them interact in ways that are unintuitive to out brains, which evolved to understand how to throw stones, rather than how dark matter works. To me, magickal structures are just unusual physical substances that, like dark matter, interact in unusual ways.

But the important part is, all physical matter can be broken down into smaller parts. The brain is made of nerves, which are made of molecules, then atoms, and so on. The complex behaviors emerge from a great many simple interactions, similar to how complex computer programs emerge from the simple interactions of many transistors. And we can understand how the complex thing works by understanding how all the parts work, and how they interact. Then we can improve it.

(That’s part of why materialism is so common among scientists.)

Good series on materialism, I agree with most of it: http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Reductionism_(sequence) (Scroll down to “Main Sequence”)

Spirits

But what about spirits? Aren’t those free-floating minds?

Well, they’re minds made up of magickal structures. Kind of like artificial intelligence is a mind made of transistors. Assemble connections, energy, and similar magickal structures in the right way, and you get a conscious mind.

(Same goes for ethereal software.)

And, just like some AI researchers want to upload our minds into computers, I could see us uploading our minds into magickal structures to become spirits some day.

What About Thoughtforms?

I don’t talk about thoughtforms, but people I respect do. What’s up?

When I say “thought,” I mean the standard definition: Ideas in your brain. It’s not an external object, but rather the subjective experience of nerves firing.

But many systems of magick describe thought as an external thing, as something that can go out, cause change, and become solid (“thoughtform” or “egregore”). Are they wrong?

I think we’re both describing some of the same external phenomena, using different explanations. Egregore and ethereal software both point to the same external force, and when you “send out your thought,” I’d say you’re sending a message to some ethereal software. It’s not that they’re wrong, it’s that we’re explaining the same phenomena in different ways.

So why not just use the standard terms? Because saying, “I’m sending out my thought” sounds so simple, it becomes easy to skip over a lot of really important steps. I want us to explore those steps, because understanding them lets us understand magick, which lets us do it better and build it into a science.

If you liked this post, consider visiting my current blog at mikesententia.com.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

George May 1, 2014 at 4:17 AM

That’s a good clarifying post. In particular, what you mean when you say you are a “materialist”, which probably differs from what others might assume you meant (and who might have thought you were effectively more of a dualist or offering ‘planes of existence’ by another name).

“No serious thinker limits ‘physical matter’ to ‘things we can touch’. We all believe in magnetism, gravity, and dark matter.”

Actually that’s almost a good definition of “matter”. Not touch with our hands, of course, but detect (touch) with our scientific instruments. Electro-magnetism and gravity are the field properties of matter by which we infer its existence. If magickal structures can’t be “touched” in this sense, then most materialists would disagree that it counts as “matter”. Hence the confusion.

(Dark matter isn’t a great example because it’s currently a hypothesis to fill an absence. There’s currently no absence that a materialist Mr Occam would need magickal structures to fill.)

Reply

Mike Sententia May 1, 2014 at 8:31 AM

If magickal structures can’t be “touched” in this sense, then most materialists would disagree that it counts as “matter”.

Magickal structures interact with ordinary matter. In healing, for example, they affect cells. We don’t have instruments to detect this stuff yet, but I hope we will one day.

(And those healing effects are just one example of an Occam-sized gap that requires magickal structures.)

Reply

George May 1, 2014 at 9:48 AM

Of course if they didn’t interact with ordinary matter, there’d be no point (and this would be much less fun).

What’s frustrating is, without the development of some external instrumentation that renders them ‘objectively visible’ in some sense, it’s just so hard to convince everyday people or scientists that even healing (the most testable of magickal acts) isn’t just coincidence. They don’t see the gap, because it can usually be explained away vaguely, or dismissed as “placebo”, or whatever.

(With other forms of magick, which involves less controllable environments and/or one-off life events, the situation is even worse of course – but a science of magick would have to be applicable there too eventually.)

At the moment, it seems to be that magickal structures are only detectable by minds (subjective) and inferred from physical results (objective) – for those who have that worldview and have made the effort to tune in.

However, I guess this is not dissimilar to thought (subjective) and neural patterns (objective). If thoughts could perhaps be said to give rise to neural patterns, rather than being identical to them, then brains could be viewed as “thought detectors”. (As with many detectors though, this is a two-way street.)

So perhaps an instrument that can detect magickal structures would have to be brain-like in some way?

Reply

Mike Sententia May 1, 2014 at 10:24 AM

You and I are on the same page, George. I would love to have some sort of magick-o-meter to make everything easily demonstrable. (I know Ananael would, too — we’ve talked about this before.) This is part of the impetus behind my current project of creating sensations in non-mages. Not only would it be a great way to demonstrate magick, it should also give us some hints on how magick interacts with cells, and potentially lead to less-subjective detection methods.

Also, I think I’m starting to get your language. When you say “thought,” that seems similar to my “magickal structure.” Perhaps not synonyms, but when you’re talking about thought-existing-outside-the-brain, I think they might point to the same external object.

Reply

George May 1, 2014 at 10:49 AM

I think we are. Your work on creating sensations is interesting. As a step towards creating “sensations” (electrical signals!) in some kind detection equipment, very interesting. Such equipment might be a biological/electronic hybrid, then; perhaps we’ll have to grow ourselves the receiver part of our “magickal detector”.

Thought vs Structures: Yes, probably they are pointing to the same idea. Where we’ve probably become confused, is when I’ve implicitly referenced an additional idea:

That is, when I’ve said in the past that things like ‘moving your arm’ are magickal acts, it sounds a bit off to you. Where that comes from is the idea that we create thoughts, and thoughts are ‘magical structures’ which affect the brain and nervous system, causing neutral patterns,etc, which then cause physical movement.

You would say that the neural activity is a thought, whereas I would say it is the result of a thought, loosely speaking – and that we always only ever operate on ‘physical matter’ indirectly, via thought/structures. It’s just that the results are immediate in this case. (It is in this sense that, casually, we could say that “it’s all magick”.)

So in this view, “thoughts” and “magickal structures” are indeed effectively the same type of thing, it’s just that the context is different, and how transient the structures and effects are.

Reply

Simon May 2, 2014 at 4:23 PM

Thanks – great and very reasonable explanation. The kind of materialism I can buy into enough to follow your work.

There’s still a big problem for the ’emergent properties’ model for me. And its not just a matter of terms and conjecture. It affects how experiments are carried out:

Music is produced as an ’emergent’ property’ of the actions of transistors and circuits in a radio. Music has no existence in and of itself. If we can work out all the moving parts of the radio then we will have arrived at a good explanation of music and will be able to make some useful predictions about it Of course the more forward thinking investigators may point to potential existence of ‘radio waves’ and other ‘non ordinary matter’ which are involved. But the music is still clearly an emergent property of these interactions.

That’s clearly wrong headed from this obvious example but we get there very easily and the ’emergent properties’ aproach makes it easy for us to ignore musicians and instruments etc.

Reply

Mike Sententia May 2, 2014 at 5:13 PM

That’s interesting. I hadn’t heard that reasoning before. It doesn’t convince me that thoughts are like radio waves, but it makes it more plausible.

By the way, “emergent phenomenon” is itself often a curiosity-stopper. The key is to explain how the phenomenon emerges, which no one has yet done with the brain.

Thanks for introducing me to a new idea!

Reply

Simon May 4, 2014 at 6:30 AM

Absolutely – its not supposed to prove or disprove anything. The analogy merely places a serious question mark over the assumption that thoughts and subjective experience are a by product or ’emergent property’ of the brain at all. If you mess with the circuits on a radio and make the music come out distorted or smash it to pieces and make the music stop completely we still know the music isn’t ultimately generated by the radio. With the brain and consciousness we don’t know one way or the other – all we can say is that there is a correlation.

To a confirmed materialist this correlation self evidently shows that the brain produces subjective experience and, having dialogued with a few, I find that the simple questioning analogy above has rarely ever occurred to them. I do not believe this is because they are less intelligent or wise than me. It must be a consequence of buying exclusively into one model.

The materialist model has clearly resulted in some very impressive practical applications but, like any model, is also constrains and limits thinking. Will magick benefit from being investigated via a materialist model? Of course- you are already doing that and finding out interesting things. Is it ultimately the most appropriate model for which to try and understand magick…BIG question mark hanging over that for me.

The ideal would be for scientists to use materialist and process philosophical models as tools to shape experimental inquiry rather than taking them on as absolutes and warring against each other. The process model developed by Whitehead is based soundly on mathematics not theology and there is a huge amount of scope for more experimental work be done that is informed by it. Its clear that becoming a ‘practical philosopher scientist’ is no easy task to achieve and there is always the risk of veering into the sloppy solipsistic kind of ‘what you believe becomes your reality’ stuff.

However if there’s one area I reckon could really benefit from more of these rare ‘practical scientist-philosopher’ creatures its magick. Hopefully we may see more of them this century if we don’t annihilate ourselves fist!

Reply

George May 8, 2014 at 1:54 PM

Very well put.

Reply

Synchronicity May 2, 2014 at 11:12 PM

Interesting. Do Spirits have detailed informations about the stuff they are made of (or loaded into)? How much they know about the elementary components of magickal matter and the connection/interaction mechanisms with our baryonic matter?

Reply

Mike Sententia May 3, 2014 at 6:16 AM

Some do, some don’t.

Spirits aren’t all the same, any more than humans are. Do humans have detailed information about how our brains work, or about how atoms behave? Most have some understanding, a few have deep insights, and many know very little. Before modern science and education, almost everyone knew nothing. I don’t know how much spirits understand on average, but there’s a lot of variance from one spirit to another in what they know.

Reply

Simon September 18, 2014 at 4:26 AM

Your link to the great Rovelli article made me think about this post again.

I have to admit, since asking this I’ve become a great deal less tolerant towards materialism and the idea of adhering to materialism because other people in one’s field do. I do appreciate you don’t want to turn this into a philosophy blog and I still love the intent and curiosity of your work.

I feel any serious thinking person owes it to themselves to reflect on these articles by Bernardo Kastrup – and in general his empirical, logical and parsimonious dissection of materialism. I leave it to you to consider whether
any of these ideas matter to your work.

http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2014/08/the-greatest-contradiction-of-common.html?showComment=1411036202336

http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2014/09/the-magical-trick-of-disappearing.html?showComment=1411036202336

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: