Posts Tagged ‘Information’

3 Ways the Information Model Goes Wrong, and Why it’s Still Important

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

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

For the past week, I’ve been reading about the Information Model of magick. I tried addressing it last post, but as I learned more about it, I realized the real model is deeper than I’d initially thought.

But it still didn’t feel right. 17 years modelling magick trains you to feel models, and the Information Model feels…off. And knowing something’s wrong, but not being able to explain what, drives me crazy.


Models are useful for different tasks. Quantum physics isn’t very good for modeling your liver, and cellular osmosis is terrible for understanding billiard balls. You can make a systematic model that covers everything, but it will be incredibly complex.

That’s my focus: A systematic model of all of magick. It is, in fact, quite complex, and the full model is definitely not beginner-friendly.

The Information Model is a poor basis for a systematic model of how all magick works. I’ll explain why in this post.

But it’s a great way to focus people on a part of magick they’re maybe ignoring. And it’s much easier to learn than a systematic explanation of everything. Which makes it an important tool. I’ll explain that in this post, too.

Review of the Information Model

This section is for anyone not familiar with the Information Model of magick. Feel free to skip.

Simple version: Everything is information. There is no energy. What you describe as energy is better described as sending information to the thing you want to affect.

I first encountered this on Patrick Dunn’s site, the Information Model was a main topic of discussion between Jason, Patrick, AIT, the Scribbler, Ananael and others. They were nice enough to explain it to me in their comments. Here are the quotes that most helped me understand it:

From Patrick:

Let me describe how magic behaves: I wish something to occur. I take a symbol of that thing, in one of several complex or simple symbol systems, and I express that symbol in an aesthetically satisfying manner, often in a state of consciousness in which my attention is focused on that thing. For what part of that is “energy” more appropriate than “information?”

If you propose, as I do, that material reality is a kind of consciousness, there’s no black box: information affects consciousness naturally.

In my experience magic does not work as if it is something even remotely similar to “energy.” It works by manipulating symbols, which are ways of organizing information, in our consciousness, which is a means of manipulating information. Why, then, one doesn’t want to use “information” to describe this thing that is very clearly and obviously an act of communication foremost… [Energy] does *not* match [my experience], as a metaphor, not at all. The preconceptions are not more or less in line with how magic works — they ignore the entire process of manipulating symbols and changing consciousness.

From Ananael:

As an example, let’s say you want to heat up a rock. In the Information Model what you need to do is transmit the idea of “hotness” from your mind to the field of consciousness pervading the rock. If your transmission is successful, the rock heats up because its field of consciousness now contains the information corresponding to “hotness” and the field then influences the behavior of the matter it permeates.

For more, read this, this and this.

Bloggers: If I’ve misstated anything, my apologies. Please let me know.

3 Ways the Information Model Goes Wrong

Here, I’m focused on using the Information Model myself, as a mage who systematically models every part of magick, including steps that most mages leave to the unconscious, to spirits, and to channeled forces.

It’s not the right tool for me for 3 reasons:

1. Saying “Everything is Conscious” Doesn’t Explain Anything

Patrick says everything is conscious. Rocks, trees, my table, everything. That’s why they interact with information.

The standard-English definition of conscious is something like “Has a mental model of the world that includes itself and its awareness.” That doesn’t make sense for rocks, and I don’t think Patrick intends that meaning.

Instead, I think he means “Has the property of interacting with information,” and he’s using “Conscious” as a metaphor for that. Which is totally fine. I do that so much, my blog has a glossary. (Patrick, sorry for putting words in your mouth here, tell me if I’m wrong about this).

Let’s replace “Conscious” with it’s definition:
Material reality is conscious has the property of interacting with information, so information affects reality naturally.

Nothing wrong with saying that, but it doesn’t really explain anything. We still don’t understand the process by which symbols affect the physical world. The word “Conscious” made it sound like we had explained something, but it was really just a curiosity-stopper.

Which brings us to the real problem with “Everything is conscious”: It sounds too good. I want to viscerally know when I don’t understand a step. I want it to bother me. I want to pick at it, model it, and test it. And when the words sound good, I might not.

For more on this, see these posts on Less Wrong, my favorite philosophy of science blog.

2. “All Magick is Information” Ignores a Natural Joint

A good model splits reality at its natural joints. If you have one kind of thing, that behaves in one way, a good model will give it one name. If you have two kinds of things, that behave in two different ways, your model should give each of them different names.

If you’re describing a car, you’d want one term for the wheels and another for the engine. You wouldn’t want a term for half a wheel (why make the split?) or for “wheels + spark plugs but nothing else” (why connect those?).

There are 2 main types of magick I know:

  • Send instructions to an external force, which handles the magick. Think psychics channeling information; some force translating ritual actions into summoning a spirit (or whatever); or turning on the energy when you do Reiki. I call those forces “systems.” They will read ideas, concepts or symbols from your mind and do magick for you. Instructing a system is kind of like using a computer program.
  • Directly altering individual energy signatures, pathways, and other magickal structures. I connect to a structure, activate it, change its signature, and move on. It feels like wiring a circuit board together, not issuing commands to a program. I call this “direct magick.”

The instructions you give to systems are sentences, and it feels natural to call them “Information.”

Also, systems are universal and conceptually big. Individual objects (rocks, trees, etc) don’t have systems. If you know object-oriented computer programming, systems are god-objects, not encapsulated objects.

The signatures and other properties I use in direct magick feel fundamentally different, and behave fundamentally differently than systems (“system” in the technical sense of “force that helps you do magick,” not the general sense of “way of seeing the world.”) (More on this below).

A model of how to instruct systems won’t help you understand how energy paths work, any more than knowing how to use Powerpoint will help you construct a computer. And vice versa.

It doesn’t feel natural to use the same term — “Information” — for the thing you send to systems and also the thing you use to interact with energy pathways. It suggests a connection that doesn’t exist, and might lead me to apply my model of systems to energy pathways, which would cloud my understanding.

A Favor

Most mages don’t do direct magick. Traditional styles of energy work — Reiki, Qigong, etc — are what I call “direct magick lite.” They work with energy and existing pathways, but they don’t create new pathways, re-route pathways in your mind or explore small connections between energy and physical cells.

I know how easy it is to assume that, because you haven’t seen something like “constructing the circuit board,” it’s just me misunderstanding something you have seen. I promise you, it’s not. If you’d like to read more about direct magick and learn to alter circuit boards yourself, this series is a great place to start.

And I’ll try to keep in mind that, just because I don’t have a concept of “Sending a command to a rock” doesn’t mean that Patrick hasn’t found something I haven’t seen.

3. Signatures Aren’t Information

Every time I read something an information mage (if I can invent that term) said, I would think “Signature = Information, it’s just a terms difference.” I call this the “Lesser Information Model.”

But then I would do magick, thinking “Signature = Information,” and it would just feel off. A dozen tries later, I know why:

When I connect to something — say a person’s tendon that I’m working with for energy healing — I sense the signatures of their energy and the pathways it follows. After looking around a while, I figure out what’s going on, and then those sensations (pathways and signatures) become information in my mind.

It’s like seeing a painting. The colors are wavelengths of light until your retina and visual cortext turn them into information.

I know, this sounds like hair-splitting, like inventing a distinction to make an argument. I assure you, it’s not. This distinction has subtle but important effects on how I think:

Imagine you say the paint’s color is information, and the light’s color is information, and then that information goes into your mind. That sounds more natural and simpler than “Paint absorbs white light, emits light with particular wavelengths, which excite nerves in my retina, and so on.”

But notice what just happened: We obfuscated the process of turning that light into mental information. The retena, the visual cortex, a lot of complex steps, don’t seem necessary anymore, because the explanation sounds so natural. Which makes it harder to explore how the brain works.

“Information” also obfuscates how light implements color. (Wavelength). If we only care about color, that doesn’t matter. But you need wavelengths to develop lasers, microwaves, the 2-slit experiment in quantum physics, and a bunch of other useful inventions.

By obfuscating the real mechanics, we robbed ourselves of the discomfort of knowing we don’t understand, which robs us of discoveries.

Same with magick. Saying “energy has information” obfuscates how we interpret that information and how that that information is implemented. Which makes it less likely we’ll discover:

Sensory Connections

When you sense energy signatures and pathways, there are more-detailed and less-detailed ways to do it. Like the naked eye vs magnifying glass vs microscope.

I do a lot of work with improving sensory connections so I can see more details of how magick works. But the first step is realizing that sensing these structures is a process, so you can explore how each step works, so you can improve them.

Saying “light has blue information that goes into your mind” obfuscates the visual process. If I described energy signatures as information, I don’t think I would have modeled how my mind interprets them. Even just writing that sentence, my words kept tangling up on themselves, saying things like “my mind turns that information into information.”

Signature Mixing

When a spirit drains your energy, the main source of the headache isn’t a lack of energy. Instead, it’s because your signature doesn’t match the spirits, so you wind up with:

Final energy signature = (your natural energy signature) – (fraction) x (spirit’s energy signature)

The fraction is because it won’t drain 100% of the energy in its signature.

Could you model this with information? I’m sure you could. But subtracting ideas (rather than colors or wavelengths) feels awkward. I don’t think I would have seen it.

Signature Scale

A full signature is made of smaller signatures, like how a rock is made of molecules which are made of atoms, and so on. Working at a smaller signature scale lets you:

  • See signatures and small-scale paths more accurately. (Part of sensory connections).
  • Bypass shielding. If you work at a smaller scale than the shielder, you will find holes they can’t even see.
  • Make your signature match a system’s signature, which lets you command that system, even if you’re not initiated into its style of magick. (I call this hacking a system).

Could you model this as “information scale,” where a top-level information is made of smaller information-units, and talk about matching information-units? Sure. But again, it doesn’t feel natural. We’re not breaking a sentence into its words, we’re breaking a concept into its…I don’t know what concepts break down into.

Signatures, to me, are a feeling, not a meaning you can express as a sentence. I like using a relatively empty concept (“signature”) rather than something already I already feel like I know (information, concepts, etc). I don’t think I would have come up with “information scale” as easily as “signature scale.”

This is also why I prefer “signature” to “vibration”: Signature is an empty concept, whereas vibration suggests a certain physical implementation.

“But I Can Explain All That With Information”

I’m sure you can. You can stretch a model to explain a lot of things. That’s not the real metric, though.

The real question is: If I didn’t know the answer, would this model help me find it?

For me, the information model obfuscates more than it helps. It takes away the pain of not understanding, which makes exploring magick harder.

What the Information Model Gets Right

Patrick explains:

From the information model perspective, [if your magick didn’t work], you’d be more inclined to look at how you conveyed the desire.  Were you clear?  Was the channel clear?

And I love Ananael’s metaphor:

Energy practitioners who work exclusively on signal intensity [rather than information content] could be seen as akin to the ignorant tourist who believes he or she can make a foreigner who speaks a different language understand English by shouting.

I think that was Patrick’s original intent. (Again, just a guess). He saw people focusing on “more energy,” and realized that’s the wrong way to fix the problem. And he’s absolutely right.

Models are useful for different tasks. I don’t think the Information Model is the right tool for a systematic explanation of all magick. But as a way to get people to stop thinking “more energy” and start thinking “clearer messages,” it’s fabulous.


My previous post may be more useful now. It’s a technical explanation of how the energy model relates to the information model. Summary: Information that you send to systems is implemented as energy signatures of your mind.

If you’d like more on the moving parts that make direct magick work — what to do when you’re not using systems, and how systems fit into all of it — see this series.

And this coming Monday, I’ll post a guide to using those parts to get better results from ritual and system-based magick.

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