Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thoughts About Magick and the Science of the Impossible


I have recently read Michio Kaku’s wonderful book “Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation and Time Travel.” While this book takes a hard scientific look at the fantasies and entertaining hypothesis of science fiction, it also has some very interesting relevance to the practice of magick and occult spirituality.

The topical areas that Michio discusses, which have to do with occultism and magick, are the subjects of invisibility, teleportation, telepathy, psychokinesis, time travel and precognition. Out of all of these topics, it appears that invisibility is probably the most feasible and precognition is the most improbable. I found this perspective very interesting, since I believe that it’s important for magick and occultism to be able to live in the physical world defined and empirically established by science. If magick is to be considered something other than just a delusion, then it must have some kind of scientific basis, or at the very least, not attempt to contradict scientific laws. 

I am not a scientist, nor do I pretend to understand science as well as others do. A number of occultists and magicians have been examining magick from a scientific basis and I am by no means the first to examine it in that light. However, if a phenomenon occurs and is defined by our culture in a certain way, then science may or may not have an answer as to why, since some things will remain mysteries until such a time as science is able to develop the mathematics and the physics to penetrate them. Of course this concept deals almost exclusively with levels of technological development and does not address ontology, or how we as individuals and as cultural groups perceive reality. There must be a certain amount of congruence between science and human psychology. However, not everything that human beings experience is within the provenance of science.

Classes of Impossibility

Michio divides his book into three basic parts and groups these potentially impossible phenomena into three classes. The first class doesn’t violate the known laws of physics but can’t be completely demonstrated with our current level of technology. The second class is characterized by potentially impossible phenomena that lie on the very edge of our understanding of the laws of physics. The third class is characterized by phenomena that clearly violate the known laws of physics. What this means is that in order for any of the phenomena of the third class to be demonstrated as possible, what we know about the physical universe and its laws would have to profoundly change. What Michio states in his book is that nothing is really completely impossible, but many reputed phenomena are either beyond our technology to replicate or represent a knowledge of the universe vastly superior to what we possess today. In other words, some things are improbable, others are highly improbable, and still others are likely, but not completely, impossible. That being said, we can look at the specific phenomena that Michio highlights in his book that has a direct bearing on occultism and magick.

The four phenomena that are the most likely to be replicated by technology in the not too distant future are invisibility, teleportation, telepathy and psychokinesis. These are so-called psychic phenomena that have long been a part of the miracles that legendary magicians have wielded. However, instead of using magick, Michio talks about scientific based technology, which would be quite magickal or miraculous to those who are ignorant of it. A simple lighter would be quite an amazing magickal gadget to a primitive bushman who had never before seen one, or for that matter, anything else like it. Even something as common as a video screen or a cell phone could be seen as quite miraculous to the unjaded eye of one who constantly makes use of them.

Invisibility is already being developed in the laboratory for possible future applications, perhaps in the next decade or two. One promising area is the use of meta-materials that can bend light, which could render an object invisible to the naked eye. Meta-materials use nano-technology to create microscopic grid patterns that can trap or bend certain wavelengths of light. Another approach is using 3-D hologram projections, which would project a rear image in front of an object or person hiding behind a screen. Of course these technologies are just in their infancy, but they are already showing promise of producing a future application or product. Magicians use a form of invisibility that renders them indistinct and unremarkable, allowing them to blend in with their environments, such as a crowd of people in a market place. They don’t actually disappear, and if pointed out, can still be seen. Technological invisibility would render someone completely invisible.

Teleportation is a phenomenon that is being studied in the laboratories as well, but at the current level of technology we are talking about transmitting photons or small groups of atoms short distances. The process involved is either a form of quantum entaglement and coherence, or the use of BEC beams (Bose-Einstein condensate deployed in a form of atomic beams or lasers, using temperatures at very near absolute zero). What is actually being transmitted faster than light is information between one set of atoms to another, since the original form is destroyed and then replicated at a distance. This means that to teleport living things, such as animals or humans, they would have to be transformed into information and undergo a kind of physical death in order to be transmitted somewhere else. While the technology to perform teleportation is many decades or even centuries away, the fact that the object teleported must be destroyed and recreated would make using it on humans an even greater leap of faith, for certainly we would have to change our perception of life and death. The destruction would presumably be instantaneous, so no pain would be involved, just the nerve to volunteer to be teleported in the first place.

Magickal teleportation is probably much more the stuff of stories and fantasy, since even the technical accomplishment of this phenomenon would require a great deal of energy and a computational level that would be staggering when compared to today’s available technology. So we can probably conclude that a magician performing teleportation is probably the stuff of legends and myths.

Telepathy, or mind reading, is also something that is beginning to be developed in the laboratory. However, it’s presently limited to making very general observations about computer generated images from a device called an MRI, which uses magnetic resonance imaging to determine the occurrence of oxygenated blood and neuron activity inside the physical brain. In order to really read someone’s mind using this technology, it would have to be developed to the point of being able to pinpoint the activity of individual neurons, and that is vastly beyond our technological capabilities at this time. MRI devices are also quite large, and one would assume that a practical device that facilitated telepathy would be small enough to fit in one’s hand. If one has the technology to precisely read thoughts, then one would also have the ability to project thoughts as well, through artificially stimulating individual and small groups of neurons. If identical sets of neurons in one brain are stimulated exactly like the same neurons in another brain, then one could assume that they would be able to share thoughts and feelings, especially if this process went both ways. We are a very long way from being able to develop the technology to perform two way mental communication. However, is there any science to humans having a natural capability for telepathy?

Scientists have been attempting to prove the existence of paranormal or psychic abilities, most notably the ability to perform telepathy and psychokinesis, for many decades. So far there doesn’t appear to be any scientific proof that human beings have the ability to perform either feat in a controlled laboratory environment. Psychokinesis is of course the ability to move objects with the mind. While there seems to be something occurring that could be labeled as being paranormal, it has not been proven under rigorous scientific analysis to be either consistent or even objectively measurable. There does seem to be something going on that could be examined in a psychological context, but not anything that is either measurable, predictable or reproducible.

Psychokinesis has the added difficulty that there are no real physical forces that could explain how it works. Gravity is too weak and only attracts, electromagnetic forces can’t “push” something that is electrically neutral and nuclear forces would only work on the subatomic level. Then there is the problem of generating the energy, since even if one of the physical forces could be harnessed, sufficient amounts of it would have to be projected in order to seemingly “move” objects. What this means is that in order to manipulate matter with the human mind, a very massive amount of energy and computational power would have to harnessed as an aid. It is probably physically impossible for a human being to move a heavy material object with the power of the mind and body alone.

So teleportation, telepathy and psychokinesis are considered, purely from a technological perspective, class one impossibilities. We may eventually develop the technology to do these miraculous things someday in the distant future, but in regards to today’s technology, they are highly improbable, and therefore, nearly impossible.

Michio says that time travel is a class two impossibility, stating that while the laws of physics clearly show that such a feat is possible, from a practical standpoint, it is nearly impossible. Plausible methods of time travel include generating worm holes in the space time fabric (transversable wormholes), traveling across the event horizon of a black hole, circulating rapidly around a “spinning” universe, or transversing two massive super strings that have collided. These are conjectural plausibilities that are pushing the very threshold of what is known of the laws of physics. They are theoretically possible, but implementing them through an advanced technology would be far beyond our capabilities or comprehension.

Time travel today would seem to be much more of a fantastic capability than invisibility, teleportation, telepathy or even psychokinesis. Yet time, according to Einstein, is relative and not absolute. We rely on our perception of celestial phenomena and our assumptions of duration in order to determine the passage of time, and we have invented many devices to consistently measure it. Often when comparing one’s perception of the passage of time with devices such as clocks, noticeable discrepancies are observed. We are not “time loose”, which would give us the ability to go back and forth, or slower or faster in time. The variance that occurs is with our perception of time, but that perception is important in the examination of magickal phenomena. We will come back to this discussion, since it is pivotal to understanding paranormal phenomena as it occurs in magickal and mystical experiences.

The final item on our list of impossible phenomena is, at least to me, quite surprising. Of course, I am referring to the fact that precognition is considered by Michio and most scientists to be a class three impossibility. Precognition is the power to predict a future event, it includes forms of clairvoyance and clairaudience. What that means is that in order for precognition to occur there would have to be a complete collapse of causality. According to Michio, one of the many sets of physical laws determined by Newton that appear to be inviolable is the law of cause and effect. In order for precognition to exist, the law of cause and effect would have to be altered, allowing effects to occur before their causes. One would assume that a person could only sense a future event if it were perceptible, and that perception in itself would violate causality, since it would predetermine effects. If such a phenomenon were possible, then causality itself would be nullified, causing the world to be physically inconsistent to an absurd degree.

Causality has been shown to be powerfully maintained even at the quantum level of physical phenomena. While there appear to be phenomena such as Quantum electrodymanics, which proposes an advanced electron wave that travels back and forth through time (as a form of antimater), or Tachyons, particles that move faster than the speed of light and move backwards in time, both of these phenomena in fact do not violate causality, they actually reinforce it. Scientists believe that Tachyons are the theoretical particles that caused inflation and triggered the cosmic “Big Bang”, since there have been no such particles detected after that event. So Tachyons can’t even exist in the domain of our physical universe anyway.

Is Prognostication Really Impossible?

So what does this do to the massive collection of anecdotal claims, legends, myths, the sizable amount of written material and the numerous divination practices that humans have been engaged in since before historical times? Are all of these beliefs and practices delusional, mythical and based on what science considers completely impossible? This is quite a profound revelation, but not a new one. As occultists we have just ignored it, but then so has most of the population of the planet. Occultists and practitioners of magick rely on a number of different systems of divination, from the Tarot, to Astrology, I-Ching, Runes, Geomancy, crystal scrying, and a host of other methods of augury and prognostication. Are these just superstitions or is there something to them that science is missing? They all have one thing in common, they all rely on producing a “reading” based on a form of random selection. In the case of astrology, the birth date, transit date or hoary target date are the random factors.

Perhaps if we examine the ‘best practices” approach of one of them, then we might find the answer. Let’s try the Tarot and see what we can determine. One could assume that what is true with one of them should probably be true for the rest as well.

When I use the Tarot cards to perform divination, I never approach the reading with any kind of absolute determinism. In other words, I examine the cards, determine what they are communicating to me, but I don’t believe that what they’re saying is fixed, absolute and unalterable. I don’t believe in predestination or that the future is somehow already determined. This means that I use the Tarot in a very flexible manner, seeking to stimulate my intuition and open me to seeing possible paths in the future. I also tend to cherry pick the results, discarding readings that don’t seem to answer the question that I am asking. Erroneous or incorrect readings are also discarded, since I never believe the results to be infallible, so only correct readings have any real value. Statistically speaking, because I ignore and discard readings that don’t make sense or are shown to be false, I can’t really make any claims of being more accurate than chance.

There is also the issue of the reader perceiving cues, whether consciously or unconsciously, from the person that they are performing a reading on. Card players call these cues “tells”, since they can tell a perceptive card player whether their opponent has a good hand or a bad one. A client based reading also can be limited by the obvious range of mundane concerns, which is typically involving money, career, love life, health concerns and the opinions that others have of them.  While some may deny that cues do shape a reading, as an experienced Tarot reader, I have to admit that I am powerfully influenced by the personality, looks and the questions that a client presents. I have never met anyone who managed to portray themselves as a complete cipher.

Tarot readings are subject to interpretation, which can varying the meaning from reading to reading, so the derived meanings of the cards are “bent” to build a coherent reading. It certainly isn’t a science, in fact it would seem to be more an art form. Often the Tarot is used to derive meaning from the present that can aid the reader in projecting those possibilities into the future. When I perform a reading, I am not looking for an absolute and concrete definitive answer, I am looking for possible paths of action to take instead. Also, the further that I look into the future, the more I find the results to be nebulous and variable. Perhaps this represents that the future is determined by many chains of choices, and the further that one goes, the more potential pathways are revealed.

For instance, if we are looking at the possible outcome of a strategic decision to be made by a client in the very near future, there might be several possible outcomes. Yet how many more branches would there be in that same probable time line if one were to project it a few years or even a decade later? It’s my opinion that we could predict the behavior and future of someone consistently only if they were in a static and completely isolated environment, yet even then it would be nearly impossible to predict the exact date and time of their death. Such a person or situation doesn’t exist in the real world anyway, so divination is quite limited when attempting to predict the labyrinthine pathways of an entire lifetime. There are just too many decisions that would have to be guessed or known in order to predict the future with any degree of accuracy.

Long distant predictions and prophecies tend to be nebulous, imprecise, overly generalized or couched in symbolic language that can generate many interpretations. These same “long-shot” predictions are often shown to be accurate only after the fact. The nature of divination and its limitations would also seem to agree with and reinforce Newton’s law of causality. It would seem to be impossible to accurately and consistently predict an effect before the cause, but that doesn’t mean that divination is useless or that it can’t produce powerful and meaningful results. It just means that the future is not something that we can know completely, only something that we can conjecture, intuit, project and at times seem to know, but only in a fragmentary manner. What really happens in the future must remain a mystery, since all of the causes that would determine it have not yet been realized. When they are realized, then we are talking about the present or the past.

The experience of time centered phenomena in magick, where the effect appears to precede the cause and where one experiences time in a slower or accelerated manner are all things that are perceived by humans engaged in a subjective perception of reality. It doesn’t mean that the physical laws of the universe have been altered, it’s just a matter of how we are perceiving the world. For the practicing ritual magician, that perception is highly important, since it represents the impact and effects of higher states of consciousness, paranormal activity and even the occurrence of seemingly miraculous phenomena. However, from a scientific point of view, nothing that a magician experiences is beyond the probability of the physical laws of the universe.

Mental perceptions of the world and its evaluation represent a kind of powerful reality as well, one that shapes cultures and generates values and meaning. These kinds of phenomena can’t be measured in a scientific lab or consistently reproduced, but they are quite real, significant and meaningful to those who experience them. While science can determine the boundaries of the possible, it can’t measure human sentiment or place boundaries on the imagination. It can measure and quantify the physical world both on the macro and microscopic levels, but it can’t measure the qualitative world of individual or collective human experience.

So magick and science exist in two separate domains where neither one can contradict the other, but where they meet is where human perception and sentiment lives and thrives. 

Frater Barrabbas

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