Ming the Mechanic:
Elementary magic

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Elementary magic2007-06-22 22:18
8 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

A simple principle that appears in many forms:

- An purposeful element in a changing environment is more likely to succeed, the more fixed its purpose is, and the more random motion there is in the environment. -

OK, that probably doesn't make it clear, so some examples and metaphors...

Let's say some extremely rare butterfly is looking for a mate. If it is in a very static environment, like your kitchen closet, and there's no other butterfly of that kind of around, it is out of luck. But if you drop it somewhere where thousands or millions of species live, and all of them move around a lot, it is more likely that the right kind of lady butterfly will flutter by. Some wind might help, bringing in specimens from elsewhere, or carrying our amorous butterfly somewhere else where other opportunities might exist. So, more movement helps, more random interactions, more flow, more chaos, even. But only if the butterfly remembers what it is looking for. If it gets confused by all the commotion and starts sniffing pretty flowers instead, it might not fulfill its purpose.

It is in part a matter of the number of possible combinations, of course. You have one item you want to match to another, and statistically speaking, the more random possibilities you bring by, the more likely it is that one of them matches.

But it is more than that. A fixed element will also tend to align and order and command fluid elements around it, under some conditions. The examples would have to get a bit more psychological or metaphysical to make sense out of that.

Let's say the US Immigration service rounds up a bunch of illegal immigrants on the street in L.A., drives them to Mexico and dumps them in a random town. There they are, confused and disoriented, not in control. And in front of the bus stop, there's a big friendly sign that says "Get a job here!", or "Cheap hotel rooms" or "Information" or something. Chances are, they'll probably go there.

Human minds like fixed, calm, coherent, comprehensible, consistent stuff. Simple, normal stuff that makes sense, and that orders the world. So, if you're confused, being thrown around by circumstances outside your control, and somebody offers you a simple solution or a simple answer, you're so much more likely to take it. More likely than if you were already in a well-ordered, stable and understandable situation.

Said a different way, humans are much easier to influence when they're out of balance. You're more likely to change if you're perturbed than if you're comfortable. And that's both good and bad. You're more likely to make a breakthrough towards something better when you're under pressure and everything's on fire. But you're also more likely to adopt a crazy new idea or join a new religion under those circumstances. Much easier to sign you up in a new cult if you're in trouble and somebody tells you that Guru Joe has the answer for you.

It is also a method of hypnotizing somebody. Confuse them with ambiguities or unexpected events, and then give them something to grab on to, a suggestion. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It is a good thing if you were stuck in a situation that didn't work for you, and the suggestion you adopt ends up working better for you.

However, seen from the opposite angle, there's a powerful tool there, for getting what you want in life.

Let's say there's something you very much want, like becoming an astronaut or getting a new car or going on vacation in Bora-Bora. There's still the first part of the principle there. The more people you get in contact with, whom you all tell that you want to go to Bora-Bora, the more likely it is that one of them will have a lead for you that somehow makes it happen. If you talk to five people, probably you aren't going anywhere. If you talk to a million or 100 million , chances are that one of them happens to have a ticket to Bora-Bora on hand which they don't need.

At the same time, if you're very firm and unwavering in your desire to go to Bora-Bora, and you'll proclaim this desire loudly, whenever you have a chance, no matter the occasion, something more will happen. You'll influence your environment in a more active way. You'll be known as the Bora-Bora guy for one thing, and others will talk about you. You're likely to become a sort of reference point for others. You might also influence others to organize around you, or align with you. If you meet some other people who don't know what to do, they might decide that it is more fun and meaningful to want to go to Bora-Bora, and they might join you in your quest. The more the world around you is in random motion without purpose, the more likely it is that chunks of it will align itself with what you're suggesting.

The Law of Attraction kind of thing inevitably will happen. If you focus your mind strongly on your want, and you surround yourself with symbols of what you want, and you talk about it, and you ask for it, and you look for it, and you keep at it, persistently, for a long time - you're very likely to get what you want. You're more likely, the more firm you are in your desire, and the more loudly you present it, and the more conviction you have. You're more likely to get it the more different environments you go through and the more people you meet. And it is both for statistical reasons and it is because you influence your surroundings. Nothing super-natural in that, but it can be quite a magical thing, nevertheless. You set yourself up as a strange attractor that chaos can order itself around.

You'll know other variations of it, I'm sure. Like:

"Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity"

You know, if you want good pictures, and you keep a camera in your pocket, and the right opportunity comes along, you take it out and get a great shot. It is luck, but then again, it isn't.

It's an elementary recipe for magic. There are two parts of the world, the internal part (of you), your thoughts, desires, emotions and immediate actions, which you can control, with a little practice. And theres the external part, the big wide world around you, which you don't control and which is in constant motion. If you fix an objective in your mind, if you desire it, feel it, and act accordingly, and you then expose yourself to as many different experiences as possible in life, exposing yourself to lots of people, lots of situations, lots of opportunities for furthering your desire, some of them will inevitably work out. Sometimes in direct ways, sometimes in indirect ways. But one way or another, the simple fact that you keep your desire alive and consistent will both align the rest of the world around it and bring opportunities to you.


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8 comments

28 Jun 2007 @ 06:08 by Seb @66.131.226.199 : Thanks
Thank you Flemming for this piece of writing.

Very much consistent with my experience. What would you say is likely to happen in the opposite situation? (scattered goals, static environment)  



28 Jun 2007 @ 23:37 by ming : Scattered goals, static environment
Well, that's pretty much conditioning into conformity. If people are scattered, confused, disorganized and relatively powerless, and one provides them a static environment, the majority of them will just move right in. The static environment will tend to provide some easy and obvious paths, a right and proper way of doing things, and most people will follow the path of least resistance and do those things.

Alarmingly, the society we live in seems a good deal like that. Not altogether static, but it certainly provides a lot of norms and institutions that are rather solid and unmovable. And a single individual who in the first place is a bit confused and overwhelmed and doesn't know what he wants, how can he take up battle with that. Not very easily. So, most people will go to school and get a job, and watch TV and shop in the supermarket and think about getting a better car.

Not everybody does that, but it is the default option. Takes quite a lot of will power and persistency if one wanted to change some of the basics, like, say, live off of the land, educate oneself, and avoid money.

Psychologically, there's of course how children are conditioned. Most kids end up more or less adopting their parents religious, moral and political views. Not all, but it is the default choice, if one doesn't have a better one ready, which a child rarely does.

Or the Patty Hearst kind of syndrome. You abduct somebody, away from everything they know, keep them scared in a dark closet for a while, and when you let them out, they'll tend to grab on to whatever is stable and coherent, even if it is crazy, and totally opposite to what they believed before, and provided by people who were mean to them. Scary.

Or how about the army? It isn't all bad. Some kind of military camp kind of thing can work wonders with out-of-control, rebellious teenagers who don't know what to do. Usually starts by breaking them down a bit, showing them that they aren't really in control there. And then providing them with a stable, well-ordered environment. Might turn jailbait into decent people. Or it might turn decent people into effective and obedient killers.  



12 Jul 2007 @ 18:12 by Hanae @69.33.46.10 : Stunted Growth


"If people are scattered, confused, disorganized and relatively powerless, and one provides them a static environment, the majority of them will just move right in."

Religious indoctrination, under certain circumstances, can be another good example, such as Christianism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. or even Alcoholic Anonymous, for that matter, or Scientology, for instance, which claims to offer "an exact methodology" to help humans achieve awareness of their spiritual existence across many lifetimes and, simultaneously, to become more effective in the physical world. And, well, just as the army "might turn jailbait into decent people," religion sometimes can help people find just the kind of "stable, well-ordered environment" they were lacking. It might even, under some circumstances, help some individual overcome some temporary hurdle in their life or expend their awareness. More-often, though, "it might turn decent people into effective and obedient killers," or lead to stunted growth and a "better-than-thou" attitude.

Related Entries:
- The Dunning-Kruger effect
- The Undiscovered Country  



12 Jul 2007 @ 23:04 by ming : Religion
Yeah, religion is a great example. Religious beliefs per definition don't have to be proven or verified. A religion has to have some kind of internal consistency, but it doesn't have to be very consistent with the real world. So, it can be a very seductive thing to hand to somebody who's confused by the world they're living in. A whole parallel world where everything is much more simple, where everything is explained for them. And you get a whole vocabulary and set of stories to go with it, and ways of recognizing who's in there with you, or who's out.  


13 Jul 2007 @ 19:57 by tlingel : Magic and Religion



The following is from a 2001 interview with Alan Moore:

- Alan Moore: "When I was 40, I decided to become a magician, for various reasons. Most people get to 40 and have a midlife crisis, and that’s just boring. They bore their friends by going around saying, “What’s it all about? What’s the point?” I thought it might be at least more entertaining to go spectacularly mad and start worshipping a snake and declaring myself to be a magician. It’s been immense fun. And, more than fun, it’s been illuminating. It’s probably at the stage now where I see almost everything in my life, and in the world around me, in magical terms. It certainly seems to have given me a lot of energy in my work. I’m probably doing more books now than I’ve ever done, even when I was young and sprightly. This is quite a fantastic amount of pages to be turning out every month. A lot of that is the new insights into my own creative processes, which I thank magic for. Because in some sense, when I’m talking about magic, I’m only talking about the creative process.
(...)
Not in terms of magic being a doorway to some strange mad dimension full of angels and demons and gods, although, yes, there is a lot of that. But I think primarily, magic is simply a new way of seeing the ordinary universe that surrounds us, and ourselves as creatures in that universe. I’ve certainly been impressed by some of the insights that I seem to have received from my imaginary friends, and sort of, if I can… If they are of interest to anybody beyond me, then I’m very happy to pass them on."
(...)
- Q: “When you talk about the way it’s helped you and the way it could help other people in your situation, you make it sound essentially like a religion that you’re preaching to other people in order to aid them spiritually.”

- Alan Moore: “No. No, I draw a sharp distinction between magic and religion. I see them almost as the spiritual parallels of say, fascism and anarchy in the political arena. To me, politics does not divide into right-wing and left-wing, in that capitalism and communism are both just two different ways of ordering industrial societies, which have not been around for a vast amount of time and probably won’t be around for a lot longer. To me, the two poles of politics are fascism, which… from the original Roman concept, the symbol for it was a bundle of bound twigs. The idea being, “In unity there is strength.” Religion is almost the political equivalent of that. I mean, religion, strictly speaking, doesn’t even have to be about anything spiritual. The Conservative Party is a religion in that they are bound together by belief. Almost any organization has its religious aspects.
(...)
I’m sure that, in our natural state, we all believe something entirely different.
(...)
All I would be urging people to do ... is to explore, in their own way, by whatever means they personally feel comfortable with, using whatever system they happen to feel comfortable with, whether that be Christianity, or paganism, or Hinduism, or anything else, to explore the kind of rich world that I think all of us have inside us. I just want to tell them that that world is there, that there are a variety of ways of exploring it. It doesn’t really matter which way you use, or which system you adopt. It’s a territory I find very rewarding, very fulfilling, very human. To point out that territory to other people is something I feel happy about doing. To erect a huge church there and officiate over rituals, is not.“  



13 Jul 2007 @ 22:01 by Hanae @71.189.35.217 : Man the Myth Maker

Alan Moore is a fascinating character - and boring he certainly isn't, lol.

We are also very much threading on one of Joseph Campbell favorite grounds, here.

There is a saying attributed to Christ in the Gnostic gospel according to Thomas:
"The Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do not see it."

Religion might be defined in this light as a poetic expression of just such transcendental seeing. In that respect, it is of religion - as it is of most things in life (as Ming would no doubt agree - ref. his post on Naive Realism) - the difference between enlightenment and bigotry, between open inquiry and dogmatism, is one of a breadth of perception. I think that, to that regard, religion is at its best when explored in its mythical/poetic and/or allegorical/parabolic dimension, and it is definitely at its worst when its texts are interpreted literally.

Following up on Tlingel's comment, here, Alan Moore has this interesting way of putting it, in which he compares religion to a language and magic to linguistic:

I quote:

"I tend to see magic, in a way, as a kind of language. I think, unsurprisingly, the gods of magic ARE the gods of language. And magic is, in a sense, a kind of language with which to read the universe. It’s a language of symbols with which you can extract meaning from the most mundane things. And in fact it’s that aspect of magic that I find myself attracted to. The idea of magic as some weird alien Dr. Strange dimension that one can escape to from this one doesn’t really appeal to me. I think that if magic his anything, it’s about realizing the [stage whispering] unbelievable supernatural magic is that in just the fact that we are thinking and having this conversation. Realizing just how magical every instance is, every drawn breath, every thought. Just how astronomical the odds are against it. How wonderful. And following through these kinds of beautiful chains of symbols that can lead to some interesting revelations.
(...)
Well the thing about magic that appeals to me is its difference to religion. The two words are very different. “Religion” is from the Greek or Latin root religari, which is the same root as “ligament” and “ligature,” and so it means “bound together in one space.” Now that always feels a bit unnatural to me. It seems very unlikely that any two human beings on the face of the planet would believe, be bound together, in exactly the same thing. So…alright, magic is a language but perhaps a better analogy is to say: Each religion is a language, and magic is linguistics. In the sense that, if you are a linguist, there’s no such thing as a “false language.” It’s not like, “Oh yeah French is real, but Russian is not a real language.” So if you’re a magician, you have to accept ALL of those religions as being…they’re all true languages! So, you get a different array of concepts, a different worldview in each of the religions. To some degree I take the quantum position that ALL of them are right, in a sense. In order to see truth, you have to consider a lot of different possible positions and hold them all to be true in some mysterious way. Magic, in this sense, is moving between those different positions, studying them, seeing what information there is to be gleaned from each of them, seeing how they connect up. How, for example, a story in the New Testament of the Bible seems to connect up with an ancient Egyptian legend from the Parari Anu. And how this in turn relates to one of the Tarot cards. Which gives it a certain position on the Tree of Life in the Kabbalah. And you follow through these chains of ideas. You do that long enough, you start to get a different set of synaptic connections in your brain, different pathways. And you start to see things in a different way. You start to put things together differently."

End quote.

Holding that all religions are true "in some mysterious way" might be pushing things a little bit far to my taste, but it does make for an interesting premise, in terms of challenging one's creative perception and as a way of exploring some of the mysterious properties of the "non-rational" brain (symbols, language imprinting, etc.)

What is most certainly "true" of most religions, besides their literal interpretation, or the purpose/background (geographical, political, revolutionary, spiritual, metaphysical, etc.) which contributed to their development, is that, for one thing they didn't come out of nothing, and whatever that is, wherever it comes from, there are big chunks in there (some of which some religions have in common) which find their source in Mankind's slow emergence and maturation in the crucible of evolution into the species that it is now and which are a very potent part of humanity’s collective psyche and genetic memory, a force – religion, myths, art and fiction are only one of its manifestation - which is very active in shaping humanity’s course. Human consciousness is very much like an iceberg floating on that oceanic force. The greatest part of the iceberg is under the water. Sometimes the iceberg turns over, revealing a huge unknown mass.  



13 Jul 2007 @ 23:55 by ming : Magic as linguistics
Very interesting, guys. I think I've better read some Alan Moore, I like what he says very much.

A lot of the models with which we divide up the world are rather bogus and wrong. Political left/right, communism/capitalism, yes. And different religious beliefs. Or, yes, we can say that they're all right, and then step up to another level and pay attention to what each world view brings about, what picture is painted with that kind of paint. And we can learn to operate the basic components, rather than getting stuck in one result or another. Learn how to recognize the patterns of the world, and arrange them so as to create different kinds of effects. Learn how to make pattern languages. Magick.  



11 May 2010 @ 11:36 by yunus @213.74.239.218 : nod32
thanks.  


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