I have two special passions: trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and magic1. Not in that order. I've tried to let people think for me, but apparently they didn't know how.
1. In the general sense. Not magick specifically.
People sometimes talk about contacting "Higher Intelligences". I prefer the term Strange Intelligences, for two reasons. One: I have no clue what they intend "Higher" to mean. (See following rant.) And two: "Higher" suggests to me that we have a fixed explanation for the phenomena. Worse, it suggests the fixed theory of separate intelligences. Supposedly one can recognize these phenomena by a feeling of strangeness or otherness, but Newton's Rules for Science call for a lot more evidence if we want to treat them as separate people in science. This has no bearing on the question of how to treat them in conversation, or whether to talk to them at all. (See external link: http://www.unicornjelly.com/1interview.html and the Unicorn Jelly comics.) It may turn out that talking to odd parts of ourselves, and even suspending disbelief in their separateness, helps us in some way.
Aristotle thought the heavens had a closer connection with the Gods, supposedly because of their orderly motion (although the opinion predates Aristotle and his orderly view of the Gods). This fit with the Roman Church's picture of Heaven above us, so they placed God's home just outside the black globe with the "fixed stars" on it (the non-planets.)
Today we've theoretically abandoned this picture of the world. Yet we still use words like "higher" to describe God, or IQ if we think of ourselves as atheists. Now, what would this mean to someone who had spent life in free fall? We already have the technology to produce such a person, in theory. Sooner or later, unless humanity dies first, someone will have to explain Christianity to a human who can't kneel or fall; a person who doesn't know what the sounds "high" and "low" mean, except in an abstract sense relating to distance from the center of some large mass. Do you want to do it, or shall I? Because a person who lives in heaven might well favor this theory: that we gravity-bound talking primates used to associate power with size, and as values changed people made the positive, power-and-height-related words refer to whatever they happened to value. That perhaps we can explain this talk of hierarchy as the work of primates stuck to the surface of a ball, not necessarily relevant to the lives of primates who can fly.
I have similar problems with the word "normal". Some quotes from pballew.net (I will of course remove them if the author objects):
- Norma was the latin word for what we now call a carpenter's square. It was used to construct lines which were at right angles to another line, so the created line was said to be "normal". The norma was also used as a standard to compare if objects, like a wall, might be erect (perpendicular to the ground) and so those that met the standard were called "normal" and this use extended to the "typical" element of any type of set. Eventually normal came to mean anything that "met the standard".
- Ortho was the greek root for erect, or vertical, hence something is orthogonal when it is vertical (in terms of some other base which is the ground). We see this root preserved in "orthocenter" for the point where the altitudes of a triangle intersect, "orthodox" for an accepted practice...
- The latin word for the greek term ortho, was rectus which was also used to mean both straight and erect. We see the imprint of rectus in many math words and common language with both the straight and erect meanings. The rectum is so called because it is the "straight intestine", while a rectangle is a parallelogram with an "erect angle". The latus rectum in a parabola is the side (latus) through the focus that is straight (rectus - parallel to the directrix). Latus rectum is the Latin translation of the Greek orthea pleura for erect side which was the term Apollonius used in his books on the conic sections. As languages blended in the middle ages, rectos became "recht" and eventually became our word for "right" and for the right angle. The idea of vertical as the "right" position led to the use of right as proper or good. We see this in words like correct, which means, literally, to make straight (or right).
Notice a pattern? They all refer to the angle that a primate makes with the ground when standing "straight" and "upright". Now, this angle has no particular significance in free fall. People in free fall do not stand. They fly. This allows them to move through 360 degrees in every plane. (I mean geometric planes, not the "astral" kind.) Complete freedom of movement destroys the importance we attach to the "norm". I feel tempted to give the gravity-bound language a name, using the Latin word for straight. But then I hear Guybrush saying, "I see you are trained in the art of Monkey Kombat," and I think perhaps I won't.
This seems like as good a place as any for my speech about the necessary bias of speech. In case it seems unclear, I do not conclude that we should all keep our mouths shut or stop trying to avoid bias. To decrease the problem, I suggest using something like neutral point of view in daily life, only with more reference to oneself.
If I start to define words, then start to define the words in the definitions and so on, I will eventually find myself using two words to define each other. For example, I might say that 'color' means a property of shapes and 'shape' means something that has color. This seems like a bad example, but you see the problem. If I keep trying to express myself, I'll feel that I know what I mean, and may even have a picture of what I mean, but can't say it. I conclude from this that speech comes from personal reactions to words, reactions we can't entirely show to others. And yet it seems we can speak objectively; even people who speak different languages can agree on scientific facts.
How can we do this? And how might we use the method in daily life? Well, we could start by trying to figure out what makes us say something. In the process we may find assumptions we can test against experience. Or we may find words that produce a strong reaction without suggesting any empirical tests. By empirical tests I mean here both 'objective' and 'subjective' experience. Then we can make our language resemble experience more closely. Some of Korzybski's students define the scientific method in a similar way, summarizing it with the three questions: What do you mean? How do you know? What then? Even if one rejects this definition, one might still accomplish a great deal by asking these questions. For example, we could try to figure out what would make us say that two events happen simultaneously, and use this knowledge to change our picture of time. I disagree with Korzybski in one important respect: he says our knowledge resembles 'the scientific object' that creates experience rather than experience alone. I try to keep to experience, and unless I decide I can't succeed I will try not to accept science's non-empirical claims (or anyone else's) at face value. Still, much of what K. and his followers say makes sense to me. I reason as follows. When we say something, we do so because we think, feel, sense or in general experience something. We make decisions about identity or existence using our experience. So it seems reasonable to talk about what we experience, rather than what "is". In practice, this could help us resolve arguments, as when two people disagree about the color of a rug or two witnesses to an alleged crime disagree about what they saw. Now, the influence of many factors can help us to explain experience. Hunger, for example, can explain a feeling of anger or righteous indignation. Therefore, we can sometimes find bias or hidden assumptions, and increase the predictive value of an observation, by taking into account the time and location of the experience and any other relevant features of the body-mind-in-its-environment.
You may have noticed a dilemma here. I don't just mean that the number of possibly relevant factors create doubt about finding them all. This does imply that we can never feel complete certainty about any given prediction from experience. (Or rather we can, but not if we think about it.) But we could have figured that out with much less effort, and it doesn't stop us from making almost-certain predictions. The following troubles me much more. In trying to avoid hidden assumptions about the objects of our knowledge, I seem to have made a number of assumptions about the knower. Plenty of people have claimed to experience a total lack of time, space and self. Furthermore, such experiences seem to compel people to value them, and sometimes try to explain everything else in terms of the mystic experience. We could dismiss this by calling the mystics crazy, but a clever mystic might respond: What do you mean? How do you know? What then? Unless we assume they all lied, it looks like humans can experience an alternative to the seeming certainty of "I think, therefore I am", and all the other assumptions about time, space and self I made before. In practical matters we can ignore this, but to make decisions about practical matters we have to use all the assumptions I just questioned, at least the ones about time and something happening in the past. I wouldn't feel right about dismissing the mystic alternative without trying to duplicate the experience.
Fortunately for sanity, in order to seek a mystical experience such as I've described one would seemingly have to deal with the practical matters of how people seem to have done it in the past and how one could adapt these methods to one's own life in the future. It seems to me that the method I started to recommend before the mystic digression would help in this goal. And it could help one deal with the -- I'll call them distractions, rather than hallucinations or visitations -- that reportedly plague those who seek mystic experiences.
- review Leon Kass history and decide what to add/change
- Fix or delete The Great Work
- Figure out what to do about Thelemite
- Fix Lady Frieda Harris
- Decide if I can ethically leave the other John Symonds in well-deserved obscurity