Saturday, June 21, 2014

Explaining the World

When Merlin wasn’t busy trying to teach common sense to the young King Arthur or bailing knights of the Round Table out of their various difficulties, according to the old stories, he could be found at  the Well of Galabes, far from Camelot, where he could concentrate on his magical work undisturbed by the wars and quests that occupied so much of his public life. It’s a common habit among mages to take a hand in the collective events of their time; still, the business of a mage is magic—the traditional craft of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will, to lightly revise an old definition—and that’s a discipline in its own right, not simply a convenient toolkit for helping an assortment of knights and damosels in distress.

Over the last eight years, by way of my blog The Archdruid Report and a variety of other venues, I’ve followed the usual custom and tried to do something useful about the crisis of the industrial age, with more success so far than I expected. For a while now, though, I’ve wanted to set aside a refuge of sorts for writing about magic on its own terms, without having to limit the discussion to those aspects of magic that bear directly on the crisis of our time—or, for that matter, to those aspects that won’t cause too much consternation to readers who know nothing about magic and believe what they were taught in school.

That’s the point of this blog. For the time being, I plan on posting here once a month, on or around the time that the Sun passes into a new astrological sign—for those that aren’t magically literate, that’s around the 21st of each month. As that timing might suggest, I’m not going to limit the topics of discussion here to those that fit comfortably within the lowest-common-denominator worldview of early 21st century industrial society; more generally, those who like their realities prechewed and predigested may not find this blog to their taste.

Mind you, it’s only fair to say that much of what I’d like to discuss here will be unfamiliar, and quite possibly unsettling, to those who’ve studied magic in its standard modern forms. That can’t be helped. Too much of what passes for occult philosophy these days consists either of rehashing metaphors from the Renaissance that have been stripped of the context that once gave them meaning, on the one hand, or adopting pop-culture notions of magic and trying to make them work in the real world, on the other. For reasons I’ll discuss down the road a bit, neither of those approaches seems particularly useful to me, and I propose to take a different approach instead.

I want to begin by explaining the world.

It’s a far from irrelevant point here that the word "world" originally meant something rather different, and much more specific, than it means to most people nowadays. In Old English it’s weorold or werold, wer meaning "man" or "human being" (as in werewolf, literally "manwolf") and old meaning more or less what it means in modern English. The world is the man-old, the time of men or of human beings, or more precisely a particular time defined by a particular humankind, a particular culture or kind of people; we’ll get to that in a future post.

That same habit of using one word to mean "world" and "age" isn’t restricted to Old English. The Hebrew word olam, the Greek word aion, and the Latin word saeculum, just for starters, also have the same double meaning—or, to be a bit more precise, the same single meaning that we, in the modern industrial world, split into two fragments. Most people nowadays think of the world as a static reality, over which time flows like water over the rocks on the bed of a mountain stream, and to this way of thinking the rocks and the water are both "out there," existing by themselves without reference to any human beings who may or may not be observing them.

The interesting thing about this sort of thinking is that scientists pointed out a long time ago that it’s wholly incorrect. The world you experience is not "out there;" what’s "out there," as any physicist will tell you, is an assortment of subatomic particles and energy fields. Your senses interact with those particles and fields in idiosyncratic ways, triggering electrochemical flows in your nervous systems, and those flows produce in your mind—we’ll discuss what that last word means later on—a flurry of disconnected sensory stimuli, which you then assemble into an image or representation.

That image or representation is your world. It’s not the unimaginable reality of particles and fields "out there," it’s a representation of that reality, constructed by your mind out of the raw material of sensation according to patterns that come partly from biology, partly from culture, and partly from experiences you’ve had over the course of your life. When you pick up a coffee cup, you don’t see the coffee cup as it is:  the coffee cup as it is, again, is a whirling chaos of particles and energy fields. What you see and feel is a representation of that whirling chaos, pieced together in your mind out of fragmentary sensations—this flash of color, that sense of pressure against a bit of your skin, and so on. The sensations are given to you; the representation is yours to make.

The map is not the territory. If it’s going to be of any use, the things on the map have to match up to the equivalent things in the territory; the little symbol that means "bridge" may not look at all like the actual bridge you want to cross, but everywhere the bridge-symbol appears on the map, there needs to be an actual bridge in the territory. In the same way, whenever your world contains the representation of a coffee cup full of coffee, the whirling chaos of particles and fields you encounter needs to be the kind of whirling chaos that will produce the sensation of hot coffee in your mouth if you lift it to your lips and sip from it. If the representation’s a good match for reality in this sense, you can treat it as reality—and of course most people do exactly that; they treat the representation they experience as though it was "out there," a reality in its own right, and most of the time they get along just fine.

They get along just fine because your sense organs and nervous system embody two billion years of evolutionary time, in which your ancestors’ representations of reality were just that little bit more useful in the struggle for survival than their competitors’ representations. As long as you’re doing the same sort of things that other mammals do, you’re unlikely to get into too much trouble.  It’s when you start doing things that human beings do and other mammals don’t that things start getting tricky.

To help us fumble our way through the universe of new possibilities opened up by the last million years or so of hominid evolution, we’ve got two additional sets of representation to draw on, and both of them tend to be a lot less thoroughly debugged than the biological set we all get handed to us by our ancestors. One set comes to us from the culture in which we grew up; the other is the product of our own personal experiences in this life. At the risk of oversimplifying, our cultural representations can be seen as a set of modifications of the underlying biological set, adapting it for the particular conditions and experiences our society throws at us; our personal representations, in turn, modify the cultural set, and thus affect the way the latter reworks the biological set.

What makes these processes problematic is that most of the time—in fact, nearly all the time—they’re not conscious. There are occasional exceptions to that rule; when you wake up in an unfamiliar room, you may stare at the half-seen shapes around you for some moments before your muddled mind finally manages to transform the sensations into representations you recognize as furniture, or what have you. Under normal circumstances, though, your mind assembles sensations into representations so fast that you don’t notice it. That’s necessary; you couldn’t respond to the ordinary pace of life if you had to build up a representation consciously out of each flurry of sensations you encounter. The problem creeps in when your representations stop doing a good job of representing the underlying reality.

That rarely happens with the biological level—again, you’ve got two billion years of accumulated experience helping you out there. It’s on the cultural and personal levels that we tend to get into trouble, because our experience of the world is defined by these factors to a much greater degree than most of us ever quite manage to realize.

You can see how this works by looking at a visual art such as painting. Most human cultures paint pictures of things, and in most cases, to members of the culture in question, the painting looks like the thing it’s supposed to portray.  Pay close attention to the way paintings in different cultures portray the same sort of thing, and you can catch a glimpse of the extent to which cultural factors shape the representations we call the world.

The example I have in mind is borrowed from Oswald Spengler, and it has the immense advantage of absolute simplicity: the representation of distance. In Western painting from the Renaissance straight through to the present, art that attempts to look like what it portrays—realist art—represents depth by way of linear perspective. The shapes of what’s being portrayed are canted and slanted, angled and foreshortened to fit our way of representing space; lines converge on one, two, or more vanishing points that represent infinite distance. Learning how to draw those lines and fit images to them is an important part of becoming a realist artist in our society, because to us, an image that doesn’t follow the rules of perspective doesn’t look real—that is, it doesn’t represent reality the way we do.

This all seems very straightforward until you notice that no other civilization in all of human history has used linear perspective in its visual art.  The traditional painting styles of China, Japan, and other east Asian societies use a different kind of perspective—atmospheric perspective, which works by fading out colors of distant objects—and so get a different sense of depth, one that people from Western societies find exotic. Most other traditions of visual art don’t use any kind of perspective at all, and many of them—the art of ancient Egypt is a good example—avoid the experience of depth entirely. Look at an Egyptian tomb fresco, and you see a flat slice through life with no third dimension at all, and some of the visual conventions look forced and awkward to Western eyes—just as forced and awkward as as our visual conventions would have looked to the eyes of an ancient Egyptian.

The Egyptians had the geometrical chops necessary to lay out a scheme of linear perspective, and they certainly had the artistic skill to do it. That’s just as true for the Chinese, the ancient Greeks, and all the other cultures around the world who developed rich, realistic, highly capable traditions of painting but never saw any reason to use our kind of perspective. Art historians by and large flounder when they try to explain why it is that something that’s so obvious to us eluded the eyes and imaginations of so many other people for all those millennia, but the reason’s quite simple, really: people in these other times and cultures didn’t see distance the way we do, because the representations they created in their minds didn’t look like ours. They didn’t inhabit our world, our man-old; they inhabited their own, and it didn’t look the same as ours.

To you and me and nearly everyone else in the more-or-less globalized industrial West, the things we see around us exist in three-dimensional space, which extends straight out to infinity in all directions. That’s not just how we think about the world; that’s how we see it, because that’s the mental framework into which our minds automatically fit the glimpses our senses give us. People in other ages and cultures didn’t see the world this way.  They didn’t see space stretching limitlessly outward; some of them didn’t see space at all. To the ancient Greeks, empty space was an impossibility—the ancient philosophers agreed on that—and classical Greek and Latin accordingly have no word for “space” in our sense of the term; when our way of seeing distance emerged in the Renaissance, words had to have their meanings manhandled in order to provide labels for it.

That’s the secret of the ancient Greek image of the cosmos, with its nested spheres carrying the planets around and the sphere of the stars like a shell around the egg.  Modern people who encounter that image inevitably ask whether anybody in ancient times wondered about what was outside. The ancient Greeks didn’t think that way, because their world, their man-old, didn’t work that way. Empty space wasn’t part of their representations.  To them, if you got to the end of the stuff that constituted the universe, the universe stopped, and there was no “outside.”  That seems bizarre to us—and our way of constructing representations out of the raw material of sensation would have seemed just as bizarre to the ancient Greeks if they’d encountered it. It takes an immense effort of the imagination to recognize that a world with no empty space at all was just as much a matter of plain common sense as a world in which everything exists in space is to us.

What I’m suggesting, in fact, is that people from different civilizations could look at the same thing and see different worlds. If you and an ancient Greek—we’ll call her Artemidora—could stand side by side looking down a straight road, you would see the sides of the road drawing together with distance, heading toward the vanishing point at infinity. Would Artemidora see the same thing? To judge by ancient Greek art, not to mention the considerably body of ancient Greek scientific writing on the nature of vision, the answer—unsettling as this may be to our sensibilities—is no.

Now of course Artemidora lived in a world that didn’t fashion its built environment to reinforce our way of seeing distance; her built environment reinforced her cultural habits, not ours.  Our cities have cubical buildings with lots of straight lines, set cheek by jowl along straight streets radiating out into the distance; our rural landscapes have long roads zooming off to the horizon between fields planted in long straight lines and divided by long straight borders, all of it  reinforcing the sense of space our culture prefers. Look at photos of traditional Chinese landscapes from before the 1949 revolution and you’ll see a totally different landscape, in which the eaves of roofs and the lines of streets and roads curve and flow to avoid producing the straight lines we prefer, and the sense of distance is the same as you’ll find in a Chinese painting:  it doesn’t zoom off to infinity, it fades out into mist. Look at the ruins of ancient Greek architecture and you’ll find forms shaped and placed so that they produce no sight lines at all; each building in what’s left of the acropolis in Athens, for example, simply is, with no relation to anything around it.

I’ve used the example of the representation of distance partly because it shows how something that seems like plain objective reality can be a cultural construct, automatically mapped onto sensation by mental habits we learn in infancy and can get past only with immense difficulty. Partly, though, however weird it might be to think of people in ancient societies quite literally seeing distance in a different way, that thought is less emotionally charged than many of the other things our cultural representations impose on our experience. The crucial point is that our world, our man-old, is as much a product of our cultural and personal history as it is a mirror of what’s actually around us; its raw material comes from sensation, and much of the pattern into which that raw material is arranged is handed down to us from the evolutionary history of our species, but the pattern also embodies a huge number of value judgments, personal memories, cultural commonplaces, and habits of thought and feeling, most of which we never notice at all.

As I’ve already mentioned, it’s essential not to notice these things on a moment by moment basis, so that we can get on with living. The problem, again, comes in when one or another of the cultural or personal habits of representation we’ve internalized comes into conflict with what’s actually out there in the universe our mental representations are trying to describe.  That universe is a reality in its own right; our representations, our experiences of it, can be more or less complete and more or less useful; and it’s perfectly possible for our personal and cultural habits of representation to get so far out of step with the reality out there that we can fail to see sources of frustration, misery, pain, danger, and death, until they suddenly pop up out of the blue and clobber us.

What do you do, in turn, when your habitual representations are out of step with the reality they’re intended to describe? It’s appealing to the vanity of the contemporary mind to suggest that you can just replace one set of habits with another in some conscious, reasonable way, but that rarely works in practice. You are as much a part of the universe as anything else real, and so you don’t experience yourself directly—you construct a representation of yourself, subject to all the usual caveats, and trying to tinker with that representation doesn’t necessarily have much effect on the underlying reality. (This representation of the self, by the way, is called the ego; we’ll be talking about it in more detail later on.)

What you need is some way to get in under the hood of the mind, and reshape the habits of thought and feeling that provide the framework onto which you assemble your representations of the world. You need tools that work with the deep nonrational structure of the mind on its own terms, which means among other things that those tools don’t have to make rational sense to do their job. It so happens that every human society on record has such tools, and most complex societies assemble those tools into a detailed system of thought and practice that serves, when its practitioners are allowed to do their job freely, to help individuals whose representations conflict with reality—and in at least some cases, to do the same thing to communities and whole societies.

In the modern industrial world, the name we give to our version of that system of thought and practice is “magic.” How that system works, what it has to offer, and what blind spots it reveals in our culture’s habitual representations of reality, will be the core theme of this blog.

165 comments:

Richard said...

My only complaint about this is that you are only going to post once a month. Otherwise, I am overjoyed.

sgage said...

Fabulous stuff, JMG! I think along with you, but I could never write it out the way you do.

I am very much looking forward to your next monthly essay. I hope you are enjoying this Solstice - and a propitious time it is to launch this project!


Joel Caris said...

Hi JMG,

Ever since your Blood of the Earth series of postings on The Archdruid Report, I've been fascinated by the concept of magic. I've since joined AODA--and thank you again for your guidance earlier this year in regards to mystery teachings--and am interested in pursuing a study and perhaps practice of magic.

I admit that pursuit has been delayed. I've been establishing my homestead this spring and my initial, tentative steps toward establishing my Candidate year study and practice have fallen off. I feel a touch guilty about this, but I also better understand my own tendencies and habits each year and see how working the land, building infrastructure, and mapping out plans for this property has simply had a higher priority this year. Ultimately, I'll integrate the two, but I've started to understand that I never accomplish my goals nearly so quick as I hope and plan.

I do like to understand something well before I jump into it, though. It's how I function. I would like to spend time studying the concept of magic before any attempts at practicing it, to better understand what I'm considering engaging. As such, I'm excited for this blog; rather than finding this introductory post dry, I find it incredibly compelling and an exciting preview of future posts. Ever since you defined magic on The Archdruid Report, I've wanted to gain a more in depth understanding of it. This blog seems to promise such an exploration.

I'm curious if you have any recommendations for companion reading material? I have a fairly recently acquired copy of The Druid Magic Handbook that I have yet to read, but I would happily take any further suggestions of texts my study might benefit from. Thanks!

William McGillis said...

JMG,

I am thrilled that you're starting this new blog. I've been hoping that you might explore magical topics more extensively in a public forum. I'm eager to investigate these perspectives and drink deeply from the ancient yet living well along with you and other fellow travelers.

On a related note, I'm rereading Circles of Power and working assiduously through its exercises, so the timing of your new blog is great. And speaking of that book, I was happy to see that S. and Sons are re-publishing it, but I was taken aback by the price and cost of shipping. Do you know if a paperback edition will be offered? The only way I would buy the new hardback edition is if I knew that you were getting most of the purchase price.

Also, you mentioned that you spoke recently to the Blake Society in London. I love Blake, would be most interested in hearing your talk, and was wondering if a video or transcript of your speech might be floating around somewhere.

Lastly, I appreciated your reference to Yeats' vision of historical cycles. I am fascinated by Yeats' work and thought. I can't claim to fathom his theory of history, but would love to learn more about.

Take care,

Pierre (Minneapolis)

Glenn said...

You've said some of this before, on the Archdruid's site. I'll be intrigued to see where you go with it.

Achija said...

Great post I am looking forward to the future of this blog! Peace and Blessed Be. -Gray

Bill Pulliam said...

Happy midsummer, and thanks for opening another discussion forum.

Alice Y. said...

Lovely to read this, and looking forward to future posts already. I hope you and Sara are having a lovely Solstice celebration and enjoying an appropriate beverage. =D

You wrote: "The world is the man-old . . . "
I can find hints of this intended meaning in some christian scriptures. It seems clear from the perspective which separates 'man-old' from underlying reality that a linguistic confusion is caused by the modern usage of 'world' in scriptural translations. To my reading 'world' has clearly been used both for the sense of 'man-old' of the time, and in the sense of the deeper enduring reality of the biosphere. For one example, some early Quaker writers who drew heavily on scriptural language of their time seemed to have a sense of being brought 'out of the world[man-old]' by the action of Christ on their souls, whilst being brought into a new relationship with 'the creation' [world-of new-representation-system, presumably less conflicting with reality?] around them. And hence I suppose they began to create a subset-man-old around themselves with those who shared this experience, which they then tried to propagate through their interactions with the powers of the time over taxes, religious freedom, and so on.

You wrote: ". . . our world, our man-old, is as much a product of
> our cultural and personal history as it is a mirror of what’s actually
> around us . . . "

This makes sense of the 'why' of something I have only recently realized, that people will only change their mind about something if they want to. If I can bring myself to listen instead of arguing back about the points in which their man-old differs from the one I live in, the person who is speaking will give me a picture of the world they live in. There isn't any point in arguing with them about the world they live in; any change in that would come only through long association, if at all.

You wrote:
>". . . every human society on record has such tools, and most
> complex societies assemble those tools into a detailed system
> of thought and practice that serves . . . to help individuals
> whose representations conflict with reality . . .

This makes sense of why your writing about magic on the Archdruid Report blog resonates with me when little else on the subject does. This kind of toolkit is something I see a need for, but have not yet managed to recover its equivalent by digging in the spiritual tradition which I have previously studied, perhaps by having applied insufficient digilence.

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, if only there were more hours in a day!

Sgage, thank you.

Joel, working the land is one very good way to practice the Earth Path dimension of AODA's curriculum, so from my perspective you're still on track. As for additional reading material, that's a complex issue; I'll think about it and see what I can come up with.

Pierre, there's supposed to be a paperback release of the new edition sooner or later; as far as I know, though, the hardback is still not out yet. :-( I'll let you know when I hear something. As for the Blake talk, as far as I know that wasn't recorded; I'll see if there's a good venue for it down the road a bit.

Glenn, true enough; I've commented more than once that all my thinking unfolds from the basic presuppositions of magical philosophy. As for where we go next, hang on...

Gray, thank you!

Bill, thanks and you're welcome.

Alice, thank you! I've noted that a lot of people have the same sort of trouble with magic as it's been presented in recent years; that's one of the reasons why I'm trying to talk about it in a different way, one that I hope will make it make a little more sense. We'll see how successful the effort turns out to be...

DaShui said...

Adjmg,
I'll give u a poem from the Han dynasty general:

Mans life is like the morning dew,
Past days many, future days few.
The melancholy my heart begets,
Comes from cares I cannot forget.
Who can unravel these woes of mine?
Only one! The god of wine!

Some things are consistent throughout time.

Slow Moe said...

Would it be possible to do this blog twice a month instead of once a month?

Merle Langlois said...

It's funny where insights can occur. I was once in a truck with a 50 something stoner architectural technologist discussing ancient Rome and we both came to the conclusion that their worldview must have been alien to ours in the same way that you describe that of Artemidora here.

I'm getting deeper into Buddhism and I'm seeing that via one method or another they have endless things to say about the difference between what we get from our senses and what we perceive, and what we go on to think from those two, etc.

I always appreciate your work and I'm 100% positive I'll be following this blog from now on. JMG, you're like one of those rare teachers for one of those rare classes where I'd want to sit right at the front of the class paying constant attention to every lesson.

Bill Pulliam said...

Actually I like the idea of monthly postings, which should let the discussion continue at a more leisurely and contemplative pace. For example, I am quite certain I will have some specific things to talk about on this post, but it might take days or weeks before they congeal. Sometimes on the ADR it can feel like you have to rush to jump in before it gets too close to the end of the week.

MawKernewek said...

So in Cornish, bys means both "world" and "until". The way space and time are aspects of the same thing, evokes the theory of relativity to me. In both Cornish and Welsh, the English word "ever" must be translated differently depending on whether past or future eternity is spoken of. "bys vykken", or "bys vynnari" both mean "for ever", it seems to me like the events are primary, the future is defined as until the end of this world, rather than the measured time itself. Again, very much Einstein's theory of relativity.

I read something lately about the different view of time by some cultures, including people in Madagascar, where the future is instead of being in front of you, as is the common way of expressing it in English, is behind you. This may be a sense that the future is something unseen and unknowable.

Violet Cabra said...

Last night I finished reading Spengler's descriptions of the art of various cultures and have been thinking about it all day long. Reading this post helps me to understand the deeper signifigance of Art and Aesthetic: human reality as is experienced is constructed not only by human sense perceptions, but also quite literally by human hands and minds in accordance with basic world-views.

Are these basic world-views "magical" in of themselves or is magic the conscious working with the medium of consciousness?

It seems to me that the man-old is a causal principal that can be viewed as "magical" in an almost pop-culture way. Faustian culture made rockets that go to the moon, the internet and sundry other technological advances in order to fulfill its own inward drive toward infinite space. In a similar manner as Greeks filled temples with life-sized sculpture in order to fullfil their inward drive to be a body among body's.

From reading your posts about magic on the Archdruid Report however I imagine you mean magic in a more subtle way. As something more akin to the conscious structuring of unconscious drives as done through non-physical means.

I'm curious though - is the way that cultures physically structure their habitats the conscious structuring of unconscious drives? Is it technically magic? Are streets that go on straight into the horizon with enormous skyscrapers going straight up into the clouds an incantation and/or altar on a grand level? Does every culture practice its own magic in which it inoculates each of its inmates with its man-old?

Thank you so much for taking the time to make this blog and write this post! I look forward to reading more :)

The sun just went down where I live. Happy solstice.

~~~violet

kalek said...

Thank you, thank you, for starting the new blog. I have been reading the Archdruid Report for years and I cannot think of another author who has introduced me to more 'world' changing concepts. I eagerly await hearing more about magic and your philosophy. (I can barely believe I said that since the mainstream definition of magic doesn't do much for me.)

Now on this first essay. I found myself resisting the claim that older ideas of distance are just as valid as the modern one. After all, linear perspective (or close to it) is present in our raw perception. The effect is reproduced with a camera. But that's not the point, is it? To those cultures, the physics of light rays passing through an orifice projected on a plane is just as irrelevant as the chemistry of pain receptors is to me when a flame feels hot. Why bother trying to replicate the raw material of vision when drawing when you can skip to the higher level objects and meanings - the stuff you really care about?

I do a fair amount of drawing with perspective. The fact that most people today still struggle with it shows this way of thinking is not the natural one.

The idea of infinite space in all directions makes sense in our fossil fueled world. Applying enough energy, you can keep going deeper or higher. Since this has been extended to the maladaptive belief that resources are accessible infinitely in all directions, maybe we'd be better off with the old world view.

John Michael Greer said...

DaShui, or if they change, it's going to take evolutionary timescales to do it, in which I don't exactly have to worry about it!

Moe, not unless you can find me more hours in a day.

Merle, hmm! Had your stoner friend read Spengler?

MawKernewek, meur ras! Do you happen to know the etymology of bys -- what it meant in early Cornish, what the equivalent word was in Old Brythonic, etc?

Violet, every worldview is magical in its early days, sheds its magic as it matures, and then grows rigid and dies for lack of magic. Much more on this as we proceed! As for the built environment, I see that as a feedback loop -- people build things that make the world look right to them.

Kalek, good. A camera, of course, is simply a way to use light, lenses, and chemical emulsions to make a picture that looks the way we think the world ought to look.

Kevin said...

I'm very glad that you've chosen to create this blog. I've been wondering for several years where I might find a forum for discussing magic and its associated philosophy without any prior committment to what, in the field of religion, might be called "denominational" affiliations. What you're proposing seems quite likely to be helpful.

It's most interesting that you should select artistic perspective as an example of western societies' model for conceptualizing the world. As a painter, I happen to be a fanatic for perspective. In fact I've been wondering if it couldn't be usefully integrated into an effective magical system for personal practice.

With study, I've learned that vanishing point perspective corresponds to what in cartography is called central gnomonic projection; mathematically they're exactly the same. As that idea suggests, perspective projection is implicitly based on a spherical system of projection corresponding to a globe of the earth, with the eye of the spectator located at the center of the figure and the picture plane as a plane of projection tangent to said sphere. An even closer analogy would be that of a star globe, with the spectator located at the position of the earth in a geocentric celestial system. In fact perspective relies upon the conceptual model used in celestial navigation: local horizon, zenith, nadir, and the four cardinal points, each of which potentially corresponds to a vanishing point. Upon this basis the conceptual system of visual representation is constructed.

One reason I feel there may be some magical utility here is that perspective is based on light, both converging toward the eye and radiating from any point source - a candle, a star, the moon, the sun. To Renaissance artists, the eye did not just passively receive light; they thought of sight rays as actively emanating from it. In that tradition, and even more in the baroque tradition that flowed from it, light is the most potent symbol of spiritual power. Maybe a magical system might be designed to use this kind of symbolical representation?

As you may recall from correspondence, I've had some trouble working out a memory system for myself. This I suspect is principally because I've selected a triangular grid as the basis for the layout of my memory garden (mainly because of Bucky Fuller's influence - Mr. Triangulated!). But what I've discovered is that the elements of such a grid are rather difficult to remember - hardly the ideal attribute for a memory system. I suspect this may be because of the way humans are laid out anatomically. Basically we have six directions: forward, backward, right, left, up and down. Maybe this is why tend to lay out buildings on a four square plan. And these directions in turn correspond to those aforementioned: east, west, south, north, zenith and nadir. This seems to be the standard pattern for arrangement of rituals in the Golden Dawn system among others, and maybe it's the best layout for a memory system after all. What do you think?

Pauline Bicker said...

Dear JMG,
Thank you for this blog. I read it, I can relate to much of this. I have looked at artworks and wondered why there is no depth beyond. This has puzzled me occasionally in recent times. Mostly the answer is: Oh that is the artist’s impression. I remember wondering at about 8-9 yrs old, why paintings/sketches and photographs do not go beyond a certain point, into the background. Especially as an example. Winter 62/63 paintings of the snow drifts along straight roads, the road and telegraph poles were buried or visible beyond the point shown. In Wiltshire, England, I knew the much of the area I lived in and have a keen geographical image of places in my mind, with depth and being panoramic. I noticed the newspaper photographs never showed the expanse or depth through the countryside as long roads. They turned the camera to angle the first 3-5 poles and then nothing. Finally, I have those questions answered. So many scenic views and especial artistic scenery seemed to confuse me. I know now. Thank You.
I have seen the energy often and have always known of space. Funny how I never realised there are those that have a very different view/sight and imprint.
Can the mind can be expanded beyond those dimensions to include space with depth in those people? I assume that it is possible. Will their dreams/visions be without the expansion?
Pauline

Merle Langlois said...

I'm not sure JMG. This stoner guy was actually a WWOOF host. He and his wife forbade WWOOFers from looking at their bookshelf for fear of WWOOFers getting into arguments with or criticizing his worldview. What set him off on the vast differences in states of consciousness between civilizations was something to the effect of how the unrelenting brutality of ancient Rome made perfect sense within their. I can't really remember exactly how he put it when he described that they'd have a different perception of reality but he nailed it in a way I had never understood before, although reading your blog has helped illuminate it since.

EnergyLens said...

Thrilled to have you writing this new blog!

Reading your comments on perspective brought to mind a book that seems to have had a profound influence on me, but which I must re-read again soon as I am in the archaeological phase of trying to reconstruct how I came to view the world as I do...

Robert Romanyshyn's "Technology as Symptom and Dream" links the development of linear perspective to the man/nature, mind/body split and, I suspect but cannot be sure until I re-read, the narrative of progress via technology, and the growing sense of alienation experienced in Western(-ized) culture(s).

I am also reminded of Jason Moore's statement that "Ecology is a way of seeing" [ref'd in "Wall Street is a way of Organizing Nature"] and am holding the "linear lens" alongside the "energy lens" and now the "ecological lens" in my mind as I pursue the discipline of directing my consciousness willfully...

Phil Harris said...

JMG
I was lucky enough to be at your talk to the Blake Society, but like Pierre would value a transcript - nice intro to modern Druids in the room where AOD got started in 1781! (I met interesting people, including a chap who discussed Blake's lack of ego.)

I was brought up early on with maps - perspective drawing came later. There seems a connection with inspecting objects. To a certain extent I am lucky enough to be able to rotate them in my mind, or rather allow them to rotate, which is fairly useful for linking tactile memory with visual memory.

FWIW as a child I had the vertigo inducing experience of sensing 'space' directly as depth (the propensity to 'fall' outwards). That was a night time experience lying on my back in a field that sent me scurrying home! It seemed a formative experience.

I am interested in the experience of getting lost - or losing a sense of direction. The anthropological literature is very interesting on cultural facility for handling very complex interaction between tests of reality and memory among travelling groups in wild country with no human structures.

It is possible to see through other's eyes, I think?

Thanks to all for above comments.

best
Phil

Phil Knight said...

Now THIS is my kind of blog.

I've just finished reading Owen Barfield's "Saving The Appearances", which I'll probably have to re-read a few more times to really "get", and this essay has given me even more food for thought.

Thanks very much, JMG.

andrewbwatt.com said...

Elegant.

I suspect that at some point you're going to address the challenges of incommensurability. One of the things that I've noted in my work with a small group of folks interested in magic, and in the lodges I belong to, and in my own work, and my time in religious communities, is that I'm regularly called upon to believe in something that may or may not be true. In the context of the moment, it's usually 'true' in that we're called upon to believe it, but later it's harder to reconcile that point with the ordinary business of living. And having multiple 'world-views' to switch back and forth between, gives you more capacity to identify which man-age mindset is serving the business of surviving and thriving best?

andrewbwatt.com said...

I love your writing! I love how you approach things — partly from linguistics, partly from history, partly from worldview, partly from logical analogy, partly from example.

I'm reminded, as I read this, of yours and Warnock's translation of De Imagibus, which talks about how statues, paintings, buildings and even cities can be infused with astrological power. Astrological power is, in a sense, this kind of man-old that you're talking about, and that was recently brought up about ancient Rome in the comments. It's a way of perceiving the world — but when you encode the world according to those perceptions, your perceptions wind up becoming other peoples' perceptions, too.

There are a series of animated .gifs floating around the internet now, largely in places where young people can see them, of hands folding origami, or making food according to directions/recipes, making a caffe latte, and so on. And the tagline for these images is, "the world is made of code." There's a genuine effort underway, consciously or unconsciously, to re-program people with a new man-old, one which sees the world as hardware, firmware, and software, and to see the man-old in programming terms. How interesting!

Ing said...

Like Bill my thoughts about a topic tend to form slowly and come together most often as the conversation has progressed to some other point. As such, I may not comment often, but at least wanted to chime in now to let you and other commenters know that I'm here and joining you all for the journey.

MawKernewek said...

Bys comes from Welsh "byd" but I don't know about the deeper etymology, the Geriadur Prifysgol Cymru has some information about its usage which seems to have served for 'age' as well as 'world' at least in the 14th century.

Borgazul said...

It's great to see you doing this blog; I've long hoped that you would blog more on this topic.

So do you see magic exclusively as something that transcends and challenges cultural programming -- i.e. operating on what Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson called the "metaprogramming circuit"? I've always considered the rituals of, for example, Catholic priests and Muslim imams (or Enlightenment scientists, for that matter) to be powerful forms of magic, which explain and bring order to the world, even though they may be false. What do you call that sort of thing?

Ray Wharton said...

This is a wonderful surprise! I have been hungry for more of your perspective on magic since it was first breeched as a subject on TADR. So far I have read more than half the books you list along side this blog, but the appetite is insatiable. A monthly blog, complete with comments section sounds like a wonderful supplement.

The etymology of 'world' was one of the favorite little stories of my preferred professor during college, he loved etymology in general, but 'man-old' was perhaps his favorite. Sometimes I think there was an occult (read: hidden) side to philosophy that lurks in the corners of sufficiently out of the way universities. Of course the professors were all rational, materialistic, atheists (with one Catholic thrown in as garnish), but so many of the ideas that you relate to the core concepts of magic take me back to the way that Trelogan talked of how logic was 'more useful to change our perception of language, than to search for any kind of absolute truth.' and telling stories about the deep histories of words, and the trails they leave as clue to how different the many worlds have been.

I guess I have grow attached to the habit of reporting social observations when I post to your blogs. Magic is consistently taken seriously by the young farmers of my region. Paganism seems more common each time I go out to a party, this summer solstice, after a very somber and meditative ritual on a friends farm I went to Greeley 'meat locker' Colorado to a Solstice party. And even in the middle of red state Colorado it was as magic friendly a setting as I could imagine, and vividly more substantial than the practice of the baby boomer magical reenactment clubs, though also more barbaric. Suffice to say fire trucks were called to the scene, and left with fire fighter lamenting that they were on the clock and unable to join.

It is confusing to live in many different worlds, all, jumbled and differentiating. I have found that beginning to practice magic is on one hand very powerful and rewarding, yet on the other hand it brings to confrontation aspects of those worlds which compete for purchase on the same corners of my heart. Like Joel I have found aspects of practice from the AODA difficult to maintain as consistently as I should like, and records more difficult to maintain still. The way that subtle road blocks seem to manifest in the way of the moon and sun path is interesting, and yet the Earth path has been remarkably easy. At first I was sad that I fell short of my standards, but I am increasingly feeling as though it almost has to be a frustrating process to actually get past certain hang ups.

One of the pop culture concepts of a magic user I took in from my rearing was that of a planes-walker. The way I understood that concept was one who can shift stances between at least two, though potentially many, worlds. If some one can do that, even in a limited and constrained sense, that is a big accomplishment. Then again as we all know multiple stories, we all have at least some access across worlds.

Myriad said...

Every point in space, in daylight, is full of photons going in every direction, reflected from everything toward everything else. The first step in processing that phenomenon into a comprehensible scene is sorting the photons that reach the eye, based on what direction they're coming from. That's what the lens, retinal surface, and the space between them do. That part of the system is hardware, going back to our aquatic vertebrate ancestors.

Many more stages after that initial sorting are needed to achieve a mental representation, so there's still plenty of opportunity for plenty of variation in the final outcome.

As Kalek mentioned, the perspectivist painter, laying out a scene on canvas, is doing almost the same computation as the front of the eye. (There are a few differences; the painter's version is upside down.)

So, while perspective imaging isn't any truer or realer than any other, it is closer to some of the hardware. There are some advantages to that. I strongly suspect that our ancient Egyptian would find a perspective drawing forced and awkward only if she were aware that she was looking at a representation on a flat surface, and therefore expecting the visual conventions she associates with that format. If you could trick her into thinking (perhaps just for a moment) that she was looking through a rectangular opening at the world, for that moment she wouldn't find it so strange.

A camera only replicates the first step, sorting and then mapping photons based on which direction they're coming from. It's still up to us to perceive what the picture is and whether or not it looks right. No optical camera can record scenes as pictures with atmospheric perspective, or disregard depth within its field of view, although complex signal processing might be able to do those things.

The most likely reason perspective wasn't invented (or if it was, wasn't adopted) sooner is that it violates prevalent consensually perceived rules of reality. Objects do not get smaller when they move farther away. Drawing them as if they do actually requires a step away from the idea that we see reality directly. It requires acknowledgment that we see, at best, only a projection, some of whose characteristics are false—and not just as an abstract philosophical notion, but as workaday truth. If I'm not mistaken, the perspectivists with their grids ruled on glass performed some pretty powerful magic there.

I bring this up, not to miss your point by quibbling about an analogy, but to explain my ongoing interest in the role of the physical hardware in all this. Cognitive neuroscience is busily overlapping the non-overlapping magisteria, and contemplating the intersection is fascinating.

John Naylor said...

JMG, congratulations on your new blog! Count me among the people who've enjoyed some of your occult books/posts and were hoping your most pressing projects didn't completely prevent you from further expounding on occult philosophy. I'm very much looking forward to future posts.

I'm just now getting to the chapter in Spengler on the symbolism of the world picture, so the linear perspective example is quite timely.

I've been meaning to ask you some things, but wasn't quite sure how to articulate the questions. With your new blog's maiden voyage, it seems as good a time and context as any. I hope this is OK and not too long:

I've been spending a few minutes here and there skimming your Encyclopedia of the Occult, and the last couple of paragraphs of this post echo some views in the article on magic. Back then, you wrote that magic could be thought of as "a social category, defined by the fact that it is practiced by a particular set of subcultures" and also "a historical category: Modern Western magic consists of coherent bodies of theory and practice that can be traced [...to the ancient Greeks]", but "in this view it is not an abstract category of human activity, to be found in all places and times. [...] Ways of doing the same thing that evolved in other cultural and historical settings, from this viewpoint, should not be called magic, anymore than it would make sense for Chinese and Haitian scholars to refer to Western magical traditions as 'European Taoism' or 'European Voodoo'"

If magic is culture-specific, I was wondering if you think there is some abstract category for tools for dealing with the nonrational mind. It's starting to occur to me that trying to draw boundaries between labels like philosophy, mythology, religion, psychology, and magic is a hopelessly tangled exercise.

Speaking of culture-specific, Dion Fortune was wary of the importation of Eastern practices, and in some of her writing it seems she's directly rebutting Theosophy. Aside from her actual objections, if one is engaging something outside one's cultural context, I imagine that it's likely something's going to be missed or misinterpreted, and that it's difficult to avoid "rehashing metaphors from ____ that have been stripped of the context that once gave them meaning", to generalize your statement from the top. On the other hand, I seem to recall you describing the discovery of pieces (perhaps from T'ai Chi) that filled in gaps missing from what remains written down of Western practices. So, I wonder how you navigate such difficulties?

GuRan said...

Just delightful!

This promises to be a very interesting journey, and a wonderful complement to the Archdruid Report which I've followed for quite a few years now.

Thanks JMG!

wall0159 said...

Thanks for the new blog, I will be following this with interest.

Could one make the argument that worldview/culture is subject to evolutionary forces? For example, perhaps a large contributor to the change from the Hellenic/Roman worldview to our more mechanistic/reduct
ionistic worldview was driven by the slow realisation that there existed large untapped sources of energy that could be exploited (thus conferring a strong competative advantage for people/societies that embraced a way of thinking that facilitated the exploitation of those resources)? If that's the case, then presumably in the future there will be other forces at work shaping the evolution of the psyche (ie. as the world changes to one where such resources are scarce/non-existent and those cultural norms no longer confer such an advantage -- or potentially even confer a negative advantage, which could already be the case)

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, have you looked into the writings of al-Kindi? He worked out a magical philosophy based on linear rays of light back in the Middle Ages, or so I recall reading.

Pauline, we'll get to some of the implications of linear space as we proceed. Those who don't perceive depth may have good reasons for that choice...

Merle, interesting. I wonder if Spengler was sitting on that forbidden shelf!

Lens, I haven't read Romanyshyn, and clearly I should fix that as time permits. Thanks for the heads up.

Phil H., I spent some time cultivating that experience of space as depth, to the point of lying on a grassy slope just after sunset, looking at the Moon and Venus, until I could experience them as distant spheres in space, and myself on another such sphere. It's an exercise worth doing.

Phil K., funny you should mention Barfield! You'll doubtless have noticed his influence in this first post, but I'm going to be challenging some of his ideas next month.

Andrew, thank you. I'm not talking here so much about worldviews as the preconscious, automatic structuring of the raw material of consciousness -- which is much harder to change than a consciously held worldview. Can you look at a road heading off into distance and not see it in linear perspective? Give it a try someday!

Ing, thank you.

MawKernewek, interesting. When time next permits, I'll have to try to chase its roots down.

Borgazul, magic is more than mental metaprogramming, though that's one of its basic tools. When you say that the order given to the world by a Catholic priest or an Enlightenment scientist is false, by the way, what standard are you using to judge what is true?

Ray, philosophy has to work overtime to stay away from magic, which is one reason why I'll be talking a lot about philosophy here. Now of course ideas are one thing and, as you've learned, practice is something else again; beginning to learn magic is never easy. Still, keep at it, and the doors will open...

John Michael Greer said...

Myriad, what I'm suggesting is that an ancient Egyptian who looked through a window did not see the world the way we do, and would find our kind of perspective alien even in that context -- just as alien as we find their conventions of treating three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface. I know that's a very challenging idea, but I'd like to encourage you to consider it, and not simply to default to the comfortable belief that the way we happen to construct our representations of the world is somehow "closer to the hardware" than anyone else's experience. Photons, by the way, are a representation, not a reality -- they're a mental model we use to explain the sensations we experience, and that model is pervaded with a dizzying array of cultural preconceptions.

John, I don't know a cross-cultural term for the subjects I'm discussing here; "magic" is culturally specific in some ways, but it may be the best label we've got. As for Dion Fortune, while she cautioned readers against casual mixing of eastern and western systems, you might have a look sometime at her book The Circuit of Force, where she talks about her extensive practical study of yoga as an adjunct to western magic. The key, in my experience, is to learn one system of magic very thoroughly on its own terms, without mixing it with anything else; then experiment with other things, and see what results you get. Sometimes the results aren't good -- I've suspended my practice of t'ai chi because, in conjunction with some of the other things I practice, it gives me what Chinese doctors call a kidney yang deficiency. That sort of incompatibility between practices is always a risk in this work.

GuRan, thank you.

Wall, I think that argument could certainly be made, since worldviews and cultures are as subject to selective pressure as anything else. The big difference is that worldviews can mate and reproduce with a degree of polymorphous perversity mere biological life forms can't manage!

Albatross said...

Hi there Mr. Greer,

Been a regular reader of TADR since since you started writing on Empires in 2011 (I think), and of as many comments I can manage.

I'm glad I managed to read all the comments (up to now) in your latest installment at TADR and thus finding your pointer to this discourse on 'magic'. I got interested in the saga of King Arthur and Merlin a long time ago, then the authour John Crowley took me even furter into those medieval times with his wonderful Aegypt tetralogy (though set in the late 14th and early 15th century, and in modern times), figuring Dr. Dee and Giordano Bruno. Fascinating piece of work (written over a period of 20 years ... and Crowley manages to keep it all together). This work offers a distinct glimpse into the mnemonic methods of Mr. Bruno and of the development of his world-view.

Well, anyway ... In my life I practice the 'algorhythmy' of yoga, especially the inward momentum of it as my awareness, in meditation, settles into something beyond thought and thinking as such ... and, sure, there is an irrationally rational element to this 'magical' 'algorhythmy' of the yoga. I tend to look at the process of thinking as such, the actual algorithmic of manifestation, as, at its base being of the character of an inner event horizon ... go beyond that and one cannot really put ones finger on whatever that is as there's no finger to put there anyway in that state. This 'diving' into the deep has one pass through layer after layer of conceptual treats that if attended to inevitably bring one back from the inner domain into activity. So the conundrum arises, how to get off the hook of the evolutionary push, the survival needs of the moment and the lure of any kind of reward? That's not what I'm after in 'deep' meditation. I'm not looking for manifested results when engaged in this 'algorhythmic' proccess, I but want to rest deeply in both mind and body. It is quite fascinating to notice how momentary drowsiness fades as one sits (meditate standing up and you'll probably fall over) and I notice my head like lifting itself up to rest on top of my shoulders.

The irrational element in the yogic 'algorhythmy' lies in its methodic of distracting the thinking process without creating a new effort to 'do' something (by the use of as 'mantra' of no connotations or inherent meaning) yet returning to the process as it is lost (before I finally 'lose' myself in 'The Deep'). 'The Deep' - a concept to represent the philosophical idea of 'samadhi' (which I think to be very suggestive and loaded with metaphoric images of itself, works in Sanskrit though). 'The Deep' is but that which on cannot put ones finger on in the context of the 'mind' having settled. It's J. Crowley again putting those words, 'The Deep' (one of his book titles), into my mind, they simmered there for two decades and then trasformed themselves into a coherence that's relatable to the philosophy, the vision, the 'darsana' of yoga. ( http://www.issuu..com/albatross )

I'll definitely be returning once a month to read your views on the theme here and I'm sure to learn a lot.

Regards

Juri Aidas
(Sundbyberg, Sweden)

Albatross said...

Hi, Just, an addendum to my post of a few minutes ago. My link on the yoga should read http://www.issuu.com/albatross .

Sorry. I have managed to spill a cup of tea, with hoineey in it, over my keyboard. Now the keys rise slowly, and all kinds of strange things happen.

I thought it relevant to post my thoughts on yoga here as that 'algorhythmy' does clear my head up and afterwards I do feel more fit to engage in the demands of life, to live an' love, so to say.

Juri

Artorias said...

John, I'm guessing this has something to do with why, when broken down to the "smallest" level, things seem to make no sense to current pyhsics. Maybe there is no smallest at all. Love the new blog.

Phil Harris said...

Phil Knight
Let us know how you get on with Barfield. Following your lead and a google search I have just read an essay by a colleague of Barfield, Richard Hocks. Hocks drew my attention by linking Barfield to Polanyi.

Some of the arguments go back as usual a very long way regarding the existence of a Creator, creativity, and notions of spirit as distinct from matter and etc. Here is a quote from Hocks. (Does Barfield actually check out with this?) Quote: "Barfield’s thesis herein does not merely challenge the Darwinian argument; in a sense it turns that argument on its head: for not only does mind precede and bring matter into being, and a form of intentionality replace chance-ridden natural selection, ... [and etc.]"

It seems odd to leave out Christian thinking, pre-dating any assumptions in Darwinian thinking. Quote: "But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 15:45-50)

best
Phil Harris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Merlin always seemed to be a stronger, deeper and richer character than either Arthur or the knights. I never really related to them or their motivations / drives in the various re-telling of the story. The Merlin however was very understandable.

Do you ever get the impression that you may end up advising a war lord of one stripe or another at some later future time? I thought that the people I worked for at the top end of town were of that ilk, but from hindsight, I can now see that they lack the skills for such a leadership role. Their possessions, future possessions and the maintenance of those existing possessions were part of their core motivation and it is a weakness.

I have been a bit freaked out this week as on the morning of the winter solstice I woke from a dream of the recent wedding I attended.

As an interesting side note, I previously mentioned meeting the agronomist and the truly fascinating conversation on their role in foreign aid, during that wedding. The person worked as a bureaucrat for federal government foreign aid (well at least he probably did until the recent budget cuts).

Back to the dream though. The wedding was in a slightly more rural location this time and a possum - of all creatures - moved through the crowd. The possum seriously disturbed proceedings as people were afraid of the creature (although they are usually very wary and shy, nocturnal creatures). After the possum, a dust devil belted into the crowd and completely scattered them.

Yet my partner and I watched the proceedings in peace from under the drip line of an old oak tree.

It was a bit of a strange dream. I think the previous evening I'd been reading up on the impending El Nino weather.

I require no convincing of your definition of magic as it pervades our society and am truly intrigued by the direction of your blog.

The Aboriginals here strongly believed that if the correct ceremony was not held at precisely the right time, their very lives and souls were in peril. I'm starting to come around to believing that they were correct to incorporate this view into their culture in this particular environment. Their work in country was inseparable from their ceremonies which both marked the beginning and completion of a particular task.

The western / industrial culture makes little to no sense in this particular ecology.

I look forward to your future posts and dialogue.

Regards

Chris

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- Two thoughts in response to some of your replies...

"I spent some time cultivating that experience of space as depth..."

My strongest experiences with this have been in the open ocean, at night, on a sailboat when there are no traces of anything terrestrial or human (other than the boat I was on, of course), and the moon is in the sky. The sensation of being on the surface of the Water Planet, floating among the stars, with our Sister Planet floating (relatively) nearby while space receded into infinity beyond it was quite profound. Moonrise or moonset over the ocean can be similar, but I have never found it as intense as when you are "all alone" (other than your shipmates and a million other living creatures) on a dark and quiet boat far out to sea.

My high school astronomy teacher taught us another trick to give depth to the "dome of the sky." It's an optical illusion, however. Look at Orion, the Hyades, and the Pleiades lined up together. If you try, you can sense them as being three similarly-sized star clusters, Orion quite close, the Hyades farther away, and the Pleiades in the far distance. That's not exactly the way they really line up in 3D, but it does break the sense of flatness in the "starry sphere."

On the other note... I am not aware that there is a documented western practice that is similar to yoga or martial arts in its working consciously with prana/chi, the physical body in unison with the "subtle body," etc. That enigmatic figure on the Gundestrup cauldron suggests there may have been some such thing, perhaps even something closely related to yoga via cultural contact (like the elephants), but I don't know of any firm record of such things. Do you still do Gigong, or did you stop martial arts entirely?

Phil Knight said...

Phil H,

I think there's two basic themes in "Saving The Appearances". The first is an explanation of how our consciousness operates, and how it evolved from what Barfield calls "participating consciousness", in which the modern distinctions between subject and object, and the logical categorisations that derive from them, had yet to evolve. This idea is very similar to Lucien Lévy-Bruhl's "pre-logical thinking" which is what he used to explain the apparently illogical (to us) categorisations of "primitive" totemism.

This bit I understand.

Barfield's second theme is a sort-of teleological one in which he suggests that consciousness is evolving towards a "final consciousness", and that Darwinian evolution is a subsidiary of this. It's this second theme I don't really understand particularly well, but it seems quite similar to the ideas of Jean Gebser, but with a Christian theological underpinning.

That's the best I can do at the moment!

Eric S. said...

I'm looking forward to this. I notice that a lot of your more widely published books on magic tend to, through necessity gloss over a lot of the more in-depth magical philosophy due to the appetites and attitudes of the people who are likely to run across your books at the local New Age shop. It'll be nice to see your in depth thoughts on magic without having to clip your thoughts for the Llewellyn crowd on the one end, or the materialist crowd on the other. I hope this takes off as much as your other projects have.

Nano said...

Just a quick note to write HELLO!

Looking forward to this blog!

Agent Provocateur said...

JMG,

Thank you for starting this blog. I'm very interested in the worldview implied in taking magic seriously as you apparently do. The ADR wasn't really the right forum for exploring this with you.

Some thoughts on your essay:

The fact that we work largely subconsciously on automatic is a certainly well established notion in modern psychology and in Buddhist thought. You are on solid ground there.

The May/Jume 2014 Resurgence & Ecologist magazine has an article by Bruce H. Lipton entitled “Epigenetics” which contains some of the same thoughts you expressed regarding the potential to reshape the habits of the mind. The article was written from an ostensibly scientific point of view. Lipton listed 4 means to rewrite subconscious programs: 1) hypnosis; 2) repetition to create new “habits”; 3) emotional trauma; and 4) something he called “belief modification programmes” than supposedly “engage the brain's super-learning processes” allowing very fast changes. I have my doubts about these but the article suggests that the idea that change is possible may be gaining modest traction against the previous scientific view that “its all in your genes” and therefore predetermined.

R.e. The “world out there”: My understanding, based on my modest scientific education in engineering, is that, when unobserved, it it is best thought of as a bewildering interplay of probability waves. Thus the unobserved universe is mere potentiality: Real in the sense of that potentiality being bounded but not real in the sense of actually existing independent of being observed. We call it into being by observing it. Particles as such only exist once observed. The big mystery is that the waves (the unobserved universe) interact and behave one way and particles (the observed universe) interact and behave another way. Not being a quantum physicist I may have this profoundly wrong … and so likely do the physicists since there is no scientific consensus on the interpretation of quantum physics anyways. I suspect a magical world view has something to say to this.

R.e. Perspective and the Greeks: I believe the Parthenon was build without straight lines in its main horizontal features so as to look as if the lines of the building were straight (since human perception of weight “bends” a straight line). Similarly columns were also subtly tapered so as to give the impression of being taller than they were. These subtleties suggest a very different awareness of perspective and the rightness of proportion than our own. These elements forcefully confirm your point.

Finally, one of the joys of learning a dead language (in my case Koine Greek) is to be able to step into a very different understanding of the world and so see how relative our own view is.

I have loads of questions, but they will have to wait.

Thanks again for starting this forum.

Odin's Raven said...

Welcome back Archdruid, and good luck with this new blog.

John Michael Greer said...

Albatross, welcome to the new blog! I don't know a lot about yoga -- my studies and practices have been mostly in Western traditions, with the occasional detour into the far east -- so I'll be interested to hear whether the perspectives covered here make sense to you.

Artorias, good. The "smallest level" may simply be the point at which our models fail and we're left babbling in confusion at phenomena we cannot understand at all!

Cherokee, the aboriginals were right. I'll be talking in quite a bit of detail about ritual and its importance as we proceed. As for your dream, I'd encourage you to reflect on the core symbols -- what do opossums suggest to you? What about dust devils? What about oak trees? Some time free associating about those symbols might help you unpack what the dream is trying to tell you.

Bill, Western magical traditions since the 1850s -- post-Eliphas Levi, basically -- are packed with such practices. I can recommend specific sources if you like. Before then? Heck of a good question. No, I don't practice qigong any more -- my practices these days focus on the specific energy work in two systems of Druid magic.

Eric, glad to hear that you're interested! I don't expect this blog to get anything like the visibility and popularity of the Archdruid Report, due to an overdose of philosophy; still, we'll see.

Nano, thank you!

Agent, the Lipton article is typical of modern scientific work on that subject, in that it never quite seems to notice that there are traditions that have been working along these lines for millennia and have much richer and more nuanced approaches to it. Still, the fact that he's noticed that there are methods to, ahem, cause change in consciousness in accordance with will is a good sign. As for the Parthenon, bingo -- its forms curve and sway, following the distinctive visual rhythms of the Greek representation of the world. In the process, it focuses the attention away from what we'd call perspective lines, and toward the embodied form of the temple itself.

Raven, thank you.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- I'd be curious about an overview. I am currently quite content with my personal practice so I'm not looking to overhaul it, but I am always interested in learning about other approaches. One never knows when or where one might find a tidbit that truly resonates...

As for the Parthenon, you know we have a replica of it here in Tennessee, complete with the Athena statue, don't you? Have you had the chance to visit it? The docents are thrilled when a visitor shows up who is actually interested in the history, architecture, mythology, and reconstruction of it.

Have you come across the Silva method? It is a 20th century synthetic practice that draws from a variety of magical traditions, and markets (yes markets) itself in a framework entirely of practice, not a word about metaphysics. But it is pure magic. And it is actually quite effective. I've incorporated several of its components (really more like "tricks") into my day-to-day. Its pain control methods are very helpful at the dentist, and Peggy uses a Silva "lost object retrieval" technique all the time (I lose things a lot) with very rapid results and success rates astonishingly close to 100%. Once, an atheist friend was visiting, and his wallet was simply nowhere to be seen. I phoned Peggy at work, she did her thing, and a minute later the wallet "magically" appeared peaking out from behind a curtain. Even the atheist houseguest was impressed.

I still have some more involved thoughts about your main post formulating themselves in my head, waiting for me to try to write them out...

K & C said...

An interesting thing happened to me a couple of years ago, after years of meditation. One day I I was looking at my wife as she stood on a woodchip path that ran up a slope from the chicken pen to the farm house when I suddently saw the world differently.

Everything shifted into the same visual plane. I didn't lose depth perception - I could still tell when things were further away as opposed to closer - but things objects in the background seemed much less distant than they had previously. Things eventually shifted back to their more or less normal state but I feel like I see more than I saw before. As if the angles of corners of my eyes have gotten more obtuse - I can now see more of what is in my periphery.

My meditation is traditional zen, a far cry from some of the practices in western magic but the idea that people in different times literally saw things differently than we makes sense to me.

Kevin said...

Cherokee, I too had a dream on the Solstice. A colossal towering tsunami threatened to engulf my elderly hostess's swanky glassed-in ground floor Manhattan beachfront apartment. Not that Manhattan has any beaches that I've ever heard of, nor have I been there in over 30 years, but it was damn scary - very Atlantean symbolism, methinks.

JMG, now that I think of it, you did mention al-Kindi once before in this context or something like it. According to Stanford U's online Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it appears that the book I want to look over is probably his "de Radiis" - "On Rays." Unfortunately it's only available in Latin, which I don't read, but maybe there's some decent secondary material I can turn up somewhere. Their condensed account of his "On Dispelling Sadness" makes that book sound useful too.

nwlorax said...

Dear John Michael:

I am happy that you've already started this blog. Please permit a few comments and questions from a fellow traveller:

To which concept of infinity are you referring? There is more than one within Western math and logic.

Many cave paintings were NOT flat. This is an illusion fostered by two dimensional photos that lack context. When I toured Cueva de la Pileta in 1979, the textures, surface variations, lumps and bumps of the cave wall were used to describe and emphasize the anatomical features (like humps and legs) of the animals being portrayed. There is a sort of distance perspective within some scenes, depending on the viewing angle and lighting. Cave paintings are closer to 3 dimensional magic lantern shows than they are to a flat canvas.

Maps aren't even needed for navigation-Vikings had none, aside from the very contentious Vinland Map. Neither did Polynesians, who did just fine in navigating across hundreds of miles. They had other devices and means, not all of them lost arts at this time.

Tactile memory devices like the quipu were common in many cultures until recent times. For those of us with no visual skills like myself, any option not relying on sight pictures are good, and I suspect I am not alone in this.

Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa) wrote a section on navigating in the woods in his delightful collection "Indian Tales". I believe he began with the premise that the person isn't lost--the camp is lost, which is a different thing.

If folks reading the comments are looking for Western practices similar to Hatha Yoga, it may not be reassuring for them to know that much of Hatha is derived from Western Physical Culture such as the Maxick Series of Exercises, which can be found using the Internet wayback machine.

Look for Maxalding or Sandowplus.co.uk. (The sites haven't been active in a year, but are preserved as they were on the Wayback Internet Archive.)

"Solar Plexus Activation" and other Abdominal Brain exercises were and are part of Magnetic Healing, New Thought and the like from 1800-2014.Google Books has a rich inventory of classic texts, most of them free to download and use.

With my best for a happy Lammas,
Gordon/nwlorax

Violet Cabra said...

last night while reading Spengler I stumbled upon this gem:

"What we 'see' are merely light-indices; what we understand are symbols of ourselves."

(Decline of the West, Vol. I, pg 331)

The quote is about astronomy across various cultures. Spengler is making the point that when various cultures peer up to the stars with the mind to find the truth about the cosmos, invariably the truth found is a reflection of whatever cultural world-view is doing the looking. this includes, of course, the scientific analysis of the Faustian Soul which naturally finds infinite space in all directions.

The question remains then, "is that true?" is the heavens "space" composed of, indeed, infinite space, or does it merely conform to our worldview and thus feel right? Do we understand the symbol of ourself and make it true or is it transcendentally true "out there" in the universe?

Odin's Raven said...

Coincidentally,(or synchronictically?)I noticed that another American author and mage has just written about the nature of his experience of the world.

He has a personal and practical relation rather than an impersonal and philosophical view. Complementary approaches?

'The "great spiritual power" that I am interpreting here isn't just some distant, freely-standing, neutral and voiceless power. It is part of a seamless tapestry that, taken altogether, would be called our "world." I am near to a certain part of it, receiving of it many impressions, interpreting those things as a human does. But it is not sitting silent and distant; it is speaking to me, revealing things about itself to me. I return the favor; I speak back and reveal things about myself to it.'

The man-old relation may be a reciprocal relation between an individual and the Old One(s) of spirit.

Artisson

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

I look forward to your discussion of ritual. It seems like a very valuable and useful thing, especially when used in the context of real world tasks. I'm not sure either, but my gut feel says that it provides a wildcard too (not sure that that is the correct descriptive, sorry).

My understanding from reading historical accounts was that there was a great deal of soul searching and downright embarrassment if the task went wrong too. The spirits also guided the question as to whether it was appropriate to undertake a task or not in the first place. There seems to be very little to gain - from my perspective anyway - of displeasing the local deities and/or spirits. It is does not seem to be a recipe for longevity.

Our culture seems to be primarily fixated on the task itself, rather than issues of appropriateness and/or quality. If you were to stretch this thought a little bit further, you can see this dysfunction in the applications of many disciplines including science, agriculture and general care for country.

Just sayin...

I will meditate on those core symbols and see what turns up. So far, the possum seems to me to be a familiar representation of nature, which the people feared - unnecessarily too - but that is about as far as I can get for now.

Hi Kevin. Yikes! A tsunami, well that one is very hard to avoid and there's no getting around it. Is there much higher ground in Manhattan? Dunno.

Regards

Chris

Odin's Raven said...

P.S. If there's anything in what Artisson says, those who are concerned about building communities to make a transition into a new world after 'collapse', might find it useful to pay attention to the local spirits as well as the local humans!

thrig said...

While walking the University Bridge this morning, a perhaps white-headed raptor took to awkward flight, and with many changes of direction slowly made its way south towards the trees on the north edge of Capitol Hill. (I've probably been reading too much Lavinia, otherwise.)

Greg Belvedere said...

I look forward to reading this every month and I have enjoyed this first post. I find the map-territory discussion a good place to start. I'm very curious about your takes on different aspects of magic, so I'm sure I will find it interesting. I became familiar with magic partially through some of the more pop-culture practitioners (Robert Anton Wilson, Grant Morrison, Phil Hine) and while I found their work gave a decent introduction, I sensed problems. A lot of pop magicians love Aleister Crowley. I have to agree with what you said about Crowley in a talk of yours that was posted to youtube.

I believe the distinction between what Tomberg called arbitary magic and sacred magic has something to do with my distaste for Crowley. Some of your posts on thaumaturgy and theurgy seem to touch on a similar point.

Great first post!


Bill Pulliam said...

First a small thing -- you appear to maybe be suggesting in paragraphs 11-12 that cultural transmission is uniquely human. If so I would not be quick to agree with that. I'm not even convinced that plants don't do it. But this is not really central to your main points.

A point I am sure you agree with is that though we shape our perceptions and hence our world in subjective and culturally dependent ways, this all has to play out within the framework and limitations of our fundamental nature. The fact that we are earthlings - animals - chordates - vertebrates - mammals - primates - apes - humans defines the playing field and the set of tools and rules we can work with.
(STARS REACH PLOT SPOILER ALERT) You addressed this at length in Stars Reach with the profound challenges of finding any conceptual common ground between the humans and the Cetans, where even our most basic ideas were nearly incomprehensible to them and vice versa. (END SPOILER). So of course no matter how adept we get at altering our consciousness at will, we will still remain within a rather small region of the universal domain of all possible states of consciousness attainable by all conscious entities. Even the very notions of consciousness, states, and entities come directly from our own unique evolutionary past and are not truly fundamental parts of any objective "world out there.".

Another item that has popped up in the comments, though not in the original post, is hierarchical notions of evolution and consciousness. Biological evolution is most certainly not hierarchical or progressive, it has no goal, there are no higher or lower forms. I'd posit the same is true of consciousness, if "higher" is used to mean things like "more advanced" and "better." Is the consciousness of the meditating yogi higher (better, more evolved, etc.) than that of the feeding earthworm? Well, if continued indefinitely, the yogi would starve, the earthworm would thrive. So you tell me. Maybe, after dying of starvation, the yogi's consciousness will reunite with the Great Cosmic Oneness (or whatever), but isn't that also what will happen to the earthworm's consciousness after it gets eaten by a robin?

Our brains, minds, and capacity to build worlds have been shaped by our biological evolution at every level. Our skyscrapers, hydrogen bombs, greenhouse gas emissions, religions, etc. are all 100% products of the natural, organic evolutionary processes on this planet. Even as we create mass extinction, that is hardly the first or the greatest ecological upheaval that biological evolution has wrought upon itself. Think about the global devastation let loose when the first photosynthesizers filled the atmosphere with that deadly poison, oxygen. We are not even peanuts to them.

continued below...

Bill Pulliam said...

... continued

It is common among scientific-atheists to basically explain "magical thinking" with what I call the "diabetes theory." They state (matter-of-factly, as though it is somehow "proven") that belief in magic and the "supernatural" is just a by-product of our innate propensity to search for and find patterns. The pattern matching, they will suggest, was keenly important to our survival, allowing us to make successful predictions. But, of course, as a side effect, it causes us to fabricate patterns and believe things that are just patently false. In the same way, our fondness for fat and sugar was adaptive in our past, when these things were scarce. But now that we are surrounded by fat and sugar at every turn, it has become maladaptive, we overeat, and the result is diabetes. So too our pattern matching goes too far, leads us astray from the truth of science and materialism, and into maladaptive beliefs (oh, I mean, "superstitions."). Magic, hence, is just diabetes of the mind.

There's a big problem with this analogy. Hunter-gatherers, which is what we were for most of our evolutionary history as humans, don't get diabetes. But they do have religion, and practice magic. Almost universally. For something to be so universal and prominent, you kind of have to think it is actually been selected for, not just arisen as a byproduct of other unrelated selection. We're not talking about a little appendage somewhere that just hasn't quite been selected out of existence yet. We are talking about a thing that is fundamental to the cognitive processing of most humans, now and in the past.

Sounds to me like maybe "magical thinking" happens because it works, and is helpful. Those who "think magically" would appear to have fared better evolutionarily speaking. And I would be really surprised if this began only with humans. Or apes. Or primates. Or mammals. Or vertebrates. Or chordates. Or animals. Or earthlings. When asked what "animism" means, I have experimented with using a definition along the lines of "The radical idea that we are not special."

And just one tiny final thought. I wonder if the reason that physics get so freaky weird at the smallest scales is because that is the level at which the planes do meet.

Eric S. said...

Rereading the essay itself, I do find myself wondering exactly to what degree all art is intended to actually reflect the reality that our eyes are picking up. Oftentimes art is stylized or symbolic, and even in the art of our civilization you have artists like Picasso who are emulating a style because they find it interesting or pleasing, not because they think that's what the world actually looks like. Do the colorful, decorated geometric patterns in Aztec art, or the knotwork patterns in Celtic art represent the world as the Aztecs or Celts see it? Or is it more about standards of beauty, and preferences for certain types of embelishment? Could it be more a matter of values, standards of beauty and artistic preference than the actual world as experienced? We can still see the gradation of blue mist over the course of the distance when we look at the horizon, but it's the perspective that our eyes are more drawn to. The other features aren't actually invisible to us. Just thoughts upon having more time to do a deeper reading.

Richard Clyde said...

Kevin-- if I recall correctly, Culianu's has a decent if summary presentation of al-Kindi's philosophy of Rays.

daelach said...

Great new project! In fact, I've long waited for you to elaborate more on this domain than the TADR articles where you touched it.

That's a good and cautious introduction; in fact, I am using much the same way on such occasions, with a bit more stress on Western realism vs. constructivism and ratio, but basically, it's about picking up people where they are, mentally.

I would also like to read more than one posting a month here, but of course your time is limited.

If I may propose an idea: you could post an article here every two weeks and reduce TADR to one article every other two weeks, that makes a total of one article every week, which is the same workload as until now.

TADR has already had much elaboration, and relative to the topic, you could IMO achieve more in this project. Both the usual second religiosity and the mortal desease of "Material Progress" call for it.

I gave a lecture on a festival this spring. That was an introduction to the runes, both the historic facts and magical application. I was quite surprised how many people attended. The interest in such topics is definitely there - in today's void before some kind of second spirituality.

It is a very important task today to help that this coming spirituality will be a positive and life-affirming one; all the more since the worldly downwind may well support a life-denying one like in the Roman Empire with Christianity. But that would make things even worse than it will be anyway.

RPC said...

Chris (Cherokee),
Your line "Our culture seems to be primarily fixated on the task itself, rather than issues of appropriateness and/or quality." reminds me of the Kenneth Boulding quote "An engineer is one who spends his life finding the best way to do things that should not be done at all."

JMG,
Best wishes on the new venture! I'm coming at this from a Roman Catholic perspective; it'll be interesting to see if the "solutions" converge, at least at the mechanistic level.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, an overview wouldn't be easy as there are many different methods, rituals and practices. Just about anything you can do with visualization, breathing, and specific centers and pathways in the body gets done. I've been to the Nashville Parthenon, yes -- loved it; I've heard about the Silva method but don't know much of anything about it.

K&C, nice -- I recall a story by Sartre that had a similar moment in it, for whatever that's worth.

Kevin, yes, it's in the de Radiis -- there's a French translation of that, and I've heard rumors of an English version in the astrological scene.

Nwlorax, the concept of spatial infinity I have in mind is the one underlying linear perspective, as I tried to suggest. As for the rest, all in due time!

Violet, we construct a representation out of the sensations we experience when we look up at the stars, and we call that "space." Is that representation "true"? Neither you nor I nor any other human being will ever know.

Raven, I also have a practical and personal view, but it's useful to start from philosophy for the sake of understanding.

Cherokee, excellent -- you've touched on what will be a core theme in later posts, the way that quality gives way to quantity over the history of a given man-old. Much more on this as we proceed!

Thrig, a lovely sight -- and one that I've had more than once at the same place.

Greg, yes, I'll have to talk about Crowley here sooner or later, won't I?

Bill, good. Of course human beings only experience a minute fragment of the potential ways in which the cosmos can be experienced. The notion that "Man is the measure of all things" to my mind demonstrates the most pathetic sort of self-centered silliness; Man isn't even a useful measure for the rest of humanity, much less everything else in the cosmos. Since we don't have the capacity to experience the cosmos via anything but our own bodies and minds, though, and since I've yet to be asked to teach magic to bullfrogs, I'll be talking about the human experience here in this blog.

Eric, well, that's why I specified realist art in my post.

Daelach, I have quite a bit I still want to say on The Archdruid Report, and posts here take longer to research and write, so once a month is about what you can expect for the time being. Thanks for the encouragement, though!

RPC, that will indeed be interesting.

onething said...

Re Phil Harris' comment,

Thinking of the physical as being first is deeply entrenched in our culture, and I have spent years slowly reworking my mind so that I no longer see that as logical but rather as almost impossible.

I was sure your Corinthians quote was out of context, but you are right, and yet I find it nonsensical of Paul. He thought Adam was ensouled only after his creation. On the other hand, as I see things, souls, being far older than any physical body, do indeed inhabit them at some point after their creation, as they will also leave them at death. But Paul did not really think the physical came first as he believed God came first. He was trying to make analogies to fit the resurrection idea, and I'm not sure he did a good job of it.

I rather think of the process in alchemical terms of salt, sulphur and mercury, wherein we dip our souls repeatedly in the body and then leave it and fly up (as in the flask); our souls are in the process of becoming.

Bill Pulliam said...

Jugarummmm... Jugarummmmm...

I doubt bullfrogs need to be taught magic; I expect it comes quite naturally to them!

Eric S. said...

Hmm... But can Paleolithic cave art or ancient Egyptian wall art, or Ancient Greek frescoes be considered realist art? Many of them are extremely stylized representations. If anything, I'd say the advent of realist art in our culture shows not innovation, or a change in perceived reality, but a shift in values away from embellishment and towards direct representation. If I recall, the critics of the early art realists complained not that they were forced or didn't look like the world they saw with their eyes, but that they were crude and obscene. The realistic style was a break away from the artistic values of the art of the time, which were supposed to represent a microcosm of sacred cosmology. Realist art was criticized then, not for being forced or awkward, but for being ordinary. That's the one case I can think of of a culture with a very different art style being exposed to the artistic realism of our culture... Unless there are examples out there... Say of various indigenous cultures' reactions to Western artistic sensibilities, or art reviews of British from Japanese or Indian critics written around the time of colonization.

Eric S. said...

A lot of what you're saying reminds me of this passage from Rebecca Solnit's "A Field Guide to Getting Lost":


"For children, the distance holds little interest. Gary Paul Nabhan writes about taking his children to the Grand Canyon, where he realized "how much time adults spend scanning the landscape for picturesque panoramas and scenic overlooks. While kids are on their hands and knees, engaged with what is immediately before them, we adults travel by abstraction. [...] Their mental landscape is like medieval paintings: a foreground full of vivid things and then a wall. The blue of distance comes with time."


Is this kind of the theme your hitting on, that adult members of our culture are drawn to linear perspective and panoramic landscapes because our culture emphasizes distance so we're drawn to it. If I look around, my eye falls on a fixed point on the horizon. I actually have to exert effort to pull my vision in and look at the empty space a few feet in front of me. Perhaps if I grew up in another culture, I might have to exert the same effort to focus on the horizon line? I see the principal, I'm just trying to think of a more concrete example of the phenomenon than differences in artistic style, which can have a number of other causes.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, heck of a good question. We don't have bullfrogs here, or at least I haven't encountered them; I'm delighted to say that we have a backyard example of Bufo americanus, bless his warty and insectivorous presence, but that's all I've seen. If I meet a bullfrog, I'll certainly ask him what potion he recommends...

Eric, what I'm trying to suggest -- and I'm aware that it's a very challenging concept -- is that what appears to be stylized art from other cultures may be realist art when seen through those cultures' constructions of the world. Compare Greek fresco to Greek statuary -- remembering, of course, that the Greeks painted their statues in the same bright colors as their frescoes -- and try to fit your mind around the possibility that to ancient Greek viewer, the two looked equally realistic. That's the possibility I want to raise in your mind.

As for the modern Western obsession with distance, exactly. We learn to see infinite distance, and to read visual stimuli as indicators of distance, through a fairly long process of visual education. Art in this context is simply one way of getting a glimpse of what the cosmos looks like when seen through eyes from a different world -- a different man-old.

Bill Pulliam said...

Another way of thinking about the change in visual imagery styles...

"Realist" images seek to replicate the actual physical stimulus of the photons on the retina. Other forms perhaps seek to replicate some other aspect of our relationship with the world around us.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, what I'm trying to suggest is that the image on the retina actually doesn't have that much to do with the world as constructed in the mind, and this latter is what "realist" art is trying to imitate. (Did you know, for example, that the image on your retina is upside down and backwards? Your mind flips it over -- experimenters have found that if you put people 24/7 in goggles that flip the image, after a few days their minds flip the image back again and they see the world right side up.) I know it's very challenging to think of the world as a mental construct assembled in various ways from the raw material of the senses -- not as something "out there" that our cultural models get "right" and everyone else doesn't -- but that's what I'm trying to suggest here, you know.

Bill Pulliam said...

Think we're just disagreeing on terminology, not the idea, really.

I realize that I can actually speak directly, from personal experience, to this phenomenon. Several of my interests (astronomy, birds, etc.) require me to have trained my mind to be highly attuned to details of perception that are not of general interest. And it is a great lesson in the nature of perception to be standing right next to someone else, looking at the same thing, but not seeing the same thing. If I am out with a real beginner, and we are looking at the exact same bird, I will see a detailed image of the birds structure, the proportions and shape of its bill and head, it posture, the patterns of gradation of hue in the plumage, etc. The person standing next to me, often looking through better binoculars, sees a bird. Just that, nothing more detailed. But, if they are a botanist, they will immediately see every detail of the leaf structure of the twig the bird is perched on. All I see is a twig. And of course, the bored non-birding spouse who was forced to tag along doesn't see anything but the car parked behind the bird, probably its exact make and model. In our worlds that particular item existed only as a vague shadow, if at all.

It's a smaller magnitude, but I believe it is the same phenomenon. In the world I inhabit, birds are among the most conspicuous objects that there are. The world of the bored spouse is devoid of birds, but it is filled with all manner of cars. If the novice birder standing next to me "catches the bug," her world will rapidly begin to fill up with birds -- birds it did not contain before. And they will grow ever more distinctive and different from each other. Meanwhile the cars will remain vague indistinct shiny blobs in the background.

Multiply this phenomenon by hundreds of years and millions of people, and you can see where you go between a world in which roads taper off to a vanishing point, versus where they fade indistinctly into the distance, versus where you don't even perceive "distance" unless you really have a strong reason to need to do so.

John Roth said...

JMG - since I seem to be a bit closer to the actual psychology research enterprise than most, I can say the notion that the reality we think we experience is actually constructed by very complex processes in the brain has been standard for many years. Most don't take it to the extent you're describing, of course.

Which brings up an interesting correlation: people from far eastern cultures (China, Japan, etc) tend to see an object as part of its context, westerners tend to see an object as distinct from its context. The eye tracking experiments that nail this down are fascinating.

Eric S. said...

Hmm... It still feels to me that differences in artistic styles are differences in aesthetic preferences rather than differences in metaphysical perceptions of reality. If I can find, say, a critique of Egyptian art by Ptolemy shortly after the conquest of Alexandria, or reactions of indigenous peoples to modern Western art shortly after first contact or something along those lines I'll be a lot more convinced. And that should be a fairly simple thing to find evidence of if there's any such evidence at all. I'll need more than just the art itself to see what you mean, since the art alone can't reveal the artists intent. The artist of a Greek fresco could, as far as I know, be trying to represent things as accurately as Van Gogh was trying to accurately portray the night sky. I'll have to see where this goes, and I may have to be one of your hard-headed examples this time around. I'm up for the challenge though.

Kevin said...

The Renaissance architect Brunelleschi developed and demonstrated linear perspective by the use of a mirror, with the main cathedral of Florence as a model. Perhaps the possession of that particular technology - a metal-backed glass mirror, which the Florentines had developed during the late Middle Ages - was conducive to that mode of visual perception. A new branch of mathematics, projective geometry, unfolded from it, and by these and related means people really got into gridding the world.

During and subsequent to the Renaissance, map-making and imperially-sponsored voyages of discovery took off in a big way. I wonder if the propensity for thinking of space as infinitely extensible may not have contributed to the idea of sailing off in search of distant lands and peoples to exploit. It's funny how a body of seemingly abstract ideas can contribute to producing such large-scale and enduringly tangible results.

Western artists were (and some still are) highly aware of aerial perspective; Leonardo mentions it often in his notebooks. Contrariwise, some Chinese art displays a type of linear perspective, involving not vanishing points but parallelism. In one Chinese painting I've seen, the "transversals" in an architectural subject extend horizontally across the picture plane, just as in a western Renaissance image; the lines of architectural construction receding perpendicularly from them into (apparent) depth are all parallel to one another, set at a fixed common angle relative to the first group. There is no diminution of scale with distance, but there is what one might interpret as an implicitly mathematical construction of space. So it seems to me there is some overlap between ways of conceptualizing the visual world; the categories are not necessarily absolute.

The notion of a vanishing point ultimately derives from the fact that objects of a given size subtend a narrower visual angle with increasing distance from the spectator, causing them to appear smaller. Linear perspective does have some basis in the physiology and form of the eye, and is not merely an arbitrary abstract construction. Otherwise it wouldn't work, as an illusionistic system.

Its typical use, as is known to all, is to depict a grid of perpendicular and parallel lines extending infinitely upon the surface of the earth. But that's really a fictional concept; there's no such thing as an infinite straight line on a spherical surface, let alone a grid of them. Verticals also do not remain parallel when rising perpendicularly from a spherical surface.

Kevin said...

If one disregards the distortion of space-time by gravitational fields, I suppose one could conceive of a Cartesian spatial grid, defined by axes X-Y-Z, as extending infinitely into space. But that may not be too meaningful. For one thing, gravitational fields evidently do alter space-time; moreover, from what we can see of the universe, it doesn't appear to organize itself that way; it appears rather to gather in clusters of galaxies that markedly do not arrange themselves as in a filing cabinet. As far as I can make out, this X-Y-Z thing is a product of our relatively simple and limited minds, a handy tool for superimposing ersatz simplicity upon that which is actually complex beyond our ability to comprehend. But it is a fun toy to play with, and may yield some interesting and worthwhile insights.

I don't know whether such a mode of conceptualizing space implies a separation between the parts of the self - mind, body, spirit - as some here have suggested. I hope not, because that to me suggests that it's concomitant with some kind of alienation, which doesn't at all good to me. Though I fancy Descartes would have supported it, he who (purportedly) argued that animals are just machines without feeling. Nuts to that idea.

BTW, it appears that Scribd has an online version of an English translation of al-Kindi's "de Radiis." I can't access it there - can't afford the subscription - but it might be possible to turn it up with a visit to UC Berkeley or perhaps an inter-library loan.

Enrique said...

Checked out this Artisson character. Quite an interesting fellow, from the looks of it. He strikes me as the Ken Wilber of the neo-Pagan scene: He seems pretty knowledgeable, but he also comes across as an arrogant, egotistical, self-important and potty-mouthed know-it-all who is rather intolerant of other viewpoints and routinely gets into flame wars with other posters on Internet forums. He has apparently been banned from most Wiccan and Pagan internet forums because of his behavior. Interesting stuff, but I would advise taking him with at least a few grains of salt…

http://nonfluffypagans.livejournal.com/905718.html

http://occult.livejournal.com/325662.html?nojs=1

http://www.modemac.com/cgi-bin/wiki.pl/Talk_about_Robin_Artisson

Enrique said...

Wow, quite a few responses for such a new blog in such a short interval. I take this as a very good sign…

@ Eric S

I can think of at least one well known example of people from a non-Western culture who had difficulty comprehending Western artistic conventions and perspective. T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) once mentioned a curious episode that he witnessed. A group of Arab chieftains and tribal elders who had led the Arab Revolt during the Great War was presented with a group portrait by a well-known British painter. They literally could not comprehend what was being portrayed. To them, it was just a collection of shapes and blotches of color on a sheet of canvas. One of the elders asked if the shapes were perhaps camels. Because of their unfamiliarity with Western artistic conventions and the Western concept of perspective, they could not see that these shapes and blotches of color were in fact depictions of them.

Oswald Spengler also mentioned in “The Decline of the West” examples of indigenous peoples in places like Africa and New Guinea who have radically different perceptions of not only shape, depth and perspective, but color, time and causality. As an example, there are apparently people from certain tribal cultures who cannot perceive certain colors that we see as self-evident, or who recognize colors and shades that we cannot. Certain native peoples, such as the Australian Aborigines, perceive time in ways that are radically different then ours and Spengler points out that the Bantu languages of Africa are based on a radically different concept of relationship and causality from those that prevail in the West.

Yet these people have the same brains and eyes that we do. Even if we accept the idea that there are neurological differences between the different races, humans are so genetically similar to one another that the differences are probably too slight to have much of an effect. So why do different cultures see the man-old in such different ways? I think much of it is due to social and cultural conventions that we are all brought up with, nearly all of it operating on a sub-conscious or even unconscious level. Just because we in the West have become accustomed to perceiving the man-old in a certain way does not mean the way that other cultures perceive the world is somehow invalid or erroneous.

In fact, I believe the Archdruid has hinted rather strongly here that our particular way of perceiving reality and engaging the world based on those perceptions is at the root of many of the problems and predicaments we have created for ourselves and the rest of the world. Perhaps we need new ways of looking at the world.

Beyond, I tend to agree with Spengler and the Archdruid that it’s not a case of right vs wrong or true vs false. Each Culture (in the Spenglerian sense of the term) has its own distinct way of looking at the world, which is right and proper within the context of that Culture’s worldview.

Eric S. said...

Enrique: thanks. That pretty much answers my question.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, yes, this is part of what I'm trying to say. The same pattern appears on your retina as appears on the retina of someone who's never learned to watch birds; it's your brains that sort out the raw material of perception into two different pictures, one which highlights birds and one which doesn't.

John, can you recommend a couple of recent books on that subject? I'd like to be able to cite them when this series of posts gets turned into a book.

Eric, of course it feels that way to you. I'll be talking down the road a bit about the mental defenses people use to keep themselves convinced that the worlds they construct for themselves are objectively real. What I'm asking you to do here is to keep an open mind -- to allow the possibility of what I'm suggesting, rather than simply dismissing it because it doesn't fit your existing view of things. If you aren't willing to do that, most of what I'll be talking about in this blog will mean nothing to you.

Kevin, every way of representing the world in art has some basis in human perception; it's very often a matter of what gets pulled forward out of the background, the way Bill learned to pull birds out of the background of leaves and branches. The angle that a given object subtends is one of the many options, and it happens to be the one we choose. I may talk in an upcoming post about one of the known visual effects that is pulled out of the background by medieval art, and not by ours...

Enrique, yes, he's kind of a known quantity. Thanks for your explanation to Eric, btw; I'll be covering some of these same points in future posts, but it's helpful to have someone else along for the journey who knows some elements of the route!

Bill Pulliam said...

I realized I have a much more dramatic example of the pure subjectivity of perception in my personal experience. It's what I call my "darkroom vision."

When I was in college and taking photography classes, we were provided with a large community darkroom. The safelights were always on in the darkroom, of course, as there were often several people working in it side by side.

One day when I was working, the power went out and the safelights went off. A darkroom with no safelights is truly dark; even with full night vision adjustment human eyes will perceive no light. Those of us who were working in there fumbled our way out to wait for the power and lights to return. After a while it was apparent that power was not coming back anytime soon, and I had left some prints in the fixer bath. So I went back into the darkroom to retrieve those prints and move them to a water wash.

When I got in the darkroom, I realized that I could very faintly see the big table in the middle of the room with all its individual tubs of developer, stop, and fixer. This disturbed me, since a darkroom is supposed to be absolutely dark. I reached for the corner of the table, and when my hand reached it, there was nothing there. The table immediately vanished from my sight. I fumbled around a bit, found the table by feel, and instantly it popped back into view in a new, and "correct" location.

Though this image was faint, it was definitely a visual image, indistinguishable from what I would have seen had there been a very dim light in the room that was just barely above the threshold of perception. But, given the disappearing and reappearing act the table put on, it was also clearly coming from inside my mind, not from any "objective physical reality."

After this experience, I discovered that I can always see by this "darkroom vision" when I am in familiar places in total darkness, but (here is the key) ONLY if it is a place I know well in the light. It is very useful. The image includes things that I do not have a direct conscious memory of. If I have misplaced something, I can look around for it, and when I see it and reach for it, it usually is there. It's funny, when it is not there, to see it vanish. But it is usually not far from where I saw it, and it will pop back in to view when I do get my hand on it. In one darkroom I was even able to read the hands on a large timer clock, getting some idea of how much time was left before it would chime. The reading I saw on the clock was often not exact, but it was fairly close.

And of course the evolutionary biologist in me appreciates what a wonderfully clever adaptation this is, to present all this subconsciously stored information in a handy visual image, showing me all of my mind's best estimates of the position of everything in the room relative to where it judges me to be. I don't have to think about it at all, it is effortless on my part. I just look around. And it updates instantaneously in real-time based on new data.

Cake the Small said...

Can one practice magic before finding a helpful God, Goddess, or Gods?

Seb Ze Frog said...

Bill et al:
this last bit about your dark room experience is fascinating. Now, I'll have to experiment on this. Thanks, my list was not already suffering of terminal overweight !

Now, just a little piece of my own experience that I think is relevant to ""Realist" images seek to replicate the actual physical stimulus of the photons on the retina"

Not long ago I have started learning how to draw. My motivations are many, but one of the core ones is to use it as a tool to explore my way of seeing things. Which means that for now I am very into trying to draw as "realistically" as possible.

The first few lessons of my book are about drawing by contours, and I am finding it much easier to draw human made artifacts than natural things.
And this is because as far as I can tell, there is not such thing as a contour.

Trying to draw a window handle made it very clear to me that what I was trying to do was to find the right "line vocabulary" to tell in visual instead of verbal mode what the handle looks like to me.

For those with no visual skills, I find this experience very similar to what I found in learning morse, when it suddenly became clear that what I had to learn was not a sequence of dots and lines but a serie of chirps that lead directly to letters without the concourse of the sight.

I find the sheer fact of being able to share a drawing with an other human being and for him to be able to see a window handle fascinating. I am under the impression that this is not the last we hear about this in the following posts though ;-)

Seb

Eric S. said...

That sounds exciting, and sounds like the sort of challenge that'll make the perfect compliment to the last stretch of my Ovate studies. I was ready to go with you. I just needed a few examples of the effect you predicted would happen if someone from a different culture were to look at our art and react to it. It does still leave me wondering how you'd be able to tell another culture's stylized art from it's realist art in that case, and where realistic depiction gives way to symbolic representation... But that's it's own question completely unrelated to the point you're making.

Cherokee Organics said...

HI JMG. Thanks very much and I am really looking forward to the future direction of this blog.

A thought bubble popped into my head this morning too (whilst I was sitting in the bath looking outside at the fierce winds ripping through the forest) about the benefit of ritual as an integral component of a task:

The practice of the ritual itself allows for the sharing and accumulation of collected wisdom with the participants. That itself is no easy job for any culture, I reckon.

It also has value in a fragile ecosystem in that it can counter novel practices which may place the greater community at risk.

In our culture I'm really starting to get my head around the idea that, our culture values acts in isolation of the ecological realities because to do else-wise would probably do most peoples heads in a bad way.

Regards

Chris

PS: The weather has been so consistently moist and windy for the past week that I spied the wombat out and about. They're usually sensible creatures that don't really like getting their claws damp and can sleep off a few sub-optimal days. Even they have to eat after a while...

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi RPC. That's pretty funny. Nice one! The engineering here must have been pretty good - so no complaints here - as I've now survived a direct hit by a tornado (on Christmas day a couple of years back!) and the wind storms of the past couple of days. It was so loud last night, it woke me up about 6 times...

Wild weather in photos

Regards

Chris

Phil Knight said...

Enrique:

In fact, I believe the Archdruid has hinted rather strongly here that our particular way of perceiving reality and engaging the world based on those perceptions is at the root of many of the problems and predicaments we have created for ourselves and the rest of the world. Perhaps we need new ways of looking at the world.

I suspect that once you have conceived linear perspective filled with empty space, the urge to fill it by zipping around in it as fast as you can possibly power yourself becomes irresistible!

Nano said...

As I digest all this information, I'd like to know what you all think about the following?

We could say that our mental models of the world are highly influenced by our sensory perception, language, cultural and geographical milieus.

Ergo, westerners might believe in a supreme monad or maybe they align more towards a big bang theory. Some theoretical physicists theorize that the universe is finite but unbounded and a Hindu might see/experience things as the universe playing hide and seek with itself. Each view/peak, giving us different perspectives on what might possibly be going on, at least from our limited senses and knowledge at the time.

With that in mind, each view/peak will give you different mileage given your environment; using environment in a really broad sense.

If the stories that have helped us make sense of our environment up to this point in time no longer hold their glue with what we currently "know" about the universe, then what types of myths and stories do we need to come up with? What type of stories will pass down our cultural and mythical/magickal knowledge as we understand them right now?

shrama said...

Dear JMG,

I am looking forward to getting to read about all the hard stuff on magic. At this point my observation is that the worldview you have expounded resembles in many ways the subjective idealism that can be found in various streams of Buddhism as well as the empiricism of philosophers such as Berkeley. But I presume there must be many nuances specific to your particular practice of magic that will become clear in future posts.

But whenever I come across such a worldview as yours, I wonder what that says about the distinction between facts and values. It seems to me that according to your worldview the difference between facts and values is a matter of degree and not of kind. Facts are merely those values which are held by everyone in a particular culture. Objective facts are pretty much unknowable.

Since my reading in philosophy is woefully inadequate, I have not come across a good discussion on this matter or how this impacts ethical philosophy. But I would very much like to hear your views of this.

My gratitude for all your efforts to educate us.

SLClaire said...

JMG, I am very glad you have begun this blog. Your discussion of magic on the Archdruid Report drew me in and got me into AODA, beginning a magical practice. Even at the very early level my practice is at, odd and interesting things are already occurring. Perhaps the most obvious is an increase in self-discipline that I had always "intended" but hadn't fully accomplished. Somehow the ritual work I've done, while not even addressing that, has had that effect. There are other things too that are harder to speak of but they are there.

This discussion is fascinating to me. I was aware that we construct our worlds out of raw sensation but didn't really "see" it as clearly as I do from your discussion of linear perspective. It reminds me of a recent experience at home. Our front lawn is gardened heavily. Even though there is a sort-of linear array of trees, there is so many plants of so varied heights among them, and the trees are so close together, that you can see the front of our house only as glimpses in between plants. One morning we heard a pickup truck pull into the driveway. My husband, who was in the garage, came out to look. He interrupted the pickup driver pulling down his pants to urinate into one of the planted areas. My husband made his presence known in a friendly way. The man immediately and sincerely apologized. He said he thought no one lived here. To me that seemed ludicrous. I'm the one who did the planting, so of course it looks like a garden to me. But my husband pointed out that to the man it looked like just another abandoned lot. As soon as he said that I could see it through the driver's eyes, and yes, then it did look abandoned.

I've often thought that much of how we industrialized Westerners see the world reflects a Newtonian viewpoint: isolated balls bouncing off each other. I'll be interested in learning if you see this too and if so, if we draw similar understandings from that.

daelach said...

@ shrama: There is an important difference between "facts" and "values": While we can construct the so-called "objective" world in quite a number of different ways (even contradicting each other), that doesn't mean we can construct it in any way we like.

Some work and some don't. If someone says he can jump out of the 20th floor of a skyscraper and fly like a bird, then chances are high that it will not work.

On the other hand, you can define an object as advertising column or police officer - if the purpose is just not bumping into it, both constructions will work fine although you might argue that something can't be both a police officer and an advertising column.

With values, it is different because you can indeed define any values you would like. The difference is then in what happens when you act accordingly.


@ cake the small: Yes - sigil magic is an example of magic without any religious ties.

The main problem with that one is that such magic gives you a tool, but no kind of values, purpose and meaning for where you're heading. If you're a chess player, it gives you tactics, but no strategy.

That's where beginners often fail, they acquire a new tool for old purposes, actually missing 90% of what magic has to offer. The result can be using magic for fulfilling whatever desires others put into you before, e.g. consumerism.

Take care of your wishes - they might be granted..!

SLClaire said...

I wonder if an experience I have occasionally reflects the time delay in receiving and processing incoming energy patterns into conscious awareness. I'll be in public, by myself or with others. Either way, while I'm aware that there are conversations going on around me, I don't really hear them. They blend into a background noise. However, there are a few words that, when said in the background conversations, immediately bring the conversation into sharp verbal focus in my mind. They include my first name and the US town and state that I was born in but have not lived in for 43 years. The really interesting part is that I don't hear just those words; I also hear part of the conversation before the words get brought up. I've wondered if it is somehow psychic. But bearing in mind your discussion, perhaps it is more that the energy patterns enter my ear but there is a delay time required to arrange them into heard words. My mind may be processing the words of these background conversations at a low level but filtering and discarding most of them without passing them up to consciousness, deeming the conversation insignificant to pass along unless it contains these key words. I've read about this but hadn't realized I may have in fact experienced it until I read this post. Of course that makes me wonder "what" it might be that is doing the signal processing, if indeed that is a good way to refer to how the incoming energy patterns that trigger processes in my sense organs translate those sensations into something I can consciously think about.

Myriad said...

I'm willing to consider the suggestion that other cultures do have different visual perceptional systems that are reflected in their artwork. A lot of processing has to happen to get from a retinal image to conscious perception, and we know the neural systems that do that processing are highly malleable (even able to repurpose from one sense to a different sense that has a completely different physical basis, for instance).

There's also additional direct evidence of such cultural differences in visual perception from studies of the differences in susceptibility to various kinds of visual illusion between different cultures. Here's one summary in PDF form.

At the same time, it seems very likely to me that regardless of the differences you're talking about, an ancient Egyptian general on the battlefield would be able to recognize and react to separate simultaneous enemy formations at different distances in the same general direction, without having to turn sideways to do it. A picture (whether drawn in Western style perspective or otherwise) might cause confusion, but on the actual battlefield he'd react appropriately. Pity the soldier in an army whose commander perceived a world without depth.

Photons are only models. Well, sure. Everything we can describe or explain in words or mathematics is just models. (Although, to paraphrase Rush that Speaks: why "only" and "just"?) The world isn't obliged to behave according to our models, but it's not obliged to defy them either. Everything being models doesn't mean all models are equally useful.

I'm comfortable embracing multiple contradictory models. If mastering some practice were to require me to fix the idea in my mind that light as I understand it is an illusion and my eyes instead emit vision-beams that directly trigger all of the depth, brightness, color, and motion I perceive in the world, which dissolves back to formless chaos when I look away, I could probably do so. I imagined something very like that in play as a child. (My play might have been a bit peculiar by others' standards.) But when I'm not in that mental state, I'm going to remember that light has a measurable speed (I even measured it myself once) and when I look toward Jupiter there's no hour-long delay for it to appear, and for that and many other reasons the vision-beams model is not a useful one for many purposes.

The question I'll always want to ask in response to "X is just a model" is, where in the case at hand, in this case photons under conditions relevant to human vision, does X fall short? What does it not predict or describe? (I'm not requesting an answer re photons if it's off topic. Just trying to explain my initial point of view regarding such matters.)

Stacey Armstrong said...

Thank you for taking up this map making project. Having a trusted guide with a sense of humour is an exciting proposition/invitation. Etymologies are amazing maps on which to start off any journey even if they lead to tilting at windmills and being unseated/unsettled. We had the dictionary out at breakfast this morning after reading your introduction. I was taken by the juxtaposition of different cultures' significantly different visual representations of their specific realities with the thought that similar words and concepts appear through time and space. I suppose it explains how we can not only make a kind of sense of texts in different languages and from different times but also seek information, solace and pleasure in them. It certainly adds a gravitas to the job of translator. I think it also highlights the benefits of learning a second or third language. If we can disrupt and identify those things that we do and experience by rote we are in a better position to reevaluate and reimagine. I remember as a child hanging upside down and being able to change my perception of up and down so thoroughly that the sky was the ground. In my adult life it is a more difficult proposition. The vertigo experienced coming in and out of that shift is less comfortable! Having tools at hand to do this more safely would be an asset.

Stacey

Sent from my iPad

Eric S. said...

Myriad: Well, depth perception itself is simply the result of having two forward facing eyes at the front of the body. What's interesting, is I can still see things slanting towards a point on the horizon if I close one eye. Which means that effect seems to be produced by a different part of the mind than the part that allows me to percieve depth.

Bill Pulliam said...

"I can still see things slanting towards a point on the horizon if I close one eye."

I think this gets right to the idea JMG is working with here. We see things "slanting to a point" because that is what we were taught they do. We see things "getting smaller" as they recede because that is how we were taught to interpret what we perceive. Maybe someone else views the lines as perfectly parallel, just getting more distant. And perceives receding objects as remaining exactly the same size, but gradually getting less and less distinct.

Kevin said...

JMG, I should have foreseen that you wouldn't let me get away with suggesting that my accustomed mode of visual perception is somehow uniquely legitimate or otherwise to be preferred. I've spent my life working in the western artistic tradition, so I naturally tend to prefer it and wish to conserve it - if that is a meaningful activity in this incipient dark age. But I'm getting the impression that there are few things more likely to alter one's worldview than the practice of magic.

What I'm wondering at this point is whether the body of concepts I've developed has any use from a magical standpoint. Maybe it's just an impediment; I don't know. It'll probably take me a while to get access to the al-Kindi book, but I'll keep after it.

Re "Darkroom Vision" -

Bill, that's amazing. I can't recall ever having experienced such a phenomenon, and wonder if some people have more of a genetic predisposition to it than others. But perhaps it's possible to develop this consciously as a skill..? It sounds like a very handy form of magic to me.

Eric S., I think you may be confusing two forms of depth perception. That deriving from binocular vision is based on two slightly different views of the visual world, taken from variant angles, which the brain must reconcile, as in a Viewmaster or a 3D movie. Whereas the appearance of objects receding to the horizon is the basis of linear perspective, which is a uniocular system, and hence actually works *better* with one eye closed. The closest mechanical analogue would be a pinhole camera.

Eric S. said...

Ah ok. Most of the animals I know the anatomy of really well have either compound eyes, simple eyes, or no eyes at all. :-)

Myriad said...

@Eric S,

Binocular vision is only one "technique" we use for depth perception. Others, some of which are so subtle that we're not usually conscious of the sensory cues, include parallax from head movements, the muscle effort needed to focus the lens of the eye, apparent size of objects relative to known size, atmospheric fading of known colors, and the depth of field of the focused eye (nearer focus also means a shallower depth of field).

Unconscious familiarity with the latter cue can make an aerial photograph of a real scene (such as a town) look like a photograph of a miniature model, by manipulating the depth of field of the photograph so that only the center of the image is fully in focus. Google "tilt-shift photograph" for many examples.

John Roth said...

JMG - I’ll keep my eyes open for some accessible books on the subject of constructed awareness. It’s frequently called one of the “hard problems”: that is, why do we have it, what is it good for, how did it arise, all that good stuff people like to confuse themselves with. Unfortunately, I don’t have books on the subject to hand; these days I tend to look for credible blogs by people working in the field. The deeper in, the less of a bridle they put on their tongue, and the more likely they’re to have other credible researchers looking over their shoulder. Of course, that also puts more responsibility on the reader to know what they’re talking about.

Here’s the experience that convinced me that “reality” is constructed. I was lazing in a recliner soaking up some sun while there was a construction project going on outside. They were using a pile driver. Thump. Thump. Thump. Great for letting stuff flow in and out without leaving a trace, eh? Well, I had a muscle tick in time to the pile driver a fraction of a second _before_ I heard the thump. Weird, eh? I figure that whatever was responsible for putting “reality” together simply couldn’t coordinate those two pieces properly.

An experiment almost anyone can do on the malleability of time. If you’ve got an analog clock with a second hand that jerks for each second instead of going around in a smooth motion, you can catch it hesitate just as you look at it. It may take more than a second to make that first tick. That’s another indication that the background processes that construct reality take a bit of time to make everything come out “right.”

There’s a lot of stuff that falls in this area. Optical, auditory, kinesthetic and temporal illusions, synesthesia and more that escape me at the moment. There’s a lob where the researchers can induce out of body experiences, or convince someone that someone else has their arm, or they have three arms. I sometimes think the researchers in this area like messing with people’s minds. And then, of course, there’s all the work on false memory and induced memories. This is even getting into the courts. Attentional blindness: this happens when someone is too focused on one thing and other things simply don’t appear in their awareness. There was an elegant experiment with doctors reading x-rays. They didn’t see the picture of a gorilla the experimenters had put on the plates in locations they weren’t interested in.

And one for the record books. There’s a small tribe in the Amazon whose members can’t count. They’re small enough that they don’t really need to (about 200 members total). Their world-view is that if it isn’t in some living person’s experience, it doesn’t exist. This caused a bit of perplexity for the Christian missionaries who tried to convert them….

Re Depth perception. Binocular vision only works to about 20 feet; beyond that the brain has to use other cues to figure out depth. I know my brain simply cannot get traffic lights in the distance to match up with cross roads until I’m fairly close - a couple of hundred feet. Not a problem for the practical business of driving, but it’s one more amusing indication that “reality” doesn’t always align with reality.

SLClaire: the “auditory loop” is about two seconds long, possibly longer. That’s how far back the brain can go to reprocess things. This may not be what you’re experiencing, though.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, that's remarkable. I'll have to give it a try.

Cake, of course you can. There are good reasons to include interaction with deities in magical practice, and we'll get to those as we proceed, but you don't have to have that in place to get in the door.

Eric, I suspect there's no good way to do so unless you can sit down with somebody in that culture and talk to them!

Cherokee, yes, and that's another of the values of ritual. More on this later!

Nano, excellent. That's part of what I was trying to get at in the recent Archdruid Report series on the religion of progress.

Shrama, nah, facts and values, while equally dependent on the perspective of the person perceiving them, are distinct. A fact is what's perceived to be the case. A value is what you think or feel about the fact -- a judgment call, conscious or otherwise. Here is a sandwich; that (presuming that you perceive it) is a fact. If you're hungry and like that kind of sandwich, the fact that the sandwich is there is a good thing; that is a value.

SLClaire, bingo! The Newtonian worldview is a very elegant mathematization of our basic Western space-consciousness, in which things that exist are like balls bouncing off each other in empty space. Yes, we'll be talking about that as we proceed. The way that the mind pulls some words (but not all) out of background chatter, btw, is a very good example of the way we construct the world.

Myriad, my comment that photons are only models was meant to head off the usual scientific delusion that photons (etc.) are what's really real, and our experience of the world is less real. Photons are one kind of model, a mental model consciously constructed to fit certain aspects of experience; the experience of light shining on your face is another kind of model, one unconsciously constructed out of sensation to fit mental patterns. The notion that one is more real than the other is a bit like saying that "un chien" is a more real description of the four-legged animal barking at you than "ein Hund." That was the point I was hoping to make, at least!

Stacey, excellent! Yes, and it also suggests that there's much to be gained by reading books from other cultures and times -- that's another way to get that vertigo of cultural distance.

Bill, exactly. Exactly.

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, of course you should keep working with the world, the man-old, you know and treasure! It's as valid as any other, and has enormous possibilities -- as does any other. I'm by no means clear on its magical dimension, but I'm very fond of classical Western art, you know.

John, thanks for the examples! I'm clearly going to have to chase a bunch of this stuff down -- I'll be talking about the different kinds of time that human beings experience, for instance, and how choosing the right kind of time makes sense of divination; having some background in the psychology of time will help make that point.

SMJ said...

Hello Bill Pulliam

You mentioned that you weren't are of any Western practices similar to yoga or martial arts in working consciously with the physical body in unison with the subtle body.

There are some Russian martial arts that do exactly that. RMA are starting to become known outside Russia - they're collectively known as Systema (система, meaning "the system"). As with all martial arts there are quite a few styles, some focus more than others on the subtle body, and as with all martial arts you have to wade through a lot of nonsense.

Regards,
SMJ

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: magic without gods. Yes, many popular self-help systems are built around this. And the Silva Method I mentioned earlier is a fine non-theistic magical system, well-researched and built from time-tested methods of regulating and altering consciousness, visualization, focusing intent, obtaining information, etc.... quality you have to pay for though, the courses are not cheap, but it is a one-time fee not a sc13nt0l0gy - like scheme to drain your wallet. There is an unspecified "higher intelligence" that you can consciously connect to in the more advanced exercises, but it has no name or form.

People who are non-theistic will probably find those systems more satisfying, since they won't have to keep mentally sidestepping the theistic aspects. But those of us who are theists at some level tend to find it more satisfying to include out "invisible friends." I think (do not really have evidence though) that theistic magic is likely to be more helpful in highly emotional situations. And deities also often come with human-like ethics, which nameless higher consciousness does not always possess.

Re: depth perception -- John Roth's note about binocular vision only being effective at close range is something that we oldfartz in the birdwatching world are always (often with little success) trying to hammer into people's minds. You simply cannot (cannot cannot cannot) make a reliable direct visual estimate of the absolute size of a bird (or anything else) unless it is quite close to you. Your estimates of size are almost always based on subconscious comparisons to other objects you think are at a similar distance with sizes you believe you know. You can be off by orders of magnitude. I have seen swallows turn into eagles and vice-versa when they were positioned so as to mislead the mind.

And finally the big mystery in all of this.. Who abd what is the "I" that all these perceptions are being presented to? My "mind" serves up that nice ghostly darkroom vision so that "I" can look at it and navigate in a dark room. But who am "I?" I personally find subjective self-awareness to be the greatest mystery in the universe. Which means I find myself to be that mystery... It's Egos all the way down...

Nano said...

Maybe another way to think about this is that, a physiological/biological similar alien race might measure the universe completely different than we do. Where we see space time, they might see velocity and gravity, or any other measurement we can think off.

The result could very well be a very different set of models and theories about "things."

Daniel Cowan said...

Along the lines of Bill's "darkroom vision" I've noticed a few spots in daily life where I can see

For instance, I remember working in a kitchen, when a few of the cooks began to wear tall white paper hats like the chef had always worn. One of these cook's had a similar body-type as the chef, and sometimes when he'd enter the kitchen, from a distance and out the side of eye, in peripheral vision, I would actually "see" the chef enter the room, until he got closer and the image would shift back to the cook in question.

This happened after I had started meditating and noticing the activity of my mind more. I was surprised, because it wasn't just that I was unsure of who this person and thought, "That might be the chef", it was the for a really brief moment, I actually had an image in mind of the chef entering the room, which was quickly altered as the cook came into better focus.

Interesting also in that, from a social primate point-of-view, my mind was always scanning for the chef's presence, and how he might view my work.

I notice that phenomenon in the evening light as well, when I encounter an object that I can't quite make out what it is, but looks to be the size of an animal - it is very quick, but I can see my mind trying on various perceptions to the hazy figure: "Is it an animal? Is it a raccoon, or a dog?" until I can get a better view of the object, and the perception settles down to something more stable.

I imagine these moments of perceptual uncertainty make conscious a process that is normally hidden from me, of how the mind decides what something "is", like a table, or chair, or person, etc., and then supplies an appropriate image, though it seems to me like I am simply "seeing" something that is "there".

Something else - in becoming aware of my dreams, I noticed that my mind has these moments of indecision, then decides on a narrative framework for things, then will alter past happenings to fit that framework. I'd always thought dreams were like movies playing from beginning to end in order, but on closer inspection, it seems more like streams of thinking, in which the mind will decide on a story, then go back and change what happened before to make that story coherent!


John Michael Greer said...

Nano, that's certainly one of the things I tried to weave into Star's Reach -- the alien Cetans in that story experience the universe in terms of flows rather than discrete objects, so ordinary counting numbers are a very complex mathematical abstraction to them, equivalent to our calculus.

Vicky K said...

JMG: Congrats on the maiden voyage of this new blog. Loving it.

To all the commentators: A high standard has been set.

Bill: You are still the rock star. Your darkroom vision is like some things that have happened to me to indicate that I have an ongoing model of what the environment contains, as long as there is familiarity to it. Once while getting a massage (eyes closed) I suddenly 'saw' the masseuse turn into a glowing body like blob. This was in my minds eye. Until that moment I hadn't realized that I had a mostly sub-conscious model of her and the room. I made the assumption that for some reason my skin suddenly 'saw' her with the bio-light receptors, replacing the mundane inner image. Pure speculation on my part however.

Myriad: Thanks for the link to the PDF on cross-cultural perception. Read about it just the other day regarding the line length illusion and wanted to know more.

Eric S. said...

JMG: I did a little more research on cultural differences in visual perception and found these studies from academic journals as well as a comprehensive bibliography on the topic. Thought some of it might interest you and help out your research when you're compiling all this into a book someday.

http://www.academia.edu/2650558/How_to_Say_Objectively_that_Linear_Perspective_is_Relative


http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-5884.1996.tb00018.x/abstract


http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/socialperception14.pdf


http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED156810


(P.S. Looking more closely at the art of different cultures the one thing I will still have to disagree on is the Greeks. They seem to have used linear perspective quite a bit in their paintings. I wonder if we can, at least in part, thank Euclid for that little technique?)

nwlorax said...

Regarding al-Kindi--Several books on pinhole photography cover his analyses in the context of explaining the operation of the pinhole as a fundamental optical and X-Ray device.

"Pinhole Photography" by Renner is the standard reference work. Pinhole photography is a lot of fun and quite cheap. One can have infinite depth of field and a curved recording surface.

Two eyes aren't actually needed for 3D binocular vision and depth perception--many WWI fighter pilots had a single eye, something Martin Cadin mentions in one of his books. The good eye "jiggles" slightly and the optical processing centers use the jiggle to extract 3 dimensional information by comparing adjacent images. Or something like this.

Fran said...

Hi JMG
I'm pretty excited about this new venture. The magic articles in TADR opened a new world that I could feel but not conceptualize.
Peter Watts http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Watts_(author)
writes science fiction from a biologist background and likes to play with the way the mind builds reality. Blindsight http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blindsight_(science_fiction_novel) in particular has a lot of it, and it's heavily citated in the afterword. I think it's the same for his other works.

Bill Pulliam said...

I am not special:

"Brain able to see in pitch black"

http://www.healthaim.com/brain-able-to-see-in-pitch-black/

50% of subjects could see their own hands in total darkness.

Numerous other Google hits that include anecdotal accounts similar to mine. Interestingly some say they can "see through" their closed eyelids. I find my darkroom vision shuts off if I close my eyes. Because of this I generally do close my eyes when in unfamiliar places in total darkness, since the darkroom vision is unreliable and easily misleading. So I turn it off.

Richard Clyde said...

The most vivid personal experience I have of the depth perception illusions Bill alludes to took place while I was sitting at a fire behind a friend's house under a summer prairie night sky. I suddenly saw an immense bat, with a wingspan of easily thirty feet, swooping and wheeling a hundred feet or so above us. It was shadowy black against the still twilit sky, there was no mistaking it. More worryingly, somehow nobody else had noticed it.

It wasn't until the creature's third pass that the others saw it too, and that my eyes resolved it into a grouping of points of light-- presumably a squadron of fighter jets on exercise many thousands of feet above. The "bat" was the negative space among them, and it had looked darker than the surrounding night sky because of the definition and contrast provided by the lights.

At least, that's what I tell myself.


Kevin-- sorry, my inept use of html tags swallowed the crucial bit in my last comment. Ioan Culianu's "Eros and Magic in the Renaissance" is the work I mean. Besides al-Kindi, it gave me a really valuable grasp on medieval and Renaissance notions of psyche and why they matter.

John Michael Greer said...

Daniel, those are classic examples -- kudos for noticing them. Most people go out of their way not to.

Vicky, thank you.

Eric, thanks for the links!

Fran, interesting. I'll check him out!

Richard, I'd much rather have a cosmos inhabited by giant bats than one inhabited by fighter planes any day!

Robert Mathiesen said...

There is an inexpensive English translation of Al-Kindi's "De radiis stellicis" (On Stellar Rays), but so obscurely published that it doesn't show up on Amazon:

Al-Kindi. _On the Stellar Rays_. Trans. Robert Zoller. (Project Hindsight, Latin Track, Vol. 1.) Berkeley Springs, WV: Golden Hind, 1993.

A google search will bring you to the publisher's website, naturally.

magicalthyme said...

Thank you for starting this new blog, JMG. This is exactly what I've been waiting (and hoping) for. This week's topic reminds me of Carlos Castaneda and his teacher, don Juan, striking his "assemblage point" to shake his perception loose from cultural imprinting.

I've had the experience on a few occasions of a momentary glitch in my brain that left me looking at my surroundings and unable to connect the images to objects.

Not too long ago, I was sitting in a chemistry class and the professor asked me to answer a question from a series on a handout. I started to read the question, but suddenly was unable to read. I still had oral language, so explained (giggling wildly) that I thought I was having an attack of hypoglycemia as I could see squiggles on the page but couldn't make them into words. (Fortunately in our lab the day before we had been modeling something using gumdrops. Leftover gumdrops brought my glucose levels up fairly promptly.)

Both those types of situations leave one open to re-interpreting the world. It's like returning to infancy, before any cultural programming has been installed.

As far as scientific models of reality, I asked that same chemistry professor why we were focussing on 60 year old physics. Her answer was that because, "there are no models to describe current physics. It has evolved to pure, absolutely mind-boggling mathematics."

Bill, I had an experience of seeing with my eyes closed a couple decades ago. I was at a "healing event" with a woman who claimed to be a "walk-in." She had a pyramid set up that we took turns sitting in. She used various tuning forks and crystals. During my turn, while my eyes were shut at one point I saw a distinct outline of an object, white on black, hovering in front of me. Intrigued, I opened my eyes slightly and realized I had been seeing the negative of a large crystal she was holding in front of me.

Mary

Kevin said...

Thanks Robert. I've heard of Zoller, he's a well-known astrologer working in the Renaissance tradition. So far I've gotten an online glimpse of the first dozen pages or so; more follow-up to come.

Hi Richard. I've heard of Ioan Coulianu's book, and I'll be sure to have a look at that passage since you mention it.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

I'm seriously not aiming for spoilers, this stuff just pops up in my head! You lead us down a path and I have the unfortunate habit of looking further ahead and peeking around corners to see where we may be going and what may be there.

I had another thought today too:

Ritual has community building value as it can be an inclusive act providing people with specific roles, even more so if it is incorporated as part of a task. Part of decline is that as costs to maintain the existing culture increase, people are being literally cast aside. Ritual may be of value to these people who may otherwise not have a role to play. In a society that maintains ritual there would probably be far less people on the fringes - if at all. Dunno.

I haven't quite got my head around the discussion of festivals yet. Perhaps it is a reflection on my experiences of both music and hippie festivals. I loathed both of them and I could never quite get my head around the why of it. One possible thought was that they both felt to me like a microcosm of our current culture, but dressed up in cheese cloth and tie dye whilst being subjected to some serious full on guerrilla marketing. Somehow, maintaining a certain look and acting in a certain way - to my mind, anyway - became more important than things like community building and skill sharing etc.

Somehow even the hippie festivals became a sordid marketing exercise. Can we be that strongly programmed? Admittedly, I am rarely exposed to marketing so I'm possibly not a representative sample and I find large exposure to marketing to be disturbing.

As an example at a festival, I've never been inclined towards a mud bath and yet plenty of my mates thought that they'd achieve some sort of experience through undertaking such acts. However, if present realities are anything to go by, there may be a strong argument to suggest that nothing much happened from attending such an event! Hehe!

There is definitely a place for festivals, as it provides a sense of the passage of time and is also something of a community benefit, I just don’t think they’ll look like what we may be currently used to seeing.

Regards

Chris

John Roth said...

I just ran across Anna Wierzbicka’s (Australian National University) “Imprisoned in English: the Hazards of English as a Default Language.” To give a bit of a flavor (I’m transcribing this, since Google Books doesn’t allow me to copy and paste):

“Speakers of languages that have no color words as such, and have instead a rich visual vocabulary focused on brightness and visual patterns (such as the Warlpiri people in Central Australia [references]) are not color-blind, but they too, ‘take everything into account,’ not just color - not because their physical perception is different but because, for cultural reasons (including their way of life), their interest in the visual world is different.”

also:

“Like any other language, English, too, has its own built-in culture-specific ‘forms of attention’ - and native speakers of English are often blind to them because of their very familiarity.”

She’s going to go on to argue for the creation of a scholarly dialect based on the 65 root words/concepts that are common to all languages that have been studied, and probably common to all human languages. The interesting thing here will be her presentation of the “semantic primes,” rather than her discussion of problems in psychology and sociology occasioned by an English-centric world view. (I have a fair number of papers she and Cliff Goddard have written on what they call the Natural Semantic Metalanguage, so I feel somewhat confident that there’s some real meat there.)

I’m about to order a copy.

Ing said...

Chris, as I was reading your last comment about mud baths and judging whether or not anything happens during a given ritual/event based on present realities I was thinking about a conversation I had with a Cherokee herbalist about the benefit of small ritual to bridge the big rituals. I've witnessed and participated in very powerful rituals and ceremony only to feel it fade over time and what might have been developed in me lost because I didn't know how to bring it into daily life in a meaningful way, even though I meditated and engaged in other spiritual practices. It's been interesting to try to develop workable rituals for daily life and see which fail and which I actually use and have the desired effect. Maybe those people didn't have much of an experience or maybe they didn't have a way to carry it forward.

Well, if you were able to make it through that paragraph, thanks for reading. I'm struggling with punctuation and grammar lately.

By the way, I followed your link to your blog yesterday and have enjoyed your recent posts and the photos especially. You live in a beautiful place!

redoak said...

I too will join the chorus of praise for this new blog, many thanks! I’m also very much looking forward to the space provided by the once a month format. One of my favorite quotes from Walden:

“One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so small a house, the difficulty of getting to a sufficient distance from
my guest when we began to utter the big thoughts in big words. You want room for your thoughts to get into sailing
trim and run a course or two before they make their port.”

And Captain JMG, you are sailor of big thoughts!

Here’s one close hauled against the gale (and that’ll do for the nautical nonsense!):

“What do you do, in turn, when your habitual representations are out of step with the reality they’re intended to describe? It’s appealing to the vanity of the contemporary mind to suggest that you can just replace one set of habits with another in some conscious, reasonable way, but that rarely works in practice. You are as much a part of the universe as anything else real, and so you don’t experience yourself directly—you construct a representation of yourself, subject to all the usual caveats, and trying to tinker with that representation doesn’t necessarily have much effect on the underlying reality. (This representation of the self, by the way, is called the ego; we’ll be talking about it in more detail later on.)”

For me, this problem is the alpha and omega of philosophy. I once posted at the ADR that in the Image of the Cave the only natural object accessible to the prisoners is the shadow of their body, and for the interlocutor the image of that shadow is in chains. Thus the method of correcting one representation requires the installation of another, tailor made to the particular circumstances of the recipient and subject to the purposes of the tailor. For this reason philosophy is not progressive in the historical sense, though it must adapt to historical circumstances. In short, I am deeply intrigued by your sense of fashion.

Many thanks again for your work,

-p

Twilight said...

I'm also delighted at this project, as these are the topics that interest me these days. Since the topic is outside of my experience I shall endeavor to contemplate more and comment less here.

I can tell the the perception of linear perspective is heavily ingrained in my cultural and personal experience, so much so that it would be difficult to perceive it otherwise, regardless of the fact that I would find it interesting.

Although I have now become rather annoyingly aware of it for the time being - thank you very much!

Nonetheless there are a host of other perceptions that are influenced in this manner. The one that interests me the most is that of time. Our clock and schedule obsessed culture cannot help but to have linearized our perception of time, although I have long suspected its true nature may be quite different.

MawKernewek said...

As far as Cornish and Welsh go, there is an interesting curiosity with colours - "glas" means either blue, or natural greens, with gwyrdh/gwerdd traditionally reserved for artificial greens, though it Modern Welsh often applied to any green.

Gwerdd is in fact originally a Latin word congnate to French vert etc.

It may have been the case in Brythonic Celtic there were fewer specific colour words in the pre-Roman era.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Ing,

There is a raw and wild beauty to the forests here and I try to capture that in the photos. Thanks for the comment.

Your paragraph was long for sure, but completely understandable! I reckon you are spot on too. Ritual re-connects and grounds you to the realities of the task. Powerful stuff. I always end a work day here with a review of the work done and a back pat. It doesn't sound like much, but it is very motivating and it connects you and your actions back into the big picture. It also compartmentalises those tasks from the rest of life.

Too many people think that a drive home after a days work is enough to separate them from their day jobs, but I have strong doubts about that.

Regards

Chris

Nano said...

Twilight -

A fun mental exercise that you may or may not like.

Things to ponder:

What if "Time" is what happens to matter. That's it.

The Vacuum of space itself is eternal;a blank canvas upon which matter can re-arrange itself over and over and over, for eternity.


We often ask, what was the beginning?
What if there was no Big Bang? What if this has always been?


What if the concept of "non-existence" is a semantic
issue?

Beware of "isms"

All Hail Eris

;)

onething said...

Bill,

My thought is that quantum weirdness begins at Planck length because that is the doorway into another dimension.

man with no name said...

JMG,

I've been a fan of yours on the Archdruid Report and will read with keen interest here.

I've gotten to the point where there are few people I consider worth listening to: you, Ian Welsh, Matt Stoller on contemporary politics. But I'm always open.

What should I do with my life? I got into law for horrible reasons relating to my wanting to change the world to be a little kinder. But it's obvious that won't happen.

So I'm moving from Chicago to Michigan and want to transition to engineering (I was a crack math student, and I like making systems that work.)

I don't want to lay my future on you, but I suppose I just did. :(

-m.

Roger said...

I'm not magically literate. But when I was growing up I thought of magic as the opposite of science. There was ignorance and poverty and backwardness and magic. And there was knowledge and prosperity and progress and science. And magic and religion were allies in opposing science.

But now I'm having trouble understanding why there's any conflict at all between religion and science. The way I look at them now I see them as different realms that hardly intersect. So what's all the arguing about? What about magic?

People in my line of work and in my circle tend towards straight-line reasoning and rigid conformism. Free-spirits not wanted. Seriously, I wouldn't even confess to having listened to Stephane Grappelli. It would raise eyebrows. So I just shut up.

So would I admit to having had an unusually vivid and strange dream? Heaven forfend. Or to walking into a church on an impulse? NOT DONE. Not even in a bar with a bucket of rum in me as an excuse.

You see, a while back I had a dream: I was walking up a narrow, brightly lit stair-case towards a bright cheerful kitchen. Much like the places I grew up in and where relatives and friends lived. And when I got to the kitchen I was hit with a surge of joy and surprise like I'd never felt. My smiling and long-deceased grandfather was standing there - back from the dead - waiting for me.

I awoke from the dream and sat up. In my waking state the "aura" of great happiness was still there and at that moment it felt like my grandfather had visited me.

Normally dreams rapidly dissipate and are forgotten. Not this one.

So not long ago I walked into a church because I noticed that the door was open. I put money in the donation box and lit a candle. Why? Because I hoped that my dead grandparents would see the flame.

In a small way it was a "magical" act. Absurd, right? I mean, how could dead people possibly see a candle-flame?

I know what I'm supposed to say, that the dream was because of indigestion. Or maybe, if I want to sound scientific, it was a biochemical event that swept up memories and images of my grandfather. Right?

I wouldn't call the dream a "religious" experience. There was no God or Jesus or deity or angels. Just my grandfather and me.

So what about my grandparents and this candle-light? A fantasy, a fool's hope. A scientist would scoff. He would say that they are dead, dead, dead, that they couldn't have seen it, that it would violate the laws of thermodynamics and all that.

And, yes, yes, perfesser, they are dead, and yes, there's some pretty solid laws of physics to contend with. And so I admit that the chances of their having seen that flicker from an after-life (and scientists scoff at that idea too), if not entirely zero, are vanishingly small.

Science plays its role and I'm not minimizing it. But scientists can be really annoying with all their looking down their noses at people, like yours truly for instance, who don't always believe what every tall forehead says.

A measure of humility in the scientific community would be greatly welcome (at least by me). Why? Because it seems like the hurrier they go the behinder they get. They don't know everything.

I've spent a lifetime with rigid thinking and behavior, much of it my own. It's tiresome, it's limiting. Science doesn't know everything about the architecture of space-time and its rules and contents. Not by a long shot. So can't they leave the door open just a crack for magic (and my dream and my candle)? Or are magic and science really about totally different things anyway?

Seb Ze Frog said...

"Quantum weirdness starts at Plank scale"

This is probably bordering on off topic, and should be the title of a beautiful book that I am sadly lacking the talent to write.

Yet, from my understanding of it, quantum weirdness starts much before.

For example, lets watch a soap bubble. Its beautiful colors are understood as light reflected from the outside of the bubble and from the inside of the bubble skin turning on and off colors as they hit your eye.

And if you look at the soap bubble getting thinner and thinner, at one point just before it plops, it looks as if it was drawn in dashes...
The dark parts of the dashes are light plus light making darkness as they meet in your eye.

This is quantum physics winking at us from a kids game.

The world is indeed an awesome place...

Seb

daelach said...

@ Roger:

> "So can't they leave the door open just a crack for magic (and my dream and my candle)?
> Or are magic and science really about totally different things anyway?"

This is a typical kind of question for the cultural phase at the end of the rational enlightment phase, before the second religiosity. Quite some people ask such questions nowadays, many more will follow. That's why we need an approach to magic which doesn't overly interfere with reason, so that the reasonable mind may "believe" it. If I get the "Well of Galabes" opener right, JMG will write about that topic in the months to come.

In the meanwhile, if I may suggest some readings that I think you will appreciate:

C.G. Jung - Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
C.G. Jung - Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle
R.A. Wilson - The New Inquisition (with an eye on understanding what he calls "reality tunnels")

. josé . said...

Hi Archdruid,

I haven't yet worked my way through all of the comments, but I'll echo the dozens of commenters who've thanked you for starting this new venture. (This new class?)

I'll also echo Bill and Ing about the monthly cycle. I tend to think slowly, and your posts often require multiple readings on my part. By the time I have something to say on the TAR, a week has gone by and it's time to read the next essay.

By the way, I've been slow on other counts too. This next equinox will mark three years since I first wore the yellow belt, and my Candidate year has dragged a bit. Enough so that when I went back to the website today, I realized the curriculum had changed a bit. (I was hoping to tell Joel how to access the extensive reading lists for each Path and Spiral - but the old links are now broken and I couldn't find the lists on the site.)

John Michael Greer said...

Magicalthyme, those are great examples -- thank you.

Cherokee, to judge by historical parallels, festivals in that sense are always at least partly marketing exercises -- think of medieval fairs, or the busy vendors in the court of the temple at Jerusalem that the guy from Nazareth disrupted one Passover week. Still, the kinds of marketing change -- and so does the popularity of mud baths et al. We'll discuss this more as things proceed.

John, fascinating. I'm reminded of Goethe's comment: "He who knows only one language doesn't know any language."

Redoak, thank you! Ypu're spot on, btw, to suggest that the replacement of one self-representation by another is a crucial part of magical tactics -- we'll get into that in detail as we proceed.

Twilight, excellent! Yes, we'll be talking about linear time as well as linear space...

MawKernewek, true enough, and fascinating. I'm reminded of Chinook jargon, the trading language of the Pacific Northwest coast native tribes, which has (as I recall) four color words: pil, which means red, orange, yellow, or bright; t'kope, which means white; klale, which means any dark color; and spooh, which means faded or washed out -- a pair of Levi's jeans starts out klale and ends up spooh. The color spectrum can also be divided in different ways!

No Name, when somebody asks me what to do with their life, I hand the question back to them, because I may be a mage but I'm not an oracle. Weigh the options and the consequences, consider what will happen if things go right and if they go wrong, make a decision and go for it -- that's my advice.

Roger, we'll be getting to that. The short form is that the supposed opposition between magic and science is a delusion, one that's been very carefully cultivated by our society. What scientists call "magic" isn't magic, it's a straw man they've been flogging for centuries. For the moment, I'll just say that your experience is extremely common, and the offering you made was a wholly appropriate gesture of respect -- and that no violation of the laws of thermodynamics is involved. More, much more, on this as we proceed.

Jose, the AODA curriculum changed in 2010, and we're past the grace period for the old curriculum -- you'll want to examine the new one carefully, and contact the AODA office for help if you have questions about it. The old reading lists were cut, btw, because so many of the books are out of print, and the Spirals are no longer part of the curriculum.

melo said...

No-one better suited to dipping the proboscis of language into the vortex of mystery than our favourite modern Merlin, it is propitious indeed to see this new screed-to-skry-with hitting the e-theric plane with a satisfying resonance!

The world has always meant the whirled to me, silly puns aside, it is what it says, spelling is just make-up for pure sound.

I went through an intense few years with the Tarot, drinking deeply from the Wilson, Gurdjieff, Crowley, Yogananda, Blavatsky, Castaneda, Laing, Hesse, Gibran, Rumi, Kabir, Hazrit Khan, Graves, Frazier springs to try to find 'the crack between the worlds', rending the veils, seeking to decouple my atavistic yearnings for Original Mind from the mental-cultural programming of a mediocre materialist mindset foisted upon my being by agenda-based 'environment production facilities' aka Skool.

I fasted, I prayed, I meditated, I asked Anton LaVey to remove a succubus (unsuccessfully, though he did move it around some pointing a dagger!).

Once the Tarot was internalised and the Emperor came into my dreams I knew how plastic reality was to the tyrannies of perception, and how to attract the teachers I needed in between long periods of solitude, reading Gormenghast in a tent on Dartmoor, spending my dole money on trains out of the Smoke seeking one field where I could see no work by hand'o'man, be it house, pole, road or railway. Hiking village lanes away from the station looking for copses and glades, searching the ley lines and tors for the wisp of ancient memories emanating like will'o'the wisps from the fens, fireflies of wisdom in the deepening dusk of Kali-Yuga. They came in many forms, human and otherwise, mostly otherwise.
Slowly I came to read the languages of the leaves and winds, the squalls and calls of the wilderness, waves crashing on cliffs, rain on the rooves, rustlings in the forests, all symbols of inner depths unknown. Nature as companion slowly dissolved the notions branded into my psyche by my tribal elders and formlessness and chaos became the warp and weft of my world.
The fascination of music, the study of ancient modes of healing, the art of treating pain through intentioned touch, the coaxing of green life from the brown clay, these became the ways I learned to affect reality and mold moments into beads of beauty to string on life's necklace.

I saw children born and a mother die and learned the years with Evans-Wentz and Milarepa were not wasted, that the Bardos are stops on the Cosmic Metro, that eternity/infinity vertigo can be calmed through habituation, that the Abyss staring back into you was nothing to be feared, rather welcomed as breaker of the soul's hymen.
"You can't pay the taxi-driver with the pentacle of Solomon" says the old saw, when Caesar asks for fools' gold.

Magic... Write on.

Welcome back Merlin, effing the ineffable like you always did and do. Your grateful acolytes await agog.

Epic first post!

onething said...

Zeb Ze Frog:

"Yet, from my understanding of it, quantum weirdness starts much before."

Are you going from the outside in? I'm going from the inside out...so then yes, the quantum dimension underlies the ones we (think we) see, and of course, bubbles up (ha, ha) into everything...gee, and yet it all looks so normal!

Roger,

Your contribution was like a beautiful poem.

There is only science.
There is only spirit.
There is only matter.
There is only magic.

We label pieces of reality. We like to think we understand. There cannot be any conflict between different aspects of reality, as there is only Reality, and our groping attempts to understand how it works. Reality is not divisible.

Let us say your dream was a real visit to the spirit world, or your grandfather pulled you in to share his experience, let us say for the sake of argument that it was real. If it was real it was a scientific
experience because it must have an explanation, a pathway. If something is magic, every molecule, every atom or ray of energy is accounted for.

If my daughter had a thought directed at her sister, who was outside at the time, and who heard it in her head as if it was the voice of her sister and came in and answered her indignantly before realizing the fact she could not have heard her out there - if this happened and I say it did as I was standing there, then it means thoughts have a mode of travel and minds or brains have a way to receive them.
Why this stumps people I don't know. Why do people think they know enough to form such strong opinions? Why do people not see how little they know?
Science is the study of reality. Who knows all of reality?

Kevin said...

JMG, I recently attempted to read an article on secrecy in magic from the Caduceus section of Hermetic(dot)com. By no means did I grasp it in full, but I did come away with the impression that secrecy might be thought of as a kind of container, somewhat like a magic circle, that helps to protect and concentrate the potency of a magical operation. Am I in the ballpark here, or somewhere out beyond left field?

So far I've been exposed by reading and a modicum of practice to three magical systems, of which the Golden Dawn system seems by far the most complex. I gather it can take a lifetime to master, or at any rate easily a couple of decades. Since I'm starting on this path relatively late in life - I'm in my mid-fifties - I find that a bit dispiriting. I might never get there. Awkwardly, that system so far also feels to me the most potent. I'd prefer to work out something that I can integrate into my life without it regularly consuming most of the hours of my day, since I have quite a full agenda as it is. Any thoughts on this?

Perhaps I should mention that my chief interests are in "animation," for theurgical and divinatory puposes, and in materially affecting my life for the better. I fancy that might have a bearing on any response you may feel inclined to make.

Ember said...

JMG,
I've been enjoying (and catching up on) thearchdruidreport for the past year. I'm excited that you've decided to write about the esoteric here!

The painting metaphor clarified this concept for me and sent me into a spinning, walking meditation.

I've been preoccupied with thoughts on the nature of this knowing and its implications. At first I was thinking about the ability to derive this meta-knowing - I thought about the knowledge of history and the worldwide perspective required to step out of one's own man-old and explain the concept to others. I posited that perhaps this was one area in which there was human progress, that our modern travel and communication had enabled this knowing and this explanation. Then I had to slap my head as I realized that I had slipped back into my own man-old! Your explanation only relied on these things because they are a currently shared man-old that allows you to transfer ideas to me.

Then came the realization that people in all ages, in all man-old's have been able to come to this realization of this meta-reality, they've just been codified and communicated in the language and concepts held by their man-old. This led me to realize why monks often get along and priests rarely do; no matter their mental man-old, monks live and work with this meta-understanding.

Finally, I realized what a nice transition you made. Speaking of story and mimesis. What powerful magical tools! I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to be addressing those issues with your fuller, magical understanding of their import in shaping the man-olds to come.

I wish you (and your ideas on magic, appropriate technology, restoring the commons, and such) a broad audience to mimesitize.
-Ember

wall0159 said...

Regarding the way our brains construct reality, I remember when I was at uni being told by my prof that we can only see colour near the center of our vision. All colour that we see in the periphery is "filled in" by our brain.
I was doubtful, so we did the experiment. Look straight ahead, and a friend slowly brought a coloured pen-lid into the field of view. I could see it was red -- the only problem was that my brain was "filling in" the missing information -- it was actually blue! (by concentrating, I could change the colour that I "saw") It turns out that we only see colour about 45 degrees from where we're looking -- all the rest is imaginary. Try it yourself!

Maria said...

Hi JMG,

Hooray! And thank you. :)

Feet On Both Worlds said...

I'm aware of omnivoyance being used in medieval art, if not that, what are you talking about?

John Michael Greer said...

Melo, thank you. "Effing the ineffable" is right up there with the guy who promised to unscrew the inscrutable!

Kevin, it depends wholly on your time and needs. What you've called animation is not a standalone practice, but there are various ways of committing to regular practice, and I know people who've done very well on twenty minutes a day -- yes, even working the Golden Dawn system. More than that it's hard to say, as it's a matter of fitting the practice to the individual student and his or her life.

Ember, thank you. Half the pleasure of this work is watching people get it.

Wall, thank you also! That's a great example, and one I'll no doubt use.

Maria, many thanks.

Feet, maybe if you read the post a little more carefully you'll figure that out.

Kevin said...

Thanks for the response JMG. Perhaps at this point I need to spend some time figuring out just what exactly my needs magically speaking really are.

The other two magical traditions I'm somewhat acquainted with are the system of theurgy developed by Tony Mierzwicki in his book "Graeco-Egyptian Magick," which is based on texts like the Papyri Graecae Magicae, and the method for using the Tarot as a magical tool which Donald Tyson sets forth in "Tarot Is All You Need." I enjoy Tony's system for its relative simplicity; it involves fifteen or twenty minutes of daily practice, punctuated by occasional longer rituals. Basically it's a system of ascent through the planetary spheres, using visualization, hymnal recitation, and "voces magicae."

Tyson's use of Tarot I suppose could really be regarded as a branch of Golden Dawn-based magic, since he relies heavily on their attributions. It involves creating a magic circle with the cards and visualizing yourself at the center, on an elemental altar, in an imaginary temple where the cards expand to a suitable architectural size. One advantage of this, I have found, is that after a good deal of practice I can mentally create this circle and perform rituals with it in the absence of any physical cards - viz., while lying in bed in the dark with my eyes shut. I quite like having this option. If I'm ever sick or otherwise bedridden, it would be an advantage, I fancy.

I have the notion that because Golden Dawn magic is so complex, with so many branches, it may also be most adaptable to an exceptionally wide variety of practices and purposes. But if so I haven't yet worked out the applicability of this to my own needs, having not thus far decided exactly what those are.

Feet On Both Worlds said...

No, I am talking about this: "I may talk in an upcoming post about one of the known visual effects that is pulled out of the background by medieval art, and not by ours..."

latheChuck said...

Kevin said "at this point I need to spend some time figuring out just what exactly my needs magically speaking really are." As an electrical/electronics engineer, I rely on science and math to produce predictable results, and I don't expect anyone else's "magic" to interfere. So what value can there be in "magic"? Back to Kevin's point: what do we REALLY WANT from this world (man-old)? If a magical practice helps you discern what you want, what builds satisfying relationships, what is feasible, what is pointless distraction, then what could be more valuable than that? Math and science aren't going to be of much use in answering those questions. "How?", maybe, but "why?", never.

An earlier comment claimed that because science and magic are both ways of getting to truth, then they must be in some way equivalent. Magic = truth; Science = truth, therefore magic = science. But that's not as useful as distinguishing between the kinds of truth that is objectively and repeatably verifiable, and those kinds of truth that might be more subjective and transient.

If I could use "magic" to achieve some new ability, it would be to be able to sleep when I lie down, and stay awake when I'm sitting up. But this raises the question of why magic should be part of the solution. What could be more consistent with "changing consciousness according to will", than voluntary unconsciousness?

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi lathechuck,

Your quote: "it would be to be able to sleep when I lie down, and stay awake when I'm sitting up."

Dude, as a friendly suggestion, I recommend that you practice some regular meditation to calm your mind.

I sleep heavily, but over the past few years most of my peers have confessed to regular bouts of insomnia. In fact, I really don't know that many people that claim that they sleep well.

Cheers

Chris

latheChuck said...

Cherokee- I appreciate the advice, but insomnia is not something that I'm actually anxious about. I lie quietly, calm in the faith that if my brain needs to work something out, I might as well stand aside and let it work... without adding to the load by thinking about thinking, or worrying about worry. But how about your friends? If you could offer them a magical treatment for insomnia, would they give it a try, or would they rather place their faith in Big Pharma and swallow a pill?

My prior post was actually based on taking the idea of "changing consciousness through application of the will" to its most literal interpretation. I will myself to lose consciousness.

Kevin said...

I feel I ought to make a correction to a previous statement of mine. I described Tony Mierzwicki's Graeco-Egyptian Magick as a system of ascent through the planetary spheres. That is not quite right. He himself calls these rituals planetary initiations, which are performed at intervals in a sequence following the Chaldean planetary order. It seems to me important not to misrepresent an author's ideas, even inadvertently.

Having given the matter some thought over the past 48 hours, I'm forced to admit to myself that what I really want out of magic, for the present at any rate, are some material improvements in my life. A complex of issues, emotionally charged, clusters around my creative life, and I am not really certain how to untangle them. Some form of divination, perhaps? I'm acquainted with the basics of tarot, thanks to Messrs. Tyson and Case, but dealing with that tricky ambiguity is a real sword dance.

I suspect there are such things as destiny and fate. To what extent can magic help one to alter them for the better - if indeed that can be done at all? How can one find out what *wants* to happen, so to speak, and encourage it to turn out for the best that can be achieved, given the limitations that the fates impose upon us? That is the sort of question I find myself facing.

Kutamun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cherokee Organics said...

Hi lathechuck,

I see, thanks for the clarification.

Everyone is different and I suspect that my friends/acquaintances don't actually want a cure for insomnia as it would involve too much personal sacrifice on their parts.

Just for your interest, I actually feel that my thinking is clearer with better, deeper and sounder sleep. If my mind is awake in the wee hours of the night turning over a subject and looking at it from different angles then I take that to be an indicator that I have not given it sufficient allowance to do so during the day.

About a decade ago I worked at the top of my game, at the top end of town and found that to my dismay the financial rewards were not equal to the personal sacrifice that one had to make to achieve that status.

Since I place little value in status, but was following what I believed to be a correct narrative (for lack of thought about what else to do), it was very easy for me to let go and do something else. I slept much better after that time.

Many of the earlier scientists were gentlemen of leisure and had time to sit - for example in their aunt’s apple orchard - and ponder the workings of the world.

Just sayin...

Regards

Chris

Dammerung said...

Thank you for directing me to this! This is exactly the angle I was hoping you'd start explicating for those interested in such subjects

exiledbear said...

I'm curious, some people (and I think I subscribe to this too) is that if you're alone with nobody around you (and nobody to be around you later on, thanks quantum mechanics), that your perception of reality can deviate from the consensus.

So in some sense, there is no world out there, just a bunch of slightly different worlds most of the time and occasionally a few very different worlds. You're always in your world? Wherever you go, there you are?

I also wonder about the tree falling all alone in the forest and these days I ask, is there actually a tree and a forest there, if nobody is looking at it?

Perhaps this realm compresses what you're not directly looking at and a lot of the weirdness of quantum mechanics could be ascribed to compression artifacts?

exiledbear said...

@Roger - Read Fort's Book of the Damned sometime.

There's a lot of documented one-off things going on out there that science can't explain. And if it's a one-off phenomenon, science gets very antagonistic and hostile to it. If there's one thing most scientists do not like, it's looking ignorant and dumb. It's a scientist's worst fear.

Even if it's only on-and-off reproducible (like cold fusion) they'll go nuts over it and push it away in denial.

Only if it's consistently reproducible will they even begin to consider it, and then only in a way that makes sure they're conforming to their peers. There was a story about how the original weighing of the electron had an error in the measurement, and subsequent measurements were fudged so that they got similar results.

So, there's a lot that science just doesn't see, refuses to peek at. And I like to take a peek at everything. You never know what you might find.

Candace said...

@ exiled bear - re: if a tree...

If there is no tree/forrest then wouldn't that mean that an that development of understanding object permanence during human infancy is a collective delusion?

Maybe I'm getting my concepts confused.

exiledbear said...

@candace - I think it somewhat reasonable to assume if you're not looking at it, it still exists. Nature seems to like conservation of energy so destroying and recreating something sounds like a waste to me.

But there's nothing to say that it can't transform into something else behind your back, when you're not looking at it? Perhaps it actually is more energy expensive, the world we see around us, than it would otherwise, so when we're not needing it, it goes back to something more economical?

I don't know of a way you could prove this - theory, but I can't think of a way to disprove it either. I think the double slit experiment is a big clue that if you aren't looking at something that it does transform into something else and only transforms back when it needs to.

Which leads you to all sorts of weird and interesting logical conclusions if you work them out. Like perhaps there's no real common world, but only your world and my world, which happen to be loosely in synch with each other. And they don't have to be if either you or I don't want them to.

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, exactly. If you know where you want to go, it's much easier to figure out how to get there.

Feet, thanks for the clarification. No, it's something much simpler than that; we'll get to it in a future post.

Kutamun, the "dervish" exercise is one of five -- do you do the others as well? They're worth practicing, and your missus ought to find at least one or two of them highly amusing as well. ;-)

Dammerung, you're welcome.

Bear, oddly enough, we'll be getting to that in the next post, and quite a few posts to follow. The short form is that this thing you call "tree" is assembled by your mind from sensations triggered by an unimaginable probability wave in four-dimensional spacetime, and untangling the things your sense organs, nervous system, and mind puts into "the tree" from what's there in the waveform is a very, very challenging question...

GuRan said...

I haven't read all the comments yet, but wanted to get my thoughts down before they disappear into the wind again.

To follow up from Eric S., who crystallised something for me I think with Romans and Incas travelling to the moon and finding rocks and dust, our "biological layer" as JMG put it, is the same for those long gone peoples. But perception is an active process, not a passive one and I think it's the active aspect that is most influenced by the more recent layers. What I think we're talking about with the cultural and experiential layers of perception is looking for different things, noticing different things, and ascribing different meanings. These can make the were-olds very different places. To take the linear perspective example, I take what you're saying as the older peoples never "noticing" things in that way because it's not important for them, in the same way that I don't "see" the ecological relationships in the landscape around me the way hunter-gatherers do, or the non-engineers around me don't "see" the energy flows around them in our built environment. In the latter example, I see this but it isn't qualitatively the same thing as physically seeing material objects.

In particular, the meaning ascribed by the scientific world to the things "out there" and the relationships between them, is, "it doesn't have any meaning" - so therefore we don't need to pay any attention to, or notice, or try to interpret or understand patterns and relationships. Except perhaps for the special case of interactions between neurons which we have to admit must be the basis of the mind, right? Even those deepest in the scientific world would have difficulty denying the existence of the mind.

Am I heading in the right direction here? JMG, or anyone else who would be comfortable to comment on their own experiences of magical beings, do you perceive them in the same way that you perceive a physical object or being in your environment? Or is it a qualitatively different type of experience for you (or is it something something else altogether?)

Thanks,
Graeme

Derek Lorian said...

I'm very excited about this new blog and eagerly await more posts. I do have one quibble to make though.

Although perhaps no examples survive in Roman artwork, the Romans knew about and used perspective drawing, as Vitruvius mentions it as part of the training of an architect. The rediscovery of Vitruvius' work inspired the emergence of perspective drawing in the Renaissance.

Joe Lapp said...

"If [a map is] going to be of any use, the things on the map have to match up to the equivalent things in the territory..."

I have a story for you that may affect your thinking here. I once attended a lecture by a researcher in the UT Austin business school. She was studying what it is that makes groups of people effective as groups. She recounted a story that is in the literature of the subject, a story that is supposedly true.

A group of backpackers set off on a lengthy venture through a remote mountain range, starting at a base camp. They thought they were following a well-travelled path but eventually realized that they were no longer on that path and did not know how to resume it. They spent a few days hiking lost, never finding familiar ground again. A hiker eventually noticed that he happened to have a map in his backpack. They studied the map. It showed where the mountains were and how far apart they were, etc. They estimated where they thought base camp was and began a journey back. Guided by the map, they arrived at base camp a few days later. When they recounted their tale to the regulars at camp, people were curious about the map. So the backpacker pulled the map out to show them. The map was for an entirely different mountain range.

Perhaps being effective requires structure more than truth.

Raymond McVay said...

As much as I loved your essay, I have to agree with Derek Lorian's comment above in relation to linear perspective in Greco-Roman art. The Parthenon is a famous example of linear perspective in how each column is bowed so as to appear straight close up, and how all of the columns together taper off to a vanishing point some miles in the sky. [We think]This was done to cancel out the illusion of tapering off into a vanishing point when people looked at the massive building, which implies that the vanishing points of linear perspective were very much part of Hellenic visual imagery. An interesting and often ignored fact about the perspective of the Parthenon is that the vanishing point is in the sky, not on the horizon. I wonder what that says about the Hellenic world?

Joshua said...

You wrote recently, and I forget the context, about "the basic presuppositions of magical philosophy." Would you be so kind as to describe those basics of magical philosophy, or at least point me towards a a book where I could learn about the basics further?

zedinhisbigflyinghead said...


dadaharm (Quoting Giambattista Vico)

" Man, having within himself an imagined World of lines and numbers, operates in it with abstractions, just as God, in the universe, did with reality."


onething

I don't know about radical constructivism, but the theory you espouse, as I understand it, is the logical end result of scientific materialism or perhaps the rationalism that JMG speaks of. It's not a fun theory. Basically, it means we are locked in our heads, with no real contact with the outside world, ever.


Lines and numbers are ok, but it's arcs and circles that make the world go around!!...

Re realism v idealism and materialism and the non-existence of reality

It's worth noting that what defines the presence of a signal isn't (for instance) the 0 or the 1 in itself, but the difference between the 0 and the 1.

That is to say, the Ding an sich isn't actually any kind of "ding" at all. But we can only perceive (for want of a better word) the existence of a signal as a byproduct of the changes in behaviour or state of some kind of material

That is to say the "non-materiel" depends on the materiel for its "existence"

Question:
Does a difference exist when no one is looking at it?

Or:
If a man has an opinion in the forest, and there's no woman there to hear him, is he really wrong?

Deep stuff.

faoladh said...

I realize that this is quite late, but I noticed the conversation with MawKernewek about the etymology of bys. She rightly noted that it is related to Welsh byd, but did not note that it is also related to Irish bith "all, world" (though not usually found in modern Irish except in the phrase ar bith "at all", or in literary constructions). The last is given as the name of a possibly primordial giant in the Lebor Gabala. The word is further related to proto-Celtic *bitus "world".

Triumphant George said...

There is a subreddit called 'Glitch in the Matrix' which contains user reports of 'strange experiences'. This post and the comments are quite relevant to explanations of these phenomena.

I've added a post to the subreddit pointing here and included a couple of the comments (Bill Pullian's and Daniel Cowan's, with links). The post can be found here. Hopefully this is okay. Send me a comment if not.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Dear Arch Druid, what a wonderfully weird age we live in! Discussion of real magic, on a small slate that is quite Clarkian. I will miss the internet when it goes. Meanwhile, thank you sincerely for sharing your knowledge and wisdom. I look forward to the new weekly posts every Wednesday and will now look forward
to the monthly words of wisdom here.

Flagg707 said...

I will admit to remaining skeptical that the world could be seen differently in different eras, but this post has stayed with me, niggling away for quite some time now.

Then today I came across this article, the short version of which is that many ancient cultures had no word for the color blue: http://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-blue-and-how-do-we-see-color-2015-2

The rabbit hole runs deep...

Bill Man said...

One of the most magical things that I have come across that has profound implications for the true nature of reality is the quantum xeno effect.The quantum xeno effect can be seen when looking at a radioactive particle to see if it has decayed.

Radioactive particle decay revolves around probabilities. If someone looks at a radioactive particle while the probability of decay is low, say looking at a radioactive sodium atom every second, that sodium atom will never decay, not even in a trillion years, so long as someone keeps checking it every second. If we take that same atom and don't look at for 20 seconds, it will almost certainly have decayed.

So, how by merely looking at an atom does it never decay, but turn your head for 20 seconds and poof, it's decayed? There are many such weird quantum effects, and those effects underpin every aspect of reality. It appears as though most of the information in the universe does not exist as discrete events at discrete locations in time and space, but rather exist as a huge set of probabilities that collapse into what we interpret as reality. This is so much more fundamental than the ambiguity of interpreting reality through a cultural lens, or a simian lens, or simian lens, or even an Earthling lens, and understanding the nature of these counterintuitive effects is the key to understanding the universe, and could be the key to unlocking powerful magic.