Science, Magic and the Paranormal


Phenomena in sub-atomic physics such as Bell’s Theorem and the Einstein- Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) non-locality differences have led to significant rethinking of the relationship between consciousness and reality. Such thinking forms the basis for modern conceptions of magic and paranormal (psi) phenomena, in that the human mind may have a significant, but non-physical, effect on material reality; or as Wang and Bedford (1985) put it, 'one of the non-mechanical aspects of causation may be will and intention'. In this sense magic can be thought of as the formalised or ritual evocation of paranormal phenomena, which occur outside of this context in the form of phenomena such as telepathy, divination, psychokinesis etc.

Magic is also significant in a cultural sense in that it provides a mechanism whereby human beings give meaning to their world. The noted anthropologist Malinowski describes magic as 'that toughest and least destructible substance of belief', in that people have always used magic to constitute a 'particular aspect of reality'. Magical approaches to understanding reality are found in traditional societies where magic is 'deemed indispensable' in any aspect of life that is not totally under control, ie. whose outcome is not certain. This pattern of belief is becoming more applicable in western society today as the influence of the rationalist enlightenment wanes and that of a new metaphysics takes its place.

Magic can be thought of as (a) a means whereby the mind can affect physical reality, or (b) a cultural means of generating meaning about the world. Let us examine the proposition that magic is a mechanism whereby consciousness can interact or interface with physical reality. We have considered the notion of consciousness interacting with physical, external reality in terms of quantum theory; the art or 'science' of magic focuses this idea by training the mind to interface with outside phenomena.

As the chaos magician Peter Carroll puts it, this exercise in mental power is effected through the subconscious or unconscious mind, 'using the more stable thoughts, feelings, sensations, and images' stored herein to effect changes in 'etheric patterns'. Carroll suggests the use of 'sleight of mind' techniques which deflect conscious attention away from the desired magical effect, while at the same time directing emotional energy into a symbolic ritual in order to achieve the desired result. This practice is commonly known as 'casting a spell'. In this way, 'etheric patterns' are initiated, which then resonate through the etheric field to affect the probability of events on the physical or macro scale.

In terms of chaos theory, this process seems eminently feasible as a way of achieving concrete results -- given of course the assumptions of non-physical fields and non-locality at the sub-atomic level which such phenomena demand. Affecting symbolic entities at the level of mind (a micro-level), energized by emotional energy, could ring through morphic fields on some harmonic frequencies and through the essential ‘unisphere’ of the universe, sound its tone in the realm of physical being. This is what shamans and warlocks have done throughout the ages, utilizing their so-called 'sixth sense' to gain access to realms beyond physicality as we know it.

Magic and PSI

The parapsychologist Richard S. Broughton (1991) suggests that psi abilities have evolved in humans for the purpose of furthering human survival. Individual biological survival can be enhanced through PSI abilities because they give the individual an 'edge' over others - for example being in the right place at the right time, or avoiding being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is also related to the concept of luck in 'shifting the odds in one's favour'. He feels that consciousness has given humans the edge over other species, but that psi abilities would give individuals within a species competitive advantage over other individuals.

Broughton notes that psi abilities seem to decline the more 'sophisticated' or complex a society becomes. This he attributes to changing strategies of survival as humankind evolved. Environmental changes because of climatic alterations or migrations could have encouraged a mode of human development which emphasised individual action and initiative in basic survival processes. This could have diminished psi abilities which tied into a group consciousness, the basis of which is exemplified today in various animal and insect behaviours (as the biologist Rupert Sheldrake suggests).

An important factor here could be the increasing reliance on rational, left-brain thinking which accompanies increasing levels of sophistication and complexity in evolving societies. Such 'uni-cameral' thinking is epitomized in western society, particularly since the Enlightenment of the 17th Century which posited raionalism and materialism as the only valid means of perceiving reality. Such rational development has historically occured at the expense of intuitive, right-brain perception and thought. It may be that the challenge of evolving psi abilities and 'consciousness' itself is to bring intuitive perceptions into the 'mainstream' of consciousness. In this way the 'reality' we know through dream states becomes superimposed upon the 'rational' world which we normally perceive. This is perhaps the kind of perception available to Australian aborigines when they perceive the 'dreamtime' during ritual events or when the walk the songlines of their traditional migration patterns.

British biologist John Maynard Smith initiated the concept of evolutionary stable strategy (ESS) to explain the survival strategy of a species. This is the pattern of behaviour adopted by most members of a population, and which 'cannot be bettered (in terms of survival and genetic transmission) by an alternative strategy'. These strategies are optimal behaviour patterns which ensure the odds of individual survival through conformity. Broughton posits that the low profile of psi abilities in human populations is a form of ESS.

For decades parapsychologists have been conducting experiments that demonstrate that consciousness can directly affect physical reality. Hundreds of carefully conducted experiments reveal observers to be influencing - selecting, if you will - the observed states in probabilistic systems.
However, psi abilities may be the result of increasing sophistication of information processing organs (ie. the brain). The human brain is possibly the most complex and sophisticated computing device on planet Earth; an evolutionary step in the advancement of this device could be the acquisition of enhanced capacities for processing the information field of which the universe is composed, so enabling psi abilities to develop.

There is more tolerance for parapsychological research in countries such as India, China and Japan, where traditional mental techniques (e.g. yoga and qi energy) potentialise acceptance of the 'direct interaction of consciousness and the physical world'. However, this mind/phenomena interface may not necessarily be in the form of a cause/effect relationship; the writer Hans Peter Duerr for example postulates that 'magical' rites amongst primitive people are not designed for procurement (a cause-effect relationship) but are instead a kind of 'participation in cosmic events', explicating their sense of the pattern or wholeness of the cosmos.

In analysing the nature of witchcraft and the supernatural, Duerr refers to phenomena such as witches 'flying' or 'talking' to animals as ways of seeing the world and our place or being within it. Reality is a matter of borders which close us into a particular aspect of it, and when we enter into 'other' realities, we are able to see from whence we came, and so define what we are by what we are not. He further contends that these 'other' realities are misleading in their otherness, and in fact are only different aspects of 'reality', seen as a contiguous whole.

Snowy owls do not talk the way they do in fairy-tales, either in English or in German. But it is possible for us to communicate with snowy owls provided that, possibly with the aid of hallucinogens, we dissolve the boundaries to our own 'animal nature', separating us from the snowy owls.

There is thus a 'reality' to magical or paranormal phenomena which cannot be understood by the 'scientific' mind; hence the observation by Feyerabend (1975), 'Is not the scientific method constructed in such a way that demons, if they existed, would remain forever undetected by it?'. So when animals 'talk' to shamen or when schizophrenics 'hear' voices, it is a form of awareness that is not related to events in the phenomenal world which can be measured by science. This is an expansion of 'the boundaries of our person' in that we can become aware of things which are invisible to our physical sight. So in divination or telepathy the individual can 'change the boundaries of his person so much that he can be simultaneously within his everyday body and also at another place, where his body is not'. The boundaries which define us are developed through socialisation and individuation within the context of our society, and Duerr's 'dissolution of barriers', which permits the transference of information, indicates a different phenomenon to the way that electromagnetic waves travel through physical space.

Science and Magic

Chaos magician Peter Carroll, in discussing the theoretical underpinnings of modern Chaos Magick, raises the concept of ether from its dusty grave in order to address the problem of instantaneous (faster-than-light) information transmission. According to this view, ether is a dimension which is 'orthogonal' to that of time, or is 'a kind of shadow substance', wherein patterns of probability affect material events. It must be pointed out that this is different to the classical concept of ether as a transmissive physical substance, which was postulated in order to explain the propagation of light waves through a vacuum. The Michaelson-Morley experiment in 1887 supposedly dismissed the notion of ether's physical existence, paving the way for Einstein's special theory of relativity. Carroll suggests that ether has a real existence, although it is not a physical substance and can affect physical events simultaneously across space. This phenomenon is important to conceptions of magic, which have magicians causing things to occur across space and time without any physical contact between their conjurations and the resulting phenomena.

Carroll points out that his conception of ether is merely a model to explain existing phenomena, and should not be thought of as necessarily having an independent existence outside of this conception, just as physicists make models to explain events in physical interactions. According to the magical model, ether 'acts as though it were a form of information emitted by matter that is instantaneously available everywhere and has some power to shape the behaviour of other matter'. This vision of a fundamentally interconnected, dynamic universe is in a sense a return to an ancient, Aristotelian vision of an organic, interconnected cosmos; it is also a concept of reality which is particularly apt in terms of chaos theory, with its fractal maps of infinte space.


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