Magic

Magic

Pico Della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man defined the spirit of the Renaissance, an age ours lauds as a rebirth of the classical tradition and a rediscovery of empirical science. It is thus surprising to learn that Pico’s supposedly enlightened text unequivocally advocates the practice of magic. Pico claims, for example, that magic (μαγείαν) is “the absolute consummation of the philosophy of nature” and “the perfect and highest wisdom.”[1] Similarly he claims that the term “magican” means “interpreter and lover of divine things”.[2] And, as a result, “all wise men, all nations studious of the things heavenly and divine, approve and embrace” magic as “firm, faithful, and solid”, the root of “the highest splendor and glory of letters, desired in ancient times and almost always since then.”[3] He likewise maintains that the great philosophers of Greece, such as Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, and Plato, traversed the seas to learn it, and, once attained, “they preached it and held it chief among their esoteric doctrines.”[4] A mastery of magic would render man, according to Pico, the “prince and lord” over evil spirits and reveal to him “the deepest  mysteries,” “the most profound and hidden contemplation of things”, “and finally, the knowledge of all nature.”[5]

It is startling to find such an encomium for magic on the lips of Renaissance man. And even more startling to discover this positive appraisal of magic continuing through the Enlightenment, with Newton’s alchemical studies, Dee’s channeled Enochian language, Copernicus’s astrological motivations, and Swedenborg’s visions as notable examples. These magical considerations were also decisive in the origins of German Idealism and Romanticism.[6] And, even in the twentieth century, there has been an easy transition from philosophy to the esoteric.[7] People tend either ignore these facts, repressing them as a perverse secret of our intellectual history, or ridicule that very history as fundamentally delusional, portraying it as a benighted era before the advent of clear headed thinkers like Bill Nye the Science Guy. There is, however, another option: Perhaps our intellectual tradition took magic seriously because there were good reasons for doing so. The reasoning is particularly clear in the case of idealism. If fundamental reality is constituted by consciousness, then, since empirical reality is grounded in fundamental reality, it would be possible for consciousness to influence the empirical world and establish intelligible correspondences between events.

Moreover, it turns out that in addition to these purely a priori considerations, there are also a posteriori reasons for taking the possibility of magic seriously. Not only has intellectual history been ignored in this regard, but the existence of an important body of experiments lending evidential support to the reality of magic has also been (intentionally?) overlooked. These experiments have been increasingly well designed to deal with skeptical criticisms and have been successfully replicated. Surprisingly, while the credibility of psychology[8] and the biomedical sciences[9] has been increasingly called into question by their replication crises, the field of parapsychology has been empirically well supported: its experiments are stringently designed and have been successfully replicated by multiple independent labs.[10] Dean Radin, a prominent researcher in the field, has spent much of his career researching psi, but only recently realized that what he had been investigating was coextensive with what has been traditionally been called magic. “When you boil magic down into its essential forms, it’s precisely what psi experiments investigate. Both psi and magic refer to the same underlying consciousness-related phenomena.”[11]

Defining Magic

Radin characterizes magic as being to religion what technology is to science, viz. its practical application. He claims that while religion often concerns itself, at least in the West, with the formulation of a “faith-based theory” about reality, magic “involves testable applications of that theory.”[12] Magic aims to provide a way to control the chaos of world so that it comes to conform more closely with human desires. Broadly speaking, in the West, Neoplatonism provided the basic intellectual framework for the practice of magic. As a form of idealism, Neoplatonism claims that reality is fundamentally conscious (or at least protoconscious), and, as a form of monism, it claims that all grades of reality are emanations of “the one” (το ‘εν). This means that by spiritual practice one can come to perceive one’s empirical subjectivity as identical to this broader form of universal consciousness. Radin labels our empirical awareness [c] and universal consciousness [C] and calls the perception of their identity “gnosis”. “From [c] we see objects separated in space and time, and we see obvious differences between mental and physical phenomena. But from [C], all such differences dissolve and naked reality is experienced as entangled relationships in a holistic reality, completely free from the constraints of space and time.”[13]

In this state of gnosis, magical action becomes possible. “From [C], you directly perceive what [c] experiences as the future or the past. From [C], you also transcend the distinctions that separate you from other objects, and by so doing, you can directly influence the physical world. That is, in a domain without separation you may ‘become one with,’ say, a dark cloud, whereupon you could introduce an intention to rain. Or by becoming one with a friend, you could know your friend’s thoughts and emotions.”[14]

Radin contends that this state of gnosis, and thus the practice of magic, ultimately rests on a set of ordinary skills: attention and intention.[15] Likewise, the power of a magical effect depends on the ordinary mental states of “belief, imagination, emotion, and clarity.”[16] Radin then proposes a general threefold classification for magical practice: force of will, divination, and theurgy.

As the name suggests, force of will involves influencing empirical reality directly through one’s intention. There are two basic styles of force of will magic. The first uses affirmations. One formulates a clear goal, fosters a conviction that the goal will be achieved, and vividly imagines that the goal has been achieved in the future and will inevitably come about.[17] The second kind of force of will magic uses sigils, symbols corresponding to one’s intended goals.[18] The creation of sigils helps to focus the mind on its goal and also sets into play magical correspondences. After being drawn, sigils are charged either through meditation, or intense physical, emotional, or sexual energy.[19]

Divination concerns seeing beyond the ordinary spatio-temporal constraints of empirical subjectivity. We usually associate this with reading tea leaves, spreading tarot cards, or consulting the I Ching, but Radin notes that it also involves what has come to be called remote viewing. This practice requires the suspension of analytical judgment so that the mind can focus on the impressions that confront it without trying to name or classify them.[20] Radin suggests that people that perform well at remote viewing follow four principles:

  1. “Relax. Achieve a state of deep physical relaxation.
  2. Stabilize the mind. Meditation may be helpful in encouraging what some adepts refer to as a ‘blank mental screen,’ or what a magician might call the initial stages of achieving gnosis. The goal is to avoid mind-wandering.
  3. Direct the mind. After achieving a period of mental stability, ask yourself, ‘what is the target?’ the idea is to direct the mind, which at this point should be in a calm, blank, or idling mode, so it can focus without distraction on the task at hand.
  4. Wait with expectation. … [It is like] the winding of a toy top as a preliminary to its spinning. That is, don’t just wait passively; create a sense of tension, belief, and excitement that the information will arrive. Be patient and don’t force it.
  5. Look for a feeling of conviction. To help discriminate between mind-generated fantasies and acquisition of genuine information, you may notice that when the impression is correct it is accompanied by a strong feeling of conviction, or by a burst of joy, vividness, or certainty.”[21]

Finally, the third kind of magical practice, theurgy, involves working with disembodied spirits. These may be conceived as ghosts, angels, demons, fairies, aliens, etc. Radin suggests that the scientific evidence for this form of magic is less decisive, since it is difficult to experimentally rule out other forms of psi when examining these phenomena. He also suggests that it is a more dangerous form of magic to practice. “This is a topic that requires expertise and wisdom, and because of that, it’s inadvisable to learn form a book.”[22]

Empirical Evidence

Radin notes that the existence of psi analytically entails the existence of magic. Hence, the empirical evidence for psi will thereby also serve to support the reality of magic. He observes that particularly strong evidence can be found in six different kinds of experiments, all of which have surpassed the six sigma threshold. “This refers to studies where the overall odds against chance, after careful consideration of all known experiments investigating the same topic, are assessed to be over a billion to one.”[23] Each of these types of experiment have been “repeated from a dozen to more than a hundred times by independent investigators at different labs around the world, with each class cumulatively involving hundreds to thousands of participants,”[24] and, in many of them, skeptics actually helped to design the experimental protocols. These six classes of experiment are as follows and are explained in detail in Radin’s earlier book The Conscious Universe:

Telepathy. The most notable of these experiments have been labeled “Ganzfeld” for “whole field.” Ganzfield experiments were constructed under the assumption that “if a person was placed in a condition of sensory deprivation, the nervous system would soon become ‘starved’ for new stimuli, and the likelihood of perceiving faint perceptions that are normally overwhelmed by ordinary sensory input would improve.”[25] In Ganzfield experiments the person receiving information, the receiver, is placed in a chair and given headphones and half spheres to cover his or her eyes. White noise is projected through the headphones and red light is projected overhead to provide an “unchanging sensory field”. The receiver is then guided through a relaxation technique.[26] The person sending the signal, the transmitter, is placed in another secure location, given a random image, and directed to mentally send it to the target. When finished, the receiver is shown four possible targets and asked to rank which of them most closely matched his or her perceptions, 1 for most closely matching, and 4 for least. The session is considered a hit if the actual image is assigned a 1, and a miss in all other cases. One would expect the chance effect of a 25 percent hit rate, but, instead, metanalyses reveal a consistent hit rate near 37 percent.

Remote Viewing. In these experiments a “viewer” is told to “sketch or to describe (or both) a ‘target’”[27] which might be a place, a person,  a photo, a video, etc. “All possible paths for sensory leakage are blocked, typically by separating the target from the viewer by distance, sometimes thousands of miles, or by hiding the target in an opaque envelope, or by selecting a target in the future.”[28] An Analysis of the SRI (Stanford Research Institute) experiments from 1973-1988 considered “154 experiments, consisting of more than 26,000 separate trials, conducted over those sixteen years. Of those, just over a thousand trials were laboratory remote-viewing tests. The statistical results of this analysis indicated odds against chance of 1020 to one (that is, more than a billion, billion, to one).”[29] Likewise, statistician Jessica Utts made a similar judgement when looking at the SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) experiments conducted from 1989-1993. She concluded, in a CIA commissioned report, that:

“it is clear to this author that anomalous cognition is possible and has been demonstrated. This conclusion is not based on belief, but rather on commonly accepted scientific criteria. The phenomenon has been replicated in a number of forms across laboratories and cultures….

I believe that it would be wasteful of valuable resources to continue to look for proof. No one who has examined all the data across laboratories, taken as a collective whole, has been able to suggest methodological or statistical problems to explain the ever-increasing and consistent results to date.”[30]

Presentiment. These experiments attempt to show that people possess an unconscious awareness of future events. Some studies use reaction time to show that people have an implicit awareness of the future. Reaction times are used frequently in psychological experiments. For example, if one is presented with a color sensation and then asked to say the color name corresponding to it, one can easily do so. People are predictably fast and accurate in these tasks. But if asked to say the name of a color that fails to match the sensation (e.g. someone is shown a red patch and asked to say “blue”), they feel uncomfortable, and there is a corresponding increase in reaction time for this more difficult task. Psychologists posit that “this is because as soon as the color patch is seen, associations about that color are activated in memory, including associations about the name of the color. So when a person is asked to say the name of a color, if the color name matches the color patch it is easy because the memory has already been primed.”[31] All of this is uncontroversial. But what was astounding was the discovery that the differences in reaction time for speaking color words also occurred when they were spoken before the stimulus was shown! It seems that “the person’s precognitive sensing of the future stimulus somehow traveled back in time, causing cognitive interference when the future stimulus was a mismatch.”[32] Other experiments measure bodily reactions. For example, when shown emotionally stimulating pictures our body prepares itself for fight or flight by producing changes in “the dilation of the pupil, altered brain waves, a rise in sweat gland activity, a rise/ fall pattern in heart rate, and blanching of the extremities.” So, for instance, if one saw something disturbing like a violent image, one’s body would automatically react in the manner described above. Again, this well known. What was startling, however, was that experiments showed these physiological changes to occur before the disturbing stimuli is presented. “Before the emotional pictures were seen, the participants ‘pre-acted’ their own future emotional states.”[33]

Implicit precognition. These measure future influences on present behavior. These kinds of experiments are similar to the forgoing and have been worked out by Daryl Bem. His paper, “Feeling the Future” looks at data for four “time-reversed effects: precognitive approach to erotic stimuli and precognitive avoidance of negative stimuli; retroactive priming; retroactive habitation; and retroactive facilitation of recall.”[34] These experiments have been successfully replicated.

Random Number Generators. These experiments show how human intention can influence the outputs of random number generators. Random number generators are circuits tied to physical events considered genuinely random under contemporary physics such as electrical noise or radioactive decay times. These circuits then use these processes to generate a random outputs of 1s or 0s.[35] RNG experiments ask participants to intend that there be more 1s or 0s (or whatever these 1s or 0s are keyed to). “Assuming that an RNG is designed to generate random sequences of 0’s and 1’s, then the null hypothesis (that is, the idea that mind-matter interaction does not exist) is equivalent to observing an average chance hit rate of 50 percent. If a collection of all similar RNG studies produces an average effect that is greater than 50 percent with odds greater than chance, then we know something interesting is going on.”[36] And meta-analyses of the 832 studies by sixty eight investigators from 1959 to 1987 do indeed show something interesting is going on. The overall rate was 51 percent with a trillion to one probability against chance.[37]

Global Consciousness Project. These experiments test for effects of group consciousness on the material world. They use random number generators and compare times of group attention to control times. Events such as Olympic ceremonies, the OJ Simpson verdict, national catastrophes, presidential elections, etc. have been examined to see if group attention affects the outputs of RNGs to make them more orderly, producing more 1s or 0s than expected. The results have shown that there is indeed a correlation.[38] Group attention changes the material world of space and time.

In addition to these cases of what Radin takes to be decisive empirical evidence for psi, and hence for magic, he also discusses further experiments that add evidential support in his book Real Magic. For example, he describes interesting experiments that appear to show that blessed water produces healthier plants than unblessed, that actions on voodoo dolls produce corresponding physiological reactions on people, and that intentions for a future event could pull present events toward it teleologically.

Conclusion

I had been unaware of the scope and power of the empirical evidence for psi. Seeing the massive amount of work that has been done makes me suspect that we are on the verge of a conceptual revolution. If both philosophy of mind and empirical science are both showing that consciousness not only cannot be eliminated from reality, but may also actually be fundamental to it, then we may be well on the way to a decisive shift in worldview. “An empiricist is: one whose way of thinking is an effect on the external world and fate—the passive thinker—to whom his philosophy is given…. These make the transition to the dogmatists. From there the way leads to the enthusiasts—or the transcendental dogmatists—then to Kant—then to Fichte—and finally to magical idealism.”[39]

Peter Yong, Ph.D.


[1] Pico della Mirandola, On the Dignity of Man, trans. Wallis, Miller and Carmichael, 26.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 27.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 28.

[6] See for example, Benz’s, The Mystical Sources of German Romantic Philosophy, Magee’s, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, and Waterfield’s Hidden Depths: The Story of Hypnosis.

[7] Rudolph Steiner and Julius Evola are notable examples in this regard.

[8] https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/11/psychologys-replication-crisis-real/576223/

[9] https://slate.com/technology/2016/04/biomedicine-facing-a-worse-replication-crisis-than-the-one-plaguing-psychology.html

[10] http://www.deanradin.com/evidence/evidence.htm

[11] Dean Radin, Real Magic: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, and a Guide to the Secret Power of the Universe, (New York: Harmony, 2018), 21.

[12] Ibid., 38.

[13] Ibid., 44.

[14] Ibid., 45.

[15] Ibid., 72.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 76-77.

[18] Ibid., 77.

[19] Ibid., 80.

[20] Ibid., 85.

[21] Ibid., 88.

[22] Ibid., 90.

[23] Ibid., 93.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Radin, The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena, (New York: Harper, 1997), 74.

[26] Ibid., 75.

[27] Ibid., 100.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., 101.

[30] Ibid., 102.

[31] Ibid., 117.

[32] Ibid., 118.

[33] Ibid., 122.

[34] Bem, “Feeling the Future”, abstract.

[35] Radin, The Conscious Universe, 138.

[36] Ibid., 140.

[37] Ibid., 141.

[38] Ibid., 163-164. See also Real Magic, 135-137.

[39] Novalis, Teplitz Fragments 33, in Novalis: Philosophical Writings trans. Stoljar.

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