Archive for August, 2009

Misplaced Television

Posted in Uncategorized on August 10, 2009 by P. Dunn

You know, I like Borders (the bookstore) a lot.  They serve fairly good coffee in the cafe, and they carry my books (sometimes).  I wrote a chunk of my dissertation and some of my first book in that cafe, most of my entertainment budget involves books I buy from there.

But whoever decided to put a television in the cafe is an idiot who should be fired immediately.  I don’t want to listen to an advertisement for a show about, I guess, older women who have sex with younger men, a dozen times in an hour, and I surely don’t want the same annoying music looped over and over to compete with the store music.

Why Can’t You Teleport?

Posted in Language, Magical Systems, Speculation on August 1, 2009 by P. Dunn

A recent comment asked some pretty good questions, which I’ll paraphrase as “if matter is just an idea, why can’t you do miraculous things like teleport or travel in time?”  and “What are the exact mechanics of magic?”

The first question is a good one because it illustrates a common misunderstanding of my first book.  I’m not saying that reality is “just” an idea, because “just” implies that there’s something more real than ideas.  I’m saying what we call thought or consciousness, and what we call matter, are the same thing.  Matter isn’t just conscious — animism — but a kind of consciousness itself.  It isn’t “just” a symbol.  Being symbolic is what makes it really real.

Secondly, as to the limits of magic — I actually have no idea where they are.  I haven’t reached them yet.  I’ve seen and even, I think, caused what could be called telekinesis, although I can’t rule out self-deception completely.  I haven’t seen teleportation, and I think it’s pretty unlikely, but probably not impossible.  The thing is, I live with a wonderful person.  Sometimes, I say “could you do the dishes?” and he says “sure.”  But if I said, “could you buy me an elephant and paint him a light mauve” I suspect he’d say “um, what?”  Hold on, I’ll try it.

Okay, bad example.  He said “sure, but it’ll have to be a little one.  Oh, and if I get you an elephant, you have to be in a parade with me.”  So that didn’t work out the way I expected — and neither does magic every time, although it doesn’t usually result in me marching in a parade.  Still, in general, likely requests, like “do the dishes” will be heard.  Unlikely requests, like “buy me an elephant,” won’t.  People get jobs all the time, so communicating the idea for a new job is easy; people don’t teleport all the time.  In information science, we say that the quantity of information of a message is the inverse of that message’s probability, and the more information a message contains, the harder it is to communicate clearly.  I think the same rule holds true for magic.

As far as the mechanism, I don’t know.  I’m not sure there is one, in the sense of a mechanical string of cause-and-effect.  Magic is, by definition, acausal, or so it seems to me.  When I ask my partner to do the dishes, my request doesn’t cause him to do the dishes; it leads to him doing the dishes, but it doesn’t cause it the way that, say, hitting a billiard ball causes it to fall into a pocket.  The mechanistic material paradigm is not one that I share; only a small subset of all possible ideas obey the mechanical logic of cause and effect.  Many more ideas obey the logic of metaphor and the pragmatic logic of language.  I suppose that’s a disappointing answer, but I really doubt that any explanation of magic that reduces it to mechanics will be very effective or helpful in the long run.

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