Archive for December, 2010


Posted in Language, Speculation, Weird on December 31, 2010 by Patrick

I just ran across the sentence “Unicorns don’t have wings.” It strikes me as a good example of the sticky problem of truth-conditions. We say that a statement is well-formed iff it describes a possible world. It is true iff it describes an actual situation in that possible world. You can say “Harry Potter has a scar” and this is true because in the possible world of Harry Potter (yes, we have a loose definition of “possible” here) he does have a scar. You can say “Harry Potter is married to Hermione,” and although well-formed, this statement is false. The statement to be true need not describe this world, merely one that is “possible.” In a possible world with unicorns, the statement “Unicorns don’t have wings” is true.

Similarly, we can say “There is no such things as unicorns” and this statement is true.

But what if you say *”Unicorns don’t have wings, and there is no such thing as unicorns.” That doesn’t even seem well-formed; it’s neither true nor false, but meaningless. And if you reverse it, it’s even more clearly ill-formed: *”There is no such thing as unicorns, and unicorns don’t have wings.”

I think the problem is that the two statements are not consistently describing the *same* possible world. To say “unicorns” is to presuppose the existence of unicorns, and to immediately shift to a possible world different from this one.

But wait. Let’s say “The King of France drives a sports car.” Fine, there might indeed be a possible world where the King of France drives a sports car, but in our world there is no King of France. My instinct is that this sentence doesn’t invoke a possible world the same way that the mention of the unicorn does. Is it because we could plausibly assume that someone in our world might not realize that France does not have a king? If I say this sentence someone would be justified saying “Wait, there is no such thing as a King of France.” If I say “Unicorns don’t have wings,” I’d find it at best oddly marked for someone to gravely inform me that there is no such thing as a unicorn.

What if I say “The king of France rides a unicorn.” Huh, my instinct, purely my instinct alone, is that this is not as ill-formed as “The king of France drives a sports car.”

Huh. Is there a semantic feature of certain words that invokes a possible world, thus asserting a different set of truth conditions? If so, what? +[mythological], maybe. That would mean that semantics interact with pragmatic schemata. But if that’s the case, it’d seem possible and maybe even reasonable to imagine that other features might trigger other schemata. In fact, it seems — just guessing here, I’d have to figure it all out formally — but maybe semantic features are just schematic triggers or something of that nature.

Normal people lie in bed thinking about their bills. Me, it’s semantics. I have a vague recollection of reading something along these lines in grad school. I should dig through my files and see if I can find it.


Planetary Charity

Posted in Magical Systems, Techniques on December 30, 2010 by Patrick

Christopher Warnock has a splendid post on his blog about magical charity. This is the practice of making magically significant offerings at a significant planetary time in order to propitiate afflicted planetary forces or activate beneficial ones. It’s a magical practice I really quite enjoy, because it’s quite easy and you ride the wave of good will forward.

I’m experimenting with using Kiva for this kind of practice. Since the loans are repaid and can be sent out again and again, it makes a sort of machine of good will and charity. Of course, you don’t need a magical purpose to help someone out. What I like specifically about Kiva is that the money is not just given, but used. It’s not just a symbol of one-sided value given over and consumed, but a symbol of partnership and reciprocal work. Of course, some money is just consumed (you don’t get interest on your loans) and sometimes things aren’t paid back. But I like it as a potential machine for making magic, both literally and figuratively.

And seriously, how cool is it that I helped someone increase her chicken flock?


Posted in Magical Systems, Speculation on December 22, 2010 by Patrick

Ask six magicians their opinions, can eight different answers. Frater R. O. has a clever little thing about why those of us who worked magic yesterday should not have. I think he’s wrong, for the following reasons:

1. Astrological magic isn’t the same as evocation of astrological intelligences, which is at least what I did. Those things are sentient; they might be in a certain mood because of the weather, but they can be talked to and reasoned with, as they too partake of some of the logos. An astrological talisman is indeed a snapshot of the current astrological situation so you can carry that situation around with you in a bottle, but I didn’t make a talisman. I asked a sentient and cooperative being some questions and for a favor.

2. Even if I did, just because some planets are ill aspected doesn’t mean you can’t make a talisman for other planets. Few charts are unmitigated disasters.

3. Fr. R. O. is describing western astrology. I don’t care for western astrology. I prefer Vedic astrology, and even then I’m not 100% sold that astrology has predictive force so much as descriptive utility.

4. Those who have attained any degree of Henosis are free of the “twelve governors of fate” described in the Hermetica.

5. I’m unimpressed by magical models that tell us to sit still.

But don’t worry, R. O. You still my fra.

What to do?

Posted in Political, Techniques on December 20, 2010 by Patrick

On Tuesday, the solstice, there will be a lunar eclipse. This is a pretty rare occasion. Some magical traditions, I understand, frown on doing magic during eclipses. Others smile on it. In my own experience, doing magic during an eclipse can burn through blockages that prevent previous works from . . . well . . . working.

So the question is, what do to Tuesday? My life is fairly awesome (knock wood), so there’s nothing I urgently need. But of course the same isn’t true of the rest of the country. Normally, I avoid large scale heroic acts of magic, but there’s historical precedent. Dee called up a storm to defeat the Spanish Armada, after all, and more than one coven worked to keep Hitler out of England. I might try my hand at a bit of patriotic magic.

The obvious elephant in the room is the economy, but how do you form a magical link for the economy? Well, as above so below. It’d be the same as an individual prosperity spell, but writ large. There’s several things to be careful of. I don’t want a war, if such a thing will bring prosperity. I don’t want the curtailment of our freedoms if such a thing will lead to prosperity. And I don’t want widespread suffering for the benefit of a few prosperous people.

How’s this for a statement of intent? “I will that America and its people immediately develop greater freedom and prosperity.” Anyone see a monkey’s paw in that one? Obviously, I’ll divine about it, and I trust the universe not to screw me over too hard, but I like to be thorough.

Anyone care to join me in this particular goal? I’m not sure I can move this boulder myself (although my plan is to call in some heavy celestial hitters. As Robert of the Doing Magick blog might put it, I don’t intend to use my own “energy” for this. Of course, I don’t intend to use any “energy” at all, finding that metaphor full of more pitfalls than benefits. But choice of metaphor aside, I like the insight).

Reserve Criticism of Och

Posted in Speculation on December 17, 2010 by Patrick

Huh. Just found this article suggesting that those people who “don’t get colds” actually have compromised immune systems, and a symptomatic cold is a sign of a strong immune system.

So maybe I should reserve my criticism for a bit . . .

Well, That Didn’t Work

Posted in Speculation on December 17, 2010 by Patrick

I did an evocation of Och, the Olympick Planetary spirit, for better health. Then immediately caught a severe cold, the first seriously miserable cold I’ve had in about two years. There was nothing unusual about the cold, really; the person I live with had it just before I got it. But — wow, that would have been a good opportunity for Och to intervene.

On the plus side, I now can cure tension headaches with water. Although that’s probably a lot to do with the cause of tension headaches and the suggestion involved, I’m not looking to deeply into that horse’s mouth.

Still, rarely does magic turn out so obviously and clearly suboptimal.