What the Semiotic Model Does for Magic

I’m going to try to be clear and positive about what this model does that other models do not do. I won’t focus on those models, as hard as that is, because I want to reframe the discussion.

1. In the semiotic model, when magic doesn’t work, we know where to look: our own minds or the symbols we use to construct our reality. We will, in nearly all cases, find that the reason the magic didn’t work is one of the following:
a. Failure to unify the will toward a single goal.
b. Incoherent symbols which express contradictory significations (this is essentially (a), actually)
c. An unclear channel, which amounts to a mind cluttered with noise.

2. The semiotic model is culture neutral. I can interact with other systems in a respectful way, without necessarily lumping their experiences under the same terminological umbrella. I can take the symbols of another culture at their face value, at least while dealing with that system.

3. The semiotic model is consistent with a non-materialistic ontology. This is important to me personally: material reductionism is a philosophy that I find potentially quite destructive. It certainly lacks any room for magic.

4. It has great explanatory force, not only in regards to the how of magic, but also its why.

5. It opens up to the use of the magician a wide range of texts in the fields of psychology, anthropology, semiotics, communication theory, game theory, and philosophy that other models do not. This opening up of texts is useful because it cross-pollinates magic with other viewpoints and lays groundwork for further, advanced study.

6. It promises, ultimately, a greater understanding of magic as a phenomenon. Human knowledge is valuable in its own right, so this is a very good thing.

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2 Responses to “What the Semiotic Model Does for Magic”

  1. I think the semiotic approach to magic is the place where very meaningful dialogue can take place since it is culture neutral. It seems like the only non-sectarian, but intelligent arena. I’ve written a little on the topic and will be writing more . Thanks for your site.

    http://users.bestweb.net/~kali93/jan2000/fictive.htm

  2. “3. The semiotic model is consistent with a non-materialistic ontology. This is important to me personally: material reductionism is a philosophy that I find potentially quite destructive. It certainly lacks any room for magic.”

    I think I agree. Materialism is the current dogma of the day — the dogma isn’t that stuff is made of other finer stuff (and that stuff is…) but that materialism is in any way useful.

    That stuff is made up of other stuff — that a gestalt is made up of parts — is holism. This is a good thing, it leads to systems thinking.

    However, materialism nueters it completely by the fact it’s contrasted with dualism and similar “non-scientific” metaphysical models and this is where the materialist gets hung up. It becomes about which is better, materialism vs. X.

    So they completely miss the holism and the systems thinking, which is generic and useful whether you’re a materialist of panpsychist (I think that’s what you called it.)

    I’m going to write something up to further bury materialism, but here’s a quick way to show how useless materialism is– chess.

    Materialism doesn’t matter one whit in a chess game because it doesn’t matter what the board and chess pieces are made out of. They can be made out of wood, iron, plastic, light streaming from a computer monitor, or be marks of a pencil written (and erased) on a piece of paper.

    In all cases the game remains the same. The pieces don’t depend on the properties of the material they are made out of. In fact, entire games can be played with two people keeping up with the progression of the game entirely in their imagination.

    So, what then is the board and pieces of a chess game? An physical extension of the human mind in the same way that a notebook is an extension of it’s memory.

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