Ioan P. Couliano rocks my world. It’s official. I’m forty pages from finishing Eros and Magic in the Renaissance and my world is officially rocked. I’m also nearly too caffeinated to type, as I unconsciously swilled coffee for the last fifty pages. So I’ll give a detailed review — more of a paean of praise, really — when I finish.
Archive for May, 2011
I get this from Luciano Floridi’s Information: A Very Short Introduction. It might help explain what I mean by “information” and why “energy signature” is just a longer synonym for “information” in this sense. Warning: there is symbolic logic. I will explain as we go.
σ is an instance of information, iff
σ consists of n data, for n ≥ 1
the data are well-formed
the well-formed data are meaningful
So, something is an example of information if-and-only-if it consists of one or more bits of data. These can be the letters of an alphabet, a yes/no circuit, a particular shape of a leaf, the color of my carpet, a graph or a chart, or anything else that can differentiated from anything else. All of our sensory experiences are data. All of our experiences are data, period: we have no experience of anything that is not data.
Well-formed means that these data follow rules of organization. In language, this is syntax. In mathematics, its conventions. In the natural world, it’s coherence — if I see a dwarf hanging upside-down from the tree outside my window, I assume that this is not information; it is hallucination because it does not seem to be coherent with my experiences. It is not well-formed.
It is meaningful. Much data gets discarded because we do not assign it meaning. But meaning is merely fitting that data into our experiences. A bee is circling the gutter outside of my window: this is a datum. It is well-formed — bees do fly in the summer, and so it fits within the symbol system of my experiences. It is meaningful: it may mean I need to be careful when I water the lilacs.
Now, by this definition, any meaningful organization of data (for which you can read “experience”) is information.
In fact, information can exist without a consciousness being aware of it.
We often find ourselves facing with Floridi calls “environmental information.” Environmental information is when “two systems, a and b, are coupled in such a way that a’s being of type or state F is correlated to b’s being of type or state G, thus carrying for the observer of a that b is G.” The example I gave above, of the bee, was an example of environmental information. When Temperance Brennan looks at a skull on Bones and says “male, caucasian, thirty years old,” she’s interpreting the data of the skull to arrive at meaning.
Now, if there are any locations where there can be no consciousness, then there can be no information there. Even environmental information requires that someone could at some point observe a. Yet this strikes me as a difficult proposition to accept. Insofar as we are conscious, and construct meaning, then it seems we could at least theoretically observe any environmental data to give it meaning. Which means information must be ubiquitous.
Why is this useful in the study of magic? We have in the definition above the three requirements for magic to work, for our act to be informative enough to cause change in the world. It must contain data — symbols, in our case. Those symbols must be well-formed, selected from a coherent symbol system that reflects human experience. And by manipulating those symbols, we must give them meaning: our ritual must take our attention, our concentration, our deliberation. We can breathe rhythmically and imagine colored spheres of light all we like, if that’s the system that we wish to borrow our symbols from. But it’s not the imaginary colored light that does the magic: it’s the meaning we attach to it.
Mike, in his recent comment, asked me to lay out what happens step-by-step between a magician doing magic and the world changing, from an information perspective. So let me take a stab at doing that.
First, let me make it clear what I mean by information. When I say that material reality is a kind of instantiation of information, what I mean is that matter is nothing but the cluster of ideas we have about. To prove this, try an old thought experiment: think of matter without qualities. Strip it of any abstract quality that you can conceive of separately. A rock, for instance: strip it of qualities like “heaviness” and “spatial orientation” and “extension in time” and “color” and “hardness” and all such abstract concepts. What you’re left with is pure matter — and of course what you’re left with is pure nothing, because matter is nothing but the configuration of these abstract ideas.
We can think of this mathematically. If you’re familiar with configuration space as a method of mathematical modeling you can see that anything that exists can be given an orientation in an Nth dimensional configuration space. Of course, every single abstract idea is a dimension in C-space, for any given object. This means that a pebble contains the C-space position of every single one of its molecules and atoms and electrons, as well as all the abstract ideas connected to that rock, as well as its interaction with all other particles and forces — each of which has its own dimension in C-space — and so on. A rock, therefore, is “conscious” in that it is constantly “thinking about” the current values of those dimensions. The more complex the system, the more likely it gives rise to emergent phenomenon on the physical level, the more conscious it is. (And now I’ll have to explain levels of consciousness, which is tricky — bah, skip it)
I’m pretty sure that’ll just be more confusing, not less. So let’s launch into the concrete example and see if I can explain as we go.
I want money. I exist in a certain C-space, in which my position is determined by the complex system of economics. Being an emergent system, economics is conscious. It is a mind — call it a Nous to differentiate from our human minds. Moreover, it is part of the universe of symbols and ideas, which is itself a Nous.
So I take symbols that rest closer to the C-space of the thing I want — money. In this case, I select some symbols that, in oen system of symbols, represent wealth. I take a blue candle and anoint it with anise oil. I wear an amethyst and say certain words, many of them highly symbolic and some of them even glossolalic to the Nous, expressing my need. In doing so, I change the deepest parts of my mind to become a different person: the kind of person who gets money. Since my identity is a number in C-space, I have simply moved my position in one or more dimensions to a narrative line more conducive to me being wealthy. At the same time, the Nous of the economic system (hopefully) takes notice and receives the message, and meets me halfway.
Now I have two changes in the world: I have changed to attain the quale of being “a wealthy guy.” The universe has changed to shift into a narrative in which I am a wealthy guy. A point (me) in C-space must move along its dimensions according to coherent rules, not all of which we know (which is why we need to communicate to the Nous as well as ourselves). The result is that any change to our position in C-space is a narratively consistent change: in other words, to our eyes it will appear as coincidence. The larger the shift, the more the coincidence seems unlikely, and the harder it is to communicate that idea (as explained elsewhere).
I get money. Some publisher in another country buys the rights to one of my books, let’s say. Or I win a prize for poetry. Or one of my investments pays out. Money doesn’t drop out of the sky, though: that’d be incoherent. It’d shift a point into a position it cannot occupy in C-space.
This is just a model, of course, of how it works, and all models are hopelessly reductive, or they wouldn’t be models. And I suspect this model is anything but clear to anyone who reads it. Bah. I can see why there’s such a current of “I hate theory” in magic.
But look at it this way: what is the mechanism for the same magical operation from the perspective of energy work? I do the same ritual, which I think of as “directing energy” and — where am I directing it? Why does it work seemingly by coincidence? What does the energy do when it gets there? If it communicates an idea, why not focus on the message and not the energy, which is clearly just a carrier?