What’s an Experience?

I’ve been talking about Chapman’s idea of experience a bit, and how experience selects an indexical world in configuration space.  I gave an example of a spell in my last post and described how one should attend not to the desire but to the physical actions, the experience, of the spell.

But what’s an experience?  Is everything that happens to us an experience in the magical sense?  I don’t think so, and here’s why.

Experience, for one thing, is what we attend to, what impacts our consciousness.  If I’m walking in the woods, a lot of information is coming in through my senses but I’m discarding most of it, even if I’m making an effort to be mindful.  Our minds work that way.  I might see countless birds, and register them as “bird,” but one bald eagle becomes an experience, because they’re less common.  If I were a bird watcher, of course, all those “birds” would also become experiences, just as most people tune out foreign languages when they hear them in public, while I try to listen and identify them and pick out words I might know — because languages matter to me.

Experiences are those things that impact our consciousness because they matter to us.

They are qualia, which my spellchecker amusingly wants to make “quail.” That’s strangely appropriate.  Have you ever been jogging in the woods, maybe near sunset, and suddenly a bunch of birds explode out of the grass and your heart nearly stops?  Do you know what that’s like?  If you do, that’s a quale that you have, and that I share, but if you haven’t you don’t really know from my experience.  I can’t tell you what that’s like, until it happens to you.  The example I always use is avocado.  Before I ever tried one, my mother told me that an avocado tastes like an egg yolk, and it kind of does — but not really.  You can’t explain what an avocado tastes like: it tastes like an avocado, and no amount of description will convey the quale.  Only the guacamole will.  A quale, then, is “what it is like” to experience something.  An an experience is that which creates an ineffable quale.

This makes magic an aesthetic matter.  If magic is about finding an experience that will select a point in configuration space, then we must discover what sorts of experiences matter to us.  That means understanding what aesthetically matters to us.  But that’s not the whole formula, of course: we also have to decide that the experience means something.  And that raises the stickier question, what does it mean to mean?



2 Responses to “What’s an Experience?”

  1. To me, meaning is charged focus…like emotions being charged thoughts. This reminds me of the “if a tree fell in the forest …”. The tree didn’t make a sound because the fall/hitting/vibration needs to be experienced. Now there’s a quale for you. Sound, it has to be experienced to be made “real”. We experience through physical senses, without the senses, what happens? Potential, but no cigar. Glad to see you posting again.

  2. Some thoughts –

    I’d suggest that an experience of meaning can be thought of as the triggering of an “extended pattern”, experienced as a felt-sense. I’d also say that performing magick is the intensification of such an extended pattern – that such a pattern is what an “intention” is.

    This is why an arbitrary bit of sensory theatre can be used to make a change, simply by “just deciding” that an act or another experience “means-that” a particular fact is true. One is just providing a sensory “handle” onto a desired state.

    You don’t necessarily even need the handle, since any act itself is an intended pattern and so is just another level inserted before the result. For small changes, you could just decide that something is true and not oppose it. The change of state happens at that the point of intention, and the result then seems to happen by “plausible if very unlikely” routes. For larger changes or something more obviously discontinuous or reality-breaking, you probably have to work on some surrounding facts too.

    To fully explore the context of this, I think we need to recognise the nature of our experience – that is, what we truly seems to be is something like an “open aware perceptual space” which “takes on the shape of” a state and within which experiences arise.

    We might think of this space as containing all possible experiential patterns, or all facts existing simultaneously, dissolved within it. Our “state” could then be thought of as the current distribution of relative intensities of those facts – i.e. how much each possible fact-pattern contributes to our state and therefore to our ongoing experience.

    Currently, you are this open space having adopted a state such that you are having the experience of “being-a-person-in-a-world-consisting-of-this-set-of-facts”. Magick is thus a redistributing of those intensities, or a “shifting of our own shape”, which is equivalent to changing those facts. And everyday intentional physical movements work the same way!

    So we might go on to say: “All experiences are apparently local, all intentions are actively global.” All of which means that there is no mechanism for magick, and there is no “how it works” at all in the world. What you are doing is re-patterning your own state.

    Obviously that’s a condensed version of a larger model, but your posts over the last couple of weeks seem to touch on something similar to the view I’ve been playing with.

    The short version of all that as a model:

    * You are an open aware space within which experiences arise.
    * All possible facts are dissolved within you.
    * All facts are relatively true, to different extents.
    * You “take on the shape of” a relative distribution of facts.
    * This distribution is your current state.
    * Your ongoing experiences arise with or are defined by that state.
    * Magick is shifting your state by changing the distribution.
    * An “intention” is a fact/pattern you want to increased the contribution of.
    * “Intending” is the increasing of that pattern.
    * There is no mechanism involved in intending; it is a self-shaping.
    * Intending is the only thing that can ever “happen”. All other change is illusory.

    Sorry for the long post!

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