Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Technology Of Magic

Image result for alchemy

There is yet another way of regarding this strange history of the Renaissance Hermetic tradition in its relation to science. We may ask whether the seventeenth century discarded notions from the earlier tradition which may have been actually nearer to the views of the universe unfolded by the science of today than the movement which superseded it. Was the magically animated universe of Bruno, so close to the magnetic universe of Gilbert, a better guess about the nature of reality than those seemingly so much more rational universes of the mechanistic philosophers? It may be illuminating to view the scientific revolution as in two phases, the first phase consisting of an animistic universe operated by magic, the second phase of a mathematical universe operated by mechanics. An inquiry into both phases and their interactions, may be a more fruitful line of approach to the problems raised by the science of to-day than the line which concentrates solely on the seventeenth-century triumph.*
- How are we to take this? An animated universe may be a better fit these days of subatomic particles than a mathematical universe, but does anyone really believe magic actually works in the world like we know mechanism does?
- Mechanism to the Magi was itself a kind of magic. Putting one thing in contact with another thing produces, when done right, the "magic" result a mechanism is intended to produce: telling time, or the life-like movements of the automaton beetle Bruno famously made. Mechanism is of the lower world. In the middle, astrological world of the planets and stars and the upper or god's world of the empyrean our human movements can be put in relation that would likewise produce a desired result.
- Getting order in our lives or ourselves in right with god. But in the upper worlds, putting ourselves in relation meant performing a ritual, saying a spell. How can speaking worlds actually change the world so as to affect our fortune or relation to god?
- In the way religion does in general, by modelling our relations to the world, helping us keep in mind the varying results of better and worse practises.
- But that is not magic.
- It is a tool used for the magic of getting out of this world and into the world of god.
- Magic protects against human life being seen in mechanistic terms. Ok. But if as you say, this is only model making, where does magic come in?
- In what the model making teaches the Renaissance Magus to do.
- Do in reality, not ritual?
- Yes.
- And what is that?
- Bruno justified his heliocentric view by arguing that all the planets including the Earth must move because only things that move remain uncorrupted. In its continuous response to the world a material thing retains its shape. A living thing, keeping its shape, also moves bodily from place to place, and some living things in addition move in thought. That is, a living thing has something in it that directs it on top of that which simply maintains shape.
- Or in our social existence, we are motivated by something in addition to playing our role in relation to others playing theirs. Our behavior is self-motivated, in addition to its regular responses that keep it what it is.
- Yes. What we have to look for the Magus doing is determining what in his actual life is dragging him down to mere maintaining behavior of a material object, and what in his life partakes of the self-directed behavior of a god.
- How?
- By doing experimentally the opposite of what today's social media companies do to their users unconscious of what is happening to them.**
- And that is?
- Recommendations and filters herd them into tribes, primitive behavior based on fear of other tribes is promoted. Users are made into interchangeable parts of a mechanism for producing profits from selling advertisers predictions of their behavior optimized by uniformity. A Renaissance Magus, like a social media company, works to operate on social relations, but in the opposite direction: exiting from all relations that are mechanical rather than self-originated.
- But how?
- By experiments, turning on and off behavior and seeing what happens.*** We observe a mechanism: when the sun rises, birds sing. But there is a difference here between the two elements placed in mechanical relation. Being a bird involves the response 'sing at sunrise'. If no sunrise, no singing. The movement of the sun however is not in response to the bird's singing and will continue even if the bird does not sing.
- The sun is acting at a higher level.
- Yes. We can say the sun caused the bird to sing, but the bird's singing was only correlate with the sun's rise, not a cause of it rising. Maybe you ask yourself, was your relation to your lover really a love, or only playing a part? If your loved's behavior is blocked, or yours, are either of you like the bird who won't sing if the sun doesn't rise? Is your relation merely correlate, only a response, not arising from motive deep within?
- But the Renaissance Magi played with models, you said, they did not do what you are talking about, how could they?
- At least one renaissance Magus did do this and offered his lessons how to do it to the world.
- Who?
- The Magus William Shakespeare.**** If Facebook et al. pruned social relations into correlation, how do you prod them out into that of self-moved gods? Shakespeare...
- He wasn't a magician.
- His plays show characters ejected from ordinary life into an altered world of magic, a world in which they and others were not themselves, or were taken for or pretended to be others than themselves.
- And they could see whether this turning off revealed a causal relation to another or merely correlate? Whether your lover caused your love, whether the two of you were together as part of an intimate whole, or you played your role and she hers, more of less independently, whether you belonged together as a matter of statistics, of your type and her type meshing more or less frictionlessly?
- Or in mundane terms: Is the relation of the corporate executive to stockholders in which he undertakes to do business and they to demand the maximum profit, no matter the cost to the environment, merely correlate, role to role? Would a direct appeal by the executive to stockholders succeed, asking them whether they'd be willing to accept less profit, thus revealing the unacted upon possibility of a causal relation? Is the corporate executive's behavior locked in the correlates of institutions, or is he merely immoral, a lesser sort of man, role playing, neglecting the causality of better, self-directed human relations?
- Shakespeare's characters act on what they learn experimenting with counterfactuals to try to return to the familiar world they'd found themselves ejected from. The actual magical elements in the plays, magic performed by or on characters, or magical characters, are there as hints or cues to attend to the lesson in magic he was giving.
- That's the argument. As fixed-role, technological social relations in ancient states existed centuries before mechanical technology developed, so in Shakespeare the technology of magic in social relations arose centuries before its extension to mechanical use in the Internet.

Further Reading:
Cannibals & Capitalists
It Just Happens
* The Hermetic Tradition in Renaissance Science, Frances Yates, 1968
** See: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff, 2019
*** See: The Book of Why, Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie, 2018: "The Ladder of Causation, with representative organisms at each level: Most animals, as well as present-day learning machines, are on the first rung, learning from association. Tool users, such as early humans, are on the second rung if they act by planning and not merely by imitation. We can also use experiments to learn the effects of interventions, and presumably this is how babies acquire much of their causal knowledge. Counterfactual learners, on the top rung, can imagine worlds that do not exist and infer reasons for observed phenomena."..."You cannot claim that Eve caused you to eat from the tree unless you can imagine a world in which, counter to facts, she did not hand you the apple."  
**** My Wife Who Throws Me Out

First Quarto title page of The Taming of the Shrew, image available through Creative Commons


- I wasn't sure what you meant by magic, whether it was really magic.
- And you'd like me to tell you?
- No, don't. I took you at your word and went to Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew.
- And did Petruchio do his magic taming of Katherina to your satisfaction?
- It's a wonder satisfaction is possible in a world of so much ugliness and brutality.
- 'Seeing too much sadness hath congeal'd your blood, and melancholy is the nurse of frenzy.'
- From the play. Yes, I have a tendency when hearing how love gives meaning to life otherwise meaningless to protest that it's all a trick, a bad deal to have to suffer so much for love that doesn't last, love that may even be riddled with meaninglessness. But love alone isn't what gives meaning to life. At least that isn't how I've lived my life.
- How have you lived?
- Satisfied despite myself with the practice of a skill, what you're giving the name magic to, something active, taking or attempting to take control when in the midst of illusion, that aims at a return to love and re-connection with the world, but more than mere means, mere technology, participates in advance in what it aims at achieving, don't ask me how: stepping out of and standing above the cycle of love and loss while in its midst confident it can be managed? In the first scene proper of The Taming of the Shrew is a speech proposing that even the most abstract studies be brought into life, where 'no profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en',* and the play ends not with love as you'd expect but past love in more magic, with Katherina's astonishing out of character paean to wifely submission to husband, that is, with her simulating being the opposite of what she was, with her taking up the magic that had been used on her. The absence of closing frame of the drunken, identity deceived tinker Sly watching the play the audience watches with him puts the audience in his position, and suggests that it is being trained or practiced upon like Katherina is too and to take control as she has. The last line of the play is (to Petruchio, about Katherina): "'Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tamed so." In the earlier Quarto text the frame is in fact closed with Sly going home to his wife and comically failing in his attempt to tame her.
* "Mi perdonato, gentle master mine / I am in all affected as yourself; / Glad that you thus continue your resolve / To suck the sweets of sweet philosophy. / Only, good master, while we do admire / This virtue and this moral discipline, / Let's be no stoics nor no stocks, I pray; / Or so devote to Aristotle's cheques / As Ovid be an outcast quite abjured: / Balk logic with acquaintance that you have / And practise rhetoric in your common talk; / Music and poesy use to quicken you; / The mathematics and the metaphysics, / Fall to them as you find your stomach serves you; / No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en: / In brief, sir, study what you most affect."