Magick is not science
by Alistair Livingston
In his article The Magician as Rebel Physicist" in CI. 21 , Pete Carroll argues for the incorporation into magick of 'speculative theories at the cutting edge of sciences', which he regards as offering a more creative magick than those which rely upon ancient cosmologies and worldviews. The suggestion is of a magical equivalent to the collapse of the earth-centred cosmos of the Middle Ages during the Renaissance, with its corresponding broadening of European horizons. A collapse hastened by the first waves of European expansionism, in which not only were non-scientific cosmologies shattered, but also the lives of those 'primitive savages' who held them. The expansion of the rationalist world-view did not only affect non-Europeans, it also relied upon the destruction of ways of life and patterns of thought established by the neolithic (farming) revolution in Europe itself The connection between land and people was broken, not by Christianity, but by science and industrialization. A bodily knowledge of the world built up over countless generations was replaced by the bodiless abstract knowledge of scientific rationality.
But, in creating bodiless minds, scientific rationality also created mindless bodies. From slaves and workers, though plants and animals, to the world and the universe beyond. Just as handful of Europeans under imperialism tried to control the lives of millions of non-Europeans, so a handful of scientists attempt to define reality as perceived by non-scientists, on the grounds that only scientific knowledge is 'true' knowledge. All else is delusion. Such absolutism goes well beyond attempts by religious or political elites to control beliefs. Indeed, it now extends to an attempt to deny us consciousness at all.
For 'thinkers' like Daniel Dennet, we are all zombies, our complexities reducible to the actions of myriad robotic sub-systems. Since such 'robots' (a term used to describe both genes and neurones) are mindless, and we are no more than an accumulation of such mindless sub-entities, we are therefore also mindless entities plagued by the delusions of consciousness.
But here the very word 'robot' betrays the origin of such speculations. The word was coined by Karel Kapek from the Slavik robotnik which means worker. Workers (of any type) in an industrial economy are forbidden to use their own bodily knowledge or traditional craftskills, are forbidden to think for themselves, and be humans rather than cyborgs. But this denial of humanity is critical to the advance of scientific knowledge, since it relies upon instruments (from particle accelerators to computers) to obtain and analyse data. Instruments which in turn require the dehumanizing process of industrialization for their production. Scientific (rational) knowledge then is generated by the suppression of humanity. It is an essentially oppressive knowledge, historically rooted in both the overt destruction of nonscientific people and cultures and in the continuing marginalization of alternative (i.e., body-centred) ways of knowing the world in the industrialized economies.
Cosmologies reflect social structures. The fact that few people can grasp scientific cosmology is a reflection of our inability to understand our own society. Religious creation myths may "pale into puerile insignificance" in comparison, but outside of monotheism, they are focused on the meaning and significance of human existence within a living 'mindful' non-human cosmos. They depend upon the ability of ritual to embody meaning in the participants-not as an abstract system of knowledge, but within the flesh, as living knowledge which is not part of a linear 'progression', but occurs all at once in the here and now, which includes past and future.
Such knowledge is not easily transmissible through a language of abstraction (which includes this article), but rather through the creative fusion of myth and ritual. When that fusion occurs we are able to remember our bodies and the suppressed memories they contain. Such memories are not individualistic but collective; they are what we are unconscious of They hurt.
Imagine that we are zombies. Imagine the pain of a zombie remembering itself; of the coming together of mindless body and disembodied mind.
Subject/object, self/other. Religion/science, as in one of Crowley's slogans, "The method of science, the aim of religion", which I believe Pete Carroll once praised. At the very least it can stand as a distinguishing feature of magick.
To sum up:- In dismissing non-scientific understandings of the world and attempting to place magick within the abstract rationality of science, Pete Carroll's position risks the application of Occam's Razor. (Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.) Science is an absolutist/totalitarian system which, for the past 300 years, has excluded magick from its descriptions of reality. The hard science position simply lumps magick in with religion as delusory.
I may have misunderstood Pete Carroll's position in the article, since it appears to be a retreat from his suggestion in Liber Kaos that science, religion and magick are distinct paradigms, and that, as science declined, so magick would become the dominant paradigm, just as religion has been replaced by science. An alternative speculation would be to consider science as a powerful form of magick, in which rational belief sustained by generations of scientists as a collective group has shaped reality, and participates in the creation of the formal mathematical structures it believes it is 'discovering'.
In which case, successive acts of magick, of remembering ourselves as 'embodied minds/mindful bodies' could result in the creation of a post-scientific (i.e., magical) reality which would appear as undeniably 'true' as religious or scientific bodies of knowledge were in the past.
Science is usually traced to an origin in Greek philosophy, some 2500 years ago. Yet it is only' in the past 300 or so years, and within the sphere of European dominance, that it has achieved its position of privileged knowledge. It has not penetrated very deeply into the belief systems of the majority of humanity. It remains an elitist knowledge and relies for its advancement on the existing structure of global power relations. On any realistic set of future scenarios-the effects of global warming, the industrialization of China. economic war between Europe, the Americas and the Asian economies, fossil fuel depletion, or some unexpected problem (i.e., Nature decides she has had enough, a Ia CI. 21)-the funding for academic research, which allows scientists the space/time to test their theories, will cease.
Suddenly the lights will go off. We will all be sitting in the darkness, wondering where our next meal will be coming from. At which point a magick reliant upon speculations about quantum physics will not be very useful. (CERN requires as much electricity for its operations as a small cur Magicks of survival are more likely' to produce results. Such magicks do exist. For example. Santeria, which preserved African knowledge despite slavery and transportation to another Continent. Such magicks survived because they are rooted in bodily knowledge rather than texts.
However, I am not suggesting the rejection of scientific knowledge. What ever is to come, nuclear physics will remain to haunt our ancestors for many thousands of years. Science is indeed a powerful magick. The need is not for the subjection of magick to the single vision of science, but for the absorption of science within the sphere of magick. Such a magick will be a painful magick. it cannot fail to fall into the trap of Neo-Paganism. i.e., of a rejection of the past. It will have to be a rnagick confident and powerful enough to accept responsibility for the destructive power of science and industry, empire and oppression, yet able to balance such acceptance with the will to act beyond the desire to "provide itself with plenty of money, sex, power and fun, at the expense of the surrounding socio-political environment".
The bottom line is 'respect'. Respect for our own power as magicians, and respect for the power of others, which includes the non-human environment (nature). This cannot occur in a master/slave! subject/object relationship. It is alien to the scientific belief system, with its solipsistic belief that only reason exists. To respect another does not mean agreeing with or being liked by them. It is about challenging and being challenged, arguing and debating as equals. Science refuses to accept this. Magick has to, or else it becomes no more than delusion, like the whole New Age fantasy. Why should the spirit of a North American shaman reveal his secrets to the ancestors of the people who destroyed his culture? The more likely response would be for the shaman to say "Fuck off and die".
Why should Nature reveal her secrets to a scientist? In which case science does not reveal the truth about the world, but is a self-referential system in which the scientists get reflected back at themselves the stupid questions they ask. By treating nature with respect magick offers an alternative approach. It is not an easy option, but that is why magick is regarded as 'dangerous' by both science and religion. Not because it is a delusion, but because it can lead to the disturbing truth that the world is essentially beyond human comprehension, and as a consequence of this, since our humanity is of the world rather than created by God, we are incapable of fully/truly knowing ourselves.
Science then is the pursuit of an illusion. The illusion of 'true knowledge' which is absolute, eternal and unquestionable. It is equivalent to monotheistic religion where the word 'god' is replaced by the word 'reason'. Magick is confusing since it is pluralistic, offering understanding and meaning rather than 'knowledge'. An understanding and meaning which arise through the union of imagination (mind) and actions (body). The acting out of myth through ritual. As I understand it, magick is distinguished from science by this difference: the magician is changed by the magick; the scientist is not changed by the science.
This essay was first published in Chaos International magazine No.22