specularium

Rebel Physics

Peter J. Carroll

Latest Blog Post

  • A Future of Magic & Esoterics

    Beltane approaches, and what passes for spring in these Isles sort of comes and goes, sunny one day, glacial the next. Something has munched the leaves of the mandrakes in the greenhouse so they have come back indoors. Toadmass passed rather quietly this year without the usual raucous late night shagathon, but a few thousand toadpoles now cruise the waters in the grounds of Chateaux Chaos.

    We have just had ‘Mercury Month’ on Arcanorium College and I chose to invoke the Mercurial-Ouranian archetype as exemplified by Thoth, in the EPOCH.

    What follows derives in part from that.

    Okay then, fingers on buzzers, your starter for ten thousand fawning acolytes: - define precisely what enlightenments come from sex and drugs. (No references to those mega-frauds Rajneesh and Castaneda permitted, and please go easy on the Crowley.)

    From an early stage I decided upon a Macgregor Mathers rather than an Aleister Crowley type role. The sex and drugs ‘revolutions’ had already become a bit passé to serious thinkers by the late nineteen eighties anyway. However they did play a significant role in the whole ‘magical-revival-counter-cultural-new-age-neopagan’ subcultural meme that developed from the late sixties onwards.

    Like most cultural developments in the UK, this tended to proceed in a top-down fashion with those from more wealthy and educated backgrounds getting into it first as the postwar economy gradually began to take off and people felt they had the freedom to experiment with non-mainstream identities.

    Now that all social classes of western society have access to drugs and sexual freedoms and esoteric ideas, mind-altering (as opposed to mood-changing) drugs have tended to go out of fashion from the top down, and perhaps because of a perceived lack of slack in tightening economies, the willingness, and leisure to experiment with esoteric and magical ideas and identities seems to have decreased from its former popularity.

    We probably passed peak esoteric booksales some years ago, and the participants at esoteric festivals and meetings seem generally well past their formative years these days.

    If young people can tear themselves away from online social media and entertainment and career anxiety at all these days, they tend to do so only to engage in single-issue causes such as animal rights, vegetarianism, rainforests, or some form of anti-fascism; depending on whatever gets defined as the fascism of the month. Plus a few will always want to actually adopt the current fascism.

    So what forms of magic and esoterics can the future hold?

    What can the magical-esoteric paradigm bring to the table?

    I like to think that it brings ‘The Promethean Quest of Will and Imagination’.

    Firstly to Imagination.

    Various esoteric practices such as divination, sortilege, visualisation, contemplative meditation, and invocation act to increase the imagination. Mind altering drugs can also do this and their new widespread availability played a part in the last magical revival

    Imagination runs on a spectrum from Apophenia, the ability to perceive useful hidden connections between phenomena that others haven’t yet spotted, to Pareidolia, the ability to perceive connections between phenomena that will always remain questionable, to Superstition, the ability to perceive non-existent connections between phenomena, for example between the malignant forces in conspiracy theories, or between astrological charts and personality. (If astrology had any predictive power, then humans would have adopted strong taboos against mating during January and February so as to prevent the birth of those invariably evil Scorpios.)

    ‘Occult’ thinking at its best seeks out the hidden connections between phenomena and as such it has started new religions, undermined existing religions, initiated new sciences, and undermined old sciences. At its worst it merely creates nonsense when it fails to fractionate the crud of Superstition from the Pareidolic raw material and then to distil from it the elixir of Apophenia and to test it against reality. Nothing has Ultimate Truth, and All Things Remain Possible. However we should not waste time on ideas that simultaneously exhibit unfalsifiability and dysfunctionality.

    Mind altering drugs merely lower the resistance of the synaptic connections between brain cells, allowing nervous impulses to cascade wildly through the brain stimulating unusual connections, a few of which may prove interesting, but most of which prove useless or merely entertaining. Now that so-called entheogens have become commonplace the slimy ruse of distributing them and supervising their use to gain a bit of importance and some power and influence over the users has worn a bit thin, particularly as most people now regard them as merely Smurfogenic and more likely to lead to visions of those little blue people from the television series than to enlightenment.

    And secondly to Will.

    ‘Magical Thinking’ primarily means a belief in the power of intent. Intent works best when the magician believes in its power but also does everything else possible to bring about the desired result rather than just relying upon the capricious and rather erratic parapsychological power of intent alone. The trick here lies in regarding the ‘everything else possible’ as a series of additional magical acts, necessary to the accomplishment of something difficult or improbable.

    Mind altering drugs may have some ability to stimulate the Imagination but they seriously undermine the Will. It remains pretty well impossible to maintain focus on casting a spell or an enchantment or even to remain focussed on a simple intent whilst under their influence, and chronic use tends to erode the capacity for memory and willed intention long-term.

    Thus the establishment had little to fear from the ideas of the hippy counterculture for the very drugs which stimulated those ideas also undermined the capacity to make them work. Turn on, tune in, drop out, - and screw up.

    Sex can stimulate both the Will and the Imagination. We all arrive on earth equipped with a biological instinct to resist death on a moment to moment basis and on a longer term basis by procreation. This instinct easily gets displaced, subverted, or perverted, or even inverted, because we have such enormous suggestibility and imagination. People will do almost anything from going to war, to wearing horribly uncomfortable and expensive clothing, to extreme physical or mental exertions, to acquiring vast power, wealth, and fame, to starving themselves dangerously thin, to building ridiculously large muscles, and many lesser variants on such activities; all to basically demonstrate their reproductive fitness or something symbolic or subconsciously representative of it.

    The Sex & Death instinct thus underlies so much of our motivation, including most of the Fear & Desire, Love & Hate, and Identity & Magic dualities. Sigmund Freud understood this but then went on to build a huge speculative and unscientific edifice upon his basic insight.

    ‘Sex Magic’ consists of much more, and much less, than meets the eye: -

    On the simplest level orgasm creates ‘Gnosis’. Concentrating on some spell or sigil or divinatory question or source of inspiration at the moment of orgasm can serve to inflame the mind with it and create some extraordinary results.

    On a slightly more complicated level, sexuality can empower almost any activity and working in a sexually charged atmosphere tends to enhance performance and motivation. Actual sexual activity of course works, but so does mere sexual tension (so called polarity work), or even unrequited attraction.

    End of story. Anyone claiming anything more just wants to sell you something.

    The sex and drugs revolutions have become assimilated into the general cultural background and the residual search for ever more peculiar forms of sexual expression and ever more exotic and obscure hallucinogens seems unlikely to throw up any further illuminating surprises. So what forms of magic may the esotericists of the 21st century get into?

    The new perception of scarcity, particularly with reference to accommodation and economic opportunities for the young, should incentivise Results Magic. That means magic to bring about tangible effects like academic success, career advancement, business start-ups, property acquisition, and high ability mate acquisition. The wizards of the next few decades will probably have to achieve measurable success in the world to get taken seriously. Mere mysticism won’t cut it any more.

    The quality of life in the developed world has not increased over the last several decades because the increasingly frantic pace of life in which everything speeds up year on year has negated the benefits of the material and technical improvements which have caused that acceleration. The magicians of the 21st century perhaps need to explore the slow aesthetic, to consume culture in a more discriminating fashion, to make things carefully by hand, to write more slowly and carefully, to spend time just staring at the sky once again. I do not use a mobile phone; it might spoil my long walks.

    The new perception of the perilous state of the planetary climate and ecology should provide plenty of scope for magicians to try their skills for higher causes. We need to divine for the identities and motives of the climatological and ecocidal planet wreckers, and enchant for their behaviour change or demise.   

    The new perception of science beginning to dabble with the actual fundamentals of existence in biology, neuroscience, cosmology, and the quantum domain, behoves the contemporary wizard to remain abreast or ahead of such developments, as wizards always did in the past. As we pointed out in the EPOCH, somewhere in the vast curved spacetime of the universe the knowledge we seek almost certainly already exists, and by Stellar Magic we can perhaps avoid blind alleys, phlogiston theories, and disastrous misapplications with existential consequences.

    The majority of magicians and esotericists now seem to spend more time interacting with each other online rather than face to face in Moots, Covens, and Orders. This has tended to widen debate but also to often reduce it to a mere cacophony of abusively conflicting opinions as the costs of such behaviour become as negligible as the benefits.

    Both online and in real world meetings, Better Discipline and More Research & Development seem desirable.

    Written on Friday, 29 April 2016 15:12 in Blog Read 143 times

Latest Games Post

  • Favorite Games

    Herewith a list of games that have particularly intrigued me over the years, some remain in print, some you can find easily on the net, others remain personal creations or in development. Games have made a considerable contribution to my thinking since an early age, not perhaps as much as books, yet interesting games function a bit like a books, and not only do they have a stories to tell in their structures but you can evolve stories as you play them or adapt them.

    Careers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Careers_(board_game) I came across this at about age 12. I knew little about the world in those unsophisticated times and attended a grammar school where the English Master (a wily and provocative old cove) would occasionally announce ‘You are here to be educated as clerks, like your fathers’. Fortunately the school also had a science department, although nobody had a clue what you could do with a science education except become a science teacher. The school gave no career advice, it assumed you would either take one of the plentiful clerical jobs available at the time, or go to university and think of something whilst there. The game of Careers thus seemed an astonishing eye opener. Choose Wealth, Happiness, or Fame, join a whole series of professions, buy a yacht, in short; choose an Identity! All this seemed to sit in my subconscious till the mid-1970s, an era of plenty when career-anxiety seemed to give way to the search for personal identity in my peer group. I guess that I have always looked at life as a sort of board game. A lot of the assumptions built into the Careers game now seem simplistic but eventually it would perhaps have some influence over what I wrote in EPOCH, but more of that in a following article.

    The Game of Nations. This came out in the 1970’s to model the then current oil crisis. Players control abstract Middle –Eastern oil producing territories and vie to get wealth that they can spend on oil extraction, tankers, and pipelines, or on taking over adjoining territories. The game system does not involve dice but it does have uncertainties built in with event cards. Players can buy Politicians, Secret Agents, Monarchs, Dictators, and Guerrillas in an attempt to subvert or conquer additional territories. Today we should perhaps consider adding Theocrats as well, and making the map less abstract and updating the events cards.

    The Russians currently seem to play a strong hand in Syria. The West has perhaps made a mistake in supporting the ‘moderate’ rebels. Both sides need Iranian cooperation and support but if the Iranians come out of this on top then all hell may break loose if they go head to head with the Saudis.

     Diplomacy. This classic game of early 20th Century European alliances represents one of the few games which model WW1 in an interesting way. Apart from the naval battle of Jutland the battles of WW1 mainly got settled by terrible attrition rather than by interesting tactics and manoeuvres. In Diplomacy we see the bigger picture as nations make secret alliances and agreements off board and then simultaneously reveal their strategies to see what results. Historians argue constantly about the causes of WW1, but in this model scenario, war seems virtually inevitable if the game represents the actual diplomatic system of the time. The game however does really need 5 or more players, but you can play it over many days with perhaps a move a day, and with secret diplomatic notes passed around at tea and lunch breaks.

    Axis & Allies. The basic Axis & Allies game models WW2 from after it has started and Japan has attacked Hawaii and the Germans have attacked Russia. It can accommodate five players but it works well with just two. Basically it works a bit like the simple strategy game of ‘Risk!’ where you get extra forces for conquering more territory, however the forces consist of various types of land, sea, and air units which makes it far more detailed and engaging. Subsequent versions have striven for yet more detail and realism. The initial game suffered from the structural quirk that Japanese commanders with any sense should disengage quickly from the pacific and attack Russia in the east, thus virtually ensuring an Axis economic victory. However for historical reasons, notably the Nomonhan Incident, the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and an Oil Embargo, they adopted a Pacific strategy. The critical role of oil supply in WW2 does not seem well reflected in the basic rules.

    Buck Rogers – Battle for the 25th Century. This quirky game never became very popular but you can get second-hand versions quite easily. It has an Axis and Allies type strategic structure but set in the inner solar system with spaceships and spacefaring troops disputing the control of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, the Asteroids and various orbital facilities. It has the extraordinary feature of a variable geometry board. The Planets move around the Sun and you need to plan spacecraft trips accordingly. The basic game has some complications that I don’t find worthwhile; I have preferred to adapt the rules to make it more like Axis & Allies and also to use the Risk 2210 sci-fi pieces to provide more choices of troop type. 

    Discworld. Ankh-Morepork. Something extraordinary happened here and then a tragedy occurred. Perhaps by some happy chance a really good game got cobbled together in Ankh-Morepork, (two attempts to make sequels to it fell badly flat) but then after the death of Sir Terry Pratchett something went wrong with the rights and the publishers had to stop making it. Sets can now fetch several hundred pounds. The game has a bit of everything, it seems a bit like turbo-monopoly with assassination and magic, although amassing property may not necessarily win you the game because you don’t know which characters your opponents play. It works best with four players and it contains enough randomness and pageantry from the books to make it surprising and enjoyable for aficionados and beginners.

    Space Raid.  Interstellar board game design presents two major problems, firstly how to represent 3D space on a 2D board, and secondly how to allow for the vast distances and speeds involved. The designer needs to invoke or invent some reasonably credible but as yet undiscovered physics.

    In designing Space Raid, I opted for sheets of black board with numbered or named stars on them joined by pale green lines representing possible jump routes between them of lengths of up to a few parsecs, to produce a sort of spider web or network of jump routes with the stars at the nodes and with most stars connected to between 2 and 4 others by jump routes. On the board the jump routes have different apparent lengths to represent the reality of the stars not all lying in exactly the same plane, but perhaps lying in the thickness of the plane of a spiral galaxy.

    The starships move using (hypothetical) gravity focussing devices. By focussing the gravity drive exclusively on a nearby star, a ship accelerates towards it and achieve an immense velocity fairly quickly.  It then performs a slingshot manoeuvre around the star and as it hurtles away it uses the gravity focussing drive to brake against the star to eventually bring itself more or less to rest around another nearby star. Thus each time a ship makes a jump it leaves one star system, hurtles through another without stopping, and ends up in a third. Two further quirks of relativistically dubious speculative physics also occur in this scenario, initiating a jump sends out a non-local gravitational hyperwake through the system so all ships know when another has jumped, but not to where, plus all jumps take a very similar amount of time, irrespective of differing distances.

    Rather conveniently this leads to the situation where all ships on both sides can jump simultaneously but commanders don’t know the destinations of their opponent’s ships. So both sides secretly write down the next destinations of their ships and then both reveal them and move their ships and see if any have arrived at the same star systems, in which case combat begins. Plus ships passing through a star system in the middle part of their two star jump have such an enormous velocity that interception and combat remain impossible, however they can deploy kinetic energy weapons in passing, basically dropping rocks on very large targets like planets to create massive devastation. No defence exists against this except to intercept them well before they get within jump range of a star system with a base or colony on one of its planets. This does not seem unreasonable, the capacity for flight soon brought with it the capacity to wreck entire cities; the capacity of interstellar travel would probably bring with it the capacity to wreck entire planets. Players may agree to a treaty forbidding such tactics, or a severe loss of victory points if they break it.

    When opposing starships end up in the same system they can attempt to engage or evade each other using a variety of sensors, cloaking devices, and evasive tactics, force shields, particle beam weapons, and missiles. Each ship has a variety of factors for these and duelling proceeds through the use of asymmetric combat polygons. Ships can also exchange fire with orbital bases or with planetary bases.

    Written on Monday, 22 February 2016 14:34 in Games Read 437 times

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