Tru Magik

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Magic /

Tru Magik: that’s the kind where the magician and his audience fool themselves: where the illusion is taken to be “real.”

Reading the parent file on magic is pre-requisite to reading this file. Reading Sir James Frazer is pre-requisite to reading the parent file. (Or is it? Isn’t my home page really crib notes? a cheat sheet, so you don’t have to do the real work? Am I not after all your intermediary? You didn’t listen to Moses or to Jesus. You didn’t listen to Kepler or to Prigogine. But maybe that’s OK: you don’t listen to me either. (Not being listened to puts me in some pretty good company.) At Judgment Day … (No not God’s. The Judgment Day of the god God is a small, misleading part of nature, truth, reality: the cosmos). A facsimile of our consciousness will be constructed. All the facsimiles will be (metaphorically, it’s all metaphor) lined up, upgraded so we can see and hear, and shown all the missed opportunities: we didn’t really have to be kleptocrats, we didn’t really have to kill everything, we didn’t really have to burn the universe to a cinder and then go extinct ourselves. We didn’t really have to use what consciousness we had to be a self-deceiving fool.

Realism is a matter of opinion.
Bruce Sterling

The parent file reduces history to a cartoon so that only the main themes are delineated. To be really true, a hundred billion or so qualifications would have to be spelled out. Nevertheless, magic is “truly” shown to be a self-delusion on the part of the magicians and their geek audience. The rain dancer dances to a froth, cuts himself, sacrifices virgins … finally it rains. The Harvard experts fly back and forth to Washington till we’re all in a froth … the economy finally produces more money. (Of course the money isn’t worth anything.) (And no number of dollars can measure what it cost to make them.)

This module addresses the side of magic that does work: at least in the minds of the geek audience: and that is the only reality most of us ever have contact with.

I launch with an illustration from Orson Scott Card’s Sleeping Beauty fantasy entitled Enchantment. The protagonist’s mother, a (Ukrainian) Russian Jew living now in the United States, turns out to be a very old (very benign) witch. While the Nazis were herding vast numbers of Jews toward their cattle cars, Esther held her apron up over her face. We are supposed to believe that this “ostrich” trick worked: she saw the Nazis; but they didn’t see her. She had cast a successful spell of invisibility on herself.

Today’s writing is occasioned (however long overdue) by yesterday’s telling of my meeting Norman Mailer on which occasion, instead of telling that excellent writer and important cultural figure how his very excellence had in fact destroyed a publishing opportunity that my own excellence had taken nearly thirty years to create (nearly thirty years ago), I merely used my cleverness to flatter his. The story reports Mailer as having been “invisible” behind Larry Schiller’s bulk. Even as he stepped forward, he continued to be invisible other than as a man: it took me a full second to realize that the gray lump of overcoat Schiller was indicating as “Norm here” was actually Norm’ Mailer.

For all his brilliance, for all his seeming grasp of science and technology, Card is actually a bullshitter. (What writer isn’t, at least in part?) At least I don’t believe any witch ever lived that could hide from the Nazis by raising her apron over her face. But I don’t doubt for a second that many Jews managed to “disappear” in front of the woodwork as well as behind it. And some celebrities learn that “magic.” “Norm” continued to hide as a lump of overcoat while I previewed a coming art show for him. He asked me a personal favor — to replicate the preview for his daughter — while still the lump. But when my compliment found his inner core like a heat seeking missile, the disguise evaporated. Ah: there’s the actual genius; not an overcoat: a mind relating to a mind. I’d teased him, for a moment, to emerge from his disguise.

We are one of only three species on our planet that can claim to be self-aware,
yet self-delusion may be a more significant characteristic of our kind.
Michael Crichton

I’d like to share a few other personal illustrations regarding celebrities with you, but this file is about consensual illusion, not celebrities, so I create a subsidiary file. I hope you enjoy those stories but let us not let them derail us from the main theme.

The first draft of the above was posted 2000 09 27. This 2000 10 06 I reorganize things a bit before proceeding. My home page is full of themes and by-themes, stories and digressions. So is Homer. So is Lord Byron’s Don Juan. Conventionally trained academics have a hard time not just with the Homer but with the Byron. With the latter, they’ll laugh their ass off, then, like the Aristotelian critic at a Shaw play, give it a bad review. And there’s an important reason for that: our institutions train us so that we’ll be error free in our little niche but never figure out what’s really going on. We respect our intellects while we focus on the high wire act: missing the circus. By no means am I suggesting that chaos communicates as effectively as order: I’m entreating you to see that true representations must be a little bit chaotic.

These few days doing other key things at make me realize that this section really needs to become the start of a whole new classification system, like my incipient Existential Classification system* for my Macroinformation Project.

Nathaniel Schiffman’s Abracadabra! lists Magician Peter Warlock’s Eleven Basic Magical Forms:

1. The production of an object. 2. The evanishment of an object. 3. The transposition of objects. 4. The change in form, size, color, weight, or temperature of objects. note 5. The penetration of one solid object by another. Defiance of the laws of gravity. 7. Proof of invulnerability. 8. Making the inanimate animate. 9. Making whole something that has been mutilated or destroyed. 10. Accelerating a natural process such as inducing the rapid germination of a seed into a bush. 11. Producing pseudo-psychic phenomena, such as telepathy, precognition, or thought-transference.

Schiffman’s book then presents a collection of standard ways in which those illusions may be accomplished. I shall here emphasize that there are two basic classes of methods:

A) Tricks: slight of hand, mechanisms, secret compartments …

B) Science: the magician manipulates the audience’s ignorance of the natural world

Naturally the two can mix. I shall concentrate on category B) Science. Reality and common sense diverge. The magician can trust the audience to follow its common sense while the magician relies on simple things like mathematical probabilities. Something mathematically probable, for example, may strike the audience as an amazing, a magical, coincidence: two people having the same birthday …

Schiffman knows a lot of tricks. His work is “complete” whether it’s perfectly encyclopedic or not. My work is a proposal for more work: a collaboration of work. I’ll ante up a few things. You fill in more. You finish it: you, the public, the inheritors.

Thus this file started with a rhetorical, an esthetic direction. Now, temporarily, I turn it into a junk drawer. Throw stuff in: sort it later.

Things people do: anticipating a particular illogical response (and getting it nine times out of ten).

The candidate points out that the incumbent did something, or failed to do something.

The electorate can be relied on to conclude that the candidate would not have done or failed to do the thing highlighted.

Charles Manson ranted from his jail cell that civilization was guilty of a long list of crimes. I agree with him one hundred percept: Civilization is guilty of those crimes. And more. But … Should we conclude that the ranter is therefore a saint? Not one bit.

Students are forever blaming incumbents: parents, teachers, etc. Wait till they get to be parents, teachers … Then take another look.

I’ve already hinted that I have many stories to tell against myself. Terrible things I’ve done, terrible mistakes I’ve made: act of commission, acts of omission. Money I’ve owed and not paid, promises made and not kept, things borrowed and not returned note … people I should have killed and didn’t … But then, though I plan this home page to be a St. Augustine’s Confessions in part, that is secondary to it’s being a handbook for survival: a (rational) counter spell against the eldritch enchantment that keeps us from distinguishing wish from truth, spin from reality.

This file needs more rework as well as more work. I offer you what’s here in the meantime.

I think I’ll also anticipate a point, partly as a reminder to myself to add it to the list of examples of self-deluding magic to be covered. Mathematician John Allen Poulos, A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, points out how commercial or political interests can use math to mislead the ignorant public. Same is true of science, any knowledge … not just math. Show a microscopic photo of anybody’s skin and they’ll go Yech: the skin doesn’t have to be dirty, or diseased; the public just has to be unaccustomed to microscopes. So an ad does a graph, zooms in on a certain section of it, exaggerating the “facts” to the reader uninformed about perspective. Etc. Now: I want to relate that to a point I’ve hinted at a couple of places in my Thinking Tools Directory: if time is infinite, and an infinite number of infinities can be lost within a single infinity, then, however much we know, however much we are aware of, is “infinitely” close to zero. The four year old thinks the six year old is so smart, so wise. The four year piano student seems skilled to the two year piano student. The physicist who can follow Feynman seems smart compared to … What do we do when we get to the “infinite” number of things Feynman can’t follow? The Christians say their God is infinite this and that: without having a clue about infinity. Somewhere, “infinitely” high above God, is a god smart enough to know he’s “infinitely” far from any end: because it’s infinity! There is no end. Yet an H. sap can think he so much wiser, so much better informed, than someone … less wise, less informed. I like to see the whole diapason from ill informed to well informed as the blind enlargement of the string of numbers from 1.45671 and 1.45672. We don’t know enough to know how ignorant (or smart) we are. And comparisons are invidious … except where a specific knowledge and a specific survival strategy are at issue: “too dumb to come in out of the rain.” When I say we’re too dumb to live I mean something specific. I don’t really think any of us are dumb or smart. Except Newton. And maybe Shakespeare. And maybe … Once started, you can’t stop.

Anyway: we use advertising tricks on ourselves.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Arthur C. Clarke


Change Temperature:

Sometimes I’ll laugh right in the middle of … anything … as a memory of a Steve Allen joke bubbles up from the 1950s and into my head. Steve was wonderful at applying the old vaudeville gag to TV of introducing comedy acts as though they were straight. My father told me of the vaudeville act interrupted by some drunk in the balcony. Everybody’s booing as the drunk spoils everything. The drunk winds up on the stage somehow and turns out to be the best juggler, acrobat, whatever … in the act: the star of that act and no drunk at all.

Well Steve Allen introduces a guy practicing mental telepathy, telekinesis, or at least telethermosis. He stayed up nights concentrating his brain waves toward a glass of ordinary drinking water, converting the projected mental energy into thermal energy. His object was to make the water in the glass boil: by thought alone. The guy didn’t claim mastery yet, just progress.

“How hot have you gotten the water so far?” Steve asks.

“Well, I’ve raised it as high as room temperature.”

There I am: Fifteen or sixteen years old. Cackling all alone in the living room, way past my bed time, way past the time my mother and sister had gone to sleep. My favorite of all those shticks was where Steve introduced a guy as an engineer who built the world’s first under-water bridge. It was a double talk act.

Borrow and Not Return:
A great gag on the subject was penned by Anatole France who advised that one never, ever lend a book: “All the books in my library belong to other people,” he confessed.
I love the gag not only because he’s confiding that he’s as bad as anybody, but because of the implication that he’s loaned out and lost 100% of any books he, the famous man of letters, has bought, inherited, had given to him by publishers …

Try also: Celebrity Disguises.

Magic Menu

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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