Monday, December 11, 2017

Free Will Truthers and Magick

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, the "Free Will Truthers" have been at it again. Now I just made that term up, but it seems appropriate for those psychologists and neuroscientists who are busy trying to prove that their idea of "free will" does not exist. As a magician, I obviously think the whole idea is ridiculous. If you have no conscious will at all, the very idea of practicing magick doesn't make sense. At the same time, the idea that our conscious wills are entirely free, at every moment, regardless of what we are doing, is also probably wrong.

To be clear, the formal "free will" debate is to a large degree over a philosophical question rather than a scientific one, since the definition of "free will" can refer to many things. Obviously, human beings can learn, so we're not talking about free will as opposed to absolute determinism. What psychologists and neuroscientists are trying to tease out with these studies is to what degree the mind as we experience it directs the body. And even that Cartesian breakdown isn't really correct. It's pretty clear at this point that the mind and body are not separate, but rather components of what we perceive as a unified human experience.

So really, the free will truthers are not necessarily trying to argue that human behavior is constrained in certain ways, but rather how much of our behavior is really motivated by "the unconscious." In a way, they're a little like the Freudians from a hundred years ago, arguing that our conscious perception of the world is merely the tip of a metaphorical unconscious iceberg. So that's not the same thing as what philosophers mean by "free will" at all, and that's not what I'm talking about in this article. When I use the term "free will," what I really mean is a sort of "unconscious will" versus "conscious will" as we generally experience it.

At any rate, the original "free will" observations came from studies that seemed to show that brain scans could predict the decision a person was going to make before said persons were conscious of having made them. As I have previously mentioned, these studies were undertaken around the same time as Daryl Bem's presentiment studies were going on. Using a similar technique, Bem seemed to have proved the existence of precognition, showing that subjects seemed to react to emotionally charged images before the images were actually displayed.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Let's Defeat Roy Moore

I have no idea how many people from Alabama read Augoeides, but as a dedicated fighter in the war against creeping theocracy, it behooves me to weigh in the special election for Alabama Senate which will take place next Tuesday, December 12th. Crazy theocrat Roy Moore is running on the Republican ticket against Democrat Doug Jones, an attorney best known for prosecuting two members of the Ku Klux Klan for perpetrating the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham.

Alabama is a very conservative state and normally elects Republicans by large margins. Roy Moore isn't really a Republican, though, at least not a normal one. He is opposed to legal abortion and seems to be okay with kicking poor people, but that's where the similarities end. Moore is a theocrat, who believes that his fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible supersedes all existing law and that non-Christians should have no civil rights. That's flat-out insane, and has no place in American government.

I've spoken with a couple of conservatives who don't believe me when I make that assertion, but there's plenty of evidence out there. Moore was ordered to remove a Ten Commandments monument from his courtroom, refused, and had to be removed from office. Then, when he was elected to the Alabama Supreme Court, he directed the state to defy the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. He had to be removed from office over that one, too. Is it completely out there for me to think that somebody who's already been removed from office twice shouldn't be allowed to run for anything ever again?

But is there more? Of course there is. Moore was a lecturer and co-author of a course on "civil government and public policy" sponsored by the Vision Forum, a Christian Reconstructionist organization. If Moore is going to convice anybody that he's not a supporter of their ideas, he needs to explain his involvement. And to be clear, I'm pretty sure that he won't, because I don't think he can.

On Wednesday, ThinkProgress published a piece examining "Law and Government: An Introductory Study Course," which promised that in "addition to learning concepts of civil government and public policy, students will be strengthened in their understanding of biblical principles which govern us and which point us to the Lawgiver who governs us all -- Jesus Christ." Moore was one of the lecturers and a co-author of the curriculum, which appears to be part of the Witherspoon School of Law and Public Policy, which is not a school in any formal sense, but rather a program of four-day seminars teaching a fundamentalist Christian interpretation of the law to male-only audiences.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Real "War on Christmas?"

A couple of weeks ago I covered the latest pathetic attempt by Fox News to drum up some of that old "War on Christmas" magic that got them such great ratings in the Bill O'Reilly era. The thing is, there really is a War on Christmas, but it's not being led by liberals or George Soros or lesbian coffee shops or whoever else the network doesn't like these days. According to this article from Huffington Post, it's being led by Christian evangelists themselves.

Pastor David Grisham, a self-described Christian evangelist, taunted children and their parents who were waiting for a meeting with Kris Kringle at the Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska.

“I wanted to tell you kids today too that Santa Claus does not exist. Santa Claus is not real,” Grisham announced. “The man you’re going to meet today is a man wearing a suit like a costume and it’s make-believe. It’s not real.”

“Your parents have been telling you a story that is not true,” he said. “There are no reindeer, flying reindeer.” An employee interrupted Grisham spiel and asked him not to interfere with the customers. “I’m not interfering,” Grisham said. “I’m just telling them the truth.” He then promised to be done “in about a minute.”

What I'll say about this is unlike the old Bill O'Reilly talking points, this actually makes sense. The commercialism and related hype around Christmas does detract from its meaning as a religious holiday. Our whole modern concept of Christmas and the somehow-non-religious "Christmas spirit" was invented by Macy's department store in order to sell toys, and has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.

Fox News would rather demonize a bunch of people who really don't care one way or the other how Christians celebrate the holiday season, so my guess is that they won't be reporting on this story any time soon. But being upset about Christmas commercialism makes a whole lot more sense than throwing a fit about "lesbian hands" on a coffee cup.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Magick and Mental Illness

So this is a "Magick Tuesday" post. Yesterday evening I was at a writing event promoting my fiction, and didn't wind up with enough time to finish writing this up.

Lately there's been some discussion here on Augoeides regarding magick and mental illness. People who think occultism is evil like to throw around ideas like magicians who mess up developing severe mental illness, or wind up in abject poverty, or both. Back in 2007, I posted this article on the topic, which discusses my statistical approach to evaluating claims like those.

These days, fundamentalist Christians - particularly those of the "Green Gospel" persuasion (or heresy, really) - particularly have trouble with the idea that an occultist could ever be financially successful. After all, they believe that material success means God favors you, but they also believe that anything occult is sinful. So a financially successful occultist is a threat to their worldview that needs to be dealt with.

Some of them still buy into the "ritual abuse" nonsense that Satan is blessing occultists when they do things that are "evil enough," basically a Manichean inversion of the Green Gospel itself. But when occultists like me explain that magick just doesn't work like that, again, it's a threat. In fact, it's the Green Gospel that is messed up. There's nowhere in the New Testament where Jesus says that the rich are blessed and the poor are forsaken. In fact, Jesus says the exact opposite in The Sermon On The Mount.

Aleister Crowley gets brought up in this context a lot as an occultist who died "broke and insane," but a lot of the basis for that comes from John Symonds' tabloid biography The Great Beast. This is very inaccurate account of Crowley's life that accepted every claim about that made it into the press as true, regardless of how outlandish it sounded. Crowley was not seriously mentally ill in his old age - read The Book of Thoth, which was written towards the end of his life. It's dense like most of Crowley's writing, but it's lucid, comprehensive, complex, and deep. It is not the work of a "crazy person."

And Crowley was relatively poor at the end of his life, but for an entirely obvious and non-mysterious reason. By that time Crowley had spent his entire family fortune self-publishing his occult works. Back then book production was extremely expensive because it was still done mostly by hand, and works like The Equinox never made much if any money. Had Crowley lived in the time of CreateSpace, I imagine he probably would have died a wealthy man.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Meet The Yeti

Granted, he doesn't look that much like a yeti on all fours. But imagine him standing up...

Back in 2013, I covered a paper that claimed to show that "yeti DNA" collected from the Himalayan mountains matched the DNA of an ancient species of polar bear. But as it turned out, that paper had a problem. While it did correctly identify the samples as bear DNA, the section that was highlighted turns out to be a mitochondrial DNA sequence that matches that of almost any bear. Bear evolution expert Charlotte Lindqvist and her team decided to take another look, and compare other regions of the "yeti DNA" with DNA from Himalayan brown bears (Ursus arctos isabellinus). As it turns out, the samples matched. This provides strong evidence that the Himalayan brown bear and the yeti are in fact the same animal.

That previous paper didn’t really prove what it claimed to prove. It looked at a sequence of mitochondrial DNA (yes, the powerhouse of the cell is used in genetic sequencing), but the particular region the scientists focused on is highly conserved in bear populations. That means that polar and brown and black bears all have extremely similar, if not identical, sequences there. It makes no sense to claim that a sample matched an ancient polar bear based on this stretch of DNA, because that sequence would match almost any bear.

To confirm a real match, you have to look at more variable parts of the mitochondrial DNA. So that’s exactly what Lindqvist did. And in the process, she and her international team in Pakistan and Singapore provided the first strong evidence that presumed yetis are actually bears. They published their results in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Tuesday. Icon Film secured nine samples that purported to be genuine yeti artifacts, and Lindqvist gathered 15 samples from known bear populations. By sequencing mitochondria from all these sources, she and her fellow researchers were able to determine that all but one of the yeti artifacts actually came from local bears. That last sample was from a dog.

They also figured out that Himalayan brown bears split off from the rest of the regional bear population several thousand years ago, which is why they’re so genetically distinct from most other brown bears. Living in geographic isolation for so long has separated them from other Asian brown bears, and even from their relatives on the nearby Tibetan plateau. They even look different. But prior to Lindqvist’s work, it wasn’t clear just how long Himalayan bears had been on their own. Researchers will need higher-quality samples to figure out the whole picture, but even this small step is major for a species that’s hardly been studied.

We don’t know a lot about Himalayan brown bear behavior, since they’re rare and tend to shy away from people, but bears make sense as a source of mythology. “We know that bears can be aggressive and get up on their hind legs, so they may have been attacking livestock or ravaging local villages,” says Lindqvist. “It’s not that surprising that a large animal like that could feel scary and lead to myths, especially in a culture that lives in very close connection to their environment.”

Monday, November 27, 2017

Via Solis Sagittarius Elixir Rite

Today's Magick Monday post is a full script for the Sagittarius Elixir Rite that we will be performing tomorrow, Tuesday November 28th, at Leaping Laughter Oasis, our local Twin Cities body of Ordo Templi Orientis. Going forward, we will be performing one of these per month, once for each of the twelve signs, in a ritual series called Via Solis (the way or path of the Sun). I will be posting the full scripts here on the preceding Mondays so people can take a look at them if they want to attend. Also, if you are in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota) and would like to attend, let me or someone at the lodge know. This is a public ritual and all are welcome.

0. The Temple

The ritual space is set up with an altar table in the center. The bell chime, banishing dagger, and invoking wand are placed on the altar. In the center of the altar is placed a cup of wine for creating the elixir, within the Table of Art corresponding to Sagittarius.

The sign Sagittarius is attributed to the power of “Transmutations." It is also the only sign attributed to a vision, the "Vision of Universal Peacock." This vision is a significant step in alchemical processes. Transmutation is a general power with many applications, since in a sense all magical operations represent attempts to transmute or transform some aspect of yourself, the external world, or both. So any intent along those lines would be in harmony with the power of the sign.

For this rite, I will be attempting an experiment that I have not previously tried - I'm going to see if I can use the transmutation power of Sagittarius to cure a chronic illness, the idea being to transmute an unhealthy state into a healthy one. You can use Mercury to mediate the effects of chronic illnesses, but that tends to behave more like a holding action where the illness gets better for a couple of weeks and then the effect wears off. I want to see if Sagittarius can accomplish a more permanent result.

This ritual may be performed with one, two, or three officers, who may alternate taking the Officiant role and divide up the reading from Liber 963.


I. Opening

All stand surrounding the altar. Officiant inhales fully, placing the banishing dagger at his or her lips. The air is then expelled as the dagger is swept backwards.

Officiant: Bahlasti! Ompehda!

Officiant then performs the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. All rotate accordingly.

Officiant: We take refuge in Nuit, the blue-lidded daughter of sunset, the naked brilliance of the voluptuous night sky, as we issue the call to the awakened nature of all beings, for every man and every woman is a star.

All: MAKAShANaH

Officiant: We take refuge in Hadit, the secret flame that burns in every heart of man and in the core of every star, as we issue the call to our own awakened natures, arousing the coiled serpent about to spring.

All: ABRAHADABRA

Officiant: We take refuge in Heru-Ra-Ha, who wields the wand of double power, the wand of the force of Coph Nia, but whose left hand is empty for he has crushed an universe and naught remains, as we unite our awakened natures with those of all beings everywhere and everywhen, dissolving all obstacles and healing all suffering.

All: AUMGN

Officiant: For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.

All: All is pure and present are and has always been so, for existence is pure joy; all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass and done; but there is that which remains. To this realization we commit ourselves – pure and total presence. So mote it be.


Bell chime.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Flat Earth Reality Show

To answer the question you probably are about to ask, yes, there are apparently people in the world who believe that the Earth is flat. Some of them might be trolling, but apparently at least a few take it seriously. A clever Redditor recently came up with the idea that somebody should produce a reality show in which flat-earthers hunt for the edge of the world. We'd do it for the lulz, naturally.

A number of people online have decided that a TV studio should put their hands in their pockets and shell out to make a show about flat-earthers showing the rest of us where the edge of the world is. You'd probably just need to pay for a boat and camera rental.

The initial idea for finding the edge of the world was pitched on Wednesday by a redditor who is hopefully going places in the entertainment world. After 24 hours the idea already had around 65.7k upvotes - just think of the viewer numbers HBO.

To be fair, some flat-earthers do not believe a flat earth means it has an edge. Some argue there's an infinite earth that carries on in all directions (like standing on a sphere, perhaps). Others think that it is impossible to reach 'the edge' because of an ice wall - like Game of Thrones.

Here's the concept - take your teams to the top of the "ice wall" - you know, the glaciers in Antarctica. Then outfit them with all the gear they need and dogsleds (because dogsleds are funnier than snowmobiles). The first team to reach the other edge of the wall wins. The rest of us could watch as they embark on the 1200 mile trip across the continent... oh, wait, I mean the "ice wall." To be clear, that's a pretty thick wall.

And, of course, the joke is on the winning team, who will arrive at the "edge" and find - more ocean! You know, because Antarctica is a continent and not the edge of some sort of crazy wall. For bonus points, make them navigate by compass so that when they reach the south pole it becomes clear that the only direction they can go is north. That would be funny, too.