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Request for Sources 
14th-Jul-2010 09:17 pm
Green Man
All -

I'm currently in early talks with a Seeker who is asking typical questions but would like not only conversations but also to be pointed to some reading material and I'm having a harder time than normal finding anything appropriate for one specific question.

The Seeker's question (or at the least one I'm asking for help with):

"If you know of any articles that focus on [magical] reality, illusion, and imagination. I have that problem where I don't like trusting my own senses because I want to see empirical evidence of everything, and all of my experiences with magic so far have been entirely subjective, and therefore, from my perspective, untrustworthy. I think I need to learn about what's safe to trust and what isn't. I'm more likely to call BS on my own experiences than just believe everything I see and hear and feel and so on.

I'm used to having this conversation as a conversation and so far have only found two partially usable references. So far I've found:

- A Glimpse Into Magic
- With some reservations: Magic, doubt and negative emotions . I’m not big on ‘Thoth Channeling’ or some of her other beliefs, but see if what she says about doubting strikes a chord with you.

Any suggestions?


[edit. Thanks for the suggestions so far. To clarify, this is not for a long-term assignment; this is something they can read between now and Sunday.]
15th-Jul-2010 02:25 am (UTC)
Plato- The Allegory of the Cave
Rene Descartes- Meditations on First Philosophy
John Locke- An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

I'd start with those.
15th-Jul-2010 03:30 am (UTC)
It's not an article- though I know it came from a book- by which one is lost.

My favorite means for checking if an image or mental input is my creation or more akin to a daydream. Put a mundane task into the scene- ironing shirts for example- if that new image feels the same, and is as easy to hold as the rest- then the whole scene is more than likely of the same cloth. However, if the image keeps pushing the part you've created as other aside, and it is hard to hold on to the two different tracks- then you are likely getting input that bears studying through a different lens.

The greatest problem I see coming up is that magic covers areas that are not subject to imperial proof. How can you measure how much faster someone recovered with a spell than without- even if you could run tests with twins- there are still too many variables to be a valid test.
I'm a big fan of proof and evidence, but somethings just prove that magic is still much more of an art than a science.
15th-Aug-2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
How can you measure how much faster someone recovered with a spell than without- even if you could run tests with twins- there are still too many variables to be a valid test.

Double-blind studies have been performed using patients recovering from issues which have a fairly common healing path, I want to say it was heart attack or some other cardiac issue.

The paper I read about it was focusing on "prayer" for terminology, but included Wiccan healing rituals, as well. I'll see if I can't dig it up.
15th-Aug-2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
The Science, Psychology and Metaphysics of Prayer

Blog post, referencing the study done at Duke. Not as solid a reference as the study paper itself, but at the very least, it makes for interesting reading.
15th-Jul-2010 03:44 am (UTC)
I am not trying to light a fire, but what about faith?
15th-Jul-2010 05:37 am (UTC)
If your faith can't stand scrutiny, then in my opinion (as well as the opinion of the OP's seeker), it might not be the right path for you. I think it's brave to look for emperical truths in the midst of spirituality. I'm really looking forward to what people are going to suggest as source works for this kind of thing, because I feel like I'm in the same boat that seeker is.

Mods: Deleted and reposted thanks to my OCD regarding spelling mistakes.
15th-Jul-2010 02:27 pm (UTC)
I guess I wasn't very clear. I understand and I applaud anyone who questions their faith. (Had I not, I'd still be a Catholic.) Following something blindly is dumb and can lead to fanaticism, which is never good no matter what the religion. However, at some point you have to believe without the gods physically manifesting for all to see or the [insert desired item] transmuting in front of you.
15th-Jul-2010 06:15 am (UTC)
The Sandman series. Seriously. It actually helped me a lot back when I was dating a guy who did everything he could to attack my spirituality.

On magic specifically, I really liked this article by Amy Hale in a recent anthology, Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon. In it, she addresses the study that Tanya Luhrmann did on occultism in the UK: Luhrmann coined a term called "interpretive drift," which is how she describes the way people might interpret evidence in order to conclude that their magic is effective. What Hale points out is that Luhrmann herself concedes that she was herself engaging in a reverse "interpretive drift," in which she made every effort to interpret evidence in order to conclude that magic doesn't work. Bias can go both ways.

Or, you can just tell your friend to interpret everything psychologically. It's very convenient.
16th-Jul-2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
I have not read the Hale essay, but I've studied the Luhrmann book extensively since shortly after it was published.

First off, the point of Luhrmann's research is that the journey of becoming an expert in *anything* involves the cognitive process she names "interpretive drift". While the bulk of the book involves her data from the London magical community, she makes it very clear in her conclusions that process she is describing is central to academic disciplines. (That is, that the process of becoming an academic involves interpretive drift in how scholars interpret evidence regarding their discipline.) Please note that she does anthropology of cognition, not anthropology of religion. As she points out in her introduction, the London magical community was merely a convenient place to study the process in a setting where the cognitive factors would stand out clearly because they are not culturally reinforced.

Second, Luhrmann *never* argues that magic doesn't work. Not once. What she argues is that practitioners are not objective about whether or not magic works. And she points out that she is not objective herself because was trained as a practitioner during the course of the research.

All of the practitioners in the magical community where I live that read Luhrmann agreed with her data and her conclusions.
(Deleted comment)
15th-Jul-2010 03:03 pm (UTC) - Re: Request for Sources
Don't get out the boxing gloves...

So we're keeping this bare-knuckle?
(Deleted comment)
15th-Jul-2010 04:51 pm (UTC) - Re: Request for Sources
I might have to bring that book on my deployment, based on your recommendation, missy.
16th-Jul-2010 01:00 am (UTC) - Re: Request for Sources
Huh - I always figured the gloves were there to protect your fists...
15th-Jul-2010 02:40 pm (UTC)
I know this would definitely be a longer-term source, but I would think "Real Magic" *sic* by Isaac Bonewitz would certainly be of assistance.
15th-Jul-2010 06:13 pm (UTC)
Something else that may be instructive is Between Sanity and Madness, an essay by Oz that discusses how one distinguishes between genuine spiritual experiences that remain largely subjective, and the subjective manifestations of mental illness.

It was one of the chapters that Llewellyn rejected from the original manuscript of Chas Clifton's anthology Between the Worlds.
15th-Jul-2010 09:22 pm (UTC)
With the brevity of your time frame I don't think there is much this seeker could read between now and Sunday that is going to give them much of a boost in the area of magical mathematical proofs of what they are experiencing. Spirit is almost entirely subjective as it is always interpreted through the mind of the person experiencing it. I would be far more tempted to guide this person towards trusting of their intuition than tossing text at them on a limited timeframe. A conversation or two about 'head in the clouds, feet on the ground' would work towards this end. Though more ideas would depend on the context of the seeker such as if they are actively working something, exploring a particular technique, or just noticing things that are 'odd' and asking questions.
15th-Jul-2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
It's hard to find a balance. I think some people take far to much on faith and subjective impressions, while others, more attuned to a 'rational approach' don't find the evidence they want.

I don't think a simple article or two, or even a book, will completely cover the topic. What one needs is writings on both sides of the issue, and time to strike a personal balance.

There are some topics, however that should ideally be addressed / investigated. These are not on the 'go, faith, go; of course it's real' side of the balance as other posters seem to have covered that rather well.

These include:

1. The Barnum effect (aka Forer effect) - or why newspaper horoscopes gain acceptance while being almost totally useless.

2. A good discussion of the observer effect in experimentation. A history of why people tend to see what they want/expect. Case histories of instances like 'cold fusion' and 'radium water' would be good illustrations.

3. Tied with the above, a good look at the placebo effect - also very influential in subjective judgments of various claims about healing magic, and similar things.

4. A discussion of basic statistics. What confidence levels mean. What correlation does not mean. Misuses of statistics. Misleading correlation. Confounding variables. We are sliding into experimental design here, with good reason, as the principles behind that discipline are crucial to evaluating evidence. A good book on understanding claims is "How to Lie with Statistics", author forgotten. Moroney?

5. A discussion of fraudulent psychism, covering hot and cold reading, etc. Good sources would include The Skeptical Inquirer, James Randi, etc.

6. A logical and experimental analysis of some of the more questionable areas of practice such as homeopathy and feng shui. See James Randi, Penn and Teller, The Skeptic, etc.

7. A look at prognostication and fortune telling, looking at the failures, methods of fakery, and the changing 'past predictions' and cases of predictions made 'after the fact'.

8. The fundamental weakness of eyewitness testimony, and the unreliability of personal observation, which leads to...

9. False Memory Syndrome, critiques of past life regression, channeling, etc.

10. New Age spiritual scams, like firewalking, etc. Penn and Teller have an excellent segment on this.

11. A look at how paradigms affect our thinking about reality. I got a good view of that in a university course looking at science and magic. The wrong paradigm can really mess you up... look at the problems analyzing early batteries, until someone began to get a clue about how to decompose a string of cells in series properly.

After going through the above, you can eliminate a lot of the dross, though not all, and get on to analyzing the remaining 'gold'. Properly applied, principles learned from studying the above topics can substantially support the analysis of what's left.

It is very satisfying when the statistics are on your side in a properly analyzed double blind situation, or situations, with physical evidence to backup observation and memory!

For some people the above exercises would diminish faith, but for those of an analytical bent - like all of my students - the effect can be the opposite. Like scientists, they have to be able to test the hypotheses, and the better the tests, the happier they are.

15th-Aug-2010 07:29 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, Penn and Teller have this nasty habit of dropping things they can't disprove, so one should keep their bias in mind.
15th-Jul-2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
There is a fine line when it comes to matters of faith and magick. It's all defined by perception, which is obviously extremely Subjective. It could even be said that any kind of Objective evidence in these matters is all but impossible to obtain.
Whether it's regarding Magick or Faith, I would recommend several things. First would be to maintain healthy skepticism in all things.
Second would be to study up on Apologetics.
Third is to study "The Fallacy Recognition Handbook". (I forget the exact link, but you can do a google search.)
I've found that if I apply the principles of apologetics and fallacy recognition to the substance of my experiences, I can generally figure out which is "legitimate" and which is "heat of the moment wishfulness".
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