Magic and Truth: A myth

In my latest Story Time episode (see video below), I tell a little fantasy about the nature of magic and its relationship to the more subtle notions of truth that have been lost to our modern Western culture. As in other Story Time videos of mine, the attempt here is to give a new, more modern language to rather old ideas, so we can hear and appreciate the underlying notions without the knee-jerk reaction of dismissing them outright as superstition. For emphasis, I do not put this myth forward as literal truth, but as a kind of intellectual artwork aimed at stimulating the imagination; that most crucial part of what it means to be a human being. Now, while the myth, as told in the video, keeps things rather simple, I felt the need to go a little further with the audience of this blog; an audience that certainly 'can take it.'


Let me start with a summary of the key ideas behind the myth:

  • Fractals are efficient and economic ways to create variety of form out of very simple principles;
  • In a fractal, the principle of self-similarity rules: different parts of the fractal correspond to each other at different levels, and look like the whole fractal. The same 'themes' emerge over and over again, recursively;
  • The 'trick' behind Creation may be that nature is itself a fractal: Creation may have used fractals as an efficient and economic 'technique' to recursively create the variety of existence out of rather simple principles;
  • If nature is a fractal, then the principle of correspondence applies to nature: Objects, substances, and concepts may correspond in a fractal, rather non-trivial and non-causal way to other objects, substances, and concepts;
  • The fantasy is that operations on an object, substance, or concept have a non-local and non-causal effect, through some form of fractal resonance outside of space-time, on the other objects, substances, or concepts that correspond to it;
  • Moreover, if there are many different realities unfolding in the great medium of existence, the fantasy is that all of these realities ultimately arise from the unfolding of a kind of 'cosmic Source fractal.' Therefore, the principle of correspondence applies across realities as well. An operation on physical substances or objects may have a non-causal, fractal resonance with the dynamics of other 'realms;'
  • In our culture, we only lend validity to literal truth. To us, metaphorical truth is just an indirect way to refer to some literal truth at the end. But, according to this myth, there is a kind of actual truth that is not literal and not metaphorical in the way we normally mean: A statement formulated with words and concepts of our reality may ultimately refer to objects and ideas of another reality, which they correspond to through fractal correspondences. Since it is impossible to refer directly to another reality with language (we just don't have the words), this kind of non-literal truth-statement is the best that can be done as far as communicating a direct, transcendent experience. What is unfortunate is to mix it up with more ordinary, literal truth-statements.

Now the bit I'd like to add. When the myth says that there are non-trivial fractal correspondences across aspects of our reality, the correspondence here is meant to be more subtle than a mere similarity of spatial, three-dimensional shapes. The myth uses the word 'form' in a broader sense: 'Form' here refers not only to shape, but also sounds, textures, ideas, subjective gestalts, emotions, insights, impressions, intuitions, principles, algorithms, etc. All these are parts of Creation and, as such, given the myth, must also all be parts of the 'cosmic Source fractal.' The cosmic Source fractal generates shapes, sounds, textures, ideas, subjective gestalts, emotions, insights, impressions, intuitions, principles, algorithms, etc., in a kind of synergistic apotheosis of morphogenesis. Therefore, a correspondence of 'form' is meant as something much, much broader than a similarity of shape. It encompasses correspondences between, for instance, shape and feeling (round/whole), sound and insight (harmony/cohesion), texture and taste (rough/salty), color and passion (red/love), etc. It is naive, according to the myth, to believe that only correspondences of shape apply, or even that all correspondences of shape have some form of deeper fractal meaning regardless of other, more subtle aspects. It's not about pushing needles into look-alike dolls as in voodoo black magic. Things supposedly are a lot more subtle and elusive. According to the myth, only true 'alchemists' will see the correct correspondences and be able to operate on them.

If you were alert, you will have noticed my attempt to give new language to old concepts. The fractal correspondences, for instance, are new language for the old alchemical principle that states 'as above, so below.' Fractal resonance is new language for what the tradition has simply called 'correspondences,' without further explanation. The notion of a 'cosmic Source fractal' behind all Creation is analogous to what Plato has called the 'Ideal Forms,' as well as to the creation myth of Sacred Geometry. The idea of different realities as different segments of this cosmic Source fractal is modern language for the different 'realms' of existence, like physical, spiritual, ethereal, etc., which the ancients referred to.

Much lies in mere language... just mere language. The exact same idea can be correctly articulated in language in a form that will evoke immediate dismissal, or in a form that will be appealingly believable even in the absence of any direct evidence. Funny, isn't it? How much must we miss out on because of this peculiarity of the human ego in its current cultural milieu?

Many of the philosophical underpinnings of this myth are extensively elaborated upon in my book Dreamed up Reality.

Copyright © 2012 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. Very short reply.

    Bernardo, Great video, interpretations of fractal creativity and self generation.

    It IS the language, isn't it?

    We keep finding ourselves explicating how human beings "model" reality througout the millenia and in the multitude of language generated cultures.

    Speaking of Magic:

    The Seven Hermetic Principles, upon which the entire Hermetic Philosophy is based, are as follows:

    1. The Principle of Mentalism.
    2. The Principle of Correspondence.
    3. The Principle of Vibration.
    4. The Principle of Polarity.
    5. The Principle of Rhythm.
    6. The Principle of Cause and Effect.
    7. The Principle of Gender
    Cheers ;>) Rick

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    1. Rick, could you share with us here some bibliography describing the seven Hermetic principles? I read the Corpus Hermeticum, but it doesn't lay out the principles systematically; it's completely allegorical.

      Delete
  2. Are you at all familiar with Matt Segal's work? His website is footnotes2plato.com. This post in particular brought his work to mind. Might want to check him out.

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    Replies
    1. I was not familiar with his work, but will have a look. Thanks!

      Delete
  3. Very interesting, Bernardo. I found the fractal metaphor surprisingly plausible (and this from someone who has never been very interested in fractals). I suspect there is something valuable for me here, since reading it yesterday was part of a meaningful coincidence for me (one that fits the CMPE model I present in my book).

    I'm still trying to work out what to make of you saying "this is a myth, it's not literally true." If you ever want to do a post where you spell out exactly what you mean and what you don't mean by that, I'll read it with interest. Or if there is a chapter in one of your books that does this, can you please let me know?

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    1. Hhhmmm... certain things get spoiled if spelled out! :) I will say this: I wouldn't spend time making the 'story time' videos if I thought they were complete nonsense. At the same time, I am sincere when I say that I don't think of those stories as literally true. If you pay attention, you will see that what I say _about_ a story time video is often explained _in_ the video itself, in a self-referential way. That was the case when I made 'The Great Cosmic Split' and described the myth as belonging to the Mythical Realm, which in turn is defined _in_ the myth. And here in 'Truth and Magic' I define other forms of truth beyond just literal... _in_ the myth itself. :)
      I'm not holding back on this to create any cheap mystery. It's just that, if I were to spell this out, I would bring it down to the world of logic and literal truth, which defeats the very point of the story time series, you see?

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    2. Bernardo,

      WOW, again and again! This is downright brilliant! I have now not only understood what the 'autopoietic system' theory (Maturana and Varela?) and the attendant 'flap of a butterfly's wing' proposition want to say, but I am put into a gleeful tailspin by your fractals-resonance theory. (Goodness, why are you disparaging it as if it were not quite deserving of theory status?)

      I have just ordered your Dreamed Up Reality. But please save me from the tailspin I shall be in until it arrives on the 14th by commenting very briefly on whether I have at least a tentative grip on what you said in this beautiful video:

      Our knowledge of fractals allows the possibility, by means of a resonance between a 'gestalt of situations', that an action in our reality will influence how something unfolds in another reality.

      (Hang, it, I wish I had secured this book before. It is some months ago now that Bruce Siegel recommended it warmly on Michael Prescott's blog.)

      Delete
    3. Hi Sophie!

      Many thanks, I'm glad you liked it. :-) I didn't really mean to disparage it, but I am careful with what I call an actual hypothesis. The intent is to reserve that label for other parts of my work that I feel comfortable to defend in a very hard-nosed, evidence-based, logic-driven manner against any skeptic. If I were to mix the labels, I would dilute the value of the other stuff.

      Strictly speaking, our known laws of physics aren't fractal. The fact that there are loads of fractals in nature is still somewhat of a mystery. The best official hypothesis is that fractal shapes happen to coincide with low-energy states which nature seeks.

      Moreover, there is currently no physical basis for fractal resonance in the way I described it; so, strictly speaking, it must be considered a metaphor. Resonance implies an energetic transfer across time and space, while my fantasy was that fractals could resonate beyond time and space limitations and without any physical energy transfer.

      Now, under an idealist formulation of reality, which I lay out in my work, fractal resonance could happen. Under idealism, all reality is a compound thought. It is conceivable that thoughts that are similar have some kind of affinity in the medium of mind, so they 'move together' as correlated idea forms.

      Another way to think of fractal resonance is to take Rupert Sheldrake's notion of morphic resonance. Fractals could resonate through morphic resonance, if Rupert is correct. His hypothesis is more deserving of the label 'theory' than mine, because I have not proposed any experiment capable of falsifying my fantasy.

      In the 'story time' series I am much more preoccupied with the imaginative power of the story than any scientific reasoning. I'm trying to speak to another part of mind than the analytical side. I convey the story is an apparently-analytical manner precisely to 'cheat the intellect out of the way,' preventing it from putting a block on the idea upfront. Kind of bate and switch... ;-) But it's not really a cheat because I am open and explicit about what I am doing.

      All this said, I wouldn't have written what I wrote in this article/video if I thought it was really, just pure fantasy with no validity at any level... ;-)

      I hope you like Dreamed up Reality!

      Cheers, Bernardo.

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  4. Bernardo,

    Here is book:

    The Kybalion A Study of The Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece [Kindle Edition]$0.00

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  5. Moi

    Thank you for the link Footnotes2Plato.com

    There is a wonderful video of the late physicist/philosopher Arthur Young speaking of Bergson and argument with Einstein about the nature of time. Young suggests that natural science/physics needs to take into consideration not only the objective and inanimate, but the projective and active aspect of physical nature: i.e., light. Only then will science be able to account for perceptive life and subjective mind higher up in the cosmic complexity.

    Matt Segal's work on his website is a great find Moi.

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  6. Bernardo,

    The Kybalion is available as a free PDF download here:

    http://www.hermetics.org/pdf/kybalion.pdf

    And also from the Wikipedia article in a slightly different version:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kybalion

    Finally there's a free audio download here:

    http://www.thoughtaudio.com/titlelist/TA0094-Kybalion/index.html

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I ordered the hard cover already... :( Well, it should be good to have it anyway!

      Delete
  7. Nice article, by the way, and in line with thoughts I've had myself.

    I also have this idea that higher-level patterns may come through in a variety of forms at the same lower level.

    So for example, take a given period in human development such as the Baroque. To my mind, different aspects of the Baroque resonate--the art, the music, the architecture, the fashion, the predominant concepts of the time, and so on. It would be unthinkable for any of these to have been different. Can one imagine the art being the same, but the music and fashions being different during this period?

    Michael Larkin

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    1. Excellent point! The resonances are not direct and straight-forward as one might think... it's about a similarity of gestalts...

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  8. Voodoo dolls may not be quite as naive as you say, given that they would contain items such as hair or nail clippings of the target. By the principles of your myth, since a person's body has fractal properties then a part of it such as fingernails would reflect the form of the whole on a different scale, maintaining a fractal resonance.

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    Replies
    1. In the context of the myth, I see the resonances as something much more related to the gestalt of situations than to mere shapes.

      Delete

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