Non-Fiction

Science Is A Method of Ritual Magic

The strength in the scientific method lies not in its ability to discover, but to create.

Turn off that little voice in your head that, based on the title and introduction, tells you that I am a crazy and/or stupid person. Regardless of whether that is true, you are never going to get anywhere if you think you know everything before you try to learn it. So shut down that incessant arguer in your mind and take in what is before you on its own terms, without preconceptions and bad faith.

Modern science is an ideological extension of Protestantism. Through Protestantism came the idea that physical reality had a literal existence, and that by studying phenomena within it we could come to understand the principles by which God constructed and maintained his creation. By understanding those principles and choosing our actions according to them, we could thus be closer to God.

Another facet of Protestantism, the separation of church and state, decentralized the power of religion. Consequently more people began to question the validity of religion altogether, and since reason had come to be equivocated with science, science took on secular language to mask its origins.

God was replaced with ‘Nature’ – yet was in possession of exactly the same functions and ideological consequences. As time wore on this connection was lost and to modern people it seems absurd.

And yet you can still see the religious strain which runs deeply through the same old beliefs. If your faith in science is lacking you will be vilified as a science denier – a blasphemer!

Spend twenty minutes talking with a conservative and you will have heard a speech about natural law and admonished to immediately reject taxation and gun control because, uh, gravity. Seriously, I hear that gravity bit all of the time. If you do not take on the conservative natural law ideology then you will be hailed as a blasphemer – NATURE DENIER!

[note: I am not in favor of involuntary taxation or prohibition of any kind, but not necessarily for all of the same reasons that the typical conservative script imply.]

These laws of Nature serve the same functions as the laws of God – power and control. Recognize my truth and submit to it, you unworthy disgrace!

And so when the first modern scientists began to describe these universal laws, their work seemed holy. Newton’s gravity abstraction was taken as a piously transcendent realization of God’s algorithms. Therefore long before modern science was in the business of producing social and technological goods, it began by producing faith in science and scientists.

Everything is magic.

There is no such thing as magic.

Both of these statements are equally true, because if everything is magic there is no reason to distinguish magic from everything else.

What we experience as reality is a process of interaction between all of the things that we believe to be true and that we expect to happen, intersected by the amount of consistency among our totality of beliefs that support our expectations, including the beliefs and expectations of those around us and at large to varying degrees.

Many things seem outside of our expectations. The paranormal provides a great example of this. You see a woman on the news who is talking about seeing a bigfoot. She is adamant that, before her encounter, she did not believe in the existence of bigfoot. What she really means is that she did not expect to see bigfoot. But because the concept of bigfoot exists for her, it was within the realm of possibilities. Only when confronted with an unexpected event did she translate it as bigfoot. And since seemingly unexpected events occur so often, she was also familiar with the concept of them, and thus it existed in her lexicon of possible experiences in some way.

We are often surprised by experiences, but that does not make them unexpected. On some level we all have the ability to comprehend the possibility of something impossible happening to us. Anomalies are such a regular feature of human existence and knowledge that they have become an important part of all human cultures in some way or another.

There is not even any way to say that the unexpected or unbelieved occurred, because if you can talk about it, it exists within beliefs and expectations. If it can be labeled or described then it is believed in and expected. Having a word for a phenomena or its qualities is the proof of its concept.

Without the ability to expand on what is believed and expected, humanity would stagnate. This is where the power of abstraction comes in. By making unnecessary associations between things, mental mutations occur. Novel ideas are created, and these ideas enter the lexicon of belief and expectation, allowing us to produce formerly unthinkable experiences.

When Newton created the abstraction of gravity, he set off a process by which more rules of nature were created, and all were lumped together into an idea of a set of physical laws. Faith in Newton, faith in science and faith in these laws were then able to produce social and technological goods.

People often justify the objective truth of science by pointing to its ability to produce these goods – by it having a verifiable utility purpose. However lots of things that are not thought to be true do serve, or have served, real utility purposes. A flawed concept of the cosmos still provided reliable navigation. Placebos cure. Newton’s gravity, which was usurped by Einstein’s model of gravity, still provides plenty of utility to engineers and cautious teeter-totter-ers.

As our faith in science has become more complete, the abstractions have become more complex, allowing for even more complex social and technological goods to be produced. The belief system of science reinforces itself in this way. Yet because it is self-reinforcing, it becomes difficult to doubt its objective truth. The truth of its ability is taken as the literal truth of science itself.

When I say that science is not literally true in the way that most people believe it is, that it is instead a complex form of ritual magic which requires the magicians to have complete faith, most people will understand this as an insult or affront to science. That is not my intention at all, nor is it how I feel.

I find it incredibly fascinating and beautiful that this is how science works. I am humble in the face of the power of this belief system to have produced so many undeniable new and wonderful experiences for humanity. I am wowed and awed and feel a great depth of gratitude to all those who have contributed to it. Their dedication and faith is truly a testament to the power of the human will.

 

Where I have an issue is with the dogma of scientific materialism. Although the premises of materialism worked to support so much of science’s magic output over the last few centuries, they have become stale. They have become an impediment to new abstractions, and thus the mutations and progress they bring. And the smug denial of the validity of all other methods of experiencing reality outside of scientific materialism has become an even bigger impediment, because it discourages individuals to think beyond the old beliefs and create new ones.

The existential crisis which has produced so much of the nihilism, fear and anger present in our world is a symptom of this stagnation. Our imaginations have become so dull that we can only imagine the worst and least of ourselves, others and the framework of co-existence we call reality.

We do not need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. There is still plenty of work for the method of science to do. Yet instead of exploring the hypothetical and unverifiable world outside of our minds, it is time we begin to explore with scientific rigor the phenomena of mind itself.

Why do we experience the things that we experience? Why are some experiences shared, and some completely personal? Why do some groups have experiences that others do not? Why do some experiences seem rational and others insane?

These and many more questions are just waiting to be explored, and the method of science seems like one of the many great places to start. The product of that ritual might be a new method by which we can exercise more agency and intent over our experiences. We may be able to make the very contents of our personal and shared experiences a choice.

As I am able to conceive of this outcome, to label and describe it, I know it exists within the realm of possibility. The only thing standing in the way are the choices we make.

Do we entertain nutballs like me, or do we cast out such vile wretches to the heap of madmen and ignore their messages at the expense of realizing the possibilities they suggest? And the possibilities I am suggesting would benefit every single human being in countless ways. It would be a real shame if they went ignored simply because so many people are attached to a narrative that they don’t even fully understand. A narrative that is now too often used to predict disaster and apocalypse, rather than achievement and transcendence.

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