27 April 2010

Science, Magic and speculation

I've found that those interested in magic and the occult are often much better versed in contemporary particle physics than the average intelligent layperson.  At first glance, this seems like a peculiar combination.  Scientism often stands in starkest contrast to spiritual inquiry.  One has only to read the screed of someone like Richard Dawkins to see the extent to which a certain kind of scientific mindset holds itself as in absolute contradiction to any kind of spiritual belief or knowledge, or really any knowledge outside of its own limited sphere.  However, the furthest reaches of scientific inquiry are opening up the scientific community to an understanding of reality that is much closer to that espoused by esotericists.  Concepts like "other dimensions," "multiverses," "retrocausality" were once exclusively the province of science-fiction and esoterism.  These are now an accepted part of the scientific lexicon.

One of the reasons that I love far reaching research in theoretical physics and why I believe it is very often of interest to those with an interest in esoterism, magic and the occult, is that it participates in the tension between wild speculation and observability that characterises so much research into spiritual practise. Both theoretical physicists and magicians start their research in the mind, not the lab.  The thought-experiments of particle physicists and the speculations of occultists happen exclusively in consciousness.  And yet...ultimately, both have to have something to do with praxis.  As a physicist, your equations and speculations will remain academic curiosities unless real work is put into demonstrating their predictive or falsifiable properties.  As an esotericist, your magical models of the universe are nothing but day-dreams if you don't put them to work.

Some try to reduce all spiritual practise to sophisticated science, and as opposed as I am to the kind of rabid scientism that I mentioned above, I don't think that this is entirely misguided.  I personally don't think that magical work can be entirely understood in scientific terms, but contemporary science has elements that are sufficiently mysterious that I can't simply dismiss the possibility out of hand.  There is simply too much we don't know.

My Idealist roots compel me to take the role of consciousness very seriously, in a way that pre-20th century science never did.  Contemporary science, at least since General Relativity and the Uncertainty principle, on the other hand, is deeply invested in the idea that consciousness is part of the equation. I think that this is very much in keeping with esoteric work and research, which ultimately rests on the axiom that the macrocosm (manifested reality) and the microcosm (consciousness) are intertwined, or, to use the terminology of particle physics, entangled.  Change in one doesn't just precipitate change in the other.  Change in one is change in the other.

As a layman, I don't pretend to understand the complexities of particle physics.  To do so would not only be a lie, but an insult to the sophistication and hard work of so many people doing such wonderful work in the field.  But I am fascinated by it, and while the ways in which we as esotericists make contemporary science  dovetail with ancient magic may inspire many good scientists to smash their heads against their blackboards, I think ultimately the convergence is a productive one.

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