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- Occult Paradigm Shifts.
Caution, For Wizards Only. Not For Consumption by My Physicist Friends.
In every Aeon, magicians have borrowed from the paradigms of their native cultures when they felt the need to explain how magic worked. Thus in shamanic times, magicians assumed that they somehow interacted with the animistic essences intrinsic to natural phenomena, plants, animals and people. This idea finds perhaps its fullest development in the classical Greek doctrine of Platonism where all outward forms which manifest to our senses, merely reflect, somewhat imperfectly, certain ideals which reside in some sort of superior realm. Thus all observable cats reflect, to varying degrees of perfection, some sort of cosmic feline principle. To the modern mind this looks rather like an excessive fascination with the ability of the human mind to form abstract concepts. Nevertheless Platonism, and its fuller flowering as Neo-Platonism, had a profound influence on magical and religious thought for two thousand years.
Early Christianity initially incorporated neo-platonic ideas wholesale, and its traces remain in the Orthodox ideas of Christ as the Logos and in the sanctity and power of icons. In the Catholic Church, the doctrine of literal transubstantiation and the veneration of relics remains an influence. Despite the philosophical and monotheistic gloss, such ideas hark back to animistic ideas like eating the hearts of brave warriors to acquire their powers.
Alchemy arose as a quest to find the essences of things. It would have seemed quite reasonable to the medieval mind to try to distill the essential principle of Metal out of lead or mercury, or the essential principle of Generation out of menstrual blood. Of course none of this seems to have got very far until some alchemists had the humility to observe the actual rather than the imagined and abstract- idealized qualities of various types of base matter.
Animistic style thinking still colours the way all humans think, we all still have to weigh up any phenomenon from the idea of an atom to our ideas of a particular a person in terms of similes and metaphors and analogies, what powers it has, and what else it resembles. In other words we want to know what something ‘is’, to give us some kind of a handle on it. For the purposes of manipulating the world by physical means, such animistic thinking does not work very well if you restrict your vocabulary of analogies and archetypes to such abstractions as earth, air, fire and water. Adding Aether does not help much and adding the sephiroth of the cabbala or the signs of the zodiac just multiplies the illucidity.
To manipulate the material world indirectly you need something far simpler and more basic than the earth, air, fire, and water concepts. You need something so simple that you will often find it very difficult to see it in the seemingly complex real world. You will need an abstraction based on an idea so mind-numbingly trivial that you can easily Discount it, (pun intended). You will need mathematics, either intuitively to throw a stone, or formally to hurl a rocket to the moon.
However when it comes to interacting with the world directly (by magic), the animistic style of thinking may have advantages. If we assume that the mind or the complex functions of the brain can somehow, and to some extent, mesh directly with the world to find things out or to influence them, then we have a mapping problem, or what magicians call the problem of the magical link. How can something inside of our heads have any kind of one to one correlation with the phenomena outside? This problem has bothered philosophers since the inception of their profession. We have imperfect senses, but when we enhance them with careful observations or machines the problem just gets worse because we then begin to see an awesome complexity in the simplest of things.
Thus we inevitably must resort to some kind of conscious analogical modeling of the phenomena in our reality because our conscious minds cannot digitize anything but the simplest of our experiences, although our unconscious minds may have a greater ability to do this. The unconscious mind plainly stores vastly more information than it makes available to the conscious mind. When you meet an old friend your subconscious immediately confirms their identity through matching hundreds of their features which you could not consciously describe, let alone sketch from conscious memory.
Animistic style thinking can thus offer a useful kind of data compression. Assuming that one cannot consciously remember enough for a decent magical link then a classification in terms of say an earthy/aquatic nature with jupiterian influences moderated by the sign of Sagittarius might serve as a sigilistic type of shorthand for interacting with the target event by psychic means. However for this kind of thing to work the operator must maintain a pretty tidy and unequivocal symbol system. Modern people rarely do this, they think too much.
Animistic systems rarely have explicit models of a purely animistic ‘extra dimension’ or whatever, through which the powers inherent in physical phenomena act on the world. Where such animistic dimensions exist they tend to become identified either with alternative states of consciousness that the shaman induces by various means, or with some sort of spirit realm.
The hypothesis of spirits arises naturally out of the human propensity to form a ‘self image’ and a ‘theory of mind’. We would find it almost impossible to live without a self image. Somehow we have to develop a model of ourselves inside of our heads so that we can separate our perceptions into those relating to self and to those relating to the outside world. As we develop, our self image becomes more sophisticated as we incorporate abstract concepts into it, and we become very dependant upon it to structure our lives, we cannot imagine its absence and so we may come to believe that it must exist as an immortal soul. You can turn off the self image with certain mystical practices or large doses of hallucinogens, and then you seem to become everything that you perceive, the object placed in your hand becomes part of your body; you become one with the tree in your field of vision, or with a religious notion in your thoughts. People with a seriously impaired self image cannot act effectively in the world and we regard them as mad.
We would also find it very difficult to deal with our personal worlds if we did not, at an early age, develop the hypothesis that other people had intentions and perceptions that their actual behavior often conceals or only partially reveals. Autistic people seem to lack this ability to various degrees of severity.
Our inbuilt propensity to form a self image and a theory of mind leads quite naturally to the idea of souls and spirits and gods, or ‘sky fairies’ as some atheists unkindly call them.
We cannot imagine ourselves dead nor what happens to the self we ascribe to other people when they die, we perceive the natural world as capricious and perhaps therefore possessed of minds (gods) or perhaps one big mind, (God).
The theory of spirits, or spiritism, crept up quite quickly on pure animism and held a dominant position in magical theory until scientific analogies began to take over. The old pagans saw mind everywhere, and personified natural phenomena as gods. Household gods for small matters and bigger gods for more serious matters like storms, mountains, oceans, cities, and the afterlife. Having imputed mind everywhere, the ancients could at least try to enter into negotiation with it. Prayer and sacrifice to the big gods thus become the staple religious activities whilst magic offered some latitude for trying to push around and command the smaller ones.
Monotheism arose as the pagan systems collapsed under a cacophony of too many gods and an expanding sense of self image. Pagans did not attribute their lusts and their warlike impulses, for example, to their own sense of self, but rather to the gods, so they could only expand their own sense of agency and identity by adding more gods to their pantheons to explain themselves to themselves. Replacing all this with a unitary deity had the advantage of enlarging the self image, but at the expense of condemning a large amount of socially dubious behavior to the demonic realms. You do not see many temple prostitutes in monotheist institutions for example. However this in itself brought a political dividend. Social control gets much easier if you only have one priesthood, one consensus identity, and one set of rules.
Magic within the monotheist spiritism becomes legally perilous. The priesthood rarely tolerates freelance negotiation with the spirit realm so folk magic goes underground, but the priests themselves usually develop a characteristic type of spiritist magic of which we see examples in Kabbala and Goetia and the Islamic Djinn or Genies. Here the magician commands lesser spirits by invoking the power of God. As most monotheisms, (at least in their youth), tend to leave a host of lesser spirits in charge of mundane matters, the priest/magician can conjure for almost anything by the double proxy of God and lesser spirit.
Given the belief that mind suffuses everything, this all makes perfect sense. In modern terms it still makes a certain amount of magical sense if we assume that ensigilising phenomena as spirits renders them easier for the mind to interact with. The spiritist paradigm that sees mind in all things will probably always influence human thought if only because human thought remains the tool by which we investigate the world. Not a few scientists have exclaimed that the universe consists entirely of thoughts or mind stuff, but they had mostly been calculating too hard or overdoing the nitrous oxide.
In terms of its value as a magical theory, the spiritist paradigm has very little real explanatory or predictive power. We all know what ‘the spirit realm’ means, it means whatever the spiritist wants it to mean. In other words it has fantastically complicated and more or less arbitrary and variable properties. Thus it cannot tell us anything about possible or impossible, or probable or improbable forms of magic.
The materialist-scientific paradigm spawned a host of neo-scientific explanations for various parapsychological, spiritualist, occult, and magical phenomena. These fall more or less neatly into the categories of occult aethers, occult energies, and occult information paradigms. Occult aethers or ethers seem to have begun with Eliphas Levi, a nineteenth century French cleric who dabbled in magic and Kabbala. He proposed the Astral Light, a sort of medium for the transmission of thought and the support of spirit. Then came the rather more elaborate doctrines of the etheric and astral planes and ectoplasm, and so on, in response to the scientific ideas of the luminiferous ether and the dimensions of space current at the time. Before the popularization of Einstein’s ideas it appeared that gravity could operate like an astrological influence at a distance, and that light and electromagnetic radiation in general would need some kind of a medium to cross space.
From such mighty misconceptions, puny occult explanationisms developed.
Science constrains the concept of energy with a very tight definition of its properties and this makes it useful. Unfortunately ‘occult energies’ suffer from exactly the same problem as with spirit realms, they mean anything anyone wants them to.
As the so-called information age dawned, it did seem at last possible to nail down an irrefutable explanation of magic in terms of a hidden exchange of information between material structures, including brains, assuming that information had some power to modify the structures involved, and assuming that quantum physics allows the information to find its way to wherever the magician wants in space and time.
I must confess myself guilty of the above, during the folly of my extended youth.
I fell into the trap of making the paradigm so broad that it would do anything I wanted, despite the fact that I could not always do what I wanted by magic.
Now, reviewing my casebooks and my theory books, I can see the need to both limit and to extend my frames of reference.
I suspect that time has a richer structure than we commonly imagine and that a Multiverse or Omnium of realities caused by quantum entanglement and superposition surrounds us in three dimensional time, and that particles travel both backward and forward in time. In this scenario we do not need ‘disembodied information’ to account for the functioning of the universe or the phenomena of magic, the exchange of ordinary particles of matter and energy will do the trick given the extra degrees of temporal freedom.
See the Quantum Irreality Paper on this site, for the arguments leading to the above.
When the magician divines he interacts primarily with future versions of himself. In divination he basically taps into what he may know in the future. A curious circularity seems to exist in divination; it only seems to work if at some point in the future you will end up knowing the result by ordinary means. This explains why the best results in divination seem to occur for either very short term divinations about unlikely things that will happen in the next few seconds, or for events which are heavily deterministic, but not yet obvious, in the further future.
In enchantment the magician basically aims to select a future where his wish has come true. The entanglements between the magician, his past and future selves, and his environment can provide many channels for the modification of events towards the desired objective, so long as it does not remain ridiculously improbable. This explains the observation that enchantment tends to work best when used over longer periods of time.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, witches and wizards, may I believe, constitute the beginnings of: -
A New Magical Paradigm.
It may not greatly alter the way we attempt to do magic for some time, but it may alter the way we think about why it works, and that may eventually improve our practice.
Perhaps for the first time it offers a potentially testable model, particularly where it relates to divination, and one that we could potentially quantify with a view to eventually wrapping some mathematics around it.
As an afterthought I should perhaps mention the traditional ideas of evocation and invocation once again. Whilst I accept the psychological and sigillistic value of the animist and spiritist paradigms, to me the proof of the pudding in both evocation and invocation remains the quality of the divination and enchantment arising from such activities.
General Metadynamics 1.
Note, read the Quantum Irreality paper first.
Abstract. General Metadynamics attempts to provide a paradigm of Science and Sorcery. To do this it shows how the three dimensional transactional time in the HD8 interpretation of quantum and particle physics could allow divination and enchantment to occur.
Metaphysics concerns itself with our ideas about the ultimate nature and reality of phenomena. Any serious enquiry into such matters should in principle, begin with an examination of underlying metaphysical assumptions and end with their reconsideration. Few people actually bother with this exercise because metaphysics embodies a fatal flaw derived from the structure of language that has a tendency to render the exercise pointless.
Metaphysics traditionally includes Ontology, our ideas about the existence or being of things. Ontology studies our ideas of what things really ‘are’. We could perhaps call this Metastatics instead, to differentiate it from Metadynamics, the study of our fundamental ideas about what phenomena actually ‘do’.
No phenomena actually exhibit being. You can never catch anything in a state of just ‘being’. Everything has internal movement, at least on the atomic scale, and everything exchanges energy with its environment to maintain its existence.
Thus Ontology or Metastatics remains an illusory and pointless exercise except where it generates useful similes that we can use as a sort of shorthand for descriptive purposes. When we ask what something ‘is’ we really want to know what it does, or what properties it has, or what history it has.
Metadynamics, the study of our fundamental ideas about what phenomena actually do, has become perhaps humanity’s most powerful and least recognised tool for understanding the universe. The great concepts of causality, chance, probability, symmetry, and the conservation laws, all fall within the remit of what I would call Metadynamics, and they all dominate the way we perceive the world and act in it, to such an extent that we rarely stop to question these concepts.
Now people exhibit a range of differing metadynamics. Scientists have a fairly formal consensus metadynamic, although quantum physicists often have eccentric versions of it. Ordinary westernised people usually have diluted and informal versions of the scientific metadynamic. Religious people often have metadynamics which lack self-consistency (gods act mysteriously). Magicians and occultists often have metadynamic concepts that conflict radically with scientific ones.
Religious belief systems usually disguise their inconsistencies with metastatic concepts. Gods and dead people can apparently get away with just ‘being’ instead of doing. Occultists usually fall into a similar mire and fill up their paradigms with all sorts of planes of being and disembodied forces and energies that conveniently explain everything and nothing, depending on what actually happens.
Can we develop a General Metadynamic which reconciles what we know about the fundamental activities of the phenomena of the universe from our knowledge of both science and magic? We need not include most of the phenomena of religion within such a metadynamic because mere psychology explains them. Only ‘miracles’ offer any justification for the inclusion of religious data, and magic offers a better explanation for miracles than does religion. We do not need to erect a false metastatic/ontological distinction between mind and matter either. We know enough about the behaviour of the brain to understand that it acts as an information processing machine, albeit a very complicated one, and that it creates the necessary subjective illusions of self and consciousness for perfectly good evolutionary reasons.
Do we have enough data for such a General Metadynamic?
Well science may have got pretty close to describing the behaviour of matter at its apparently most fundamental quantum level, however the ideas we get from the description can lead to a variety of interpretations, few of which make much sense. The HD8 interpretation does make a kind of sense although at the price of adding extra degrees of temporal freedom with three dimensions of transactional time.
I find some justification for what I have attempted in HD8 in a quote from Professor Sir Roger Penrose, and they don’t come much more brilliant and illustrious than him.
‘It is my opinion that our present picture of physical reality, particularly in relation to the nature of time, is due for a shake up – even greater, perhaps, than that which has already been provided by present –day relativity and quantum mechanics.’
Stephen Hawking brilliantly observed that entropy increases with time because we measure time in the direction in which entropy increases. We simply adopt the entropy increasing direction as our temporal reference direction, and so we do not usually notice the orthogonal components of time. Entropy (or increasing disorder) defines our forward direction I time so order propagates backward through time, thus we can see why the theory of causality works so well in reverse but not so well forwards. We can always find a reason for something that has happened but we can rarely predict precisely what will happen. Things often happen for insufficient causes in forward mode, but afterwards both we often construct sufficient causes and reasons.
I suspect that the orthogonal components of time correspond to net entropy changes no larger than those that could slip through at the quantum level. We could write an equation with entropy and orthogonal time as another pair of complementary terms in an Heisenberg style uncertainty/indeterminacy relationship thusly:-
DST Dti ~ h
Where D(delta) ST means entropy change (at a particular absolute temperature),
D(delta) ti means imaginary (orthogonal) time,
h means Planck’s constant (an exceedingly small number).
This provides a key to understanding three-dimensional time and the association of quantum weirdness with exceedingly small energy differences. It means that you can have as much orthogonal for a process as you like, so long as entropy changes remain minimal, but I digress.
Most magical descriptions of reality still require some nebulous extra component to the universe beyond the matter and energy that science can measure. Spirit, spirits, astral planes, occult energies, morphic fields, and disembodied thoughts or information have, at various times, all filled this role.
If the HD8 interpretation of physical phenomena remains un-falsified then it remains as a valid, if highly eccentric, description of fundamental physical behaviour which could form part of the metadynamic. The problem then reduces to one of describing the phenomena of magic using only the extra degrees of temporal freedom afforded by three dimensional transactional time, and avoiding the traditional spooky immaterial explanationisms.
A General Metadynamic including magic would have to offer an explanation of only divination and enchantment, for these lie at the root of all magical phenomena.
Divination presents the simplest case. If at some point in the future the diviner can know the answer to a question, then that answer can feed back from the future to the present. However because the universe behaves with a degree of randomness and chaos, several different futures can feed back to the diviner’s present to give mixed results. In some cases the diviner’s choice of one particular item of feedback could even act to increase the likelihood of that future becoming more probable. Thus divination can work as enchantment by self-fulfilling prophecy.
Pure divination works best in pursuit of a fixed but concealed future. As a simple example consider the case of a well shaken dice. If you slam the dice cup upside down over it without looking and then try to guess the number showing, the number remains a fixed element of your future (except to an extreme quantum solipsist). If however you try to guess the number that will appear before even shaking the dice, then all six futures exist at the time of divination and only enchantment offers any hope of obtaining a non chance result. In practise the former type of divination works far better than the latter.
Dowsing provides a classic example of how divination actually works. The dowser basically divines what effect digging a hole in a certain place will have on his future perceptions. It plainly does not depend on mysterious geomantic energies emanating from water or minerals because experts can dowse from mere maps of the terrain.
Note that in this metadynamic of divination we do not require anything immaterial to pass between the diviner and the target. The diviner functions as a collection of superposed states entangled with the superposed states of his past and future. As the ‘particles’ of the diviner move forward through time they simultaneously move backward through time as well,(because they actually consist of particle/reversed-particle pairs), however we do not normally notice this.
The metadynamic of enchantment (making things happen by magic) has symmetries with that of divination but it also demands something else.
The collapse of quantum superpositions and entanglements remains officially indeterminate and random, but macroscopic phenomena often behave with deterministic chaos according to general scientific consensus.
‘ Deterministic chaos’ means that the behaviour of a complicated system like the weather exhibits extreme sensitivity to its initial conditions. Change the airflow or the temperature just a tiny bit and you may change tomorrow’s weather quite a lot, this in turn could change next weeks weather totally. This gives rise to the rather poetically named ‘Butterfly Effect’, in which a butterfly changing course over Belgium could result in a hurricane devastating Cuba, or not devastating Cuba, sometime later. In another age we recognised this as the horseshoe nail effect, for want of a horseshoe nail, the horseshoe was lost, and hence the horse, the messenger, the message, the battle, and the whole empire became lost, for the want of that horseshoe nail.
Most theorists of chaos mathematics maintain that the behaviour of complicated macroscopic systems remains causal and deterministic, although difficult if not impossible to predict. However they fail to reiterate their equations far enough to realise that the sensitivity to initial conditions for many systems must eventually extend down into the quantum domain.
Random events at the quantum level must therefore lead to random events in the macroscopic world. However because of the exchange action in transactional time, something even stranger must also occur, chosen actions on the macroscopic level can cause non-random changes at the quantum level. Of course we accept part of this already, we can polarise light or make atomic nuclei disintegrate by doing clever things with lumps of matter, but temporal reversibility in transactional time entangles macroscopic action with the quantum past as well as the future.
The enchanter functions as a collection of superposed states entangled with the superposed states of his past and future universes. In theory, by changing his perception of the universe he can bring about changes in reality, with two provisos.
Suitable entanglements and suitable superpositions must exist. The magician will need a magical link; he cannot conjure successfully in complete isolation from the target, and the desired result must have some natural probability of occurrence, preferably not an excessively remote one.
In practise the magician will need to rely on some kind of butterfly effect to create substantial changes in the universe and he will usually have to rely on his subconscious to intuit where these possibilities exist. Conversely in divination the magician will usually have to rely on his subconscious to pick up the feedback from his personal futures. We currently understand only the tip of the iceberg of neuroscience, but I suspect that many of the functions of the brain depend on superposition and entanglement. Magicians have distilled from historical traditions a few pragmatic ‘sleight of mind’ techniques for enhancing divination and enchantment, but they remain unreliable if occasionally remarkable phenomena. This paper merely attempts to explain the mechanisms that can allow what we call ‘magical’ effects to propagate across time and space without invoking some sort of nebulous ether or whatever.
This metadynamic of enchantment does not require any kind of mysterious occult influence to pass between the enchanter and his target; it requires only that the known effect of entanglement and the dynamics of chaotic systems can extend into three-dimensional transactional time.
The General Metadynamics paradigm does suggest some modifications to our approach to practical magic.
In Divination it would suggest that the magician seeks to visualise the future situation in which he will know the answer. It may also help if the magician resolves to visualise sending the answer back to the time of divination when he has found the answer or confirmed his divination. This may seem a very bizarre and pointless thing to do, but in a number of my best divinatory successes I decided that I just had to ‘complete the circle’ as it were. So when I finally received confirmation that I had divined correctly, I made a point of acting out the peculiar scenarios in which I had divined myself getting the answer.
In practical terms you can adapt techniques like this:-
0) Do not attempt to divine for future events that remain indeterminate at the time of divination. (This usually applies to roulette wheels and lottery devices).
1) Resolve that whenever you receive the answer (by normal means) to a specific divinatory question, that you will do something highly specific like write the answer on a big sheet of paper, whirl on the spot and scream a specific codeword whilst staring at the writing. Basically resolve to do anything that will turn your attention forcefully to the answer. Plenty of anecdotal evidence exists to support the view that extreme forms of gnosis often generate the best results.
2) During the Divination visualise yourself performing the above actions.
3) Do not even think about not carrying out your original resolution afterwards!
In Enchantment, General Metadynamics suggests that the magician should give much consideration beforehand as to how the desired effect could come to pass, and to the availability of magical links.
I do not advise conjuring against a static situation. In enchantment the magician tries to exploit changes by encouraging changes to manifest as desired. The magician thus needs to look for fluid situations or to provoke them deliberately. The rather delicate power of magic works best when deployed in situations balanced on a knife-edge, not on those set in stone.
For a magical link, nothing seems to beat physical contact or at least visual or vocal contact. Recorded images seem to work only to the extent that they provoke remembered images, the same usually applies to physical objects; they rarely remain significantly entangled with their origins or owners for long.
In summary, General Metadynamics attempts to provide a paradigm of Science and Sorcery. To do this it shows how the three dimensional transactional time in the HD8 interpretation of quantum and particle physics could allow divination and enchantment to occur.
General Metadynamics has the virtue that it does not depend on nebulous metaphysical influences that remain, in principle, impervious to confirmation or falsification by rigorous means. Thus it constitutes a proper hypothesis or theory, rather than just a mere assemblage of beliefs.
Three dimensional transactional time explains the apparent ‘spooky action at a distance’ of entanglement which so annoyed Einstein, and the apparent ‘multiple states of being’ of superposition which together have bedevilled scientific understanding of quantum phenomena.
It also has the virtue that it explains why Science usually works reliably whereas Magic often works erratically if at all. Science deals mainly with large entropy change events of high probability. Magic relies mainly on the low entropy changes associated with orthogonal time that often have low probabilities of occurrence.
On a practical level, conjuring within the General Metadynamics paradigm means looking at your own future(s) in divination, and seeking good magical links to fluid events in enchantment.
General Metadynamics does not of course constitute a complete theory of either science or magic for each has a huge repertoire of disciplines, techniques, and data. Rather it offers a way of looking at our core ideas about what kinds of events can occur in this universe.
Most previous attempts (including some of mine) to model magic and parapsychology using quantum physics have proved inadequate because they assumed the reality of quantum ‘spooky action at a distance’ and then used it too freely to assert a general case for any kind of occult phenomena without limit.
Chaos Magic has accumulated a cornucopia of ritual and sleight of mind tricks over the years and a wealth of mixed results and metaphysical hypotheses. Most of the experimental data used to create General Metadynamics have come from results generated by working with Chaos Magic techniques.
I thus offer General Metadynamics as a paradigm that can supply the theory of how the parapsychological effects of Chaos Magic actually occur, in a way that does not contradict what we can know from science.
General Metadynamics 2.
General Metadynamics and Strong Emergence.
Abstract. A rather metaphysical debate rages about how the universe works between the proponents of Reductionism and the proponents of Emergence, particularly in the field of Complexity research. Can we derive all the complex behaviour that we observe in the universe from a few simple laws, or do other laws somehow emerge at higher levels of complexity?
General Metadynamics throws a fresh perspective on the principle of strong emergence that may interest both scientists and sorcerers.
General Metadynamics 2, the case for Strong Emergence.
The Reductionist paradigm states that we can in principle derive all the complex behaviour that we observe in the universe from a few simple basic laws. At the time of writing the candidates for these basic laws officially come down to quantum mechanics and gravitation. Thus life reduces to biology, biology reduces to chemistry, and chemistry reduces to quantum mechanics. As cosmology reduces to astrophysics and astrophysics also reduces to quantum mechanics, plus gravitation, (in a way not yet fully understood), we can in principle derive the existence of snowdrops and their blossoming in spring, this paper, your reading of it, and the Great Wall of China, from just a few basic quantum and gravitational laws. The calculations and derivations might prove fiendishly difficult but reductionists maintain that a sufficiently detailed picture of the initial conditions and sufficient computational power would reveal the entire past and the entire future of the universe and all its contents, to any desired degree of detail. Thus to a hardcore reductionist we inhabit a rigidly deterministic clockwork universe, and we advance towards a perfectly predictable future, if only we could measure and calculate with sufficient precision.
Two particular problems exist with the Reductionist paradigm. Firstly quantum physics seems to show that we could not in principle measure the initial conditions of any system to an arbitrarily high degree of precision because down at the quantum level, events simply do not exist in a sharply defined manner. Secondly we cannot have arbitrarily large computational power because either the universe has a finite size (if it does not expand) or because we can only have access to a finite amount of it (the part of it restricted to us by a finite lightspeed in an expanding universe). We could never in principle achieve a computational power better than the Landauer-Lloyd limit of 10^120 bit flops even if we commandeered every particle in the universe for computational purposes. Despite the enormous size of this number it does not exceed 2^400, so the theoretically available computing power of the entire universe could not in principle tell us what a group of just 400 elementary particles, each in one of two possible states, might do.
The idea of Weak Emergence gives something of a boost to the reductionist paradigm. Weak emergence occurs when complex behaviour arises directly from simple rules and laws. The Mandelbrot Set for example, emerges in all its complex beauty from the reiteration of a very simple mathematical formula. Similarly, cellular automata in the so-called Game of Life can produce very complicated images and even patterns that reproduce and evolve, from a few simple rules.
Nevertheless in both these famous examples of emergent behaviour, all experimenters who start with the same initial conditions and the same rules will get exactly the same result, because in these two examples we can specify the initial conditions and the rules precisely. The results may seem unexpected and richly fascinating, but they remain rigidly deterministic.
The proponents of Strong Emergence however, insist that many of the complex behaviours that the universe exhibits do not arise as directly deterministic consequences of the basic laws governing the behaviour of matter and energy acting upon certain initial conditions. Thus given the laws of quantum mechanics and gravitation and a vast amount of elementary particles, Snowdrops and the Great Wall of China do not have to happen at some precise point several billion years later.
Proponents of the Hard School of Strong Emergence often seem to imply that the laws of the universe actually evolve with time.
Thus instead of the universe running exclusively on bottom up principles, where simple initial rules and conditions fix the entire future, we have a scenario in which a certain amount of top down rule making also occurs.
Theorists disagree about what, if anything, causes the seemingly random collapse of quantum wave functions when particles drop out of entanglement and superposition at interaction or measurement. Some suspect that minute gravitational influences might tip the balance; some suspect that consciousness or at least deliberate choice of measurement can affect the issue.
Some Emergentists have intriguingly suggested that some sort of top down effects occur in complex systems. A complex system thus modifies the quantum behaviour of its components!
Personally I doubt that quantum physics can entirely specify chemistry or that chemistry can entirely specify biology. I would defy anyone to derive the exact melting point of aluminium oxide from basic quantum mechanics.
The Strong Emergent idea of Top Down causation augmenting lower level laws smells strongly of Magic, or at least the of the General Metadynanics paradigm which seeks to provide a metaphysic for both science and magic.
In General Metadynamics, causality can work retroactively, or top down, backwards in time, because all changes consist of a probabilistic exchange of particles/reversed particles across time. Thus if a complex system evolves some form of higher order behaviour, perhaps just by chance, then that behaviour can feedback to modify the behaviour of the starting materials to establish that new behaviour as a physical law, or at least as a convention that could grow stronger with time.
General Metadynamics can thus explain the phenomenon of Morphic Ressonance and also point out some limitations to the accompanying theory.
Morphic Ressonance undoubtedly occurs, the manifestation of any novel phenomenon does seem to facilitate the subsequent occurrence of that phenomenon, but it does not require the agency of some sort of spiritual nebulous Morphic Field that so horrifies scientists. The top down causation implied by Strong Emergence and explained by General Metadynamics will do nicely.
Some Emergentists claim that consciousness provides a prime or even the sole example of Strong Emergence.
I have to say that I do not understand the meaning of the term consciousness, although I understand that both I and other people can have awareness of all sorts of things. I receive sensory imputs from within my body and from outside of it, I do thinking and emoting, I can do thinking about thinking, emoting about thinking and vice versa, and emoting about emoting, I take decisions, I perform actions, during dreamless sleep I do nothing except metabolise and snore, apparently. I do not seem to have something that I can identify as separate from all of these activities as consciousness. Instead I seem to have a brain in which a surprising capacity for information processing has emerged.
I suspect that nobody has consciousness and that the word does not really mean anything at all, although people can have awareness of all sorts of things including their internal states, as can any sophisticated information-processing machine.
Evolutionary biology suggests that the decision-making capacity of brains has evolved by weak emergence from the large information processing facility that they provide. Simple animals thus display complicated but ultimately predictable behaviour. However at some uncertain point, something else seems to happen, the brain acquires the capacity to modify itself and the realisation that it can do so. At this point, Strong Emergence comes into play. We recognise this as free will, (although it rarely acts completely without reference to previous experience). It does not of course mean that we suddenly have some sort of indefinable consciousness or an immortal soul.
Watch a baby develop into a child and then through adolescence into adulthood, and you can see the Strong Emergence gradually kicking in.
Not all adults behave like babies in big meat overcoats, although this does provide a useful rule of thumb. Sometimes more means qualitatively different.
General Metadynamics offers a mechanism by which Strong Emergence can occur.
Basically, once a complex system has evolved a novel behaviour by stochastic means (random trial and error) or by deliberate means (in the case of thinking organisms), then retroactive causality can, to some extent, modify the subsequent behaviour of the system or the universe as a whole, to establish that novel behaviour as a convention or even as a hard physical law.
Subsequent papers will examine the implications of this idea for magical theory.