WizardryMagick, Occult & Esoteric

Thursday, 07 December 2023 16:32

The Dean Radin & Pete Carroll Rap

A dialog about magic* and science by representatives of both traditions

* The word magic in this discussion refers to esoteric practices of real magic, and not to magic tricks or stage illusions.

Peter Carroll developed the theories and practices of Chaos Magic, which caused a revolution in magical and esoteric thinking in the last few decades of the twentieth century, and they continue to heavily influence it in the twenty-first century. As the first in a new tradition of Sorcerer-Scientists, Carroll developed a paradigm in which Magic lies far closer to science than to religion. He formed a worldwide magical order to promote and develop the new insights into magic and then largely disappeared from public view to procreate and build a business empire and continue scientific and metaphysical research in private.

Dean Radin is a scientist who has studied psychic phenomena for four decades, most recently as Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). He is also Associated Distinguished Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and cofounder and Chairman of the genetic therapeutics company, Cognigenics. Prior to joining the IONS research staff in 2001, he worked at Princeton University, Edinburgh University, and SRI International, where in the mid-1980s he worked on a classified program exploring the application of psychic abilities for espionage.


Preamble: Peter Carroll was invited to this dialog by Andrea Centore, who sent an email to him that said in part, “I am honored to introduce myself as the co-founder and Managing Director of the Research Network for the Study of Esoteric Practices (RENSEP), a non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing scholarly exploration of esoteric practices. At the heart of RENSEP’s mission lies the commitment to propel esoteric research through financial support and fruitful collaborations. In pursuit of this commitment, a remarkable initiative has been launched this year, aligning us with the distinguished Dean Radin, Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Notably, Dean Radin will be leading experimental investigations into the efficacy of sigil magick. As he navigates the complexities of his endeavor, he is eager to engage in an illuminating discussion with practitioners of expertise.” 


Peter Carroll: I do not participate in parapsychology experiments, and I advise my students not to do so. Magic works capriciously and non-repeatably. We should not squander our abilities on things that do not really matter to us.

I refer you to the equations of magic, where all factors lie on a scale of 0 to 1:

Pm = P + (1-P)M1/p  and M = GLSB.

The first equation quantifies the difference to the probability of an event that an act of magic M can make, and it’s not much unless the magic value lies close to unity. The second equation qualifies what you need to put into an act of magic - Gnosis, Magical Link, Subliminalisation, and Belief, and these remain impossible to objectively quantify and problematical in laboratory conditions.

I prefer the mass of humanity not to believe in magic, that way we do not get persecuted for it or end up working behind barbed wire. I make fun of magic to most of my friends and acquaintances, so they don’t fear me or make impossible requests, even so, quite a few seem jealous of my improbable successes in life.

Trying to objectively prove that sigils or any other kind of spell actually works seems as problematical as trying to simply prove that ‘some wishes sometimes come true’.

Having said that, I remain interested in collaboration for knowledge for its own sake.

Dean Radin: Please allow me to explain a bit about my interests in magic. I've been involved in parapsychology (psi for short) as a scientist for about four decades, working in academic, industrial, and government positions. In those settings, I've run and published dozens of controlled psi experiments, and as part of my job and personal interests I've studied esoteric traditions and practices, I've been a meditator since the 1970s, and I've lectured about psi at Cambridge University, Stanford University, Princeton University, etc. I've used practices derived from all of the above to create and sustain a scientific career that, from a mainstream view, isn't supposed to exist. I.e., my interest has always been to put magical concepts to the test, although until recently I've avoided using that term. My 2018 book, Real Magic, explains all this in some detail.

The bottom line is that I see little difference between the interests of magicians and scientists who are engaged in psi research. We are both studying or using the same underlying phenomena. We just take different approaches.

Thus, your equation of magic makes perfect sense to me. And elements of that equation are regularly put to use in experimental tests. The stereotype of the controlled study of psychic abilities is based on how ESP card tests were run in the 1950s. Most modern psi tests have moved beyond those designs and are focused on what you've described as the GLSB factors. Some of these factors are less easy to objectify than others, but it is possible to study them all, and the results of those tests support your model  

You've noted that magic works capriciously and non-repeatedly. The same is often said about psi studies, and this does appear to be the case if one examines each study in isolation. But since the 1990s we've known that this is merely a matter of statistical power. That is, from a cumulative perspective, using modern meta-analytical techniques to assess the repeatability of an experimental outcome, there is little doubt that these effects are independently reproducible. Experiments that require conscious responses, like ESP card tests, generally result in smaller effect sizes than those that rely on unconscious responses, like physiological measures, because the all-important elements of GLSB are difficult to optimize when asking someone to consciously “be psychic” (or “do magic”) on demand.

Regarding your comment, "I prefer the mass of humanity not to believe in magic," most worldwide surveys show that the majority already believe in magic. So that cat is already out of the bag. High levels of belief also occur among scientists as long as the surveys are anonymous, and the wording of the surveys avoid use of sensitive terms like magic or psi or psychic.

You also offered that, “Trying to objectively prove that sigils or any other kind of spell actually works seems as problematical as trying to simply prove that ‘some wishes sometimes come true.’” I can see why it might appear to be that slippery, and yet, this is precisely what lab studies investigating mind-matter interactions do. We cannot guarantee that any given “wish” comes true, but we can test if a bunch of wishes headed in the same direction do manifest. And so, from a cumulative perspective we do indeed find that wishes (operationalized in terms of an assigned intention) do modulate objectively measurable aspects of the physical world. The intentions and target systems used in lab studies seem to differ quite a bit from the spells found in a typical grimoire. But that's just a matter of semantics.

My interest in conducting a test involving magic is because the experimental design I’m using addresses a long-standing problem in mainstream physics (the quantum observer effect), and if it turns out that magical practices can enhance the results of such an effect, then that would be an interesting advancement for both magical practitioners and for physics.

Peter Carroll: We are both of a very similar age and both of us have had the privileges of a science education and exposure to counter cultural ideas in our formative years. We have both presented our ideas to the public in a way that acknowledges the scientific rather than the religious worldviews of our cultures and this seems reflected in our overlapping audiences.

You say that – “most worldwide surveys indicate that the majority already believe in magic.” I would agree to the extent that “magical thinking” always remains present to some degree in all individuals – we all believe to varying extents that “thoughts have effects” and that “phenomena have essences.”

Science on the other hand begins with the assumptions that an observer’s thoughts should not affect experimental outcomes and that phenomena consist only of their behaviour.

You have made a career out of trying to persuade others of the reality of parapsychological effects – mainly that thoughts and intents can have a direct effect on reality by mechanisms as yet unrecognised by science, and that reality can be perceived by the mind by unrecognised mechanisms, and that minds can communicate by unrecognised mechanisms.

I have made a career out of trying to persuade myself and others that we can do extraordinary things if we believe we can, by both recognised and unrecognised mechanisms. We both stand condemned by science for selection bias and confirmation bias, and for our inability to elucidate upon the unrecognised mechanisms.

Your approach seems based on the idea that if you could prove the effects then the as yet unrecognised mechanisms would require acknowledgement and investigation. My approach has been to embrace selection bias and confirmation bias more or less openly, on the basis that belief enhances capability. (Yes, I know that’s a quasi-religious tactic.)

Concerning parapsychological mechanisms – I have no good answers here, the old spiritual theories have little or no explanatory or predictive power, and the quasi-scientific ideas of astral light and various aethers seem little better. Quantum physics superficially looks as though it might have much to offer, but the deeper I look into it (and I do so rather obsessively) the more problematical it becomes.

Your statement that – “My interest in conducting a sigil test is because the experiment is aimed at addressing a long-standing problem in mainstream physics.” - intrigues me, would you care to elaborate?

Dean Radin: First, let me address your comment, “Science on the other hand begins with the assumptions that an observer’s thoughts should not affect experimental outcomes and that phenomena consist only of their behaviour.” Yes, that is true for classical physics. But not for quantum physics. Observer participation in the physical world is one of the two radical breaks from the classical worldview that we’re still struggling to understand. The second break is entanglement (or equivalently, nonlocal or superposition states). It is probably not a coincidence that nearly all of the founders of quantum mechanics were deeply into mysticism, and that from a mystical perspective both of these “new” ideas are not really new or radical at all. A case can be made that core ideas underlying quantum mechanics, including its equations, were actually founded on mystical concepts.

And next your comment, “you have made a career out of trying to persuade others….”  I suppose this is how it might appear. But I’m really not interested in persuading anyone other than myself about anything. Trying to persuade others who don’t want to be persuaded is an excellent recipe for frustration.

So, like most scientists, I am interested in understanding the nature of reality and our role in it. One can do this by exploring the leading edge of the already understood, but I’ve done that and find it mostly boring. What is not boring are the anomalies that don’t seem to fit any (mainstream scientific) theories at all. And among the basket of anomalies I’m aware of, I’ve found psi to be the most interesting because unlike spontaneous things that go bump in the night, many psi experiences are perfectly amenable to careful study in the lab. I’m not concerned about the sporadic nature of psi, or its generally small magnitude, because all of the empirical sciences rely on statistical methods, which when used properly can provide high confidence even for extremely subtle or weak effects.

The reason I’ve given hundreds of talks and interviews, and why I write popular books, is that I’ve been annoyed by the astonishing amount of misinformation, disinformation, and general nonsense one finds in college textbooks, academic articles, and pronouncements by people who claim to know what they’re talking about (regarding psi), but don’t. I also seek to educate lay and professional people who are sincerely looking for reasoned arguments and data about these topics, rather than polemics. Based on the feedback I’ve received, I know I’ve reached many who fit that description. That’s good enough for me.

Regarding your comment, “We both stand condemned by science for selection bias and confirmation bias, and for our inability to elucidate upon the unrecognised mechanisms.” I would revise this slightly by saying that the condemnation I see comes not so much from scientists (although some are definitely curmudgeons), but from amateurs who have unwittingly fallen into the cult of scientism. Many academics are also uncomfortable about appearing in public to be sympathetic to the reality of psi. Their concern is reasonable, because it is dangerous to challenge what everyone knows to be true (but ain’t, as Mark Twain quipped). Expressing such sympathies could prove damaging to one’s career. But in private, it’s another story. I know this by having given many invitation-only presentations to serious professional audiences in academia, business, military, and government circles.

The long-standing problem in quantum mechanics that I mentioned is the measurement problem, aka the observer effect. From a materialistic perspective, the observer effect makes no sense at all. Likewise, the “hard problem” of consciousness has also proved to be completely intractable. These two puzzles revolve around the nature of qualia and quanta.

From an idealistic (or panpsychist, or dual-aspect monist, or etc.) perspective, these puzzles are much easier to resolve. More importantly, adopting a worldview where consciousness is as fundamental as matter/energy (or maybe more so) is not a rejection of materialism. I.e., we should not throw away our existing physics, chemistry, and biology textbooks. All we need to do, and which has been done throughout the history of science and scholarship, is to simply recognize that all of our theories are special cases of a more comprehensive theory that will one day arise. E.g., classical physics still works perfectly fine in certain limited circumstances. But now we understand that it is a special case of a more comprehensive physics. This sequence whereby a “theory of everything” morphs into a “special case model” is found in all scientific disciplines, and for most scholarly disciplines as well. It even happens in religions, as much as theocracy tries to hold on to orthodoxy.

With that as a brief background, I’ve dubbed the study I’m working on the SIGIL experiment, where that title has two meanings. One is an acronym, a Scientific Investigation of Gnostic Interactions with Light, where the term “gnostic” means deep intuitive knowing, similar to the term “noetic.” The other meaning is reference to the practice of sigil magic.

This experiment follows up on a decade of studies we’ve conducted exploring whether observation by the mind’s eye (understood as imagination, or clairvoyance) that is assigned to focus on a double-slit optical system can cause a change in an optical interference pattern. The bottom line, after some two dozen experiments using a range of different designs, lasers, etc., and replicated in four other independent labs so far, is yes, gnostic or noetic-type observation does seem to matter. This in turn implies that mind directly interacts with matter. The effect is modulated by ability to focus, by belief, and by several other factors, all of which are, again, consistent with your model of how magic works.

The specific magical element comes into play in the SIGIL experiment because I want to recruit participants who are practiced in maintaining tightly focused attention, in suspending their disbelief about what is or is not possible, and who have experience in mentally manipulating the world to some degree through magical methods. Those who use sigil magic nicely fit that bill, and so they’ll be part of the candidate pool I’ll draw upon. Other participants will be meditators, martial artists, or others who have similar high attention-training skills, but do not use magical techniques.

I might add that I’ve conducted some of my previous double-slit experiments online, which provided interesting results. Those studies provided nearly perfect control over the “matter side” of the experiment because the apparatus was secured in our lab and the participants were located at distances ranging from 1 km to 18,000 km. But online studies cannot provide tight control over the “mind side” of this study because we could not control or even monitor what people were doing during an experiment. Maybe a person started the experiment, and a cat finished it.

This is a problem because the mind side is at least as important as the matter side in this type of study, and so I’ve built a batch of custom-designed optical systems, and I will mail one to each of the selected participants. This will allow them to directly work with the actual physical target in the comfort of their home, and to gain immediate feedback about their performance. The devices include an optical interferometer as well as a number of other sensors that can measure many aspects of the ambient environment, and it also incorporates ways of securing the integrity of the resulting data.

The fun thing about this experiment is that if it is successful then it will simultaneously provide evidence that magic (at least cast in terms of a practical psi application) works, and that magic is also relevant to understanding the quantum measurement problem. Two “impossible” outcomes in one.

I realize that magic is not easily controllable. But neither is psi, and I believe for the same reasons. Fortunately, psi still works well enough on demand, and in a controlled context, that with sufficient data and refined analytical methods, you can still see it.

Peter Carroll: Many interpretations of quantum mechanics exist, and I tend to regard quantum field theory as another possible interpretation rather than as something qualitatively new that supersedes quantum mechanics. Adding 20+ different quantum fields to the array of particle/waves just to model the annihilation and creation of quanta may prove unnecessary. Yet on the other hand field excitations below the quantisation level may explain the effects attributed rather clumsily to so called virtual particles, particularly if, like the supposed fields, they can act non-locally.

I find John Cramer’s Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics attractive; in this, “quantum handshakes” occur between emitter and absorber both forward and backward in time and the process becomes complete and irreversible when a whole quanta has become exchanged. This seems to model the double slit experiment, interference, and entanglement quite neatly, at the price of allowing temporally reversed “advanced waves” to travel backwards in time (Maxwell’s equations do permit this). Such temporary temporal reversibility could supply the non-locality that most interpretations of quantum mechanics require.

The “measurement problem” seems to come down to the problem of “what do quanta do whilst not interacting?” Quanta “fly as waves but take off and land as particles.” We cannot actually observe the waves directly because if we try to observe them, we stop them and force a particle-like interaction, causing what we call a “collapse of the wave function.”

I do not believe that an observer is necessary to force an interaction, quanta do it all the time to each other, but we can make choices about how and when to make a measurement that creates an interaction.

To me the real measurement problem lies in what the results of interactions tell us about “what do quanta do whilst not interacting?”

At present the consensus asserts that except at the instant of interaction, quanta cannot have definite properties, definite position, definite momentum, and to some extent any definite quantum numbers at all. When they do interact, they show evidence of having selected from amongst their possible properties on a basis that seems entirely random, but in some cases anti-correlated with the properties of quanta they had entanglements with.

Unfortunately perhaps, the randomness seems to prevent the non-local exchange of  meaningful information. I have speculated on a possible way around this here, but I may have based it upon a misunderstanding:


Anyway, whilst I have preached that the apparent chaos/randomness underlying the substructure of the universe frees us considerably from fate and determinism, I do often wonder precisely how we can force the hand of chance or rescue luck from chance, and to what extent “free will” depends on some capacity for quantum randomness within ourselves.

Paradoxically perhaps, chaos magic implies some form of hidden causality which can somehow modulate the quantum randomness. I have wondered if the properties of quanta depend on various “spins” in extra pseudo-spatial temporal dimensions that we do not generally recognise despite the seeming indispensability of “imaginary” and complex numbers in modelling wave functions. If interactions cause quanta to momentarily drop out of fast spinning states into definite measurable orientations, then their behaviour would appear completely random to us if their rates of spin were huge compared to the timescales we can measure.

As the properties of quanta can remain entangled over arbitrarily large distances this perhaps suggests rather paradoxically that the apparent randomness and chaos of the behaviour of the quanta may actually depend on the extreme precision of their behaviour. If so, then psi would seem to require that the operator become somehow entangled with the experiment.  

Your experiments with double slits and interferometers intrigue me. I have some understanding of the kit involved, what exactly are you trying to influence, photon counts at detectors or patterns on screens or what?  

Consciousness - does any information processing device that can monitor both some parts of its environment and some of its own internal states, have consciousness to some degree? If so, we cannot completely deny consciousness to almost anything.

Qualia - don’t these subjective experiences depend on the associations we make between experiences – aka Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory. For me ‘Redness’ seems the summation of all the associations I have with it, - not primarily an abstract thing in itself.

Dean Radin: Regarding, “I do not believe that an observer is necessary to force an interaction, quanta do it all the time to each other,” my reaction is -- maybe. An “observational theory” (OT), developed by parapsychologists in the 1970s, predicts a retro-PK (psychokinetic) effect whereby observation is necessary to convert possibles into actuals, and it doesn’t matter when that observation takes place. That is, the prediction of the OT was that if you record a batch of quantum indeterminate random bits without looking at them, then the unobserved bits will remain in a superposition until they are observed. So, on Monday you record the bits, and on Tuesday you play them back while an observer watches the output. As the prerecorded bits are being observed, you give the observer instructions to intend, or will, say, more 1 bits than 0 bits. What you will find, on average over many trials, is that the already-recorded but not-yet-observed bits will in fact conform to instructions created after the bits were already recorded!

This retrocausal idea was not previously observed or even imagined, but nevertheless experiments conducted to test it from the 1970s through the 1990s (including a few I participated in) significantly supported the prediction. This is evidence that something about observation really does seem to be important in converting the wave-like quasi-real world into the particle-like everyday world, and this effect is acausal in the sense that it does not take place in everyday spacetime. The retro-PK experiments suggested that quanta remain in a superposed state until they are observed. However, I also agree that human observation is not the only way that a quantum system can be “collapsed.” But exactly what constitutes a measurement, or who or what entails a proper observation, remains a puzzle.

Regarding your experimental proposal, I don’t think it would work because with current spontaneous parametric down-conversion technology it’s not so easy to create entangled pairs. I.e., most of the pairs are classically correlated, not quantum entangled. Only a few pairs in a million are entangled. Also, the pairs that are entangled can be identified as such only by comparing their polarizations. So, if you have one of a pair of photons on Earth, you can’t know if its partner on Alpha Centauri is entangled until you compare them both, and you can only do that at light-speed. Now, if a super-high-fidelity device could generate say 99%+ of entangled photon pairs, then what you’re proposing might work. Someone might eventually be able to make such a device, but we’re not there yet.

By the way, we did an experiment to see if mind could influence the correlation strength of entangled photons. Bottom line: yes, apparently it can.  Here's the article

Radin, D., Bancel, P., Delorme, A. (2021) Psychophysical interactions with entangled photons: Five exploratory experiments. Journal of Anomalous Experience and Cognition. 1 (1-2), 9-54. https://journals.lub.lu.se/jaex/article/view/23392/20892

Regarding your comment, “Psi would seem to require that the operator become somehow entangled with the experiment.” Yes, and I believe this happens through meaning, similar to how even a mind-blowing synchronicity can be viewed as a coincidence, but one that is seasoned by the spice of meaning. In this sense, all psi phenomena, whether spontaneous or created in the lab, can be thought of as synchronicities: meaningful coincidences created on demand.

You asked what people do in our double-slit experiments. We ask participants to mentally imagine that they can see photons passing through the double-slit (so as to gain which-path information), or to pay attention to a real-time feedback signal based on an aspect of the interference pattern. This signal rests upon metrics like fringe visibility, or a Fourier Transform of the interference pattern, or in the case of single photon studies the count of the number of photons at a specific location of the interference pattern. These metrics are then compared during periods when people focus their mind toward the optical apparatus vs. away. If the resulting differential measure is significantly different from chance expectation, and the apparatus is well-calibrated, so we know how it behaves when no one is mentally interacting with it, then that provides evidence that the mind interfered with the interference pattern.

You suggested that any information processing device that can monitor both parts of its environment and some of its own internal states may have consciousness to some degree. And if that is the case, then we cannot completely deny consciousness to almost anything. I agree. It’s one of the reasons why a growing number of scientists are reconsidering the notion of panpsychism and the importance of including aspects of consciousness into our understanding of the physical world.

Among my many projects, I’m currently working on a second book on magic, again from a scientific perspective. I’m at the earliest stages of thinking about this, but so far I have yet to find anything within the magical traditions (bypassing the religious dogma and superstition) that contradicts what parapsychology has empirically established, or that would in some way help to significantly inform it. But I may well have overlooked something that might change my mind. What am I missing?

Peter Carroll: I think I can see what your entanglement experiment consists of and what it seems to show, although the details of the data processing do seem very tortuous and complicated.

It surprises me that you asked participants to increase entanglement as any observation of, or interference with, entangled states tends to reduce entanglement., because decoherence is the bane of quantum computing.  On the other hand, a psychic “which path observation” of a single photon in a double-slit apparatus may perhaps allow for the psi exploitation of superposition collapse, if you can use single photon detectors.

I’ll answer your question about what I think may be missing from parapsychological research from a magical perspective by speculating on what I might do to try to show a statistically significant PK type effect:

Recruit 400 participants. Invite them to turn up with a dollar to throw a pair of D20 Icosahedral dice just once. If they throw double 20, they get $400. If not, you keep their 1 dollar entrance fee. Or recruit 8,000 and use three D20 for an even more exciting prize of $8,000.

I rather suspect you might not break even as statistically predicted but might lose a fair bit of money and get a psi-positive result. It would also be interesting to see if overall the number of 20s thrown exceeded statistical expectations. I suggest this for several reasons, magical link – participants handle the dice and watch them fall. Emotional involvement – you are offering something they would really want to win. Gnosis – the heightened state of concentration arising from only doing this important thing once.

If you can ensure that the setup ensures the dice have to tumble at least 7 times before coming to a halt, then apparently this makes their final position theoretically indeterminate and not open to “ordinary” forms of cheating.

Dean Radin: In the entangled photon experiment, the details of the data processing may seem tortuous and complicated, but that is just a consequence of the nature of the raw data. Measuring entanglement strength requires a series of 16 polarization measurements, so the data is necessarily a time sequence with unavoidable dependencies, and that requires some fancy mathematical footwork. Still, after the appropriate analysis it showed remarkably clear results.

We asked participants in the entangled photon experiment to increase rather than decrease entanglement for a few reasons. One is that decoherence is not a one-way street. There’s also recoherence. Here’s an article on this topic that was published in Nature


Second, if entropy were the only thing ever observed in thermodynamics, then life would never have evolved. As you know from mathematical chaos theory, complex open systems can and regularly do produce negentropic effects. We’re here because order can arise out of entropic systems. The same is true for quantum decoherence. Under the right circumstances, systems can recohere. So, we hypothesized that whatever focused awareness is, it appears to have an ordering quality, or a form of coherence. Thus, in light of the body of evidence for PK on many types of physical targets, holding the mental intention to increase entanglement strength was viewed as plausible.

A third reason for that particular task is that if we could show that the mind could push entanglement strength above the Tsirelson Bound, then that would demonstrate that whatever focused consciousness is, it is not accounted for by orthodox quantum theory. Alas, we didn’t see that outcome, but in retrospect to exceed the Tsirelson Bound we’d have to have been Merlin to overcome the constraints imposed by the optical apparatus we were using.

Regarding your suggested psi experiment, studies involving dice were conducted ad nauseum for about 50 years, with some success. Different kinds of dice were used, with different numbers of faces, use of monetary rewards, etc. Over the years methods were progressively improved to overcome valid criticisms (like you absolutely cannot have a subject handle the dice – it’s too easy for a skilled trickster to game the outcome). In fact, the stereotype of the sterile psi test largely evolved because it was found that all sorts of unintentional biases (to say nothing of intentional fraud) could produce results that were not psi, but just inadvertent flaws. Fortunately, over the last half-century new methods have been devised to provide high confidence that results of a study would not be due to one or more flaws, and at the same time methods being used today are approaching ecologically valid contexts that more closely match how psi manifests in the real world.

I published a meta-analyses of the dice tests a few decades ago.  Effects of consciousness on the fall of dice: A meta-analysis.  Journal of Scientific Exploration, 5, 61-84. (Click on the title to retrieve the paper.)

I’ve also attempted to amplify the magical link factor in a voodoo-type experiment, which resulted in such a strong effect that it scared everyone on the team.  Remote influence of human physiology by a ritual healing technique.  Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine, 6, 111-134. (Click on the title to retrieve the paper.)

The gnosis element has also been tested in many experiments involving altered-states, like dreaming, meditation, and the ganzfeld environment, and the evidence there shows that it is superior to ordinary states of awareness.

Thus, some elements of your magic equation have been explored over the last century or so. That said, it is rare to find a single study that tried to optimize all of the factors you’ve identified. This is not because of a lack of interest, but a lack of resources.

In the SIGIL study, funded by the Bial Foundation and RENSEP,, the key aim is to demonstrate a remote observer effect on optical interference. I’ve been working that problem for quite a while, and to date my team has conducted something like 20 experiments. Here’s one writeup: https://journals.lub.lu.se/jaex/article/view/24054/21777

The sigil magic component of this test involves recruiting people who have experience using a magical technique, and that have some reason to believe that it works for them. Finding such people, with real talent in mind-matter manipulation, is a challenge, so I’m guessing that tapping into the magical world where people already believe that this sort of effect is real based on their experience, would be a step in the right direction.

Testing magical skills is, as you’ve noted, not straightforward nor easy, so to help optimize the important motivational element of your magic equation, I’m sending each participant the physical target itself rather than conducting a test online, and they’re encouraged to adopt whatever state of gnosis they wish during the experiment. They can also arrange the set and setting however they wish. I realize that the task itself is still rather abstract, but to help overcome that the experiment provides real time feedback on their performance with sound, a graph that show real-time performance, and a color-changing LED. I’ve found that this improves how well people can focus on the task. Of course, I realize that an experiment of this type is still far from the typical magical goal, so it’s up to me to convince the participants that this experiment is very important, and thus help to optimize the motivational factor.

Peter Carroll: I have looked at your entangled photon experiments. I do wonder if the Tsirelson Bound represents a natural limit of natural magic (at the quantum scale), so if you try and play around with events limited to that scale you only have that much wriggle room. Trying to calculate how the Tsirelson Bound for quanta could scale up via the butterfly effects of so called deterministic chaos to give a measure of the wriggle room for macroscopic events seems a tough call.

It amused me that “operator hand thrown dice” is considered to degrade the value of a result in the eyes of science, whereas exquisitely delicate hand manipulation of apparatus seems acceptable and indeed necessary for so many scientific experiments. If I could subconsciously cheat at well thrown dice, I’d call that magic.    

I really liked your “voodoo” experiment. It allows for many of the ingredients traditionally considered essential for magic, and it gets a statistically interesting result.

I guess you will be familiar with Sheldrake’s ‘Telephone Telepathy’ experiments, he quotes you in his references: -



These seem some of the most convincing “scientific” demonstrations of psi that I have come across, with a natural probability of 25% fairly reliably and repeatably bumped up to 40%.

Again, it seems a “magic friendly” series of experiments involving magical links (to friends), excitement, the possibility of both interpersonal telepathy and short term precognition of an unknown but recently determined event, plus of course the pervasive folk belief that it does happen.

In general, I feel far more inclined to participate in experiments that give magic a chance and have perhaps already shown indisputable results that don’t require heavy statistical processing to show interesting anomalies.

I think that if you want to believe in magic and use it in life then you need to work to the strengths of magic and try and enhance them, rather than exhaustively test them in adverse conditions just to try and dent the official scientific null hypothesis.

Dean Radin: I agree that the constraints imposed by scientific methods are not exactly magic-friendly. But, of course, the flip side to that weakness is the methodological strength offered by science. That is, if something interesting happens that seems magical, you can gain higher confidence that it was actually magical, rather than something like a coincidence or a mistake. If I tossed some dice and they landed pretty much the way I’d want them to, then that might look like magic, but we can’t know for sure. That’s why in the laboratory hand-tossing dice or hand-tossing a coin just isn’t good enough.

By contrast, the manual manipulations required to prepare sensitive equipment is an entirely different ball game. After the setup is completed, and certainly while an experiment is under way, manipulations of any part of an apparatus are strictly forbidden. E.g., for the SIGIL experiment I’m preparing, the device will be located with the participant outside of my direct control. So, I need a way to tell if he or she is trying to influence it in a non-magical manner (because a participant might inadvertently influence the system, or intentionally cheat). To accomplish this, I designed the apparatus to provide lots of information about the environment where the device is located. Some of those measures tell me about the state of the interferometer, which is the main point of the experiment. But many other measures tell me if the device is touched, moved, subjected to heat or cold, magnetic fields, electric fields, etc.

I think it’s important to know if magic is really real, not just because it’s curious or for academic reasons. Instead, if magic is real, it means our entire modern civilization is built on a philosophical house of cards (i.e., reductive materialism) that is arguably in the process of falling apart and possibly even poised to wipe out a significant percentage of life on Earth. I would think it is therefore a good idea to try to repair the house of cards as best we can. And if that means accepting that the mind can do things that have been dismissed as fantasy, then so be it.

Acceptance of magic does not mean everything will suddenly become sunshine and rainbows, but it would add to many other holes that are being poked into the prevailing nihilistic worldview. And I view that as a good thing.

I’m familiar with Rupert’s telephone telepathy studies (and his other very clever designs). As he admits, the results of the telephone telepathy experiments cannot strictly exclude people who decide to cheat. And it is a certainty that if the opportunity arises, some people will definitely cheat. So, the impressive 40% hit rate may be inflated to some extent. How much it is inflated is unknown, but again this is why annoying super-strict measures are used in lab studies – so when we get results we can exclude intentional or inadvertent cheating from the get-go. The results are usually weaker than studies that include possible loopholes, but they are not zero. That’s how we know with high confidence that these effects are real. Otherwise, we’d never know for sure.

I exclude from the above comment Rupert’s telephone telepathy studies that were captured on video. The high hit rates in those studies appear to be quite real, perhaps because they included a very strong magical link among the participants (they were sisters). This is why pre-selecting people for talent is very important when doing any sort of psi/magic experiment, even though that aspiration cannot always be achieved.

You suggested that you’d feel more inclined to participate in experiments that gave magic a chance. The way I figure it, magic always has a chance. If magic exists, then yes it will be modulated by all sorts of things that inhibit or mask it. But it’s still there.

And I understand that simple statistical methods are more readily digestible than complex ones, but that’s really just a matter of what one is used to. I am reasonably comfortable with all sorts of statistical methods. But sure, it would be preferable to get results that did not require heavy statistical lifting. And in a few cases, we do have such examples, like in the ganzfeld telepathy experiments. Those studies rely on extremely simple measures (the number of hits vs. misses), and it has been repeatedly demonstrated under high security conditions and in dozens of labs over long periods of time. 

I agree that working to a phenomenon’s strength is always preferable, and that the constraints of some scientific methods can squash those strengths. But I personally also prefer to believe in things where I can gain high confidence – first-hand -- that what I’m observing is actually real. It’s very easy to drop down a rabbit hole and end up believing in all sorts of nonsense. E.g., consider today’s fractious political arena where millions of people have been convinced to believe in things that every objective piece of evidence screams is dead wrong.

Likewise, I think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s belief in fairies. Sherlock Holmes is the exemplar of a hyper-logical, hyper-aware character, and Holmes emerged from Doyle’s mind. But given the historical evidence that the fairy images were faked, how did that same uber-rational mind come to believe in fairies? I think the answer is that we are all Doyle, anxious to believe in things that we want to believe in, some of which may or may not be true. I believe (we can’t get beyond that) that scientific methods are the best ways we currently have to help us avoid wandering into false wonderlands. If I’m going to drop down into a wonderland, I’d prefer that it was a true wonderland.

Peter Carroll: I’m not sure that getting people to accept the objective reality of magic will improve their moral behaviour. Some will certainly want to weaponize it. Magical fights remain a feature of my magical cultural milieu. Historical cultures which believed in magic do not seem notable for their humanism, and they often persecuted people for magic. Getting people to believe in spiritual and religious ideas has rarely given good results either.

Maybe the problem lies not with reductive materialism in itself but in the whole duality of material/spiritual. Someone once opined that no real difference exists between the viewpoints that “everything is spiritual” and “everything is material.” I’d feel quite happy with the axiom that everything is material (or spiritual) including weird stuff like parapsychology and quantum physics.

Dean Radin: Sadly, I agree that getting people to accept that magic is real will not improve moral behavior. Most of humanity already believes in one form of magic or another, but that hasn’t encouraged the world to become a paragon of morality. And some would definitely weaponize magic, if they could.

However, I do think it’s time to readdress the nihilistic philosophy that underlies modern civilization, and to do this in a secular way that is backed by science. Perhaps such an effort won’t change anything, but perhaps it will. To do nothing and let evolution, raw in tooth and nail, take its natural course would be the easiest approach. But still, I think it’s worth a try.

Thank you for this dialog, and perhaps when I get closer to getting the SIGIL project actively under way, we can pick it up again.

ADDENDUM - HEREWITH THE EXPERIMENT https://www.magicktest.com/

Read 5079 times Last modified on Tuesday, 12 December 2023 22:47
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