How people can and have changed their brains to suit themselves
Infection, adaptation and the happy destruction of a centralised virus.
The subject of contemporary Occult practices represents a situation that demands some wide re-evaluations of the way we perceive the actions of another culture, race or even person. These re-evaluations must take place because the strange and exotic culture being dealt with is not some "savage", primitive or far away Other, but one that has developed within contemporary, Western traditions. This culture is made up of contemporary, Western people which includes computer scientists, artists, lawyers and lorry drivers who come from a "stable" culture yet whose behaviour seems irrational and bizarre. This is most pronounced as this exoticness occurs within the social framework of the culture which is viewing itself. They have realised they have begot children quite different to themselves, and they don't understand. Contemporary Occult practices are illustrative of how specialising in a certain field (any field) leads you to develop ways of approaching reality which are foreign to one's original or traditional epistemological position. Magical belief is a special species of knowledge. A fragmentary and additive framework of conceptual viruses are integrated into the host and cause cognitive adaptation and change. The evaluation of the efficacy of the magical practices concerned, depends very much on the mind set and setting of the individual who is evaluating.
"I think therefore I am (infected)"
Becoming a witch
There is a systematic process by which perceptions of reality change to one governed by secular magic (even if only on certain occasions). Once this is finalised, or sustained at a constant level, the specialist mind becomes partly incapable of communicating the reasons for their belief. This cognitive elitism caused by the infecting memes is a common symptom of modified belief. In your culture, Christian's believe in a God whose existence is inexplicable (let alone provable) to unbelievers yet seemingly obvious to believers. I think in a certain way, therefore I am infected with a certain conceptual virus. There runs a cycle where as belief mechanisms and structures change, so do perceptions. As perceptions change, so do they influence beliefs The nature of the conceptual virus, or meme means that this reciprocity is formed so that it can easily encourage a belief system that seems to depart from a "traditional rational ideal". It thus may infect the host, entering them into a mode of "irrational" behaviour (and I mean this in the nicest possible way). In this way the "neophyte" becomes a practitioner and a specialist, whose mind has been trained, whose mind has been adapted and evolved, both consciously and unconsciously to interpret events and to integrate those interpretations in certain ways. There is therefore the symptom of an "interpretive shift" which takes place during the change from the mind of a non-believer to the mind of a practitioner. The essential feature of this drift to an "alien" way of knowing and acting is the progressive and simultaneous evolution of interpretation and experience. As these develop, they are mutually rationalised in terms which allow the hosts ongoing commitment to the practice. The new comer comes to pick up intellectual habits (i.e. symptoms of memes) which make the magic sensible and rational. There is no denying that this mode of rationality is no more or less reasonable than any other. Again, the suggestion can easily be extended to question the ways in which people create their own perceptions of reality through the process of such cognitive habits becoming dominant through an *active* selection of cognitive viruses to become host to (kind of like a choose your own virus game). This shift involves the development of a cognitive bias relating to certain ways of perceiving and acting. In this way the new user becomes adjusted to believing and acting in a way which otherwise would be seen as irrational and ineffectual.
The nature of the virus
Surviving in a world governed by a big ugly mutha virus
Occult practice has certain attributes which enable this shift occur painlessly and in fact, quite simply and easily. Coming in general from Western main stream culture, witches and magicians are aware of the need for a empirically critical approach to most ventures, especially when faced with a practice which is generally denied its power and efficacy. There is a particular mode of reasoning which the witch evolves which makes the practitioner appreciate a rationality which is, according to their cognitive structure, scientifically falsifiable and increasingly valid. To the non-practitioner, their claims are irrational: they do not see the things the witches see and they do not see them the way the witches see them. Magicians are therefore able to logically evaluate evidence in a particular way. This shift occurs early in the induction process in the form of advice given to the newcomer such as when the desired result is achieved it should be taken as a sign that the magic has worked even if coincidence may explain it [Luhrman, 1989, p128]. Thus in the beginners manual of "Starhawk" the following passage serves to both guide interpretation and to validate the practice:
...The magician' may well seriously work a ritual...but the outcome of his working will not be miraculous, [although] it will look like a coincidence... [But] because he knows that he has done the work... he will recognise the coincidence as being the outcome of his working
[Luhrman, 1982, p159]
As most rituals involve some level of meditation and the implementation of imagination and imagery, gauging of success often depends on personal experiences thus evoked. Indeed personal experience is the measure of all things. There are many different forms of evidence which are essentially based in a base belief of how it works: to the believer they are falsifiable and valid, to the non-believer they are irrational. The validation often comes from personal spiritual or emotional experiences in relation to the ritual. However, it is centrally the magicians adeptness "at this pattern making, at seeing order in complexity" which allows such evidence to be supportive [Luhrman, 1989, p132]. The important feature is that this sort of evaluation of the efficacy of their rites on the personal scale (i.e. their relationship to the rituals) speaks more about the ambiguity of interpretation than of their gullibility or of the truth of the practitioners ideas. The magician's rituals are however directed at more than personal psychological or physical change, they are acting on the subtle energies of the universe and using them to effect matter in an explicit way. How then is it that in the face of evidence to the contrary, they retain their faith in their rationality? The magician can retain faith for several reasons: because only the skill of the practitioner is tested, never the theory itself. In addition evidence which suggests some sort of effect is shouted loudly while failure can easily be used as evidence for the practices falsifiability: an important part of the Western proof of a reasonable truth. In this way magicians can keep to a self-respecting (certainly not publicly respected) Popperian rationality while exploring the realm opened by Paul Feyerabend's push for scientific anarchy where conceptual freedom is encouraged within the ("scientific") community.
To be a specialist:
1. Choose appropriate memes, integrate them and adapt.
2. Evolve with the memes within you.
You will find that you begin to notice things never before seen and influence things before beyond your control. Always be aware that some cognitive acquisitions may be unwanted and should be reviewed regularly. Remember, infection is an active process, you play a role in how you think and what you believe. The virus that is you should never become clouded by parasites from the exterior.
Control is state of specialisation.
Specialisation is a state of mind. Mind is a state of flux.
Evans-Pritchard, E.E. (1937) "Problems that arise from consultation of the Poison Oracle" in Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic mong the Azande, London: Oxford University Press, pp. 313-351.
Gellner, E. (1974) "The Savage Mind" in The Legitimation of Belief, London and New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 149-167.
Gellner, E. (1992) "Postmodernism and Relativism" in Postmodernism, Reason and Religion, London: Routledge.
Luhrman, T.M. (1985) "Persuasive ritual: The Role Of The Imagination in Occult Witchcraft", Archives de Sciences Social des Religions, 60, 1: 151-20.
Luhrman, T.M. (1989) Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual magic in Present-day England, Oxford: Blackwell.