The Ten Laws

Dutch School, Allegory of Fortune, circa 1600

Form is the Illusion is a book about Relationship Theory, an unusual system of metaphysics developed by the late David Douglas Thompson. Relationship Theory addresses questions of ontology and epistemology in a way that is likely to be of interest to pagans and occultists.

Form is the Illusion: A Magical Philosophy (5)

My father often discussed his Relationship Theory at great length, but never fully explained the underlying concepts. Even the most basic ideas of the theory, such as “ringing the changes,” were never clarified and had to be interpreted based on context. (As far as I can discover, he never told anyone that he had borrowed this phrase from the bell-ringing tradition even though that fact is essential to understanding the metaphor he was using.)

 

The only written explanation he ever left of his theory was a set of somewhat whimsical aphorisms he called the “ten laws” and several pages of obscure notes. The Ten Laws on their own are mere assertions with no supporting arguments, but they make a lot more sense when compared with his notes. The Ten Laws are as follows:

 

1- Interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.

 

2- The simpler the concept, the more complex its ramifications.

 

3- The seeds of the solution are buried in the question.

 

4- Always ring the changes.

 

5- Never ignore serendipity.

 

6- Ignore all laws at least once a week on general principles.

 

7- Negative feedback is a positive idea.

 

8- Dynamic tension is required for control.

 

9- All forces are infinite.

 

10- The strongest chains have the subtlest links.

 

(In one version of this list, there was an eleventh law- perception is the ultimate base unit of reality. Note that perception does not mean opinion. This is a re-statement of the idea that interactions between information-units are the only reality. In Relationship Theory, anything you interact with is real by definition, so perception is effectively the base unit of reality.)

 

He believed that these ideas could be used to work your way through virtually any problem in life, from a broken car to a thorny philosophical question. Reality, in his view, was not an absolute thing but a constantly shifting network of relationships and perspectives in an infinitely complex pattern of interactions. The key to understanding this chaos was not to seek a better perspective on it – as he always used to say, “there is no superior rock on which to stand” – but to learn how to shift fluidly and effortlessly from one perspective to another, “ringing the changes” to get a gestaltic impression of the situation – or of the entire universe. The ten laws were his guidelines on how to do so.

 

Interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.

 

As we have already discussed, Relationship Theory defines reality as a set of relationships between information units, and does not distinguish between different forms of information – for instance, by trying to prove whether a haunted house “really” has a ghost in it or not. If your relationship with the house is haunted, that is the only relevant point. Thus, the perception that a particular grove or cave or spring is numinous would be enough reason to establish a relationship with the numen of that place.

 

The simpler the concept, the more complex its ramifications.

 

In his conversations about Relationship Theory, my father often talked about modeling the relationships between concepts or worldviews as mathematical interactions between infinite number sets. Why? Because any single thing in the universe implies the whole universe.

 

If you could see all the implications and connections, you could know everything there is to know about anything by examining a single pebble. You could do the same thing by examining a single idea.

 

The simplest and most profound descriptions of the universe are so simple and profound precisely because they succeed in implying the entire universe. Given nothing but such a statement, you would have a tool for understanding anything you could ever run into.

 

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” is a simple concept with infinitely complex ramifications. “The tao that can be spoken of is not the Tao” is a simple concept with infinitely complex ramifications. So is any other attempt to say something definitive about the world, its meaning if it has one, and our place in it.

 

Relationship Theory says that you can do this effectively no matter what the statement is. You can formulate a complete description of your reality – an infinite set of units of information – by teasing out all the implications of a single “zed” or relationship.

 

Every thing implies everything.

 

If this is true, it isn’t even necessary to start with anything particularly profound. You could understand all of reality by completely understanding how a car works or what a single line in a poem means or how ice cream tastes. Of course, we don’t actually have the ability to see all the implications of any single thing, so we don’t succeed in completely understanding the universe.

 

However, we can take any zed we want to as a starting point to examine our reality or some particular question we have about it. In Relationship Theory, this sort of starting point is called a “zed naught”. Beginning with whatever zed naught we want to play with, we look at it from every angle we can possibly think of, even when the different angles directly contradict each other. We play with its implications and relationships to get a bigger and broader picture of whatever it is we want to examine. We ring the changes on all these different perspectives and let zed naught expand into the infinite.

 

The seeds of the solution are buried in the question.

 

Interactions have patterns, and patterns can be predicted, assuming that you have enough of a sample to see what the pattern is. Any question that clearly describes a problem should contain the same relationships within it as the problem itself. Therefore, the problem can be solved by deeply examining the question, as in Tarot and other sophisticated forms of divination.

 

Always ring the changes.

 

In practical terms, Relationship Theory works by asking a question and then examining the implications of the question by looking at it from different perspectives. The question or the statement you want to examine is zed naught. The set of zeds implied by your zed naught is your answer. Rather than choosing one of these worldviews and arbitrarily adopting it, the theory encourages you to shift fluidly between all relevant worldviews.

 

Never ignore serendipity.

 

The word “serendipity” is sometimes misused as a near-synonym for “coincidence,” but it actually refers to one’s own ability or “sagacity” in spotting coincidental connections in a fortunate way, allowing one to obtain valid information from a seemingly accidental conjunction of events. This is the first known use of the term, by Horace Walpole in 1754:

 

“It was once when I read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip, as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a camel blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right- now do you understand serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for, comes under this description) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon’s, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table.”

 

Serendipity was defined as “the art of making an unsought finding” by Pek Van Andel, and as “the faculty of finding things we did not know we were looking for” by Glauco Ortolano. A great many scientific and technological discoveries occurred serendipitously.

 

The emphasis on this particular talent in Relationship Theory is based on the notion of underlying and complex relationship patterns. When a potentially useful piece of information is stumbled across while looking for something else entirely, Relationship Theory teaches us to habitually consider this significant, as if taking an omen.

 

Ignore all laws at least once a week on general principles.

 

No formalized system of thought or logic can ever really capture the complexity of our reality. No matter what system you use – including this one – you should periodically abandon it and look at the world from outside your system’s basic assumptions.

 

Negative feedback is a positive idea.

 

Systematically challenge your own preferred viewpoint or bias by embracing contradictory perspectives. Even if you’re looking at a problem from a particular angle, at least some of your time should be spent in looking at the same problem from a completely different angle.

 

Dynamic tension is required for control.

 

One of the basic concepts of Relationship Theory is that all forms of information behave according to similar laws. Just as energy can neither be created nor destroyed, information can neither be created nor destroyed. It can be changed into an infinite number of different forms with no net change to the universe as a whole. In Relationship Theory, this is referred to as “conservation of information,” or the “balance of perception.”

 

Imagine three parties denominated as A, B and C. The set of all three parties could be expressed as P (A, B, C). If we take the point of view of A and declare it to be the observer, then the set could be described as P (A, Not A). Or if B is the observer, then P (B, Not B). P (C, Not C) is equally possible, but in each case the set of P remains the same – although the observer shifts, and thus the point of view, the set does not change.

 

Now, if C is the observer and C observes A losing a portion of its information-value (denominated by a lower-case ‘a’) to B, then the result of this interaction would be a set described by this equation: P (A – a, B + a, C). While A has lost in value, B has gained, so there is no net change in the set as a whole. A change in one direction was balanced out by a change in the opposite direction, so from the point of view of the set, there was no net change.

 

Opposing views, perspectives and experiences exist in a constant state of dynamic tension, and even though they change in relationship to each other the set of which they are a part does not. (Note that just because there is no net change in the system as a whole does not mean that there is no local change in particular information patterns.)

 

The “balance of perception” tells us that all equally functional descriptions of a system must be considered equivalently valid. The universe as a whole doesn’t change at all no matter what perspective you take, so if my perspective A describes whatever is experienced as well as your perspective B and our friend’s perspective C then all three explanations must be considered true in some sense.

 

All forces are infinite.

 

This law is an analogy drawn from physics – if any physical force was unconstrained by another force, its effects would be infinitely powerful, and the same thing can be said of informational forces. An idea that was not balanced out by any opposing idea would be the sole existing model of reality.

 

The fact that no one idea or viewpoint is the sole existing model of reality implies that all such “informational forces” are counteracted and limited in their effects by opposing informational forces, resulting in a balanced universe of opposing perspectives. (Note that this could be taken to imply a polytheistic universe – if you think of a deity as an informational force, this concept implies that there are many deities exerting a limiting and balancing effect on each other.)

 

Because these opposing perspectives interact in patterns that can be understood and predicted, the archetypal relationship patterns found in relatively small pieces of information can be used to generalize out to much broader pieces of information.

 

The strongest chains have the subtlest links.

 

Because Relationship Theory deals with patterns of interaction that can become infinitely broad and complex, the underlying structure or architecture of the whole network will appear so subtle as to be invisible, yet will determine everything within that web.

 

Relationship Theory refers to this concept as “information physics.” Information physics simply expands on a common figure of speech – our language uses physical space as a metaphor for relationships. When two lovers have become very intimate they describe themselves as ‘one,’ but a cold and formal lover is described as ‘distant.’ A person in a state of mental abstraction is said to be ‘somewhere else’ or ‘miles away.’

 

Applying this analogy to the study of information, we find that certain pieces of information are in close relationship to other pieces – there is little information distance between them, as we would have it. By expanding on this basic concept, we can develop a method for studying the interactions between ideas – and for creating magical workings.

 

The number of elements in a relationship set is its “information mass.” When some of the elements in a relationship set change, the number of changed elements is the “information energy.” Every time such a change occurs, we have one unit of “information time.” When two relationship sets contain few or no elements in common, they are considered to be far away from each other in “information space.” When they have a number of elements in common, they are considered to be close to each other in “information space.”

 

By applying the analogy of information space, all interactions between zed objects can be studied and even predicted using physics calculations. David Douglas Thompson believed that information physics could potentially be developed into something rather similar to Isaac Asimov’s fictional psychohistory, as described in his Foundation series. Psychohistory is the imaginary science of predicting the future behavior of large masses of human beings on a probabilistic and statistical basis, thus allowing for the prediction or even manipulation of future history.

 

No such predictive system could achieve better than probabilistic and in all likelihood very broad and sweeping results, but the potential application of information physics to such a project is interesting. For example, one could compare the official doctrinal statements of the Catholic Church at fifty or one-hundred year intervals throughout its history, calculate the rate of information change, and use that to make predictions about the Church’s future developments. While it is true that some eras show much more rapid doctrinal changes than others, such spikes in information energy would average out over centuries and millennia, allowing for some degree of predictability.

 

(Next: The Six Axioms)

Image by the Dutch School of the 17th Century

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A Journey to Onei (2)

The Book of Onei is an antinomian dream grimoire, providing deceptive yet true information about the art of Oneiromancy or dream magic in the form of poetry, fantasy, and intentionally ambiguous instructions.

sidneysime10

Crossing over into the borders of Onei, I saw a thick and shadowy forest. It’s always like that, by which I mean there is always a barrier – not that there is always a forest. And this forest was deep, as deep as the waters of a still, black lake without a wind to ruffle its surface. I heard no birds, felt nothing but a malevolent watchfulness. At the edge of the trees there stood a pair of pillars, guarded by two grinning and silent skulls. The dead stared back at me in blind resentment. I was alive and they were not, and that’s more than enough.

 

The guardian sat there dressed in red, its face obscured behind a cloud of smoke. It nodded solemnly as I approached, waiting to see if I knew the invocation. The heads in the pillars had failed to give it, which is ironic of course. You compose it yourself.

 

I opened my copy of the Book of Onei, turned to a blank page, and began to speak. The words of my invocation appeared on the page in red and black. I know I said that I could hear no birds, but as soon as I had finished speaking a great flock arose, flying in rapid and violent circles about the nimbus of the sun.

 

The guardian stood, its robes the color of a thick red wine. It made a gesture with its hands, an ancient symbol I had never seen before but which I recognized immediately. What it meant was “proceed,” and it obliged the heads to stop their silent laughter.

 

It had no such power over the forest, which continued to brood in malicious silence. I knew my own tendency toward a violent melancholy and didn’t take it personally.

 

In a clearing between the trees that night I dug a pit with my hands, a place for offerings to the underworld powers. The pit was like a gaping mouth, a waiting throat, opening wide in eager wetness to devour the world. I lit a fire in front of it, honoring the powers of the empty heavens. The celestial deities, the stars and planets, the vast, blue void with its howling winds – I made my offerings to all that beauty, all that horror and all that wonder.

 

And then I crouched in silence, waiting for the spirits to render their judgement. I remembered a dream. The night when the Host came was a terrible night, perhaps the night that had driven me here. There is no horror like that horror, unthinking and childlike, the knowledge that there is something beyond death – and that it knows who you are. They almost had me that time, but I turned out to not be as powerless as the Host believed me.

 

I had my knowledge, the lore my father had stolen from Onei. He gave that power to me, though he had never dared to use it himself. I made a sign with my fingers, I broke the glamour of the wrathful dead…

 

And that was my answer from the forest spirits:

 

“The darkseer needs no permission to journey on into Onei.”      

 

– notes found in the handwritten original of the Book of Onei

Image by Sidney Sime

Ringing the Changes

Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919), The Storm Spirits, 1900

Form is the Illusion is a book about Relationship Theory, an unusual system of metaphysics developed by the late David Douglas Thompson. Relationship Theory addresses questions of ontology and epistemology in a way that is likely to be of interest to pagans and occultists.

Form is the Illusion: A Magical Philosophy (4)

“Always ring the changes.” (The Ten Laws; David Douglas Thompson)

 

“There is no superior rock on which to stand.” (David Douglas Thompson)

 

Epistemology is the study of knowledge – it asks how we know what we think we know. It isn’t possible to claim any form of knowledge unless you can say what you consider to be real in the first place – but if “interactions are the reality; form is the illusion,” then all claims of knowledge come down to simple assertions that a particular interaction has been experienced.

 

This doesn’t mean you simply create your own reality – it isn’t that easy to change your relationships at will! Still, the subjective and interactive nature of knowledge implies that truth must be polyvalent, impossible to reduce to any binary, not something you can pin down. Is critical thinking even possible under these circumstances?

 

Yes, it is – but it does take some flexibility. The epistemology of Relationship Theory is not as permissive as it looks. If reality is defined solely by interactions, it must be defined by all of them. You can’t pick and choose which interactions to include in your reality. You might talk yourself into thinking that your positive thoughts will shape the universe, but when the first of the month comes around rent must still be paid.

 

A great many descriptions of reality are inadequate, incapable of accounting for all the things we actually experience. Such descriptions of reality may contain partial truths, but are not valid to an equal extent with more functional worldviews.

 

The first step in Relationship Theory’s approach to critical thinking is to sift out whatever doesn’t work, leaving only those worldviews that seem to account equally well for all our experiences. Most people would prefer to select one of the remaining worldviews on some arbitrary basis, a philosophical or religious dogma. Any such selection, however, would not be provable, as two worldviews that work equally well cannot be distinguished from each other on any absolute basis.

 

The other option is agnosticism – refusing to choose between the options without more evidence. When you refuse to take a position, you can’t do anything at all, so this approach tends to make any topic it is applied to irrelevant.

 

The scientific method is to maintain agnosticism on any topic while you gather more information, but to provisionally accept whatever explanation is best supported by the available evidence. That method works perfectly well for most practical questions, but not for questions of metaphysics for which there can be no definitive evidence.

 

That’s why scientists choose not to address questions for which there can be no evidence, rightly declaring them to be “not scientific.” A number of prominent scientists have used this to argue that metaphysics is useless, because no one can test a metaphysical statement to find out whether it is true or not. Relationship Theory is a way around this problem, a way to think about the things we can’t use science to think about.

 

Instead of choosing or refusing to choose between equally possible but contradictory viewpoints, Relationship Theory suggests a different approach: “ring the changes” on them instead.

 

Since the 17th century, bell-ringers at English churches have had a tradition of playing the large church bells in sequence, alternating the bells according to mathematical patterns with names like “Plain Bob” and “Queens”. Teams of expert bell ringers can perform long sequences of these patterns or “changes” from memory, eventually cycling back to wherever they began without ever repeating a single sequence along the way.

 

Because of the constantly changing sequences of notes, the concept of ringing the changes has long been used as an analogy for other types of change. “Ringing the changes” can refer to turning the tables on a bully or an enemy. It can refer to doing something differently in your daily routine to defeat boredom.

 

It can also refer to playing with different ideas or perspectives rather than committing to just one viewpoint, a type of polyvalent or “multiple truth” approach to life and thought. Polyvalent thinking is usually seen as a postmodern attitude, a reaction to life in a multicultural world in which there are no longer any universally-held assumptions about almost any aspect of reality.

 

However, polyvalent thinking is actually much older than that, and bell-ringing has been used as an analogy for polyvalence since at least 1614. In the words of religious writer Thomas Ashe in his work The Divill’s Banket, “some ring the changes of opinions.”

 

To ring the changes in this sense means to broaden your view, to see the world or the specific problem you’re considering from more than one perspective – in fact, from as many perspectives as possible. Just as a bell ringer can ring the changes with four bells or six bells or eight, you can ring the changes of ideas and worldviews.

 

A complete bell-ringing change always begins and ends with the same sequence of bells. For instance, the smallest bell with the highest note followed by a second slightly larger bell with a lower note, a third and still larger bell with an even lower note and finally the largest bell with the lowest note. This sequence would be described as 1234, and any change beginning with 1234 would always end with the same sequence when ringing a “full peal” of bell changes. This particular sequence on four bells is known as Plain Bob, and the complete pattern looks like this:

 

1234, 2143, 2413, 4231, 4321, 3412, 3142, 1324, 1342, 3124, 3214, 2341, 2431, 4213, 4123, 1432, 1423, 4132, 4312, 3421, 3241, 2314, 2134, 1243, 1234.

 

To ring the changes on a set of ideas means a lot more than to just consider them. You should actually convince yourself of each one in turn, thinking as seriously as you can about all the implications of each perspective. For example:

 

1- If the universe is made entirely of matter, then the mind is just something generated by the brain – an epiphenomenon of the brain, as scientists and philosophers would say. Your thoughts and your feelings are just chemicals and electrical impulses; your sense of self is merely an organizing principle that helps your brain run the show. What implications does this have for life and death? For spirituality and religion?

 

2- If the universe is made entirely of mind, then everything that seems like solid matter is really just a mental phenomenon. But whose mind is doing the imagining here? Is it your own mind? An infinite number of separate minds? A universal consciousness? If it’s all your own mind, why can’t you control reality just by thinking about it – or is it possible that you actually do, and it’s your own mind you can’t control? If “you” can’t control your own mind, then what is this “you” if it’s not your mind?

 

3- What if both things are true at the same time, so that the brain appears to generate the mental world if you look at the brain first but the mind seems to generate the physical world if you look at the mind first? Or what if mind and matter are two distinct yet equally real things? If that’s the case, then how can mind and matter have any effect on each other? If mind and matter are both real yet separate, can the mind continue when the body dies?

 

4- What if mind and matter are both illusions, and the true nature of the universe is something else entirely? Buddhism declares that all things are void of any essential nature or existence. What does it mean to say that the phenomena we encounter on a daily basis are void of any essential nature? If they aren’t “really” mind or matter or any other thing, then what are they and what are you?

 

There are also patterns for six bells and eight bells. There is no need to use these specific patterns when applying the concept to ideas and worldviews, although it can be an interesting exercise to think of the bell-ringing changes as templates for a polyvalent logic system. For example:

 

If p, then q.

 

1- P, therefore q.

 

2- Not p, therefore not q.

 

3- Usually p, therefore usually q.

 

4- Usually not p, therefore usually not q.

 

5- Sometimes p, therefore sometimes q.

 

6- Sometimes not p, therefore sometimes not q.

 

7- Occasionally p, therefore occasionally q.

 

8- Occasionally not p, therefore occasionally not q.

 

This pattern can be applied to any question assertion you can think of. For example:

 

“If empiricism is the only valid epistemology, then magical thinking is a fallacy.”

1- Empiricism is the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is a fallacy.

 

2- Empiricism is not the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is not a fallacy.

 

3- Empiricism is usually the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is usually a fallacy.

 

4- Empiricism is usually not the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is usually not a fallacy.

 

5- Empiricism is sometimes the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is sometimes a fallacy.

 

6- Empiricism is sometimes not the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is sometimes not a fallacy.

 

7- Empiricism is occasionally the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is occasionally a fallacy.

 

8- Empiricism is occasionally not the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is occasionally not a fallacy.

 

When you’re ringing the changes, you should try not to move on to the next change until you have really experienced the current one. Even if you’re strongly inclined to one particular perspective, you should try to really feel the truth of the opposite perspective before you move on from it. When you move on to the next step, don’t leave the previous step behind – play the next bell while the echoes of the previous bells are still ringing. Hold the paradox in your mind without choosing between the different worldviews.

 

What’s the magical benefit of this? If absolute reality is unknowable and everything comes down to interactions, then whoever can look at the world from the broadest possible range of perspectives has the greatest access to the magic. Not trapped or defined by any single narrow worldview, the person capable of ringing the changes can play reality like a peal of bells.

 

(Next: The Ten Laws)

Image by Evelyn de Morgan)

A Vade Mecum

Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, Silence

The Book of Onei is an antinomian dream grimoire, providing deceptive yet true information about the art of Oneiromancy or dream magic in the form of poetry, fantasy, and intentionally ambiguous instructions.

1- Seek out darkness and silence.

2- Drift on the river of sleep and daydream.

3- Hear what the voices tell you; see what you see.

4- Record all glimpses of Onei, in daydream or nightdream.

5- Answer all riddles; complete all quests.

 

As hard at it can be to enter Onei intentionally, it is always possible to walk the Borderlands – the place in your mind between sleep and waking, between Earth and Onei. Spirits, dreams and messages from Onei will find you there.

 

I’ve lived here on the borders of the night,

Where dark divides from light.

I’ve walked the marches made of fire and snow.

 

Each night I lock the doors and close my eyes

To watch the rivers rise.

I’ve tasted all those memories- I know.

 

Though there are things that I can never mend,

If I could choose again

I’d take the path I took so long ago.

 

– from The Book of Onei, Part 1: The Art of Night Wandering

 

Image by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer

Interactions Are the Reality

Blake_jacobsladder

Form is the Illusion is a book about Relationship Theory, an unusual system of metaphysics developed by the late David Douglas Thompson. Relationship Theory addresses questions of ontology and epistemology in a way that is likely to be of interest to pagans and occultists.

Form is the Illusion: A Magical Philosophy (3)

“Proposition: We (humans) know only the various relationships an object has with ourselves and the rest of the universe as seen from our point of view. We cannot know the thing in and of itself, only observe its interactions with other objects.” (Notes on Relationships; David Douglas Thompson)

 

“Interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.” (The Ten Laws; David Douglas Thompson)

 

Although my father referred to this concept as Relationship Theory, it isn’t actually a theory in the scientific sense. Relationship Theory is a philosophy, highly similar to Interanimism, Agential Realism and similar currents in contemporary magical thought. The main difference between Relationship Theory and similar philosophies is that these philosophies are generally materialist in orientation whereas my father’s Theory is neither materialist nor idealist.

 

Philosophers have proposed a number of different answers to the question of what reality is, but most of these answers are variations on materialism, idealism and dualism.

 

Materialists assume that there is nothing except matter, and that anything that seems non-material (such as the mind) is actually just a side-effect or emergent property of matter. This is the most common view among modern scientists, although not the only one.

 

Idealists believe the exact opposite – that there is nothing except for mind, and anything that seems non-mental (such as matter) is actually just a manifestation of consciousness. This view is counterintuitive for most people, but it has a lot more going for it than it might appear to at first glance and historically has been a difficult position to effectively challenge. A few scientists in the modern era have been idealists, because it is easier to resolve some of the most complex paradoxes of physics if you assume a universe of mind rather than matter. Idealism is also the basis for mystical philosophies like Vedanta.

 

Dualists believe that both mind and matter are real and distinct from each other. The dualist mindset formed the basis of early modern science but is now out of favor among both philosophers and scientists, although a lot of people assume a dualist worldview without realizing they are doing so.

 

Of course, there are many philosophies that don’t fit neatly into one of these three camps, but most of them are actually variations on one of the three. For instance, some people believe that there is nothing but mind and that there are an infinite number of different minds. Others believe that all of reality is just a single mind. Both of these positions are idealist philosophies, but they have very different implications.

 

Immanuel Kant was a less extreme sort of idealist. He never said that mind was the only reality, but his philosophy does imply that we can’t possibly know otherwise. We would have to use our minds to even ask the question, so we can think about it all we want and apply any form of evidence we like – and all that thinking, measuring and experimenting will still be happening inside our minds. If there is any reality outside the mind, we can’t know what it really is in and of itself. Kant’s form of idealism is called “Transcendental Idealism,” and it had a huge influence on all subsequent philosophy.

 

Richard Tarnas, in The Passion of the Western Mind, described the dilemma of modern thought as the collapse of objectivity, the death of the illusion of absolute truth, and the alienation we experience as a result:

 

“The world is in some essential sense a construct. Human knowledge is radically interpretive. There are no perspective-independent facts. Every act of perception and cognition is contingent, mediated, situated, contextual, theory-soaked. Human language cannot establish its ground in an independent reality. Meaning is rendered by the mind and cannot be assumed to inhere in the object, in the world beyond the mind, for that world can never be contacted without having already been saturated by the mind’s own nature. That world cannot even be justifiably postulated. Radical uncertainty prevails, for in the end what one knows and experiences is to an indeterminate extent a projection.”

 

In such a world as the one Tarnas describes, there can seemingly be no metaphysics, because all metaphysical arguments depend on the ability to make definitive statements about reality based on the logical structures created by human reason. As these structures themselves cannot be objective, they can ultimately tell us nothing at all about reality itself.

 

The mind that observes the physical universe has no way of getting out of its own way while it performs its observations. All knowledge is provisional and contextual; there is no reliable way to determine whether anything we are experiencing is “really real.” To take one popular example, how can we know that our reality is not a simulation created by a superior intelligence?

 

It seems to me that before we can ask what we consider real, we ought to ask what we mean by “real.” If we’re trying to ask what is real in and of itself, then the question is unanswerable. The absolute perspective is not available to us, and it is logically untenable that it ever could be – unless a person could somehow step out of the universe, abstracted from all particulars, and watch the whole thing from outside. So the question of what is absolutely real is an incoherent one – it presupposes what might be called a “God’s eye view,” which is simply not available to us.

 

The most extreme alternative, however, seems intuitively false – that is, to consider all of reality to be completely subjective, controlled by our thoughts and beliefs alone. According to this view of the universe, all I can say is what is real to me, and my view is no more or less valid than any other – regardless of its relationship to anything else. This extreme form of subjectivism is simply untenable. If I step off a building I will fall, and it won’t really matter what I think about it.

 

What is needed is a more precise and yet more flexible understanding of what we mean by reality, one that adequately accounts for all observed phenomena without making any unsupportable claims to absolute truth. This is what Relationship Theory attempts to do, beginning with the assertion that there is no perception without contrast.

 

Suppose any situation in which there is no contrast of any kind – a field of white light or a pitch-black void – and the result is blindness. An example from the real world would be the condition known as whiteout, in which the white sky of a winter storm and the white of the snow on the ground produce snow blindness. For anyone to see anything, there must be some form of contrast.

 

This applies to other forms of perception as well. If your hand is at a higher temperature than the water you dip it into, then the water will be perceived as cold. This won’t happen if the water and your hand are both at the same temperature. A piece of silk feels smooth to the touch because it is smoother than your own skin. Perception is always a kind of confrontation, in which two things which are in some way unalike come into contact with each other. This encounter between unlike objects is by definition a relationship, an interaction between entities. The moment we encounter the world, we encounter relationship.

 

I look down at the desk on which I am writing this and am aware of its presence, due solely to a series of interactions. Beams of light passing into my eyes, changing as they are reflected by the lens, create a picture in my mind. My hand resting on the surface of the desk sends a message to my brain, creating a sense of its solidity and shape. All these experiences are perceptions of contrast, of that which is other than me in its encounter with me, of an entity which is contrasted in some way with the other factors in its environment and the interactions of that entity with those other factors. Without this interaction between opposing entities, I would be unable to perceive the desk at all, or anything else.

 

Our entire experience of the world we live in, the premise underlying all daily existence, is the interaction between things that are unalike. If either factor is not present, then there is no perception. Two entities that did not interact, either directly or indirectly, could not ever become known to each other or affect each other in any way. They would, essentially, not exist to each other, although for this to really be possible in a strict sense they would have to occupy different universes. Two entities so completely alike that no contrast could be perceived between them on any level would not be perceived as two entities but as one. To exist in the universe, we require the other. Erase the other and you erase the world.

 

Therefore, a thing cannot be known in and of itself, but only as part of a particular relationship. This is something we encounter on a daily basis. There’s no way for me to see you as you see yourself, because I cannot have the experience of being you from the inside but only from the outside. I don’t encounter you at all, but my interpretation of you. I cannot see the table as it is in itself, but only as it appears in its relationship with me. I cannot see this book as it is in itself, or the walking stick in the corner, or the floor beneath my feet.  There is nothing whatsoever that I can experience as it is in itself, because everything I do experience must be mediated by my senses, and then by the mind that interprets that information.

 

What I encounter in all my interactions is simply a flow of information, a set of relationships of which I am a part.

 

“Interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what form a thing has or seems to have (whether mind or matter, real or unreal, relative or absolute) – the only thing that matters is what interactions this thing has with other things.

 

In Relationship Theory, the categories of mind and matter are done away with and replaced by something called a “zed object.” An interaction or relationship is called a “zed,” so a zed object is anything capable of having an interaction with another thing. A human being is a zed object, each cell in that human being’s body is a zed object and every thought in that human being’s head is a zed object too. Every atom in the universe is a zed object, but all of the things made out of those atoms are also zed objects. Concepts and percepts are both zed objects. A gene is a zed object and a meme is a zed object.

 

Another way of putting it is that a zed object is simply a piece of information – any information of any type. So, where a materialist believes that everything is matter and an idealist believes that everything is mind, Relationship Theory says that everything is information. If we start from the assumption that all of reality is an infinitely complex network of interactions between information-units, we no longer need to analyze or question whether these information-units are “in your head” or outside it. We only need to look at what they do.

 

This doesn’t mean that all opinions are created equal. Why? Because any useful description of reality must account for all the relationships, it must deal with everything that is experienced. If you believe something contrary to what you yourself experience, your belief is not useful; it cannot account for all of your interactions with the universe.

 

For instance, if you experience yourself as having wings, but fall to your death when you attempt to fly, then your description of reality obviously failed to account for the entirety of your own experience. On the other hand, there is no need to second-guess whatever you do experience, to ask yourself if you are really just a brain in a vat being controlled by a computer. When you say that something is real, you are only saying that you directly experience it – there is no other meaning to the word “real.”

 

According to Hilary Putnam in Reason, Truth and History, metaphysical realism can be defined as the belief that there is “some fixed totality of mind-independent objects”. The problem with this philosophy is that it allows for only one description of reality to be complete and accurate – and that leads to some bizarre unintended consequences.

 

When you say the word “house,” it either refers to a real house that is actually there outside the mind or to an imaginary house that does not exist outside the mind. If you’re really nothing but a brain in a vat, then none of the houses you have ever seen is a real house. Popular science writer Neil DeGrasse Tyson expressed strong support for this view at the 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, stating that the odds we are all living in an elaborate simulation of reality “may be very high.”

 

In Relationship Theory, the word “house” does not refer to some hypothetical mind-independent object called a house. It only refers to the direct experience we call a house. Relationship Theory treats whatever we experience as being real. This has just as many bizarre implications as metaphysical realism, but they are implications we can work with.

 

One of those implications is that there can be no single complete and accurate description of reality, as that would require “some fixed totality of mind-independent objects” and leave us stranded in the simulation problem. If reality is simply an infinite network of interactions between information objects, then there must be multiple different functional descriptions of that reality. So what do we do with that implication?

 

(Next: Ringing the Changes)

Image by William Blake

Seven Levels of Dreaming

by Chevigie {ca.1939}

The Book of Onei is an antinomian dream grimoire, providing deceptive yet true information about the art of Oneiromancy or dream magic in the form of poetry, fantasy, and intentionally ambiguous instructions.

 

1- the mundane

2- the curious

3- the mythic

4- the mysterium

5- a vision

6- an epiphany

7- annihilation

 

Mundane dreams are those that come in through the Gates of Ivory; they contain no magic.

 

Curious dreams are intermingled with hints and glimpses of magic.

 

Mythic dreams come in through the Gates of Horn; they are dreams of true and sacred things presented in the form of myth.

 

Dreams of the mysterium involve magic power, a drunken electric ecstatic presence.

 

Visions display the vividness and intensity of the Phantasia Catalyptica.

 

Epiphanies answer great riddles and questions.

 

Annihilation destroys the dream. That which waits here is the same as that which waits beyond death.

 

– from The Book of Onei, Part 1: The Art of Night Wandering

 

Image by Chevigie

A Metaphysics of Relationship

Walter Crane, Freedom, 1885

Form is the Illusion is a book about Relationship Theory, an unusual system of metaphysics developed by the late David Douglas Thompson. Relationship Theory addresses questions of ontology and epistemology in a way that is likely to be of interest to pagans and occultists.

Form is the Illusion: A Magical Philosophy (2)

Relationship Theory is both a theory of knowledge and a theory of being.

The ontology of Relationship Theory can be summarized in the phrase “interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.” In other words, the theory draws no distinction between different forms of existence. Material objects and mental objects are both referred to as “zeds,” or entities capable of being in relationship. The theory concerns itself only with the interaction between these zeds, without assessing which of them can be said to have some sort of objective validity and which cannot. The question of whether a particular zed “really exists” is treated as irrelevant because it is inherently unknowable.

 

We are constantly taught to doubt the reality of our own spiritual experiences – some of the most meaningful and beautiful experiences we have as human beings. Traditional religions teach us to question them as potentially demonic, while skeptical materialism teaches us to dismiss them as mere illusions. The constant presence of both these ideas is a barrier to experiencing real magic, because we cannot simply inhabit the worldview of our ancestors for whom the reality of the spiritual world was totally unquestioned. Rather than vainly attempting to inhabit a mental space we can no longer reach (and producing weak magic as a direct result), we can simply step around the barrier.

 

Interactions are the reality, so our relationship with the magical world is all that matters. Form is the illusion, so questions about its real nature are simply not relevant.

 

The epistemology of Relationship Theory can be summarized in the phrase “always ring the changes.” Because no distinction is drawn between different types of entity, it is taken for granted that there will always be many different possible ways of understanding the universe. Some of these worldviews work better than others, but there is no valid reason to arbitrarily choose between equally functional worldviews.

 

Rather than picking a worldview and sticking to it, the Theory encourages us to shift playfully between different worldviews, like bell-ringers changing the patterns while ringing church bells. This approach is basically the same as the practice of paradigm shifting in Chaos Magic. This is only to be expected, because both approaches are steeped in the postmodern experience. However, the application is somewhat different. In Chaos Magic, the magician is encouraged to completely adopt one worldview at a time, shifting between them as needed but believing in each one as deeply as possible while using it. The change-ringer is encouraged to hold on to the echoes of one worldview even while playing with the next, so that seemingly contradictory truths are held in the mind at the same time.

 

The change formulae of Relationship Theory describe how zeds interact with each other, and in what circumstances these interactions can change. These formulae provide a philosophical framework for magical experience, a tool for understanding the rhythms of enchantment.

 

We have a lot of ground to cover here, but we’ll take it one step at a time – first theory, then practice. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at the ontology of Relationship Theory and the reasoning behind the assertion that “interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.”

(Next: Interactions are the Reality)

Image by Walter Crane