Sunday, September 29, 2013

Money and Magic

As an adult, day-to-day experience and the routines of life make people forget how powerful imagination is and how fluid the boundary is between what exists in the real world and what's only in the mind.

Almost every thing that's designed and crafted by people has its beginning in the imagination. Even the most pedestrian utilitarian things start as a concept, become a plan, and get built using methods and tools that help maintain the link to concepts--like a carpenter's square keeps boards orthogonal.

Likewise symbols, images, and myths easily enter and affect the mind from the outside world through barriers that are so porous as to be non-existent. Indeed, grown adults readily confuse a symbol with a thing, or form an emotional bond with objects, or attribute magical qualities to pieces of wood, metal, bone or stone.

Whole societies are shaped by religion, which is a particular genre of fiction, and the people are shaped yet again by all the fiction and stories that are told as entertainment. People's day-to-day behavior is profoundly shaped and crafted by whatever they use as money, which in our time, is just numbers in a bank account, yet people give up their whole life to make that number bigger. Advertisers connect people's desire for social status and sex with objects like cars or bottles of beer, and people completely confuse the two things.

The well worn scene in the vampire movie--where a living person holds off a vampire with a cross is a portrayal of this aspect of human nature. A piece of wood formed into a symbol is shown to have a physical effect--like the repulsion of poles of a magnet. The audience readily understands the scene, because it neatly summarizes their experience.

It shouldn't be surprising, then, that many of the people who are compelled to understand the world are attracted to the occult. Isaac Newton is a famous example of a scientist who pursued numerology, biblical prophesy, and alchemy. However, it seems like Newton pursued the occult in an earnest and simple way--as if that study was amenable to the same type of inquiry as the study of gravity. While what's truly amazing and mysterious is that math, just plain old algorithms and numbers, can represent natural processes to the point where math appears to go beyond representation and actually exist in the universe as well as exist in the human mind. Math is the symbol that's also a thing, or a bridge between two realities.

The occult appears to be almost the opposite thing in the sense that it's cut off from the universe and is all about the ghosts of the mind's eye. Take the question, "what's a vampire"? One can undertake a sort of scientific inquiry into the subject, which will start with there are no vampires, and then transform into a sort of anthropological and historical survey of the subject. But a more subtle inquiry starts with the premise that since the boundary between what's real and what is imaginary is fluid, vampires are, in a significant sense, real. They exist in the mind of billions of people, and are as real as money, and as real as the power of the cross to repel them, and are as real as the power of a wooden stake to destroy them.

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