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- Join Date
- Dec 2010
A metaphysics of magic as the deformation of the boundary of the self
This is an idea for a particular unified metaphysics of magic without a setting or set of mechanics to connect it to yet, but I wanted to get it down in some form. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do with this...
Magic, here, would specifically just be the actual methods by which people may indirectly bring about effects in the world via acts of will, and not a catch-all for anything supernatural or different than real physics. Similarly, in this sense of the word, an innately empowered being using the abilities that arise from their nature would not be practicing magic - in this metaphysics, magic is the part of the greater different-from-the-real-world set of phenomena which any sapient being can potentially direct through practice and will.
The surface view would be that each form or practice of magic involves deeply understanding some aspect of the world to the point where it becomes intuitive and automatic, at which point - first - new senses seem to open up to the practitioner, followed by those senses being paired with the sense that things could be done, pressures could be exerted, changes could be brought about in the specific instances of the aspect of the world being understood. Each aspect, each practice, has its own way of staging and conceptualizing this process, as well as exercises, forms, etc which discipline the use of these new 'muscles' in order to bring about specific and predictable effects which might be too complex to directly understand or otherwise reliably reproduce. To that extent, most such disciplines consider themselves to be particular in their details - beyond the most basic of basics, becoming a pyromancer and becoming a biomancer seemingly cannot be compared, and letting the intuition for the one bleed into the other without creating the proper boundaries of conceptualization can lead to all sorts of horrors.
But underlying all of this, there is a unified set of principles which if mastered can in principle allow a kind of generalized practice which would not require aspects to be learned separately and kept compartmentalized.
The fundamental principle of magical practice is something which could be referred to as 'the unity of the self', and could be crudely compared to the boundaries of a being's consciousness although that isn't quite right. The unity of the self, prior to any magical practice, is effectively a person's set of integrated sensor-motor contingencies - the relationships which allow someone to thoughtlessly 'walk over there' without having to consciously map every muscle movement and consciously process every proprioceptive and visual stimulus.
The entirety of the practice of magic boils down to manipulating the unity of the self. That the unity of the self is subject to manipulation is the singular thing that enables magical practice to exist. Everything else simply follows from it. If one can join the existence of a flame with the unity of ones-self, then those things which the flame could do in different ways become things which the flame can thereby be made to do. If one can join someone else's process of thought into the unity of their own self, then making a decision for that other person is just the same thing as making a decision for onesself; but at the same time, permanently altering that person's memories cannot be done any more easily than one can decide to alter their own memories.
How does one go about manipulating the unity of self? Exercises to teach this faculty involve the mundane versions of this - depriving the student of one sense and forcing them to learn to interpret something else in that sense's stead. So a student might begin by being blindfolded and given a stick, training until the stick acts as their eyes into the world without them needing to consciously think about what the forces acting upon their hand are telling them. The student might have to repeat this sort of learning process many times, each time trying to become aware of what it feels like when perception and action become automatic. In specialized schools, there is always some kind of exercise like this but specific to the aspect the school focuses on - it might be a hypnotic experience when following the movement of a flame for a pyromancer, or learning to follow another person's lead while dancing for a mentalist, whereas the stick exercise in particular is used by a school specializing in force and kinetics. In each case, the student learns to maintain their ability to perceive and act through this external thing as the physical connection is made weaker and weaker. Then, hopefully, the student discovers that the connection still exists even when all physical links have been cut - they can feel through the stick even when someone else picks it up and moves it around, synchronize their dance even when their partner is dancing independently, etc. Once that becomes familiar, eventually it is just something that a practitioner finds they can do.
Even if physical connection is severed in these exercises, there remains a principle that seems inviolable - even if it passes through abstract spaces and linkages, the unity of self always remains contiguous in some sense. The unity of the self is never truly severed while maintaining the integration of sensory-motor contingencies that makes enacting magical effects possible. Rather, there is always some abstract space over which it is connected, and wherein if that connection were to be severed, so too would a mage's control and perception.
This concept of related layers of abstraction each providing a different arrangement of the same fundamental reality and each being real in its own self is a key threshold for mages to advance their practice. A single thing can be abstracted in many different ways, and so too can the unity of the self extend to one form of abstraction or another, to approach the thing in different ways. While bringing someone else's thoughts into your own unity might let you act with their body but not alter their memories, if you could instead bring the cells of their brain into your unity, or the abstract thing which is 'their memories' into your unity, then such manipulations might be possible. Comprehending the equivalency and distinction between different abstract ways of conceptualizing the same thing lets one fluidly shift the boundary of their unity to whatever level would be most appropriate for what they wish to achieve. In essence, it allows something like a coordinate transformation into convenient working coordinates for particular effects. A mage who implicitly 'gets' the relationships between abstracted views of reality can being to perform meta-magical manipulations - explicitly threading the connection that keeps their unity integrated through abstractions of their choosing to bring about effects distant from them in space and time, to cause their manipulations to persist on their own, to identify and manipulate the effects of other mages directly.
Furthermore, because ultimately there is no separation between a mage and their manipulations, to act upon a thing which a mage has integrated into their unity is to act upon the mage themselves. Those who have learned to feel the truth of this - not just understand it abstractly, but really get it and what it means - can do things like reach back along the workings of a mage to impact the mage themselves, or can even use the leverage given by acting through 'bodies' with different vulnerabilities and strengths to disproportionately influence said mage - to the extent of things like killing a pyromancer simply by snuffing a flame they happen to be spying through. This sort of thing itself requires an active working, its not simply that a pyromancer will die if a flame they control goes out, but rather that by snuffing the flame at the exact right level of abstraction, it could be made to be equivalent.
What determines what sort of things a mage's unity can be extended to? At the level of individual practitioners, it comes down to the limits of their intuition - more specifically, the limits of their ability to intuitively predict and anticipate the thing they wish to extend into. That is in some sense the simplest of the abstract spaces one can flow their unity through - using (subconsciously) the ability to anticipate a thing and how it would respond to you in order to enter a kind of dynamical resonance in which the mage's mental model aligns with the thing and in turn the thing can be brought into alignment with the mage via physical forms of feedback, which establishes an adjacency through which the mage's unity can expand. Going back to the mundane example of seeing with a stick, the mage unconsciously knows how the stick should move if there is nothing there, and how it should move if there is something, and therefore the force exerted by the stick upon their hand becomes a perception of the world at the end of the stick, and a twist of the wrist becomes the motion of the tip. But if the thing is unpredictable, unresponsive to influence, carries its own agency, etc, then (at least at that level of abstraction) this easiest way to expand one's unity into it will fail.
Other methods exist as well, however. Rather than predicting a thing in order to control it, a mage could abandon themselves to its agency, basically inviting its unity to include them and then causing that to become reciprocal. This can be a very powerful technique to reach high levels of abstraction but comes with the risk that the mage is subsuming themselves in some larger thing - their motivations might change even as they move to enact something, they may lose the will to separate themselves from it when done, and even should they try, they may not reconstruct their original unity of self as it was before the practice. Most of the traditions which use this method focus on singular collectively constructed unities that mages within the tradition basically commit to to fully and permanently fusing with - great spirits, causes, principles, etc which they willingly choose to be a permanent part of themselves.
The very deep end of this pool has practices in which a mage creates and exists across layered hierarchies of interlocked unities of self. This requires a certain kind of dissociation, in which the idea of a singular focal self as the mage's identity is well and truly abandoned and the mage exists as something between a 'unity of unities' and not actually existing at all but just happening to coordinate is such a way that makes them seem as if they do. There might be no difference between those two states in truth, or it could well be a knife edge where if the mage approaches this methodology correctly they reach a kind of transcendence but if they approach it just a bit off they instead effectively extinguish their soul. Either way, its not a way of being that is easily stepped into regardless of how much someone might want to (and the sheer versatility and scope of those who manage this step is very much a motive for others to try).
What determines what sort of actions can be taken once a mage's unity has been extended to a thing? Fundamentally, all of the actions of a thing that can be brought about via magical practice are always things that it could in principle have done or not done even without the influence of the mage. Thus something like choosing the direction for a fire to spread is far simpler (more accessible and easy to understand level of abstraction) than to make a flame emerge from nothing. This goes in tension with the principle that most practitioners are using prediction to bridge their unity - the more certain something's behavior is to the mage, the less room there is for that behavior to be changed; but the less certain the behavior is, the more difficult it is to form a resonant connection, even as the possibilities for action grow. In the predictive paradigm only innate uncertainty is useful - a flame that might go one way or another because of the wind can't choose which way to go on the basis of being the flame; instead the practitioner needs to be the wind and the flame together or even just the wind.
For those who take the path of abandon (allowing the external unity to integrate them rather than vice versa), the scope of possible action is immediately much greater but the tradeoff here is in control. Because the external thing is being given agency that subsume's the mage, control such as it is is indirect and arises from the mindset the mage took when they fused with the phenomenon. In a sense, the mage establishes wishes or motives that in the form of a joint unity, the external force will act upon through its possibilities. A mage joining with a bank of clouds at the abstraction layer of 'the weather' in order to bring water to crops might end up with the clouds moving over the fields and raining down upon them, might end with the clouds whipping into a storm, or might have the clouds descend to bathe the field in mist and fog - all things that 'could happen' at the level of weather, and all things that would resolve the intent the mage had when abandoning themselves to the weather.
For those who erase identity and thereby cease to possess a boundary of self, overt manifestations are paradoxically difficult even if their scope of what they can bring into unity is basically limitless. Those who predict can act in detail; those who abandon prediction can motivate grander acts; but those who lack a boundary of self entirely can 'only' choose the way in which the world is to be framed. From the point of view of someone other than the mage, they seem not to be doing anything at all and yet events might appear to conspire to bring about a particular outcome or relationship or mood or other abstract condition.
As an example: the path of prediction mage causes water to fall out of suspension from the cloud bank at the right time to land upon the field. The path of abandon mage motivates the cloud to want the field to be watered. The unbounded mage chooses that the state of the crops as being watered or not will not be a member of the unity of the world - there will simply be crops and what that entails, at that level of abstraction, will be all that follows.
- Join Date
- Aug 2023
Re: A metaphysics of magic as the deformation of the boundary of the self
A very interesting metaphysics, hearkening back to the basic Tat Tvam Asi, "thou art that." My question would be, is it possible for a mage to create unities between multiple things that are not themself, possibly using themselves as a "bridge" between those things, to get around the "only natural changes" restriction? For example, establishing unity with both a flame and a bucket of water, could one make the fire wet or the water burning?
- Join Date
- Dec 2010
Re: A metaphysics of magic as the deformation of the boundary of the self
You'd get some kind of effects bringing both water and fire into a unity, but it would be more subtle than just transferring properties. Probably the easiest effect would be to communicate from one to the other by correlating their motions or 'choices'. That is to say, the random 'choices' made by the water and the random 'choices' made by the fire would be made in accordance with the same will (yours, one subsuming the other, etc), and so things would be correlated on both sides, the water might 'react' to things the fire experiences, etc. Rather than transmitting properties (as water doesn't really 'decide to be wet' at any easily accessible levels of abstraction), you could certainly transmit motions, especially on the path of abandon. Allow both you and the fire to be subsumed by water, and the fire might spread in ways that 'make sense' to the sort of mind that water itself might have if it were to have one, and vice versa. These are choices you could make yourself, but not necessarily the choices that you would make. While doing that with fire and water wouldn't necessarily be the most interesting, subsuming say a mage in training and fire while you're on the path of abandon could be a very dangerous (to the teacher) method of rapidly teaching a student how to reach unity with the things you know how to, because you could just let their agency subsume the new unity, mediating the introduction of the fire to the union without the student needing to be able to do it on their own.