Of Weights and Measures, and the S Word

May 20, 2012

The History of Astrophysics

I’ve been reading up on the history of astrophysics. Astrophysics is pretty interesting, to me at least, because just 100 years ago it really wasn’t a science. It was just a bunch of guys taking readings and speculating about how the universe worked. Some of that speculation was genius. Some turned out to be completely wrong.

Back then, to be an astrophysicist, you didn’t really need to be a scientist. Some of the pioneers had university degrees and were well learned, but others weren’t. All you really needed to be an astrophysicist was a nice telescope, or you had to work for someone that had one.

To these early pioneers it must have seemed impossible for astrophysics to ever be a real science. We hadn’t yet breached outerspace, and these early astrophysicists were trying to figure out the science behind systems that were sometimes millions of light years away.

But there were some really smart people. They found the right measurements to take, sometimes because they were looking for it, and sometimes by accident. They were able to infer data from those measurements, match up a model of the universe that is consistent with how we understand the natural forces of physics, and by and by astrophysics became a scientific discipline. It’s now a complicated subject with a variety of specialties and various university degrees. Almost all of the great contributions in the field from the current generation have been made by those with a degree in astrophysics or a related field, usually a doctorate degree.

Nearly all sciences seem to have started out this way. They weren’t initially a science, at least not as we know them today. They started out, pretty much, as a sort of philosophy, and it’s no coincidence that the earliest recorded Western scientists were the Greek philosophers. Science always begins with a bunch of guys doing experiments and making observations to help them understand how things work, the practice, and then formulating various hypotheses and theories to put their understanding into words, the theory. As the theory and practice builds, empirical evidence starts top present itself, and these philosophies start drifting more and more into being sciences, until eventually they turn into the current complicated messes requiring special degrees.

The reason why I’m talking about astrophysics is because that early stage it was at 100 years ago, where it wasn’t really a science but more a philosophy, is where I see magic today. Right now we’re a bunch of guys trying to piece together a philosophy that works through personal practice and theory. As practicing magicians, it’s a pretty neat time to be involved with magic, because right now anyone that is practicing magic and contributing to the collective theory may end up being a major contributor to a future branch of science. And I don’t mean a major contributor in the sense of Hawkings, or someone else of Hawkings caliber who maybe isn’t so famous. I mean a contributor at the caliber of Newton or Aristotle.

Weights and Measures

With astrophysics, the transition from philosophy to science happened because of a convergence of different things. Better technology, in terms of telescopes, and a better general understanding of physics were key components, but they weren’t necessary. Even if the improvements on the telescope had stalled at some point, and even if physics were not as well developed, astrophysics may still have made that leap. With every philosophy turned science though there is one key component that is so vital that the field cannot evolve without it, measurement. Every field has been developed into a science only after there is something to measure, a means to measure it, and a unit to express that measurement in.

Once these things are established, we then have some empirical evidence that we can chart and graph and feed into equations. It allows us to develop the field mathematically, to discover previously unknown relationships, to better explore the field through a comparison of what we expect to see and what we actually see, and it also allows for laboratory conditions, independent verification, and repeatable experiments.

So far this lack of measurement has been the biggest stumbling block in the evolution of magic as a scientific field. The advent of a measurement system is the key event that will catapult magic into the realm of science. Anyone wanting to make waves into the study of magic should seriously consider attempting to develop a system of measurement. That will be the single most important contribution to the field in the history of the world.

A lot of people have already realized this, and this has led to two schools of thought on the development of a measurement system, neither of which has shown any progress.

The first school of thought involves measurements of correlation. This is very big among the paranormal investigators/parapsychologists/ghostbusters schools. Basically we take something we can already measure, and see how those measurements vary when taken during a magical working or paranormal event. Things like temperature and EMPs are commonly measured.

So far the best these measurements of correlation have been able to achieve are abnormal measurements. These are measurements that are different than what is expected. However they’re not different in any expected way. Ergo the room doesn’t automatically drop between five and eight degrees when a ghost enters. It doesn’t automatically drop even, some experiments have it increasing in temperature. The data varies so wildly that we can’t peg a difference in measurement to any sort of paranormal activity.

These are really just stabs in the dark. Usually the practitioner isn’t sure exactly what is being measured, or even if, say, a ghost were really in the room, or if the magical operation were successful and not pure hokum. Theories as to how and why a metaphysical event would affect what is being measured are usually purely speculative hypotheses which are rarely predictive when put into practice.

We’re taking measurements, and hoping, like the astrophysicists of yore, that we’ll happen upon a measurement that will finally tie something together, and give us the first step towards empirical evidence and actual science. Unfortunately it’s a crap shoot, and thus far we’ve failed miserably to come up with anything of any use. The technology to take these measurements is getting cheaper, and as more and more magicians start taking measurements, there’s a better chance that someone will stumble upon something and win that lottery. However there’s no guarantee that there’s anything to find, or that we’re taking the right measurements. The continued lack of any success is making me believe that this is most likely a fool’s errand.

The second school of thought is waiting for a new invention that will accurately measure something we couldn’t measure before. Of course the most important thing to measure would be magical energy. Once we can measure energy, assuming even the most common theories are correct, measuring magic will be a cinch.

Unfortunately this will never happen, not like they thing anyways. No one is going to serendipitously figure out a way to measure magical energy. Even if they did accidentally invent a device that could do that, they wouldn’t know what they were measuring, or that they were measuring anything at all.

Imagine that our bodies completely adapted to the temperature of the room, and we had no sense of heat. One day some fellow notices that putting mercury into a glass tube causes it to rise and fall sporadically. Through observation he may be able to determine some things. It’s always lower during the night than during the day. In winter, it’s usually lower, and in summer it’s usually higher. When it rains, it tends to get lower. For every theory he can develop about why the mercury rises, there’s going to be contrary evidence. An unseasonably warm spring may cause the mercury to rise more than it does during the summer, so it’s not activated by the cycle of the seasons. Maybe he notices that it rises a lot when he sticks it in the fire, so he assumes it measures light. But it still goes up in the darkness. In fact, in an enclosed space with no circulation, it may go up more than it does when exposed to the light of the sun or moon. He may notice that if he puts it into food as it cooks, it will tell him when the food is done. But after the food stops cooking, the mercury will go down, even though the food is still cooked.

Without understanding what it is he’s measuring, the thermometer becomes a novelty item, so misunderstood it’s useless for anything other than being a fun toy, or an always mysterious object of scientific inquiry. Coming across an object that can measure energy poses the same difficulties. Even if it does come to fruition, we may never figure out what it is that the object is doing.

The Units Come First

We can’t just go around measuring crap, then making up units. First we have to figure out what we’re measuring, then we make up the units to measure it with. Only after we have all this can we start constructively developing a way to measure it.

We could start with a basic unit of measurement that we’ll call a Crowley (because everyone seems to like Crowley). As with all American units of measurement, we’ll have other units that match up with Crowleys in a manner so convoluted only the initiated can understand the reasoning. So 1 Crowley = 2.5 Grants = 20 Regardies = 1340 Duquettes = 100,000,000,000,000 Levays. Likewise there will be 666 Crowleys in a Super Crowley. The Brits will develop their own unit of measurement, the Waite, with 1 Crowley being equal to 2.145 Kilowaites.

That’s all good and fine, but now that we have our unit of measurement, the Crowley, we need to apply it to something that can be measured.

Measuring Something

We don’t need a measuring device in order to apply our measurement to something. The best part about a Crowley being a made up measurement is that we can say a Crowley equals whatever we want. All we have to do to make a Crowley a valid point of measurement is to apply it to something, then we can use that something as a baseline for measuring other things.

For instance a BTU is equal to the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. It is sometimes equated to the amount of energy released by one match. Sure, comparing it to a match is a rough estimation, and not all matches are the same, but if we could do just that with energy, we’d have a starting point.

Some care has to be taken in choosing what to measure. As I see it, there are three core concepts we need to keep in mind when choosing what to use as the baseline for our measurement system.

First we need to keep the act simple. In fact it should be as simple as we can possibly make it. The more complicated the magical operation becomes, or what we’re trying to do with the magical operation, the more we open ourselves up to unforeseen variables and outside influences.    This will only lead to the wild discrepancies we get when we try to measure temperature changes or EMPs. A simple act makes it easier to achieve laboratory conditions. Even if laboratory conditions aren’t completely met, by keeping the act simple we come closer to achieving laboratory conditions than we otherwise would have, and our approximations, though still approximations, are more exact and fluctuate less widely.

Second we need to do something that is observable and measurable. This allows us to both verify that an observation was successful and correlate our measurement of magical energy to other measurements. This means we can’t do something that is, as of today, unmeasurable, such as raise energy, or make someone fall in love with us, or astrally project. Unfortunately these are the sorts of magic that magicians tend to be good at.

What we need to measure is something like moving a chair half an inch through telekinesis, or causing a candle to spontaneously ignite. These tricks are a bit more difficult to do, and even magicians who have succeeded at them have difficulty reproducing the event with any regularity.

Third we need to stay away from probability magic. Percentage shifts are too difficult to measure when we don’t yet possess a verified method of measuring energy. The issue with percentages is regardless of the percentages, the outcome of a successful operation still can’t be determined because an instance of success or failure has no bearing on the outcome future attempts.

For instance, suppose I have a completely unbiased coin that has a true 50/50 chance of coming up heads and tails. If I flip the coin 100 times, there’s no guarantee that the coin will come up heads 50 times, or even about 50 times. Although unlikely, the coin may never come up heads and always come up tails. Even if I use probability shift magic to make that coin come up heads 99% of the time, out of 100 flips, or even ten million flips, it may still come up tails every single time. Under these circumstances it’s impossible to measure the effects of magical influence versus pure luck (although with ten million flips we could, arguably, establish a case for magical influence, but it would be too physically difficult to continue repeating the feat to prove the likelihood of the argument).

The Problems With Magical Energy

Even once we tackle the normal issues with measurement, energy poses new issues when we try to measure it. For one, at least how we understand it today, not all energy is the same. There exists thousands of identified forms of energy. It’s not unlikely that there are millions or even more forms of energy existing in the universe. Each form of energy has its own peculiarities, and would most likely have to be measured differently.

One of the easiest issues to explain is negative versus positive energies. Negative energies, like fear and rage energy, tend to be more wild and more difficult to control. That means that when using these energies to perform a magical act, more energy is lost, therefore more energy must be expended to do the same act. Much less joy energy is needed to light the candle or move the chair than rage energy, since more of the rage energy will be misdirected and lost by the practitioner.

Another issue deals with higher energy versus lower energy. For the most part, positive energy is higher energy, and negative energy is lower energy. These types of energy behave differently. Lower energy has a dissipating affect. It naturally moves towards the lower planes. The affect, as felt, is that it works itself up, it exerts itself, it totally expands its stored power, and then it fades out. Positive energy, on the other hand, draws more of itself into itself. So when there’s some of it, it tends to snowball. So when rage energy leaves your hand, by the time it reaches the chair to move it, it may have died out, and there’s much less energy acting on the chair. In contrast, once joy energy leaves your hand, it should start drawing more joy energy into it from on high, so a larger amount of energy will actually be acting on the chair by the time it moves it.

However energy doesn’t always behave like this. If you build up enough of a negative energy, and are well enough connected to the lower planes, the energy may start snowballing as if it were positive energy, and may even have an adversarial affect on the snowballing effect of positive energy.

None of this should matter though. Whether or not an energy snowballs, or there’s lost energy, the actual energy needed to perform the act should still be a constant, ergo the same amount of energy is being used. The efficiency of the machine (in this case the practitioner), or the energy itself is inconsequential to the measurement being taken. In practice though, energy sensing and manipulation is entirely subjective, and this subjectiveness needs to be taken into account in order to move all aspects of energy manipulation into an objectively verifiable state.

The third issue deals with the somewhat sentient nature of energy. Different energies are better at different things. We can make an energy do whatever we want it to, but it’s always far easier to get an energy to do what it naturally does. This is why, for instance, having the wood of a wand match its purpose is helpful. By their nature, rage energy is destructful, fear energy scatters and inhibits, joy energy is blissful, and love energy is powerful. Making Joy energy destructive is possible, but it’s far more difficult than when using rage energy for the same task, and more than likely it’s going to require a lot more energy.

Solutions, Sort Of.

These issues with energy measurement can be sidestepped by using a specific type of energy. We set the measurement to a specific type of energy, and then we chart variations between the different types of energy. Again though we reach a few problems.

One is that we don’t have a good system of classifying energy. We’re largely dependent on broad approximations. Calling something joy energy should give a competent magician an idea of what I’m referring to. However the energy that I associate as joy energy may not be the same energy they associate as joy energy. In some instances, they can be very different kinds of energy.

The best classification system magicians have ever come up with is a color based classification system. Exact shades of colors should tie to specific energies. Unfortunately with the limited spectrum seen by most humans, a large number of energies are not represented. Also, in order for the color system to work, the shades need to be exact, otherwise we’re still working with broad approximations. In the past this was impossible, but technology has made accurate recreations possible. Still differences in human vision and lighting conditions may still make these classifications approximations.

Secondly we have to take into account the fact that different people are better equipped to deal with different energies. This again adds an element of subjectivity to any experiment, since the practitioners own efficiencies and preferences need to be taken into account.

Special Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and Magic

One other method to possibly move magic into the realm of science is by using it to fix a major hole in the modern model of physics. Accordingly there are four known forces in the universe, and possibly other unknown forces. These forces are Electromagnetism, Weak Nuclear Force, Strong Nuclear Force, and Gravity. The first three forces are codified and covered under the theories of quantum physics. Gravity, as of today, has not yet been codified with the other three forces, and instead is covered under the theories of special relativity. This hole is the biggest mystery of modern physics.

What’s clear is, even with special relativity in place, gravity isn’t fully understood. Gravity deals with the fact that, for some reason, objects containing mass tend to be attracted towards each other. For ages magicians have been stating in various ways the law of attraction, simplified as like attracts like. The fact that objects containing mass tend to be attracted towards each other, to me anyways, seems like the law of attraction in action. Like is attracting like.

Magical theory could provide the missing link needed to codify Special Relativity with Quantum Mechanics. It would solve a good deal of modern physics’ issues.

The best part of special relativity and quantum mechanics is that a lot of people have already put a lot of work into figuring those things out. A good portion of it has been proven through experimentation, and there’s a good deal more data that has been inferred through observation. Although there are still missing pieces, a lot of that jigsaw puzzle has already been put together. If magic is fitted into modern physics, it will no doubt offer up, nearly instantly, methods of quantification and wholly new theories based on the current information of the sciences.

The problem is, despite using the law of attraction to explain magic, the law isn’t very well understood. There’s never been a concrete reason given as to how or why like attracts like. It’s not common sense. The universe could have just have easily been built upon the premise that opposites attract, or that like things repel each other. If we could unlock and fully understand the law of attraction, it may unlock some of the mysteries of modern physics, and in doing so elevate magic to a science in its own right.

Secret Information and Oaths of Secrecy

I’m going to touch upon this subject ever so briefly. For the most part, I don’t think it’s relevant to the discussion. It’s also something that needs a much bigger explanation than I can give in a handful of paragraphs. I hope to do a much larger post discussing secret information in the near future.

I will say that science is not a game of secrets. It’s dependent on open information and peer review. Furthermore the sciences thrive on working off of the collective knowledge of the human race. From time to time we’ve found it prudent to keep certain technological advancements under wraps, mainly for the purposes of empowering ourselves over others. However, by and large, science has always been based on the fact that we achieve more by everyone working together with the same base of information.

This has been one of the major obstacles with magic. By not sharing data and results, and not encouraging peer review and dissension, magic has remained a philosophy, and it has yet to reach the potential that physics and chemistry has.

The idea of secrecy is already falling apart, and as a result magic is moving closer to becoming a field of science. The more we move towards becoming a science, the more we’re going to throw away the notion of secrecy, and many other worthless superstitions that plague the practice of magic. The more we eliminate secrecy now, the quicker we’ll come to realize the potential of the field.