Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sympathetic magic ramblings.

In this post I want to say that the religious are putting the cart before the horse, in a manner of speaking.

I'm thinking 'phenomenology' in a popular sense, if not the philosophical sense (shrug) inasmuchas we were all newborn babies at one point struggling to understand our world and how we relate to it. Seems to me that to study how it is that we get from there, knowing nothing, running on 'empty' as it were, to here, thinking in sentences, or at least composing thoughts into sentences.

Okay, so we maybe don't not know anything at all, but that's just part of it. How much can we be said to 'know' without the means to express it?

What I'm trying to say is that we must see things from a very personal perspective when we are very young. Simple things, like whether we are warm, or thirsty or unsure etc. obviously affected us much more than we are willing to let on now that we are older.

Guess I'm trying to get you to empathize with a baby, see it from a baby's point of view and see if we can agree that, at least for awhile, everything that happens, from the baby's perspective, is just different feelings of the baby, kind of 'directionless' 'stunned' wonder about what the heck is going on here.

At some point, the baby has to move on. Don't know about you but I still feel a little 'stunned' every now and then. Nevertheless, I suppose as the baby is developing it's sense of self and so on, it's going to be making some 'Custer decisions' about whether it enjoys the company of dad as much as mom's company, and so on. I'm gonna make a guess that the development of the sense of self is connected to the sense that there are others, and that some of those others are not familiar, and so on.

Still, not to belabor that point, but we certainly are born knowing how to be babies, having some sort of sense of what makes us feel good and what does not make us feel good.

More to my point here, I think that we grow up learning cause and effect rules for different scenarios. Drop a toy and it will fall down, throw a toy and someone might pay attention to you, kind of thing. I think that we are easily confused by cause and effect sometimes, because sometimes things are not quite as they seem.

An example relating to farmers might be that when a certain constellation is rising in the in the East, it might be time to harvest the crop. Playing the part of a wise man, I might say to a youngster, "I see Leo is rising in the East, the farmhands must be out in the fields gathering the the harvest. Why don't you go to the country and ask for a job?"

The youngster might be quite skeptical about this. What makes grandpa(or the shaman or whatever) so smart that he thinks the plants know when to be ripe by looking at the sky?

I'm sure that there are thousands of examples like this where cause and effect, when not really understood, can be understood in terms of sympathetic magic, or at least what 'signs' seem to portend what 'effects'.

Not being able to say, "The seasons are caused by the Earth revolving around the Sun, the North Pole being inclined towards it in the Summertime, on a tangent with the orbit at the Equinoxes and inclined away from it in the Wintertime.", doesn't mean that we cannot see the various constellations rising in the different seasons knowing the season from that, seemingly disparate information.

Seems to me that this is, very simply, the beginnings of the notion of sympathic magic, a hidden, or occult knowledge, which at times might have a connection like the night stars and the seasons and might just be a few coincidences together with a vivid imagination. Kind of, "We've noticed that there are significant patterns to the workings of the World therefore every pattern that I see is significant."

Seems to me that this is not too difficult to understand but that the religious rail against this, refusing to see it by means of definitions of words.

Try saying 'magic' to a Christian and he/she will automatically be affronted that you should 'accuse him/her' of 'believing in that'.

Their word for it is 'miracle', BUT, their definition of 'miracle' is 'wonder', so something as trivial as a cheque arriving in the mail when you 'need' it might be seen as something of a miracle, and is EXACTLY equal to sympathetic magic, but they are constrained to NOT equate the two in their minds.


GearHedEd said...



"I'm thinking 'phenomenology' in a popular sense, if not the philosophical sense (shrug) inasmuchas we were all newborn babies at one point struggling to understand our world and how we relate to it."

is an incomplete sentence.

Just thought I'd pass that on...

Harvey said...

I think you have nicely demonstrated part of our passage from growing up as a child to our "growing up" or maturation with regard to ever larger and more complex groups with which we need to establish some sort of cooperative relationship. Depending upon our time in history, this might include a tribe, a state, a nation and, in our present situation, even a World. Each of these groups may have its own set of criteria that we must learn to accept if we hope that they will continue to accept us. Clearly, you are right on the money with regard to "magical" thinking and its logical extension into religion. Anthropologists think of this as a societal coping mechanism, which, at least some of us realize we should have outgrown, both as individuals and as a society.

pboyfloyd said...

Maybe I'm trying to pack too much into one sentence there Ed.

I was trying to say that babies are kind of stuck in a little world of their own, everything single event happening around them being just another phenomenum which they have to process in terms of how they feel about it plus how it relates to similar memories that they have.

I think that the scope of this subject is deep and broad and that some better wordsmith than I could write a book on it which may even make sense to someone brought up to rail against such ideas(the religious/superstitious).

Certainly a couple of paragraphs doesn't really do it justice.

Harry, I can tell that you can see exactly where I was going with this, and filled in the huge gaps I neglected to fill in.
(not implying you didn't Ed).

There's a wealth of material, concerning astrology, general superstition, insubstantial fears etc. etc. that I could bring up in defense of a more polished(heh, Ed) version of this post.

Is seems to me that group thinking, the group worldview stems from the way we learn how things work, the way our parents teach us, the way that we don't have to have complete understanding and the way that it is actually impossible to convey complete understanding to a child, all works together to give us this sense of 'the magical' or 'wondrous'.

I think that religious professionals are more than willing to harness this obvious truth, that we learn by recognizing patterns, to their advantage, to the point of actually constructing blockers* to a progression of thought leading towards a simple understanding of how it really is.

*Eric's "think about infinite regress", "we can know about reality through reason alone" and such.

pboyfloyd said...

LOL phemonenum..LOL

What a goof I am.

pboyfloyd said...

This is actually a good post inasmuchas I can add thoughts to it as I go along.

I guess what I'm really partly talking about is child psychology here.

But can you imagine a religious person's reaction to that? This is one of the blocker's I'm talking about. Talking about this subject using $50 words about the method we used to learn about and understand the World, is a giant red, "ATHEISTIC SCIENCE IS AT IT AGAIN!", flag to Christian Joe Six-pack, Christians who feel that they are relatively sophisticated about such things and definitely to the professional religious, who'd likely start expounding to the former two groups starting with, "How DARE they suggest.."

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Pareidolia and cognitive bias - the source of all the world's religions ;)

pboyfloyd said...

Exactly Pliny. It is just impossible to appeal to the religious on these grounds.

The ignorant are likely to say, "What and what?", and the educated will whitewash it away by claiming that that only works on the ignorant 'at their level of understanding', which is, in their mind, better than not believing at all, whatever their agenda.

Be it that the rise of the ignorant masses would be a disaster, so it is better for us all that they believe for bad reasons than for them to not believe at all, or for purely selfish reasons of influence and money.

The admonition that we ought to come to the Church as 'children' has a counterpart component that when it comes to this God belief and the sympathetic magic that we attach to it, we ARE 'as children', ready to drop in to a magical World where finding solutions to our problems is couched in terms of, 'finding God's will' and such.

GearHedEd said...

Just so you know, peeb, I read the whole post and I agree, inasmuch as I understand what you're saying here.

Babies are atheists--they don't believe in God. It takes instruction from adults to cram that nonsense through the soft spots in their little skulls, and to try to force us all into some lockstep conformity in the name of religion (mainly Christianity in North America).

Personally, I feel fortunate that I was spared the indoctrination until it was too late, and I'm relieved that no one was able to saddle me with the guilt and self-loathing that comes with most forms of Christianity. So sometimes, I don't relate too well to folks that had to struggle free of that shit.

But the world is still a wondrous place, even without god.

pboyfloyd said...

I think I'm trying to say that the way we learn is not only conducive to all different ideologies, it's the reason FOR the different ideologies in the first place.

I'm saying that because of the way we absorb information, simply noticing patterns, and since we are social beings, no doubt why we are still around, we were bound to treat our environment in a social manner,from overtly anthropomorphizing poorly understood processes down to attributing every little cause and effect to the will of a behind the scenes benefactor.

Harvey said...

"I think I'm trying to say that the way we learn is not only conducive to all different ideologies, it's the reason FOR the different ideologies in the first place."
Once again, we can see that religion, like most of our other personal and societal evolutionary developments, is based upon our need for group support and interaction and has clear survival benefits. Since, as Humans. we are social beings who are otherwise rather poorly equipped to cope with survival needs on purely physical grounds, it follows that many of us would accept this mechanism (ie religion/magical thinking) at any cost, especially since it most often comes to us from parents/teachers, whose approval we desparately seek.

GearHedEd said...

What Harvey said.

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