A Curious Mental Experiment – Co-Creation, Ars Combinatoria and the Infinite Game

Posted in > BLACK CADILLAC REVIEW by David on August 28, 2019

Llullian Wheel – Photo: Mariano Tomatis

“Any fact becomes important when it’s connected to another.” ― Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

There are a few figures that stand out as particularly relevant for framing the Liminal Analytics approach to the contemporary zeitgeist. 14th century Catalan contemplative, missionary and logician, Raymond Llull is one of my favorites.

While attending a technology event in Naperville, Illinois many years ago I had the opportunity to discuss Llull’s work on early information theory with the Chief Information Security Officer at Argonne National Labs – a topic that Dr. Diana Pasulka and I address in a co-authored piece for the upcoming anthology Believing in Bits- Digital Media and the Supernatural (Oxford University Press, 2019).(1)

Despite his interest, the fellow from Argonne had no idea who Llull was – and right then and there the “Angelic Doctor,” as Llull is known, became a chief impetus in the founding of Liminal Analytics.

That conversation helped me realize that our cultural memory is limited – we have a drastic sense of amnesia as to how we’ve ended up where we’re at. Now I won’t pretend to have many answers for such a profound issue, but there are some key figures that have been forgotten who can help us get a better sense of things.  Figures such as our very own Raymond Llull.

So who is this enigmatic information theorist?

Well, the gist of it is that Llull is a rather complex character.  As I’ve outlined in a piece for The Global Catholic Review:

“…our missionary, the ‘Angelic Doctor’ Ramon Llull, was passionate about translating the message of Christ and had an ardent faith in the Catholic doctrine of God’s perfection. With those two pillars set in place Llull went on to a produce a prolific output of over 200 books on a diverse array of topics and developed what he called the Ars Magna, or the Great Art – an incredibly complex memory system and symbolic science that used tables and cipher-wheels to codify the common language with which all the Abrahamic faiths use to describe God and God’s perfect creation.

It was Llull’s hope that through this exact science representatives of Judaism, Christianity and Islam would be able to reason together and clearly outline the illuminated nature of Divinity and the perfection of nature found in God’s creation, at least insofar as that’s possible through human reasoning.

Lull’s ideas are certainly not what we’re used to hearing from the Silicon Valley set and his diagrams don’t look very much like computer software, let alone some as complex as artificial intelligence, but that’s because you might not think of A.I. like this:


While Llull intended only the most basic mechanical devices to assist his art – relatively simple wheels and comparative charts – in developing and working with this system he changed the very nature of how he thought about thinking, and in so doing he changed the architecture of thought in those that followed him.

This subtle alteration helped foment the future of information science, and while it may seem hyperbolic to lay the weight of such a feat upon one individual, it was this one individual whose prolific output, evangelical enthusiasm and visionary expression inspired future generations to explore and expand upon these ideas.”(2)

Heady stuff I know, but let me tell you – these explorations aren’t limited to tech labs – take a look at the fun that his profound work can inspire in the right creative hands.

“Everything is repeated, in a circle. History is a master because it teaches us that it doesn’t exist. It’s the permutations that matter.” Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

For a performance back in 2013, Magic Experience Designers Ferdinando Buscema and Mariano Tomatis took inspiration from Llull, and using a replica of one of his ars combinatoria wheels provided by Liminal Analytics (with a few choice modifications) they were able to blow the mind of David Pescovitz, founder of well known web magazine Boing Boing, during the Boing Boing Ingenuity Event and Hackathon held at a former Masonic Lodge in San Francisco:

The ‘Llullian Wheel‘ shown in Buscema’s hands above appears at around 5 minutes and 30 seconds into the video itself.

The wheel housed in Buscema’s personal Wunderkamer is one of a limited number that were created for a select group of individuals during 2012 and early 2013. These wheels were distributed within the close circle of Liminal Analytics confidants who have provided particular inspiration to our work.

In a way, the wheels demonstrate what happens when we utilize the combinatronic aspects of our contemporary communication networks to bounce ideas back and forth in an infinite game of co-creative activity.  Mariano says of this type of play:

“…to “participate” is to narrate its story, add details, publish articles, discuss on web forums, create maps, suggest new links, propose extensions into new disciplines, write books, organize meetings.”(3)

So here we are, a global network of inspired individuals playing a game with a 14th century visionary – and Mariano himself just put out the next move!

As part of his ongoing web series Mesmer in Pillole (Mesmer in pills), which is ‘dedicated to those who believe that the world is a boundless museum of wonders,‘ he’s developed a new magic effect inspired by Llull’s combinatorial device:

English captions are available on the video for those who don’t speak Italian – as you watch you’ll see how something as simple as Llull’s wheel can open up new worlds of understanding. There’s also a special treat here for fans of Umberto Eco’s work, with Mariano demonstrating how these wheels play a crucial part in the plot of his most famous novel, Foucault’s Pendulum.

“I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.” ― Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

In the story Eco outlines the moves of an infinite game played with deadly stakes – and demonstrates how easily players become played if they are not careful in how they approach the liminal boundaries of these curious mental experiments. Our game, though perhaps less deadly, is no less dramatic in our quest to illuminate the hidden influences pushing and pulling at our global culture as we move into the future.

For my part, it’s a profound honor to play with the likes of my magically adept friends from Italy. What a wonder to see how such a simple little artifact can open so many fresh experiential dimensions – and as always, I look forward to the next move!

To further explore the work of these wondrous wonder makers:

Mariano Tomatis: http://www.marianotomatis.it/en/

Ferdinando Buscema: https://www.ferdinando.biz


(1) https://global.oup.com/academic/product/believing-in-bits-9780190949990
(2) https://www.patheos.com/blogs/theglobalcatholicreview/2018/06/gods-machine/
(3) http://www.marianotomatis.it/blog.php?post=blog/20110623&section=english
(4) http://www.mesmer.it/?id=pillole

Project Blue Book and the Priming of Paranormal Belief – On the effects of history and its re-presentation

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on January 2, 2019


“I was the arch enemy of those ‘flying saucer groups and enthusiasts’ who very dearly wanted UFOs to be interplanetary. My own knowledge of those groups came almost entirely from what I heard from Blue Book personnel: they were all ‘crackpots and visionaries.’ My transformation was gradual but by the late sixties it was complete. Today I would not spend one further moment on the subject of UFOs if I didn’t seriously feel that the UFO phenomenon is real and that efforts to investigate and understand it, and eventually to solve it, could have a profound effect — perhaps even be the springboard to mankind’s outlook on the universe.”

J. Allen Hynek, The Hynek UFO Report, p. 26 (Dell Publishing Company, 1977

We’ll get to the UFOs in a second, first bear with me as I reminisce…

Back in college I had an early morning multi-cultural musicology class that was always met with a very sleepy mind. One day the professor was discussing Irish music and asked if anyone had ever been to Ireland. Half asleep I heard the question and my memory glitched – instead of referencing the physical reality that I’d never left the country, for some reason my head was filled with imagery from a childhood and adolescence spent reading everything I could get my hands on about medieval history – including Irish history. In that brief moment, with my cognitive mind drifting dreamily, my arm shot up and the professor called on me to talk about my experience.

I was shocked awake by the request and sat there somewhat stunned. She repeated her request and asked if I had in fact been to Ireland. With my mind clear I had to admit that no, I’d never been out of the country. It was a rather embarrassing moment – thankfully the rest of the class actually was asleep or so bored they weren’t even listening so there wasn’t much repercussion. However, that experience provided me with incredible insight into just how easy it is for memory, imagination and behavior to blur into a strange and seamless whole.

Since my area of study was and is cognitive philosophy this turned out as a useful bit of personal experience and it’s become even more useful as my current focus hones in on how popular belief is mediated by technology. Surprising enough it’s even come into play in anticipating History’s upcoming Project Blue Book series!

Just take a look at this:

“Set against the backdrop of the Cold War and rising Atomic Era, each episode will draw from the actual Project Blue Book case files, blending UFO theories with authentic historical events from one of the most mysterious eras in United States history.”(1)


August 3, 1965 — Santa Ana, California (Photos: Project Blue Book files, National Archives) (2)

That’s from History’s About page for the series. Seems like an innocuous marketing statement when you read it and I’m sure most people will pass it over without much thought beyond perhaps excitement or critical disgust at the fictional element implied. The thing is, this simple sentence actual lays out a complex form of ‘social technology’ and the implications of this are impressive, especially in the context of a catalytic topic like UFOs.

In her paper The Fairy Tale is True: Social Technologies of the Religious Supernatural in Film and New Media, Dr. Diana Walsh Pasulka, chair of religion and philosophy at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington, outlines a fascinating aspect of how our memories interact with media. This paper provides a framework that makes this brief promotional sentence come alive in surprising ways.

When faced with a media product like Project Blue Book, our conscious minds might react with a response that is neutral, excited or dismissive, (yes, there are more options, but let’s keep it simple for this thought experiment) however as Pasulka illustrates in her work the conscious mind might not be where we should be looking,  “it is in relation to the unconscious self that cinematic social technology must be reconsidered. The early suspicions articulated by cinema theorists about cinematic deception are correct on many levels. Current research in cognitive science reveals that even as spectators are consciously aware that they are watching a movie, unconsciously they are not. Unconsciously, they are making memories that they  will fuse with memories from their own lives, and they will have a difficult time separating history from its re-presentation and from fictionalized versions of historical events. This process is exaggerated when a spectator is immersed in virtual environments.”(3)  When we look at History’s promo blurb in this light we see that there is something incredibly powerful happening here with a television series that’s about to hit a channel that launched Ancient Aliens into a continuing run which has lasted close to a decade.

If we want to see what that means in terms of the culture all we have to do is look at the Chapman University Survey of American Fears – right here in a nice bar graph we have evidence that this level of media penetration into the culture has profound effects:

At the outset we can see that the two largest categories are related to the most successful popular media dealing with the ‘paranormal’ – ghost hunting shows and alternative history/ancient aliens – while this could be an indicator that the viewing public is simply very in tune with these areas, if we look at Chapman University’s analysis of the changes from 2016 to 2018 we see that the largest increases are in beliefs related to the idea that ‘Ancient, advanced civilizations, such as Atlantis, once existed‘ and ‘Aliens have visited Earth in the ancient past,’ both of these topics correlate rather well with the most popular show in this arena, Ancient Aliens:

Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 9.15.32 AM

This little bit of data gives us a nice seed to begin working on a testable hypothesis regarding the effect that the Project Blue Book series will have on popular belief patterns, especially in the atmosphere created by all of the the other media that will be coming out and has come out recently in this area – the Rendelsham Forest documentary, Tom Delonge’s sci-fi series, Jeremy Corbell’s Extraordinary Beliefs series, and so on.

Now let’s be adventurous and add another element into the mix – that contemporary obscure object of desire for so many pundits – the Religious Nones.

Chapman University’s survey indicates that “paranormal beliefs have become the norm in the United States, if we examine how many such beliefs a person holds. Using the seven paranormal items included on the Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 5 (2018), we find that only about a fourth of Americans (24.1%) do not hold any of the seven beliefs. What this means is that more than ¾ of Americans believe in at least one paranormal phenomenon.” Statistics are a thorny tool to use, so we have to be careful in how much weight we give this, but indications are good that close to 75% of the U.S. population believes in at least one area covered by the survey.

If we look at data from the American Family Survey (5) the percentage of ‘Religious Nones,’ or those reporting no affiliation with an organized religion, is about 34-35%:


That 35% is higher than the 24.1% of the population that the Chapman University study indicates hold no reported beliefs in the areas of paranormal belief that they surveyed. Evangelical and mainline protestant dismissal of supernaturalism means that some portion of that 24.1% reporting no belief probably includes individuals that would identify in the American Family Survey as religious.

So somewhere in this mix is a large portion of the population whose spiritual life rests on the paranormal with no mediation from an affiliation with any organized religious system – and with the growing trend of people stepping away from organized religion this indicates there is something very curious happening in the culture. This decentralized spirituality is being shepherded by direct experience, corporate and independent news organizations, entertainment and other cultural communication mechanisms.

When we consider the implications of Pasulka’s research on the mediated cultivation of supernatural belief, the blending of fact and fiction in products like Project Blue Book becomes a key area to keep an eye on. Carefully designed media products like this present experiential narratives and reframed historical imagery that embeds in the cultural memory and augments the reception of the historical record in the popular culture.

It also bears implications beyond just belief as it directly affects our perceptual reception of exceptional experiences themselves. As the novelist and experiencer Whitley Strieber has said:

“What we need to do now is make better sci-fi movies so that we can have better contact experiences.” (6)

And he should know – Communion: A True Story, his bestselling autobiographical account of the terrifying experiences that beset him in the mid-80’s, helped to break down the barrier of silence around these topics in the mainstream culture and initiate a healing process for thousands of individuals who were faced with experiences that they had no context for or support system to deal with.

Project-Blue-BookWhere will Project Blue Book fall into our quest to uncover the truth behind the UFO enigma?

Will it obscure or open these areas?

We won’t know for sure until it’s had a some time to cook in the culture. One thing we can be sure of is that our culture’s spiritual infrastructure is going through a massive shift and it’s probably a good idea to have all the tools at hand we can gather to try and understand what’s going on lest we loose our mooring through the misplaced enthusiasm of a hyper-connected commercial media in this precarious moment in human history.

(1) https://www.history.com/shows/project-blue-book/about
(2) http://www.archives.gov/research/military/air-force/ufos.html
(3) https://www.academia.edu/24878653/_The_Fairy_Tale_is_True_Social_Technologies_of_the_Religious_Supernatural_in_Film_and_New_Media
(4) https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2018/10/16/paranormal-america-2018/
(5) https://www.deseretnews.com/american-family-survey/2018
(6) https://scholarship.rice.edu/handle/1911/80216

For more on the merging of technological culture, contemporary belief and the UFO question, see Dr. Diana Walsh Pasulka’s American Cosmic – UFOs, Religion Technology (Oxford University Press, 2019) https://www.americancosmic.com

For another personal reflection on memory and exceptional experiences see Encountering the Super Natural – An Experiential Review: https://davidmetcalfe.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/encountering-the-super-natural%E2%80%8A-%E2%80%8Aan-experiential-review/

Special thanks to Dave Leech, former host of KZSU Stanford Radio’s Thermonuclear Bar, for drawing my attention to History’s Project Blue Book series About page. 

Images from the Project Blue Book series © History, 2018

Salient Sleight of Hand – On Illumination and the Proper Use of Stage Magic – a brief study of possibility, the placebo effect, and respecting mercurial messengers

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on December 27, 2018

Image courtesy of Donna Seger/Streets of Salem

Like the progression of many arts the Art of Legerdemain, or sleight of hand, suffers a slow drift  from its origins as a spiritual technique into an abused form of popular entertainment.  Although these days specialization holds court – once upon a time the full expression of science and philosophy encompassed all aspects of life. A relationship with Wisdom was thought to be the basis for everything that follows.

In this light something such as sleight of hand, or the ability to manipulate perception at will, is a powerful psycho-spiritual technology when given the right spin.

Experimenter Effect

One of the laboratory results that is commonly reported in parapsychological research is the experimenter effect and the benefits of positive reinforcement and belief on gaining results. As the researcher John Palmer explains in an article for the Psi Encyclopedia:

Parapsychologists have come to believe that success or failure in psi experiments has as much to do with the experimenter conducting the experiment as with the subjects themselves. These ‘experimenter effects’ may occur simply because certain experimenters are better than others at motivating subjects to produce psi. However, a more serious possibility is that experimenters unconsciously influence the results, according to whether or not they themselves are psi-conducive.(1)

Something similar to this phenomenon can also be observed in the placebo effect, where belief becomes, in some ways, the basic correlative factor in success.

When seeking an explanation for this odd phenomena, some kind of straight materialist cause/effect scenario, it’s proven difficult to develop a proper scientific model. However, if we  seek to understand and utilize these factors in our lives no model is necessary, merely a grasp of the situational and atmospheric requirements to induce the phenomenon.

The fact that devotees of Elvis report miraculous healing shows the power of a charismatic stage presence goes a long way. When that presence is guided by sound philosophy and spiritual insight that power can be used to move beyond selling albums into more refined realms of social change.  Imagine the ability for a full expression of Art, one which moves beyond the separate practices of visual arts, music, poetry, dance and combines these with a mastery of perception.

The Miracle of Sugar

Harlan Tarbell

As a member of the audience we are left with wonder at a magicians performance, rarely thinking of the master of mind and body required to practice this rare art. During the early 20th century, Harlan Tarbell, a close friend of Harry Houdini, wrote one of the most enduring courses on the art of stage magic.  A unique aspect of Tarbell’s course was it’s focus on physical exercises to encourage greater body control. Similar to preset routines practiced in the martial arts or formal dance practice, these exercises prepare students for future situations and allow muscle memory to take over when the magician’s focus is required elsewhere to direct their performance.

As with any repeated physical exercise these routines also aid in a deeper understanding of our interconnection between body and mind, and if extended further, of the spirit. In some ways Tarbell endorsed a sort of Yoga for practicing illusionists.

To understand the effect mastery in this domain can engender, we need only look at accounts from a visit that Tarbell made shortly after World War I to Le Mesnil-Saint-Denis in the north of France:

“”Il y a quelques années, un Cagliostro vint au château des Husson. C’était un étranger, personne ne l’avait vu avant, ni ne savait exactement d’où il venait et où il allait. Mais il fit des miracles. Un jour, Madame Husson avait des invités à dîner ; elle dit qu’elle regrettait de ne pouvoir servir du sucre avec le café. Alors cet homme étrange, Cagliostro, se leva et trouva dans l’air, assez de sucre pour tous les invités. Ensuite il alla au Monastère et pris de pitié pour les Soeurs, les orphelines et les blessés, il leva les mains et produisit encore du sucre. Ensuite une centaine de livres de sucre arriva chez les Soeurs qui purent conserver tous les fruits. Le sucre était apparut dans l’air, Monsieur, matérialisé dans l’air. Oui, Monsieur, matérialisé dans l’air. Oui, Monsieur nous avons vu un miracle”.

“”A few years ago, Cagliostro came to Husson Castle. He was a stranger, nobody had seen him before, nor knew exactly where he came from and where he went. But he did wonders. One day, Madame Husson had guests for dinner and she said she regretted not being able to serve the sugar with the coffee. Then this strange man, Cagliostro, got up and found in the air, enough sugar for all of the guests. Then he went to the monastery and had compassion for the nuns, orphans and wounded, he raised his hands and  produced sugar. Then a hundred pounds of sugar arrived so they were able to retain all the fruit. The sugar appeared in the air, sir, materialized in the air. Yes, sir, materialized in the air. Yes, sir, we saw a miracle. “  (2)

As Master Magician Jeff McBride teaches, the principles of stage magic require a thorough knowledge of optics, psychology, body control, set and setting. To perform sleight of hand one must truly be on intimate terms with the ways in which the physical world interacts with the mind.

Krishna-and-KaliyaGoing farther with this, to achieve truly lasting results and reach towards the realm of the Adept, one must have mastered the very illusion of the world that surrounds us. Mcbride puts it succinctly when he says “To make magic, one has to have experienced magic,” mirroring advice given by the famed Italian Hermeticist Giordano Bruno in his writing on ritual magic.(3)

Like Krishna dancing on the cosmic serpent Kaliya, one who has mastered the art of perception gains the ability to create effects in the world by altering the perception of witnesses. Comparing a stage magician to Krishna may seem grandiose, but the use that this knowledge has played in debunking fraud and exposing hoaxes shows that such an understanding can be used as a powerful tool for exposing the truth.

As much as a knowledge of performance magic can expose lies and misdirection, it can also foster a connection to the truth. When we think of the full potential of this it becomes obvious that the path of legerdemain leads into very interesting spiritual territory.

Bitter Misdirection

The bitterness of fundamentalist skepticism has kept the understanding of these curious areas from reaching their full potential as cultural tools. When accounts of traditional healers using sleight of hand are retold it is usually with disdain for the practice. Similarly when we think of sleight of hand it’s often in the context of annoying party tricks, or an older relative whose abusive coin materialization lost it’s charm on the 100th go round.


Gustavo Rol

Gustavo Rol, an Italian enigma whose admirers included the filmmaker Federico Fellini, stated that the purpose of his ‘abilities’ was to foster belief in something greater. Rol’s psychical demonstrations have provided ample fodder for skeptics, but what is continuously missed is the atmosphere of possibility that his demonstrations engendered.

The storyteller brings the story to life through controlling an audiences’ perception. This can encompass the entire spectrum of perception and needn’t include only words and sounds. By using sleight of hand and other techniques to induce phenomenon the audience is not only allowed to imagine the possibilities of the story, but to engage with them directly as they break into mundane reality through materialization, precognitive revelations, and other outre events.

Whether this is done through a magic trick or through innate ability, the result in the life of the observer is the same unless they choose to discount their feelings based on some skeptical sense of propriety.

Within the dominant religious groups we can see traces of this connection between Illumination and Illusion. There is the austere Moses of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but there is also Moses the Conjurer from the African Diaspora traditions. The ‘Hoodoo’ Moses gains his abilities not through some vague notion of Divine intervention, but through a practical connection to Divine Wisdom which works on all levels of reality.

Stage Magic and Manipulative Priests

In the apocryphal text Bel and the Dragon we find the Prophet Daniel playing a part very similar to a psychical investigator or occult detective, employing a sound understanding of stage magic to overcome the machinations of manipulative priests:

“23 And in that same place there was a great dragon, which they of Babylon worshipped.

24 And the king said unto Daniel, Wilt thou also say that this is of brass? lo, he liveth, he eateth and drinketh; thou canst not say that he is no living god: therefore worship him.

25 Then said Daniel unto the king, I will worship the Lord my God: for he is the living God.

26 But give me leave, O king, and I shall slay this dragon without sword or staff. The king said, I give thee leave.

27 Then Daniel took pitch, and fat, and hair, and did seethe them together, and made lumps thereof: this he put in the dragon’s mouth, and so the dragon burst in sunder : and Daniel said, Lo, these are the gods ye worship.”

– Bel and the Dragon 1:23-27

There is no mysterious Deus Ex Machina here, no visionary solution shining through to illuminate the truth, Daniel simply uses an understanding of mechanics and incendiary devices to expose the fraud. Earlier in the text when he is confronted with Bel, another construct that uses innovative manipulations to ‘eat’ it’s offerings, he uses flour spread on the floor to expose foot prints leading to hidden doors in the temple used to produce the effect.

Beyond Divisions

Image from D.A. Freher’s Paradoxa Emblematica (18th century)

The Master Magician Eugene Burger has written extensively on how some of the most common magic tricks explore greater truths in profound ways. One example that he gives is the Ring Trick in which rings are manipulated to appear as if they are able to join and disjoin without breaking the circle of any one ring.

As a common trick this has been used for centuries, however Berger points out that it also resonates deeply with the nature of reality, separate parts uniting in a whole while maintaining their individual divisions.

The rejection of sleight of hand and the various techniques of stage magic as legitimate tools for revelation represents a failure of the dualistic mindset embedded in our culture. We are lead to reject what we experience when the means of that experience are shown to be something unexpected. That small moment of possibility that could open up a life time of deeper union with reality is thrown out by our antagonism towards the methods used to invoke it.

As a tool for engendering the ground of belief these techniques provide unique opportunities to encourage the sense of Mystery necessary for the opening of any spiritual quest. Beyond illusory phenomenon lies the root of truth, and confronting these illusions in an active way we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world we share.

The Place of Mystery

“Will you turn to ridicule the experience I have acquired with so much dilligence?”

– from Paracelsus’ Credo

mysterium_magnumThe place of Mystery in the development of culture is too often something that is passed over in a world immersed in the marvels of μηχανή (mekhane), a word which has both the meaning of machine and trickery, from the root word magh which means to be able, or to have power.

“”Everything that occurs in conformity with nature, but of whose cause we are unaware, provokes astonishment; as does everything, that when it occurs in a manner contrary to nature, is produced by technique (tekhne) in the interest of mankind.

For in many cases, nature produces effects that are contrary to our interests, for nature always acts in the same way, and simply, whereas what is useful to us often changes.

Therefore, when an effect contrary to nature must be produced, we are at a loss because of the difficulty of producing such an effect; and the cooperation of tekhne is required. This is why we call the part of tekhne intended to help us in such difficulties “trickery” (mekhane). For the situation is, as the poet Antiphon says, “Through tekhne, we master the things in which we are vanquished by nature.”

– from Problemata mechanica (2nd Century BCE) quoted in The Veil of Isis, by Pierre Hadot

Western medical practitioners have debated the validity of handing someone a sugar pill in order to facilitate healing knowing that for certain conditions the placebo effect would be just as likely as standard medicine to bring about a cure.  Since this wouldn’t be effective if the person knew they were being handed a sugar pill it would entail having to lie to the patient in order for it to work.

In the current medical mindset the linear development of a disease is seen as inevitable. It would be contrary to this linear development to cure the disease, thereby requiring the use of ‘trickery’ or some mechanical means, such as drug therapy or surgery, to bring about healing.

This mindset engenders the necessity of thinking of something like the placebo effect as a lie; what doesn’t have a basis in the technical exists outside of the assumed truth and therefore is false.  Traditionally, however, the disease itself was seen as the deviancy and healing it was seen as a return to the natural order of life and health, in this context the mystery of the placebo effect is seen as a natural occurrence, nature returning to it’s proper state. Healing in this worldview is as simple as water running downhill.

To facilitate this process ritual, herbal remedies, meditations, prayers, dream incubation and a whole host of centering practices were put to use. A person subjected to a disease was seen as having moved out of alignment with the natural order and therefore needed to be returned. There is a certain respect that this way of thinking has for the greater Mystery of life lacking in current Western medical practice.

Where There is Possibility for More

As the magician and illusionist Jeff McBride points out, sleight of hand can be used to break a person out of their habitual patterns and bring them to a place where there is possibility for something more. In a ritual context this can then be directed to return the person to a more holistic position in regards to life.

This is what the shamanic use of sleight of hand is for, to distract and unmoor the ‘evil’ spirits (those patterns that have caused a misalignment in a person’s life) and allow an opening where the traditional healer can bring in new patterns.

We have to remember that spirit in the traditional sense is thought of as the motivating life force connected to the whole, the soul being that point of connection between the individual and the spirit of the whole.  An evil spirit is then a false motivator and not a superstitious bogeyman as the hard line rationalists would like to deem it.

Paracelsus, and most traditional healers, distinguish between diseases caused by physical maladies and those that are caused by spiritual misalignment. Knowing the difference was key to being an effective healer. So long as Western medicine sees all things in line with a wholly mechanistic and fundamental materialist perspective there is no chance for full healing to take place.

Western Medicine

This is not to call on the supernatural, this is to point out that to a large extent the philosophy and direction of Western medicine, and science, has been deeply flawed. Like an unfaithful spouse Western medicine shrinks from Mystery and gives no credence to anything that isn’t predicated by technical power or scientific proof, even if the results prove the treatment as in the case of the placebo effect.

“”If a man rules over other living species, if he delves unremittingly and without respect into the venerable earth, if he has created shelters for himself, and cities with their own laws, it is thanks to all kinds of mekhane.”

– from the chapter In Search of Mechanics in the collection The Greek Pursuit of Knowledge

There is no point in arguing terminology, as some would, and re-framing traditional ideas in a psychological or scientistic framework. We are living in a world created through manipulation, and suffering the pains of having stepped outside of the natural order through the power of our artifice.

A very basic respect for life has been abandoned in order to prove our potency over the natural world.  With this act of hubris we will be judged when, having stretched the malleable prima materia to its maximum extent, it will snap back on us and we will be left to face the fact that our power is merely an illusion. Nothing lies outside the bounds of the natural world, and no amount of mechanical savvy can overcome this fact.

Re-framing traditional ideas is merely an attempt to fit a much simpler and basic relationship with nature into an artificially constructed paradigm. The key is that the traditional ideas were based on a relationship, or as the scholar Arthur Versluis points out in his book The Mystical State: Politics, Gnosis, and Emergent Cultures, on the gnostic marriage of the visible and the invisible, the Divine Union of spirit and matter.  A marriage based on violence and power plays is either miserable or ends in divorce, it takes mutual respect and love for a relationship to be fulfilling.

Between Mystery and Technique

The struggle between proponents of the Mystery and of technique stretches back into prehistory. It can be seen in the split between the mathēmatikoi  ( Μαθηματικοι – “learners”) and the akousmatikoi (Ακουσματικοι -“listeners”), in the Pythagorean school.

As the scholar Christopher Mckintosh shows in his book The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason – Eighteenth-Century Rosicrucianism in Central Europe and its Relationship to the Enlightenment, it can also be seen more recently in the Enlightenment era, during the 17th and 18th centuries,  in the struggle between the mystical Rosicrucian and scientific illuminationist philosophies that fought for prevalence within Freemasonry.

Versluis work explores the question of what would have happened if the mystical side won, or at least was given more prevalence in the cultural development of Western civilization.  There are intimations of the possibilities, but those who develop a relationship with gnosis often leave very little material to trace their passage.

The place of the seership in law giving has been lost in the Western world, although it is as much a part of Greco-Roman philosophy and our Judeao-Christian heritage, as it is at the heart of the traditional cultural models that are drawn on in the development of Neo-Paganism.(4)

What We Have Lost

What we have lost is a respect for possibilities, for potential, and for that Mysterium Magnum which lies at the heart of existence. Mercurial messengers arise in our culture to remind us of the fluidity of life, but we relegate their revelations to rationalizations such as the placebo effect or fraud.

Respect not given willingly is renewed with being overthrown, the adversary we disdain is often the one that conquers us. When the day comes that, as a culture, we reach out in humility and seek to align ourselves with the natural order we will find that for all our failed manipulations there was always another path we could have walked.  If that day does not come of our own volition, humility will be taught through trial and hardship, our heads finally bowed in respect, or broken in defeat.

(1) https://psi-encyclopedia.spr.ac.uk/articles/experimenter-effects
(2) http://mesnil.saint.denis.free.fr/hotes.htm
(3) https://books.google.com/books?id=0E565t7WozQC&dq=Cause+Principle+Unity&source=gbs_navlinks_s
(4) https://youtu.be/Ow-_G26lpOk

Note: Thank you to Mariano Tomatis for introducing me to the history of Gustavo Rol, and to Mariano,  Ferdinando Buscema and Jeff McBride for exposing me to the depth of the magical tradition.

This piece was originally published in 2011 as two separate posts on The Eyeless Owl blog.


UFOs and Gorillas – Reviewing Kirkus Reviews take on American Cosmic

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on October 30, 2018

American Cosmic - UFOs, Religion, Technology - Diana PasulkaKirkus Reviews has posted their synopsis of Dr. Diana Pasulka’s forthcoming book, American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology (Oxford University Press, 2019)  – in the process offering us an incredible opportunity to see a prime example of the ‘What Gorilla?’ behavioral phenomenon that Dean Radin, senior scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, has pointed out in the past:

“Imagine you’re watching a basketball game. Your favourite team is wearing white and the other team is in black. In the midst of the action, someone in a dark gorilla suit calmly walks to the centre of the court, waves to the crowd, then walks off the court. Do you think you would notice this peculiar event? Most people might say yes. Most people would be wrong.”(1)

Radin is drawing on research into ‘inattentional blindness’ – as he explains in an article for New Dawn Magazine, “when we pay attention to our favourite white-shirted basketball team, the likelihood of clearly seeing darker objects moving about is substantially reduced. That includes even obvious objects, like gorillas.” The same can occur when we encounter messages and ideas that do not fit our comfortable assumptions about reality. In addition, we face another psychological trick called ‘confabulation,’ in which memories form to fit a logical narrative rather than the actual experience.

Now imagine a well respected academic with focused expertise on how media affects belief and behavior writes a book based on years of in-depth ethnographic and archival investigation into the UFO phenomenon and how it relates to the development of our current technological society – do you think that a piece from Kirkus Reviews would highlight the importance of this peculiar event? Most people might say yes. Most people would be wrong:

“As the author documents, about one-third of Americans believe in UFOs. Enthusiasts hold conventions, and their websites pepper the internet, but Pasulka discovers a subculture of scientist believers who keep their research secret for fear of ruining their reputations. There is also an entirely public subculture of entrepreneurs that supports studies and serious amateurs working to document sightings, many of whom work equally hard to detect the ever present hoaxes. Many believers seem rational, and the fact that physical evidence remains steady at zero does not change matters.”

If you haven’t read the pre-publiction preface on the American Cosmic website (3) – or listened to any of Pasulka’s appearances on numerous podcasts – this might seem like a feasible description of the book – but I would ask you to consider (as I have in the past with OUP’s dry synopsis) if the review that Kirkus has posted sounds like the same book that lead Jacques Vallee to say:

“From a solid base of scholarship Dr. Pasulka introduces us to the players at the frontier of biological and physical research to pose some age-old questions in new ways: Can the human spirit transcend space/time? How will religious traditions be reframed when they collide with the long-suppressed evidence of non-human consciousness in our environment?

Her sharp insight is drawn from her research into spiritual phenomena, updated by her travels from the UFO crash sites of New Mexico to the archives of the Vatican.

The result is a timely introduction to the revelations in our collective future.”

Vallee mentions ‘players at the frontier of biological and physical research’ – Kirkus Reviews mentions a ‘public subculture of entrepreneurs…and serious amateurs.’

Vallee was part of the core team that designed the early computer conferencing systems that lead to the internet – the Kirkus reviewer is…anonymous.

Let’s just sit on that fact without falling (too far) into the error of appealing to Vallee’s authority – and lets not ignore the reality that Kirkus Reviews’ staid, somewhat spammy and outdated format precludes it from any kind of real analytic depth in comparison with more contemporary media.

Once American Cosmic is published you’ll be able to grab a copy and see for yourself whether the strange way reviewers seem to lose their contextual literacy and confabulate the contents of the book when encountering it speaks to a gorilla in the room or not.

Taking the UFO Phenomenon Seriously – Religion, Narrative, Media and the Flying Saucer

(1) https://www.newdawnmagazine.com/articles/what-gorilla-why-some-cant-see-psychic-phenomena

(2) https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/dw-pasulka/american-cosmic/

(3) https://americancosmic.com

UFO Economics — A quick look at the dollars and cents of Anomalistic Science

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on June 18, 2018

1_gUzvqlyJ2Ci3FKs3nDP7AwTake a brief moment to step outside of any speculations of motive and untoward manipulation or even the reality of the phenomenon itself and let’s get down to what really matters for most folks when we’re talking about anomalous experiences:

How much $MONEY$ can we make on this stuff if we figure it out?

While dollar signs might not spark that idealistic urge to leap into utopian dreams and unknown futures, they do drive research and development efforts and are a hearty incentive for mainstream organizations to start to take a more serious look. Without a clear opportunity for profit it’s almost assured that no dedicated resources will be put into these areas — Col. John Alexander often brings up the other option, frame the anomaly as a defense issue.

Dollars or danger, how do you want your UFO research funded?

Economics has been a powerful lens in the long term analysis that Dr. Andrew Chesnut and I have applied to the global growth of Santa Muerte’s (Saint Death) devotional tradition. Santa Muerte’s interaction with established religious and social organizations follows basic market dynamics which provide insight into the very fundamental elements of how belief interacts with society.

In Chesnut’s early research he was able to discover the surprising size of Saint Death’s devotional tradition through conversations with botanica owners, many of whom admitted that they were in the process of converting as much as 50% of their shelf space to products related to Santa Muerte.*

Tracked over time the ebb and flow of products gives a sense for the ebb and flow of the customers fulfilling their devotional needs at these spiritual supply stores — changes in these products also allow for insights into the changing needs of devotees. Taking this analysis further we can look at wider markets to track the presence of the symbols and imagery associated with Santa Muerte’s iconography and develop contexts in which to better understand the particular nuances and adaptations that occur when the devotional tradition takes root in different social environments.

Having seen rich returns in applying market analysis to la Nina Bonita, join me in taking a small step into looking at some very, very basic UFO economics!

“Now you might ask yourself, what can you prove from a videotape? I mean, you can see videotapes all over the Internet and so on. But this was data fusion. They are gun-camera tapes. There are these videotapes from the pilots, voice recordings, data link recordings from Aegis and many other military platforms, expert witnesses. So, in fact, the data density — and this is what’s changed the field a lot — our detection capability has gotten so advanced that we’re losing our inability to see exactly what’s going on.” — Dr. Hal Puthoff during his address to the joint SSE/IRVA Conference, Las Vegas, 8 June 2018*

While the recent publicity has raised the level of wider attention on this topic — we don’t need any of this robust new data set to start our simple exploration, in fact we can skip back to 1998 and a paper that Jacques Vallee published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration titled, Estimates of Optical Power Output in 6 cases of Unexplained Aerial Objects with Defined Luminosity Characteristics.

In this paper Vallee presents some of the results that have been gained from photo analysis in terms of the physical characteristics of a particular set of UAP sightings. We don’t even need to get too deep in the weeds in the results to do our simple analysis — let’s just look at one particular case featured in the paper — Case №1: August 27, 1956, McCleod, Alberta (Canada) — Classification: MA-1.

Sorry to say — especially for those of you who’ve yet to be enraptured by the hard science behind anomalistic studies — we can also avoid including any of the witness narrative or speculation on the origins of the object — we just need one number, the estimated optical power output for this particular case.

“Maccabee finds a range of 2.5 x 10⁹ W (2,500 megawatts) to 3 x 10¹⁰ W (30,000 megawatts) for the power output within the spectral range of the film. As he rightly points out, however, ‘the total power emitted over all frequencies might be much greater.” — Jacques Vallee, Estimates of Optical Power Output in 6 cases of Unexplained Aerial Objects with Defined Luminosity Characteristics, Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 12/№3, Autumn 1998*

If we take these numbers and take an average of $0.15/Kilowatt Hour — or $150/Megawatt Hour ( $2.50/Megawatt Minute) — and we’re cautious and adjust for the possibility that the output is not sustainable — if it is stable for one minute, we have on the high end (30K Megawatt) an object generating $75,000.00 worth of energy per minute. On the low end (2,500 Megawatts) one generating $6,250.00 worth of energy per minute.

Now THAT is something investors can take to the bank, whatever it is — natural, supernatural, super natural, preternatural, paranormal, artificial, multi-trans-or omni dimensional, man made, extraterrestrial, time traveling, or straight from the hollow earth — it’s completely irrelevant if the thing is potentially churning out $75K of energy resources per minute. Then, whatever it is looks like something to put resources into figuring out.

This is the most crude and basic analysis that we could do on the potential profit, but it shows that there is a good possibility UFOs could translate into cold hard dollar signs and that is what will get organizations with serious resources to look at these areas.

Well…wait just a second…that is EXACTLY what has brought serious organizations to look into this phenomenon!

Those late to the game might have a bit of catching up to do!


UFOs, Religion, Technology — A (very short) introduction to American Cosmic

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on April 27, 2018

The Milky Way seen from the mountains of Northern California/Lewiston Lake (Photo: Ben Chasny/6 Organs of Admittance)

“From a solid base of scholarship Dr. Pasulka introduces us to the players at the frontier of biological and physical research to pose some age-old questions in new ways: Can the human spirit transcend space/time? How will religious traditions be reframed when they collide with the long-suppressed evidence of non-human consciousness in our environment?

Her sharp insight is drawn from her research into spiritual phenomena, updated by her travels from the UFO crash sites of New Mexico to the archives of the Vatican.

The result is a timely introduction to the revelations in our collective future.”

— Jacques Vallee, author of The Heart of the Internet: An Insider’s View of the Origin and Promise of the On-Line Revolution (Hampton Roads, 2003)

When you are introducing a book that will quietly and drastically change our understanding of what it means to be human, and what the implications are for the current explosion of technological innovation in our global culture, it’s best to start out slow. So let’s begin with the promotional description from the book’s publisher, Oxford University Press:

More than half of American adults and more than seventy-five percent of young Americans believe in intelligent extraterrestrial life. This level of belief rivals that of belief in God. American Cosmic examines the mechanisms at work behind the thriving belief system in extraterrestrial life, a system that is changing and even supplanting traditional religions.

Over the course of a six-year ethnographic study, D.W. Pasulka interviewed successful and influential scientists, professionals, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who believe in extraterrestrial intelligence, thereby disproving the common misconception that only fringe members of society believe in UFOs. She argues that widespread belief in aliens is due to a number of factors including their ubiquity in modern media like The X-Files, which can influence memory, and the believability lent to that media by the search for planets that might support life. American Cosmic explores the intriguing question of how people interpret unexplainable experiences, and argues that media is replacing religion as a cultural authority that offers believers answers about non-human intelligent life.

b7b70-15qlpkluy-g2xa-uqtwmc0aOk — now that you’ve digested that, let’s do a quick thought experiment:

You’ve read Oxford University Press’ description and you’ve let it sink in — go back and read the promotional blurb from Jacques Vallee again, he’s one of the ‘Silicon Valley entrepreneurs’ featured in Dr. Pasulka’s book.

Notice anything?

Do you find it strange that the OUP promo hedges a bit on the mundane side of things compared to the implications in Jacques Vallee’s endorsement?

”Stranger (still), the author discovers that technology does have connections to the paranormal, and the author’s interviews with technologists and her historical research into the Russian and American Space programs reveals the strange and perplexing origins of rocket technologies.

Pasulka draws on the latest research into digital and media technologies to reveal how the representation of the UFO passes into minds and bodies, informing memory, belief, and culture.”

— from the pre-publication preface for American Cosmic — UFOs, Religion, Technology (Oxford University Press, 2018)

The book is available for pre-order right now from OUP and the pre-publication preface is available on the American Cosmic website —by the end of the year you won’t “want to believe” — you’ll know more than you can possibly imagine: