The Chemistry of Catharsis, Science, and Magic

A standard feature of magical thinking is to attribute non-physical causes to physical effects. A witch causes a man to be sick, and so a sorcerer will enact vengeance on the witch. If the witch happens to be found dead, or perhaps just apologizes, it’s proof of the witch’s guilt. Likewise, a rainmaker makes small smoke clouds, and if rain comes, it’s proof he’s a good rainmaker and should be tenured under the chief.

We can depict magic as a big cluster of particles, with X parts “science”, and Y parts “religion,” sort of like the nucleus of a Uranium 235 atom. This atom is unstable, but can be held stable with the right conditions. Magical thinking is stable within a linguistic framework that ensures that nobody question it. To deny the validity of magic is to deny science, because cause->effect, and witches->sickness, rainmaker->rain, etc. All institutions ensure that these relationships hold, and there are many novel and emergent ways this happens.

Sickness is quickly blamed on a witch, who might then negotiate a settlement: He apologizes for his witchcraft causing sickness, he didn’t intend this, he intended it to do good things, so he will pay a small fine but remain known as a powerful witch. The Azande of South Sudan had an entire economy around witchcraft and the poison oracle that could detect them. Witchcraft was incidental, and one didn’t expect that they could have been the source, but this power can then translate into their power as a sorcerer to enact beneficent magic medicine as well. Witchcraft benefits the accused to some extent, since he might even receive some monetary or spear donations to perform his medicine against his own craft. If the victim heals, all this is confirmed. [See E. E. Evans Pritchard’s Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande, 1937/1963 ed.]

Rain was attributed to the power of the rainmaker among the Australian Aborigines and many native North Americans. The rainmaker’s job is a difficult one. A new, upstart rainmaker might compete with the current rainmaker, employing new rituals that more closely “sympathize” with the phenomenon of rain (like, being able to make darker smoke clouds), and if successful he will be hired, and the old one kicked out or killed. The new rainmaker realizes that being the village rainmaker carries a lot of risks. His novel rainmaking rituals won’t produce rain every time, so he’ll try it over here, over there, or later on. The community remembers when he brought rain against the old rainmaker, so they give him another chance or two, like producers rehiring the director of a failed Marvel film. But he can only stall for so long: the community will rise up against him for failing to bring rain. He will blame a witch for impeding his magic to buy himself time.

We see this today: an online video will be so badly rated that the viewers themselves are blamed its failure. So the ratings system will be removed from Netflix, and the downvotes removed from YouTube. This is the same process as ever: attack the witches so that the rainmaker can keep making smoke clouds, peeing on a newt, or whatever it takes to bring rain.

So we can see that the enforcement of magical systems is emergent: with no other options available, people naturally want this stuff to be true. We don’t need a pope or king or World Economic Forum leader to impose this: it emerges from the human desire for a linguistic understanding of cause and effect. It grows like a crystal, naturally and slowly, birthed from itself. The human internal motor representation (IMR) begins to look like an atomic model that demands resolution to the “intents” of crisis, and it structures language and society accordingly.

Sooner or later, the entire community will decide that the rainmaker’s magic has failed. Perhaps he’s grown too old or sick or fat. Ugandan kings feared growing grey for this reason [Frazer, Golden Bough]. They kill him and put his son in power, since his magic must be hereditary and might be refreshed by his youthfulness. He has learned the ways of rainmaking from his fathers. His technique is mystical on its face: listen to the wind, follow the birds, meditate on the temperature. A scribe or bard in his rainmaking family might compile this data over time, sharing it with other rainmakers from other tribes, and they will eventually have an informal almanac to determine the best times and places for rainmaking. When rainmakers were tired of fearing being killed for not bringing rain, they released the almanac, which was a meterological chart that tracked pressure systems and bird migrations. The weatherman was born! Now it’s obvious that rainmaking does not bring rain: there are scientific signs to predict it a week in advance with 50-80% accuracy, but only God can bring rain, and for that we need his mercy.

Similarly, after the Inquisition killed some thousands of witches, the courts realized that witches didn’t actually cause plague or anything. Witchcraft had no actual power. Only God brought sickness, and it’s on you to employ the herbal simples or compounds (the scientific byproducts of alchemy, astrological medicine, Pliny’s natural science, and witchcraft) to help your immune system get through it.

So if we take the chemical analogy a bit further, by firing a neutron at Uranium 235 (which represents magic like rainmaking and witchcraft), the particle breaks into barium (science of meteorology and medicine) and krypton (theology). These new particles are more stable than U-235. We never want U-235 floating around, and we shouldn’t be supporting institutions which shield this magical U-235, because language is the neutron which can break it down into stabler forms, which can be broken down further.

The clearest example of this is medieval astrology. Astrology was a monumental hurdle to overcome for medieval science. Arabs, Chaldeans, Chinese, and Europeans had tracked the celestial orbs and 7 planets for centuries. The Alfonsine tables were utilized for centuries, but this Arab contribution to astronomy wasn’t in the service of building planetariums or particle accelerators. “Astronomy” was employed for astrological medicine, writing predictions (“Ephemerides”) of upcoming years, prognosticating plagues and wars for kings and popes, etc. It was fortune-telling and quack medicine through and through. Catholic astrologers attempted to remain true to both the Greeks and the Hebrews by balancing celestial influences with the freedom of the soul to sin and be redeemed. The two ideas were fundamentally opposed. A man had to ride two horses at the same time to maintain both beliefs, and this was a specialty of 15th and 16th century academic writing. But astrology slowly, incrementally, broke down as new linguistic neutrons were fired at it. The charts were released (as astronomy) and the powers of the stars was broken (giving an updated form to Free Will theology). [Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Sciences, Vols I-VI]

We also see this with alchemy, an offshoot from the slow breaking of astrology. If the stars didn’t affect earthly matter, perhaps it was inherent in the matter itself. Alchemists took to labs to transmutate elements not just into gold but into anything. As they say, no alchemist died a rich man, but they can rest easy knowing their data became modern chemistry. We can probably thank them for gunpowder too… if we’re to be thankful for that anyway.

The witch trials were religious in tenor and debunked witchcraft, demanding a search for scientific causes of ailments. The crackdown against astrology was religious and merged the solar with lunar calendars, demanding physical explanations for the astronomical charts, birthing heliocentrism. Sixtus V’s bull against alchemy was religious and gave us chemistry (and exactly zero transmuted gold).

No man ever did any of this in the name of “science.” Science was the offgassing. The motives were religious, or perhaps more accurately “linguistic.” These are polemic attacks against magic: You cannot have a cause for an effect when there’s no clear connection between the two.

Darwinian Evolution was one of the first “scientific” endeavors of its magnitude, producing a pulsating, radioactive glob of U-235. That broke apart into a magico-science of race genetics and a magico-theology of natural selection. Race genetics broke apart into genomics and cultural anthropology, and natural selection broke apart into eugenics/population control and many modern theological movements. What one notices when reading a modern book on evolution is how much longer and wordier it has to be: one has to be in favor of genetic evolution, but not the evolution of any human race over another. And this requires a lot of paragraphs assuring the reader that the author is a good Darwinian and not a bad Darwinian (like a good astrologer adhering to free will and not a bad astrologer using demons).

Only a theology can really mitigate the Darwinian problem: all human races are seen as inherently equal, and any contravening evidence is illicit and is listed under the Catholic Index. The only man who’s done a decent job of demonstrating universal equality is Chomsky with his Initial State [Chomsky, The Minimalist Program]. And even here he runs into trouble with the Darwinians, since the Initial State must have happened species-wide in Homo sapiens before the onset of language. Gibson’s Tools and Cognition series (1992) refuses to mention Chomsky once in its first 300 pages, except to quickly pass off his Universal Grammar as a pseudoscience (and as a tacit theology). Gibson’s book is fundamentally anti-theological, so as a result it bears the marks of atheistic Darwinian books: it’s wordy and swirls around the Darwinian toilet, making some points at the expense of dozens of wasted hours. Chomsky’s Why Only Us? (2016) was an olive branch to the Darwinians, but the Initial State remains the only evolutionary equalizer at the base of human races. It’s also the basis of my ROBA Hypothesis.

Moving into the 20th century, the new particles of science and theology were further broken down into constituent parts. Free Will theology was broken down to 1) the pseudo-science of behaviorism, innate aggressionism, and sociology that desperately need to be broken down further, and 2) a mixed magico-theology of addiction therapy and genetic determinism that need to be broken down as well. Alcoholism is still somehow both a decision and genetic, and whatever linguistic neutron needed to break this apart hasn’t emerged yet. Meanwhile, Einstein hit astronomy with a neutron that broke it apart into 2 new thought “particles”: 1) quantum theory (a science which resulted in the internet) and 2) quack, modern astronomy (or magico-astronomy), which was Einstein’s own theology, seen in his Ideas and Opinions (1954), where he calls for an international body of sociology experts to restrict human violence, despite the fact that these international bodies had already failed at halting World War I [Robinson, Ordeal of Civilization] and World War II, all in the span of a single generation.

This modern magico-astronomy quickly cemented itself as the core of the scientific establishment. Perhaps the Space Race was a product of its less toxic form. It was a cathartic resolution to the IMR of global, nuclear destruction in the midst of the Cold War. The Space Race was the most expensive Roman Gladiator contest ever devised. It was so good that some people think it must have been faked. No matter your take, you have to admit it worked. Russia and the USA still remain. The Cold War produced 0 direct casualties, probably a record low for any war. This doesn’t make it “nonviolent” (which would be using Pinker’s criteria per his Our Better Angels), but it sheds light on the US government’s ability to singlehandedly resolve the IMR (internal motor representation) of every person on the planet in the span of 24 hours.

But today, the members of this consortium can’t pull off such spectacles. So they busy themselves positing that aliens MUST exist, that there MUST be a multiverse, and there that human aggression MUST be seen as futile in the vast scope of this infiniti-verse. They do a lot of podcasts, run a lot of series on PBS, but none of their ideas produce any significant advancements, and their cathartic endeavors are miniscule. Instead we get a lot of smaller pop culture telling our children that humans are simply animals (Planet of the Apes), space garbage (Cosmos), and 1s and 0s (Tron Legacy). We consume this pop culture to resolve an IMR which tells us we’re powerless against crises. Naturally it makes us feel deflated. Other pop culture will lash out to pump us back up: movies where we dominate nature, kill the aliens, and shut down the AI give different resolutions to the crisis IMRs.

Modern magical astronomy has ultimately attracted a class of new shamans, who take a lot of tax money and claim to make rain and fight witches for us. Their data looks like the complex motions of planets in medieval astrological books, only now in the form of complex statistical analyses that have the capacity to derive any conclusion from any data. The more complex the sociology formula, the higher ranked they become [Stanislav, Social Sciences as Sorcery, 1973]. They complain that we haven’t been to the moon since 1969 and produce lists of witches who are responsible. But NASA can’t wrap its head around catharsis anymore because it doesn’t see people as “people”. You can’t produce catharsis if the audience is just “stardust” to you. Sooner or later they will get tired of you and get rid of you.

But the catharsis of pop culture will never be the neutron that breaks down the new U-235, or whatever U-XXX. This neutron can only come from some serious, hard work. The neutron will be found in some novel terminology, or maybe a juxtaposition of an old idea with a new one. We can then fire the neutron at the magical particle that calls itself “science” and finally retire these jokers.