Physics and the Basic Principle of Visualization Magic

By Dan



For starters, I would like to say a few things about myself to set the record straight. I have a Masters degree in Quantum Field Theory, am working on my PhD in the same, and am a practicing, if tyro, shaman. I have read in several places that the best way to start in magick is to read read read read, and I have noticed several articles using Physics to explain magickal arguments. Unfortunately, many of these articles either do not explain the Physics very well or are just plain wrong. I am not disrespecting these people: after all, not everyone can be a Physicist! I thought I would write a brief article to clear up a few issues on the nature of probability in Physics as well as how probability might play a role in magick.

The following article is essentially a short paper on the Metaphysics behind what I call "visualization magick." I am not going to footnote: all of the Physics arguments are well known and documented and can be found in any introductory text on Quantum Mechanics. As for my magickal arguments, well, they are as correct as I can make them. Naturally, I accept responsibility for any errors contained in this article.

The Nature of Investigation

Most of the science done today is based on a problem solving technique called the "Scientific Method." The Scientific Method is a well-established way to start from the basic principles behind a problem and develop an experimentally based explanation of a given phenomenon. It has been used successfully for centuries. There is one problem with this method, though: it can be very difficult to incorporate any newly discovered facts that do not fit the structure of the current scientific theory. This point has been raised repeatedly when scientists try to discover the nature of ghosts, ESP, etc.

I think it is natural to take the viewpoint that any axiomatic structure, such as the sciences, can only explain certain types of phenomena. Other systems, such as magick, can explain other phenomena. It is interesting that these different axiomatic structures can overlap: they can explain the same types of phenomena, but they explain them in different ways. One might call different axiomatic systems as "paradigms," or "representations." Whatever you call them, it is important not to mix the different systems, because the any term defined in one representation are not likely to have the same meaning in another. For example, anyone trying to explain a magickal phenomenon in terms of Physics needs to be careful of how the word "energy" is used. Energy in magick will not necessarily mean the same thing as it does in Physics. (Incidentally, energy is not a well-defined concept in Physics!)

In the remainder of this article I am going to discuss the Physics representation known as the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Physics (CI) and, within that representation, provide an explain of visualization magick.

Schrodinger's Cat and Quantum Reality

When most people think of Physics, they think of equations, math, and all sorts of difficult problems. In actuality, Physics is based on very simple arguments and can often be put in the form of puzzles that illustrate the basic principles. For instance, Classical Physics can usually be put into the form of some little guy (or person, for you extreme liberalists) firing a cannon over a ravine. Classical Physics describes what we see and touch in everyday life. We are familiar with it and it is the representation that makes the most sense to us. Another representation, which is more basic, is that of Quantum Reality. Classical Reality is fully contained within Quantum Reality, but Quantum Reality contains more phenomena, much of it things we do not see in day-to-day life. Not really accepting Quantum Reality for what it is, Erwin Schrodinger devised a thought experiment to show the odd nature of what Quantum Physics implies. He was essentially trying to ridicule the interpretation of the science he was helping to develop. The thought experiment is known as "Schrodinger's Cat."

We start with building a switch device based on quantum principles. We are going to take an atom of a radioactive material and place it inside a detector. The detector sends a signal to a switch if the atom decays. Now, all atoms decay eventually, and the amount of time it takes for half the amount of a radioactive material to decay is called the "half-life" of the material. So the chance our one atom will decay in one half-life is 50%. Thus, after one half-life, our switch has an equal chance of being "on" or "off." We now connect a vial of the deadliest poison to the switch; if the switch is "off" then the poison vial is closed, if the switch is "on" then the poison vial is open and any creature in contact with the poison will die instantly. Now place the quantum switch and vial of poison along side a cat in a sealed box. The question is after one half-life has elapsed, is the cat alive or is it dead?

Since there is a 50% chance that the atom has decayed in one half-life, our "logical" answer must be that the cat has a 50% chance of being alive or dead. No other answer in our (Classical Reality) experience makes any sense. We cannot say with certainty if the cat is either alive or dead.

However, we are asking a question that requires a specific answer. Is the cat alive, or is it dead? Quantum Reality gives us a third, and actually the only valid, answer to this problem. The cat is in a mixed quantum state of both alive and dead as far as anyone outside the sealed box is concerned. That is, the cat is only in a specific state of alive or dead when someone called a "quantum observer" looks inside the box to determine the state of the cat. This leads us to all sorts of metaphysical problems about the cat as well as the problem of what defines a quantum observer.

The Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Reality

The Quantum Reality representation of the result of the Schrodinger's cat experiment does not make any sense as far as Classical Reality is concerned. Nevertheless, it has good basis in Physics. Many of the top Physicists of the time (around the 1930's I believe) met in Copenhagen to discuss Quantum Mechanics. Several topics were on the board there and eventually a consensus was made as to the nature of a quantum system: if a system is not measured it exists in a superposition of all possible quantum states. When the system is measured, it falls into one specific state. (For you Physics buffs, this is the concept behind the Born interpretation of the wave function.) This representation has become known as the "Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Physics." (CI) According to the CI, Schrodinger's cat is both alive and dead until someone opens the box to look.

There is one other way to look at Quantum reality, but you pay a severe price. The representation, called the "Many Worlds Theory," states that every time a quantum level decision is made, the Universe splits into two or more copies, one for each outcome of the decisions. The Many Worlds interpretation of Schrodinger's cat states that the Universe splits into two copies: one with a dead cat and the other with a live cat. When we open the box we find out which Universe we are in. Personally, I find this representation to be a bit ridiculous, but you may feel free to choose which one you like the most. Both the Many Worlds and the CI make exactly the same predictions and we cannot tell which one is correct (if either!).

The Double Slit Experiment

The Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment does not really tell us anything about the real world unless we can prove it. Obviously, we are not going to learn anything from killing cats (and why would we want to anyway?) so we need to turn to another experiment to give us some facts. The Young's double slit experiment does just that and is almost as simple as Schrodinger's Cat. First though we need to talk about light.

When Sir Isaac Newton was doing his experimentation on light he decided, based on his experiments on reflection, refraction, and the sharpness of shadows, that light was made of little particles, which he dubbed "corpuscles." (We now call corpuscles photons.) Later on, interference experiments (such as the Young double slit) showed that light was made of waves, not particles. Was the great Sir Isaac wrong?? Not entirely. In the early 1900s, a man named DeBroglie showed that electrons, which are "obviously" particles, could be thought to have a wavelike character. Eventually scientists realized that all subatomic particles have both wave and particle properties...subatomic "particles" are neither particles nor waves, but are something else which we have come to call by the badly punned name of "wavicles." (If you are a John Gribbon fan, as I am, then you may like to call subatomic particles "slivey toves.") When we run an experiment that assumes light is a particle, light behaves as if it were made of particles; when we run an experiment that assumes light is a wave, light behaves as if it were a wave.

Young's double slit experiment assumes light is going to behave as a wave. We start with a monochromatic (single colored) light source and pass it through a slit so that we obtain a set of equally spaced wave fronts. We pass these wave fronts through a wall that has two tiny holes in it, equally spaced from the center point. Beyond the wall is our "detector:" essentially a TV that records the wave pattern striking the screen. A diagram of the double slit experiment may be found in any introductory Physics text, just look under the term "interference" in the index.

When we turn the light source on, we see a pattern of light and dark areas on the TV screen. This is the expected result since light is a wave and the two slits create an interference pattern: the peaks and troughs of the wave cancel out in different regions on the TV screen. This is entirely due to the fact of those two little holes in the wall...if there was only one tiny hole in the wall then we would only see one point of light on the TV screen and no interference. The one hole experiment is more like treating light as a particle rather than a wave, and we get no interference from it since particles do not interfere with themselves.

Now let us play with the experiment a bit. We are going to presume that light is made of particles and install detectors in both holes in the wall to see which hole the photon goes through. What kind of pattern do we get on the TV screen now? According to Classical Reality it had better be an interference pattern again. Nope. We get two little points of light on the TV screen. Why? Because we are thinking of light as particles we detected the particles, so they cannot interfere with each other. Let's play with this again. We are going to take the original double slit experiment and this time put the photon detector right in front of the light source and then we are going to run the double slit experiment only letting one photon through at a time. Obviously, we only get a point of light on the TV screen each time a photon passes through. However, let us record where each photon hits and run a bunch of single photons through the experiment. What do we get on the TV screen? We might expect to see two little points of light on the screen, but we do not. We now get a full-fledged interference pattern! Remember, this is a composite pattern made up of individual photons going through the experiment, not a bunch of waves. This is truly weird.

There are only two ways to explain this last result, neither of them comfortable. Consider a photon passing through hole #1 as a photon in state 1 and a photon going through hole #2 as a photon in state 2. The only way we can get an interference pattern is if we have something going through BOTH holes at the same time. This implies that the photon is traveling through the double slit apparatus in both states at the same time. Remember we are not trying to detect which state the photon is in as it goes through the holes, so the CI predicts that the photon is in both states, just as the results say it must be. (We can make a similar argument for the Many Worlds case as well). This is hard experimental evidence for the CI and has not been contradicted in the last 70 years or so. Just the opposite...other experiments have lent validity to the CI. (By the way, this same experiment has been done with electrons and, I believe, neutrons as well.)

The Extreme Copenhagen Interpretation and Your Quantum Universe

What follows is my personal interpretation of the Physics mentioned above.
Let us go back to Schrodinger's Cat since it is the simpler experiment. We need to discuss what makes a quantum observer again, because it is a tricky point. A quantum observer is some nebulous thing that takes a measurement of a system. What is it that creates the measurement process? Presumably, we have two systems to consider: the first is the actual experiment that we want to measure, and the second is the system that does the measuring. Therefore, if we take the measurement process to its most basic level, a measurement is the process by which the experimental system "gives" information to the observer's system. This information exchange is mediated by photons (or W, Z, gluons, etc. Basically any boson you wish. That's another topic.) To make a long story short, the observer gets information from the experiment by absorbing a photon. This means that an electron can serve as a quantum observer since a absorbing a photon will alter the electron's state. A quantum observer does not actually need to have an intelligence to function; it merely needs to respond to the experiment in some way.

So. Let us go back to Schrodinger's Cat. According to the scientist running the experiment the cat is both alive and dead until the box is opened. Say that he opens the box and knows the state of the cat. Now look at the people in the next room who are waiting to hear from the scientist in the room with the cat. According to them, the cat is STILL in that odd alive and dead mixed state. We can go further and state that the whole lab we ran the experiment in is in an undetermined state since the scientist in the lab might take different actions depending on the state of the cat. No one outside the lab can possibly know what is going on in the lab. Now look at the people in the next room beyond that, etc. What we have is a nested set of "Schrodinger's Cats." Until the information is passed between different rooms, the set of rooms inside exists in a mixed state.

We can take this argument to an (I feel logical) extreme. Since the individual particles in our bodies act as quantum observers the only pertinent information we have about the state of the Universe at large is what we perceive through our senses. Therefore, anything that we do not perceive through our senses exists in a mixed state similar to Schrodinger's alive/dead cat: nothing exists in a definite state unless we are sensing it. This is what I call the "Extreme Copenhagen Interpretation." (ECI) What this implies, then, is that each of us exists in our own personal universes and everything exterior to that universe exists in an undetermined state until we sense it. Note: I am going to ignore the question of other people existing...I will assume other people exist and our knowledge of their reality comes from the "interference" of these multiple universes. To give a quick example consider the question: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to see it fall, does it make any noise?" The ECI states that since no one was around, the tree is in a mixed state of existance/non-existance. Furthermore it has fallen/not fallen, much less made any noise/silence. Since the tree does not directly influence your universe, you cannot say anything definite about it even existing, even though you may have seen the tree an hour ago.

The Basic Principle of Visualization Magick

The ECI tells us that what we sense is what is contained in our universe. In order to do magick we need (at least) one more principle. When we do visualization magick, we actually feel what it is that we visualize. The ECI says that what we feel makes up our reality. Combining these two statements, we have what I call the "Basic Principle of Visualization Magick." What we visualize becomes real in our universe. This principle can be demonstrated by a simple spell, which I call an "empowering" spell. First, enter a light meditative state. (This first step may also be achieved by casting a circle.) Next visualize a blanket of white fire surrounding you, starting at your feet and working its way up to encompass your whole body. Hold this visualization until you can actually feel the fire surrounding you, cleansing your spirit and not letting any darkness penetrate your being. Now visualize your hands held outward from your body and let a globe of white fire come into being between your hands. Hold the globe there until you can feel it. This globe of fire represents your inner strength and the longer you hold it the more in touch with your strength you will be. The result of this spell is that you will feel empowered and more able to cope with the challenges of your life.

Is this magick, physics, or psychology? Remember, how we view our universe depends on the representation we use. In this case, the empowering spell may be viewed in any one of these representations. Using the ECI to describe the spell what we are doing is literally bringing up our inner strength as a concrete object and physically contacting it. We know it is there because we can feel it, therefore according to the ECI it has an actual existence. A similar argument holds for essentially any magick that has its basis in visualization or feelings.

The ECI explains how magick can affect our own universe, what about someone else's? After all many witches (warlocks, sorcerers, etc.) will claim that their magick affects other people, not just their own universe. We can use visualization magick to show how this might work, so there is not necessarily any conflict here. You (presumably) put some clothes on today so anyone that sees you will see those clothes and all of them will be able to describe the same set of clothing. You know you are wearing a certain set of clothes, and your best friend came up to you and mentioned something about the outfit, so you know she saw them. Both of you agree on the set of clothes because both of your universes came into contact, i.e. the two universes interfere because they both contain quantum observers. Now, can your best friend say anything about what you are wearing three hours after you parted? No, because you might have changed clothes. (Or Heck, you might be skinny-dipping in the local watering hole!) Once the universes are out of contact they no longer interfere.

To continue the analogy, if you feel something in your universe then it is real in your universe and thus, because your universe interferes with other universes the effect may well be real in someone else's universe. Say you know a spell to create a rainstorm. It will happen in your universe. Whether or not it happens in someone else's universe depends on the strength of the interference between your universe and theirs. I would suppose that the strength of the interference depends on the strength of your belief (and that of others) that you can make it rain. Taking things at face value, I would say that it would take a tremendously powerful mage to create an effect in someone else's universe seeing how difficult it is to create a magickal effect in our own universe. Note: I am aware the rain spell probably has nothing to do with visualization magick. I am also aware that other magickal principles could come into play here. Remember that I am using a representation, the ECI, to explain an effect. The ECI is probably not a good representation to discuss a rainmaking spell!


The way we explain an effect depends on the representation we use. The rules for which a representation is a good representation to explain an effect are not known, though we may certainly use common sense to guide us. The CI is a well-established representation that is used in modern day Physics. A logical extension to the CI is the ECI, which states that we all live in our own individual universe and that the Universe is composed of the interference of these personal universes. The ECI provides a way for Physics to explain the phenomenon of visualization magick by stating that what we feel is what is real in our universe.

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