Physics and the Basic Principle of Visualization Magic
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
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
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
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
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.
For Further Reading