Physics and the Basic Principle of Visualization
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
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
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
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
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
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
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