Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Fifty years ago, the Christian author Clive Staples Lewis wrote a book called The Discarded Image. It describes the medieval worldview, and how it derived from the Ptolemaic system of astronomy (and astrology) and older classical and pagan philosophy. It examines how these subjects came to be integrated into the Christian perspective, in its piety, its mystical visions, and its sense of a finite and describable physical universe. The book is still studied, I’ve heard, by scholars of the Middle Ages. http://www.necessaryprose.com/cslewis.htm
Often these days, I’m drawn into online discussions about parallels between magick and quantum theory. Usually, I skim the posts and make few if any comments, because I don’t really understand quantum theory (or theories).
And often, quantum science is little understood by scientists. There are data they have, they can extrapolate ideas from this, and they can predict certain outcomes in their experiments as a result. But the paradoxes they find prevent comfortable absorption of the ideas.
On the other hand, when we move from the quantum scale up to ‘our’ world, comprehension is far easier. I can understand, for example, that poorer kids who grew up in the 1960s in low-cost housing built near major highways took in a lot of lead from the leaded fuel of the times. And that this might have been a cause of high levels of criminal behaviour among them. Lead and lead compounds are toxic, and they change how we judge and perform our own actions. I can understand what probably happened with all those children as they grew up and got into trouble. Poverty and poor education were factors, but perhaps the lead in their bodies was the clincher.
Not so, for example, with quantum biology, where there appear to be specific pathways photons take in their reactions with chlorophyll that have no conventional cause. The phenomenon was observed and reported, and the experiment is repeatable. I’m sure I’ve over-simplified this one, but probably not its essence.
But these scientists are working with information – knowledge. Da’ath, as we Qabalists call it. It isn’t understanding, or Binah, which is what the medieval worldview had, within its limits. I recall reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time – twice – some years ago, and sort-of getting it. But quantum physics, Hawking’s field, cannot be expressed satisfactorily in the primary symbol-system of our times – human language. At least, not in any truly cogent manner. Yes, we can note that A and B lead to C, and maybe D, E and F, but we can’t very satisfactorily comprehend the ideas, even with illustrations to help us. Black holes, the bending of space-time and so on … it’s just sitting there, like the yucky veggies your mother told you were good for you, and which you couldn’t summon the will to consume.
And am I the only person who has ever wondered if the story of Schrodinger’s unfortunate cat is simply a half thought-out example? That in fact we might be able to get around the limits of determining its actual condition(s) one of these days? Schrodinger apparently thought so, since his famous example was originally an effort to mock emerging quantum theory.
Science in the Middle Ages was fixed, largely around principles enunciated by Aristotle. Experiment was frowned on, because if it appeared to contradict the Greek philosopher, it could lead down the dangerous road to error and even heresy. The world of the senses was valued less than the worlds of mind and spirit, at least by those who had the leisure time to consider these matters, and was therefore viewed as suspect.
While you can still see online statements such as “physicists have shown,” or “science has recently discovered,” most of us realise such observations are iffy. Science is a moving target, as any quantum scientist can tell you. Revision, refinement and rethinking are constants in scientific research, and each fresh discovery produces new problems and new debates. Little is settled for good.
Perhaps this is the appeal of quantum science to Thelemites, or practitioners of systems akin to Thelema. Crowley accepted the Golden Dawn’s view of things for a time, but was driven to Theravada Buddhism as having a broader sense of how existence functions. Thelema itself, perhaps, is a development of the confluence of both those streams of thought, one rooted in the western world’s Christian heritage, the other coming from India and a non-Aristotelian perspective. Crowley himself, we might say, was a Schrodingerian cat who was both alive and dead at the same time, his writings and his presence in his own era constituting his life, while his crossing of the Abyss and becoming ‘a pile of ash’ in the City of the Pyramids marked the beginning of egoic death.
It’s this yes-and-no, definitely-but-maybe-not aspect of Thelema that holds most of us, since we see that there’s no cul de sac, no end-point for us. We accept that our present view of it all is going to collapse and be transcended many times, and that is a source of freedom and optimism. The Christian concept of one single Judgement Day, followed by a new heaven and a new earth, seems absurd to us, and only of use to those who still believe in a finite, Aristotelian universe.
But we’re still a long way from living in a realm where science and spiritual praxis can coincide as they did in the Middle Ages. C. S. Lewis’s shattered image has not been reconstituted yet, even if, as the quantum fans among the magical community assert, we’re coming closer to such a condition.
Human intellect today is a product of millennia of evolution and conditioning, but most especially of what occurred during the time we call the Aeon of Osiris. That ran from a few centuries before the time of Jesus until just a century ago, during which time analytical thinking significantly displaced instinctual processes. Our brains now have to realign their neural links to deal with an entirely different environment. While I’m doubtful about transhumanism and Ray Kurzweil’s notion of the singularity, I accept that increased connections to sources of digital information are part of our future.
But again, that’s all about Da’ath – data, info, facts. Knowledge. What transhumanism doesn’t, and can’t, grasp is that intellect is just one tool in our existence, like our kidneys or the optic nerves feeding from our eyes to our brains. In Thelema, capital-U Understanding is our purpose, and that is non-linear, non-temporal, and non-causal. It includes all that stuff, but is outside it.
To describe what this statement means requires lapsing back into the language of cause and effect, and thus of time, and addressed on those terms it’s a meaningless statement. Yet anyone who’s experienced it for a few moments knows that it’s so. And somewhere and somehow out of our planet-trashing, economically catastrophic, socially upheaved passage through life on this planet, we’re going to discover a new image, in Lewis’ sense. At that point we will, truly, be living and thinking as gods, as stars, as Thelema’s primary texts tell us we will.
Love is the law, love under will.