SOME NOTES ON THE USE OF MAGIC
The analytical and mechanistic approach in parapsychology that is criticised in this study, stems from the scientific aesthetic of the domination of nature, a myth of superior, trans-cultural enlightenment inherited from 17th century philosophers such as Descartes and Bacon. From this linear perspective on the evolution of mind, magical thinking is presumed to be a primitive, if not infantile cognitive style; it is thought of as pre-religious and pre-rational. However, there are surprising parallels between magic and scientific rationality (e.g. Horton, 1970; Thorndike, 1905).
This is not the place to discuss Popperian claims of 'superiority' or 'universality' of our western mode of rationality. It is true however, that, like magic, science too is based on conventional myths (e.g. the idea of a fundamental epistemic distance between subject and object) and that for instance 'abstraction' and 'control' are not incontestable criteria in themselves. Also, science as the production of 'one-dimensional' knowledge has its 'tapu's' as well, neglecting anomalies while working within rigid, self-enclosed paradigms of which the apparent internal dynamic shows itself in an historical perspective to be a 'motorised' static, a repetitive rephrasing of circular knowledge.
In an early attempt to counter such critical arguments and formulate a distinction between magical rites and the non-magical technology of the civilised world, anthropologist James Frazer (Frazer, 1983) argued that the magician assumes a direct relationship between the action and a later event, whereas, in Frazer's words, in empirical fact the relationship is one of the association of ideas only. In time the empirical facts have changed - parapsychological research has provided ample evidence for psi, thereby undermining Frazer's argument. The demarcation is further eroded by scrutiny of the 'rock bottom base' of science, the 'sense data' and logical 'truths', that reveals a system of conventions and assumptions about reality. On closer examination therefore, the scientific technè itsèlf transforms into a framework of magic, a narrow styled framework of which the lack of meaning is counterbalanced by the advantage of its relatively regular operation.
In this line of reasoning, one could think of the Ganzfeld experiment - embedded as it is in a western frame of mind - as a specific and modern presentation of the same principles that underlie certain magical rituals. The Ganzfeld situation might not just provide a technical noise-reduction method for enhancing the signal-noise ratio and detection probability of individual psi information units, as the cognitivistically oriented might have it. In a broader sense, it could be understood as a multi-interpretable ceremony, a sequence of rituals (e.g. Schlitz, 1994; Wezelman et al., 1996) that is justified according to scientific rules and criteria, and that furnishes participants and experimenters with a meaningful situation in which psi is wrapped up as a statistical deviation and is experienced as the statistical and logical, unthreatening product of a well defined 'recipe'. In accord with this interpretation, Honorton saw the Ganzfeld experiment as an operationalisation of the pratyahara stage of Patanjali's eightfold raja yoga path (Honorton, 1992).
More 'exotic' still, the profile of the Ganzfeld procedure - the immersion in the homogeneous perceptual environment (the 'ganz Feld') that partly deconstructs 'receiver's' ego-logocentrical consciousness, and the emergence of target-related information - shows an obvious structural analogy to techniques of divination, e.g. crystal gazing, pyromancy, hydromancy, dream interpretation, and the use of the psychomanteum (Moody, 1994), techniques that are based on the intercultural shamanistic and alchemistic formula 'solve et coagula' (Odin, 1982).
In general, one of the most important distinctions between the fundamental assumptions of modern science and principles of magic lies in the contrast between the latter and the Baconian presumption of an abstract realm of superior and paternalistic scientific laws elevated above blind matter: principles of magic generally do not presuppose an a priori epistemic distance between the subjective domain of knowledge and an external objective reality. In the Eigensender sessions, rituals of consecration, sacrifice, and evocation and invocation were performed, the purpose of which was to bring an awareness of mimetic partaking of a systems level transcending that of normal analysis and mechanistic manipulation, a realisation of a 'synthesis' beyond the dichotomy of organic and inorganic experimental elements (participants, setting, material). This mimetic experience was attended by the insight that some form of 'grace' is a conditio sine qua non for the success of a session. Certainly these rituals gave a deeper sense to the concept of 'participants'.
Resounding in this idea of truth is the pre-Socratic 'aletheia' - revelation - the ideal of 'unveiling', a notion that, according to Heidegger (Avens, 1982), degenerated after Plato's cave metaphor into the scientific notion of truth as correctness of correspondence between 'internal representations' and an 'external reality' of 'lifeless' objects, a reality that opposes us (cf. the German 'Gegenstand' and the English verb 'to object'). All this leads to a conclusion that cannot easily be reconciled with the premises and conventions of modern science: The progress towards a better knowledge of psi might necessarily have to involve 1) a practical, experiental dimension (i.e. theorising on anomalous experience being interwoven with the experiences themselves), and 2) the acquisition of a 'view on world views', a non-reductionistic knowledge that can only incompletely be expressed in the digital format that scientific discourse prescribes and that is made explicit in the recommendations - mentioned in some notes on the philosophy of science - for dealing with the problem of literalisation of metaphorical content.
ES+ was an attempt to realise this unity of theory and practice. The ES+ procedure was not meant to provide a new, clearly defined paradigm, the 'definite magic theoretical interpretation of psi', which would in a few months time be ranged among other disposed of, 'coagulated' systems of once valid knowledge on psi. There is no standard ES+ programme that one can run independent of the situation and the persons involved. Replicating ES+ would entail the specification of a set of rituals and ideas for creating an 'openness' that may result in the realisation of psi, a method that would have to be adapted according to idiosyncratic ideas, the 'world view', of the experimenters involved. In a way this might be true for every experimental path in parapsychology.
To conclude with, we'd like to argue that controlled application of ideas and rituals of magic is relevant for comprehending and evocating what we call psi. All the shortcomings, errors and illusions of magic traditions are well compensated by its one important wisdom: the fact that we are an organic part of reality. It is this wisdom that parapsychology, like quantum mechanics in its own way, should reclaim in a more mature form. Thus, our article on an 'experiment in practical philosophy' is not meant as a trendy anti-intellectual plea for a regression to a premodern 'animistic' view. Also, the proposed de-literalisation of parapsychological concepts (see some notes on the philosophy of science) does not bring us on the slippery slope of pure relativism, for developing optimal psi-experiments from a post-Cartesian epistemology implicates that there is something to be learned: a knowledge beyond the gap between practice and theory.