Today’s essay is about magic and consciousness and light and parapsychology. But only once will Harry Potter be cited.
I was preparing for my daily walk and had started listening to the latest Skeptiko podcast hosted by Alex Tsakiris. Episode 366 was about magic and parapsychology.
The guest was Gordon White, author of several books about magic, and host of his own podcast, Rune Soup.
I like the Rune Soup podcast very much. Because of Gordon's interviews, I own the Kindle versions of his books, Pieces of Eight and Star.Ships.
I tried to make rune soup once, but I only had one rune
The question in the title of the Skeptiko episode was, “Will Magic Kill Parapsychology?”
I hoped not. That would be paracide or psychocide.
The first few minutes featured audio clips of Dr. Dean Radin. He is the Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which is headquartered north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Petaluma. He is also the author of books such as Entangled Minds, The Conscious Universe, and Supernormal.
Dr. Radin revealed a discovery concerning his highly-regarded research into parapsychology. After a career of research and experiments, Dean had concluded he was actually studying the profession of magic!
He did not mean stage magic, the tricks and illusions practiced by professional magicians, but real magic. The kind associated with mysterious powers and the ability to accomplish seemingly miraculous feats.
The Dean Abides
How unusual was Dr. Radin's conclusion about parapsychology and magic?
Imagine a famous astronomer who declared, “My 45-year career in astronomy has actually been about the study of astrology! Who knew?”
Or a distinguished inventor of communications devices who confessed, “All those radios and phones I’ve designed...were actually about telepathy! Who knew? I didn’t! But now I do!”
Or the designer of television cameras who concluded, "All those television cameras I engineered were actually about clairvoyance! Who knew? I didn't! But now I do! I really do! Film at 11!"
Alex Tsakiris and Gordon White discussed the general implications of studying magic in the laboratory, and the risks and rewards of that. They also discussed the work of Dr. Stephen Skinner and George P. Hansen. I don't know their work, so I'll concentrate on Dean Radin today.
Photographed days later, but true to the spirit of what has been written
So I started my walk to the edge of the San Francisco Bay wondering about the podcast. If the universe really is conscious - Radin wrote the book The Conscious Universe - maybe my commitment to the podcast would be reflected in what I saw.
By simply listening to a podcast about magic, would “reflections of the universe” appear? Would I see something a little magical?
I’ve seen enough of these reflections to know they occur. Statistically, however, we know that most unusual moments will have no connection with clairvoyance or precognition. They just happen.
But if you’re lucky, something will accompany your discovery…a connecting principle...which reveals it is special. A dream or a vision, for example, can connect you to a great moment and show this was not just mere chance.
Way back in 2006, I discovered the license plate EPICENTER. There was no earthquake that day, but I had never seen this plate.
There was another reason it attracted my attention: the night before finding EPICENTER, I had a dream that a big earthquake had struck the Bay Area. That was the premise of the dream, only, there was no shaking or falling in the dream. Now, it seemed I had found the epicenter of my dream experience.
I've only had that kind of dream once, and I've only seen EPICENTER once.
This wasn't a big example, but earthquakes have been on my mind. Early this month, I photographed a plate I had never seen in my life...AFTERSHOCKS. That was Saturday the 11th. On Monday, there was an earthquake in the Monterey area that shook San Francisco. It registered 4.6, which is a pretty good pop.
For the next week, the papers were full of stories about something odd...aftershocks. You don't get them with a 3, it seems, not a lot, so maybe a 4 brings them about easily. At any rate, about a week later, there had already been 130 aftershocks around Monterey.
In 2007, I spotted UC Berkeley art students assembling portable art pieces. They were installing small art displays which were only temporary. When the class period was about to end, they would dismantle everything and return to the classroom.
So that's where it went
A second after that first photo, it collapsed. I was unaware of its collapse for an instant. I only knew it was not in the camera's viewfinder anymore. Gone...vanished.
This photo was taken maybe five seconds after the first one.
A shame...it was going so well.
What took it down? Had there been an earthquake?
I had never felt anything, and the art students never mentioned feeling something. There was no breeze to take it down, either. Maybe the base had shifted on the clumpy grass and the imbalance brought it all down.
Somebody gave it a look and spotted the cause. The glue had failed.
Somebody else's car outside Cantoo photo lab
A couple of hours after the art piece fell, I was dropping film off at a local Berkeley color film lab.
Kevin asked, “Did you feel the earthquake?”
"How long ago was it?"
"Just now. I'm surprised you didn't feel it."
I had felt nothing on the drive there, so Kevin showed me the details on the computer.
It was a 3, strong enough to give the photo lab a jolt. Earthquakes of 1 or 2 magnitude were common, but a 3 was unusual.
All of a sudden, that collapsing art piece hours ago seemed relevant.
Back home, I checked the USGS page for Northern California earthquakes.
It appeared I had driven over the epicenter during the earthquake, and that was a first.
Kevin had said the epicenter was across the street at the Xoma building. That earthquake would have shaken the good people working at Xoma, scrambled their heads for a moment. Somebody might have answered the phone, "Thank-you for calling Axmo...I mean Xamo..I mean Oxma. Tell me, do you know our name?"
I've had other funny moments with earthquakes. However, the fun diminishes as the magnitudes increase.
But enough small talk....
Darkness came quickly during my Skeptiko walk because I start my walks too late these days.
What sort of photos would I have taken near sunset when we were still in Daylight Saving?
Cirrus clouds formed by ice crystals maybe 20,000 feet high
Sunset through a construction site
A crow doing a seagull imitation
That strip of dark land on the right is the Berkeley Marina
A park in the city of Emeryville
Sometimes you can "unset the sun," as Galen Rowell put it, by finding higher elevation to keep shooting
In this case, the top of a parking garage
But it was night, too late to unset the sun unless you were in the International Space Station.
Anything interesting during the walk?
Not much. The darkness was boring.
But there was something with my name on it. This was the first plate of the evening. The owner probably wasn’t thinking of me, because it looks to be a reference to bliss…maximum joy.
A plate I had never seen before
I was hoping for something about magic, but how many of us truly need to be magicians? A lot of people would rather be happy, joyful. And if you read the yoga texts of India and their neighbors, happiness is our birthright. After all, we are sat-chit-ananda, and ananda means maximum joy...bliss.
In that case, maybe a plate about somebody who loves maximum joy is just as good as a magic plate
On the way home after an uneventful walk while listening to episode 366, I walked through that parking lot where I had found the Max Joy car. It had gone, but yards away there was a new one.
That got my attention because it was the "second bookend" of the walk. Those were the first two initials of my name. What were the odds I would go looking for magic and find a first plate and a last plate with my name?
Pretty good discovery, but I was looking for magic.
- DAY TWO -
The second day of this "magic experiment," I left the house early. I had learned my lesson the previous night.
And the lesson was?
If I leave the house after sunset, the walk will be in darkness.
I left the house with good light left and listened again to Skeptiko podcast 366: Will Magic Kill Parapsychology?
I thought the title was a bit over the top, a little too dramatic, but I got the point.
Here is the first photo of the walk....
And the relevance?
Not ten blocks from the house, I nearly got run over by that pickup between the trees.
I had spotted the front plate at the intersection, so I entered the crosswalk after the crossing sign had changed to "Don't Walk." The goal was to approach the driver and point to his plate and smile and say nice things...and maybe he'd pull over and let me get a quick shot.
Soon as I passed the front of the pickup and started for the driver's side, he got the green light and hit the gas and took a left turn.
Why does that pickup connect with the question whether magic will kill parapsychology?
Because I nearly got smashed by a pickup with the license plate DECEASE.
It was also the first time I'd ever seen the plate.
I hurried to get a shot, and that was the best I could do. A shame, DECEASE would have looked good in my Death Plates photo album. You'd be surprised at the number of people with death-related plates.
The rest of the walk, by comparison, was refreshingly safe.
I did find the license plate RED DEATH, but statistics prove if you find one plate about death during a walk, you will soon find another. It's all scientific, very Bayesian.
Finally, a little bit of magic
Well, Harry Potter magic. I walked past DIAGON without taking a shot because I thought I had it already. This plate had probably appeared to be the microscopic plankton known as diatoms.
When I realized I did not have the plate DIATOM or DIATOMS, I turned around and shot it.
So, what is this?
In the Harry Potter world, there is a place in London known as Diagon Alley. It's a shopping area where magicians trained at Hogwarts can buy supplies they require. The shopping list for first-year students includes such items as a wand, a long black winter coat, and a telescope. There's also a list of books, such as Waffling's Magical Theory.
Only wizards/magicians can see Diagon Alley. People who have no connection to magic cannot see it. If they have not been trained, they can't see it. And if they weren't born into a magic family, they can't see it.
What sort of person, then, could stand at the entrance to Diagon Alley and never see it?
You could lead a muggle by the hand to Diagon Alley, and he would say, "There's nothing here. I don't know what you expected me to see. Let's go ride the London Eye. That's the biggest ferris wheel in the world!"
Actually, fourth-largest these days. What do muggles know? But it looks great on the bank of the Thames.
So, the second walk in which I've listened to the Skeptiko podcast went well.
- DAY THREE -
The third evening walk brought me one of the great plates.
If you are a writer, or if you are working on something such as this essay, or even if you're a reader and you value the written word...one plate will grab your attention.
This was one of the rare times passersby have admired the plate I was photographing. Usually, they give it a look and then let it go.
I reacted to it instantly because it was a sign of completion.
I have a few plates about writing, but they are about the writing...not the completion. I've got WRITE IT and RIGHT IT and WRIT IT and WRITR. But WRITTEN is a more "powerful" plate. It's about the completion of the activity. The book? It is written. The short story? It is written. WRITTEN is the bookend to WRITE IT.
Finding WRITTEN was a lot of fun. I had never seen this in more than twenty years. Where did it come from? My standard assumption is that a plate I've never seen before probably comes from the south...someplace like Los Angeles.
Was I expecting this plate? Had there been a precognitive experience about finding it?
I never saw the writing on the wall before WRITTEN, but I did have a precog moment before PRECOG once
The WRITTEN plate simply showed up in the first fifteen minutes of the walk, which lasted over three hours and covered seven miles.
By the way, most people who study magic or parapsychology - Dr. Radin, for example - would correct me on the use of precognitive. If I had a feeling something was coming, that would have been closer to the word presentiment.
But they would have taken my meaning.
By chance, you might wonder, did I have anything of a written nature in my backpack? A book maybe? A book manuscript? A photo book?
Wouldn't a written anything in the backpack suggest I had prepared subconsciously for an unseen future event?
Wouldn't something connected to Skeptiko episode 366 be meaningful?
Well, I did have this little old book here...
Our conscious universe writes...has written
I've had the book a long time, years and years. Now and then, I bring it along in the backpack. I've done that with other books, such as the Siva Sutras. It's always fun to see what will turn up.
Living in the Bay Area dramatically improves the odds of finding something which connects. Still, it's fun when you make a discovery. I once photographed the plate MEHER when I had Meher Baba's Discourses in the backpack. Lots of fun.
It seems real...even after you know how it was done
I would not call this a case of pre-anything. I just kept my eyes open and kept a book in the backpack.
I like that floating spoon. It's simple and smart. It's also a subtle reference to people who have been known to levitate, and a reference to people who bend spoons with their minds.
It also goes well with soup.
Are you getting hungry? I could really use something to eat right now.
- AND NOW, I WOULD LIKE TO TRY SOMETHING -
I will try to make The Conscious Universe float beside that car.
Watch what happens when I let go of the book in my hand....
It's the only trick I know.
Anyway, I walked seven miles that night. I took one other photo, but I would have been happy to photograph nothing after WRITTEN. For the circumstances, it was perfect.
- DAY FOUR -
The search for magic continued....
I photographed some crows in the neighborhood.
Around an hour before each sunset, they congregate and clatter and caw.
Before long, though, the crows on the wire wise up.
Says one, "Didn't we do this yesterday, fly around the telephone poles and the trees before sunset? And haven't we done this every day forever?"
Another crow says, "You got it. This feels like Groundhog Day."
And another crow says, "Yeah, this is getting old. The pigeons do it better, anyway. They're precise, like they're flying in formation. We look like we're on mescaline."
I finally finished with Skeptiko episode 366 during this walk. Third listen this week. I need to listen three times, usually, because walking always distracts me from a podcast or an audiobook. By now, though, I thought I had it.
- BETTER THAN A TURKEY -
BATGAP's home page
On tonight's walk, I listened to an interview with Dean Radin on the podcast, Buddha at the Gas Pump. An audio clip from it had been played on the Skeptiko episode.
I must be living in my own world, because I had never heard of this podcast. Maybe it's because I don't own a car.
I photographed a turkey at the gas pump once
So I listened to host Rick Archer's interview with Dean Radin, and it was good. Near the end, there was a discussion of Radin's research into parapsychology, and his changing view of it.
In The Conscious Universe, there are a lots of references to magic, but they are not endorsements of it. Magic is spoken of as something believed in by ancestors. You know, a superstition. Another time, the phrase used is "magical thinking."
But in his latest book, Supernormal, there is a significant shift. The emphasis on laboratory experiments has diminished, and instead he discusses the connection between yoga and psychic abilities.
Yoga has been around for thousands of years. Some of the original texts go back that far. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, featured in Supernormal, were compiled nearly two thousand years ago. The Yoga Sutras are so old, they predate Spandex.
The yogic texts are relevant to parapsychology and magic because of the siddhis, magical powers that accompany yogic development. As people meditate and accumulate inner power, they will tend to develop siddhis. They may become telepathic, for example. At the advanced stages, they may be able to move objects without touching them.
The reality of these powers has been documented fairly well. People who associate with a genuine guru will have experiences that confirm the most common ones, such as clairvoyance.
Radin's Supernormal mentions the word magic 23 times, and the references are more accepting than in The Conscious Universe.
The change in emphasis is more striking with the use of the word yoga. In The Conscious Universe, there were only 3 references to yoga. But in Supernormal, more than 250.
And now, it seems Dr. Radin has concluded these abilities might be included within a wider concept...magic. This could be big.
This new direction does not surprise me at all. At first, when you're young and immature and easily swayed by movies about wizards who wear glasses, you believe in magic. When you grow up and learn the ways of the world, you let those childish notions go. And when you gain experience through meditation and similar studies, you believe in magic again. But you don' t believe in lightsabers and broomsticks that fly.
You just watch the world and see it everywhere.
There is a risk associated with developing siddhis, these "magical powers." Actually, a lot of risks.
As discussed in yoga texts, they were not ends in themselves. The siddhis were byproducts of yoga practice.
The purpose of yoga was, in general, the union of the individual with God...The Self...Brahma. The magical powers appeared along the path to this supreme level of awareness. They were not supposed to be magical goals. You did not stop when you had picked up a few magical powers.
That's two cautions
The texts actually cautioned seekers from giving them attention. These powers were a trap because the practitioners often achieved them before learning how to manage them, how to avoid being seduced by them, and how to resume the path toward self-realization.
Anyway, people have seen Star Wars, they've seen Harry Potter, they've seen The Simpsons Movie. They have seen the big screen version of magic. Those magical forces, according to the Sutras, exist. Put a thousand meditators in a room, and you can almost see sparks fly. The energy is that palpable.
Given the historical warnings about the pursuit of powers, I am concerned about the emphasis on magic, but ignoring its reality does not do any good, either. Perhaps we are learning about siddhis and magic these days because they have become necessary...maybe vital. Maybe we are all magicians from the start. We are always manipulating power and form and consciousness to one degree or another. Also, some claim there is a natural "braking" mechanism that impedes the progress of people who can't handle their new power. Hard to tell, what do I know?
Well, what else happened on the fourth night's walk?
I enjoyed the Dean Radin interview so much with Buddha at the Gas Pump, I started listening to Rick Archer's interview with Paul Muller-Ortega.
Due to a scheduling conflict, Parvati was not available
This was the first time I ever heard Dr. Ortega. I bought his brilliant and scholarly book, The Triadic Heart of Siva decades ago. Someday, I hope to understand it. Not his fault. He is examining the non-dual philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism, which is an authoritative and precise statement of metaphysical reality. The only book I can compare it to is The Doctrine of Vibration, by Mark Dyczkowski.
I was taking my walk and listening to Paul and Rick talk shop in episode 417. Not ten minutes into the interview, I was passing a movie theater when I looked to the left and spotted a plate with somebody's name.
And the name of the car owner?
This has never happened, listening to an interview and finding anything with the name of the guest or the host.
I did find the plate HOST once on the way to the home opener of the Giants at AT&T Park, but I was listening to KNBR 680...The Sports Leader.
Anyway, finding ORTEGA while listening to ORTEGA was a lot of fun, one of the best discoveries this year. This would not have occurred except I caught the interview of Alex Tsakiris with Gordon White on Skeptiko #366.
While I've got The Triadic Heart of Siva in front of me, it's useful to quote something Dr. Ortega wrote in his introduction. To introduce the introduction, the book is an examination of a teaching written by a sage known as Abhinavagupta. His approach turns the traditional concept of enlightenment on its head.
A traditional view of enlightenment at the time was that it was an inward experience. You had found "it" inside, and your life was changed. Fine.
The approach outlined by Abhinavagupta expanded the concept of enlightenment. As Dr. Ortega wrote about Abhinavagupta's redefinition of enlightenment, "...every object is seen as ultimately formed of consciousness itself. This unitive vision of outward reality erases the polarities between inner and out, between life and death."
That is a huge change. Imagine diving and diving deeper into your consciousness to find your ultimate identity...only to come out of meditation and discover it now surrounds you!
This may remind some readers of the movie, The Matrix. Neo reaches a level of awareness in which he can see the Matrix in everything.
Maybe that's a reasonable analogy. I would not stretch it, though. Because he lived around the 10th century, Abhinavagupta probably never met anybody named Agent Smith.
It must be something to discover that your own consciousness now reflects reality to you. I'll have to buy some mirrors and give it a try.
- THE LAST WORD -
This last story is about magic. Is it about stage magic or real magic? Hard to tell, a little of both I guess....
A long time ago, I was an airport shuttle driver. I picked up people at Bay Area airports and took them home or took them to a hotel or took them to a bar or a hospital. My passengers were all over the map.
I also picked up passengers in town and eventually arrived at the airport. It wasn't a great job, but I was new to the Bay Area and was now being paid to be a tourist.
One day, I picked up a couple who lived near San Francisco State University. The husband was a professional stage magician, and that fascinated me.
Off-topic here, but a couple of years ago I photographed a great magic plate during my morning walk. The owner of this well-decorated car was professional stage magician Ron Saylor. He and his family were about to leave for home near Bakersfield when I appeared. Ron said he had just done a magic show at Fort Baker, near the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Saylors were great, just very nice people. Ron was a real gentleman, so I showed them my collection of magic plates. Ron gave me a deck of his playing cards. The image on the back of his car was printed on the cards.
Back to the magician in the shuttle van...
The couple I had picked up were off to the state of Maine, so long as I got them to the airport on time. I caught 280 near SF State. There would be a couple of pickups at hotels downtown, and then a drive across the bay to the Oakland airport.
As we passed the exit for Geneva and City College, I mentioned there was a connection between yoga and magical powers. That caught his ear.
He was not familiar with siddhis, so now I was the master and he was the apprentice. Listen and heed me, my padawan....
I speculated that some people who perform stage magic actually could do real magic in previous lifetimes. Back then, they possessed impressive abilities. Now, without knowing it, they were recapitulating their lifetimes back in Tibet or Nepal or India or Billings, Montana. While they probably no longer possessed those genuine magical powers this time around, the pay was better.
He appreciated my insight, which was mostly just an informed guess.
I picked up my passengers at the hotels and headed for the freeway. Soon, we'd be on the Bay Bridge and 880 and arriving at Oakland International Airport.
And then I did something rare..very rare. I begged their indulgence because I was going to leave their van...for no apparent reason at all. We were only ten blocks from the freeway ramp, so their schedules were safe.
I told them there was a photo I had to take or I'd regret it for the rest of my miserable little life.
They agreed I should take that photo and keep it for the rest of my miserable little life.
I double-parked and stepped outside with the magician's business card.
The best trick I've ever done...and I have no idea how it happened
© 2017 by J.M. Clarke. All Rights Reserved.