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Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #7A: Mysticism   Worldview Theme #7B: Magic
Contrast Worldview Themes #7A and #5A --  these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!            

causality--the belief that events don’t just happen randomly or by accident (accidentalism), but that their occurrence can be linked to something else: some force, the prior occurrence of some other event or state, or to a set of facts or laws. Timing is important, the supposed cause (force that acts, energy release, triggering event, etc) must precede or occur simultaneously with the observed effect (phenomenon it supposedly causes). Causality is a cornerstone of the foundation of classical physics. For example, according to Newton’s second law, to change the state of motion of an object a force must act. In the subatomic world governed by quantum mechanics, with seemingly random events occurring, the discussion of causality becomes more complicated. But it certainly seems that in the quantum world, with respect to the occurrence of individual events, causality must be abandoned!

complementarity -- the notion that there can be two equally good, complementary but mutually exclusive, even contradictory descriptions or explanations of something. More fully understanding the reality of the something can involve simultaneously embracing both of these complementary representations, often allowing opposing beliefs to peacefully coexist together inside one’s head! From ancient China, the yin and yang provide the archetypes of complementary, polar opposites. Chinese thinkers have sought to explain all natural phenomena and human behavior in terms of a complementary representation involving the dynamic interplay of opposites. A modern physics complementarity example involves conceiving of light as both a particle and a wave.

consciousness  -- one of those difficult to define terms. Here are four definitions: 1) generally thought of as a process not a thing, held by religious tradition to reside in the soul or spirit, and identified with self awareness; 2) an inward sensibility of something -- knowledge of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, etc -- and comprising the sum total of mental processes occurring at any moment; 3) according to Roger Penrose, the non-algorithmic, judgment-forming ability to separate truth from falsity, beauty from ugliness, etc; 4) according to some in the artificial intelligence community, it merely passively accompanies a sufficiently elaborate control system (based on algorithms) -- but doesn’t do anything. To some consciousness is linked to intelligence; linguist Ray Jackendoff and philosopher Ned Block have distinguished three more specialized meanings: 1) self knowledge (including the ability to recognize one’s self in a mirror), 2) sentience (knowing “what is it like” to be someone because you are that someone), and 3) access to information. 

cosmic consciousness -- an individual’s conscious connection with something much bigger --it has been likened to swimming in the infinite cosmic ocean  or accessing the all-knowing Cosmic Mind -- that involves an impossible to describe feeling of elation, awakening, joyousness, sense of immortality, etc that elevates this person above ordinary people and places him or her on a enlightened, higher plane of existence.

dreams--a series of thoughts, images or feelings --particularly of anxiety or aggression--that one experiences during sleep. While dreams have a long history--the Bible provides accounts of  several seemingly prophetic ones--researchers are unsure as to how to explain them.  Various scientific explanations have been offered: that dreams allow the brain to consolidate memories, consider thoughts / memories / feelings  that would otherwise be repressed, aid creative thinking, anticipate future contingencies, etc.  Vitalists postulate that dreams are one way spirits communicate. 

ego death theory--According to Michael Hoffman, this asserts "that the essence and origin of religion is the use of visionary plants to routinely trigger the intense mystic altered state, producing loose cognitive association binding, which then produces an experience of being controlled by frozen block-universe determinism with a single, pre-existing, ever-existing future. Experiencing this model of control and time initially destabilizes self-control power, and amounts to the death of the self that was conceived of as an autonomous control-agent." 

egotheism -- the identification of oneself with God

extrasensory perception (ESP) -- perception that occurs without any known use of the human sensory system. Such perception involves a number of what are called paranormal phenomena, including precognition, clairvoyance, and telepathy, and studied by those involved in parapsychology.

higher (or hidden) dimensions--just as a tiny but intelligent creature confined to the flat surface of a huge two dimensional plane might have enormous difficulty conceiving of the existence of a third dimension, human beings living in a world characterized by three familiar spatial dimensions find it difficult to think about a fourth spatial dimension (or higher dimensions).  Consider these questions.  Where is a hypothetical fourth dimension?  In what direction would you head to journey to it? Here’s a simple answer: establish the six directions identified by north, south, east, west, up, and down, then head in a direction that is perpendicular to (that is, makes a ninety degree angle with) each of these six directions! Theoretical physicists’ efforts to model the universe often  involve additional dimensions, beginning with Einstein’s general relativity theory (see space / time continuum).  Some current models (based on string theory) employ ten or eleven dimensions.  Conceivably some or all of these higher dimensions could be confined or wrapped up in spatially tiny regions surrounding our three dimensional world.  

holographic paradigm -- A hologram is a photographic image created using lasers, mirrors and knowledge of how light waves interfere with each other. This image is recorded on a glass plate. When it’s projected, the viewer experiences a three dimensional image. Interestingly, if the glass plate is broken into smaller pieces, each piece is capable of recreating the same three dimensional image exhibited by the whole intact plate, although the clarity and resolution of that image is reduced. It’s as if there’s no localized storage of the image on the glass plate, the image is stored all over the plate! It has been suggested that the universe we live in is like this: the whole is contained in every part, albeit at a reduced resolution. If this model is correct, then literally the whole universe is inside the smallest grain of sand -- and inside you! Conceivably, in a mystic trance, one might experience “outer space” by looking within in exploring the “inner space” of the mind!

immortality -- existing forever, never dying, but living on, perhaps not in physical form, but at least retaining conscious memory for eternity.

Indra's net--a Buddhist image of the interconnectedness of all sentient beings represented by the net of the Vedic God Indra.   see also holographic paradigm

intuition -- immediate insight that occurs without conscious awareness. To some intuition is an almost mystical process, or others a response to very subtle cues and stimuli received unconsciously.

love vs. hate–Collier describes love as having to do "with bringing together into a whole that which belongs together" and hate "with enforcing separation and difference, driving apart [what is] inherently whole." 

maya -- An ancient Hindu term that is connected with the idea that the world is an illusion. The illusion arises because of our point of view and our need to use words and basic concepts (for example, those to identify and distinguish shapes, structures, etc) to describe and make sense out of reality. So maya refers to the inappropriateness for equating our description and conceptualization of reality , with the reality itself -- confusing the map of the terrain with the terrain itself. Under the spell of maya, people see themselves as separate from nature, from the ultimate reality.

meditation--employing techniques to regulate one's attention and produce an inner state of clarity, serenity, and even bliss. Some meditate to calm one's inner self, using it as a sort of mind / body medicine; others to experience higher states of consciousness (even cosmic consciousness) in a mystical / religious quest.  Some techniques--called concentrative--involve narrowing one's mental focus to a pre-selected object or process such as one's breathing; others--called mindfulness --expand one's inner vision in non-critical way to include a whole background or field without thinking or dwelling on any of it.

monasticism--the religious practice, typically accompanied by 1) belief that the world is evil and 2) vows (of celibacy, obedience, poverty, etc.), where one renounces worldly pursuits and withdraws to seek higher / spiritual truth. 

monism of substance-- an answer to the classical One / Many problem that asserts that Reality is ultimately composed of only one kind of substance.   Matter, mind (or spirit), consciousness, thought, sensation, form, number, etc. have been proposed by various philosophers as candidates for this substance.  While some monists hold that while there is only one category of substance, this category has many individual members, absolute monists argue that this category has but one member.

multiverse-- a hypothetical structure containing the observable universe we live in and other disconnected space-time domains  (parallel universes, etc.)  Together these make up the multiverse, comprising all of Reality.  While our universe was seemingly born 14 billion years ago, and shows assymmetries, the multiverse may be timeless and symmetric. 

New Age Movement-- an affluent Western society movement that grew out of mind expanding experiences of the 1960s and really blossomed in the 1970s, which blends older religious and spiritual traditions from both east and west with more modern ideas about human consciousness, human potential, psychology, physics, and ecology.  While New Age enthusiasts possess diverse (and sometimes conflicting) beliefs, one notion embraced by many "New Agers" is the idea that all living things--and, for many, all matter in general--is fundamentally interconnected (either spiritually, by some life force, energy, consciousness, light, God, etc.) The movement provides a large umbrella under which one finds mystics, psychics, astrologers, alternative health practitioners, those who value meditation / ancient wisdom,  believers in reincarnation, angels, the magic powers of crystals, Atlantis, UFOs and space aliens, etc.  Perhaps 20 % of the adults in western societies are sympathetic to New Age beliefs--including  pseudoscientists and quacks, a few respected scientists / doctors / scholars--and many promoting some belief / product and seeking monetary gain.

Nirvana -- a state of oneness with the ultimate reality, of total liberation from human suffering, a state of consciousness beyond further description. Nirvana is a Buddhist concept -- the equivalent in Hinduism is moksha.

pantheism -- the belief that God is everywhere, inherent in all things, acting through natural laws and forces.

pluralism of substance-- an answer to the classical One / Many problem that asserts that Reality is ultimately composed of many kinds of substances. 

precognition--a type of extra-sensory perception or clairvoyance, in which a person supposedly receives information about an event or happening before it has actually taken place.

prophet--an inspired person who supposedly speaks the word of God or communicates divine revelation.

quantum mechanics -- a branch of physics, developed in the first half of the 20th century, dealing with motion and interactions of matter on very small scales (typically atomic or subatomic). Unlike the visible, large scale realm of classical physics -- where predicted future behavior of individual particles involves deterministic certainties -- predicting the behavior of discrete particles in the quantum realm involves probabilities not certainties.

quantum mechanics & consciousness--a minority of scientists believe that explaining consciousness necessarily involves use of quantum mechanics.  The way it is used range from the esteemed mathematical physicist Roger Penrose's idea that consciousness arises from quantum effects in the microtubular structures inside cells, to a few fringe scientists belief that consciousness is coherent light related to "biophoton" emission, to New Age enthusiasts' notion that living consciousness resides in the quantum (vacuum) field and that individual human consciousness is both part of and has access to information stored in this all-pervading collective consciousness. Some of the latter relate consciousness to a "life force" and see an individual's consciousness as surviving his or her death.

revelation -- the receiving or communicating of divine truth

right brain / left brain--the two hemispheres of the brain are specialized for performing different functions. Understanding verbal communication, speaking, reading and writing, along with analytical reasoning, abstract and critical thinking are left brain centered. In contrast, the right brain is predominately at work during strenuous physical activity, non-verbal communications, dreams, and is called on for assessing spatial relationships, three dimensional vision, face / pattern recognition, and in making intuitive / wholistic leaps. It has been hypothesized that whereas the left brain processes information sequentially, “bit by bit“, in linear, ordered fashion, the right brain stores and retrieves whole patterns, in “all at once” fashion. Some associate different types of consciousness with each hemisphere--the analytical left brain’s being one very much aware of the passage of time, the mystical right brain is “in the moment” and “lost in space”. Emotionally, the left brain seems connected with positive feelings like love; the right brain with negative feelings.  It is important to realize that the human brain is incredibly complex, and that the above picture of right brain / left brain is too simplistic.  Thus it has been argued that only heterosexual, right-handed males exhibit the type and degree of specialized brain hemisphere function described above. In females, where the corpus callosum connection between the two hemispheres is typically thicker, signals travel more readily between the two halves of the brain and supposedly bring more “right brain” emotional responses!  

satori--a Zen Buddhist term, the refers to a moment of fleeting enlightenment as a mystic transitions from a state of  union with Reality to making the usual "subject-object" (a term from D. T. Suzuki)  distinctions, but is momentarily able to appreciate both worlds.  

space-time continuum--a concept that was introduced by Einstein with his relativity theory. In the simplest mathematical models, the three dimensions of space are linked with a fourth one: time.  This space-time structure (think of it as flat in a two dimensional, analogy sense) is distorted--warped or curved--by matter. The greater the concentration of matter, the greater space-time is distorted: something that general relativistic physics connects with the force of gravity.

spirit vs. ego--according to Collier, contrasts how people feel connected vs. their feeling separate. 

synchronicity--according to famous psychologist Carl Jung, this refers to "temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events." In simpler terms this means the events occur either simultaneously or nearly so in meaningful fashion, but yet they have no evident cause and effect connection. Jung's followers believe that such events occur much more often than would be expected if they were due to mere random chance coincidence. Synchronicities, they add, provide evidence of a collective unconscious, the existence of connectedness at a higher (normally unperceived) level, and that consciousness contains a "reality structurer" which psychically affects Reality.    

tacit knowledge -- knowledge that can not be put into words, symbols or otherwise made into explicit knowledge. It is argued that you both know much more than you can describe, and that often you know but can’t identify how it is you know. Tacit knowledge is intimately connected with personal experience of reality, whereas explicit knowledge is one step removed from reality. It is argued that the attempted transformation of tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge (by putting one’s experience into words) can not only at times be difficult, fall far short , or be impossible, but can lead to falsification. Such falsification results when an experienced “whole truth” becomes a pieced together collection of parts (words and symbols) and something much different from the whole. Mystical experience is firmly set in the realm of tacit knowledge.

transcendentalism--a philosophy that asserts the importance of the realm beyond the reach of ordinary sensory perception above that of the observable material world.    

yin & yang--in Chinese philosophy this refers to polar extremes or opposite sides of something. The yin is linked with a female, passive principle; the yang to a male, active principle. The distinction can also be made in terms of dark vs. light, cold vs. hot, wet vs. dry, etc. Embracing moderation can mean finding a balance of yin and yang in one’s  life.    

Yoga—from Hinduism, a way to suppress physical and mental activity offering a path to spiritual mastery where the goal is liberating the self; more popularly, a discipline and system of exercises and postures for staying physically fit and maintaining health.

  Contrast Worldview Themes #7B and #6 --    these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!           

amulet -- a charm or ornament typically carrying a picture, symbol, or words which supposedly aids the wearer by bringing good luck or providing protection from evil spirits.

astrology -- the ancient practice of divination / fortune telling by making use of the supposed connection between the positions of the stars and planets at some time of interest (often the moment of a person’s birth) and human affairs (often the future fate of someone). Astrology is a pseudoscience (has no scientific basis).

cannibalism–eating human flesh, either as part of a ritual or attempt to survive extreme adversity.

charisma -- an extraordinary power or personal magic. Max Weber described charisma as the power in an individual supposedly from a supernatural source -- something to be thought of as spiritual gift, grace, genius, or power of personality.

divination -- the practice or art of revealing hidden knowledge, especially the foretelling or predicting of future events

fetish -- an object thought to have magical powers, perhaps offering power or providing protection to those who believe in it. It can become an object of worship and blind devotion.

folklore -- the body of customs, stories, sayings, jokes, games, legends, oral history, myths, superstitions, etc that relate to the life and spirit of a particular population or group and make up the oral tradition of that culture.

incantation -- the words, often chanted or recited, used as a charm or spell in magic practices or rituals

incubus -- a demon or evil spirit which can supposedly descend on people during sleep, causing nightmares and psychological trauma. (Originally, incubi and succubi were thought to be evil spirits who descended on women and men who were asleep for purposes of sexual intercourse.)

magic, for entertainment vs. a worldview -- in affluent Western countries people are entertained by magicians and they expect to be fooled by tricks and illusions, but this way of relating to magic is clearly not what is being considered in discussions of how magic fits into worldviews. In many cultures magic has more in common with religion -- or even science & technology -- than entertainment. One can argue that magic, religion and science all developed in response to the same basic human needs. These include  1) the need to make sense out of how nature works, gain some power or control over it, and appreciate how people fit into it, 2) the need to come to terms with the mystery of death, 3) the need for social, moral, and spiritual guidance as to how to behave, and solve problems that arise in daily life, and 4) the need to live in a world that is not so scary and unpredictable -- but more manageable, understandable, comfortable and amenable to humans.  

magical thinking -- a stage of childhood development in which the child believes that his or her thoughts are the cause of the events seen happening , and in some adults with psychiatric disorders.

occultism--refers to the study of the occult and thus the pursuit of hidden knowledge.  Occultism is to be distinguished from mysticism in that, unlike the latter, the former is concerned with magic, alchemy, astrology, numerology, strange rites, secret formulas, etc. and is sometimes associated with malevolent supernatural  beings.

pagan--the term has two somewhat different meanings: 1) a person who believes there are many gods (polytheist);  2) one who enjoys sensual pleasures (hedonist) and has no religion

parapsychology -- the branch of psychology concerned with paranormal phenomena, that is, with phenomena which cannot currently be explained using the existing, generally accepted, scientific conceptual framework. Examples include those involving pre-cognition, extra-sensory perception, telekinesis, telepathy, clairvoyance, communicating with the dead, etc

positive thinking, the power of -- This phrase is the title of a 1952 best-selling book by Christian preacher and author Norman Vincent Peale. The basic idea behind his book--and behind similar routes to empowerment advocated by various New Age enthusiasts-- is that repeating good thoughts brings good things, while continually dwelling on negative thoughts can bring bad things. In short, people create their own reality by their thoughts.  Many, Peale included, consider thoughts to be things.  Some New Agers don't stop there, but connect whatever they are promoting with the mysteries of quantum physics in claiming that all matter is condensed thought.  For others, similar positive thinking / visualization techniques--and belief that God wants you to have abundant wealth--serve as the basis for teaching others how to get rich.  Coupling such "ask, believe, and receive" recipes with the idea that "you can control the world by what you think" methods provides the essence of numerous books about how to obtain wealth and power.

pseudoscience -- something that seemingly has a scientific basis, but, upon closer investigation, does not. Examples of pseudoscience include beliefs in 1) horoscopes, astrology and that human personalities are shaped by stars in the zodiac, etc. 2) magical powers of crystals, 3) an ancient technically advanced civilization of Atlantis, and 4) extra-terrestrial beings in flying saucers are visiting Earth. Each of these -- and many other similar beliefs -- have been investigated using scientific methods and thoroughly debunked as lacking in truth, in useful application or both. Many pseudoscientific beliefs persist because 1) people uncritically believe in them without doing their own analysis of the merits; 2) many promoting such beliefs profit from doing so.

pseudoscience and conspiracism--in explaining why their hypotheses, theories, inventions or supporting data behind them are not accepted by the scientific community, pseudoscientists have been known to allege that others (scientists, corporate or government officials, etc)  have engaged in conspiracies to suppress them   

quantum quackery--scientific skeptics have used this term  in dismissing New Age enthusiasts ongoing attempts to connect the microscopic subatomic realm of quantum physics with human consciousness and thought. Caltech Nobel Prize winning physicist Murray Gell Mann's term was "quantum flapdoodle"--an apparent reference to what he saw as the futile hand waving and doodling of New Agers (including a few reputable scientists who he felt should know better!) in their attempts to make connections where no evidence or possible mechanisms exist for making them.  Critics less gifted in finding clever words have simply charged promoters of what they consider to be pseudoscientific nonsense as urging others to believe in magic. 

sacrifice–giving up something precious or important as offering to honor or placate a god, deity.

shamanism--An ancient form of mind / body healing that believes in the ultimate connectedness of all things and employs altered states of consciousness. Shamanism is a sort of synthesis of mysticism and magic worldview themes. Shamans attempt to heal by restoring a person's balance with the natural surroundings and all life.

shape shifting–the ability of a being to become something else, part of some magical worldviews.

sorcery -- the use of power gained by summoning up evil spirits, who are called upon to control something or provide assistance. Sorcery is often used for purposes of divining the future.

tao / Taoism--the former is a concept from ancient China that can be thought of as the way of nature and, as related to human behavior, the path of virtuous conduct in accordance with nature; the latter refers to the Chinese mystical philosophy or folk religion built around conformity to the tao. Founded by Lao-Tzu in the 6th century BCE, Taoism is polytheist / animist / shamanist in a traditional Chinese way. Ethically it values compassion, moderation, and humility.

wishful thinking--involves interpreting events / actions of others, decision-making and forming beliefs based on what one desires to be true (rather than what is true) or what is  pleasing to imagine (rather than facing the (perhaps grim?) reality behind a situation).   A related orientation--involving deluding oneself and similarly lacking in rational analysis / real world grounding--is "wishing makes it so." This simplistic, fairy tale, magical, childhood fantasy way of dealing with problems is to be contrasted with the planning / hard work / repeated trials before success that adults solving real problems more typically are faced with. 

witchcraft / Wicca--the use of sorcery or magic, the practice of which varies widely.  It has roots in a pre-Christian, nature-centered witchcraft religion based on Goddess worship. In post-Christian European cultures it became linked to evil, and the Devil.  Witches were typically women, believed to have supernatural powers, who perhaps practiced in secret.  During the height of the witch mania, the 15th--17th centuries, hundreds of thousands of women are believed to have been burned at the stake. Wicca is a 20th century revival of ancient pagan witchcraft--which  incorporates worship of God and Goddess.  These are sometimes seen as dual, complementary aspects of a universal life force--symbolized by the Sun and Moon.


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