Reflecting on Recursion and Reflexivity in Magic

Magic is a system that produces a magician and is produced by a magician. In addition to producing a magician, magic produces artifacts — the products produced by (and perhaps producing) magical processes. The artifacts are part of the magician’s environment, but are also media for accessing the environment — like a telescope is an artifact in the astronomer’s environment but also provides the astronomer access to the environment (outer space).

A key idea here is that magical results happen across the entire (complex) network; there is not a more reducible, simpler mechanism of magical efficacy. Compare flying an airplane: success (or failure) emerges from the interactions between the the crew, the plane’s instrumentation, air traffic control, the plane’s structural integrity, etc. (Is magic a means to synchronize successful interactions? Cf. Jung’s synchronicity and the odd experiences and notions of time in magic and mysticism.)

Another key idea is that the magician “loops through” her artifacts (and environment) in the same way that humans loop through any technology [1]. “There is circularity here: the world determines what we can do and what we do determines our world” [2]. This makes meaning meaningful; what we do magically determines and is determined by what it means to us to do magic, individually or con-sensually (“to sense together with”). Semantics are not negligible or “beside the point”; they are key. And apropos of metamagic, they are mutable. By changing our metaphors for magic, we change what “makes sense” to do magically, i.e., what is magically possible.


Notes & References

1. For more about “through-looping,” see Paul Pangaro’s “The Past-Future of Cybernetics: Conversations, Von Foerster, and the BCL”.

2. Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores, Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design.

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