Mystical Mumbo-Jumbo

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Postby Lisa Cousins » 08/20/02 02:52 PM

I enjoyed the review of the latest incarnation of the Punx fairy-tales, which shows Jamy's typical intelligence and thoughtfulness. But I must take exception to his line "mysticism and other mumbo-jumbo." Mysticism is a genuine field of study that has been in progress for centuries now - no, millenia - and it is a field rich with insight and wisdom for those who care to discover its delights. I cultivate a rich intellectual life, a rich emotional life, and a rich spiritual life. All are optional, and I hold nothing against anyone who doesn't feel called to these pursuits. Everyone is cut out differently, and it takes all kinds. Many people I know and love have no real interest in books, and I'm not going to call them "dumb," so if Jamy has no interest in life's spiritual aspect, I'm not going to call him "shallow." But for Jamy to imagine that, because it makes no sense to him, mysticism is "mumbo-jumbo" would be like me looking at a Chinese newspaper and ridiculing it because I can't read Chinese. It's not "mumbo-jumbo" to the guy who wrote it, or to the millions of literate Chinese.
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Postby Matthew Field » 08/21/02 06:57 AM

My pal Jamy has a prejudice which he cannot see. He is a member of the Rationalists, a group which believes that anything which cannot be proven to exist must not exist. He may not think he is a member of this group, but he is.

In college, my undergraduate major was the Philosophy of Science, as useless a major as there could possibly be (except it kept me out of the army). Trying to prove something as apparently simple as Causation (A causes B) turns out to be a toughie, somewhat related to Zeno's Paradox. Rationalists turn out to have their beliefs as grounded in faith as any other group.

Jamy is an actual member of the group of self-appointed skeptics who enjoy puncturing some of the more ludicrous folk out there -- the John Edward worshippers, for example. Edward and the Skeptics are both, ultimately, harmless.

I believe in Occam's Razor, but old Occam would have a fit if he could see what atomic physics looks like today.

It is a sad world if there are no mysteries, and a sad world for those who can experience no mysteries.

I really like and enjoy Jamy, but I just have to ignore this side of him. I am a Tibetan Buddhist, and Jamy ignores this aspect of me.

Know thyself, and know thy reviewer. That's my advice.

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Postby CHRIS » 08/21/02 07:17 AM

Originally posted by Matthew Field:
I believe in Occam's Razor, but old Occam would have a fit if he could see what atomic physics looks like today.
At least many of quantum physics postulates and results can and have been verified by experiments. So far we know no simpler way of expressing nature at that scale. You must accept that nature is not simple.

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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 08/21/02 07:25 AM

Originally posted by Chris Wasshuber:
You must accept that nature is not simple.
I like Douglas Adams's quote on this subject, from "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe":

There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
That said, I'm with Matt...just because we don't know a simpler way to explain the universe, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Now...where'd I put my towel?

-Jim
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Postby CHRIS » 08/21/02 07:49 AM

Jim,

of course one can not rule out a much simpler explanation. But all evidence points to the fact that nature is not simple. We don't have a proof. But lots of good evidence.

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Postby Bill Mullins » 08/21/02 09:23 AM

Originally posted by Matthew Field:
Jamy is an actual member of the group of self-appointed skeptics who enjoy puncturing some of the more ludicrous folk out there -- the John Edward worshippers, for example. Edward and the Skeptics are both, ultimately, harmless.
I always thought of a skeptic (small "s") as a person who took everything with a grain of salt; as a Missourian would say, "Show me". My spiritual world view allows such an attitude. Yes, have faith, but allow life to validate it. And if life doesn't do so, question your beliefs. (It just so happens that my life does validate my beliefs, and therefore I am richer for that).

But there are Skeptics (large "s") who not only question their own attitudes but also belittle those of us who don't come to their conclusions. If Skepticism works for them, fine, but don't push it down my throat.

I enjoyed immensely a Penn & Teller performance I saw during the Winter. I had to ignore some of their comments (which may have been toned down some, given that they were in the buckle of the Bible Belt (Nashville)). As Matthew says, enjoy the part you can relate to, ignore the part you don't like.

You pretty much have to do this with everyone, at some level.
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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 08/21/02 10:34 AM

Like my friend, Matt, I enjoy Jamy's critical faculties and his often shrill and reckless candor; however, as I hasten to remind my pal, Jamy, we all inhabit parochial worlds and entertain views based on insufficient evidence and understanding. Meanwile, I deeply appreciate skeptical impulses, best exemplified by superb models such as Martin Gardner. But as I once mumbled to James Randi (who will not remember the who-when-where of this)that "unfortunately, Scientific Materialism is also a BELIEF SYSTEM."

In other words, choose your poison or perfume, me buckos.

On a daily basis (as I wander through rooms in my house, looking for my car keys), I hear the voice of Yeats saying, "The worst of us are filled with passionate intensity..."

Then as an annoying Greek Chorus, I hear the booming voice of Oscar Wilde:

"Only the shallow know themselves."

Yowza.

Time to put on the kettle and check out EXACTLY where the bees doth suck.

Onward...
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Postby Guest » 08/21/02 05:05 PM

Science itself, of course, is not a belief system. It is an ever-changing system of inquiry that is continually, even gleefully, demolishing and refashioning its own conclusions and tenets...even, on occasion, the seemingly fundamental ones. Can a belief system like (I'll be diplomatic) Zoroastrianism boast the same?

John, if by "scientific materialism" you mean faith that science will ultimately solve all mysteries, that indeed is a belief system, though not one prescribed by science itself. Those who worship science overestimate its merits, but at least they've latched on to a supple, evolving deity with a demonstrable track record. To riff on Churchill, science is the worst possible system for explaining the universe, except for all the others.

As it attempts to corral the ever-provisionally known, science also helps delineate the unknown. And it thus helps foster what I regard as the only legitimate spiritual sentiment: humility. People who cannot find the universe sufficiently miraculous and mysterious as science and their own senses find it -- and who must instead invoke spirits for their spirituality -- are in my view spiritually deficient. Belief in the supernatural, however prostrate the believer, is an act of hubris, not humility. It insults the (provisionally) known and cheapens the unknown with clutzy supposition. IMHO.

Magicians, as fine artists of deception, have special knowledge and special responsibility; we know how pervasive and manipulable is the human capacity for self-delusion. Those of us who debunk outright frauds perform a laudable service. But more generally, magicians educate people to be wary of self-delusion every time we cause them to perceive breaches of natural law and then assure them gently that it was a deception. Mentalists have heightened responsibility in this regard, which Banachek exercises wonderfully with his assurance that he uses his five senses to create the illusion of a sixth. By helping people recognize their capacity for self-delusion, and perhaps helping them think twice about their least well-tethered beliefs, we do not interfere with spirituality. We help clear a path to it.

As I said, IMHO.
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Postby David Acer » 08/21/02 09:20 PM

Jim, I can't explain this, but I HAVE YOUR TOWEL!!!
Now tweeting daily from @David_Acer
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Postby Guest » 08/22/02 02:49 AM

Don't panic.
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Postby Guest » 08/22/02 05:27 AM

At first I was inclined to take issue with Mr. Bonheim's handling of science and humility. But then I keyed onto the magical content of his post, viz.:

Originally posted by Ralph Bonheim:
Magicians, as fine artists of deception, have special knowledge and special responsibility; we know how pervasive and manipulable is the human capacity for self-delusion. [...] By helping people recognize their capacity for self-delusion, and perhaps helping them think twice about their least well-tethered beliefs, we do not interfere with spirituality. We help clear a path to it.
Very insightful. One might (humbly) add that scientists are notoriously susceptible to self-deception. Science often (historically and continually) kicks and screams against unassailable evidence. In the twenty-first century, "least well-tethered beliefs" may equally be materialistic ones as not.
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Postby Guest » 08/22/02 06:34 AM

Thanks, Doug. You're quite right; misguided habits of thought die hard in science, as in all human endeavors. I think that on average, they die faster in science. I also agree re materialism, although there are plenty of materialistic belief systems that have nothing to do with science or even elemental logic (see, e.g., NYSE, NASDAQ).
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 08/22/02 07:42 AM

There's a great King Solomon story, where Solomon decides to make a banquet for all of the creatures of the earth and prepares a feast enormous enough to feed them all. But when the feast is ready, a creature the King has never seen before rises from the bottom of the sea and eats the entire feast in one gulp. Solomon is stunned, and says "I'm sorry - this was supposed to feed all the creatures of the earth. I didn't know that you existed." And the creature says "Oh, I'm the smallest of seven brothers."

I think the ending was something about King Solomon weaving a Miraculous Traveling Towel to mark his new humility.
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Postby Mitch Dutton » 08/22/02 01:29 PM

Hey Lisa - does that towel have mysteriously appearing "dirty handprints"? Just askin'...
--Mitch
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Postby Guest » 08/25/02 12:48 PM

Now that my Genii issue carrying Jamy's review has finally (!) arrived, I believe this nifty thread is really a giant non sequitur. I read Jamy's comment to mean that mysticism etc. is not to his and others' taste as patter. The fact that mysticism may not also be to his taste as philosophy is rather beside the point of the revieww. I probably agree with Jamy philosophically (depending on one's definition of mysticism) but am not above invoking the supernatural in the course of a coins-across routine. Tongue in cheek, of course, as I gather, from the review, was the case with Punx.

But as a number of us asserted at ludicrous length in an earlier thread, the tangents are half the fun on this board.
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 08/25/02 01:40 PM

Philosophy vs. patter. That's a great distinction, Ralph.

It just struck me that Jamy was being dismissive of something very vital. It's true that in order to savor the mystical literature, you have to drop the "is it true?" approach to ideas, and engage the "is it interesting?" mode, but many other areas of study are like that, too. When we spoke in New York, I mentioned that my husband likes to read mathematical books for fun. I know that they don't have any application to his practical life. They make no sense to me. Yet he has always insisted that the world of mathematics is a pristine world of thought, that the equations are "elegant" and "beautiful," and I can plainly see that he really gets something out of that stuff.

So I would never take a tone of dismissal or disrespect towards those freaky nerd books he likes.
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Postby Guest » 08/25/02 03:02 PM

Hi Lisa!

I want to be clear that I wasn't dissing you for starting this thread -- quite the contrary! It's just that for all I know, the mysticism Jamy dismissed in the Punx book really was just mumbo-jumbo concocted to fit specific magic effects and might not pass muster as especially spiritual even for a mystaficionado such as yourself. (I could be wrong...have you seen the book?) At least that's how the offending line could be read by someone not aware of Jamy's broader rationalist views.

I envy your husband's deep comprehension of math -- I can think of few more spiritual questions than why pure mathematics "feels" so true and reflects the physical world so well. The mathematics of multiple dimensions was developed and explored many years before physicists learned that they needed this math to explain what they were learning about the physical world. What's up with that? There's the kind of mystery that gets my spirituality juices flowing.
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 08/25/02 10:36 PM

Oooh, "mystaficionado." :)

Ralph, I'm a fan of ideas in general and yours in particular, so Say On without fear of offense. It's the ideas that are at play (or occasional war), and we folks just bat 'em around like tennis balls.

And while I'm here I want to say a word of praise to the third of our Trio, Matt Field. Matt, you're a credit to your path. You're a good-natured peacemaker, and the only difference between a good man and God is duration.
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Postby Matthew Field » 08/26/02 11:30 AM

Originally posted by Lisa Cousins:
the only difference between a good man and God is duration.
Then I've got a long way to go.

By the way, aside from magic, music and art, I am also a fan of what's called Recreational Mathematics (Martin Gardner's name). I also like Cryptic Crossword Puzzles (check out PuzzleCrypt for some killers).

My wife also likes the music and art. Otherwise, she thinks I'm nuts.

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Postby Jim Morton » 08/27/02 09:17 AM

...if by "scientific materialism" you mean faith that science will ultimately solve all mysteries, that indeed is a belief system, though not one prescribed by science itself.
True enough. Kurt Gdel dealt the fatal blow to that line of thinking back in 1931 when he published his Incompleteness Theorems.

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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 08/27/02 11:16 AM

As we drift farther afield (happily, I might add), let's not forget the controversial, fuse-igniting book titled THE END OF SCIENCE. That one made me forget about my deck for three weeks.

I've always enjoyed reading Punx and his Fabulist Ways because his material is such a conspicuous departure from the USUAL CANT. This is also why I occasionally attend Grand Slam Motor Jams, Louisiana [censored] fights, and watch truck pulls...They purify my grit-kissing, cracker soul...

BTW, I'm relishing the Ralph and Lisa Show...

Onward...
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Postby Guest » 08/27/02 11:31 AM

Originally posted by Jim Morton:
True enough. Kurt Gdel dealt the fatal blow to that line of thinking back in 1931 when he published his Incompleteness Theorems.

Jim Morton
The special 25th anniversary issue of Hofstadter's Gdel, Escher, Bach just came out. The most absorbing book I've ever failed to finish.
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Postby Guest » 08/27/02 04:11 PM

Originally posted by Jon Racherbaumer:
As we drift farther afield (happily, I might add), let's not forget the controversial, fuse-igniting book titled THE END OF SCIENCE. That one made me forget about my deck for three weeks.
Thanks, John. Haven't read it; will check it out. (I wonder whether the title, a play on the now largely irrelevant "The End of History," was the author's or publisher's idea.)
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 08/27/02 06:29 PM

Originally posted by Matthew Field:
By the way, aside from magic, music and art...
An interest in art is a perfect example of a field where mystical studies have come in handy for me. In the summer of 1995, I decided to make a study of medieval Christian mysticism. I began by reading the New Testament, so that I would understand the references, then read an excellent book called "Enduring Grace" which gave overviews of seven mystics. From there I looked deeper into the ones that most appealed to me, which in turn led to more, and the summer went by in pleasant reveries.

In the autumn my fascination had moved to the lives and works of the Italian renaissance artists. I'm sure I need hardly say how my summer's studies enhanced my comprehension and appreciation of these works of art, both in my understanding of the subject matter depicted, and in my sense of the mind-set of the times - the human mind rising from its medieval formulations into something new and fresh.

Now of course, when I say my studies came in "handy," I only mean that they came in handy for the next thing, which in turn came in handy for the next thing, and somewhere along the line this all turned into magic. So you see, there's no practical value in any of this.

...or in cryptic puzzles.

...or in long walks on the beach... ;)
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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 08/27/02 08:19 PM

For Ralph B. and possibly others:

THE END OF SCIENCE: Facing the Limits in the Twilight of the Scientic Age (1996) was written by John Horgan, a senior writer for the Scientific American.

Francis Fukuyama is rethinking his assumptions about the End of History.

Nevertheless, I like books that polarize, probe, and stimulate. Darwin Ortiz's book, STRONG MAGIC, is such a book. I disagreed with large chunks of it, but it was a stimulating and serious book.

Onward...
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 08/27/02 10:03 PM

Originally posted by Ralph Bonheim:
The most absorbing book I've ever failed to finish.
I felt that way about "A Brief History of Time." Just not brief enough.
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 08/28/02 06:25 AM

Originally posted by Lisa Cousins:
I felt that way about "A Brief History of Time." Just not brief enough.
Ditto -- I've picked it up several times and couldn't get past the first few chapters. Now I'm taking a class where I'm going to have to read it, so we'll see how it goes this time around.

-Jim
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Postby Jeff Haas » 08/28/02 12:37 PM

I actually finished "Godel, Escher, Bach."

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Postby Pete Biro » 08/28/02 05:17 PM

I ain't got no idea what youse guys are talking on. :confused: :eek: :confused:
Stay tooned.
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Postby Guest » 08/29/02 05:10 AM

I'm not sure I follow you, Pete. Are you saying that the discourse has degenerated into abstrusity?
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 08/30/02 09:19 AM

Well - to attempt to wrap this up on a Genii-related note (hey, this discussion was fueled by four actual words that appeared in Genii Magazine!), I want to make it clear that Jamy's articles without exception make worthwhile reading.

Also, he has a way-cool girlfriend, and winning the love of a cool girl mitigates much else.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 08/30/02 01:49 PM

Originally posted by Lisa Cousins:
...winning the love of a cool girl mitigates much else.
Then it has become abundantly clear to me that whatever flaws your husband may bear have been thusly mitigated.

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Postby Ariel Frailich » 09/05/02 02:24 AM

Greetings!

The "mystical mumbo-jumbo" refers to the fact that a few of Punx's presentations relate stories from religious / mystical / philosophical sources. A superb routine with pearls recounts a Buddhist story; a version of the tape-recorded prophecy where the spectator is instructed to move objects on a grid ("8-1") is about the Hindu view of fate.

Most stories are about human foibles. Some are profound, others are very humorous.

Punx did not present anything tongue-in-cheek; he performed his magic with intricate stories that he delivered as if they were completely true, and, where appropriate, as if he had lived them personally.

To me, Jamy's review was superb. I consider the book extremely important, and Jamy treated it with the respect it deserves. Can't ask for anything more...!

My only regret about the review is that it doesn't explain why I felt the book had to be republished -- and that's my own fault, because I didn't explain it (my hindsight has greatly improved since then, thank you). The original version of the book taught me the importance and value of stories in magic; it changed everything I thought I knew about our art and inspired me to write my own book, Card Stories. So -- I wanted to share my discovery. That's all (but you read it here first, folks!)

-ariel
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Publisher of Reading Writing, Card Stories, and other fine magic books
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Postby Guest » 09/11/02 09:36 AM

me say him rite gud.
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