Sunday, 23 January 2011

TechnoMage by Dirk Bruere - Review

TechnoMage by Dirk Bruere. Pub. Lulu, available from

It's extraordinary what can happen when a detailed and state-of-the-art knowledge of engineering, psychology, physics, exotic computing, neurophysiology, martial arts, psi experiments and a few less well-known or less respectable disciplines are blended with magic inside the same skull. Dirk Bruere put this book into my hands back in June last year and I've only just finished reading it. My reasons are: a) I find books on magic very hard to read, b) this is a large and complex book and c) there is some very, very interesting and important stuff in it.

At the start, the author asks: 'Who is this book aimed at? ... That rather rare breed who mix science, engineering and magick into what I have termed TechnoShamanism.' That comment earns points with me straightaway: Bruere is not claiming to be teaching anything about 'shamanism', thereby removing himself from the grotesque and dishonest feeding frenzy around that word. Yes, I'm taking yet another opportunity to excoriate that blurring of meaning, that devaluation of traditions the world over which sprouted from a certain epiphany, the realisation that one can make much more money (and fame) by teaching the sanitized mix called 'Core Shamanism' to gullible and cash-rich newagers than by languishing in the halls of Academe.

My first impression of TechnoMage was of its size: 400 (large) pages, and my next was of how crammed with information it is. It is hard to sum up what the mix of ideas is like: Bruere's thesis is that 'powerful magical techniques are a thing of the present and the future rather than the past'; he has built on the sceptical foundation of Chaos Magic, even retaining some of its exercises, but his book reads very differently to any CM book I've ever seen.

The first two chapters set the scene: Ch 1 is Semantics and Spells, and Ch 2 is Science and Magic, and it is here that he defines the underlying assumptions of his TechnoShamanism:
'Reality lies in Mind and Consciousness
Belief is everything
Perceived Reality is fluid and conditional
The Subjective and Objective are equally real
Space and Time are illusions'
OK, I wouldn't unreservedly subscribe to all those positions myself, especially not the final one, but we're definitely in the land of magic. His definitions of buzz-words like 'multiverse' are refreshingly rigorous; it struck me that the author is walking behind Chaos Magic tidying up all the half-defined notions that launched us out from the boring old Newtonian world.

Much of this reads like a science lesson for magicians, or perhaps more accurately, a lesson in the languages of science and magic for intellectuals; here I use that word positively, to mean one who delights in thinking to some depth, marginalized of course by our infantilizing culture. Magicians should be the most intelligent people in a culture, and Bruere asks good questions. Some of the science stuff may even empower our magic - after all, if it seems to do so, then it does.
Of course, this Science stuff doesn't delight every magician, but if it is your thing, this chapter will really do it for you: Bruere is out there with the weirdest notions: the relatively tame Einstein's Brain paradox, the identity paradox that underlies Greg Egan's tremendous novel 'Permutation City', and then the really mad stuff, like Max Tegmark's 'All Universes Hypothesis', a notion so counter-intuitive and, as far as I can see, so out-to-lunch, that we may as well declare that, under its moderately convincing layer of dusty regolith, the moon really is made of green cheese.

With Ch3, Psi and the Occult, we plunge into the retro-land of post-Victorian spiritism, the Scoles experiment. Funny really, you have this group who are determined to prove there's something objectively interesting about the results they get, but they insist on sitting in the dark. And they have crystals on the table, which, ipso facto, directs our attention to the far end of the credulity spectrum. Something extraordinary did happen - but probably not contact with any ET called Manu. Mr Bruere is of a similar mind to me on this, and concludes that 'belief is everything'. He makes a superbly original examination of where the energy for 'psychic' manifestations comes from, and speculates that it might be driven ultimately by temperature differentials: somehow, energy is extracted from the surroundings against the normal thermodynamic gradient. This would be a great trick on a larger scale - the perfect renewable energy scheme!

This chapter also features the PK Party, where you get fifteen or so people into the right state and all start bending cutlery. This is something I really want to try. He looks at Remote Healing, a popular area, and one in which my current course at Arcanorium College are building up to experimenting in, in a couple of weeks.

Bruere is not alone in debunking the ludicrous notion that UFO abductions are, even when 'real' to the 'abductee', even remotely likely to be anything to do with extraterrestrials, but it's unusual and valuable to read anyone who has time for subtle energies or UFOs but who hasn't also got some flaky axe to grind. His speculations about working with the Ultraterrestrials, the notional non-humans behind the highest-energy ET type manifestations, remind me of the work of Dr John Dee and his dodgy skryer Edward Kelly - men engaging with entities so powerful and capricious it matters little whether they are angels or demons. And one of his ideas struck me with a special personal resonance: 'Temporal effects are apparently maximized by closed loops between past and future.' My experience of working with models of higher consciousness - using both the HGA and the Wode-Fetch complex models - bears this out, over a timescale of 40 years. Maybe one day I'll elaborate on the story I started telling in Chaotopia!.

Chapter 4, Gods and Demons, introduces Marvin Minsky's fascinating 'Society of Mind' model, in which our intelligence and awareness emerge from a collective of sub-functions, one consequence of which is that we have many channels of possible input, all of which we need to use in order to do effective magic. This concept, together with Dawkins's Memetics, and Jung's Archetypes, forms a framework for a discussion of entities, in which he combines memes, Agents and Archetypes into a set of equations, which may or may not be your thing. On the Ouija Board, he is the only writer I've read who, having ruled out outright fraud and sensibly dismissed the notion that there's really any dead persons moving the planchette round, remarks on the much more interesting notion that what is going on is an astonishing degree of unconscious collusion.

Chapter 5 covers Hypnosis, and is a good rundown on the subject, including fascinating references to Hilgard's Hidden Observer experiment, and its implications for the reality (or unreality) of the self. Chapter 6, Mind Tools, examines remote hypnotism, sensory deprivation and 'brainwashing', culminating in a useful set of instructions for running your own cult. In Chapter 7, Subliminals, he includes NLP, sigils and 'hypersigils'.

Ch 8 is titled Psi and Science, and this is great stuff for those who are interested in indications of the reality of psi effects. He goes into experiments which have interesting and important consequences for magic, but seldom get written up in books on the subject, like the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research programme, in which psychokinesis on random event generators was tested, and, according to Bruere's comments, proven.

Ch 9, the Electromagnetic Domain, covers transcranial magnetic stimulation, the technique that first gained renown in the hands of Michael Persinger, of 'god-helmet' fame. Even more impressive is the link between hauntings and magnetic field variations shown by Richard Wiseman's studies. Might this amount to a physiological basis for the Devereux 'earthlights' hypothesis, in which intense geomagnetic/ electric fields seem to cause an ESC which would account for UFO abduction memories?
Ley-lines and poltergeists, hauntings and UFO abductions, are all connected via electromagnetism (EM) and presence-sensing 'organs' in the brain. Bruere relates this kind of sensitivity to the notion that Elves do not like iron, which may smooth out local EM variations, cutting off our perceptions of this other realm.

This is one of the points where, despite his determined search for physical explanations of psychic phenomena, the author demonstrates that he is not a simple reductionist. I get the impression that he is well up for exploring these realms.
This chapter contains some of the scariest stuff. Bruere comments: 'The governments of Earth are moving into what was previously 'our' space', the mental', and he mentions in passing the infamous mind-rape programs which elements of the US (so-called) intelligence community perpetrated on its citizens, using drugs, until, apparently, they found electromagnetic systems that mashed people's brains up just as well. He examines the possibility of the induction of psychoactive effects in a whole neighbourhood, by introducing rhythmic spikes into the power supply. This is genuine modern 'black' magic, in the old-school sense of 'very bad for humans and other living things'.

In Ch 10, Machines, we are treated to a classification ranging from the dowser's forked twig, via using fast channel changers for divination, to the modern necromancy of the Psychomanteum.

In Ch 11, The Great Work, Bruere shows his Transhumanist hand, defining that philosophy as 'using our technologies to transform ourselves into Beings that transcend the merely Human. To extend the capabilities of our minds, bodies and spirits to such a degree that we become as gods...'. Setting his Transhumanism against the 'overt atheism' of the organized movement, he sees that 'Transhumanism can be seen as a manifestation of an ancient spiritual force.' In that, I'm with him. However, his thoughts then take a rather quirky turn: after a quick historical review of the insane vileness of Yahweh's minions, he utilizes a Christian mythological perspective in a Gnostic-like exposition which leads up to how come the Transhumanist Association (TH) ended up borrowing the 8-rayed Star of Chaos for their logo.

He goes on to examine some of the core projects of the TH. It always reminds me how unequal a world we live in when people talk about life extension as if it's going to be available to everyone. The author writes: 'For those who are children now, I make this prediction - you will never die of old age. Your death will be by disease, accident or violence. It will not be 'natural'.'
I agree, reluctantly: unless you are 20 and already a billionaire, you will probably die in a stinking favela from a fight over a cup of clean water, or from one of the new diseases that will rip through the swarming 60 billion the author seems comfortable with as a future population. No doubt, if a critical mass of humans and technology can survive the coming century, then we will no doubt achieve the wonders Bruere - and I - dream of. But, to get a bit more work out of the Christian metaphor, it's looking like we'll have to cross Hell first. However, I'm inclined to think he's right about one thing: we humans have to change ourselves, or face extinction.

The final Chapter, 12, is called Fermi, Doom and Simulation, and starts from the premise that there is something deeply flawed about our view of reality. In support of this, he discusses the famous Fermi Paradox - what happened to all the extraterrestrials? What is so privileged about human life on earth that we never see any aliens? I agree that this paradox presents serious problems, and Bruere outlines some of the most interesting solutions, including the one that we already live in a simulation, a concept explored by Ramsey Dukes in his novel 'Words Made Flesh' and in some of his essays. In fact, the ideas are so similar that it does seem that the theorist whom Bruere quotes, N. Bostrom, must have nicked Dukes's concept of The Johnstone Paradox and renamed it - Bostrom is quoted as writing in 2003, and Dukes (under one of his other noms de plume) wrote about his version in the 1970s. Bruere does a good job on this - his thinking, once again, is thorough, even exhaustive, and he digs right down into the paradoxes of simulation, including the intriguing notion that the person who is running the simulation is our own True Self.

This leads on to asking the question: How can we crash the simulation and view the next level of reality?, and one of Bruere's best answers speculates that we are doing something rather like that when we practice being aware:
' exercising our Will and forcing ourselves, and those around us, to act and think in what Buddhists call a Mindful manner we soak up available processing power and drain it from the world around us. This in turn renders our perceived reality far more malleable and fluid.'

To conclude, what is significant about this book? Looking particularly at the Appendices, it seems the author has embraced a kind of 'completism', an encyclopaedic ideal. He does in fact warn in the Intro that 'each chapter can be considered as a condensation of the core information of several books, or research publications, in the area it covers.'
This could be thought of as the book Chaos Magic has been waiting for the birth of, having fathered it in an unnatural liaison with forbidden mutant technology. In some ways, this might be the most important book on magic published for years.
On the downside, it is a large book, and for all its virtues, is not easy to engage with. I predict that no-one who is not highly tolerant of technical detail will manage to finish it, which will limit its area of influence. So what could be done, with such a tasty menu, to get it out to more people?

Basically, I think the reader could do with less detail to get bogged down in. This could perhaps be achieved by splitting TechnoMage into at least 2 things: a smaller book, retaining all the headings, subheadings, and enough of the text to justify the framework, with references from each section to pages of a website, where more details are available. This is already happening to some extent - Dirk Bruere's website, Neopax, (URL at top of this review) includes pages from each chapter. He could even consider splitting the book up along the lines of topics, into a number of smaller 'introductory' books, (out of which he could probably make more money).

So ultimately, who would I recommend to buy it? Despite its intellectuality, this is not a book for the academic, unless he is capable of taking his head out of his arse, a postural problem which seems irreversible for many sufferers. If there's one big element of the book that impinges directly on how we might do our magic, it is the examinations of psi research, something that very seldom gets done in books on magic. TechnoMage is also full of fascinating facts, like an episode of QI for magicians, including some fine tales of madness and scandal, like the bloodshed and mayhem around the making of the 70s horror classic The Omen and the just-possible link between George W. Bush and his just-possibly grandad Aleister Crowley. On a style point, I like his year formalism; sticking 'CE' right after the date, as in '1936CE', somehow makes that silly dating system look less absolute.

What do these psi studies mean for the way we think about magic, how do they impinge on our magical thinking, on the problems I was discussing a few weeks ago on this blog? Psi experiments do not overcome the gulf between magic and parascience (see blog entry ) - because nothing can, parascience being a religion, not a true scientific attitude. However, if psi is proven, then physics has to work a bit harder to make room for that in the theory department. This is very good news for magical thinkers. I suspect the kind of evidence we are talking about here would be more likely to reduce the resistance to magical thought of an engineer rather than a theoretical scientist.
Maybe the 'ideal reader' this book is designed for is an engineer, standing on the edge of magical thinking. It is certainly worth buying for a friend who might be about to take his first steps outside of parascientific materialism.
It is also highly recommended for anyone who wants new ideas for their magical practice; my copy still bristles with post-it notes, where I've marked things I want to try out. Along with a lot of ideas that force me to think, that is the best sign of all for how good a book is.

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