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November 29th, 2007

The Word and True Names

"The real secret of magic is that the world is made of words, and that if you know the words that the world is made of you can make of it whatever you wish."  Terence McKenna

Now ... in my defense I'm skeptical of someone who uses hallucinogens, but this McKenna has caught my attention a few times.  I think most math-minded, right-brained people will miss the subtlety of his message and say he's a stupid hippie.  His conclusion isn't as simplistic or superficial as it sounds.  Sadly I don't think the left brains should defend this kind of stereotypically new-age nonsense until first delving through all the rules and reasons used in math, science and philosophy, and then applying those same exercises to language.  Leap frogging over to words appears weak, like a pubescent attack against the system without realizing that you are part of the system, hence your attack is merely the machine at work.  You can jump to conclusions; but it earns less respect.

What caught my eye about this quote is how it echoes Ursula LeGuin's use of someone's "true name" in Wizard of Earthsea.  In her fantastical world, knowing something or someone's name meant that you could manipulate them.  I think something similar is true in our world.  Lawyers manipulate the law because they write it.  That doesn't mean a law can be conjured out of thin air but it does mean that the common citizen would legally pay fewer taxes if she could read the law.  And by "read the law" I mean something described by force_of_will as a socio-political edifice.  It includes "networking", or the people affect on grammar and lexicons; I do not merely mean legalese.  So the common citizen would save on taxes by knowing the right laws and the right lawyers.  Same thing for the world of magic.  Maybe magic exists but we just haven't the network, words, or skill for it.  This sounds like a conclusion that Adam came to ...