I Choose Wood

In the Ghostbusters (1984) movie, the boys are told by Gozer the Gozerian to choose the form of the destructor. Ray accidentally thought of the “Stay Puft Marshmallow man” and there it appeared, a giant angry campfire treat. The boys were then challenged by the manifestation of their thoughts.

I wonder whether our own challenges in life come from the topics we focus on. For instance, if we concentrate on relationship drama, medical drama, legal drama, career drama, financial drama, etc. — will we manifest related obstacles into our life? If I think of nothing but ailments, will I receive the very thing I think about?

If this is true, then we must focus on the form in which we want our challenges to take. And so for this little experiment, I choose woodworking. I believe I can handle woodworking drama. Thus, anytime my focus drifts, I must purposefully shift it back to woodworking until that becomes the source of all obstacles.

In other words, “Is that a woodworking problem? No? Then it’s not my problem.” For the time being, I’m all about tools and fasteners, boards and dowels, hardwoods and softwoods, alignments and measurements — and that’s it. This is the problem I’m willing to have. Oh and Jesus was a carpenter by the way.

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Magical Mystery

I don’t think there’s any question as to whether magic is real. Magic is the manifestation of intent. From childhood dreams, to success stories, to wishes, to just plain goal-setting, there’s determination underlying whatever comes next. How the particulars happen, we don’t really know or care — external events align and the things we had imagined appear before us.

If the world was purely physical, then things wouldn’t miraculously align like that. The circumstances and people we require wouldn’t waltz into our path like they do. Yet as if by magic, things do synchronize. People do end up fulfilling childhood fantasies, people do meet the spouse of their dreams, people do overcome extraordinary odds, people do obtain success.

So there’s no debate over whether magic exists, the question is, how can we manipulate these forces to satisfy our desires. But a deeper question becomes: can we actually control this magic and do we even want to? Consider this: where do these inspiring daydreams come from? An idea simply pops into our thought-stream and suddenly we want it to come true — but why?

Is there an external narrative going on in which we simply play our part? Perhaps life is purposefully providing the false impression that we have influence over it. In other words, life does all the heavy-lifting but wants us to think we’re doing it ourself. But how could we — we barely know anything. We’re on autopilot — situations present themselves and we simply go along for the ride.

For another perspective, imagine watching a play on a stage. We the audience can’t help the production along — but we can certainly screw it up. We can become overly involved in the plot and shout about what’s going on. We can allow ourself to become outraged over little things or get distracted by a particular scene, focusing on the details we don’t like, no longer paying attention to the action currently happening. We can fail to give the playwright the benefit-of-the-doubt, criticizing the entire time, booing whenever the mood strikes. We can fail to appreciate all the effort that went into the production, yelling about what a waste of time it is.

So which is it? Are we creating the world as we live it — perhaps in a dream-like manner? Is there a pre-written narrative in which we watch as if on an amusement-park ride? Are we capable of changing any or all of it? Do we even want to? Are we the author, actor, or audience? Are the answers to these questions purposefully obfuscated in order to maintain the mirage, adding an element of mystery? Is the world all things to all people, allowing every question’s answer to depend on the perspective?

First Steps

An excerpt from the fictional tales of Way of the Wizard: Modern Magic

But Rich, where do I find introductory material on magic? It doesn’t seem readily available.

You’re right, just searching for “magic” will get you nowhere. But if you look past the surface, you’ll see there’s tons of material about magic. For instance, a lot of popular “success” books are straight-up magic. They don’t claim to be such, yet they’re essentially telling you to wish your way to prosperity and fulfillment. They’ll often talk about affirmations and repeatedly writing your wishes down. Or they’ll mention visualization: vividly imagining the outcomes you desire. And of course the “Law of Attraction” a.k.a The Secret is pure sorcery — it’s all about manifesting your materialistic wants.

For many years I was skeptical of such claims, and dismissed followers as fools and proponents as snake-oil salesmen. But eventually I realized that my pessimism was not proof. These people wholeheartedly believed in magic and I was needlessly dismissive of their lifestyle. And here’s the thing, they were living an enjoyable life filled with hopefulness and cheer whereas I was sitting in squalor endlessly complaining about how horrible the world was. Who’s the fool?

So what does one do upon learning the error of his ways? That’s right, take two giant steps in the opposite direction. I’m in full-on magic-mode now. And I’ve read the common success books, I’ve seen The Secret, I’ve watched adherents relate their stories on YouTube — I’d consider myself versed in the techniques of the trade. Therefore, I’ve completed the first three steps: I believe magic exists, I believe it’s something I can practice, and I’ve gone through the introductory material. Currently I’m in the solo-project stage, attempting to self-solve a particular problem.

Using what I’ve learned, I must make something manifest. The biggest hurdle to practicing magic is remembering to practice. My attention is so often focused on the mundane: all the unpleasantries I encounter, the foul odors, the bad attitudes — I’m so easily distracted by the worst life has to offer. Yet I’ve been diligent enough to use these negativities in my favor, using them as triggers, reminders to think magically — believing I must have inadvertently summoned the bitter into being. We must be careful what we wish, because we might just get it — and so I’m careful to keep only what delights in mind.

Even if magic wasn’t real, I’ve become a much happier person simply by weeding out the pessimism. That vacancy has been conscientiously filled with pleasant fantasies instead. And it is magic’s job to bring these particular fantasies into being. In one sense, I’ve really no more to do than wish and wait. But of course, keeping my garden free of dream-choking weeds is a chore in itself. Thankfully it’s a chore that becomes more automatic with practice. So dear reader, there is your answer, the introductory material is where it’s always been: right in your face. Pick it up.

Intro To Magic

An excerpt from the fictional tales of Way of the Wizard: Modern Magic

So the question becomes, how do we program our world? There are those among us that claim such alteration is possible and we have no cause to doubt them. Skepticism is certainly not reason enough, as that’s merely a form of stodgy conservatism. To make any change, great or small, we must believe in its possibility.

Typically, when we start using computers, we’re not even aware that computer-programming is a thing. The operating system, and the applications running on top, just exist. And when we learn that actual people wrote said software, we believe it to be a feat apart from ourselves, a task undertaken by geniuses tucked away in a laboratory. We could never do that, it’s simply not possible.

We wouldn’t even know where to begin. What do we write, where do we write it? And if we dare look it up, we’re deluged by complexity. What if we look for a book? Which book do we pick? And once we start, how do we keep our head above the sea of uncertainty? Plus, a simplistic step-by-step guide is one thing, an unguided project is a far different beast.

It turns out that software development is more art than math. It is not so much completing equations, but a constant treadmill of trial-and-error. We should therefore expect world-level programming to be quite the same. For instance, let’s examine a realistic scene from the desk of a software developer:

“Will it work? Let’s see. Nope. Okay try something else. Nope. Wait, why’s it doing that now!? Okay how about this. Hmm. Okay let me look something up. Ah, okay, I’ll try this. Ooh better. Ahh, nope, now the other part doesn’t work. Okay let me take a break and see if inspiration strikes. [Later that day…] Aha, that’s it! [Fervent typing ensues…] It works! Now onto the next problem….”

This common scenario plays itself out again and again. The solution so often comes from outside the programmer. Either it comes from an actual archive of answers (a forum for programmers), or from some mystical source of inspiration that’s accessed by the programmer’s subconscious once he engages in another task.

Let’s not gloss over this point, that the key to a programmer’s code comes from external sources. One source is a repository of discussion compiled by programmers over the years. And another source is some other-worldly well-of-knowledge that provides solutions for problems posed to it while the mind is no longer actively searching.

So a wizard should expect much of the same. First, he needs to grasp that magic exists. Second, he must believe it’s a process he can proficiently navigate. Third, he must dive into some introductory materials that provide a cryptic set of rules and steps for completing basic but essentially useless projects. Then as aspirations expand, on comes a contentious time of attempting to self-solve a particular problem. This is accompanied by research into the ways of others who solved similar issues, alongside bouts of inspiration from one’s own imagination. Voila! A wizard is born.

In programming, there is no set canon of introductory materials. Programmers learn their craft by various means. There are a myriad of languages and techniques and styles of programming. There’s countless sources of introductions. The common theme though, is the intent and determination of the practitioner. And there is one other commonality: every programmer begins by writing a small program that prints a simple phrase, a very telling phrase: hello, world

Ancient Bindings

An excerpt from the fictional tales of Way of the Wizard: Modern Magic

Okay Rich, blah blah blah computer-programming, but what about magic?

But don’t you see, if the world is a computer simulation, then programming IS magic:
World.place(object)

But here’s the thing, the easiest programming to understand is typically the most restrictive. In the high-level environments you’re granted access to a few preset commands that aren’t very customizable. In order to tap into the low-level stuff that alters individual pixels of the interface, you’ll need to delve into the ancient API.

The problem with ancient APIs though, is their archaic format and overall complexity. For instance: in high-level programming, objects are managed for you, whereas in low-level, you need to account for their maintenance and dissolution. To call something with the ancient API typically takes more consideration and is much more prone to error.

And of course, if you attempt to build an entire program by invoking the ancient API, then the complexity and bugginess is going to compound. To account for this, programmers oftentimes use bindings that simplify access to the ancient API using a more modern parlance. This also allows the program’s heavy-lifting to be done in a high-level style whereas certain customizations can be made with bindings to the ancient API.

This is what we wizards seek, the bindings into the ancient API. It is simply not worth trying to create a program from the ancient API, the time and complexity are too much. We’d be decades working on a teetering foundation — we need instead to stand on the shoulders of giants. But this takes great discernment of course — because how can we recognize what we don’t know?

Yet that is the wizard’s gift — the ability to recognize a source of power. It’s no different than how a chef recognizes a source of flavor — it’s a built-in attribute of the character. And like a programmer, a wizard conjures whatever needs programming. Either he sees a hole that needs filling or he’s the middleman between clients and their vision.

Through observation we can witness that this world is not merely a pre-compiled binary, there’s also some scripting on the fly. As in a scripting language, code can write code. But of course we must know the correct keywords and syntax as well as the appropriate method of code execution. Programmers for instance don’t simply open up a text document and write random words and symbols.

No, wizards must learn their interface, they must study syntax and keywords. They must seek out repositories of source-code, deciphering the instruction-sets within. They must understand where and when to apply such commands and obtain the tools by which to evoke their spells. This is the way of the wizard, programmer of worlds.

Yielding to Magic

It’s happening, I’m finally doing it. I’m crossing over into the realm of full-blown magic. WHAT!? Yes, that’s right, I’m ready to completely abandon any ideas about this world being anything but magical.

First, a bit of background. I grew up in a non-religious and non-spiritual setting. Everything in the world was exactly as it appeared to the senses. God was a fictional man in the sky. Anything non-physical was pure imagination. Things happened for practical reasons and within well-defined limits. Science explained existence, PERIOD. And what couldn’t be explained was fanciful thought not worthy of consideration. This was the foundation of my beliefs for several decades.

But it was a very worrisome world. Chance was real, so life and death teetered on the edge of random circumstance. Might I survive another day? Who knows. Might I get sick and die or suffer an accident at any moment? Sure. Might I fulfill a goal? Only if conditions are just right and no limitations block my path. Might I one day achieve success? Such rarities are like winning the lottery, so don’t bother. What a wicked place to persist within.

Almost two decades ago I met my friend — it was a full moon. She believed in the reality of wishes and magic. For many years I attempted to convince her that her worldview was completely unrealistic and wrong. I thought of myself as a savior rescuing her from childish ignorance. “What!? You can’t do that! That’s impossible! How dare you not think about the horrible consequences that might befall you every-time we leave the house!” Ultimately she didn’t believe me and still believes in magic.

Yet I noticed something. My friend seemed much more at ease with life. She seemed as though she was actually having a good time! She was having fun!? Ha! How is that possible in such a precarious, anxiety-inducing place!? That poor simple child, if only she knew the harsh realities of life, then she wouldn’t be so happy. I tried informing her but she kept on smiling. It was strange, an almost willful ignorance towards life’s grittiness. She seemed unable to understand how horrible everything was.

Then I had a son — he was born on my birthday. I was not pleased with the way in which my parents fulfilled their role, so I took a long hard look at myself to make sure I’d be the best dad I could be. I needed my son to be happy. One must lead by example, so I needed to be happy. One day, while he was still an infant, I happened to be upset over something. I sat in quiet meditation for quite awhile in the afternoon. It was at that time I vowed to become happy, to establish the necessary discipline no matter what it took.

My friend served as my example. Over the past few years I’ve been shedding my old worldview and adopting hers. Of course it was alien and unnatural not to worry, but I persisted. My son needs to see my smile, not my scaredy-ness. But for life to be joyous, he needs to know hope — so I’ve been adjusting my perspective to allow for optimism. We both need to know that wishes come true. My die-hard pessimism had to go.

My friend is an optimist whose wishes come true. As a realist, I would dutifully dismiss such nonsense and accuse her of stretching the truth. But no more. This is a magical world and she is a powerful wielder of wishes. She finds 4-leaf clovers. She receives mental messages from her family with real-world consequences. She effortlessly wins games-of-chance. She finds money when needed. As part of an experiment, I even saw her read the contents of cards without ever looking at them.

But even if her magic wasn’t real, she’s still a happy-go-lucky person. If happiness is my goal, I might as well model someone capable of having fun. When I think of life right now, in this moment, I see it as a love story. I see the ever growing affection I have for my friend. I see the doting father attempting to ensure delight in his little boy’s life. And I see a once sad little man smiling at his tiny family. I like that image, and if I must believe in magic to see it, then so be it — magic it is.

Wanting Lack

Dear Rich, if life is a virtual experience, why wouldn’t I simply wish everything I wanted into the world?

Let’s think about the game of Minecraft for a minute. If I’m in survival mode (with cheats enabled), I could use a slash-command to give myself 1000 blocks of iron and create all the iron tools I ever wanted — and while I’m at it, I might as well give myself 1000 blocks of wood planks. And you know what, instead of digging, I might as well use the fill command to excavate a huge cave for my new dwelling. Ooh, and I should give myself 1000 cakes too.

So in this scenario, I can type in a few commands and have everything at my finger tips. I probably wouldn’t bother to mine for resources or explore caves. This abundance might just rob me of a good time. Because, although we don’t think of it like this, we’re often entertained by limitations. Limits are what we go against whenever we challenge ourselves. Without finish-lines or structure, there’s no race to run, no feat to beat.

While it’s true that a virtual realm requires no true equilibrium, the players themselves require it. In other words, within a computer generated world, there is no real physical balance that must be maintained, yet participants must be provided fulfilling activities that evoke engagement. If everything is freely and easily obtained, activities might dissolve into pointlessness — and so, challenges and limitations are regularly introduced to stave-off boredom.

Therefore, it makes sense that a wizard-like being would purposely limit his power, preventing himself from magically fulfilling wishes. But, that’s only one side of the coin. In some scenarios, it does make sense to invoke near-limitless power. Let’s think about Minecraft again. If I’m in creative mode, where resources are unlimited, engagement through creativity can certainly serve as ample entertainment. The caveat being, that I must rely on my creativity to carry me through.

So dear reader, you should only wish into existence what you can handle. Lack is oftentimes captivating when we lack creativity.