CLOSED VERSUS OPEN SYSTEMS
“Mathematics would certainly have not come into existence if one had known from the beginning that there was in nature no exactly straight line, no actual circle, no absolute magnitude.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All-Too-Human
JUNE 18, 2011. There is a trick in the physical and social sciences. It can get a professional grant money and promotion and something to chew on for 30 or 40 years.
Here it is: invent a category that is basically useless, convince everyone it’s real, and then argue about its definition forever.
Take the term “system.” When you boil it down, it means a piece of equipment or a bunch of ideas that fit neatly together and admit nothing from the outside. It’s a fortress with a moat and slavering dogs and troops on the turrets.
But then, to get cute, you introduce the notion that a system could, somehow, be closed or open. Which is like saying a washing machine could possibly be a nectarine. Now you’ve set the stage for 10,000 articles in professional journals that will debate open versus closed.
The concept of an open system is actually surrealism.
“The fortress was buttoned up tight, but then time travelers broke through the sky and there they were, in the throne room. We thought the system was closed, but it wasn’t.”
How many pins can dance on the head of an angel?
On the other hand, we have this: “During the Renaissance, painters developed a system of perspective.”
Actually, they didn’t. They developed some rules. Guidelines.
If a system is anything, it’s self-referring. Formal logic, for example. A machine. You set up terms and their definitions, you set up operations and their descriptions, and then you let the machine run. And it always runs the same way because that’s how you built it. And if some little piece of it suddenly works in a new way, you just say, “Well, that’s not logic. That’s a different animal. Shoot it.”
A system is like a dream that always play out the same. Start to finish.
Closed? Open? Balderdash.
Moving on—an artist is never doing a system.
He’s often doing anti-system on purpose, breaking apart a cluster of habits people have gotten used to.
A robot would be a system. He can perform 100000000000 operations and each one is specific and bounded. And that’s all he can do, no matter how you dress him up.
People try to teach magic as if it were a system, when it isn’t. They cite rules and rituals and symbols. If that’s magic, a spider can fly a jet plane.
But people who get involved in magic don’t want to admit they don’t really have a system, because that would be tantamount to admitting past practices shrouded in the mists of history are irrelevant. Which would put them in the present moment, needing to figure out what magic really IS. Right now.
You could say Tic-tac-toe is a system, because you can figure out all the ways to win or tie, depending on who moves first. But Tic-tac-toe isn’t magic. It’s a child’s game.
The universe—is that a system? It’s a juicy question for debate. You can drag in the Indeterminacy Principle, and Quantum Entanglement, and all sorts of interesting notions. But when all is said and done, what you have left is this: the universe is a great big IS. It’s the cardinal IS. It’s the IS circus under the big tent. It rings all bells as REALITY. Universe is reality. So it doesn’t really matter whether you call it open or closed.
And magic is not about IS.
It’s not about universe.
It’s about proliferating new realities. Tons of them.
How many tons? Let me guess. 1000000000000000000000 tons. If you did that much proliferating, then you would see universe in a quite different way, and you would be able to affect it as if it were a lump of wet taffy.
And THAT ain’t system.
Again, moving on—magic runs on desire. You desire X, you want to materialize it. But now, let’s think on the far edge of that assumption. How many IS’s do you want to materialize before you begin to get tired of the whole business? How many wishes do you want the genie to fulfill before you say stop?
How heavy and deep is your fixation on exactly what you want and desire? How fast could it theoretically be satisfied?
There are a whole lot of two-and-three wish people in this world. A whole lot of five-and-ten wish people. Give them what they want and they’re done. They’re as cooked as a player who just won the lottery.
And that’s because they’ve made desire into a kind of system. It’s a sort of closed network. It’s tight. And you walk in there and give them what they want and boom, they’re done. They’ve really got nowhere to go after that. Their energy peters out.
This is interesting—because it suggests—and you might want to chew on this for a while—that there is another version of desire that isn’t so precise, isn’t so defined, isn’t so definite…and if that is so, we are looking at desire as possibility. Not in the sense of “I see all the possibilities,” but in the sense of implication, metaphor, suggestion, open-ended X.
People tend to recoil from this. They want the Caddy with the big fins, and they want it now. They want the prettier fingernails, the new nose, the butt implants, and the island in the Pacific with the yacht.
At least that’s what they think, because they don’t have them, and they tend to define their future in those terms. So they’re yearning and longing and drooling.
But what if there is a whole other space, a whole other future that isn’t so simple? And what if its uncertain shape makes it even more attractive?
What if the poem you’ve read a hundred times, the one you never quite understood, is the one you admire the most? The one that sends your mind and imagination off in so many directions.
And what if this has something to do with what magic is really all about, or is a kind of magic that normally escapes attention? What if magic can be like this, can be a road with thousands of forks that take you into undiscovered territory you’ve never dreamed of before?
What if our programmed sense of what reality is, the precision and the definition and the thing-ness, is a diversion from what, underneath it all, we want?
What if the most subtle illusion about reality isn’t all the things themselves laid out end to end across the universe, but instead is the conviction that reality is an absolute IS separated from a theoretical ISN’T?
What if trying to meld the IS and ISN’T in a harmonious Yin-Yang circle is just another dead-end illusion?
What if that keyboard on your computer, which is so THERE on your desk, is only one KIND of thereness? And another kind of thereness is implication-not-fully-realized…and although you’ve always been quite sure you want the THERE of that keyboard and the yacht and the villa, you also want the implication-not-fully-realized…and you want it so much that it would fulfill the requirement of magic?
In other words, for all this time, desire has been, for you, a kind of closed system that is leak-proof and bulletproof, and that’s why it has remained unfulfilled.