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Modernity's Spell (thenewatlantis.com)
39 points by dangerman 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 8 comments

“With subjects selected for their predisposition to belief, mesmerist and subject constituted what Daniel O’Keefe, in Stolen Lightning: The Social Theory of Magic (1982), calls an “act-as-if group”: a social interaction that temporarily redraws the accepted borders of reality by mutual agreement”

The idea of an “act as if” group is incredibly powerful and applies to a number social situations outside of magic.

One example: dysfunctional or abusive family systems are able to maintain homeostasis and propagate across generations because (and only as long as) every member acts as if all the crazy stuff is okay. Also happens in a dysfunctional 1-on-1 relationship. The redrawing of borders on accepted reality happens implicitly - you learn by experience what is “real” within this group based on feedback. See also cults, which are closely related to abusive family systems.

Other examples: the reality distortion field of charismatic leaders, Silicon Valley hype cycles, many dynamics in the field of mental health.

The effect isn’t always negative. On the one hand, group psychology is so powerful that it often causes individuals to throw critical thinking out the window. On the other hand, you need some level of reshaping shared reality for things like the civil rights movement to succeed.

Hadn't heard of this outlet before - quite an interesting article, but the conclusion started to get more than a bit esoteric. Looking through the chain of funding, we find that the funders are

> https://eppc.org/about/

> Founded in 1976 by Dr. Ernest W. Lefever, the Ethics and Public Policy Center is Washington, D.C.’s premier institute dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy. From the Cold War to the war on terrorism, from disputes over the role of religion in public life to battles over the nature of the family, EPPC and its scholars have consistently sought to defend and promote our nation’s founding principles—respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, individual freedom and responsibility, justice, the rule of law, and limited government.

One of the key projects of some of the "traditionalists" is to tear down the Enlightenment and modernity/post-modernity itself - which, interestingly, coheres with the conclusion quite well; it's clear why the outlet published this article.

The history of mesmerism is interesting.


I'm not sure if the author chose not to underline the Obvious Deeper Meaning or was simply ironically unaware of it.

I always got a kick out of the way an 18th century charlatan's name made it's way into the fantasy role playing settings of games like Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot, in the form of "mesmerization" spells.

It's in D&D as well.

Yeah no doubt that is why it is even in those later CRPGs, as they inherited a great deal from D&D and MUDs.

I see your meta-placebo effect, and raise it to the next level :

"Schiltz is a psi believer whose staring experiments had consistently supported the presence of a psychic phenomenon. Wiseman, in accordance with nominative determinism is a psi skeptic whose staring experiments keep showing nothing and disproving psi. Since they were apparently the only two people in all of parapsychology with a smidgen of curiosity or rationalist virtue, they decided to team up and figure out why they kept getting such different results.

The idea was to plan an experiment together, with both of them agreeing on every single tiny detail. They would then go to a laboratory and set it up, again both keeping close eyes on one another. Finally, they would conduct the experiment in a series of different batches. Half the batches (randomly assigned) would be conducted by Dr. Schlitz, the other half by Dr. Wiseman. Because the two authors had very carefully standardized the setting, apparatus and procedure beforehand, “conducted by” pretty much just meant greeting the participants, giving the experimental instructions, and doing the staring.

The results? Schlitz’s trials found strong evidence of psychic powers, Wiseman’s trials found no evidence whatsoever.

Take a second to reflect on how this makes no sense. Two experimenters in the same laboratory, using the same apparatus, having no contact with the subjects except to introduce themselves and flip a few switches – and whether one or the other was there that day completely altered the result. For a good time, watch the gymnastics they have to do to in the paper to make this sound sufficiently sensical to even get published. This is the only journal article I’ve ever read where, in the part of the Discussion section where you’re supposed to propose possible reasons for your findings, both authors suggest maybe their co-author hacked into the computer and altered the results."


We can go deeper :

"Then there’s Munder (2013), which is a meta-meta-analysis on whether meta-analyses of confounding by researcher allegiance effect were themselves meta-confounded by meta-researcher allegiance effect. He found that indeed, meta-researchers who believed in researcher allegiance effect were more likely to turn up positive results in their studies of researcher allegiance effect (p < .002)."

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