The Book of Good Practices Now in Print

The Book of Good Practices

The Book of Good Practices by Bill Whitcomb and Taylor Ellwood is now available in print. Here’s a bit from the interview with Bill and Taylor that Chris Dancy and I did for Mindful Cyborgs last year:

KF: I kind of see this book as a users’ guide to the human brain. The brain, the missing manual; that sort of thing. What is the book, in your own words? Maybe we’ll start with Taylor then Bill can chime in.

TE: First of all, I want to acknowledge that Bill is kind of the originator of the book. He had already been working on it for a while and I want to give a little history here, just because I think it speaks to what the book’s about. He came to me about four or five years ago and said, “I’m working on this book. I’m kind of hitting a place where I’m feeling really blocked. Would you be willing to help me co-write it because you’ve done some similar stuff with some of your other writing?” I thought it over and I said, “Yeah, sure.”

It’s been a long road to get this book put together. I mean, it’s turned into three e-books and a workbook which speaks to it. So what do we see it as? I think I see it as a catalog of certainly stuff related to the brain but really behaviors and actions that can come out of being more aware of the brain and how it programs a lot of our behavior. That’s my take on it. Bill, what would you say to that?

BW: Well, I think we’ve tried to produce a taxonomy, a way of categorizing behavioral practices, things that can be described in purely behavioral terms; that actually have a measurable neurological effect on people, physiological effect on people. Things that you can learn to do that could be said to truly impact your skills as far as fundamental human activities; things like concentration, memory, metabolism; things that impact pretty much anything you would want to do in your life.

We’ve tried to abstract that as much as possible from any specific tradition because in many ways, the traditions these things come out of have a tendency to separate out people as much as they bring them in. Someone will say, “Well, psychology is too cold or inhuman for me” or “I don’t do Eastern mysticism” or “That’s too fuzzy and spiritual”, any reason to not try the thing themselves, whereas in behavioral terms, these are things that you can learn to do that will change your level of skill as a human being.

Technoccult Interview: Douglas Rushkoff On Kicking the Consensus Reality Habit

Douglas Rushkoff
Photo by Johannes Kroemer

“Are you a practicing occultist?” was the first question Douglas Rushkoff asked me when I met him at the Webvisions conference in Portland, OR. It’s not a typical question for a keynote speaker to ask a journalist he’s just met at a technology event. Then again, Rushkoff is not a typical keynote, and I’m not a typical journalist. After all, I’d just introduced myself as a writer for ReadWriteWeb and Technoccult.

“No, not anymore,” I told him.

“I’m thinking about starting up again. I feel like I’ve been fooled by all of this,” he said, gesturing around the room.

“All of what?” I asked him.

“Consensus reality,” he told me. He went on to talk about the vitality that practicing magicians like Phil Farber and Grant Morrison have. We chatted a bit longer about our common interests, and made an appointment to meet up for an interview. I talked to him about some of the themes of his new book, Program or Be Programmed, and the Contact Summit, which he’s co-organizing with Venessa Miemis and Michel Bauwens. You can find that portion of the interview at ReadWriteWeb. Then we got into stuff that fits better on this site.

Rushkoff is disappointed about how technology is being used today. He describes feeling of computer networks in 1991 as being like taking acid – there was a sense that anything was possible. In Cyberia he wrote that the only people that would be able to handle the new information reality would be psychedelic people and kids. He expanded upon the notion that kids would just inherently get cyberspace in Playing the Future.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Rushkoff admits he was wrong about kids just getting cyberculture. He says recent studies have found that younger Internet users are more likely to fall for hoaxes or believe incorrect things they read on the Internet. Young people are less critical, not more.

Meanwhile, technology has become more about control than about liberation from consensus reality.

“When Video Toaster for the Amiga came out everyone was really excited,” he Rushkoff said. “We believed that we could use it to create deeply alternative states of consciousness using lights and colors and things.”

“Today, those technologies are used by companies like Fox News to make you pay attention to what they want you to pay attention to, or to make your eye fall on a particular ad. Stuff like that.”

But he says if you know how the program works, you’re less likely to be hypnotized by it. “There’s two ways to experience magic,” he says. “And I don’t mean stage magic.” You can either experience it as a spectator, watching a priest or guru. Or you can participate. “Having a guru will only take you so far,” he said. “You have to become the guru.”

But it’s not easy. Rushkoff admits he’s been having trouble participating in magic these days. “My sense is that the suppositional conditioning that I’ve undergone – making a living, raising a kid, keeping a house in working order, paying a mortgage – I’ve expended a lot of energy in less efficient ways,” he said. “I’ve become less trusting of the more subtle ways of influencing the world around me.”

“Part of that is because the stakes are higher,” he said. “I’ve got a real kid, a real wife, a real house, a real bank account, a real mortgage. When it was just me, the stakes were lower. It was just ‘Will I get this book deal?’ and ‘Will I get with this girl?’ Not expending that energy in the conventional ways wouldn’t lead to catastrophic failures.”

He said he hasn’t reached a point where the stakes are lower. “I’ve just gotten to a point where this is no longer working for me. Too many of my day-to-day concerns are not consonant with the way I want to experience the world. It’s about maintaining security, avoiding death and getting things done.”

He says he’s not interested in performing rituals or ceremonies. Instead he said “I want to maintain a greater availability towards pattern recognition. A greater sensitivity to the subtle effects of my actions.”

He wants to spend more of his time and energy connecting with people and “Being and experiencing myself as part of the unfolding of reality.”

So what stands in the way?

“The cultural things in my life and how I relate to them are all fairly rigid – marriage, schools, etc.” he says. “But unless you find an intentional community, it’s hard to feel that balanced. But I feel it can be done.”

I mention that Grant Morrison seems to pull this off. “Yeah, but he’s childless,” Rushkoff replied. He explains that he’s worried that if he goes off the deep end, he’d end up with some fucked up kids. “I don’t know if that’s because of society or what,” he says, pointing out that society has certain expectations from parents and childhoods and your children can end up being the victims of your choices, even if it’s not fair.

I told him that I don’t have kids, but society still limits what I can do. “Right, money is a big limiting factor,” he says.

“It’s like Bill Hicks said,” I replied. “‘You think you’re free? Trying going anywhere without fucking money.'”

“Yeah, not everyone can move out to the woods, and have solar panels and all that. It’s just not sustainable.”

I told him about EsoZone, and how part of my intention for it was to create a sort of urban Burning Man – a semi-autonomous zone that people could bus or bike to, instead of something way out in the desert away from civilization.

“Yeah, and that’s great,” he said. “But it’s temporary. It’s like acid. When you come down, the question is always ‘how can I make this last forever?'”

And it’s at that point that someone from the event came over and told him it was time to get ready to go on stage and we had to part ways before I could get to the other questions on my list about localism, alternative currencies, etc.

But I’ve been thinking about this last point – how do we make these special experiences last forever? Part of the point, I think, of these sorts of shamanistic experiences – whether it’s Burning Man, or drugs, or fever or lucid dreaming or whatever – is that they are temporary but that you can take something of value away from them and apply it to normal, every day life.

I relate to Rushkoff’s experience, even though I’m childless. My day-to-day concerns are meeting my deadlines for work, making sure I have enough money in the bank for rent, my conference travel schedule, the best types of dish washer tablets and whether my wife and I need a new coffee maker. I’m considering buying a subscription to Consumer Reports, and what sort of retirement savings account is best for me.

Did we learn nothing from our experiences that we can bring back into our day-to-day lives? Are there really no options between being square or living on a commune?

I for one choose not to be believe that.

Since this interview, I made it a point to work less and to spend more time with friends. Even before the interview I’d been realizing that I didn’t do much actual socializing on social media. Twitter and Tumblr are participatory, but not particularly social. I use Facebook mostly as a way to send and receive invitations, and as a sort of back-up e-mail system. I want to spend more time connecting with people, and I’m doing my best to do that.

But there does seem to be something else that’s missing. As we parted ways, Rushkoff told me to feel free to e-mail him if I came across anything that I thought would help him in his situation. I chuckled, saying that it’s the exact same situation seemingly everyone is in.

PZ Myers on Alan Moore and Magic

A while back Cat Vincent asked why no atheists debated Alan Moore at the skeptics conference TAM London. I told Cat that I personally didn’t have much to debate with Moore.

Moore’s position, staked out in this essay on magic as well as the magic essay from Dodgem Logic 3 (which I think is a better version of the “Fossil Angels” essay, and extends the purpose of magic from art in particular to creativity in general), is that that magic is a process that takes place probably in one’s own mind and doesn’t confer the power to fulfill wishes. For example, in Dodgem Logic he wrote that using magic to try to get money handed to you was pointless. Instead, you were better off using magic to try to find some creative way to actually earn some money. He claims to have seen visions of gods, but admits they could very well be hallucinations. There’s not much room to debate a guy who says magic can’t fulfill all your wishes and that he could be tripping balls mad.

Biologist and noted atheist blogger PZ Myers seems to agree:

Moore has an affinity for a 2nd century oracular sock puppet, but he doesn’t worship it. He believes in magic, but he doesn’t believe in the supernatural. He also doesn’t like religion. I agreed with almost everything he said 100% (although he did speculate a bit about the absence of explanation for memory, which he thought was a mystery because there are no changes in the structure of the brain that last for more than a few weeks, which is total bullshit, and he wondered if the purpose of junk DNA was to store memories, which is bullshit on fire. But, OK, the rest of the talk was mostly fun.)

Moore is a writer, and his explanation was basically that the weirdness was to spark creativity; for instance, he talked about staring into a quartz crystal and seeing visions, but he was quite plain that it wasn’t supernatural, it wasn’t the crystal, it was his own mind generating and imposing ideas on what he saw. And that’s all right with me — it fits very well with how I see science functioning.

Pharyngula: Alan Moore at Cheltenham

Actually, I think if there’s anything to debate Alan Moore about it’s whether what he describes as magic is truly “magic” at all. But I’m not particularly interested in having that debate, and I doubt he really is either.

Ioan P. Culianu: Eros, Magic, Politics and Murder Remembered


I was recently going through my books when I found a signed copy of “Eros, Magic, and The Murder of Professor Culianu” by Ted Anton that was given to me by a friend. For those unfamiliar, Ioan P. Culianu (or Couliano) was a professor of divinity at The University of Chicago. He also taught Romanian history. His most famous work was “Eros and Magic in The Renaissance” which was a study on how magic in the Renaissance was “a scientifically plausible attempt to manipulate individuals and groups based on a knowledge of motivations, particularly erotic motivations. In addition, the magician relied on a profound knowledge of the art of memory to manipulate the imagination of his subjects. In these respects, Culiano suggests, magic is the precursor of the modern psychological and sociological sciences, and the magician is the distant ancestor of the of the psychoanalyst and the advertising and publicity agent.”

Besides being a scholar of ancient magic and the occult (he worked frequently with Mircea Eliade and many other notable minds), he was an outspoken activist against the government of Romania. Born and raised there, Culianu later defected to Italy and eventually put down roots in Chicago. After Ceausescu was ousted, Culianu was forthright in insisting the new government staged a coup, and that the Romanian people were duped into believing they were headed toward democracy when in reality they were not. Of the previous government he said ”Why did we accept so much suffering without saying anything? Why did we permit ourselves to be robbed more than other people in the world…? This stain is more difficult to remove than that of original sin.” In a piece he wrote for an Italian news magazine called Panorama, he noted Romania’s history with dictators and aptly titled the article “The King is Dead. Watch Out for an Heir.” In this article he states that “all events that happen in our poor country are the repetition of some archetypes embedded in our religious history”, and that “Umberto Eco says that everything depends on what use one makes of symbols. The case of Romania shows that he is right. No sooner had the people forced the bloody dictator to leave the presidential palace than the government that was formed took the name National Salvation Front. They couldn’t have chosen a less fortunate label: the name calls to mind the fascist National Renascence Front, which was the sole party created by King Carol II in 1938 after he dissolved parliament and proclaimed himself dictator”.

On May 21, 1991, Professor Culianu was found dead in the men’s bathroom on the 3rd floor of the UIC’s divinity school. Detectives concluded that he died from one bullet shot to the back of the head at close range. None of his personal belongings were taken and no fingerprints or weapons were found. The police never found the killer, and assumed that because of the sketchy neighborhood the school was located in, that the murderer could have been a thug or a disgruntled student or acquaintance. Looking at the way it was done (with no money or belongings taken), where it was done (to kill someone in a bathroom in Romania is the ultimate “f*ck you!”), noting that his apartment was broken into and he was receiving threats before he was killed leave many believing that it was a professional political hit.

Professor Culianu is remembered as a magnetic individual who’s extensive knowledge of history, magic, religion, and the occult kept scholars, historians, witches, magicians, and those who read his work glued to his every word. Those who knew him personally or had heard him speak say that they sometimes felt as though they were “hypnotized” after being in a room with him. Author Jennifer Stevenson, who knew him briefly, had this to say:

“Well, you know, Culianu and I were not close.  I only knew him for about 3 weeks, spread out over about two years. My impression of him was of someone who would take infinite pains to charm you.  I always wondered what his agenda was, so I held back a little, but I did find him extraordinarily charming.  If he had lived, I might have entered a PhD program at the UoC just to work with him, although I need another degree like I need a hole in my head. (My husband says I have enough degrees to start my own thermometer.)

Later I came to the conclusion that he was one of those people pleasers who had made almost a religion out of charm; if you read “Eros & Magic in the Renaissance” (his book from University of Chicago Press) you understand what that meant to him and why.  His way of life, his friendships and personal habits, his areas of scholarship, all made up a single edifice, and magic was way down at the foundation–scholarly magic, practical magic, emotional magic, even sexual magic. The magicians whose work he studied were engaged in the colossal work of fusing all known sciences of their era and of all past eras into a unified field theory, a system that would make sense of everything and give man control of it all.

This is my opinion, who knew him a total of three weeks, and who have read his published work, including his fiction. An author friend of mine, told of my odd acquaintance with this man, said, “He sounds like a spy.” My grandfather, a supremely cynical newspaperman bred up in the yellow journalism world of the 1930s and later, would have said, “He believed his own bullshit.” Whatever your interpretation, persons who had only glancing acquaintance with him, as I did, were powerfully affected by his death. In my opinion he was a boulder in the stream of time.”

His knowledge of renaissance magic, Giordano Bruno and the art of memory have left an indelible print in the many volumes on the study of magic and the occult. And all those who currently study magic, symbols, media and memes are carrying on his legacy. It’s just too bad that there were no high tech means of investigating a crime scene back then. Maybe if there were, we would’ve found out “who’d done it”.

“Eros, Magic, and the Murder of Professor Culianu” by Ted Anton, Northwestern University Press, 1996.
“Eros and Magic in the Renaissance” by Ioan P. Couliano, The University of Chicago Press, 1987.
“Scholar’s Death Remains a Mystery” – The New York Times, January 17, 1993.

(Related: “Forces of Darkness” by John Crowley via Netcool. “The Astonishing Story of the Dead Professor” part 1 and part 2, via History’s Sideshow)

The Ecology of Magic: An Interview with David Abram

“David Abram is an odd combination of anthropologist, philosopher and sleight-of-hand magician. Though he worked as a magician in the United States and Europe for a number of years, he attributes most of what he knows about magic to the time he spent in Indonesia, Nepal and Sri Lanka learning from indigenous medicine people. Performing magic is not simply about entertaining, he points out in this interview. “The task of the magician is to startle our senses and free us from outmoded ways of thinking.” The magician also plays an important ecological function, he says, by mediating between the human world and the “more-than-human” world that we inhabit.

When Abram published his book The Spell of the Sensuous in 1996, the reviewers practically exhausted their superlatives in praise of it. The Village Voice declared that Abram had “one of those rare minds which, like the mind of a musician or a great mathematician, fuses dreaminess with smarts.” The Utne Reader called Abram a “visionary” for “casting magic spells through his writing and lecturing” and for his deepening influence on the environmental movement.

The Spell of the Sensuous went on to win the prestigious Lannan Literary Award for non-fiction. It touches on a wide range of themes, from our perception of the natural world to the way we use of language and symbols to process our experience.”

(via Scott London. h/t: Neuroanthropology)

John’s kidneys and retroactive magic

(Above: the Room 23 scene in reverse)

In “Confirmed Dead” we learn that John would have died when Ben shot him in the back if he’d still had his kidney. This sounds a lot like “retroactive magic.” Retroactive magic is either the most cutting edge arena of modern magical practice or the most self-delusional (or both). According to Edward Wilson: “Retroactivity is the idea that actions taken in the present or the future can affect the past and therefore the affect can proceed the cause… It creates of causation an Ouroborus or Mobius strip.” In other words an occulist can alter the past as well as the future.

There’s some interesting possible uses of these concepts earlier in the series as well. Reversing the audio played while Karl is in Room 23, you can hear the mantra “only fools are enslaved by time and space.” Author and occultist Taylor Ellwood, author of Space/Time Magic once wrote an article on the use of “mind machines” for retroactive magic:

Mind Machines are technologies that can be used to induce altered states of mind. The mind machine uses audio strobe technologies to do this. The goggles have strobe lights in them, which a person looks into with his/her eyes closed. The audio part is the music or sounds, which are translated into light pulses, which are then beamed into your closed eyes. The different frequencies of sound shape the light frequencies, although you can also adjust the light intensity of the strobe lights, dimming them or brightening them as needed. This is especially useful if you want to overload your senses and put yourself into an excitatory state.

Is it possible that the Others were not just trying to brainwash Karl, but also to cause some sort of retroactive change? This idea is supported by Desmond’s experience in “Ms. Hawking. However, another possibility is that his past is being engineered by himself or by the Others or Dharma. It could be that in his original life, he DID buy the ring and ask Penny to marry him but he or someone else decided it would be better to end up at the island pushing the button.

More info:

Edward Wilson’s article

Taylor Ellwood’s Space/Time Magic and his article “Retroactive Magic and Mind Machines

Foolish People is a theater troupe that does retroactive magic rituals as part of their performances.

Retroactive magic is a popular topic at Esozone, and Edward Wilson, Taylor Ellwood, and the Foolish People were all present in 2007.

Wikipedia: Mind Machines.

Brainwave Generator: mind machine software for Windows.

ABC using brainwashing and backwards masking in Lost.


Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey.

Donnie Darko.

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