Theories of Magic: Difficulty of Belief


Climbing a difficult mountain

Through the past posts, we have traced the nature of reality towards the nature of belief, thus moving from the realm of the external world to the realm of our own minds. This is valuable, because it provides a path for changing the universe using our minds. However, it does not give us the power to do anything we want, because our minds have to truly believe something is true in order for that something to become true in the universe. Based on that, what we need next is a guide to what is more easily believed.

What Is Easily Believed?

A fundamental idea about how minds are changed is the theory of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance says that the mind seeks consistency above all else, up to and including the point of rejecting information that contradicts a deeply held belief. Beliefs are thoroughly ingrained into the very structure of our brains, and it takes significant conscious effort to change the more deeply held beliefs. These are often very tangible beliefs, from "Bears are dangerous" to "I'm getting pulled to the ground" to "The sky is blue", but they can be also more abstract, like "The universe is basically just" or "The universe obeys rules discoverable by science".

What this amounts to, for a would-be magician, is that the easiest things for you (and others) to believe are ideas that do not challenge your existing beliefs in any significant way, and the hardest things to believe would be the ideas that challenge fundamental concepts you learned no later than infancy. And that means that the strongest, most easily held beliefs, will be the ones that draw from your own life experience.

For example, anybody who you would now consider a friend was once a complete stranger, so you have had the experience of connecting with a complete stranger and slowly over time building up a tight friendship. That means that if you try to work magic that says "I will meet someone tonight that I can bond with", that easily gets added to your worldview of how the universe should operate, because you know that is possible. The same goes for magical effects like "I will be cured of this disease." or "I will get the job I just interviewed for."

The next best thing, if you have not experienced what you want yourself, is to draw on what other people have experienced. You know that many other people meet suitable partners and fall in love, so even if you have never encountered that yourself, you can at least imagine that it might happen to you, and your magical efforts thus have a reasonably good chance of convincing you about the change to the universe. Other people got better jobs, so you can too. Other people got better from this disease, so you can too.

For most people, the most easily believed results are those that fit the emotional narratives we want to see happen: That our enemies are defeated, our desires are satisfied, our bodies and minds becoming stronger and/or more skillful. We do not want to believe ourselves stupid, lazy, weak, or otherwise ineffective or downright evil, so for the most part we don't.

One last consideration: Contradictory beliefs are very hard to hold simultaneously, provided that somebody is aware of that contradiction. That is the kind of non-belief that is so powerful that humans will ignore information that would create those contradictions, rather than attempting to resolve those contradictions by revising our beliefs.

Maintaining Beliefs

It is not enough to simply create a belief in your mind. For the change in belief to have the desired effect, you must also maintain that belief as part of your permanently held worldview. And that means a belief system, a collection of ideas that are consistent with each other and all the experiences you have had so far that can provide you with a framework for understanding the universe. Adding or discarding a concept from a belief system is a task we go through not infrequently, but it requires real mental effort to do so, and depending on how important the concept is to the belief system it may take a long time to plant or completely remove.

The problem is that if a change in belief is too difficult to maintain, it will drop out, and that means that any benefits you might have gotten from that change will be gone again. For example, if you changed your belief system enough to get the job you wanted, but slowly and surely stop believing you should have gotten that job, then you will start making mistakes and lose that job.

Believing is not enough, in other words.

How This Can Help

What this all amounts to is an admonition to design any attempts at a magical effect to obtain results that are plausible based on your current understanding of the universe. These small plausible changes can add up to major effects, and are much more easily put into reality than a very flashy effect.

You can also ease the magical ground quite a bit if you also do tangible work to make your desired effect more easily beleved: If you want to gain wealth, look for and magic for a better job than the one you have, but one you are qualified for. If you want to find love, be as loveable as you can be, and aim for those around you who seem like they might be good fits in both directions. If you are looking for health, plan your meals and workout schedule accordingly.

Next week, we will be taking this concept a bit further to look at how people around you can change the effects of your own beliefs.

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