BAP uses the phrase “Big Magic” in 3 different sections in BAM: 15, 23, & 28. The concept is only used, then, in the first chapter. It refers exclusively to beliefs about biology, what’s possible.
I make thesis for you. “Magic” = “action at a distance,” something that moves without having to touch. What is gravity by the way? Beauty is the essence of magic, but there are other things.
They went rogue and easily imposed the intensity of their magic charisma on foreigners. True power needs no effort: it draws all around it like a force-field. Power of character and body attracts others in orbit as if by magic. (55) (Force-fields … don’t they repel?)
Some thing is “big” if daunts or overawes man.
A waterfall is big (BAP could be alluding to C.S. Lewis or just Coleridge here):
I’ve seen many things like this myself: was at big waterfall, gathering place of many birds and other animal. Through all the cycles of history this place remains and birds who witnessed the coming and going of human civilizations remember it through the aeons and always return there. I saw many group of small birds, when the weather slightly changed, this waterfall so big that a small wind would make spray of water everywhere. (2)
Science is not supposed to make big stories—scientific man is not daunted man or even awed man, but impetuous and precise man:
A truly objective or scientific approach to life would be to start without assumptions. Make no big stories. Take animal and study. (8)
He uses big in all sorts of ways, but these two uses from early on in the book illustrate what I think he means when he uses it in phrase “Big Magic.”
So my thesis is Big Magic is something unscientific and larger than life, something that gives life to man, fills him with energy or even divinity.
In its first use the reader is tempted to think Big Magic is the opposite of stale, worn out beliefs.
Hormones hold the key to the meaning of life in the most fundamental way, and if this sounds “reductionist” to you, if you think I demystify things too much, it’s because you think you know what you don’t, or you think scientists know, when they actually don’t. These substances, seen with fresh eyes, are pure Big Magic. They govern all cycles of an organism’s growth and its decay. They can turn small calf or baby gorilla into giant elephant or half-ton silverback on diet of greens, they can turn skinny man into Herculean half-god or make strong man take on the aspect of woman, and change tendencies and feelings, mirroring the magical transformation of some animals that switch sexes by signals we don’t yet understand. (15)
Seeing hormones as Big Magic is supposed to dispel the notion that BAP is being “reductionist”, i.e., that BAP is demystifying man by reducing him to something merely material, materialism being the most famous of reductionisms because the most tempting. There is something awe inspiring about hormones. Their actions and secrets seem to be good Big Magic.
The rest of the uses of Big Magic are … well, you would not want to believe in it or try to make use of it. In section 23, those who believe in the Big Magic of scientists do not even rise to the level of a cultist—they are “cargo-cultists,” cultists who are benefitting without understanding and therefore slavish:
He loves them because of the creature comforts he believes they provide through technology. He is a cargo cultist—he knows nothing of what goes into the discoveries of science, nor the way the substance is transmitted among scientists, he just has a propagandized image of some of the results. This is no different from belief in Big Magic, which is how many primitives think of science—the Big Magic of the white man. It’s not even the substance of science that is the problem because it could be of great use, as much as any other popular religion has been: the problem is the frame of spirit that it puts the acolyte in. It makes him think he has power over the processes of nature which are at present actually very poorly understood. By removing primal fear—the only kind of awe that drives the many—it injects a toxic mix of complacency, arrogance, brutality, fanaticism that is all just under the surface only so long as times are good. Science as popular religion brings no true consolation but instead feeds a kind of false pride, pride in spiting oneself— does this sound familiar? (23)
Science as Big Magic appears to be a sickly “noble lie.” It is meant to be a noble lie because it is meant to produce the same goods as the noble lie: a trust in the ruling class and elevation of the citizen (through Enlightenment). However, this lie is not in fact noble because it brutalizes rather than elevates man; it makes awe impossible for him.
This is a noble lie actually believed by those who acquire certain ruling prerogatives as a result of it: the nerds and fool biologists. The nerds go so far as to give metaphysical-vent to their general resentment: they posit an imaginary route to eternal life based upon their own special knowledge. Nature is Information and it can be uploaded; you can be uploaded. Escape from the body, and therefore escape from death and everything approximating death, is possible.
Okay we have to take a step back before moving to the third reference to Big Magic. What we have so far is that seeing something as Big Magic can be elevating—like a truly noble lie would be—and that today’s Big Magic is in fact an ignoble lie, a mere lie, which is supposed to be something of a noble lie but is being handled poorly by the Lords of Lies.
In the third use, BAP imagines a scenario in which this ignoble lie is actually effective, i.e., not really a lie.
The attempt to “mimic” life through algorithms, through the brute-force of trial-and-error, will never create either life or “consciousness”—just what would such a machine be “conscious” of?—but just that, a mimicry or parody of the middling human intellect. A mirror and exaltation of the false intellect of the nerd, that never leaves the stream of words, syllogisms, motives and desire, that is always forced and contrived, because it’s under pressure of some petty need. And it’s really grotesque. It’s as if you have a girl you desire, she dies but using Big Magic you reanimate her corpse, put makeup on her, re-teach this zombi to speak, force her to copy all of her old habits, condition her like you would a pigeon to act in ways you remember and that you liked. But in the end she’s just a reanimated live-action doll, and this is grotesque. (28)
Briefly note: AI is the denial of intellect. This will be important later.
BAP begins by denying the possibility of the ignoble lie, the lie born of Nerd-Resentment. And then he says, look, even if this worked it would never produce something beautiful. It would produce something grotesque. He emphasizes here that this use of Big Magic is in fact meant as something of a noble lie in the service of Nerds:
This is just what “AI” is. It is a fantasy of power of the conspiracy of biological interests that unites the nerds, the intellect of “reason”—the party that believes in empty words—the middling, and the Jews of the human spirit into hoping for their golem. “AI” is the golem of those who hate life…. It is their true Messiah and their vengeance. (28)
The ignoble lie of the Nerds is grotesque because it completely ignores ½ of man, it reduces man to a set of actions or activities without any concern for who he is, his own self, specifically, his memories or accumulated experiences. The reanimated girlfriend isn’t really her, the reanimated “she” is just a series of actions. It makes sense to me that he would belittle the Nerd’s focus on words and syllogisms here. I do not understand when he belittles their concern for motive and desire. So my interpretation cannot yet account for that, which is something of a concern. Pushing ahead: this example of Big Magic, of the Nerd’s reanimation efforts, must be compared with another reanimation effort described earlier in the book.
In section 26 BAP discusses reincarnation.
Once the queen dies, the next queen is indistinguishable from it in that thing that Schopenhauer calls the will, what he says is inborn way of wanting, and is in a very literal sense a “reincarnation” of this same thing. If you don’t see this it’s because you keep confusing yourself for your intellect. But that part of you that is really you persists even when your intellect is asleep, and would persist even if you experienced total amnesia. If you doubt, just ask yourself… someone you love, if you had to choose—would you rather they forgot everything but still behaved the way you always knew they did, or would you rather that they kept all their memories and knowledge but had a radical change in personality? This question is easy to answer…if you love someone only for what they know or remember…everyone knows this is a betrayal because that’s not who you are. And in fact there’s no such thing as a radical change in personality. (26)
In 28, BAP says that using Big Magic to reanimate a dead girlfriend is grotesque because it is not her—the fact that you’re basically making a person you presumably loved (unless you murdered her) into a fleshy sex robot is probably part of the grotesquerie; but aside from this, on a more general note, it would be grotesque to reanimate anyone in this way, because reanimating a human and making him act the same way without being able to give him the same memories and experiences is a lie, and believing in such a lie is grotesque. It would be less grotesque if you just reanimated a body into a whole new person, rather than saying “hey everyone, Bill is back!”
But here in section 26, this isn’t directly frowned upon. It’s a confusing example. BAP says that you would betray a person if you preferred he keep all his memories but had a radical change in personality. BAP implies (because he said it was an easy choice) that it would not be a betrayal if you preferred the person forget everything but continued to act the same way he always had. But isn’t this exactly what the weird Nerd does when he reanimates the dead girlfriend he murdered out of despair?
I have to think the reanimation of the dead girlfriend cannot include her memories: the Nerd has to teach her all the old ways she acted for example. So she in effect has amnesia.
BAP doesn’t really think either of these two examples are possible, however, because there can “never be a radical change in personality”: there is no such thing as having a way you act without your collected experiences and memories. There is no split between what he calls the “intellect” (28) and “yourself” (26). Why then does he use two examples that presuppose this split? And what can his intention here tell us about Big Magic?
By bringing up the two examples BAP champions “who you are” (in 26) and the “intellect” (in 28). You are a traitor if you neglect the person (26) and you are a pervert if you neglect the intellect (28). BAP is not a traitor, but he is something of a pervert.
Q of responsibility. You are always responsible. The Greeks never held themselves responsible (55). “There is an inherent intelligence inside things.” = There is a concern for itself that is life, but this is different than “who you are”???? Our intelligence is different than this intelligence.
Big Magic brings “wisdom,” a connection of the intellect and who you are.
I will have to build on this later, but if I don’t poast now… it will be a week or more. Many tasks right in front of me.