Here’s a provocative question to ponder: Do you believe in luck?
We generally believe we’re in control of our lives; we proudly take credit for our achievements and tell compelling stories about our intentionally designed successes. And that’s all nice and good — we indeed should enjoy our share of merit. However, the larger picture reveals that no matter how carefully and meticulously we plan our lives, we are all subject to unforeseeable, unexpected, uninvited, uncontrollable events that can make or break the day. In our complex world, Joseph Conrad's words sound truer than ever: “It is the mark of an inexperienced man not to believe in luck.” Luck is indeed a slippery notion, loaded with emotional, philosophical, and mystical connotations.
Better Lucky or Talented?
A few years ago, Nassim Nicholas Taleb packed two strong punches to our collective ego. With his influential books The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, he brought to wide attention how deeply randomness and unpredictability affect our lives and reality. This notion is confirmed in the recently published Scientific American article "The Role of Luck in Life Success Is Far Greater Than We Realized: Are the most successful people mostly the luckiest people in our society?"
Physicists Alessandro Pluchino and Andrea Rapisarda, together with economist Alessio Biondo, attempted to quantify the roles that luck and talent play in successful careers, using a mathematical model simulating the evolution of careers in a collective population over many years.
The results: “Even a great talent becomes useless against the fury of misfortune. Read the rest
The Act of Reading
It's been 10 years since the writing of The Atlantic's now classic essay Is Google Making Us Stupid? in which Nicholas Carr addressed how our reading habits (and our cognition in general) have been collectively affected by the use of the Internet. Carr observed his own scattering of attention, a lessening of concentration for extended periods of time, which overall makes the act of reading more and more fragmented, impoverished and shallow. To quote Carr's eloquent metaphor: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” And over the past decade, our nearly ubiquitous access to the World Wide Web has made things worse.
The conspicuous consumption of our daily reading is a steady stream of piece meal information coming from a medley of screens: we endlessly scroll through posts, comments and messages, nervously bouncing from site to site, skimming, browsing and searching, jumping from our latest email or text to social media chatter, compulsively trying to satisfy our information craving. Reading is not what it used to be, and that's that.
But reading comes in different shapes and forms, and is not only for absorbing content. Imagine this: take a few minutes to sit down quietly with someone you care about. Choose a piece of writing you like, and share that piece of writing—reading it loud to the other person. You’ll find something uncanny going on.
Reading aloud to another person is indeed a peculiar experience, something we are not used to, or if we are, it's mostly for children. Read the rest
It is common in industrial and post-industrial societies to suppose a rigid, almost antagonistic division between work and play. We work in order to earn enough money to afford us time for something called fun or play—the antidote for work. Moreover, "play" is most often associated with children's pastimes, geeky video games, or other unproductive activities considered the opposite of seriousness. Maybe there is more to play than meets the eye?
In the classic study Homo Ludens, the great scholar Johan Huizinga pointed out the anthropological relevance and the profound evolutionary implications of the human activity called play. Huizinga saw the instinct for play as the central force of civilized life: "Law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom and science. All are rooted in the primeval soil of play." Five hundred years before LEGO registered the trademark, Renaissance magus Marsilio Ficino used "Serious Play" (Serio Ludere) to describe the way the fathers of Western thought operated: “Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato had the habit of hiding all divine mysteries behind the veil of (...) serious play". And speaking of divine mysteries, in the Hindu mythology the god Brahman creates the world itself, as it were, through Lila — "divine play." Play seems to be serious business after all.
Play is a state of mind, a highly sophisticated approach to life and work. Play is a fun, flow-inducing experience, among the most enjoyable states of consciousness available to humans. Play is a space for experimentation—a primal learning environment that allows one to take controlled risks without dangers. Read the rest
The Hermetic Philosophy
There is an underground current of thought beneath Western culture, running quietly like a vein of quicksilver: The Hermetic Philosophy. This ancient and multifaceted phenomenon is often found rising up from the shadows during times of intense cultural transition and upheaval.
The words hermetic, occult and esoteric are used interchangeably to refer to ideas and beliefs associated with the mystical “Perennial Philosophy” that infused every major religion, and diverse cultural streams, over the past millennia. Rooted in ancient Egyptian and Judeo-Christian traditions, these secret beliefs went mainstream during the Renaissance, a revival that continued through the Enlightenment to modern interpretations in the New Thought and New Age movements and the secular Self-help movement of recent years.
However protean and multifaceted the phenomenon, the essence of most esoteric teachings is that we go about our daily lives asleep, unaware of the true nature of reality and our place in it. This state of affairs engenders numbness, inner disconnection and lack of meaning, with a desolate question lingering in the backs of our heads: Is this all there is? Maybe, there is more than meets the eye. Unlike modern materialism, the Hermetic Philosophy pictures the cosmos as a living entity, the Anima Mundi experiencing itself subjectively. Every thing – fragments of The All – are linked together in a web of correspondences and resonances between microcosm and macrocosm. The ultimate goal of the “Way of Hermes” is to wake up to a divine reality: the actualization of the spiritual nature of man. Read the rest
The whole magic community mourns the passing of Eugene Burger, at age 78. One of the most influential magicians of the 20th century, as well as an exceptional human being, he will be sorely missed by a vast network of loving friends, students and fans all the world over.
The impact of Eugene's contribution to the art of magic is preeminent. His massive body of work shifted the consciousness of magicians, opening doors to new exciting realms of theatrical and artistic expressions of magic.
Eugene’s life was a perfect blend of the active and contemplative: a master performer, he worked in the most prestigious international venues, receiving the highest accolades from the industry and his peers. His magic was strong, infused with wit and humor, a warm and infectious laugh, and gentle kindness. Just being in his presence produced joy and pure delight. Along with his performing career, he was an esteemed philosopher with a divinity college background at Yale University. A gifted writer, a sharp thinker, an enchanting storyteller, an encouraging and generous teacher who left a deep mark in countless students' lives.
The Magician Philosopher
Some of Eugene's most important musings revolved around magic's relevance as an art form, and the role of the magician in present times.
Why is it, that society seems to need magicians to enlighten them? Why didn't Steven Spielberg wipe the magician off the face of the planet? Because what he can do on a screen is far more fabulous than what I can do at a table. Read the rest
What do you after you Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out? Well, you go and Find The Others.
Last May 2017, I flew to London for the staging of Cosmic Trigger — The Play , a sheer delight for any Robert Anton Wilson fan, a masterpiece of high weirdness befitting the book it derives from. The experience proved to be more mind-shattering and category-defying than I could have ever imagined. A 23-night run hosted at The Cockpit Theatre, the play is an ambitious theatrical event: an intense four-hour long immersive happening, an experimental and multi-layered metafiction, intellectually challenging and spiritually intoxicating, a disorienting dance of Discordian confusion and uncanny mindfuck. An extraordinary cast of actors created a colourfully wild, merry parade of countercultural icons—along with Robert Anton Wilson and his wife Arlen, Robert Shea, Timothy Leary, Alan Watts, William Burroughs, Albert Hoffman, John Lilly, Jacques Vallee, Aleister Crowley—in brief, great fun!
Not only that, Cosmic Trigger — The Play has the inherent magical qualities of a collective ritual or mass initiation: it is "a narrative so utterly complex and so thoroughly self-referential that it becomes to all intents and purposes alive." As magicians know, " by doing certain things certain results will follow."
Hail Daisy Campbell!
The mastermind behind such a unique endeavour and artistic achievement is director Daisy Campbell, who pulled some cosmic and genealogical strings to bring her vision to life. Daisy is the daughter of the late famed British director Ken Campbell, who achieved notoriety in the 1970s for his nine-hour adaptation of the epic science-fiction trilogy Illuminatus! Read the rest
Now and then I stumble upon a book that completely blows my mind. The latest of such lucky encounters has been with Seven Brief Lessons in Physics by Carlo Rovelli.
Carlo Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist with a solid, international academic career, presently teaching at the University of Aix-Marseille in France. In 2013 he was among the sophisticated minds who were asked the famous Edge.com annual question. The question that year was "What *should* we be worried about?" His reply: "I worry that free imagination is overvalued, and I think this carries risks."
Published in 2014, Seven Brief Lessons in Physics has been an immediate smash hit. In less than 80 pages, Rovelli takes the reader on a friendly trip from the far edges of the cosmos to the edges of the quantum world, addressing some of the hottest ideas revolutionizing our present understanding of the world. And he does so with unassuming innocence, and his enchanting prose makes complex subjects a piece of cake.
In one of his most rhapsodic fragments Rovelli writes:
"There are absolute masterpieces which move us intensely, Mozart’s Requiem; the Odyssey; the Sistine Chapel; King Lear. To fully appreciate their brilliance may require a long apprenticeship, but the reward is sheer beauty."
To this list of timeless masterpieces of human ingenuity, Rovelli appends Einstein's celebrated theory of general relativity, which he calls "the most beautiful of all theories".
Now, here's the deal: modern physics is an unbelievably complex, impenetrable and obscure "thing," well beyond the comprehension of any layperson, however well-read. Read the rest
This month marks the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. It's a good time to celebrate that moment, when the portals opened and a stream of cosmic creative force spilled into our reality.
Pink Floyd need no introduction, being one of the most influential superstar bands of the 20th century. Their sound concoctions, played and aired for millions of hours all around the globe, generated a sonic morphic field of unparalleled beauty. These guys hit their musical nail heavy on our collective subconscious' head.
Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd's ninth studio album, strikes a balance between commercial craftsmanship and inspired artistry. Ironically more shining than their previous album's lunar success, this work remains a remarkable exemplar of the prog rock and psychedelic era. The band conjured up a melancholic soundscape, weaving kaleidoscopic interstellar jams carrying emotional weight, grief, loss, disillusionment, yet leaving the door open to the manifold possibilities of love and mystic enchantment.
Forty years after the release of Wish You Were Here we live in a world where the experience of consuming music is peculiarly fragmented: we listen to tunes on YouTube, impatiently skipping from to song to song, or randomly accessing tracks on iTunes and mp3 players. In our hectic and disenchanted times, the electro-mechanical reproduction of musical artworks contributed to the loss of aura in artworks in general. Devoting our full and undivided attention to listening a whole album - from the beginning till the very end - is a sporadic experience and a rare luxury. Read the rest
What is a book? The commonly held notion is pretty simple: it is an object
made of pieces of paper, glued or bounded together, with stuff written in it.
Indisputable. But, maybe, there is more than meets the eye. Read the rest
Our Magic is a feature documentary that pays homage to an ancient and mostly underground performing art, piercing through the thick layer of commonly held stereotypes. By Ferdinando Buscema
As humans, we search for ways to escape reality. For centuries, magicians have fucked our minds in the blink of an eye. Magic experience designer Ferdinando Buscema tells us how.