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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Octavo, by Peter Carroll, 28 Feb 2011
This review is from: The Octavo: A Sorcerer-Scientist's Grimoire (Paperback)
This is the second book Pete Carroll has brought out in the last two years, after a number of years' silence. In 2008, there was 'The Apophenion', which was something of a departure towards an overall philosophical position, which we might call chaoism, as distinct from chaos magic. Now he presents us with a new synthesis that aims at a much closer marriage of scientific theory and magic than he, or, to my knowledge, anyone else, has attempted.

The first thing you'll notice about this book (other than the excellent illustrations) is the subtitle. The reference will be lost on non-Pratchett experts like me; I've enjoyed a few of Pratchett's books and found others a bit twee for my taste. (I have to admit, though, that he shows superb understanding of the thermodynamics of godhood in 'Small Gods', and a brilliant vision of the Other in 'Lords and Ladies.') Apparently, there's an Octavo of Discworld spells, and it seems this volume is using the conceit that it's the Roundworld equivalent in order to show how physics and magic can be combined in two very different universes.

The second thing you'll notice is the physics. Publishers say that every equation in a book halves the readership, and there are a lot of them in The Octavo*. More, in fact, than in Liber Kaos, but they - at least the ones in the first few chapters - are of a very different kind.

The 'Equations of Magic' in Liber Kaos have always been problematic: they dealt in quantities which are not measurable, and probably never will be, like 'degree of gnosis' and 'magical link'. So, they are not really equations, but things that look like equations; what they amount to, at best, is a mental checklist, a summary of what we know about magic so far. With a shorthand like that, all that matters is that it's easily memorable, and the physico-mathematical symbolism does not help at all.

The equations in Octavo are very different. They are much more ambitious, genuinely cosmogonic in nature, and I suspect they have some very important things to say - to those who understand them rather more deeply than I do. I did get lost for much of chapters 2 and 3 (I only have maths to just short of A-level), but surfaced again at the start of Ch 4, where he compares Discworld and Roundworld physics, and comes out with some pretty profound stuff.

One of the things that's particularly interesting about Carroll's science is the way he attributes real physical - or aetheric / shadow-physical - reality to quantities that appear in the fundamental equations of physics. In Liber Kaos for instance the wavefunction in the Schroedinger equation is a measure of a real quantity in shadow-time, rather than a mere mathematical convenience, to be discarded as soon as possible in the course of calculations. No, Carroll finds a home for these misty, despised quantities, integrating them into a description of a magical universe. In The Octavo, he comments about quantum superposition, which is a concept we're normally just supposed to get our heads round, that it actually has fine detail which makes it much more physically real - the alternative forms of the particle are kind of parked in sideways-time. For me, that is a distinct improvement on the usual way superposition is described.

This realistic use of mathematical entities recalls Galen Strawson's 'real materialism'**, as does this (p97):
'A visualized or imagined event can have a similar effect on the imaginary time plane as the probability function of a material event, because it too constitutes a wave-particle event'.
In other words, 'thoughts are as real as rocks', to the real, Strawsonian materialist. Carroll also gives a physico-mathematical reality to Sheldrake's morphogenetic fields - they are the information contained in the virtual radiations emitted by everything all the time.

I do like the depiction of particles as closed universes (p23), and it's satisfying to read Theories of Everything, but the problem for the mathematically sub-literate becomes: how can I distinguish the true ones? I'm not sure that Carroll's doing away with the Big Bang (a dirty job, but someone had to do it) yields a truly more complete ToE than the current one: a steady state model of the universe comes no closer to explaining where everything comes from than the expanding-from-a-point one does, it simply makes it an unaskable question, which is not the same thing. His cosmological explanation of the red shift (the core mystery of cosmology) involves something like a new mechanism for Zwicky's previously-rejected 'tired light' hypothesis, and I have asked a mathematical friend of mine how viable an explanation it is.

Some of my reservations about this book stem from Carroll's over-willingness to form Laws. Right near the beginning of the book, he has concreted the 'multiple selves' model into one. The idea of selfhood as multiple arose out of a very postmodern milieu of thought about what we are, and has proved very useful to magicians. However, it does suffer from a vagueness at its core: it would be a good idea to clarify the difference between personalities and the moment-to-moment sense of selfhood. The former may be usefully thought of as multiple, but the sense of self is always and ever phenomenologically singular. I challenge anyone to describe how it can be sensed otherwise.

This excessive taste for laws surfaces again on p66, where Carroll attempts to prove that there is always ' an even number of selves', with an argument I found so unconvincing I suspect the author is self-consciously preaching to the choir, knowing we'll indulge him.

My main criticism of the book is that the 'Equations of Magic' reappear in Ch6. I've said above why they are not equations, but simply tally-sticks; they remind me of Frazer's useless laws of magic, but with added algebra to put more people off. Has a magician ever told you they've helped him or her plan a working?

Their inclusion wouldn't be such a bad thing if it wasn't for the very high quality of arguments pursued using real equations in the cosmological parts of the book: to someone who hasn't been following the maths very closely but can see how the EoMs cannot be real equations, they simply serve to cheapen the value of the other equations and arouse suspicion about their validity. And to use them to derive, via a complicated chain of reasoning, the conclusion that group magic is no more powerful than individual magic is pure tautology, because the only way anyone could get that conclusion would be by building it into the 'Equation' in question.

By the way, can we have a straw poll on this? My feeling is that group magic is immensely more effective for some kinds of enchantment.

The final complaint I have is a purely aesthetic one. Sure, it wouldn't be a bad idea to replace the phrase 'material base' with something else, because we do talk about servitors quite a lot. But the term 'groundsleve', to my ear, is down in the flooded and odious basement of English, along with 'staycation' and 'bromance'. (OK, I suppose that means I'll have to come up with one myself.)

Back to a few final words of praise: One of the satisfying things about this book is the way Carroll fills out and brings up to date old ideas, some of which he has developed and used years before. Like the way the good old GPR gets completed into the GCR, a much more symbolically satisfying and complete thing.

Proper weight is given to the Apocalypse, and what wizards can do to help avert the collapse our stupidity has got us into.

I have to make a special mention of the llustrations. If there was an award for 'best occult book graphics of the year', then Matt Kaybrin's would sweep it, with these bold, dark, unusual mixtures of traditional and cyber-art.

In the end, I would definitely recommend this book. It is important, maybe very important, and will stir some interesting thoughts even in the non-mathematically-inclined. Carroll's basic attitude to mysteries is the only healthy one: not to try and banish them, like the Dawkinsian parascience bunch, or use them to obfuscate, like the religious do. He writes: 'Mysteries should present challenges, not opportunities for dumb belief.'

*I showed the book to a mentally tough shaman I know, and as soon as he saw the equations, he declared he'd rather chew his leg off than try to understand them.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of The Octavo, 25 Nov 2010
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This review is from: The Octavo: A Sorcerer-Scientist's Grimoire (Paperback)
A chaos magick theory of everything. Improbable? And therefore possible! Having followed Frater Stokastikos' journey to perceive the shape of the universe, I've found the developments fascinating, and also impatiently wondered how these new discoveries apply to magick exactly. Well, now I know. In The Octavo Peter J. Carroll expounds a new map of the universe providing no less than a map of magick and therefore reality itself.

Abandon your current perceptions, suspend your disbelief, and rejoice in a viable replacement for that absurd big bang theory: does an exploding singularity make a sound if no-one can hear it? I think not. If your present map of the universe does not get turned completely inside out, it will at least get redefined. But don't panic, because the very first magickal equation, the Spell of the Binding, reassuringly stops our worlds from literally falling apart. And neither will we imminently implode; cue the Spells of the Spinning which account for our ongoing dynamism.

But of course, if the shape of the universe seems so obvious after the first two chapters, why have we spent all this time getting it so wrong? The Spells of Illusion explain our civilisation's folly regarding our misperceptions to date. Then we find out that magick works in this universe because chaos exists. And the Spells of Subtle Magic explain why our whims don't materialize instantaneously.

The next two spells have the most familiarity to me as the core of Stokastikos' earlier published equation of magick: link * probability. Finally we have a practical magickal application for wave functions in the Spells of the Linking. The magickal link has probably suffered the most misunderstandings as one of building blocks in spelling, while the Spells of Impractical Magic show us just how much probability we need (and can do without) for our enchantments. Now that we have most of the theory, we can add the finishing components and put it all together with the Spell of Practical Magic.

The eighth and final spell brings us back to the map where we started. We can navigate any terrain more effectively the better our map. And the same applies to magick. The Spell of the Narration shows us the need to understand the boundaries and somewhat more esoteric equilibrium that ebbs and flows between entropy and negentropy. Only mere decades after Crowley lamented the lack of rigorous investigation into the properties of the aether, Frater Stokastikos articulates a delicious theory of how and why magick works. But this map leaves plenty of uncharted territory (finite but unbounded specifically) for the most adventurous explorers to venture into. Mind the beasties, especially ourselves. With the knowledge of the eighth spell, we can aim for a happy ending - no guarantees of course - but Stokastikos challenges us to ask ourselves what we use our magick for.

After the eight spells, the action doesn't stop. A call to arms no less to avert an apocalypse, or at least choose our preferred flavour. Do you have what it takes to transform into a Knight of Chaos? Add an invocation of Eris for chaotic inspiration, flex your strategic muscles in Sorcerer's Chess and we complete this whirlwind of rebel physics and rebel magick. I can't even begin to explain the maths and physics in the book, and happily I don't need to - Stokastikos does this expertly enough. If you think he has got it wrong, enjoy yourself trying to disprove it.

Of course, the very name of the book The Octavo comes from that parallel Pratchett universe the Discworld. Just as its namesake contains the eight spells which hold the Discworld together, so too does this Octavo hold us in Roundworld. But it also liberates us. What can one say about a book that redefines our understanding of our existence: original, essential, with far-reaching implications? All of the above and much more. Expect a journey through the aeons as well as around the universe, and a tantalising invitation to create our future. By the end of the book, phrases like "vorticitating hypersphere" and "immanentising the eschaton" will seem like your everyday vocabulary. But mind when and where you use them: don't forget what happened to those who first challenged the flat world theory.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bravo Octavo!, 7 July 2011
By 
J. S. Vayne (British Isles) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Octavo: A Sorcerer-Scientist's Grimoire (Paperback)
The Octavo comes hot on the heels of The Apophenion and represents another salvo in Pete Carroll's assault on the unenchanted reality of modern physics. The Octavo is a new map for the new aeon (or Pandaemonium as Carroll terms it). The logic runs that in the old days magicians built maps of reality based on simple cosmological architecture; you had your 9 worlds of the Germanic sorcerers, your 10 worlds of the Qabalist, your 12 signs of the astrologers and so forth. In The Octavo the author seeks to create a full blown model of reality that both describes and supports the practise of magick. Enter some fairly simple, though at first daunting, equations and some humorous parallels that are drawn between the way reality appears to be in Terry Practett's Discworld and our universe (aka 'Roundworld' - hence the subtitle) .The cartography of the magickal map in the modern age requires us to understand and describe the basic forces (rather than plotting territories or regions) that hold reality together. Carroll does an excellent job of this in ways that may even be amenable to scientific testing. More importantly for me (as an occultist) he shows what this map could mean for the use of practical magick.

Those who have been following Pete's oeuvre will not be surprised. In the Octavo we see the distillation and indeed computation of many of the ideas sketched out in The Apophenion. Once more we invited to explore the model of a universe that exists as a vorticulating hypersphere and not as the (increasingly unlikely looking) big bang/big crunch conjecture of the Standard Model. Panpsychism, magical links and more are discussed. Also important in this work are the conjectures about the limits to magick, where the author analyses how and why magickal effects can be very tiny and/or capricious.

Don't read this book if you want a list of how-to instructions about casting sigils or whatever, but if you want to see the work of someone who's really trying to examine the wiring under the board of how and why esoteric techniques work, then this book is a must. Personally I feel Pete's analysis could do with a dash more psychology or phenomenology. After all magick isn't just a science it's also an art and that requires a different, though complimentary language to describe it. However all magicians should strive to be technicians of the sacred and with The Octavo they may finally have the first-steps towards a manual for the operating system of the universe.

Julian Vayne
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The Octavo: A Sorcerer-Scientist's Grimoire
The Octavo: A Sorcerer-Scientist's Grimoire by Peter J. Carroll (Paperback - 25 Oct 2010)
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