One of the first projects we undertook when trying to understand the mystery behind Penny Royal was to get a grasp of the process of channeling as it relates to Western Magic. Several important connections between the story of Penny Royal involve connections to channeling. The most famous modern case of channeling would be the case of the Nine. Andrija Puharich and the group of channelers of the Nine claim that they received extraordinary knowledge that ultimately had an enormous impact on culture. For example, Gene Rodenberry, who created Star Trek, was one of the first questioners of the Nine when they were being channeled through the body of a medium. Also, L&L Research in Louisville, Kentucky, channeled the famous Ra literature, which some view as an extension of the Nine. Kyle Kadel, associate producer on Penny Royal and curator for the International Paranormal Museum and Research Center here in Somerset, actually attended a channeling session with the remnants of L&L Research group himself. Channeling is a story about the brain, its strange properties and a long history of tripping.
Although the practice of channeling is not new, it is certainly much more common today than it was during the Middle Ages and Enlightenment. The theosophical movement led by Blavatsky created a cultural phenomenon of channeling that led to widespread parlor seances in which people would try to channel or contact spirits, often of the dead. Edgar Cayce, possibly the most famous medium of all, was born and worked right here on the Pennyroyal Plateau. Cayce was able to enter a trance-like state after falling and hitting his head at school as a young child. Famously barely literate and only interested in reading the Bible, Cayce began allowing people to query the entity or voice he was channeling. Presidents, inventors, actors, and celebrities of all types made the trip to have a “reading” with Cayce and what the Akashic Records might hold for them.
Channeling has had a profound effect on world history as a result. Nearly everyone involved in the original channelings of the Nine had deep subsequent impacts on culture. More surprisingly, nearly every major event in ancient mediterranean history involved decisions which used information from priestesses in a state of psychosis induced by volcanic fumes. In some cases, the priestess would tremble the entire time and sometimes even pass out unconscious in front of the person seeking the information. However, that information was considered deeply important. It is important to understand that these were young women, hundreds and thousands of young women who, over the centuries, occupied the role of the sybal. The Pythia, or Oracle at Delphi, was not a single person but an unbroken chain of priestesses who burned their brains out for the sake of divine information.
Sometimes, we may have the impression that it was not understood in the ancient world that they did not understand that she was hallucinating. This is quite false. According to their own myths, the first oracular temple was constructed on the site of a spot where a farmer, trying to recover a sheep, climbed down into a volcanic fissure and while breathing the fumes “saw the gods”. After that, people would go consult the gods directly, going to the exact spot where the farmer had his experience. However, under the influence of the noxious vapors, some fell in and died. The local people decided then to construct a temple and designate a priestess to be the vessel of divine information, setting up the concept of oracles.
In order to understand channeling and why we built Channelbot, it is crucial to understand the concept of divination. According to Wikipedia:
Divination (from Latin divinare, ‘to foresee, to foretell, to predict, to prophesy’, related to divinus, ‘divine‘), or “to be inspired by a god,” is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic, standardized process or ritual.
Divination is pervasive across cultures and has become so embedded in our minds that we may not even realize we do it quite often. Flipping a coin to see who will go first during a fated ball game is an act of divination. Looking for signs in such mundane things as traffic lights or shooting stars are acts of divination. Consulting a Ouija board is the most obvious pop culture form of divination with an occult tinge to it. However, so is consulting a magic 8-ball or the folded paper tricks of the same nature.
In all of these cases, an assumedly random or chaotic act is used to determine the answer to the question. There are psychological underpinnings here as well. Aleatory processes allow the questioner to absolve themselves of some or all of their responsibility for the information they obtain, attributing it historically to the Divine Will. When ancient Greeks would make the treacherous journey to tiny islands where oracles could be consulted, the information they got was nearly always considered the will of the gods, something so sacred it could not be questioned. This assumption, as we found out with Penny Royal, is more complicated than it seems. The entity or information structure that is being queried may or may not be the Divine Will. It could also be a trickster.
During the Penny Royal investigation, Nathan and I went back and forth about what could be happening in these cases. What is actually happening to acquire information from individuals in permanent or temporary states of psychosis? Why has there been so much research and effort to figure that out?
To be honest, I had written off channeling as nothing more than a cultural phenomenon until I had a personal experience in which someone channeled sentences from a text that I would not encounter until the next day, a text they had no knowledge about whatsoever. After that, we began to investigate what might be happening.
In trance states, psychedelic states and states of deep meditation, the person’s construct of self can temporarily be minimized or removed. In severe cases of schizophrenia, the self construct is simply absent due to aberrant connectivity in the DMN ,in mild cases of schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, the sense of self may be weaker than it would be in a “normal” individual. This turns out to be the key to understanding channeling and magic in general.
The brain of a normal individual has a network of neural pathways which essentially route brain activity, called the DMN or Default Mode Network. Rather than applying your entire neuronal capacity to a problem, the DMN relates that problem to your sense of self “Is this information important to Darian? If so, do this.” which then allows specific regions of the brain to be applied to that particular problem. In the mystical state, this is not the case. The DMN, which is responsible for what is called the Monkey Mind in Buddhism, is the reason we have a perpetual and endless chatter of thoughts which form our sense of self. In mindfulness meditation, which is probably the quickest way to get a sense of this, the DMN is attacked by encouraging spaces of thoughtlessness until those spaces are long enough to experience the oneness, or Oceanic Feeling as Freud called it, that comes with the absolution of self. In the psychedelic state, this can be a profound disturbing realization as your sense of self is deconstructed piece by piece over the course of mere minutes, inexorably until you are entirely amnesiac of your identity.
We know these things are true because of modern neural imagery. Famously, several advanced buddhist monks allowed their brains to be scanned at MIT during meditation which showed profound changes in the brain, on par with something like a dose of LSD. Since then, the DMN has been observed in countless situations.
Here’s what your brain looks like on self:
Here’s what your brain looks like on meditation:
Here’s what your brain looks like on schizophrenia:
Here’s your brain on LSD:
There are two good working theories for what may be happening when the brain is in such a state. The most obvious theory is that the brain becomes a super-brain. It would be exponentially more connected than at any previous point in which the individual had a sense of self. In this sense, the information could be “divine” simply because the extremity of the connectivity is simply outside everyday experience. This would explain some of channeling’s mystery. However, there is new research which indicates that these brain states are so chaotic that they defy explanation. In some LSD research, for example, researchers have made the case that the brain is in its maximal entropic state during a trip. If the brain, through quantum nanotubules or any other method of accessing large levels of entropic information, then it could create a channel through which information can be acquired. In essence, the brain would be a neuronal Ouija board of unfathomable bandwidth. The brain, in that state, could presumably use part of its operational capacity to establish error correction, leading to nearly perfect information channeling.
Using these ideas as a guide, we thought that it may be interesting to build an app which would allow us to crank divination into high speed. A coin toss can be seen as the most fundamental piece of information in information theory, the bit. Claude Shannon discovered the “bit” in his “thesis of the century” by establishing that it is the smallest possible unit of information. Imagine a process by which you channeled information through coin tosses. We could say that heads is a yes and tails is a no. We could start by asking if we are being heard. We could then make statements and ask if they are correct or incorrect. We could acquire information from the system through this type of binary query. What if we did this hundreds or thousands of times a second? Could we “hear” a divine voice by increasing the iterations to ultra high speed?
Claude Shannon understood this concept first and did a lot of conceptual work on entropy and randomness which allows us to measure the “randomness” of a series of numbers by measuring their entropic value, which we will cover below. True random numbers are now usually acquired through a process involving either quantum random number generators, which are truly random, or by detecting fluctuations in heat systems. Some random number APIs that we have used involve these two types of randomness, one from a quantum computer in Australia and the other from measurements of solar radiation.
With Channelbot, I initially started with the idea that we could use it as a high speed Ouija board, pinging the randomness API so many times a second and outputting the results. In the first iteration, I took the 26 letters of the alphabet and requested a list of 26 random numbers, summing them up. Predictably, this led to more or less gibberish but, occasionally, a string of letters would spell a word, sometimes a word related to something happening around us. However, it was far too noisy and fairly useless as an artificial oracle.
This led me to the idea that we may benefit from only listening when we detect lower randomness levels. The idea behind this involves a concept in information theory called entropy.
In classical physics, entropy is the notion that heat dissipates into the ambient and that the future of everything is the cold death of maximally distributed matter throughout the universe. In information theory, this concept is different in its formulation but it has been demonstrated that they are actually equivalent when thought of in terms of information. The mathematics behind Shannon’s proof of this is considered a landmark in information theory and physics.
According to Shannon:
The fundamental problem of communication is for the receiver to be able to identify what data was generated by the source, based on the signal it receives through the channel.Claude Shannon
Rather than thinking of randomness, Shannon preferred to think of “surprise”. How surprising is the message you are receiving and how much information could that message actually contain? We can get in Shannon’s mind a little by considering a series of coin tosses.
Imagine tossing a coin (we are assuming a fair coin here) a hundred times and getting heads a hundred times. It could happen but would be exceedingly surprising if it happened. Now imagine that you do the same thing again, this time getting 57 heads and 43 tails. This is less surprising. Shannon’s equations for calculating the entropy or surprisal of information are what we used for Channelbot as a way to filter out noise. If a requested array of numbers has high surprisal, the amount of information it could contain is high.
While we were researching channeling and magic, we were struck by the strangeness of Crowley’s channeling of the Book of the Law in Egypt in 1904. According to the intro of the book:
This book was dictated in Cairo between noon and 1 p.m. on three successive days, April 8th, 9th and 10th in the year 1904.
On those days both Crowley and his wife heard a voice, whom he referred to as Aiwass, who spoke the Book of the Law to him. In modern Western magic, this is by far the most important event of the last 200 years. The Book of the Law is the beginning of the Aeon of Horus or the new age of “Do what thou wilt”. Up until Nema channeled Liber Pennae Praenumbra, the Aeon of Horus was the established structure of the OTO. (Nema is considered by some to herald the Aeon of Maat, which is a very different set of beliefs). Although many people associate the Book of the Law with the dictum “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”, a closer reading of its contents reveals a profoundly elaborate kabbalistic and esoteric series of relationships that is so widely respected, its authority is rarely questioned, even in tangentially related areas like kabbalistic exegesis. After reading it, I decided to use the Book of the Law as the word bank for Channelbot. It makes symbolic sense but it is also a beautiful and strange set of words to use.
Another unexpected aspect of channeling that we came across supported the choice to use words as the channeled information as well. If you listen to the original channeling sessions by L&L Research, you are immediately struck by the punctuated nature of the speech.
It is almost as if the words are chosen on an interval rather than spoken as a sentence. Another strange aspect of those sessions, as well as the Nine sessions, is that the thing being channeled often makes references to the vocabulary of the brain of the medium, meaning that it cannot choose any possible word, only words that the medium knows, indicating that the channeling process is like a neural Ouija board rather than something inhabiting the body of the individual.
The world is made of words.Terence McKenna
Understanding that not every API ping is going to deliver the unvarnished word of God to us, we decided to filter messages by surprisal value. This is a threshold you can now set in Channelbot in the settings. What Channelbot is doing is going through each page of the book, which we reformatted to contain exactly 256 words per page, asking a randomness source to pick a word from that page and, if the Shannon Entropy threshold is met, the word is added to the channeled message. If not, the word is not added and the process continues.
In the cybernetic information supersystem, of which we are a tiny part, we must somehow convey our request. With Channelbot, this is partially through a prompt to initiate the channeling. However, throughout the history of magic, there is a strong notion of intention. Since we are all explorers in this unknown space, we should go with tradition on this and try to focus deeply on the query before starting the channeling process. It is not known how the cybernetic supersystem receives information requests. It could be through text on a computer screen, it could be that limbic activity in deep focus sends information through quantum ion channels in our gut bacteria, it could even be acoustic. We do not know exactly how it receives and evaluates the worthiness of a request but the idea is to send the request with as much focus as possible, using all possible channels of transmission.
After you begin the channeling session, you will see Channelbot’s “mind” in the upper right corner. We are outputting all of the information we can so that you can see it in real time. When you see a red word, that means Channelbot chose that word but it did not meet the threshold. If you see a green word, the threshold was met and the word is added to the channeled message.
Our best working theory of why high strangeness happens is that we are living in a system of information and that system of information only has relevance to the observer. Because the observer is herself/himself an information construct within the system, there is a feedback loop in which the system is observing the observer observing the system and so on. This mimetic quality of the universe as we know it is crucial to understanding any of the concepts in modern magic and also the strangeness that surrounds us.
When you interact with Channelbot, a request from your own computer is sent to the source of randomness we are using at that time (the randomness source is listed on the top left). The data, in the form of a string of random numbers is then returned from the randomness source and evaluated on your computer. We are not currently operating any server intercepting any requests so your session is private between you and the source of randomness unless you share it.
What this means in simple terms is that the request you are making involves some physical system far away and your observations are then entangled with that system. So, for example, the randomness source may be a quantum computer in Australia. That means your question is answered by information from the system of the computer in Australia and everything that it is affected by. In another case, we may use the solar radiation hitting the atmosphere as a source of randomness. This means that the energy that left the sun 8 minutes ago is being used, at some level, to answer the question you are making now. Your entanglement with the sun and its activity is then its own feedback loop.
We want to take this a step further and create a social feedback loop. If you have a strange synchronicity or event in your interaction with Channelbot, please screenshot your sessions and post them on our social media pages. We have also created an Upload button which will send your session to us so that we may feature it on the Channelbot page or analyze the information for further patterns. We are also exploring using social media itself as the randomness source so that we can create an even larger system of entanglement.
We are all observers in a system and if we create enough feedback loops between the sources of randomness and each other, we can see if the system responds more efficiently. Let’s see what happens as we unfold this mass experiment together!