(Philosophy) Egyptian Magic and Theory of Computation


This post is a philosophical one discussing the essential motives of the theories underpinning Egyptian magic and how it relates to our modernized concepts of computation.




Egyptians had the belief that things called "words of power"*1 existed.  People who knew these words of power invoked them to do crazy things apparently like parting water into blocks and stacking the blocks to search for things beneath the water; rejoining animals and man's heads when they had become detached from their bodies etc. But the essential concept was these collections of words that when said caused certain effects.

Essentially this means that using language you could invoke properties of the universe and use them like a mechanism to do you your bidding. This is sounds fantastical and mystical of course - we today know assumedly no such "words of power"; we cannot say things with our mouths that have any of the effects the Egyptians describe in their scrolls.

But we do have this almost magical concept called Computation - that allows us to create entire theoretical worlds that control much of our real practical worlds in sometimes completely inseparable ways.  Computers and the concepts of computation that allow them to operate the magic we depend on today are underpinned and developed by study of language and linguistic properties entirely. Computation is a process and theoretical concepts of recognizing, emulating and translating language. We insert language into computers that translate our words into:

  1. The literal laws of physics - your instructs are translated and translated until they become literal configurations of voltages; represented on the "bare metal" of physics and the laws of the universe.
  2. The theoretical/abstract world - we use computers to represent a very detailed abstracted representation of our world. Essentially we express our identities, our emotions, desires using computers. We build avatars and altars to our self images and those we seek to see ourselves as. We trade and communicate using them too. A massive proportion of our access to the rest of the world (and the access the rest of the world has to us!) is hosted on these computers; these machines driven entirely by language and its translation.
So we essentially also trust in these "words of power" that warp and shape our universe as though they are an invocation of the very laws holding together reality in a certain way.  Our "words of power" are arrangements of words that give rise to computation and our access to it. The "power" of computation is that it can charge ordinary words (english, java, assembler) with the power to launch rockets; communicate with satellites and see into the reaches of the universe our bodies and eyes will not allow*3. We are performing what is for all intents and purposes "magic"*2 using language through interaction with computers.

The parallel between computation/programming and the way magic was operated in Egypt*4 comes to the bare in an amusing way when thinking about the traditions of the Book of the Dead. The Book of the Dead was essentially like a collection of "programs", into which the name of the person who wants to benefit from its magic is inscribed. The scribes would produce copy after copy of this papyrus containing very similar invocations for certain stages of the trail of the dead that the person would face. The name is inserted into magical invocations the same way we insert our names/identities and representations of ourselves into computers in order to intermingle and converse the great godly forces and deities that rule the interconnected, abstracted underworld of our computers.


*1 - Yes sounds very skyrimy, as a possible explanation for that link I would guess that because Moses (a great mystic in the Jewish and Christian religions) is said in some stories to have trained under a man named Enoch (who has other names too); but since Moses was raised Egyptian (this is very well known) Enoch would likely have been too. Why is Enoch important? Well, John Dee a well known Alchemist/Scientist and Occultist who worked for Queen Elizabeth developed his own kind of magic theory called "Enochian" magic; this was is essentially a magical script that is used to represent the names of forces of hyper-personalities that control certain moods or influences in the universe. So here we can see that "Enochian" because of John Dee carries an air of magical almost rune like script - this same theme is used in Skyrim to represent the Thu'um, the language of the Dragons. 

*2- (astrophysics is a computer hosted game today- download some astro-data and show us how your algorithms can divine profound truths. This is essentially the game we play today to discover the things we don't know in the real universe ;) 

*3 - Sometimes hackers are both ridiculed and loved by society just as witches and sorcerers were throughout history directly because of the fear and reverence some have in their ability to profoundly reshape the abstracted world we host our fragile representations of reality on.  

*4 - perhaps in periods after the direct practice of "words of power" had already been replaced by dead ritual and fanaticism - according to certain narratives that describe the effects of the words of power as they were viewed in their day. 

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