Monday, December 12, 2016

Gestalt Inquiry #2

Gestalt Inquiry #2

Gestalt:  A unified whole; a configuration, pattern, or organized field having specific properties that cannot be derived from the summation of its component parts.
Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language 1989

Inquiry:  "A dynamic functioning of our consciousness that has to be flexible, responsive, and playful for it to be truly intelligent.  As you inquire, you need to use your intelligence and you need to apply whatever understanding you have to the experience of the moment." 
A. H. Almaas Spacecruiser Inquiry

M. L. S. Weech Author
On November 30, 2016, M. L. S. Weech posted an article on his blog regarding Deus Ex Machina.
His main point was the issue of resolving conflict with a magic solution for which the reader is underprepared.  As Weech puts it:  “Possibly the biggest opponent to fantasy and science fiction is the concept of Deus Ex Machina.  When something arises that the reader isn’t prepared for to resolve the conflict, the reader will be unsatisfied with the ending.  Let’s be honest, as readers, we WANT to believe the ending is plausible.  We’ll take some pretty hanky explanations as background or foreshadowing.” 

Heretics by G. K. Chesterton
“To conquer these places (Arabia and China) is to lose them.  The man standing in his own kitchen garden, with fairyland opening at the gate, is the man with large ideas.”
The best magic is that which already exists in some form that we do not recognize.  When the parameters are altered, magic is revealed.  Since time out of mind, people have been turning water into wine.  They planted the vines, watered them, harvested the grapes, and then fermented the juice.  Jesus did the same thing in a much shortened time interval and it was called a miracle – magic.

Sanderson’s Rules of Magic
There is always a social compact when humans interact.  One can discern it in novels, but it also exists between writer and reader.  Sanderson’s Rules of Magic specify some of the components of a social compact of fantasy novels.

“Complicated rules to adjust behavior are a weak substitute for simple principles.”
Mary Wollstonecraft A Vindication of the Rights of Women
Sanderson’s rules are not very complicated.

Star Trek ~ “A Taste of Armageddon”
Magic gives one an advantage in a familiar situation – conflict.  In Harry Potter and the half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling, the British Prime Minister receives a visitor from the Minister of Magic warning him of troubles in the world of wizards.
“But for heaven’s sake – you’re wizards!  You can do magic!” protests the Prime Minister.
To which the Minister of Magic replies, “The trouble is, the other side can do magic too.”

Magic can escalate the conflict to the point of insignificance.  Each side has its own magic; albeit with the implicit understanding that the “good” side will not use magic for its own ends while the “bad” side will use whatever magic it can in the most unscrupulous ways.

Escalation was the point of a Star Trek episode in which the Enterprise encountered a civilization where two of the planets were engaged in a five hundred year-old war with each other.  They used the magic of technology to wage a virtual war with actual casualties.  When both sides have magic, the conflict becomes a war of attrition.  As long as one side eventually has the numbers, there is no incentive to empathize, to seek common ground.  When magic escalates, the non-magic reader is relegated to the role of detached observer.  Deus Ex Machina

The Hunger Games
The Capital must keep the interest of its audience so they place the tributes in a “magic” world.  When human drama lags, the game master unleashes his own magic to escalate the action. Deus Ex Machina

Why is some magic expansive and exciting but other magic is constrictive and dull?

At some point, Edward reveals himself to Bella, telling her all about vampires, what they are and what they can do.  They are immortal, strong, beautiful, and gifted with other unique powers, like the ability to read minds.  Humans cannot outthink, outsmart, outline, or outrun them.  At the end of Edward’s litany, Bella might as well say, “I give up.  Eat me.”

Jacob and his friends turn into wolves in response to the increase in the vampire population.  The magic escalates.

Excessive magic is not very interesting.  If it is too complicated, rather than complex, there is not much (if any) emotional investment in the story because one knows it would never happen to normal people.  It’s like riding on the back of a motorcycle; the driver has all the thrill of the ride while the passenger has a nice view of someone’s back.


This is the gestalt inquiry inspired by M. L.S. Weech’s blog on “Dues Ex Machina.”

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