Rationalist Magic: Initiation into the Cult of Rationatron

I am curious on the perspective of a rationalist discussion board (this seems like a good start) on the practice of magic. I introduce the novel, genius concept of "rationalist magic", i.e. magic practiced by rationalists.

Why would rationalists practice magic? That makes no sense!!

It's the logical conclusion to Making Peace with Belief, Engineering Religion and the self-help threads.

What would that look like?

Good question. Here are some possible considerations to make:

  • It's given low probability that magic is more than purely mental phenomena. The practice is called "placebomancy" to make it clear that such an explanation is favoured.
  • It is practiced as a way to gain placebons.
  • A cult of rationalist magic, the Cult of Rationatron, should be formed to compete against worse (anti-rationality, anti-science, violent) cults.
  • Rationalist groups can retain more members due to abundance of placebons.
  • The ultimate goal is to use rationality to devise a logically optimal system of magic with which to build the Philosopher's Stone and fix the world like in HPMOR. (Just kidding, magic isn't real.)

I looked into magical literature and compiled a few placebo techniques/exercises, along with their informal instructions. These might be used as a starting point. If there are any scientific errors these can eventually be corrected. I favoured techniques that can be done with little to no preparation and provide some results. Of course, professional assistance (e.g. yoga classes) can also be helpful.

1. Mindfulness Meditation

  • (Optional) Do 1-3 deep mouth-exhales to relax.
  • Find a good position.
  • Begin by being aware of breath.
  • (Optional) Move on to calmly observing different parts of the body, vision, the other senses, thoughts, mandala visualization, and so on.
  • (Optional) Compare the experience to teachings of buddhism.
  • (Optional) Say "bud-" for each inhale and "-dho" for each exhale; alternatively, count them from 1 to 10 and reset each time.

Note that trying to focus on not focusing isn't always helpful. Hence the common technique is that of focusing on a single thing, or rather, simply being passively aware of it. The goal is to discipline the mind and develop one-pointedness.

2. Astral Projection (OBE)

  • Lay on a bed, relax.
  • Try out some of the tips from the previous exercise.
  • Stay there for 30-60 minutes until you reach the hypnagogic state (a state where the mind is awake but the body is sleeping) and try to (a) feel your astral body and grab a rope, (b) feel vibrations in your body, (c) roll out of the body, (d) (...).

Astral Projection can be thought of as a very vivid stage of dreaming. Some authors have more detailed exercises related to this[7]. It might take many tries to do this exercise right.

3. Mantras

You can borrow an eastern mantra such as "om mani padme hum", "om namah shivaya" and "hare kṛiṣhṇa hare kṛiṣhṇa / kṛiṣhṇa kṛiṣhṇa hare hare / hare rāma hare rāma / rāma rāma hare hare" or make up some phrase. Whatever works for you.

Chanting mantras is a form of sensory excitation. Both sensory excitation and deprivation can induce trance. This can be used along with exercise 1.

(Optional) Find one of these.

4. Contemplation

  • Take a moment to contemplate the harmony of the universe and/or have love towards some/all beings.

5. Idol Worship

  • Make a shrine dedicated to Rationatron, god of rationality.

This and this are possible forms of Rationatron.

6. Minimal Spellcasting

  • Make a wish.
  • Clear your mind.
  • Take a deep, long breath imagining that as you exhale the wish is being registered into the universe by Rationatron.
  • Forget about the wish.

Magicians claim it's more magically effective to forget about the wish after casting the spell (fourth step) and let your subconscious act than to use the repeat-your-wish-every-day method.

This is, as far as I know, the simplest spellcasting technique. It can be complicated further by the addition of rituals, sigils, poses[6], and stronger methods of inducing trance in the second step.

7. Deity Generator

  • Take any arbitrary concept or amalgam of concepts.
  • (Optional) Associate it to a colour.
  • (Optional) Make it a new deity.

For one reason or another, spiritualists love doing this.

This exercise can make arbitrary "powers" or "deities" for use in other exercises. For example, the association "yellow - wealth" is a "power" for exercise 6, or you might imagine yourself as a "deity" in that same exercise to induce some emotion.

8. Tulpa Making

This is a technique found in Tibetan buddhism lore[5] as one ability held by bodhisattvas and used by Buddha to multiply himself. This was adopted by communities of westerners in the internet who generally don't attribute mystical properties to the practice and made detailed tutorials (tulpa.info).

The technique uses your subconscious to create a companion. It consists in visualizing and talking to a being in your imagination until it eventually produces unexpected thoughts.

You might be asking, "can I model this companion after a cartoon?" The answer is yes.

Note: some of the following techniques might require further examination.

9. Aura Sight

Some authors[1,2,4] give exercises attributed to peripheral vision or meditation. If anyone finds out how to see auras, please confirm.

10. Invoking and Banishing Ritual of Truth

  • Imagine a circle of protection surrounding you.
  • (Invoking) "I open/invoke the powers of p, q, ¬p, ¬q."
  • (Banishing) "I close/revoke/banish the powers of ¬q, ¬p, q, p."
  • (Optional) This can be performed solely in the imagination through visualization or with more realism added to different degrees inbetween (e.g. by making a real circle, pointing a sword or your hand to the four directions).

This has been used for different purposes; as an introduction to ritual work or simply as routine.

The common formulation of this exercise uses a pentagram, holy names, the elements, planets and a bunch of other nonsense. Why do I have to remember all this roleplaying? Do they think this is D&D? Therefore, I designed a more efficient version of the technique that also replaces the magical symbolism with superior logic symbolism.

Note: these are roughly analogous[3] to the simpler placebo techniques known as shielding (imagining a shield), centering (regaining focus by being aware of the solar plexus/heart area) and grounding (putting your feet on the ground to receive/release energy from/to the ground).

11. Demonic Mirror Summoning

Call upon Dark Lord Voldemort and say the "avada kedavra" mantra 7+ times in front of a mirror in a dimly lit room until a demon pops up and/or your appearance gets distorted.

Some individuals report holding a conversation with their mirror self through mirror exercises.


What is the purpose of this?

It's about time someone made an atheist religion.

Why not follow the Flying Spaggheti Monster religion instead?

It doesn't provide placebo techniques. It only functions as a point in argumentation.

Do I have to do all of the exercises?

No, only those that you personally deem helpful. However, the first exercise (meditation) is generally recommended by health research. It's also a pre-requisite to many other exercises. Note: although meditation is generally recommended, some caution, common sense and preparation is advised (specially for exercises 2-3).

What are the teachings?

It's acknowledged that rational people can sometimes get to different conclusions. Therefore, there is no mandatory teachings. However, it uses "rationality" as a starting point to distinguish it from other cults meaning that "placebo" is used as the default model of magic and that both logic and the use of such techniques is encouraged. It can be used as a gathering of placebo techniques for atheists and as a blank slate from the dogma of already existing cults on the nature of magic.

What is the pantheon of this religion?

The "official" pantheon is that of the universe itself (Einstein's pantheism; it's used in exercises 4 and 6), Rationatron (a deity of rationality) and Dark Lord Voldemort (the opposer). They fulfill different god-roles. More gods can be created with the Deity Generator exercise or borrowed.

Can I worship Eris, Cthullu or Horus/Isis/Odin...?

Yes, see above answer.

Wait, Dark Lord Voldemort? Really?

Christianity had lazier ways to come up with their demons and nobody noticed. Zing.

Aren't some of those techniques irrational?

Only when used by superstitious people. Once used by rationalists, they become super-rational.

What about black magic? Can I cast hexes?

They aren't going to work because magic is not real.


1. frater, ud. high magick. A good overview on different kinds of magic.

2. hine, phil. spirit guides. Another overview.

3. hine, phil. modern shamanism pt1-2. Overview for shamans.

4. samuel sagan. awakening the third eye.

5. alexandra david-neel. magic and mystery in tibet. A book on buddhist lore.

6. crowley. liber o.

7. robert bruce. mastering astral projection.

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I think placebomancy is the best word I've seen in years!

Placebon is good as well. "I'm not really into veganism, I just do it for the placebons."

I wholeheartedly and unironically endorse this


A technique for magically sending your consciousness between quantum worldlines:

Something bad has happened! Close your eyes with the intent to jump to an alternate worldline where that thing didn't happen, with the understanding that if you succeed, you won't have any memory of that thing happening. Open your eyes. It worked! Whatever bad thing you were trying to avoid has no longer happened in your current worldline, and you have no memory of it ever having occurred.

Assume that anything that went wrong in the worldline in which you find yourself is probably not as bad as the thing you were trying to escape from.

Sound's like so8res's concept of "Being a new homonculus."

Sorry my bad english, non native speaker here.

All this can enter the framework of chaos Magick, but I very much dislike the aesthetics of what you propose.

In my "Magickal practice"(like 1 or 2 times a month) I do mindfulness and some Sigil contemplation and Godforms.

With mindfulness I make a very specific practice designed deal with uneasy emotions, it's got 3 parts,

First: the idea is to focus on the body sensations until you identify a bundle of then and you then name it (i.e anger), focus on the named emotion without any effort in increase it not lessen it, after you can feel the emotion better give it a color that suits it and displace the emotion half a meter away from you with your arms (like moving a ghost), the turn 90° and repeat with another emotion.

Second: once you go full circle return the first emotion to you (catch it with your arms) and feel it inside you, and keep feeling it until you notice some change in the sensation, It doesn't have to feel nice just different, then put it away and repeat with each emotion.

Finaly: make the 4 emotions around you move upwards and combine them in one big orb, and imagine how it goes through a filter that purify it, slowy dropping dropplets of the now golden/white energy to your head. when it feels like there is no more emotions above you finish with a basic banish (2-3 minutos of breathing do the trick).

It's kinda late, if anyone is interested in know more, say so and I will most likely reply

P.S. I do not believe magic is real

I introduce the novel, genius concept of "rationalist magic", i.e. magic practised by rationalists.

It's about time someone made an atheist religion.

In a world of 7 000 000 000 people, most ideas have already been thought of, and I think this one sort-of has too. LaVeyan Satanism is an atheistic religion that uses magick (its more edgy if you misspell magic) as an "intellectual decompression chamber" a sort of post-rationalist thing for psychological benefits. There are other atheistic religions too, but I can't recall any others that use magic.

Not that this is a criticism of your post, I thought it was a good collection of exercises. Have you actually tried using any of them?

Fair enough, the idea already exists although in the edgier guise of satan.

Have you actually tried using any of them?

I did most and added some for completion. I already had some contact with spirits and mystical visions.

Some other techniques to add to the list:

  • Hypnosis
  • Biofeedback
  • Spaced repetition
  • Fast mental arithmetic
  • Speed reading

There's also variant on Tulpas called a servitor, which is a hallucination of something inanimate instead of an intelligent companion. I've been wondering for a while if a notepad servitor or something could improve one's working memory.

Wonderfully entertaining. And the circle of protection with p's? Superb!

For mantras: someone who knows Lojban can please translate "My mind is calibrated on the True Probabilities"?

Edit: the ultimate truth is too much for mortals to behold.

Can I recruit followers? Starting a cult is a useful exercise for ambitious rationalists.

Yes, everyone has permission to gather followers and begin cults for Rationatron.

There's little value superficially listed a bunch of techniques. I would expect most attempts to follow it to be ineffective. The people I know who actively use mantra's would consider your section on mantra's irresponsible because people can mess themselves up by using mantra's wrongly.

Astral Projection also falls into the same camp of techniques with mess up a person who plays around with them without knowing what they are doing.

If you want to do more than just a joke, if you want to persue this train of thought the rational way, don't list a bunch of techniques that are your distortions of what somebody else wrote.

It's highly preferable to get in person teacher instead of trying to make sense of a book. Apart from that you should limit yourself through those things that you can back up with your own experience.

If you don't have experience with aura seeing, don't try to tell other rationalists that they should experiment with aura seeing because there are books for aura seeing. That's living in fantasy.

Can the placebo effect really mess you up like that?

Can the placebo effect really mess you up like that?

The placebo effect alone doesn't.

If you however reach a state that the OP describes as hypnagogic state (a state where the mind is awake but the body is sleeping), there are risks that come with states like that.

I'm not confident that someone who wants to use mantra after reading the description of the OP actually reaches altered states but I understand that people who use mantras on a regular basis do use them to reach altered states and do consider it to produce effect that can mess up a person if wrongly used.

If you however reach a state that the OP describes as hypnagogic state (a state where the mind is awake but the body is sleeping), there are risks that come with states like that.

I call bullshit on that. Seems to me just a way to stop curiosity, for fear if not for feeling something's sacred. If someone is messed by daydreaming, then his/her problems lies elsewhere.

I call bullshit on that. Seems to me just a way to stop curiosity, for fear if not for something sacred.

It's a well-grounded fear for me. It wouldn't be the first time that someone got into a seriously harmful state after reading about a mental technique on LW and applying it.

If there sacredness involved it's the hypocratic oath for me.

What are previous examples of people on LW applying mental techniques and getting into seriously harmful states?

This poor soul got seriously freaked out after reading a SF novel where people disappear from the universal simulation every time they go to sleep.

That poor soul found less wrong because of history of freaking out about existential things. I don't think applying techniques had anything to do with it.

What are previous examples of people on LW applying mental techniques and getting into seriously harmful states?

That's not something about which I want to go publically into the details but if you would make a list of people posting about serious mental problems in the last two years and would look at the top of that list you would find the case. If you would then look at this users history you would find a discussion about applying a mental technique.

There another LW event where multiple people threw up after a few rituals. Likely no lasting damage but still not optimal.

In both cases the causality isn't obvious and you can make an argument that A wasn't the cause of B, but both of them were enough were emotional charged events and they got me to be more careful about the subject. There are also experiences that I had outside of the LW context that make me careful.

For completion there are other events where people got into mental health issues after dealing with the anthropomorphic arguments too much. Very recently a person on slack posted that they are emotionally troubled as a result of QI. But mental health issues because taking a specific road in philosophic inquiry are distinct from using arrising in connection with mental techniques.

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To write another more constructive post:

Focusing is a process that you can do as ritual that has a lot of scientific evidence behind it and that is recommended by CFAR. Understanding the steps isn't trival but there are people in this community who managed to understand it from writing material and/or the audiobook.

Having data is very useful. Heart Rate Variance is a very useful metric to measure and to learn to control. See http://www.sweetwaterhrv.com/SweetBeatHRV.shtml . It's worth noting that while the Mio watch claimed to measure with EEG accuracy it doesn't and you rather want one of the heart rate measurement devices recommended by sweetwaterhrv even if you use a different software than theirs.

Especially if you meditate without a teacher as guidance, having technology as guidance makes sense.

There a new device on kickstarter to measure breathing: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1488696076/sendinaden-smart-mask/comments

Regarding auras. I am not sure, if I observed the same phenomenon, but if I sit still and keep my eyes fixed on the same spot for a while (in a still scene), my eyes will -- after a while -- get accustomed to the exact light pattern incoming and everythig kind-of fades to gray. But very slight movements will then generate colorful borders on edges (like a gaussian edge detector).

Or you possibly can study hard Eckman and then train your synesthesia on people!