If I were to say “Unicorns have wings.” you might reply “No, Timothy: that’s Pegasus. Unicorns have horns.” A third person, listening in would agree with you. Unicorns have horns. Pegasus has wings. The problem is: there are no unicorns: so how can that statement “Unicorns have horns” be more true than the statement that “Unicorns have wings.”? This is called the Empty Name problem, and many months ago I tried to script a podcast about how the accidental use of empty names is what causes spellcasting to fail in Ars Magica. You try to create a thing, and the thing does not exist, so your magical energy courses through you, to stop you damaging the Universe.
There’s a problem, though, and its a couple of lines in Realms of Power : Magic, where it says that impossible objects can be bought back to the mortal realm from the Dream part of the Realm of Magic. The example it gives is a living platinum peacock. This means that platinum peacocks are not real, in the physical sense, but have the potential to be real, because they exist in supernormal space and can be drawn into the real world.
Here here, we strike philosophy, and we have one of our regular infodumps.
Meinong was an Austrian philosopher, who tried to work around the Empty Name problem by suggesting there were no empty names. It gets a little weird, but if you want to know what gears are grinding far back in the Magic Realm, enigmatic seems to be inevitable. Meinong believed that everything that you thought about was an object, and that all objects exist in a sense, even though there are some objects which both exist and have no material being. Those of you into linguistics will note that what he is doing here is redefining the word “is” so that it’s not a binary switch. He’s also taking liberties with the definition of “object” and that matters to us because, in game, objects are targets. If you can broaden the class of objects, you can broaden the targets for spellcasting.
Lets imagine a taxonomy of objects. First, let’s discard nonsense. Meinong defines nonsense as ideas so badly formed that they cannot be thought about or used to communicate anything. He gives examples like “an inkblot whittled down from a piano”. Nonsense does more than not exist: it’s not an object. Objects, to Meinong exist ambivalently to their material state: that is, there are material objects , immaterial objects, and objects which are not definitely tied to either state. Nonsense is outside of this framework: it doesn’t just not exist materially, it’s not just defined as non-existent, it goes further than that into a sort of utter negation.
All objects: which is to say all things which can be meaningfully thought about, have a quality called absistence. They exist-as-such, which is why we can talk about them. Within the set of absistent objects is a smaller set of subsistent objects, which in some sense might materially exist. Within this is a smaller set again, of material objects.
These three categories can be divided further, but let’s make things easier by cutting out the simplest: real objects. My phone is on the desk in front of me. My phone, and my desk exist, subsist and absist. In Mythic Europe, existent objects litter the landscape, because they are the landscape. They are “complete” objects, which means all of their properties are known, and describable, and, in this case, are coherent. They are targeted by Muto, Perdo, Rego and Intellego magic.
One step away are objects which do not have material existence, but subsist. Meinong calls these Ideal Objects, but they differ from what we are meaning in Ars Magica when we talk about Platonic Forms as Ideal Objects. Ideal Objects are complete, and have a material effect, but are not material. For example: my phone is a material object. That my phone is on the table in front of me is something I can think about, and measure, so its a complete object, but the relation of the table to the phone, despite being in the material world, is not held in a single object I could pick up and call “the state of my phone being on the table”. In Ars Magica, if you are a theurgist, you may well be able to talk to these ideal objects: arguably that’s what you are doing when you cast spells. When you make the branch of a tree whip about to harm your enemies, are you talking to the tree, or are you talking to the state of the universe defining the position of the branch? Arguably the great spirits which touch the world through Aspects are in this part of the Realm.
For Meinong, numbers are in this category. That I have one phone, rather than three phones, is not a property of the phone: it’s a state of affairs which, because I can consider it and it is material in a sense, is an Ideal Object. Hermetic magic can’t deal with number, save at the basest material level. You have more phones by adding more physical objects, not by saying that, for example, the number of objects has changed. Let’s use a folkloristic example: there are some quivers which are always full. How many arrows do they have in them? Let’s say 20. That number doesn’t change just because you pull arrows out. Hermetic magic can simulate that by making new arrows when the old ones are taken out, but it can’t define the quiver as innately always possessing arrows. Faeries can, by the way, because their props aren’t objects: they are inherent properties of the glamour of the faerie.
Having dealt with nonsense, material objects and states of being between material objects, it’s time to head into the Jungle, which is a joke at Meinong’s expense in the real world. The question posed to him was if unicorns, square circles and mountains of gold exist, where do they exist? Meinhold’s Jungle is the answer given by detractors of his theory, but in Ars Magica, we know that at least some of the inhabitants of the Jungle are in the Magic Realm, so let’s head in there and see if we can find viable spell targets.
Let’s break up the objects in the Jungle.
Some objects are defined as having non-being. That is, they are not material. These are divided into two types: objects whose properties are not contradictory, and objects whose properties are contradictory.
Let’s look at that first one, which I’d also divides into two types: complete and non-complete objects. As an example, I have a real phone on my desk, which is an HTC. The iPhone on my desk is, by comparison, not real, but doesn’t have inherently contradictory properties, and its properties are known (“complete”) because we know what I mean when I say an iPhone. This little subsection is important, because this is where Meinong places Platonic Forms, but only if Platonic Forms are not real. He leaves himself a loophole here, so that if it turns out the Neoplatonists were right all along, and the material world is designed by emanations from the Forms, they can be moved across into Ideal Objects. That’s where they land in Ars Magica, I believe, although that’s arguable. Aristotle seems to, for example.
I’d argue that you can make this class of objects with Creo Magic. Even if you don’t know all of the details, this object acts as a template for your magical powers to latch onto. This is why you don’t need to know how many toenails an elephant has to create an elephant. You just need to know how to designate this object. That is you need to name it, or do the theurgic equivalent of pointing at it.
The closest relative of the objects described above are objects which have non-being, non-contradictory properties, and are incomplete. These are presupposed not to materially exist: that is, you can talk about them as if they were real, but they are never detailed enough, or solid enough, to be real. These are interesting to us, because these are the things people can bring back from the Dream or Magical Realm, but can’t make with standard Creo magic. A living peacock made of platinum, for example, arguably doesn’t have any inherently contradictory qualities, but there’s no clear way of understanding how it works. It joins other things, like perpetual motion machines and mountains of phones, as things you can understand on their own terms, but can’t comfortably slide into the workings of the world.
This is what Hermetic researchers writing rituals do, I’d argue: they make non-contradictory, incomplete objedcts sufficently complete that they can be called up with Creo Magic. You can summon a dragon with a Creo Ritual, because someone who knew a lot about dragons coded that into the description of dragons embodied in the ritualized version of the name “dragon”.
Pause now in this clearing in the Jungle and consider what we have seen: we have seen the things which Creo Magic can make, and we have seen the things which Creo Magic cannot effectively make but which can be bought back from Dream, which is the Magic Realm. We have waved to the magi trying to drag things from one side of that division to the other, by defining the incomplete objects to such a degree they can be made by Creo magic in the mundane world. We stand at the edge of the shallow Magic realm, and we are about to head out into the theoretical territory where Criamon magi strive to break the clockwork of the universe.
Let’s head out.
The first set of objects we find are those which have contradictory properties. The round square is a particular favourite of people who come to the Jungle. You can’t bring a round square back from Dream, but if you could it would be incredibly useful because geometry matters in magic, and it would have the properties of both a square and a circle at the same time. From a play perspective, though, its hard to see how, if you laid out a tower on a floorplan of rounded squares, you’d map it. It’s cosmetic in game because we can’t grapple with it in any other way, and so it’s Engimatic, or impossible. It’s here you’d find Magi in Twilight. They are both human and not human – embodying a contradiction that precludes them returning to the mortal realm.
Further out, we reach the final class of objects: these are ambivalent about being, non-contradictory and incomplete. Here is the triangle which is both not equilateral, and not not equilateral (which, to Meinong, is not the same as being equilateral – remember, no binary “is”). Here we find objects which are so ill-defined they have only one property, for example, being the colour yellow, without, at the same time, being the Form of Yellow (which is defined by its emminative relation to the material world). You can’t bring these into the real world, because they lack sufficient completeness to become embodied.