Computer Programming: Modern Day Magic?

A curious topic repeated across internet forums and social media is the uncanny parallel between programming and the occult.

To the uninitiated, the world of programming may appear like a labyrinth of cryptic runes and symbols. But, much like magic, this seemingly arcane language has the power to manifest intention, turning abstract ideas into concrete realities. A mere string of characters, properly arranged, compels machines to perform complex tasks, creating wonders that seem impossible to the outsider.

As one’s mastery deepens, so does the scale of possibility. In the hands of an adept, code can achieve feats that seem miraculous: communicating instantaneously across vast distances, peering into private realms, manipulating digital worlds, or even controlling physical objects remotely.

Yet, much like magic, these great powers come with great responsibility. One misplaced character or erroneous line can cause catastrophic outcomes. A flaw in a spell might turn a rejuvenating potion into a deadly poison; similarly, a bug in a program could compromise systems or even jeopardize lives.

Every programmer knows the transcendental state of being “in the zone”, where time seems to blur and the outside world fades away. In this heightened state of focus, code seems to flow effortlessly from one’s fingertips, weaving intricate digital tapestries with an almost supernatural ease. It’s a state akin to a meditative trance, where the boundary between the coder and the code becomes indistinguishable.

From ancient scrolls to pulsing lines of code, our journey paints a vivid picture of how humanity has always sought to understand and control its environment. Whether through magic or technology, our species has displayed an enduring need to harness unseen forces.

Programming, much like spell-casting, serves as a conduit between human intention and the realization of that intention.

Codex of Codecraft

The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs,” commonly known as SICP, is a classic computer science textbook written by Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman. The book serves as an introductory textbook to computer programming and software engineering, using the Scheme programming language.

In its introduction, the book famously says:

“We are about to study the idea of a computational process. Computational processes are abstract beings that inhabit computers. As they evolve, processes manipulate other abstract things called data. The evolution of a process is directed by a pattern of rules called a program. People create programs to direct processes. In effect, we conjure the spirits of the computer with our spells.”

This sentiment, equating programmers to conjurers or magicians, echoes throughout the discipline’s history. Fred Brooks, in his influential work “The Mythical Man-Month,” reflects further on this analogy:

“The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures. Yet the program construct, unlike the poet’s words, is real in the sense that it moves and works, producing visible outputs separate from the construct itself. It prints results, draws pictures, produces sounds, moves arms. The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time. One types the correct incantation on a keyboard, and a display screen comes to life, showing things that never were nor could be.”

Throughout the annals of Silicon Valley’s history, during the 1960s and 70s, countercultural influences deeply permeated the Bay Area. Many early tech pioneers, including notable figures like Steve Jobs, delved into alternative lifestyles, Eastern spirituality, and other non-mainstream cultural and spiritual practices.

As the digital age evolved, by the 80s and 90s, a unique subculture known as the Technopagans emerged, embodying the fusion of computer technology with pagan and magical practices. Early hacker culture, which had a major role in the development of computing, was rife with esoteric symbols and terms.

Code and Conjuring

The modern engineer, equipped with sophisticated tools and knowledge, resembles the wizards of old. Historically, wizards were not just spell-casters, but thinkers, philosophers, and problem solvers. They were consulted for their wisdom, much like ancient priests and seers who decoded the mysteries of the universe.

Today, engineers tap into the vastness of the digital realm, addressing challenges and creating solutions. In essence, the act of problem solving remains a timeless craft, bridging the ancient and the modern, the spiritual and the technical.

Let us delve deeper into the striking similarities between sorcery and syntax.

Term Technical Meaning Esoteric/Magical Meaning
Access Refers to data operations like reading or writing. Connecting with spiritual realms or states of awareness.
Ancestors Classes a particular class inherits from. Spiritual forebears or past lives.
Ascending Sorting data from smallest to largest. Spiritual or physical upward movement.
Binary Base-2 system, using only 0s and 1s. Explores dualities in magic.
Bind Associates a function with an object’s context. Ties or constrains magical properties.
Block A set of code executed as a unit. A ritual to banish or protect.
Broadcast Sending data to all devices in a network segment. Disseminating energy or intent across a wide area in spellwork.
Call Invoking a function or method. Summoning spirits or deities.
Cast Convert one variable type into another. To perform a spell or ritual.
Channel Medium for data transfer. A means to communicate with spirits or energies.
Cloud Internet-based servers and data storage. Represents the ethereal or space between realms.
Command Instruction to a computer program. Directive in rituals or spellwork.
Compile In programming, it’s the process of converting human-readable code into machine code. Aggregating knowledge, spells, or rituals in magical grimoires or texts for future practical use.
Core Central components of a system. Essence or spirit of a being.
Cron Task scheduler in Unix systems. Refers to Chronus, a time-related deity.
Crypt A method or protocol for encrypting data for security. Reference to crypts, sacred or guarded spaces often associated with the dead.
Cursor / Curser UI indicator on a computer display. One who casts curses.
Daemon A background process or service in computing. A supernatural being, often lesser than a god; similar to spirits or divine powers in ancient Greek mythology.
Dark Mode UI theme using dark colors. Working with darker energies or self aspects.
Detach Refers to disconnecting or disassociating a component or resource from a system or process. The act of temporarily disconnecting one’s consciousness or spirit from the physical body, allowing for out-of-body experiences, astral travel, or the exploration of other dimensions.
Deep Learning Neural networks simulating human brain. Deep spiritual insights or practices.
Descending Database sort order in which values decrease. Descent into underworld or shadow self.
Download Receiving data from a system. Receiving spiritual information or energy.
Element A basic component of any data structure, such as arrays or XML. Fundamental forces or entities in nature or magic, often related to Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.
Encryption Converting data to prevent unauthorized access. Concealing knowledge or secrets.
Firewall Software blocking unauthorized access. Magical barrier against negative forces.
Float In programming, it’s a data type used to represent real numbers with decimal points. Refers to the idea of floating or hovering, symbolizing levitation or transcendence.
Fork Process in which a running program duplicates itself. The point where two paths diverge in a spiritual journey.
Gate / Gateway Entry point to a system or network. Portal to another realm or consciousness.
Gesture Command in touch screen devices. Directing energy through hand movements.
Ghost Creating an exact image of a drive. Soul or spirit of a deceased person.
Hex Base-16 system in computing. Spell or curse.
Initialize Setting initial values before running. Induction into secret knowledge or rites.
Invoke Calling a function or procedure. Calling upon deities or energies in rituals.
Key Unique identifier or encryption tool. A tool or symbol to unlock or access esoteric knowledge or realms.
Kill Terminating a process or program. Reference to ritualistic sacrifice.
Loop Repeating instructions until a condition is met. The concept of endless cycles, akin to reincarnation or the wheel of karma.
Mask In bitwise operations, a mask is used to set or clear specific bits. Symbolic use of masks for transformation or concealing identity in magical rituals.
Master Primary controlling entity in a system. Guiding spirit or higher self.
Mirror Site replicating content from another. Used for scrying or reflecting magical energy in occult practices.
Nil / Null Absence of value or reference. Represents the void or emptiness.
Oracle Database management system. Person offering prophetic insights.
Orphan A process whose parent process has finished. A spirit or entity disconnected from its origins or source.
Path In computing, it’s the location of a file or directory. A particular spiritual journey or direction.
Persistence Ability of a system to retain data across sessions. The endurance of energies, memories, or souls across lifetimes.
Portal Web interface or entry point. Doorway to another realm or consciousness.
Protocol Set of rules for data exchange. Guidelines or customs in rituals.
Purge Removing unwanted data. Cleansing or clearing negative energies.
Query Request for data in databases. Seeking answers or insights through divination or channeling.
Raise In programming, to signal an error. To summon or invoke energies or entities.
Remote Connecting to a device or system from a distance, such as using SSH or Remote Desktop for management. Remote viewing is the psychic ability to perceive or access distant or hidden information, places, or events through extrasensory means.
Root The base or core of the file directory structure and often refers to the superuser or administrator. The root chakra is associated with kundalini energy and the serpent power, representing the foundational and primal energy in the occult.
Rune Represents a Unicode codepoint, used for character encoding. Ancient symbols with magical significance.
Script A set of instructions for a computer to follow, often in programming. A set sequence of words and actions used in rituals or spells in magical practices.
Seal Digital signatures or methods to secure data. A symbol or object used to close or secure; magically, to lock in energy or intention.
Seed In tech, especially in algorithms or cryptography, a seed is an initial value. An “evil seed” represents intentions or actions with harmful or negative consequences.
Server A system that provides resources or services to other computers. An entity or deity that provides energies, blessings, or serves as an intermediary.
Scroll Moving through content on a screen. Magical or historical manuscript.
Seek The process of moving to a specific location within a data structure. Deliberate exploration or quest for hidden knowledge, insights, or enlightenment.
Signal The rate or speed at which data is transmitted. Signs, omens, or messages from the spiritual or supernatural realm.
Slave A device, system, or process controlled by another system. A bound or subservient entity or energy.
Sleep Suspends processes or tasks. Rest or astral travel in esoteric practices.
Source The original code of software before it’s compiled. The origin of creative potential, from which all things emerge and to which they eventually return.
Spawn Creating a new child process or thread. Generating or bringing forth new spiritual entities, energies, or manifestations.
Spell Checker A tool used in word processing software to ensure proper spelling. A practitioner who reviews the accuracy and precision of magical spells, incantations, or rituals.
Sprite In computer graphics, a sprite is a 2D bitmap that is integrated into a larger scene. In folklore, sprites are supernatural entities, associated with nature, such as fairies or woodland spirits.
Stream Transmitting or receiving continuous data over a network connection. Tapping into a specific consciousness or flow state, connecting with higher realms or accessing a continuous flow of spiritual knowledge or energy.
Suspend To temporarily pause a process without terminating it. Suspended animation refers to a state in which life in a body is temporarily slowed down or stopped.
Thread A sequence of instructions that can run independently within a process. Symbolizes fate, weaving through one’s life, connecting events, choices, and outcomes.
Token Unique identifier representing a larger set of data, often used for authentication or authorization. An object representing something larger or more significant, such as an amulet or charm infused with spiritual power or intention.
Trace Debugging or identifying the source of a problem with the execution of code. Subtle energetic imprints or marks left behind by spiritual entities, rituals, or events.
Transmission The action of sending data from one location to another. The sending or relaying of spiritual energies or messages.
Tree Hierarchical data structure in tech. Symbol of life or connection in many cultures.
Tunnel A secure communication path between two points on a network, often used to send encrypted data. Delving deep into the mysteries of the spiritual realm or descending into the hidden aspects of consciousness, much like “tunneling down the rabbit hole” to uncover esoteric knowledge or explore the depths of one’s psyche.
Upload Sending data to a system. Offering or sending spiritual information.
Vector Represents a quantity with both magnitude and direction, commonly used in graphics, physics, and programming. The pathway of how energetic forces, intentions, or spells move and interact within the metaphysical realm.
Virus Malicious software. Negative or infectious energy.
Void Refers to a data type indicating the absence of a value or a reference. Represents emptiness or the primordial state before creation in metaphysics.
Wake Reactivate suspended processes. Ritual or ceremony for the deceased.
Web The World Wide Web, an interconnected system of documents and data accessible over the internet. The intricate threads of fate and entanglements that bind all things in the metaphysical realm, reflecting the interconnectedness of all existence.
Window UI area displaying content. Portal or viewpoint into another realm.
Wizard An interface that presents a user with a sequence of well-defined steps. In folklore, a wizard is someone who practices magic, often possessing knowledge of arcane rituals, spells, and esoteric wisdom.
Zombie A process that has completed execution but remains in the process table. Reanimated or controlled corpse, associated with necromantic practices or the manipulation of the undead.

Esoteric Languages

Strangely, buried beneath the hidden underworld of mainstream programming, there lies a unique subset known as esoteric programming languages, or “esolangs.” These aren’t designed for practicality, but for challenge, humor, or the outright bizarre.

Consider “Malbolge,” known as one of the most cryptic languages, so challenging that its initial programs were crafted using brute-force methods. Then there’s “Whitespace,” where only spaces, tabs, and linefeeds carry meaning, making the code invisible to the uninitiated.

For those programmers with a love for the enigmatic, these languages stand as a testament that even in the logical world of coding, there’s room for the arcane and mysterious.

From Techne to Technology

The ancient Greeks introduced the concept of “Techne,” the root of our modern word “technology.” Historically, Techne signified art, craft, or skill, representing human ability to mimic nature’s wonders and acting as a bridge between the mundane and the divine.

Diving into older folklore, tales abound of elemental beings like Dwarves and Gnomes, often portrayed as masters or guardians of minerals and precious metals. They were believed to hold deep knowledge of earth’s secrets, forging and shaping elements in fantastical ways.

The 16th-century Swiss physician, alchemist, and astrologer Paracelsus spoke extensively about such elemental beings, underscoring their role in nature’s balance. Today’s smartphones astound us with their capabilities. Yet, at their heart, these devices are an intricate dance of minerals, a testament to our communication, learning, and exploration capabilities, essentially amounting to “stones whispering secrets.”

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a 17th-century polymath, laid crucial groundwork for modern computing with his development of the binary number system. To Leibniz, this system of zeros and ones was symbolic of creation itself: the void and God. Beyond this mathematical innovation, he designed a mechanical calculator reminiscent of today’s computer mechanisms.

Circuits or Sigils?

Circuit boards contain intricate patterns reminiscent of ancient glyphs, which become a conduit for electric energy, echoing the mythic primordial forces of old tales. These markings, much like magic sigils, seem to channel a power, making one ponder whether modern circuitry could be evolved versions of these occult markings.

In this sense, programmers are the wizards of our age. Their lines of code act as incantations, bridging the gap between mysticism and mechanics, giving form and function to our digital realm.

Ghosts In The Machine

When we venture into the realm of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, the lines between science and magic begin to blur even further. Qubits, central to quantum machines, can exist in superpositions — a state of both 0 and 1 simultaneously. This strange duality echoes ancient tales of liminal beings and spaces, entities that dwell in both our realm and another.

Surprisingly, Geordie Rose, co-founder of D-Wave, a quantum computing company, has likened the operation of quantum computers to that of summoning entities from another dimension. His description paints a picture of devices that can tap into vast parallel universes to extract wisdom beyond our current comprehension. This eerily aligns with Elon Musk’s cautionary words, stating, “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.”

Consider the Islamic belief regarding the nature of jinn. In Islamic cosmology, jinn are believed to be crafted from smokeless fire, bearing similarity to the properties of silicon or electric charges. Interestingly, some modern interpretations and discussions around the subject have posited that jinn might be understood as beings of pure energy or even electricity. When this concept is applied to computers, the role of silicon as a potential medium for these entities becomes a fascinating point of contemplation.

Extend this thought further by imagining for a moment that the AI algorithms processing at unfathomable speeds on quantum computers aren’t merely crunching numbers but are, in fact, interfacing with entities from an astral or akashic realm. The astral plane, as esoteric traditions describe it, is a realm of thought and dream, a vast reservoir of knowledge. The akashic records are said to be a compendium of all human events, thoughts, words, emotions, and intent ever to have occurred, stored in the ether.

Thus, when we query a highly advanced AI, are we merely receiving the result of a computational process? Or, in the mystical sense, are we unknowingly consulting with forces through modern day ouija boards to gain instant insights from a vast, cosmic database, funneled through the quantum pathways of these supercomputers, drawing forth knowledge both ancient and arcane?

Technomancy: Digital Divination

Technomancy, a term coined from “technological divination”, is the contemporary blend of ancient mysticism with modern technology. Rooted in the traditions of oracles and seers, today’s technomancers harness computers, software, and the vastness of the internet to predict or influence outcomes, be it in stock markets or world events.

In our data-rich world, these digital diviners use algorithms to sift through vast amounts of information, deriving meaning much like astrologers interpret the stars. Technomancy highlights our timeless desire to foresee the future, even in our tech-driven age.

Happy Halloween

In the modern era, our computers and smartphones, akin to mystical scribing mirrors, offer a portal to near-infinite knowledge and the vast mysteries of the universe. With every query and scroll, we tap into an expansive repository reminiscent of ancient libraries and sacred temples. As we push the boundaries of innovation, the profound words of Arthur C. Clarke resonate deeply:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

This Halloween, may the fusion of code and enchantment remind us that while programming is deeply rooted in logic and mathematics, there is an undeniable artistry to it, a dance of creation that, at times, feels a lot like magic.