On Placebomancy as It Relates to Playing Magic and Writing Code


In Unsong (a great book that you really should read if you haven’t already) Scott creates a Magic system that runs in large part on placebomancy. Essentially, magicians operate by convincing the universe that they have magic powers. I tend to think of many interventions I take in the same way, as an attempt to convince the universe and myself that I am a better Magic player or coder as the occasion calls for.

My primary internal experience when playing Magic is attempting to keep a firm grasp on the slippery concept of how I will win the current game in the face of intruding thoughts about micro sequencing and frustration. Similarly my primary internal experience when writing code is attempting to avoid falling into a situation where I do not have a good estimation of what is leading to unexpected behavior. In both cases the challenge comes from forcing your mind not to leave a specific path and it makes sense to me that expecting it to not do so would be conducive to finding success.

Of course many of the actions I take, say exercise, are quite likely to have intrinsic benefits. This is good because it makes them a more effective placebomancy spell.