Do you believe in Magic?

Audio Magic, that is.

Let's say that Magic is any effect not explainable by known physical laws. Every audiophile is familiar with debates about Audio Magic, as evidenced by endless threads about power cables.

I recently had an experience that made me question my long held skepticism about Magic. On a whim, I bought some Stillpoints ERS Fabric. I installed it in my preamp (which is filled with noisy digital circuitry) and a reclocker (also noisy) and...

Something happened. I don't know what exactly, but something. Two things in particular seemed to change... the decay of notes, and instrument timbres. Both changed for the better. But where did this change occur? In my listening room? Or in my mind?

If the change was in my listening room, then Magic exists. If the change was in my mind, then Magic does not exist.

One of the great Ideological Divides in audio is the divide between Believers and Skeptics. I honestly don't know if I'm a Believer or a Skeptic.

Do you believe in Magic?

As you pointed out, there is no explanation provided for some (many) of my products - that's because I don't know the mechanism of operation, or I haven't sat down to write one up, or because I do not wish to divulge the specifics of how the product works.

You failed to mention there ARE detailed explanations for my vibration isolation stands, Brilliant Pebbles, Mr. clock and Codename Turquoise.
i think all of the points and counterpoints about certain products is totally unnecessary.

let the consumer decide if a product has any value. expressing opinions about them which are not based upon knowledge, as in mathematics and logic, do not accomplish anything, except to create heat and not light.

if a product sounds like it won't do any good, don't buy it. if demand heads towards zero, the product will cease to exist.

if someone is curious and buys the product with a trial period the only thing lost is time.

the manufacturer is under no obligation to explain the rationale for his product, as negative feedback will eventually cause its demise. there have been many failures and successful products over the years. let capitalism work.
Bryon, I agree with one of your earlier comments: they should just say “we don’t know why it works, but it does.” And then offer a money back guarantee.

If you don’t take them seriously, the explanations for these “tweaks” are comic:

The time signals that are captured on the recording back when it was made are out of synch with the time signals when the recording is played. [Etc.]

As someone with more than a passing familiarity with physics, I can assure you that the entire premise of this gizmo is utter nonsense. If someone could demonstrate, let alone actually interact with, “time signals that are captured on the recording back when it was made” that person would not only win the Nobel Prize, they’d utterly revolutionize physics, technology, and our understanding of the universe.

… The emitted photons from chip commingle with the CD laser light that is everywhere in the room and inside the player; the commingled light resonates with the CD's polycarbonate material, improving its optical performance. […]

Funny, since the data on a CD can be reliably extracted and reproduced – without error – as many times as you want to run it through your computer’s CD drive. So what does the gizmo do? Make the data better?

The other explanations, when provided, are equally absurd. I think it’s worth considering that the entire Machina Dynamica web site is an elaborate hoax, perpetrated by a prankster at the expense of the audiophile community. Maybe Geoff is just yanking your chain.

Geoffkat writes:

Mrtennis, while nobody would say there is no such thing as the placebo effect, the placebo effect does not explain away all tweaks, or even all outlandish tweaks. The problem is that some of these tweaks are so preposterous, so devilish, nobody would ever expect them to work. I.e., you "know" you've been given a placebo. Especially a dyed in the wool skeptic. So, when the ridiculous thing appears to work, there must be some other explanation.

This is simply untrue. The placebo effect can work even when the “patient” knows they are receiving a placebo. In addition, there are other cognitive effects that continue to work even when you are aware of them. The McGurk effect is particularly interesting: your ears tell you something based upon what your eyes are seeing. Our senses are not completely independent of one another. And we haven’t even touched on the emotional aspect of the equation.

Sabai writes:

The empirical method and the scientific method are not the same at all. In the realm of medicine, science includes clinical evidence in the form of "double blind testing" but it is based on "studies". The latter open the door for cooking the books to serve those with "special agendas". Empirical truth is based exclusively on clinical evidence. Science rejects empirical evidence as "proof" because science states this form of evidence is merely "anecdotal".

Sabai, I think you have a fundamental misperception of what science is. Science provides structure for investigation. Cooking the books is an act of fraud. People may commit fraud in many areas of human endeavor (as this thread perhaps demonstrates), but that doesn’t mean all of those endeavors are corrupt. The reproducibility of results is a cornerstone of science. If someone commits fraud (or is simply mistaken), the PROCESS of science (because science is a process, not a result) will eventually rectify the situation.

Activities that don’t leave “books” behind that are far more susceptible to fraud, or simple misattribution of results, than those that do. Magic herbs or gizmos that have never been subjected to rigorous scientific scrutiny can claim they do anything, and there is no effective way to evaluate those claims. The “empirical method” used without scientific rigor is simply witchcraft. Or maybe magic…
I think it would be useful to recall how we got here. I started this thread to discuss tweaks that are effective but difficult to explain. I ironically called it ‘Magic.’ With a few exceptions, people seemed to get it.

My choice of ERS as an example of Magic was simply because I had just installed it, and I was puzzled with the result. I expressed that puzzlement and with the help of Al and a few others, we began to speculate about what might be behind the Magic of ERS. Things were proceeding in a very collegial way.

Then you came along, Geoff, with comments that were simultaneously provocative and obscure. I pointed out the inscrutability of your comments at least three times…

03-05-12: Bryoncunningham
I have to admit, Geoff, I don't understand your comment.

03-08-12: Bryoncunningham
[Your] comment does not reduce the ambiguity of your first remark. It intensifies it.

03-09-12: Bryoncunningham
I honestly don't know what you're saying here. Who is the "we" you are referring to?

You ignored these repeated requests to speak plainly. Finally I gave up and I said you were an obscurantist. I wasn't the only person who felt that way...

03-13-12: Sabai
Geoff, I note that you completely sidestepped the content of Bryon's comments by diverting the discussion to ERS paper and by indulging in other polemical digressions. Frankly, I thought Bryon's comments about your statements being obscurantist were spot on.

As an illustration of your obscurantism, I quoted material from the Machina Dynamica website. I asked you why you do not offer open and accessible explanations of the products you sell, and again you completely ignored the question. Instead you did some misdirection by characterizing me as a “dyed in the wool skeptic,” as though my comments about your obscurantism were motivated by ideological skepticism, which they are most certainly not. You’ve repeatedly accused me of strawman-ing you, but your characterization of me as a close-minded skeptic is a transparent case of strawman-ing. Here’s what other folks said on that subject…

01-22-12: Almarg
Bryon… If I may make a somewhat presumptuous comment, your intellectual sincerity and open-mindedness are both refreshing and commendable.

01-23-12: Tubegroover
Based on his thoughtful comments and quest for understanding the "why" of it all I doubt [Magic] was meant in any literal sense.

01-25-12: Frogman
Very interesting exchanges here. Thanks Bryon, and I commend
your open-mindedness.

01-25-12: Nonoise
One has to keep an open mind and Bryon and Al do so in such a refreshingly open manner.

Enough said.

The upshot of all this is that I don’t care one whit about Machina Dynamica. It became the focus of this thread only because it demonstrates your tendency toward obscurantism.

As to whether you are a huckster, a fraud, or a misunderstood genius, I have an opinion, but that isn’t the point. Or at least it isn’t MY point. My point is that, if you would like to have a constructive conversation with fellow audiophiles, you should take a hard look at the way you engage them.

03-15-12: Cbw723
Science provides structure for investigation. Cooking the books is an act of fraud. People may commit fraud in many areas of human endeavor (as this thread perhaps demonstrates), but that doesn’t mean all of those endeavors are corrupt. The reproducibility of results is a cornerstone of science. If someone commits fraud (or is simply mistaken), the PROCESS of science (because science is a process, not a result) will eventually rectify the situation.

I agree with this. Virtually any human activity is subject to corruption. The fact that SOME scientific research has been found to be corrupt does not invalidate science as an enterprise. That is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I also agree with Cbw that science should be understood not merely as a collection of theories, methods, data, and experiments, but as a PROCESS. Among other things, the process of science is...

1. Evidence based
2. Public
3. Self correcting

RE: 1. That science is based on evidence is obvious. What is somewhat less obvious is that what COUNTS as evidence is largely determined by the scientific paradigms that guide the acquisition and analysis of data. That is relevant to this thread, since there seems to be some disagreement about what should count as "evidence."

RE: 2. Calling science 'public' is another way of saying what Cbw said about the reproducibility of results. If there is one standard common to all scientific evidence, it is that evidence must be public. Wittgenstein's Beetle in the Box metaphor was a repudiation of what he called "private language," but it could be repurposed as a repudiation of "private evidence." Unlike some other human activities, science makes NO room for private evidence. That also seems relevant to this thread, insofar as some of the "evidence" we have seen has been private, either metaphorically or literally.

RE: 3. Science is self correcting. This may be the most unique feature of science. Scientists spend a good fraction of their time trying to DISPROVE the theories of other scientists. This is crucial to the progress of science, because it means that, eventually, false theories will be detected and corrected. Even though there is no way to be certain that a particular scientific theory is true, there are many ways to know that a scientific theory is FALSE. And that alone is sufficient to ensure scientific progress.

Taken together, these three characteristics are unique to science. There are certainly other activities that are evidence based (e.g., legal trials), other activities that are public in the sense of contingent upon reproducibility (e.g., mathematical proofs), and other activities that are self correcting (e.g., architecture, in the sense of... if it falls down, don't build it that way again). But so far as I am aware, science is the only widespread human activity that is evidence based AND public AND self correcting.

And that brings me back to Magic. By definition, Magic is not evidence based. Nor is Magic is public, since Magical effects often fail the test of reproducibility. And the market of Magical products is not self correcting -- notoriously so. Magic is about as far from science as you can get.

But that doesn't mean it isn't real. Magic pops up from time to time, whether you want it to or not. When Magical effects get explained, they cease to be Magic. When they don't, you get threads like this one.