From the Vaults: The cautionary tale of Dr. Pepper and the 23 enigma


Originally published 6/13/2006


The 23 enigma is a well-known underground cultural phenomenon which owes its popularity in part to its frequent mention in the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. Among those who investigate the enigma, many with a wink and a nod, the presence of the number is thought to be the hallmark of a vast conspiracy, perpetrated by a secretive global organization. Some have attributed it to the dread Illuminati, but Wilson and Shea maintain that the real origin of the mystery lies with the Discordian sect of the Justified Ancients of Mummu.

Shea and Wilson credit William S. Burroughs with uncovering the mystery, which he relates in his story of the ferryboat captain Clark, whose ferry sank after 23 years without incident.

The number seems to be everywhere one looks, acting as a beacon of the strange. A number of artists and musical groups in the industrial genre have latched onto the number over the years in order to tap into its conspiratorial chic.

To get an understanding of why this phenomenon occurs at all, a basic understanding of a straightforward concept of psychology, priming, is helpful. As Tom Stafford and Matt Webb write in Mind Hacks:

“Primed concepts hover just below conscious thought, ready to pop out at a moment’s notice. It is probably this priming that underlies the phenomenon in which, having learned a new word, you suddenly see it everywhere. The word is near the front of your mind and so all the times you would have otherwise ignored it become times when you now notice it.”

Essentially, the more you look for the number 23, the more often you will notice it, to the exclusion of other numbers which may actually be encountered with greater frequency.
Now a major marketing campaign has tapped into the power of this enigma. Dr. Pepper lore, and now their advertising claim that the drink’s distinctive flavor comes from a blend of 23 fruit flavors. The bottle label has even begun to sport an “authentic blend of 23 flavors” badge with the number prominently displayed. Accompanying this change is a new media campaign which implies that “23 is everywhere.” This caught my interest, as I am both a fan of the drink, as well as a student of the 23 phenomenon itself. My screen name on a number of online haunts is in fact, Vargr23. Trying to determine if there was anything to this connection, I located The Highly Unofficial FAQ online.

Although the FAQ addresses the 23 fruit juices claim, there is also information, some of it unfortunately unverifiable, that refutes the veracity of this claim. Having read the account in the FAQ of a 67-year employee of the oldest Dr. Pepper bottling plant in the world, the claim of 23 flavors brings to mind many of the pitches that a sideshow man I know uses to get folks behind the banner line. It’s a harmless bit of exaggeration to better immerse the marks into the experience.

Consumers are developing a resistance to traditional advertising methods. The advertising industry is well-aware of this effect, and is scrambling to compensate for it. New ideas for grabbing and holding our attention are the lifeblood of what Douglas Rushkoff calls “The Persuasion Industry.” He gave viewers a window into this world in the November 9th, 2004 episode of Frontline titled “The Persuaders.”

In a market supersaturated with products that are often difficult to distinguish from one another, each is trying to find an edge on its competitors in the war for our brand loyalty. A creative advertising campaign which avoids the filters that consumers inevitably develop as a result of living in the era of media and marketing overload is the first step in getting this edge.

Although the question is interesting, the actuality of whether or not the flavor of Dr. Pepper comes from a blend of 23 flavors is irrelevant to the matter that I’m most interested in. Someone who has a very good understanding of the popularity of conspiracy theories and the power of a tried and true underground shibboleth has created a marketing campaign which has a massive amount of pre-existing mind share. For this masterstroke I applaud the ingenuity of whatever individual or team produced this project. The very ease with which this hipster meme was co-opted demonstrates with unquestionable clarity just how easy this sort of thing is to accomplish. Any portion of culture, whether it is pop or underground, is ultimately vulnerable to use as a tool of persuasion.

Fourteen Internet years ago.

I was going through some of my archives, and I found a complete site capture of from 2003.  I always liked my little iconoclast and libertine guys. The former pertained to all writings focused primarily above the waist, the latter pertained to those things below.

The main entry page as it appeared in 2003.
The main entry page as it appeared in 2003.

It’s a good time for getting your SpikeVision on

The recent political movements in the United States are alarming. A potentially irrational, and certainly narcissistic president moves us each day closer to a totalitarian state, carried aloft on the obnoxious bray of his supporters, both idiots and hatemongers alike.
Now is a good time to put on your SpikeVision goggles, and see without filters the course that our nation has been put upon. I myself had been lulled into believing that many of the positions that I hold dear had come to be the new norm. I was wrong. I was Naive. I did not see how much hatred, intolerance, and ignorance had simply burrowed into the ground to hide for eight years, like so many locusts ready to feast upon the unguarded freedom of those who thought that our nation had evolved socially. Now the swarm has emerged, and we find ourselves obliged to renew our fight for personal freedom, bodily autonomy, and rationality. And fight we shall.

The Power Five and the Feel Good Hit Of The Summer

So, my mischievous apprentice put forth her will into the universe, and thought that someone should put the names of the Power Five into the song Feel Good Hit Of The Summer by Queens of the Stone Age. And the universe listened. It spat forth the following:

HAI2U, Lemonparty, Meatspin, tub girl, 4 down of the power five – Go go go go go goat-se.

As I am sure you no doubt recall, the original lyrics are :
Nicotine,Valium,Vicodin,marijuana, ecstasy, and alcohol – Co co co co co cocaine.

I think that you can tell something about a person’s length of time living on the Internet by which name they refer to the image known as tub girl. I always knew it as “fecal Japan” when I first encountered it. The signifier changes, but the signified remains the same, retaining all of its august dignity and gravitas.

Ethics and Decoherence in Quantum Sorcery

Originally Posted 2/16/2006

In the process of discussing an aspect of the quantum sorcery paradigm, that of applying Will to the moment of decoherence in order to insure that what I shall refer to as the “Self of Reference” ends up in the universe in which the desired outcome is manifest, the question of ethics came up. Is it ethical to condemn a parallel universe self to a set of circumstances which the SoR is attempting to disengage from?

As David Deutsch points out in The Fabric of Reality, no one particular self has any sort of special preferential position among the staggering number of manifestations in the multiverse. It is only the ego of the SoR which believes that it has the prerogative to take actions which might be detrimental to untold parallel selves. Among the selves will be a contingent that will decide that this is an unacceptable course of action, and hence will abandon the attempt to influence the direction of the personal timeline at the moment of decoherence. However, among the myriad selves there will also be a group which will decide that ethics are irrelevant, or that attempting to gauge the repercussions of actions on the inhabitants of parallel universes is beyond the scope of maintaining ethical conduct.

With regard to this second pool of selves, another question then arises. Is it possible that the undesired aspects of the life of the SoR could be due to the actions of a parallel self who has exerted influence over events in its own universe in order to steer itself in the very same way which the SoR is considering? In other words, are circumstances in your own life the result of another self improving its own situation through the use of quantum sorcery, leaving a less preferable outcome for you to encounter? The actions of one self among the finite but innumerable selves will not necessarily cause misery to the SoR, but it is a possibility.

Many acts of sorcery could be considered unethical by their very nature. Sorcery is a process by which one or more sentient beings attempt to alter the flow of space/time and the fabric of objective reality to further a conscious desire. From an objective standpoint, this is unquestionably selfish, and in some frames of reference it might be considered outright evil, regardless of the innocuousness of the intent of the magical operation or the naivety of the sorcerer. Due to the interconnectedness of matter and energy, every change made through the exertion of Will has an effect on all other aspects of reality. The ramifications of these effects may be beyond the scope of understanding, but the awareness that such effects are inevitable cannot be avoided by a sorcerer who possesses any real degree of self-reflection. Ultimately, those who are unwilling or unable to accept this responsibility would likely be advised to avoid practicing magic of any variety.

Ethical Chaos for the Lazy Sorcerer

Originally posted 08.10.04.

This is a collection of short essays transcribed and complied from my written journal. The reader may reach the conclusion that I have little use for structured, initiatory systems, and even less use for dogmatic religious constructs based on fear and faith. The reader would be right. After fifteen years of pursuing various spiritual paths and magickal systems, I came to the realization (perhaps in my hubris) that none of them contained any more wisdom or Truth than I was capable of finding on my own.

Forging a Path

Inestimable time and energy have been spent in the debate over whether or not Chaos Magick is a system of the Left Hand Path. Such arguments are meaningless. What good can come of following a path, any path, that has been worn by someone else? Where can it lead, other than someplace that others have already been.

The most useful course of action is to study all systems, of both the Right- and Left-Hand Paths. Realize that ultimately, both of these paths lead to the same destination. Knowing this, the magician can blaze his or her own way. One set of existing rules is just as controlling as another. Eschew them all. Remember that in the Abrahamic religions that the hoary lord of darkness is ultimately a prideful angel on a snit, and that in all systems, evil is a foil for the forces of good to play off of in the great macrocosmic psychodrama.

The designation of any magical system as either white or black presupposes the acceptance that some acts and thoughts are inherently good or evil. This is bunk. All activities within the realm of human experience are relative to the cultures and situations which contain them. Every person must make their own decisions as to what constitutes appropriate actions for them, in their circumstances, in any given moment. We are our own ultimate judge.

The most important lesson that I have learned in my studies is that my code of ethics has served me better than any societal moral code or set of synthetic religious beliefs. A pragmatic approach to the world is the best. Conversely, the greatest mistake is expecting the world to be sensible or fair. This is Chaos, right? As in Khaos, the formless matter and infinite space which pre-dates the ordered universe? This is not a logic gate. This is not a set of train tracks with a switch which goes right or left. Chaos is about embracing potentiality and coming to the realization that every mind has within it the capability to influence the larger universe by acts of directed will. As far as this goes, it is completely irrelevant whether you pray to an invisible man in the sky, thee lordz ov darkness, or the pantheon created by your favorite science fiction author.

A fractal fragment of the divine Mojo is embedded within each one of us. Most people in western society spend one day a week wearing laughable clothes and eating stale saltines in a contrived attempt to celebrate this fact. I guess for many of them, the thought of going it on their own is too much to take.

Hacking the Psychic Censor

Peter Carroll describes the Psychic Censor as the mechanism by which the mind is shielded from intrusions by other realities. It is this mechanism which must be overcome in order to initiate magical workings or manifest psychic phenomena. Without this filtering mechanism, it would be difficult if not impossible to function on a daily basis, as our conscious minds would be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of input to which they would be exposed. As H.P. Lovecraft alluded, it is also this faculty which protects us from the shrieking horror of realizing how miniscule and imperiled our place in the universe is.

In order to circumvent this filter, each tradition has a variety of methods which may be employed. A.O. Spare’s state of vacuity via orgasm or the death posture is an example of this.

I operate in a different paradigm. To me, the Psychic Censor resembles nothing so much as a system of Gibsonian Intrusion Countermeasures, or ICE. If this concept is not familiar to you, refer to Neuromancer, Gibson’s seminal work which ignited the Cyberpunk genre. In order to gain access to the higher capabilities of the self, the magician must seek to “hack” his or her own mind. The goal is to temporarily suspend, but not destroy, the filtering mechanism which is installed within each mind which participates in the consensus reality. There are innumerable methods by which this can be accomplished. The use of orgasm, while enjoyable, is not the only way. This paradigm assumes that the mind is a system which must be reverse-engineered. The process by which the neural circuits that comprise this system function, and specifically, the way in which they use neurotransmitters as agents of signal transmission, should be researched. Adjusting brain chemistry is obviously an activity that should not be undertaken lightly. The use of substances from nootropics, to nutritional supplements, to more esoteric elixirs should not be excluded as a viable path to opening the mind to receive directives from the Will.

In Cleansing the Doors of Perception, Huston Smith compares states of religious grace to those offered by hallucinogens. He finds the latter to be lacking in lasting effect and meaning. I believe that his conclusion was unnecessarily constrained by a cultural bias that a socially formulated religion is somehow more valid and real than an individual experience of personal exploration. In a similar comparison, Krafft-Ebing noted that heights of sexual ecstacy are difficult to distinguish from those of spiritual enlightenment. The ultimate point that I wish to illustrate is that there are no constraints, other than the individual limitations of the magician, which dictate how states of altered consciousness are to be attained. Experiment! But always be mindful of the risks involved. Educate yourself before ingesting ANY substance, whether prescribed by a physician, or bought on a street corner. If you don’t have at least a functional understanding of how a chemical will affect you, don’t introduce it into your system. Magickal research is not all tomes and incantations. It’s also pharmacology and neuroscience.

Magickal Elitism

Many occult writers that I have read seem to have an elitist and negative view toward sorcery, or “low magick”. I have found that this type of working is actually the most useful to me of all. I’ve got no pressing need or desire to evoke demons, except my own, and only then in order to better understand them so that I may better control their influence over my life.

I’ve also noticed that there is a bias against solo practioners by many members of initiatory orders. I find this laughable. In my experience, most fraternal / initiatory systems were created for the self-aggrandizement of the founder. Someone with a taste for power and control gets an idea about how things “ought to be” and then foists their system off on others, typically the type of person who feels the need to follow a leader, as they have no initiative of their own. Those who have bought into the system then have an imperative to spread it, in order to keep themselves from feeling like idiots.

Remember that in the really-real world, even the Magister Templi probably has to pump his own gasoline.

As for me, I am not enlightened. I am no guru. I do not know the truth with the big “T”. In a 36-hour long working, I once saw a tiny crack in the wall that separates this dreary world from the numinous universe of possibilities in which it floats. Through this tiny crack I peered, fearful even in that moment of what repercussions my act might bring down upon me. When the hand of god failed to smite me down for my impunity, I came to the conclusion that everything I had ever been fed about religion and magic was a crock of shit. That revelation began my search for something real and true. The best conclusion that I have reached as of this point in my life is that no other human being, nor group of them, can tell me the nature of the divine. I can form visualizations with which to better relate to the motivating force of the universe, but it is utter folly to believe that any collection of human mythology is more or less likely to be true than any other.


Toynbee Tiles in Indianapolis

This is the first posting of old content. There will be a lot.

Back in 2004 while walking downtown on my lunch hour, I noticed an odd sign embedded in the cross-walk at the intersection of Meridian and Maryland streets:
Toynbee Idea in Kubric’s 2001 Resurrect Dead on Jupiter
It seemed to be flush with the surface of the pavement. A few days later, I noticed a very similar one (which was subsequently destroyed during the fall of 2005 by work performed on the sewers) at Meridian and Georgia. It was in better condition, and had even more text:
You must make + glue tile!! You!! As Media, U.S.S.R…

I wondered what these tiles meant, but I figured that they must be some kind of urban art project. I didn’t really think that much more about them. On May 15th, 2004 I was performing a Google search on a completely unrelated topic, and somehow ended up on a website entitled What Is It? I had struck memetic gold. These tiles (also frequently referred to as “plaques” or as “signs” in online discussions) have been an urban crop circle phenomenon since their initial discovery sometime in the 1980’s. Over 130 tiles have been documented, spread throughout the eastern United States, as well as 3 in South America. Some of them have been paved over or removed, and only the documentation of their existence remains. In late 2003, the tiles experienced a resurgence in popularity due to coverage in the Kansas City Star. This led to a discussion on Slashdot and numerous blogs.

Although I am a latecomer to the tile phenomenon, I have rapidly brought myself up to speed. An exhaustive search of internet resources on the topic has yielded numerous photos, locations, and other investigators of the nature and origin of these tiles, but few actual facts about them. No one has yet been able to conclusively determine who is responsible for the creation of these tiles. One theory is that the creator was a Philadelphia social worker named James Morasco. He was known for promoting the theory that Jupiter could be populated by the dead. In 1983, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Clark DeLeon wrote a story about Morasco and his ideas. Morasco died in 2003. His widow was contacted by Kansas City Star reporter Doug Worgul about the tiles, but she disavowed any knowledge of them. Another lead was found in a tile found in Chile. It was an address in Philadelphia. When approached by a reporter, the resident at that address, who apparently moved into the house in 1998, had not heard of the tiles. Although many enthusiasts are of the opinion that one person was responsible for the creation of the tiles, others believe that the widespread distribution of the tiles precludes the possibility of a single creator. In my research, I’ve even found one instance of a member of the SubGenius Church attributing the quote to J.R. “Bob” Dobbs in his signature file.

My best theory is that the initial tiles in Philadelphia and New York City were created by a single individual, and that the tiling meme was picked up by some type of culture jamming-prone network such as the SubGenii or the Cacophony Society who have simply followed the directive included in some of the tiles themselves:

“You must make + glue tile!! You!!

The tiles have been found in the following cities, and possibly others:
Washington D.C. (16)
Chicago, IL (10)
Boston, MA (6)
Providence, RI (1)
New York, NY (49)
Indianapolis, IN (2)
Philadelphia, PA (27)
Pittsburgh, PA (5)
Baltimore, MD (22)
Aberdeen, MD (1)
Edgewood, MD (1)
Atlantic City, NJ (1)
Bellmawr, NJ (1)
Kansas City, MO (1)
St. Louis, MO (3)
Cincinnati, OH (3)
Cleveland, OH (3)
Columbus, OH (1)
Toledo, OH (3)
Detroit, MI (3)
Mottville, MI (1)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, South America (1)
Buenos Aires, Argentina, South America (1)
Santiago, Chile, South America (1)

William O’Neill, the creator of the above referenced, has been collecting information about the tiles since 1992. His site is the most comprehensive that I was able to find. It features a listing of locations where the tiles have been found, broken down by state and city. The Geocaching community has also taken an interest in the tiles. Cachers can submit photos of their GPS units in-frame with a tile to as proof that they have located a tile.

One of the more interesting things I was able to find online is the transcription of the manifesto that accompanied one of the tiles in Philadelphia. Apparently this has since been paved over, but here is what it said:

John Knight Ridder is the Philadelphia thug (?) hellion Jew XXXXX Hated this movements guts- for years- takes money from the Mafia to make the Mafia look good in his newspapers so he has the Mafia in his back pocket. John Knight sent the Mafia to murder me in May 1991 XXXXXXXXXX journalists XX then gloated to my face about death and Knight Ridder great power to destroy. In fact John Knight went into hellion since of joy over Knight-Ridder as great power to destroy.
I secured house with blast doors and fled the country in June 1991.

NBC attorneys journalists and security officials at Rockefeller Center fraudulently XXX the “Freedom of Information Act” all XXX orders NBC executives got the U.S. federal district attorney’s office who got FBI to get Interpol to establish task force that located me in Dover England.

Which back home Inquirer got union goons from their own employees union to XXX down a “sports journalist.” Who with ease bashed in lights and windows of neighborhood car- as well as men outside my house. They are stationed there still waiting for me.

NBC CBS group “W” Westinghouse, Time, Time Warner, Fox, Universal all of the “Cult of the Hellion” each one were Much worse than Knight-Ridder ever was mostly hellion Jews .

When K.Y.W. and NBC executives told John Knight the whole town gloated in joyous fits on how their Soviet pals found a way to turn it into a…

(The X characters represent characters that were too damaged to read on the original. I got this from an anonymous Slashdot posting.)

There are now several copycat tiles in Indianapolis, including the parking lot of Fry’s Electronics, Illinois street near the Melody Inn, and on Alabama street near Mass Ave.

Here is the tile at Fry’s as it was in 2010:

5/22/2004, updated 2/1/2006, 2/1/2015