Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Clenched Fist of Reason

I mentioned in last month’s post here that our familiar term “world” is a rounded-off version of the Old English weorold, “man-old,” the time or age of human beings. That bit of etymology conceals more than one important insight. As I noted last month, it reminds us that this thing we call “the world” isn’t something wholly outside ourselves, something we experience in a detached and objective way. It’s something we create moment by moment in our minds, by piecing together the jumble of unconnected glimpses our senses give us—and we do the piecing according to a plan that’s partly given us by our biology, partly given us by our culture, and partly a function of our individual life experience.

That point is astonishingly easy to forget. I’ve long since lost track of the number of times I’ve watched distinguished scientists admit with one breath that the things we experience around us aren’t real—they’re just representations constructed by our sense organs and brains, reacting to an unimaginable reality of probability waves in four-dimensional space-time—and then go on with the very next breath to forget all that, and act as though matter, energy, space, time, and physical objects exactly as we perceive them are real in the most pigheadedly literal sort of objective sense, as though the human mind has nothing to do with any of them except as a detached observer.  What’s more, many of those same scientists proceed to make sweeping claims about what human beings can and can’t know and do, in blithe disregard of the fact that these very claims depend on the same notion of the objective reality of the world of experience that they’ve just disproved.

It’s a fascinating example of doublethink, and we’ll be talking about its implications more than once as this discussion proceeds. That said, there’s another insight hidden in that deceptively simple term “world,” which is that the world, the man-old, the thing we’re used to experiencing as an objective reality independent of our consciousness even though it’s nothing of the kind, is defined not by space but by time. It’s not a place but a time of human beings, and it has a history.

Part of that history needs to be traced out over the scale of evolutionary time. Owen Barfield pointed out most of a century ago, for essentially the same reasons I’ve just cited, that all those images of dinosaurs lumbering around in vaguely tropical jungles are works of imaginative fiction—images of what the prehistoric past would have looked like to human beings, had there been human beings around to view it, which of course there weren’t. More than a century of research into the nervous systems and cognitive processes of other living things have shown definitively that they don’t experience the same world as you and I. A cat, for example, has modes of visual processing hardwired into its eyes and brain that are radically different from the ones that you have in yours. Have you ever watched a cat staring intently at something you can’t see? Something is setting off the cat’s visual processing neurons and not yours, so whatever the cat sees is part of the cat’s world, but not part of yours.

In evolutionary terms, mind you, the cat and you are practically kissin’ cousins. Factor in a hundred million years of evolutionary history and the yawning genetic chasm that separates you from, say, an allosaur out for a pleasant stroll in the greenery of a Jurassic cycad forest, and you might have some sense of just how different the world that the allosaur experienced was from yours. The allosaur saw, heard, felt, and smelled a world vastly different than you would have experienced, had you been hiding from it and its hungry kin in that same forest. There were likely things in its world that you wouldn’t have perceived at all, and vice versa, because its sense organs and nervous system were variations on the standard megalosaur model, while yours are variations on the radically different standard primate model. Until there were hominins with eyes and nervous systems sufficiently like yours, even the most basic elements of the world you know didn’t yet exist, because—again—the world is not “out there.” You don’t observe the world, you construct it.

There’s every reason to think that, within a certain fairly modest range of individual variation, one cat constructs much the same world—or, rather, the same “cat-old”—as any other cat.  The same was most likely true of allosaurs, though it’s only fair to admit that cognitive testing of dinosaurs is still a little beyond the capacity of today’s scientists. That similarity is much less true of human beings, because of one of the evolutionary twists that pole-vaulted us out of our australopithecine ancestors’ comfortable niche as savanna-dwelling primates and sent us scampering around the globe.

Cats construct their cat-olds, and allosaurs presumably constructed their allosaur-much-olders, on the basis of genetically transmitted patterns that are hardwired in their nervous systems, and are triggered into activity by parental behavior.  Cats teach their kittens how to hunt, for example, and it’s been suggested by paleontologists that allosaurs did much the same thing for whatever you call baby allosaurs, but in both cases parental instruction serves as what ethologists call a releasing mechanism:  a way of triggering and fine-tuning patterns that are put in place by genetics. Human beings also have a fair number of hardwired reactions and releasing mechanisms—the way a child learns to understand and use language is exactly akin to the way a kitten learns to hunt—but we’ve also evolved a way of modifying those genetic patterns to a much more dramatic degree than cats do or allosaurs did. In the process of learning language and the other dimensions of its culture, a young human absorbs a distinctive way of constructing the world, and that cultural pattern pushes, pulls, and prods the inherited world-structure shared by all human beings into a culturally distinct form.

The content of cultural transmission thus varies from culture to culture and from person to person, even though the capacity for cultural transmission has been hardwired into the brain by millions of years of hominin evolution. Most people can instantly remember the words and melodies of whatever songs were popular around the time they hit puberty, for example, and that’s not accidental; in tribal cultures around the world, that’s when young people get taught the traditional chants and incantations that  guide them through their adult lives, and much the same sort of imprinting that allows toddlers to pick up the grammar of their native language effortlessly functions here to fix traditional songs—or top-40 hits—in permanent memory when those same toddlers reach their teens. One point that needs to be remembered here is that this imprinting process isn’t conscious, and the imprints left by it can’t be changed by the conscious activities of the mind; those of my readers who have ever tried to get a song out of their minds know this from personal experience!

The imprints each human being absorbs from his or her culture then get overlaid by various kinds of individual experience. Thus, as I’ve noted earlier, the worlds we each construct have three layers:  a personal layer derived from life experience, a cultural layer derived from childhood imprinting, and a biological layer derived from the evolutionary background of our species. Each of these, in turn, has a history, and that’s where we start straying into some very controversial territory.

Now of course it’s not too controversial to point out that the personal layer has a history. The biology of the human life cycle works its changes on consciousness, and so do all the ordinary and extraordinary events encountered along the way from womb to tomb; an individual’s biography might usefully be seen as a chronicle of how the genetic and cultural model of the world that they inherited got reworked, for better or worse, over the course of one human life.  Equally, it’s not too controversial to point out that the biological layer has its own much slower history, which is part of the evolutionary trajectory of the genus Homo and its direct antecedents.

It’s the cultural layer that stirs up the controversy, because our culture has staked its survival, and more than merely its own survival, on the notion that the peculiar way its inmates construct the world is not the jumble of genetic, collective, and individual patterns that its own sciences prove it to be, but the plain unvarnished truth about the universe, which ought to be obvious to anyone anywhere who pays unbiased attention to the world around them. Thus the only version of history that most people in the industrial world are willing to consider is one that explains how people stopped believing all the obviously muddleheaded things they used to believe about the cosmos, and learned to see the reality that was sitting right out in front of them all along—which, of course, just happens to be the one we construct, moment by moment, as we make our worlds.

There are plenty of problems with that way of thinking about history, but the one that’s most relevant to the project of this blog can be grasped by recalling the last time you saw a cat staring intently at something that your eyes didn’t see. The worlds constructed by different cultures don’t just vary from one another in how they arrange the flurry of disconnected data that comes streaming in through the senses.  They also vary in which data they include in their arrangements, which they exclude, what they consider important and what gets dismissed as meaningless.  It’s entirely possible for the world of a given culture, at a given era in its history, to exclude utterly a range of common human experiences that the worlds of most other human cultures treat as having very great importance. We know this because the world of modern industrial culture does exactly this—and among the things that are excluded in that world, dismissed as nonexistent and meaningless and imaginary, are the raw materials of magic.

What those raw materials are, how they relate to other aspects of the universe of human experience, and how the operative mage identifies them and puts them to work, will be the subject of quite a few posts a little later on. The point I’d like to make here is that the exclusion we’re discussing is a very recent thing in the industrial world. Until the final triumph of the scientific revolution at the start of the eighteenth century, magic and a great many things connected with it were treated as everyday matters in Western cultures, as obviously real as weather or the misbehavior of kings. Most people practiced magic in one form or another—it’s rare to find a household commonplace book from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, or the early modern period that doesn’t have an assortment of spells for healing, divination, and the like right in there alongside recipes for heather ale and mustard plasters.

The relationship between magic and religion all through those centuries has been misunderstood and misstated by almost everyone outside a handful of scholarly fields. Valerie Flint’s The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe, for example, shows that one of Christianity’s major selling points in the post-Roman dark ages was that its priests and monks were considered better at magic than their pagan rivals. From the fall of Rome straight through to the late fourteenth century, charms and incantations were forbidden only if they invoked someone other than God, Christ, or the saints. It was only very late in the Middle Ages, with the dominance of the Nominalist movement in Christian philosophy, that people started looking askance at traditional Christian magic, and it took centuries more for that disapproval to evolve into the claim that the thing so heartily disapproved of didn’t exist in the first place.

The dubious sort of history I mentioned earlier, which treats all previous thought as a collection of obvious stupidities that humanity only got around to outgrowing in the eighteenth century, very often seizes on the decline and fall of magic at the dawn of the scientific revolution as a case study: see, everybody believed in this stuff until the Enlightenment finally gave us all a clue! It all seems to make sense, too, unless you know enough about the history of magic to discover that the same rationalist revolt against magic has happened many times in the past.

Take the time to read the ancient Greek philosophers and you’ll get to watch the same revolt in full swing two millennia earlier than ours. Just as Johannes Kepler cast horoscopes to pay the rent, and Isaac Newton devoted as much of his time to alchemy as he did to physics, Pythagoras and Empedocles—among the leading figures in the early days of what we may as well call the Greek Enlightenment—were up to their eyeballs in magical practices.  That didn’t last for long; Plato, arguably the pivotal figure of the Greek Enlightenment, inherited Pythagoras’ mathematical magic but chucked out the magic in favor of the first draft of Greek logical method, and wrote scornfully about the way that the mages of his time peddled spells and initiations door to door in Athens.

The philosophers of the centuries right after Plato had even less time for magic than he did. By the beginning of the Common Era, practicing magic was strictly for peasants, the urban poor, and exotic people in faraway places who supposedly didn’t know any better. Lucian of Samosata, the Amazing Randi of the first century CE, wrote a series of hilarious satires on the flim-flam that he claimed was being practiced by the mages and prophets of his time; it’s among the recurrent themes of these satires that most of the people clueless enough to fall for such obvious humbug were illiterate yokels.

Now of course there was still plenty of magic being practiced in the classical world in those years, and not just by yokels. The Greek Enlightenment, like the later European one, was fashionable on the wealthier end of society, and only penetrated down the social pyramid to a limited extent.  Furthermore, then as now, there were always members of the educated classes who kept up an interest in magic, and there were certain traditional organizations—the Mysteries in the classical world, Freemasonry in the modern one—that didn’t exactly practice magic, but offered initiations that were rooted in old magical traditions, and passed on teachings, symbolism, and ceremonials rich with magical possibilities.

As the charisma of Greek rationalism faded and its internal contradictions became steadily more problematic, in turn, these survivals became the seeds from which magic promptly revived. All through the first centuries of the Common Era, there had been tentative contacts between philosophers and mages, and a few colorful figures such as Apollonius of Tyana had revived magical traditions in something like their old forms. As the classical world stumbled toward its end, the reasonings of the philosophers and the inner disciplines of the mages finally met and merged in the person of Iamblichus of Chalcis, who fused Neoplatonist philosophy with traditional magic and religion into an enduring hybrid. That fusion sparked the classical world’s last major intellectual movement, provided the new faith of Christianity with its first coherent theology, and created the tradition of philosophical magic that would remain standard in the Western world for more than a millennium thereafter.

This same pattern can be traced in the life cycles of other civilizations—in India, for example, where the local version of the rationalist revolt got going in the sixth century BCE, and in China, where it took off a little later. Today’s rationalists like to point out that Greek rationalists, Indian rationalists, and Chinese rationalists, not to mention their peers in other civilizations, didn’t embrace the same beliefs as the current example of the rationalist species, and of course they’re quite correct in saying so.  They run off the rails when they insist that, because people in other civilizations didn’t embrace the peculiar way that modern industrial civilization constructs the world as the plain unvarnished truth, this means these other rationalisms weren’t really rationalist.

That objection is as predictable as it is hopelessly wrong. Each culture constructs its own world, its own man-old, atop the common foundation provided by human neurology and instinct, and so each civilization’s version of rationalism attempts to make rational sense of a different world. Every other civilization’s rationalist movement has been as convinced as ours that its way of thinking about the universe was the plain unvarnished truth, rather than the elaborate biological and cultural construct it actually was. Every other civilization’s rationalist movement, in turn, has broken down over some equivalent of the same issues that crippled classical rationalism, and ended up fusing with a resurgent magical or esoteric religious tradition in the same way that classical rationalism did.

Modern industrial society hasn’t yet found its Iamblichus, or for that matter its Zhang Daoling or its Nagarjuna, but the normal processes that will lay the groundwork for the appearance of some similar figure are well under way. The magical traditions of the industrial world began their return from exile with the publication of Eliphas Levi’s Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic) in 1854, and the work of rediscovering and reinventing those traditions has continued steadily since then.  Twice now—during the flowering of psychical research at the end of the nineteenth century, and during the flowering of parapsychology from the 1940s through the 1970s—scientists and mages in our culture have made the same sort of tentative contacts that rationalist intellectuals and occult practitioners have made so many times in the past, before hard historical necessities drove them together.  Crucially, too, the breakdown of our civilization’s rationalist worldview is proceeding at something very like the usual pace.

That breakdown, its symptoms and its consequences, will be a central theme of many of the posts to come. The predicament at the heart of it, though, can be summed up easily enough. For reasons we’ll be discussing in a later post, rationalism suffers from an innate and lethal tendency to lose track of the difference between the abstractions that it contemplates and the universe that those abstractions are meant to represent. That confusion between representation and reality tends to increase over time as the rationalist movement defines its view of existence with more and more precision. It’s as simple as it is inevitable:  the tighter the rationalist clenches his fist, if you will, the more of the universe of possible human experience slips through his fingers. 

Sooner or later, the things that have been excluded from the world by any given rationalist system will include things that can’t be ignored without putting the survival of the civilization at risk, and when those things are ignored anyway, as they normally are, the consequences are all too familiar from the historical record.  That’s why rationalist movements in their final years, when it finally becomes impossible to ignore those things any longer, always end up making peace with the realms of magic, myth, and religion they‘ve previously spent so many years and so much effort denouncing.  To put the same thing another way, that’s why the magic or the esoteric religion of a waning civilization ends up absorbing the heritage of that civilization’s broken-down rationalism, repurposing it to cope with the unmet needs of its time, and placing it in a context of practice that keeps it from blinding itself with its own abstractions quite so readily as when it’s given free rein.

Magic, as I suggested in last month’s post, is the reset button for minds that have allowed their worlds, their representations, to get out of sync with the reality those representations are meant to describe. In all ages, that’s highly useful for individuals; at certain times, which recur with remarkable predictability in the lives of civilizations, that’s necessary for entire societies. We live in such a time, in case you haven’t noticed.

180 comments:

Richard Clyde said...

Very nice.

It's obvious to any cat "owner" that they perceive and move in some dimensions we don't. I've noticed that my cat doesn't "understand," in human terms, what has happened when he brings a live mouse or bird into the house and I gently return it to the outdoors. He'll continue stalking the chair or cabinet it was hiding behind for some time, even though he has seen me carry the creature past him and out of the house.

I was meditating on this once and suddenly realised I do much the same thing with books, ritually moving my eyes from left to right with the object of "catching" something intelligible about the world. It's a magical act, one that I perform and put trust in mostly because I've been taught that's how things work. Maybe my secret object in doing so is chiefly to re-inscribe the meaning construction in which the study of a book reveals some part of the wer-old. This may or may not be adequate to my present challenges and purposes, and to an observer might well resemble my cat's confusion about missing mice.

It's a comical inversion of the Pangur Ban poem-- reading is as much like *not* catching mice as it is catching them.

JimK said...

I wonder if it isn't different this time, in a dreadful way. It sure seems like we have used our incredibly powerful technology to physically reshape our world to an unprecedented extent. Of course this guess cannot be made precise. But it does seem like our construction of the world has gotten frightfully thick and rigid. The inevitable splintering is likely to be similarly memorable.

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, that's a very good example of the difference between man-olds and cat-olds. We'll talk later on about how reading and similar ways of patterning consciousness relate to the way of thought I'm trying to sketch out.

Jim, it's a source of wry amusement to me to watch people try to force-fit history into the Procrustean bed of "it's different this time.' The last years of every civilization are marked with that same sense of intolerable rigidity and ossification -- I'd encourage you to read the Gnostics, for example, who were very good at expressing their sense of the world as an iron prison in which the soul was caged. We'll talk about that, too, as this discussion proceeds.

Exiledbear (offlist), you know the rules. If you want to delete the profanity from your post and resubmit it, I'd be happy to put it through.

exiledbear said...

Was I cursing? Sorry. Clean mode on.

Google "Jack Parsons" the rocket scientist sometime - he was a modern (recent) magician-scientist-engineer. Do you know much about the kind of magician he was? I've noticed that although he founded the JPL in Pasadena, they hardly will acknowledge his part in their founding :P

Newton also was something of a speculator too amongst all the other things he did, lost a lot of money in the South Sea Bubble.

Why do the great people come across like swiss army knives? Only known officially for being a screwdriver or a bottle opener but also being a knife, a corkscrew, etc. if you look a little bit closer.

John Graham said...

I'll go for brownie points and say, that Owen Barfield bit was from 'Worlds Apart', wasn't it? I didn't quite get it, and still don't, but will peruse your post further.

I didn't know you had 'another' blog beside the famous one! I got pointed to this post by someone commenting after I recommended Stephen Harrod Buhner's "Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal World", elsewhere. I was meaning to get around to mentioning it to you (he reminded me of your 'strategy of dissensus', a concept I'm very grateful for - though Buhner isn't so polite: he says his book "urges you to do one thing: whatever the hell it is that *you* think you should do in response".)

Anyway, here's the link, though you obviously already 'get it' enough not to need it!

http://www.innertraditions.com/isbn/978-1-59143-135-0

John Michael Greer said...

Bear, thank you. I don't need to Google Jack Parsons -- I've read a couple of biographies of him, and am tolerably familiar with his work. He was more or less affiliated with Aleister Crowley's work for a while, though he was working on his own system before he died. The Swiss Army knife thing? I'd argue that that's the cause of greatness, not the effect -- most people allow themselves to be squished into too narrow a slot in life, and so fail to find their potentials for magnificence.

John, no, it's from Saving the Appearances, which I'm going to critique a little harshly in next month's post (though I'll also give it credit for some of the core ideas in this discussion). As for Buhner, I'm familiar with his work but haven't yet gotten to that book -- thanks for the reminder.

D.M. said...

As usual JMG you are good at putting into words what I have been discovering for myself these past few years after the onset of my depression, and subsequent interest in magic and the occult in general.

In your upcoming posts will you be elaborating on the nature of the relationship between brain and mind? I ask because to my mind that seems to be one of the more important questions that can be asked.

Odin's Raven said...

May all this take place within a shimmering Web of Wyrd, moved by the intents of other forces as well as ourselves?

Perhaps the Orc leader in LOTR who said that 'the Age of Man is over, the Time of the Orcs has come', may have been right if that applied to the Modern Era.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Quote: "rationalism suffers from an innate and lethal tendency to lose track of the difference between the abstractions that it contemplates and the universe that those abstractions are meant to represent".

Ahh. I take this manure, mix it with some clay and other organic matter and it becomes plant food. Which in turn becomes food for animals of which we are but one.

So, ritual is the vehicle for invoking magic so as to produce a discernible result?

I reckon people lose themselves in abstractions.

This is a thought provoking essay and I'm sure it is going to take many readings to get at the deeper meanings. Thanks for taking the time to put this together for us all.

Regards

Chris.

PS: I've just updated my weekly blog of all things going on at the farm here. There are some cool photos too:
Cool for wombats

Bill Pulliam said...

Of course the process you describe in the second paragraph is hardly unique to scientists. At least in this culture at this time, it seems to be pretty near a human universal. Our society is full of people who believe the symbols, myths, and metaphors of their religion/political system/etc. to be full, accurate, and concrete representations of a hard, external reality. Every magical system I have encountered is also packed full of people who believe it too is a is true and concrete representation of the universe, as real as Einstein's 4-dimensional space-time continuum (which he himself presented only as a useful mathematical model, not a description of a real objective universe). And likewise they all project backwards and sideways onto other belief systems that they were incomplete or blatantly false.

Eric S. said...

To counter Jim's statement about the rigidity of today's constructs of the universe, I'd like to point out that you can find quite a lot of variation even within today's industrial civilizations. I once did an experiment where I compared articles on cosmology from American and Western European journals to what I could find in Indian, Chinese, and Japanese journals, focusing on the Big Bang, and how different cultures addressed the data of an expanding universe. What I found was that, with a few exceptions, the Western journals tended to take the typical Big Bang theory as we understand it (the one that, ackwardly enough for the rationalists who cling to it was proposed by a Catholic Priest to reconcile new cosmological data with Christian theology) for granted, while in the Eastern journals you see mostly articles about torroidal cosmology (my personal favorite out of the array of cosmological theories you see today), oscillating universe theory, and others that treat the same data within a completely different paradigm. You can find a pretty similar divide if you look at medical journals. That's with cutting edge scientists in slightly different cultures using the same equipment, the same mathematical, logical, and scientific methods, and working in the same time period with constant contact with each other. So I wouldn't say our world constructs are nearly as set in stone as one might think, even today.

exiledbear said...

It sounds like this sort of thing goes in long term cycles. I guess you could say that magic is about to start a new bull market. Always a bull market in something. Always another bus.

My personal view on the um, world, is that it's mostly static, and if something is rising, it is because something else is falling in tandem. Duality. Gotta something Duality. So, in some sense science and magic need each other, because without the other, it would not exist. If magic were to be destroyed, it would have to be reinvented or science would go down with it.

I've studied bear markets probably more than is sane for most people. Occultism is definitely something that is correlated/associated with bear markets. Again, cycles and duality.

Maria said...

I am really interested in learning where that reset button is located. You see, certain people and situations make me physically ill. It's irrelevant whether or not I like the person; whether or not I want to be at the event; how much prior preparation I do; how much "positive self-talk" I do. I can tell you the who, the what, and the why. I can trace the problem back to its roots and recognize that things have changed since the buttons, so to speak, were installed. I can even laugh at the situations more often than not. What I can't do is stop somatizing them. I'm reacting to threats that aren't really there. The map and the terrain are definitely out of sync. I'd like to change that.

redoak said...

JMG, these historical cycles of rationalism and reset seem to be patterned at a level superordinate to their individual cultural context and content. How do you understand knowledge of this pattern in relation to the particular historical expression?

Steve in Colorado said...

Wonderful post.

A number of thoughts occurred to me while reading. In no particular order:

On the topic of the denial of common human experiences:

I've read that people in the Victorian era didn't believe in the female orgasm. I've also read that psychologists of that era didn't believe in mental imagery-- they thought that when people talked about "picturing" something, they were being metaphorical. I think most people have heard that until recent centuries, nobody knew how to read silently. In a different direction, I've also read that the Mbtui and other pygmy tribes of central Africa have never heard of masturbation or homosexuality. Meanwhile, a few years back atheists on the internet were touting the Piraha hunter gatherers of South America, who don't believe in God or in anything else that a person hasn't seen with his own eyes (which creates a lot of difficulty for Christian missionaries). The only problem? They all believe in doppleganger spirits who live in the jungle, since they encounter them regularly.

On the topic of cat-olds and allosaur olds:

I've always been fascinated by the insect world, I think because we're so far removed from it that we can watch it with a kind of God's-eye view. Insect worlds are constructed from very different data from human or other mammal worlds, and we're far enough removed from them that we can see things that they simply can't. So, we can observe bola spiders imitating the smell of female moths, drawing male moths to them and killing and eating them. Meanwhile, other spiders have evolved to exactly resemble certain species of ants. They enter the ants' cities and kill and eat as they please.

I always wonder: If there are beings who can observe us the way we can observe insects, what kind of spiders do they see?

On the relationship between one's personal world and the cultural man-old:

I recently read The Discarded Image, after you recommended it to someone at The Archdruid Report. I'm thinking of Lewis's repeated recommendations to his readers to walk outside on a starry night and try to imagine themselves into the world of the medieval: So the heavens are composed of a series of spheres, populated throughout by angels and intelligences, with God over all and elves and demons lurking in the background. I've been trying to practice this, though with man-olds that make more sense to me than the Christian medieval. As a practice it's surprisingly difficult and very rewarding.

Thank you again for this post. I feel like this blog is taking ideas that have been half-formed in my mind, synthesizing them with concepts I would never have thought of, and presenting them with a clarity that makes them easy to grasp. It's very exciting!

John Michael Greer said...

DM, yes, but if you think about what I've been saying in this post you can probably figure out in advance the starting point I'll be using. What is this thing called "the brain"? Another construct of the mind, assembled from the data of the senses. The blind faith in the solidity of our constructs that pervades modern rationalism makes a great many such questions all but impossible to sort out!

Raven, is that the construct according to which you want to assemble the inputs of your senses?

Cherokee, it's a little more complex than that. We've got a few more points to get through before I situate ritual and symbolism in their proper place relative to the construction of worlds.

Bill, oh, granted -- it's just that with contemporary science, the doublethink is a lot more obvious. Believers in most other fundamentalisms have a little more in the way of excuses.

Eric, granted, but I don't think that's what Jim was talking about.

Bear, the interesting thing is that magic thrives in economic bear markets but pop spiritualities that borrow from magic usually implode when bear markets hit. The American occult scene of the 1920s went into a crash dive when the stock market did, and there's good evidence that the New Age and Neopagan scenes are doing the same thing now. I'll probably have to talk about this down the road a bit, though it's going to cause a lot of yelling.

Maria, it's not an instant process by any means, and has to start by developing the skills needed to work with the deep levels of consciousness; positive self-talk doesn't do that, as you'll have noticed! In your place I'd consider finding a good introductory textbook of some kind of magic that appeals to you, and start working on the basic, daily practices of ritual, meditation and divination. That's how you lay the foundations for making deep change. Much more on this as we proceed!

Redoak, excellent! Each cultural expression is an expression of something, and it's possible to get a little closer to that something by comparing different cultural expressions. The result, of course, is simply another cultural or individual expression, but it tends to be a nuanced one that works well when used as a basis for action.

Steve, the history of the female orgasm is a fine example of doublethink. According to Victorian doctors, women didn't have orgasms; well, nice women didn't have orgasms; but those who weren't married, or for one reason or another didn't have an outlet for the sexual desires they weren't supposed to have in the first place, occasionally needed to have what were called "hysterical crises," which were triggered by stimulation of certain parts of their anatomy about which nobody talked. Physicians provided this stimulation by manual massage. It was an important part of many Victorian doctors' business. But it wasn't an orgasm!

Setting that aside, though, I'm delighted to have the chance to write out these ideas for an appreciative and intelligent audience. It seems to me that a lot of the conflict between science and magic in today's world is simply a matter of both sides talking mutually incomprehensible languages, and jumping to a few unjustifiable conclusions each.

Kevin said...

Erm, so can magic enable one to tweak destiny and fate a little bit, or is that just a delusional fantasy? Sorry to be off topic here, but I raised the question previously because it's been rather on my mind for quite a while.

Speaking of brains, I just glimpsed in a local paper today a headline about the latest in neurological medicine: brain transplants! I would hardly have thought it possible. But apparently doctors have found a way to connect some kind of inert biologically compatible material with brains that they're hoping to surgically repair. I'm a little skeptical to say the the least, but perhaps the results may cast a little glimmer on the question of what brains actually are - always conceived in strictly materialist terms, of course. The paper concerned was the San Francisco Chronicle, in case anyone's interested.

D.M. said...

Part of the problem, as you have pointed out, why magic and science cannot talk to each other is that science by way of circular reasoning accepts the metaphysic of materialism as the "correct" view of the nature of reality, while magic accepts that the truth of the matter is a much more complex affair that involves many variables that for the most part cannot be measured by science, or for that matter the current form of rationalism is unable to make up its mind whether some of those variables have any actual existence or not. But as you said rationalism is a poor tool to even provide a reasonable facsimile of an answer to certain questions.

Logan said...

Today’s rationalists like to point out that Greek rationalists... didn’t embrace the same beliefs as the current example of the rationalist species...

Well, the other rationalists can speak for themselves, but I have little problem identifying myself as roughly a Classical rationalist. Our big shiny particle accelerators have given us a lot of details; but the old "atoms and the void" is still true. (Yes, I realize the atoms are not strictly Newtonian billiard-balls; they're harmonic excitations of Heraclitus' primæval fire ...)

Just so we're on the same page, there's nothing inherently rationalistic about believing that "it's different this time", is there? After all, my belief in the decline of our civilization is based on a thoroughly physical view of it.

Anyway I'm looking forward to more detail, if any is forthcoming, about your own theory of magic. I found the Archdruid Report series on magic rather a tease!

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG: "it's just that with contemporary science, the doublethink is a lot more obvious. " Hmmm... so the fact that scientists have actually addressed whether or no objective reality exists, concluded that it does not, and yet then continued believing that it does, this marks them for MORE criticism than religious fundamentalists who have never even questioned the literal objective reality of their own myths, models, and metaphors? That seems kinda sideways to me... especially living in a world where there are probably far more people who deeply believe the literal profound truth of the bible versus the literal profound truth of the big bang, and on a blog where we will presumably be running into ample opportunities to stumble across religious fundamentalism (my magical system is true, yours is bunk)...

But it's your blog.

Make no mistake, I'm no apologist for scientific fundamentalism. This is one of the major reasons why I left academia, and indeed the precise words I used to describe the phenomenon, many years before I ever heard them uttered by anyone else. And I still have only heard them from a very few people. If I tell people I left academia because I was frustrated with the scientific fundamentalism, they assume I mean that my department had been overrun by evangelical Kryschuns and Kreationistas. When I explain what I really mean, they usually look puzzled, because of course science IS the only true and objective path to understanding, so what am I talking about?

Kutamun said...

Welcome to the Archdruids Matrix Training Program , where we begin to deconstruct the world of electrical signals interpreted by our senses , powered by the seed that is said to weigh 21 grams ( or " Spark " if you are an Archetypal Transformer ... )
Yes folks , you heard it right , the A word - Archetype , or " Angel" for those a little more old fashioned .. What is it about this mysterious web of patterns , mirroring the cycles and seasons of the natural world which has been left embedded several layers deep in the onion of our " unconscious ? . Health and happiness may follow you all the days of your life if you can but grow to learn , recognise and honour with your intuitive feeling these strange beings which are our common heritage .
Coincidence that you are using the word " doublethink " just as i am in the process of reading Orwells 1984 , a great illustration of what happens to societies and people who stray too far from the Archetypal pattern... The stress , strain , anxiety and frustration of decay and decline , or entropy , thats what !
Meanwhile it is raining Australian corpses on the Russian Steppe and i am finding this a powerful image in itself while reading of Orwells Eurasia , Eastasia and Oceania , the perpetual war of rocket bombs we are now embroiled in ...
Watch out for synchronicities and deja vu , for they are the sure fire signs something is moving in another world that intersects this one ... It may be a message for you Monsieurs et Mademoiselle Cloud Atlas .. Perhaps something is being Inceived or bearing fruit right where you are at !!
Adieu

Maria said...

So what you're saying, JMG, is that you can't fix me before next week when I have two events to go to, and that I should schedule rest time afterward as usual? ;)

I have The Druid Magic Handbook and have been doing the daily rituals, plus daily divination, for a couple of years. Meditation is something I consistently fail at, but what I can do with daily regularity is journaling on specific topics and ideas. One benefit is that between the journals and my Druid journal I've got a pretty good record to chart my progress (or see which areas continue to be problematic). These are the practices that helped me to figure out the who, what, and why mentioned previously.

From my first few attempts to perform the Circulation of Light, I noticed a change in my ability to have (for lack of a better term) sovereignty over my own energy field. I pick up other people's aches, pains, emotional states, etc. less often. It has strengthened over time, which has increased my ability to sort between "mine" and "not mine." This, in turn, has led me to realize that my somatizing problem isn't about other people (some of whom I genuinely like and love), it's about my reaction to them.

Sorry to bring stuff like energy fields into the discussion, but I wanted to let you know that there has been a logical progression of practice and change. And I'm sure you are aware that at least a few of your magic-friendly readers are a little odd. :)



Eric S. said...

@JMG: Perhaps not. My example does show, though, how certain aspects of the world can be extremeley malleable even within a single cycle of civilization. Other things, likewise seem to be very concrete even from civilization to civilization. Aristotle's flea drawing doesn't look all too different from what you would see in a modern biology textbook, and I imagine if his culture had microscopes, he'd have churned out similarly familiar drawings of rotifers and paramecia. Likewise, if the Inkas or Romans or ancient Egyptians had been the first to walk on the moon, they would have still found rocks, dust, and craters regardless of what they expected to find before they made the trip.

Meanwhile, much to the frustration of today's scientists, the second you try to study the substance of the universe at a level smaller than we can see with our most powerful microscopes, or the cosmos at a scale beyond the reach of our most powerful telescopes, or time reaching back further than our most powerful radiometric dating techniques, or the human mind beyond a few rudimentary behavioral studies and brain scans, it becomes impossible to make sense of anything and all you're left with is beliefs, mythic narratives, and a few abstract mathematical models. Yet even our direct experience of the world can differ considerably, as in last month's example of optical illusions that work well on people of one culture while being nonsense to those of another. Where is the dividing line between the ways we create the world we see? Which things are hardwired into our neurology, and which things are easier to bend and mold?

Karim said...

Greetings all!

Magic has been defined as the art of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with the will and imagination. Nothing in that definition to upset anyone, even staunch rationalists!

It might seem that the divide between science and magic is principally a question how consciousness is understood to be. Too many rationalists believe that consciousness and thus the mind are just epiphemomena of matter and energy, whilst magicians would tend to believe that consciousness is as fundamental as anything.

Furthermore, as pointed out in the essay, too many rationalists forget that even what we think of as energy and matter are mental images created somehow from the mind acting upon sense data.

So we find rationalists trying to explain away human consciousness and/or the mind, the ultimate source of mental images with even more mental images.

To me at least, that sounds like a massive circular argument leading nowhere. Try explaining that to rationalists, as I tried once, one get verbal abuse in return!!!!





John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, "destiny" and "fate" are hihg-level abstractions. You don't want to change "destiny;" you want to make specific changes in your life and its surroundings, and that's something that magic can very definitely do -- not least by changing the behavior patterns of yours that help keep said life and surroundings welded firmly in place.

DM, exactly -- though mages have their own habitual bad habits of thought. So it's going to take some care to speak to both in a way that makes some kind of sense.

Logan, quite the contrary, "it's different this time" is purely faith-based.

Bill, if one of the Ten Commandments said, "Thou shalt not take this stuff literally," I think it would be reasonable to suggest that Biblical fundamentalists were being even more blockheaded than they are -- which is saying something. That's my point with scientists -- if they paid attention to the implications of their own beliefs about reality, they wouldn't be able to embrace the fundamentalism so many of them do in fact embrace.

Kutamun, just one other world intersecting this one? Nothing so simple...

Maria, good. The sense of getting more control over your energy field is exactly the sort of first step I had in mind; with regular practice, that develops to a point that you can choose to be affected, or not, by the -- well, it's not actually energy, but we'll use that metaphor for now -- that surrounds you, no matter how intense it is. You might find it useful to poke at your difficulties with meditation, though; journaling's a partial substitute, but in order to get under the hood of consciousness and start fixing things, meditation's crucial.

Eric, for that matter, my discussion of the way that magic goes into and out of fashion shows just how drastically the construction of the world can shift within a single cycle of civilization. Compare the world view of a medieval intellectual to the worldview of, say, Richard Dawkins! Jim's point, as I read it, was a reference to a common experience in the last stage of a civilization -- a sense of rigidity and ossification of mental constructs, which in turn has a lot to do with the replacement of natural environments with built environments. More on this as we proceed.

Karim, exactly. Nothing gets a rationalist materialist into a spit-slinging frenzy more effectively than pointing out just how self-contradictory any scientific materialism has to be. Well, there's one other thing -- suggesting that when you look out at the nonhuman world, there might be someone looking back at you...

Eric S. said...

Another question I find myself asking, looking at rationalist movements from different cultures is how does one tell the difference between a difference of perspective and an incorrect fact. On one hand, there's the classical philosopher's decision to base their physics around the states of being of matter rather than the particulate makeup of matter, or Aristotle's decision to classify animals into blood bearing and bloodless rather than vertebrates and invertebrates. Then, on the other end, there's Aristotle's statement that insects rose spontaneously out of decaying substance, rather than reproducting in the manner of other animals. It seems every culture's science has its own mix of basic sensory obvervations, categorizations resulting from differences in perspectives, rationalized myths to give coherent shape to the unknowable, and actual mistakes that result from not not looking hard enough at certain facts at hand. I wonder how one could go about finding the balance of these in our own science?

Eric S. said...

"Jim's point, as I read it, was a reference to a common experience in the last stage of a civilization -- a sense of rigidity and ossification of mental constructs, which in turn has a lot to do with the replacement of natural environments with built environments. More on this as we proceed."

Looking forward to it, as someone who has both occult training, and an educational background in environmental science, It'll be interested in seeing your thoughts on how becoming a better mage might help in becoming a better scientist. I'm sure your thoughts would be somewhere along the lines of Lao Tzu: "a good scientist has freed himself of concepts and has a mind open to what is." Perhaps, in a way, magic can be an antidote to that sort of ossification by giving us a way to look past the concepts that get in the way of the world in front of us if we can just open our eyes wider.

Bill Pulliam said...

Point. Interesting side effect of this I find... when taking to scientists, you do actually have a scientific argument you can give them against literal rationalist materialism (or whatever string of labels you want to apply to this view of the world). Even if they don't like it, they can't argue that Heisenberg et al were *wrong.*

The lack of that Eleventh Commandment you mentioned means you do not have a similar toehold in your discussion with a fundamentalist of an Abrahamic school. Although, plenty of Abrahamists have found various arguments that they find satisfying which allow them to move away from literalist interpretations.

I find the neopagan-neoshamanic-recostructionist-newage schools to be a mixed bag. Many people come to them from rationalist origins, and they are not any kind of religious fundamentalists. Usually if they were scientific fundamentalists, that faith has been shaken loose and they are not likely to run towards another fundamentalism.

On the other hand, around here, there are a lot of people who came to these alternative religions from a religious fundamentalist background. And they are prone to taking this sensibility into their new religion as well. I was always puzzled by the "neopagan feudalism" of the main festival here, the one you attended once, JMG. As you saw, there are the VIPs and the peasants, and fraternizing across ranks seems to be discouraged. Very few VIPs attend workshops presented by peasants or hang out much with the rabble in social times. I have heard rumors than in the VIP cabin there is some amount derision directed towards the non-VIP workshops. We once saw a VIP with whom we were having lunch actually be told that he needed to leave us and go eat at the head table, interrupting a lively discussion we were having.

I also came to notice that ALL the VIPs were published authors. Finally someone explained to me that because of the fundamentalist origins of so many people in this community, they still viewed wisdom and truth as coming Down the Mountain in the form of a Man with a Book. And apparently many of the VIPs bought into this also.

In our previous community, away from the bible belt, the major neopagan festival was utterly egalitarian, there were no VIPs, there was no social or residential segregation. Many of those people had come from vaguely agnostic or mainline Xtian backgrounds, and they cared very little whether you had a Book.

Ray Wharton said...

The rejection of magic seems to be a very important turning point for the aging of a civilization.

Abstractions are very powerful and useful, but in the minds of those who don't have the habits of using them safely they start to act a little like magic rings do. And the corrupting effects of people using abstractions even when they cannot be traced back to raw experience anymore builds up like plaque.

So magic is important because it can be used to foster traits that allow one to safely use abstractions. Once it becomes out competed by the rationalists (who by focusing on the wonders they can achieve with their specialization can be more a spectacle than magic) the abstractions start to run along their own tracks following their own telos, with less and less checks by the humans who host them, or the realities those hosts have to maintain a good relationship with.

Magic by contrast is not spectacular, so many names for it are some variation on hidden: occult, mysteries. The best experience I have with this is Tai Chi, where a considerable part of the process is retraining ones body kinetic sense, literally entering a different perceptive world. My body is not what it was in my world, because my perception of it is rich is different ways after just a couple months, and yet I have only really changed to most surface aspects so far. Changing consciousness isn't easy to demonstrate to other consciousnesses. And by manipulating even a small level of ignorance it is easy for frauds to mix in with magicians, and the historical record makes me suspect that even many competent magicians can have difficulty detecting frauds. I suspect this, and the potential to use magic for rather anti-social ends, is ammunition for the rationalists eager to clear the stage for their own performance.

In evolution generally specialists (rationalists) can out compete generalists (which those who have a more mutable world might be called), but more often than not end up on a dead end track as their trophy. The specialists only need a competition where the short term rewards of victory is great enough to provide their lifestyle upkeep. The generalist then has to retreat back to another niche and come up with a new game to play.

Speaking of Tai Chi, you mentioned a side effect with your other practices last comments section, at current I don't believe any of my practices have reached the depth for such issues, but I would be very interested to know more about such matters "an stitch in time saves nine."

exiledbear said...

Erm, so can magic enable one to tweak destiny and fate a little bit, or is that just a delusional fantasy? Sorry to be off topic here, but I raised the question previously because it's been rather on my mind for quite a while.

As I understand things, there's no single future or past, so there can be no single fate. A big chunk of why we exist is to make choices. Don't ask me WHY we're here to make choices, the best I've gotten an understanding of, is we're something of a callback or a calculation task for the higher realms. We're working out some sort of question for them. Or maybe they're like car modders - and we're the cars.

Destiny is just *one* highly probable future based on the set of choices you've made so far. And it can be changed. By making more choices.

Bill Pulliam said...

Eric: "Perhaps, in a way, magic can be an antidote to that sort of ossification by giving us a way to look past the concepts that get in the way of the world in front of us if we can just open our eyes wider. "

Oh, you can ossify yourself in a magical practice and you can liberate yourself via science. This is a function of your own mind and persona, not the practice.

Someone who comes from a highly-structured, compartmentalized, organized scientific world will likely be drawn into a similar magical practice. Someone with a highly fluid, eclectic, observational, multidisciplinary approach to science will find a similar thing in a magical practice.

What I read Lao Tsu as encouraging is what we might in modern terms call an empirical approach, not letting the theory structure the data but vice versa. Personally I take the same approach to magic.

As these discussions proceed, you might see this effect emerge between me and out host in ways that are foreshadowed by our blogger images. From the neck up we look rather similar, but below the neck JMG usually is wearing clothes that say "I just left the High Council meeting or "I just stepped away from the lecturn." My clothes, on the other hand, say "I just climbed out of the back of a pickup truck." Actually, it was the back of a Harley, but not to pick nits. Not to suggest that JMG is a stranger to pickup trucks, nor I to lecturns; I can very easily imagine him in overalls covered with dirt and sweat fresh from the garden. But these are the images we each chose to put forth for our first impressions!

Ray Wharton said...

There is something I find very interesting about western rationalism. It's empirical focus. As the tradition was nearing its mature form the idea of checking abstractions against experience was a central concern. Here is the part that I am intrigued by: the madness of instrumentality. Experimentation became a seed bed of artificial senses. Once you are trying to reconcile evolved and engineered senses suddenly the check of reality goes mad.

The depth of abstraction needed is related to how numerous and diverse of experiences need to be reconciled.

It has been said that the world as we see it is a world of illusion. Perhaps that is so for many, but might it also be possible to live in a world of allusion?

John Roth said...

@Bill Pulliam

No, “science” has not concluded that objective reality does not exist. Au contrare. A relatively small barony within “science” has concluded that what we consciously perceive is a not very accurate model of “objective reality,” intended for the business of survival rather than an accurate portrait of what’s “really” there. That result is slowly trickling out to other parts of the empire.

If I understand where JMG is going, he has a rather different agenda, and will use this as a hammer to break up some fixed belief patterns.

@Eric S.

A while ago I got into a discussion with someone who wanted to call Aristotle and Archimedes scientists. I demurred. Strongly. If Aristotle had been a scientist, he would not have made as many boners as he did. Granted there are only so many hours in the day, and much of his writing was the received wisdom of others, but the habit of looking critically at what he knew and asking how he could verify it might have saved him from writing that men had 32 teeth and women had 28!

BoysMom said...

As someone who has been scolded occasionally for being fascinated by too many fields, I think there is something about specialists that is linked in with our cultural myths of progress.
Kids are pushed to specialize in just one area from a very early age "What do you want to be when you grow up?" And as adults, one of the first questions strangers ask is "What do you do?"
I think the reason why polymaths of the past, and present as much as is possible, have all their interests except one hidden from general knowledge, is that some part of the doctrine of progress requires individuals to specialize. I confess I'm not so clear as to which doctrinal point that is, but then I've never quite figured out why certain changes are considered progress while others are not.

Bill Pulliam said...

John Roth -- reread your quantum physics. There is no reality distinct from observation. Only probability. Scientists may not like this conclusion, but they are stuck with it. If indeterminacy and the superposition of states (simultaneous probabilistic existence in multiple different states) do not undermine objective "reality," I'm not sure what does.

And because everything is probability, nothing is impossible. Many outcomes are just exceedingly, vastly, hugely improbable. But not impossible.

The inviolable laws of thermodynamics are just statistical averages of the behavior of huge numbers of tiny things, each of which as an individual does not actually obey these "laws" in any determinate sense.

Given that all existence consists of indeterminate quantum processes that are inseparable from the observer, I'd say, yes, concrete objective reality is indeed a goner.

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, the interesting thing is that in my experience, science can help free magic from its own kind of ossification, just as magic can do the same favor for science. The same was true of philosophy and magic in Iamblichus' time.

Bill, yes, I well recall that. In my experience, though, it's not just a regional thing: there are festivals in various parts of the country, not all of them hotbeds of fundamentalism, that are into the cult of Big Pagan Authors, and other festivals -- some of them in very redneck corners of America -- that are hostile to that cult. A fascinating subject for a sociological study!

Ray, there's also a matter of different goals -- not simply generalist vs. specialist, but specialists in two different survival strategies, which have differential success at different historical stages; more on this in a future post. As for the t'ai chi, something in the interaction of the style of t'ai chi I learned and the Druid energy work I do gave me what Chinese doctors call a kidney yang deficiency, which nothing would resolve short of dropping the t'ai chi practice. I'm over it now, fortunately.

As for the madness of instrumentality, that's why the cardinal refused to look through Galileo's telescope; it was a commonplace of medieval philosophy that instruments distort perception. It's as though Galileo had offered him a powerful and untested hallucinogen.

BoysMom, you've just asked the $64 trillion question. The answer? The changes that get labeled as "progress" are those whose constituencies are able to claim and hold that treasured status by means that are, in the final analysis, political in nature. That is to say, "progress" is a short way of saying "We won, you lost, nya nya nya!"

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

In lurking mode, but following with interest. Look forward to reading, learning and thinking.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG re: festivals, interesting. I have also heard it suggested that the "festival feudalism" is an SCA-spinoff effect; but CO (our previous home) actually had a bigger and more active SCA presence than our current home in TN. May be just the personalities of the organizers. Many of these affairs are the babies of just one or two key individuals. It is a very interesting phenomenon. I like getting the chance to meet some of the authors. But I don't like the class system. And some of the "biggest" names who have attended have paid the least attention to the segregation lines.

It's true that we also have a large Radical Faerie presence here in TN. Even our tiny hyper-red isolated county far from The Sanctuary is home to about 10 faeries that I know of, with more trickling in every year it seems. Their magical and organizational style is rather anarchic and non-fundamentalist (and often entheogeniphilic...).

If you still have my e-mail handy and you have had positive experiences with non-feudal gatherings in the mid-South, I'd be curious to know.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Thanks for the correction. I've since had a chance to re-read your essay and something keeps nagging the back of my mind about it.

I've remarked before that it is my opinion that our society stinks of magic. Surely magic is utilised in order to exclude from the world the many things that sooner or later can’t be ignored without putting the survival of the civilization at risk (apologies, I'm paraphrasing one of your ideas because it was very well put together)?

Or is it simply a case of people excluding information that does not match an individual’s narrative to the larger narrative - even if it doesn't fit the facts on the ground. Are these the same concepts?

I've been pondering this issue of late because it impacts me on a day to day basis.

A recent example was at a lunch with an old friend who was asking me about financial matters. As an interesting side note, I usually set a firm upper limit of 10 minutes for such discussions as it sort of bores me after a while. Anyway, he had recently come into a sum of money and engaged a financial planner. You can probably see where this is going.

I gave him some general advice. Financial planners paid from commissions have an apparent conflict of interest because they may sell you a financial product that pays them the largest commission.

My mate had been promised high returns. I pointed out that high returns in this market are rare given how low the Reserve bank’s interest rates are. Also if it was such a safe investment, with such a high return why wouldn't that financial planner be pouring all of his own money into the scheme rather than selling the financial products to you?

I also happened to mention that I'd been reading about a recent study by ASIC (Australian Securities and Investment Commission) which reviewed the advice given by financial planners in relation to purchasing property in self-managed superannuation funds (i.e. retirement funds) and they found that only 1% of the advice received produced a good outcome for the investor.

My mate started to look a bit shattered and said, "but, he seems like a really nice bloke" - with the unsubtle inference that I wasn't. Then he got angry and has been avoiding me since.

Boss, their magic is stronger. They tell my mate what he is expecting to hear and he feels all warm and fuzzy towards them. I tell him what the likely outcome of the scenario will be and it's like I've got the stink of death about me.

It would be sort of amusing for me to watch, however those same people are also slowly eating away at my income so it is sort of hard to ignore!

That is the tip of the iceberg too. I tell people that this year spring has arrived about 5 to 6 weeks early. I also tell them that cold years are dry years. It falls on deaf ears. These are real world problems that will impact all in this corner of the planet.

People exclude information / data that doesn't fit their narrative. You're right in that it is almost as if they cannot see those things.

I don't get it though, because in other ways people - even rationalists (perhaps especially so) are so readily manipulated or unwittingly use magic themselves. Not that they’d admit to it.

It just makes no sense to me.

Regards

Chris

Eric S. said...

John Roth said of Aristotle:

"the habit of looking critically at what he knew and asking how he could verify it might have saved him from writing that men had 32 teeth and women had 28!"

That's what I'm wondering about though... Aristotle's missing out on teeth counts and insect life-cycles is a pretty good example of representations getting out of sync with reality.

He wasn't asking the right questions because his culture's system of reasoning didn't equip them to ask them, so despite all his skill as a naturalist, and all his intellect he missed out on basic, obvious facts that would have been obvious to any beekeeper, or silk farmer.

The four elements on the other hand were a part of his experienced reality rather than an incorrect belief. Treating atoms rather than substances as the basic fundamental unit of the cosmos would have gotten the same sort of blank incomprehension someone from our culture might get talking to someone from a culture who based their material elements on the sonic frequency with which they resonate.

On the other hand, if we went back in time and gave him a microscope, he'd have readily incorporated microscopic organisms into his writings on animals, given a telescope he'd have probably modified certain elements of his aetheric theory of heavenly bodies. To know where maggots came from, though, he'd have had to use a different kind of thinking.

It would make sense that the picture of reality has a similar balance of those three components. I'm just wondering what our version of Spontaneous Generation or incorrect teeth counts might be.

exiledbear said...

We won, you lost, nya nya nya!

If someone is winning and losing, that implies a game with rules?

Is it a well balanced, well designed game, that's fun to play for most people?

Do most people know the rules upfront, or are they required to learn them by losing over and over again?

What happens if you refuse to play? If you take your ball and go home?

Karim said...

JMG said "Well, there's one other thing -- suggesting that when you look out at the nonhuman world, there might be someone looking back at you..." presumably you are just not only referring to animals like cats and dogs, but literally someone non human endowed with intelligence, memory, intent and consciousness?

Karim said...

JMG said "science can help free magic from its own kind of ossification, just as magic can do the same favor for science. The same was true of philosophy and magic in Iamblichus' time."

So we ought to combine intelligently science, magic and philosophy so that any two fields can prevent the ossification of the other?

A stable trinity on which we all can stand to reach higher realms?

Is it what you have in mind John?

Powerful stuff it seems to me! I am all for it!




John Michael Greer said...

Adrian, welcome to the experiment!

Bill, I didn't have the chance to attend any other festivals in the middle South -- I more or less dropped out of the Pagan festival scene some years back, while I was still living on the left coast. I just didn't have that much in common with what was going on in the festival scene.

Cherokee, everyone practices magic all the time. It's just that most people don't realize it, and so the changes in consciousness they experience are driven by a bubbling mess of mostly unconscious cravings and fears, resulting in the usual flurry of self-defeating behaviors. Your friend is an example. He wanted you to tell him that he was being really smart and was going to get rich, because he wants to believe that, and doesn't have the mental clarity to realize that those beliefs make him a sucker for financial scams. He's practicing magic -- using simple but effective methods to convince himself that he's going to get rich -- and the result, since he's doing it unconsciously and ineptly, is that he's going to lose his shirt. Since he's doing the magic, your chances of breaking the spell are minimal -- but at least you can keep from falling victim to it yourself.

Bear, good. Meditate on those questions and see what answers you get.

Karim, also good. We'll get to both those issues as we proceed.

Bill Pulliam said...

Chris: "People exclude information / data that doesn't fit their narrative. You're right in that it is almost as if they cannot see those things."

There's a lot of ways to put "invisibility" spells on things. For the most part, the goal is not really absolute "physical" invisibility; it's just inconspicuousness, dullness, in general just making the object of the spell into something that will not attract attention. And since vision happens in the mind, if the mind is kept from snapping to the presence of the object, it is rendered "invisible."

There may be adepts out there who can cast such a powerful spell that you would look directly at a highly desired object, in full sun, out in the middle of an open field, with your focus right on it, and fail to see it. I've not seen this in person; well, but, of course, how would I really know?

But when you do learn the basics, using whatever methods you happen to pursue, it is very interesting to cast the spell on yourself, while you are sitting among a group of people. Especially interesting to cast the spell just before you join the group. You will sit there, watching people's eyes just skip right past you as they wander around the room.

Eventually you will blow it, sneeze, focus too intently on someone else in the group, whatever, and the spell is broken. Then you watch the surprise pass over everyone's faces, as they suddenly realize you are there, and wonder how long you have been.

You were of course perfectly "visible" the whole time. But no one noticed you.

The spell-casters of our economic and political systems are very adept at invisibility. They can make the most obvious, egregious, and corrupt things sit out in plain sight, yet nobody notices. JMG has discussed some of this on the other blog in the past. When, for whatever reason, you find your own counter-spell to neutralize these invisibility cloaks, you become astounded at what suddenly appears, and even more astounded that nobody else sees it.

GuRan said...

Sorry I accidentally posted this on last month's comments, let's try again here:

I haven't read all the comments yet, but wanted to get my thoughts down before they disappear into the wind again.

To follow up from Eric S., who crystallised something for me I think with Romans and Incas travelling to the moon and finding rocks and dust, our "biological layer" as JMG put it, is the same for those long gone peoples. But perception is an active process, not a passive one and I think it's the active aspect that is most influenced by the more recent layers. What I think we're talking about with the cultural and experiential layers of perception is looking for different things, noticing different things, and ascribing different meanings. These can make the were-olds very different places. To take the linear perspective example, I take what you're saying as the older peoples never "noticing" things in that way because it's not important for them, in the same way that I don't "see" the ecological relationships in the landscape around me the way hunter-gatherers do, or the non-engineers around me don't "see" the energy flows around them in our built environment. In the latter example, I see this but it isn't qualitatively the same thing as physically seeing material objects.

In particular, the meaning ascribed by the scientific world to the things "out there" and the relationships between them, is, "it doesn't have any meaning" - so therefore we don't need to pay any attention to, or notice, or try to interpret or understand patterns and relationships. Except perhaps for the special case of interactions between neurons which we have to admit must be the basis of the mind, right? Even those deepest in the scientific world would have difficulty denying the existence of the mind.

Am I heading in the right direction here? JMG, or anyone else who would be comfortable to comment on their own experiences of magical beings, do you perceive them in the same way that you perceive a physical object or being in your environment? Or is it a qualitatively different type of experience for you (or is it something something else altogether?)

Thanks,
Graeme

Dwig said...

Hi, JMG, and all here assembled,

I always seem to be late to the party. I found the link to Galabes last week, saw the June post, and decided to wait for the next astrological sign.

I'm very glad to see you blogging on this "side of your life". I've begun doing some investigation into this area, and I recognize much of what you've written here in the first post. In particular, I look forward to your take on Jung's work, which I've been learning about recently. (I've also run across a blog that spends a lot of posts on Blake, Jung, Nietzsche, Gebser, and Casteneda, among others -- it's been an interesting complement to your writings).

I agree with Bill about the pace of posting -- monthly is a good pace. Among other things, it's a good discipline to slow oneself down -- one characteristic I hope to see in the man-age to come (I prefer the connotations of "age" to those of "old") will be a more liesurely rhythm to life. And of course, it encourages a more measured pace to the comments.

Here's an article that goes nicely with the developing theme of this blog: We Aren’t the World. (I think the cultural relativity of the Müller-Lyer illusion was already mentioned in the comments.) A teaser:
It is not just our Western habits and cultural preferences that are different from the rest of the world, it appears. The very way we think about ourselves and others—and even the way we perceive reality—makes us distinct from other humans on the planet, not to mention from the vast majority of our ancestors. Among Westerners, the data showed that Americans were often the most unusual, leading the researchers to conclude that “American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners—outliers among outliers.”

Richard Heinberg's recent MuseLetter article, on "political reality" vs. "physical reality", is interesting in this context.

Dwig said...

I had a tangled reaction to your point "... the thing we’re used to experiencing as an objective reality independent of our consciousness even though it’s nothing of the kind, is defined not by space but by time." I'll be interested to see your development of space and time, and the relationships between them. Is it possible that our man-age is an intricate construct of space-time, or that space and time are harder to deal with adequately when they're considered separately?

Ray Wharton said in the first set of comments " At first I was sad that I fell short of my standards, but I am increasingly feeling as though it almost has to be a frustrating process to actually get past certain hang ups."
As a long-time software developer, I recently realized that, when I'm most frustrated and confused during a design task, I'm actually at the peak of my creativity. That realization has helped me to take my time in the moment, and "enjoy the view", rather than trying to force my way to a conclusion.

Re: maps and models. I've always been amused by the use of the word "law" in science, especially physics. I keep wondering "What did the universe do before the laws of physics were passed?". It's good to have a "library" of maps and models, but please remember that none of them, nor all of them together, constitute reality. (Hmm, could a culture be usefully modelled as such a collection?)

One other mental exercise I've found useful: about 400 years ago, Shakespeare had Hamlet say "There are things in heaven and earth that are undreamed of in your philosophy". We know now that the statement was literally true when Shakespeare wrote it; it's not hard to come up with a list of things that were indeed undreamed of then. I claim that the statement is still true, 400 years later. And, even if we continue to progress in our understanding of our man-age(s) for another 400 years, it'll still be true.

earthworm said...

JMG said:
"As for the t'ai chi, something in the interaction of the style of t'ai chi I learned and the Druid energy work I do gave me what Chinese doctors call a kidney yang deficiency, which nothing would resolve short of dropping the t'ai chi practice."

May I ask what you thought of it from a druidic perspective?

Kutamun said...

Autobots ( Angels ) Decepticons ( Demons ) , gday again ... The clenched fist reminds me of the statement by Princess Leia to Moff Tarkin aboard the death star " the tighter you grip , the more star systems slip through your fingers" . ie Empire , " Ingsoc", the Gubbermint or Corporate machine , reason heightened and personified . The rebels , organic diversity , difference , intuition , disorder , painfully slow democracy ( the old senate ) ..
Fortunately in this dualistic matrix we live in , the harder you evoke one pole , the more quickly and certainly its opposite appears , infinitely self correcting
Reason - Unreason ... Growth - Collapse , and so on and so forth .
So , no need to worry ! Ha .
Indeed , Sabina Spielrien receives her first decent orgasm in graphic form in the excellent film about Jung " a dangerous method ", yea , these early psychonauts were indeed at the cutting edge of an outpouring of repressed Victorian Sexual Prurience ..
Cheers
Kuta ....

Dammerung said...

That's the thing that has amused me about Christians since long having grown out of the church I was raised in. They think they have God and Jesus and whatever, but in reality, they buy the exact same premises about what exists and how you can know it as the logical positivists. You see this all the time in their evangelism - they think they have "proof" of God in the exact same sense as one might prove germ theory. The material fundamentalists have won the battle against them by choosing the weapon and setting the terms for victory.

Oh well, you just can't make somebody else wake up, no matter how hard you try to force them. Perhaps more force is needed?

exiledbear said...

He's practicing magic -- using simple but effective methods to convince himself that he's going to get rich -- and the result, since he's doing it unconsciously and ineptly, is that he's going to lose his shirt.

re: getting rich

Long ago, when I walked in relative darkness and knew absolutely nothing (as opposed to almost nothing today), I figured out that wealth wasn't how much money you had, but a state of mind. It's in your head.

You can't focus directly on just getting rich. If you do, you will fail. Getting wealthy is a side effect of something else. It falls out as a consequence of other things, not because it's all you seek.

And for a lot of people it's not a good thing. I'll give an analogy. Let's say you have an electrical device that's only structured to handle 12VDC at .5A for a power capacity of 6W.

Now let's say all of a sudden 10kVAC at 1000A is connected up to it. What do you think will happen? All the um, magic, smoke will leave it. And it will sit there burning in flames.

Same thing with money. Someone who is only structured to handle 30kD/yr, is suddenly hooked up to 3.0MD/yr, and their magic smoke is going to leave them too. And they will sit there burning in flames.

Google the stories of the typical lottery winner. They almost always end in tragedy. Just an extra 30kD/yr is enough to cause most people to lose their magic smoke, they're not structured to handle it properly.

Even if you are - structured - to handle higher wattages and higher voltages, you have to make choices to get there. Choices that will change you permanently. You may have to give up things to get other things. Maybe those things don't mean much to you, then again maybe they do. Maybe you don't realize what you gave away until much much later.

Someone says they want to be rich and they don't even understand what it is they want.

BoysMom said...

So Bill, what you are saying is that the skill of being unnoticeable is a form of magic? Hmm. That's something to think about, for sure.
Magic, then, at least in this instance, is at least partly body-language based--the I am not attractive I am not a threat I am not a target--is largely posture. Some of it is appearance--matching the lower end of the group always helps--I don't think a person can fail to be noticed if they are in formal wear when others are in jeans and t-shirts, or vice versa.

thrig said...

Don't even need humans versus cats—two viewers at the same vantage who speak the same language may see different things. Example. At a bus stop many years ago, someone once remarked to me, "hey, check out the ______." Presumably someone interested in or with knowledge of cars would have heard what ______ was (that portion of my memory is garbled, and I trust it not). For there was indeed a line of cars waiting at the stop light (on the bridge over the 520 at 10th and Roanoke), and presumably one of them had for some reason attracted attention. I ignored the statement; possible responses, had I been conversational (the replies usually emerge some hours to days afterwards) might have been—"which one? By color or number back from the stoplight? Help me out here." For the cars all looked the same to me: wheels, varied colors, stuck at a light. Not one stood out, or was in any way remarkable, despite me in theory seeing the exact same thing as another, who found one of those cars remarkable.

Odin's Raven said...

Here's a video about Douglas Harding, the 'man with no head', who took the view that we are ultimately not the world, but that is how we appear.
The Man with No Head

The Headless Way
'What you are depends on the range of the observer. At several metres, more or less, you are human, but at closer ranges you are cells, molecules, atoms, particles… Viewed from further away your body becomes absorbed into the rest of society, life, the planet, the star, the galaxy… Science’s objective view of you – zooming towards and away from you - reveals a hierarchically organized system of layers that is alive, intelligent and beautiful. Thus you have many layers, like an onion. You need every one of these layers to exist. Your human identity, vital and important as it is, is just one of these layers. You are also sub-human and supra-human.'

Bill Pulliam said...

Boys Mom -- notice than in the statement "the art of changing consciousness at will," it doesn't specify *which* consciousness you are changing -- your own, or another's.

Violet Cabra said...

I seems like the comment I tried posting last nigh vanished! I'll try again.

A few days ago I finished DUNE and was struck by the axiom of "the path of safety leads forever downwards towards stagnation."

It seems to me that as the "man-old" of a given Culture progresses is gets safer and safer. The inner yearning and questioning which leads to a categorized world and a static set of answers.

Questioning is dangerous stuff and answers, especially answers that everyone agrees with are always a safe choice.

This set of answers is also, of course, part of the built environment, the art, rational system, mathematics, etc. It creates a rigid and ubiquitous feedback loop. Human constructs are confused with Nature, eventually to the Civilization's detriment when Nature and people fail to conform to the rigid system of predigested answers.

I'm very curious about the specifics of how magic can help free one from these ossified forms. I've been practicing "inner-work" for about 4 years and love to discover new ways of freeing thoughts and emotions from my imprinted self. Can't wait to read more!! :)

Raymond Duckling said...

@JMG - Please consider if you want to share this information about your medical history. I will understand if you do not want to post this comment.

On the kidney-yang deficiency syndrome.

The inner qi in humans comes in two broad categories: prenatal and postnatal. The later is replenished on a regular basis from the air we breath, the food we take, the exercise we do, etc. The former is passed on to you from your parents at the time of conception, and once it runs out, life cannot be sustained anymore. Kidney qi is normally considered to be of prenatal origin.

Since it is yang deficiency (and not qi proper deficency) we are talking about, we are talking of a failure to perform the most fluid and bright functions of the organ (according to classic Chinese physiology). This kind of deficiency will manifest in the material plane as DNA corruption and degradation of function at endocrine system. i.e. It's one of my teacher's conjecture that this is the precise syndrome behind Diabetes (though the symptoms are not described in the Classics, since that illness was extremely rare in pre-industrial times).

Of course, that depletion of qi happens to everyone over the normal course of a lifetime, but our habits may slow down or speed up the rate of depletion. It can be considered much like the difference between using water from the rain and drilling a deep wheel.

In the case of our host, combining two different systems of energy work that are probably fed from the same non renewable resource made me think of the famous Blade Runner quote: "the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long". This is nothing to be toyed with, but people with a sweet tooth for sugary drinks might beg to differ...

Bogatyr said...

Thanks, JMG. This puts very clearly something that I've been trying to articulate for some time. I've been fortunate that my years in Asia afforded me some opportunities that could not be explained by a Western worldview. The best explanation I could come up with of Western culture is "Tinnitus of the mind".

Sefriel said...

Thank you very much for this piece, which I'll be continuing to post up on my social platforms.

The place where academia and the occult can meet is exactly what I'm trying to foster with my events and learning project, The Visible College, and when you describe the synthesised rational learning which the occult can take forwards, I think the advances in quantum fields and string theory etc will be what we ultimately leave for the next iteration of this process to inherit.

Thank you.
-Sef Salem

earthworm said...

@Raymond Duckling & JMG

Raymond - this ties in to the question I asked JMG about Druidic energy work and Tai Chi (Chinese energy work) - where JMG gave an explanation from the Chinese perspective (i.e. the manipulation of energy based on a 'world view')

Raymond said:
"The inner qi in humans comes in two broad categories: prenatal and postnatal."
and
"In the case of our host, combining two different systems of energy work that are probably fed from the same non renewable resource..."

In the taoist energy work I know about, maintenance/development of 'essence' for spiritual practice / evolution is a fundamental.

A lot of the esoteric stuff I have looked at cautions about indiscriminate blending of systems; at the same time, it seems that many systems are a blend and have parallels, plus to complicate matters, systems are guided and developed by individuals and groups; now, since each individual has a perception of the world, and there are variations between individuals, adding the issue of culturally different world-views could have potentially serious ramifications on the results/outcome of 'practice/ritual (or whatever you want to call it).

For example - I met someone (a westerner) who is 'big' in acupuncture, however, their approach to acupuncture focuses on the needles and ignores personal cultivation. They have taken acupuncture and applied a western reductionist methodology that ignores the world-view behind it.
To my mind, that is akin to just holding the elephants trunk but not considering that there is an elephant at the end of it.

What we see/perceive and how we choose to 'swim through the spheres' coupled with the forces (on an energetic/ritual/magic etc level) that we choose to associate with can produce wildly different results. Creating your own deity or working with existing archetypes are but two among many approaches.

One of many things I am wondering is this:

On a macro level it might be argued that ultimately there is one big primordial esoteric reality soup, and whatever spoon you use to taste that soup should, in theory, be dipping into the same soup bowl... However, like an acupuncturist who sees only the trunk and not the rest of the elephant, the point could be missed that it is the 'nature of' & 'way' your 'spoon' interacts with the soup of reality that determines how tasty and nutritious it is.

Put another way - One person's guru is another person's kundalini casualty.
Or perhaps consider the nature of the so-called left and right hand paths - connecting with energy is one thing, applying it, quite something else and where one person's practice leads to growth or spiritual evolution, another's practice leads effectively to decay and spiritual devolution.

Taking part of what exiledbear said upstream (July 22nd 2:34pm):
"A big chunk of why we exist is to make choices."
Perhaps the roiling of the universal soup is to see what comes out of it. It is a mystery.

The question I was asking JMG in a circuitous way was this:

How does he think the energy circulation in Tai Chi interacted with the energy work of his druidic method?

Ray Wharton said...

The comparison of a telescope to a hallucinogen rings very true for me. Relative to my peer group I have avoided those chemicals, but I am not completely uninitiated, my experiences were generally positive and in at least two cases I believe provoked some substantial personal growth. That being said I notice a faith in drugs widely held by members of the alternative culture in America strange. I hear it said that great wisdom, or enlightenment, is just three hits away. This smells like a kind of laziness to me, wanting spiritual enlightenment with something no harder than taking an aspirin for a headache.

Instrument or drug, it's something external to change consciousness. Instruments add new senses, with the benefit of giving access to more data, and thereby the potential for more information. The instruments which made possible the scrying of the Earths long history I praise! Though of course adding more data makes more difficult the work of keeping ones world self consistent (a very valuable property). Drugs vary, but in general they suppress various filters which the mind uses to sculpt down the deluge of sensation to a coherent man-age. If ones man-age can manage with reality strong drugs tend to be rather distressing because it disrupts that system; on the other hand if one's man-age cannot manage with reality in any satisfying way them powerful drugs become something of a Hail Mary pass, a hope of deconditioning (hallucinogens tend to be classified as deconditioning agents) learned cultural and personal filters making room for change.

The myth of progress largely puts faith in instruments to 'show us the light' which will guide us... yadda yadda yadda. Replacing fancy optics with fancy chemicals isn't a very big difference.

Mages are also hanging hopes on changing perception, but through personal training. The core advantage being that you are not surrendering control of that change to something external. Instruments and drugs can change perception very powerfully, but what one gets from it is hard to control, and a 1000 times more dangerous if the external agent is expected to do the work with out alot of intentional work by the user.

So I see how both are specialists. Those who seek to change through inner work, and those who seek change through external agents. Veritably they are in similar niches. An analogy from my Tai Chi teacher: sure it takes years longer to gain martial mastery from internal systems, but it is not dependent on speed and a youthful body as external systems inevitably are.

External agents are powerful indeed, and easy at first, so of course they become popular when they are available, but they tend to cause external dependencies over a long time, hence the dead end road they tend to find.

Ember said...

JMG,
Thank you for this post and for your work. I can feel the years of study and contemplation behind your writing; and I feel an inkling of what might be gleaned through a commitment to discursive meditation. My curiosity is nourished, and my own work invigorated through reading you.

A rationalist movement is almost like a chrysalis. When a cycle of time is reached and a people are ready to be reborn in new form, they must shed their old man-old. The man-old is not just what they think and perceive, it is their very form, and so it cannot simply be shed. To transform they must enter a deeply self-reflective, solipsistic state - a chrysalis of reason. A rationalist movement grows which sees the limitations of the man-old and takes aim at explaining absolute reality; but in so doing it continuously encounters its own limitations and reveals, not objective reality, but the subjective perspective of the people. It eventually defines the man-old itself to an extent where it re-reveals a peek at the underlying nature of experience. Then rationalism itself can be seen for what it is, just another process in a vast, complex universe; and the people emerge with new insights into themselves and renewed wonder at the reality we are perceiving, both of which serve as the foundation on which to create their new man-old.

It seems that this emergence might be a point at which magic is most… hmm… powerful.. er.. unruly… or perhaps, fun? As rationalism is shed, much other dogma falls way with it. Rationalism frees magic from the constraints of dogma, allowing a people's perception to broaden and SEE what they couldn't before. It's a period of flight, movement along other axes - the butterfly stage in the lifecycle of human man-olds. I suppose the next step is the people becoming fascinated with a new shiny something and beginning to build a new man-old that glorifies that novel perception; and, then they forget what it was like to SEE and eventually start fighting over which person's new Shiny is the actual Truth. If we keep the analogy, this period might be referred to as larval - near blind, crawling on a flat plane, consuming, trying to stay alive long enough to enter chrysalis.

I feel the importance of emphasizing that this analogy of a butterfly lifecycle is in reference to the man-olds not the people. To individuals (particularly people not actively conscious of magic,) a butterfly stage would likely be unpleasantly raw and uncertain, whereas the larval stage might feel natural and comfortable, and both stages could be lumped into what is referred to temporally as a dark age.

You can see the first cracks in our rational chrysalis in the cognitive dissonance you identify in the scientists who now know the extent of what they don't know, yet cling to the man-old that provided this knowing. You can also see it in the flowering of new magic movements out of scientific research (i.e., quantum physics underpinning new-age meditation.) This all ties into the new religiosity you point out on the horizon in your Archdruid blog. As our faith in rationalism wanes, and our humility returns with the decline and fall of our civilization, a new religion will likely emerge that pays respects both to our rationalist achievements, our spiritual inclinations and history, and the return of our prodigal sons, discomfort and uncertainty.

I feel that you (JMG) can nearly get a sense of what's to come through a combination of careful research, long and varied historical perspective, and a core understanding of magic and the man-old process. The unknown is what new info will appear in our collective perception as this man-old falls away. What will our great-great-grandchildren be staring it that our great-great-grandparents wouldn't even see. Its exciting to think about!

With appreciation and intellectual affection,
Ember

Nano said...

To those interested, Robert Anton Wilson's "Prometheus Rising" is a great manual/exercise book for reality bending, if you will.

Caveat, he comes from a school of progress and tech advancements, so YMMV on some topics.

magicalthyme said...

JMG, I have stumbled through the cracks between wer'olds on numerous occasions throughout my life. It seems to happen in waves: I have had detailed precognitive dreams, waking meetings with various beings (I awoke early one morning with a small, black crone sitting on top of my clock radio, a cigarette hanging from her mouth, with the most dreadful fear in the pit of my stomach. I was afraid to roll over, afraid to move. I stared at that crone for a solid half hour before she vaporized before my eyes and the tip of her cigarette morphed into the red light on the radio.) I also once connected partially -- and almost completely -- with a group of shamans in a "spirit canoe, who "saw" me and were calling encouragement to me to join them.

At one point in my life, I emerged from a serious physical illness with clairvoyance and audiovoyance within a particular relationship that lasted 10 years, disappeared for 10, and returned for another few years at the end of his life in this plane.

However my magic, especially during this most recent time frame, has failed in that ordinary reality intrudes at delicate moments, and more recently other people's magic has intruded.

Throughout it all, I have consistantly had issues with violations of my boundaries, both physical and psychic. As an example, when I first moved to this farm I had problems with a neighbor who considered my property as her property, to the point of cutting down trees in my rotation pasture. I had already smudged my house on moving in, so decided it was time to also smudge the boundaries of my land. Well, I was in the furthest corner of my back pasture when I "heard" a group of men laughing about how they were going to, "...cut her down to size!" I was totally focused on listening to their conversation when my smudge suddenly erupted into an inferno. I found myself race-walking across my pasture with a flaming bowl of smudge held precariously between my burning fingertips. I made it back to my barn, where I was able to successfully douse the fire by dropping the bowl into my horse's water trough. Though not before I had singed my eyebrows and lashes!

Anyway, I am somewhat the sorcerer's apprentice and been acutely aware of my need for consistent practice within an established discipline. To that end, thank you for this blog. I have just ordered your handbook on Druid practice. I am looking forward to regular, focused study. I hope there are exercises geared toward maintaining good boundaries.

Mary

Nano said...

At the other end of the spectrum, for those more interested in Austin Osman Spare and the Kaos magicians, Peter J Carroll and Matt Kabryn recently released the following

It's a book with three parts and a new set of Tarot cards not based on classical forms.

The gist is:

Metaphysics, the study of our underlying theories and assumptions about the universe’s ultimate structure and behavior often appears as a dry, sterile and irrelevant subject to the uninitiated. This may appear so because metaphysics proceeds with tectonic slowness, and we only seem to get a shift once per Aeon; indeed a shift of metaphysical paradigm actually marks one Aeon from another. Yet because it concerns itself with deep matters of causality and/or chaos, the reality or otherwise of gods and other realms, the reality or unreality of ‘being’ and the nature of life and consciousness itself, we need to look to the underlying metaphysics to understand where the magical theories and practices of the past came from where the magic of the future may go.

You can read more here:
http://www.esotericon.org/index.php/home/about

Fun, deep, tongue in cheek and lovecraftian in nature. Once again Your Mileage May Vary.
-----

One of my main take away from both Carroll's work and JMG's work is that we should look at our current metaphysical, psychological and physical models and start pruning, arranging and adding the bits and pieces that will help us transfer information/wisdom/ and knowledge to those that seek it, while forming and informing us for an uncertain future, as it has always been.



Raymond Duckling said...

@earthworm

"their approach to acupuncture focuses on the needles and ignores personal cultivation. They have taken acupuncture and applied a western reductionist methodology that ignores the world-view behind it."

That's a pretty good summary of my attitude when I began studying acupuncture about 3 and half years ago. I went as far as trying to make a map between our scientific understanding of human physiology and the phenomena described in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Not being an M.D. myself the results were rather limited, but my impression is that my fellow doctors did not get very far down that road either.

This has some useful byproducts though, like the ability to talk to your more fundamentalist patients (of the Christian or Atheist sort) in a language that does not trigger a fear/hate response (you are not a Devil worshiper or an snake-oil peddler anymore once you learn to look and talk like a "real doctor").

Eventually, I came to the realization that you cannot really know what you are doing if you do not engage the practice in its own terms, so you might as well leave your baggage of preconceptions by the door. I am just starting with this new approach and I don't have any answers, but I am looking forward to engage in this internal work that I have so far been considering a metaphor.

onething said...

Bill re your comment of July 22, 7:56 am,

Yes, I've noticed that human behavior often falls within patterns, and scientific fundamentalism is a pattern shared by religious fundamentalists (the fundamentalist pattern) but yet the scientists have played the trick on themselves of exempting their view from any such analysis of inner motivation (since there is none, ha, ha).

****
Hmm, regarding the discussion so far about the divide between magic and science, perhaps I ought to state my view, my working hypothesis of reality. But then, I'm not yet clear on JMG's definition of magic in practice, so I'm lumping it with the "paranormal" and the spiritual in general.
My view is that reality is all of a piece, that all events are actually physical (!) and that which we call spiritual and that rationalists so strongly resist is all explainable via science if or when we are able to identify the inner, subtle workings of it. Now, I believe in an all-pervading divine, and that consciousness is the bedrock of reality, but reality is reality, there is no real divide between the spiritual and the material, just a continuum, on which we find ourselves placed within our bodily sense range.

In addition, the rationalist resistance is already a bit shopworn in that they deny the studies of successful psi phenomena and the implications of quantum physics and so on. The scientific world has moved on even thought many within it won't see it.

I got an interesting clue today about part of the problem, and that is that rather than reality consisting of matter and energy as they suppose, it has a third aspect, which is information. A photon, for example, carries information including frequency, phase, arrival time, polarization, orbital angular momentum, linear momentum, entanglement and so on. If we consider the information carried by a photon and the information in the DNA molecule, we can conclude that information is built into reality all through.

Karim - check this out:
http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2014/06/ways-materialists-beg-question.html

onething said...

Ray Wharton,

I believe you've got some misconceptions. You think mind altering substances are the lazy way and are chosen over inner disciplines, but that need not be so. Also, wondering why you are against something because it is easy? Since we are locked into a default, survival perceptual system, but there is much more to be had of reality than that, what is wrong with accepting the gift of plants?

Also, you say those who cannot handle reality choose drugs, but on the contrary, it is those who cannot handle reality who also cannot handle drugs.
On the other hand, it seems to me that what you gain through natural breakthroughs or experiences have more staying power.

exiledbear said...

I'm curious, what is this smudging you speak of? I could see applications for that in my own life. If you could link me something that has all the details spelled out, so an idiot can follow the procedure, I'd appreciate it.

@JMG, re: the world looking back at you. These days, I don't ask if there's a ghost in the machine, I wonder if the ghost IS the machine :/

blue sun said...

Please forgive my long and in-depth questions, this topic is new to me and it is possible I’ve missed your point:

As someone who is trying to uncover (or rediscover) spirituality within Christianity, I have looked into many religions seeking for common threads and also into various meditative practices seeking for common threads. It is my fundamental belief that we are all seeking the same thing; and our different ways of expressing it, as manifested through the various world religions, are merely different languages.

Having recently been introduced to the early Christian Gnostics by reading Elaine Pagels’ book The Gnostic Gospels, for example, I see much of the stuff that was stomped out by the proto-Roman Catholic orthodoxy looks pretty darn Eastern to me, maybe even New Agey. No wonder there’s a screaming demand for the spiritual and the mystical in the West. I see how lacking mainstream Christianity is in those areas.

Knowing that magical practice was also hated and stomped out at various times throughout the West, I sense that what you will be discussing on this new blog ties somehow into the meditative practices. What I am uncertain about is if that means only the mystical end of them. I know nothing about magic—as you use the term—other than what you’ve written on The Archdruid Report.

It's all well and good to say that magic is the changing of consciousness in accordance with will. The question I have is: WHOSE will? Are we talking about one’s personal will (i.e. the ego), or the will of a higher power, even God (if one accepts such a concept)?

Or is magic broader in scope than say, Buddhist meditative practice, Christian contemplative practice, Yoga, and the like? Those all have the aim of changing consciousness, as I understand it, in accordance with God's will. (In other words, the aim of diminishing the individual ego.) If magic encompasses not only changing our own consciousness in accordance with God's will, but in accordance with any person's will, even our own, it would naturally be broader in scope, would it not?

I guess in a sense you may have answered my question way back, by introducing the concepts of theurgy and thaumaturgy. I anticipate you will say that the meditative practices I am investigating are found as a subset within theurgy. Actually, I am hoping you will say that.

Kutamun said...

"To understand what it is that magic does do, it’s crucial to look at the specific purposes for which magic is used in practice. Since every human culture known to history has practiced magic, this isn’t exactly hard, and the purposes of magic have varied remarkably little over the centuries. Why do people turn to magic? To tilt the odds their way in hunting, gambling, war, and any other activity that combines high uncertainty with high stakes; to establish, improve, and shape the whole range of human relationships; to heal illnesses of body and mind; to integrate the personality and bring it into harmony with the structures of the cosmos, however those are understood; and, not least, to deal with the fact that other people are using magic for these same purposes, and not always with your best interests in mind.

What do these things all have in common? They all deal with mental phenomena, individual or collective. Grasp that, and you start to grasp what magic is all about."

- J. M Greer
" Clarkes Fallacy"
Archdruid Report
Sept 2011

magicalthyme said...

ExiledBear, some native american traditions use the smoke of smoldering sage to purify. That practice is referred to as smudging. In wiccan/pagan traditions, cows were run between bonfires to be cleansed by the smoke. (The wiccan/pagan practices were carried over into Christianity via incense burned during services.) You can buy bundles of sage at many healthy food stores. When lit with a match, the bundles will smolder for hours, releasing smoke, but it doesn't burn with a flame (except, apparently, when I'm using it and run into energy imprints left behind by trespassers!) You just put the bundle into a ceramic or glass bowl and light it. To purify a room or building, walk the perimeter and wave the smoke around.

Mary

daelach said...

It's sometimes entertaining to watch the effect of magic upon people who aren't into it.

As an example, my soulmate and me found ourselves after a party in a room together with a man who had had too much of I-don't-even-want-to-know and expressed unconditional aggression. As the circumstances were, leaving wasn't an option. We both knew that one wrong line like "hey, chill down" would have made us targets.

So we threw a glance at each other and decided to get him calmed down immediately. Physically, we did nothing, just sitting there quietly. After at most five minutes, he lost his anger and became quiet. I'll never forget how he looked at us when we finally left. He just knew that he would never have calmed down that quickly, and that we certainly had done something.. but he couldn't figure out what it was (trapped in the limits of thinking this month's post is about). Well, on the physical level, he was stronger, but on the mental, he wasn't a match, and especially not outnumbered two to one.

What we basically had done was projecting a reality tunnel consisting of peace at him while taking away any room for his aggressive reality tunnel. Talk of peace being used in a rather aggressive way. (:

That's quite an abstract concept of magic since it doesn't involve usage of magical symbols, spells, rituals or whatever, it is direct manipulation of possibilities which contain the reality yet to unfold.

Usually, I don't do such stuff to other people, but that was one of the exceptions. Magic of the empty hand has the huge advantage that it can be applied secretly in public, even when I don't have any magical gear (which is rather deco for me anyway). And it works also in our oh-so-rational time.

I think this ability will prove more than valuable in the rough times to come.



@ Bill Pulliam:

" Every magical system I have encountered is also packed full of people who believe it too is a is true and concrete representation of the universe"

In that case, you have not yet encountered Chaos Magic? The whole point of Chaos Magic is to shift between reality tunnels and use the one that's most fit for the purpose in question.

Dwig said...

magicalthyme,

Quite an interesting story; I'll have to look up "reality tunnels". In a very modest way, in my software design practice, I too try to "shift between reality tunnels and use the one that's most fit for the purpose in question" (although probably in a more trivial interpretation of the phrase).

The story reminded me of another, one I hadn't thought of for years; makes me wonder if aikido is a form of magic.

Dwig said...

Sorry about the misidentification in my previous post. It was intended for daelach.

earthworm said...

It was many years before it occurred to me that there is no separation between being alive here and being engaged in 'internal work'... unless we choose to have that separation through world-view: and that the time set aside for whatever practice you choose to engage in, could be, in effect, a ritual space (for want of a better term).
That the boundary for this ritual space then fades seemed most satisfactory, but it raised other questions. For example, I've come across the idea that material world as it appears referred to as 'mundane', and this is something that puzzled me since the world seems anything but that. I can think of any number of words to try and describe the world but 'mundane' seems like a misdirection, slight of hand, or given our host's subject area, a magical device.

A lot of effort is expended (media, films, news, entertainment etc) in the constant weaving of a spell; a spell, or in this case, an enchantment designed to keep people doing anything except question the dominance of certain world views. Heavens forbid that people actually pause and 'taste the soup'.

Reducing the world to the material (or mundane), is just an element of this, and that magic is misrepresented and then adulterated (e.g. The Secret) just another incantation bringing yet more metaphysical fog.

On the archdruid report, I have often thought that JMG is engaging in the weaving of an alternate magic - superficially, it might seem like he's taking us on a path of looking at the material world (Collapse of Industrial Civilisation), but a greater story could be unfolding because he may be engaged in disenchanting people.
We all need to be disenchanted (be released from enchantment). Now, a person could look at that word and have negative associations - i.e. "I do not want to be disenchanted", when in fact peeling away the layers of false enchantment that obscure the world could be what we actually need and disenchantment in this case is actually a gift.

It seems like a great deal of effort has and continues to go into the attempted shaping of this weorold by some who are more than happy to use what they realise is 'magic' and particularly happy to keep others ignorant of that fact.
Like the trick (or perhaps magic) of controlling the meaning of words – words have power and obscured meaning no doubt serves some purpose or other. Take 'apocalypse' for example. If you stop 10,000 people and ask them for meaning, what would their answer's reveal?

Sometimes words in a book are crafted to work on multiple levels, and I am enjoying wondering if The Well of Galabes is where this archdruid is now ringing a metaphysical bell.

John Michael Greer said...

GuRan, I'd start by asking you to pay close attention to how you experience things that we all agree to be there -- say, another human being. There's a flurry of sensory experiences -- colors, shapes, sounds of voice, etc., etc. -- but there are also other experiences which, when observed carefully, seem to be just as much out there in the world as the sensory ones; a sense of presence, of "someone there," and so on. When I encounter nonphysical entities, I get the latter set of perceptions without the former, sensory ones -- and since I've had the particular training I've done, there are other not-quite-sensory perceptions in place of the sensory ones. We'll be getting to all this as this project proceeds.

Dwig, thank you. For what it's worth, I use "old" rather than "age" precisely because of the shock of unfamiliarity!

Earthworm, in Druid terms it's a cold and moist imbalance.

Kutamun, good. I wondered if anyone was going to get the Star Wars reference.

Dammerung, exactly! Fundamentalism of any kind is an act of capitulation, and always involves adopting core elements of the worldview it thinks it's rejecting -- consider the dogmatic intolerance seen so often these days among atheist fundamentalists.

Bear, good. One of the basic rules of magic is that you need to understand exactly what you're asking for, before you ask for it. Doing otherwise is begging for real trouble.

Thrig, a good example!

Raven, thanks for the link.

Violet, excellent. We'll be talking about that movement into the realm of stagnation in an upcoming post.

Raymond, yes, I'm familiar with the theoretical basis. I don't think it was a matter of using up prenatal qi -- since stopping t'ai chi practice, I've had a complete recovery. More precisely, something in the mismatch between the two practices was preventing kidney yang qi from expressing itself properly.

Bogatyr, you're welcome. The tinnitus of the mind is, I think, less a matter of Western culture per se and more one of the particular stage we've reached in the historical cycle; more on this later on.

jeffinwa said...

Dear JMG,

Thanks so much for sharing the creation of your new offering in this way. More fun than "A Barrel of Monkeys".

The resulting conversation-quite a crowd you gather in your virtual living room-is a welcome blast from the past; talks such as this, but without your hard earned insights, kept us up many nights in the early 60's and 70's, a half century ago. I may grow older but I refuse to grow up ;) mature and ripen but not ossify.

Besides the very useful, thank you,"There is no brighter future ahead" I also use "it's all happening somewhere all the time", as a mantra, which came to me after a kind of strange sequence of happenings one night. The future may not be brighter but that doesn't mean there won't be light.

Also, "As long as man remains transfixed by cosmic phenomena, he reacts with painful and pleasurable emotions, solidifying in his consciousness the false notion of the intrinsic validity of the relativities"; God Talks With Arjuna - Page 919 by Paramahansa Yogananda (this publication gives a great in depth comparison of Yoga and Christianity by the way).

I find this helpful in reminding me of my personal involvement in the creation of my experiences.

Meditation/chemicals I think are both tools; meditation for everyday use, chemicals/plants used when a crowbar or 2x4 across the head was called for; doors of perception and all that. With meditation the doors tend to stay open, with the other not so much but a lot can enter/change in a short time.

Cheers

susan said...

As a regular reader of your ADR for many years I just want to let you know how delighted I am that you've decided to write a monthly post that's purely philosophical. As I doubt the new 'Nagarjuna" will appear in my lifetime, in the meanwhile I'll be pleased to continue reading your thoughts.

John Michael Greer said...

Sefriel, my guess is that quantum physics and string theory will be about as relevant to the next iteration as, say, the last and most complex versions of medieval scholastic philosophy were for our iteration. But I could be wrong, of course.

Earthworm, that's a very difficult question to answer, because Taoist qi theory has a very complex set of models and theories to explain the experiences that practitioners have, while Druidry is still evolving such a language -- remember that the teachings and practices of the ancient Druids were for all practical purposes completely lost, the revival has only been a going concern since the 18th century, and the specific practices I'm using have probably been done by fewer than a hundred people, ever. Give it another few centuries, and there may be a good clear answer to questions like that.

Raymond, exactly. Part of the point of magical training is precisely learning not to depend on props and crutches -- and in a society that's obsessed with its props and crutches, that's revolutionary.

Ember, that's an interesting and useful way of thinking about it. I've tended to think of the great historical upsurges in magic as transitional phenomena -- religion and rationalism are the two poles between which societies fluctuate, each explaining the cosmos in a different way, and magic becomes popular when neither one quite works -- but you're right that rationalism also has clarifying effects on magic, in terms of shedding dogmas and the like. Hmm -- will take some thought.

Nano, yes, though I'll be talking in a future post about the hard limits to the sort of thinking Wilson (and the chaos magic movement after him) brought to the practice of magic.

Magicalthyme, those who are naturally gifted in this sort of work very often benefit greatly from systematic practice, precisely so that they can place healthy limits on how far magical phenomena can mess with them. I've been told by empaths that the thing they most need to learn is how not to feel others' feelings -- the same rule applies in this sort of thing as well.

Bear, nicely put! Is there a machine at all?

Blue Sun, excellent! You get this afternoon's gold star, for being the first reader of this blog to note the second level of ambiguity in that deceptively simple definition. "Whose consciousness?" is one question. "Whose will?" is another. In answer to your question, the difference between thaumaturgy and theurgy isn't primarily in the techniques they employ, but in the locus of the change. The thaumaturgist tries to change the universe so that he doesn't have to change himself. The theurgist changes himself, knowing that that's the most effective way to change the universe -- because the self is part of what?

John Michael Greer said...

Kutamun, yes, it all does come out of the same fundamental set of ideas and practices...

Daelach, in my experience, it's precisely people who have no idea that magic is even a possibility who are most vulnerable to it -- and it helps hugely if their capacity for clarity of mind is hindered by strong emotions, alcohol, or what have you. I once had to clear a group of unruly drunks out of a stairwell, and did it simply by focusing intention (using certain technical methods, of course) on the sense of needing to go somewhere else. It took about ten minutes; one after another, they all discovered they had somewhere else they had to go, and stumbled down the stairs. Yes, that sort of thing is very useful!

Earthworm, good. I'm not going to talk about the wider strategy of this blog, or for that matter of my blogging project in general -- and of course that's partly because it's been a matter of improvising in a hurry as something I thought was going to raise only the smallest of ripples turned out to have potentials I hadn't anticipated. Still, if you pay attention to the flow of ideas on both blogs, you may get a sense of what I'm up to.

Jeffinwa,

Thank. You. For. Getting. It.

"The future may not be brighter but that doesn't mean there won't be light." Exactly. Exactly.

Susan, I wish he or she would show up, but it's probably a century or two too early for that. In the meantime, it's good to have the chance to discuss these things with an interested and intelligent circle of people.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- I'd agree with you about string theory, but not quantum physics. I think the latter fundamentally penetrated to a conceptual level that will persist, at least as one of the top-level mysteries. It also has more potential to be combined eclectically with other parts of the intellectual/metaphysical stew that will be brewing in coming centuries. String theory is just games with equations.

Dwig said...

JMG: ""Whose consciousness?" is one question. "Whose will?" is another."

Yet another: is will a part of consciousness? If so, is the will changed along with the rest of consciousness? If not, does the will belong to the unconscious, or something else? Looking forward, not so much to answers, but to an enlightening exploration of the questions.

Re "The future may not be brighter but that doesn't mean there won't be light." Sometimes, things are clearer in the soft light of the afternoon As I creep up on the 3/4 century mark, I find my vision opening up. I'm not sure it's in accordance with will, or just a consequence of not trying so hard.

Colin said...

With Nagarjuna’s name popping up it came to my attention to ask if you are familiar with the somewhat obscure American mathematician Errett Bishop and his constructivist (or intuitionist) system of mathematics. I believe it may have implications for your presentation of –olds and magic. For Georg Cantor, who was quite fascinated by Kabbalah, there are more real numbers than algorithms, and though it doesn’t seem like there is much new material to come from set theory, it still holds sway conceptually: a set is commonly considered to be a collection of its elements. However, for Bishop, the construction of a set is understood as the construction of the possibility of its elements. I’m not fluent enough in the maths to write about it here, but Bishop’s view seems to suggest that there are important implications in understanding continuity as algorithmic, where existence and equality are entirely conventional. Does this speak in any way to your understanding of constructing that seems to me to be about the will in time spirals? As always, I look forward to your future posts.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

I have meditated and dwelt on your response for a few days and an idea came out of the murk and popped into my brain today.

Your response: "Since he's doing the magic, your chances of breaking the spell are minimal"

His magic seems to me to be a reflection of the dominant narrative in Industrial cultures. Where else would my mate have sourced the idea? This dominant narrative is itself based on magical premises which are clearly out of step with the ecological realities.

Now, I'm starting to get really worried.

I can see clearly now why a dissensus of individual responses to the current predicaments and forthcoming crises is such a valuable goal. Oh my!

For what else can we do?

On a different topic, I've tried meditating on Celtic mythology and it has been something of a failure for me. It doesn't translate well into this environment which is reasonably harsh, infertile and unforgiving.

Not to be daunted by this failure, I've tried something completely different. Recently, I've been meditating on the lives and experiences of the birds and animals here based upon my observations of their activities. It is a bit of guess work but I feel I can almost see the world here through their eyes.

I hope this is OK? Everything here is just odd. The northern hemisphere climate calender says I'm still in winter, but nature and the forest just outside my door says that it is something else altogether here.

PS: The wombats are quickly becoming my favourite animal here.

Cheers. Chris

If anyone is curious about the goings on at the farm here, check out my weekly blog which has lots of new information on the water supply as well as lots of cool photos, including all of the new solar stuff: A little bit more sunlight

Maria said...

@MagicalThyme @JMG,

Thank you for touching on exactly what I was pussyfooting around. That high-pitched wail you heard out of the northeast a few days ago was me saying "Practicing meditation for any length of time makes me more sensitive, not less! If I start seeing or sensing dead people (at least, any more often than I already do) I will be quite put out!" Because, of course, nothing is more pleasant than a middle-aged woman throwing a little tantrum. ;)

I think the challenge for me is the balance between having good boundaries and taking too defensive a posture around other people's energies (or whatever it is if it's not energy). You name the system of protection and I've probably tried it -- to the point where I've begun to think that my problem is the pushing away as much as the allowing (I hope that makes sense). I need more of a middle path between those extremes -- not letting them run roughshod over me, but not expending a lot of energy defending, either. More of a live-and-let-live philosophy, maybe.

But in any case, meditation: I'll get back to it.

Nano said...

JMG - Immersing my self into your reality tunnel has had great impact on my approach to magick, specially in relation to the works of Crowley/Leary-Wilson/Carroll.I can't thank you enough. I'm looking forward to your comments on their work.

Your book, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth has been an incredible resource to my personal growth.


Thank you once again!

Ian Stewart said...

JMG, when you say, " religion and rationalism are the two poles between which societies fluctuate, each explaining the cosmos in a different way, and magic becomes popular when neither one quite works," could that mean that religion and rationalism are more hierarchical, and magical practice is more individualized and decentralized? This interpretation appeals to me, since I find hierarchies distasteful, thus find myself rejecting hierarchy outright and failing to enter too deeply into the temples of rationalism (universities).

At the same time, it's been an uphill battle for me to discipline myself into a personal practice. Being a fan of the writer Grant Morrison, I've been exposed to cursory explanations of chaos magic, for instance... and my attempts at that were decidedly underwhelming. I am asked to release the potential of the unique sigil I create through an ecstatic moment... masturbation comes highly suggested... and then forget about the sigil entirely. Yeah, didn't do much for me. I'll be interested to see what you have to say on that system, since it crops up time and again in the subcultures I mostly identify with.

Ray Wharton said...

I didn't mean to step on toes with the comments about hallucinogens, I think there are many valid paths of personal development they can be compatible with. But, in my experience their are enthusiasts who put faith not in their own personal journey, but in the external agent. They can be a tool, and have contributed to the intellectual and cultural tradition; Dune, for example, was partially inspired by Frank Herbert's experiences with psychedelic mushrooms, which counts as quite a contribution! Still though, when too much faith in put in to the drug visions, it seems as though some have their worlds changed in ways that seem rather... disjointed. Power-tools are fun, but you might get hurt, especially if used with out a mature tradition of safety procedures!


Interesting bits about Tai Chi and Druidic magic. I think that I am a long ways off from going deep enough to cross any wires, but I might reconsider some of my approach, well before I get to such a point.

Regardless of the particulars of tradition, I am increasingly interested in how active a component of resistance their can be, with Tai Chi at least I get to hang out with a rather grumpy and powerful fellow who forcefully counteracts those resistances!

Dwig said...

Maria,

Sympathy for your tantrum. I'm wondering if the Bene Gesserit "Litany against Fear" from Dune might help some:
"I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing....only I will remain"

Dwig said...

I second Nano's endorsement of Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. I've read it two or three times now, and I think the appearance of this blog is a good excuse to read it again. If the material shows up here sometime, so much the better.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Bill. Many thanks for your thoughts and I have been cogitating on them seriously for the past few days now.

I dislike sharing much of my personal self as the Internet is anything other than personal. However, the knack of being not seen and certainly not heard was a good survival strategy in an otherwise feral and mostly unsupervised childhood. It was at the very least a good way to avoid getting a beating and this provided much incentive to practice the skill of invisibility, both well and often.

On the other hand. JMG's comment to magicalthyme: "the thing they most need to learn is how not to feel others' feelings", rang a bell simply because in order to know when it was and is desirable to be invisible, first you must know your enemy. To know your enemy, you must empathise with both them and their motivations. It is a fine balancing act, because what you contemplate, you imitate. I on the other have had no desire to repeat the patterns of a dysfunctional past so do not indulge in those actions.

There is darkness inside of me as there is in most people, but I have always chosen not to indulge it. It is every bit the crutch that Ray's references to mind altering chemicals are. This does not mean that I meekly put up with other people’s rubbish as there are many excellent ways to deal with those people, which they often discover both to their surprise and dismay. The most recent example of this was the interactions I had with the local council a while back.

I'm happy to live in a remote location and that lack of exposure (or empathy) to other people’s feelings was one of the deciding factors. I enjoy other people's company immensely, but I also enjoy their absence too.

Strangely enough, as I have aged, I have become one of the more sociable people that I know, not because my desires or social skills have grown, it is simply that others have fallen by the wayside as they indulge their various mental health issues, focus excessively inwardly on their immediate families and invest too much energy in their working lives. (Honestly, IT is really boring, people please get over it!) I have been told that I'll happily sing for my supper and am an entertaining guest.

Don't get me wrong as I'm not whingeing about some misbegotten childhood because if I was given the opportunity to live a different life, I would not change a thing. I learned some interesting lessons.

It is just that your comment struck a deep chord - as it was possibly meant too.

Regards

Chris

Janet D said...


The first two posts on this blog have resonated deeply with me. I left the Christian church some years back over the issue of relativeness. Many in the churches I tried kept insisting they were not really relativists, and all I could see were all the ways they were (not unlike any other human). Unfortunately, I was not nearly as articulate as you are in explaining what I observed, so there were some broken relationships that resulted.

I do remember reading C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man some years back, in which (if I remember right) he made a well-articulated argument for ethical absolutes. It made sense to me at the time, but I still struggled with the implementation of such a view. What is your view of Lewis' claims, or am I confused here?

Maria said...

Dwig,

You hit the nail on the head -- in both content and timing. Thank you.

Myriad said...

Bill Pulliam wrote: "But when you do learn the basics, using whatever methods you happen to pursue, it is very interesting to cast the spell on yourself, while you are sitting among a group of people. Especially interesting to cast the spell just before you join the group. You will sit there, watching people's eyes just skip right past you as they wander around the room."

I've done something like that, to be inconspicuous. I just figure out what everybody around me is likely to be thinking about (usually things like "how long will I have to wait in this line?") and think the same things.

I once brought a huge and very overweight suitcase (stuffed full of printed material for a convention event) on an airliner (in pre 9/11 days) by concentrating on how small and light it was as I carried it through the gate and down the jetway. PeopleExpress planes had a sort of closet in the cabin for such items, but they tried not to let you bring articles aboard that required using it. As the flight attendant struggled to shove the thing into the closet she said "How did you get this on here?"

(It wouldn't work today. How much of the oft-maligned "security theater" at airports is actually counter-magic? Perchance, all of it?)

A few years earlier, I'd used the same suitcase in a different way, at a hotel for a high school event, to smuggle a six-pack of beer to a party room. (That sounds so trivial today, but in my time-warped suburban school system it would have been a major scandal if I'd been caught.) There were no chaperones in the room, but three or four in the hallways to get past. The funny thing was, when I arrived in the room, the people there, who were specifically expecting me to bring a six-pack, all looked disappointed, because obviously I hadn't brought them any beer, just some big stupid suitcase...

It never occurred to me to consider any of that "spells" or magic (except for my mental exercise for tolerating cold weather, that I jokingly called my "resist cold spell" as in D&D), until I read JMG's definition a few years ago. Now I have to figure out whether the chance of eventually achieving greater proficiency via formal study would be worth the likely necessity of unlearning everything and starting over.

Seb Ze Frog said...

"String theory is just playing with equations"

I absolutelyl agree.But if I might disagree with you Bill, so is quantum mechanics... And as far as I understand it, so is the rest of physics (Actually if you ask a mathematician, it is playing with equations in the *wrong* way ;-)).

I think that this is directly relevant to the point of this post, for after all string theory is playing with equations in the same way impressionism was playing with colors. At least that's how I understand it.

It is a question of putting together colors and shapes from the multitude of palettes we have available (colors and equations being only two of them) to create the part of our man-old that we have personal control over. The personal man-old of one who navigates intuitively in quantum field theory is different from an impressionist painter who has never been that interested in math.

If you ask me (but maybe you shouldn't), I find many deep sources of meditations in the current explorations of theoretical physics. Whether those will make it any further than my own personal man-old is anyone's guess, even though I think that both you and John Michael are right in saying that it will probably be as relevant to the future generations as the theoretical theologic meditations of the janitor of the vatican library in 1512 are to us.

In my opinion though (and here I think I am with you Bill) quatum physics and relativity have caused ripples that reach much further than the personal man-old of those who actually understand these theories. Although, from what I see even nowadays, I would say that those ripples will probably propagate and cause patterns in the future man-old of humanity that Enstein and Plank might have a very hard time recognizing as their sons.

Seb










Roger said...

I think that what is not so obvious to the mighty wizards in the academy of the sciences is that maybe the fabric of the cosmos isn't woven as tightly as they might think. Or would like.

Or maybe it's obvious to them, but for reasons of solidarity with their fellows, they can't admit it. The abstraction one thing, the reality, well, maybe something different, maybe something that accommodates abnormalities that don't fit the equations, that are not to be talked about.

And they present their way with a "clenched fist". Not only is any other way regrettable and a step backwards, but a way to be stamped out.

So perform your rituals in the dark of the night, in the privacy of your home, in the company of people you most deeply trust and be very afraid of being discovered and dismissed as a nut.

To be fair, most of the time, under most conditions, if less than iron-clad but more than mere cosmological "habit", the laws are dependable. That good, old arrow of time pointing from past to future dependably points in that one direction.

But, to put on the "rationalist" hat, there's so many "one-offs" as exiledbear called them. Like the astoundingly improbable co-incidence, the odd event that defies logic, that sudden and inexplicable deep distress you feel about the well being of someone close, sounds, smells and things that shouldn't be there. "Glitches" in the "matrix" to borrow a phrase from that famous movie. What to make of these?

These things somehow pop up through the warp and woof and pop back down and we have to just act like they never happened. To do otherwise would be "irrational". It would invite a strike from that clammy, clenched fist. Did you just see that? No you didn't.

Are these "one-offs" - cough - "unnatural"? No, I don't think so. I think they're as natural as the rising and setting sun.

Bill Pulliam said...

Frog -- there's a basic scientific reason why I distinguish between the two. Quantum theory, like relativity, has made truckloads of testable empirical predictions, which have been tested and verified. It has also lead to real-world technological applications. Not that I am saying that humanity needs superconductors and semiconductors, but their existence is macroscopic manifestation of the scientific "reality" of quantum theory. String theory, on the other hand has proven notoriously incapable of yielding even a single testable hypothesis, much less any macroscopic manifestations. This actually could classify it as pseudoscience, if the people practicing it were not tenured faculty at major universities.

Quantum theory already seems to have entered into some buddhist thought, where it seems a natural fit. "Every moment is a vast flashing into phenomenal existence" ties directly to wave function collapse. And quite a few practitioners of magic and believers in miracles think that the quantum level is where there processes operate.

Thomas Daulton said...

Howdy, JMG,

I wonder if your assertion that ancient humans (and animals) literally saw the world differently than we do today, was inspired by or dovetails with that old 1976 book by Julian Jaynes, "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind". For people who aren't familiar with the theory, the above linked Wikipedia article is a pretty decent quick summary. That would be a very concrete way in which ancient humans experienced the world differently than we do. I haven't read the original book, but the summaries I've read note that the transition from this ancient mode of experience, to today's consciousness, was brought about by changing human culture. That too would seem to jibe with what you're saying.

(Also, at one point on your other blog, I brought up the Tony Wright book, "Left in the Dark", which takes Jaynes' theory and goes far out on a limb with it. But you seemed dismissive of Wright's theories at that time.)

And then immediately after stumbling into that Wikipedia page, I happened across this Stanford University article which, brutally summarized, claims that the disembodied voices which schizophrenics hear in America seem, well, more Evil than the voices heard by schizophrenics in other cultures. Interesting stuff...

zedinhisbigflyinghead said...

Thomas Daulton July 30, 2014 at 6:40 PM

lol indeed.

I've occasionally wondered why there is such a thing as "paranoid schizophrenia" but no such thing as "altruistic schizophrenia"

"It was the voices - The voices told me to hug the puppy dog and give money to charity"

Ahem: Not that voices tell ME to do anything
( The Leprechauns advised me to add this disclaimer)

onething said...

Janet D,

I found your comment of the 29th intriguing, yet I can't quite get a handle on what you really mean. It could be that by insisting on moral absolutes you are actually a fanatic. Or it could be that you are seeing through some sort of hypocrisy or irrationality.
I believe in a kind of moral perfection, but ethical absolutes in the real world, perhaps not. That is, honesty is certainly on the list of correct attributes, but there might be times when honesty is an unnecessary cruelty, or would betray someone. The need for wisdom is paramount.

onething said...

Regarding Roger's recent comment, what distresses me is the patterns of behavior that seem to keep repeating, with only the topic at hand changing. People think with their emotions.

As to the one-offs, the glitches in the matrix and whether such things are unnatural...

For convenience and to communicate, I have to use such terms as spiritual, physical, material, nonmaterial and so on, but I can't wrap my head around them even though I once thought that way. Since I am only marginally educated in science but am an avid lay reader and ponderer, I wonder to what extent do the actual scientists understand these things and do the ones with good understanding actually understand alike?

Even things that are working fairly well for us, like gravity and electricty - how well does anyone really understand gravity, and electromagnetism? What is energy and what is matter.

So here is my problem. I've come to believe that all things are physical, and that despite my parallel belief that there is nothing but God. Apparently I am a panentheist monist or something. I came to my own understanding and only years later found these labels and such things as advaitist philosophy, which I am apparently more or less and advaitist.

What I mean is this. There are two options: existence or nonexistence. (Now, nonexistence is a mental exercise, there is no such actual thing as nonexistence.) Everything that is in existence has some way or other of interacting with other things. Should there be something which exists but with no effect upon anything whatsoever, it is effectively irrelevant. We call something nonmaterial. Perhaps a soul, or the mind. But these things live inside our bodies and interact with them constantly. So we can't see them or touch them, neither can we feel gamma rays but they do exist and interact. To say that such a thing is nonmaterial is odd to me. If it can touch the material and affect and be affected by it, then it is in a continuum. And all things, mind, God, gods, what have you, they are all interacting within the sphere of existence. I can see that those who have not thought deeply would naturally fall into the pattern of thinking there are nonmaterial things, but then, and this goes to Bill's comment about whether magic or "miracles" occur in the quantum realm - most people who do believe in miracles consider them the magic of God, and when I say magic I mean like in the TV show bewitched where she twitches her cute little nose and stuff appears. Or Cindarella's fairy godmother. She waved her wand and a coach and six appeared.

I, too, believe that miracles occur from within a close by realm, a dimension of the inner and smaller, the finer and subtler, and it is probably the quantum realm. But there is no such thing as unnatural, or the supernatural. The very term is meaningless. But there sure is more to the world than dreamt of in the materialist philosophy.

I guess, in a way, I am the anti-materialist, in that all that exists is the spiritual (or mind) - but that too is not really true. What is true is that there is no division, therefore it ALL JUST IS.

Dwig said...

Bill, Seb,

I found this article on interpretations of quantum mechanics interesting, but possibly not for the reasons the authors had in mind. The article lists 17 "common intepretations" or categories of interpretation, plus an 18th section called "Other interpretations". (The Talk page is also, umm, interesting for the controversy over which intepretations to include.)

This seems to be something of a dilemma; the math works, in the sense of creating good predictions, but there's considerable disagreement on what it "means", if anything. From what I've read, relativity doesn't suffer from this phenomenon.

Thomas Daulton said...

to Zedinhisbigflyinghead... your comment (and your avatar) also made me LOL! Once again, I have not actually read Jaynes book, but I suspect Jaynes would respond that "altruistic schizophrenia" has a much simpler name... it's a flavor of something called "Religion". We all know the type, usually televangelists or their viewers: "I fed the hungry and clothed the needy, not because I feel any sense of empathy or social responsibility, Gawd forbid, I can barely stand the sight of those disgusting wretches. I did those things because GAWD HIMSELF spoke in my brain and ordered me to do so -- and I dare not disobey Him."
Now, I hasten to add, I personally do not believe that is the only flavor of religion. Many millions -- probably including our benevolent host here -- practice altruism in the name of religion, with a keen intellectual understanding of the principles of harmony, interconnectedness, social justice, and so forth. But we all know there is another flavor of religion which often involves disembodied voices giving orders to people -- beneficent orders, or horrific ones.
However, I suspect our benevolent host would prefer to confine critiques of religion-as-a-thing to his other blog, and leave this one open for magic instead.

RPC said...

Roger,
"...be very afraid of being discovered and dismissed as a nut." Actually, I suspect that "harmless kook" is part of JMG's protective camouflage. The use of terms like "archdruid" and "green wizards" pretty well guarantees being able to fly under the radar!

Thomas Daulton said...

...[continuing my comment to zedinishibigflyinghead]...
Which would sort of imply why it's hard to trust scientific studies. "Altruistic schizophrenics" don't get diagnosed with a disorder, they get diagnosed as Devout in the United States. So, the Stanford study is probably by definition skewed towards finding people with bad voices in their heads.

Joe Lapp said...

JMG, I wonder if you might be confusing "scientists" with those who subscribe to "scientism." In short, scientism is the belief that science is the only means to knowledge, and often more strongly, that our body of scientific knowledge is essentially all the truth there is. Scientism is being popularized by outspoken "New Atheist" scientists, such as Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett, and it is growing in popularity among atheists.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism
http://www.iep.utm.edu/n-atheis/

Scientists are a mixed bunch. There are scientists in all religions and even pagan scientists. The only thing the scientists really have in common is that they believe there is an objective reality to the particular thing they study and that they can test hypotheses against that objective reality. Pretty much everything else is up in the air. Remember, there are scientists who believe that Mary was a virgin and that Moses parted the Red Sea.

The Pew Forum surveyed the beliefs of scientists in the AAAS. The focus was mainly on belief in God, but it's telling anyway.

http://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/

The survey leaves us with at most 41% of scientists who don't believe in a "higher power" and thus possibly subscribing to scientism. But even this group is a mixed bunch, including agnostics, ignostics, apathists, weak atheists, strong atheists, naturalists, humanists, pantheists, and others. I don't know what fraction of non-theists subscribe to scientism, but it certainly will not be all of them and likely not even the majority.

Humans compartmentalize reality. Religious scientists expect physics to apply rigidily to their systems of study but not to apply at all to miracles of yore. Quantum physicists assert that nothing has locality except through interaction of observer with probability wave, even as they blithely set their cup of hot tea on the table, expecting it to stay on the table. You seem to assert that there may not be an objective reality, but you set in a chair to type at a computer to fashion messages for the minds of your readers as if all of these things were unquestionably real. We all live in multiple realms all at once.

Your article concerns me for seeming to criticize science and scientists for the philosophy of a minority of outspoken atheists who happen to be scientists. Creationists and the fossil fuel industry are already doing a great job of turning the public against science. It would be great to see you being careful here not to exacerbate this poor state of affairs.

Eric S. said...

@Joe

If you think JMG is anti-science, you may want to go on up to the Archdruid Report and read his essays “Saving Science,” “Salvaging Science,” and “An Old Kind Of Science” all of which are about the importance of individuals learning the methods and practices that make up science and putting them to work so that one of the most valuable innovations of our civilization can survive whatever may happen to the institutions and cultural consensus that gives science the funding and power it currently has. Also, every time I’ve seen him speak on magic and the occult at conferences and gatherings, he’s always said that one of the foundational steps in any magical practice is getting really familiar with a branch of science thematically related to the type of magic you want to learn, and has talked very often about the importance of even people who aren’t professional scientists getting involved with citizen science projects and making themselves an active presence in the scientific community. Regarding objective reality: of course we sit down in chairs assuming them to be real and solid. That’s what our experiences and our cultural understanding of chairs tells us to expect from them. Assumptions like that are also the bread and butter of any practical joker who knows how to bruise behinds and egos by using a screwdriver to create a gap between perceived reality and lived reality. The assumptions we make about the world we live are good enough to get us through life most of the time, but they can still be wrong.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, well, we'll see. I'm far from sure that quantum mechanics will mean much once quantum-level effects aren't something anybody has to deal with directly.

Dwig, excellent. We'll have to talk about the nature of intentionality in one of these posts...

Colin, no -- higher mathematics is pretty much a closed book to me, I'm sorry to say.

Cherokee, it's perfectly okay. If the mythology doesn't resonate with you, no worries; find some other set of narratives that do -- for example, the peregrinations of the local wombats. ;-)

Maria, it's not uncommon to have problems with increasing sensitivity in the early stages of meditative work; that's one of the reasons why most systems of magical training include some kind of basic protective ritual, such as the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram or the Sphere of Protection, which has the opposite effect. With practice, it becomes easy to shut out perceptions you don't want to deal with at a given moment.

Nano, thank you. Glad to be of help.

Ian, good -- yes, religion and rationalism both tend to be fairly hierarchical, because they reach their respective peaks in periods when society is well enough integrated to allow hierarchies to become strong. Magic thrives in periods when society is disrupted and hierarchies are fragmented and full of conflict. As for chaos magic, yes, we'll talk about it -- and no, I don't imagine that the working you described produced much more than exercise for your wrist. That sort of thing is very overrated.

Ray, in traditional cultures where psychoactive plants have a long history of spiritual use, there's much that can be done with them -- but we don't live in such a culture, and I've seen a lot of people go head over heels into drug use, convinced that they'd found the philosopher's stone, and end up getting nowhere. Thus my unenthusiastic response!

Dwig, thank you!

Janet, Lewis' "proof" was, like all such proofs, an exercise in cherrypicking. If you go looking for ethical absolutes, and discard everything that doesn't fit, you can build up a case that looks good -- but all it takes is a little familiarity with the sources to notice that there's no single virtue that's considered valid by all traditions. Do you recall my discussion of Karen Armstrong's "Charter for Compassion" in an Archdruid Report post a while back? That's an example of the sort of cherrypicking I mean -- and the same point can be applied to all those allegedly objective moral absolutes.

Roger, exactly. We'll be getting to that as we proceed.

Thomas, I recommend reading the original book. I'm far from convinced that Jaynes is right about the cause of the phenomena he tracks, but that there have been significant changes in human consciousness along the lines he's marked out -- there he's right on target.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

Thanks, JMG, for this new blog about magic-- Your occasional discussions of magical practices in modern business (Thaumaturgy?) have enabled me to spot them. It's surprising how prevalent the (attempted) practice of magic is, in business.

I hope you will comment sometime on possible unintended consequences of business/magical practices:
Here's an example-- I work in a business environment where I am responsible (and punished!) for the mistakes of other people working with me. I can't change the staff, can't reprimand them, can't change the processes, and there is no notification to me of errors when they occur (although I can look them up on a dedicated secured website, with moderate trouble).
If I accumulate 10 errors in any 4 months, the regional supervisors come around to give me a written warning. If I get 3 written warnings in a year, I am fired, not re-hirable, and because of the nature of the work, likely will not be hired by anyone else, anywhere. In effect, my career is over.

OK, that's the background-- I found out about the written warning process when I got my first written warning. The sense of betrayal was like a knife thru the heart (no ongoing feedback or mechanisms for improvement, just punishment).

After the first write-up, I began to get a psychic 'prompt' when an error occurred. This has allowed me to know that I need to look up a new error and take any corrective steps I can, so at least I am no longer blindsided by errors. The result of this ongoing cruelty has been like plugging a second screen into my mental laptop that detects emotions of at least some people in real time, often far away. It's a little buggy, but I find I can point the 'detector' at specific persons and discover whether they are happy or sad, and what attitude they may have towards me.

I wonder if this may be partly blowback from ineptly performed corporate magic. The corporate happy talk is all about teamwork, camaraderie, 'door-always-open,' honesty, integrity. But as it turns out, data that could be used to improve outcomes is more often used selectively to maintain employees in a state of fear so that they will do as they are told.

It's a work environment a bit like the 'Mars Invades' movie-- They come through saying "Ack-ack! We come in peace" while simultaneously vaporizing civilians--metaphorically, of course..

Anyway, have you heard of spontaneously-developing psi abilities in response to relentless cruelty? Your mention of development of "magical thinking" as a working adaptation of 'primitive' persons to the natural environment sounded familiar to me.

Keep up the good work.

Janet D said...

@onething,

The reason you can't get a handle on what I really mean is that I do not articulate myself well when explaining my moral and philosophical views. My lack, not yours.

Like you, I very much believe in a moral perfection and even moral absolutes (largely in principles and those, for me, exist mainly on a spiritual, not earthly, realm). Like you, I do not believe in ethical absolutes (esp. when made by people solely for "other people", which is almost always the case with ethical absolutes) in the real world. That is where I broke with the Christian church, esp. over the absolutes the churches I attended kept insisting on, while at the same time they completely ignored the other moral absolutes that Jesus gave. (and that's all I'm gonna say on that matter)

"The need for wisdom is paramount."

Yup. Couldn't agree more. Which is why I now seek paths that help me grow in wisdom.

Not sure if I've clarifies or confused more, but I believe you & I would agree much more than disagree in our views.

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, yes, you're a monist, and you've just outlined one of the classic arguments of monist thought. If it works for you, by all means.

Joe, if you think I'm criticizing science or scientists in this post, please read it again. I noted that I've seen far too many scientists fail to take the implications of their own understanding of reality into account when trying to make sense of claims about human experience in general, and that's true -- I have in fact experienced that from a lot of scientists. (Owen Barfield experienced the same thing, for what it's worth.) Elsewhere in the post, though, I spoke of rationalism and rationalists -- that is, the belief that conscious reasoning following some particular set of procedures can know all the truth that matters about the world, and the people who hold that belief. "Scientism" is one flavor of rationalism, the one that happens to be most popular in contemporary industrial society; I used the more general term because I want to make cross-cultural comparisons, and other societies' rationalisms are based on different presuppositions and procedures than ours.

Now of course a certain number of very public scientists are also very public proponents of the currently fashionable form of rationalism, and conflate the two at every opportunity -- you'll probably have seen the members of CSICOP, or whatever they're calling themselves these days, yattering about science and reason as they justify their fundamentalist crusade. Still, I'm quite clear about the difference between rationalism and the scientific method, and will be discussing that further as these posts proceed.

John Michael Greer said...

Emmanuel, yes, it's not at all uncommon. In evolutionary terms, the collection of diffuse but real perceptions we call "psi" will have emerged as a result of selection pressure -- those hominins and humans who were just that little bit better at finding food, avoiding predators, dealing with social hierarchies, and so on would tend to pass on the genes that fostered th abilities in question, and anything close enough to those selection pressures would tend to trigger whatever latent abilities along those lines that you have. Some traditional martial arts used to do the same thing with simple physical pain -- you blindfold a student and then whack him with a stick, and after a certain number of whacks, the student starts becoming able to anticipate where you're going to hit and block it. Half the reason that so many modern psi studies have turned up equivocal results, I'm convinced, is that they don't replicate the conditions under which those abilities evolved in the first place.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- But of course *we* (you and I) won't see, as we will be have been in the grave for many generations.

And a note to all -- in spite of rumors to the contrary, JMG and I are in fact two different people. The only prior occurrences of the term "magical thinking" in this blog are in a comment from me on the previous post. A long-time commentor on the ADR also suggested recently (jokingly, I hope...?) that I was JMG commenting under a nom de plume...

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG in response to Emmanuel referencing my comment on the evolution of magical thinking, re: reproducibility of psi experiments. The studies on the effects of prayer on healing of sick and injured people might strike closer to the bone, as it were. I have not kept up with the followups to these, or the inevitable backlash.

I was thinking that instead of humans trying to influence how often a random light flashes (based on subatomic radioactive decay), you should get a dog trying to influence how often a piece of kibble is dispensed from a small door. That is closer to the idea of basic, unfiltered-by-conscious-thought, directly-related-to-survival needs. It's still only positive reward, though.

For humans, how about taking the 100 most-viewed images from the subject's personal stash of internet porn. and a set of 100 images of people the subject finds extremely unattractive. And the quantum-level random event generator will determine from which archive the next image to be displayed is be drawn. That'll tie right into the reptile brain, raw emotional positive versus negative reenforcement without the need to give anyone electric shocks or whomps to the head. Of course, statistically speaking, there will be gender and other cultural biases in finding people who would have, or admit to having, that sort of personal collection of "art prints."

onething said...

Well, JMG, I don't know what bit was the classic argument for monism, but I was not trying to promote a belief system. My way of looking at things seems like a matter of logical deduction, and in general I'm constantly frustrated by the way people refer to spiritual things being nonmaterial because it seems like an old habit from prescientific days. Of course, modern science only contributes to my understanding due to so many examples of superfine energies in a continuum from the seen to the unseen, such as the light spectrum. I did not actually put two and two together until just now, that my argument about there being no such thing as the nonphysical is the same as my monism.

My comment was rather to anyone here, because it is rare that I have an appropriate venue with smart and thoughtful people where I can express my desire to know what people really mean by nonphysical, whether they have truly thought about it, or am I missing something? Or do people not really mean it very literally?
When I said everything is physical, I meant that to exist is to have a substance or essence of some sort.

Joe Lapp said...

Thank you for your responses Eric and JMG. I've scanned the essays that you referenced, Eric, and they do allay my concern.

A friend introduced me to your blog, JMG. It is fascinating, although without having the context of your past writings, I struggle to properly understand.

However, I do find myself reading frustration with scientists in your words. They "admit with one breath... and then go on with the very next breath." They "make sweeping claims about what human beings can and can’t know and do." They engage in "doublethink." You lump scientists in with "rationalists" and attribute "rationalists" to the unfair suppression of "magic," past and present. And in a comment: "That's my point with scientists -- if they paid attention to the implications of their own beliefs about reality, they wouldn't be able to embrace the fundamentalism so many of them do in fact embrace." Absent the context of your other writings, it looked like scapegoating.

I wanted to point out that the dichotomy you see between saying the world is one way in one domain but saying it's another way in another domain seems to be a feature of human psychology rather than a failing of science or scientists: we compartmentalize the world. I also wanted to point out that there really are few strict "rationalists" among scientists. The belief that science is the final arbiter of all things just isn't a dominant view among scientists here in the United States. It appears to be mainly dominant among atheists in the New Atheist movement. I contend that religiosity and supernaturalism has always been dominant among the U.S. population as a whole.

Even so, notions of rationalism are embedded in Western culture. Most Westerners live life with some concept of it and probably apply it at least to some domains. So I agree that it is reasonable to assess the influence of rationalism on culture. It's just that my alarms sound when I see language that embodies these cultural ideas in specific groups, such as "scientists" or designated "rationalists," and then criticizes the named groups in lieu of the cultural embedding.

Yes, I'm familiar with Center for Inquiry and its objectives. I was a member for a while, but they really aren't a good match for a decided agnostic.

Myriad said...

Your suggestion of experiments using pain-aversion to elicit psi abilities sounded vaguely familiar. It took a while for me to realize why: in the opening (post-credits) scene of Ghostbusters, parapsychologist Peter Venkman, Ph.D. (Bill Murray's character) is testing exactly that! He's giving his test subjects electric shocks each time they guess a Zener card wrong. Of course, being a Bill Murray character, he's completely apathetic about the "research" and is faking the results to flirt with the attractive female subject.

Has anyone tried that test for real? Apparently, yes! McElroy, W.A., and Winifred R. K. Brown. 1950. “Electric Shocks for Errors in ESP Card Tests.” The Journal of Parapsychology 14 (4): 254–65. Those were the days, eh? I haven't yet been able to see the paper or the abstract, but according to statistics from that study summarized in a 1990 meta-analysis (Honorton, C. et. al. 1990. "Extraversion and ESP Performance: A Meta-Analysis and a New Confirmation." The Journal of Parapsychology 62 (3).), the results were negative (n=31, r=0.0, z=0.00, p=0.5).

Not that that settles anything, of course. My search was very narrow and most likely, other analogous tests were also performed, but somewhere along the line, for some reason(s), the general belief arose in parapsychology that relaxed subjects perform better at psi tests than stressed ones.

If, to the contrary, psi abilities only work when the stakes are very high and immediate (so minor punishments like electric shocks or reduced compensation, or major rewards that are deferred and abstract such as fame or Randi's million, would be ineffective at eliciting them), it suggests that there could be a high (hidden?) cost for using them. Perhaps an interesting idea, though I prefer other explanations myself.

SLClaire said...

I read the comments about personal boundaries and magical practice with interest. In my case, I think a magical practice (the Sphere of Protection) is breaking down too-strong personal boundaries and allowing me to feel deep emotions more strongly, to be able to cry where I couldn't before when it's appropriate. Does that make sense?

Onething, do the images in your dreams have a physical existence? If so, what is the nature of that existence? Yes, your eyes may be moving, or brain waves may reflect the content of the dream. Those things are physical in the sense you mean. But those things aren't the images themselves, in my way of thinking, although they might reflect the effects of the images on the material plane. If I understand what JMG and others refer to as the subtle plane, it's nonphysical, yet existent, in the same sense that the images in your and my dreams are nonphysical yet existent. Or at least that's how I understand it as a neophyte to magical practice.

I practice the trick of making myself unnoticed too, but I don't know how to put into words what I'm doing. The comments about taking this skill in a different direction, using it to deflect possible harm, are fascinating. It seems like a very useful skill to learn. If I learn how to sense "presence" and other sorts of energies people are putting out more consciously than I do now (I think what little I do of it, including making myself unnoticed, has been subconscious and intuitive, not conscious), is that good training for it? Is this skill covered someplace in AODA's training program? I might not be able to get to it until after the Second Degree training, but I'll make a mental note of it for the proper time.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, I know there's been some work along those lines. I'd like to see more psi testing in natural environments, rather than the sterile setting of a lab; I've suspected for a long time that psi isn't actually extrasensory, but works by summing up certain very subtle sensory cues.

Onething, when people say "nonphysical" they may mean any number of things. When I say it, I'm drawing on the traditions of occult philosophy, which propose that there are several different kinds of substance, only one of which corresponds to physical matter and energy in the sense that (say) physicists use those terms. The other kinds of substance are nonphysical, meaning they don't have the same properties as physical matter, and obey their own laws, which may not be the same as those governing physical matter. Does that make things a little clearer?

Joe, are you familiar with the term "concern trolling"? These two comments of yours certainly come across as fine examples of the species, and you've also done a fair job of misrepresenting what I've said. If that's the way you plan on engaging with this forum in general, I'm going to ask you to leave, as that sort of thing isn't helpful or even entertaining.

Myriad, that's interesting. As I noted in my response to Bill, I suspect there are confounding variables getting in the way of the actual process we call psi. It might be worth redoing some such test in a natural environment, where the subtle sensory cues I suspect are actually behind psi are able to operate.

SLClaire, it makes perfect sense, and I'm glad to hear that the Sphere is doing its job!

Eric S. said...

Hmm... From Joe's second comment I wasn't getting criticism or trolling. It looked like he was admitting that without the context of your broader views on science he had misunderstood what you were saying. He said that his concerns had been allayed after further reading and the concerns he listed were all in past tense as things he'd thought "absent from the context of your other writings."

The concept of "compartmentalizing reality" does get me thinking though. Yes, everyone compartmentalizes reality, but different civilizations compartmentalize reality in very different ways, leading to rational methods that are very good at answering very different questions about the inverse. These methods eventually start ot overstretch their limits and examine questions they weren't designed for. Science is beginning to do this now, and will either be absorbed into another method of inquiry that a future civilization will apply to different pursuits, or go away until its methods are re-invented by a civilization with values similiar to ours.

That makes me wonder what those systems of inquiry might look like. The big question there, that could apply to the explorations of this blog: What would the rationalist literature of a civilization who carried magic all the way through the full trajectory of an intellectual movement look like? What would that civilization be able to teach us about the universe?

redoak said...

Couple quick thoughts on Plato. Towards the end of the post you make the point that Greek rationalism developed as a reaction against the magic and mystery teachings of figures like Pythagoras and Empedocles favoring an explicit logical method. This is certainly true and exemplified by Aristotle’s “zoon logikon” and god as “thought thinking about thinking,” but I think Plato is a good deal more subtle, and more aligned to the understanding of magic as presented in previous posts on ADR.

The first problem in philosophy is trying to figure out: what is philosophy for? Often the question is answered that a philosophy is a coherent, internally valid explanation of the whole. With a bit of historicism we can add that a particular philosophy is indicative of a particular time, class, condition, etc., and so potentially less relevant to our own particular concerns. As this explanation fits a great many writers heralded as Philosopher, the answer carries a lot of authority. Many of you, no doubt, have experienced a survey course in philosophy and come away with a similar understanding.

The first problem with Plato is he never offers an explanation of anything. He writes dialogues in which he only appears twice, and never speaks. We might be tempted to say Socrates is his mouthpiece, but there are dialogues where Socrates takes a back seat, or does not appear at all. For this reason it makes about as much sense to say that Plato maintains a theory of forms as to say Shakespeare believes life is a tale told by an idiot.

Which brings us back to the first problem in philosophy. Maybe philosophy isn’t about explaining the whole, or at least not when reading Plato. If we allow this possibility then reading Plato becomes a whole new problem. I’ve been reading Plato with this possibility in mind a very long time. The more I understand the methods and purposes of magic presented here and at the ADR, the more convinced I am that Plato is an ally. But at the very least, he’s not simply a rationalist. In other words, Plato is not a Platonist.

onething said...

SLClaire and JMG -

"Onething, do the images in your dreams have a physical existence? If so, what is the nature of that existence?"

Tentatively, I'm saying yes. I do understand that something such as the concept of the number two should be nonphysical. But I think that thoughts are physical else they would not have a mode of travel, and go from one mind to another.

However, when you say that there is a subtle plane that is nonphysical but existent; likewise when JMG says occult tradition poses several kinds of substance, of which only one type is physical, then I think we're getting somewhere...sort of.

But still I wonder, what is the relationship between those types of substance, what is substance,and if they do indeed obey different laws, does even that make them nonphysical? After all, it looks like quantum phenomena are using different laws, and yet they are part of our reality. If it's another dimension, it would be like the flatlander story, of the 2-dimensional beings. I had said all is a continuum, but there could also be a kind of phase change between dimensions.

At any rate, it seems likely that the division could simply be that our senses have a certain range, and outside that range things seem mystical. It could be both. But if the cat sees something I can't, and if the dog hears something I can't, we don't think of it as another dimension...yet mightn't some of this mystical stuff be just more of the above, perhaps a little further out than a dog's range of hearing or a cat's range of sight?

As for psi phenomena being not really extrasensory, wouldn't that depend on what type of psi? How do you account for hearing someone's voice in your head and you are far away? Or remote viewing?

JMG, which of your books would teach some basic techniques of managing other people such as the invisibility one or when you scattered some troublemakers.

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, my hope is that the scientific method will have roughly the same destiny as Greek logic, and get picked up and used for a range of purposes by later civilizations that aren't quite so tempted to think of it as omnipotent.

Redoak, more to the point, Plato isn't a Neoplatonist, and it's the Neoplatonists who went on to give Western magical traditions their classic philosophy. Whether or not Plato is an ally -- and I'm not at all sure what you mean by that turn of phrase -- the dominant tradition among the people who drew inspiration from his work, for most of subsequent history, hasn't been rationalist at all; rather, it evolved into a way to keep rational reflection in working order while still subordinating it to a magical-religious world view.

Onething, you can't start with practical techniques such as "invisibility" aka unnoticeability -- not and get reliable results. A solid training in magical fundamentals is essential, and that's going to take you years of daily practice. If that appeals to you, the best options are probably The Druid Magic Handbook and The Celtic Golden Dawn.

John Michael Greer said...

Lisa (offlist), I can't respond to a not-for-posting comment if you don't include your email address!

redoak said...

I’ll try to clarify! I think the Platonic dialogue is a kind of ritual, the purpose of which is not the explication of human experience (as understood by traditional lines of interpretation) but rather the inspiration of a change in consciousness. The reason for this engagement arises from the need to address the differences between theurgy and thaumaturgy you have articulated, save for Plato the terms are philosophy and sophistry. The political ambitions of this engagement seem allied to the work you are doing, if we use the term “political” in the classical sense.

Clear as bog water?

Ray Wharton said...

Cross pollinating between the two blogs, I had some thoughts on meditation during a group meditation I took part of yesterday.

The session leader asked what was the foundation of all methods of meditation, which provoked the standard unproductive conversation of looking for exceptions to every rule. But of course that game misses the point of a question about 'all X' which is rarely an empirical question at all, but a veiled way to introduce a definition or term of art to a group of students; in my experience at least.

But finally he suggested his answer 'stillness'. Right away I thought back to the hand in the bath tub.

The mind, considered as a system, ought to be able to have those three phases: flowing, osculating, and turbulent. Turbulent systems are a far from ideal habitat for the rather delicate work of inner development. Be it rational, religious, or magical in nature. A logician needs a place to focus on his studies, a historian the ability to read unperturbed, a monk time to pray and meditate, a magician the stillness to start from for the inner work of their tradition.

The senses, all the senses as far as I know, have a tendency to re-calibrate their sensitivity to the intensity of there stimulus. A turbulent mind, filled with what we might as well call 'noise' has to desensitize it self to many patterns, or the 'noise' would over whelm doing much of anything. At the mind becomes less turbulent, and fewer subsystems are turbulent (via meditation, or other causes) the amount of innate noise decreases, and many different senses might reach a thresh hold of sensitivity where what once could not be perceived become available to perception.

If you want to access a given sense, one must diminish the turbulence of the appropriate subsystem sufficiently for the noise of the system to abate until the signal (ripples in the pool) can be noticed on its own terms.

An empirical example of what I am trying to learn to talk about here is that many people begin to manifest bipolar and then blatantly irrational behavior in reaction to stress.

Now returning to the theme of this particular post rationalism is a powerful example.It tends to only take hold in those whose life styles or dispositions have sufficient rest from stress for the sensitivity to "consistency" to develop. Rationalism and what is allows one to be perceptive to is very powerful, hence its tenancy to dominate cultures during their late stable periods.

But it has a cost, to maintain the stillness in that scrying pool requires much of a persons focus, and that cost increases as the complexity of a rationalism increases trying to expand its applicability to increasing ranges of experience. At some point, which varies by individual this cost starts to cut in on upkeep for other mental activities; and sanity starts to slip between the closing fingers. If rationalism loosens its grasp, just a bit, this need not be terminal path to madness, but their is that tenancy for systems to enter the 'double down' terminal phase.

Now we are getting to the point where my own scrying pool gets faint, but a good bet the process plays out somewhat analogically with catabolic collapse as turbulence starts messing a person up and what was one rationalism starts to descend into mantras about spaceships, oil rigs, and nuclear wars.

Much of these problems can be minimized with some meditation and ritual. Cultivating stillness, and protecting the fragile remains of a breaking down world-view from having to deal prematurely with new sensations that show through the terrifying stillness and thereby causing more turbulence in the quest for stillness.

Of course the systems-theory rationalism already has evolved these features during its short life. With its computer analyzing linage tending toward madness, while its natural phenomena viewing side grows spiritual.

onething said...

Alright, I looked at both books and read some reviews, and I think I'll get the Golden Dawn. But, it looks like you switched from invoking sort of Christian deities to Celtic ones? Can I make up my own?

And what's with the Gaelic?

By the way, you got a one star review from someone who was looking for a different tradition, and I commented to her that that's no reason to give the book a low rating.

SLClaire said...

Onething, your questions make a lot of sense to me. I wonder about these sorts of things too. It seems to me that the more I get away from my default and comfortable Newtonian outlook (that I'm some variation of a solid isolated ball bouncing off other solid isolated balls) to think deeply about the implications of quantum theory, I end up wondering if anything really "exists" at all, or at least if anything has a separate existence from anything else. But I may be getting caught in another binary at that point; JMG may be exploring this issue further on.

I used the example of a dream because my PhD work was in spectroscopy. Photons were, economically speaking, my bread and butter for several years. That's why dreams stand out for me as being good examples of a nonphysical existent. In the physical world I'd say that I see an image because photons associated with that image enter my eye, get converted into electrical impulses, and those go to the brain and somehow get assembled into something I then interpret as an image along the lines of JMG's previous post. However, in a dream I "see" an image that isn't formed by photons associated with whatever the image is entering my eye, because my eyes are closed. I'm "seeing" something that isn't, in the normal physical sense, there, yet it can have definite physical effects on me (I may wake up shaking with fright, for instance), so it exists in some way. Even if there is some being somewhere for whom dream images are physically existent, from my viewpoint as a human, or at least from within this man-old, it's nonphysically existent.

Thomas Daulton said...

Here's a far tangent, having nothing to do with this month's essay, but having to do with magic and humor, so I don't know of a better place to post it than here. I ran across a hilarious and very short fantasy story about a wizard which actually illustrates a point JMG made on his other blog. The following link is to an audio podcast with 3 short-story winners of a contest. The #1 winner, performed last in the audio, is a story called "Wuffle" by Chantal Beaulne.
Podcastle Episode #288

The two runners-up, well, I could take them or leave them. You might wish to fast forward, but they're short anyway. But the #1 winner (again, last in the performance) was well worth a listen. It begins with a wizard entering a barber shop, and his beard resists him, knowing it's going to get trimmed. This is because, as the story explains, "Magic is like mustard: you can't use it without ending up wearing as much as you use."

That comment jibes well with JMG's discussion of Thaumaturgy on his other blog, and in light of JMG's exuberant beard, I thought it was worth pointing out this humorous fiction to the blogosphere... :)

Seb Ze Frog said...

Bill my apologies.
I should know better than to use the word "disagree" in a poor attempt at humor. Your distinction is of course valid, regardless of the fact that I won't pick up the hot potato of deciding what is pseudo science and what isn't.

I think that in the end this distinction doesn't hinder the point I was trying to convey, don't you agree ?

Dwigg, as far as I know you are correct in saying that Relativity doesn't experience the same philosophical debate than quantum mechanics does.

I think that this has to do with the fact that Einstein adamantly maintained the concept of causality at the core of his theory, while quantum mechanics kind of rolled inadvertently over it.

Since this was a point hard to miss, it ended up with some of the most brilliant specialsts of the begining of the 20th century meeting to discuss the philosophical implications of what they had put together.

For those who write (even if you never show your writings), you know how it is. Sometimes you have this character, and he will just not behave...

And if you ask me, at this point of time and space where I stand, I think that we could use more Copenhagen meetings. If nothing else, it would bring some animation to some particle physics meetings ;-)

Seb
PS: when will blogger get some humor and instead of "prove you're not a robot" write "please prove you're a good enough robot"


Jeff said...

JMG:

I've been following along at the ADR for a few years now and am delighted that you've started this new blog. I'm currently working my way through A World Full of Gods and it's a fantastic read so far. Big heartfelt thanks for all of the excellent and thoughtful work you do.

Re: the comments on schizophrenia, I work with SMI adults and like the pantheon of gods, spirits etc, there are a variety of different voices per report. Sometimes the voices can in fact be very kind, thoughtful and humorous.

John Michael Greer said...

Redoak, it's entirely clear -- I'm highly familiar with Plato as well as the Neoplatonists -- but how is any of that relevant to the points raised in this post?

Ray, excellent! Yes, that's one way the process can be understood.

Onething, if you prefer Christian symbolism, the book I'd highly recommend to you is Gareth Knight's Experience of the Inner Worlds, which is a solid introduction to Christian magic by a highly experienced practitioner. Oh, and it's not Gaelic, it's Weish -- the two have rather less in common than English and German.

SLClaire, good. I'd point out, though, that whether you dream about a bear or see one at the zoo, you're experiencing something that's not exactly physical. You don't see the photons that bounce off the bear and then hit your retina; you see the image of a bear -- whether that image is caused by photons or by the dreaming process is a secondary matter.

Thomas, funny. Thanks for sharing that!

Jeff, thank you!

Mark Hedden said...

As a long-time rationalist who has also long been curious about the magical traditions, your writings on the two subjects have been equal parts perplexing and fascinating to me. In particular, it really seems like we define 'rationalist' differently. Rationality has always meant, to me, the art and science of aligning belief with reality. Surely, then, if magic really works, or if angels and demons are as real as ducks and benches, it would be rational to believe in them! It sometimes seems that that is what you are getting at - after all, you provide rational arguments in favor of such theories - but other times you are dismissive of all rationalists. So I've got to ask: what do you mean by "rationalism", if not the art and science of aligning belief with reality? (A definition, I must confess, I just made up now, but which is nonetheless what I've always meant by the word.)

--Mark

Phil Knight said...

Here's G.K. Chesterton on the dangers of reason:

"The last thing that can be said of a lunatic is that his actions are causeless. If any human acts may loosely be called causeless, they are the minor acts of a healthy man; whistling as he walks; slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heels or rubbing his hands. It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle. It is exactly such careless and causeless actions that the madman could never understand; for the madman (like the determinist) generally sees too much cause in everything. The madman would read a conspiratorial significance into those empty activities. He would think that the lopping of the grass was an attack on private property. He would think that the kicking of the heels was a signal to an accomplice. If the madman could for an instant become careless, he would become sane. Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason."

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, rationalists always claim that they're trying to make beliefs conform to reality. What they're actually trying to do, in my experience, is make reality conform to reason -- to insist that the universe must behave in what they consider a logical and rational manner, i.e., according to the habits of thought they picked up from their culture's version of educated reason. Since no logical system can prove its own presuppositions, they're just as dependent on unexamined assumptions as the religions they typically despise, and trying to pretend that this isn't the case always lands rationalists in all manner of logical trouble.

I'll be discussing that, and the logical fallacies most often used to defend rationalist claims these days, in future posts here. For the moment, I'll simply mention that there are relatively simple ways to experience certain things that bear on the prime thesis of magic -- the existence of immaterial causal forces linked to consciousness and life. It's been a source of wry amusement to me to introduce these exercises to rationalists; they inevitably scurry around trying to find some way to shove their experiences into the Procrustean bed of acceptable physical theory, and thus make reality conform to their beliefs rather than the other way around. More on this as we proceed!

Phil, that's brilliant. What's the source? I'll definitely want to read more.

Phil Knight said...

Hello JMG,

That passage is from "Orthodoxy", which is Chesterton's apologetic for traditional Catholicism.

Don't let that put you off, though, as you don't have to share his religious affiliation to appreciate a lot of what he is saying.

onething said...

SLClaire, Aug 7, 5:22

The first thought that comes to me is that we don't really know how our mind forms those dream images, i.e., what they're made of, so how well can we categorize it? But it is quite an intriguing question that I had not thought of. I'm currently exploring the idea that all things are within consciousness, and that there are layers or types of consciousness.

The second thought is that yes, these images may be nonphotonic, but is occurring in conjunction with the brain, and you are reacting emotionally, so at least this shows the continuum of "physicality" I mentioned.

But dreams are such a deep thing to discuss. It accesses another part of Mind. Fewer filters. I'd say there are different kinds of dreams, and if most of them are imaginings and sortings out of our daily lives, others are more significant portals to other realities. I've had lucid dreams which took literally years to come to the point of lucidity, and when I finally reached the point of knowing I was dreaming, that type of dream stopped and a new type started, which I am only now catching on to.

I had a few dreams of my mother shortly after she died, two of which specifically communicated something important and which were answers to questions on my mind, and my daughter had one which resolved some negative feelings she had held. My mother was so emotionally disturbed and lived such a lousy life but I was awestruck by the finesse with which she died, taking care of every detail on every level, and continuing for some time after her death. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I think I can truly say I did not know my mother fully until she died, although that was mostly in a waking state, not dreaming.

I suppose that the working out of our karma and our life lessons is a very intricate thing, with multiple goals being realized (or not) on many threads at once. I may have asked myself why was I born into this family, what was the meaning of enduring her craziness, but who would have thought that I would wait 50 years to come to a fruition that required it to be just the way it was?

Some events like that in life make me realize that what we think is going on, the life we are striving every day to organize for ourselves, is really the backdrop to the profound surprises we are lead to.

Someone once came to me in a dream to answer a spiritual question that was burning me up and that I had spent a few weeks trying to resolve. I went to the wisest person I knew and got a beautiful, impactful answer, but it was still not enough. The dream was not dreamlike at all. He just appeared and said, you have a question and I am going to answer it. Which he did, in spades. I was about 25 and the dream changed me and my whole outlook. It was an awakening, and many years later I saw it as a bead on a string, a theme to my spiritual life which has continued to unfold. These are the truly important events in my life.

Who knows where the mind goes?

onething said...

JMG,

Oh, I don't prefer to invoke Christian deities - that would be quite naughty, wouldn't it?

I just need to believe they are real. I'll just have to read and see.

And what's with the Welsh?

Brother Kornhoer said...

Archdruid Greer,

Do you agree with the position that the universe and human existence is too complex to be understood via any one human-devised system of thinking? So it would follow that rationalism is good for describing some aspects of existence but not others?

P.S. Thanks for the new blog...I know it must take up more of your time. I hope it brings pleasure to you.

redoak said...

To your point about relevance, I am trying to articulate an understanding of Plato outside the traditional categorization of him as a rationalist. My guess is you are familiar with this point of view? At any rate, in my opinion the rationalism displayed in Platonic dialectic is meant as a means to an end, and not the end itself, and certainly not a reflection of the rational ordering of the cosmos. My point about the dialogue form of writing is central to this thesis. If we understand the dialogue as merely a literary device then we are free to disentangle Plato’s beliefs from the noise of his annoying penchant for drama. But if the dialogue is essential to the purpose of the writing, why then we are confronted with this question: if the cosmos is rational why not just spell it out plain and clear (like Aristotle)?

I can get a bit excitable when given the chance to discuss Plato among intelligent people. So forgive the tangent? But I wanted to put this understanding of Plato out there, especially considering the interest from your post on ADR “The Gray Light of Morning.”

John Michael Greer said...

Phil, it doesn't put me off at all. I have enough background in the history of Western thought that I can speak the language!

Onething, why on earth would that be "naughty"? As for the Welsh, the standard Golden Dawn used (usually mispronounced) Hebrew divine names et al., and the traditions from which The Celtic Golden Dawn derives its symbolism are Welsh Druid traditions, so it seemed only respectful to use Welsh divine names and so on.

Brother K., I'd take it considerably further than that. The human senses, nervous system, and mind evolved for the purpose of finding food and mates, avoiding predators, and managing the social relations of an ordinary primate community, not for knowing the truth about the universe. The universe and human existence are thus too complex to be known by all human-devised systems of thinking put together. The best we can do is get glimpses, and assemble models, which aren't too blatantly contradicted by experience.

Redoak, that is, you're taking the opportunity to drag the conversation away from its actual subject and onto a hobby horse of yours. Please don't do that; it's discourteous to me and to the other readers of this blog, and if you keep doing it your comments will be roundfiled.

exiledbear said...

I bought your book Learning Ritual Magic.

The page 11 is missing. Is that intentional?

The other issue I have is somewhat more important. I do not think highly of the entity that is called "yahweh" or "jehovah". Based on the recent actions of Israel, I'm not very fond of anything that has to do with the jews in general.

I know that I do not like the pattern those names represent. That much is certain. I don't like the thought invoking names of other entities I do not understand either. I don't invest in anything I don't understand, even if it's beneficial.

I'm not going to throw babies out with the bathwater, and I get the sense that the "magic" community is more tolerant of more than one way of doing it. So, is there another way of doing it that doesn't involve hebrew or yahweh or jews at all?

I know there's deep traditions here and I'm probably stepping on toes, and I'm sorry if I am, but what little I've learned, I don't like that JHVH/Yahweh guy at all and want nothing to do with him.

dadaharm said...

Hi JMG,

The way you describe how one experiences and sees the world
corresponds quite well with the philosophy of radical constructivism.

This philosophy holds that all that humans can know are constructions in their own mind.
These constructions have been selected for their usefullness (or viability) during the process of evolution.
In particular, we can know nothing about reality as it is in itself.
All we have is a map with which we can navigate the territory of reality.

Radical constructivism is science orientated.
As far as I know, they have not said anything
about how people in different cultures have different constructions of reality in their mind.

John Michael Greer said...

Bear, if your copy is missing page 11, it's defective. As for the deity in question, please don't confuse a divinity with a nation-state! That said, if you don't get along with Judeo-Christian symbolism, you'll probably find my books The Druid Msgic Handbook or The Celtic Golden Dawn considerably more congenial.

Dadaharm, interesting. I wonder if they know that Schopenhauer was there more than two centuries ago.

Bill Pulliam said...

Words and names and structures and systems... all of these are simply facets of human consciousness. If they don't work for you, change them. At will. An elaborate ancient system of magical working is as real as a human language, and as ethereal, arbitrary, and insubstantial as well. You like Russian, speak Russian. If not, don't. I mean this both literally and metaphorically. Perhaps you prefer harp music, or the language of the winds and the mountains. All are excellent choices, if you understand them and they you. Nowadays I rarely use names or words of any spoken human language in my own day to day magic, either out loud or in my head. Wasn't always the case, might not remain the case. Works for me right now.

Of course, the fact that a system is an ephemeral and whimsical construction of tissues and fantasies does nothing to prevent it from also being a powerful tool for functioning in, understanding, and manipulating our worlds, individual and shared.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, if only it were so easy! One of the constantly recurring events in human history is the person who's convinced that he can discard some given set of words and names and structures and systems at will, and proceeds to reproduce that set exactly under a different form, the way Marxism reproduced evangelical Christianity. It's precisely because it's necessary to go to the nonconscious level, to get in under the hood, that magic and things like it are essential.

Bill Pulliam said...

Well I've seen people get lost inside systems of ornately elaborated dogma, and I've seen people float off into fluffy bunny land. And I've seen people use structured ceremony to convince a deity to stand before you in the flesh, and people who've never read a word of any book on magic who can cause a gas station to appear out of thin air where one never was before, complete with "wet paint" signs on the posts. My point was only that a fixation on the languages and organizational systems does not necessarily lead you "under the hood." Indeed, it *can* leave you sitting in the car by the side of the road trying to decipher a confusing owner's manual rather than even popping the hood open. OK, I think that metaphor is stretched to the breaking point now...

onething said...

I got your book today. I'm already on page 2 of the intro and I like it. So - you accept the ether. I am pleased. This is one more instance where my own wisdom source led me to understand that there is an ether, and I even had a name for it - I think I called it the life/love force but did not realize it was an ancient belief. I was on a blog with a rationalist, and explained a bit about it when he said, Oh my gosh, we have a genuine believer in the ether. I looked it up and came back and said, yes, that's exactly right. But, he said, it had been disproved by the Mitchelson-Morley experiment. So I looked that up, and thought, What an inadequate experiment; it did not have the capacity to to find the ether.
*****
I have to agree with exiled bear and even go further. I regard the entity known as Jehovah to be an imposter and supreme enemy of the human race, and as to the bad antics of some Jews, well, they are his primary victims and have been under his thumb for a couple millenia longer than the west has. But as far as I cans see, he is no longer around.

As to naughtiness, I guess I am assuming that magical practices are forbidden. Some fundies even believe it is evil to engage in yoga.

dadaharm said...

Hi JMG,

The radical constructivists do not seem to have read their Schopenhauer. They did read Immanuel Kant, though.

What is maybe more surprising is that they have read some Giambattista Vico, who said in around 1700:
" Man, having within himself an imagined World of lines and numbers, operates in it with abstractions, just as God, in the universe, did with reality."

quinthemighty said...

JMG, if other people are writing to say the same thing as me, please delete this comment. I don't wish to join a pile on.

Exiledbear, that's not "stepping on toes". Saying you're "not very fond of anything that has to do with the jews in general", regardless of context, it's quite offensive to, well, Jews in general. It's more or less the very definition of anti-semitism. Jews do read this blog, too, you know.

I'm sympathetic to your negative point of view about Israel, but when you then extend that to Jews in general, you're making the same rather insulting lapse of logic that leads so many Israel-is-always-right boosters to reflexively label anyone who disagrees as anti-semitic. Please don't provide such easy grist for their mill!

onething said...

Dadaharm,

I don't know about radical constructivism, but the theory you espouse, as I understand it, is the logical end result of scientific materialism or perhaps the rationalism that JMG speaks of. It's not a fun theory. Basically, it means we are locked in our heads, with no real contact with the outside world, ever.

I've found some good argument against that world view on Bernardo Kastrup's blog Metaphysical Speculations.

dadaharm said...

Onething,

Actually, radical constructivists believe you are stuck in your own mind. That could well be worse than what materialists believe.

Radical constructivists are agnostic about the (non-) existence of reality. So your head is also only a construction in your own mind and nothing more than that. You can not prove that your head actually exists in some outside reality!

I just started reading Bernardo Kastrup's book about why materialism is baloney. So far it seems a clear and nice book. And I like it. But my impression sofar is that it will not solve in any way the problems about what you can actually know about reality. But the book does provide a very good (and modern) description of the idealist position. But it cannot prove that idealism holds.

Enrique said...

Onething said: I have to agree with exiled bear and even go further. I regard the entity known as Jehovah to be an imposter and supreme enemy of the human race, and as to the bad antics of some Jews, well, they are his primary victims and have been under his thumb for a couple millenia longer than the west has. But as far as I cans see, he is no longer around.

My recollection is that some of the classical philosophers identified YHWH/Jehovah with the Demiurge and believed that YHWH/Jehovah and Satan were one and the same. Marcion and many Gnostics believed this to be the case. Certainly, it is very easy to draw that conclusion from reading certain parts of the Old Testament, with its litany of atrocities, plagues and genocidal massacres supposedly ordered by this particular god. Marcion in particular concluded that the Father that Jesus spoke of and worshipped could not be the same as the god of the Old Testament, and he believed that YHWH/Jehovah was a power hungry tyrant and an imposter falsely claiming to be the Divine Source. One could argue the same about Allah, another blood soaked cosmic tyrant claiming be God.

Based on the results of history and my own studies of philosophy and theology, I would argue that Marcion was probably correct and that both YHWH/Jehovah and Allah are evil, demonic beings falsely claiming to be God. The Dharmic traditions of India, Tibet and so on teach that in addition to the gods (Devas), you also have the Asuras, who are lesser but god-like beings motivated by a lust for power and violence. Does that not sound like a description of both the god of the Old Testament and the god of the Quran?

Bill Pulliam said...

...and yet I have personally known many followers of Yahweh whose belief in him has lead them to be truly generous, kind, caring, loving people.

I think "my god is better than your god," and even worse, "my god is truer than your god," is a really dubious path to go down. To put it mildly.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Bill,

If you'd like to have a conversation about it, I'm offering it - as an olive branch. You may find it to be interesting too?

Here is probably not the place though. Please let me know what you decide?

As a suggestion you could leave your email address on my blog which is moderated so it will not be splashed across the Internet.

Cheers

Chris

quinthemighty said...

(Well, I guess that conjectured pile-on didn't happen. Although thanks for that small note of prudence, Bill.)

Onething, Enrique, it's true that you're not saying "I don't like Jews", which was explicitly what I was reacting to before. But saying "[Jehovah / Allah / other] is a false, evil god" is really not any better. I mean, sure, you believe what you believe, fine. But rather than so blithely throwing about rather incendiary opinions, might I politely suggest at least discreetly waiting for moments when such opinions might actually be on-topic?

Stacey Armstrong said...

I often feel like my mind has been tip toeing around many of these issues for a long time trying to find a flat spot to firmly plant my feet. After mulling over your last two posts it has occurred to me that I bring a religiosity to my reading and doing that I haven't identified as such until now. Egads. When I headed to University I thought I was headed to a kind of secular church! This has often been considered a failing, at the very least sentimental. But while this quest of the non-sensical has shaped parts of my life, it has definitely had its limits.

A lot of the time Rationalism and the emergence of professionalism seem to discourage and erase a great deal of the subjectivity, flaws, and quotidian charms from learning and living. There are ways to practice science and philosophy without taking the poetry out. When I was immersed in my more formal education, adopting a particular set of glasses (post modernism and Marxist-feminism were fashionable at the time) in order to make meaning out of a text often seemed like a betrayal of the author; it was a paint-by-numbers way to read that was unsatisfying to me.

Could reading (and writing) be a sacred act?

I would also present these questions: if different beings have affinities for certain sets of glasses/ modes of meaning-making, is that affinity biological, cultural, or personal? I must admit I find most physics and even calculus quite esoteric! I am also very curious to know what sets of metaphors you and the readers of this blog use to think about reading and writing. A hunting cat (already proposed), a conversation with a dear friend, a prolonged battle, archeology, cherry picking, or dancing neurones. There is a Belgian theorist named Georges Poulet who describes the reader as a kind of ghost inside the text. I have thought about this notion many times when I read particular authors. Who is actually haunting whom? (To haunt, from Old Norse -hiemta, to lead home).

Stacey

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, I don't know -- I think we could all use more of the esoteric equivalent of the stripped-to-the-waist rural auto mechanics under the biggest nearby tree, getting in under the hoods of our collective imagination! ;-)

Onething, as far as I know, the only cultures in human history that haven't accepted the ether as an obvious reality are those in the modern industrial West. More on this down the road. As for Christianity and magic, we'll talk about that, too -- there's a huge tradition of Christian magic, and has been for right around two thousand years. (There's even a patron saint of Christian mages.)

Dadaharm, if so, they've drastically misunderstood or misstated what Vico was getting at -- he was simply pointing out that human beings have the capacity to create worlds of experience, as (for example) the world of Euclidean geometry, and that these differ from the worlds we don't create in that we can have exact knowledge (scienza) of what we make, while we can only have awareness (coscienza) of what we don't make. I'll be talking about Vico a great deal here, starting with this month's upcoming post.

Stacy, an fine example of reflective thinking, to which I can think of nothing whatsoever to add. As with the Grail quest, sometimes asking the right question is the thing that matters...

John Michael Greer said...

Ahem. I allowed a few comments through on the entirely off-topic issue of what some of my readers think about the Christian god. That may have been a mistake, as there's now been a flurry of additional comments staking out increasingly heated positions on either side of that battlefield. I'm therefore drawing a line under the issue, effective immediately, and no further comments on that subject will be put through. This isn't a forum for religious polemics, folks. Thank you, and we now return to your regularly scheduled Well of Galabes.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- "I think we could all use more of the esoteric equivalent of the stripped-to-the-waist rural auto mechanics under the biggest nearby tree"

Certainly in agreement there, and not just because I am rarely seen with a shirt on when the temperature is above 65F, though I am more likely to be working with wooden things and living things than mechanical things. I'm not actually sure we are disagreeing about anything really, just perhaps not quite understanding each other's metaphors and language choices (the Aspy/NT contrast may be tripping us up some -- such is life in the wonderfully varied universe of human minds).

dadaharm said...

Hi JMG,

Constructivists are about what one can know with absolute certainty. So I guess, that they just ignored the part of Vico that did not fit in their scheme.

Somehow I expect you will on this blog also deal with the awareness part of Vico ideas. That will be interesting.

Ray Wharton said...

@Stacey.

I found your comment most interesting, and will be digesting it for a good while. For years now I have been thinking about writing and how the ramifications of its existence are still just starting to manifest upon the Earth.

When a species moves into a new niche it is disruptive. When a species carves out a new niche is it generally a violent act indeed. But aren't we grateful for an Earth so rich in such diverse niches?

On the other blog the consequences of that process in human affairs was explored. Moving into an apex predator like niche, then creating various kinds of agrarian niches, and most recently the technic niche. These are all deep changes in the way that various peoples have related to energy flows, and material flows.

Analogously, writing represents a very deep change in the way that our species can relate to information, and a change of what kinds of information have the opertunity to give form to a people's world. I don't know very well how this effects a system, changing the way that messages can propagate through it, specifically by creating more potential for long duration and distance connections.

I think that the 'clenched fist of reason' itself might manifest as it does because of the rigidity that writing gives, though analogous kinds of delusion can find habitat in an oral tradition, their is not as much living space for them.

Perhaps as JMG suggests that energy niches can tend toward refinement (ecologically aware hunter gathers, sustainable farming, and perhaps ecotechnic societies) the human relationship to writing can calibrate to diminish some of the disruptive tendencies it has, at times, had on societies. Dogmatism, Rationalism, and Absurdism being the three extremes I can now think of that muddle thinking to the point of encouraging stupidities which under better conditions a literate tradition might be in position to caution against.

SLClaire said...

JMG, I've meditated on the last response you made to a post of mine. You'd said that whether I dream of a bear or see a bear at a zoo, what I experience is not exactly physical. I'm responding to a mental construct of a bear in either case, and it's the mental construct that isn't exactly physical.

What this culture taught me to think is to draw a sharp line between what happens in dreams and what happens when I'm awake. I'm supposed to call what happens when I'm awake real and what happens in dreams not real. But if in both dream and awake states I'm perceiving information, then constructing and responding to mental patterns related to but not identical with what caused them, it follows that there is far less difference between being awake and being in the dream state than I was taught to think. I know there are other cultures past and present that say the same thing but it's not something that is part of the cultural pattern I grew up in and absorbed.

This also suggests the bear whose image I perceive/construct in a dream can be as real in its own realm as the bear I perceive/construct in the waking realm. But there are also processes that can cause us to perceive/construct a bear in the waking world when a bear isn't there at all. I understand that hunters have perceived/constructed deer and turkey, are certain that's what they are shooting at, and then it turns out to be something else - sometimes another person. Hunters are taught when this is likely to happen and how to avoid it. Can such a thing happen in a dream as well, and if so, how can we distinguish between the dream bear that isn't there and the dream bear that is and, perhaps, has a message for us?

BoysMom said...

Perhaps this is too far towards the off-topic, if so, my apologies, Brother Greer. From what I understand, the Hebrew word generally translated as 'witch' can also be translated equally accurately as poisoner. Vocabulary often doesn't line up across languages with any sort of precision.

onething said...

Dadaharm,

"Actually, radical constructivists believe you are stuck in your own mind. That could well be worse than what materialists believe."

Well, what is the difference, because that's what Kastrup says materialists believe.

"So your head is also only a construction in your own mind and nothing more than that. You can not prove that your head actually exists in some outside reality!"

I, too, might question whether there is an outside reality, at least in the way that materialists believe. One's own mind may be the only thing we can know for sure, but it's a question I am going to be revisiting as I'm also reading Kastrup's book. But if all things are within consciousness, then it might not be exactly necessary to consider whether the outside world is real. Of course it is real - as all imagined things are. As all thoughts are.
But that sounds like I'm saying stuff is just imaginary. I'm not saying that either. I note that the Hindus speak in terms of great numbers, a breath of Brahma, an incarnation of Brahma. An incarnation of Brahma is some trillions of years and involves the birth and death of an entire universe. In some sense it is considered a dream, and they have lovely pictures of that. But what I have the power to manifest in my dreams might be quite puny compared to what Brahma can do, which has great staying power and perhaps independent action, following laws and all that, and yet in the end it can all melt away and cease to be "physically" manifest. How then, is that not a type of dream?

Candace said...

I have difficulty remembering the different terms in philosophy, but it seems to me since we are constructing reality from sensory input whether we are dreaming or awake, it makes belief in any thing relative.  So the practice of any system of religion/philosophy would need to be tempered with the understanding that all beliefs are real and not real at the same time.  They are real to the believer that has made the system the way he/she interprets the world, by the same token none of the systems can be "proven".  So in that sense, there are no gods, there is one god, there are many gods all at the same time.  There is no magic and the world is full of magic all at the same time.  A philosophy or religion is trying to help people sort out their experiences and put them in a context that helps that person function effectively in the world (depending on what the philosophy defines as functioning effectively).

I know the Jain religion has this as a foundational truth. Even though they have beliefs that they use to explain the universe, the argument is that adhering to any belief dogmatically is prone to lead to getting lead astray.

The scientists that JMG mentioned in his post are lead astray by dogma.  Adherents of any philosophy or religion are led astray by rigid beliefs in dogma.  I think if you study the history of any belief system we can find some members of those groups that have justified dehumanizing beliefs based on some interpretation of some ancient authority. 

Dwig said...

I heard today an interview that nicely fit the theme of how we perceive/conceive the world, and thought it might be worth sharing in this company.

The interviewee used to be a very successful pickpocket. He was eventually caught, served his sentence, and went on to make use of his skills by putting on live shows, where he fleeces volunteers from the audience. (He's apparently a favorite in Las Vegas, where other forms of parting fools from their valuables are widely practiced). He is able to perform surprising feats of pickpocketry on stage, on people who know exactly what he is going to do.

He mentioned some of his techniques, essentially forms of misdirection. He mentioned that the "ultimate prize" of pickpockets is to remove a victim's eyeglasses while they're being worn. On the stage, he is able to do this by engaging the subject on a conversation about their wallet that he had, or was about to, pick. Apparently, it's possible to get people concentrating on other matters to the point where they don't notice that their glasses have gone missing from their noses.

Stacey Armstrong said...

@raymond and others

Because I cannot hare off into a million different directions and may be slightly off the topic of reality construction, ossification, and reset buttons I will add only a few things.

As my sense of time, place and self seem to be shifting I am trying to get a better sense of the parameters of this niche, hence the self reflection. When I began to look at what I would like to see preserved across time many of those things appear to be vanity projects. Right now I am thinking about all the things about industrial middle class existence that are so ubiquitous that we don't even consider them a question. For me reading and writing are two of those things. I would very much like to think, like you, that literacy could be of some help to the future. Unfortunately I think it just as likely that a Justin Beiber fanzine collection could survive as the writings of Wendell Berry, Russell Hoban, or Jane Austen. J. Paul Hunter in his book 'Before Novels' suggests that the surge in gin drinking, novel reading and Methodism were all responses to the difficulties of urbanization in England.

As to figuring out how literacy has impacted and continues to impact human civilizations. I wonder. I wonder how to talk about that in ways that are't limited to history or autobiography. Talking about them in terms of niches and energy flows is intriguing to me as I am a beginning student of ecology. But those are all accounts that I would gladly read and/ or write!

dadaharm said...

onething,

Yes, in practice it does not matter much. The only thing is that constructivists are somewhat less certain about what reality really is.

I agree with the idea that even though the universe is real, it still is like a dream that dreams itself.


Candace,

Nice comment. I agree.

redoak said...

@onething, dadaharm, Candace

Candace, nice comment. Epistemological debate is one of the more exciting sports in philosophy, but IMO it leads to distraction. Revealing the limits of knowledge should be in the service of opening the mind to the necessity for wisdom. Modern philosophy is more or less the NFL of epistemology! :)

onething said...

Dadaharm,

Is it some kind of solipsism then?

dadaharm said...

onething,

No. As long as your constructions work well, you only experience your own mind. However, if a construction fails, you have a problem. Then you mysteriously experience reality itself. It hits you. Then you are forced to make a new construction. So you learn through trial and error. Only during errors and failure do you experience the reality of something outside yourself.
Probably, you will find this even more negative than ordinary materialism.

On the other hand, the occurence of errors is somewhat problematic for idealism. In idealism what you experience in your mind is by definition real, because all there is is mind. Even if you pose some collective reality as part of the supermind that contains all, it is somewhat difficult to explain that an individual ego can have wrong ideas about this collective reality that is in mind.

redoak,

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.
This quote from Mark Twain is a good reason to have your epistemology as correct as possible. But of course, only epistemology is not enough.

onething said...

Dadaharm,

By constructions, I assume you mean a worldview, or viewpoint. What are these errors and failures you speak of?
If you experience outside reality during an error, then outside reality exists, no?
Why is it difficult to explain that individuals may have wrong ideas about reality in idealism? Perhaps it is because you are calling it a collective mind, but that does not mean that it is the sum total of human beings who created this reality. Obviously we are preceded, and obviously there is something much greater than our minds, not only individually but collectively. Gee, not only to people sometimes have wrong ideas about reality, it is questionable if ANYONE really knows what's going on!

We people are in the back seat.

dadaharm said...

onething,

A worldview is a construction, but also things like matter, a chair or a number are constructions in your mind. Everything you can think of or can experience is considered a construction in your mind. What usually is called the outside world is only a construction in your mind. A failure or error can be as simple as hitting a chair while walking or a car accident while driving.

So when a failure occurs, when something goes wrong, it means that one of your constructions is not correct. Then something outside your mind basically tells you your construction was wrong. So there exists something outside your mind, but you cannot have any idea what it is. All it does, is putting limits on your constructions.

I agree largely with your general ideas about idealism. My feeling is that for errors to happen you have to add a reason for them to happen. In idealism your personal mind is part of the big supermind. So the natural thing would be for your personal mind to experience directly this supermind of which it is part. This is clearly not the the case. So for some reason your personal mind has a distorted view or experience of the supermind (or if you whish reality). In my view having a limited experience of the supermind would be natural, but having a distorted experience of it not. This distortion assumes that there is a mechanism in your own mind that distorts the experience of the supermind. So for certain types of errors to occur, you need to assume some type of distorting mechanism in your mind. I find this unnatural and a weakness.

I agree, that it is likely that nobody understands what really is going on on this planet. That is why I like the constructivist point of view. You cannot know the truth, all you can hope for is to have a worldview that does not contradict reality too much.

mr_geronimo said...

Greetings JMG and citzens. This post and the comments were very intersting and the comments about the the man who wanted to get rich, casting a spell upon himself without knowing what he was doing made things go 'click' in my brains.

“magic is the changing of consciousness in accordance with will”. With that definition I have seen some evil spells being cast in the multi level marketing scene. Many months ago I was invited to join a MLM scheme. Their presentation, with the above definition of magic in mind, was all about changing the audience's conciousness, inciting their greed and inspiring them, 'making the juices flow', telling me and the others that while some people do fail to get rich in MLM, I would succeed because I'm a champion, I'm smart, etc.. Only my cautious nature with money saved me from losing my shirt in this Ponzi, but the presentation did changed my consciousness for days. The others weren't só lucky: many people pulled the credit card by the end of the presentation and now are trying and failing to make money but can't cut losses: they are enchanted. In my case once I could actually think thru and read about what this particular sorceror wanted to sell me and how close I was from getting my precious gold taken away by him just because he some levers in my mind and I got greedy and stupid I got quite pissed off with him. The spell failed on me and created the opposite effect. On the onther people, not só much.

How can someone learn this power in a generic way, from first principles? I mean, that con-man from the Ponzi scheme is a mighty sorceror but he can't apply that knowledge to other areas with ease because he learned thas as selling tactics. If I am to learn to control my own mind and eventually, other people's mind, I want to leart to do só in any situations, not just selling fake fruit juice as he did.

As I said, this post and the conversation about it closed a circuit in my brains when I remembered that episode I have written about above. Will you give directions towards this power, Mr. Greer? And if not, why not?

onething said...

Dadaharm,

Although you are quite clear and concise, I am not really getting the difference between a distortion and a limitation, as they could easily be swapped for one another, or confused for one another.

Also, not understanding what it means to say the outside world is a construction in your mind. It exists, right? So you are saying that we cannot experience it directly? Or cannot experience it "as it is"?

As to needing a reason for errors to happen - if we live in a physical body, which gets tired or which lacks experience, and if our experience while awake is moderated through our brains which take care of basics like walking through a room, why is it odd to bump into a chair?
As to not experiencing the supermind directly, obviously there are many instances when people do and have, such as psychic and mystical phenomena. It appears from Kastrup's book that our brains are filters that largely keep such experience at bay, and as soon as you remove the impediment, the supermind comes flooding in. I thought he did a rather good job on that chapter.

dadaharm said...

onething,

I have no problem with not being aware of everything in the idealist view of reality, because your private mind is only part of the bigger mind that is all there is. What I do think is a weak point, is having what I consider to be a distorted view of reality. Materialism is a good example of such a distorted view. If idealism is correct, then being a materialist implies that one somehow has managed to deny all that is essential about reality. In my opinion that is not just missing a piece of reality, but really distorting everything one experiences. Bernardo Kastrup in the beginning of his book describes this very well. Materialism is utterly absurd, if idealism is correct.

What ordinary people call the outside world is just a construction inside your mind for constructivists. Still there exists something outside your mind, but you cannot know what it is. You only experience it, when something goes wrong with your constructions. A failure occurs. Whatever is outside your mind, you only experience it through the limits it imposes on your constructions.

Both your body and the chair are constructions in your mind. So bumping into a chair while walking, means something went wrong with your constructions. It might well be caused by being tired or drunk. That does not really matter. It is still about constructions in your mind.

I am not saying that constructivism has all the answers. I think they do a good job dealing with what one calls the outside reality.
But they do a bad job dealing with the unconscious. As far as I know they have completely ignored it. Moreover, I do not see an easy solution for that in a constructivist view of reality. In that respect, I found the description of the unconscious as being an obfuscated part of consciousness in Bernardo Kastrup's book extremely simple and natural. It is the best explanation of the unconscious I have seen.

I agree that not everybody can be enlightened. To filter out some part of reality means that one does not experience all of reality. By distorting reality I mean experiencing something that is not part of the real reality. I hope that my example of materialism above helped to explain it somewhat. In my opinion Kastrup's book is very clear and precise. What he explains in his book, he does very well and convincing. But the one thing he ignores I think is how distortions of reality can occur. I think this is actually the only weakness of idealism. Maybe I am repeating myself, but I think being a materialist is not just forgetting part of reality, but something else. To exaggerate somewhat, materialists are basically claiming that their own mind is just an illusion caused by the brain. Being able to believe this, is more insane than solipsism.

elemdaoid said...

The interaction between rational and magical perspectives, and the cycles through which they interact are profound. They remind me of Taoist Alchemy.

In Taoist Alchemy there are ingredients and catalysts interacting in a carefully prepared cauldron. The change is worked through overlapping cycles within the day, month and year. The best work is done when the internal alchemy is in harmony with the ageless entities outside (metaphorically called Sun and Moon) that forever govern the turning of all systems in the universe.

There are words that describe things, and words that change things. The rational mind uses words to document observations, while the magical mind employs them to create or rework things: ingredient and catalyst. People with inclinations toward one or the other, or voices within civilizations, or cultures from different lands and/or times interact with differing degrees of volatility: but without balance one dominates the other and soon burns itself out, and if the cauldron leaks the work is wasted.

In Taoist Alchemy there is also a harmonizing agent: the at once receptive and initiating influence that draws opposites out and integrates them. There is also a firing process, which is in tune with the Sun and Moon and attentively prevents conditions from becoming too favorable for one or the other.

History is full of failed alchemical experiments. I'm interested in seeing a successful one.