Freedom and Fate in Western Thought

I’ve observed a constellation of ideas that has been a part of Western thinking for a long time, but became most influential beginning with the Enlightenment.

It has to do with notions of freedom and determinism (specifically in terms of materialism and mechanism, environmentalism and communitarianism/socialism) along with heretical views about God and Nature, specifically such views as deism and pantheism/panentheism. It, of course, involves criticisms of biblical literalism and the rise of modern biblical studies in general, the Enlightenment idea being that faith and revelation doesn’t trump reason.

An early origin of this constellation has to do with the Stoics. They dealt with the problems of human fate. It was from the Stoics that the early Christians inherited natural law.

Freewill was a major issue for Christian theologians in those first several centuries. Augustine was heavily impacted by his experience as a Manichaean, and through this he introduced elements of Manichaeism into Catholicism. He particularly struggled with evil and freewill. This led him to a compromised position of Original Sin and the necessity of the Church as a proxy to enforce God’s will and hence enforce social order.

Later on, the Reformation era was a major factor in setting the stage for the Enlightenment. Take Erasmus as an example. He helped form modern biblical criticism and the humanistic tradition. He also was involved with a famous debate with Luther about freewill.

My focus on these ideas, however, isn’t as directly related to religion. The specific constellation of ideas can be seen in Hobbes’ writings, but more clearly takes form with Spinoza and Locke (the latter two born in the same year).

Spinoza and Locke represent the two sides of the Enlightenment, radical and moderate. Locke isn’t part of my main focus at the moment, although he forms an obvious context for most people in thinking about the development of the Western tradition. Instead, the more radical Spinoza has been on my mind. This constellation of ideas can be seen in the entire Enlightenment tradition and represents a core element, but it is most clearly manifest in the radical Enlightenment with its tendency toward deism.

In light of Spinoza, Hobbes has come to my attention. Hobbes is a precursor to the moderate Enlightenment, but he does share at least one thing in common with Spinoza. Both were determinists.

Hobbes saw human nature as dangerous. So, he put forth a secularized version of the Leviathan/Commonwealth where government takes on the role once held by the Church. 

Spinoza, however, saw human nature as having the individual capacity for moral good. So, he saw a kind of freedom to be had in knowledge and self-awareness. Certainly, Spinoza was the first advocate of the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and democracy. Spinoza was also an early materialist which was related to his views of mechanism and determinism.

About a century later, Paine came on the scene. Paine was indebted to Spinoza, at least in his later work but probably in his earlier work as well (Spinoza’s influence on English deism was well established by the time Paine was born; the influence on Paine probably being a combination of direct and indirect as Spinoza’s influence was wide-ranging across all of the Western world, including influence on Locke). Paine’s radicalism, maybe more than any other single factor, inspired the entire revolutionary era from Europe to North America.

Many early American radical thinkers had notions of America’s destiny. Paine saw it as being a revolutionary fire that would spread across the world and so a destiny not limited or owned by just Americans. Others have seen this destiny differently such as an American Manifest Destiny. Either way, it forms the background to the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and freedom.

Lincoln was inspired by Paine. Also, Lincoln was involved in a social circle that included many radicals: spiritualists, communitarians, free-soilers, abolitionists, feminists, left-wing revolutionaries, etc. Lincoln developed a more determinist view of humanity and history which he at least partly got from Robert Dale Owen, the son of the famous socialist. It was because of Lincoln’s determinism that he thought that slavery was fated to end.  Lincoln believed in natural law which closely relates to the deist Nature’s God which is the divine imminent in the world and in each person, hence all are equal (Lincoln was aware of Jefferson’s deism and his original draft of the Declaration of Independence that declared all people equal, no matter their religion, race or gender).

If freedom is part of natural law, then it is destined to be. God isn’t arbitrary. God’s will is the law of this world, i.e., natural law. As such, all of the world chafes at the reigns of oppression for, from this view, it is unnatural and unsustainable.

During Lincoln’s life, Marxism and socialism were having great impact. Many of the left-wing revolutionaries in Europe had immigrated to America, some even joining Lincoln’s administration or the leadership of the Union army. More of Marx’s writings had been published in a Republican newspaper than anywhere else in the world and that newspaper was regularly read by Lincoln. Marx was another thinker who was influenced by Spinoza, and some Marxists today have attempted to rehabilitate Marxism by way of Spinoza.

Socialism is closely related to environmentalism for the environment includes both the social environment and the natural environment. This also brings us to the whole deep ecology angle which relates to the Nature’s God of the deists and so goes back to Spinoza. The original influence on deep ecology came from a philosophical pessimist, Peter Wessel Zapffe.

There is the common idea of the environment influencing or determining human behavior, an idea that was implicit if often submerged in the Enlightenment project. Different theorists go in diverse directions about this environmental influence, but it has becoming increasingly central to the ideas most clearly formulated by the first Enlightenment thinkers.

Ideas about freedom have a close history with ideas about fate.

This reminds me, as many things do, of the Trickster archetype. There is the liminal space between seemingly polar concepts. They are secretly connected and can’t be divided for it goes beyond mere philosophy.

This is moreso about human nature than about any particular ideology. This constellation of ideas can lead to many ideologies. What makes me wonder is the factor that causes these ideas to constellate in the fist place. What is their affinity?

In the Trickster archetype, there are issues of egalitarianism in terms of bringing the high down low and there are issues of charisma that offers a vision of egalitarianism and empowerment. Thinkers such as Paine and Lincoln certainly weren’t lacking in charisma.

I’m not sure what all this adds up to. Just some thoughts rolling around my head.

God & Freewill, Theists & Atheists

God and freewill, two things that will forever perplex me.

I see them as basically on the same level, theological concepts. God is the faith of the theists. And freewill is the faith of the atheists.

I don’t mean this in a necessarily dismissive way. I actually am affirming the notion of faith. We humans aren’t as rational as we think. Whether theist or atheist, most people are always looking to rationalize. It might not be as obvious with theism, but apologetics is just an attempt (typically a very bad attempt) at rationalizing theism and apologetics is big business these days. Atheists aren’t off the hook, though. It is atheists, more than theists, who usually find it difficult to admit the irrational/nonrational components of life.

I say this as an agnostic who is hard put to take sides in most theist vs atheist debates, although I tend to go with the atheists when it comes to respecting intellect and science. Despite my sharing certain values with many atheists, I can’t follow atheists all the way down the path of rationality. The world is too strange and humans too complex.

Consider freewill. I’ve come to see the atheist’s focus on freewill as a substitute for the theistic soul.

Anyone who has studied psychological research enough knows that most things humans do aren’t rational or often even conscious. We really don’t know why we are the way we are or why we do what we do, but through science we can observe correlations and make predictions. If you know enough about a person, they can be fairly predictable. If humans weren’t predictable, insurance companies wouldn’t be able to make profits. Still, prediction isn’t the same thing as insight and understanding.

There is no rational reason to believe in freewill and yet most people believe in it. It is our shared cultural bias. Even most theists accept freewill, albeit a human will subordinated to the Will of God and/or a human will limited to a morally weak human nature (depending on the theology in question). We believe in freewill because our entire culture is based on this belief and so confirms it and supports it. Still, it is just a belief, one that doesn’t perfectly conform to reality.

Here is where I’m coming from. I’m not religious, but I am spiritual… a statement that most atheists don’t understand, although one could be a spiritual atheist (such as a Buddhist)… a statement maybe that even most theists don’t understand. On the other hand, my not being religious doesn’t imply that I’m anti-religious. I’m simply non-religious, but informally I’m attracted to certain religious practices such as meditation and even prayer (not that I ever feel clear about what I may or may not be praying to). My faith is more Jungian than anything. So, theological ideas such as God and freewill are only meaningful to me in terms of possible underlying archetypes that hold sway deep within the human psyche, if not also in the world at large.

My experiences and observations, my understandings and intuitions have made it hard for me to find a place in any particular Western tradition. Beyond the Jungian, I suppose I could put myself in the very general category of radical skeptic (i.e., zetetic) which I’ve at times identified as agnostic gnosticism or else as Fortean. I’m defined by endless curiosity, greater than any belief or reason.

The religous and philosophical traditions that I have been most drawn to are those of the East, whether the Gnosticism born out of the Middle East or the Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism of the Far East. In this instance, I was thinking about Hinduism. I often contemplate Saraswati, the goddess of creativitiy and intellect, the ultimate artist’s muse. Do I believe in Saraswati? I don’t know. It seems like a silly question. I’m tempted to respond as Jung in saying I don’t believe, I know… but that still leaves such ‘knowing’ unexplained. There is an archetypal truth to Saraswati and I feel no need nor ability to further explain what that might be.

I was thinking about all of this in terms of vision and inspiration. In my own way, I have a visionary sense of Saraswati and this inspires me. But the name ‘Saraswati’ doesn’t matter nor does the religious accoutrements. I’m not a Hindu nor do I want to be. Saraswati is just a reference point for a deeper truth that is otherwise hard to articulate. I don’t believe in God and yet I have this intuitive sense of the divine, for lack of better words. I don’t believe in freewill and yet I have this intuitive sense of a creative ‘will’ that drives me and inspires me.

There was another aspect of Hinduism that was on my mind. The idea of willpower is symbolized and embodied by the god Ganesha. I feel no particular attraction to Ganesha, but I like the idea of willpower as a god rather than as a mere psychological attribute or mere personal expression. This seems to get closer to what willpower means on the archetypal level.

We each are diven and inspired by some vision of reality. This is our faith, typically unquestioned and often unconscious. We simply know it as our ‘reality’ and as such it forms our reality tunnel. There is a Hindu belief that a god resides in or is expressed through each person’s secret heart, the Hridaya chakra. I interpret this in Jungian terms. We each are ruled by some core truth or essence or pattern, whatever you want to call it, however you want to explain it.

We can have a vision of God or a god and we can be ruled by it. But if we explore it more deeply, we might discover a greater truth to why we are drawn to such a vision. We can have a vision of freewill and we can be ruled by it. But we can seek to make this faith conscious, thus seeing will as something greater than a personal possession, control for the sake of control (in the words of William S. Burroughs, “is control controlled by our need to control?”).

Whatever your god or vision, is what is ruling you worthy of your faith? If your faith is blind and your being ruled is unconscious, where does that leave you?

Puppets Worshipping Apollo

This post is in response to Will To Power by Monarc.

“Each god ‘is a manner of existence, an attitude towards existence and a set of ideas . . . A God forms our subjective vision so that we see the world according to its ideas.’ Thus it is not true that we have ideas – ideas have us. And it is as well to know what ideas, what gods, govern us lest they run our lives without our being aware of the fact.”
~ The Philosopher’s Secret Fire, Patrick Harpur

The ideas that have us:
self, identity, individuality, ego, mind…
perception, logic, association, projection…
‘because of’, reason, rationalization…
will, power, superiority…
ownership, control, dominion…
pride, arrogance, fear…

Such a confluence of ideas gives hint to a fundamental issue around which they revolve. Connect the dots and a picture might take form. But the dots shift and the connecting lines bend.

“Look to the man to your left, yes, the cripple. Watch closely as he rises from the seat, see his shoulders rise when the crutches go under there. Similarly, when your pride is upon something, that something is only a crutch, an accessory.”
~ Monarc

We speak of a ‘crutch’ because we see the shoulder rise. And, speaking of a crutch, the shoulder rising is surmised to be the shoulder of a cripple. But it’s always easier to see the shoulder rising in another. Within the view from our own eyes that are set in our head, our shoulders don’t appear to rise when we look at them for our head rises along with our shoulders. A ‘crutch’ can become a part of us, a part of our world… or was it always there? Is it a ‘crutch’ if there is no discernible point where the self ends and it begins?

It’s amusing to watch the mind of man trying to grapple with its own nature that can’t be seen because it is ever behind him. We try to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and tripping over ourselves we continually fall on our faces. We then lift up our heads from the dust and there is dust in our eyes. If we are crippled, it is by our own behavior. But what are we besides what we do and how we act? This doesn’t however answer the question of the source and direction of causality. Are credit and blame just ideas forced upon experience?

Self-ownership? Self-will? Self this, self that… people are funny. In seeking to possess, we are possessed. In seeking to control, we are controlled.

“Question: If control’s control is absolute, why does Control need to control?”
“Answer: control needs time.”
“Question: is control controlled by our need to control?”
“Answer: Yes.”
~ William S. Burroughs

The rational mind rationalizes, but the rationalization is just a story told. The psyche is a fire around which we sit swapping ghost stories and seeing the ghosts in the flickering shadows. The purpose of the ghost story is to induce fear in pretending that ghosts might really exist and in the laughter that follows we pretend that ghosts are just fictional characters. The soul is such a ghost. Call it the unconscious or call it the soul. Tell endless stories about it. Whatever it is or isn’t doesn’t change.

“The rational ego cannot finally cut itself off from soul: but its denial of soul’s myriad images leaves an empty voice which in turn, is mirrored – as soul is always mirrored – in the universe at large. The dark abyss of space punctuated by the tiny lights, like the gnostic soul-sparks, of dying suns is the image of the modern soul. Or, rather, soullessness – in the face of which the ego suffers that sense of alienation, rootlessness and lack of meaning which is the inevitable corollary of its inflationary belief in its own self-sufficient power.”
~ Patrick Harpur

The soul animates us by imagination. The soul imagines us for soul is imagination. We try to usurp the soul’s power by imagining we imagined the soul, the very source of imagination. In imagining our own power, we destroy the power of imagination. Soul becomes like an animal killed and with its heart removed placed in the glass case of the mind. Soul becomes mere will. Even ‘will to power’ is impotent in its seeming purity. The imaginal (the gods, angels, and demons; the shadow and trickster) has no place to reside. With the self willing away all that exists outside of its perceived control, the unknown ‘other’ is forced to take the form of psychological symptoms.

“within the affliction is a complex, within the complex an archetype, which in turn refers to a god”
~ James Hillman

This brings us to the issue of what is primal. Speaking of the cat, you wrote, “That could have always been there and passed down to man.” I know that for you the cat represents a primal image within your experience. As such, does the primal image of pride and power express a primal nature carried over into the modern experience of civilized human? Both cat and human have been domesticated, but how much has domestication actually changed us?

As for primal images of the feline persuasion, I’m reminded of a description I once read, although the exact words and source are now forgotten. Here is what I recall. The author was describing the behavior of a wild cat, specifically a mother defending her cubs. Even when facing a larger and stronger male, the mother will fearlessly confront the male. Her spine and neck will be straightened as if forming a channel of laser-like power which is focused outward from the eyes. It’s an absolute intensity that will shake the confidence of almost any aggressor.

It’s no abstract will, no ideal of self-ownership. It’s a tangible force. Human rationalizations of ‘will to power’ are irrelevant to its compelling reality. There is no possessor or possessed. The force and the cat are singular. As you said, “the cat’s attitude has no ‘because of’.”

Let me bring this back to the problem of the modern human. The Enlightenment Age brought forth a rationalized ego, a hyper-individualistic ideal of freedom and self-determination. Many conservatives, especially right-libertarians, have become the greatest defenders of the most extreme form of this: self-determination justified by self-ownership. A beguiling ideal in its declarative simplicity.

“Within the strictures of commonsense reality and personal ability, we can choose to do anything we like in this world . . . with one exception: We cannot chose what any of our choices will be. To do that, we would have to be capable of making ourselves into self-made individuals who can choose what they choose as opposed to being individuals who simply make choices.”
~ The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, Thomas Ligotti

The problem as I see it is that willpower is a theological construct. The individual will is just a modern version of the soul uprooted from religion and given a psychological facade. Ultimately, there is no reason to believe in freewill… or, rather, belief not reason (belief never needing a reason) is the only thing that gives meaning to freewill.

“Look at your body —
A painted puppet, a poor toy
Of jointed parts ready to collapse,
A diseased suffering thing
With a head full of false imaginings.
~ The Dhammapada

Yes, we intuitively experience a sense of causality with our self-consciousness at the center of the show… and yet we rationally know (those of us who rationally contemplate such issues) that humans are more complex than any simplified explanation of linear causation. Our will seems so obviously real for the very reason we can’t explain it.

The cat, on the other hand, doesn’t require intellectual rationalizations about her will being ‘free’… or even blind faith that a ‘will’ exists within. The cat doesn’t seek to be an individual self-possessed, an agent who acts upon her environment rather than instinctively responding to it. The cat simply acts with all of her being. She is one with the action she takes.

But somewhere along the way humans have lost contact with this primal nature…

“Despite his new eyes, man was still rooted in matter, his soul spun into it and subordinated to its blind laws. And yet he could see matter as a stranger, compare himself to all phenomena, see through and locate his vital processes. He comes to nature as an unbidden guest, in vain extending his arms to beg conciliation with his maker: Nature answers no more, it performed a miracle with man, but later did not know him. He has lost his right of residence in the universe, has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge and has been expelled from Paradise. He is mighty in the near world, but curses his might as purchased with his harmony of soul, his innocence, his inner peace in life’s embrace.”
~ The Last Messiah, Peter Wessel Zapffe

Okay… so, what would human experience be like if it were still in close proximity to primal nature? Although I can’t claim to know, I can offer a real-world example that might offer some insight. The following is a video which I previously shared in another post (The Elephant That Wasn’t There):

These indigenous people have a language that doesn’t accommodate abstract speculations and ideological beliefs. Their language is limited to experiential and observational descriptions and claims directly based thereupon. This would make sense in terms of my thought that the religious soul and the philosophical will have a fundamental commonality. Neither the soul nor the will can be seen. Even Jesus a supposedly ‘real’ historical figure is meaningless to these indigenous people because likewise he hasn’t been seen by them or anyone they know.

Such a language seems to be made possible by the close connection these people have to nature itself. In a very tangible way, their surrounding environment is their world. Their conception of the world is limited to their perception of the world. And their perception of their world is formed by their intimately being a part of the natural world.

Metaphors of power such as ownership and self-ownership would probably have less meaning to these indigenous people. They would only speak of ownership in terms of tangible objects such as a knife or a shelter. Ownership would be defined by the person who uses the object. Such ownership is tangibly experienced by the individual and objectively observed by others. Even the idea of land ownership would likely be too abstract for their language.

Will’ is an abstraction of action. And all action is interaction. We are all part of the world. We see nature as primal, but the primal is simply what we have denied and repressed but not entirely forgotten. We are nature. Our own primal nature reminds us of this. Our conscious minds only give us an appearance of self-understanding and self-control.

From the Apollonian view, the Dionysian looks like tragedy. But from the view of the Dionysian, the Apollonian is an illusion. The seeming tragedy of the Dionysian is that it reminds us of this illusion.

Subjectivity and Objectivity, Synchronicity and Science

Subjectivity and Objectivity, Synchronicity and Science

Posted on Jul 15th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
Patterns With No Known Cause

The world is filled with patterns.  We rarely notice them and we rarely even think to try to notice them.  Even when we do notice them, we don’t know what to make of them.  Are we seeing order because that is what the human mind does?  The paranoid notices patterns where none exist or at least where no one else notices them.  If we are correct in seeing an objective pattern, how can we be sure and how can we discover its cause?  Mostly, we’re in the dark and our ability to test our hypotheses is extremely limited.  We end up believing in what feels true or useful and just ignoring all the rest.  But what if you’re a person who feels compelled to question all beliefs and feel incapable of ignoring the data that doesn’t fit?

Events That Seem To Defy Scientific Knowledge

Usually, the strange events of life are rather mundane.  They’re easy to ignore and forget about.  We most often don’t even give them a moment of thought.  Oddities happen all of the time.  Our perspective and information is limited, and we don’t have the time to consider all of the possibilities.  We have things to do and places to be… so, curiosity and wonder get put on the backburner.  For most of us, we only remember our child-like wonder when around children.  A kid who has no adult responsibilities makes an unusual observation and the adult pauses for a moment.  They walk past that place everyday… why hadn’t they noticed it?  As we go about our lives, we normally just assume or act as if everything is explainable according to known scientific laws.  Its easy to explain away or dismiss the minor odd events that pop up every now an then.

Experiences That Seem To Deny Rationality

Most of our daily experiences are non-rational.  Thoughts and emotions and perceptions flow through our consciousness, and for the most part we don’t bring much self-awareness in investigating them.  However, sometimes a weird experience jolts us into a moment of wonder or at least a moment of nagging uncertainty.  Synchronicities are a good example of this.  Subjectivity and objectivity, nearness and distance, randomness and order seem to briefly collapse into an unclear middle category.  Its easy to dismiss it as a mere coincidence after the event.  You can’t prove a correlation and certainly there seems to be no rational link, no common cause.  At best, all one can say is that it felt meaningful.  But even then one can’t say exactly what is meaningful about it.

Synchronicities abound.  But if you’re not looking for them, you’re not likely to notice them.  On the other hand, if you intentionally look for them and thus notice them, it doesn’t rationally prove anything.  We find what we look for; about everyone understands this factor.  Where one person sees an acausal principle another sees perceptual bias.  Coincidences happen… so what?  Objectively, a coincidence is just that, but that misses the subjective experience. 

Can Subjectivity Be Objectively Studied?

Science assumes objectivity and subjectivity are separate or if anything that the subjective mind is just a result of an objective brain.  Synchronicity brings this scientific assumpiton into question.  That the scientific method proves a scientific worldview is no surprise.  However, even traditional science based on a mechanistic paradigm is starting to be questioned by new research based on a new paradigm.  But, no matter what paradigm, science will always be limited in what it can research.  Science, by its very design, has difficulty dealing with the complex and nonlinear, the multicausal and the acausal.

Science doesn’t ever prove anything.  Science just assumes through general concensus that a theory is true when repeated research hasn’t yet disproven it.  The problem is that some phenomena can’t be scientifically studied at all or not very easily.  According to the scientific  paradigm, such issues are never denied, but by not dealing with them they are subtly dismissed.  For instance, mainstream science has barely studied the paranormal and only because of a few mavericks within the mainstream.  But, at the same time, mainstream science excludes the paranormal as if its been disproven.  If the paranormal was untrue, it wouldn’t be difficult to disprove given enough research.  So, why do most scientists avoid the matter altogether?

What Can We Discover Through Our Own Subjectivity?

So, science can’t directly prove much of anything especially in the area of subjective experience.  All we do is use data to build up statistical probabilities.  If anything, science tends to dismiss the subjective factor.  Simply based on research, there is probably more reason to doubt freewill than to believe in it.  But can we prove something as fundamental as freewill in our own subjective experience?

Some would say yes because they feel they’re free.  However, everyone has plenty of experiences where what they felt to be true was wrong.  Of course, the naturally optimistic human mind tends to ignore data that doesn’t fit into their reality tunnel.  Yes, people who believe in freewill feel they have freewill, and vice versa.  But what if we step outside of this self-contained thought system, this self-reinforcing loop?

With synchronicities, subjectivity and objectivity seem to collapse into a middle category.  When we look at the dilemma of freewill vs determinism a similar collapse seems to happen.  Synchronicities are just one category of paranormal experience.  The paranormal undermines our whole sense of reality.  Not only is objectivy as we understand it questioned but subjectivity as we experience it is also questioned.  If neither objectivity nor subjectivity can give us a clear answer, where can we turn?  Is there even a clear answer to be found?


Life is strange.

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Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 1 hour later

Marmalade said

Nicole – I’m glad you linked those.  This gives me the opportunity to bring up some more details.

The first two links are from CSICOP which is an organization I had specifically in mind while writing this blog.  They’re the most well known debunking organization.  This blog is a partial continuation of my previous blog: Integral, the Paleolithic, and the Liminal.  In that blog, I mentioned George P. Hansen and I linked to his article about CSICOP.  He uses this organization as one of his major examples in his book The Trickster and the Paranormal

There are two basic points he makes. 

First, CSICOP does no academic research and doesn’t publish an academic journal where research is peer-reviewed.  They focus on case studies which are easy targets of debunking.  However, most paranormal research doesn’t rely on case studies for the very reason that deception is a problem.  The reason that CSICOP only does case studies is that earlier in its history it did do some research that supported what they were trying to debunk, and that was the last time they did real research.  They actually try to dissuade academic scientists from doing research on paranormal, and they have a fair amount of influence.  So, in this sense, they are discouraging science.

Second, the people who are the head of CSICOP aren’t scientistst and the scientists who support the organization aren’t paranormal researchers.  It has no connection to academia except through individual support of some scientists.  It isn’t a research institute.  Simply put, its only purpose is to debunk by taking on easy targets and ridicule those who actually do serious research.

The other link is ASSAP which is an organization I’m not familiar with.  I’ll look into it more later.

I’m still reading the book by Hansen and so I’m still weighing the evidence.  He looks at all sides with a particular emphasis on deception.  He says that he has been involved in paranormal for a long time.  I’m not overly familiar with the field, and this is the first book I’ve read by him.  He seems to have a wide grasp of not only the research, but he also seems to know a lot about the different people involved and he has an interesting take on various theories that are applicable to the paranormal field.

I’m not direclty interested in the paranormal field in terms of research, but this book has made me more interested in it.  The reason I bought the book is because he discusses the trickster archetype and its relationship to culture.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 1 hour later

Nicole said

this is really good to know. one of the things i liked about the articles i linked from them was that they came across as kinder somehow…

i haven’t been super interested in the paranormal either, but am intrigued by what you are saying… relationship with trickster archetype makes a lot of sense.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 9 hours later

Marmalade said

I skimmed through the first article by Benjamin Radford about the haunted house investigation.  The guy presented himself as a neutral observer who is open to the possibility of ghosts, but doing a quick search of him on the net and he seemed to fit the profile of a debunker.  By this, I mean that all his investigations that I could find seemed focused on disproving.

One thing that came to mind is that their is a difference between his being open to the possibility in a vague theoretical way vs what he actually expects to find.  A major discovery of paranormal research is how researchers influence their research even when they’re are double-blinds and randomness to protect against influence.  There is a theory that some debunkers can psychically have a negative influence on that which they investigate. 
In paranormal research, this creates a problem because some researchers are consistently successful in finding evidence for the paranormal and some researchers have the opposite effect.  I was just reading about this in Hansen’s book.  He used an example of two researchers that had these opposite influences.  They did research together in order to test this and the evidence did show they seemed to be influencing their research even though there was no way to explain it except through psychic influence. 

Even in mainstream research, there is what is called ethnomethodology which studies culture.  It has been used to study scientific culture, and it has shown how easy it is for researchers to influence their research.  Objectivity is a very difficult ideal to achieve, and ethnomethodology even questions the assumptions of objectivity.

Its interesting that paranormal research was one of the first fields to use randomeness and statistical analysis in order to protect against influence.  Paranormal researchers understand deception and influence better than most scientific researchers.  Of course, this learning came about because of past mistakes of earlier researchers. 

It was because of how easy deception can occur with exceptional case studies that the researcher Rhine institued using large groups of normal people as test subjects.  Rhine’s methods have been standard protocol ever since.  Its because of the difficulty of control that case studies such as haunted house investigations haven’t been focused on in paranormal research for the past half century.  An article about a haunted house attracts attention in the popular media (which essentially is what CSICOP functions as), but no general conclusions can be based on such investigations.

The second link was an article by Joe Nickell.  He is a lead investigator of CSICOP who isn’t a scientist, and was influenced by James Randi who also isn’t a scientist.  Nickell is definitely a traditional debunker.  Everything I said about Radford applies to him.  He debunks specific cases such as in the linked article.  I did a quick search on Radford and Nickell.  I couldn’t tell if either had ever investigated paranormal research or simply limited themselves to case studies.

Something Radford said jumped out at me: “I am less interested in mysteries than explanations; mysteries are dime a dozen, and it is explanations that are valuable.”  He admits that mysteries are prevalent and oddly he concludes that mysteries are uninteresting because there are so many of them.  Jeez!  I’d say its quite interesting that mysteries are dime a dozen.  Doesn’t he find it amazing that explanations are so rare?  I’m all for explanations, but how much jaded cynicism does it take to lose one’s wonder and curiosity in the face of ineffable mystery?  Without mysteries, there would be no new explanations.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 10 hours later

Marmalade said

I wasn’t intending to discuss CSICOP and debunkers in this blog, but that is fine.  In writing this blog, I was inspired more by my personal experience.

 – I’ve had many synchronicities such as where I’ve heard a word on the radio at the same time I was reading that word. 
 – Working downtown, I notice patterns in crowd behavior and I always wonder what is the cause. 
 – The other day I had an experience where I was pouring a can of pop into a cup and somehow the liquid spilled 6 inches away from the cup, and I couldn’t figure out the reason as the can looked normal.

These are all completely mundane experiences and that is partly what interests me.  Such minor events happen to us all of the time, but we rarely know the reason.  They aren’t important as in the sense that they have no great effect on our everyday lives, but they’re the type of thing that catches my attention.  I’m always thinking about the world and I’m always noticing patterns.

I’ve also had more dramatic weird experiences.  But in this blog I was thinking more about these more minor events that are easy to not notice or dismiss if noticed.  Most people don’t give much credence to coincidences.  Most people don’t care about the reason behind the behavior of crowds.  Most people don’t think about a spilled can of pop beyond being annoyed by it.  

Yet,  these are all things that signify the limits of our personal knowledge of the world.  Even if you were a genius that memorized all of human knowledge, you’d still know very little about the world.  Our ‘knowledge’ will look as naive and simplistic to future generations as the ‘knowledge’ of past generations looks to us.

Our knowledge is an island in a sea of mystery.  As Radford said, mysteries are so common as to be deemed insignificant.  And yet every moment of existence is an utter mystery.  What I find amazing is that despite all of the explanations we come up with we can’t seem to banish mystery from our rational world.  And it most often pops up in small ways… God in the gutter.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 14 hours later

Nicole said

God in the gutter. There are so many mysteries, small and big. Rationality and objectivity are limited and illusion to a certain extent. It’s true that if we survive for more centuries, what we “know” will look pitiful.

I’m happy to discuss personal experiences. and speaking of personal experience, you will be glad to know that I spent time yesterday staring at the water. it felt so good.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 20 hours later

Marmalade said

Hey Nicole!  I was just now checking out the third link.  ASSAP looks promising.  Its not a debunking site, but neither does it seem to be a believers’ site.  The director of ASSAP was referred to as a Fortean researcher. 

I like how Charles Fort went about things.  Like many debunkers, he wasn’t a scientist and so some of the same criticisms could be made against him.  The difference is that he was more open-minded in considering all possibilities and he was more fair in his willingness to question everything equally.  Fort was no defender of scientific materialism.  His viewpoint seemed to be that the world is too weird for any single explanation whether scientific or otherwise.  He had an imagination similar to Philip K. Dick but without the naive credulousness.  PKD wanted to believe in something.  Fort wanted to disbelieve everything.

There are several interesting writers that followed in the footsteps of Fort. 

Jacques Vallee is the most prominent ufo investigator, but he was different from Fort in that he had a background in the hard sciences.  It was because Vallee saw firsthand astronomers destroying data of ufo sightings that led him to investigate it for himself.  Vallee was an innocent young scientist who was shocked that scientists aren’t always objective.  🙂  Vallee was the first investigator to make a connection between ufo experiences and folklore.

John Keel (of Mothman fame) was more similar to Fort than Vallee was.  Keel was a journalist like Fort.  Vallee was more specific in his interest with ufos, but Fort and Keel had more wide-ranging interests.  Also, Vallee seemed to be a more balanced fellow.  He took a decade or so break from ufo research because it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere.  OTOH Fort and Keel dedicated their whole lives to endless investigation.  However, even though Fort was obsessed with his work like Keel, Fort never went off the deep end.  Keel had a mental breakdown at one point.

What is interesting about the Forteans is that they’re equally willing to consider the debunkers and the believers.  Debunkers often write articles for the magazine Fortean Times.  For instance, one of the CSICOP investigators you linked to has an article on the Fortean Times website.  Forteans are a special kind of debunker because they want debunk everything… and then see what is left standing.  They’re something like the negative theologians of the paranormal.  They’d rather say what isn’t than what is.

The problem with the Forteans is the problem with all debunkers.  They tend to focus on specific case studies rather than on scientific research.  Case studies are important though because some things simply can’t be reproduced in a lab.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 20 hours later

Nicole said

this is really great. gotta run, but if you have time, please look at my blogs and share your thoughts… hugs… will respond properly later 

about 21 hours later

Nightphoenix said

The awakening happens differently for each of us — but the end result is that we realize that heaven isn’t a place but rather a state of mind.   The journey is all that matters because in this never ending evolving consciousness we never reach the end of our journey.  check my recent blogs about consciousness. I posted a great video that covers the reasons why we have free will.  

Quote from the Movie Contact: 

You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

Welcome to my blog NightPhoenix!

I tend to view heaven as a state of mind, but of course not state of mind in the normal sense of mind.  I noticed you blogged about A Course In MIracles.  That is a book that was a major influence of my thinking when I read it in highschool, and it still influences me.  As for life as journey, I don’t normally think of life that way but I am a present-oriented kind of person. I couldn’t figure out which of your blogs is about freewill.   Would you mind linking to the specific video?

Contact is a pretty good movie, but I haven’t watched it a second time.  I don’t remember that quote.  I’ll probably watch it again one of these days.  I saw that you blogged about What Dreams May Come.  I love that movie and have watched it many times.  Some of the scenes are utterly beautiful.

The other blog of yours that stood out to me was the one about the Johari Window.  That model is relevant to this discussion here.  Part of what I’m focusing on is the Unkown quadrant, the unknown unknowns, unknown by everyone.

about 22 hours later

Nightphoenix said

The link

please note:  you’ll have to watch the entire video to grasp the information contained in it.  But it does cover free will…

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

I just finished watching that video.  It reminds me of What the Bleep Do We Know!?  It also reminds me of Lynne McTaggart.  I’ve read some of her books and I found them fairly insightful, and very good summaries of some of the strange research that scientists do.  She is looking at paranormal research like Hansen is doing in his book, but she takes a more New Age perspective with considering how we can learn to direct our intentions towards the good. 

She brings up strong evidence for the power of the mind to influence the world, but she also comes up with strong evidence for the power of the mind to influence others’ minds even unbeknownst to those being influenced (Hansen also discusses this).  So, freewill still seems unclear to me.  Who or what is influencing whom?  All the research shows is correlations.  Based upon that we can theorize various types of influence.

However, it gets complicated very quickly.  Psi research has shown evidence for the possibility that influence can work in the reverse.  Research suggest that we might be able to influence events and people in the past.  That is a pretty cool trick, but it also means people in the future may be influencing us right now.  Freaky!  

What I get out of all of this is that we’re all connected and nobody really knows exactly what that connection is.  This is why I don’t believe in freewill.  I believe in influence which simply means I believe the world is complex beyond simple notions such as the ideal of freewill or even the mechanisms of science.  Of course, I could simply redefine freewill as influence and still retain the word.  I do believe we aren’t merely helpless at the whims of reality.  We are participants even if mostly blind and ignorant in how we participate.  Bumbling in the dark isn’t so bad.  Many great discoveries are made that way.  🙂

about 23 hours later

Nightphoenix said

I liked what the bleep do we know?  especially the court of infinite possibilities & the double slit experiment.  But back to free will // if this is all a program for lack of better words  then it’s a very advanced program by any standards and it may be possible in such a program to allow for free will.  It probably wouldn’t appear as free will to the programmer but to us it might appear as free will.  sorta like those books with alternate endings depending on the choices you make in the book. Do you remember those books from childhood?

Zephyr : Poeticspirit

about 23 hours later

Zephyr said

Having had many synchronistic and paranormal ESP experiences in my life, in tthe end I deduced that somehow I was connecting or more likely universal consciousness was making a connection with me, it was totally random not any effort on my part and no way could I make it happen to order,  either in or out of a laboratory but I could not deny the experiences.   Information was popping into my mind of occurrances that I couldn’t possibly have known about because I was too far away,  there is no way to prove any of it  after the event but after ignoring and disbelieving, I learned to heed these experiences. 

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 23 hours later

Marmalade said

Another way to think about it is that freewill is true just as the mechanisms of science are true.  But these are only relatively true.  There is predictable order and that is what science studies, and yet not all experience is controlled by this order which is where freewill has whatever influence it has.  What I’m interested in is what exists in between the two and what exists beyond both.  Is there a reality beyond the objective world and our subjective individuality?  Both science and freewill seek to control, and so what resides outside of the reach of our methods of control?  What is free even from our desire for freedom?

Yes, I remember those books from childhood.

Choose Your Own Adventure

I know its cheating, but I always would reverse back to the previous choice when I didn’t like the ending I got.  I’m sure those books helped to teach me how to think in terms of non-linear connections and multiple possibilities.  They even have Choose Your Own Adventure movies now.  I watched one with my niece a while back.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 23 hours later

Marmalade said

Hi Zephyr!

Uh-huh… the kind of thing your describing fits into what I was thinking about.  Its good that you learned to heed them.  The best we can try to do is to learn from these experiences, but it isn’t always clear whether there is something to be learned.  So, we pay attention and be patient.  How did you go about testing this information that was popping in your head?  Was any of the information helpful or insightful… or just information?

I resonate with what you said about not controlling nor being able to deny these experiences.  This is how reality feels to me most of the time.  We influence things and we make various relatively minor choices throughout our day, but there is a immense world beyond our sphere of control.  We’re constantly being effected by the world and often by forces beyond our awareness… call it God, a guardian angel, the Daimonic, universal consciousness, or even simply the unconscious.  We can bring awareness to bear upon these situations, but our consciousness ego-minds are limited. 

Did you find that your experiences helped you to become more aware? 
Did they help you to have more respect or wonder for that which lies beyond your awareness?

starlight : StarLight Dancing

1 day later

starlight said

i think science is actually beginning to look at this subject with more depth, because it has too…

Larry King just did a show highlighting the new A&E series about children that posess these abilities.

here is the link, incase it should interest you…

btw, this blog entry was very well written…
always, star…

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

Hello Starlight,

For some reason my blog is popular today.  🙂

Yep, I too think that science is looking more into this.  Scientists have to deal with it because the evidence is piling up too much to be ignored and the public interest keeps growing.  Plus, I’m willing to bet that the new generation of scientists are more open to the paranormal.

Thanks for the link.  I’ll check it out later.

Gotta go to work now.  Have a wonderful evening everybody!


Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

what a cool blog conversation! see, Ben, you should blog more often! You’re getting so popular… hugs…

Zephyr : Poeticspirit

1 day later

Zephyr said

Hi Marmalade, my ESP happens when someone needs my help, the first time I was 8 and my brothers friend was being swept out to sea by a strong current, there were no strong swimmers on the beach something said to me go back to the cafe above the beach there I found the islands champion swimmer who swam out and rescued the child who believe it  or not could not swim but somehow managed to stay afloat !!!!
The next time was when my boys were out playing, I was baking at home and had a strong urge to go to my youngest son, I stopped what I was doing, crossed the road, went along the road through a shortcut to the play park and found my son who had fallen off a six foot slide and was quite distressed. When I was nursing there were several instances where I had an urge to visit my community patients when a regular visit was not planned –
I found one had fallen and broken a limb
one was in the middle of a heart attack
one was sitting in front of a gas fire and the room was filling with gas from an unlit ceiling gas lamp, amazing the place didn’t explode when I opened the door and got her out.
one was in panic with a paraffin heater ablaze
I also had one ESP episode with our dog, driving home from work one day I thought the dog’s in trouble in the sea –  my next thought was to laugh at myself thinking how foolish, dogs can swim. I arrived home to find my husband and our great dane dripping wet, the dog had apparently jumped off a groyne into deep water and panicked, my husband had to wade into the sea and fish him out.!!!!  That is just a few examples of ESP
i pick up peoples thoughts sometimes, and am very sensitive to the atmosphere of places
where there have been unhappy incidents. I only mention because it’s pertinent to the subject here,  most people are pretty sceptical about such things.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

how cool is that! what i love about these gaia discussions, where blogged or podded or both, is that things we have become reluctant to talk about come into the light and we all benefit.

Ben, I think you’re right, that the direction is that rigid closed attitude science used to have is eroding with new generations of science and all the inroads of quantum physics etc. the universe is much full of wonder, a place where electrons tunnel and cats are in boxes neither alive nor dead…. so mystical…

Balder : Kosmonaut

1 day later

Balder said

Very nice blog and discussion, Ben.  I appreciated how you used an examination of causality to problematize the distinctions between subjective and objective; I felt you did this in a fairly clear-eyed and balanced way, rather than jumping to untenable conclusions.  “Life is strange” just about sums it up!  The ordinary is shot through with strangeness, which sometimes we see when we suddenly snap to and perceive our worlds in a fresh way; and the strange lurks around so much it’s downright ordinary…

You wrote:  For most of us, we only remember our child-like wonder when around children.  A kid who has no adult responsibilities makes an unusual observation and the adult pauses for a moment.  They walk past that place everyday… why hadn’t they noticed it?

This reminded me of a phone call I received from my six-year-old son a couple hours ago.  He said, “Dad, how come there is an icecream maker in my world but we don’t really have one?  How come everyone has a whole different world inside them?”

He’s seeing a wonder that we walk past so often: the  rich universes we each are.

Best wishes,


Marmalade : Gaia Child

2 days later

Marmalade said

Hey Balder,

This was an interesting blog because I wrote it without much editing.  It was a single flow of thought with one point leading to the next.  I had no particular goal in mind other than trying to convey a certain mood, a certain way of looking at the world.

Problematize… I love that word!  It amuses me. 

“Ben, I appreciated how you problematized that.”  Thanks!  🙂

…rather than jumping to untenable conclusions.

Yeah, I was trying to avoid conclusions whether tenable or not.  But I came to the end and I figured that some kind of conclusion was required.  Plus, I just felt like being funny.

“Dad, how come there is an icecream maker in my world but we don’t really have one?  How come everyone has a whole different world inside them?”

Now, that is a good question.  So, what was your answer.  🙂

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

2 days later

Marmalade said

I was recently talking to Sandra and looking at her profile I discovered that M. Alan Kazlev has a blog here on Gaia.  He mentioned an article of his on Integral Praxis which is partly run by Bright Abyss from OSI.  In the comments of that article, there was mention of Robert Searle’s Multi-dimensional Science which is described on Kazlev’s website.  I noticed that Robert Searle has a blog here also.

I felt like writing that paragraph with those links in order to justify the time I spent the last several hours wandering around the web.  🙂

Also, I wrote it because of what was being proposed by Robert Searle.  He seems to believe that exceptional case studies can lead to scientific knowledge if you have enough case studies.  It seems a bit optimistic to me considering the difficulty of trying to study exceptional people.  I’d love to see actual research attempted according to Searle’s methodology.  If done on a large enough scale, it could provide some useful insights.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

Hi Ben,

You are diverse in your friends 🙂 Cool info … I have the same doubts as you – my company has tried a similar approach by doing case studies of our very best students to see what light is shed on educating everyone… it seems counterintuitive from a scientific approach for sure but from other standpoints is intriguing.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

2 days later

Marmalade said

Hey Nicole… just noticed this comment as I was preparing to log off.

How did the study work out for your company?
Did the results show any clear patterns?

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

it’s still ongoing… yes, there are many commonalities between highly exceptional students that enable them to self learn material very very quickly. The challenge is using what we learn from them to improve our instruction of the 95%+ of other students we have, many of whom have serious learning or attention problems…