Paul Adkin on Decadence & Stagnation

“Decadence: when things are just too good and easy that no one bothers to push forward anymore, bringing about stagnation …

But there is also another kind of stagnation: one which comes about because there just isn’t enough time to go forward; when all time is taken up with something that is essentially futile when considered from the point of view of the bigger picture. Like making money. Even the seemingly dynamic world of business, if it is dedicated only to business and not to authentically meaningful human progress (things associated with knowledge and discovery), it is essentially stagnating. Any society that is a simulacra society, hell-bent on reproducing copies rather than on developing its creativity, is a decadent, stagnating society. We are stagnant not because of what we are doing, our anthill society is always busy, but because what we are driven by, in all this anthill activity, is not creative. When production is synonymous with reproduction, then we know we have fallen into the stagnant pool of decadence.

“Nietzsche talked about the residual nature of decadence[1]. That decadence is a cumulative thing. Certainly, it is nurtured both by dogma and nihilism. Only a sceptical meaningfulness can push forward in a creative way.

“Sceptical meaningfulness? How can such a thing be? Surely it is a contradiction in terms.

“To understand how this oxymoron combination can work, we need to see meaningfulness as a forward pushing phenomenon. Once it stops pushing forward, meaningfulness slips into dogma. Meaning is fuelled by truth, but it does not swim in truth as if truth were a lake. Truth, in order to be lasting, has to be a river.”

from Decadence & Stagnation by Paul Adkin

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TFA and Perspective of Perspectives

marmalade
I think the best integral model is about perspectives because a model itself offers a perspective and its only through our individual perspective(and our cultural-historical perspective) that we can understand a model’s perspective. Another type of integral model creates descriptive categories which at its best has practical use, and at its worse creates unuseful or unclear distinctions.

I think Spiral Dynamics is more of the former, and Wilber’s quadrants is more of the latter; but there is much cross-over. Spiral Dynamics can be used to categorize, but I think this is a wrong use of it. Wilber’s quadrants can be used to represent perspectives which is how Wilber has tried to refine it, but still I find the quadrants disatisfying in this manner.

A perspective of perspectives is priveleged because it subsumes all else. Any model we create is created by humans on the planet earth during a very short span of time. I haven’t yet had a transcending vision of God’s view, and I’m not convinced anyone else has either. This notion of a perspective of perspectives is postmodern in the sense that it isn’t an objective framework that allows us to see outside of it, but neither can we separate it from what we are trying to explain by it. We are our perspectives meaning we change as our perspectives change.

Despite what to some may seem like subjective relativism, any model of perspectives isn’t separate from the context of the larger world that informs our perspective even if we don’t or can’t entirely comprehend it. We are part of the world and so our perspectives aren’t constrained by limited notions of individuality. We can infer that this perspective of perspectives somehow reflects a larger world context because afterall it is this that our perspectives have arisen or evolved from. There is no necessity to make any metaphysical interpretations, but speculating might be useful if it leads to new perspectives that we can then verify in our own experience.

Everything is a perspective including all aspects of an ITP. Its not having a balanced life that creates an integral perspective. There must be something within our awareness that connects it all even if only on a vague level of intention.

Basically, what I’m speaking about here is a TFA(Theory For Everything) rather than a TOE. A TFA doesn’t need to explain everything. It only needs to explain how we go about explaining and the constraints thereof, and there is no reason to assume that everything that we can explain is everything that exists. We don’t need to create a cosmological model of all reality nor a grand scientific synthesis nor theorize beyond our direct experience. A perspective of perspectives is a much less grand goal, but also much more subtle.

I have many thoughts on this matter, but I’m still thinking it all out. I’m pointing towards an archetypal explanation of model-making. The content can be anything, but there remains basic tendencies of how all models are made. And this inherent cognitive functioning of the human psyche effects the content that is modelled. We never see reality directly for what it is because we always are modelling whether consciously or unconsciously.

As an example of what I’m thinking about, check out C. J. Lofting’s theory:
http://members.iimetro.com.au/~lofting/myweb/idm001.html

Does anyone have any ideas relating to the idea of a “perspective of perspectives” or of a TFA?

Does anyone know of any interesting forum discussions about this or any interesting websites?

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marmalade Permalink Reply by marmalade on November 30, 2007 at 7:16pm
What I’m bringing up here also relates to the criticism of Wilber’s model dismissing the Western occult tradition. Fundamentally, the occult is about experience. Some people don’t like models such as Wilber presents because they seem too abstract. This is a challenge of studying Wilber. He covers so much material that it is difficult for anyone to research in depth in order to verify all of his sources. We just have to trust Wilber.

This is fine up to a point, but I want a basic framework that can be verified in my everyday and not-so-everyday experiences. For instance, I don’t simply accept spiral dynamics. I’ve looked at the world through this lense and it made sense of much of my experience. And hopefully science will further clarify its veracity or not.

Also, spiral dynamics appears to generally fit the modelling pattern of the chakra system. They aren’t the same, but maybe the same patterns in the human psyche have influenced both to create similar structures of meaning. As far as I know, Clare Graves wasn’t basing his research on the theory of the chakras. It doesn’t matter that the two theories are referring towards different views of reality. If there is an archetypal patterning process, then similar models will create simlar connections between ideas even when those ideas seem in disagreement.

I don’t know if that was a good example, but its an obvious comparison. What I’m interested in is similar to what Campbell was looking for in comparing myths from entirely separate cultures. So, I’m wondering whether there is a monomyth of models. Loftings basic idea is that all models begin with some basic duality and that is then fed back into itself to create further distinctions. The most clear example he presents for how this occurs is the I Ching. And the I Ching could be seen as a model of perspectives.

Beebe is a Jungian theorist who proposed that archetype, complex, and type are getting at the same notion. I take Wilber’s criticism seriously that there is a pre/trans confusion in Jung’s archetypes. Jung did imply a hierarchy of archetypes(see James Whitlark’s explanation of individuation as it relates to Spiral Dynamics), but he left this unclear. Similarly, how do memes, holons, and morphic fields relate? All of these kinds of ideas put forth that there is something that creates coherence in our experience in a predictable way.

I found an interesting thread discussion related to all of this at Integral Review Forums:

Thinking postformally about “theory building”
http://global-arina.org/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=24

[quote=”jgidley”]I see the link between architecture and thinking as one of the important contributions of postmodernism. Although it is emphasized by Steiner’s and Sri Aurobindo’s integral lineages, it is essentially overlooked in much other integral theory.[/quote]

This reminds me of how mnemonics was intimately connected with architecture.

[quote=”bonnittaroy”]My feeling is that it depends upon one’s relationshipto one’s theory-making. Some people (like Shoepnehauer) build theories to try to get at what reality really is. They expect that the intellect is the portal to answer that question. Others, like Whitehead and Guenther, are theory-making to tease out what is implicit in their view, that may be hidden or unformed and as yet to be articulated. In the process, what is brewing there, becomes disclosed and “known” in a more conventional way. The theory can serve as a “marker” for other people to discuss synergistically implicit views, and move the understanding forward.

Theory making in the second sense is more like thought-experimenting. Or creating an aesthetic. This is not limited to philosophy. I love the way physicists do thought experiments like Schrodinger’s Cat and Wheeler’s Daemon.

The above comment pertains to people who actively see themselves as doing theory. But I would like also to explore how there is a kind of theory -building that is implicit in cognizing reality at all. Everyone has, at bottom, certain fundamental assumptions about reality– it is consumate with how reality arises at all. Reality arises such that I feel I am an individual being. But that is certainly just one view– based in a kind of implicit theory — the set of conditions of my cognizing mind.

Above that very fundamental level, there are the basic beliefs about reality that we hold — implicitly or explicity — that also are a kind of theory-building that is going on all the time. In the integral community, for example, there are fundamental beliefs that few people would consider “theory building” and many would consider a description of how reality really is, namely, the holarchic organization of reality, the hierarchic organization of reality, the notion of development and evolution. These are tenets that underwrite our more obvious practices of theory building, but they are in themselves, the product of implicit theory building.

I believe that an example of post-formal operations is to be able to “hold” each of these kinds of cognitive processes very very lightly — to be able to see them as processes that are going on all the time in a very intimate and implicit way. And to be able to make what is implicit, explicit — so we can be liberated from their limitations, while at the same time, expand our choice field as to what set or set of theories (thought experiments) might be more helpful/ useful.[/quote]

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marmalade Permalink Reply by marmalade on November 30, 2007 at 11:22pm
I can’t claim to entirely understand what Lofting is getting at here. I have a high tolerance for abstraction and I get the gist of his theory, but I wish he used more grounded examples. He speaks alot about mathematics and he loses me.
http://members.iimetro.com.au/~lofting/myweb/NeuroMaths3.htm#Recursion

The WHAT
The emphasis on WHAT is an emphasis on an object, a bounded ‘thing’ that can be tangible (as in a ball) or intangible (as in a marriage). Note how the intangible reflects what we call nominalisation where a process (and so a relationship, ’.. getting married’) has been converted into a noun, a thing (‘this marriage…’).

Although the term ‘what’ has a general nature about it, it still has a ‘point’ or ‘dot’ emphasis and we can refine this emphasis further by introducing additional terms such as WHO and WHICH. These terms act to particularise the general in that the ‘what’ realm is strongly ‘dot’ oriented and as such favours clear, precise, identifications and so a more LOCAL, discrete perspective.

This emphasis on ‘dot’ precision forces a degree of focus that can distort all considerations of the context in which the dot exists in that the precision requires a dependence on a universal context to support it.

The WHERE
The emphasis on WHERE is an emphasis on a relationship, there is a coordinates bias ‘relative’ to something else. There is a more intangible element here in that a set of relationships can go towards identifying an object by implications; there is an intuitive emphasis where a pattern based on linking a set of coordinates is ‘suddenly’ recognised as implying ‘something’; in other words there is a ‘constellations’ emphasis where objects are linked together to form a pattern that is then itself objectified; for example there is a strong emphasis here to geometric forms –e. g. ‘triangles’, ‘cubes’ etc. which in basic mathematics come out of joining coordinates.

This emphasis on constellation formation means that, when compared to the realm of the ‘what’, the ‘where’ reflects a LACK in precision where (!) the identification of something is made by identifying a pattern of landmarks ‘around’ the something. There is thus a strong context-sensitivity in the ‘where’ analysis when compared to the more precise, almost context-free (or local context-ignored) emphasis in the ‘what’ analysis. Thus the transference of a ‘where’ to a ‘what’ through the process of nominalisation acts to de-contextualise or more so encapsulate the context with the text. (See figure 1).

In general the term ‘where’ is as general as the term ‘what’ and as such we can introduce additional terms such as WHEN and HOW to aid in particularising the general. When compared to the distinctions of WHO and WHICH, the WHEN and HOW terms are highly dependent on coordinates (space and/or time), on establishing specific ‘begin-end’ positions rather than emphasis on a point free of any extensions.>>

Recursion and Emerging Numeracy
The recursion process is where an element is applied to itself, thus the identification of an object causes us to zoom-in on that object for details. This process leads to the recognition of such concepts as an object’s negation that at the general level relates to the entire universe exclusive of the object, and at the particular level the objects direct opposite (e.g. positive/negative, earth/sky etc).

Analysis of the patterns that emerge from applying the what/where dichotomy to itself leads to the identification of four fundamental distinctions which we can tie to feelings and so tie to pre-linguistic understandings of reality. These distinctions are:

Objects:

Wholes

Parts

Relationships:

Static

Dynamic

Note that a ‘part’ is the term we use for the combination of (a) an object and (b) a relationship to a greater object and it is the word ‘part’ that reflects what we can call the superposition of two distinctions – the distinction of ‘wholeness’ combined with the distinction of ‘relatedness’.>>

 

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BrightAbyss~ Permalink Reply by BrightAbyss~ on December 1, 2007 at 1:03am
YOU: I think the best integral model is about perspectives

ME: we gotta start there. It’s all about perspectives. Descartes tried to build up from the cogito (1PP), and then Husserl, but Merleau-Ponty did it better… A naturalist (integral) philosophy emerges out of a deep understanding of human knowledge-making and perspectives…

YOU: This notion of a perspective of perspectives is postmodern in the sense that it isn’t an objective framework that allows us to see outside of it, but neither can we separate it from what we are trying to explain by it.

ME: You gotta read Pierre Bourdieu’s work. Especially “The Logic of Practice” – where he talks about “objectifying objectification”. I think you’d find a kindred spirit with re: to perspectives.

YOU: Despite what to some may seem like subjective relativism, any model of perspectives isn’t separate from the context of the larger world that informs our perspective even if we don’t or can’t entirely comprehend it. We are part of the world and so our perspectives aren’t constrained by limited notions of individuality.

ME: This is why we have to be happy finding our way (carving out an existence) & dwelling in ‘worldspaces’ – with very HUMAN knowledges generated out of our Life Conditions (cf. Wittgenstein’s ‘Forms of Life’) and articulated through the rich tapestry of experience, being and relating.

I think ‘contingency’ is a key concept for understanding embodied human knowing… But just remember our perspectives are not so totally divorced from the Real, because there is an intimacy and immediacy our being-in-the-world that necessarily encounters actual life conditions.

YOU: We never see reality directly for what it is because we always are modelling whether consciously or unconsciously.

ME: Idealism is a very sick joke played on us by our own abstractions… We are OF the world so we can directly ‘know’ it in so many practical and meaningful ways… Don’t fall into the trap of believing a priori that “we can never really know the thing-in-itself”. Human knowledge is grounded in human kinds of knowing, with its many faults, but – like you say- it is the ONLY kind of (contextual) knowing we have, so lets get over ourselves and get to the actual work of putting our models/worldviews/discourse in the service of HEALTH & ADAPTATION.

YOU: This is fine up to a point, but I want a basic framework that can be verified in my everyday and not-so-everyday experiences.

ME: Then I believe you came to the right place. For instance, if AQAL is Wilber’s metaphoric ‘Integral Operating System’ (IOS), then what this network/forum wants to facilitate is allowing people at higher ‘altitudes’ of consciousness to evolve IOS’s of their OWN – developing and operating “applications” relevant to specific individuals, groups, projects, and always in context.

In other words, this forum is wants to help people develop their own “integral operating systems” but with OPEN “sources” – ie, drawing from various theories and traditions, and data.

So if Wilber’s AQAL can be compared to MicroSoft’s Windows operating system, then our project (at the Integral Research Group) can be compared to Linux – in that we want to help create alternative OPEN SOURCE integral (OSI) operating “systems” (theories and practical applications).

You see, the door is wide OPEN to collaborative innovation re: discourse dynamics, integral thinking, healthy being and adaptive relations.

What say you?

cheers~

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marmalade Permalink Reply by marmalade on December 3, 2007 at 10:33pm
Bright Abyss: “we gotta start there. It’s all about perspectives. Descartes tried to build up from the cogito (1PP), and then Husserl, but Merleau-Ponty did it better… A naturalist (integral) philosophy emerges out of a deep understanding of human knowledge-making and perspectives…”

Basically, I believe the most useful integral perspective is the one that precedes the seeking for an integral theory. Integral isn’t an unnatural or even new phenomenon. In terms of Spiral Dynamics, the higher levels are somehow already implied by the lower levels. In terms of Jung, archetypes precede specific manifestations of them as symbols or whatever.

BA: “You gotta read Pierre Bourdieu’s work. Especially “The Logic of Practice” – where he talks about “objectifying objectification”. I think you’d find a kindred spirit with re: to perspectives.”

Thanks for the suggestion.

BA: “This is why we have to be happy finding our way (carving out an existence) & dwelling in ‘worldspaces’ – with very HUMAN knowledges generated out of our Life Conditions (cf. Wittgenstein’s ‘Forms of Life’) and articulated through the rich tapestry of experience, being and relating.

I think ‘contingency’ is a key concept for understanding embodied human knowing… But just remember our perspectives are not so totally divorced from the Real, because there is an intimacy and immediacy our being-in-the-world that necessarily encounters actual life conditions.”

I’m intrigued by what you said here. Could you explain some more? How do you relate this to an integral view? Did I seem to imply that I thought perspectives are somehow divorced from the REAL? What do you mean by the REAL? What do you mean by ‘contingency’?

BA: “Idealism is a very sick joke played on us by our own abstractions… We are OF the world so we can directly ‘know’ it in so many practical and meaningful ways… Don’t fall into the trap of believing a priori that “we can never really know the thing-in-itself”. Human knowledge is grounded in human kinds of knowing, with its many faults, but – like you say- it is the ONLY kind of (contextual) knowing we have, so lets get over ourselves and get to the actual work of putting our models/worldviews/discourse in the service of HEALTH & ADAPTATION.”

When I spoke of not being able to directly know reality, I was referring to mental knowing. I agree there are many other kinds of knowing besides this. I had to laught at you last sentence. I’m far from getting over myself and I’m no model of HEALTH & ADAPTATION. I’m a seeker and that is the best I can claim for myself.

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marmalade Permalink Reply by marmalade on December 3, 2007 at 10:41pm
Chiron posted this at Lightmind:

By Colin McGinn

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature
by Steven Pinker

The Stuff of Thought is Steven Pinker’s fifth popular book in thirteen years, and by now we know what to expect. It is long, packed with information, clear, witty, attractively written, and generally persuasive. The topic, as earlier, is language and the mind—specifically, how language reflects human psychological nature. What can we learn about the mind by examining, with the help of linguistics and experimental psychology, the language we use to express ourselves?

Pinker ranges widely, from the verb system of English, to the idea of an innate language of thought, to metaphor, to naming, obscenity, and politeness. He is unfailingly engaging to read, with his aptly chosen cartoons, his amusing examples, and his bracing theoretical rigor. Yet there are signs of fatigue, not so much in the energy and enthusiasm he has put into the book as in the sometimes less than satisfying quality of the underlying ideas. I don’t blame the author for this: it is very hard to write anything deep, surprising, and true in psychology—especially when it comes to the most interesting aspects of our nature (such as our use of metaphor). A popular book on biology or physics will reliably deli-ver well-grounded information about things you don’t already know; in psychology the risk of banality dressed up as science is far greater. Sometimes in Pinker’s book the ratio of solid ideas to sparkling formulations is uncomfortably low (I found this particularly in the lively and amusing chapter on obscenity). He has decided to be ambitious, and there is no doubt of his ability to keep the show on the road, but it is possible to finish a long chapter of The Stuff of Thought and wonder what you have really learned—enjoyable as the experience of reading it may have been.

To my mind, by far the most interesting chapter of the book is the lengthy discussion of verbs—which may well appear the driest to some readers. Verbs are the linguistic keyhole to the mind’s secrets, it turns out. When children learn verbs they are confronted with a problem of induction: Can the syntactic rules that govern one verb be projected to another verb that has a similar meaning? Suppose you have already learned how to use the verb “load” in various syntactic combinations; you know that you can say both Hal loaded the wagon with hay and Hal loaded hay into the wagon. Linguists call the first kind of sentence a “container locative” and the second a “content locative,” because of the way they focus attention on certain aspects of the event reported—the wagon (container) or the hay (content), respectively (the word “locative” referring here to the way words express location). The two sentences seem very close in meaning, and the verb load slots naturally into the sentence frame surrounding it. So, can other verbs like fill and pour enter into the same combinations? The child learning English verbs might well suppose that they can, thus instantiating a rule of grammar that licenses certain syntactic transformations—to the effect that you can always rewrite a content locative as a container locative and vice versa. But if we look at how pour and fill actually work we quickly see that they violate any such rule. You can say John poured water into the glass (content locative) but you can’t say John poured the glass with water (container locative); whereas you can say John filled the glass with water (container locative) but you can’t say John filled water into the glass (content locative).

Somehow a child has to learn these syntactic facts about the verbs load, pour, and fill—and the rules governing them are very different. Why does one verb figure in one kind of construction but not in another? They all look like verbs that specify the movement of a type of stuff into a type of container, and yet they behave differently with respect to the syntactic structures in question. It’s puzzling.

The answer Pinker favors to this and similar puzzles is that the different verbs subtly vary in the way they construe the event they report: pour focuses on the type of movement that is involved in the transfer of the stuff, while neglecting the end result; fill by contrast specifies the final state and omits to say how that state precisely came about (and it might not have been by pouring). But load tells you both things: the type of movement and what it led to. Hence the verbs combine differently with constructions that focus on the state of the container and constructions that focus on the manner by which the container was affected.

The syntactic rules that control the verbs are thus sensitive to the precise meaning of the specific verb and how it depicts a certain event. And this means that someone who understands these verbs must tacitly grasp how this meaning plays out in the construction of sentences; thus the child has to pick up on just such subtle differences of meaning if she is to infer the right syntactic rule for the verb in question. Not consciously, of course; her brain must perform this work below the level of conscious awareness. She must implicitly analyze the verb—exposing its deep semantic structure. Moreover, these verbs form natural families, united by the way they conceive of actions—whether by their manner or by their end result. In the same class as pour, for example, we have dribble, drip, funnel, slosh, spill, and spoon.

This kind of example—and there is a considerable range of them—leads Pinker to a general hypothesis about the verb system of English (as well as other languages): the speaker must possess a language of thought that represents the world according to basic abstract categories like space, time, substance, and motion, and these categories constitute the meaning of the verb. When we use a particular verb in a sentence, we bring to bear this abstract system to “frame” reality in certain ways, thus imposing an optional grid on the flux of experience. We observe some liquid moving into a container and we describe it either as an act of pouring or as the state of being filled: a single event is construed in different ways, each reflecting the aspect we choose to focus on. None of this is conscious or explicit; indeed, it took linguists a long time to figure out why some verbs work one way and some another (Pinker credits the MIT linguists Malka Rappaport Hovav and Beth Levin). We are born with an implicit set of innate categories that organize events according to a kind of primitive physics, dealing with substance, motion, causality, and purpose, and we combine these to generate a meaning for a particular verb that we understand. The grammar of our language reflects this innate system of concepts.

As Pinker is aware, this is a very Kantian picture of human cognition. Kant regarded the mind as innately stocked with the basic concepts that make up Newtonian mechanics—though he didn’t reach that conclusion from a consideration of the syntax of verbs. And the view is not in itself terribly surprising: many philosophers have observed that the human conceptual scheme is essentially a matter of substances in space and time, causally interacting, moving and changing, obeying laws and subject to forces—with some of those substances being agents—i.e., conscious, acting human beings—with intentions and desires. What else might compose it? Here is a case where the conclusion reached by the dedicated psycholinguist is perhaps less revolutionary than he would like to think. The chief interest of Pinker’s discussion is the kind of evidence he adduces to justify such a hypothesis, rather than the hypothesis itself—evidence leading from syntax to cosmology, we might say. Of course the mind must stock basic concepts for the general structure of the universe if it is to grasp the nature of particular things within it; but it is still striking to learn that this intuitive physics shapes the very syntax of our language.

Not that everyone will agree with the general hypothesis itself—and Pinker has a whole chapter on innateness and the language of thought. Here he steers deftly between the extreme nativism of Jerry Fodor, according to which virtually every concept is innate, including trombone and opera (despite the fact that the concepts must therefore have preceded the invention of what they denote, being merely triggered into consciousness by experience of trombones and operas), and the kind of pragmatism that refuses to assign a fixed meaning to any word. Pinker sees that something conceptual has to be innate if language learning is to be possible at all, but he doesn’t believe it can be anything parochial and specific; so he concludes that only the most general categories of the world are present in the genes—the categories that any human being (or animal) needs to use if he or she is to survive at all. Among such categories, for example, are: event, thing, path, place, manner, acting, going, having, animate, rigid, flexible, past, present and future, causality, enabling and preventing, means and ends.

The picture then is that these innate abstract concepts mesh with the individual’s experience to yield the specific conceptual scheme that eventually flowers in the mind. The innate concepts pre-date language acquisition and make it possible; they are not the products of language. Thus Pinker rejects the doctrine of “linguistic determinism,” which holds that thought is nothing other than the result of the language we happen to speak—as in the infamous hypothesis of the linguists Benjamin Whorf and Harold Sapir that our thoughts are puppets of our words (as with the Eskimos who use many different words for snow). The point Pinker makes here—and it is a good one—is that we mustn’t mistake correlation for causation, assuming that because concepts and words go together the latter are the causes of the former. Indeed, it is far more plausible to suppose that our language is caused by our thoughts—that we can only introduce words for which we already have concepts. Words express concepts; they don’t create them.

Let’s suppose, then, that Pinker and others are right to credit the mind with an original system of basic physical concepts, supplemented with some concepts for number, agency, logic, and the like. We innately conceive of the world as containing what he calls “force dynamics”—substances moving through space, under forces, and impinging on other objects, changing their state. How do we get from this to the full panoply of human thought? How do we get to science, art, politics, economics, ethics, and so on? His answer is that we do it by judicious use of metaphor and the combinatorial power of language, as when words combine to produce the unlimited expressions of a human language. Language has infinite potential, because of its ability to combine words and phrases into sentences without limit: this is by now a well-worn point.

More controversial is the suggestion that metaphor is the way we transcend the merely mechanical—the bridge by which physics leads us to more abstract domains. Pinker notes, as many have before, that we routinely use spatial expressions to describe time (“he moved the meeting to Tuesday,” “don’t look backward”), as well as employ words like rise, fall, went, and send to capture events that are not literally spatial (prices rising, messages sent, and so on). Science itself is often powered by analogies, as when heat was conceived as a fluid and its laws derived accordingly. Our language is transparently shot through with meta-phors of one kind or another. But it is far from clear that everything we do with concepts and language can be accounted for in this way; consider how we think and talk about consciousness and the mind, or our moral thinking. The concept of pain, say, is not explicable as a metaphorical variation on some sort of physical concept.

It just doesn’t seem true that everything nonphysical that we think about is metaphorical; for example, our legal concepts such as “rights” are surely not all mere metaphors, introduced on the shoulders of the concepts of intuitive physics. So there is a question how Pinker’s alleged language of thought, restricted as it is, can suffice to generate our total conceptual scheme; in which case we will need to count more concepts as innate (what about contract or punishment?)—or else rethink the whole innateness question. Not that I have any good suggestions about how human concepts come to be; my point is just that Pinker’s set of basic Kantian concepts seems too exiguous to do the job.

If the Kantian categories are supposed to make thought and language possible, then they also, for Pinker, impose limits on our mental functioning. This is a second main theme of his book: the human mind, for all its rich innate endowment, is fallible, prone to confusion, easily foiled. The very concepts that enable us to think coherently about the world can lead us astray when we try to extend them beyond their natural domain. Pinker discusses the concepts of space and time, exposing the paradoxes that result from asking whether these are finite or infinite; either way, human thought reels. As he says, we can’t think without these concepts, but we can’t make sense of them—not when we start to think hard about what they involve. For example, if space is bounded, what lies on the other side of the boundary? But if it’s not bounded, we seem saddled with an infinite amount of matter—which implies multiple identical universes.

The concept of free will poses similar paradoxes: either human choices are caused or they are not, but either way we can’t seem to make sense of free will. A lot of philosophy is like that; a familiar concept we use all the time turns puzzling and paradoxical once we try to make systematic sense of it. Pinker has fun detailing the natural errors to which the human mind is prone when trying to reason statistically or economically; human specimens are notoriously poor at reasoning in these matters. Even more mortifying, our prized intuitive physics, foundation of all our thought, is pretty bad as physics: projectiles don’t need impetus to keep them in steady motion, no matter what Aristotle and common sense may say. As Newton taught us, motion, once it begins, is preserved without the pressure of a continuously applied force—as when a meteor keeps moving in a straight line, though no force maintains this motion. And relativity and quantum theory violate commonsense physics at every turn.

Our natural concepts are as much a hindrance to thought as they are a springboard for it. When we try to turn our minds away from their primitive biological tasks toward modern science and industrial-electronic society we struggle and fall into fallacies; it’s an uphill battle to keep our concepts on track. Our innate “common sense” is riddled with error and confusion—not all of it harmless (as with the economically naive ideas about what constitutes a “fair price”).

Pinker also has three bulky chap-ters on the social aspects of language, dealing with naming and linguistic innovation in general, with obscenity and taboo words, and with politeness and authority relations in speech. The chapter on naming achieves something I thought was impossible: it gives an accurate exposition of the philosopher Saul Kripke’s classic discussion of proper names by a nonphilosopher—the gist of which is that the reference of a name is fixed not by the descriptive information in the mind of the speaker but by a chain of uses stretching back to an initial identification. For example, I refer to a certain Greek philosopher with the name “Plato” in virtue of the chain of uses that link my present use with that of ancient Greeks who knew him, not in virtue of having in my mind some description that picks him out uniquely from every other Greek philosopher.

Apart from this, Pinker worries at the question of fashions in names and how they change. He refutes such popular theories as that names are taken from public figures or celebrities; usually, the trend is already in place—and anyway the name “Humphrey” never took off, despite the star of Casablanca. It is fascinating to read that in the early part of the twentieth century the following names were reserved primarily for men: Beverly, Dana, Evelyn, Gail, Leslie, Meredith, Robin, and Shirley. But not much emerges about why names change as they do, besides some platitudes about the need for elites to stand out by adopting fashions different from the common herd.

I very much enjoyed the chapter on obscenity, which asks the difficult question of how words deemed taboo differ from their inoffensive syn-onyms (e.g., shit and feces). It can’t obviously be the referent of the term, since that is the same, and it isn’t merely that the taboo words are more accurately descriptive (excre-ment is equally accurate, but it isn’t taboo). Pinker reports, no doubt correctly, that swearing forces the hearer to entertain thoughts he’d rather not, but that too fails to distinguish taboo words from their nontaboo synonyms. The phenomenon is especially puzzling when we note that words can vary over time in their taboo value: damn used to be unutterable in polite society, while word was once quite inoffensive (Pinker reports a fifteenth-century medical textbook that reads “in women the neck of the bladder is short, and is made fast to the word”).

Of particular interest to the grammarian is the fact that in English all the impolite words for the sexual act are transitive verbs, while all the polite forms involve intransitive verbs: word, screw,hump, shag, bang versus have sex, make love, sleep together, go to bed, copulate. As Pinker astutely observes, the transitive sexual verbs, like other verbs in English, bluntly connote the nature of the motion involved in the reported action with an agent and a receiver of that motion, whereas the intransitive forms are discreetly silent about exactly how the engaged objects move in space. The physical forcefulness of the act is thus underlined in the transitive forms but not in the intransitive ones. None of this explains why some verbs for intercourse are offensive while others are not, but it’s surely significant that different physical images are conjured up by the different sexual locutions—with word semantically and syntactically like staband have sex like have lunch.

Pinker’s discussion of politeness verges closest to platitude—noting, for example, that bribes cannot usually afford to be overt and that authority relations are sometimes encoded in speech acts, as with tu and vous in French. Here he relies heavily on lively examples and pop culture references, but the ideas at play are thin and rather forced. But, as I say, he has a tough assignment here—trying to extract theoretical substance from something both familiar and unsystematic. Laying out a game theory matrix, with its rows and columns of payoffs, for a potential bribe to a traffic cop adds little to the obvious description of such a situation.

The book returns to its core themes in the final chapter, “Escaping the Cave.” Pinker sums up:

Quote:
Human characterizations of reality are built out of a recognizable inventory of thoughts. The inventory begins with some basic units, like events, states, things, substances, places, and goals. It specifies the basic ways in which these units can do things: acting, going, changing, being, having. One event may be seen as impinging on another, by causing or enabling or preventing it. An action can be initiated with a goal in mind, in particular, the destination of a motion (as in loading hay) or the state resulting from a change (as in loading a wagon). Objects are differentiated by whether they are human or nonhuman, animate or inanimate, solid or aggregate, and how they are laid out along the three dimensions of space. Events are conceived as taking up stretches of time and as being ordered with respect to one another.

If that strikes you as a bit platitudinous, then such is the lot of much psychology—usually the good sort. What is interesting is the kind of evidence that can be given for these claims and the way they play out in language and behavior—not the content of the claims themselves.

But Pinker is also anxious to reiterate his thesis that our conceptual scheme is like Plato’s cave, in giving us only a partial and distorted vision of reality. We need to escape our natural way of seeing things, as well as appreciate its (limited) scope. Plato himself regarded a philosophical education as the only way to escape the illusions and errors of common sense—the cave in which we naturally dwell. Pinker too believes that education is necessary in order to correct and transcend our innate cognitive slant on the world. This means, unavoidably, using a part of our mind to get beyond the rest of our mind, so that there must be a part that is capable of distancing itself from the rest. He says little about how this might be possible—how that liberating part might operate—beyond what he has said about metaphors and the infinity of language. And the question is indeed difficult: How could the mind ever have the ability to step outside of itself? Aren’t we always trapped inside our given conceptual scheme? How do we bootstrap ourselves to real wisdom from the morass of innate confusion?

One reason it is hard to answer this question is that it is obscure what a concept is to start with. And here there is a real lacuna in Pinker’s book: no account is given of the nature of the basic concepts that are held to constitute the mind’s powers. He tells us at one point that the theory of conceptual semantics “proposes that word senses are mentally represented as expressions in a richer and more abstract language of thought,” as if concepts could literally be symbols in the language of thought. The idea then is that when we understand a verb like pour we translate it into a complex of symbols in the brain’s innate code (rather like the code used by a computer), mental counterparts of public words like move, cause, change. But that leaves wide open the question of how those inner words have meaning; they can’t just be bits of code, devoid of semantic content. We need to credit people with full-blown concepts at the foundation of their conceptual scheme—not just words for concepts.

Pinker has listed the types of concepts that may be supposed to lie at the foundation, but he hasn’t told us what those concepts consist in—what they are. So we don’t yet know what the stuff of thought is—only that it must have a certain form and content. Nowhere in the course of a long book on concepts does Pinker ever confront the really hard question of what a concept might be. Some theorists have supposed concepts to be mental images, others that they are capacities to discriminate objects, others dispositions to use words, others that they are mythical entities.

The problem is not just that this is a question Pinker fails to answer or even acknowledge; it is that without an answer it is difficult to see how we can make headway with questions about what our concepts do and do not permit. Is it our concepts themselves that shackle us in the cave or is it rather our interpretations of them, or maybe our associated theories of what they denote? Where exactly might a concept end and its interpretation begin? Is our concept of something identical to our conception of it—the things we believe about it? Do our concepts intrinsically blind us or is it just what we do with them in thought and speech that causes us to fail to grasp them? Concepts are the material that constitutes thought and makes language meaningful, but we are very far from understanding what kind of thing they are—and Pinker’s otherwise admirable book takes us no further with this fundamental question.

New York Times Book Review
Volume 54, Number 14 · September 27, 2007

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marmalade Permalink Reply by marmalade on December 7, 2007 at 11:36pm
I just came across Gerry Goddard’s writings. His theory is based on archetypes and he references Richard Tarnas throughout his book. Tarnas wrote the book ‘Cosmos and Psyche’ which is an analysis of history using astrological patterns. He is the first writer who made astrology meaningfully accessible to me.

Here is Goddard’s book on-line that he finished right before he died:
http://www.islandastrology.net/contents.htm

Here is a quote from his article on postmodernism that seemed appropriate:
http://www.islandastrology.net/mut-post.html

Is astrology just another dish to choose from the endless buffet of competing delights, just another Wittgensteinian language game, another social ‘form of life,’ or is it truly an ancient parchment that charts a way through this particularly difficult though fascinating terrain? In one sense, astrology is quintessentially postmodern in that it is entirely constructed of symbols reflecting and referring to other symbols within a multidimensional hologram or Indra’s net amenable to seemingly endless patterns of interpretation that richly resonate to the soul yet appear to lack any clearly identifiable concrete referents. As such, like other postmodern disciplines, it generally resists the attempts of science to connect specific symbols with specific facts, yet at the same time the astrological language appears to open and reveal soul dimensions that are more than the ‘mere’ play of socially constructed imaginations projected upon an unknowable objective world.

In this sense, astrology avoids the most radical postmodern conclusion — that words, concepts, and texts refer endlessly to other words and texts lacking any ultimate reference to objective facts, universal truths, or the ‘way things really are.’ I would like to suggest that astrology is indeed, as Richard Tarnas has described it, the ‘philosopher’s stone,’ a metaphysical or metapsychological map completely friendly to postmodern ideas yet charting them within a larger and ‘perennial’ perspective (a la Schumacher, Smith, Wilber), one that embraces the premodern, modern, postmodern, and transpersonal dimensions, pointing beyond both the old absolutisms and the current radical relativism to a higher resolution. The astrological perspective, as well as the now general perspective of postmodernism, reveals the cultural and historical relativity of these paradigms or beliefs, although astrology identifies and maps the whole process in a way that transcends the particular linguistic cul-de-sac of contemporary critical thought by revealing a more inclusive and holistic archetypal structure.

Upon the basis of the generally agreed-on meanings of the four mutable principles and their archetypal correspondence to the essential features of the postmodern mind, a case can be made which not only deepens our understanding of the principles but, through astrology’s capacity to map postmodernism (in relation to other historical stages and consciousness structures) within a larger historical and developmental perspective, may establish the astrological mandala as an effective key to understanding the greater evolution and structure of consciousness.

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anemone Permalink Reply by anemone on December 8, 2007 at 7:19pm
Hello marmalade

I have been an avid, though amateur student of astrology for years. I have read Tarnas’ Cosmos and Psyche, and attended a few workshops given by him last year.

I’ve never heard anyone state a connection between astrology and postmodernism quite the way you have above. It is illuminating to me to read your post. A more typical analysis involving astrology, on one hand, and postmodernism on the other, usually involves some remark on how the former is steeped in archaic and mythical lore and projection while the latter dismisses all narrative as textual constructs.

I like the way you have pointed out the flexibility and multi-faceted dimensions inherent in both world-views.

In the last year, however, I have come to feel that as powerful a tool astrology may be for psychological analysis, involving both individuals and group dynamics, it is not such a powerful tool of analysis at the macro, sociocultural or sociopolitical level of analysis, for example in making a useful comment on the larger forces shaping foreign policies of various governments, or the way public opinion is formed in a given society. This may, of course, be more a symptom of astrology’s current marginalization as an epistemological tool. If there were to be any dialogue with other established disciplines it is quite possible that it should prove instrumentally useful.
Any ideas?
I will check out your Goddard post.

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marmalade Permalink Reply by marmalade on December 8, 2007 at 8:54pm
Hello anemone

Thanks for the response.

A: “I have been an avid, though amateur student of astrology for years. I have read Tarnas’ Cosmos and Psyche, and attended a few workshops given by him last year.”

You probably understand astrology and Tarnas better than I. For whatever reason, astrology never quite clicked together for me in the past.

A: “I’ve never heard anyone state a connection between astrology and postmodernism quite the way you have above. ”

As much as I wish I had written that, I can’t take credit for it. Below the link is entirely the words of Goddard. I should’ve made that clearer, but this forum doesn’t allow the way of quoting that I’m used to.

I agree with your assessment. As I said, Tarnas was the first writer to present astrology so that it felt deeply meaningful to me… such that I could connect with the symbolism. And Goddard has presented astrology and Tarnas in a way that I have a better grasp of the system as a whole and how it might relate to my life.

A: “In the last year, however, I have come to feel that as powerful a tool astrology may be for psychological analysis, involving both individuals and group dynamics, it is not such a powerful tool of analysis at the macro, sociocultural or sociopolitical level of analysis, for example in making a useful comment on the larger forces shaping foreign policies of various governments, or the way public opinion is formed in a given society.”

What happened in the last year that has changed your perspective?

Are you saying that you have doubts about whether Tarnas’ analysis of history is meaningful?

“Any ideas?”

Not yet. I just discovered Goddard and have only barely begun to read his work that I linked to in my previous post. I really haven’t a clue what all of this means. I’m merely a curious fellow and am over-joyed when I happen upon someone like Goddard. I feel that I’ve stumbled upon a treasure trove of insight.

I’m better at thinking out ideas when I have feedback, and so I’d be happy for whatever little nuggets you’d like to throw my way.

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Mandalas of the Mind

I like diagrams.  There just fun.

I love the scientific side of psychology, but my love of science is only equalled by my love of esoterica.  I must admit that I became curious about MBTI through my studies of Tarot, and only later researched the science of it.  I’ve always sought the connections of various areas of human knowledge such as through Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics.  However, no amount of abstract theorizing can beat out an aesthetically pleasing diagram, a mandala of the intellect.  A mandala doesn’t objectively prove anything in and of itself, but it does give insight into higher truths of the human mind and possibly of reality itself.

http://users.california.com/~eameece/philosophycircle.htm

 

http://users.california.com/~eameece/mbti.html

 

 

 

 

PKD on God as Infinity

A favorite passage of mine from Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis which was a journal he kept later in life.  Excerpts of it were published under the title In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis (which sadly is out of print)The following excerpt can be found along with other excerpts at MIQEL.com.  For those interested in this, new excerpts from PKD’s Exegesis can be found on PhilipKDick.com.

 – – –

God manifested himself to me as the infinite void;
but it was not the abyss; it was the vault of heaven,
with blue sky and wisps of white clouds. He was not
some foreign God but the God of my fathers. He was
loving and kind and he had personality. He said, “You
suffer a little now in life; it is little compared with the
great joys, the bliss that awaits you. Do you think I in
my theodicy would allow you to suffer greatly in pro-
portion to your reward?” He made me aware, then, of
the bliss that would come; it was infinite and sweet.
He said, “I am the infinite. I will show you. Where I
am, infinity is; where infinity is, there I am. Construct
lines of reasoning by which to understand your experi-
ence in 1974. I will enter the field against their shift-
ing nature. You think they are logical but they are not;
they are infinitely creative.”

I thought a thought and then an infinite regres-
sion of theses and countertheses came into being. God
said, “Here I am; here is infinity.” I thought another
explanation; again an infinite series of thoughts split
off in dialectical antithetical interaction. God said,
“Here is infinity; here I am.” I thought, then, an infi-
nite number of explanations, in succession, that
explained 2-3-74; each single one of them yielded up
an infinite progression of flipflops, of thesis and
antithesis, forever. Each time, God said, “Here is infin-
ity. Here, then, I am.” I tried for an infinite number of
times; each time an infinite regress was set off and
each time God said, “Infinity. Hence I am here.” Then


he said, “Every thought loads to infinity, does it not?
Find one that doesn’t.” I tried forever. All led to an
infinitude of regress, of the dialectic, of thesis, antithe-
sis and new synthesis. Each time, God said, “Here is
infinity; here am I. Try again.” I tried forever. Always
it ended with God saying, “Infinity and myself; I am
here.” I saw, then, a Hebrew letter with many shafts,
and all the shafts led to a common outlet; that outlet
or conclusion was infinity. God said, “That is myself. I
am infinity. Where infinity is, there am I; where I am,
there is infinity. All roads—all explanations for 2-3-74—
lead to an infinity of Yes-No, This or That, On-Off, One-
Zero, Yin-Yang, the dialectic, infinity upon infinity; an
infinities [sic] of infinities. I am everywhere and all
roads lead to me; omniae viae ad Deum ducent [all
roads lead to God]. Try again. Think of another possi-
ble explanation for 2-3-74.” I did; it led to an infinity
of regress, of thesis and antithesis and new synthesis.
“This is not logic,” God said. “Do not think in terms of
absolute theories; think instead in terms of probabili-
ties. Watch where the piles heap up, of the same the-
ory essentially repeating itself. Count the number of
punch cards in each pile. Which pile is highest? You
can never know for sure what 2-3-74 was. What, then,
is statistically most probable? Which is to say, which
pile is highest? Here is your clue: every theory leads to
an infinity (of regression, of thesis and antithesis and
new synthesis). What, then, is the probability that I
am the cause of 2-3-74, since, where infinity is, there I
am? You doubt; you are the doubt as in:

They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly I am the wings.
I am the doubter and the doubt

From the poem “Brahma” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“You are not the doubter; you are the doubt itself.
So do not try to know; you cannot know. Guess on the
basis of the highest pile of computer punch cards.
There is an infinite stack in the heap marked INFIN-
ITY, and I have equated infinity with me. What, then,
in the chance that it is me? You cannot be positive; you
will doubt. But what is your guess?”

I said, “Probably it is you, since there is an infinity
of Infinities forming before me.”

“There is the answer, the only one you will ever
have,” God said.

“You could be pretending to be God,” I said, “and
actually be Satan.” Another infinitude of thesis and
antithesis and new synthesis, the infinite regress, was

set off.

God said, “Infinity.”

I said, “You could be testing out a logic system in a giant

computer and I am—” Again an infinite
regress.

“Infinity,” God said.

“Will it always be infinite?” I said. “An infinity?”

“Try further,” God said.

“I doubt if you exist,” I said. And the infinite
regress instantly flew into motion once more.

“Infinity,” God said. The pile of computer punch
cards grew; it was by far the largest pile; it was infinite.

“I will play this game forever,” God said, “or until
you become tired.”

I said, “I will find a thought, an explanation, a
theory, that does not set off an infinite regress.” And,
us soon as I said that, an infinite regress was set off.
God said “Over a period of six and a half years you
have developed theory after theory to explain 2-3-74.
Each night when you go to bed you think, ‘At last I
found it. I tried out theory after theory until now,
finally, I have the right one.’ And then the next morn-


ing you wake up and say, ‘There is one fact not
explained by that theory. I will have to think up
another theory.’ And so you do. By now it is evident
to you that you are going to think up an infinite num-
ber of theories, limited only by your lifespan, not lim-
ited by your creative imagination. Each theory gives
rise to a subsequent theory, inevitably. Let me ask
you; I revealed myself to you and you saw that I am
the infinite void. I am not in the world, as you
thought; I am transcendent, the deity of the Jews and
Christians. What you see of me in world that you
took to ratify pantheism—that is my being filtered
through, broken up, fragmented and vitiated by the
multiplicity of the flux world; it is my essence, yes,
but only a bit of it: fragments here and there, a glint,
a riffle of wind … now you have seen me transcen-
dent, separate and other from world, and I am more;
I am the infinitude of the void, and you know me as
I am. Do you believe what you saw? Do you accept
that where the infinite is, I am; and where I am,
there is the infinite?”

I said, “Yes.”

God said, “And your theories are infinite, so I am
there. Without realizing it, the very infinitude of your
theories pointed to the solution; they pointed to me
and none but me. Are you satisfied, now? You saw me
revealed in theophany; I speak to you now; you have,
while alive, experienced the bliss that is to come; few
humans have experienced that bliss. Let me ask you,
Was it a finite bliss or an infinite bliss?”

I said, “Infinite.”

“So no earthly circumstance, situation, entity or
thing could give rise to it.”

“No, Lord,” I said.

“Then it is I,” God said. “Are you satisfied?”

“Let me try one other theory,” I said. “What hap-

pened in 2-3-74 was that—” And an infinite regress
was set off, instantly.

“Infinity,” God said. “Try again. I will play forever,
for infinity.”

“Here’s a new theory,” I said. “I ask myself, ‘What
God likes playing games? Krishna. You are Krishna.'”
And then the thought came to me instantly, “But
there is a god who mimics other gods; that god is
Dionysus. This may not be Krishna at all; it may be
Dionysus pretending to be Krishna.” And an infinite
regress was set off.

“Infinity,” God said.

“You cannot be YHWH Who You say You are,” I
said. “Because YHWH says, ‘I am that which I am,’ or,
‘I shall be that which I shall be.’ And you—”

“Do I change?” God said. “Or do your theories
change?”

“You do not change,” I said. “My theories change.
You, and 2-3-74, remain constant.”

“Then you are Krishna playing with me,” God
said.

“Or I could be Dionysus,” I said, “pretending to be
Krishna. And I wouldn’t know it; part of the game is
that I, myself, do not know. So I am God, without real-
izing it. There’s a new theory!” And at once an infinite
regress was set off; perhaps I was God, and the “God”
who spoke to me was not.

“Infinity,” God said. “Play again. Another move.”
“We are both Gods,” I said, and another infinite
regress was set off.

“Infinity,” God said.

“I am you and you are you,” I said. “You have
divided yourself in two to play against yourself. I, who
am one half, I do not remember, but you do. As it says
in the GITA, as Krishna says to Arjuna, ‘We have both
lived many lives, Arjuna; I remember them but you


do not.” “‘ And an infinite regress was set off; I could
well be Krishna’s charioteer, his friend Arjuna, who
does not remember his past lives.

“Infinity,” God said.

I was silent.

“Play again,” God said.

“I cannot play to infinity,” I said. “I will die before
that point conies.”

“Then you are not God,” God said. “But I can play
throughout infinity; I am God. Play.”

“Perhaps I will be reincarnated,” I said. “Perhaps
we have done this before, in another life.” And an infi-
nite regress was set off.

“Infinity,” God said. “Play again.”

“I am too tired,” I said.

“Then the game is over.”

“After I have rested—”

“You rest?” God said. “George Herbert** wrote of me:

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessnesse.
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least,
If goodness leade him not, yet wearinesse
May tosse him to my breast.

“Herbert wrote that in 1633,” God said. “Rest and
the game ends.”

“I will play on,” I said, “after I rest. I will play until
finally I die of it.”

“And then you will come to me,” God said.
“Play.”

“This is my punishment,” I said, “that I play, that I

* Krishna to Arjuna in chapter 10 of the BHAGAVAD GITA.
** George Herbert (1593-1633), English Christian poet and mystic. The
lines quoted by PKD form the final stanza of the poem “The Pulley.” In
line five, “my” is capitalized in the original.

try to discern if it was you in March of 1974.” And the
thought came instantly, My punishment or my
reward; which? And an infinite series of thesis and
antithesis was set off.

“Infinity,” God said. “Play again.”

“What was my crime?” I said, “that I am com-
pelled to do this?”

“Or your deed of merit,” God said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

God said, “Because you are not God.”

“But you know,” I said. “Or maybe you don’t
know and you’re trying to find out.” And an infinite
regress was set off.

“Infinity,” God said. “Play again. I am waiting.”

(17 November 1980)

Book Review: The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson

This book is one of the best I’ve ever read. My copy is heavily underlined and well-thumbed. There are few authors that connect the topics she does in the way she does it, and there are even fewer who do so with such insight. It’s a hard book to describe as it includes much: puppets and humanity, reality and imagination, philosophy and religion, film and fiction, high and low culture. It’s a fairly large book at around 300 pages of text and also there are useful notes in the back. Even though her ideas may be above the head of the average person, her writing style is easy to follow. If you’re a somewhat curious and minimally intelligent person, then what you’ll probaby enjoy about this book is learning new ideas and discovering new authors. I’m very well read and I came across a number of things I’d never heard of.

Two topics Victoria Nelson covers that are of particular interest to me are Gnosticism and Noir. If you like these topics, then another book you’d like is Eric G. Wilson’s The Melancholy Android: On the Psychology of Sacred Machines and Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film. Wilson is directly influenced by Nelson. There aren’t many books that look at the religious aspects of Noir, but another one is Thomas S. Hibbs Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption. Somewhat oddly, a major connection for these authors is that they all discuss Philip K. Dick who is a favorite author of mine. Dick was mainly a fiction writer, but also wrote non-fiction about what it is to be human in terms of philosophy, religion, and science (in particular the subjects of Gnosticism and androids). If you read Philip K. Dick’s non-fiction, it will give you a richer perspective on the meeting of high and low culture (which is an emphasis of Nelson and Wilson)and on the dark quest for redemption (which all of these authors touch upon). Two Philip K. Dick books I’d recommend are The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings and In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis. If you want a clear overview of Philip K. Dick’s philsophical and religion thoughts, then you should read Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter: The Science-Fictional Religion of Philip K. Dickby Gabriel McKee.

Some of Nelson’s best insights revolve around the notions of imagination and reality, sanity and insanity (which are typical Philip K. Dick topics in both his fiction and non-fiction). This is where she discusses various genre writers (for example, Poe, Lovecraft, Schultz and Kafka) and where she explores the connection between psychology, spirituality and creativity. If you’re intellectually fascinated by imagination and creativity, then there are some truly awesome books out there that would give even greater context to the already large context that Victoria Nelson provides. I’d guess that much of the groundwork for Nelson’s thinking comes from the Jungian tradition of thinkers and she references Carl Jung a number of times (but she also discuses Freud). If you’re interested in further reading about the imagination, then check out these other books: Dream & the Underworld by James Hillman, Imagination Is Reality: Western Nirvana in Jung, Hillman, Barfield, and Cassirer by Roberts Avens, Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld by Patrick Harpur, and The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen.

Besides my mentioning a number of related books, I’d consider The Secret Life of Puppets to be very unique. There are many books out there about these kinds of topics, but she brings it together in a very compelling way. These ideas easily could’ve become lost in abstract intellectuality if handled by a lesser writer.

Developmental Differences: Preliminary Thoughts

This post is a continuation of my thinking from a previous post.

Psychology and Parapsychology, Politics and Place

I’m feeling a bit uninspired in trying to organize my thoughts on this subject.  There are many factors… and, of course, many connections between them.  

There are the personality differences between people such as found in psychology and philosophy (in particular Jung’s typology as developed with MBTI, traits theory, and Hartmann’s boundary types).  There is William S. Burroughs distinction between the Johnsons and the Shits, and there is his idea about the One God Universe (OGU) and his criticisms of the Word God of Christianity.  Along with Burroughs, I’d be tempted to throw in Philip K. Dick’s division of the human from the robotic in terms of emotions and relationships.  So, questions of where humanity is heading would be essential.  In terms of the personality differences, I’d need to further discuss the basic distinctions between liberals and conservatives.  I could possibly add further context with the difference between Athenian and Spartan democracy and the differences between egalitarian and hierarchical social structures (especially as they relate to anti-structure, the trickster archetype and the paranormal).

These ideas touch upon the subject matter in George P. Hansen’s The Trickster and the Paranormal.  There is Max Weber’s theory of rationalization in terms of Western culture and there is the disenchantment of the world which many deep ecologists have written about (some books that come to mind are Sherry Weber Nicholsen’s The Love of Nature and the End of the World, David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous, and Leonard Shlain’s The Alphabet Versus the Goddess).  There is the idea of charisma as it relates to Victor Turner’s theories of liminality and anti-sturcture and as it relates to the paranormal and shamanistic religions.  Also, there is the philosophy of phenomenology and it’s relationship to existentialism… the being in the world and the direct experience of the world (in context of ontology and epistemology).  All of this would be contrasted to the mainstream attitude of academics.  Most significantly, I would include Hansen’s analysis of science and the paranormal.  In relationship to science, I’d bring up Hansen’s ideas about Hartmann’s boundary types.  I’d specifically detail the boundary types’ correlation with Jungian/MBTI types and detail the research that shows the type of person who is promoted to positions of power in hierarchical organizations.  In context of all of this, there is the conflict between the pre-modern and the modern and between the modern and the post-modern.

There is the article “Magic and Gnosticism” by  Will Parker from The Gnostic journal and the distinction between the attitudes of universalism and pluralism.  There is Karl Jasper’s theory of the Axial Age which I’m familiar with through Karen Armstrong.  There is Julian Jayne’s analysis of the primitive mind in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (and his ideas supposedly influenced William S. Burroughs and Ken Wilber).  There have been many interesting theories of social development including spiral dynamics (which would clarify the issues of pre-modernism, modernism and post-modernism) which Ken Wilber heavily relies upon and, less optimistic than Wilber, the ideas of Paul Shepard.  In terms of the latter, other connected writers would be Derrick Jensen, Peter Wessel Zapffe and Thomas Ligotti, but I’m not sure how they’d fit in with the other writers I’ve mentioned… other than maybe how civilization has developed the way it has based on the human response to suffering  and thus development of the modern self-identity.  I would also add Terrence McKenna’s view on the relevance of psychedelics in the evolution of self-consciousness and Jungian ideas about ego development would also connect.

Related to Parker’s article and Karen Armstrong writings, I’d need to clarify the subject of religion in the Western world.  Gnosticism is very important in how it relates to both Hellenism and Christianity, and in how it has had a continuous impact on the development of Western thought.  To bring in Weber’s rationalization, I’d need to argue for the connection between the Christian tradition and science which is something Parker and many others have written about.  Furthermore, it could be helpful to bring up the subject of specialization that civilization has allowed.

A related issue would be of genetic evolution.  How has our evolutionary past influenced us?  Paul Shepard believed we essentially are the same genetically as we were before civilization and that this explains many of our problems.  As such, we simply weren’t designed to live this way.  However, has civilization itself irreversibly altered evolution itself?  Is the evolution of the human species slowing down or speeding up?  What are we becoming?  In terms of specialization, genetics might become specialized in terms of which people tend to procreate together.  There could be an intensification of certain genetic traits.

Anyways, those are the ideas that fit together.  The central idea around which all of this is ordered probably is Max Weber’s rationlization and the largest context that holds it all together would be George P. Hansen’s book.  In my previous post, I was discussing different types of people in terms of basic differences we’re born with.  In this post, I’m trying to clarify the issue of differences in people in terms of psychological, social and evolutionary development.  If I feel more inspired later, I’ll go into more detail.

Horror and Typology

This post will just be a jotting down of connections.  I ordered some books recently and they came in the mail today.  New books mean new thoughts.  Yeah!

Okay.  Two of the books are Metaphysical Horrorby Leszek Kolakowski and The Thomas Ligotti Readeredited by Darrell Schweitzer.  They’re more or less related in their respecitve subjective matters.

Kolakowski writes about the problems of philosophy and the question of meaning.  Many philosophers have come to the conclusion that philosophy is at a dead-end.  Kolakowski calls this anti-philosophy.  It seems to me that the Pessimistic philosophy of Zappfe and Ligotti could be categorized as anti-philosophy.  So, Kolakowski’s analysis and response would be helpful in seeing Pessimism in the larger context of the development of Western thinking.  He writes about Descartes and horror which reminded me of Cartesian anxiety, but I don’t think he uses that specific terminology.  I first heard of Cartesian anxiety in discussions about the relationship of enactivism and integral theory (which are theories that speculate about the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity).  Kolakowski also writes about the phenomenologists (i.e., Husserl and Merleau-Ponty) who tried to respond to Descartes’ mind-body dualism.  Phenomenology was a major influence on enactivism and is of interest to integral theorists.  Also, in the volume of the Collapse journal that published Ligotti, there was an essay related to these ideas (“On the Horror of Phenomenology: Lovecraft and Husserl” by Graham Harman)… and Ligotti considers Lovecraft to be one of his most important influences.

The Thomas Ligotti Readerhas an essay by Ligotti: “The Dark Beauty of Unheard Horrors”.  In it, Ligotti references Lovecraft quite a bit and he uses a specific quote from Lovecraft that I’ve seen in a blog by Matt Cardin (Autumn Longing: H.P. Lovecraft).  This isn’t surprising as Cardin is a fan of Ligotti’s writing and he even has several essays in the Ligotti Reader.  Both Ligotti’s essay and Cardin’s blog cover a similar set of ideas.  This dark aesthetic appreciation of the world can be put into the context of phenomenology and enactivism (autumn longing is an experience that I’m sure many phenomenologists and enactivists would understand).  In the essay directly after Ligotti’s, Cardin discusses the topic of liminality in terms of Ligotti’s fiction.  The liminal is another concept that deals with the meeting of and mixing of categories such as subjectivity and objectivity and also the personal and the collective.

One further thought involves something Ligotti brings up in his essay.  He describes two tendencies in horror writing… that of making horror concretely specific and that of making horror emotionally evocative.  This relates to Ligotti’s desire to present the horrific directly which he acknowledges as ultimately being impossible.  He, in a sense, wants to decontextualize the experience of horror.  A horror that has no form is all the more horrific, but a horror story by its very nature needs form.  In the essay, he recognizes that “Of course, mystery actually requires a measure of the concrete if it is to be perceived at all: otherwise is only a void, the void.”  This sense of a hard to grasp truth that must be approached subtly also reminds me of his style in writing about Pessimism in the Collapse journal. 

There is a sense I get from Ligotti’s non-fiction writing (and his writing in general) that feels like he is circling around some singular insight.  Along with his desire to free this insight from the constraints of the concrete, what it makes me think of is my experience of dealing with a particular person who was a very good example of dominant Introverted Intuition (Jungian typology).  I use Extraverted Intuition (Ne) much more and there is a clear difference to the two styles of thinking.  When Extraverted, Intuition thinking style goes off in a million directions sometimes simultaneously.  It scatters and looks for connections, for context.  When Introverted, it’s the complete opposite.  It focuses in such an inward fashion that it attempts to leave the concrete entirely and so it’s hard to communicate.  The Introverted Intuition type (Ni) has a very convoluted communication style that is plodding and meandering, but there is a core insight around which it all revolves.  Going by Ligotti’s fiction and non-fiction and his interviews, that is the way his thinking seems to me (according to my Ne-biased view). 

Also, there is the aspect of pessimism in Ligotti’s writing (by which I’m not referring specifically to his ideas about philosophical Pessimism).  In that Introverted Intuition causes a desire for freedom from context, there can be a conflict with exterior reality, the concrete world (Extraverted Sensation).  Ligotti’s story “The Shadow, The Darkness” seems to be an expression of what I’m sensing.  The way Ligotti describes Grossvogel’stransformation feels like a dominant Ni type’s experience of an eruption of inferior Se (or something like that… anyways, not the way a dominant Se type would experience it).   Ne types are often just as detached from the concrete, but their abstract and imaginative thinking is focused outward.  The expansive nature of Ne can lend a quality of optimism as there is a sense of infinite possibilities (although this would also include negative possibilities as well).  For example, I’m a very depressed person with Ne (althought it’s secondary/auxiliary rather than dominant).  The expansiveness of Ne counteracts my depression all the while the abstractness of Ne exacerbates it, but no matter how dark my thinking when I consider possibilities I feel inspired and even a bit hopeful.  Ligotti’s thinking challenges me and I meet that challenge by seeking to give his ideas a larger context.

I could go on with my thoughts, but those are the basic ideas rumbling around in my brains.

Just Some Related Ideas and Writers

I tend to think in terms of connections, but when writing about any particular subject I’ll only be emphasizing certain connections.  Still, all the other connections are at the background of what I’m trying to convey.  A minor frustration is all of this background can’t easily be conveyed and so what gets communicated is simply an uprooted plant.  So, this post will be my humble attempt to elucidate this web of ideas, subjects, traditions, and writers.  But of equal importance I wish to demonstrate that these connections exist outside of my mind in the actual world… meaning in other people’s minds as well.

 

The Beginning: Historical Context

A) Ancient World: Religion and Philosophy

So as to be orderly in my presentation, let me start at the beginning… not the beginning of my own thinking but rather the beginning of the Western tradition.  I’ve already written about much of this in prior posts (for example: Graeco-Roman Tradition, Development of Christian Mysticism, and Mani’s Influence).  My thinking about this subject is informed by authors such as Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock), Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, Tom Harpur, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy; and I would also add Karen Armstrong and Richard Tarnas

Basically, during the Axial Age, Greek and Egyptian thought formed Hellenism which was later incorporated into and formalized by Roman culture.  At around this time and before, Jews were being influenced by Hellenism and the culmination of this was the Alexandrian Jewish community.  Jews had in the past been influenced by many cultures, borrowing wholesale at times some of their myths and theologies (including maybe Monotheism which was an idea both in the Egyptian and Greek traditions).  Mixed in with all of these were Persian influences such as Zoroastrianism.  Out of this, Christianity arose precisely with the arising of Rome.  Romans brought the synthesizing of Hellenism to a new level and they were constantly seeking a universal religion to unite the empire, such as Serapis worship, Pax Romana, and Romanized Christianity… of course these Roman universal religions themselves became mixed over the early centuries of the common era. 

Anyways, Gnosticism was either the origin of Christianity or else one of the earliest influences on Christianity.  Gnosticism was connected with the traditions of NeoPlatonism and Hermeticism.  An interesting aspect of Gnosticism is that it’s adherents sometimes used scientific knowledge to explain some of it’s theology.  This merging of the spiritual and the scientific would be carried on in various traditions.  Besides Gnosticism and Hermeticism, the offspring traditions Cabala and Alchemy speculated to great degrees about the physical world.  This line of thought seems to have been particularly focused in Germany.  The German mystics helped many of these ideas to survive.  These mystics emphasized the sympathy between the microcosm and the macrocosm and also the merging between the subjective and the objective.  The Reformationists were influenced by all of this even though they focused less on the mystical.  Paracelsus lived during the Reformation and was influenced by both the mystic tradition and the Reformation (which he didn’t identify with).  Most directly, he initially was more interested in science and medicine.  This led to Paracelsus’ theorizing about Gnostic ideas such as planetary influences (although he denied Gnosticism).  Paracelsus also believed in a universal healing energy and he is also credited for the first mention of the unconscious.

B) Post-Reformation: Early Development of Modern Traditions

This was also the time of the Renaissance and science was just beginning to come into its own, but science wouldn’t be fully formed until the Enlightenment.  During this latter period, Franz Mesmer developed a theory and methodology along the lines of Paracelsus’ writings.  Paracelsus’ ideas did become more popular a couple of centuries after his death, but I don’t know if his ideas had a direct influence on Mesmer.  Still, they’re a part of the same general philosophical lineage.  Mesmer did speculate about planetary influences, but he is most famous for his theory about animal magnetism which was a supposed healing energy.  This was the origin of what later would be called hypnotism which was much later developed, partially through the example of the Freudian Erik Erikson, into the methodology of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). 

Hypnotism was introduced into popular culture through writers such as Edgar Allan Poe.  Mesmerism was an early origin to spiritualism.  As such, it isn’t surprising that Poe in one of his stories had a character use hypnotism as a way of keeping a corpse alive.  Another concept that came from Mesmerism was the double which also was incorporated into the Horror genre, notably in the writings of E.T.A. Hoffman

Hypnotism as a psycho-therapeutic technique had been taken up by a number of people during and after Mesmer’s life.  Many decades later, Freud would learn hypnotism.  The ideas of sexual repression and hysteria were a part of the tradition of Mesmer’s methodology and these would be taken up by Freud.  Also, Freud had an interest in the unconscious which would seem to also to have been related to these kinds of ideas.  One of Freud’s followers was Wilhelm Reich who had a particular interest in the area of sexuality and healing energies.  He proposed the notion of Orgone energy which is reminiscent of both the ideas of Mesmer and Paracelsus.  Orgone is no longer reputable, but like Mesmer it has become a part of popular culture.  William S. Burroughs was a believer in Orgone energy (and spirituality in general as he considered himself a Manichean and was a Scientologist for a time).  Jack Kerouac mentioned Burroughs’ Orgone accumulator in one of his books and supposedly Grant Morrison (by way of Burroughs?) imagined Orgone energy as being real in one of his fictional worlds.

Mesmer‘s beliefs about healing energy accessible to all was also a major influence (via Phineas Quimby) on New Thought Christianity.  This Christian movement was also influenced by Swedenborg and more importantly by the very ancient ideas of Unitarianism and Universalism.  New Thought was a part of a larger social movement of people seeking a new form of spirituality after the Enlightenment had challenged so many traditional religious certainties and the Industrial Age was generally destabilizing culture.  Another set of ideas that probably was influential on New Thought would be that of Romanticism and Transcendentalism.  The latter in particular was a part of the same social milieu in the US at that time.  Specific organizations that appeared during this period were Unity church, Christian Science, Mormonism and the Theosophical Society.  Also, groups like the Quakers and Shakers became popular in the U.S. later in the 19th century partly in response to the social destabilization of the Civil War.  (By the way, New Thought Christianity has somewhat covertly made a resurgence with it’s incorporation into the mainstream through such things as The Secret and even more interestingly through Evangelical Christianity.  Positive thinking or prosperity thinking is known by Evangelicals as abundance theology or prosperity gospel.)

This collective search for the spiritual during the 19th century (and into the early 20th century) was being fueled by many things including the translation and publishing of many ancient texts (both Western and Eastern).  In biblical studies, some scholars picked up the earlier Enlightenment criticisms of Christianity (despite the fear of punishment by the church still being at the time very real in some places).  With many new texts available, comparative mythology caused quite a stir.  One major force in this scholarship was the publications coming out of the Theosophical Society, in particular those of G.R.S. Mead.  This school of thought mostly died out in biblical studies, but it was kept alive by comparative mythologists and psychologists.  It has, however, been revived in recent decades by a small growing sector of biblical scholars and has been made popular (if not exactly respectable) by the film Zeitgeist.

 

Freud, Jung and Others

Optimism and Pessimism, Religion and Horror

A major figure who was influenced by all of this was Carl Jung (who was the most significant force behind the Nag Hammadi texts getting translated and published).  Even though he was the most favored student of Freud, Jung had developed much of his own thinking prior to their meeting.  They both had great impact on each other, but of course (like many of Freud’s students such as Reich and Adler) Jung left Freud.  The Freudian and Jungian schools are an interesting contrast.  This partly a difference of how they related to the world in general which seems to symbolized by how they related to patients.  Freud had patients face away from him, but Jung (and Reich) chose to have their patients face them. 

Also, I can look at a book’s table of contents and make a good guess about whether the author will likely quote Freud or Jung.  Books that quote Freud tend to be about sexuality, gender, politics, power, the underprivileged, postmodernism, and textual criticism.  Books that quote Jung often involve the topics of spirituality, religion, mythology, ancient traditions, philosophy and the supernatural.  There is much crossover between the two and so it isn’t unusual to find both names in the same book, but still books that extensively quote Jung are more likely to mention Freud as well rather than the other way around.  Both Jung and Freud have influenced artists and fiction writers.  Herman Hesse, for instance, knew Jung and used his ideas in some of his fiction.  Freud’s obsession with sexuality, of course, was an interest to many creative types.  Burroughs‘ view on sexuality seems fairly Freudian.  Another angle is that Freud was less optimistic about human nature.  I was reading how Peter Wessel Zapffe’s Pessimistic philosophy is indebted to Freud and Zapffe is a major source of the horror writer Thomas Ligotti‘s view on life.  Philip K. Dick, on the other hand, was heavily influenced by Jung and PKD has relatively more of a hopeful bent (however, PKD also had a very dark side and was friends with darker fiction writers such as Harlan Ellison).  This distinction between a tendency towards pessimism versus optimism, I would add, appears related to the fact that Freud was very critical of religion and Jung maintained respect for religion his whole life (or at least the ideas and stories of religion if not the institution itself).

One further aspect is Jung‘s development of personality typology which came about by his trying to understand the differences between Adler and Freud and his trying to understand the reasons for his conflict with Freud.  Typology was particularly put into the context of a very optimistic philosophy with the MBTI which is all about understanding others and improving oneself.  Even though typology became a tool of corporate America, it has its roots in the ideas of centuries of philosophers such as Nietzsche’s Dionysian and Apollonian.  Typology is the closest that Jung’s ideas have come to academic respectability.  (However, his theory on archetypes is slowly gaining respectability simply by the force of its wide influence, and its important to note that there was always a connection between Jung’s thinking about typology and archetypes.)  With the systematization in MBTI, Jung’s typology has been scientifically researched and correlated with other research on personality theories.  For my purposes, I’ll point out that his typology probably influenced some of Hesse‘s thinking and I know that Philip K. Dick was familiar with it, but typology overall hasn’t been a favorite topic of most philosophical and spiritual thinkers.  Even so, the creation of distinct categories of people is a very old notion (in the West and in other cultures).  For a relevant example, certain Gnostics (e.g., Valentinians) divided people into three categories, but later Christians seem to have preferred the simpler categorization of damned versus saved.  In secular writing, George P. Hansen is a rare thinker who considers types (Ernest Hartmann‘s boundary types which are correlated to MBTI) in terms of paranormal experience and cultural analysis, but I don’t know if he is familiar with Jung’s typology although he does reference Jung a fair amount.  A more amusing example is William S. Burroughs‘ dividing the world up into the Johnson Family and the Shits.

Like Freud, Jung had a strong interest in the unconscious which (along with his many other interests) definitely puts him in the tradition of Paracelsus and Mesmer.  It would almost be easier to list what Jung didn’t study rather than what he did.  He certainly was interested in the same types of subjects that are now included in the New Age movement (which isn’t surprising as Jungian ideas are a major interest of many New Agers).  Specific to my purposes here, Jung often quoted G.R.S. Mead and was also immensely curious about spiritualism.  Jung’s influence is immense, despite his fame being slightly overshadowed by Freud. 

An aspect not often considered is Jung‘s influence on Christianity (which I assume was largely his interest in Mead’s writing).  His family was very much entrenched within Christianity and so Jung was obsessed with it his whole life.  The book he considered his most personal was written about Christianity (i.e., Answer to Job).  Jung had a fruitful relationship with Father White who himself was a writer.  Jung’s ideas became incorporated into Father White’s writings about Catholicism.  Despite Jung not being Catholic or even Christian, his ideas gave a certain respectability to the Catholic emphasis on symbolism and imagery, but it’s hard to estimate Jung’s influence on Catholic thinking.  The most direct influence in this regard would be on the InklingsC.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who were Christians also felt some kinship with Jung’s ideas, but of course they disagreed with Jung’s putting Christianity on the same level as Pagan myths (as such, his theory was simply a myth explaining other myths rather than God’s truth).  Through Jung and Lewis, theology became more of a topic of popular culture.  Also, Lewis helped bridge the separation between the Pagan imagination of Romanticism and Christian doctrine which was furthermore a bridge between theological ideas and fiction.  This bridging obviously influenced later writers such as Philip K. Dick who combined fiction and theology.  The popularizing of Christianity had a corroding effect on orthodoxy (which Tolkien feared), but also it led to a great fertility of thinking where Christianity and popular culture mixed.  I’m sure many Christians have discovered Jung through the Inklings, but  I suspect, though, that Jung probably has had the most influence on Christians who are counselors (and therefore on the people they counsel).  Related to counseling, Jung was a direct inspiration for the development of Alcoholics Anonymous which was originally Christian (also, A.A. is one of the first self-help groups which as a way of organizing people would later became a focus of various New Agers, Christian and otherwise).

I also wonder what connections there might be between Jung’s interest in Catholicism and the supernatural and the interest in the same by Horror writers and movie directors.  Also, as there are Catholics interested in Jung and Catholics interested in horror and ghost stories, I wonder how many Catholics would be interested in both.  Interestingly, both Jungian studies and the Horror genre have simultaneously increased in popularity and respectability.  An obvious link between Jung and horror would be Freud‘s understanding of the Uncanny and I would say that the Uncanny would be magnified by the amorphous nature of the Jungian Collective Unconscious.  The Uncanny becomes quite horrific when it can no longer be safely contained within the human brain, no longer explained away as mere psychological mechanism.

New Age, Hillman, and the Paranormal

There are three other interconnected avenues of Jung‘s influence that I want to consider further. 

1) As Jung was influenced by the spiritual and the spiritualist movements of the 19th century, he in turn influenced the New Age movement of the 20th century.  Jung acts as a bridge and a synthesizer.  Jung himself and his ideas struggled for respectability, but still it was partly through his ideas that the New Age gained some respectability.  His views on archetypes gave many people a method/language (and an even playing field on which) to analyze mainstream culture and the dominant religions.  The New Age’s incorporation of archetypes, however, made them even less respectable to mainstream culture (at least until recently, maybe partly because the New Age has become more respectable).  If it weren’t for certain writers such as Joseph Campbell, Jung’s writings on comparative mythology might very well be less known and understood.  Joseph Campbell also helped to revive Jung’s study of Christianity in terms of mythology.  Specifically, it was Star Wars and the Hero’s Journey (i.e., Monomyth) that brought this all to a mainstream audience.  Suddenly, both Hollywood and Christianity had to come to terms with mythology… forcing Christianity to also come to terms with Hollywood and popular culture in general.  One other connection between Jung and the New Age would be Quantum Physics.  One of Jung’s patients was the physicist Wolfgang Pauli and they developed a friendship.  They both were interested in the connection between science and the mind, and this interest became symbolized by the number 137.  This number fascinated Pauli (and many other scientists) because the “fine structure constant” is approximately 1/137 which is neither very large nor very small but rather a human-sized number, a number that’s easy  to grasp.  Jung had discovered that going by the numerology related to Kabbalah that the word ‘Kabbalah’ added up to 137.  So, this number represented their shared interest, their shared ideal.  This desire to bridge matter and mind, science and psychology is a major part of New Age spirituality and of other thinkers outside of the New Age (e.g. Ken Wilber).

2) A second line of influence is that of James Hillman who was indebted to and critical of Jung‘s view.  He wrote a book about Jung’s typology and he was very much against it being used in a systematic fashion to categorize people.  To be fair, Jung was extremely wary of his typology being systematized.  Hillman can be considered as loosely a part of the thinking going on within and on the fringes of the New Age movement, but his ideas were a bit of an opposition to the idealistic strain of the New Age.  He believed suffering and illness should be accepted and understood on its own terms.  So, reality should be taken for what it is without trying to make it into something else.  Importantly, this view seems to be different than Freud‘s thinking in that Freud was apparently less trusting of human nature and experience (although there may be some minor similarity in that Freud emphasized helping people adapt rather than trying to fundamentally change them).  For instance, the Freudian-influenced Pessimism of Zapffe (and hence of Ligotti) posits that humans are deceived and self-deceiving.  Zapffe has a very good analysis of the methods people use to avoid suffering (which, to be honest, I’m not sure to what degree someone like Hillman would disagree).  From another perspective, Robert Avens, in his Imagination is Reality, draws on Hillman’s writings.  I found Avens’ analysis to be a useful counter example to the philosophical writings of Ligotti, but this is something I’m still working out.  I see some truth (and some limitations) in both perspectives.

3) The third aspect would be Jung‘s focus on the paranormal.  He studied the paranormal since he was young and had paranormal experiences of his own.  As he grew older, he saw the psyche and the archetypes as not being limited by the human brain.  His interest in the paranormal was far from idle.  Through his principle of synchronicity, he believed non-ordinary experiences had a very direct and practical impact on a person.  He also corresponded with the famous parapsychology researcher J.B. Rhine and they met once, but as I understand Jung was uncertain about the relationship between synchronicity and parapsychology research (since the former focuses on the subjective and the latter on the objective).  One of his last books was about UFOs and it was highly influential on a certain tradition of UFO researchers: Jacques Vallee and John Keel.  This tradition overlaps with Jung’s studies of and influence on religion and spirituality.  Vallee, like George P. Hansen, studied spiritual groups and religious cults.  I’m sure Keel studied those as well.  In The Eighth Tower, Keel details some of the biblical mythicist theories and Egyptology that had become increasingly popular starting in the 1970s (and, of course, he relates it to the paranormal).   Thus, paranormal research was combined with comparative mythology and folkore studies.  This is how Jungian ideas became linked with Charles Fort, another researcher into the paranormal.  Charles Fort was a different kind of thinker than Jung, but people interested in one often are interested in the other.  Even though I’m not as familiar with Fort, I do know he was highly influential on other writers and thinkers in his lifetime (John Cowper Powys, Sherwood Anderson, Clarence Darrow, Booth Tarkington, Theodore Dreiser, Ben Hecht, Alexander Woolcott and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.) and many later people as well too numerous to list (which includes many of the writers I discuss in this post).  A less known fact is that Fort wrote fiction stories that were published early in his career and a major part of his influence has been on fiction writers.  Both Jung and Fort read widely and both changed their minds as they came across new evidence.  Even more than the likes of Hillman, the Forteans are the real opposites of the New Agers.  However, Forteans and New Agers were both a part of the counterculture (before the New Age went mainstream with its being approved and popularized by Oprah).

These last three traditions do overlap in various ways. 

Patrick Harpur is a very interesting writer on the paranormal.  He references many of the above writers: Carl Jung, James Hillman, Robert Avens, Charles Fort, Jacques Vallee and John Keel.  George P. Hansen is even more wide ranging in that he references those same kinds of writers and he references various people from the New Age area and beyond all of that he also references many philosophers and scientists in other related fields.  Hansen is more difficult to categorize, but ultimately he might best fit in with the Fortean tradition.  Another writer I discovered recently is Keith Thompson who wrote a book that is similar to the writings of these other two.  Thompson and Hansen come to a similar conclusion about the Trickster archetype being fundamental to understanding the paranormal (which could be related to Jung’s insight that the Trickster figure was a precursor to the Savior figure). Thompson is also interesting in that he has very direct connections to the New Age and to Integralism.  Besides writing about UFOs, he did an interview with Robert Bly in the New Age magazine which was what first brought the mens movement into public attention.  Thompson credits Michael Murphy for supporting the ideas in the book early on partly by promoting a UFO group at the Esalen Institute (where, for instance, Joseph Campbell had taught in the past).  Michael Murphy has been closely associated with Ken Wilber and apparently Thompson is the same person who was the president of Wilber’s Integral Institute for a time.

Let me briefly point out that, in the context of the three Jungian-related traditions outlined above, there are some counterculture figures that are mixed into this general area of ideas: William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, Terrence McKenna, and Philip K. Dick.  So, this brings in the fields of study involving psychology, consciousness research, psychedelics, epistemology, spiritual practice and conspiracy theories.  Also, I would add a connection here with Transpersonal psychology and the New Age in general.  If you’re a fan of the radio show Coast to Coast AM (formerly hosted by Art Bell and now hosted by George Noory), then these types of ideas and writers should be generally familiar to you (Terrence McKenna, in particular, was a regular guest).  I want to emphasize particularly William S. Burroughs as he was extremely interested in these kinds of subjects.  Despite Burroughs dark streak, he said he never doubted the existence of God.  He believed in lots of alternative ideas such as ESP, but most relevant here is that he visited Whitley Strieber who is one of the biggest names in the UFO encounter field.  In connection to Burroughs and Jung, Reich (who proposed the orgone theory) also had a strong interest in UFOs (which he connected with his orgone theory).  As a passing thought, this last connection of Reich reminds me of Paracelsus as the latter also speculated much about the paranormal (in terms of influences and beings).  Vallee discusses Paracelsus’ ideas in context of modern speculations about UFOs.

 

The Occult and the New Age, Spiritualism and the Theosophical Society

I need to backtrack a bit to delineate some other lines of influence.  I want to follow further the influence Mesmer and spiritualism had on fiction and I want to follow a different influence from the Theosophical Society.

Poe and Horror, Philip K. Dick and Neo-Noir

So, first, Mesmer and spiritualism had a wide influence on fiction, in particular the genre of horror.  Most significantly, I want to follow a divergent influence Poe had.  Poe is definitely one of the most influential writers for modern horror, but less recognized is that he is also considered by some to be the originator of the modern detective storyVictoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson write about Poe’s horror writing, but those two also write about noir (which of course is grounded in the hard-boiled detective story) and neo-noir.  A major factor in the transforming of noir into neo-noir (and it’s related development into tecno-noir and influence on cyber-punk) was the writings of Philip K. Dick and especially the movie Blade Runner which was based on one of his novels.

My interest in noir and neo-noir has increased since reading Victoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson… and a more recent addition to my library is Thomas S. Hibbs.  All three of them have helped me to understand the religious undertones and philosophical implications of this genre.  Nelson and Wilson cover similar territory, but Hibbs has a different view that emphasizes Pascal‘s ideas (which offers another counterbalance to Zapffe/Ligotti ideas).  Hibbs uses Pascal’s hidden God as a contrast to Nietzsche‘s God is dead.  He also writes some about Philip K. Dick, but apparently isn’t aware of PKD’s own notions about a hidden God (aka Zebra).

Nelson, in The Secret Life of Puppets, writes about writers such as Poe, Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick and C.S. Lewis in terms of mythology, puppets, alchemygnosticism, art and film; she also briefly writes about New Age groups and UFO cults.  More significantly, she discusses German Expressionism merging with “hard-boiled detective mode of pulp fiction” to form film noir.  She speaks of re-noir by which I assume she means the same genre that others call neo-noir.  She also goes into some detail about New Expressionism which seems closely connected with neo-noir.  Specifically of interest to me, she discusses the movie Blade Runner.  I’m not sure about her opinion on the subject but I think some consider that movie to be the first neo-noir film (or at least the first sf neo-noir film) which is a type of film that has become increasingly popular in the following decades.  Also, Blade Runner (along with PKD’s fiction) was a formative influence on cyber-punk.  As for neo-noir, besides being mixed with science fiction and fantasy, it has also used elements of horror as in Dark City.  This is natural fit considering Poe’s influence.  Another very interesting topic she discusses is Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber.  She compares Schreber’s view of reality with that of Lovecraft’s fiction.  It’s also significant to note that Schreber’s memoir was made famous by Freud‘s analysis of it in terms of homosexuality and paranoia, and it was Jung who brought this text to Freud’s attention.  Nelson does discuss Freud in reference to Schreber and she discusses Jung in other parts of her book.

Wilson was influenced by Nelson and so was writing along similar lines, but with more emphasis on religion and also more emphasis on subjects such as the Gothic and Existentialism.  In one book, he goes into great detail about Gnosticism and the traditions of Cabala and alchemy which were formed partly from the ideas of Gnosticism.  Wilson also said he was influenced by Marina Warner who is also mentioned in Nelson’s writings.  Warner writes in a similar vein as these two, but it seems she has less interest in pop culture although she does write some about Philip K. Dick.  These writers point out the connection between high and low art and the connection between art and culture, between imagination and religion.

I could make even more connections here in terms of Gothic fiction and Existentialism.  I’ve read a number of fiction writers that fit in here, but I’m not sure about specific lines of influence.

Theosophy: Darkness and Light

Now, let me follow a very odd linking of people starting with the Theosophical society.

First, most people don’t realize that the distinction between the Occult and the New Age didn’t initially exist when these ideas were first being formulated.  Aleister Crowley was associated with the Theosophical Society and he considered it significant that he was born in the year that the organization was founded.  Crowley appreciated the work of Anna Kingsford who established Theosophy in England and briefly headed it.  Whereas Blavatsky had emphasized Oriental esotericism, Kingsford was in favor of a Western esotericism with a focus on Christianity and Hermeticism.  She supposedly was more known for her advocacy work for women’s rights, animal rights and vegetarianism.  She would seem to represent the more New Agey side of Theosophy which is odd considering the association with Crowley who was known as “the Beast”.

I want to momentarily point out a tangential thought that is relevant to the Theosophical Society and similar organizations.  George P. Hansen has written some useful analysis of the connection between the New Age and the Occult.  The following is mostly based on his ideas, but a similar analysis of the dark side of alien experiences can be found in the works of Jacques Vallee.

Intentional communities and Gurus are very popular amongst New Agers, but there is a dark side to this with Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and Heaven’s Gate.  Heaven’s Gate is an especially good example.  They were a UFO cult that was very New Agey in their interest in pop culture utopianism and their beliefs in alien/angels that would come to save them.  Many people who have alien abduction experiences are given messages by their captors.  They are made to feel special and that they have a mission to accomplish.  They are often told that the world is ailing or even dying, and that the aliens have come to save the planet or the aliens have come to save an elect few.  You can find similar messages in New Age channeled writings (and in the historical accounts of various traditional religions as well).

I was reading a book by Vallee who began his career as a scientist before becoming a UFO investigator.  He was one of the first people to make a connection between alien abductions and traditional folklore.  In the intro to one of his books, he mentioned that he had studied Teilhard de Chardin and appreciated his view.  Teilhard de Chardin is a name that comes up in discussions about both both New Age and Integral theory.

The Two Krishnamurtis

To return to the topic of the Theosophical Society, after Blavatsky died there was major conflict.  Crowley became antagonistic and various leaders turned against each other.  Rudolf Steiner helped to establish the German and Austrian division as independent, and out of this Anthroposophical Society formed.  The Americans also split off and later split again.  Annie Besant and Henry Olcott took over the division in India.

So, in India, J. Krishnamurti was adopted by Annie Besant and was groomed to be a World Teacher which Crowley didn’t like (I’m not sure why, but maybe he wanted to be the World Teacher).  U.G. Krishnamurti, through his grandfather, became involved in Theosophy in his teenage years.  The two Krishnamurtis met while a part of the Theosophical Society.  They shared their views with eachother and shared a questioning attitude.  Both rejected the role of guru which led to both leaving the Theosophical Society.  However, J. Krishnamurti did continue an informal career as spiritual teacher which U.G. Krishnamurti criticized as his having become a guru after all (and U.G. has been called an anti-guru and even the anti-Krishnamurti).  Both Krishnamurtis had profound spiritual experiences that transformed them, but U.G. Krishnamuti’s experiences led to a less popular viewpoint in that he believed that the physical world was all that existed.  According to my limited study of U.G., his view of no-mind seems something like a materialistic version of Zen.  J. Krishnamurti, on the other hand, is very popular with the New Age crowd (which is where I learned of him).  For instance, the same type of person who writes about J. Krishnamurti also writes about A Course In Miracles (another early influence of mine)… by the way, ACIM according to Kenneth Wapnick (who helped form the text) has a similar theology to Valentinian Gnosticism (which makes sense as the Nag Hammadi discovery was just beginning to become popular at that time). 

 

Horror Writers and Scholars

From Ligotti to Wilber

To get back on topic, U.G. Krishnamurti is less well known as he didn’t see himself as having a public mission.  His writings are on the extreme fringe of the New Age, but I’m not sure what kind of person is typically attracted to his philosophy.  However, I was interested to discover that Thomas Ligotti mentions him in an interview.  U.G. Krishnamurti’s materialistic bent fits in with the general trend of Ligotti’s thinking, but I’m not sure what value Ligotti would see in even a materialistic spirituality (not that U.G. was trying to promote its value).  I was reading from a thread on Thomas Ligotti Online that the story “The Shadow, The Darkness” was a direct homage to U.G. Krishnamurti.

Anyways, Ligotti represents an interesting connection between Horror and many other ideas.  Ligotti’s favorite thinker apparently is the Pessimistic philosopher Zapffe.  I came across that Zapffe was close friends with and mentor to Arnes Naess.  That is extremely intriguing as Naess was the founder of the Deep Ecology movement.  I find it humorous to consider the hidden seed of Zapffe’s Pessimism at the foundation of Deep Ecology.  Like Theosophy, Deep Ecology is another major influence on New Age thinking.  This confluence of Horror and the New Age is maybe to be expected for I suppose it isn’t entirely atypical for someone like Ligotti to go from being a spiritual seeker to becoming a fully committed Pessimist.  In terms of ideas, the opposites of optimistic idealism and pessimistic realism seem to evoke each other… as they say, scratch a cynic and you’ll find a failed idealist.  I was thinking recently that horror as an experience can only exist in contrast to hope.  If humans had no hope, then there’d be no horror.  So, the greatest horror is only possible with the greatest hope and the contrary would seem to be true as well.  In terms of environmentalism, Pessimism is a natural fit anyhow.  Environmental writers such as Paul Shepard and Derrick Jensen are far from optimistic about the human situation.  Paul Shepard, in particular, seems to have ideas that resonate with Zapffe’s view that something went wrong in the development of early humanity.  Along these lines, a book that would fit in here is The Love of Nature and the End of the World by Shierry Weber Nicholsen.

I think this is a good place to mention Julian Jaynes.  He was a psychologist who became famous through his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.  His ideas generally relate to the kind of ideas put forth by Paul Shepard, Ken Wilber, Max Weber, Karl Jaspers, and Peter Wessel Zapffe.  He theorized that human consciousness was different in the past and a shift happened during early civilization.  He thought that ancient man’s mind was more externalized with less sense of individuality… something like schizophrenia.  He had two sources of evidence for his theory.  He saw traces of this early mode of consciousness in the oldest surviving writings and he referenced psychology research that demonstrated that stimulating parts of the brain could elicit a person hearing voices.  The reason I mention him is because he influenced, along with many others, both William S. Burroughs and Ken Wilber.  Buroughs wrote about Jayne’s ideas in his essay “Sects and Death” and Wilber wrote about them in his book Up from Eden.

Related to Deep Ecology is Phenomenology for Deep Ecologists have often used it to support their view.  This is so because, in Phenonmenology, there is something of an animistic appreciation of nature.  Phenomenology influenced Enactivism which is a fairly new theory involving the scientific study of consciousness and perception.  Enactivism was also influenced by Buddhism and as such Enactivism tries to scientifically explain our direct experience of reality.  Enactivism especially discusses the connection between mind and body.  I bring this up because Ken Wilber, who is critical of Deep Ecology, is a major contributor to and proponent of Integral theory which has had some fruitful dialogue with Enactivism (see my post ENACTIVISM, INTEGRAL THEORY, AND 21st CENTURY SPIRITUALITY).  Irwin Thomson has co-written some books with the Enactivist theorists, and  Ken Wilber has been contrasted with William Irwin Thomson (the father of Irwin Thomson).  The former is a systematic thinker and the latter non-systematizing, and yet both write about similar subjects.  (Jung was more of a non-systematizer and that might be why Wilber ended up feeling critical towards his ideas.)  Ken Wilber is useful to bring up as he has synthesized many different fields of knowledge and he has helped to bridge the gap between academia and spirituality.  Also, Wilber has become a major figure in popular culture such as his speaking on the commentary tracks for the Matrix trilogy.

I want to point out that there has been much dialogue between the ideas of Wilber and those of Jung.  Jung’s less systematic style of thought also allowed for great shift in his understanding over time.  This makes it difficult to understand Jung’s spectrum of ideas as his opinions changed.  Wilber, on the other hand, is extremely systematic and his theory has remained fairly consistent even as he adds to it.  Wilber does have some basic understanding of Jung which he describes in some of his books, but various people have pointed out some inaccuracies in his understanding.  As a systematizer of many fields, Wilber inevitably simplifies many theories in order to evaluate and synthesize them.  However, to understand the connection between Jung and Wilber it would be better to look to a third-party viewpoint.  The best example of this would be Gerry Goddard (whose lifework tome can be found on the Island Astrology website).  I bring up Goddard for another reason.  Goddard was also a systematizer like Wilber, but he brings a number of other writers into his theory.  As I recall, he gives a more fair assessment of Jung.  Also, he includes the ideas of Richard Tarnas and Stanislav Grof.  I briefly mentioned Tarnas at the beginning.  Tarnas is a historian whose writing is a useful resource for understanding the development of ideas across the centuries, and he also has an interest in astrology.  Tarnas wrote a very interesting book about history and astrology that Goddard references.  Goddard also writes about the psychologist Stanislav Grof who is often contrasted with Wilber.  Grof is interesting as he started off researching psychedelics, but later focused on non-psychedelic methods of altering the mind (such as breathing techniques) for the purposes of psychotherapy.  Goddard is a less known theorist, but is a good example of the relationships between some of the people I mention.

There is another related distinction I’d like to make.  Wilber and Goddard are systematizers which somehow connects with their work being squarely set in the field of non-fiction.  Wilber did write a novel, but even then it was simply a mouthpiece for his non-fiction.  William Irwin Thomson seems more like Jung.  Along with wide ranging interests, they both were deeply interested in the creative as well as the intellectual side of human experience.  By deeply interested I mean that they sought to express themselves creatively.  Jung was often painting or carving stone or simply playing around with whatever was at hand.  I don’t know as much about Thomson, but I’ve seen poetry he has written and I’ve seen him referenced as a poet.  Also, Thomson writes about literature.  Along these lines, Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs would also be of this latter category of non-systematic creative thinkers.  Ligotti is a bit harder to fit in with this scheme.  He definitely has strong interest in both fiction and non-fiction, but relative to PKD and Burroughs he seems much more systematic and focused.

Let me conclude this section by saying that Ken Wilber is a major focal point of my own thinking simply for the fact that he covers so much territory and because his ideas have become the focus of more intellectual discussions of spirituality.  He is relevant to my discussion also because he was influenced by the counterculture ideas of his Boomer generation and so he is familiar with many of the people I’ve mentioned so far.  Wilber was interested in alternative ideas like those of Jung, but ended up setting his theory in opposition to depth psychology, transpersonal psychology and deep ecology.  Unhappily, Wilber often gets categorized in bookstores along with the very New Age writers he criticizes.  Similar to Ligotti, he spent much time seriously seeking spiritual perspectives which in his case even included following a guru for a while.  Ligotti and Wilber represent two very intellectual responses to the search for knowledge and understanding.

Burroughs in relation to Ligotti and PKD

Similarly, as I’ve stated elsewhere (see here), Ligotti and Philip K. Dick represent two very different responses to William S. Burroughs as they were both influenced by him.  I really don’t know the specifics of how Burroughs had an effect on Ligotti.  Supposedly, he said that Burroughs was his last artistic hero, but as far as I can tell he doesn’t otherwise speak about Burroughs much.  Burroughs was quite the Pessimist in many ways and so it’s a bit surprising that I didn’t notice his name being mentioned in the excerpt of Ligotti’s non-fiction from the Collapse journal.  Maybe when his full nonfiction work is published there’ll be something about Burroughs in it.  Actually, in some ways, Burroughs comes off as darker than Ligotti.  On the other hand, Burroughs had an explicitly spiritual side.  Gnosticism is particularly clear in Burroughs’ perspective and that is where PKD saw a connection to his own philosophizing.  This Gnosticism is a direct connection to Jung, at least for PKD but probably for Burroughs as well since I know that he was familiar with Jung.  PKD, however, is more Jungian in his view of gender in that both PKD and Jung apparently were influenced by the Gnostic (and Taoist) emphasis on gender as a way of thinking about the dualistic nature of the psyche.  Burroughs’ understanding of gender could also have its origins partly in Gnosticism as there was a strain of Gnosticism that was less idealistic about gender differences.  Burroughs considered himself Manichaean which was a religion with an ascetic tradition and which emphasized dualism to a greater degree (I find it humorous to consider that the great Church Doctor Augustine was also a Manichaean for many years before his conversion… which makes me wonder what Burroughs opinion was about Augustine).  Another distinction here is that Jung and PKD maintained relationships with Christians and biblical scholars, but I can’t imagine Burroughs having much interest in Christianity.  Burroughs, rather, saw Gnosticism as in opposition to Christianity.

Poe and Lovecraft, Christianity and Gnosticism

Another connection would be favorite writers.  I mentioned Poe already.  Poe was a major favorite of Burroughs, Ligotti and PKD.  Lovecraft would be another writer to bring up as he was influenced by Poe.  Lovecraft in turn had a tremendous impact on Ligotti and PKD, and Burroughs made references to Lovecraft in a number of places.  Also, Burroughs supposedly was taught about Mayan codices by Robert H. Barlow who was Lovecraft’s literary executor.  I was reading that Burroughs met Barlow in Mexico while studying anthropology.  An interest in cultures would be something that Burroughs shares with PKD and Jung, but I don’t have a sense that Ligotti has much interest in this area or at least he doesn’t seem to write about it.  To add a quick note, there is a nice essay by Graham Harman in Collapse IV that brings together Lovecraft, Poe and Phenomenology.

Yet another connection is that of Robert M. PricePrimarily, Price is a biblical scholar, but he has many interests including weird writing, superheroes and philosophy.  He seems to have been somewhat of a Lovecraft expert in the past and has written his own Lovecraftian stories.  Price’s interest in Lovecraft makes sense in terms of his interest in Gnosticism as Lovecraft’s view of reality is essentially that of Gnostic archons minus the Gnostic true God (there is a good analysis of Lovecraft’s philosophy in Sieg’s “Infinite  Regress” from Collapse IV).  Price also has written an essay about Ligotti that was published in The Thomas Ligotti Reader.  I know of Price mostly through his biblical scholarship as he writes about Gnosticism and mythicism which are two of my favorite topics.  He doesn’t identify as a mythicist, but is very supportive of mythicist theorists such as Earl Doherty and D.M. Murdock (aka Acharya S) and he highly respects some of the scholarship that was done in this regard during the 19th century.  Robert M. Price also has written quite a bit about Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.  He seems to have some respect for these two, but he also seems to be very critical of how their ideas have been used by New Agers.

To make a related point, D.M. Murdock‘s most recent book is about Christianity and Egyptology.  In it, she references the likes of Price and Campbell.  A major issue for Murdock is the literalism of traditional Christianity which was an issue that Campbell spilled much ink over.  The literal is seen as opposed to the imaginal according to the views of Hillman and AvensWilber makes similar distinctions using different models and terminology.  As for the Egyptian religion, I’d point out that it was a major interest of Burroughs (and Eric G. Wilson too).  There is a strong connection between Gnosticism and Egypt.  A distinction that some make between Gnosticism and Christianity is that the former preferred allegory rather than literal interpretation.  This began with the Alexandrian Jews in Egypt whose Platonic allegorizing of Jewish scriptures was acceptable even to some of the Church fathers.  The difference is that many Gnostics allegorized and spiritualized the gospel stories as well. 

I want to note here E. A. Wallis Budge who was one of the most respectable early Egyptologists.  Murdock references him to a great degree, and any thinker involved with early Christianity and Western mythology would be fully aware of his scholarship.  Of course, writers such as Mead, Price, and Campbell are familiar with his work.  Also, he was known by writers such as Burroughs and John Keel.  And surely Eric G. Wilson would’ve come across his writings.  Budge’s scholarship put Egyptology on the map and helped put it in context of early Western history including Christianity.  Budge is surprisingly not that well known to most people, but trust me he had massive influence on many thinkers over this last century.  Egyptology had already taken hold of the Western imagination by earlier scholars.  Poe used Egyptian elements in some of his stories and Poe died a few years before Budge’s birth.  Budge lived closer to the turn of the century around the time of Carl Jung, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft, and Charles Fort.

Two Kinds of Thinkers

I want to describe one last aspect that I articulated partly in my post Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti.  I was distinguishing Ligotti as different from Burroughs and PKD in an important respect.  The latter two were extremely restless thinkers and seekers which seemed represented and maybe contributed to by their drug experimentation.  The only drugs that I’ve seen Ligotti mention are those that are medically prescribed for his bi-polar condition and so they’re designed to make him less restless.  I would guess that Burroughs was one of the first writers to truly popularize drug experimentation, but it took others to bring it into the mainstream.  It was during the ’60s that drug experimentation became a hot topic and Timothy Leary I suppose was the most major proponent.  However, many forget that Leary was originally a psychologist and a respected one at that.  There was this meeting of ideas at that time which has persisted: psychedelics, psychology, spirituality, occultism, ufos and conspiracy theories.  Robert Anton Wilson, a friend of Leary, was the one who really synthesized all of these seeming disparate subjects (and, if I remember correctly, it’s through his writing that I first read about Wilhelm Reich).  Another person was Terrance McKenna who in some ways picked up where Leary left off, but his focus was on mushrooms rather than LSD.

Philip K. Dick was aware of this whole crowd and it all fits into his own brand of counterculture philosophizing.  Specifically, he wrote about McKenna (and vice versa).  A common interest that PKD and McKenna shared was Taoism and the I Ching which they both connected to synchronicity.  They inherited this line of thought from Carl Jung who wrote an introduction to a popular translation of the I Ching.  As a side not, I’d add that McKenna’s view of UFOs are also influenced by Jung (and seem in line with theories of Vallee and Hansen).  To put this in context, Jung would relate psychic manifestations such as UFOs with synchronicity.  Related to this, Burroughs’ cut-up technique was based on the principle of synchronicity.  PKD was interested in Burroughs’ technique as it fit into his own beliefs about messages appearing in unexpected ways (i.e., God in the garbage or in the gutter).  Oppositely, this technique is something that Ligotti strongly disliked.  This makes sense as Ligotti seems to be more of a systematic writer, a perfectionist even (which neither Burroughs nor PKD aspired towards).  Along these lines, consider the random and meandering philosophizing of Burroughs and PKD in the context of Ligotti’s carefully articulated Pessimism.  To quote Quentin S. Crisp in the comments of his blog post Negotiating With Terrorists (where he writes about Ligotti’s use of U.G. Krishnamurti): “My own cosmic unease is, I think, far more open-ended than that of Ligotti. I honestly can’t see him ever changing his position, and it’s a position that has already concluded and closed.”  I doubt Crisp would want to be held down to that opinion as anything more than a tentative commentary, but it touches upon my own suspicion about Ligotti’s view.  I don’t mean to imply any criticism of Ligotti for I do sense that Ligotti’s writings are true to his experience (which, going by his own distinguishing between Lovecraft and Shakespeare, is something he values).  By quoting Crisp’s comment, I’m only trying to clarify the difference between Ligotti and certain other writers.  After all, restless inconclusiveness isn’t exactly a desirable state of being (which I’m pretty sure Crisp is well aware of).

Anyhow, the distinction here between these two kinds of writers is similar to the distinction I pointed out between William Irwin Thomson and Ken WilberIn my Enactivist post (linked above), I use MBTI and Hartmann’s boundary types (via George P. Hansen’s writing) to try to understand this difference.  Obviously, one could divide up writers in various ways, but this seems a fairly natural division that my mind often returns to.

For further analysis on types of writers, read the following blog post:

Fox and Hedgehog, Apollo and Dionysus

 

Conclusion: Different Perspectives

Many of the writers I’ve brought up disagree about different issues, and yet they’re a part of a web of relationships and ideas.  I wonder if the overall picture offers more insight than the opinion of any given writer.  These traditions of beliefs and lineages of ideas represent something greater than any individual.  I’d even go so far as to say that it shows a process of the cultural psyche collectively thinking out issues of importance, and certain people become focal points for where ideas converge and create new offspring.

   —

Note: There are many more connections that could be made.  I’m curious how other writers might fit in: Hardy, Baudelaire, Borges, Kafka and Blake; Gothic writers, Romanticists, Transcendentalists and Existentialists; the brothers of William James and Henry James; the Powys brothers; various philosophers such as Nietzsche and Pascal.  Et Cetera.  In particular, it could be fruitful to explore Lovecraft further.  He wrote both fiction and non-fiction.  Also, he was immensely influential as a writer and in terms of his relationsips as he corresponded with many people.  Another angle of connections would be organizations formed around the scholarship of specific people.  There is the Fortean Society and the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich which were both formed during the lifetimes of Fort and Jung, but there is also the Joseph Campbell Foundation which was formed after Campbell’s death.  These organizations attracted many thinkers who also became well known for their own scholarship and writings.  Also, I could include the website Thomas Ligotti Online.  Ligotti is still alive, but he has such a cult following that a website (including a forum) was created by a fan.  This forum has attracted a number of other published weird fiction writers such as Quentin S. Crisp and Matt Cardin (both of whom write about the kinds of things I mention in this post).  There are also organizations such as the Esalen Institue which has attracted many diverse thinkers and has led to much cross-pollination of ideas.

PKD, ACIM, and Burroughs

Philip K. Dick (PKD) had the idea of God as hidden and yet present in the world.  God invades the world and re-creates it, makes real that which lacks fundamental reality.  In light of this, I was thinking of another idea from A Course In Miracles (ACIM) which is that God doesn’t make real or even recognize our false creations.  Supposedly God sees us as we truly are no matter how we see ourselves.  Maybe, in a sense, both are right.  As God’s reality is hidden from us, our reality is hidden from God.  We can make this rationally coherent by proposing the Gnostic view that the divine can simultaneously be fallen and not fallen.  Also, from the Gnostic view, Jesus acts as mediary for he understands our predicament as God cannot.  Jesus, like all of us as separate individuals, is not ultimately real.  But Jesus reflects the light of the real, acts as a remembrance of the real.  If we can recognize that we are the fallen divine, then we can remember that the divine never really fell.

PKD had another idea borrowed from earlier Christians: the Ape of God.  The god of this world mimics the creative powers of the God of heaven, or if you prefer the emanating fullness of the pleroma.  The Ape of God, however, creates falsely.  In terms of ACIM, the Ape of God is the ego.  Even though ACIM posits no evil, ACIM does distinguish between the false and the real which would fit some definitions of evil and good.  Anyways, ACIM is clear that the false use of the creative power serves no useful end whatever terms one wishes to use.  PKD, on the other hand, theorized that the Ape of God may serve a positive purpose, may even be an artifact of the one true God.  Maybe God needs to remain hidden to accomplish his task and so we need to temporarily remain in this dream.  This attitude necessitates faith in God being in control and using that control to a benevolent end.  We will all awaken one day and the sufferings of the dream will be forgotten.  For PKD, that is our hope and consolation.

PKD had a further notion about these two ideas.  The hidden God and the Ape of God both operate in the world, one seemingly good and the other seemingly bad.  PKD felt that the two were inseparable.  The world could be seen as a game with two players, but still the game is being played out by a single God.  William S. Burroughs thought that evil often appeared as good and good as evil.  This is an aspect of the hidden God.  God isn’t where we expect him; or, as PKD stated it, God in the garbage.  Burroughs was more cynical than PKD and saw this world as one to be escaped.  PKD, on the other hand, believed escape was not necessary or maybe even possible.  Accordingly, we may “escape” our delusions and misunderstandings, but we can’t escape the world.  We need not seek out God because God will seek out us.  PKD went so far as to say God can’t be found.  God reveals himself for reasons that are a mystery to us, and God’s hand can’t be forced.

PKD started out much more of a dualist, and Burroughs seems to have remained a dualist.  For Burroughs, the god of this world and the God of the Western Lands are two entirely separate beings.  Burroughs said he always believed in God but, oddly for a writer, not the God of the Word.  He apparently took from Christianity that this world was created from the Word; but since this world didn’t seem good to him, he believed that neither was the God who created it.  Interestingly, PKD was influenced by Burroughs Gnostic thinking.  Both sought God in unlikely places, and PKD was interested in Burroughs cut-up technique.  The idea is that if language is broken up from its normal order, true information can be revealed (God in disorder similar to God in garbage).  So, language could be used to see beyond language as long as one realized that Truth existed beyond the Word.  PKD also sometimes seemed to equate the creative Word as part of the deceptiveness of this created world, but it was a deceptiveness serving a good purpose.  Burroughs, of course, saw no good in it (even though he saw goodness or the potential for goodness in people or at least some people).

The mixing of the seeming good and the seeming evil is the trick of PKD’s maneuvering past dualism.  PKD remained fascinated with dualities but felt they were contained in a larger whole.  PKD had begun to question what he saw as the dualism of Gnosticism, and later in life he questioned Christianity for the same reasons.  He was drawn to the Greek idea of pantheistic monism.  He saw in Greek philosophy a love of symmetry and beauty that he felt lacking in Christianity.  He once had a vision of a world beyond a golden door (i.e., Golden Rectangle).  It was utterly perfect and he saw a young woman within that world.  He somehow knew this woman was Aphrodite and that this world was the Greek otherworld rather than the Christian heaven.  Burroughs believed in the Egyptian idea of an otherworld which I don’t know if it at all resembled PKD’s vision of the Palm Tree Garden.  For certain, there is a clear distinction between Burrough’s vision of a perfect world only attainable in death and PKD’s vision of divine reality existing as part of this world.  The former, to the extent that I understand Burrough’s view, is entirely dualistic in that the worlds of good and evil shall never meet.

So, what conclusion can we come to about dualism?  My sense is that PKD is right that absolute dualism is false, but maybe dualism still portrays something true in our experience.  From PKD’s perspective, it’s necessary that we take the game seriously even though it is only a game.  Dualism, according to PKD, may serve a purpose of purification of the world.  The good needs to remain hidden so that the evil can be more apparent.  If good were to be obvious, then evil would mimic it and we wouldn’t be able to distinguish the two.  God must act as an undercover agent in enemy territory.  God may even forget himself in entering the human realm, but he leaves clues for himself (something like the Hymn of the Pearl).  In a sense, we are all God hidden in the form of the human for the spark of God exists within every person.

The hiddenness of God allows for the subtlety of faith.  Faith must be developed and that is what God encourages in remaining hidden (yet available).  This offers freedom to choose.  God is intimately close to everyone, but every person must choose what he sees.  Even though God can’t be found out through force, by a shift of perception we can open ourselves to the possibility of revelation.  A simple shift is all that is necessary (and an immensely humble patience is also helpful).  This fits in with the idea of willingness in ACIM.  However, unlike ACIM and Burroughs, PKDs evil can serve the purpose of good for the reason that God can and does use everything to his end.  Furthermore, there is nothing to fear because the Second Coming already happened… for those who have eyes to see.

In general, PKD was interested in dualities which is something he probably picked up from his studies of Gnosticism (and Jung).  He had many theories about dualities.  Along with the good and evil issue, he connected the views of a lower and higher world in which he saw this world as the meeting ground for the two.  He thought about this partly as a depth perception in time rather than space, the two worlds being two perspectives that create our perception of reality (the mind itself reflecting this split in reality).  This also relates to his idea of how the Holy Spirit flows backwards in time.  So, the backward flow with the “normal” experience of forward flow creates the present.  I could go on and on with PKD”s philosophizing about dualities, but I’ll only add one further aspect. 

PKD, in line with the Gnostics (and Jung), was very much interested in the duality of male and female and how this corresponds to spiritual truths.  For PKD, this was very personal.  He had a twin sister who died as an infant and this made him obsessed with this sense of a missing part of himself.  He was obsessed with the “dark-haired girl” both in his fiction and in his personal life.  More importantly, he had that vision of the divine feminine which stuck with him.  Burroughs, to the contrary, was more critical of the feminine to the point of being called a misogynist.  Going by an essay he wrote on the matter, I don’t think he was actually a misogynist but simply a pessimist about life in general.  He just had a negative view of life, of embodied existence.  He wasn’t trying to simply blame it all on women.  Still, he certainly wasn’t idealizing the feminine either.  Personally, my experience is more in line with PKD.  I fel a certain connection to the divine feminine.  Understanding the interplay, psychologically and spiritually, between the feminine and the masculine seems important to me.

Let me return to the views about the world of the good, of the true.  Burroughs believed the Western Lands was distant and the path arduous.  PKD believed (as did certain Gnostics, Kabbalists and Christian mystics) that the Kingdom is all around us and even within us, that the Kingdom is right here and now in this world (necessitating dual vision).  I must say both make sense to me in that both speak to that which feels true in my experience.  Oftentimes, the divine does feel infinitely distant and infinitely alien to this world.  God is so far beyond my comprehension that I’m left with nothing useful to say (which doesn’t stop me from trying)).  But I sense the reality of something that, although beyond me, does exist within or at least touches upon my experience and so is intimately close (there is some comfort this at least).  It’s right here, and yet always beyond my grasp.  Like Gnostic Valentinus, I suspect that all believers may be saved in some sense, but still gnosis is very much desirable.  What good does the hope (or even certainty) of being saved do when people are lost in delusion and ideology?  Seeing truly is of utmost importance in this world and such discernment is no easy task.  The kingdom may be all around us, but the trick is to truly understand what this means.  Belief isn’t enough.  We must know… or else we suffer (and cause suffering) in our unknowing. 

To quote PKD from his Exegesis (1978 entry, p. 143, In Pursuit of Valis):

The Valentinian ontological assessment of knowledge is not that it (the Gnosis) leads to salvation or is knowledge about salvation.  But that in the act (event, revelation, experience) of knowing in itself lies salvation.  Because in knowing, there is restoration of man’s lost state, & a reversal of his present state of ignorance.  Upon knowing, man is again what he originally was.

This knowing isn’t a conclusion.  From the conventional sense of reality, it’s an utter paradox (a dualistic view that allows for seemingly contradictory experiences).  We are saved and yet the world remains as it was.  We simply remember what always has been true.  The hidden is glimpsed, but even in its revelation it remains hidden from our intellect.  We can’t really understand it no matter how much we try.  PKD  accepted the failure of the intellect and saw in this very failure a hidden success.  This was part of the paradox.  Seeking God always fails, but only in our failing can we find God.  The seeking is necessary in its own way.

To quote PKD once more from his Exegesis (1979 entry, p. 91, In Pursuit of Valis):

I actually had to develop a love of the disordered & puzzling, viewing reality as a vast riddle to be joyfully tackled, not in fear but with tireless fascination.  What has been most needed is reality testing, & a willingness to face the possibility of self-negating experiences; ie., real contradictions, with something being true and not true.

The enigma is alive, aware of us, & changing.  It is partly created by our own minds; we alter it by perceiving it, since we are not outside it.  As our views shift, it shifts in a sense it is not there at all (acosmism).  In another sense it is a vast intelligence; in another sense it is total harmonia and structure (how logically can it be all three?  Well, it is).