Subjectivity and Objectivity, Synchronicity and Science

Subjectivity and Objectivity, Synchronicity and Science

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

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

Events That Seem To Defy Scientific Knowledge

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

Experiences That Seem To Deny Rationality

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

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

Can Subjectivity Be Objectively Studied?

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

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

What Can We Discover Through Our Own Subjectivity?

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

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

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


Life is strange.

Access_public Access: Public 27 Comments Print Post this!views (488)  

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 1 hour later

Marmalade said

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

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

There are two basic points he makes. 

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 1 hour later

Nicole said

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

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

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 9 hours later

Marmalade said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 10 hours later

Marmalade said

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 14 hours later

Nicole said

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

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

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 20 hours later

Marmalade said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 20 hours later

Nicole said

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

about 21 hours later

Nightphoenix said

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

Quote from the Movie Contact: 

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

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

Welcome to my blog NightPhoenix!

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

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

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

about 22 hours later

Nightphoenix said

The link

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

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

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

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

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

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

about 23 hours later

Nightphoenix said

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

Zephyr : Poeticspirit

about 23 hours later

Zephyr said

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

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 23 hours later

Marmalade said

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

Yes, I remember those books from childhood.

Choose Your Own Adventure

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

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 23 hours later

Marmalade said

Hi Zephyr!

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

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

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

starlight : StarLight Dancing

1 day later

starlight said

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

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

here is the link, incase it should interest you…

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

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

Hello Starlight,

For some reason my blog is popular today.  🙂

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

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

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


Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

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

Zephyr : Poeticspirit

1 day later

Zephyr said

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

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

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

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

Balder : Kosmonaut

1 day later

Balder said

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,


Marmalade : Gaia Child

2 days later

Marmalade said

Hey Balder,

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

Problematize… I love that word!  It amuses me. 

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

…rather than jumping to untenable conclusions.

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

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

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

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

2 days later

Marmalade said

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

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

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

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

Hi Ben,

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

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

2 days later

Marmalade said

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

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

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

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

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.