A Curious Superpower

If I were a superhero, my superpower would be to make people irresistibly curious.

Anyone within my vicinity would have their minds forced wide open, the doors of perception blown to smithereens by psychic dynamite. All the fears and doubts, prejudices and habits would disappear. They would be filled with a sense of wonder and awe. They would viscerally know their own ignorance and hunger for knowledge, an infinite and endless hunger.

They would look at the world as a place of immense possibility and potential. All the things that could be learned. All the places to be explored. An immensity of paths and directions, some well-trodden while others not yet taken. A restlessness would overtake them. All of the universe would be vast compelling mystery, like a lover beckoning them. Anything could be around the next bend, over the next hill, through the next door. Adventure!

Anyone who met me would be overwhelmed with heart-bursting wonderment and their minds would be lost in the infinity of existence, ideas and questions simultaneously spinning off in a million directions. They would be absorbed, pulled into the flow. Their imaginations would be unleashed, no longer constrained by what they’ve known or thought was true. Knowledge would be made ignorance and the familiar alien. A joyous uncertainty, as if anything could happen.

The cup of their mind would be emptied. Then filled to overflowing. It would feel like trying to get a drink of water by standing at the bottom of Niagara Falls, the water crashing down on you until you’re beaten senseless.

For some, this would be an awe-inspiring experience. For others, it would be terrifying. My superpower would open their minds, but it wouldn’t control what spilled out. It would simply reveal what was hidden away in their psyche, their secret longings and hungers, the thoughts they never before dared to entertain.

This superpower would defeat all supervillains. They would be so absorbed in curiosity that they’d forget about trying to defeat me, taking over the world, or whatever evil scheme they had in mind. And the more they sought to resist it the more powerful would its hold take on their psyche, an ache and compulsion that if not embraced would drive them beyond the bounds of sanity, like a full blown psychedelic trip. Their sense of self would dissolve in maniacal laughter.

I would be the anti-Borg: Resistance is futile. You will be disassimilated!

Of course, to all the stable-minded folk of the world, to all those defending the social order, to those contentedly dwelling in their collective reality tunnels, my superpower would be the ultimate threat. They would see me as the supervillain, even though I would harm no one. As I passed along, the people I left behind would eventually return to their humdrum existences, fondly remembering that strange man or else futilely trying to forget the whole thing happened, although the ache of discontentment would never fully leave them.

My end would probably come like the Midwich Cuckoos. The governments of the world would quickly realize the threat I posed, once they understood my superpowers couldn’t be used for their nefarious purposes. One way or another, they would find a way to eliminate me, even if it meant dropping a nuclear bomb.

Yet the world would never quite be the same again. The wake of my passing would ripple for generations. Wild new innovations and brilliant art would be produced by those who had come into contact with me. It would take time for the surge of creativity to be bottled again and order re-established, although some almost imperceptible shift would never be undone.

Seeds of my superpower of curiosity would be planted. Then these seeds would sprout with new generations, an evolutionary contagion, a mind virus. A new age would begin, curiosity spreading across the global populations. Centuries ago began the Age of Paine, an age of revolutions. What followed now would be the Age of Wonder, a new revolution of the mind.

I’d like to think this is what would finally inspire humanity to new heights. And the world that came to be would the vision of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Humanity, freed from all the ancient restraints, would become explorers of the universe.

And it all would have began with mere curiosity.

Stories: Personal & Collective

I came across various things this past month that taken together created a thought-web in my mind. For anyone who cares, let me explicate (or, if you prefer, skip to the end for my summarization).

– – –

The first thing was an interview on The Diane Rehm Show from a few weeks ago. The guest was Meredith Maran and she was talking about her book, My Lie. When she was younger, she got caught up in the repressed memory obsession of decades past. Therapists at the time were taught to look for signs of childhood molestation and trauma in adults. Her therapists convinced her that her psychological issues were caused by repression and she came to believe her father had done something to her as a child.

Years later after much conflict, she started questioning that there was any repressed memory there at all. She realized she had no clear memories and that she had made false allegations. The response of many callers (and commenters on the internet) was to scapegoat the author similar to how the author had scapegoated her own father.

I was too young at the time to remember that time of our culture. I did, however, get a taste of it having been a child during that time. When I went to college in the mid 90s, my parents warned me about cults which seems a bit silly in retrospect. Through study I’ve come to understand better why my parents and many people had such fears. The 80s was when the Cold War era was coming to an end. Decades of fear-mongering were coming home to roost. Before that time, people were paranoid of commies among us. The commies were gone as a serious threat but the culture of fear remained. The religious element that fueled much of the fear against the Godless commies now fueled fear about child molesters and satanic cults.

There was mass hysteria as our culture shifted into a new era. Mass hysteria is hard to understand from the outside and it’s easy to criticize with 20/20 hindsight. We can look back at people such as the author and wonder how she could’ve been so naive, so easily misled by others. But this mass hysteria included not just people like the author. It included the entire mainstream media and the entire community of psychotherapists and psychiatrists. It’s not called mass hysteria for nothing.

Fears always feel real because they are real even when what they get projected upon is innocent. In the future, people will look back upon our present terrorist fear-mongering in the same way we look back at other eras. Also, what makes fears real is that there usually is a kernel of truth. People do sometimes repress memories, but it’s very hard to know the truth about what is repressed especially when it happened in childhood. I have no doubt that child abuse is more common than it should be. The Catholic priest molestation issue is just the tip of the iceberg. As a society, we are only beginning to come to terms with this uncomfortable problem. The repressed memory hysteria was simply a part of this process of society dealing with what it would rather ignore. When something has been denied and dismissed for so long, it tends to manifest in rather negative ways.

The story of Meredith Maran reminded me of Derrick Jensen. He many books dealing with his personal experiences of childhood abuse and with victimization cycle in our society. I have no reason to think that Jensen’s memories of childhood are false. Unlike Maran, he has clear memories of specific events. It really doesn’t matter to me. The larger truth of victimization in our society is true whether or not any given case is true.

– – –

My thoughts temporarily stopped there. I meant to think more about the connection to Derrick Jensen and write a post about it, but I got distracted with other things. Last night, two things brought my mind back to the subject. I was sitting at work listening to the radio while playing around with my new Kindle.

On Coast to Coast AM, the guest was Daniel Pinchbeck who is an author I’m somewhat familiar with. Near the beginning of the interview, Pinchbeck briefly mentioned Terrence McKenna which made me happy.  McKenna used to be a regular guest on C2CAM. Like Philip K. Dick, McKenna had a way of expressing wonder about the world.

On the Kindle, I was looking at books I might want to purchase. Out of curiosity, I looked at the reviews of some of Derrick Jensen’s newer books. I wasn’t thinking about Jensen because of my previous thoughts from some weeks past. Jensen just often comes up in my thoughts because his views have strongly influenced my own views. I’ve been wondering for a long time whether or not I wanted to buy Jensen’s two volume Endgame. I felt uncertain because I have the sense that Jensen’s views changed somewhat from his earliest books. Part of what made me become a fan was how he combined a sense of wonder with a sense of compassionate understanding of suffering (which is also the same combination in different form that made me a fan of Philip K. Dick), but it seemed that his later writings had lost some of the wonder that made A Language Older Than Words so beautiful and moving.

This is where the web of my thinking becomes a bit convoluted. One of the connections is that I had in mind is that of nature. Pinchbeck and McKenna discuss nature in terms of wonder. Jensen also shows his sense of wonder when he writes about nature. The difference is that Pinchbeck and McKenna seem to have an endless sense of wonder (McKenna’s enthusiasm was always contagious), whereas Jensen’s sense of wonder too often becomes eclipsed by the suffering of the world. A favorite middle position between these two attitudes is Philip K. Dick who expressed wonder and suffering as inseparable facets of the same reality.

As I was looking at the reviews of Jensen’s books, my inkling about Jensen was strengthened by two reviews I read. The first reviewer (of Endgame, volume 1) wrote about his mixed response to the book and to the author with whom he claims to have had an e-mail exchange. The reviewer’s personal experience was that Jensen was defensive about his personal trauma which made him question the author’s work:

Now I need to question the entire thesis of the book, since I find I now question the mental and emotional stability of the author. Now I look at the long screeds (rants), the repetition, the extreme focus on abuse and victimhood at every turn, the utter lack of humor, it all starts to add up to something that I frankly have second thoughts about putting much stock in. Yes, the world is in trouble, no doubt about it. Should I look at it all through a lens of abuse, violence, slavery and victimhood just because Derrick Jensen has personal issues which he projects onto everything he sees or comes into contact with? Maybe not. It’s been interesting, but the search for a sane approach to our problems continues, I’m afraid.

A commenter who claimed to know Jensen gave a defense of the author:

I will say that despite my immense gratitude to Derrick for his great work and despite my friendship with him, I sympathized with your post… up to a certain point. I do think Derrick can be harsh, often harsher than I would be in a similar circumstance. Of course, that hardly makes me right… he has experienced abuse on a level I cannot imagine.

Anyhow, the point at which I started to lose sympathy with your situation was when you actually quoted from your email to Derrick. I feel confident that I know what offended him, and I think he’s right. It may have been poor word choice on your part, I do not know. One thing you wrote is, “It strikes me that this trauma seems to be a primary “personal issue” that you are projecting onto the rest of the world.” Now, this is something Derrick has heard a lot, as have most activists who openly acknowledge that they have suffered from abuse, and he has responded to this kind of critique in his work. Derrick’s father, who raped and beat him and his siblings and mother, was an unusually extreme manifestation of the broader culture of objectification, exploitation, control, nihilism, and abuse which is civilization itself. Derrick is not “projecting” his abusive father onto the dominant institutions of the culture when he sees them obliterating life on Earth. 1% annual species extinction is real. 90%+ extirpation of large fish is real. Global deforestation is real. The BP spill and the endless spills in the Niger Delta are real. Global toxification is real. Resource wars and genocide and patriarchy and systematic rape are real. And so on, as infinitum, or as Derrick says, ad omnicidium, which is more to the point. This is not “projection.” Projection is when a battered child acts out toward neutral or compassionate elders because that child has learned to hate and fear all adults, or all men, or all men with beards, or something like that. It is not when a battered child learns the nature of batterers and fights to stop them. Projection is manifesting one’s hatred and fear of a particular abuser irrationally onto others who bear no actual relation to the abuser. This is profoundly different from Derrick’s analysis and activism, and I agree with Derrick that it is offensive to call we he does “projection.”

My own response was halfway between these two. I understand both views, but I think the commenter is incorrect in simply dismissing the power of projection. Any self-aware person knows that everyone projects their personal issues… well, everyone except maybe those who are enlightened. The reviewer probably was lacking a bit of tact and so was Jensen in his response. Both were probably feeling defensive.

Ignoring the issue of tact, I’ve often felt that Jensen has made a mythology out of his personal trauma… which I don’t mean as a criticism per se. Mythologizing of this sort is powerful and can be an effective way of creating a transformative vision of reality (e.g., Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis), but there are obvious dangers. In Jensen’s earliest work, there was a profound sense of wonder that blew me away and awoke me to the suffering in the world like few other authors. However, in Jensen’s later work, my perception is that the rage and frustration has tarnished some of that wonder.

To be fair, I don’t doubt that I’m projecting as well. It’s easy for everyone to get weighed down by life’s frustrations and lose our sense of wonder. Jensen has written about the attempt to regain that sense of wonder after having lost it and that inspired me. For that reason, it would sadden me if the ideology of anarcho-primitivism began to trump that regained wonder. I somehow doubt that any action taken without that sense of wonder will lead to positive results.

This reminds me of another reviewer who was reviewing another of Jensen’s books, What We Leave Behind:

While Jensen is clearly passionate and energizes people towards activism, I agree with Bill McKibben who is quoted on the back cover of Jensen’s book that he is “…occasionally unfair….” I know McKibben’s judgment is accurate because of what Jensen writes about Buckminster Fuller, in which he completely misinterprets Fuller. Fuller was not a “technotopian.” Fuller considered a tree or a dragonfly as the most exquisite technology, so when he uses the word technology he is not suggesting some future machine world; he’s talking about our entire physical environment. Fuller simply shows that by reforming our physical world we can bring out the best in every individual. That’s why Fuller embraced the ideas of Maria Montessori, for example. Fuller’s ideas begin and end with a reverence and awe of nature. Fuller’s roots go back to the transcendentalists of Emerson and his great aunt Margaret Fuller who celebrated enlightenment ideas not divorced from their spiritual underpinnings. When Jensen writes, “If the ultimate Fullerian future did exist, it wouldn’t include humans.” Or, “In short, technotopians are insane: out of touch with physical reality,” he is so wrong about Fuller that it calls everything else he writes into question.

I don’t recall Jensen’s opinions on Fuller. I’m assuming the reviewer is correctly quoting Jensen. Going by the reviewer’s commentary, I find myself in agreement with criticizing Jensen on seemingly misunderstanding Fuller. However, I don’t agree with the conclusion of calling “everything else he writes into question.” I understand Jensen’s biases and I share them to a large degree. I’m wary of technophilia that often is disconnected from the larger world, but I’m also wary of technophobia in that it can imply a lack or constraint of open-minded wonder.

Yes, I see all the destruction of civilization. I hate it. And I can feel that hate in the marrow of my bones. Civilization is unbelievably cruel. There is something fundamentally sick about our society, but I don’t know that it’s inevitable as Jensen believes. I don’t see as clear of a distinction between nature and technology. I find myself resonating with both the views of Jensen and of Fuller. I want to feel the rage at all that is wrong , but I don’t want to lose my sense of wonder in the process. As I wrote in a post once:

Yes, Jensen is correct about how humans victimize one another, is correct about how civilization is destroying all life on earth. And, yes, Ligotti is correct about how humans are paralyzed by suffering, is correct that all of human culture arose as a distraction from this primal horror. Yes, yes, yes. Even so, there is something beyond all of that.

– – –

What all of these authors (Maran, Jensen, Pinchbeck, McKenna, and PKD) share is some understanding of how humans create (collectively and individually) the world we live in.

Maran’s story is a morality tale about what can happen when someone gets lost in their own confused experience of suffering and fear. When Maran tried to make sense (give a story to) her experience, she accepted the story that society offered her. It took her a long time to question this culturally approved story and to explore again her own direct experience.

Jensen’s story of childhood trauma may be true, but that isn’t what matters. The significant aspect is that it has been made into a story, a story writ large creating a cultural mythology of all of civilization. Jensen started off questioning the story society gave him by exploring his own direct experience, but his retelling of childhood experiences made his past into something greater than mere memory.

I find this fascinating. Philip K. Dick did something similar with a bit more imaginative flair. He took his twin sister who died in infancy and his experience of Nixon era California and through his Exegesis and stories he created a sprawling Gnostic narrative of suffering and salvation sought.

So, I’m far from being entirely critical of this kind of mythologizing, but not all mythologizing is equal. Despite Jensen’s profound insights, I prefer PKD’s vision of the world. There is the imagination, but also even with all the suffering expressed PKD seems to take himself less seriously than Jensen. PKD never became a True Believer even of his own mythology. Although he wanted to believe, questions compelled him more than any answer. I’m more like PKD in this regard. However, I do have a bit of Jensen in me. I tend to take myself too seriously. I wish I had an ounce of PKD’s imagination.

I was just now reminded of a previous post of mine (The Elephant That Wasn’t There) where I covered similar territory. The first point I made was about the unreliability of memory:

None of us really knows how much of our memories are correct. Few of us are ever motivated or capable of fact-checking most of our memories. Stories we’ve encountered over our lifetimes (especially when young) can become incorporated into our own personal story… Science has proven that we literally re-member every time we recall something. The more often we recall something the less reliable the memory becomes. We don’t remember the thing itself. We remember our own retellings.

My concluding point was about the significance of this on the collective level:

In enacting our social rituals and retelling our social myths, what kind of reality are we collectively creating? When I look upon a structure like an ugly parking ramp, what kind of world am I looking upon? Why are we creating such a world? What is the motivation? If we stopped enacting these social rituals and stopped retelling these social myths, what would happen to this consensus reality of civilization we’ve created and what would replace it? Or what would be revealed?

If we aren’t careful, we can end up creating self-enclosed stories that become self-fulfilling prophecies.

– – –

Okay… now for the last strand of my thought web.

I saw two videos that used the same phrase: epistemic closure. The first video surprised me because it’s not the type of phrase I usually come across when watching the mainstream media. The clip is from a CNN discussion and the person who used the phrase is Andrew Sullivan (in the last part of the video):

“The only answer is empiricism. You ask what the facts are and you do your best to find out what the truth is. And sometimes the truth is truly weird. It really is. And sometimes the truth is the truth. So, I think that is all you can do. I think the other thing I think you can do is constantly ask yourself whether you are trapped in your own, what they call, epistemic closure.”

Andrew Sullivan is talking about the media bubbles that can form, but he points out that we can always choose to step outside of any particular bubble. I think this relates to why people don’t trust institutions (especially media institutions) as much as they used to. It’s not that media is necessarily less trustworthy than it used to be.  It’s just that people can more easily escape media bubbles than they used to be able to back when a few networks controlled nearly all of collective reality in this country. Epistemic closure used to be the normal mode of functioning, but new generations are growing up in a permanent state of epistemic openness and some of the older generations feel their world(-view) is threatened.

The second video is about epistemic closure in terms of philosophy versus science… with philosophy being idealized as the opposite of epistemic closure and science in the form of scientism being criticized.

The latter video is a bit dry compared to the first, but the two caught my attention as I randomly happened to watch them around the same time. I don’t normally come across ‘epistemic closure’ being mentioned in YouTube videos. This serendipity caused me to consider ‘epistemic closure’ in terms of the thought web that my mind has been tangled in.

Science in it’s most extreme form (as scientism) and in it’s manifestation as respected institution is an example of epistemic closure… or, in other terms, the bureaucratization that creates Max Weber’s Iron Cage… which, of course, always reminds me of PKD’s gnostic description of this world as the Black Iron Prison – Wonder vs the Wonder-Killers: two related thought experiments:

Our idealizing and rewarding sociopathic behavior has created modern bureaucratic civilization. Maybe this alters our very experience of reality. In terms of Robert Anton Wilson’s reality tunnels, maybe we get trapped in a specific worldview. It could be the world isn’t as we think it is or rather that the world becomes as we think it is. The Iron Cage not only destroys the ancient societies of superstition but also destroys the very experience of the supernatural. Research shows that thin boundary types claim to have more supernatural experiences. Research also shows that most people in general have supernatural experiences. The Iron Cage not only disconnects us from a larger context of the supernatural. It disconnects our personal experience from society and often disconnects the individual from their own experience. Maybe there is some truth to the supernatural worldview, but we simply can’t see it because we are trapped in a reality tunnel, trapped in the Iron Cage, in the Black Iron Prison.

This subject is discussed in immense detail in Hansen’s book (The Trickster and the Paranormal). Hansen explains why science has such difficulty grappling with the fundamental issues of our experience of reality. I should point out that neither Hansen nor PKD perceives science as the enemy. However, science is just one viewpoint and when we hold too tightly to one model of reality we become blind to other perspectives, other experiences.

I want to add that I’m wary about criticizing science. Between scientism and anti-intellectualism, I suspect the latter is the greater problem. Besides, I doubt most scientists subscribe to scientism. There is an important distinction between scientific method and scientism. Also, there is an important distinction between scientific research and scientific application. Technology, of course, has many problems which someone like Jensen is correct in criticizing… but I generally think of technology in and of itself as being value neutral (although I understand Jensen would argue the opposite). I don’t think Jensen’s luddite anarcho-primitivism is any more helpful than the anti-intellectualism of certain types of right-wingers.

There is some similarity between anti-technology and anti-intellectualism. Both show a suspicion of modernism, of modern civilization… but, in Jensen’s case, one aspect saves him from complete epistemic closure – Playing for Keeps:

“PEOPLE WHO READ MY WORK often say, “Okay, so it’s clear you don’t like this culture, but what do you want to replace it?” The answer is that I don’t want any one culture to replace this culture. I want ten thousand cultures to replace this culture, each one arising organically from its own place. That’s how humans inhabited the planet (or, more precisely, their landbases, since each group inhabited a place, and not the whole world, which is precisely the point), before this culture set about reducing all cultures to one.”

Which is basically what Noam Chomsky says:

Political anarchism is only ever respectable when it includes some element of self-questioning epistemological anarchism. There are no easy answers. And any easy answer that is given by society is probably wrong and possibly dangerous. That also goes along with any narrative offered by any authority, whether a media pundit or a therapist. Answers must come from within one’s experience rather than be forced onto one’s experience. This attitude needs to be taught at a young age. Unfortunately, our education system teaches the opposite which destroys the natural joy of learning, the natural curiosity and wonder about the world. It’s easier to teach kids to be obedient and rote memorize factoids.

– – –

So, that’s that. I just had all of that jumbling around in my head and needed to express it.

The basic point is this:

1) People want an explanation for the world and for their personal experiences.
2) The most powerful form of explanation is that which is told as a story.
3) Stories can induce wonder, but they can also stunt it.
4) Stories become most dangerous when we forget they are stories.
5) We should respect the power of stories even as we question them.

Wonder vs the Wonder-Killers: two related thought experiments

I was thinking about two issues tonight. Both of them were thought experiments.

 – – –

The first issue is about sociopaths.

I guess I was thinking about it because I just posted a blog where I mentioned Max Weber’s Iron Cage (Self & Other in the Movies: Redemption or Destruction?). Weber was theorizing about how bureaucracy and hierarchy increases. In that post, I mentioned I learned of Weber’s ideas from George P. Hansen’s book The Trickster and the Paranormal. Hansen points out research that shows a certain type of person (Hartmann’s thick boundary type) tends to be promoted in hierarchical organizations (which would include most major organizations: government institutions, universities, corporations, etc). I was thinking about this in terms of other research that shows that sociopaths are disproportionately found in positions of power. So, I assume that extreme thick boundary types and sociopaths are essentially the same general categories. A thick boundary type would have a stronger sense of individuality and a stronger sense of disconnection from others. Basically, thick boundary types have less empathy and hence less sympathy, less compassion and concern for others. Taken to the extreme, this would manifest as sociopathic behavior.

The thought experiment was: What would happen if sociopaths were removed and excluded from positions of  power and authority? What would happen if sociopaths were separated from normal society? As it is at present, we reward sociopaths and give them immense wealth and power. All of civilization seems built on this worshipping of sociopathy. I’m willing to bet that psychopathic genetics are found most often in those of royal descent and those of old money. My theory is that it’s not just wealth and power that gets passed on from generation to generation. The genetic predispositions that lead to concentration of wealth and power also gets passed on. The question is: Are these the people we really want to be ruling us?

There has been plenty of research done on psychopathy and sociopathy. We know how to test for certain genetics. We know how to test for empathy and moral development. I think it’s only fair that all citizens in positions of power and authority should be forced to have these tests administered. If they test positive for psychopathy and sociopathy, they would be required to seek rehabilitation through medication and therapy. They would be monitored for improvement. Those who couldn’t be rehabilitated would be put into psychiatric institutions or halfway houses. If we learned how to clearly identify psychopathic genetics, those who tested positive would be forcibly sterilized.

Just imagine that. A world where only people with strong empathy and compassion were allowed to be in positions of leadership and management. This would change everything. Our entire society, at present, is designed to benefit sociopaths. If they were excluded from all important positions, all of society would restructure itself. I don’t know if it would be a better world, but it probably wouldn’t be worse than a world ruled by sociopaths. Still, I have reservations. It’s possible that sociopathic behavior (at least in its milder forms) has some benefits for society. It’s possible that modern civilization wouldn’t function (certainly not as we know it) if sociopathy was entirely eliminated.

 – – –

The second issue is about our experience of reality.

I just started Philip K. Dick’s novel Eye in the Sky. There was no particular reason I chose this book to read. I just semi-randomly grabbed a PKD book I hadn’t read. I haven’t been in a great mood for fiction in recent months, but I think my mind might be shifting back in the direction of fiction and PKD is my favorite fiction writer. I’ve read about equal amounts of PKD’s fiction and non-fiction. It was only when I started reading PKD’s non-fiction that I came to understand PKD’s fiction. PKD, of course, obsessively speculated about reality.

Eye in the Sky is a typical PKD story. A group of people become isolated in a separate reality that functions according to religious principles: magic, prayer, grace, merit and whatever else. PKD puts this all into the context of the modern world. Basically, this is a version of PKD’s idea that the Empire Never Ended. In one of PKD’s visions, he saw the Roman world during Jesus life overlaid on the modern world of California. It’s like the Kabbalah theology which interprets Biblical stories as on-going events in the world. So, the flood never ended and those who oblivious to this spiritual reality are drowning. The Roman Empire and the Nixon administration are just two manifestations of the same Black Iron Prison that we are trapped within.

In the blog I linked to above, I connected PKD’s Black Iron Prison to Max Weber’s Iron Cage. Weber theorizes that bureaucracy functions specifically by undermining the traditional religious authority. The old religious world operated according to kinship (between individuals and communities, between mortals and gods, between humans and nature). Such a society would favor thin boundary types or at least would give such people prominent positions of authority and respect (priests, shamans, healers, etc).

Thinking along these lines, I took the first thought experiment a step further. Our idealizing and rewarding sociopathic behavior has created modern bureaucratic civilization. Maybe this alters our very experience of reality. In terms of Robert Anton Wilson’s reality tunnels, maybe we get trapped in a specific worldview. It could be the world isn’t as we think it is or rather that the world becomes as we think it is. The Iron Cage not only destroys the ancient societies of superstition but also destroys the very experience of the supernatural. Research shows that thin boundary types claim to have more supernatural experiences. Research also shows that most people in general have supernatural experiences. The Iron Cage not only disconnects us from a larger context of the supernatural. It disconnects our personal experience from society and often disconnects the individual from their own experience. Maybe there is some truth to the supernatural worldview, but we simply can’t see it because we are trapped in a reality tunnel, trapped in the Iron Cage, in the Black Iron Prison.

This subject is discussed in immense detail in Hansen’s book (The Trickster and the Paranormal). Hansen explains why science has such difficulty grappling with the fundamental issues of our experience of reality. I should point out that neither Hansen nor PKD perceives science as the enemy. However, science is just one viewpoint and when we hold too tightly to one model of reality we become blind to other perspectives, other experiences. The challenge I see is that those prone to sociopathic behavior (and those prone to the thick boundary experience of the world) have personal interest in defending the Iron Cage bureaucracy that benefits them. Bureaucracy is a self-perpetuating system in that those who are promoted to the top are very motivated in defending the system and very talented in manipulating those below them. There is no doubt that sociopaths are very good at maintaining their power.

The question arises again: Is a different world, a different society possible?
And another question follows: How would our very experience of reality change if society changed?

 – – –

May the power of wonder always be greater than the power of the wonder-killers.

Marmalade’s Meandering Mind

Marmalade’s Meandering Mind

Posted on Jan 7th, 2009 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
Here are the things my mind was contemplating this fine evening…

I was walking home with an empty aluminum can that had a screw-on lid.  As it was cold, the air in the can took up less space.  The can contracted into the shape of a square.  That amused me for some reason.  Why did a round shape contract into 4 sides rather than 3 sides or 5 sides?  This incites my child-like curiosity… for whatever that is worth.

Another mildly interesting observation….

While still at work, I was talking to my boss.  His son has a learning disability.  I asked him about it.  His description of his son could just as well have described me as a child.  His son… has recall issues with words and facts (such as abstractions like dates and phone numbers), has good spatial ability in figuring out mazes, does math by breaking down numbers, and likes nature which he enjoys learning about (meaning he can remember certain types of facts that traditional schooling doesn’t care about).  What was particularly interesting about this is that my boss reminds me almost exactly of my mom, and deals with his son’s disability as my mom did. 

Its strange how humans fall into similar patterns as individuals and also in relationships.  Is there a connection to why a parent like him (and like my mom) might have a child like his son (and like me)?

Okay, next thought…

I started reading a new fiction book: Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory.  I picked it up because it plays off the idea of VALIS from Philip K. Dick.  Anyways, the character hears these sounds that no one else hears, and even he has a hard time of explaining the sounds themselves as they aren’t normal.  It reminded me of certain experiences I’ve had.  I don’t hear unusual sounds or anything, but I’ve had many experiences that are hard to describe.

I don’t know about other people’s experience.  I’d guess that everybody has experiences that aren’t easily described, and probably for that reason most people don’t try to describe them or maybe even try to think about them.  Its easier to just ignore the unusual.

So, about my experiences… I’ve had certain experiences that are very specific.  I’ve had these experiences at different times of my life but not very often.  However, every time I experience them, I very clearly recognize them and remember having had them before.  The thing is that its hard to recall these experiences when I’m not having them.  They are state-specific memories of specific states of experience.

At this moment, I only vaguely recall one of these types of experiences.  The closest I can come to describe it is that its like what I’ve felt while under the influence of Nitrous Oxide.  Its a cool buzzing sensation as if I were a contracted cloud of energy… or something like that.  I have no clue where this experience comes from.  I don’t even remember the last time I experienced it… maybe several years.  It doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason, no explanation or cause.  Its just there and then its not.

And the last thought…

For some reason, I was thinking about audio book services.  Finding some spoken word on Rhapsody and Last FM reminded me of how much I enjoy listening to people read.  Its the main reason I fell in love with Burroughs work.  He has an awesome voice.

There is a demand for audio book services.  There are many services, but they’re not very innovative compared to the music and movie industries.  Why is that?  My favorite movie service is Netflix and my favorite music service is Rhapsody.  Why isn’t there a audio book service that compares to either of these?

I’d be willing to pay for such a service if it was comparable to Netflix or Rhapsody.  So, why isn’t any company willing to offer it?  Why does this industry lag behind all others?  Is there just not enough demand?  Am I unusual?  Are most consumers of audio books happy with services that compare to where the music industry was 5 to 10 years ago?

Here I am just wanting to give my money away to some company.  Yet, no company seems to want my money enough.  Well… their loss… fine, I’ll just keep my money.  Ha!

That is the end of today’s broadcast.  Tune in next time for more deep insights and probing observations of life.

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about 3 hours later

Centria said

Ben, it feels like you’re in a really creative open period of your life right now. Is that true? You’re branching into fiction and flash fiction and meandering. I am smiling to see this energy coming out in different directions. Have fun!

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 6 hours later

Nicole said

yes, it’s a delight to see your curious mind exploring 🙂

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 11 hours later

Marmalade said

Creative open period? It does sorta seem that way going by my recent blogs. I hadn’t really thought about it. I just felt like blogging and so I did. I do feel a bit more free in my blogging.

This is the result of something in particular. I decided to refocus on my own blogging a while back. Then the holidays hit and I had a bunch of free time. In refocusing on blogging, I also refocused on looking at other sites to blog at. In considering all my options, it reminded me of what I wanted out of my own blogging.

I felt somewhat restrained about my blogging in the past. For isntance, I felt reluctant to blog about my interest in horror here on Gaia as its not exactly a horror-embracing community. However, I can only be creatively free if my curiosity is free which means free also to explore the dark side of life. Now that I let my dark side show more, my light (and silly) side will also show itself more again. The two sides of me are inseparable… can’t have one without the other.

I was glad to return to fiction finally. The thinking about horror helped with this also. I’m not sure exactly why that was. Maybe its because horror is a good meeting ground between fiction and nonfiction, and so was useful as a means of transition.

The recent fiction sort of came out of the blue. My mind had been on fiction, but I hadn’t thought about either of those stories before writing them. With both stories, an image popped in my mind and I wrote the whole story down immediately.

The creative juices seem to be flowing. I was born in the winter time (December). Winter, like the night time, focuses me on more introverted activities such as writing.



Posted on Nov 28th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
Sensawunda is the sf genre term for sense of wonder.  I’ve come across the term before, but I was just thinking about how its something I value highly in fiction.  I was reminded of it because I came across a blog that  was questioning if it was missing in contemporary fiction.  I don’t feel like analyzing the concept, but one interesting idea stood out to me.  The Wikipedia entry contrasted sense of wonder with the numinous in gothic horror.  One blogger I came across thought the term awe covered both the sensawunda and the numinous.  I agree.






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PKD’s Love of the Disordered & Puzzling

PKD’s Love of the Disordered & Puzzling

Posted on May 21st, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade

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: i.e., real contradicitons, with something being both true & 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).

Page 91 (1979)
In Pursuit of VALIS: Selections from the Exegesis
by Philip K. Dick, edited by Lawrence Sutin


This deeply touches upon my experience.  I also had to develop a love of the disorderd & puzzling… for I never felt capable of denying these or distracting myself from their effect upon me.  If I didn’t learn to love the puzzles that thwarted my understanding, then seemingly the only other choice would be to fear them.

I was just thinking about the several years after my highschool graduation.  For most people, this time of life is filled with a sense of bright opportunity and youthful fun.  But, for me, it was the darkest time of my life.  I felt utterly lost with no good choice available to me.  I questioned deeply because my life was on the line… quite literally… because it was during these years that I attempted suicide.

I don’t remember exactly when I discovered PKD, but it was around that period of my life.  PKD’s questioning mind resonated with my experience.  The questions I asked only exacerbated my depression, but I did not know how to stop asking them.  So, to read someone who had learned to love the unanswerable questions was refreshing.  Plus, I was inspired by the infinite playfulness of his imagination.

Imagination was what I sorely needed during that time of feeling stuck in harsh reality.  To imagine ‘what if’ was a way of surviving day by day, and the play of possibilities brought a kind of light into my personal darkness.  I won’t say that PKD saved my life, but he did help me to see something good in it all.

Then, I became interested in other writers for quite a while.  I had even given away most of my PKD books.  I’d forgotten why I had liked him so much until A Scanner Darkly came out.  I watched it twice in the theater and was very happy to be reacquainted with PKD.  That movie really captured his writing like none other.

Those years spent away from PKD’s work, I had been seeking out various answers(such as those provided by the great Ken Wilber).  But now I feel like I’m in a mood again to simply enjoy the questions.


I’ve been taking notes on another book and came across some lines that resonate with my sense of what PKD was about:

“Mercury is the trickster, happiest when he is at play.  Playing he is able to achieve the double consciousness of the comic mode: the world is serious and not serious at the same time, a meaningful pattern of etenrity and a filmy veil blocking the beyond.”

Page 77
The Melancholy Android: On the Psychology of Sacred Machines
Eric G. Wilson

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 5 hours later

Nicole said

i used to think when people talked about the teenage and university years as being the best part of our lives that i might as well kill myself then too. it wasn’t that i was as depressed as you, because my depression was only mild, but i was confused and searching. getting married and having kids was very challenging at times and i really only feel that i am beginning to enjoy my life as fully as i always wanted. i know what i want, i have some idea about how to be fulfilled and happy, i have a satisfying career and many friends, i am pursuing depth with God and meaning… everything is falling into place.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 5 hours later

Marmalade said

I hear ya.  I do enjoy my life now even though my depression probably isn’t any less than back then.  I have perspective now and I know what I like.  I focus on what I like and I do my best to ignore the rest.  I can now enjoy the questions but without as much angsty desperation.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 11 hours later

Nicole said

that’s really positive! though i do hope that somehow the depression can lift. That must be challenging always to come back to that. Reminds me of a book I enjoyed years ago called Father Melancholy’s Daughter
about a priest who couldn’t shake his tendency to deep depression no matter how hard he tried. very moving…
here is something else by the author about it

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 15 hours later

Marmalade said

Thanks for the mention of that book.  I liked this last part from the first link:

One of the answers lies in the words of Margaret’s father to a fellow priest: “The Resurrection as it applies to each of us means coming up through what you were born into, then understanding objectively the people your parents were and how they influenced you. Then finding out who you yourself are, in terms of how you carry forward what they put in you, and how your circumstances have shaped you. And then … and then … now here’s the hard part! You have to go on to find out what you are in the human drama, or body of God. The what beyond the who, so to speak.”

“And then … and then … now here’s the hard part!”  lol

There is a movie about depression that I watched back then: Ordinary People.  I haven’t come across another movie that captures better my sense of my depression, but my situation was and is a bit different from the character. 

The story is similar to the Stephen King story The Body(made into the movie Stand By Me).  A younger son has to live with the memory of his dead older brother who had been the perfect son.  The mother is entirely into image and the son tries his best to fit in. 

The most insightful part of the film is where a depressed girl he had befriended in the psych ward had killed herself after convincing everyone(including herself) that everything was normal.  It shakes the boy to the core because if even someone who deals with their depression so ‘positively’ falls prey to hopelessness, then what hope is there for him.  However, the point is that he is less likely to try to kill himself again because he doesn’t repress his valid feelings. 

The message of the movie is that we all are just ordinary people, no one is perfect.  The movie presents the mother as less together than the son despte her trying to put up a positive front.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

yes, Ben. Yes!

another book I have found important in terms of many of these themes – finding yourself, working out who you are in your family, understanding your mission in God, dealing with the death of a sibling – is mystical_paths_by_susan_howatch
Actually, it’s part of a long series about this psychic but though it speaks casually of paranormal abilities it is very real and goes deep into our day to day lives.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

5 days later

Marmalade said

I checked out your review of Mystical Paths and sounds like a strange story.
Have you read the whole series?

Nicole : wakingdreamer

6 days later

Nicole said

it’s a very strange story! i’ve only read a couple of the books, and while i’m mildly interested in the rest, you know the mantra! so many books… 🙂