Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’


June 19, 2017

Alchemy was an art of all kinds of transmutation and ‘perfection’: of metals, human bodies, souls, agriculture, pottery, politics and so on.

Those alchemists working on metals, usually attempted to transform Mercury, rather than lead, into gold. The lead is a popular story and I’m not sure when it originated. However, the mercury may not be what we call mercury, it is the ‘Mercury of the Philosophers’ which is something completely different but like mercury…. alchemy is confusing in that way.

As many people are aware, Isaac Newton was an alchemist and spent far more effort on alchemy and biblical interpretation than on physics which was simply a sideline. Some have argued that alchemy was important in supporting Newton with the otherwise unpopular idea of action at a distance. Robert Boyle and lots of other members of the original Royal Society were also alchemists, although Newton was the most traditional of all of them and incredibly secretive about what he was doing – as he was with everything. The others tended to exchange notes and procedures.

I have read of people using nuclear reactors to do transmutation of the elements but ,as everyone notes, that is way too expensive at the moment – although it can be taken as demonstrating that alchemy is possible ūüôā

There are alchemists operating today doing the work on metals, although they seem to be more interested in medical alchemy than gold making. There are also those who see alchemy as more of a psychological or spiritual procedure.

This psychologizing has a surprisingly long history but, while it simplifies, it basically arises because alchemists generally did not see a difference between interior work and exterior work. Everything was connected, the change in the alchemist was as important as the change in the material, and the two were linked. Everything was mutable. Psychologising also serves the function of explaining why any particular alchemist did not make the transmutation, and further explained and justified the altered states of consciousness that arise through inhaling and tasting various substances and concentrating on being a human thermostat for weeks on end. It may also be true of course ūüôā

However, separating the spirit work into its own domain becomes more usual during and after the 17th century. By the late 19th century it was often considered that work on the spirit was the secret of alchemy, probably because it became increasingly difficult to see spirit and matter as related.

More interestingly, Carl Jung argued that Western alchemical symbols arose as a kind of collective dream, acting as compensations for the kind of psyche produced by official Christianity. If that is the case, then alchemy can, even today, act as a map of psychological transformation – what he called individuation. James Hillman expanded on this, pointing out that alchemical symbols actually give us a very concrete embodied way of seeing, feeling and engaging with psyche.

I personally think that alchemical symbols can give us a way of thinking about transformations of all kinds, and that they are particularly useful for thinking about chaotic, complex and messy processes. But that is a subject for another blog post sometime.

How many people might die from climate change?

June 2, 2017

Sorry that is the sort of question which cannot be answered accurately.

Social systems, environmental systems and climate systems are complex systems which means they cannot be predicted in detail. All these systems will be interacting with different forms of landscape – such as low lying areas, loss of glaciers and water and so on. We need all of them to remain stable to make valid detailed predictions. All we can predict is the general trends, and these can be disrupted by rapid changes of state into new systems which may not be human friendly.

The trends are likely to be extreme. People will try and move from parts of the earth which become difficult to live in, because of temperature (heat stroke, heart failure, dehydration), lack of drinking water and sea level rise, and that will likely cause wars – in which people will die as well. The massive storms we have seen will cause deaths as well, as well as disrupt the balance and interconnection of social functioning which will produce more deaths. Destruction of agricultural stability will produce problems with food supply, which is likely to produce malnutrition, which makes people more vulnerable to the other effects. Tropical diseases will move into what have been temperate climates, as well as be carried by people movement. It is likely that those of us who live in temperate environments will have little resistance to these diseases. We may see some parts of the world which have previously been uninhabitable become open to human life and the great powers will compete over those areas, which is also likely to produce war and death.

We also keep polluting the oceans which will disrupt the climate and ecological systems. Many biologists think that ocean death is possible, this will mean we will lose most of our fish stocks, we may also lose oxygen supplies if the plankton die and we keep cutting down forests, although it is unlikely we will kill ourselves, this will also lessen resilience.

With pro-corporate policies which help corporations release chemicals pollution without much in the way of check we will also poison ourselves and the other creatures and plants we need to live. The results of these chemicals on bio-system evolution cannot be predicted at all…

Basically there are a whole heap of endangering ecological processes going on, of which climate change is only one. What the results of multiple chaotic disruptions will be is absolutely unpredictable. However, it can be predicted that normality is going and that many people will die as a result.

Group identity and ideas

May 27, 2017

The roles served by communication, information and reasoning are primarily social. That is, these acts/events are primarily about getting on in groups and orienting the person in the world in relation to others, with whom they ally, and against others who are perceived as threats. Accuracy is secondary.

1) Ideas don’t have to be accurate to be accepted

For example, people believe in ‘free market’ economics despite the fact that it has never delivered the general prosperity, liberty or virtue, it has been used to promise. It may deliver wealth and power to the corporate elites but that is another matter. Lots of ideas/actions do not deliver, or even produce the opposite result to what is promised for them, but people fiercely defend them anyway.

Acceptance has nothing to do with the ‘accuracy’ of the idea, or their ability to deliver promised results.

2) Sharing ideas is about group bonding

What a set of ideas needs for it to gain influence, is to produce (or be associated with), social bonding and a sense of identity.

Any group bonding process is boosted by working together, or by specifying some other groups, or set of groups, as an enemy outgroup from which the group needs to be distinguished or defended – socialists, liberals, Muslims, Christians, capitalists etc…

It is not necessary that the favoured outgroup actually does attack the ingroup; all that is necessary is for the group’s ideas to frame the outgroup as an attacking force. This will help the sense of ‘working together’ in the ingroup and, eventually, one sided hostility will promoted the desired reprisals.

For example, Scientology provides a close bonding organization which claims to represent an elite (you in potentia), with a strong sense of being persecuted by evil outgroups, as well as a set of ideas which may or may not deliver, but which a person’s adherence to, defines them as members of the group.

Sometimes inaccurate ideas can give more of a sense of identity than accurate ones, particularly if the groups are driven by a sense of resistance to groups which profess more accurate ideas – for example climate change denial.

3) The group is marked by the ideas it promotes

The group, as marked by the ideas, provides support and social bonding, so that people have loyalties to fellow ingroup members, beyond loyalties to outgroup members (although this can be complicated). They also have loyalties to group ideas which symbolise the group’s loyalties. The ideas are more like flags of allegiance than tools to help understand the world.

Attacking and defending these ‘flagging’ ideas is often seen as the same as attacking or defending both the group that promotes them and the sense of identity and bonding it provides. Attacking ideas can appear to be an attack on the self, its social position, its associates, and its right to exist.

Ingroup members support each other in attack those who attack the ideas of the group. This states the virtue of the group, and further cements the bonds of loyalty and working together, thus reinforcing the ideas, irrespective of whether the ideas are shown to be accurate or not.

4) Identity is about loyalty and opposition between categories.

As implied, the identity provided by the group is often partly provided by its distinction from other groups.

Men are not supposed to be like women or vice versa, Muslims are not supposed to be like Christians and so on. Being-not-the-relevant-other is important to many (but not all) human groups or identity categories.

Furthermore a person can see the differences between fellow ingroup members with greater ease than they see differences between outgroup members. The type of attention applied is different. It is easier to believe all Republicans are the same, if you are not a Republican. Outgroups tend to be perceived as uniform and less human.

Some groups claim that eventually, all good hearted people, will be like them. Therefore people who resist them are clearly not good hearted. Such groups always seek outgroups, and will manufacture them if everyone becomes the same.

In complicated societies there are overlapping spheres of identity in social life. Disjointed spheres may mean that it is harder to distinguish yourself from others, so you become more complacent about difference. However, the more your identity is defined by categories which smoothly overlap or concatenate, then the more you might perceive the difference between your group and out groups, and the more that outgroups can become sites for projection of fantasies. So groups can drive each other apart. But sometimes you get a dynamic whereby one group wants to be more like the other, and the other repels them – so the groups move further towards a similar extreme. In the US Democrats become more Republican, and Republicans move further to the ‘right’ to distinguish themselves.

5) The more the ideas expressed by a person praise the shared information and biases of the group, the more persuasive they are, and the higher status they gain. The more the ideas expressed by a person appear to resemble the ideas expressed by the outgroup, the less persuasive they are and the more marginal and threatened their status – they may even risk expulsion.

6) Ideas become relevant in different circumstances and different conflicts with the out groups…

Hence group members do not have to worry, or even notice, if those ideas are compatible with each other or not. There is no necessity for ideas to be coherent because they primarily serve as markers of self-identity, loyalty and differentiation from the outgroups in different circumstances.

A Defence of PoMo in Politics

April 19, 2017

I’ve seen a few articles recently in which people seem to be blaming Postmodernism for ‘fake news’ and Donald Trump, and for a departure from Enlightenment principles into ‘darkness’. This seems rather a stretch to me.

One of the problems with this position, is that it sees both the enlightenment and post-modernism, as single movements, when they are quite pluralistic: Derrida, Baudrillard and Foucault for example, do not have a common project, other than in the sense that people writing at the same time in a similar tradition have commonalities.

I would further suggest that many apparent tenets of post-modernism actually share similarities with people in the enlightenment, and come out of other recognisable modernist sources such as anthropology, linguistics, physics and so on. Cynically, post-modernism as a whole has little interest in the British Enlightenment, because it makes it seem less original as a movement.

Many of the movers of the British enlightenment, which is the Enlightenment I am most familiar with, after a lot of arguing came to what I would claim is the entirely justifiable conclusion that ‘Reason’ was not enough, and that reason without reference to the real world could lead to complete fantasy. If your axioms/assumptions and obvious statements where wrong your conclusions would be wrong. Hence ‘natural philosophy’ and ‘alchemy’ moved into what we call science, in which, as far as possible, statements had to be checked against reality in front of trustworthy, knowledgeable and critical witnesses.

It’s position is we cannot assume things to be true in advance. That will mislead us.

Now, let’s move to a patch of Foucault arguing with Chomsky:

“‚Ķ you can’t prevent me from believing that these notions of human nature, of justice, of the realization of the essence of human beings, are all notions and concepts which have been formed within our civilization, within our type of knowledge and our form of philosophy, and that as a result form part of our class system; and that one can’t, however regrettable it may be, put forward these notions to describe or justify a fight which should — and shall in principle ‚Äď overthrow the very fundaments of our society. This is an extrapolation for which I can’t find the historical justification. ”

Foucault’s remark is entirely within keeping with these mainstream British Enlightenment Principles – where are these ‘rights’ that people keep talking about? Are they not enshrined in, and derived from, particular political structures – which as Adam Smith, no less, pointed out are there to defend the propertied and the powerful? It may be that the discourse is not entirely consistent, and can be turned against itself. But that does not mean ‘rights’ exist. You would need to show Foucault a historical example of this in action before he might agree to the process working. We are all familiar with the remark attributed to Einstein “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” – this is more concise and more general than Foucault, but the meaning is similar. We need to change our reason to solve problems.

Likewise Foucault insists that knowledge is intertwined with power. Who is going to argue that Religion has not been intertwined with power and challenges to power and the same seems true of science and economics? We know that commercial science is not always as accurate as independent science. That is why some of us fight for academic funding to be determined by academics rather than corporations, and why others want funding and work conditions to be determined by corporations or corporate principles. To deny this relationship between power and knowledge, seems to be to deny a basic political truth, of which Voltaire and Diderot were not unaware.

I’d also argue that power is intertwined with ignorance, but that is another argument, but it should lead us to caution. Burke’s ‘conservative’ defense of British Tradition against revolution and ‘free markets’ is based upon a distrust in reason, and a trust in the empirical complexity of reality. We may not perceive everything which is going on, or how it all interacts and hence the system needs tending carefully not disrupting ‘reasonably’ according to our fancies. The same kind of proposition is found in functionalist anthropology acting as a defense of ‘native’ societies against colonial disorganization – it foreshadows systems theory, which is vital for understanding ecologies and social interactions with ecologies.

Now as it happens, both Hume and Berkeley disrupted this empiricist stand by showing from empiricist principles that we have no direct access to reality, only to our imagining and habits, or to the imagining done by God in Berkeley’s case. Of course there was the ‘common sense’ reaction to these positions, but it was always within this wider framework as discussed. Reason is not supreme. And a belief in the supremacy of reason leads you to serious misunderstanding of human social functioning.

Derrida further illustrates how this failure of reason and understanding can occur through language. One of his main claims to fame is the infamous argument that there is nothing outside the text. For me, this seems to be saying that humans give things meaning immediately – we treat things as ‘texts’. I don’t know why people get upset with this proposition. To some extent, science is about trying to remove the meanings we give things immediately and giving them meanings which are more in accord with their nature. But we are always prone to bend them to our inner psycho-cultural meanings. And the more obscure, or threatening, the science the more this bending will occur.

Derrida also takes the ‘context dependence’ of meaning seriously. Meaning is delimited by context. That is a fairly standard linguistic understanding. Context is unstable. Different people bring different contexts to the same ‘texts’, consequently meaning is unstable. Add difficulties of cross cultural understanding, historical shifts in the meanings of words and so on, then this becomes even more of an issue. We may be reasoning from assumptions which are mistaken interpretations of some previous work. This is fairly obvious to literary critics. Any relatively complex text will have an almost infinite number of interpretations; although it may not have every possible interpretation – as I commonly say the number of people who seriously argue that Hamlet is about the mating habits of African elephants is remarkably small. However, no valuable text is exhausted of meaning by any particular reading. I also don’t know why this proposition often seems to be considered a terrible thing, as it seems necessary to any kind of understanding.

Indeed one of the problems with understanding Trump and the Trump movement, is that the contexts brought to bear on understanding it’s statements are extremely different; they are so different that people in the same cultural group cannot understand each other. Refusal to accept context dependence, means that much commentary is framed in terms of the stupidity of others, and such statements help to further the separation and lack of understanding and communication.

These positions seem, to me, to be fundamental starting places for political analysis, along with understanding how economic and political ‘truths’ get propagated through organs of power, and they are not hindered by post-modern thought.

Diagnosing Trump

March 19, 2017

Another Vital Post from John Woodcock. This time on the pointlessness of diagnosing Trump. Basically John’s argument is that diagnosing Trump “generate[s] a sense of knowing who Trump is and what he is likely to do on the basis of his ‘clinical profile’. This sense of knowing who Trump is, psychologically or clinically, thus gives us a dangerously false sense of getting a handle on what is going on right now.”

Diagnosis is therefore dangerous. We need to see with “fresh eyes”

So some continuation of this idea.

The circumstances of the world are unique and are not reflected in past history. We cannot predict the consequences of events, or actions, at all. It is also true that the world is a set of complex systems and is inherently unpredictable.

What makes the situation different, is that we have never faced this confluence of crises. They are crises which provoke existential crisis in us, and may possibly end ways of life as we know them quite catastrophically. We, as humanity, face being completely uprooted.

Despite the impossibility of predicting exactly what will happen, there is always the possibility of predicting trends. Trump is, I think, ‘trendable’. However, it must be remembered that Trump is not alone he has a whole group of people reinforcing his tendencies, supporting his acts, fearing him, and feeding him the “right” information. That is what makes him particularly dangerous

So far I’ve found Trump and his collective relatively predictable going by his past history, but the intersection of that past history with current events is hard to fathom, and will possibly get harder to fathom as it goes along. Of course Trump and others may become more monstrous as he proceeds and fails.

Trump supports established big business and attacks ordinary Americans. He aims to remove anything that hinders the power of business to destroy, or increase the wealth they remove from the system. He supports anything that will increase his own wealth, and seems happy to make money out of the Presidency (as with Mar-a-lago). His is a government of billionaire crooks for billionaire crooks. .

He also wants to be seen as tough and a ‘strong man’. He wants his own way in everything public. This is vital, and feeds into the billionaire thug routine. He resents those who think they know better than him, or say he cannot do something. He will seek scapegoats for his failures and seek revenge on those scapegoats.

He will probably start a war, or series of wars, as his policies break down, so as to maintain the illusion of strength. It is no surprise he makes increasing military spending (which also transfers taxpayers’ money to the corporate sector) a priority, despite the fact that the US already spends more on the military than the ten to twelve next highest spending countries put together. Nuclear war is a possibility – he has already suggested it to solve the problems of the Middle East. Who it is, that he will declare war upon is much harder to decide.

He will do nothing to stop ecological breakdown, indeed he will be more likely to speed it up as that shows his power and marks the Earth permanently with his name.

Trump and his cronies (it is not Trump alone) push us further into the crisis, and it is up to us to resist while knowing our resistance will encourage him to go further.

That is the first paradox.

We need “fresh eyes” to see this.

There is another paradox. Trump is not a reforming radical as he, and his supporters claim, he is the same old Republican fraud. However, he does not have the same constraints of past Republicans.

So we cannot hold the possibilities within constraints. The crises ridden system would probably not allow this anyway. We cannot rely on our past assumptions about US governments. We might have been able to assume that while Reagan would risk nuclear war, his government would behave “reasonably” in other ways. With Trump’s government we have no assurances.

We need fresh eyes to see, that do not block our perceptions of trends in ‘heroic’ specialness, and do not suppress paradox.

Science and uncertainty….

March 3, 2017

Most forms of human knowledge are fallible.

Despite this, it may need to be recalled, that everything we know about the global despoliation of nature comes from scientific work.

It is scientific work that shows us that ‘nature’ is a vast set of interactive systems, essentially powered by the sun and, occasionally, by¬†global thermal energy.

It is science which shows us that we are dependent upon other people, that we share as part of our nature, and that we compete as part of our nature. The individual only exists because of the group. We are shaped by, and shape cultures (collective ideas, feelings and habits). We emerge from the collective interaction.

It is science that shows we are related to many other Terran life forms, and depend on the interactions of other life forms. It is science that shows us our bodies and minds are fractious colonies.

Science shows us that natural systems are inherently complex and unpredictable in detail. Natural systems are unstable and subject to contingency and accident. They eventually escape human ordering, although we can disrupt them.

Science shows us that eventually, at particular times, there are natural limits. It is capitalism and developmentalism which insist these limits can always be overcome, and hence are prone to lead to lead to disaster

When did the Righteous start attacking Science?

February 28, 2017

Its probably complicated. It probably began with religions resisting evolution, to increase their inerrancy, and to avoid change. They could argue that by challenging religion, science became immoral. Then it moved into commerce. Business resisted being put to extra costs when science discovered health problems with products. Smoking, for example, became branded as a right, a freedom, its health consequences denied.

So, it became relatively common to attack science for commercial and ideological purposes long before it was mainstream amidst the righteous. Indeed the right used to champion military and commercial science as the way of the future, just as much as the left.

However problems also arose with scientists talking down to and at people, and arrogantly assuring them that their fears about technological projects were misplaced. The failure of official science was marked by the disasters of thalidomide, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, the racist studies of infection, and so on. Commercial science, in particular, was governed by profit, not accuracy or safety. Then there was the use of science as a death machine – agent orange, napalm, nuclear weapons and so on – with little recompense to those damaged by it. There were constant changes in medical recommendations, and a relatively high level of iatrogenic disease (disease generated by medical techniques). Consequently even more people felt alienated from a science they had no input into.

Then, the big move occurred. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the State had expanded to include not only all men with property, but propertyless women, black people and so on, and by the late sixties and early seventies, ordinary people were active within that State, demanding equality, services and the end to elite authority. The righteous panicked.

Samuel Huntington wrote about this “democratic distemper” or “excess of democracy” in his report to the Trilateral commission on The Crisis of Democracy. The power of the people who *should* have power was being disturbed, chaos was emerging. His recommendation was to encourage voter apathy – to get people out of participating in the State.

This was achieved by encouraging distrust of government; so what was the point of people getting involved? The after events of Nixon was used to promote this idea, as was the Vietnam war. The free market was to be trusted rather than political action. Money and business were marks of virtue, everything else was pretense. You were to look after yourself and avoid government ‘interference’. You got out of politics that could impact the ruling class and just guarded your personal property. This was portrayed as part of the way to end elite authority, with the only elites in this view being left wing or governmental – wealth was not a thing that defined elites or marked power differentials. Hence the eager funding of libertarian think tanks. This meant removing what we knew about social action from the public domain. Social ‘science’ (such that it was) was declared to be interfering and communist etc.

These ideas promised to deliver liberty and prosperity for all. They couldn’t and didn’t. We have had 35 to 40 years of them, and they have never delivered. Wages became stagnant, wealth was distributed to the rulers, social mobility collapsed, the State was used to impose restrictions on ordinary people, people became more alienated from governmental processes, commercial media saw their job as largely supporting this order, rather than any alternative, as they were part of the corporate class.

Growing failure meant scapegoats had to be found. It was said to be the fault of immigrants, the fault of intellectuals, the fault of minorities, the fact that we had not got 100% free markets. Anything but the fault of the ideology itself, or behaviour of the corporate class. Once it became clear that science implied that the social order was coming to an end through environmental destruction, it became important to attack science to continue the arrangement and entrench the power.

The attack made use of techniques pioneered by tobacco, religion, libertarians, and so on. It fitted in with the official ideology by making your freedom the freedom to be anti-science and anti-the-authority-of-knowledge, it supposedly demonstrated your ability to think against the grain (as it agreed with the ruling ideology). It allowed political action and involvement. It gave people some sense of importance in the alienated world they lived in….

It helped save the power of the rulers for a bit longer, and they gamble that they will be rich enough to ride out the coming troubles, as money gives you everything…. at least so they think.

Spirituality in the Anthropocene

February 26, 2017

I keep reading and hearing people saying, or implying, that what we need is a spiritual approach to fix the problems we face. I hear this a lot in the Depth Psychology community in particular.

I think this is fundamentally wrong. Spirituality is not automatically a solution, and ‘rationality’ is not always a problem. Human knowing is very often fallible, irrespective of its source, and this should be remembered, otherwise both spirituality and reason become props for the ego, its limitations and defence, rather than ways of accessing knowledge or relatedness.

The¬†potential problems¬†with spirituality¬†seem as important to me, in terms of our ecological problems, as is the use of science or technology to ‘control’ nature.

For example, in Western and many other traditions, spirituality has been used to deny the reality of nature, or used as a means to get out of nature or to diminish nature. Christianity and Islam have both taught that our true life is elsewhere. It is not in nature. Nature is a snare, at best a distraction to be mastered. Reality is found after death.

Intensely spiritual people can believe and intuit strongly that everything is in the hands of God, and that humans can do nothing to hurt the cosmos. They can be both calm and beautiful as they destroy the world. They could for example, think it is their duty to cut down forests and destroy fertile fields to bring forth their temples, unaware of what they are doing, or even condemning those who protest as heretics or unspiritual. They can be passionately devoted to killing people or animals as sacrifices to the Gods.

Perhaps one of the most harmful ideas ever proposed, is the spiritual idea/experience usually associated with Plato, that the real is perfect and unchanging and not of this world. This may completely alienate people from any engagement with life and the natural world as it is, as that is constantly in flux, birth, death and decay. The acceptance of such an idea, and the spiritual practices around it, may mark our initial separation from Nature, and our attempts to control it rather than live with it.

There is nothing inherent in spirituality which leads to a beneficial interrelationship with natural processes. Spirituality can impose a hostile order on the world as much as any reason.

Similarly, while we may want to forget, war can be intensely a matter of spirituality. Not just for zen samurai, Vikings, Nazis, shaolin monks, warring Tibetan temples, jihading Muslims, Crusading Christians, and Aztec warriors gathering sacrificial prisoners, but to ordinary people who may frequently tell you that they felt more alive, more connected and more meaningful when the war was on. Not all people feel this way, of course, some live in terror and die in agony. However, this aspect of spirit should not be forgotten.

People can see¬†the position put forward here as an attack on valuable experiences. However, I want to suggest that ‘peak experiences’ or ‘spiritual experiences’ have little to do with ‘spirituality’. They are, in some ways, frequently ‘mundane’, they seem to happen irrespective of whether a person is particularly spiritual or not. They might imply connection, or simply the sheer strange presence of something different from yourself. Spirituality has little to do with this, and is more like a theory of everything or an approach to the world.

Whatever it is, spirituality is often assumed to be good, and in opposition to whatever is bad Рmany people seem very confident of that. Indeed, contemporary spirituality is often defined by opposition. It is opposed to logos, it is not science, it is not reason, it is not materialism. People also seem to assume that logos, reason and so forth have the dominant position in the world, and are therefore responsible for the destruction we observe. However, even a brief look at our politics should lead to that particular theory being cast aside. Reason, whatever its failings, is not even vaguely dominant. If it was then we would be seeing some attempts to deal with climate change. Science is largely captive to State and commercial interests.

Given the oppositions people set up, it becomes too easy for spiritually aligned people to say science is the problem, and spirituality is the solution, when they may well be both parts of the problem and solution. The Sacred and the Profane are perhaps not separate… Personally I was relieved to discover that anthropologists decided this distinction was not present in many societies.

Historically, spirituality has grown up alongside (and with) logos, science, materialism, reason; and similarly they grow out of it. As mutually dependent, both ‘sides’ are as responsible for our problems as anything else.

Jungians might be expected to sit with these opposites, rather than to declare one side responsible for harm and the other good. We might find that both are necessary, to correct the other, or we might find that we discover something new.

Western Mind II

February 5, 2017

I’m still cautious about characterising groups of people as having a particular mind, as in statements about Western Rational minds or whatever. As I’ve said previously this rationality does not seem much in evidence, amongst more than a very small segment of the population.

However, my main point is that Western Rationalism is historically, and still, a religious/spiritual position.

If we want to date its arrival (which is a highly suspect process), it probably comes with Thomas Aquinas, who was initially suspected of heresy.

Aquinas’ position, in so far as it can be simplified by me, is that the human mind is an image of God’s mind, and therefore functions similarly to God’s mind and can understand that mind within limits.

Aquinas also argued that God, being perfect mind, was not arbitrary but coherent, and that logical thought could show truth about God and creation.  In this he was influenced by Aristotle and the Islamic recovery of Aristotle. The accuracy of our logically worked out claims about God and the universe was a product of the accuracy of our premises, and some of those premises came from faith or revelation, and some premises were obvious to all. God did not hide deliberately from creation. God could be reached by logic and human endeavour.

Scientia was the working out of logical consequences from our premises, as best we could. It was secure knowledge, or knowledge that was as secure as we could gain. If our premises were true, then so would be our conclusions.

This position has become known as scholasticism. It often embraced an earlier idea, that explanation should be simple, and should rely on the minimum number of premises. Ultimately an aesthetic choice lies at one of the hearts of rationalism.

Scholasticism appeared to became a dominant paradigm, although the Church still admitted the Augustinian tradition that God was not constrained and could constantly intervene and change things if He so chose. God was ultimately beyond human comprehension. Mysteries were present and inevitable.

The Church also accepted the ideas that God was love and available to all who were focused on Him, as exemplified by St Teresa and St Francis – however it was always suspicious of these people; they tended to be unpredictable. Franciscans were ordered to work for the inquisition to keep them in line.

The mystical tradition is, in many ways, anti-nature. Resolution of earthly sorrow comes with death and/or the journey to heaven. The earth is to be left behind. Many western mystics joyfully died relatively young. This leaving earth, is despite Jesus healing bodies, which might imply bodies had some significance, and despite the promise of the resurrection of the flesh on Earth at the day of judgement. Strangely scholasticism can be more pro nature, seeing God as symbolized in nature, or nature supported by emanations from God, or as present in the mind of God (Mathew Fox’s dialogue with Aquinas Sheer Joy, is good on this.)

Politically these ideas had consequences. The rational and the mystical spiritual traditions are democratic, possibly a little anarchic. If you can persuade others of the rationality of your truth, then you can do so. Any previous truth is vulnerable to a better argument or demonstration. Truth was no respecter of persons. The mystical says God speaks to everyone, and everyone is equal in this respect (we are all sinners) although has to agree to be vetted, as Teresa’s writings were vetted and sometimes suspected of heresy.

However the faith tradition is always a matter of interpretation, you have to have the right faith and this is decided, usually by a group of old men, who then enforce this on everyone, as it is vital for everyone’s spirits/souls. Only a few vetted people can participate in these discussions. This spiritual route tends to be authoritarian. It is the force that vets the other traditions.

In the background we have alchemy. Alchemical practice tends to be based on experience in the spirit, imagination and material. It is not so much logical as empirical. Logic breaks down in alchemy as you can see in some texts. Alchemy is not authoritarian, there are no groups of alchemists enforcing orthodoxy; it is largely a matter of individuals and small groups working with texts that are incredibly hard to understand and yielding to nature.

Empiricism is often opposed to rationalism, as it does not claim you can work things out in advance – its stronghold was in¬†chemistry and medicine, where¬†practitioners don’t know if stuff will work or not, until it is tried. Empiricism is taught by nature, or by an oscillation between nature and psyche, not by logic.

Protestants tended to break with rationality. They were faith dependent, and in the early days heavily authoritarian (apart from the mystical free spirit types). They heavily attacked scholasticism which they saw as justifying catholic authority not their own, and of course of misunderstanding the importance of faith. The post crusades Islamic position also tends to be faith based rather than ‘rationally’ based. The tendency of this tradition is to fossilization (we try to replicate the past and its rules according to authority) or widespread splintering in which faith becomes a matter of experience and mystical aspiration arising from a text (more like sufism, but the protestant splintering is much more public).

One consequence of this breakdown was trying to find certainties to base faith upon to try and heal the social breaks. What became science probably grew out of this endeavour. It tried to avoid theological conflicts by leaving the soul and mystical experience to religion. The soul of the scientist was to be level headed and ‘sober’. It was not supposed to be ecstatic. It took over the idea of the logicality of creation from the scholastics and merged it with the empiricism of the alchemists. Empirical events confirmed the correctness of¬†scientific logic and the glory of God. Science was supposed to be determined by nature and humble before nature. Nature was the arbiter, although there is another stream which speaks of mastery of nature, which appealed to Empire builders, although the language usually used of dominion and mastery comes from Christianity.

Lots of people began to observe nature with an intensity that was possibly new to this part of society, gathering insects, counting worms, drawing birds and plants and so on. Science leads to romanticism, both as continuation and as reaction.

What science achieved was an anti-rationalism. The cosmos was revealed to be larger, smaller and more multifarious than anyone had suspected. The universe was for all practical purposes infinite; vast beyond human conception. The micro-verse was full of small creatures to an extent also beyond human conception. Even the ordinary level revealed the multitude of different species of insects. If God created the cosmos for humans then this God was a God of massive excess. For some people this massiveness meant they could no longer see the universe as home. It was not rational to see humans as special. This excess was revealed by empiricism, humble observation and letting the universe speak.

In any case, the majority of people followed their local traditions as always, generating endless fractioning.

In this situation, scientists could not avoid normal human usages of imagination or mysticism, but by the 20th Century they generally did not talk about it, although it is worth noting that our interest in dreams was born in what Freud and Jung insisted was empirical science.

Similarly, our knowledge of climate change comes through science, through comparison of data, and imaginative application of theory. It does not come through intuition or the spirit. People of the spirit have generally been slow to acknowledge the problems and have been major opponents of recognition, especially those with authority over faith.

All of the approaches described here, which constitute a massive simplification in themselves, are spiritual in the sense they imply a transforming relationship to a wider sphere/field, and are not confined to the individual. They are also rational and irrational, empirical and non empirical to varying extents

One way to characterise the Western Mind, to the extent that it exists, is as mess; as mixtures of all kinds of incompatible ideas, attitudes and processes. It is never coherent – and that is probably a good thing. It varies with groups and with individuals.

Even if one tradition becomes temporarily dominant and likes to pretend it is ‘master’, the others just get on with life and make challenges for their own dominance.

Sometimes one tradition is announced to be ‘master’ simply so it can be blamed for everything that went wrong,¬†in an¬†attempt to force people to choose its main competitor.

Saying there is a Western mind, or whatever, deletes this multiplicity, including the part that is critical of whatever is singled out!

Western Mind? I

February 5, 2017

Maybe its just me, but I keep hearing people blame the scientific mind or science itself for our problems.

But is the “Western Mind” ‘scientific’? Do we have such a Mind? Is it *one*? Can it be called ‘scientific’? People may confuse a technologically dense society with one in which people think ‘scientifically’.

I suspect only a relatively small proportion of the population have a scientific mind. This is partly because it takes a lot of training, and partly because America has just voted for a person who is hardly rational, seems fairly emotional and unobjective (unable to separate his desires from reality – ie he can only loose if someone cheats), does not seem to believe that the world is stable (given he can contradict himself in a matter of minutes, with no sense of a problem), and believes that endless pollution is a cause for celebration.

It seems unlikely he would have been voted for by people with ‘scientific minds’, so we can assume a fair proportion of the population does not have such a mind.
If so, then the scientific mind may not be that important for us socially, or for our personal understandings of the world, even if science gives us lots of tech.

Let us assume that we have other types of mind as well – these may well be brought forth in different circumstances –¬†that is,¬†we may all share more than one of them. So, not trying to be exhaustive – and these are caricatures, just like the ‘scientific mind’ is…

There might be the ‘capitalist mind’. In this profit and wealth are the only virtues. Accounting and market value are used to measure morality. Economic activity can and must expand forever as any curtailment of profit increase would be evil. Pollution is a problem which has nothing to do with emitters; it is your problem if it distresses you. Everything in live is competitive. You either win and are good, or loose and are a failure. Wealth marks winning.

There seem to be at least two types of religious mind active in the US.

In one God is a bad tempered, vengeful old guy who punishes people harshly for even minor infractions. Often the punishment lasts forever. The cosmos is basically hostile and tricky until you are dead. Sex is definitely out unless it involves marriage and even then its dubious. Some practitioners believe that when you are *saved* by declaring your faith you are saved, you can embrace the capitalist mindset and be ok. ‘Science’ is an enemy. Most people are enemies. The mindset sees itself as under attack, but with God behind us, our enemies will be made to suffer. The only purpose in talking to enemies is to convert them – you can learn nothing from them.

In the other religious mind, the universe will always give you what you want if you think properly. There is no reality other than what you think. You don’t need to do anything for anyone, other than think nice thoughts at them to be virtuous. All your desires are spiritual and it is ok to enter the capitalist mind set, as long as you are spiritual about it. Everyone who thinks something is wrong is simply delusional and thinking badly; keep away from them. I have to think well. I must think spiritually, or else it will all fall apart.

If these descriptions of¬†three extra ‘Western Minds’ are vaguely accurate and in ourselves, then perhaps we need to carry out some multi-logue with all these mindsets to find out what parts of them are parts of us? so that we don’t think that the earth is endlessly consumable, or that there is no reality but our thought, or that God won’t let bad things happen to us if we don’t have sex.