Some Paintings from Joseph Wright of Derby

    Joseph Wright of Derby (1734 - 1797) lived through the era of the industrial revolution and the beginning of Romanticism.  I didn't live back then, but from what I have read, his pictures do a good job depicting that era and are good art in general.  Here is a self-portrait from 1780: 
    

The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus

An experiment on a bird in the air pump: 


A philosopher lecturing on the orrery:



In these two pictures, Wright depicts the beginning of the time when science and scientific thinking was beginning to be part of ordinary people's lives.  And even the cruelty it could bring (as I understand it, the bird is suffocated as air is pumped out of its container).  The picture of the alchemist also shows the earlier era when science was properly called natural philosophy. 

An Iron Forge:


The Iron Forge is another painting showing technology.  In addition to these, Wright painted landscapes in a Romantic manner. 

Vesuvius from Popsilio:


  
Vesuvius from Portici


Matlock Tor by Moonlight





An idea inspired by a dream

     Recently, I had a dream that a person was granted a wish by a wizard and that as a consequence of the wish, he gained the power to absorb matter into his body, and become larger and larger.  When I woke up, while still in a semi-dream mode of thinking, I started down a train of thought that eventually led to thinking about how ancient peoples associated giants with mountains, such as believing that a giant was trapped under a mountain or that a sleeping giant had become a mountain.  

    And this also relates to how ancient people personified the world: they viewed the entire world as alive and not only alive, but anthropomorphic: for example, a mountain was thought of as something like a type of enormous human being.  

    Then later, we have the Medieval view, where rocks and mountains were viewed as part of the Great Chain of Being: they have their place in Creation but are not living.  However, they were not considered entirely dead, since they are a part of Creation as a whole and are connected by their place in the chain to living beings.  

    Later still, we have the view of scientific thought, that mountains are indeed completely lifeless matter, they are merely a formation made of up of rocks and minerals.  

    Then in the mid twentieth century, in his unfinished novel The Notion Club Papers, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about the character Ramer, connecting his thoughts with a meteor.  Ramer talks about how there is not much freedom as we would consider in many places in the universe, just long waiting for something to happen, such as a slip between rocks such as an earthaquake or shift.  

    In this story, Tolkien tries to imagine the consciousness of a rock, but rather than anthropomorphizing it, he considers it to have a different and more restricted mode of consciousness than a human being.  

    Following Bruce Charlton, I consider Tolkien in the lineage of Romanticism because he, while living in the modern world, tried to move past the despiritualized and mechanistic thinking characteristic of our era. 

    From this perspective, we can then see a development in thinking about non-human parts of the world, that follows the development of consciousness, traced out by thinkers such as Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield.  First a spiritualized mode of consciousness, viewing the world as alive (and anthropomorphized), then the Medieval form of consciousness, then scientific thinking viewing the world as dead, and finally Romantic consciousness, which seeks to respiritualize our thinking, but in a more free manner than the older form of consciousness.  

    I wonder if in the earlier anthropomorphic way of thinking about the world, human consciousness was rooted in the human.  In the course of becoming more independent, people gained a greater ability to imagine different modes of consciousness from the human: to envision that animals, plants, or the sun are alive, but have consciousness of a very different quality than human beings.  In other words, the releasing of restrictions from consciousness gave it a greater flexibility, though this flexibility has come with other consequences: greater freedom to think less human thoughts can also be dangerous (as we see all around us).

Scattered thoughts on Homer, Virgil, and Dante

    Partially inspired by William James Tychonievich's post "Dante in the wood", I have been listening to works by these three authors over the past few months: Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, and Dante's Divine Comedy.  

    In a sense, these authors are successors to each other; though separated by centuries.  And I think this was conscious on their part.  For instance, the Aeneid can be thought of as the Illiad and the Odyssey all in one, except the part describing a voyage is first and part describing a war is second, reversing Homer.  And of course, Dante has Virgil guide him through Hell and Purgatory.  

    All three address the afterlife in some way.  When Odysseus goes to the underworld, he sees that except for the shades in torment, such as Tantalus, most of the people lead a shadowy, ghostly existence without being aware of much.  Only Tiresias among all the shades retains his wits.  However, at the end of the poem when the suitors descend to the underworld, they are greeted by the other shades and speak to them.  In any case, it was envisioned that existence would be much diminished.  

    I found it particularly striking that even the women who had children by the gods are down there in the underworld while the gods are up on Olympus.  We only here of three people who escape: Hercules who became a god himself and Menelaus and (presumably) Helen who will go to the Elysian fields.

    Virgil's depiction of the gods is more self-consciously poetical than Homer's, to the extent that I do not think he believed in them in a mythological way as Homer did.  I think the section of the Aeneid, when Aeneas goes to the underworld represents something close to Virgil's true religious beliefs.  He extends Homer's vision by separating the underworld into a section for the egregious wrongdoers, the city of Dis, and one for the righteous dead, the Elysian fields.  Furthermore, some souls undergo purgation for the wrongdoing they have done in life and then are reborn on Earth.

    For Dante, nearly the entire poem concerns the afterlife.  One thing I noticed about Dante is that while his poem is entirely in agreement with certain beliefs, such as that pagans cannot go to Heaven, he includes certain things in his poem that are somewhat of a different character.  For instance, even though Virgil is condemned to Limbo for eternity, he is allowed to accompany Dante all the way through Purgatory, even briefly to the Earthly Paradise at the top.  Also, the pagan Cato of Utica is the doorkeeper of Purgatory and so will be saved at some point.  

    This relates to something that Bruce Charlton has written about C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in that their publicly professed beliefs were circumsribed within certain limits, but in their stories, they explore ideas that go somewhat beyond those.  

    In any case, thinking through these three poems and how each expands on the others, adding more to the understanding of what happens after death, even Dante, with is extraordinary accomplishment is missing something.  In particular, he is missing the importance of freedom.  

    Here is what I mean by that.  Mortal life is brief in the grand scheme of things.  And during the course of this life, we have the opportunity to learn and the freedom to choose.  And it goes beyond those two words, those are two particular qualities, but there is a paricular character to life on Earth that is believed to be absent afterwards, although it is not easy to capture fully in words.

    This is expressed in various ways, such as the idea that the angels were given a brief stretch of time after their creation, when they could choose for or against God but after choosing, they were locked into their choice after that.  And there is a similar idea for human beings, that humans beings can choose Heaven or Hell but after that, there's no more room for choices.  And the way this seems to be understood is not that choice is taken away by some external means, but that there simply is no more need for it.  

    But need we think this?  It is true that in our experience of Earthly life, freedom and sin go hand in hand.  But is it possible both to make a permanent committment to God at death and in doing so moving to a state where sin is impossible, and moving forward towards more freedom?  

    One could interpret the story of the Garden of Eden as saying that Adam and Eve had a short period of time to exercise freedom and then once that decision was made there was no more room.  But the story doesn't actually say that explicitly.  It is certainly a valid interpretaion, but it is not the only one.  Another possibility is that in making a decision, Adam and Eve could have lived a type of life which is very difficult to imagine but not thereby impossible: a life both without sin and with freedom.   

     Someone who could write that kind of story, would indeed be Dante's successor.  

Articulation, belief, and intuition

     Recently this video was brought to my attention.  It found it helpful to hear the narrator think through the issues he discusses because it shows another person's thinking process as he approaches the issues of the present time.  One insight in particular that I thought was good is that he mentioned that you do not have to know in detail how all the algorithms of Twitter work to know that it is a net negative for many people that use it.  

    And of course this goes far beyond Twitter.  I haven't been able to locate this quote, but in either one of his books or on his blog, Edward Feser mentioned Richard Dawkins's famous statement in his book The God Delusion that Dawkins hoped his book would convert any religious person who read it to atheism.  Feser made the point that in general, that isn't the way people change their beliefs.  It is rare to have a single, definitive experience or argument that changes one's beliefs (Saint Paul would be one of the classics examples).  Rather, over a period of time, lots of little things add up and after a while, one realizes one has changed their beliefs.  C.S. Lewis writes about this in his autobiography Surprised by Joy.  He mentions the process of becoming a Christian and writes the following about the moment of conversion, while traveling to the Whipsnade zoo with his brother: 

    "I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken.  I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning.  When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.  Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought.  Nor in great emotion.  Emotional is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events.  It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake."

    And what this means is that, frequently, when asked about why one believes or disbelieves something, one can give one reason or a few reasons, but none of them will be convincing to the questioner.  Partly because no reason was convincing by itself and partly also because one cannot present the experience of a process of months or years in minutes.  Another reason is that different people find different reasons convincing.  

    The important thing is that it is possible to know that one has good reasons for a belief but to not be able to articulate them or convince with them for a variety of reasons.  

    And this has particular relevance to the present time.  The System has all kinds of easily articulable reasons for everything.  They have statistics, canned responses, supposed experts, etc.  And so, it is easy for someone to give a reason for why they believe the System point of view.  In terms of validity, the reason may be completely worthless, and it may even just be for someone to convince themself, but the psychological effect of having ready answers for everything can be very powerful.  

    Also, because there is so much that it is difficult to know for sure about various issues (because we don't have personal experience of them), it isn't always easy to give a reason why we view something as good or bad.  

    And this particularly relates to the peck.  I believe that in some people minds, the connection of the peck to cloned fetal cells functioned in this way.  It is true that it shows the extraordinary level of corruption within medical research, but because this is a specific, articulable reason for opposition to the peck, many people both for and against wrote as if it was the only reason.  That if this reason could be refuted, then there would be no more grounds for opposition to the peck.  But, not only is this not the only reason for opposition to the peck, opposition goes beyond merely a list of reasons.  

    It really comes down to intuition and discernment.  One can know that the peck is wrong and can have reasons to believe it, but the opposition really comes from the understanding that comes from and goes beyond those specific enumeration of reasons.  

The Hall of Mirrors Effect

     When people read or hear something from different sources, they are inclined to take more notice.  In particular, if a particular idea or observation is stated by multiple people, then people are more inclined to believe it or at least give it consideration.  One reason for this is perceived social consensus; if the idea is stated by more individuals then maybe it is becoming more important in the social sphere.  

    But there is another reason, which is that if more people notice something, then it is more likely to really be there, not just a mistake of one person.  Or, if multiple people ascribe to a particular belief then it is less likely to be the result of a single person's idionsyncracies.  

    The key assumption is that these observations and beliefs are independent.  For example, if every day during seven days, a different person tells you they encountered bigfoot, then you would take notice.  Because it is seven separate sightings.  On the other hand, if you found out that only one of these people claimed to actually see bigfoot, but the others were just in the area at the time, then it is not seven sightings but one.  And in that case, whether to believe it or not depends on how reliable the one person's testimony is.  

    Similarly, there are many sources of news or information which really all come from one source, just amplified many times.  Like a hall of mirrors that reflects the same image many times and creates the illusion that there are many objects, one source of unknown reliability is repeated multiple times, creating the illusion of many independent sources.

    Social media is particularly bad with regards to this.  Because it gives people the illusion that everyone they know believes something or knows something when in reality they are just repeating mass media narratives that they know nothing about and haven't thought about other than to give official sources the benfit of the doubt.  A feature of human psychology that is natural and helpful in normal situations is hijacked.   

    Sometimes, when I read unusual opinions or beliefs in multiple places and start to take them more seriously, I sometime wonder whether if I'm fooling myself and it's just the hall of mirrors effect.  It's worth taking into consideration, but I think it is definitely far less than with leftist content.  Bruce Charlton has a post which I haven't been able to find again where he writes that left-wing bloggers are pretty much interchangeable.  It's not about expressing their individual beliefs or knowledge, it's about advancing the narrative.  By constrast, non-leftists think about what they write for themselves.  So, even if an idea comes from a single source, different people will write about it with different analyses and may agree but via different lines of thought.  

    Before the invention and proliferation of mass media, the hall of mirrors effect was far less common.  But at this point, when so much of our information comes second hand, it's good to think about from where the information originated. 

A relevant story

    This is a story from an article about the Russian Orthodox Saint John Maximovitch.  It's somewhat long, but I would recommend reading the whole thing.  Here was a story from the article, (which was originally written in 2012).  The relevance to the present time is apparent:

    "Vladyka's [John Maximovitch] constant attention to self-mortification had its root in the fear of God, which he possessed in the tradition of the ancient Church and of Holy Russia.  The following incident, told by O. Skopichenko and confirmed by many from Shanghai, well illustrates his daring, unshakable faith in Christ.  'Mrs. Menshikova was bitten by a mad dog.  The injections against rabies she either refused to take or took carelessly ... And then she came down with this terrible disease.  Bishop John found out about it and came to the dying woman.  He gave her Holy Communion, but just then she began having one of the fits of this disease; she began to foam at the mouth, and at the same time she spit out the Holy Gifts which she had just received.  The Holy Sacrament cannot be thrown out.  So, Vladyka picked up and put in his mouth the Holy Gifts vomited by the sick woman.  Those who were with him exclaimed: 'Vladyka, what are you doing!  Rabies is terribly contagious!'  But Vladyka peacefully answered:  'Nothing will happen; these are the Holy Gifts.'  And indeed nothing did happen.' "

    This is an incredible story.  I do not have much to add except that Christians (including those who do not formally canonize saints or who are not Orthodox (for instance, I myself am a Roman Catholic)) should think seriously about the beliefs and actions of those who are exemplars of their faith.  Even if we are not at their level, we can learn from them.  For instance, not everyone needs to or can go out into the desert and become a hermit, but the fact that such people did exist and the nature of their actions gives us much food for thought.

Metaphysical Voting

    One of Bruce Charlton's classic posts is "The evils of voting."  In this post, Charlton argues that there is no reason that voting should be a "gold standard" of making decisions: 

    "Where did people get the idea that voting was an acceptable - let alone the best and only, way to make decisions?  
    
... 

    There is no magic about majority voting, no 'wisdom of crowds', no place for the operation of divine or individual inspiration - neither the safety-first gut-feeling veto of requiring unanimous and full community assent to change, nor for the inspirational decisiveness of the gifted individual to lead the consenting (or acquiesing) group on the basis of superior wisdom, insight, foresight.

... 

    To rely on majority voting is fundamentally unserious; it is to regard life as essentially soft and sustaining, to regard life as unreal and something not requiring of us correct decisions and right behavior."

    I agree with this post, that there is nothing intrinsically good about voting.  It is just one method among many of making decisions; in some situations it is good, in others it is not.  Voting works best when used among a relatively small number of well-informed and honest individuals to force decisions, where something needs to be decided, but the decisions are only of small or moderate importance.  
    
    In the post, Charlton also mentions that a two-thirds majority makes more sense than a simple numerical majority because in this case those who agree outnumber those who disagree by two to one.  One could also imagine this principle being applied to an organization such that nothing can be decided by voting unless there is a two-thirds majority.  

    It is also mentioned that voting can fool human beings:

    "We hoodwink human psychology by forcing pre-commitment to the unknown outcome of majority voting as intrinsically correct."

    Even though in actuality, voting is not the same as making a specific decision, psychologically, the act of voting causes people to feel invested in the process as if they did agree. 
        
    In addition to political voting, however, people also vote by their actions, which determines what kind of society one lives in.  And this is somewhat analogous to voting because these actions are aggregated to influence people's lives.  But unlike voting, it is not one vote per individual because the influence of some matters more than others, also, one can "vote" multiple times depending on one's choices.  In some respects they may even cancel out.  
    
    But even apart the material effects, I believe that our actions and thoughts are a kind of metaphysical voting.  If we really want something, and act according to that desire, then we are metaphysically voting for that which we desire.  But if we get it, it may be as the thing really is, not as we imagined it.  
    
    This also relates to prayer, prayer is a kind of metaphysical voting as well.  One might think of the natural question "God already knows what we need, so why do we have to ask?"  I believe one reason is that by asking, one is making an active investment of will.  

    Like voting by action, metaphysical voting is not "one man, one vote" either.  For example, the "vote" of a saintly hermit, i.e., his prayers and actions, has a far greater effect on his society than those of an ordinary person.  Not only because of his virtue, but also because such a hermit is more closely aligned with God and Creation, so he would know better what to vote for, so to speak.    
    
    This relates somewhat to the peck.  In an article from a Greek Orthodox hieromonk transcribed in this post by William James Tychonievich, there is a suggestion that there will eventually be seven pecks.  I can't say whether the number is literally true, but this goes along with the concept of metaphysical voting.  Many people have received the peck without fully thinking through what it means.  But the side of evil does not want that; they don't just want people to receive the peck, they want people to identify with it.  Their goal is that with each further dose, people will with increasing consciousness metaphysically vote for a worse world.   

    However, and this is the importance of metaphysical voting, one can always cast a vote for the side of good.  And things can always be better.  Consider the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:8-15: 

    "And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise.  And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: 'Where art thou?'  And he said: ''I heard thy voice in paradise; and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.  

    And he said to him: 'And who hath told thee that thou wast naked, but that thou hast eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat?' And Adam said: 'The woman, whom thou gavest me to be my companion, gave me of the tree, and I did eat.'  And the Lord God said to the woman: 'Why hast thou done this?'  And she answered: 'The serpent deceived me, and I did eat.'

    And the Lord God said to the serpent: 'Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and the beasts of the earth: upon thy breasts shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. 

    I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.'  "

    When God spoke to them, rather than acknowledging that they had done wrong and repenting, Adam and Eve each tried to deflect the blame from themselves.  And they could have even repented before that, if they had gone to meet God rather than hiding themselves.  Of course, the story does not say what would have happened then, but we can speculate that things would have been better.  There would still have been a great price to pay, but things would not have been so bad.  

    And there are many situations in this world where even if things are bad, even if much that is bad cannot be averted, the end result can be much better by making the right decision at the right time.  
 
    And for this reason I do not believe that there should be enmity between the pecked and the unpecked.  Certainly, one should interact as little as possible with those who believe in and enforce the current totalitarianism.  Discernment along these lines is always necessary.  By all means, let there be enmity between human beings and the serpent, between those of us on Earth and the "rulers of this present darkness."  But for one own family, or close friends, or even acquaintances who mean one no harm, there is no reason for such.  

    The more that cast a ballot for God and Creation (and there are many ways to do this), even if they supported this totalitarianism before, the better things will be spirituallly, and I believe, materially as well.

Some thoughts on the Fermi Paradox

    The Fermi Paradox is the idea that despite the large number of stars (and hence, presumably planets), we have so far not seen indications of life on another planet.  The linked encyclopedia article lists four points: 

    "There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are similar to the Sun, many of which are billions of years older than Earth.  

    With high probability, some of these stars will have Earth-like planets, and if the Earth is typical, some might develop intelligent life. 

    Some of these civilizations might develop interstellar travel, a step the Earth is investigating now. 

    Even at the slow pace of currently envisioned interstellar travel, the Milky Way galaxy could be completely traversed in a few million years."

    The first point is true and the second is reasonable.  In fact, with the Kepler telescope, it was found that there were indeed many planets orbiting stars.  But the third and fourth points are much more of a leap.  

    The article itself says: 

    "While the current understanding of physics rules out the possibility of faster-than-light travel, it appears that there are no major theoretical barriers to the construction of 'slow' interstellar ships, even though the engineering required is considerably beyond our present capabilities."

    To begin with, if one wanted to build an interstellar spaceship (even travelling slower than light), it would have to be completely self-sufficient, since there would be no resources to rely on.  (Unless someone figured out a way to collect and synthesize abient matter in space or to stop on another planet or asteroid with resources).  Nonetheless, the standards for self-sufficiency are much higher than the meaning of that phrase on Earth.  Furthermore, there must be some way to maintain and repair the vehicle over a period of hundreds or thousands (or even millions of years).  

    Even an unmanned interstellar probe would either have to be constructed so as to last for thousands upon thousands of years or be self-repairing in some way.  Even if a civilization made it its mission to send out vast numbers of probes, once the probes drift far enough away from the civilization and each other after millions of years, one might end up with widely separated, inert pieces of space debris, rather than probes that fill up the galaxy.      

    This is a similar situation to the use of models involving randomness and probability.  Probability is useful in modelling certain situations, but it is a huge leap to go from that to suggest that it can model everything.  Likewise, science and engineering have caused immense changes on Earth, yet there is no justification to go from "science can do a lot" to "science can do anything".  

    This is not to say that interstellar spacecraft are impossible, in fact, I do believe they are could be built.  One could perhaps classify the Voyager probes as such.  But in practice the task may be so difficult that it never occurs.  

    Beyond the practical issue, however, is the contrast between different worldviews concerning the purpose of life in the universe.    

    One view is that the universe is something like a bunch of blocks to be rearranged and that it's just a matter of figuring out how to do this.  Furthermore, according to this view, the natural and obvious purpose for a civilization is to use technology to colonize and spread throughout the galaxy. 

    The other view says that life is in this universe for a spiritual purpose and its ultimate destiny lies outside the material universe.  Technology is something that is possible and is allowed, but the constant advancement of technology is not the driving principle of the universe.  

    One way to illustrate the different ways of thinking is to consider two different ways of envisioning an intelligence beyond the human.  In the present day, this is frequently a computer or machine.  It exceeds human intelligence by speed and efficiency.  In the Middle Ages, the idea of a superhuman intelligence was an angel, which was viewed as exceeding human thinking in the opposite way.  Rather than processing faster than humans, there is no processing going on at all.  An angel was envisioned as having a purely intuitive mind, so while a human being might need to find the truth by laborious reasoning, an angel would jump directly to the truth by insight alone.

    From the first point of view, the Fermi paradox is indeed a paradox.  But according to the second, it is not at all.  Beings on each planet are incarnated for different reasons and the reason planets are far apart is so that there can be no interference between them.  In this case, the universe is constructed according to principles that at the most fundamental level bear more resemblance to what we would call the mental or the spiritual than to the physical.  In that case, technology is just one aspect, rather than being the be all and end all of a civilization's existence.

    Jacob dreamed of many angels going up and down a ladder, yet even in the Bible, appearances of angels are few and far between.  Might not some of them have been going to other planets?

    As far as my personal beliefs go, due to considerations about the vast number of stars and the plausible existence of many planets, I do believe that there are beings on other planets, some of whom we would call intelligent.  They might be very strange, however.  Tolkien has some interesting ideas in his Notion Club Papers, which envisions a planet of something like living metal, tended by some sort of incorporeal elves, a planet inhabited by living crystal, and a planet made as the realization of an act of contemplation.  (Some of these passages are quoted in this post).  

    However, I do not think that there will ever be widespread interstellar travel as envisioned in the Fermi paradox because I do not believe that is not what the universe is for.  Though I could certainly imagine solar systems with multiple inhabited planets and travel between those.  

Civilization, Barbarism, and Development

     Bonald's post "What cultural diversity among the savages doesn't tell us" opens by discussing an objection posed by relativists to the idea that the organization of traditional Western society is natural.  In particular, that monogamy and the traditional roles of men and women in society is natural.  Relativists point to primitive societies which are arranged differently and conclude that since the values of traditional Western society are not universal, they must not be natural.  

        But in addition to the relativist argument that simply because different societies exist, they show that culture is relative, there is another challenge, which is that because societies that are organized differently are primitive, they are in some sense more fundamental than traditional Western culture.  This leads to a different kind of challenge, i.e. are that the values of traditional Western culture just an artifact of a particular kind of society or are they more fundamental than that?

        Bonald answers the first challenge with an intersting statement:  

    "As an Aristotelian, I believe that it's the complete, perfected state of a substance that most clearly manifests that substance's essence, its intelligible principle, rather than the immature states.  If you want to understand human nature, look first at civilized man."

    But this also relates to the second challenge as well.  If primitive societies are less realized versions of less primitive societies, then the social organization of the less primitive societies is better.  

    I think there's definitely something in Bonald's statement.  To the extent that societies come about because of spiritual impulses (and spiritual does not necessarily mean good, if we consider those societies that engaged in mass human sacrifice), then they are in touch with a more fundamental reality and are not just artifacts of an arbitary form of social organization.  

    Another way to consider this relates to the idea of the evolutionary development of consciousness and how it relates to society.  Rudolf Steiner had the idea that apes are devolved men.  Or, more precisely, the physical body of both human beings and apes originated as some kind of primate, which was neither man nor ape, but possessed the potentiality for either of them.  Those members of that species which developed spiritually humanlike qualities became more human, while those who became more bestial developed into apes.  

    So, there developed a further split between the two lineages.  And it is not just Steiner who said something like this.  William James Tychonievich brought a theory to my attention (in the comments of this post) that, rather than human beings evolving from a chimpanzee-like ancestor, gorillas and chimps may have degenerated from a more human-like ancestor.  This also relates to the idea of evolution having a spiritual characteristic.  In that evolutionary change partly comes about by the response of species to spiritual impulses.  Lamarck may have been onto something, in a spiritual sense.  

    Perhaps something similar might happen with societies.  At some point they reach a "fork in the road", where further continuation along the same lines is no longer possible.  Those who continue forward along the path evolve towards a different kind of society, while those who do not can only degenerate.  

    So, while some primitive societies may simply be more or less stable (like certain tribes in the Amazon) perhaps others are only primitive in the sense of their material circumstances, while they have in fact degenerated from a prior phase.  This might explain some strange behaviors like cannibalism and manifestations of non-biological sexuality; they were not there originally, but have come about after a period of degeneration.  Like Steiner's theory about apes and men, the prior phase would have been less sophisticated both in terms of cruelty and goodness.  

    For those that did successfully move to the new civilization that does not mean that the new social arrangement will be a paradise; they will have their own problems, with new possibilities for bad and good, but they will have evaded the fate of those who did not move forward.  


What lies behind the laws of nature?

     In his post Phantom arrivals, William James Tychonievich writes about the phenomenon of people experiencing other people or objects arriving at their house some time before they actually arrive.  Read that post before reading what follows to get the full context.  

    What I find interesting is that the phenomenon described in this post is that they seem to happen spontaneously.  No one is trying to make them happen; they just occur.  And also, while strange, they are not dramatic, but concern everyday events, such as ordering a book or a battery.  In some places, they even seem to be quite frequent; Tychonievich quotes the following from a book by Rupert Sheldrake: 

    "This hearning of sounds in advance is well known in northern Scandinavia, as I discussed in Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home. In Norway there is even a special name for the phenomenon, vardøger, which literally means 'warning soul.'  Typically, someone at home hears a person walking or driving up to the house, coming in, and hanging up his coat.  Yet nobody is there.  Some ten to thirty minutes later the person really arrives to similar sounds.  People get used to it.  Housewives put the kettle on as the vardøger arrives, knowing their husbands will arrive soon.

    Professor Georg Hygen, of Oslo University, investigated dozens of recent cases, and published an entire book on this subject.  He concluded that the phenomonon is not so much a pre-echo of what will happen in the future, but is related to a person's intentions.  For one thing, the sounds are not always identical to those heard in advance.  A person might be heard going up to the bedroom, whereas when he arrives he goes into the kitchen.  Moreover, the vardøger phenomenon can still occur when a person does not in fact arrive, having changed his mind."

    The line "people get used to it", particularly caught my attention.  Here we have an event that, while still paranormal, happens often enough that it becomes familiar. 

    I find the theory of telepathy in the second paragraph fairly convincing, but there may also be other things going on as well.  The vardøger could be precognitive if one believes (as I do) that the future can be partially forseen, but is not entirely predetermined.  I believe it is more like hearing someone's plans for the next day, rather than looking ahead in a book to what is already there.  So, the precognition is not an exact copy of the events that subsequently occur, but an indication of an intention.  And it may be that telepathy and precognition are also related on some level.  

    Another possibility, relates to the philosophical idea that when angels are present in a particular location, unless they take on a body, they are not present in the same sense as human beings are because they are not physical.  An angel's presence is more analogous to focusing one's mind on a location than being there physically.  A similar thing could be said of ghosts.  Based on reading and thinking about the matter, I believe that there are probably multiple kinds of ghosts: one might be a kind of energy that is sometimes left behind after death, another might be a projection from the thoughts or emotions of a person, and the last would be the soul of the individual detached from the body.  And the last kind could be present in a non-physical way related to the soul of the person thinking about or remembering some location.  

    Thus, the vardøger could be, in addition to telepathy, that the person traveling to a location is present there in some non-physical sense while they are thinking about returning home and focusing on the location.  

    In some ways paranormal events of this kind seem similar to rainbows, magnetism, or static electricity.  In the past these were probably thought of by some people are curios, interesting events that happened occasionally.  But now we know that there were glimpses of a broader understanding of nature.  Likewise, I believe that the vardøger and related phenomena provide glimses of laws that underlie the physical laws of nature but are themselves non-physical - more like mental.  Though I do not think they are the deepest level or that they are truly spiritual.  (William Wildblood has written some about this level of reality on his blog, referring to it as the psychic plane).

    I use the word laws because I think that these mental laws are regularities, that they are chaotic.  But, they are not regular in a sense that would make them easy to predict, i.e., they are not mechanical.  Also, I do not believe there will ever be a science of these laws, both because they are non-mechanical and difficult to discern and because fallen human beings are prohbited from fully understanding these matters for their own good and the good of others.  

The Influence of the Subliminal

     In C.S. Lewis's memoir Surprised by Joy, he writes: 

    "Then I read Chesterton's Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense.  Somehow I contrived not to be too badly shaken.  You will remember that I already thought Chesterton the most sensible man alive 'apart from his Christianity'.  Now, I veritably believe, I thought - I didn't of course say; words would have revealed the nonsense - that Christianity itself was very sensible 'apart from its Christianity'."

    This is a significant insight of Lewis's: that there are some beliefs which become ridiculous once articulated.  Another way to say this is that there are certain ideas that are not believed by argument but because they are propagated subliminally.  But, once stated, it is clear that these beliefs are false.  

    Many of the most powerful and pervasive ideas in the modern world are of this nature.  In his recent post "Do you want Heaven, or the other place, or nothing?  Childhood - Single Adulthood - Marriage/Parenthood", Bruce Charlton articulates what is held up as the goal of modern life: 

    "The potential of human existence is based-upon some version of an idealized young, single-adult life - involving some combination of wealth, power, freedom, high status, fame and attention, travel and leisure, excitement and comfort; lots of preferred-type sex with attractive others and without guilt, strings or recriminations ... 

Underpinned by our own beauty, sexuality, charm, intelligence, dominance, strength and fitness, perfect health and immunity to illness, disease and ageing."

    Of course, this goal is never actually stated explicitly by those who believe it.  No one believes this because they were argued into it; it is simply propagandized endlessly and the alternatives ignored, suppressed, attacked, and mocked.  The belief operates at a sub-rational, subliminal level.  What Charlton has articulated really is what people believe, but like Lewis admitted, if anyone was actually to admit this explicitly, it would be clear how pointless (not to mention impossible) it is as a life goal.  

    Another example relates to managerialism.  In the Middle Ages, theology was referred to as the Queen of the Sciences (science broadly conceived as any intellectual discipline).  By this, it was meant that theology was the central and primary intellectual discipline, the most fundamental and the most advanced, while the other subjects were the handmaidens of the Queen; their job was to serve theology by illuminating other areas of knowledge.  Over time, the science considered Queen of the sciences has changed.  In Ancient Greece (although they did not use that term), the Queen of the Sciences was philosophy; centuries later, the mathematician C.F. Gauss (1777-1855) famously said:

    "Mathematics is the queen of the sciences and number theory is the queen of mathematics.  She often condescends to render service to astronomy and other natural sciences, but in all relations she is entiteld to the first rank."

    while in the early to mid twentieth century, the Queen of the Sciences was considered by many to be theoretical physics.  In all of those cases, there was at least some justification for viewing these disciplines as the most fundamental and central disciplines (also taking into account that the meaning of science narrowed from intellectual disciplines in general to natural science from the Middle Ages to the modern era).  Currently however, the two candidates are either leftism ("studies", etc.), or managerialism.  

    Both of these are treated as if, to paraphrase Gauss, "they are entiteld to the first rank in all relations", i.e., as if these two subjects (I won't call them disciplines) have, by virtue of their superior position, the right and indeed the obligation to critique all other subjects.  To actually argue this would manifest its absurdity, since both of these subjects are obviously extremely light in intellectual content and it is also apparent that they are simply justifications for cultural subversion and bureaucratic takeover.  Thus, even though these two areas really are treated as the Queen of the Sciences, this is not because of any argument; the belief also operates on the subjective level.  

    Another example is the idea that if we just had the right bureaucratic procedures, then society would become a utopia.  And this is even taken further when it is assumed that not only can policies guarantee good, but anything bad that happens only happens either because a procedure was not in place or the procedure in place was flawed.  These assumptions are behind almost every media evaluation of any unfortunate circumstances and indeed, the entire birdemic response was based on these assuptions.  As with the other examples, if anyone was to actually try to argue this, it would be seen to be ridiculous, yet vast numbers of people speak and act as if they believe just that.  Once again the influence is below the rational level.  

    And people readily absorb beliefs in this form.  Large numbers of people are very adept at instictively taking up these assumptions, which underpin media and official communications where everything is always interpreted in light of these assumptions (although they are never spoken or argued for). 

    There are three ways out of this, corresponding to the division of human decision making into three parts: instinct, reasoning, and intuition.  One way is to have correct instincts and reject these assumptions and the actions based on them without any deliberation.  Pretty much everyone who lived before 1900 or so would fall into this category.  It's much harder now, for most of us, because we live in an environment where so much is built upon false and unnatural assumptions, so we have to consciously become aware of insticts which correspond to what is true and reject those which work with these false assumptions.  

    The second way is to explicitly articulate the assumptions and rationally perceive that they are untrue.  

    And the third way is to strengthen our intuition, by grounding our thinking in what is most good, true, and fundamental.  Although much of intuition operates unconsciously, it is not the same as instinct, because it is based on the spiritual truth about reality, rather than biology.  Both are natural, but one is higher than the other.  William Wildblood has written much about this topic, and has a good recent post on the intuition.  

    And these are not mutually exclusive; it is possible and good to use all three.  

Some Paintings from Joseph Wright of Derby

    Joseph Wright of Derby (1734 - 1797) lived through the era of the industrial revolution and the beginning of Romanticism.  I didn'...