Some thoughts on psychics

     William James Tychonievich has an interesting post "The influence of adjacent lines of text" about how when reading, nearby lines of text can cause the reader to misread a particular line.  He also has a fascinating idea: 

    "In this case, the misreading was almost immediately corrected, lingering just barely long enough to register consciously. I wonder how many similar mistakes we make, just below the threshold of consciousness, every time we read, and what subliminal psychological effects they might sometimes have. I wonder if such errors could be anticipated and even consciously designed and exploited — either as a poetic technique or for more sinister purposes."    

    A similar thing occurs when one misreads a particular word which then affects the meaning of a sentence.  The writer Gene Wolfe has said that he was reading a story where there was a line that said something like "the mountains are nice," but he read it as "the mountains are mice."  So, he started thinking about what that would mean and he ended up writing a story titled "The Mountains are Mice" where people do experiments in mountains, so the mountains are like lab mice.  

    Something similar has happened to me on a few occasions.  One time several years ago I was looking at classical music CDs and I read a title as "The Dalmation of Faust," though actually it was "The Damnation of Faust."  A few weeks ago, I was reading Bruce Charlton's blog and glanced over to the sidebar and read the title of my post "Some thoughts on physics" as "Some thoughts on psychics."  As it happens, I do have some thoughts about psychics.  

    I believe that precognition and clairvoyance can occur and have occurred in the past.  The mathematician Kurt Godel also believed in ESP and in particular, he thought that the large number of frauds distracted from the genuine cases.  Many people have had precognitive dreams, which become apparent after the fact.  William James Tychonievich records an interesting example here.  Others have had dreams which warn them of some danger.  There have also been examples of people who have seen events from a distance.  In 1759,  Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 - 1772) saw a fire in Stockholm while he was at a dinner party in Gothenburg and was able to describe features of the fire accurately.  Tycho Brahe had a jester named Jep, who was also supposed to be clairvoyant.  Here is an interesting quote from an 1890 biography of Brahe by John Louis Emil Dreyer: 

    "Two other inmates of Tycho’s house may also be mentioned here. One was a maid of the name of Live (or Liuva) Lauridsdatter, who afterwards lived with Tycho’s sister, Sophia, and later was a sort of quack-doctor at Copenhagen, where she also practised astrology, &c. She died unmarried in 1693, when she is said to have reached the ripe age of 124. The other was his fool or jester, a dwarf called Jeppe or Jep, who sat at Tycho’s feet when he was at table, and got a morsel now and then from his hand. He chattered incessantly, and, according to Longomontanus, was supposed to be gifted with second-sight, and his utterances were therefore listened to with some attention. Once Tycho had sent two of his assistants to Copenhagen, and on the day on which they were expected back the dwarf suddenly said during the meal,” See how your people are laving themselves in the sea.” On hearing this, Tycho, who feared that the assistants had been shipwrecked, sent a man to the top of the building to look out for them. The man came back soon after and said that he had seen a boat bottom upwards on the shore, and two men near it, dripping wet. … When any one was ill at Hveen, and the dwarf gave an opinion as to his chance of recovery or death, he always turned out to be right."

    So, it seems like some people do have the ability to be clairvoyant or predict things.  I am not a believer in determinism, so in this case I would understand predictions to be in the sense of forseeing a consequence of an action that has already been undertaken, though the actual way it may play out is not set in stone.  In addition, if the action is arrested, the future may change.   

    Nonetheless, the problem seems to come when people say "I am psychic," rather than, "I have had a psychic experience."  I think that underlying the physical laws of the universe, there are other principles that are not themselves physical and hence not mechanical.  So, they cannot be counted upon to work in the same way every time.  Clairvoyance is rare and those who can do it consistently are rare even among clairvoyants.  An interesting example of someone who seemed to be able to have insights consistently comes from the chapter "Suspicions of Something More" by Thomas V. Morris from the book God and the Philosophers: 

    "I married a wonderful young woman with sparkling eyes whom the reportedly psychic grandmother of a high school friend had once described to me many years before as my future wife, although we were not to meet until my junior year at college, and then I set myself to prepare at Yale for the sort of vocation this same remarkable older woman had told me I would follow, despite all my plans for a business career.  For someone unfamiliar with modern, logical, analytic philosophy of religion, her description of my future vocation in context was striking - 'something like science, only spiritual,' she had said.  During my graduate years, I studied the techniques of science to pursue topics of the spirit."

    In this case, I would view the prediction not as looking into the future as if it were a prerecorded video, but as being able to look into Morris's deepest wishes and goals and those of others (perhaps unknown to them) and make predictions from those.  Similar to how if one knows someone very well, it is possible to predict their behavior, though not in a mechanical way.   

    An analogy to psychic experiences can be made with writers.  I think writers can also be inspired by something beyond themselves and then they try to translate this into a story.  C.S. Lewis said that his stories began with pictures (the inspiration), which he then had to link together with invention.  Just as different writers have different amounts and kinds of inspiration, different psychics have different amounts and kinds of insight.      

    But, because it is not mechanical, when those who cannot do it on command try to force prediction or clairvoyant visions, it usually ends in falsity.  Also, if people use their gifts for the wrong reason, they will probably go away in that case as well.

Seeing the old in a new way

    I believe in the evolutionary development of consciousness, meaning that human consciousness has changed and evolved over time.  Further, I believe that the proper response to modernity is not to go back to an earlier stage, but to go through modernity by developing new ways of thinking.  But one thing I always try to do is to imagine what this would look like in detail.  How does it work?  

    One big way that I think this has happened through history is that people find new insights and new ways of understanding by looking at what is old through the lens of a new way of thinking.  

    One example is painting.  I believe that the history of painting in the 19th century shows the development of consciousness that Rudolf Steiner says took place in this time.  In the 19th century, there were many painters skilled in realism and detail, exemplified by such paintings as John Constable's 1825 Painting Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds:

    In his lecture, "Materialism and the Task of Anthroposophy," Steiner wrote: "It was in the middle and second half of the nineteenth century that materialism had its period of greatest development."  Whatever one's opinion of Rudolf Steiner, in many ways this was a century where the development of the physical was at a high point.  And we can understand the physical more broadly to mean the objective world, as well as skills in arts and crafts and manufacturing.  This was also the heydey of the naturalistic and realistic novel.  

    Then, with impressionism, we see something change.  The artist now attempts to depict the impression of a scene.  Painting moves inward to show the subjective.  An example is Alfred Sisley's View of the Canal Saint-Martin: 

    This matches the development outlined by Steiner.  After the high point of materialistic consciousness in the 19th century, human beings were supposed to move towards a consciousness that recognized the reality of the spiritual.  But, there are two crucial points.  This new consciousness would not recapitulate the old, where the spiritual was perceived by the senses.  Instead the spiritual would be perceived in consciousness.  Furthermore, this new development must be chosen, it cannot be forced. 

    It is only natural that such a development would be expressed in art.  Another way of development in art is using modern realistic painting techniques to render the legendary or mythical.  If you think about it, this is taking the legendary or mythic and recasting not as foggy or vague, but taking it up with the rational consciousness.  A good example is Frederick Sandys's painting Queen Eleanor

    where a medieval queen is depicted, but in such a detailed way that it is like we are seeing her in person.  Both of the developments in painting were also reflected in novels.  The move towards the subjective is reflected in writers like Dostoevsky with the psychological novel, while the depiction of the legendary in a modern manner by fantasy and other imaginative fiction.     

    Another example is critical history, the view of history as a science.  Yesterday I was reading an encyclopedia article about "Isaac Newton's Occult Studies."  The article discussed how Newton studied Biblical prophecy, ancient chronology, and the sacred geometry of the Temple of Solomon.  The article states: 

    "As a Bible scholar, Newton was initially interested in the sacred geometry of Solomon's Temple, such as golden sections, conic sections, spirals, orthographic projection, and other harmonious constructions, but he also believed that the dimensions and proportions represented more. He noted that the temple's measurements given in the Bible are mathematical problems, related to solutions for \pi and the volume of a hemisphere, V = (2/3)\pi r^3, and in a larger sense that they were references to the size of the Earth and man's place and proportion to it.    

  In all three of these areas, Newton is applying modern critical historical and scientific thinking towards the Bible and other ancient sources.  I am not endorsing any of Newton's conclusions on these matters, but his example shows how what we have here is an attempt to tease out new knowledge from old sources by applying new ways of thinking to them.  As a whole, I think the project of critical, rational history has provided many insights.  One being chronology.  Even as late as Newton's day, the dates of many ancient historical events were not known accurately.  We have been able to order and catalogue the years of many events and so gain new insights into history.  

    Yet another example is Plato and the Neo-Platonists.  Many modern scholars dismiss the Neo-Platonists who added to Plato's teachings.  However, the impression  I get is that some of the Neo-Platonists themselves would say that everything they teach was already in Plato.  And this was characteristic of ancient people.  When something was indeed a new development, they would say that it was contained in the original all along.  

    To stick with the Greeks, the Greek approach to mathematics was truly something new.  They learned mathematics from the Egyptians and Chaldeans, but recast the earlier discoveries in a new light by looking on them not just as facts, but as theorems, statements to be proven.  No doubt the earlier civilizations had reasoning they used to arrive at their conclusions, the Greeks made a study of proof and thereby brought forth a new development in mathematics. 

    One last example is J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  Both of them wanted to write stories that would incorporate what they loved from mythology.  But they did not simply rewrite myths.  Tom Shippey has written in The Road to Middle Earth that The Lord of the Rings is in some ways very different from an ancient story such as Beowulf.  Frodo's quest to destroy the One Ring forces him to do battle in a subtle manner very different from the out and out confrontation of Beowulf with Grendel.  Tolkien recognized that he could not actually live and think as a man of the past and did not try to.  He took up what was good from the past into his own consciousness and brought forth something completely new but that was still an organic development from what had come before.  

    Likewise, in Lewis's That Hideous Strength, angels and Merlin exist alongside a technocratic organization.  In this book and the others in his Space Trilogy, Lewis gives much thought to how such things might appear in the modern world and how modern people might think of them. 

    One reason why this way of bringing forth something new is is good is because it is development rather than mere change.  When an acorn grows into an oak, this is a dramatic shift, but it follows nature rather than going against it.  An organic development does not destroy the past to bring forth something new.  Thus, this is one way forward for us.  It has been used by ancient and modern people.  If we want to move forwards in consciousness,  is we can take something good from the past and try to develop what is good in it in a new way.

Thomas Browne and Individuality

     In this post, I want to expand on my previous post on Thomas Browne.  Browne is a good example of individuality in two ways: religion and life. 

    Christianity is a religion that presupposes individual choice.  Unlike a tribal religion which people are born into and are a member of simply by virtue of being part of the tribe, Christianity must be consciously chosen, at least by the first generation of converts.  After this, people can be born into a Christian culture, and their religious practice becomes less consciously chosen.  For many centuries, an important aspect of Christianity was obedience to authority, whether this be the authority of local Christian leaders or the doctrines of a Church.  

    Now, we are in an era where, by necessity, Christian practice must be chosen individually.  For example, the choice to join or remain a member of any particular denomination or to not join any denomination.  Or what religious practices to participate in.  This individual aspect will express itself in different ways for different people.   

    Browne is intermediate between this fundamentally individualistic Christianity and the older societal Christianity.  For example, he writes in Religio Medici:

    "In philosophy, where truth seems double-faced, there is no man more paradoxical than myself: but in divinity I love to keep the road; and, though not in an implicit, yet an humble faith, follow the great wheel of the church, by which I move; not reserving any proper poles, or motion from the epicycle of my own brain. By this means I have no gap for heresy, schisms, or errors, of which at present, I hope I shall not injure truth to say, I have no taint or tincture. I must confess my greener studies have been polluted with two or three; not any begotten in the latter centuries, but old and obsolete, such as could never have been revived but by such extravagant and irregular heads as mine. "

    One of these "heresies" was: 

"A third there is, which I did never positively maintain or practise, but have often wished it had been consonant to truth, and not offensive to my religion; and that is, the prayer for the dead; whereunto I was inclined from some charitable inducements, whereby I could scarce contain my prayers for a friend at the ringing of a bell, or behold his corpse without an orison for his soul."  

    In other words, Browne had believed in the efficacy of prayer for the dead, but changed his mind in accordance with what he regarded as proper belief.  

    Browne also writes: 

    "But, to difference myself nearer, and draw into a lesser circle; there is no church whose every part so squares unto my conscience, whose articles, constitutions, and customs, seem so consonant unto reason, and, as it were, framed to my particular devotion, as this whereof I hold my belief—the Church of England; to whose faith I am a sworn subject, and therefore, in a double obligation, subscribe unto her articles, and endeavour to observe her constitutions"

    This paragraph encapsulates the two aspects of belief.  On the hand, Browne writes that he is a "sworn subject" of the Church of England and obeys the beliefs of that church.  But, his justification is his conscience, "particular devotion," and "reason."  In other words, Browne obeys the Church of England based on his individual judgement. 

    Although Browne rejected prayer for the dead because he believed it was heretical, Browne believed in guardian angels.  He wrote in his book Christian Morality

"'Tis better to think that there are Guardian Spirits, than that there are no Spirits to Guard us"

    In this case, he is believing based on individual discernment not authority.  

    As an upstanding man of his time Browne obeyed Church authority, but he also spent much time trying to understand and learn about religion as an individual.  I would say that his heart was more on the individual side than the authority side.  In my previous post, I called Browne a proto-Romantic Christian, meaning that was similar to but proceeded the lineage that Bruce Charlton has drawn up, consisting of Blake, Coleridge, Chesterton, etc.  Bruce Charlton made a good point in a comment saying: 

    "Proto-romantic? Well, nothing comes from nowhere, so there is always some kind of transition. But I find the spirit of Browne to be very different from that of the romantics. He is so measured and moderate - a bit more like a renaissance humanist type, or Montaigne.

I find him more like the end of an era (late, late medieval) than the beginning of a new.

    After thinking this over, the term proto-Romantic is somewhat misleading.  Charlton is right that Browne was not a Romantic but rather was of the Renaissance/ Medieval period in terms of his outlook on life.  Perhaps I should call him an individualist Christian.  

    In addition to religion, Browne provides a good example of developing one's individuality in life.  I believe, following Bruce Charlton, Rudolf Steiner, and Owen Barfield, that one task for modern human beings is to develop individually.  But it is difficult to imagine in detail what this would look like.  Some people can develop their individuality by being geniuses: great thinkers, artists, or leaders, but for most of us that is simply not possible.  But also, individuality by its nature is dependent on what is within the individual, not on impact compared to other people.  

    Following from this belief that modern human beings have a task to develop certain qualities, I believe that many of the negative developments of the past two centuries are perversions of good impulses.  For instance, in this day and age, development of real individuality has been replaced by fake individuality.  Celebrity is a good example of this.  Rather than developing according to one's own deepest good motivations, the idea is to adopt a persona and then to have that persona be singled out above other people.  So, being an individual has become redefined as being singled out, being "special," developing a persona rather than the true self.  

    Thomas Browne provides a good example of what real individuality looks like.  He was a man with a wide range of interests, some rather obscure.  But this was no mere eccentricity or contrarianism, being different for the sake of being different.  I believe Browne's writings and studies arose organically, from his genuine interests.  As an example, here are the titles of some of his works: 

The Garden of Cyrus, or The Quincuncial Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered (1658)

Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or, a Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns lately found in Norfolk

Psedudodoxia Epidemica, or Enquiries into Common and Vulgar Errors

On Dreams 

On Bubbles 

On Tobacco 

On Echoes 

Observations on frogs 

Observations on eggs

On fossil remains in Norfolk 

Account of a thunderstorm

Upon the darke thicke miste

    Two other examples of real individuality are these posts from Bruce Charlton: "Creativity and hobbies" and "Making an Irish sandwich." One important thing about real individuality and real hobbies is that they aren't about anything other than themselves.  They are done for their own sake and arise spontaneous out of one's good motivations.  

Thomas Browne, proto-Romantic Christian

    Bruce Charlton has written a post: "The lineage of Romantic Christianity in England (a sort-of manifesto: a testimony)" which examines the development of Charlton's idea of Romantic Christianity through time, starting with William Blake.  Thomas Browne (1605 - 1682), a physician and writer is another figure who fits into this lineage.  

    His most famous book Religio Medici (in English, "The Religion of a Doctor") is a discursive exploration of religion and discusses many matters.  Browne was a faithful member of the Church of England, but his faith had a strong individual component.  This was not mere eccentricity or idle speculation, but something that flows from the desire to understand.  I will let the man speak for himself about this:

    "But, to difference myself nearer, and draw into a lesser circle; there is no church whose every part so squares unto my conscience, whose articles, constitutions, and customs, seem so consonant unto reason, and, as it were, framed to my particular devotion, as this whereof I hold my belief—the Church of England; to whose faith I am a sworn subject, and therefore, in a double obligation, subscribe unto her articles, and endeavour to observe her constitutions: whatsoever is beyond, as points indifferent, I observe, according to the rules of my private reason, or the humour and fashion of my devotion; neither believing this because Luther affirmed it, nor disproving that because Calvin hath disavouched it. I condemn not all things in the council of Trent, nor approve all in the synod of Dort. In brief, where the Scripture is silent, the church is my text; where that speaks, ’tis but my comment; where there is a joint silence of both, I borrow not the rules of my religion from Rome or Geneva, but from the dictates of my own reason."


    "’Tis true, that men of singular parts and humours have not been free from singular opinions and conceits in all ages; retaining something, not only beside the opinion of his own church, or any other, but also any particular author; which, notwithstanding, a sober judgment may do without offence or heresy; for there is yet, after all the decrees of councils, and the niceties of the schools, many things, untouched, unimagined, wherein the liberty of an honest reason may play and expatiate with security, and far without the circle of a heresy."

    I find Thomas Browne to be a very sympathetic figure.  Like the other true Romantic Christians, he did not speculate about religious matters to undermine faith.  Indeed, one of his books, Christian Morality was written specifically for the education of his children.  He wanted them to learn to be moral.  Browne writes in this book: 

    "Live by old Ethicks and the classical Rules of Honesty. Put no new names or notions upon Authentick Virtues and Vices. Think not that Morality is Ambulatory; that Vices in one age are not Vices in another; or that Virtues, which are under the everlasting Seal of right Reason, may be Stamped by Opinion. And therefore though vicious times invert the opinions of things, and set up a new Ethicks against Virtue, yet hold thou unto old Morality; and rather than follow a multitude to do evil, stand like Pompey’s pillar conspicuous by thyself, and single in Integrity. And since the worst of times afford imitable Examples of Virtue; since no Deluge of Vice is like to be so general but more than eight will escape; Eye well those Heroes who have held their Heads above Water, who have touched Pitch, and not been defiled, and in the common Contagion have remained uncorrupted." 

   Many who write about Thomas Browne talk about his style and although Browne writes in an idiosyncratic fashion, I do not believe it is a "style" in the sense of a self-consciously adopted accoutrement to his writing.  Rather, Browne is guiding you through his thinking.  I find Browne's style easier to read than many modern biographies which are so jam-packed with details it is difficult to know which to focus on.  By contrast, Thomas Browne helps the reader think with him.

    Here is a picture of Thomas Browne and his wife, Dorothy Browne: 


     Paraphrased from a certain encyclopedia: notice that Dorothy is looking towards the viewer, while Thomas stares into the distance, thinking about something else.  It was said that Dorothy Browne was: "a lady of such a symmetrical proportion to her worthy husband, both in the graces of her body and mind, that they seemed to come together by a kind of natural magnetism."

AI and Materialism

     Recently I read John C. Wright's series of posts about artificial intelligence called "The Cabinet of Wisdom."  This topic is connected with many others such as science, materialism, and the connection of the mind to the body.  Richard Cocks of the Orthosphere also has several good posts on these topics as well: "Godel's Theorem", "the Halting Problem", and "AI and the Dehumanization of Man."  This post was inspired by those posts but is not a response to any of them.

    In this post, I am using the term "artificial intelligence" to mean mimicking human behavior by a machine.  In theory, I believe AI could be developed to a greater degree than it currently is, in the sense that a great deal of human behavior could, in principle, be mimicked.  However, I do not believe that this will actually happen.  One reason is the absence of scientific geniuses.  Translating human behavior into a form such that it can be imitated by a machine requires creative genius.  

    But not only that, genius requires strong motivation and I think AI has reached a point now that very few geniuses would be really motivated to work on it.  Deliberately trying to design a machine so that you can replace human workers is literally dehumanizing work.  Most scientific geniuses have historically been motivated by a desire to understand nature, not to replace it with something worse.  Presumably an evil genius who was paid well and expected power or social prestige would work on such a project, but the vast majority of geniuses simply would not or even if forced to do so would not have the motivation to perform genius level work.  

    Furthermore, artificial intelligence is such a difficult task that it would require multiple geniuses working together and making breakthroughs that build on each other.  It would also be necessary to have many people at the other high levels of the "pyramid of technology" such as the creative and intelligent "sub-geniuses" as well as skilled technicians.  Yet, exactly what has declined since the 1970s is this kind of organized science.  In the modern world, we have had multiple geniuses working on projects that support each other.  And this is exactly what you need for the really big projects, like the Manhattan Project or the Moon Landing.  But, from a historical perspective, this is a rare phenomenon.  Most scientific geniuses worked either alone or with a few collaborators (possibly separated by large geographic distances).  And I believe that this is what the science of the future will return to.  How far AI development will progress, I am not sure, but it will not go anywhere near as far as its proponents believe it will. 

    But there are other issues at the theoretical level.  Every development of artificial intelligence and computers requires human intelligence.  The fact that computers are as sophisticated as they are now doesn't prove that machines can think; it proves that human beings can design machines to perform many functions.  The human intelligence and creativity is the motive force behind the development.  The machines do nothing spontaneously; they only do what they have been designed to do.  So, even though the issue is presented as something that dispenses with human consciousness, that is mere philosophical sleight of hand: the human beings are there, they have simply been moved offstage.  

    I do not believe that true artificial intelligence, that is, a self-aware machine, is actually possible because I believe the mind and body are connected by a spiritual means.  It is a top-down, not bottom up process.  Valentin Tomberg says something suggestive of this in his book Meditations on the Tarot: 

    "matter is only condensed energy and energy is only 'condensed' consciousness"

    But there is another matter related to artificial intelligence.  Many proponents of it will make arguments of this type, "Just you wait, we'll build an AI and then you'll have to believe."  Now, as a theoretical argument, this has no force whatsoever.  The fact that a machine can be made to mimic human behavior does not mean that the machine is thinking.  However, this type of argument is psychologically powerful.  The reason is that in our current age, we are forced to think mechanically and bureaucratically (at least some of the time) because of how our world is structured.  We are surrounded by machines that affect our lives in ways great and small and mechanical thinking is required of us, in ways both conscious and unconscious. 

     In contrast to materialist thinking which is embodied in the system of our world and presses upon us every day,  anti-materialist arguments are rather subtle: they cannot coerce, they can only persuade.  I have been wondering, why is that?  One reason is related to how scientific genius works.  Part of the power of scientific genius is that a scientific genius can perceive truths about nature and then translate them into a form that can be understood and used by the rational mind.  Both the initial perception and the translation are important.  I believe that the genius apprehends these truths by intuition (which may come after years of hard work) and then they filter down into the rational mind and can be set down on paper.  

    Once these truths are translated, they can be understood and used by non-geniuses.  However, it still requires a high level of thinking and understanding to make use of science.  Technology goes one step further.  It translates these scientific facts into machines that require minimal to no understanding or thinking to be used.  If technology convinces people that science is a correct description of reality, then what if someone could change the world by use of spiritual means, wouldn't that convince people the spiritual is real?  Could we imagine a "spiritual technology" to accomplish this? 

    Well, first of all, there would still be people who would explain everything away.  But even more than that, such a spiritual technology wouldn't really be spiritual in its motivation.  Many people would think of the immaterial as just one more thing to be manipulated to satisfy their desires.  And if misuse of science has led to disaster, misuse of spiritual power would be much, much worse.  Fallen human beings will never be permitted anything like that.  

    Another reason is that we must raise ourselves up to the spiritual, not try to bring it down to our level.  If we must raise ourselves up to know the spiritual, then we come to appreciate it, but if not, then we regard the spiritual as, to paraphrase a turn of phrase from John Fitzgerald, "a different part of Plato's cave."

    So, there are two questions before us: 

1. How can we know that materialism is false? 

2. How can we live out this truth?  

    To do 1. will be different for each person.  Since no argument can coerce, people must seek for themselves.  I have put forward one idea that has helped me in a previous post.  Another thing I found very helpful is C.S. Lewis's essay Transposition.  The was one of the first things I read that helped me understand how the immaterial could exist.  In this essay, Lewis explains that the immaterial does not displace the material, but acts through it.  Those who only look at the motions of matter will only see that but those who look to what is higher will be able to discern the true causes.  The immaterial is a higher dimension of reality, not simply unaccountable behavior of matter.

    For 2., we also have to find our own ways.  True religious practice, where we consciously think about and seek the spiritual is one means.  Another is primary thinking.  Galileo said that the book of nature was written in mathematics.  But imagine a different book, a deeper book written within Nature herself.  But this book cannot be translated into the lower mind.  We must raise ourselves up every time we want a glimpse.  But, the beauty of this book is that it can never be co-opted, as technology has been.  Let us develop Romantic Christianity and read that book, which is in Nature but goes beyond.

Some thoughts on Physics

      Bruce Charlton has written about the decline of science.  Probably his best book on that subject is The Genius Famine, where he argues that scientific geniuses have disappeared from the world, so big, qualitative breakthroughs have disappeared as well because geniuses are the only ones who can make them.  This is actually something we can see around us.  I am not a physicist, but it is interesting that the Nobel Prize awarded to Roger Penrose was for work he did in the 1960s.  In one of Eric Weinstein's videos, he said that fundamental physics has been stalled since the 1970s.  In The Genius Famine, the 1960s is when Charlton says scientific geniuses began disappearing.

    In one of Rudolf Steiner's lectures that I have been unable to find again, Steiner said that science will decline from physics on down.  If we look at fundamental physics this is what has happened: the people working on it are extremely intelligent, however, they have been unable to make a big breakthrough.  I believe there are a few things going on.  First, I think we have reached the limits of where intelligence alone can take us.  It might be that more creativity could discover something unexpected in physics.  But, as long as people think along the current paradigm we won't make more progress.  To progress in our understanding of the universe we need something as big as the change from astrology to astronomy but in the other direction. 

    Another reason for this is quantum physics.  Earlier this year, I read Richard Cock's post "Quantum Mechanics Again."  The commenter Mickvet wrote: 

"Bohr said that the quantum world is ‘not real’, Von Heisenberg that it was somewhere between potency and actuality. No physicist has ever produced a mathematical formula that describes or explains wave vector collapse. In other worlds, it has not been proven that the world we inhabit is a physical one. The notion that the matter we consist of is formed of electrons surrounding atomic nuclei and all these being the foundation of atoms, molecules and so on upwards has not been demonstrated. These only exist in potency and what happens when the wave vector collapses is unknown. It doesn’t matter what measuring device, or how many, (even an infinite regress) one uses, ultimately the decisive interpretation has to be by a consciousness. This is Wolfgang Smith’s interpretation and it seems plausible to me. If we can’t really prove the existence of a physical universe, it strikes me there’s not much point debating an effectively infinite series of them. Not to mention that equations might be wrong and the most straightforward interpretation of them not necessarily the correct one."

    I looked up Wolfgang Smith and watched a documentary about his life and views, The End of Quantum Reality.  As I understand it, the main idea is that the quantum world is less real than the world we experience.  This turns the mainstream scientific worldview on its head.  The idea of this view is that everything is composed of fundamental particles, so these particles are more real than what is composed of them.  Any composition is just an arrangement of particles and an arrangement is something abstract, not fundamentally real in the same sense as the particles.  

    However, according to Smith (and also Werner Heisenberg) quantum particles exist only potentially.  The best way I have seen this described is by Edward Feser who has written that the quantum realm is sub-natural; it is a level below nature.  In fact, this idea of the quantum realm bears a great deal of similarity to the prime matter of the Aristotelians and the prima materia of the alchemists; conceived as essentially chaos but pure potential.  Prime matter can take on any quality which is imposed on it.  But where do the qualities come from?  They are spiritual.  Think about it.  We perceive qualities (such as color) in our consciousness.  But the qualities (as we perceive them) are not in the physical descriptions of objects.  Edward Feser has quoted Bertrand Russell saying as much: 

    "It is not always realised how exceedingly abstract is the information that theoretical physics has to give.  It lays down certain fundamental equations which enable it to deal with the logical structure of events, while leaving it completely unknown what is the intrinsic character of the events that have the structure… All that physics gives us is certain equations giving abstract properties of their changes.  But as to what it is that changes, and what it changes from and to – as to this, physics is silent."

    This is one of the most powerful arguments I have seen against materialism: matter cannot organize itself.  When left to its own devices, it just disintegrates; that's entropy.  In order for matter to become organized, it must be acted upon from outside by the spiritual.  In fact, when the human mind observes a particle and forces it to take on a specific value, can we not view this as mind imposing form on matter.  So, if the human mind can do this on such a small scale, then may not far greater minds than ours do this on a much larger scale?  

    For example, physicists have theorized that the universe will eventually run down.  But, all this calculation says is that, this is what will happen if the universe is left to its own devices.  But who is to say it will be?  Thomas Browne discussed this eloquently in his Religio Medici

    "I believe the world grows near its end; yet is neither old nor decayed, nor will ever perish upon the ruins of its own principles. As the work of creation was above nature, so its adversary, annihilation; without which the world hath not its end, but its mutation."  

    Isaiah 34:4 also says, talking about the end of time: 

    "All the stars of heaven will be dissolved.  The skies will be rolled up like a scroll, and all their stars will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like foliage from the fig tree."

    That is a powerful image, the sky being rolled up like a scroll.  C.S. Lewis has written in The Discarded Image, that when Medieval people looked up at the sky they felt not like they were looking out, but that they were looking in.  They were looking deeper into reality.  So, if the sky rolls up, this means that the border between our reality and what is Above will be dissolved.    

    The main idea is that the physical laws we have describe certain regularities left to themselves but not what happens if something else comes into play. 

The Future of Civilization, a response to Bruce Charlton and Amo Boden

    Bruce Charlton has written a post, "What will be the political system of the future? A prophecy" to which Amo Boden responded with "In Defence of Civilisation."  The theme of the first post is that large-scale politics will decline.  Charlton writes: 

    "There will be no future politics in the same sense that (as far as we know) there is no such thing as politics in small scale, nomadic, tribal societies. That whole level of things will cease to exist."

    The second post expands on this by discussing how the organization of society comes from consciousness: 

    "For the great civilisations of the past were not 'experiments' invented in the minds of social theorists - they were the expression of a divine order that people experienced within consciousness. People participated in civilisation according to principals that were immediately real to them - not abstract. The Ancient Greeks philosophised about politics and society in the sense that they wanted to fully comprehend the divine order behind these outer phenomena. They were not social reformers, setting out to plan, abstractly, a utopian society along utilitarian lines like we moderns do.

For this reason it would also be meaningless to suggest that ancient civilisations were 'authoritarian'. They only appear that way to our modern way of thinking. Once one accounts for the evolution of consciousness it becomes necessary to attribute the god-like leaders of past civilisations as an expression of that reality.

    In this post, I want to expand on both of these themes.  I agree with Bruce Charlton that (assuming it survives in some sense) civilization will become less organized.  The trend that we see over time is society becoming more and more organized and at larger and larger scales, moving from small tribes to larger tribes, to nation states.  And this increasing organization has proceeded at a faster and faster pace.  Furthermore, even within society more and more aspects have become organized and specialized at larger and larger scales.  We have moved from a time when most industry was at the household level to modern society where there are hundreds of jobs all performing highly specialized functions.  

    The mainstream view is that this will continue indefinitely.  But there is no reason to think that.  In fact, as Amo Boden's post points out, to understand the past correctly, we must realize that the societies of the past arose from the consciousness of their inhabitants.  The societies of the past ran on entirely different principles than the modern world.  We need to understand them in their own terms, not simply as modernity with technology subtracted.  

    And in fact, this is what we do see in our society.  Large scale groups no longer have motive force on their own.  Many exist in name only.  But it was not always this way.  One example is that it was not unheard of for many workers from 3 or so generations ago to hardly take a day off.  The reason was not because they didn't have anything better to do, but because their job was a real thing, not just an arbitrary creation of bureaucratic rules.  And people felt this intuitively even if they could not articulate it.  '

    Bruce Charlton provides an excellent analysis of the decline of groups in his post "The dwindling of willed telepathy: recent changes in the evolutionary development of consciousness."  In this post, Charlton suggests that angels were attracted to groups and human beings were telepathically receptive to the influence of the angels.  I am not sure that all groups were formed this way (by angels specifically), but I agree with his analysis that groups were held together by spiritual forces.  There are two elements: the spiritual forces which provide cohesion and human beings who are receptive to these spiritual forces.  One example would be the monk Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516), who sheltered from a snowstorm in the Abbey of Spondheim and then decided to become a monk.  Groups really worked like that back then.  

    But, if human consciousness now has shifted, then the spiritual forces have withdrawn and most human beings are not receptive to them.  So, groups will be formed from the bottom up, not the top down.  

    In a comment on my earlier post, Amo Boden quoted Owen Barfield's saying, "the interior is anterior."  I had to look that up and found that the meaning was: 

"[that] man's 'inner world,' his subjectivity, is in fact the mirror, the microcosm, of the forces of the external, objective world, the macrocosm"

or, conversely, the macrocosm is the mirror of the microcosm.  In other words, our external culture reflects what is inside human beings.  I think this is an excellent way to encapsulate the situation.  And it shows us what we need to do.  Develop what is good within us.

The Responsibility of Understanding

    JMSmith of the Orthosphere has a good post on the parable of the Good Samaritan, titled, "A Misanthropic Reading of the Parable of the Good Samaritan."  In it, he puts forward the interpretation that the man who was beaten and left for dead is the character whom we should identify with.  The lesson of the parable is gratitude towards those who help us.  This is in contrast to the more well-known interpretation of the parable, that we should imitate the Good Samaritan.  I believe both of these interpretations are worthwhile.  

     One benefit of Smith's interpretation is in reminding us that the most widespread way of understanding Biblical teachings is not the only way.  In particular, all of Jesus' teachings took place against a background where it was assumed that people would help their own families and their own people.  What makes the story striking is that the Samaritan helped a Jew.  If it was a Samaritan lying in the road beaten, it would have been only natural that the Good Samaritan would have helped him.  

    Jesus wanted people to go beyond their natural attachments.  And this is what we do see among the early Christians: they treated each other as part of a family.  But in order to go beyond, you have to keep what you have.  People nowadays who proudly signal that they hate their own country and their own family haven't risen above tribalism, they have fallen below it.  Because we do not even have the basics that the people of 2,000 years ago took for granted, it is all too easy for teachings to become confused.  

    And this is one example of a more general phenomenon.  We are being attacked in a weird way because we are being attacked on a level that most people do not even acknowledge.  In many cases, Christian teachings aren't being attacked in themselves, but in their interpretation.  You can read the Bible, you can even talk about the Bible, but for all too many, it is interpreted the way the media wants it to be interpreted.  And not just the Bible, but all sorts of things.  The facts are available, but the interpretation is controlled. 

    Francis Berger has written a post entitled, "Relying on Intuition is a Sign of Cognitive Disempowerment" where he discusses a booklet which tells people to not think intuitively and instead rely on analytical thinking.  Now, you might think that "the usual suspects" wouldn't want people to think analytically.  After all, doesn't that mean determining if things cohere together, which they so often don't in our world?  But, if they control the inputs and the interpretation, then it's a closed system and analytical thinking is of no avail. 

    JMSmith has a post about this, "From Nullius in Verba to Settled Science" where he says: 

    "Liberal totalitarianism is methodological rather than dogmatic.

The difference between telling us what to think and telling us how to think is, in fact, no difference at all.  The intellectual freedom afforded by Liberalism therefore resembles the freedom Henry Ford gave his customers when he said they could purchase a model T in any color they liked, so long as it was black.  We are likewise free to think anything we like, so long our thinking follows the methods that Liberal thinking approves.

For the many who would prefer to do no thinking at all, Liberalism of course publishes the answers produced by its methods; and many are, indeed, happy to accept these answers without doing the math.

This is how Liberal public doctrine is 'legislated' without apparent coercion or control.  The multitude thinks what it is told to think; the intellectual minority thinks how it is told to think; and a decisive majority ends up thinking more or less alike."

    Facts are not enough.  In order to think correctly and make the right decisions in life there must also be understanding.  In my previous post, I wrote that in earlier times, people could use tradition to "think for" them.  Their understanding was formed by tradition, which was not merely a list of rules or a set of conventions but a living reality.  So, understanding could happen more or less naturally.  Now, if we want understanding we must seek it out.  It is not enough to read or listen passively.  (This is a major point of Rudolf Steiner).  In our current age, information is absorbed more passively than ever before.  To go to see a political speech 200 years ago, it was necessary to leave one's house and personally hear and see the speaker.  The fact of being there personally and having to listen forced a minimum level of active listening.  Now, the speech is irrelevant.  Why bother listening yourself when you can be told what it all means?

    We are being attacked in a very subtle way because our understanding is not being attacked directly.  It is rare that we are argued out of our beliefs or told that our current understanding is wrong.  Much more common is that we are presented with a counterfeit understanding, pre-chewed and ready made.  And by design this pre-chewed understanding contains nothing of truth and nothing of the spiritual.  If it is true that our portal to the spiritual in this age is our consciousness, then we are being cut off from the spiritual, not because the door being forcibly closed, shut, but because we too distracted to open it.  But we can open the door for ourselves if we take responsibility for our own understanding. 

    And that is why intuition is so important.  It allows us to cut through to the dross and go towards true knowledge.

The real AI agenda

    On a post  by Wm Briggs, about artificial intelligence, a commenter with the monniker "ItsAllBullshit" writes:           "...