Saturday, 27 April 2019

American Cosmic by Diana Pasula

I was very disappointed in this book. I wanted it to be an in-depth exploration of unexplained phenomenon, perhaps in the footsteps of Jacques Vallee's excellent work. (Vallee's name appears often in this book, but it contains none of Vallee's subtle, in-depth examination of this enigmatic subject.) Unfortunately, Pasula's book is in many ways indistinguishable from reactionary Catholic hagiography, such as that of Jacobus da Varagine's reification of the saints in his writing in the late middle ages. Pasula's "saint" here is a twenty-first century rich entrepreneur and inventor named "Tyler," an homage to Fight Club. (I wish I were kidding)...

Much of the book's conclusion concerns itself with the conversion of said "Tyler" from his Baptist faith to Pasula's own faith, Catholicism. In fact by the end of the book I began to wonder if Pasula, who investigates claims of sainthood for the Vatican, would be nominating "Tyler" for sainthood. The book has a lot of references to "Tyler" preforming miracles, complete with his unearthing an artifact at the beginning of the book, which Pasula dutifully compares to the holy relics of Catholicism. (Again, I'm not kidding. Wish I were.)

At the end of the book Pasula includes a quote from Martin Heidegger "Only a God Can Save Us" (German: Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten) from interview he gave to Rudolf Augstein and Georg Wolff for Der Spiegel which was published after his death in 1976. That quote sums up the subtext of her whole biased diatribe. 

The truth is this seems to be a pro-Catholic screed masquerading as a book on unexplained phenomenon. If you want something to discuss casually before your next cataclysm class, read it. But if you want to know about the book's purported subject I'd advise you to skip it and read Jacques Vallee's classics Masters of Deception or Invisible College, Patrick Harpur's Dainomonic Reality, or Jeffrey Kripal's latest book Flip instead.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017


How do magic, consciousness and social manipulation overlap?  I began to think about this things yesterday while I was rereading The Tree of Gnosis by o. The book was originally published shortly before Culiano was murdered in a bathroom of the  of the divinity school, Swift Hall, at the University of Chicago. He was shot once in the back of the head. His murder has never been solved. (I digress.)

I was particularly intrigued by the last chapter of the book, Modern Nihilism. In it Couliano traces the roots of the modern prevalence of a Nietzschean concept nihilism as found in his untranslatable idea of unbuilding which is in its German original: "man legt Hand an, man richtet zugrunde." Couliano interprets the pun as richten meaning "to build," and zugrunde to mean down to the ground, so the meaning here is more than to simply demolish, instead, for Culiano, it is to un-build, build down. And it is through this un-building that culture can find a way to move beyond its old ideas of transcendence, such as those found in Jewish-Platonistic ideas, particularly those of Christianity. 

But it is in short the epilogue, Games People Play, that the intriguing interplay of all these binary, dualistic thought systems come together more persuasively.  Coulianu's juxtaposing of these religious mind games as power games which I found the most perceptive point he made in the book. Unfortunately, he does not explore this in any great detail. If he had lived longer perhaps he would have done so in a later work. 

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Infinite Strange Loop

A mirror mirroring a mirror 
I Am a Strange Loop.
~Douglas R. Hofstadter

 For as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with my attempts to understand human consciousness. My obsession has led me on many long treks only to find that they terminated in cul-de-sacs. For a time I read philosophy at Oxford. My studies seemed promising at first, but I gradually came realise that my professors were as clueless about the nature and explanation of consciousness as I was. In fact, at Oxford the whole pursuit was most often seen as trivial metaphysics. In stead,Oxford most often focused on analytic philosophy. So after my post-graduate studies, I continued to read as a frustrated autodidact. I read Daniel Dennett, David Chalmers, Roger Penrose (one of my all time favorites who by coincidence happens to be a professor emeritus at Oxford but unfortunately in mathematics, not philosophy), Max Velmans….The list is very long indeed. BUT I have to admit that I am as lost now as I was at the beginning of my exploration. I intend to keep looking…I’ll let you know if I find anything worth reporting.

Friday, 6 January 2017


I've begin posting on a Wordpress blog, and so I'm going to post the same content here as well. I guess I'm trying to reanimate the dead a bit by coming back here with an echo of my other blog, but here it is the blog I posted in response to Wordpress's daily prompt to today's word "FLOAT". This is my first post here on WordPress. I have given my blog the name of a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. The protagonist of that novel, Ono, is an unreliable narrator, and since I too can have an unreliable worldview, I adopted this novel’s title as my moniker. Because of his his inflated sense of his own grandiosity and importance, the picture Ono paints of himself is often at odds with the view the reader hold of him . I hope if you read this you won’t find that to be the case with me. No, my problem is not that I want to make myself look more accomplished or proficient than I am. I don’t care about that. Instead, I want is to use this blog to try to refocus my view of reality. My problem, and I’m guessing that it’s a problem shared by many equally befuddled individuals right now, is how to find what is true, important and meaningful in this seventeenth year of the twenty-first century. Our collective narrative has become so divided, fragmented, and hostile that the world has, in a lot of ways, stopped making sense. So I will be exploring the reasons we have entered a post-truth world, why it matters, and how to begin to devise an escape from our broken perspectives. I don’t have high hopes that I’ll be successful, but the effort of writing and thinking about our predicament might help me sort through the chaos a bit. Thank for reading this first attempt, and please let me know if you have the similar misgivings about the what passes as reality today. And if you do not hold such misgivings, I’d love to know why you are so certain you’re right. Again, thanks!

Saturday, 30 April 2016


I have not written here in four years now. I am not certain why. These four years have been eventful and sometimes frightening, My mind has been changed in the intervening time. I have become convinced that the world is far more complex than I had thought.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

What does it mean to be human?

I've just splashed out  for another book I can't afford. This time it's Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape Our Live by Jesse J Prinz. New Scientist had an interview with Prinz in the 21 January 2012 issue. (There is a link to the interview, Humans Are Learning Machines, but you need to be a subscriber to access it). Also,  there was a favourable review of it in the London Times this morning. but it also requires a subscription to view.  If I were going to digress (which is of course exactly what  I am doing obviously),  I'd say something moody here about  the free dissemination of knowledge   disappearing and how  I guess soon only the rich will be able to afford the  luxury of information.

Prinz emphasizes  flexibility, nurture and cultural influences as the important ingredients in arriving at what we are and what we might become. He makes short work of evolutionary psychology's claims that our natures are largely the result of our evolutionary origins. He disagrees with their assertions that since we evolved from  higher simians--bonobos, gorillas and some of the higher apes-- we must still be like them in critical ways.

The section on the cultural roots of depression were enlightening. For example, he  claims that depression does not have its origins in genetics only. He discusses the alarming increase in depression rates among young Americans. He thinks they result in changes in culture. In 1955 only 2% of  twenty-five-year-old Americans were depressed. Now the number is closer to one in every four American in that age group have had a severe bout of depression.  Prinz says the increase is due in large part to peer interaction. That is that we're learning from each other how to be depressed.

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Second, Third, and Fourth Cultures and Their Discontents

Felix, qui, potest rerum cognoscere causa
(“Fortunate is he who is able to know the causes of things”)
I actually had two comments posted to one of my recent blog entries, and that seemed strange. I think of this process as the solipsistic beginning of my writing day. It's a sort of warm up where I give myself permission to write about what I thought about when I couldn't sleep or when I was waiting in a long queue in a shop.  [Since these are solitary and disorganized, I need to unlink this blog from my social network links. No-one could read these ramblings without becoming totally crazed with boredom).

Last night my sleep was interrupted by thoughts on C. P. Snow's  account of the two cultures, science and the arts, and the hostility and the lack of communication between them.  Raymond Tallis' in "The Eunuch at the Orgy: Reflections on the F. R. Leavis" (1995) outlines some of the systemic problems which dog attempts to communicate across the cultures of sciences and the humanities, but it seems a slightly  dated now. The arrogance and airs of 'omnescience' which Tallis saw among humanities intellectuals have now largely been displaced by the a pervasive drive  to make science and scientific research the sole arbiters of  cultural relevance and 'truth'.  In other words, the sciences won the culture wars a long time ago. now few reputable thinkers make assertions which are not  demonstrably valid within a naturalistic, scientific framework. 

The beginnings of the ascendency of the sciences  can in small part be traced to a classic online essay published in 1991 by John Brockman, Edge: The Third Culture. The essay is for Brockman part  cri du coeur and partly a call to scientists to reinforce the  the barricades against  the dubious thinking of unscientific infidels. It's a master class in how to rebrand science to guarantee its cultural ascendency.  In the essay, he makes no mention of any thinker who is not a  credentialed  scientist, other than to lament that Snow's original speech included a  "new definition by the 'men of letters'" [but] "excluded scientists such as the astronomer Edwin Hubble, the mathematician John von Neumann, the cyberneticist Norbert Wiener, and the physicists Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Werner Heisenberg."

Brockman was advocating that   "third-culture [scientifically proficient] thinkers...avoid the middleman and endeavor to express their deepest thoughts in a manner accessible to the intelligent reading public."

What has happened in the two decades since Brockman's Edge essay is that the pendulum has swung strongly away from any consideration of the humanities except as inferior attempts at explanation best left to professional scientist. 

Now don't think that I'm some sort of anti-science Luddite who thinks we should all return to studying the classics and leave science and scientific literacy as the purview of the scientists.  That is not my point at all. This is the twenty-first century. We all need to be conversant about the major new trends  in the sciences. Obviously they are of critical cultural importance.  

Still, for a number of reasons, I think it's time to give this trend of making science to arbitator of all culture some  deep and critical thought.  Jonah Lehrer, who wrote Proust Was a Neuroscientist , has begun to popularize what he's labelled  the Fourth Culture.  As he defines it:

If we are serious about unifying human knowledge, then we'll need to create a new movement that coexists with the third culture  but that deliberately trespasses on our cultural boundaries and seeks to create relationships between the arts and the sciences. The premise of this movement--perhaps a fourth culture--is that neither culture can exist by itself. Its goal will be to cultivate a positive feedback loop, in which works of art lead to new scientific experiments...

Lerher's earlier article in Seed on the roles of science and art is a good place to get more background on his position. 

A quick list of some of the books and thinkers I consider fourth culture thinkers [even if they lived long before the twenty-first century] would be:

1. Giordano Bruno...I'm rereading him right now, and he was an amazing [if technically pre-scientific thinker], even if his writing style is ornate and egotistical for 21st century readers.
2. The Cambridge Quartet by John Casti (Many critical reviewers don't appreciate the fact that sometimes the only way to fully understand a period of time, is to think about it imaginatively.)
3. A Certain Ambiguity by Suri. More books like this one might be a first step to begin to expose the 'culture wars' for what they often are: Dictatorial posturing and overtures to false 'certainties'. 
4. H. Allen Orr's piece in The New York Review of books entitled The Science of Right and Wrong. I added this after finding it referred to in a comment section, being impressed  and mildly amazed by how well it fits the points I was making here earlier today. 

I could make this list a lot longer, but I need to get to my REAL projects.  Nobody pays for solipsistic ramblings. If they did, I'd be quite rich obviously.