31/01/2011

the damage done




But if you swim a certain depth of the music world, you'll see a dozen of these a year: benefit concerts for (usually) American musicians who can't pay their medical bills. It's chilling, and I refuse the idea that this is merely the chill of a spoiled European. This is the story of most people everywhere: but they're uncanonized, nor even are they mates with Billy Corgan.

Instances:



These things are beautiful and intolerable; only our bastard world could sustain them. Where, if people will insist on being sinful enough to neglect insurance - or on being genetically shit of out luck - they shall suffer, or else suffer charity.



The wider benefit-gig phenomenon needs looking at (its successes and massive massive massive massive failures), as celebritization of virtue and commodification of welfare, but I don't have the stomach for it now.



26/01/2011

Aiburdeen

© Roderick MacFarlane (2010)


For Armands, wherever roaming.



1. Song For Aberdeen - Mando Diao
"Well I was never meant to be the good boy
I was never meant to go to school
And it's guys like me who get somewhere,
Cause everybody pity a fool.
"



2. Aberdeen 1987 - Xcerts
"Let the boys sing out their pain,
Let the dreams just slip away,
Let them all howl out at night,
Under darkening lamp light."


3. The Misbegotten - Charlatans
"I met a poet in a hotel
Just the other night
He said he lived in Aberdeen
and, would I like to take his life
?"




4. The Northern Lights of Auld Aberdeen - Trad
(honestly the least disgusting version I could find)
"I've been a wand'rer all of my life and many a sight I've seen.
God speed the day when I'm on my way to my home in Aberdeen
."



5. Another Seven Years - Aberdeen City
"Cover yourself when you see them
To be much safer when you meet again
Greater numbers are greater judges
(time has a way of settling grudges)
."





6. Rose Of Aberdeen - Simon & Garfunkel
"You know once I had a true love
Though her age was just sixteen
She was the flower of Beltane
And the rose of Aberdeen
."





7. Highlands - Bob Dylan

"Bluebells blazing where the Aberdeen waters flow
Well my heart’s in the Highlands
I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go
."




8. The King of Aberdeen - Polar Bear



9. Arms Aloft - Joe Strummer
"We were arms aloft in Aberdeen
May I remind you of that scene?
Let a million mirror balls beam
May I remind you of that scene?"




10. Troppelanding - Malk de Koijn
"Og blevet begravet som et cykelstativ med rá¸ven
i vejret med en skotte i Aberdeen.
"

(We were buried in a bikerack in bad weather(?)
with a red friend, a Scotsman from Aberdeen)



11. Bottleneck At Capel Curig - Half Man Half Biscuit
"...got a job in Aberdeen, I was only seventeen
I met a girl on Halloween; she was nowhere to be seen
She disappeared down a sewer; I sent my brother to pursue her
They ran away and fell in love; I hope they’re in the middle of
A bottleneck at Capel Curig
"




12. Where We've Left Our Love - Arab Strap
"The all-night garages of Glasgow, the freezing streets of Aberdeen,
in every corner, every room, and every bed we've ever been.
That's where we've left our love.
"






25/01/2011

Equivocative



"Something must be done.
This is something.
Therefore, this must be done
."
- Yes, Minister


An idea for a very lazy academic book: email a bunch of linguists & philosophers of language, polling their top 5 Worst Equivocations (in terms of: Whorfian damage to the world's consciousness, source of misunderstanding, or just plain distaste.)

Everyone gets what they want: they to moan about polysemes, I to have a free book. Here's mine:


  1. "God"

    So vague - but the speaker always has a determinate cosmocrat in mind. This allows much smugness in otherwise sincere discussion. I'm sure other languages but English and other cultures have their own "real" deity name. There's no excuse for it, but veiled, self-superior syncretism ("Well, you mean my god when you say 'God'"), either:
    - Allah has loads!
    - But not as many as that one.
    - The African ones, rarer and rarer...
    - Hinduism makes long bloody lists and sings them.
    - Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna
    - Check the graph on this.
    - Spinoza's substance / Einstein's personified nature.
    - UFOs...

    At least the word's sexist.

  2. "Rationalism"


    i) Originally, and still academically, "one who believes in deductive logic as criterion of synthetic truth". (Better: Continental rationalism.
    ii) Now gets more commonly used for anyone who likes reason and efficiency a lot, most of all for atheistic intellectual scientists, who, as empiricists are more or less the opposite of the folk in (i). (Note the dark side of the admirable attitude, though.)

  3. "Realism"

    More academic than (2), even, and far more stretched and ruined:

    i) Literality; rejecting ideals
    ii) Self-exalting political conservatism
    iii) Family of purportedly objective art-styles.
    iv) Power politics. Nasty, repugnant and truthy. (International-relations realism)
    v) Racial realism (eugenicists and supremacists)
    vi) Family of philosophical theories holding mind-independence of various stuff:
    - Notion that reality is ontologically independent. - Notion that beauty and are intrinsic to objects. (Aesthetic realism) - Notion that nothing Kant said was right. (Speculative realism) - Notion that science is a means to actual truth. (Scientific realism) - Notion that all logically possible situations obtain in ontological parallel (Modal realism) - Notion that mental events are only real if brain correlate found for it. (Neuro-realism) - Notion that there exist moral objects/single objective answers to ethical questions. (Moral realism)


  4. "War on [x]"
    "This ain't no war"
    "What, why?'
    "Cos wars end."

    - The Wire

    "Don't let any...despair in there!"
    "No Mr Magner, we won't Mr Magner, cos that's an abstract concept and it can't really be added or substracted to physical objects like cider Mr Magner."

    - Stewart Lee

    Endorses miltary response to social problems. Implies a fixed enemy which one's actions cannot in fact bolster. Implies rules of engagement. Implies an achievable victory. Fails on all counts (because not even the highest Orwellian government can kill concepts).

5. "He"

12/01/2011

Listen Cloze Now: "Good Luck" by Basement Jaxx & Lisa Kekaula

What was Jaxx? Jaxx are/were superlatively anonymous multicultural garage. (In both the US neodisco and UK dub house senses). Their only signatures were exuberance and two big bags of Latino-techno hooks dumped on each track. But they were too song-struck for techno; too detailed for house; too camp, messy and again, anonymous for hiphop; and too ???? for real chart success. They're time-capsuled now, hence my past-tensing. And yet they keep on at it. The voices they use these days are a lot more faceful - Sam Sparro/Yoko Ono/Kelis. This maybe might just let em get a foothold in identity-obsessed American pop, but I doubt it.




Now, "Good Luck" in particular: a compressed funk-rock operetta, all the generic frantic I WILL SURVIVE sentiment you could want for any 4 minute period of your life, layered with weapons-grade urbania: did you notice that the backbeat is all beatbox and claps? did you feel the sharp guitar bloom into the 2:27? did the wall-synths convince you to stop? the playground backing vocals? are those strings the sharpest disco lick never written by Boney M?


BELT-belt belt-belt.

You want the Radio Edit, which somehow carves another minute off, compressing the "plot" even further as well as lopping bits off the uneven 2:27-3:17 breakdown in the above video. Try standing still from thirty seconds in.

The sound of righteousness: distort everything!

The official video is wrong. (Worthy, but wrong.) This is not a song sung to oneself. It is not a song of institutionalized comeuppance. ("Enjoy your nightmares".)

The song's just power to them who need it. The stalled and wronged and grieving. There's a playlist to be made for each of us, those bits of our music that serve us as Ward against Evil. (Dave Eggers gets it off Milk-Eyed Mender, which is fair enough.)

******************************************


The remixer is only an radical kind of classical conductor. The main problem with most of these is that they top 7mins each, which is counter to the source's concise greatness.



  • Roni Size's one does very well; he pumps up the tempo if not the fury, and rounds the bass out.


  • The Brazilian Undercover mix obsesses over the strings, and modulates all over. It's deft but unconvincing, and not worth the 7min payoff.



  • Tim Deluxe is ok, club-readying it but diluting everything, losing the poise, and, in particular, robbing Kekaula of her Nebuchadnezzar aura.


  • Inka's is a stylish DnB one, beginning with the breakdown and building right, right up, no bass for the first minute and a half. He also heliums Kekaula, which works far better than you'd think. It's perhaps a little clever, but he's not trying to do the same thing as Deluxe. (get it from their mouth)




  • *******************************************************

    Note on semantic shift: The "Anthem"

    "It is not exaggerated to conclude that between 1960 and 1985 the Church Of England ... was effectively reduced to not much more than half its previous size."
    "Religion in Britain since 1945", Grace Davie (1997)


    As the Anglican Church hasn't got much to celebrate these days, let's nick their word.

    Actually, if you exclude the "sacred" and "trained choir" part of the definition, you can how usage was able to shift to its current, much more productive use:
    • Simple,
    • Celebratory
    • Homophonic
    • Symbols
    Pop reviews being what they are (i.e. that place where people who can't do actual criticism go), there is a lazy extra use which has any memorable big hit being an "anthem". But we should try to hold on to the fact that anthems are symbolic objects, for nation, moment, generation, gay solidarity, whatever.

    09/01/2011

    Listen Cloze, Now: "Ah! ich habe deinen Mund geküsst, Jochanaan!" by Strauss, von Karajan and Behrens




    "HEROD: Do you really want to give everything that I desire from you, Tetrarch?
    HEROD: You swear it, Tetrarch?
    HEROD: My riches are yours. What is it you want to have, Salome?
    SALOME: (rising, smiling)


    "Ah!" is the final scene in Richard Strauss' world-fucking opera of Wilde's world-fucking play Salome. Herein, after stripping for her stepfather Herod, Salome scares the shit into him by making out with a severed head. (Worse: the head of the prophet Jochanaan.) The supernatural world in which the action takes place is understandably upset; the moon disappears. A terrified Herod orders her killed.

    She's quite a creation; a strong, sexual manipulator. Jochanaan resists her when alive, so she has him killed.

    We only know this kind of harmony from horror films; it sounds like malign ghosts look. (Sure enough, it was actually used in the opening of the recent remake of the Omen.)

    Strauss' composition is a scarily complex system of leitmotifs and recurring plot-chords. The important one for us is this fucker, which opens the track:

    "Salome's Allure", C#, E, G, G#, Bb. These five notes have been used as her background throughout, and now they leer out at us as a chord, her desire coming together (with its object). There's an endless trill in the flutes, a leering oboe part, all punctuated by growling brass and percussion.

    After a whispered, ethereal beginning, we hit sudden tonal resolution at 1:35 - as if saying "love is love, even with the taste of blood around". After dropping back down into menace and question, the resolution comes again, stronger, unstoppable; french horns announce the sunrise. The sudden Romanticism of it is so powerful because of the discord you've endured. The triumph bursts at 2:45 as she finally kisses it, and Salome goes into raptures, cresting a top B at 3:12 . Thunder and mountaintops. The orchestra has a moral moment at 3:35, overlaying a clash - disgust and anagnorisis - but not cancelling the beauty of it.

    and then her begging the dead Jochanaan:
    The end needs little explanation. Punishment, ending on an unprecedented noise.



    SALOME: You spoke evil words against me, against me, Salome, the daughter of Herodias, Princess of Judea. I'm still alive, but you are dead, and your head, your head is mine! I can do with it what I want... You have seen thy God, Jochanaan, but me, I've never seen you. If you had seen me, you would have loved me! ...And the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death!
    ...
    HEROD: (softly) She did right. I'd like to stay here now.

    Dignified, heroic necrophilia. So: classical music is weird.

    *************************************************************

    As indicated in the title, this track is very much by three people. And each additional "cover version" (configuration of conductor/orchestra/soloists) strengthens the others. And actually, it's not a very technical exercise to pick between them:

    • Our pick, Herbert von Karajan & Behrens (1977) lends the piece a comic-vicious energy, and Salome emerges not as a demonic pervert, but a passionate, heroic lass. Behrens barely enunciates - but hearing what people are saying isn't the point of opera. The oboe's inverted mordent (the lead melody at the start) is spiky and convincing here, unlike...


    • The one with George Solti & Birgit Nilsson (1990) which is slower, and consists in a much more basic track-long crescendo. Nilsson's Salome is disappointingly inhuman, too; you don't get the same cognitive dissonance as with hearing Behrens' inspiring, sincere evil. Solti also soft-pedals the clashes.


    • Highly acclaimed too is Edward Downes & Maria Ewing's shot at it, though possibly more because of the stage direction. The sounds are nice too:




    (c) Lucas Cranach (1530)



    HEROD: (turning) Kill that woman!

    The soldiers rush to Salome and bury her beneath shields.
    The curtain falls quickly.
    Ende.

    tolerate fools gladly

    (c) Halsmann with Monroe (1959)


    Am I a serious man? Do I take myself seriously?

    You can't quote Carnap in dialectic with Wittgenstein and not have some of that, can you? Or write poetry to people you love. (Or write poetry.) Or say things like "Shall we do a Shakespeare readthrough?" or "I can't stand Roger Scruton!" Or ask this question.


    **************************************************************

    My native language is Sexist English. I have learned the thoughtful dialect of it, but some find it terribly jarring, still.


    Typical arguments against nonsexist language:


    (1) Arguments from cultural noncorrelation

    ("No evidence exists that cultures using a sexist language have more discrimination than those using a 'liberated' language. There's no evidence to suggest that nonsexist languages or dialects (e.g., Japanese, Eskimo, Turkish) result in equal treatment of the sexes.")

    But you don't need to be a Whorfian to oppose it. Whether or not language just reflects existing society, or actually significantly shapes thought, it's pretty clear that, just by existing, sexist language perpetuates sexism by force of habit. The data we need to ground the norm is not "does language make people sexist?", but only whether language itself is sexist, and whether that's something we'd like to be different.


    (2) Arguments from political priority

    ("Haven't we got anything better to do than telling people how to talk? Like combating real, physical and economic oppression?")

    What's trivial about it? It's the only form that everybody experiences all the time. Anyway, activism is not zero-sum. I'll just work harder to make up for it.


    (3) Argument from freedom of speech

    ("This is a stupid thing to coerce people over. Quit censoring me.")

    Style restrictions and publication manuals exist everywhere for all formal writing. Grammar itself is a linguistic coercion. If you reject the idea that symbols can oppress, will politeness to others not be enough?


    (4) Premise denial

    ("Denunciation of sexist language reveals the bias of the hearer rather than that of the speaker. Sexist language is not always sexist. I didn't mean just men by saying 'mankind' !")

    We cannot take intention as closing off meaning (unfortunately), because this would enable the speaker to dictate whether or not the offended person was "actually" offended. This can and will be abused, but is better than the alternative: same old sociolinguistic domination.


    (5) Arguments from etymology

    ("Use exhausts meaning. Mankind was always used for 'everyone', so it just means all human beings. Actually, although "virtue" originated in the Latin vir, or "man-qualities", there is considerable historical evidence to show that was always used for gender-neutral quality. [If and when any bloody woman showed any.]")

    Even granting the dubious premise, it's the genetic fallacy. We are concerned with current, not historical meaning.


    (6) Appeal to authority

    ("Even the OED agrees with me, giving as its first entry: '...a human being (irrespective of age or sex).'"

    Yeah, linguists can't possibly be sexist, can they? Anyway, denotation is a tiny fraction of what a word means.


    (7) Arguments from impracticality

    ("It's too ingrained. Language is a bit sexist, but it's not important enough to justify the terrible - perhaps unworkable - upheaval.")

    ("...it is not our insensitivity to sexism in language but our consideration for the smooth flow of prose that have governed the decision...")

    There is nothing "drastic" about learning a couple of new usages. Rules are only habits. It's inconceivable that new, shorter gender-neutral terms (like the much-needed singular third-person) wouldn't arise, given the right conditions.


    (8) Argument from tradition/aesthetics
    ('"What a piece of work is a person" doesn't merit an exclamation point at the end')

    One claim is that the process will require massive historical revisionism: the rewriting of literature, which is so silly.

    A better claim is that our use of nonsexist English would, a generation or two in, have ruined our affinity with Shakespeare's idioms, crudesced him, created a new aesthetic reality. As if language hadn't changed in titanic ways in four hundred years already!

    I didn't say they were "good arguments against..."

    ********************************************************

    Audrey Hepburn

    Nixon, 1960



    How great is Philippe Halsmann's Book of Jump? So artistically clear, so much fun! Defying the leaden pull of gravitas as well as gravity.


    The only ever Duke and Duchess of Windsor


    Robert Oppenheimer


    Aldous Huxley


    *********************************************************
    against Contrast Ideology
    (my term)


    "Our good characteristics are intimately connected to our bad ones: If we weren't violent and aggressive, we wouldn't be able to defend ourselves; if we didn't have feelings of exclusivity, we wouldn't be loyal to those close to us; if we never felt jealousy, we would also never feel love."
    - Francis Fukuyama,
    after deeming transhumanism to be "the most dangerous idea going"

    "Without Contraries there is no progression.
    Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy,
    Love and Hate
    are necessary to Human existence.
    From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.
    Good is the passive that obeys Reason.

    Evil is the active springing from Energy
    ."
    - Blake

    Sacrifice is nothing other than the production of sacred things.”
    - Georges Bataille

    "I think you have to pay for love with bitter tears."
    - Edith Piaf


    See also the much misunderstood structuralist project, which can be seen as the axiom "meaning exists in contrasted language" pushed as far as it can go.

    Contrast ideology is the most fruitful theodicy, the most satisfying semantics and the most therapeutic secular philosophy of life.

    Shall fight it.

    ***********************************************************

    "The Boredoms are like a moon on a lake. Only
    there is no moon and no lake. Only Boredoms."
    - Japanese noise band The Boredoms



    *****************************************************

    Ed Sullivan

    Me and James have been playing at being wardens of All Souls' College, where every year a few dozen bright young things go to play the grandest language-game in the world. (In both the Wittgensteinian and playtime senses of game.)

    Our ideas for the necessarily sadistic essay topics:

    • "Why did no-one write about the distant future until after the industrial revolution?"

    • "Give four examples of conceptual analysis you consider masterful. Justify with reference to each other. No two may be from the same academic field or literary form."

    • "Biographies attempting to discuss the nature of a subject's genius should never discuss sexuality. Discuss."
    • "Which ten linguistic equivocations do you consider most severe, in terms either of their Whorfian effect on world discourse, pragmatic misunderstandings or aesthetic concerns? Give theoretical underpinnings for your answers in diagram form."

    **********************************************************************

    Some friends, on facebook:

    "- went to Gullivers Travels it was quite good actually

    - whats it about :O

    - This guy fancys this girl but he's to scared to ask her out so he ends up goin to the bermuda triangle and crashes on an island full of little people and rescues Billy connolly from a fire. Then theres a bad bit where hes defeated by a robot but he wins in the end by reading out that 'war what is it good for' song."


    Ah, les belles lettres!

    *************************************************************


    Grace Kelly


    Peter Ustinov

    Dali!

    Brigitte Bardot



    01/01/2011

    More or Less Critical Mysticism


    (c) Roger Penrose, 1999


    Can it be that so many men, of various times and nations, outstanding minds among them, have devoted so much effort, and indeed fervor, to metaphysics, when this consists of nothing more than words strung together without sense?"

    – Carnap


    I think now that the right thing to do would be to begin my book with remarks about metaphysics as a kind of magic. But in doing this I must neither speak in defence of magic nor ridicule it. In this context, in fact, excluding magic has the character of magic.

    – Wittgenstein, PI manuscript



    [Mysticism is] a philosophical urge gone wrong. Thousands of lesser philosophers are always with us to prove that it can go more wrong still, by trying to form systems out of no knowledge at all. Admirers of Ouspensky, Gurdjieff and Reich were all under the illusion that profundity can be attained by embracing principles with no basis in science. The occult and mystical are perennial short cuts to a supervening vision… Unfortunately it is quite possible for the subtle visionary and the shouting dunce to inhabit the same skull... the essential truth about people prone to catch-all theories is that they aren’t in search of the truth, they’re in search of themselves.

    – Clive James



    Bookshops tend now to have only one shelf of philosophy, if that - and eight of something they call "Mind, Body and Spirit": books trafficking in sentimental, pseudo-philosophical, pseudo-psychological superstition-porn. Imagine the havoc Carnap would wreak amongst self-helpists. But surely in the proper world of thought, in seriousdiscourse, 'spiritual' is a dirty word; 'reality' a deeply suspect one; and 'metaphysics' one abused almost beyond salvation?

    No. How is it that the philosophers, the stereotyped oddballs of academia, bracket out so much?
    1) Because certain words (e.g. "consciousness", "cosmic", "reality", "dreams", "God", "truth", and latterly "quantum") are lightnings rod for empty melodrama and money-grubbing fear-parasites. Which forces caution when dealing with them.

    2) Because by specifying "the fringes", you're talking about work outside academia, away from where validation (and canonization) of thinkers happens now. (This is justifiable practice, since the dialectic and basic standards would collapse without peer review.) There's an enormous amount of work to do sifting out the concept abusers (neo-Pagans, conspiracy theorists, 'Heads, money-spinners and fanatics) from the worthwhile heterodox philosophers. It might not be worth it, given the pool of academics who are very probably less of charlatans.

    • But everything in every canon has been sifted in the same way (you'd hope). Kant and Wittgenstein were once dubious and risky before they were institutionalized (and sometimes are still). Academic accreditation limits as it validates.

    3) Because there is a certain set of cultural prejudices which (irrationally) precludes it. Reductionism, rationalization; the belief in science as the only valid form of intellection: together, "scientism". It has many benefits, including a pleasing ontological minimalism and the decline of harmful superstitions. There are people who find even analytic philosophy of mind "spooky". But this is just Lysenkoism.


    We say there's "hard" subjects and "soft" subjects; their tactility proportional to their empirical rigour. But anyone who's done much philosophy of science knows that it is surprisingly difficult (and metaphysically expensive) to be a scientific realist. Scientism is often not "Hard" at all, but naive.

    The rationalist mob have rightly stuck the boot in to soft spirituality - and retconning religious incentives like the Templeton Prize in particular. (In case you don't know, that's the largest money-pot in intellectual life, awarded to "someone prepared to say nice things about religion"). But philosophical bullies have also attacked contemporary work by Paul Davies and Derek Abbott which began to develop a non-realist quantum theory. Richard Dawkins' underlying premise is that there's no room for non-scientistic thought, and this is far from obvious.

    Famously, mysticism came back in the 60s. It recurred for a number of reasons - a plausible sketch being that postwar disillusionment with the Western script of disenchanting materialism, led to consequent bad readings of Buddhism and Hinduism, the challenge of authority in art, romance, and war, fear of Cold War realities, sex freedom. But a minor reason is because the emergent Analytic philosophy, through its boring technical topics and formalism, withdrew from the public sphere. Rightly or wrongly, philosophy is considered the source of existential insights, and when it fails to supply it, less rational forces will supply. There is no intellectual dishonesty in holding that there is more to this than this. We've gotten used to branding this kind of thing 'mysticism'. So be it; but cut away the liars, Messiahs, irrationals and fanatics, leave in some of the schizophrenics, and you are left with the philosophical hard mystics. The kind worth reading I call critical mysticism. "Mind, Body and Spirit" books and their pseudoscientific-pseudoreligious ilk tend to be soft mysticism.

    Problems preliminary.

    1. Am I wrong? Is to be a "mystic" just to be unclear, hyperbolic and without justification? At very least, shouldn't it require the mystical experience, the sudden disreputable transcendence that the religious and the extremely ill encounter? Well. I'm keeping the word "mystic", with all its recent pejoration, because I'm leaving it open for you to critically dismiss. Even Sam Harris did so.
    2. One of the downsides of working in philosophy is that it attracts a lot of people with mental-health problems." - Joseph Heath. But the best maxim in informal logic is nil ad hominem - that we address what is said, not who says it. Even if he is called Ram Dass.
    3. Oh, you've got the face on! The floaty face of the wise bird hovering on a million different quotes, about to do a massive wisdom shit on my head!" - Four Lions. It is very easy to slip into piousness when dealing with topics like these. Those writers who put on a rhetorical style to the detriment of their argument are not disqualified, but they do make themselves dubious. This can be best seen in the soft-mystic obsession for buzzwords and other Gladwellisms.
    4. Sir, there is a distinct difference between having an open mind and having a hole in your head from which your brain leaks out." - James Randi. God, I'll take notes on that, thanks.

      4b. "Any sufficiently rigorously defined magic is indistinguishable from technology." - Niven's Law.

      Could easily be, could easily be. Particularly, though, if we accept Heidegger's definition of technology.
    5. If my category hard mysticism is really just for "unorthodox inquiry with focus on the significance of the subjective", how do I draw the line between Continental philosophers and rational mystics?
    6. (And in what way is blabbering on about consciousness "socially unorthodox"? Everyone's at it!)
    7. How is a transhumanist - a person certain to be a hyper-materialist and eliminative functionalist - supposed to be "mystical"? (Well, if we can make a mystic out of Turing...)
    8. How soft can a 'critical' mystic get before they become a New Age quack?
    9. Dude, we don't disdain the occult for aesthetic or prejudicial reasons; it's because it's intellectually corrosive, isn't it? What grounds the claims made by these folk? One of Nietzsche's criticisms of Spinoza is a sort of Freudian nudge - "what kind of person needs such a big ontology, eh? Eh?" Related empirical suggestions are being made these days about the neurological underpinnings of sprituality. It's painted as a pathetic psychological trick. But people aren't ever going to stop doing metaphysics, not while they remain what I understand by "people". We might as well distinguish between doing it well and in a loose, deluded way.
    10. What do I mean? : I think I know it when I see it.

    ****************************************************************************


    Spinoza is the paradigm hard mystic. (This adds to the exemplar function he already serves for the groups "mechanical philosophers", "early liberals", "deductive rationalists" and "inspiring heretics".) This is not to say that hard mystics are all Spinozists, but perhaps I should create an index, and give everyone a "Baruch Score".


    TRAITS (not "criteria")

    - Metaphysical cosmology
    . (Thinking about everything at once. Just speculative systematization, not necessarily any worlds-upon-the-world. Usually implies a philosophy of life, too.)
    - Epistemically modest. (this is the one that disqualifies almost all New Age writers)
    - Taking consciousness seriously (not "taking it as given", nor as "the eternal soul!"; but as a potential ontological essence. They will have a metaphysics that subsumes what gets called spirituality rather than explaining it away.)
    - Taking values as seriously as facts

    - Non-reductionism with respect to complex phenomena.
    - Denial of the "conflict thesis". (that religion and science are fundamentally irreconcilable.)

    - Small-r-romanticism
    . (Passionate and affective response to the world, and endorsement of these reponses as valid.)

    - Capital-r-Romanticism: the World Unified. (holism, pantheism, panpsychism, the "anima mundi". Openness to idealism almost requisite.)

    - Polymathic
    (their wikipedia entries tend to list a half-dozen job titles.)

    - Uncommon sense.


    - Nonstandard epistemology (some form of non-logical inference is involved - intuitionism, "tacit" and "implicit" knowledge, Heideggerian work, embodied philosophy of mind, noesis...)

    - Opposition to methodological individualism (the social version of nominalism.)
    - Celebrities, in their day (Depending on your politics, this will seem to you either proof of the wishful, indulgent nature of their thought, or just that they communicated something people find important.)
    - Attitude to free will varies extremely, from being the main motivator for their ontology, to utter Spinozist rejection.

    Hard mysticism ghosts the canon all the way back, under a long series of movements with self-important names: "Theosophy", "Geisteswissengeschaft", "philosophies of freedom", "process theory", "Noetic science", "Analytical Thomism", "humanistic psychology". There's an eruption of it amongst the early quantum scientists. Mathematicians have always been prone to it.


    Contemporary soft-mystic Movements include "New Thought", "Human Potential", most of the "Integral theory" stuff, "Transpersonal psychology", and "Neuro-linguistic programming". "Noetics" is a concept being dragged this way by Dan Brown types.

    Contested: "Gestalt psychology", "Reichian psychoanalysis" etc.


    1. Technical mystics - Pure mathematicians (Neoneoplatonists),
      antirealist physicists,
      psychologists, if not parapsychologists
      deep ecologists,
      noeticists,
      imaginative astronomers,
      Hegelians who haven't heard that the war is over.

    2. Theologians (mostly omitted, because I don't know what makes a good one.) especially the "Analytical Thomists".

    3. Posthumanists (a special case) -


    • Types who tend to be soft:
    1. Psychonauts - Drug gurus, Huxleyans, psychogeographers, hippies.
    2. Avant - Mysticism used as postmodern artistic device, blurring the distinction between epistemic and aesthetic. cf. Satirists,
    3. Debordistes,
    4. Discordians,
    5. psychological science-fictioneers,
    6. Visionary Surrealists,
    7. guerilla ontologists;
    8. writers of "meta-fiction".

    9. Traditionalists - New Agers, occultists, Alternatives, gnostics & Theosophists, anchorites, cultists, astrologists, hand-wavers. All pseudoscientists go in here too.

    (I've put the more interesting of the soft mystics in an addendum piece.)

    It's not about denying science; one can easily be a scientific mystic (and so you must be, to make my list) - just not a scientistic one. Despite the parallels of the approach to theology, hard mystics are also mostly agnostics (literally "those without knowledge of God") as well as mystics ("those with experience of the divine"). Go figure.


    In most departments outside Literature, postmodernists are similarly derided (and by the same people), but they have the solace of at least partial academic credibility. No one doubts that Foucault is a philosopher (just that he's a good one). The question is: who is to decide who are "proper" philosophers? And "People with jobs in the field" is the only game in town.



    (I'm excluding Nietzsche on a technicality - since his *ahem* critical faculties didn't survive into the 20th century - but really because he's too much for my mirror. As such, Emerson's out too.)

    So. A bibliography of 20th Century thinkers who have lucidly pointed out past the stars:




    Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911)

    All science is experiential; but all experience must be related back to and derives its its validity from the conditions and context of consciousness in which it arises, i.e., the totality of our nature. We designate as "epistemological" this standpoint which consistently recognises the impossibility of going behind these conditions. To attempt this would be like seeing without eyes or directing the gaze of knowledge behind one's own eye. Modern science can acknowledge no other than this epistemological stand-point.

    No real blood flows in the veins of the knowing subject constructed by Locke, Hume, and Kant, but rather the diluted extract of reason as a mere activity of thought.



    Early philosopher of social science. His idea of "erlebnis" - that knowledge is lived as well as thought - prefigured the nascent "embodied mind" trend by about a hundred years, and his encompassing philosophy of life is a good, rigorous non-naturalist start.





    William James (1842-1910)
    To use the organic causation of a religious state of mind in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value, is quite illogical and arbitrary, unless one have already worked out in advance some psycho-physical theory connecting spiritual values in general with determinate sorts of physiological change. Otherwise none of our thoughts and feelings, not even our scientific doctrines, not even our dis-beliefs, could retain any value as revelations of the truth, for every one of them without exception flows from the state of their possessor's body at the time."
    American pragmatist, Christian, spirtualist, and one of the first modern psychologists.The New Thoughtists claim his "Religion of Healthy-Mindedness" as an inspiration.



    Vladimir Volovyov (1853-1900)







    Henri Bergson (1859-1941)

    To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly."

    Endlessly inventive philosopher and Nobel for Literature. He and Einstein once totally talked past each other, which has given Bergson a bit of a disrep in scientific history. Did fearsome work in subjectivity which strongly shaped Modernist discourse. His opposition of "being" with "becoming" has led to a good amount both of excellent philosophy and vacuous soft stuff.




    Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)

    "...it is no longer possible in our time to offer a religion of unsubstantiated miracles; our religion must rather be a proveable science." Our first soft mystic: pseudoscientist, 'clairvoyant', cultist, and...alternative educator. Intended to found a "spiritual science" following work by Goethe. Founded the "Anthroposophy" movement instead, which enjoys a bizarre, continuing prosperity in sanitized forms, like the "Waldorf" schools. His ideas about the evolution of consciousness are rigid and simplistic, but pioneering. He also prefigures resistance to subject-object metaphysics: positivistic mysticism!?




    Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)

    'The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, "Seek simplicity and distrust it." '
    Wikipedia: "A British mathematician who became an American philosopher", which is a wonderful thing to say. Helped found mathematical logic, but his metaphysical "process theory" was neglected for some time. It has gotten some academic currency (own journal in 1971) and relates to this systems theory stuff. Working with process (rather than substance) as the fundamental nature of the world, it ends up in a God who is the "sum cosmic process". He is perennial popular with stoners. In this he parallels Bergson's "becoming". I really don't know how he put up with Russell long enough to write the Principia.




    George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866-1949)

    Critical faith is freedom. Emotional faith is slavery. Mechanical faith is foolishness." Be wary of anyone who only speaks in aphorisms. Massively socially-successful Theosophist and...soft mystic. His "Fourth Way".



    Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950)

    Our actual enemy is not any force exterior to ourselves, but our own crying weaknesses, our cowardice, our selfishness, our hypocrisy, our purblind sentimentalism."
    Yogi, politician, narcissist, poet. His dad studied medicine at Aberdeen. Another borderline, this time one revered as a deity - though I'm not sure why. Updated Vedanta Hinduism with some Western frill. Through one idea, the "integral" (spooky spiritual evolution), he's the hidden influence behind a startlingly large New Age movement: "Integral Theory" (a blend of psychology, metaphysics and rank motivational speaking). Indian universities give out PhDs by the bucket on him, but you'd be lucky elsewhere.


    Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961)No one can flatter himself that he is immune to the spirit of his own epoch, or even that he possesses a full understanding of it."

    Psychologist and repugnant little man, but important and indubitably mystical. Dreams... I'd like to include Lacan, too, but he wasn't especially cosmic, just awkward.




    James Jeans (1877-1946)
    ...to many it is not knowledge but the quest for knowledge that gives interest to thought — to travel hopefully is greater than to arrive."

    Physicist and popularizer. First guy to propose that matter is continuously created throughout the universe. Held that the universe is pure thought; the world is a mathematician.





    Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

    "To write the true natural history of the world, we should need to be able to follow it from within. It would thus appear no longer as an interlocking succession of structural types replacing one another, but as an ascension of inner sap spreading out in a forest of consolidated instincts. Right at its base, the living world is constituted by conscious clothes in flesh and bone."
    Catholic eco-pantheist.







    Arthur Eddington (1882-1944)

    "We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about 'and'."
    Physicist and cyclist. The first patron and popularizer of Einstein's theories. His grand Platonist "fundamental theory" ended up spiralling off into its own numerological navel (he denied new data which was getting in his way), but not in any notably different way than Dirac's more reputable ideas.





    Paul Tillich (1886-1965)
    Systematic theologian.




    Faqir Chand (1886-1981)


    Who knows what may happen to me at the time of death? I may enter a
    state of unconsciousness, enter a state of dreams and see railway trains. . .
    How can I make a claim about my attainment of the Ultimate?
    The truth is that I know nothing...

    This is the secret which has been kept so guarded by all the religions and even by the gurus of [my] Radhaswami Faith. They have kept the public in darkness. They have exploited us; they have robbed us; they have cheated us and they have deceived us by saying that they go [transcend]."


    Self-deconstructing guru; Socrates of the Punjab?






    Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

    We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer."
    - Tractatus, 6.52
    Patron saint of both sensible analyticity and gooey relativists. The most famous critical-mystical epigram is probably his: Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent". This was mistaken by the Logical Positivists as an imprimateur to go fuck old philosophy up, but it's really about tacit knowledge: the idea that the structure of the world is inexpressible, and thus has to be smuggled. (Heidegger says much the same, and Polanyi and Charles Taylor develop the theme.) Wittgenstein was also deeply religious and, better, deeply influential on anyone who wants to think about religion.

    Another massively important idea of his is that there can be important, serious, and useful nonsense.


    But even Wittgenstein had to go on talking and writing, for how else can a philosopher show that he is working and not just goofing off?"
    - Alan Watts




    Walter Benjamin (1892-1940)

    Only a thoughtless observer can deny that correspondences come into play between the world of modern technology and the archaic symbol-world of mythology."
    Cited a great deal by philosophers working in the post-Heidegger rubble, but he's still seen as marginal.






    Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

    Now, experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and co-ordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him."

    Bloomsbury hippie. Orientalized Christian. Though he's an icon of Consciousness in general, his most significant actual idea is the perennial philosophy.




    Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986)

    Truth is a pathless land. Man cannot come to it through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, not through any philosophical knowledge or psychologist's technique. He has to find it through the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his own mind..."

    Guru - social activist and sort-of-Spinozist. His adoptive parents paraded him around as the Messiah; others did so as a Buddha. Somehow he emerged from this experience as a human being. He doesn't avoid the assumption-heavy rhetoric of bad mysticism, but his philosophy is of a inoffensive humanistic kind, rather than esoteric. He's the patron saint of Bohmians, too.




    Georges Bataille (1897-1962)

    "Sanity is the lot of those who are most obtuse, for lucidity destroys one's equilibrium: it is unhealthy to honestly endure the labors of the mind (which incessantly contradict what they have just established)."

    "Life has always taken place in a tumult without apparent cohesion, it only finds its grandeur and its reality in ecstasy and in ecstatic love."

    Another Benjamin; highly influential on modern philosophy, but not quite In.





    Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957)

    Called the greatest psychologist of the Twentieth Century by some; a liar, pervert and crank by others (as if these two sets were mutually exclusive!)




    Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958)
    "I do not believe in the possible future of mysticism in the old form. However, I do believe that the natural sciences will out of themselves bring forth a counter pole in their adherents, which connects to the old mystic elements."
    Of Schopenhauerian physics. Collaborated with Jung, but we'll forgive him that because weird things did keep happening to him.

    The problem of wavefunction collapse led to a decent number of hard mystics amongst the great quantum theorists (note that there are now good physicalist Collapse Theories):
    • Bohr's complementarity is an only mildly prickly solution;

    • Schrödinger was open to Vedanta ideas throughout his life ("each individual's consciousness is only a manifestation of a unitary consciousness pervading the universe")

    • Wigner is an out-and-out idealist.

    • Heisenberg thought that pure realism was unscientific;

    • while von Neumann has a huge, terrifying theory of how we produce finity.

    Einstein, stop telling God what to do with his dice."
    - Bohr



    Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961)
    "In our age, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action."
    The Second Secretary-General of the UN and a deep man. No philosophical work except an oblique autobiography, though, so people are left to milk and exegesise and ponder political mysticism.






    Arthur M Young (1905-1995)
    Helicopter engineer and process theorist. Founded an "Institute for the Study of Consciousness", which (unlike every other place with this kind of name) seems sound.







    Jean Gebser (1905-1973)





    Kenneth E Boulding (1910-1993)

    "The World is a very complex system. It is easy to have too simple a view of it, and it is easy to do harm and to make things worse under the impulse to do good and make things better."


    An economist who talks about love(!)






    Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)

    The ordinary person senses the greatness of the odds against him even without thought or analysis, and he adapts his attitudes unconsciously. A huge passivity has settled on industrial society. For people carried about in mechanical vehicles, earning their living by waiting on machines, listening much of the waking day to canned music, watching packaged movie entertainment and capsulated news, for such people it would require an exceptional degree of awareness and an especial heroism of effort to be anything but supine consumers of processed goods."

    Very trendy cultural theorist of the 60s, now somewhat discredited. Metaphysical reading has I think yet to be done.




    Arne Naess (1912-2009)



    Alan Watts (1915-1973)

    "The idea of nothing has bugged people for centuries, especially in the Western world. We have a saying in Latin, Ex nihilo nuhil fit, which means "out of nothing comes nothing." It has occurred to me that this is a fallacy of tremendous proportions. It lies at the root of all our common sense, not only in the West, but in many parts of the East as well. It manifests in a kind of terror of nothing, a put-down on nothing, and a put-down on everything associated with nothing, such as sleep, passivity, rest, and even the feminine principles. But to me nothing -- the negative, the empty -- is exceedingly powerful. I would say, on the contrary, you can't have something without nothing... The whole idea of there being only space, and nothing else at all is not only inconceivable but perfectly meaningless, because we always know what we mean by contrast."

    The sweetest counterexample to the idea that mystics are necessarily obscurantist, hollow showoffs. His work in reconciling Eastern philosophy with modern-Western beats Pirsig, Capra et al to the inevitably popular "atheist spirituality" idea.




    Ilya Prigogine (1917-2003)

    "Thoughtful physicists concerned with the workings of thermodynamics realise how disturbing is the question of, as one put it, ‘how a purposeless flow of energy can wash life and consciousness into the world.’ ... The important laws, the creative laws, lie elsewhere ... Irreversibility is the mechanism that brings order out of chaos."

    Nobelled physical statistician, the "poet of thermodynamics". One of the first to suggest how life doesn't violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics (because our system is an open one, we "export" entropy and create a local "dissipating structure"). Later began to proselytise about how this proved the self-organising nature of the world.


    <

    ...Nobody outside of physics and chemistry has ever heard of Onsager, even though this is one of at least four fundamental contributions he made to statistical physics ... The reason is, of course, that [unlike Prigogine] Onsager did not claim any profound cultural, metaphysical significance for his work. (It has none.)"
    - critic





    William A Earle (1919-1988)

    "Truth... is related to troth, which is the same as loyalty or faith... The passion for truth which men of good will manifest is not a matter of ascertaining the exact chemical composition of water or the number of grains of sand on the beach. It always was and remains a passion for recognizing and honoring the divinity in oneself and the other."
    Phenomenologist & film theorist. Helped found the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy in America (a bloody thankless task!) Apparently set out to do critical mysticism more or less exactly as I construe it: "strictly philosophical transcendence". There's really very little work on him.




    David Bohm (1917-1992) Deeply open-minded physicist with mixed reviews. Worked on "quantum ontology", apparently in the true senses of each of those words.



    Timothy Leary (1920-1996)

    "Turn on" meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. "Tune in" meant interact harmoniously with the world around you — externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. Drop out suggested an elective, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. "Drop Out" meant self-reliance, a discovery of one's singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean "Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity."
    The most blatant 'Head on our list. A dismissed Harvard psychology lecturer, allegedly for popularising LSD amongst undergrads. Nixon called him at one point "the most dangerous man in America". But most of his metaphysical work can be directly linked to work by Whitehead and . He also founded two at least mildly credible fields And the philosophy of drugs is a perfectly valid enterprise, even if your interests begin to...conflict.


    (See also Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007), satirist and sceptic, who has a little posthumous nook on the MIT website. Also the best key-to-the-city announcement ever,) Ontology is the study of being; the guerrilla approach is to so mix the elements of each book that the reader must decide on each page 'How much of this is real and how much is a put-on?'"



    Robert Pirsig (1928- )

    It is an immortal dialogue, strange and puzzling at first, but then hitting you harder and harder, like truth itself. What Phædrus has been talking about as Quality, Socrates appears to have described as the soul, self-moving, the source of all things. There is no contradiction. There never really can be between the core terms of monistic philosophies. The One in India has got to be the same as the One in Greece. If it's not, you've got two. The disagreements among the monists concern the attributes of the One, not the One itself. Since the One is the source of all things and includes all things in it, it cannot be defined in terms of those things, since no matter what thing you use to define it, the thing will always describe something less than the One itself. The One can only be described allegorically, through the use of analogy, of figures of imagination and speech."
    Motorcyclist and rhetorician. Affirmative and philosophically serious, but he has only a vibrant fan-club and 20 million sales to console him (rather than academic credibility). In 2005, Liverpool awarded the first PhD with his "Metaphysics of Quality" as a thesis.




    Carlos Castaneda (1925-1998)
    "One goes to knowledge as one goes to war: wide-awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance. Going to knowledge or going to war in any other manner is a mistake, and whoever makes it might never live to regret it."
    Superstar anthropologist, Shaman and phoney. His scholarly work is great if considered as meta-fiction: philosophical novels pretending to do anthropology... Goes on and on about "The Warrior", a vaguely Nietzschean agent. He went on to found his own martial art, and about a hundred neologisms: ricapituration, indulgence, the Tonal ...



    Roger Penrose (1931- )

    Does life in some way make use of the potentiality for vast quantum superpositions, as would be required for serious quantum computation? How important are the quantum aspects of DNA molecules? ... Do we really need to move forward to radical new theories of physical reality, as I myself believe, before the more subtle issues of biology — most importantly conscious mentality — can be understood in physical terms? How relevant, indeed, is our present lack of understanding of physics at the quantum/classical boundary? Or is consciousness really “no big deal,” as has sometimes been expressed? It would be too optimistic to expect to find definitive answers to all these questions, at our present state of knowledge, but there is much scope for healthy debate..."

    Platonist physicist. He has (of course) protested that it's a new physics he wants, not new mysticism. His tentative model of 'quantum consciousness' can only be seen as unreasonable because current culture brackets out consciousness, trying to ignore or dissolve it. There is no significant difference between the project of Plotinus and physical Theories of Everything. What was mystic then is not so now. In the 1920s, cosmology was a deeply disreputable field: ""a pseudoscience and the preserve of scientists who might have done some useful work in their earlier years but who had gone mystic in their dotage." - Hawking





    Fritjof Capra (1934 - )

    "Mystics understand the roots of the Tao but not its branches; scientists understand its branches but not its roots. Science does not need mysticism and mysticism does not need science; but man needs both."

    Borderline, bridging the worlds of thought-porn and philosophy. The skinny is this: Quantum physics has come to parallel certain Eastern philosophical themes, especially those of Taoism. Capra himself is original and low on nonsense, but the 'quantum mysticism' that he popularised contains a shit-ton of spooky charlatans.


    Zen Buddhism, for example, isn't (just) constipated, misty-eyed hokum; it insists on and obsesses over the physical world, and takes as its aim the destruction of mental constructs mistaken for the world: good philosophical work.




    Eugene Gendlin (1926 - )

    'Many philosophers avoid physics for fear of bringing reductionism into philosophy. They avoid human experiencing, for fear of bringing psychology in. Anything "ontic" threatens to bring alien explanations to philosophy. Heidegger knew better. Everything must be brought to philosophy, to questioning how it is thought, and to let it be differently...

    My reform of phenomenology was not taken up. Of course I think: That is why phenomenology is rejected today. The popular assumption of neutral, uninterpreted "phenomena" had to fail. But the style has swung to assuming that all experience derives wholly from implicit assumptions breakable only by discontinuity. Either way misses the non-logical transitions.'
    Philosopher of psychology and populariser of large Continental ideas. I concede that the first signs are bad: is it cultish? (check, the "Focusing Institute"); is there proliferation of self-help buzzwords? (check, "Thinking at the Edge") ; is there a free online library, and paid courses? (check). But his "philosophy of the implicit" is a development of Wittgensteinian themes, though what I've read seems a little simplistic, in need of sceptical trimming. (Particularly in his claim to be "beyond postmodernism".) This is perhaps inevitable.





    Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

    "I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.
    The world is so exquisite with love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides."

    Really? A famously sceptical, naturalist “mystic”? Well, he gave the 1985 Gifford Lectures, and displays a hundred times the epistemic modesty of Dawkins et al.

    Perhaps another side to this is that we can always find heroic, mythologizable people: Mahātmās, "legends!!", idols. Those who - due to their iconoclasty, articulacy on large things, or just sheer likeability - people voluntarily embrace and structure their mind around. Nietzsche; Wilde; Wittgenstein; Stephen Fry; Jesus. Names that glow in the dark. And scientism absolutely has some of these people. (Dawkins, Sagan and Douglas Adams are the most touching).
    'All that philosophy can do is destroy idols. And that means not making any new ones – say, out of the “absence of idols”.'
    - Wittgenstein
    Sagan's most famous and righteous line is "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" - a.k.a. Hume's Maxim. Question is, though: which "ordinary" idea does the claim have to be extreme to? Where did that discourse come from? Problem is that "ordinary" is a social concept.


    Terence McKenna (1946-2000)
    "There is a spiritual obligation, there is a task to be done. It is not, however, something as simple as following a set of somebody else's rules. Most people make it naively by thinking clearly about the present at hand, but we intellectuals are trapped in a world of too much information. Innocence is gone for us. We cannot expect to cross the rainbow bridge through a good act of contrition; that will not be sufficient...The imagination is everything."
    Psychedelic philosopher (shaman), altered statesman, and elf follower. "Loathes science" apparently, which strikes me as a pretty dim thing to say. (There is, assuredly, a wikipedia page for "Antiscience", but it's a misleading, hostile name for a good idea.)









    Ken Wilber (1949- )

    "The real intent of my writing is not to say, you must think in this way. The real intent is: here are some of the many important facets of this extraordinary Kosmos; have you thought about including them in your own worldview? My work is an attempt to make room in the Kosmos for all of the dimensions/levels/domains/waves/memes/modes/individuals/cultures, and so on ad infinitum. I have one major rule: Everybody is right. More specifically, everybody — including me — has some important pieces of truth, and all of those pieces need to be honored..."

    Star spiritualist 'psychologist'. (A borderline gone to the Soft Side). Helped along the dubious "interpersonal psychology" field. His early work reconciling contradictory accounts of the ego is apparently good, but then rises the cultish, demi-Hegelian "Integral Theory" business. Recently endorsed faith healers & quantum quackery.

    Note: William James believed in ghosts. Irrationality in one place affects only the argument it's used in.



    Want to include someone as a symbol for the absurd online proliferation of spiritualism and mysticism (out of which someone hard could come). One guy, Martin Kazlev will do, since he's an amateur paleontologist: in 1998 he started kheper.net, a collection of mildly critical essays on modern esoterica, revealing some of the underbelly of the Wilberite post-Dianetics underworld.
    Thus for anyone to write a biography properly, they would have to take into account past lives (which physicalist materialism doesn't believe in, nor do many religions), higher spiritual impulses that are at work (generally veiled) in the personality, the higher self and divine soul's activity and purpose for this personality, the semi-autonomous emotional-astral being, subconscious samskaras, miasmas inherited from one's parents (and they from theirs), racial memory, influences and formations from the subtle planes, spiritual and devic cosmecological evolutionary forces, and more, much more. All these things fall outside the dominant memesets of materialistic-reductionistic, exoteric Judeo-Christian society...



    **************************************************************
    It is a mistake to go to even the hardest of mystics looking for The Answer. But this isn't what I go to Epicurus, Kant, Derrida or Dawkins for, either. I'm not much of a Seeker. Wilber's tawdry relativism (quoted above) does hit something important.
    The dominant intellectual language-game of our time consists in intellectual snobbery, the rationalization of the world, and professionalization of mental work. It has shoved large volumes of interesting inquiry into an underworld. I refuse to dismiss it all just so as to fit in. Further: never mind true; these ideas are loved. They are the intellectual livelihood of four generations of a global subculture. No matter how ill-founded, ill-grounded or even actively destructive they are, this gives them value enough for study's sake. Being wrong is not an ethical failure (though of course it very often leads to them).


    *****************************************************************


    Since I took such a broad definition of mysticism, here's something prickly to cleanse the palette:



    Notes from John Searle: "Why not have a science of consciousness?"

    Objection #1: There is no satisfactory definition of consciousness. If it cannot be defined, the field cannot get started.
    Reply: There's a distinction to be made between analytical and common-sense definitions. Analytic definitions are conclusions so, no, we don't have one yet. But we can easily formulate a common-sense definition of consciousness at the outset.



    Objection #2: Consciousness is subjective, and thus outside objective science's remit.
    Reply: This is a category error: the epistemic sense of the objective-subjective distinction is not the ontological sense. Consciousness is an ontologically subjective thing, which doesn't prevent an epistemically objective science of it.

    Objections #3: We cannot explain how physical events cause mental events. (The attempt is precluded by the gap between neuron activity and qualia).
    Reply: This is the same form as objection #1: no, we can't: that would be the result of the program. We know that it happens, and it is far from clear that progress is impossible. Current scientific puzzles are like earlier problems in the history of science, such as explaining life or electro-magnetism.

    Objection #4: A science of consciousness would need to separate qualia from consciousness and leave the problem of qualia to one side. (And qualitative touchy-feely stuff cannot be easily discarded just to keep the objective portion.)
    Reply: Fine: there is no distinction between consciousness and qualia. Conscious states are qualia.

    Objection #5: Consciousness doesn't affect the world. Even if we did have a science of consciousness it wouldn't matter because consciousness is epiphenomenal.
    Reply: Consciousness is no more necessarily epiphenomenal than any other high-level feature of reality.


    Objection #6. What is the evolutionary function of consciousness? It plays no obvious role and thus theorists utilising have to deny functionalism.
    Reply: All human activity (eating, procreating, raising offspring) are conscious activities. If anything, the evolutionary role of consciousness is too obvious!


    Objection #7: A causal relation between brain and consciousness implies mind-body dualism. Consciousness science would have to be conducted with this metaphysics admitted.

    Reply: This objection confuses event causation with bottom-up causation. Just as one cannot reach into a glass of water and pick out a molecule and say `This one is wet', so, one cannot point to a single synapse or neuron in the brain and say `This one is thinking about my grandmother'. As far as we know anything about it, thoughts about grandmothers occur at a much higher level than that of the single neuron or synapse, just as liquidity occurs at a much higher level than that of single molecules.


    Objection #8: Science is by definition reductionistic. A scientific account of consciousness must reduce it to something else.
    Reply: So? We need to here distinguish explanatory reductions from eliminative reductions. One cannot eliminate by reduction anything that really exists; and we begin with the hypothesis that consciousness really exists.
    Objection: Any scientific account of consciousness must be functionalist, i.e. an account in terms of (mere) information-processing.

    Reply: No, and in fact, it can't be: information-processing is observer-relative. Consciousness is intrinsic, observer-independent.