Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Eyes of a Golden Insect

"The death of God," in some ways a de-centering of the entire "European" project, opened a multi-perspectived post-ideological worldview able to move "rootlessly" from philosophy to tribal myth, from natural science to Taoism -- able to see for the first time through eyes like some golden insect's, each facet giving a view of an entirely other world.

  -- Hakim Bey "The Temporary Autonomous Zone"
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The major stumbling block for the paradigm of scientific materialism is human consciousness. Science has very few answers about why and how, from the limited information taken in by the senses, that the mind is able to project outward an entirely coherent holographic reality. That our minds can do this remains a great mystery. An even greater mystery is the inner working of the unconscious, of the creative imagination.

Everything within what we hold to be "reality" is interconnected, if by nothing else than by the mind that perceives it. The mind holds reality together. Even without language, without conscious representational thought, the world exists as a coherent whole. Our mind naturally synthesizes all data that it receives.

Language and symbolic thought, arising through a process of evolution, are simply overlaid on top of this already existing web of context. This is also what allows a small child to learn a language -- the necessary web of context has already been created. It is just a matter of matching the nodes within this web with the words, symbols and concepts of the child's culture. "Clouds" are already related to "sky" in one's mind. For the child it is just a matter of naming them.

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This linguistic, naming process has the effect of freezing the various elements of consciousness into general categories, and this can obstruct full understanding, but this is only superficial. The categories themselves are enmeshed in the same webs of context. This is unavoidable. Not even linguistic categories exist in and of themselves.

The scientific method depends on analysis and this it where it falls short in its examination of consciousness. Analysis is fine when attempting to secure facts about physical, tangible things. Here we can assume some semblance, or at least illusion, of "objectivity." When trying to analyse consciousness, though, the process becomes absurd. Consciousness can never isolate itself. There is no "objective" standpoint. Only a feedback loop has been created. The eye cannot see its own act of seeing.

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Individual organisms can be observed ostensibly in the act of being conscious, and general conclusions can be made, but really with this we only observe one facet of consciousness. Consciousness has to be explored from within. It is impossible to observe from the outside because observation is also consciousness.

The exploration of consciousness, then, must be subjective. This is not scientific at all. And as all things of this world are really projections of consciousness we can begin to doubt the conclusions of science altogether. Maybe it is only analysing the products of its own imagination? Maybe this analysis itself is directing the course of the phenomena it is analysing? Certainly some interpretations of quantum mechanics seem to point in this direction.

Could the development of science be just one possible ride of the imagination? Is this creative ride merely driven by itself? Is it nowhere nearer to its goal of ultimate understanding than it was when it started? The imagination is infinitely yielding. She will lead us on deeper and deeper to wherever we appear to be headed. She allows patterns to build up from previous patterns. The whole of biological evolution on earth consists of variations on the cell. We are only symphonies of bacteria. But even that is just one story among endless possibilities.

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Modern science is utilitarian and practical so it is no surprise that it produces utilitarian and practical results. Technology does not "prove" science . It only demonstrates that certain things and certain effects can be produced by applying a particular method. This does not preclude other methods. It also does not disprove other modes of thinking that have very little emphasis on practicality and utility.

This is not a species of relativism that is being expounded. Nothing is relative because there is no absolute. There is no finality, no ground, by which things can be related or compared. All are fleeting aspects within the ever shifting, centreless web of consciousness. Every mode of thought may succeed according to its own boundaries.

The idea of infinite worlds, as evidenced by the seemingly endless galaxies observed by cosmology, is not confined to modern science. In any system of thought the number of worlds has no limit. There are as many pure lands and hell worlds as there are galaxies. There are as many angels, demons and djinns as there are extra-terrestrial beings.

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Scientific understanding may have absorbed and built upon many older systems of thought, but this does not mean these latter were false. It only indicates that they have changed. Just as biological evolution will occasionally go back and advance on atavistic forms so with worldviews the imagination, collective and individual, often returns to prior forms. Imagination has many recessive memes to choose from and activate anew.

Our culture's baseline story must be much broader than it is presently. We cannot, for example, take as a given that we live in an expanding universe about fifteen billion years old that formed out of nothing with a Big Bang. On the face of it this is totally absurd. We also cannot assume that an omnipotent creator made the world in seven days. This is equally absurd, and yet absurdity is not forbidden. Absurd things happen continuously.

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It would be even more absurd to say that both of these stories are true at the same time, but the imagination is just this absurd. She is only bound by the codes of logic if she allows herself to be. Both of these stories, and thousands of other myths of creation, are provisionally true. They are also provisionally false. Is the universe expanding or collapsing? Neither one nor the other, nor both, nor neither, nor is the question either meaningful or meaningless.

This then becomes the new baseline. All is infinite, all-powerful imagination. In theory, science accepts that its hypotheses are provisional, but in practice people believe science. It is as much as a religion as anything else. To really free oneself from religion is to free oneself from science.

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It is senseless to believe a scientific theory until it is "disproven" a generation later, and then to believe it again when it is "proven" correct once more by the subsequent generation. There is no need to believe at all. The better stance would be to keep all possibilities open at every moment, even the possibility that nothing will ever be definitively proved.

Such a position, however, is certainly harmful to the authority of the scientific establishment. This establishment wants us to follow along with the new discoveries and the new theories just like we follow the most recent celebrity gossip. It wants us to be perpetually fascinated by its cleverness, never to suspect that it may be entirely wrong. It wants us to acknowledge, in light of its discoveries, that the scientific method is the only legitimate means of obtaining true knowledge.

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But if the theories of science are so provisional, so subject to change, then why do we not also doubt the supremacy of the method? What knowledge of the world would we uncover outside of the scientific method? What whole worlds open up in unlimited exploration of the imagination?

Worlds on worlds are rolling ever
     From creation to decay,
Like the bubbles on a river
     Sparkling, bursting, borne away.

Let us overthrow this epistemological fascism which has obviously so imbalanced both psyche and physis. Science, in its total dominance of the built environment we all live within, is a more straight-jacketed theology than humanity has ever had to endure. It cannot hope to understand what seems to be the most defining aspect of our lives, consciousness, and so we must ask: is it wasting our time?

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There is no need to blow up labs or take out whitecoats à la the Unabomber. Quite the contrary. We need to celebrate the benefits that science has provided and the wonders that it has revealed. Science can be plundered for inspiring images and metaphors. Its tools can be used as instruments of creation. But we need to admit its failings and limitations, and to cease believing that it is the exclusive source of truth. There should be no objections to this within science, right? Belief, officially, has no part to play in it.

But what if people by the millions began to explore consciousness, and the worlds it projects, by devising a multiplicity of varied methods and procedures entirely unlike the scientific method? What if people totally bypassed the scientific establishment and its host of expert interpreters and cheerleaders, and began to compile their own results using their own methods?

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What if there was a smorgasbord of epistemologies? Would the scientific establishment and its publicists take it in stride? Would they laugh it off in their sage-like humility and continue on with their great work? Or would they be alarmed to their core? Would they complain bitterly about "superstition" and "magic" and "a new dark age" and "the demon-haunted world"? Aren't they already doing this?

This is what terrifies the new orders of priests most of all. It is what, for millennia, has always shaken the Brahmanic castes of all empires: What if individuals, what if the masses, went out actively to find their own truths? What if they accepted no mediation -- no priests, no dogmas, no experts, no scientists, no holy scriptures, no ten commandments, no laws of nature? What if this happened in an almost infinite number of directions -- each exploring paths that sometimes meet and run alongside others and then diverge again?

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But there would be chaos, the experts cry. To reject the scientific method is to reject reason, they say. But reason, for much of modern society providing a foundation in the assumed absence of God, itself has no true authority. How do we know, or what makes us think, that what is reasonable is true? We have no way of answering this question. It is as much a myth as any other.

Reason is also only a small facet of the imagination. Reason tries to convince all to follow its laws and tries to forget that it made them up out of nothing. Reason is a very small thing -- a self-conceited cock that crows at the dawn. But the sun would rise whether it crowed or not. Or maybe it would not rise.

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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Ravening

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Just a short rant to illustrate the weird way it works with the Wake:

Since the beginning of 2013, I've been periodically looking up the day of the year and comparing it with the corresponding page of Finnegans Wake. In such a manner the Wake, beginning on page 3, links with the third day of the year, Jan. 3rd. Feb. 2nd is the 33rd day of the year, which matches page 33, and so on. I've meant to do this for each day but in practice I usually forget.

Bard O


On Feb. 18th, though, just hours after I wrote the section in "The Grail" on Edgar Allen Poe and last year's film, The Raven, starring John Cusack, I felt a strong impulse to check the relevant page in the book. I discovered that it was the 49th day of the year and opened the Wake to page 49. I was floored by what I read there.

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On this page, on the eleventh line, Joyce writes,

...queth their haven evermore...

This is of course, in as direct a quotation as Joyce ever makes, from Poe's famous poem -- "Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."" I had, that day, just quoted this exact line in the draft for my blog post. It gets weirder. Towards the end of the page I found,

...as Micholas de Cusack calls them,

Cusack! John Cusack in The Raven. Again, I had been writing about this movie only hours before -- on the 49th day of the year.  I don't really expect anyone else to be as amazed as I am by this, but I think it provides an excellent chance to explore the whole phenomenon of synchronicity. The page itself seems to invite this type of exploration. From the last two lines:

-- by the coincidance of their contraries reamalgamerge in that identity... 



Jig


The word  "coincidance" here is where Robert Anton Wilson takes the title of his book by the same name, which includes four outstanding essays on synchronicity and other weirdness within the Wake. In general I think "coincidance" is a much better name for the phenomenon than "synchronicity." Synchronicity sounds too mechanical -- "synchronize your watches" -- whereas coincidance captures what really characterizes the phenomenon -- the feeling that something or even someone is dancing with you. The universe is playing, laughing, dancing.

This was certainly how the above synchronicity felt like to me. Everything that I have been writing or thinking about appears confirmed by it. I'm hesitant to conclude this, though, because I have the sense that the rug I'm dancing on can get pulled out from under me at any time. My dance partner might suddenly slap me in the face and leave me in a bewildered daze. Cautiously and with reverence, then, I will proceed.

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There's no evidence, of course, that Joyce meant John Cusack when he wrote Micholas de Cusack. He probably did not know that Cusack, despite this not being a common name, would star in a 2012 movie named after the famous Poe poem he had just quoted. Joyce certainly did not know that in the following year I would check this page as part of a haphazard bibliomantic practice on the 49th day just after writing about both of these things. That would be impossible, right?

That Cusack and the Raven quote appeared together on the same page is strange enough. If we stretch credulity to its limits, we could conclude that Joyce somehow foresaw the future and encoded it into his greatest book. Many people, including Wilson, actually make the claim that Joyce possessed the gift of prophecy. But why would he care about this movie? What relevance would it have to anything?

If we add to this coincidance, though, my own synchronistic discovery of this connection then things begin to go a bit berserk. Is Joyce, or whatever the living intelligence dancing within the Wake, trying to tell me that I'm somehow correct in all of the lunatic suggestions that I've been making about the passage between Ages, about the Super Bowl, the Grail, etc.? If I was just a wee bit more off-kilter this would be a seductive conclusion to make. 

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I think, though, that such a conclusion is too easy, too self-inflating. As Wilson demonstrated coincidance happens far too often, but never often enough to be commonplace, for it to mean that any one person is its exclusive agent. It, and without a doubt she, appears willing to dance with anyone bold and deranged enough to step onto the floor.

 Epoché


The other way to go is to dismiss it all as sheer coincidence. Joyce intentionally wrote the ultimate Rorschach text. We can find whatever we look for in it. This "skeptical" argument is used to dismiss any and all claims of synchronicity. The whole phenomenon is dismissed as instances of pareidolia or apophenia. People have the tendency to find patterns, to seek meaning, where they do not really exist.



The word "really" is most important in the above sentence. How can we determine if patterns and meanings really exist or not? Do they only exist if everyone sees them? Well, no -- if that was the case everyone would be a genius because geniuses are usually able to see patterns that nobody has yet noticed.

Do they only exist if they are confirmed by modern scientific methodology? No again -- poetic, artistic, mystical experiences, even the Eureka!-type discoveries of scientists themselves, cannot be measured or reproduced by the scientific method. None of these experiences can be analysed or examined in a lab. None of these "results" can be universally reduplicated. They are subjective, singular.

We all look for patterns. This is how we learn. This is how our minds work. The sanctioning of which patterns exist and which do not, which are meaningful and are meaningless, is largely determined by society. In other words, the so-called "skeptics" act as the enforcers of social conformity, as the definers of social "norms." The original skeptics, like Sextus Empiricus, would be appalled.



If you were under the impression that your beloved was the most beautiful and enchanting creature alive, yet everyone else saw this individual as being rather dull and plain-looking, who would be right? The "skeptics" would agree with society, and would tend to noisily and brashly argue their case, but the poet would champion the lover and would not give a fuck if anyone else agreed. This blog errs on the side of the lovers and poets.

Hollow


The idea, though, that meaning can be found anywhere, in anything, is actually deeply radical. If any pattern, any meaning, you want can be found on a page of Finnegans Wake, on the bark of a tree trunk, in a crappy pop song, doesn't this in a way confirm what Hermetic philosophers have been saying all along? That the macrocosm is in the microcosm? That heaven is in a wild flower, as Blake wrote, or that the moon is in a dewdrop, as Dōgen taught?

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It has become common to almost explain away synchronicity in this manner. The universe is holographic, fractal. The whole is contained in each of its parts. This does seem to be evident as we get deeper and deeper into the phenomenon, but this explanation fails to account for a lot. The fact is that we cannot find mind-shatteringly relevant synchronicities everywhere. It's often the case that the harder we look for synchronicity the less we find it. Instead of stalking sync, it stalks you. She seems to choose her own dance partners.

If the All exists in each thing then why is it easier to find meaning in the Wake than in a bowl of soup or in the sound of a car engine? Is it just that the Wake happens to hold meaning for me? This is definitely true. The Wake is very personally meaningful. But is there anything more than this? Is the Wake structured in such a way, intentionally designed, to facilitate this process of coincidance and to explain its secret workings? For now, this is my provisional hypothesis.

To say that sync happens because the universe is holographic is nearly as reductive as saying it's all part of an occult conspiracy, or that it's all meaningless happenstance. The holographic theory really explains nothing of what matters most in the experience -- the temporary blast of insight that two or more disparate things are connected and, most crucially, that this connection is relevant to me. The actual fact of interconnection is less interesting than the blast itself.












Philosophers have pointed out time and again that the most fascinating thing about the universe is not how it works and so on, its actual mechanics, but that anything should exist it all. Why existence over non-existence? The universe may be holographic, and it appears that it is, but if this is so why can't we see this at all times? Why are there only certain moments when this becomes known? This seems to be what coincidance is all about. Only in the brightest moments, usually by surprise, are we swept up in the dance. Why?

Kuso


I think this is a major question that Joyce attempts to answer in the Wake. The Wake is both his answer and the dance itself. He lays out the steps of the shuffle. He teaches how we all can see and know Christ in a dog's bunghole. He allows us to snicker with the "skeptics," but simultaneously zaps us through the bunghole to eternity itself. Christ is there, beckoning.

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The actual experience of sync is far more like having a dream than seeing a hologram -- the latter is still too clinical, too precise. Even if all of time and space can be found on page 49 of Finnegans Wake, I must still select what is meaningful for me. But I didn't make this selection -- the coincidance did. This is a very similar process to what occurs during a dream, and by Joyce's own admission the Wake is a dream.

Page 49 gives us some idea how the dream is structured -- like a holograph, yes, but also far more complex and weirder. The "contraries reamalgamerge in that identity." Direct opposites become united in one thing. Identities constantly shift in a dream. Friends become enemies, men become women, the setting appears to be two or more places at once. These are the "contraries" that are so central to the philosophies of Philip K. Dick, James Joyce, William Blake and Giordano Bruno, but before all these men -- and directly inspiring each of them -- was Nicholas of Cusa.

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Nicholas was a 15th century German philosopher and mystic whose most influential teaching was of the coincidentia oppositorum -- the coincidence, or unity, of opposites. This idea was taken up by Renaissance alchemists and philosophers like Bruno, and from here went on to greatly influence Carl Jung. Nicholas of Cusa makes various appearances in the Wake, but is most clearly found as "Micholas de Cusack" on page 49.

As usual, though, Joyce is punning. Nicholas of Cusa is there definitely, but so is Michael Cusack.  Cusack was an Irish nationalist and teacher who Joyce caricatured as the bigoted "citizen" in the "Cyclops" episode of Ulysses. Cusack represents the Cyclops that Odysseus escapes from in the Odyssey. Unlike his classical counterpart, though, Leopold Bloom refuses to become "no man" even temporarily in order to flee from his adversary.



This episode, as in Homer, is a story about crossing the threshold. It's fascinating that included alongside all of the pivotal events of last month was a massive Nor'easter blizzard that was called Nemo -- the original Greek for "no man." Yet another sign that a passage has been made or attempted?

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In Micholas de Cusack, then, we have the union of opposites, a coincidentia oppositorum or coniunctio. Nicholas of Cusa represents non-duality, while Michael Cusack is entirely dualistic. Together they "reamalgamerge" the final opposition -- becoming the non-duality of duality and non-duality. This already takes us well beyond the holographic theory.

But why are these two characters on a page which quotes "The Raven?" Perhaps because the raven already has its own opposite, the dove. The dove appears on page 49 as "Columbarium," columba being Latin for dove, and the raven enters three lines down as "Cornix," as in Corvus cornix -- Latin for the hooded crow or raven. Both of these birds are famous in the Flood myth, and both were also mentioned in my last post. More coincidancing.

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Cusa is obviously the dove while Cusack is the raven. The warring brothers theme from last month, even at the Super Bowl, is once again revealed here. Joyce's variation of Poe's famous line, "queth their haven evermore," also creates a contrary yet coexistent meaning.

If "queth" can be taken as "bequeath" then this phrase could mean that they were given or provided a safe haven or refuge forever. Instead of the endless separation of "Nevermore," this suggests that "they" -- presumably the lovers -- can be together for eternity. Once again, are these only two perspectives on the same thing?

Tricky


In tribal cultures ranging from Siberia to North America, the Raven is both revered and reviled as a trickster. The raven spirit is a contradictory figure. Coindance itself has this trickster-like and contradictory character. Why should she dance with me on this page, with these themes, and not on others? Why should she appear at all? As in dream, though, the more lucid we become within it the more synchronicity is discovered. The Wake, as a dream, appears to facilitate this.

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I can only conclude, as before, that to explore personal synchronicity is to delve into the same set of archetypes used to fabricate the consensus spell. And, on a wider level, these also make up the finite spectrum of colours on the palette of nature. When we become lucid in our own dreams the dreamlike quality of both the consensus and of nature becomes apparent. The contraries reamalgamerge in their haven evermore.