Friday, May 29, 2015

Half of the Literature Is False Science Journalism

The realities of the daily grind don't always mesh well with the necessities of good journalism, let alone good science.

Consider:

Why A Journalist Scammed The Media Into Spreading Bad Chocolate Science
"He's really only scratching the surface of a much broader, much deeper problem," Schwitzer says. "We have examples of journalists reporting on a study that was never done. We have news releases from medical journals, academic institutions and industry that mislead journalists, who then mislead the public." And the pressure to publish or perish, he says, can lead well-intentioned scientists to frame their work in ways that aren't completely accurate or balanced or supported by the facts.
And this is even more damning, supposing of course that the supposition is correct,
In the past few years more professionals have come forward to share a truth that, for many people, proves difficult to swallow. One such authority is Dr. Richard Horton, the current editor-in-chief of the Lancet – considered to be one of the most well respected peer-reviewed medical journals in the world.
Dr. Horton recently published a statement declaring that a lot of published research is in fact unreliable at best, if not completely false.
“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.” (source)
This is quite distrubing, given the fact that all of these studies (which are industry sponsored) are used to develop drugs/vaccines to supposedly help people, train medical staff, educate medical students and more.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Bullying and the Cycle of Abuse

Research suggests my experience isn’t unusual. UC Davis sociologists Robert Faris and Diane Femlee have studied bullying extensively; in a CNN interview, Faris summarized their findings:
"Kids are caught up in patterns of cruelty and aggression that have to do with jockeying for status ... It’s really not the kids that are psychologically troubled, who are on the margins or the fringes of the school’s social life. It’s the kids right in the middle, at the heart of things … often, typically highly, well-liked popular kids who are engaging in these behaviors. When kids increase in their status, on average, they tend to have a higher risk of victimization as well as a higher risk of becoming aggressive."
Abuse isn't restricted to one history or narrative. Abuse compounds abuse. That cycle passes from hand to hand and person to person.

Such truisms can be deceptive, but that doesn't make them invalid. For one person it's their childhood trauma, for another, its when their brother was killed by Palestinians. For another it was growing up poor and having a meth addicted mother. Whether you turn around and take it out on someone else or whether it changes you in more subtle ways, you can't help but react to your history with every action you take, and inflict that history on others, maybe even without knowing it. Given how endemic cycles of abuse are, it seems unlikely we can heal all wounds, so long as you have to remain in this world to heal from the world. How do you get the goose out of the bottle? 

More than any of these simple categories, more than even what we think we know about ourselves, our lives are conditioned by the unspoken and the unconscious. Yet there must be some commonality to our experience, for us to be able to even begin to understand one another, so maybe it isn't all shadow and silence.

What can we say? In a statistical sense, certain populations are more systemically fucked than others. No doubt. So understanding may have to begin with these generalities. But it can't remain there, or we're just stereotyping one another in a new way. Do we not want to know other people's stories, because they might contradict what we already think we know about the world? Or is the complexity of difference simply too much for us to comprehend?

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Friday, May 22, 2015

hive


HIVE


In 2023, Hive (human interface for virtual evolution) is an augmented-reality technology that consolidates an individual's devices and technology into a holographic visual display that is projected from their mind. Millions connect and become a collective consciousness, while The Disconnected are left in its wake; forced to adapt to a primitive lifestyle in the outskirts of Hive cities. Conflict is inevitable, however the reality behind Hive may be even stranger than anyone realized. Propolis follows nine-year-old Samantha Plessis, as she witnesses her family opt-in to beta testing this new product to receive health insurance benefits to treat her immune disorder. Since her disease prevents her from connecting to Hive, she becomes gradually alienated by her family whose method of communication is now changing. Hive is a science-fiction transmedia project told through a series of books, films, social media and real-world interactive events. This six-part novella series is the main narrative. The story takes place from the year 2023 to 2050.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Lifespan of a Fact

The Lifespan of a FactThe Lifespan of a Fact by John D'Agata
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Lifespan of a Fact caught my attention recently, in the course of a number of project-related conversations about truth and journalism. Overall, I would say that it delivers on exactly what it promises: a discussion, sometimes debate, about the nature of literature and fact. The Talmudic formatting is interesting, and allows the conversation to flow around the central text. The only way I think you're liable to be disappointed by this book is if you're looking for any final conclusions. But this is not a subject that can — or should! — have a final conclusion. It is meant to be struggled with.

I think all writers that have worked in "nonfiction" wrestle with this issue — how narratives can't help but manipulate an audience. Literary journalism is kind of inherently manipulative, certainly you can bring out nuances and the complexity of a character, but ultimately you're painting a sympathetic or unsympathetic picture. The closest you can get to the facts would be to read out a list of data points — at this time, according to this source, this thing happened.

The further we stray from that, the more it's didactic. But I think that narrative speaks directly to how we actually engage with the world. We aren't, fundamentally logical creatures, so that "pure fact" approach is actually more alien in some ways than appealing to people through a narrative that you've constructed out of a *particular evaluation* of the facts.

The main issue with full out gonzo journalism is that it was often used to intentionally lie, or use people's ignorance against them. Like when Hunter S. Thompson went after Muskie by making a wild claim about ibogaine, knowing people take the mere suggestion of a possibility, frequently repeated, as fact. We can laugh about that, but I'm not sure there's much difference between that and what Fox News does, except that we might personally agree with Hunter's politics more.

So there's a kind of contradiction here, the understanding that we make sense of our day-to-day world primarily through narrative, that journalism should play to that, and yet on the other hand, recognizing that narratives are inherently misleading, if not outright duplicitous. There are many ways of dealing with this complexity. My inclination is to own a bias, rather than try to cover it up with feints toward "fair and balanced objectivity." But there is no one, or easy solution.

View all my reviews

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Monday, April 27, 2015

Debord on Riots

From Situationist International:
AUGUST 13 - 16, 1965, the blacks of Los Angeles revolted. An incident between traffic police and pedestrians developed into two days of spontaneous riots. Despite increasing reinforcements, the forces of order were unable to regain control of the streets. By the third day the blacks had armed themselves by looting accessible gun stores, enabling them to fire even on police helicopters. It took thousands of police and soldiers, including an entire infantry division supported by tanks, to confine the riot to the Watts area, and several more days of street fighting to finally bring it under control. Stores were massively plundered and many were burned. Official sources listed 32 dead (including 27 blacks), more than 800 wounded and 3000 arrests.
Reactions from all sides were most revealing: a revolutionary event, by bringing existing problems into the open, provokes its opponents into an unhabitual lucidity. Police Chief William Parker, for example, rejected all the major black organizations’ offers of mediation, correctly asserting: “These rioters don’t have any leaders.” 
Since the blacks no longer had any leaders, it was the moment of truth for both sides. What did one of those unemployed leaders, NAACP general secretary Roy Wilkins, have to say? He declared that the riot “should be put down with all necessary force.” And Los Angeles Cardinal McIntyre, who protested loudly, did not protest against the violence of the repression, which one might have supposed the most tactful policy at a time when the Roman Church is modernizing its image; he denounced “this premeditated revolt against the rights of one’s neighbor and against respect for law and order,” calling on Catholics to oppose the looting and “this violence without any apparent justification.” 
And all those who went so far as to recognize the “apparent justifications” of the rage of the Los Angeles blacks (but never their real ones), all the ideologists and “spokesmen” of the vacuous international Left, deplored the irresponsibility, the disorder, the looting (especially the fact that arms and alcohol were the first targets) and the 2000 fires with which the blacks lit up their battle and their ball. 
But who has defended the Los Angeles rioters in the terms they deserve? We will. Let the economists fret over the $27 million lost, and the city planners sigh over one of their most beautiful supermarkets gone up in smoke, and McIntyre blubber over his slain deputy sheriff. Let the sociologists bemoan the absurdity and intoxication of this rebellion. The role of a revolutionary publication is not only to justify the Los Angeles insurgents, but to help elucidate their perspectives, to explain theoretically the truth for which such practical action expresses the search.
...
Through theft and gift they rediscover a use that immediately refutes the oppressive rationality of the commodity, revealing its relations and even its production to be arbitrary and unnecessary. The looting of the Watts district was the most direct realization of the distorted principle: “To each according to their false needs” — needs determined and produced by the economic system which the very act of looting rejects. But once the vaunted abundance is taken at face value and directly seized, instead of being eternally pursued in the rat-race of alienated labor and increasing unmet social needs, real desires begin to be expressed in festive celebration, in playful self-assertion, in the potlatch of destruction. People who destroy commodities show their human superiority over commodities. They stop submitting to the arbitrary forms that distortedly reflect their real needs. The flames of Watts consummated the system of consumption. The theft of large refrigerators by people with no electricity, or with their electricity cut off, is the best image of the lie of affluence transformed into a truth in play. Once it is no longer bought, the commodity lies open to criticism and alteration, whatever particular form it may take. Only when it is paid for with money is it respected as an admirable fetish, as a symbol of status within the world of survival.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Choice of Ants

Caitlin Murphy
I’m sitting, my arms wrapped around my legs, staring at ants crawling to and fro on the pavement. This was once a pastime of mine, when I was a child. When you are a certain indeterminate age, you can do things like spend hours a day watching ants. Eventually there are groundings and girls and grades and abortions and jobs and you pretty much forget altogether about the world that the ants live in. That is, until a moment like now.

If they've missed me over the years, they show no sign of it. Dutiful. Dedicated. Did you know that sometimes they will build a bridge out of their very bodies, drown themselves, just so that others can cross a stream?

Don’t judge. It isn’t the ants themselves that fascinated me, even as a child. It is the scale that they live in, and the truly magical way that they self-organize. I know it isn’t really magic, but we have no other word for it. Magic is what we call things that we don’t understand. (We don’t really understand anything, when you get right down to it, so the truth is that the entire universe is magical. But that’s something else entirely.)

I can hear sirens in the background. The cops, dutifully, are arriving in a rush, and there will be questions and I’m sure at some point I’ll have to deal with the emotional weight of what just happened. But for right now, there’s just me and the ants—the not-so-benevolent God and His useless subjects. Sometimes I would squash one of them and watch it wriggle. It wasn’t viciousness. I didn’t revel in their suffering. It was just some primal urge. Every now and then when you see a long line of ants marching you just have to reach in and pick one. YOU, you say. And their body, half crushed by the mass of your finger, struggles against the inevitable fact that, for no reason at all, a choice was made, or it wasn’t, but either way, there is no turning back.

That’s really what I’m getting at, I think, through all the shock. One moment everything is a certain way and the next it is completely different, and for no other reason than that you were picked out of a line because that’s just how it is, how it will be, forever and ever, Amen.

My wife Sheila—she would have legally been my wife in three months but we had lived together for years—was broken just like one of those ants, a carcass tangled in the metal that used to be our new car. No more marriage planning, no more—well, none of it matters really. I reached down and pushed down, hard, on one of those ants. I picked his abdomen. It popped and spurted whatever ant abdomens contain onto the sidewalk, and he tried to drag the flaccid thing around for a while. Eventually other ants showed up to the scene and carried it off. I wondered if they were the cops and emergency personnel of the ant world, or if they just switched roles.

The cops wanted to know a lot of details that seemed pointless. What was the make of the third car that hit us? Where were we headed? I looked at him dully and said, “Her favorite flavor was mint chocolate chip.” I couldn't think of anything else. Anyway, there were pieces of the car that hit us from behind scattered across the roadway. Did I look like a mechanic? It was a pileup. I remember the bus. The rest happened too fast.

I thought back a moment. How many breaths separated me, now, breathing alone with the ants, and my wife and I in the car, breathing the same air together? A few hundred breaths? An endless chasm.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Beyond New Age The Problem Isn't Just Belle Gibson

It's a well known truism that, in life, we tend to find what we're looking for.

I realize this truism is tautological, and it's been rendered down so far that it seems meaningless, yet it is something we repeat to one another in so many forms.

This idea has been central to the 'positive thought movement' for well over 100 years, with many different off-shoots, but all can be considered unified in regard to this particular idea: "our mental states are carried forward into manifestation and become our experience in daily living".

The belief is that Somehow (and this is The Secret), our mental picture effects the world. This produces the "law of attraction," whereby like attracts like, and our thoughts somehow manifest reality. This is the very foundation of what's happened with Belle Gibson, as JR Hennesey explored on the Guardian today:
Gibson needed to fake cancer, because the New Age narrative of transcending physical and spiritual sickness is so ingrained into its marketing. New Age philosophy is the clearest example of a utopian movement utterly absorbed by capitalism, which it once (feebly) opposed.
This is a good article on the subject, and I recommend you read it. However, that's not what I want to focus on here,. Instead, I want to look at a deeper process. When we look out into the world, how surprising is it that we see our presuppositions and even past experiences reflected back at us? Are we actually manifesting our thoughts, or could something else be at work? Finally, can we really consider this a phenomenon that's entirely unique to the New Age movement?

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Society of the Spectacle

It's hard to believe Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle was first published in the 60s. Consider the world we live in today: a world of social media, where the mediated space is on equal footing with our lived experience. In fact, the virtual seems positioned to entirely replace the material in the course of history, a point at which we can truly say would be the end of history.


Now, these quotations, directly from the text:

In a world that is truly topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.
The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than "that which appears is good, that which is good appears."
The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having to appearing, from which all actual "having" must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function.
The spectacle is the existing order's uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue.
... The fetishistic, purely objective appearance of spectacular relations conceals the fact that they are relations among classes: a second nature...seems to dominate our environment. If the spectacle, taken in the limited sense of "mass media" which are its most glaring superficial manifestation seems to invade society as mere equipment, this equipment is in no way neutral but is the very means suited to its total self movement. If the social needs of the epoch in which such techniques are developed can only be satisfied through their mediation, if the administration of this society and all contact among men can no longer take place except through the intermediary of this power of instantaneous communication, it is because this "communication" is essentially unilateral. 
We need not call to mind the PR debacle of Facebook "emotionally manipulating" its users. This is, after all, nothing but the type of marketing manipulation all companies attempt, with varying degrees of success. No. It is the much more casual way that these technologies integrate with our lives that bears the most consideration. It is the business of these platforms to set themselves up as the intermediary, the go-between when you engage anyone in this "topsy-turvy" world.

More anecdotally, (and prosaically), it has been somewhat disturbing to me of late that the few times I've left my Facebook account, many people have ceased contact. When I returned, caving into what has increasingly felt like a Stockholm Syndrome like situations, the refrain was "I'm happy you're back, now we can talk to you again." The virtual is increasingly the world in which we exist in, socially. What then is the fleshy present? The mechanism of mediation is increasingly the "lived world."
To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessity. The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep. 
Couched in the sort of "pomo speak" that seems to be less in vogue these days, it's not likely to be a top seller anytime soon. The tone almost strikes one as the bullet points read off through a bullhorn at a rally by a chain-smoking Frenchman with a megaphone. There are countless ways that we can critique, interrogate, and ultimately narrate technology. Whether it is our salvation or damnation is almost a literary conceit. But that makes this particular critique no less lucid, or downright prescient.

Next up I'm going to start looking into how Situationism influenced Debord's work. And dig back at the anarchist primitive movement that was fire-bombed in Philadelphia. I'll report back what thoughts seem worth sharing.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

The 404 Attacks: Project Monarch

I was at the high school dance. Waste of an evening. I mean, I wouldn't have even considered going to something like this. It was embarrassing. But I knew she'd be there. I spent the whole night wishing I could get closer to her. Excuses to brush by, to look just a moment more. I didn't want to be creepy. I want to be her friend.


And then the song started. You know the one. "You spin me right round baby, right round." Cheesy shit but we can all dance ironically. That makes it safer somehow.

Yeah I, I got to know your name. Well and I, could trace your private number baby. Amber. That was her name. Different hair color every week it seemed. Different piercings and tattoos. Same eyes. Nothing could change them. I wanted to.

So I stood in the corner. Gibberish numbers were bouncing around in my head, blocking everything else out. They seemed to come from the music but compound themselves, a feedback loop of infinite proportions. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, ... She turned to look at me when the words "Watch out, here I come" seemed to blow the eardrums out of my cheap skull. 21, 34... ACTIVATE LEVEL 5.

Something horrible happened. A snake slithered through my intestines and wrapped its coils like a vice-around my brain, and it squeezed, squeezed, squeezed. The juices in my pineal gland squirted all over my shoes. I fell to the ground, crying, vomiting, shitting myself. Everyone around me looked on in terror, but the music kept playing.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Backfire Effect

You think your beliefs are informed by facts. Yet, research is demonstrating facts couldn't matter less...
Science and fiction once imagined the future in which you now live. Books and films and graphic novels of yore featured cyberpunks surfing data streams and personal communicators joining a chorus of beeps and tones all around you. Short stories and late-night pocket-protected gabfests portended a time when the combined knowledge and artistic output of your entire species would be instantly available at your command, and billions of human lives would be connected and visible to all who wished to be seen.
So, here you are, in the future surrounded by computers which can deliver to you just about every fact humans know, the instructions for any task, the steps to any skill, the explanation for every single thing your species has figured out so far. This once imaginary place is now your daily life.
So, if the future we were promised is now here, why isn’t it the ultimate triumph of science and reason? Why don’t you live in a social and political technotopia, an empirical nirvana, an Asgard of analytical thought minus the jumpsuits and neon headbands where the truth is known to all?
Among the many biases and delusions in between you and your microprocessor-rich, skinny-jeaned Arcadia is a great big psychological beast called the backfire effect. It’s always been there, meddling with the way you and your ancestors understood the world, but the Internet unchained its potential, elevated its expression, and you’ve been none the wiser for years.
...
The backfire effect is constantly shaping your beliefs and memory, keeping you consistently leaning one way or the other through a process psychologists call biased assimilation. Decades of research into a variety of cognitive biases shows you tend to see the world through thick, horn-rimmed glasses forged of belief and smudged with attitudes and ideologies. When scientists had people watch Bob Dole debate Bill Clinton in 1996, they found supporters before the debate tended to believe their preferred candidate won. In 2000, when psychologists studied Clinton lovers and haters throughout the Lewinsky scandal, they found Clinton lovers tended to see Lewinsky as an untrustworthy homewrecker and found it difficult to believe Clinton lied under oath. The haters, of course, felt quite the opposite. Flash forward to 2011, and you have Fox News and MSNBC battling for cable journalism territory, both promising a viewpoint which will never challenge the beliefs of a certain portion of the audience. Biased assimilation guaranteed.

The Backfire Effect


All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Monday, March 23, 2015

Peter and Paul: Lost in the Wonderland


Most of us see life as a period we spend wading through morasses of daily challenges just so that, one day, if we’re lucky, we might retire in the never-never land we refer to as heaven, and spend the rest of eternity doing absolutely nothing but basking in the eternal light of G
In order to make such a dismal prospect achievable, we’d created a God in our own image, and endowed Him, or possibly Her, with an abundance of very, very noble attributes. The alternate permanent residence is the exact opposite of this prospect, yet equally as dismal.
Why?
Because they are both based on the assumption that eternal dolce far niente, known to us as “sweet doing nothing”, which due to their proximity to the Vatican the Italians had brought to near-perfection, is the way to be.
It is.
And it is a reward.
For a day. A week. Maybe two weeks. But Eternity? Any definition of hell would be preferable.
Peter and Paul: Lost in the Wonderland: Most of us see life as a period we spend wading through morasses of daily challenges just so that, one day, if we’re lucky...

A valuable, very necessary post for all those of us struggling to cope with unrewarded creative output!

https://philipparees.wordpress.com/

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Congress

The real meat of this narrative hangs on an old but incredibly fruitful frame: is an artist's work or their persona ultimately of value? The pop-cult of personality certainly points in the direction of the mask. She is offered the opportunity to sell the mask to Miramount studios, and go on her merry way. Live her life, but never act in anything ever again. They own the mask.

Robin Wright acts in her own narrative gonzomentary,
and does it with the gravitas of a fallen angel.



This film sets up an incredibly tight first act, and then veers in an entirely unexpected, psychedelic direction from there.

As at-times interesting and surreal as the rest of the movie is, it could've been done in a way that was more consistent with where the movie seemed to be going, although that course change isn't so joyfully pointless as Tarantino's Dusk Till Dawn. Vampires and crotch cannons don't suddenly appear in the middle of a crime drama. Rather, you're dropped into the middle of Waking Life, with a bit more Matrix revolutionary zeal and a bit less philosophical speculation.

Might consistency have bit deeper and bled a bit longer? Maybe. That depends on your tastes.

But whatever flavor suits you, this film hearkens to a time, now lost to the haze of distant memory, when movies sought to make us question our culture, and our place in it. (I think it might have been the late 90s.)

Pop-art often employs repetition of the mask or container. (Think Warhol.) The Congress, in its way, can be considered a part of this tradition. In a movie that seeks to analyze an industry that functions only by cannibalizing itself, and doing so often off the flesh of its talent, the only tools available are a pastiche of what has come before. This is a sense in which The Congress is deeply postmodern, in a more than passing sense.

Its inveigh against Hollywood uses self-referential bricolage as a device for their own deconstruction. Tropes from nearly every genre available to Hollywood are used toward that end. Pointillism, bricolage, etc. are only useful devices to the extent that they relate back to a single thread. In this case, that thread is not a single narrative, not plot or resolution, but the theme of alter-ego as product. The alter-ego as icon, as obsession, as the lure painted over the heavens when the Gods of old will no longer do.

How much can you drill down into a single theme, how many fourth walls can you break, before the sublime turns into the redundant?

That line is seriously tested through the final act, but not, I think, ultimately broken.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Steiner's Philosophy and an Alternate View of Spiritual Context


https://www.flickr.com/photos/rvoegtli/9059548566
Goetheanum by rosmary
Rudolf Steiner is a largely forgotten thinker in virtually all circles of Western philosophy. Even many in esoteric circles who know the names Crowley or Blavatsky often fail to recognize his name. Despite this, Steiner’s influence is felt today in Waldorf schools, biodynamic farming, social finance, and prisoner outreach, and his school of anthroposophical thought is still debated and taught in Rosicrucian style organizations like the Anthroposophical Society in America. I was first introduced to Steiner through Gary Lachman’s excellent book, Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Work, which detailed the life and work of Steiner in such a way as to be easily approachable. Lachman’s recommendations included Robert McDermott’s The Essential Steiner (later updated as The New Essential Steiner), and there were enough similarities between my own personal philosophy and Steiner’s, that it was an easy purchase to further devour this great thinker’s expansive writing.

Steiner had a great impact on me personally because of his views on geometry and other mathematics are pure, and his insistence that any spiritual belief or experience could be met with the same scrutiny with which the hard sciences were met—essentially, Steiner believed that scientific inquiry could penetrate the spiritual. Steiner’s refusal to tell his readers/listeners to take things on blind faith, and his insistence on additional inquiry, made him different amongst his esoteric peers—less a guru and more an advisor. On a philosophical level, he was well-verse with the great German philosophers, and even upon disagreeing with others, took it upon himself to diligently argue from another’s perspective in order to better understand their point of view. His writings in support of Nietzsche (for Nietzsche’s daughter) are case in point for this. Steiner wasn’t searching for followers. His goal was the pursuit of knowledge; something that can be appreciated, whether you agree with his more esoteric philosophy or think they are just outlandish.

Steiner understood the principles of evolution as they were during his time. The difference was that he applied evolutionary principles to the spiritual as well as the physical—even spiritual entities such angels. Everything evolved. Although scientists don't assume that evolution "ceases" they also don't seem to contemplate whether the consciousness of today is the same as the consciousness of older times, or at the very least, it isn't something that is highly contemplated when examining historical context. So, for example, when we examine the literature of ancient cultures, we take a lot of what those cultures say to mean literally how they said it, but their descriptions have been written within their own consciousness, and their consciousness could have been quite different back then.

Steiner talks about the positioning of the astral body (which also evolves) through the evolution of the human being to show how insight into the spiritual has changed, but he's quick to note that stories and statements made that seem far-fetched for our physical reality are likely to be glimpses of the spiritual world that those individuals could still see, and most importantly, interpret. Many today look upon ancient cultures and think that they believed what they did because they weren't "as smart as us," but we really don't know "what" they truly believed. Steiner also makes the comment that older cultures believed these spiritual things because they weren't that far removed from ancestors that could see directly into the spiritual, and some of their own people still could. He gives them the benefit of the doubt, whereas modern science and history assumes them often ignorant, misled, or not as culturally evolved.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Conspiracy Against The Human Race

The Conspiracy Against the Human RaceThe Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Years of meditating and reading books on philosophy, psychology, years of lucid dreams and night terrors, do not make a person unique. But it is singularly unique to find what feels like your own thoughts reflected back at you when you didn't pen them. As I read The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, I had a strange feeling, as if deja vu and vertigo had somehow been blended together. Had I read this before, if I hadn't written it?

Yet that disturbing familiarity regards an utterly useless process. Reading or writing about philosophy has long had a negative connotation in the United States, thanks to a long anti-intellectual culture in some corners. But here the useless, and indeed the negative, have an absolutely finality that have nothing to do with anti-intellectualism. This is ontological uselessness, the nightmare of being.

Ligotti's core thesis  the self as we know it is a contrivance of evolution, self consciousness an accident. To be deceived into thinking we are a self, that's the situation we find ourselves in, without hope of reprieve or reprisal. Of course, he isn't the first pessimist to set pen to paper, but he is the first to do so starkly, with such uncompromising clarity, without back pedaling or that ultimate cop out, the happy ending, “it was all a dream.”

There is a certain intentional irony here, as indeed our waking lives are a type of dream, and the self we grant some sense of ultimate reality is nothing other than a character in that dream. But to the extent anything is real, that dream character's suffering is legitimate.

Our choice as he sees it is simple — self deception, or insanity. He shows us the basis of horror, rooted not in the supernatural beyond, but much closer to home. It stares back at us in the mirror. The supernatural in a sense gives us a glimpse of our own uncanny ghoulishness, without requiring identification with the absolute truth of the matter. We can close the book, and shake off that chill, for after all, it was just a story.

But this is not merely a thought experiment. It isn't satirical hyperbole, like A Modest Proposal. There is no hope or happy ending to soften the blow. Because the game of life is all fixed anyway, it couldn't matter less if you deceive yourself and write this book off as pessimistic belly aching. Whatever it takes to get you through another day, and prop up the illusion that you are a self in the first place.

Although some may argue about what constitutes “serious philosophy”  as Ligotti himself says, he eschews the circuitous argumentation that generally grants a work that unapproachable aura of seriousness  I would argue that this book belongs within any introductory study of nihilism and even post-modernism. To do so I'd like to demonstrate what I mean. Those purely interested in The Conspiracy Against The Human Race may as well stop here, but I believe this claim demands a little context and backtracking. You'll forgive me if I need to broaden the scope to come back to task.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Limits of Physics

A very interesting article over on Aeon:
On the one hand, then, physics is taken to be a march toward an ultimate understanding of reality; on the other, it is seen as no different in status to the understandings handed down to us by myth, religion and, no less, literary studies. Because I spend my time about equally in the realms of the sciences and arts, I encounter a lot of this dualism. Depending on whom I am with, I find myself engaging in two entirely different kinds of conversation. Can we all be talking about the same subject?


All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

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