Book Club Post

February 2018 Book Club

This week’s post is the eighth of a monthly series of open-discussion posts focusing on books I’ve written. Our theme for the present is Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, and this week we’re discussing “The Seventh Law: The Law of Evolution” (pp.72-84). I’d like to ask readers to keep their questions and comments focused on that chapter and the ideas it contains; we’ll have another Ask Me Anything post later this month, and of course a substantive monthly post or two in due time.

In place of an outline, here’s the Seventh Law, as it appears in the book:

Everything that exists comes into being by a process of evolution.  That process starts with adaptation to changing conditions and ends by establishing a steady state in balance with its surroundings, following a threefold rhythm of challenge, response, and reintegration.  Evolution is gradual rather than sudden, and it works by increasing diversity and accumulating possibilities, rather than following a predetermined line of development.  

The rest of this section of the book expands on the concept this definition sketches out. It’s not an easy concept for a lot of people these days; it’s become standard practice to confuse evolution with progress, and to assume that progress amounts to identifying whatever we’ve already done to extremes and then taking it to the point of absurdity. For that matter, the thought that evolution might not have a direction — that we may not be caught up in a lockstep (or goose-step) march toward some predetermined future, either glorious or ghoulish, but rather might be moving outwards toward no particular destination at all — terrifies a great many people, since it relates to one of the things most people love to praise and can’t bear to practice—that is, freedom.

Questions? Comments? Discussions? Have at it—subject, of course, to the usual rules.


In other news, I’m delighted to announce that my annotated translation of Giordano Bruno’s On the Shadows of the Ideas—the most important work on the Art of Memory by that art’s greatest Renaissance practitioner—is now available from Miskatonic Books in a gorgeous, heavily illustrated hardcover edition. Check it out.


  1. John–

    That tail end of your post made me think of the organic growth of communities, especially cities, versus planned development. Allowing versus constraining. Of course, many would see this as a conflict between chaos and (linear) order — chaos being “bad” in that schema. I have come to appreciate the beauty of organic order (which, again, many would see as disorder) in contrast to the starkness of linearity. A lush vegetable garden, for example, versus a manicured lawn out of some 1950s suburbia.

    I do think that people desire purpose, but balk at creating their own — a position I understand, as I have only recently been able to break from that mindset myself — because it must come from without oneself in order to “count.” Freedom, for all the press it is given, is something sought much less than most realize or are willing to admit.

    Re your translation of Bruno’s text, I got an email that my copy is on its way 😉 Can’t wait!

  2. To me, it’s the most logical way to view life, since the evidence of adaptation (and the results of failure to adapt) are everywhere. It’s also the most comforting, since it allows for the integration of all matter and spirit in a way that can explain the near-universal sense people have of a larger purpose, an interconnectedness, or a divine being. We have created a false dichotomy of science vs. faith, but I recall a quote by Albert Einstein, who is supposed to have said: “There are only two ways to live your life: as if nothing is a miracle, or as if everything is a miracle.” I consider evolution to be one of many miracles.

  3. The essential key to the process of evolution being constructive in the long run is that the forces being adapted to are a natural part of the ecosystem in question. Evolution can be destructive and maladaptive when it occurs in relation to conditions that are short term or extraordinary in nature. So it is lucky that the pulse of fossil fuel energy released upon the earth will only last for a century or two because if it lasted long enough for humans to evolve in response to it we would be completely maladapted to the conditions that will take over once the fossil fuels are gone. Unfortunetly our social and economic systems evolve much more quickly than our biology so our civilization will be maladapted for the future ahead for a few generations.

  4. Evolution is gradual rather than sudden… but what about punctuated equilibrium? It seems to move in the same sort of fits and starts that imperial decline does: long periods of stability followed by another sudden burst of change. Or is that theory obsolete now?

  5. The Online Etymology site gives this backstory to the word:

    evolution (n.)
    1620s, “an opening of what was rolled up,” from Latin evolutionem (nominative evolutio) “unrolling (of a book),” noun of action from past participle stem of evolvere “to unroll” (see evolve).

    This concept delights me as a visual image: Life rolling open before us like a great scroll, with room in the margins for scribbled commentary to be writ down. It also seems to correlate with the Wolfram-informed view of the universe consisting of a set of simple constraints on a few basic elements expressing an unrolling fabric printed early on with patterns of trivial simplicity then elaborating into dynamic regularity and/or unguessable complexity, changing as it goes, even though it goes nowhere in particular — just following the basic laws of its being. Freedom emerging from within rules, like the meaning and beauty of a sonnet.

  6. I see evolution very much as you do, but I see your dismissal of progress as an excessive reaction to the usual narrow understanding of progress that you rightly condemn.

    I see evolution as progressing, ratchet-like, in the direction of increasing complexity and cooperation. Conscious will, intent, and planning, are a sub-plot in the larger picture, but one that our consciousness naturally overvalues. Like a strong man may overvalue his muscles, even if he doesn’t know what to do with them, we are sadly inefficient at using our consciousness to best advantage. More evolution required. But it seems likely to me that as another feedback process, and more complex than anything else we observe in the universe, the phenomenon we experience as consciousness will gradually grow in importance. Maybe even someday become as important as it thinks it is.

  7. In the name of God, the Infinitely Good, the Merciful.

    Dear John,

    Well, for about ten years now, from the opposite side of the world, I have been reading your essays, and last week I decided that I must write to you in order to express my gratitude. Either one of us could depart from this world at any moment, and I owe you the courtesy of at least one message before that happens.

    Over the years, I have been blessed to follow your diverse writings as you have meandered through the incredibly complex patchwork of human thought and attempted to help your readers see the forest for the trees. Along the way, I have also picked up bits and pieces from your personal life. I have followed your migrations, first from Ashland to Cumberland, and then recently on to Providence, each time consulting a map so as to place you in my mind’s own map of the world. I have learned of your childhood years in Seattle, your involvement in the appropriate technology movement, your wife’s poor health, and the tragic loss of your only child.

    Your sincerity, your honesty, and your commitment to personal change have kept me faithful to your essays, despite the odd venture into topics that hold little interest for me.

    John, I am a Muslim and I firmly believe in the one true God, the divine decree, and the final judgement; there are many things we’ll never see eye-to-eye on. Nonetheless, I consider you to be one of my teachers, and you hold a place dear to me in my heart. God has placed you in my life, and the lives of all of your readers, to teach us history, to teach us politics, and to teach us much, much more. As a Muslim, God has instructed me to quench my thirst for wisdom wherever it presents itself, and in you, my dear brother, my fellow son of Adam, I have found a gushing spring in the barren desert of modernity. I sincerely thank you, and by thanking you I thank God.

    In the course of my life, I have encountered just a handful of people who have deeply affected my intellectual development, and you are one of those special few people. I love each and every one of them; so I say here now, John, that I love you.

    I truly hope for your well-being into the future, and I pray that God may guide you, me, and all of your readers.

    Thank you again John.

    I don’t suppose I am likely to write again, so farewell my brother.

    All praise is due to God, the Lord of the Worlds.

    If anyone is interested in learning from other great teachers, and if John doesn’t mind me passing on a couple of links, please take off your shoes, approach the gathering, and find a place on the carpet next to the other students …


    P.S. To all of those who have commented on John’s essays over the years, I have thoroughly enjoyed your thoughtful reflections. I would also like to thank you too.

  8. Have you read Evolution and Holism by Jan Smuts? I’d be curious to get your thoughts on it, and how it does (or does not) relate to the Law of Evolution.

  9. Concerning David’s point about gardens, my own garden is an exercise in “allowing,” and that is the term I most often use when describing to visitors the whole process from soil development to plant communities. Who am I to tell a free spirited cucurbit that this bed is for the beans! And boy do cucurbits like to mix it up in the lusty sport of diversification!

  10. My copy of Bruno is also on its way. I do find myself wondering, reading someone else’s translation, if one of the purposes of Bruno’s volvelles is to teach students of his method to manage and memorize the various endings of Latin conjugations and declensions in all their myriad forms.

    I’ve done some work along those lines with some reasonable results that I’m pleased with… but I’m frankly not sure that anyone else can get it to work that way.

  11. One thing I like about the definition of evolution you put forth is that it sounds a lot like the old definition of the word growth. It implies that evolutionary processes have their own ontology. Something like say Archaeopteryx starts an evolutionary line that leads to flying birds, but there will never be a bird that will fly at supersonic speeds.

    I feel like the word evolution has been corrupted like the word growth. A business or a living creature once reaching a certain size has reached maturity, anything after that is just cancerous. The reintegration part of evolution seems to imply that the law of balance is also at work. The law of balance would seem to necessitate that evolution be slow, thus to allow for a rearranging of the scales.

    Just a thought – Would a better term for the long descent be “the response”? We’ve tried to force evolution to give us everything we want, GMO etc. And the long descent might be better thought of as the natural world pushing back/responding.

  12. Hello, JMG. Thank you for this one. My first thought is that there is a little bit more to the process we call evolution than this: “That process starts with adaptation to changing conditions and ends by establishing a steady state in balance with its surroundings, following a threefold rhythm of challenge, response, and reintegration.”

    Whats missing (for me) in this account is the bit before “adaptation” kicks in – ie the creative acts by which novelty and variation actually arise – for example symbiosis (as popularised and lab tested by Lynn Margulis) or hybridisation (as intensively studied by Eugene McCarthy), or the structured and “intelligent-seeming” innovations within the genome (studied and described in the work of James Shapiro). None of these variations arise gradually nor, to my way of thinking, are adaptive responses – that comes later – but instead they follow upon the explorations, play, experimentation, and creative impulses of organisms. What is new and different arises from organisms essentially “fooling around” with each other and occasionally producing novel, if unintended, consequences… any new resulting beings *then* face a life shaped by the selective pressures of all the other living things in their environment, which determine how well they can adapt to the conditions they find themselves in.

    I suppose, I find this type of scientific challenge to the neo-Darwinian “modern synthesis” refreshing, because they have the effect of adding back in the element of creativity which the anti-creationists tried to remove. But they do not so much add the creativity back into the hands of an external creator, but instead, add it back to the myriad and diverse living beings which are continuously self-creating and self-reproducing.

    I am not sure if I have expressed myself clearly enough. I absolutely concur with your view that “Evolution…works by increasing diversity and accumulating possibilities, rather than following a predetermined line of development.” I am somewhat less certain about the process being “gradual rather than sudden” or about whether “the process STARTS by adaptation”.

    I suppose I would see the three-fold rhythm as more like this: “play, challenge/response, reintegration”.

  13. JMG
    I have gone over your chapter again. I am not sure how biological evolution and ecologies were viewed by different past cultures, but the more in-depth view points (wisdoms) seem to have had a respect for diversity.

    We were still, however, in a considerable muddle in suburban London in the 1950s. Our school system for the masses strongly favored middle class values and was a highly selective hurdle race. The system tended to assume for one thing that ‘intelligence’ was inherited and was a ‘scientific’ biological fact. I think there was probably also an element in this thinking based on older notions than Darwinian evolution, and derived from animal breeding. (It would not be entirely wrong to imagine Tolkien’s creatures being separated out by tests, segregated in different classrooms and then placed in different schools. I could go on.).The ‘uppers’ meanwhile maintained a pretty exclusive grip via their separate private education, where they could deal with actual biological fact that every family produced a range of academic abilities and that something more than diluted Grandpa’s genes was needed to maintain social ascendancy.

    I would make a general point nevertheless that accelerated actual biological evolution can be achieved by both animal and plant breeding. Usually the loss of a diversity of wild-type genes, however, often requires specialized environments for domesticated varieties. I don’t suppose many of us have actually seen what a broiler chicken looks and behaves like these days. It is what selection pressure of 1000s to one can produce over a few decades. And for plants it is actually quite difficult to ‘breed back’ resistance to disease and pests in high yielding crops. In general, with exceptions, these crops require, for instance, more pesticides to protect them.

    Biological diversity in human beings seems also quite narrow compared with many other species, but I realize that I do not know as much about this as I might have thought. (Anybody?) Our actual diversity, however, is often significant, sometimes from quick-acting and short-lived phenomena as in epigenetic effects from diverse environmental influence (e.g. diet), but mostly evidenced in social diversity derived from and perpetuated as legacies of social cultures. if I may be so bold as to put it this way, legacies from their spirits and souls, wisdom and the loss thereof. Some places are actually quite nice.

    Phil H

  14. When I read your Retrotopia story on the arch druids report there was something that I could not put in words at this time that did not catch on to me. I spend much time thinking about it and evolution was the solution to my thoughts and your very quote fits nicely to what was thinking.

    Being myself an engineer I am well aware of the fact that technological “progress” (excuse the word) is most often evolutionary, rarely revolutionary, and most revolutionary attempts do not work. Even seemingly revolutionary technology is the result of an evolutionary line of trials and prototypes that is most often invisible to the public.

    Evolution, be it biological or technological, has no goal, that is true. Both nature and engineers are pragmatic enough to use entities according to their features, not to their original purpose. But I would not say that it has no direction, because I want to distinguish two different concepts of the word direction.

    Concept one is the intended direction, meaning a goal or a a target. We agree that evolution does not have this.

    Concept two is the vectorial or emergent direction. Forces or velocities can be described as a vector and thus have a direction, but both may not be intended (for example when accidentally dropping a glass). In this meaning evolution has of course a direction, the direction from the current state to the next state. But this direction is not intended or planned, it is emergent.

    This distinction is important, because evolutionary developments are due to their emergent direction irreversible. Due to evolution the future will not look like the present, but it will also not look like the past. We will never have dinosaurs again, because the ecosystem that they emerged from is gone. In the same way we will never have many historic technologies again, because the technological ecosystem they emerged from is gone.

    This is the reason why the Retrotopia did not catch on to me (although it was well written and fun to read). It described an entire ecosystem that is gone. Many of the technologies there where fitted to the tools, materials, energy sources and the established interfaces of other technologies of that particular ecosystem. I do not think that this ecosytem will come back (I believe that you do not think that either but just wanted to illustrate the world beyond the point of negative marginal gains of “progress”).

    Many years ago on the arch druid report you said that industrial civilization will end in centuries to come and I argued that it will not end, but just be an industrial civilization of different kind. I think today I can fined other words to better describe what I meant. Due to the irreversibility of evolution, some events leave the world changed forever. When mammals replaced reptiles as the dominant group of surface animals, this created an irreversible change and ended the age of dinosaurs. Many mammals went into niches that before were beset by dinosaurs and developed similar features, but after all, they were hairy, milk feeding and life birthing mammals.

    In the same way some civilizational achievements were irreversible and survived some of the darkest ages. We never went back to being hunters and gatherers after the neolithic revolution. We never went back to stones and copper after the iron age. Both technologies were crucial to feed and equip armies and thus no society could afford not to use them. I think for the same reason the use of firearms is irreversible as can be seen in many current war torn regions were craftsmen build assault rifles with very simple sets of tools. I also think that no navy can ever afford not to use radars and guided missiles and it is for centuries and millennials to come very unlikely for electricity, nuclear weapons and microcontrollers to vanish.

    North Korea is a perfect example how the arms industry that ensures the very existence of a society can pull even from the most underdeveloped regions enough resources so that even a rather small and isolated society can build ICBMs, something that half a century ago only the most powerful and richest nations were able to.

    Maybe renewables will not be able to completely replace fossil fuels and future will be a time of scarcity. But like agriculture and iron working, quite a few of our current technological achievements will be around for millennias to come. In this way, our age may not be the end of history, but just the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.

  15. I had a notion that the reason people don’t want to acknowledge evolution in a way that is different from the religion of progress is that they may have to face the fact that human race could be an evolutionary dead end. Not to mention the complexity of forces that are in play. My goodness, but haven’t we unleashed a bunch of forces with our evolutionary progress.

  16. JMG,

    During a discussion on consciousness on the old blog, Well of Galabes, IIRC, you stated that pure Will existed before consciousness, and consciousness came into being when Will encountered an obstacle. I was pondering on that thought in light of this week’s post.

    It strikes me that it follows the challenge, response, and reintegration arc, with an increase in diversity and accumulating possibilities, meaning that as the Will continued to meet obstacles, individual consciousnesses multiplied, existing consciousnesses adapted to challenges by growing, gods were created, the planes came into existence one after the other, cascading down, ending on the material plane, where the process continues horizontally. Is the material plane, in other words, a response to a challenge on a higher plane? Would it be fair to say that the process continues horizontally on the other planes as well?

    Thinking of this in terms of reincarnation, then, each life challenges us, we respond and adapt, then bring that adaptation with us into the next life, meaning we reintegrate in the “ecosystem of spirits” as an evolved being (using your definition of evolution) and eventually we simply are adapted to thrive in the new situation past the physical life, as an disembodied being, a “god”. But as a very unique individuality.

  17. Although I still have a liking to Stephen J. Gould’s thoughts about more abrupt evolutionary episodes, I do not have the brainware to argue the point, nor is it that important. However, your definition does leave out the one thing that seems to me to be essential to all “steady states” of life histories: entropy! Slow, steady, and inexorable. Our “civilization” seems to “think” that this law does not apply to us either. But it does apply to all ‘eras’ of life on earth; though not in some way leading to any sudden end to any of those ‘eras’.

  18. I’ve never understood the people who insist evolution must have a direction. Look at trees vs humans: we have evolved in very different directions, and I somehow doubt that trees will ever turn into something like us, or vice versa.

  19. David, excellent — you’ve caught one of the core themes I plan on talking about, the role played by the stark terror of freedom in this supposed “Land of the Free.” More on this as we proceed.

    Karen, that works for me.

    Clay, sure, but there are always short term conditions in play, and extraordinary conditions show up quite ordinarily! Thus evolution is always poised between adaptive and maladaptive consequences — and of course what turns out to be adaptive or maladaptive very often can’t be known in advance, since the conditions we can expect in the next geological epoch aren’t announced in advance.

    Patricia, the evolutionary leaps proposed by the theory of punctuated equilibrium are only sudden when seen in terms of geological time. Why, this species emerged in only half a million years! From a human perspective, that’s pretty gradual…

    Gkb, excellent! To my mind one of the great things about Wolfram’s new science is precisely that it applies evolutionary thinking all the way down the line.

    Tom, yes, I’m familiar with that attempt to force evolution into the Procrustean bed of the myth of progress. There is nothing ratchet-like in evolution as we see it in the fossil record; rather, higher levels of complexity are routinely gained and then lost again. Since consciousness leaves no trace in geological strata unless it happens to be paired with means of manipulating the world — it’s an accident of evolution, after all, that our species has brains as complex as a dolphin’s as well as hands as delicate as a monkey’s — we have precisely no way of knowing how many other species just as conscious as we are, or potentially even more conscious and intelligent, existed before our time. Thus the only scientifically valid answer to “does consciousness increase over time in evolutionary terms” is “we don’t know yet — check back in twenty million years”!

    Umar, thank you very much; I appreciate knowing that my work has had an influence on your life.

    Aigin, I have indeed, but it’s been a very long time; it was recommended reading when I was taking courses in systems theory back in my first pass through college in the early 1980s. I’ll have to revisit it at some time and see what I think.

    Redoak, works for me. My gardens have always tended to be exercises in “allowing,” in very much your sense of the word!

    Andrew, according to what I’ve read about Renaissance Latin pedagogy, no, by the time anybody got to Bruno they’d had the declensions and conjugations pounded into them. It worked the other way around; since you knew all the endings by heart, you could use that as part of a scaffold on which to memorize other things!

    Austin, yes, indeed! I’ve tended to use life cycle metaphors — the long descent is basically the equivalent of old age — but an evolutionary model also helps.

    Scotlyn, and that’s also a workable way to think of it. I was trying to boil things down to simplest terms here, and the metaphor can certainly be extended in other ways, including the one you’ve proposed.

    Phil, no question, the concept of evolution has been misused in a lot of ways, and that’s one of them.

    Deedlsblog, evolution is only irreversible in the trivial sense that no exact duplicate of an earlier organism is going to recur. In any less trivial sense, evolution reverses all the time. During the Permian and early Triassic, the distant ancestors of mammals (complete with whiskers, live birth, and milk glands) were the dominant land animals; then they were squeezed out by the first wave of dinosaurs; then most of the dinosaurs died out and mammals came back into prominence; now, by most measures, birds (which are direct descendants of dinosaurs) are doing better in evolutionary terms than mammals are, and in another ten or twenty million years will probably be the dominant land animals again, with mammals once again pushed into the nocturnal roles for which they’re so well suited.

    That kind of thing happens all the time in evolutionary history. While emergent directions do of course exist, it’s a mistake to see them as permanent. A given vectorial direction will emerge under a certain set of conditions that favor adaptations in that direction, and then conditions will change and the vector will collapse, leading to a period of more or less random radiation before a new vectorial direction emerges. Trying to use that as a basis to smuggle the myth of progress into evolution simply won’t work.

    It’s precisely the collapse of one vectorial direction and the emergence of another, very different one, in turn, that guarantees that industrial civilization is on its way out. We’ve followed one specific emergent direction as far as it can go, given the limits of the Earth’s resource base and its capacity to handle our wastes. Now that direction is collapsing around us as conditions change, and the civilizations that will arise in the future will establish their own, entirely different vectors.

    Kay, bingo. If evolution has no inherent direction, then we aren’t the predestined masters of the cosmos — we could just be one more oddity spawned by evolution, with no guarantee that we’ll be bailed out of the cascading consequences of our own stupidity…

  20. Myriam, thank you. You’ve just earned tonight’s gold star for taking the concepts I’ve proposed and leaping past me into territory I hadn’t reached yet. Yes, in fact, that would make perfect sense. Hmm and again hmm… I think I know what my next month or so of meditations are going to be about.

    Bruce, yes, but entropy can be (and very often is) misunderstood. Are you familiar with Ilya Prigogine’s work on the way that entropy creates complexity? He argues — on the basis of very solid mathematical grounds, as well as abundant examples from the real world — that the flow of energy from a highly concentrated source to a diffuse sink (think the sun for the first and deep space for the second) generates “eddies” of complexity en route, and that these will increase to a point determined by various factors and stay near that level as long as conditions remain relatively stable.

    For an example and a metaphor, think of the way that water plunging from a higher level through rapids into a pool produces complex eddies and currents in the pool; as long as the flow continues and nothing disrupts the water in the pool, you’re going to see roughly the same level of complexity in the eddies and currents. The sun is our “water source” and the Earth’s biosphere is the “pool,” and all living things are eddies and currents in the flow of energy from the sun to deep space.

    Will, good. Yeah, the various attempts to shoehorn all living things into a linear process of evolution reliably produce dreck.

  21. Building on your response to Deedlsblog, you think humans are going to be extinct in 10 million years, if perhaps birds/their descendants will again be the dominant land critters. On the other hand if a species or group is going to survive in the long run it probably doesn’t pay to evolve to be at the apex of the food chain. Hamlet senior found this out, then Hamlet Jr. Duncan, Macbeth, Julius Cesar, etc.

    So if humans are to survive longer than 1 million years, average species survival time is 2 mil, then we probably shouldn’t keep trying to force evolution to put us on the throne….. To many Claudius and Brutus’ in the world.

  22. Thinking out loud building on Myriam’s comment:

    “When will discovered an obstacle.” Was the obstacle simply another will? I’m probably going to meditate on that to. Applying evolution to identity and each will, seems to suggest that will is some physical thing – That it has limbs appendages etc. but it doesn’t because it’s not a physical thing. And if it only evolves during a lifetime, wouldn’t that suggest that thought is the process by which adaptations are made to a consciousness?

    It kinda begs the question what’s the difference in thought process between a embodied creature and one waiting in line for the next ticket back to Earth? Wouldn’t the key to Gwynfid then be the ability to carry physical thought, ie the thing our brain does into the disembodies state? It doesn’t have to be exactly what a brain does because didn’t you say once that there are plant spirits or something that have made it to Gwynfid?

    Because reincarnation isn’t species specific then wouldn’t each spirit follow a lineage on the evolutionary tree? So when sponges and algae diverged a set of consciousnesses parted ways forever?

    I could be wrong.

  23. @Patricia Mathews

    “what about punctuated equilibrium? It seems to move in the same sort of fits and starts that imperial decline does: long periods of stability followed by another sudden burst of change. Or is that theory obsolete now?”

    Ah yes, Punk Eke. I wouldn’t say it’s obsolete exactly, just better understood, and not really at odds with the ‘gradual’ idea. Partly it’s an illusion due to the nature of the fossil record – the ‘sudden’ change might have occurred gradually, but there was no record of it. Then, the next time that fossil-producing conditions happened in an area, it looked like a sudden jump. Fossil-producing conditions are fairly rare, and it’s a wonder we have the record we do.

    But sometimes environments remain fairly consistent for long periods of time, and perhaps evolution doesn’t show up morphologically (i.e., perceptible in the fossil record). Perhaps there are behavioral adaptations, or even biochemical adaptations. It’s when environments change significantly that ‘environmental pressure’ is exerted, maybe in a way that appears evident in the fossil record. Or maybe somebody new comes into town – other organisms are part of the environment, too…

  24. I am reading Charles Uptons ‘ system of the antichrist ‘ at the moment , seems i have stumbled into the traditionalist school of thought that includes writers such as Schuon , Coomaraswamy , Huston Smith ,Guenon , metaphysicians who champion the big 5 traditional religions . These guys are neo Platonists who posit that humanity cycles toward and away from the traditional archetypes or ideals that have come down to us from these ancient religions that are more or less all built around the ‘Primordial Wisdom’. There is no evolution for them.

    They are instantly labelled as fascists or even nazis in our culture , though i see the nazis as being quintessentially and prototypically postmodern. After all, they concocted that the german people were especially special and descended from the hyporboreans from the north pole , mixed with a bit of tibetan buddhism and teutonic neo paganism , a hatred of jews and away you go.

    Curious what you think of these traditionalists with their doctrine of a god who is both transcendent and immanent , and their mistrust of psychism and ego worship in all its forms . They are especially critical of the will to power inherent in postmodernity.
    I guess the main argument people have today is ‘ why should we accept ancient definitions of what is archetypically ideal’, which is the essence of faith i suppose.

    Upton is a Catholic – occultist – hippy – tuned Sufi mystic who refers to Gregory of Nyssa , Clement of Alexandria , Dionysus the Aeropagite , Meister Eckhart and Ib’n Al Arabi a lot in his writings . It has a good feel to me , having always dedicated any occult meditations to the Archangels , the Goddess of Psyche and the unknown beyond the three veils of unknowing.

  25. I’m reminded of your presentation of Burkean conservatism as an evolutionary perspective for politics. Utopias regularly fail precisely because they haven’t evolved to suit the environment in which they have to operate. This isn’t because they don’t evolve—Marxism, for example, has evolved quite a bit since Marx—but because they evolve to meet the challenges of a more-or-less imaginary environment made up of the aspects of reality some group of utopians has bothered to notice.

    China is a good case study here, since they achieved politico-economic stability only by a willingness to give up on utopia rather than try ever-more ad-hoc fixes to hold the line for communism. As I understand it, they now call their political economy “capitalism with Chinese characteristics.” Not the sort of political economy I’d personally like to live in—not by a long shot—but admirable in its own way.

    I’m also reminded of one of my personal crankish (and cranky) opinions: that people are think the metric system is superior to customary units of measure are smoking their shorts. One key issue for me is that customary units (whether the US’s so-called Imperial units or anywhere else’s) evolved to meet everyday tasks, while the SI units evolved for use in science and have been shoehorned onto everything else, then shoved down everyone else’s throats. The obsession with easy conversions between different types of units (not only, say, different types of length but between a length and the weight of a cube of water with that side length) in particular is kind of baffling if you don’t realize how much that’s needed in science.

  26. Austin, good. I’m not sure if the descendants of birds will be the apex animals on land again in ten or twenty million years, but it seems likely — to judge by past examples of this kind of change, we’ll see birds proliferate and mammals become scarcer, especially in the smaller niches; finally, outside of nocturnal niches (which the keen mammalian sense of smell allows them to dominate), mammals will mostly be big lumbering things atop a bird-dominated ecosystem — and then another extinction crisis will come along, the big mammals will die out, and birds will evolve to fill those niches too. (Imagine a distant descendant of crows becoming a big flightless bird, twelve feet high at the shoulder, with claws like a tyrannosaur and a serrated beak, capable of running thirty miles an hour to chase down prey and tear it apart…)

    As for your evolutionary speculations — no, you’re not wrong. By all means keep meditating along those same lines!

    Arpeggio, the so-called Traditionalists are as quintessentially postmodern as the Nazis were. Watch the way that Guenon, for example, cobbled together his ideology out of bleeding chunks of Islam, Catholic Christianity, Hinduism et al., or the way that Evola fabricated a supposedly primordial Tradition out of a dog’s breakfast of pop-culture themes from the early 20th century European avant-garde he later claimed to despise — Nietzsche, Bachofen, Weininger, Schopenhauer, they’re all there, chopped up and mashed together into a bizarre ahistorical slurry. That sort of frantic attempt to concoct an ersatz tradition and defend it in shrill tones against all comers was a common reaction to the death of authentic European traditionalism in the First World War — a death that Josephin Peladan predicted mordantly well in advance, by the way — and as Yeats points out in a typically edged passage, when the candle has burnt out, an honest man does not pretend that grease is flame.

    Mind you, I haven’t read Upton, and it’s possible that he’s offering something a little less forced; I’ll put him on the get-to list.

    James, excellent! Customary units of measure are also based on the human body — the foot is a foot, the inch the length of the last joint of a man’s thumb, and so on — and things built according to customary measure tend to fit human bodies better than things built according to the wholly abstract metric system. (There are also issues of sacred geometry involved, but that’s a can of worms I don’t propose to open here.)

  27. That puts new meaning to eating crow, being eaten by a 30ft crow. Something out of a lovecraft novel.

  28. JMG: I wish I could be as optimistic as you are for birds: You write: “by most measures, birds (which are direct descendants of dinosaurs) are doing better in evolutionary terms than mammals”. True they are doing better than primates or predators such as wolves, lions and bears.

    But as a person active in nature conservation, I can say that all is not well for birds. For instance one of our programmes is concerned with the Mediterranean migratory bird flyway where tens of millions of birds are killed annually by humans through hunting, trapping, crashing into wind turbines (relatively few of course), loss of habitat etc.

    Birds are indeed sometimes adaptive like the Sacred Ibis that had become extinct in the 19th century in Egypt where it had once been common, but has multiplied in France as an escapee from zoos and has adapted to feeding on McDonald’s garbage, but again is under threat from humans including ornithologists because it sometimes likes varying its McDo diet with eggs of an endemic threatened bird species.

    Even the recently common house sparrow is disappearing in the UK partly it seems because the young eat French fries which are bad for their health.

    Also many sea birds eat plastic garbage floating in the sea mistaking it for organic food…And then in India the vultures are being wiped out by eating carcasses of cattle treated with Diclofenac to the point that the Indian Parsee tradition of exposing human corpses on towers to be eaten by vultures is under threat.

    So today “natural selection” it seems is completely dependent on humans.

  29. Curiously, Upton doesnt mention Evola at all, or offer any initiation or systemic practice. He seems quite eschatologically apocalyptic though , in a nutshell :

    “ok kiddies, we are in the end times of this cycle . Collectively we are no longer able to perceive the immanently transcendent God, though individually this is still possible. We are in the postmodern sorcerer age of antichrist in which all is power relations and psychism . Be careful out there and here are the common metaphysical traps offered by the new age and occult systems.”

    In general , these traps involve leaving out the possibility of immanence , transcendence or both , and in general will trick you into cutting yourself off from the absolute and infinite and into worshipping the individual and/ or collective ego”.

    Neither Evola nor Evolution seems to enter the picture, only fidelity or deviance and i was reminded of your Dragon/ Phoenix/ Unicorn metaphors. Overwhelmingly , his message was ” there is truth in the old religions , and the only power that is safe to handle is love “.

  30. PS JMG: Bringing in as you do the bigger picture of the eons of evolution on planet Earth brings some consolation to the heart of this nature lover in facing the Sixth Mass Extinction!

  31. Greetings all

    JMG wrote: “There are also issues of sacred geometry involved, but that’s a can of worms I don’t propose to open here.”

    Shall we see this can of worms opened up one day in a not too far future?

  32. Your definition makes me aware of my personal limits … I’m edging closer to that vague, soupy horizon where joyous freedom encounters agoraphobia. The time may have come to question remaining vestiges of belief in an Ultimate Presence providing some measure of authoritative direction … of a few unbreakable, universal laws providing benevolent limits to the free, unencumbered evolution of Life. Now I wonder whether even those laws are functions of the evolutionary stage itself, influenced by it, while influencing it. Adaptation in my own feeling/thinking … becoming aware of another, unfamiliar level of freedom beckoning. Water, air, earth … is fire the next frontier?

    In the slow adaptation of the evolutionary process there are moments of dramatic change. There must have been one single moment in the experience of every would-be amphibian when he/she emerged from the water and challenged itself to breath. And did! Then again … one tested its wings and flew. Like birth … a dramatic emergence into a thoroughly new “reality”, with apparently new laws … or fresh manifestations of unshifting old laws?

    The corollaries in a time of planetary crisis are striking.

  33. Meditating last night on freedom I began to go inward into a glorious realm of light. There I was for some time. I learned that freedom, defined inwardly, always is, it is perpetual and undirected. It is a state of being. An eternal loci of potentiality from which all other things can occur.

    The climate and topography of this inner land felt both intimate and alien. The feeling of freedom was much more profound than the concepts I walked away from. Being in that realm I felt light and happy, self-existing and relaxed. Freedom didn’t want any thing, it simply is. It didn’t say “go become an entrepreneur, young man,” it said, instead, “you always are.” It gave me no direction, it didn’t hem me in any direction. If I were to choose to do something with this freedom it was a lower and heavier thing than the freedom itself, like a rock thrown into a pool making ripples.

    The freedom then was a passive principle rather than active. It was permission rather than volition. Perhaps indifference would be a better word, although my experience was filled with golden light and classical music so it’s hard to phrase freedom as merely “indifferent”. Just being there was deeply joyous and transformative.

    Perhaps too, this is where freedom ties into evolution. Evolution is the play of forms in the field of freedom. It is directionless, unguided and transformational. There is, also, a joyous quality that I detect. Of course, there is much pain and suffering but, somehow, I suspect that the play of form, the directionless possibilities have a joyous quality that is more pronounced than the suffering, that the suffering itself is a container for consciousness that would rather suffer than to not exist.

  34. Hi JMG,

    I have a couple of thoughts regarding this law – my apologies for the length of this post.

    One is that the process of evolution is constant. Random changes are constantly being generated over time, these changes can aid, hinder or have no effect on the organism for the situation in question. Some changes will have aspects of all three. Thus, for example, we have changes that increase the chances of finding a mate, but also increase the chance of being predated. There is no “steady state” and these changes are subject of the law of balance, gain here, lose there. Any perception of there being a steady state is simply a function of our incapability to perceive the changes occurring over time. The environment is constantly changing and challenging the species resident in it and changes are constantly occurring in those organisms. Indeed, some of these changes will represent the loss of some ability, often in response to the energy cost that that ability brought with it. So evolution isn’t just accumulating possibilities, its also removing them.

    Secondly, that there is no pre-determined line of development. While the changes are themselves random, those that are retained can be clearly seen and predicted in some situations. So, if a species has a “desire” for larger horns in finding a mate, we can predict that horns will grow larger, but that there will be a cut off where the energy cost of growing the horns and the weight of those horns will dictate a maximum limit. In a time of rising sea levels and increasing marshiness at the coastlines, species with webbed feet will most likely prosper and we can expect to see species with those attributes out competing those without. So, while the individual changes are random, together they have an emergent property of direction. That direction may be short term and based on local conditions, but it does exist.

    In many ways, I think that evolution as applied to species is different from evolution as applied to societies. Species will evolve to adapt, some die out, but some just lose or change abilities and continue to thrive. Societies only seem to evolve in the direction of increasing complexity until that complexity causes them to die out and be replaced by a less complex one. I’ve got a lot to ponder here.

    Lastly, commenting on freedom. A long time ago, I articulated my guiding precept as “Personal choice, personal responsibility”. I’m aware that it has its flaws and cases where its applicability can be questioned. However, for me it worked as the base of a way to make my way in life. It’s what made both your recent and past blog posts on the Stoics so resonant for me. Here were people far more articulate than me writing down what I could barely begin to formulate but felt so strongly about. Understanding the inherent randomness of the universe has never really bothered me. We set our own direction where we can because we are the only ones who can do so. This path will evolve and be subject to the other laws that you have articulated so well, but it will be mine to decide. Unfortunately, I am all too aware that this puts me in the minority when it comes to most people, but then I’m enough of a cranky individualist to believe that everyone exists in a minority of one and most people are just fooling themselves when they believe otherwise.


  35. JMG,

    “(There are also issues of sacred geometry involved, but that’s a can of worms I don’t propose to open here.)”

    I’d love it if you found some time eventually to open that can of worms, and I don’t think I’d be alone. I’ve come to appreciate traditional unites of measurement because it turns out that, if you’re comfortable with fractions, they make it dramatically easier to do relatively complex calculations without a calculator. I’d appreciate more reasons to dump the decimal.

  36. @JMG and @Bruce
    Re: Entropy.

    Professor Brian Cox mentioned this theory on a program about life and evolution. His explanation indicated that this flow of energy from concentrated to diffuse was an actual requirement for life. Life evolved because that flow of energy was available for use, thus enabling a temporary increase in complexity while still not breaking the thermodynamic laws that describe entropy. If there was no entropic flow of energy, then there would be no opportunity for complexity to arise. This complexity reaches all the way back to the beginning of the universe. A star is more concentrated than a cloud of gas, but gravity concentrates the gas and produces the star. The star produces elements that are more complex than hydrogen and also increases the heat produced (entropy). Heat and complex elements enable carbon, nitrogen and liquid water, and so on. Thus we see the law of flow, the law of balance, the law of cause and effect, the law of evolution all demonstrated purely by the effects of entropy.

  37. @Imperial system:
    I somehow get the appeal of feet and inches, though a yard doesn’t seem so hugely different from a meter to me. What bothers me no end is pound per square inch, a measure no less artificial than kg/m2, and it gets even more absurd in the range of millions of psi vs kg/m2. It seems more a hidden subsidy for American instrument builders than anything else!

  38. Hi JMG,

    I certainly appreciate the way you can intertwine science into some of your responses, since “religious” types sometimes check that at the door. For you to take the term “evolution”, and provide a substantial twist to common definitions is quite fascinating – at least to me. As a geology student back in college, Darwin’s theory certainly made sense when looking at the geologic record, but your seventh law takes it to whole new level and then some.

    One question that comes to mind is the “driving force” behind evolution. You’ve mentioned in your book the field mouse would get replaced by another rodent or similar creature that filled that niche, but isn’t it possible for the niche to remain vacant?

    When it comes to life on Earth, we’ve observed evidence of past extinctions, then a new round of evolution of species to come back and repopulate the environment – but if a steady state is a final result, what’s to keep evolutionary processes from reverting back to an Earth of 3.2 billion years ago, when there was only single celled organisms around?

  39. Myriam, Austin, JMG,

    When I read this section of the book, my mind headed off in a very similar direction to Myriam’s as she outlined in her comment. I have been reading a bit on the Tree of Life lately, and it seems like the Tree is really a symbolic description of the process of evolution of our universe. Or, more specifically, as I am trying to grasp from Dion Fortune’s book the Mystical Qabalah, it is a description of first the ‘involution’ or folding up, or describing of the universe, from God through the planes and to Earth, so to speak, and the resulting evolution or unfolding, or exploration from Earth back to God. (Or perhaps it is these two processes happening continuously, in a constant state of flow.) Kether is divided into two principles – Chokmah and Binah, the opposing male and female forces. Their interactions (when Chokmah encountered Binah) create the laws and limits inherent in that plane, until the two forces become balanced. As they become balanced, they create new forms which spill over into the next plane of Chesed and Geburah, the next pair of male and female forces. And the process continues right down to the material plane. At that point the unfolding or evolution process begins, and through the interaction of male and female life forms on earth, there is a continuous process of exploration through reproduction, of all the laws and limits which initially were created (or are always being created) on the upper planes. In that way, the universe could be seen as a continuous meditation on the part of God or the Logos – the process of exploring, learning and evolving into new forms. I’m reminded of the infinity symbol – forever going out and coming back. And as new Gods and Goddesses are created along the way, they also enter into this process. Humanity and all other life forms are also involved in this process as we continue to change in response to the laws and limits shaping us.

    I’m finding this quite difficult to put into words today (which may also be due to a lack of sleep!) In fact, the sole purpose of trying to put it into words might just be to say, hey, fellow contemplative people and seekers on the path, there is something here that seems like it might be pretty helpful in terms of trying to understand ourselves and the universe. The only way to start to grasp it though is to meditate on the symbols and concepts, and by doing so, access the different states of consciousness which allow for the information contained within the symbols to be directly communicated to one’s mind.

    Somewhere in that Dion Fortune book she speculated that evolution is increasing the mind’s capacity to understand the universe, which for us right now can largely only be understood through symbols and parables etc. Maybe what she meant is that more people, primarily through the work of initiation, are able to access the states of consciousness which permit for a greater understanding of the inner planes, and thus can embody within themselves a more effective response to the laws and limits inherent to our universe.

  40. John–

    Re your intent to discuss freedom and the fear thereof in American life

    As you explore this topic, I’d be very curious to know your opinion as to when in our history we went awry, or if this fear has always been a component of the American psyche. (Thoreau’s comments on conformity in _Walden_ come to mind as I write this, so it has perhaps been around for a good while.)

  41. John, would you mind providing us with definitions of evolution and progress, ones that clearly explain the differences between the two?

  42. I used to think that evolution was directional, based on the teaching of Teilhard de Chardin. Do we not have greater consciousness than a simple rock? I also used to think that civilization was directional, and we are on the Road of Progress. But my thinking has evolved, no little thanks to this salon. As my mental neighborhood changed, so my thinking changed to adapt to the changing ecology. My friends and family travel in different neighborhoods, so their maps of the world have evolved in a different way than mine. I, of course, know they’re all wrong. But they’re not really wrong, they just are in a different niche than I am.
    @James M. Jensen II – I too am a crank in preference of traditional systems of measurement, (except when baking – baking is heavily math based, and it’s easier to multiply grams). All over the world land is measured by how much can be plowed by the local draft animal in a day. Distance is based on how far a soldier can march. On a slight aside, the best argument against Intelligent Design is that we have only 10 fingers. A really Intelligent Designer would have endowed us with 12 fingers, since 12 is a far more useful number.

  43. Austin, sometimes you eat crow, and sometimes crow eats you… 😉

    Dominique, of course birds are getting hit hard right now, but they’re being hit less hard than mammals, and several important bird taxa have shown impressive evolutionary vigor over the last few million years — the corvids (crows and their relatives) in particular are behaving as though they’re in the early stages of a massive new evolutionary radiation. That means plenty of species will die out as corvids oust them from their existing niches, of course, but that’s evolutionary business as usual, you know.

    Arpeggio, one of the benefits of historical perspective is that you learn fairly quickly that it’s always the age of the Antichrist. In every epoch, people are insisting that morals have gone to pot, claiming that things were so much better back in the golden age (whenever that happens to be), and warning about how the latest heresies are waiting to gobble you up. I’ve read monastic chroniclers from the Middle Ages — right in the middle of the age of faith that so many Traditionalists glorify — who said essentially the same things as that Upton passage you cited. In that sense, I suppose, Traditionalists are very traditional…

    Dominique, no argument there. It’s particularly comforting to me to remember that the warmer the planet is, the more diverse and exuberant its ecosystems are. Since the beginning of the Pliocene epoch about 5.3 million years ago, the earth has been cooling, and most ecosystems on earth had lost a lot of complexity even before our species arrived. The hothouse planet we’re preparing for our descendants will have much richer ecosystems, once the aftermath of the extinction crisis is over with and surviving species start adapting in many different directions to fill the empty niches.

    Karim, hmm. I’ll consider it. It would take a lot of graphics, though — talking about sacred geometry without geometrical diagrams isn’t particularly useful.

    Marco, welcome to the real world. 😉 Yes, I would suggest that the “laws of nature” are simply habits specific to particular modes and stages of the evolutionary process.

    Violet, if you haven’t already, you might find it interesting to read R.M. Bucke’s classic study Cosmic Consciousness. Some of the things you’ve described are very reminiscent of some of the things he talks about.

    Gavin, no apologies necessary; that was a very solid meditation on the themes of this post.

    Yucca glauca, hmm. I’ll consider it.

    Gavin, yep — that’s Prigogine’s analysis in a nutshell.

    Matthias, I’m not going to argue. A lot of scientific measurements work better in the metric system — pounds per square inch is a gawky combination of two traditional measurements, not a traditional measurement in itself.

    Drhooves, good! There isn’t a driving force at all; what there is, is simply the fact that once you have the capacity for multicellular organisms, ordinary variation plus selective pressure encourages them to specialize, and adapts their descendants to fit that specialization. If you will, it’s suction rather than pressure. An ecological niche is simply a way of staying fed; as living things try various gambits to achieve that desirable condition, they find their way into niches that pretty reliably succeed at that task. Not all niches get filled; many ecosystems are what ecologists call “depauperate,” that is, lacking species that could thrive there in unfilled niches; but the basic ones pretty reliably do get filled.

    As far as evolution and religion, remember that since I’m a Druid, evolution is part of my religion! We Druids were already talking about biological evolution long before the day that a young man named Charles Darwin first boarded H.M.S. Beagle

    Stefania, for someone who’s having trouble putting things into words, you’ve done a very good job of putting some of the basic concept of esoteric philosophy into words! Thank you.

    David, I think it’s been here all along. The immigrants from Europe, from the time they first arrived, were faced with an extraordinary richness of possibilities for human existence for which their cultural backgrounds had not prepared them at all — quite the contrary, in fact. So all along there’s been the searing social conflict between freedom and the terror of freedom — a conflict which, by and large, we haven’t faced with any particular grace.

  44. Rationalist, that depends. Very often when people online ask for definitions they intend to get into a flurry of nitpicking — it’s a very common trolling strategy. Thus my immediate reaction to a request for definitions is to challenge the need for them. That being the case, why do you want to talk about the definitions of two words whose meanings here should be quite clear from context?

    Peter, I wonder sometimes if I need to take Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man apart at the seams and show how he falsified the shape of evolution to force it into a pattern borrowed from Christian theology. (I’m pretty sure that “falsified” is the right word, since he made claims about evolution that even in his own time were clearly untrue — and I sometimes wonder if it’s accidental that he was involved both in the Piltdown Man hoax and the curious incident of Peking Man, the vast majority of whose bones mysteriously vanished off a truck in 1941 — if they were ever on the truck in the first place…) A lot of people take his ideas far more seriously than I think they deserve to be taken…

  45. “Peter, I wonder sometimes if I need to take Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man apart at the seams and show how he falsified the shape of evolution to force it into a pattern borrowed from Christian theology. (I’m pretty sure that “falsified” is the right word, since he made claims about evolution that even in his own time were clearly untrue — and I sometimes wonder if it’s accidental that he was involved both in the Piltdown Man hoax and the curious incident of Peking Man, the vast majority of whose bones mysteriously vanished off a truck in 1941 — if they were ever on the truck in the first place…) A lot of people take his ideas far more seriously than I think they deserve to be taken…”

    This reminds me of that recent book The Ten Thousand Year Explosion. I haven’t read it (yet, I may or may not bother with it) but from a friend who read it and was talking about it it seems incredibly hubristic about how smart we now are and underestimates the intelligence needed to do things like invent a wheeled wagon or domesticate animals or develop metallurgy. Somehow people think using a computer demonstrates massive progression in intelligence over these sorts of developments. Obviously actually inventing computers is complex, but even that isn’t the kind of leap as many of these tools and methods would have been from the Stone Age.

  46. JMG, nice intuition. I wasn’t planning on trolling, but I did intend to use those definitions to argue for spiritual progress with which you disagree.

    You see, my first question when I read this post was:

    “Aren’t our Individualities progressing, rather than evolving, towards Gwynfydd?”

    I then realized that someone must have asked you a similar question on your recent article about reincarnation. I opened it, searched the comments and sure enough, multiple people raised similar points. The examples you gave in response to those comments didn’t exactly convince me, so I figured that asking for definitions would be a good first step before raising the Gwynfydd question above.

  47. @JMG, re: Antichrists: Exactly! One of my books is set in the Middle Ages with a three-hundred-year-old heroine, who comments conversationally that she’s seen about twenty Antichrists in her life, and they’ve all been pretty disappointing.

    @Peter: I would argue that the *best* evidence against Intelligent Design (or that the designer in question is a jerk) is either the female reproductive system, the human sinus, or the gastrointestinal tract, depending on the day. 😛

  48. It occurs to me that during “interesting times” of rapid change, no equilibrium can be reached before the next avalanche unsettles it again. Rice Farmer’s blog today says bitcoin miners are flooding into Canada, boosting hopes of small towns looking for a break. Similarly, folks with genetics that predispose them to microwave sickness, many of whom may have been killed off in the early 1900s when radio came into widespread use (Arthur Firstenberg made quite a case for that being the reason the 1918 flu was so uniquely devastating), may get a reprieve when the grid fails, if they survive that long. It then may be found (or may not–I’m speculating) that their genetic makeup provides them an advantage in a de-electrifed world. I think at that point, the pace of change will start settling down allowing some sorts of equilibrium to emerge.

  49. An idea to ponder:
    Imagine an “advance” enough consciousness navigating the energy gradients of suns, solar systems, galaxies and black holes and staying “alive” by trading that energy back and forth with its environment. A cosmic egregoir of the intelligences that have come and gone before us.

  50. Dear Mr. Greer and Everyone


    I’d like to ask what does this Law make of artefacts? Things that are made consciously by humans, like buildings etc. Or things made by animals like nests, beehives. They didn’t exist in the sense we could recognise them before a conscious being worked on it. It presumably existed on the mental plane before being made manifest in the physical by that being.


  51. i’m not quite as certain as some of the interlocutors are that punctuated equilibrium is dead and buried. while gould clearly oversold the product, it seems clear that there is a consensus that biological evolution can occur rather more rapidly than classical darwinian analysis would allow. possibly of greater significance is that punctuated equilibrium has been adopted in other fields including linguistics, political science and sociology to explain sudden and dramatic changes in language, and social/ political structures. i suspect that it may be this latter application of the principle that is of the greatest interest to our host and most of the commenters here.

  52. This is mostly-private, but if you feel like opening it up, you may. John Michael, I’m a reasonably competent geometer — and I’m //somewhat// more skilled at digital graphic design. If you decide that you want to write a sacred geometry post, and you want some diagrams for that post, I’d be happy to produce them. It would be an honor, in fact. Name your diagrams, and I’ll do my best for you.

  53. Well, take your pick if Teilhard de Chardin falsified evolution to make it fit Christian theology, or if he falsified Christian theology to make it fit the myth of progress. Maybe both.

  54. Djerek, excellent! You get tonight’s gold star for catching onto something that the great majority of believers in progress don’t get. Exactly; the mental leap that was necessary to think of making a tool — taking a rock and putting a sharp edge on it — was vastly greater than any elaboration on tools that followed. Computers were easy, because all the parts had already been invented for other purposes; the great intellectual achievements of the Stone Age were far more towering in their immensity, because they required the entire world to be understood in a completely different way.

    Rationalist, in that case, I’ll be glad to give you a definition of progress. A phenomenon can be said to progress if it keeps on going indefinitely in the direction it’s already going: thus, for example, people who believe in technological progress insist that the technologies we’ll have a decade, or a century, or a millennium from now will be further elaborations of the broad general kind of technologies we have today, designed to do the things our current technologies do but on a more superlative scale; e.g., transport people faster over longer distances (say, from jetliner to spacecraft to the starship Enterprise). The idea that “progress” could amount to rejecting most current technologies and going back to a simpler technological suite for the purposes we now have, so that the resources thus freed up can be redirected to something our current technoculture doesn’t value, is rejected with great heat by believers in progress — trust me, I’ve suggested this and got no shortage of saliva-spraying denunciations in response!

    Evolution, by contrast, is adaptation to changing circumstances, leading to increased diversity, with no predetermined direction.

    Thus we’re evolving toward Gwynfydd, not progressing toward it, because spiritual evolution doesn’t follow a single track: it moves from uniformity (the mass of unformed soul-stuff in Annwn) to diversity, to the extent that the path followed by one soul on the way to attainment can be the utter opposite of the path followed by another soul. The Golden Dawn tradition has a useful term for those who’ve completed the Great Work: ipsissimus, literally “most completely oneself.” Those who have attained, in other words, differ from one another far more definitely than ordinary human beings differ from one another. As we evolve spiritually, we become more diverse, we follow our own paths more distinctly, we become unique personalities to better reflect our unique Individualities. The label “Gwynfydd” simply marks the point at which that process become reflective and individually self-sustaining. In Barddas, the diagram used to explain the different levels of incarnation is a series of concentric circles; we start at Annwn in the center, and move outward in whatever direction (with as many wanderings sideways and back inwards as we wish) through Abred to Gwynfydd, while Ceugant, the “empty circle” that only the divine can traverse, extends out from Gwynfydd to infinity.

    Isabel, okay, you’ve sold me. What’s the title of the book? Any novel that features a plethora of Antichrists is grist for my mill. (And Antichrists generally are boring people. Crowley wasn’t alone in that.)

    Patricia O., that’s quite true — and such times tend to foster the success of those creatures that can handle plenty of chaos, so that chaos itself becomes their equilibrium condition.

    Nando, how do we know that they’re not circling the sun right now?

    Lordyburd, there’s an evolution of artifacts as well. Compare a really early computer to the one you’re using right now, for example…

    Andrew, thank you. I’m glad to say that my graphics skills are generally up to the task, and converting something I’ve drawn in Word (my usual gimmick) into a .gif file is easy enough. The problem would be using up too much storage space on my blog account.

    Matthias, I’m not a specialist in Christian theology; Teilhard’s scheme seemed pretty dubious based on what I know of th subject, but I’ll leave it to the specialists to tell me if he’s as full of coprolite as he looks.

  55. JMG–

    “The Golden Dawn tradition has a useful term for those who’ve completed the Great Work: ipsissimus, literally “most completely oneself.” Those who have attained, in other words, differ from one another far more definitely than ordinary human beings differ from one another.”

    Are you familiar with the idea in traditional Christian angelology that each angel is distinct enough from every other angel to be considered a separate species?

  56. About the evolution towards the world 500 years hence, starting now…I have holes to pick in your analysis—not so much because I disagree but because I am picking your brain to mull over the subject matter further—anyways, what if Roman civilization had tapped into fossil fuels. Would the world 500 years later have been different? Perhaps the problems of our civilization have a similarly unsuspected fix.

    Also, industrial civilization would already be far into decline if the urbanization rate was 10% but that was so at the peak of Roman civilization. Might the interval between current urbanization rates & Roman ones in the sort of fall most feasible therefore have sui generis features. And how would the effects of a given urbanization rate differ in the contexts of rising vs. falling civilizations?

  57. Hi John Michael,

    What do you reckon about the personal quality of curiosity being an expression of free will?

    I also reckon that a warmer and wetter (in many locations) will in the long run increase the diversity of species on the planet. I’m not sure whether I mentioned this to you before, but as recently as twenty years ago it was deemed too difficult to grow citrus in this mountain range, but I’ve now got many varieties happily growing and then there are the avocadoes (many self seeded ones too) and a few other lesser known sub tropical plants like white sapote, macadamia, bunya nuts etc… Coffee was a bit difficult as it grew very well, until it snowed…

    The only problem with that change in climate is that agriculture as it is practiced right now on a large scale is probably toast. It just won’t work.

    The other things that I see here is that the mountain range has so many different plant species in different niches and they are all duking it out to see who will prevail. People on the other hand, rarely see this going on in the plant world because of the time frames involved and people never fail to inform me as to what the forest here should look like. On the other hand I tend to acknowledge that the outcome is very uncertain and so who knows what may eventually take shape here in these forests. I assume that is the same in your part of the world? In some ways it is quite exciting and will open up a lot of breathing space for other lifeforms.



  58. Thanks for helping me put the traditionalist philosophy into perspective , JMG . Ironically , i came across a passage where Upton speaks of the metaphysics of evolution inna spiritual sense.
    If one were to confuse the physical plane with the mental or spiritual, we can see why the Christians have been slow to comprehend or become alarmed by the present exrinctions being caused by climate change , ‘confusing the planes’ ?

    The System of AntiChrist
    “It is certainly true, according to esoteric philosophy that the created order returns to its divine source through the conscious spiritual unfolding of individual sentient beings. But this ‘evolution’ , this unfolding of the individual through a transcendence of the self-identified ego , is not a continuance of the cosmogenic process, but a reversal of this process. Rather than a further elaboration of created forms, it is a progressive dissolution of these forms , leading to their reintegration into their respective prototypes on ever higher levels of being. The word ‘evolution’ means an ‘unwinding’, a ‘turning out’ of what has been wound up , or turned in upon itself, to produce the ego bound consciousness and the world of material forms. Seen from the point of view of manifestation , creation is an ‘involution’, a process of self -involvement , while ‘ evolution’is the opposite process through which creation is unwound, dissolved and the original Unity unveiled. Rather than ‘carrying forth the universes evolution toward higher and higher vibrational complexity’ we are actually either carrying it to higher and higher levels of simplicity or helping it degenerate into into greater and greater complexity and self -involvement. “

  59. JMG, would I be correct in believing that as humanity evolves it will develop some kind of innate habit towards being moderate in its use of technology because evolution would encourage such a thing because unsustainable use of tech is harmfull to the environment?

  60. JMG

    There is a nice study today in Science that ‘moves-on’ the argument about biodiversity and ‘ecosystem services’ when scaled up in real systems. In this study bees are the example. The take-home hypothesis so far is that the larger the scale of the “natural landscape”, the more important the rarer bee species become. Quote: “Our results show that maintaining ecosystems in nature requires many species, including relatively rare ones.”

    On religion basing itself on nature, using something more than metaphor and symbolic language for connection, I’m interested why Druids at the particular juncture in the 18th Century took this line. How did they get hold of ‘evolution’ alongside their imagining an origin story in the lost Britain of the Avebury stones? It does not seem co-incidental that ‘Science’ as a method for making sense of the world, both ‘macro’ and ‘micro’, had been making its way with telescopes and microscopes, conjuring up the occasional ‘Newton’. (I think also of ‘oddball’ religious enthusiasts like Swedenborg and a big name such as Joseph Priestley when science mixed with religion.)

    Co-dependence and wider ‘community’ seems, rather curiously, the clue to precious diversity in nature, and might begin to explain something of evolving patterns and the colossal information embedded in living forms over deep time. I guess evolutionary theory will look different again if Science can continue to sift evidence in the coming time. Can Druidry continue in parallel but co-dependent evolution? Survival by itself is not a criterion of value in my book. Much that is lost is still treasured.

    Phil H

  61. @isabelcooper
    Your post reminds me of an old joke about whether God is an engineer, an architect or a civic planner. The punchline being that only a civic planner would run a waste pipe through a recreational area 🙂

  62. A corollary that occurs to me is that diversity requires stability. That is, a niche has to be available long enough for the random walk of evolution to create characteristics that fill it better than other candidates. An unstable environment will favor generalists, those who can fill a variety of niches “well enough.” The transition from a stable to an unstable environment (which we’re currently experiencing at both the societal and biological levels) results in the extinction of specialists (greater pandas, collateralized debt obligation aggregators).

  63. JMG,

    I was reading “the thought that evolution might not have a direction — that we may not be caught up in a lockstep (or goose-step) march toward some predetermined future, either glorious or ghoulish, but rather might be moving outwards toward no particular destination at all — terrifies a great many people” and I suddenly flashed back to what you previously expressed about spiritual progression. As I recall, you said that in your belief and your spiritual tradition, being human is more-or-less a classroom and after a few turns through this level we go to a higher level, while currently lower-level souls graduate into the human experience.

    I am obviously not using your words…I can’t recall where, exactly, I got that from your prior essays and responses to questions….but am I pretty much accurate?

    Presuming so, that sounds a little comforting. However, it also sounds, to me very much like “progress”. Under the law of evolution isn’t it just as likely that we are being raised up as humans only to be sent, with no connection to “learning” nor “karma”, back to being cockroaches…or maybe even to the extinction of being dirt…or maybe just extinguished altogether?

    Or is there “progress” in a spiritual sense, after all, but only evolution in the material world?

  64. Before I enter that definition in my magical notes, does “ipsissimus” decline like Latin? So I’d write “ipsissima” unless it’s an oddball declension (and is it?)



  65. John–

    I’m thinking that this is on-topic, given the discussion of change.

    In my continuing meditation on the correspondences between the Tree of Life and the druidic triad of elements (and triad structure generally), I finding myself shifting away from some of the more traditional terminology (male/female, active/passive) applied to the Tree. One of the perspectives I’ve been exploring is the perspective of change and I’ve come upon what I believe to be another triad to replace the previous duality of active/passive. While I don’t have good single-word terms for them yet, the three are, descriptively:

    That which induces change (gwyar?)
    That which accepts change (calas?)
    That which resists/redirects change (nwyfre?)

    These would correspond to the Pillars of Force (Netzach-Chesed-Chokmah), Form (Hod-Geborah-Binah), and Consciousness (Yesod-Tiphareth-Kether), respectively.

    I guess the underlying thought is that change-inducing-force requires an object with which to interact, whether that interaction is the acceptance/incorporation of change or resistance/redirection of that force. Malkuth (our cosmos), of course, incorporates all three components/elements/pillars and thus includes both change and its redirection, which I would see as one way of understanding the evolutionary process.

  66. After my mid-day meditation, I believe that my previous taxonomy had the assignments of calas and nwyfre reversed, and that it ought to be:

    That which induces change (gwyar, pillar of force),
    That which accepts/incorporates change (nwyfre, pillar of consciousness),
    That which resists/redirects change (calas, pillar of form).

    The realization being that the acceptance/incorporation of change is more appropriately a function of consciousness and that the resistance to change (inertia?) is more appropriately a function of form/matter/stuff.

  67. To make the connection back to this week’s subject: Teilhard de Chardin sees a continuous (or, as mathematicians would say, monotonous 🙂 movement of the whole universe, including humans, into God. Everything leads to this goal, including global trade and modern communication, which draw all humans into a single noosphere. This is wildly exaggerated Whig history and should have been abandoned, at the latest, with WWI. It has nothing to do with scientific evidence of evolution, as you observed above, and as many scientists did at the time. It is also completely different from traditional Christian theology, which recognizes the possibility that humans move away from God and requires a conscious decision to reverse this move, not an automatic participation in globalization! I don’t support the Vatican in any way, but I do see the reasons why they didn’t give his books the Imprimatur…

  68. @J.L.Mc12 (on evolution vs technology)

    Not JMG, but here/s my take on it…

    Biologically, we cannot change fast enough to adapt to technology in the sense that you mean to imply. You do not see deer adapting to not become frozen by car’s lights, even if there’s evolutive pressure to do so. Ironically enough, mosquitoes have adapted to many kinds of artificial lights in order to improve their chances at survival (you can test this by comparing the behavior of such beings in different areas, both urban and rural); but of course, given that their lives are measured in days rather than years, they have had so many more generations over the century or so that both cars and artificial lighting has been around.

    Socially, there’s some form of adaptation in terms of social mores. However, technology is not intrinsically inimical to human life, so whatever taboos emerge from our current mess are bound to be forgoten and discarded down the line, once the evolutive pressure of using our current fashion of tech goes away. Think about the various traditional proscription of usury, by example. When a society gets burned by too much lending, if develops an hostile attitude towards it, but then the people that suffered the consequences of so much lending die out and are replaced by newer generations that have never had such experience. The cycle repeats itself.

    Honestly, I don’t believe a long term attitude against technology will develop. After all, thech has been rather useful through history, and its unforeseen consequences rare enough until now. Ours is the first society in historic record to have pushed that particular cart long enough to produce these dangerous levels of disfunction… though one may recall certain myth about an advanced society that blew itself up (or rather, under the sea) by the reckless pursue of its own obsesions.

  69. Steve, no, I wasn’t aware of that! It makes perfect sense, though. Is every archangel then a separate genus from every other archangel?

    Hidden, of course you can find a stray variable here and there (such as urbanization rate) and insist that since that’s different from previous examples, the entire phenomenon must differ in every way from previous examples. That’s bad logic but it’s a common rhetorical wheeze these days. The fact remains that predictions of the future based on historical models of decline and fall have repeatedly proven accurate — check out Oswald Spengler’s analysis of where Western industrial civilization was going, which were made exactly a century ago and have scored hit after hit — while predictions that assume that our civilization is sui generis have repeatedly proven false.

    Chris, curiosity is certainly one of the places where the will exerts its freedom! As for your ecological question, North America never really recovered from the last ice age in biological terms; that’s why so-called “invasive species” — that is to say, species that are doing what species always do, and moving into new territory as opportunity permits — tend to be so successful here. We’ve got mostly depauperate ecosystems here, and they’re going to need a lot of time and a lot more plant and animal migration before they find their way to a new equilibrium.

    Arpeggio, interesting. I suppose that’s one way to look at it.

    J.L. Mc12, you never know with evolution. That’s certainly a possibility, since (a) those populations that go overboard with technology will tend to die out more rapidly than those that don’t, and (b) the resource base to support extravagant technologies is being used up pretty quickly.

    Phil, that’s a really good question. I’d have to go digging into the prehistory of evolutionary thought, and get a sense of which cultural currents in 18th and early 19th century Britain were laying the groundwork for Darwin’s synthesis, to be able to figure out why Druids got into it so early in the Revival.

    RPC, quite true. Thus as the stability of a system varies over time, so will its complexity, and since stability ebbs and flows, rather than showing any kind of linear trend, so does complexity.

    Gnat, see my comment to Rationalist above, where I discussed this issue in detail.

    Patricia M., ipsissimus is in fact a Latin word — it’s the superlative of ipse — and so you’re quite correct. The feminine is ipsissima, and the neuter is ipsissimum.

    David, excellent. This is the point in the work where the teacher smiles and nods and encourages the student to keep meditating… 😉

    Matthias, yes, exactly. My understanding was that the Vatican’s response was considerably more stringent than simply not stamping his work with a nihil obstat; I’ve read that he was forbidden from publishing much of his work while he was alive, and only the fact that he’d arranged for friends to publish it after his death got it into print at all. I’m not at all a fan of censorship, but I don’t think a formal Vatican stamp saying “this is complete malarkey” (or whatever that works out to in Latin) would have been out of place…

  70. Teilhard de Chardin: perhaps pertinent to note that he was on the frontline in the Great War, as a medical orderly. Apparently he was extremely brave and devoted in getting men in.

    I seem to recall that he wrote that the experience of watching those terrible battles unfold was of great importance in the formulation of his notion of the noosphere and of all things inevitably moving to God and this, perhaps, offered him some consolation for the spectacle of seemingly unredeemable, meaningless suffering and wholesale death, some counter-balance in his own mind to the horror of industrialised war?

    ‘Unless we believe that there is a purpose to our efforts we would just lay down and die – what point would there be?’ I seem to hear the experience of the trenches in that…..

  71. After reading all the reaction to my mention of Teilhard de Chardin, I’m sure glad it was only a “youthful flirtation”…
    @Isobel: there are numerous examples of the fallacy of Intelligent Design. The alleged superiority of the metric system is an example of a man made system based on the fallacy that a base 10 number system is the ultimate in progress.

  72. In Canada, in spite of a very heavy-handed metrication program during the first Trudeau, the metric system was rejected by the building trades b/c it was not considered user friendly, and to this day, you can still purchase lumber, etc. in feet. Canadians still primarily think of their weight in pounds, their height in ft. & inches, and their waistlines in inches. Even where things have officially been metricated, they’re still nominally imperial. A bottle of beer is 341 ml, which is still 12 Imperial oz., albeit not 12 US oz, which is 355 ml–a standard American bottle of beer.

  73. JMG, your response to Djerek about the mental leap to took for early humans to make an edged tool made me think about how big a mental leap it would now be for modern people to turn away from your definition of progress as explained to Rationalist. Not only to go back technologically but to go back intellectually to the notion that we are really just a part of nature, not it’s evolutionary crown. Perhaps if that was understood as an achievement, not a failure we just might make it through the coming crisis in better shape. Our culture seems to value winning over failing, but better yet maybe we should abandon the ideas of “achievement” and “failure”, “winning” and “loosing” and think about adaptation instead. The process of evolution.

  74. @JMG: Thanks! It’s Highland Dragon Rebel, second in the Dawn of the Highland Dragons series, available anywhere fine smutty literature is sold. 🙂 Alternatively, I can see if I still have any author copies kicking around–I never know what to do with those–and bring one down next time I’m in PVD. Fair warning, though: the Antichrist legion is mostly mentioned in idle conversation. I totally should do something with it as a plot one of these days, though…

    @Gavin: Ha! Yes indeed.

    @Steve T: Reminds me of an anime I watched some of, Neon Genesis Evangelion, which featured “angels” that were very different from each other and also everything else in the universe. Ninety percent of the characters range from useless to actively infuriating, but what they do with some Cabbalistic/occult topics is interesting, in a bizarre way.

  75. This is some two weeks behind time, but it occured to me, and I’m surely not the first, that the dietary restrictions of Lent make a virtue out of, what is, in a non-electrical world, a necessity. My hens are not laying since our coop has no electricity, had we a cow we must have let her go dry in preparation for the new calf. Lent falls squarely in what I’ve heard referred to as The Starving Time, in the context of the native tribes of my region.
    A fast season in late winter, early spring, makes ever so much sense.


  76. Interestingly, while running down a Wikipedia rathole after another concept (information entropy), I ran across the concept of ascendency ( It seems to be a way of quantifying the ability of an ecosystem to maintain equilibrium, and apparently developed via a combination of information theory and ecology. Considerably more interestingly and considerably more relevantly to this post, the wiki article includes the following sentence: “It is thought that autocatalytic feedback is the primary route by which systems increase and maintain their ascendencies”.

    On punctuated equilibrium: The concept strikes me as likely to be mostly correct given first principles alone, though existing formulations may be flawed. It’s not like “a system tends to remain in a state of equilibrium, which can gradually shift over time as conditions change, but repeated and/or especially severe perturbations can knock the system out of equilibrium for a time until it restabilizes with a new equilibrium” is an uncommon pattern in nature (*glances back at the Law of Balance, with the addition that loss of equilibrium corresponds to the death of the system*), and punc-eq strikes me as exactly what you’d expect to see in phylogeny given that concept.

    To whoever was asking last week about which ratsphere blogger was reading A World Full of Gods:, check the “god bothering” tag. (For whatever reason, the rat-adjacents have clustered on Tumblr.)

  77. Xabier, interesting. I know precisely nothing about the man; my sole exposure was to his ideas, and his very curious involvement in both the greatest hoax and the greatest mystery in early 20th century paleontology.

    Shane, that’s very good to hear.

    Kay, hmm! That strikes me as a very useful idea.

    Isabel, I’m reminded of a classic of psychological literature, The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, about three schizophrenics who all believed they were Christ; as an experiment, the doctors put them into the same room and let them work out the theology among themselves. Having a flurry of contending Antichrists could be a lot of fun…

    BoysMom, that makes perfect sense!

    Taredas, “ascendency” strikes me as a useful concept; I’ll look into it. Thank you for the heads up on the blogger who’s talking about A World Full of Gods!

  78. Dear Mr. Greer et al

    To continue my line of thought on artifacts..
    On the face of it, it seems creating an artifact is not so constrained by the past as biological evolution is. I mean, evolution will not bring the dinosaurs back again. With artifacts, it seems given the materials, skill and will, somebody could, theoretically at least, erect a ziggurat.

    I do think that the design of artifacts do evolve, though I’d say its harder to see a theme of challenge,response and reintegration, unless its in the minds and values of the artifacts’ creators.


  79. Building on David’s comments – In cultural evolution, if Evolution is the function then wouldn’t freedom be the derivative of that function? That is to say that evolution can only “progress” as far as a culture’s degrees of freedom allow. Freedom rather is the rate of change of cultural evolution. But this would only be true to a point as anarchy would by like having a hole in the function… that is to say no adaptation would ever be functional again.

  80. Steve T and JMG (if I may),

    As I was taught, the doctrine about angels as unique species was first (or most fully) articulated by Thomas Aquinas—known henceforth as “the angelic doctor” (of the Catholic Church).

    Aquinas’ reasoning was that embodied beings—humans, and everything below us on the so-called “great chain of being”—are composites of form and matter, and so we can be individuated by the material from which we’re made. In short, following a certain understanding of Aristotle, form determines the species, while matter distinguishes the individuals within that species.

    But the immaterial beings above us are pure form, without matter by definition. But if multiple such beings participated the *same* form, there would be nothing to distinguish the one from the other. Thus, each angel must have a unique form, and so constitute a unique species.

    This doctine refers to “angels” in the broad sense, as including all archangels, cherubim, seraphim, etc., etc. Because of the very doctrine under discussion, of course, each of these categories cannot be true species in the strict sense. This seems to me as if it’s near the core of the answer to JMG’s follow-up question, insofar as the Thomist’s motivation is the general problem of individuating immaterial things.

    The Platonist, of course, can give a much better account of individuation. But the above is the Thomistic story I always heard from my theology and philosophy professors.

  81. Charles Upton also describes ‘The Antichrist ‘ as being not necessarily an individual but also possible a zeitgeist which also plays out as a socio/ political system . I am guessing this equates roughly to what we are seeing with postmodernity or a ‘dragon times ‘ cycle.

    He describes the Dragon of Satan as distorted spiritual metaphysical principles, the whore of babylon being inverted psychism riding on the rough beast of a society riven by the contradictions imposed by the seven classic virtues being expressed by people in a perverted/ inverted/ distorted manner .

    Guess this flows through to the number and type of extant human , as well as the impact of their actions and reactions to the changing conditions of The Rock , and the effects on other species as the blue ball keeps spinning .

    Oh and another couple of good obscure metaphysician namedrops include Maximius the Confessor and Scotus Erigenus !

  82. Hi John Michael,

    I assume ‘congruent actions’ is another expression of consciousness and free will? How do you reckon ‘creativity’ fits into that story?

    Thanks for the new word: depauperate. I’d never come across that word before and it sums the situation up nicely. Of course, after the recent Ice Age, your soils would have been remarkably fertile (unlike down here which wasn’t that affected by the Ice Age) and unpopulated. The interesting thing I note about species diversity down here is that it is most often found in some of the oldest, poorest, and least fertile areas. There is a small mountain range to the south west of here (Brisbane Ranges) and it lives in the rain shadow of the Great Dividing Range and also the Otway Mountain Ranges closer to the coast. It is one of the driest areas in the state south of the much larger Great Dividing Ranges which straddles the entire east coast of the continent, like a huge continental wrinkle. Anyway, that small and old mountain range (the Brisbane Ranges) to my eyes looks old, small, and dry. It also happens to have the largest diversity of wildflowers in the state. Life is much more tenacious than we give it credit, but in the current techno form it is toast, but that also doesn’t mean that wildly divergent human populations won’t arise from the ashes of this disaster. By no means at all. It just won’t look like it does today. The techno fetishes have but a single vision and that is their weakness.



  83. @JMG, @Bruce and @Gavin,

    On entropy, energy flows, thermodynamics and evolution;

    A few years ago I read “Into The Cool” by Eric Schneider and Dorion Sagan. It goes into great detail on how this process occurs, with examples and demonstrations that make it make sense. Parts of the book get pretty weighty (in an eyelids sense). I switched to skimming now and then.

    With recent concepts of evolution and consciousness gained here and on WoG, “Into The Cool” is high on my list to reread. I recommend it.

  84. The equivalent of ‘The Starvation Time’ was in Northern Europe , perhaps, what the ancient Norse called ‘Gut-Sucking Month’!

    And if we had ‘hunter’s moon’ and ‘harvest moon’, there was also the more sinister ‘hunger moon’.

    I’m confident that these terms will come back into everyday speech…..

  85. Re “Gut-sucking month” – Iceland still carries on the tradition of the (VERY loose translation) “Bad Boys of Yule. They come to scare the small children and threaten to wreak havoc on the feast, until they’re driven off. They have names like (again loose translation) “Pot-licker”, “Bowl-licker”, “Sausage-stealer,” and “Greedyguts”. (Which was also the name of Odin’s wolf companion!)

    These days it sounds like wickedness halfway between that of Bart Simpson and Dennis the Menace, but medieval Iceland lived a lot closer to the bone than any of us can easily imagine.

  86. Well, since imperial and metric units and freedom are germane, a memory that’s always brought a smile to my face: about 15 years ago I took my first university engineering course (thermodynamics) from a professor who immigrated from Czechoslovakia (when there was such) to the US.

    One day in class a student asked somewhat petulantly why we needed to do calculations (and thus know or look up constants) in both systems of units and convert between them. With only the slightest hint of a wry smile, he replied, “Most other countries use only SI, but you Americans want to be different. Think of it as the price of freedom.” In the context of this discussion, he may have been more right than I think he meant to be.

    On evolution and the seventh law, I recall from the Next 10 Billion Years post the discussion of increasing cephalization as perhaps the one identifiable trend in animal evolution. If that’s correct – and I’m not nearly familiar enough with the fossil record to say one way or another – how would that mesh with the view of evolution for individualities that you describe in your response to Rationalist? Does that suggest that larger brains are necessary or helpful for incarnate individualities to move from Annwn to Gwynfydd? And if so, does that imply that as animal cephalization increases over geologic time that it would be easier to make that transition for individualities that incarnate later? Hmm… Though few in number, this week’s comments are not small beer.

  87. @Lordyburd and @JMG re artifacts vs organisms

    I am glad you raised the point about artifacts, Lordyburd, because currently I am working through the implications of the phrase “begotten not made”….

    Organisms are clearly begotten not made, while artifacts are clearly made, not begotten. Will anything that is made be able to bridge that gap and begin begetting?

    Are there other ways of coming to be other than being begotten or being made? (Perhaps being “spoken” like the Logos?).

    I have no answers, but am ruminating on these questions.

    However, JMG, I want to thank you for the comment in which, when pressed, you gave definitions of “progress” and “evolution” (as you use the words) nicely illustrating the new (for me) concept of every being becoming more *individual* – not spiritual progress, but evolution. I realise you have been consistent in saying this, yet, my ability to hear this nuance has only just caught up.

    I am going to be ruminating (as I use the word) on this. 🙂

  88. And the ps to that comment is that the creation stories that concern deities who conceive, give birth, or otherwise beget progeny to create a world make so much more sense to me than stories of deities that do their creating as an act of making or engineering. But that’s just me.

  89. re: will and consciousness

    These comments have fully invigorated both my will and consciousness!

    I am curious how evolution relates to and will influence individual and communal will and consciousness. Humans seem to be in a constant struggle between seeking our individuality while also maintaining our togetherness. It’s reflected in history through tribes, nations, religion, business, government, and on and on.

    In my opinion, we seem to be reaching peak individuality. With cities, which are built on communities yet which seem to encourage people seeking more uniqueness and our forms of technology, social media being a prime example, there is constant vying for attention and being the center of the universe. There seems to be less concern for other communities, whether that be human communities or the countless other types of communities. With the human population now reaching unprecedented levels, now more than ever is a necessary time for recognizing community.

    Are we in the process of pushing our boundaries for what it means to be an individual yet still being a part of a community, and humanity?

  90. Some animals do seem to have an intuitive end of the line vibe to them but a few do not, I agree in your thoughts that birds will be back in a a big way. As someone who keeps parrots as companions and spent her youth daydreaming of riding dragons this doesn’t seem all that bad! I remember a few years ago reading an article that was horrified that Rainbow Lorikeets who are normally nectar eaters had started eating meat. Personally I laughed my head off because my Rainbow Lorikeet was such a spunky bird I questioned how he wasn’t a carnivore (he used to hide in dark corners, muttering swear words which I by the way never taught him, and leap after the cats growling war cries), he totally adored me though! Rainbow Lorikeets are definitely part of the future gene pool, they have a waiting for an evolutionary leap vibe to them.

    Given that I don’t think humans are near the end either (although perhaps about to crash through a tragic bottleneck) I was wondering if you think that as the human race evolves if the souls incarnating into the human form will remain at a similar level as the ones now or will become more advanced alongside the physical form. This all depends on a number of variables such as what genes make it to the future to determine future human possibilities of course but I do also tend to think that there is an order to chaos and if higher energies have a vested interest in things perhaps the human race still has some interesting paths to walk.

  91. I read this:

    In place of an outline, here’s the Seventh Law, as it appears in the book:

    Everything that exists comes into being by a process of evolution. That process starts with adaptation to changing conditions and ends by establishing a steady state in balance with its surroundings, following a threefold rhythm of challenge, response, and reintegration. Evolution is gradual rather than sudden, and it works by increasing diversity and accumulating possibilities, rather than following a predetermined line of development.

    I thought that Darwin had just met Hegel, challenge, response and reintegration, thesis, antithesis and synthesis…

    Comments on the similarities?

  92. JMG, excellent, thank you! Your response was so exhaustive that I decided to allow myself some time to think it through, and I’m still not sure I completely get it.

    In the meantime, here’s a follow-up question. Based on your explanation, I can agree that, when we look at multiple Individualities, they are evolving rather than progressing. However, when a single personality contemplates the path of its own Individuality, doesn’t it, from its own perspective, look more like progress? I mean, there might be ups and downs, temporary set-backs and whatnot, but in the long term, the phenomenon seems to be going indefinitely in the same general direction of becoming “most completely oneself”.

  93. barefootwisdom–

    Thank you. I tried to type of an explanation of Aquinas’s reasoning, but it’s honestly hard for me to make sense of him.

    In general I have a very easy time understanding Plato and Platonists, and a very difficult time with Aristotle and Aristoteleans. I wonder what that means.

  94. If birds take over the world I hope Penguins start civilization again and do what humans should have done. When penguins huddle they rotate who is where so everyone stays warm and no one is left in the cold very long.

  95. @Scotlyn and Everyone

    Thank you for your interest. It is indeed a pickle. All I can think of right now, is that in the case of biological evolution, the creatures can be said to follow from their ancestors in a traceable line. The shape, character and behaviour of these creatures will be at least partly contingent on what came before them. Like I said before, no species that now exists, will bring back the dinosaurs. The same seems true of geological entities, i.e. rocks, mountains, rivers. oceans. They all change, but through a process. No external consciousness explored a design in the mental plane, and made it manifest on the physical.

    With artifacts, one can, at least theoretically, given material and technological constraints, create one whenever one wants, regardless of its historical lineage. For example, if an architect has diligently studied and mastered the building of ziggurats, provided that his surrounding circumstances, (financial, cultural, whatever) don’t hinder him, he can do so.

    re: made or begotten

    I am reminded of a distinction that Alan Watts made in his lectures between the Abrahamic religions and Daoism, about one seeing the universe as an artifact and the other as an organic growth or emanation.


  96. @Scotlyn, on begotten vs made

    There are many non-organic things that are begotten, at least in a limited sense. There’s exibit A, a sonet by Michelangelo (which has been endlessly remixed in more memorable forms such as “the statue was already there,,,”).

    As when, O lady mine,
    With chiselled touch
    The stone unhewn and cold
    Becomes a living mould,
    The more the marble wastes,
    The more the statue grows.

    So, for at least some kinds of artifacts, the process of making is rather closer to discovering than is to putting together from the ground up. This is certainly my experience with software development as well: You write the program step by step, and at some arbitrary (though pragmatically useful) point you declare it to be “done”, but as long as there’s economic incentive to do so you may continue to make it grow and push it closer to what its most ideal self should be. There’s of course also the dark side or it, the software product is already good as it is, but if the economic pressure remains, it will grow cancerous and unchecked like so many others before it.

    I do not have the gift to easily grasp physical artifacts with moving parts, but from previous conversations others have attested that a similar relationship between man and machine can arise for engines. There’s even a book called the Zen of Motorcycle repair if I recall correctly.

    In all the examples above, the two common traits is that the begotting of artifacts does haven as a process that is extended through time, and it requires the focused mind of one or more human beings to the task. It also requires that there’s a back and forth between the maker and the artifact, to figure out all the details. Therefore, I don’t think most manufactured products of today do qualify.

  97. “For an example and a metaphor, think of the way that water plunging from a higher level through rapids into a pool produces complex eddies and currents in the pool; as long as the flow continues and nothing disrupts the water in the pool, you’re going to see roughly the same level of complexity in the eddies and currents. The sun is our “water source” and the Earth’s biosphere is the “pool,” and all living things are eddies and currents in the flow of energy from the sun to deep space.”

    These two simple sentences in JMG’s response to Bruce were heart-catchingly beautiful to me. I have always liked the metaphor of the individual as a temporary eddy in the river of life, but for some reason it wasn’t until now that the context of that river became evident to me on a gut level. Also new to me was the idea of entropy as a driving force of the formation of those eddies of complexity. I will definitely want to check out Prigogene’s work. This way of thinking about entropy is so much more useful than the image I have read elsewhere, of entropy as a destructive force to be opposed, generated by the Dark One. (Cue dramatic scary background music.) Druidry is so good at reframing and providing context for things.

    The image of a waterfall will figure heavily in my meditation topics this week. Thank you to all who are sharing their reflections here; this is exactly what I was hoping for out of this blog on ecological spirituality. And thanks, JMG, for providing the inspiration, the conversation, and the space for it all. I am imagining this blog as another of your gardens, where you provide the conditions and the nutrients and then “allow” fruitful and lovely things to flower. (And even the prickly and aggressive things have their purposes.)

    –Heather in CA

  98. @CR Patiño – yes, I do take your point that “making” can often be less of a planned or engineered thing, and more of a responsive interaction between maker, material, and muse. And I am certain there are many reading here, who have experienced their creative work in such a way!

    However, I could not agree to call this any form of “begetting” until the moment at which the work that was made, of itself makes babies – ie RE-produces brand new “works” that are like, but also unlike, itself.

  99. @Lordyburd, I tend to agree with you. The “evolution” that is evident in made things is more properly thought of as an evolution in the learning, the thoughts and the plans of its makers, as they make, use, test, then make again. There is no *direct* connection between one artifact and the next. Whereas, begetting is a continuous chain of organism producing organism.

  100. @JMG, @Djerek
    The idea that that the original creative leap of modifying found objects to create tools is broader than creative elaboration of tools is interesting and romantic. But if that’s true doesn’t it imply that the primitive tool-making seen in many animals is a greater creative endeavor than the eons of tool elaboration done by primates? And if so, why don’t we see more tool elaboration in tool-using animals like crows, which have been around for much longer than we have?

  101. We learned about “dissipative systems” (those that depend on a large entropy flow) in second year physical chemistry. The professor used a very simple example that stuck in my mind: when you cook rice and the water evaporates, the holes in the cooking rice self-organize into an approximately hexagonal pattern. If you just left rice to hydrate in lukewarm water, that pattern would not form because the entropy flow wasn’t high enough. It’s a huge heap from there to living beings, but they need entropy flow in the same way and use it to self-organize and to maintain their organization.

  102. JMG,

    The chapter on evolution was one of my favorites, but I struggle to reconcile your points about the spiritual/physical evolution of individuals with the physical/spiritual evolution of species. This tension comes out of my ambivalence toward the Western emphasis on the value and potentiality of the individual rather than an emphasis on the value and potentiality of communities. Are there not diminishing returns to the ongoing differentiation of an individual if we are going to take into account the laws of limits and balance?

  103. Hi, Chris at Fernglade!

    Checked out your blog for the 1st time when you posted your link about “recycling.” Interesting article, and nice blog in general. I’ve been reading Lars Mytting’s book “Norwegian Wood” over the last week or two, so your woodshed pics and commentary were particularly timely. My daughter and I have also been memorizing a mnemonic device poem about firewood species over the last woodstove season. (two versions, we’ve been learning the latter)

    “But ashwood green, or ashwood brown
    Is fit for a queen with a golden crown…”

    You mentioned upthread about planting marginal species for a dubious future climate. That’s been a tactic here at our place as well. Figs are starting to hang around through winter and actually produce. Pomegranates still struggling. Japanese raisin tree has surprised me and lived longer than expected – maybe it will produce one day. I’ve got the only crop of tea camellias that I know of in our region. And we still get the more northern stuff doing well too – red raspberries, apples, Euro plums and so forth. Sure wish I could grow avacadoes and macadamia nuts, but hey, that would cost us too much I’m afraid. Can’t have it all, can we?

    Too much rain lately! I may need to attach pontoons to our cabin soon…


  104. Hi JMG, thanks for your earlier response on filling niches, and depauperate is a great term to know about.

    In your book, you mention something to the effect that within a species, evolution is consistent, and therefore no human can be any “more evolved” than another. From a biological sense, I understand that, but are there considerations for the spiritual or consciousness that might not be as restricted?

    I ask the question in terms the frustration of humans being so intent on destroying their natural and healthy early environment, when a subset of the population is clearly aware of that tragedy. I don’t recall the term off-hand, but I believe there is potential for some sort of group consciousness/collective to help counter our present decline – and there was some interest on you writing a post on that topic, IIRC.

  105. During the years where I was most dismissive of spiritual concepts it was precisely because the spirituality I had encountered so consistently failed to jive with Evolution. So much was presented as fixed truths or essential natures, eternal souls, and I could not bridge between that description of the universe and one of on going gradual stutter stop change which natural history, and my metaphysics, insisted on.

    Fundamentally, it was being presented with a metaphysics which showed spirituality need not be a glass figurine which opened my mind to a vast range of possibilities. More so than any other part of MTOTLE it was chapter 7 which represents that bridge. So, I appreciate that a great deal.

    The revelation that Biological Evolution and deep time had huge repercussions for spirituality, which I think that projects such as ecosophia are but early steps of a long process for theology and metaphysics to adapt to their changing environments. Specifically finding finite durations, that are so long our imaginations ability to differentiate them from infinity tends to glitch. Certainly several cultures had already figured out deep time in various ways, in India most famously. The difference at the moment is finding prehuman “written” history in that geological strata, intergalactic light rays, mineralized bones, glaciers, and various nucleic acids can transmit stories – across many eons – to those who learn how to read them; writing shifting from something seen to differentiate us from nature, to writing becoming yet another aspect of the larger world’s habits we have recently gotten around to participating in.

  106. Years ago I encountered an idea, dimly remembered, involving what might be called the parallel evolution of an archetype and a physical system.
    When our ancestors came down out of the trees into the African Savanna they had to avoid becoming lunch. The lions of that time may have had similar hunting habits to those of today, meaning that the herds of eatable creatures coexisted with the pride of lions uneasily, but quietly, until suddenly it was realized that the lions were hungry. The chase was on until one or more dinners had been brought down, where upon things quieted down.
    In other words, George had been sacrificed and the others were saved.
    According to the account, and I don’t remember sources, this may have formed a model for later religious systems to build around. Does anyone have any memory of this idea? It sounds more fun and fanciful than useful, but stranger things have evolved.

  107. On the Shadows of The Ideas seems to have been in a hurry: it shipped a lot quicker than the shipping option I paid for, and I worked through it superficially already. Quite an interesting book!

    Would you object to me publishing a Google spreadsheet of the major arcana combinatorial questions you included in your notes near the end, to help other readers like me who intend to drill in this system?

    Also, I hope this book gets the attention it deserves from computer scientists: one fruit of Bruno’s fecund wheel seem to strongly resemble the wheels of the Enigma Machine, and his throwaway comment that once large amounts of numerical data can be easily stored and retrieved, any other product of culture can be stored and retrieved, is an insight that most information theorists associate with Ada Lovelace. The idea of algebraic orthogonality Bruno seems to have displayed in his discussions of cardinal directions and especially Ezekiel wheels is shocking to find in a thinker who died 29 years before Descartes was born.

    The other thing that jumped out at me. although it’s a trivial application and I’m aware there is a simple historical reason that the numbers match up, is that the choice of sixty wheel locations makes this system well-suited to storing a sexagecimal multiplication table, which would be very handy for computing in degrees, minutes, and seconds.

  108. Michael Clark – I think your source was a book by Barbara Ehrenreich on the origins of war; I have forgotten the title. Her thesis is that we began with animal gods, especially big predators, because they loomed the largest in their environment, and that War Itself has turned into the hungry lion god that demands sacrifices to pacify it. It was also a history of how war evolved from chimp level (someone did a lovely description of chimp politics in the language of a gangster story. I quote the narrator “He’s the Big Guy! You gotta love him…”) to the “ignorant armies clash by night.”

  109. Thanks, Patricia. I have known about that author with out looking into her work. Need to correct that.
    By the way, I think we are almost neighbors, as distances go out here. I live in Farmington, for 22 years, Socorro before that.

  110. Lordyburd, your metaphor suffers from a false presupposition. Evolution could indeed bring the dinosaurs back; after all, it brought the ichthyosaurs back — we call them dolphins nowadays, but compare the two sometime — and it brought big mammals back after the mid-Triassic crisis that handed the planet over to the dinosaurs for a couple of hundred million years. What’s more, while you could theoretically build a ziggurat, an artifact isn’t just an object, it’s the entire context of ideas, practices, and cultural forms that gives the object its meaning; in that sense, no, you couldn’t build a ziggurat — all you could do it build an object that looks like a ziggurat, because the rituals, cultural forms, and other social factors that made ziggurats function in Mesopotamian society no longer exist.

    Austin, I don’t speak math, so I think most of this went right over my head.

    Barefootwisdom, thanks for this. No question, Platonism handles the issue better!

    Arpeggio, but the Dragon Time is also a normal and healthy part of the cycle, like the normal and healthy ripening toward death we call “aging.” The notion that any part of the historical cycle should be labeled “evil” strikes me, as a Druid, as stunningly naive.

    Chris, ice ages are a mixed bag when it comes to fertility. You get huge layers of rock flour, also known as loess, which is highly fertile, and then you get layers of compact gravel and clay, which isn’t — to say nothing of large areas that have been stripped to bare rock, and turn into muskeg and similarly challenging terrain. As for creativity — well,there we’re getting into the raw material for the future post!

    Matt, thanks for the recommendation.

    Xabier, indeed they will. Every Native American culture I’ve read about had an ample body of lore about the things you do when the hungry times come and there just plain isn’t enough food.

    Steve, nah, you’re misremembering the passage from that post. I simply noted that there’s a broad general trend toward increased cephalization over time in a number of phyla — as indeed there is. You could as well point to the broad general trend toward increased skin insulation (amphibians’ bare skin to reptilian scales to the fur and feathers, respectively, of mammals and birds) as evidence of “progress;” all either means is that as diversity increases, certain adaptations that function well tend to be selected for.

    Scotlyn, glad to hear of it. As for mythologies, I feel the same way — the idea of the world as the artifact of a god has never seemed convincing to me, while the idea of the world as born rather than made seems much more reasonable.

    Prizm, evolution is full of creative conflicts between incompatible factors, and the paired drives toward individuality and community is a great example. Societies as they age tend to foster more individuality in cultural terms but more community in economic and ecological terms — you depend for your food and other necessities on far more people, in far more intricate social relationships, than people did a century ago, to say nothing of further bac. That reverses at the other end of the historical cycle: in dark ages you get almost complete self-reliance in economic terms (you grow your own food, make your own tools, etc.), but total dependence on community in cultural terms.

    Rose, the parrot family and the crow family are generally considered the two most vigorous and intelligent bird lineages just now, and so I’m guessing they’ll come through the approaching evolutionary bottleneck in good shape and become the basic stock from which many future species will arise. If lorikeets are starting to eat meat, that’s a good sign for them, though it’s doubtless not so welcome for their prey! As for humans in the future, the traditions I follow have it that each of us eventually passes through the human level toward more interesting things, while souls currently inhabiting less complex bodies advance to the human level (or the dolphin level, or the level of other intelligent living things — it’s all the same level, we just happen to be a species occupying it at the moment). So your favorite rainbow lorikeets may be human by the time post-H. sapiens hominids come on the scene.

    MonSeulDesir, Hegel borrowed a lot of ideas from trends in German philosophy that were heavily influenced by occultism. (It’s one of the skeletons in the closet of modern philosophy.) I got the same ideas directly from occultism, and ran with them.

    Rationalist, does your life, as you’ve lived it so far, look like progress, toward some single goal or in some single direction, in any reasonable sense of the word? Mine certainly doesn’t, even though it’s unquestionably the process by which I’ve become who I am. I grant that if you stretch and chop and twist hard enough, you can probably find a way to make almost any change fit some expansive definition of “progress,” but is this actually a useful way of doing things?

    Austin, I expect penguins to evolve into the ecological equivalent of great whales. Imagine a whale-sized penguin filter-feeding on krill using an adapted beak; imagine an orca-sized penguin with a hooked and serrated beak, hunting and killing other seagoing creatures. That might just be the wave of the future.

    Heather, you’re welcome and thank you.

    Vesta, your question answers itself. Since the crows haven’t gone on to generalize from their twig-tools to the concept of “tool” in general, the way that hominins did almost at once — notice how many different varieties of stone tools show up even in the earliest hominin assemblages — we know that the cognitive leap I’m discussing didn’t happen among them. It may yet — crows aren’t that old of an evolutionary lineage; the corvids branched off from their passerine ancestors about the time the anthropoid apes diverged from the parent primate stock — but that’s still in the future.

    Matthias, thank you for this!

    MJ, of course! The unfoldment of the individual doesn’t continue infinitely — but we’re a long way from the upper end of the process, here at the human level. (The traditional notion is that we’re about halfway.)

    Drhooves, nah, you’re misremembering the passage. What I said is that no living thing is “more evolved” than any other — a blue-green alga is just as evolved as you and me, since we’ve all passed through exactly the same amount of adaptive pressure over time since life first began. The difference is that the alga found something that worked well a lot further back than we did!

    The difficulty here is that a lot of people want to use the word “evolved” as a synonym for words such as “wise.” It’s not — and of course that’s the central point of this chapter of the book. We’re not smarter than our ancestors just because we live after them — indeed, by many measurements, we’re a good deal dumber than our ancestors. We can’t assume that all our problems are going to be solved by progress, whether dolled up in evolutionary drag or not. What’s more, our present decline is a natural process, not a problem to be solved; attempts to make it go away, especially this late in the game, are going to have about as much effect as attempts to “solve” the “problem” of getting old. These ideas have been so central to what I’ve said in the book, and in getting on for twelve years of blogging, that I’m a little baffled that you seem to think I’ve been saying the opposite…

    Ray, emphatically agreed! One of the things I find least appealing about the classic religious visions of the West is their almost asphyxiating narrowness in terms of space and time. A single temporal narrative from creation sometime around 4004 BC to the Second Coming sometime very soon, a single spatial focus on a handful of events in this or that small corner of the Middle East, a suffocating anthropocentrism — gah. One of the things that drew me instantly to Druidry, in turn, was the extent to which it easily embraced deep space, deep time, and a spiritual vision in which blue-green algae, human beings, and all other living and not-living-in-a-way-we-recognize things each have a small but necessary part.

    Michael, I’ve seen something like that in the occult writings of William Gray, but other than that it doesn’t ring a bell.

    Joel, that would be fine, so long as it’s credited; if you post it online, including a link to the publisher’s page on the book would be very welcome. I’m fascinated to hear of Bruno’s anticipations of computer theory; I know precisely nothing about that latter subject, and in fact terms like “the idea of algebraic orthogonality” strike me as far more eldritch and rugose than anything in the occult tomes I study, so I’ll be very interested to hear if anybody picks that end of Bruno’s studies up and runs with them. (And I can probably find a definition of “algebraic orthogonality” that I can follow.)

  111. Re: Hegel:
    Could you give some example of the closeted influences you mentioned?

    Re: asphyxiating narrowness

    I think such narrowness only became a psychological problem (I am not speaking about scientific fact here) when linear time became more important than the cyclical time of the liturgical year, and when space on a map became as important as lived space. Same about anthropocentrism: it becomes stronger in catechisms than in parables.

    Ilich’s last book is very interesting in this line of thought, since he considers modernity a perversion of early Christianity.

  112. @JMG, Joel

    How occult savvy do you need to be in order to work with Bruno’s ideas? I am in a rather poignant need to commit large amounts of information to memory (practically every healing art requires this, and I’d rather not turn myself into an interface between the computer’s diagnosing system and the patient), but my occult understanding comes pretty much from this blog (and before that, from the WoG).

    Orthogonality, by the way, is a fancypants word to say that a complex reality is composed of two or more separate aspects, or *dimensions*, and that neither of this can interact or affect any of the others.

    As a blunt example. The way math is teached in grade school, we learn all these useful arithmetic operations, but numbers themselves exist in only a single dimention, let’s call it the number’s bigness: big numbers are further away from zero, smaller ones are close to it.

    Then you learn to factorize into prime coeficients. Suddenly, the number is no longer just a monodimentional entity, but it has all these dimensions, two-ness, three-ness, five-ness (but not four-ness, which is a special case of two-ness), etc. Then, you can make all these interesting rational arguments about odd numbers, and pair numbers, and how they combine with each other… without actually describing any particular quantity, but about families of numbers that share the same property.

    But then, you can say “X is pair” or “Y is odd”, and it really does not matter if X is a multiple of 5, or Y is a multiple of 11. And that’s because two-ness and five-ness and eleven-ess are all orthogonal to one another.

  113. Hi JMG,

    Sorry – I wasn’t very clear. I didn’t mean to imply that you are on record stating we can solve the problem of decline, or rather the predicament. I’m certainly in agreement that much of the future is “baked in the cake”. I’m under no delusion that “business as usual” as most know it today, survives.

    What I intended to ask is that if the term “evolution” is expanded beyond the biological boundaries, is there potential for a subset of human consciousness/collective to influence the decline and/or evolve into a species that thrives? Of the many potential paths in the future, the cycles of rise and decline withstanding, is it possible that a portion of wisdom accumulates?

  114. This would be a silly place to look for evidence of progress, or to bring it up if I was looking for it elsewhere.

    I was just wondering if the trend you mentioned had any impact on the likelihood of individualities in any particular intelligent animal incarnation to address their issues and move on. Putting it differently, however, makes it look more like a question of will than of intelligence, of whatever kind or degree. After all, if one must “be all things, suffer all things,” then one must suffer the failure to use one’s intelligence to see the path and walk (or swim, slither, fly, mycorrhize, or foliate) it, however big one’s brain is.

  115. JMG – thanks for your answer to Rationalist! I have unearthed the best (or most comprehensive) BOS I own, from 2004 – 2008, and am consolidating all the loose scraps existing elsewhere in journals also containing grocery lists and exam results and the weather …. and false starts, some dating back to the early 1990s, and concluded that my “progress” through life looks more like a drunkard’s walk. With amnesia thrown in, since I keep coming back to the same things – conclusions about what works for me – over and over as if they were new. Except that I seem to be more solid now.

    Thanks again.

  116. You wrote:

    Austin, I expect penguins to evolve into the ecological equivalent of great whales. Imagine a whale-sized penguin filter-feeding on krill using an adapted beak; imagine an orca-sized penguin with a hooked and serrated beak, hunting and killing other seagoing creatures. That might just be the wave of the future.

    JMG, there are such creatures portrayed in Dougal Dixon’s After Man, A Zoology of the the Future.

    This is the web address to that page:

  117. JMG

    Not only Hegel, CG Jung wrote much of his ideas in term of psychology, but in fact he could be called one of the greatest occult/mystic masters of the 20th century, many of his activities could have gotten him denouced has a sorcerer in earlier era.

  118. JMG & All
    I just read an article that human evolution has continued this last 20 – 50 thousand years. But the biggest change they see apparently is that many if not most Europeans can drink lots of cows’ milk. Which seems not much to do with being smarter or dumber, individually or communally.than our old time ancestors.
    Phil H

  119. Re: that more abstract definition of orthogonality, you may already have used it, if you’ve ever computed a Taylor series expansion or done a Fourier transform.

    It’s about the most arcane concept an engineer has occasion to use, but I would say it’s straightforward (and smooths out the worst of the corrugations that would otherwise make rough going of such work as digitizing music and predicting tides): the gateway into this sort of thinking is to imagine that a function like f(x) = 2x + 5 or g(x) = 3 sin(x) + 8 cos (x) can be subjected to some of the same computations that we apply to vectors, including being decomposed into a linear combination of some set of basis functions, and being subject to “dot product” multiplication to quantify its alignment with another function.

    Orthogonal functions might figuratively be said to exist on different planes; the extended metaphor is that the two functions are as separate as the x component of a 3D vector is from its y component and its z component. The dot product of any two orthogonal functions (as for orthogonal vectors) is zero: y = 1 is orthogonal to y = x, and y = sin(x) is orthogonal to y = cos(x). Just like a vector in space can be decomposed into Cartesian coordinates or polar ones, functions can be decomposed into polynomials (Taylor series expansion) or into sums of increasingly-high-frequency sine and cosine waves (Fourier transform). [There are also specialty basis sets, like Bessel functions (useful for modeling the oscillation of drumheads or the weather of Jupiter) and exponentials (great for population modeling and radioactive decay), and they can be built to suit if a mathematician cares to.]

    As a contrary example, y = sin(x) has a nonzero dot product with y = x; they’re very different sorts of functions by most measures, but they’re actually fairly closely “aligned” to one another in function space. In practical terms, the Taylor expansion of y = sin(x) is a polynomial that includes a large linear (by which I mean, proportional to y=x) term, and for very similar reasons, the Fourier transform of a wave where y = x is repeated periodically includes a strong component of y = sin(x).

    As with any sort of technique, it’s far easier to understand by doing. f(x), above, can be decomposed into the part that aligns with y = x, and the part that aligns with y = 1, by a grueling process that begins with taking the respective dot products; same goes for decomposing g(x) into its sine component and its cosine component. It’s possible to solve by inspection in those two cases, but the aforementioned grueling process could also be used to find a polynomial that aligns tolerably well with g(x), or a set of harmonic functions that (over one period) match f(x). [Or you can decompose the function of your choice into Bessel funcitons, or a combination of exponential growth and decay functions, etc.]

    Anyway, I see hints of operations in the Great Key that are chosen carefully so as to be independent of one another in much this same way, and visualized as operating on orthogonal wheels; this same metaphor of right angles was used by Hilbert to imagine the operation of independent algebraic functions. The axles of the wheels on the rim of an Ezekiel wheel are at right angles to the axle of the main wheel, such that a creature traveling on them can move in any direction without turning; Hilbert’s work has an analogous benefit, namely that the system can adapt its work to various conditions by adjusting each independent component, rather than having to re-align its structure.

  120. @ CR Patiño – thank you for that beautifully simple and excellent lesson in the meaning of “orthagonal” (are you sure that teaching is not your vocation? 😉 )

    It actually is helping me to deepen my understanding of JMG’s lessons on the nature of the “planes”.

  121. Phil

    Actually the change in human physiology are greater that simply digesting milk, that is one part of the very extensive changes resulting from the developement of agriculture and animal husbandry, theres been change of facial features due to reduction of the jaws, alteration of digestion, changes in the immune system, changes to the muscular system and cardiovascular system since humans are the primates long term endurance champions. ( the great apes are very strong but short on endurance )

    There were also the development of lighter skins and hair by the midlatitude populations of Eurasia.

    I don’t think we would have recognized our Ice Age ancestors as ourselves, they would have looked something like stronger Australian Aborigenes. Humans responded to the warmer wetter world of the post glacial period by evolving and spreading over the new world and the changes they made to that world drove further evolution until something close to a new species was created.

    Many would not admit it, but much of science is still caught in the Aristotlean notion of fixity of thing and the idea of humans being separate from the natural world. The notion of humans themselves changing is still not fully accepted today.

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