Monthly Post

On Domed Cities and Doomed Dreams

Recently I’ve been reading the writings of the American philosopher William James. You won’t  see much discussion of his work among philosophers nowadays, and that’s not just because he happened to be white and male.  He had the bad luck to reach maturity as Western philosophy was in its death throes, and he added to that misfortune by having a mind clear and honest enough that he drew certain necessary conclusions from the intellectual struggles of his day.

William James

He hasn’t yet been forgiven for those conclusions. There are reasons for that—understandable reasons, though not good ones.  The conclusions, and the reasons they’ve been ignored, have lost none of their relevance since his time.  Quite the contrary, the harsh conditions tightening their grip on our industrial civilization just now can’t really be understood without listening to what James and others like him were trying to say, and what those who denounced him were trying even harder not to hear. Thus we’re going to have to talk a little about the history of philosophy.

Yes, I know perfectly well that most people think of that subject, on the rare occasions that they think of it at all, as the dullest sort of useless academic trivia. They’re wrong, but there’s a lesson in the mistake. The next time Neil deGrasse Tyson throws one of his public hissy fits insisting that philosophy is just plain wrongety-wrong-wrong-wrong, I hope none of my readers are so slow on the uptake as to think this shows that philosophy doesn’t matter.  Quite the contrary, he’s so petulant about philosophy precisely because it does matter, and he’s got his eyes scrunched shut and his hands over his ears, shouting “La, la, la, I can’t hear you” at the top of his lungs in a vain attempt to ignore the message that philosophy is gently trying to murmur to him.

The same is true of the general public, if on a rather milder way.  Seventy years ago, the publication of a new book by Jean-Paul Sartre or any of the other well-known philosophers of the time was a media event, the kind of thing that spawned articles in the arts and culture section of daily papers in dozens of cities and sparked cocktail-party chatter for months.  That happened because the things Sartre and his fellow philosophers were talking about mattered to most people.  That was then, of course. Since that time, philosophers and the general public have worked out a tacit agreement: the philosophers make sure to say nothing of interest to anyone outside their own little academic coteries, and the general public responds by ignoring them completely.  All this makes it easy for both sides to pretend that an earlier generation of philosophers didn’t cut the ground right out from under their feet.

Rene Descartes

We can begin the story with René Descartes. He launched modern philosophy by trying to figure out what can be known for certain by the human mind. That’s where his famous dictum “I think, therefore I am” came from:  having set out to doubt everything, he concluded that there had to be somebody doing the doubting.  Now of course his version of what the mind can know included most of the standard beliefs of his time and culture, partly because doubting everything is a good deal harder than he realized, and partly because doubting the wrong things in 17th-century France could have landed him in prison or worse. What mattered was that he made a start.

That beginning was taken up and carried much further by a series of brilliant philosophers, of whom John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant were the most important. All of these pursued the same question—what can the human mind really know through its own powers?—with increasing clarity and rigor. The endpoint of that trajectory was reached by Kant, whose Critique of Pure Reason showed that the human mind can only know what it creates.

Let’s walk through a bit of his reasoning. When you see an object—say, a cup of tea—what actually happens?  You experience a series of disconnected sensations of color and shape; one part of your mind assembles those into an image, and another part of your mind assigns a label to that image: “teacup.”  Without those processes of assemblage and labeling the world would be, in James’ useful phrase, nothing but “a blooming, buzzing confusion” of unconnected sensations. Try to follow the individual sensations back toward the object and you run into even more obstacles. How much does the image in your mind have in common with the game of electrochemical hopscotch in your optic nerve, how much information do the dancing electrons of the retina pass on from the antics of photons that spray through the eye, and how much does a splash pattern among photons really tell you about the quantum probability cloud of electrons that deflected those photons and set the process in motion?

Immanuel Kant

Kant lived long before quantum theory, of course, but he got to many of the same conclusions well in advance by sheer ruthless logic. He even showed that space and time as we experience them are products of human consciousness, not “out there” in the world. There are doubtless things analogous to space and time in what he called the Ding an sich, the “thing in itself,” but we don’t know anything about them, and as the quantum physicists showed later on, they routinely behave in ways that make hash of our notions of the way space and time work.  Thus we cannot know the world directly.  All we can know is a model of that world assembled by our minds and nervous systems.  That model is good enough for the purposes of everyday life and it can be leveraged in clever ways by scientists, but it can never tell us the truth about the world.

That was the discovery that rattled the foundations of eighteenth-century Europe. If Kant and his contemporaries had known enough about the history of philosophy elsewhere, they would have realized that this is something that happens to every philosophical tradition. All philosophy starts out with the naïve conviction that it’s possible for the human mind to know the truth about the world, and then runs face first into the same realization that staggered Kant’s readers. After a period of flailing, mature philosophical traditions reorient themselves by recognizing that if the mind can’t know the world directly, it can at least do a better job of getting to know its own creations.  That’s where you get the great syntheses of Classical, Hindu, and Chinese philosophy, which present a set of more or less useful models about nature but go on to place the healthy unfoldment of individual or collective humanity at the center of the philosophical enterprise.

That was the direction that William James chose:  to recognize that the human mind can give us only a rough approximation of the realities around us, and to focus instead about what we can actually know. That was the basis of his philosophy, which he called Pragmatism. There are other options along the same lines.  Sartre, whose name I invoked a moment ago, did the same thing in his own way; so did Schopenhauer, and so did some others. Most philosophers in the Western world after Kant, however, rejected that path and set out instead to find some way to insist that Kant was wrong and the human mind really can know the truth about the world.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

The quest for an answer to Kant fell broadly into two broad overlapping phases. The first, which had its peak in the 19th century, took its keynote from Hegel, who simply insisted that the mind had something called “intellectual intuition” which enabled it to do an end run around Kant’s challenge. That didn’t work very well, not least because no two philosophers seemed to be able to get the same results with their “intellectual intuition.” That difficulty led most later thinkers to interpret Hegel’s phrase as meaning something much closer to “brain fart.”

Despite the joke, this wasn’t a light matter. European thought  inherited from its Christian roots the idea that knowing the truth about the world was a matter far more serious than mere life and death. That was why Friedrich Nietzsche—another thinker who took Kant’s insight seriously—wrote mordantly about the chaos set in motion by the collapse of the idea that the world known by the mind is the real world. That was also why Rudolf Steiner, whose ideas we’ll be discussing in future posts, launched his career with a volume, The Philosophy of Freedom, in which he tried to prove that thinking really could grasp the objective truth about the world.  It was a gallant attempt, and he carried it out about as well as anyone could have done, but it didn’t work.  He had the good sense to turn in other directions thereafter.

Rudolf Steiner. He really did give it a good shot. 

The failure of this first phase made the second phase inevitable, and set it going along its own foredoomed course.  This peaked in the 20th century, and was based on the loud insistence that Kant’s insights don’t matter, so shut up, philosophers!  That’s the intellectual current to which Neil deGrasse Tyson belongs, for example, in his angry claim that philosophy must be bad because it doesn’t justify his blind faith in the predestined march of science toward universal omniscience. More generally, it’s the current that gave rise to the modern managerial state.

The problem faced by this latter phase, in turn, is quite simply that the issues Kant described don’t go away just because you refuse to think about them. If you recognize the hard limits on our minds’ capacity to know reality, understand that our ideas can only be a rough model of the world as it is, and act accordingly, you can come up with workarounds for the bad habits of human thought and avoid many pitfalls. If instead you insist that the world is whatever the human mind says it is, and flee from philosophic insight into an increasingly shrill insistence that the mind’s truth is more true than the events it claims to describe, you end up in a world of hurt.

That, in turn, is where we are right now.

Look around you, dear reader, and notice how many of crises in today’s industrial societies unfold from somebody’s insistence that a concept they’ve fastened onto something is the absolute objective truth about that thing. I could doubtless provoke screaming tantrums in this post’s comment section by citing examples from either side of the political spectrum just now, but I don’t find that particularly entertaining, or for that matter particularly useful. All you have to do is look for what Korzybski called the “is of identity”—“this is that”—and watch the fur fly.

There’s a potent historical reason for this. During the first half of the twentieth century, most of the world’s industrial nations ended up being run by a managerial elite that claimed the right to rule on the basis of their allegedly superior understanding of the way the world works—and the “superior understanding” in question was based on a knowledge of abstractions. That process began in 1917 with the Russian Revolution and ended in 1945 with the imposition of technocratic governments all across conquered Europe and Japan; the beginning of Franklin Roosevelt’s first term in 1933 is a good start date for the process here in the United States.

“We can fix the world!”

That transfer of power was justified, or at least excused, by the claim that handing society over to cadres of university-trained experts would be ever so much more efficient than leaving it in the hands of the former ruling classes. Did that work out?  In the short term, yes:  some obvious abuses got taken care of, some programs that benefited ordinary people were enacted, and the problems caused by allowing too much wealth to be hoarded by the kleptocrats of the former elite were fixed by forced expropriation and redistribution of excess wealth, using expedients that ranged from high tax rates in the United States to mass murder in the Soviet Union.

That’s pretty much what every newly arrived ruling class does, and it always works tolerably well. It’s what happens afterward that matters, however. The new managerial elite made quite a range of confident claims about the wonderful world that would surely arrive as soon as it finished clearing away the detritus of the past and put its program of expert governance into effect.  How well did it work? Well, try taking a look out the window. If you don’t see sparkling domed cities from which poverty and disease have long since been eliminated, flying cars zooming overhead while a daily flight to the Moon takes off from the local spaceport, and a nuclear power plant somewhere nearby turning out electricity too cheap to meter, let’s just say that the promises sounded great but the followthrough left a lot to be desired.

The difficulty in the way of that shining mirage was the same one that Kant analyzed in theory and James among others explored in practice.  It’s one thing to manipulate abstract concepts and make a nice pretty picture out of them, and quite another to make realities in the grubby world of fact behave the way that the concepts do.  Flying cars, space travel, and nuclear power all looked great on paper, but all three of them shared a common flaw: the value that each of them provided turned out in practice to be too small to justify their enormous costs.  That prosaic reality never found their way into all those glossy portrayals of the world of the future that saturated the corporate media back in the day, but that didn’t make those or many other similarly unwelcome facts go away. We live in a world shaped by the tremendous failures that resulted.

The future we were supposed to get — remember?

Charles Fort pointed out many years ago that the prestige of science depends on a slick public-relations scheme whereby every success is trumpeted to the skies while every failure is swept under the nearest available rug. The same is true of the prestige of the managerial classes in today’s world. These days, their predictions and projects fail far more often than they succeed, but the corporate media can be counted on to yell all day and night about their successes and pretend that the failures never happened. There are plenty of reasons why so few people these days believe anything that comes from official channels, but that’s one of the big ones.

The logic behind this self-defeating habit is that our managerial aristocrats can’t simply step away from the claim that their mastery of abstractions gives them superior insight into the world of everyday affairs. That claim is what justifies their present condition of privilege, but it’s also the foundation of their collective identity. Like so many people cornered by the consequences of their own errors, accordingly, the managerial class has reacted to its failures reacted by doubling down.  That’s why so much of the rhetoric that comes out of official sources these days consists of angry demands that everyone else has to agree that up is down, sideways is straight ahead, and if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, don’t you dare suggest that it might be a duck!

Ceci n’est pas un canard.

That’s the usual way that managerial castes deal with the mismatch between their preferred abstractions and the annoyingly contrary behavior of the world we experience. It’s also the usual way that managerial castes crash and burn. To begin with, insisting that abstractions are correct even when the facts don’t bear them out is a great way to drive the society you run straight into the ground. But there’s another difficulty. If there’s a conflict between the abstractions you prefer and the facts you encounter, and all your training (to say nothing of your class privilege) predisposes you to believe abstractions instead of facts, it becomes very tempting to treat belief in the abstractions and denial of the facts as a loyalty test for your subordinates.

This temptation becomes especially strong if you’re haunted by a suspicion that the abstractions are wrong and the facts are right, but can’t admit that to yourself.  That’s when the psychology of previous investment comes into play, and you start demanding that other people believe in order to shore up your own flagging faith. Nor does a single act of faith ever do the job.  The worse things get and the more obviously failure stares you in the face, the more likely you are to demand even more extravagant proofs of loyalty from those around you, and the result is that you expect people to believe a series of ever more preposterous claims in defiance of everything that’s happening around them. In due time you end up living in a dreamworld defined wholly by your own absurd demands for blind faith in abstract impossibilities—and it’s at that point, by and large, that the facts break down the door.

Seen any of those domed cities lately?

We’re probably not far from that stage just now.  Turn on the media, if you can stomach it, and you can count on getting an earful of abstractions serenely detached from the grubby realities they claim to represent.  When “safe” means “it kills people,” “effective” means “it doesn’t work,” and “the situation is under control” means “all our predictions turned out to be wrong and we have no idea what to do,” you’re looking at a ruling class that’s got a great big concrete wall across the road ahead and the accelerator slammed flat against the floor.

It’s a little late in the day to suggest that they might want to slow down a bit, read some William James, and grapple with the fact that the buzzing, blooming confusion of the universe is under no compulsion to behave the way they think it should. The rest of us, however, might want to put a little effort into learning from their mistakes. When the rubble stops bouncing and the smoke clears away, a great deal of rebuilding will be in order, and much of that will have to be done by individuals, families, and local communities, unhelped (and also unhindered) by the, ahem, intellectual intuitions of experts. A willingness to attend to the grubby world of fact, even when it conflicts with one’s preferred notions, will be a useful tool for the hard work ahead; a willingness to learn a little more about ourselves, even when that knowledge isn’t flattering, will be another.


  1. “Believe what we tell you, not your lying eyes!” is the mantra of the management/elite class these days. Thank you for another excellent post.

  2. I’d appreciate a recommendation for a starting point into William James, not a writer/thinker I have ever encountered before on this side of the ocean. Thanks JMG.

  3. For those who didn’t pick up on it, our host’s “Ceci n’est pas un canard” is a reference to René Magritte’s “The Tragedy of Images”, reproduced below:

    A painting of a pipe is not a pipe, just as a picture of a duck is not a duck. Magritte’s painting is another helpful warning about confusing abstractions and facts.

  4. Greetings JMG. Happy synchronicity! I’ve been listening repeatedly to Bernardo Kastrup’s Decoding Schopenhauer’s Metaphysics… I love it…

  5. What a relief to read. I grew up in a strictly scientific household. As an undergraduate, I had the privilege to sit in on Noam Chomsky explaining science to a room full of philosophers. It was only then I realized that science really only claims to explain and predict. A fine tool for many things, but with sharp limits and hardly deserving a government or cultural monopoly on “Truth”. Having been from the science tribe, it’s lonely not to have the fellowship of the ritual drinking of that Kool-aid.

  6. It would be annoying to grow a garden in a domed city. You’d get no rain. Always watering… and someone or something would have to go up and push the snow off the dome so it doesn’t build up too much, unless your domes are very steep.

  7. @JMG

    Thank you for this very insightful essay. I’d like to say, though, that philosophy is one of the two disciplines being regarded with hostility, the other being history.

    The reason I say this is because the myth of Progress falls apart on close examination when a thorough study of historical facts is undertaken, and it becomes hard to justify faith in Progress without resorting to the use of highly questionable logic. Of course, the hostility to these two subjects are due to other factors as well, namely, corruption, politics, economics, and finally, the sheer cussedness of human nature.

    That said, I am not surprised at all to see true devotees of scientism and Progress like Neil deGrasse Tyson attack philosophy so much – after all, if people study philosophy, they might just come up with concepts and ideas that pose a threat to Progress! Similarly, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard STEM people casually dismiss history as useless, with arguments like “…maybe as a curiosity, the study of history may be fine, but now we have science, medicine and technology, so really there’s no need for history!” (they never got around to even mentioning philosophy) I’ve come to conclude, after having read your writings, that the reason history is attacked by STEM fans is because it tells us that ideas and concepts that we consider cutting-edge are very often newer, rehashed versions of ideas that were old in the Bronze Age, and that they flopped comprehensively.

  8. There was a philosopher of Deal,
    Who said: “Although pain isn’t real,
    If I sit on a pin
    And it punctures my skin,
    I dislike what I fancy I feel.’

  9. “Without those processes of assemblage and labeling the world would be, in James’ useful phrase, nothing but “a blooming, buzzing confusion” of unconnected sensations.”

    That phrase is really a torpedo hit to “naive empirism” boat that only believes in sensations by the usual 5 senses…

  10. Words cannot adequately express my gratitude to you, JMG, for skillfully and consistently laying down the bricks on the road we need to travel if we are to keep our wits about us and be in a position to help ourselves and others as this amazing time does what it must do.


  11. Was there ever an opportunity for a cohesive narrative or story for our global system? Like a religion, belief system, or myth that could have steered this process towards the common sense solutions you outline so frequently, where we are part of instead of on top of nature.

    Maybe those stories are forming but won’t materialize in time.

  12. “Objective evidence and certitude are doubtless very fine ideals to play with, but where on this moonlit and dream visited planet are they found?” –William James, The will to believe part VI

  13. “The human mind can only know what it creates.”

    Judging by the hundreds of pages that make up my DM binder for any given TTRPG campaign, it can’t even know what it creates very well!

    Excellent post as always!

    I find the Christian declaration of Truth to be a strange artifact. When I became Catholic, “Truth” is what I asked for. In the decade+ since, the main truth I get is that I can’t handle the Truth, just like Job after chapters 38-41.

  14. Regarding the failed dream of nuclear energy:

    I’m almost finished reading the book “One hundred miles from home :nuclear contamination in the communities of the Ohio River Valley” — It’s the scariest horror book I ever read and it’s non-fiction.

    The amount of things swept under the rug -into the aquifers- the people harmed, workers, residents -the outright lies and collusion. It’s scary. And some of the half-life’s of the transuranic elements… we’ve only lived for a fraction of.

    My great grandfather was a chemist who made something in his lab in the basement which he sent to Fernald -one of the sites covered in this book. It’s all very close to home. I’m sure there may be similar books about sites where other people live.

    Thanks, btw, for showing how the failure to love wisdom has resulted in the current world views of the managerial class. & thanks for bringing up Korzybski and the “is of identity”. I think that is at play big time in relation to your post a few weeks ago about Tartaria and related phenomena of conspiracy theories.

    Also I believe Tartaria was in part wiped out of the history books as part of an advertising campaign on the behest of Crest.

  15. Hi John,
    I like James, among other reasons, because he offers guidance geared to an uncertain world. For example, he tackles the issue of free will by observing that either free will exists or it doesn’t. If it does, and you’re exercising it, then you’re living up to your potential and that is much to your credit. (If free will exists, then you indeed chose to exercise it.) If free will exists and you’re not exercising it, then you’re leaving a lot of human potential on the table, and that is to your discredit. If free will doesn’t exist, then whether you behave as if it does or not, it is not to your credit or discredit, since you had no choice but to behave the way you did. So one can argue that the only course of action that has a chance of being honorable is to behave as if free will exists, and hope that it does.

  16. Much thanks for this tour of our philosophical roots. Agreed that we neglect too much of what has been pursued by these European cum colonialist revelations. But I would like to interject one thinker who, in my estimation, has had a much more deeply seated affect on Western education and everyday living: Rene Descartes’ (1596–1650).
    His lasting ideological influence on western thought was and remains profound. Not least is so-called Cartesian dualism – the treatment of mind and matter as separate realms – that has encouraged and perpetuated a mechanistic view of the world around us. Descartes’ legacy – a dualism that assumes separation between soul and body, mind and matter – has in many ways proved a poisonous one for western societies. An impoverished, mechanistic worldview treats both the planet [witness the lobbies against the realities of “Overshoot” and one of its consequences: global warming!] and our bodies [just ask a woman in the U.S. today, and an ‘essential worker’ paid minimum wage] primarily as material objects : one a plaything for greed, the other a canvas for the insecurities of what you have described in your essay; e.g., “{temptation} to treat belief in the abstractions and denial of the facts as a loyalty test for your subordinates”.

  17. “the managerial class has reacted to its failures reacted by doubling down”
    Delete second reacted, then this comment.

    Your essays often bring new insight that I cannot quantify, but I sent a donation for the sense of improvement they’ve made to my life, JMG.

  18. I had a professor, the late Edwin Allaire, who opened his early modern philosophy class with the line, “Philosophy is the history of three great mistakes: Plato, Descares, and Peano …” With that line, the attention of everyone in the class who cared at all perked up, and he dove straight into a discussion of the Six Meditations of Descartes. Long story short, my conclusion was that Descartes fouled up when he jettisoned the insight of post-classical Dark Ages and Medieval philosophy and thus forgot everything their elders knew about the limits of knowledge.

    I think Kant only deserves half the credit though. David Hume argued that the raw sensations that assail us do not entitle us to claim knowledge. He also had the good graces to admit that he had no idea how we turn the disparate sensations hitting us into a tea cup. There lies half the credit. Kant reads David Hume and is blown away. Kant gets the idea that the mind itself has built-in categories that process disparate sensations into conscious experience. There is the other half of the credit. I bring this up because I think Hume too often gets forgotten. If there was a Nobel Prize for philosophy, Kant and Hume would have to share it for their work.

    I also think Hume is a much more engaging writer than Kant. Reading Kant is a chore, while reading Hume is a delight. But opinions may vary on this point.

    As for domed cities, I remember thinking the pictures were neat when I was a kid, but my mom telling me that no one would build them because they would get too dusty inside after awhile.

  19. “When you see an object—say, a cup of tea—what actually happens? You experience a series of disconnected sensations of color and shape; one part of your mind assembles those into an image, and another part of your mind assigns a label to that image: “teacup.” Without those processes of assemblage and labeling the world would be, in James’ useful phrase, nothing but “a blooming, buzzing confusion” of unconnected sensations.”

    This made me think of people with Autism.

    The idea that our perception of truth is merely a model created by our mind, I think has a lesson for us that consistency is more important than accuracy. But still, consistency doesn’t not equal accuracy.

    It is tempting to suggest that since we all share a mental model through language and culture, that the search for truth is on a little firmer ground than Kant seemed to suggest. But that’s not so; we simply share the faults of the same model. Unfortunately this seems to lend credence to some of the elements of the social justice movement that condemn whiteness and Western ways of thought. After all isn’t white Euro-centric Western culture just another flawed mental model? That being said, the social justice people don’t suggest a unified truth either. It’s as if, having ignored the logical outcome of Western philosophy, Western civilization is now under attack from those that understand objective truth is a mirage of culture and shared assumptions.

    The response of conservative Americans typically falls along the lines that a shared culture and mental map and the benefits that flow from these things outweigh the faults. And for the most part I would tend to agree that the more homogeneous a society is, or at least the more it can agree on, the more it tends to peace and tranquility. But this state can’t exist forever, especially in the face of suffering. And there are many people in our society that have been suffering over the last 40-50+ years under the traditional American culture. And they have risen up. The predominant mental map didn’t work for them, so they don’t feel that they have to honor it.

    I do think in some ways we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater but as long as one side wants complete revolution and the other side wants the continuation of the status quo, the tensions that brought us to this point will never be resolved, and social unrest will fester.

    None of this has to do with objective accuracy, and everything to do with how society comes to agree on a shared mental map of reality that everyone can work with. It is this work that drives wars and destroys or builds societies in turn. If you are one who wants the status quo, how will you solve environmental destruction, resource depletion, socioeconomic inequality, racial disparities, and the like. If you are one who wants revolution, how will you ensure that costs of green energy transition don’t wreck the economy and get passed on to the poorest? How will you manage to help oppressed races without engendering racial animosity? How will you dismantle capitalism while still giving the common man the chance at upward mobility? How will you increase the government social programs without disincentivizing personal effort and causing budget issues and inflation?

  20. I have never believed the canard that Americans are optimistic. I do think that we are practical and pragmatic in that we tend to think and believe that problems exist to be solved.

    Off topic, if I may, the noted journalist, blogger, writer, and former diplomat Craig Murray is newly released from prison, back to blogging and not mincing words.

  21. Your bit at the end about unrealistic beliefs as loyalty tests reminded me of a thorough summary/commentary of a book I read. The book is called “Moral Mazes” by Robert Jackall, and a summary of the in-depth review by Zvi Moshowitz (a rationalist blogger) can be found here:

    It’s an analysis of the dynamics of middle management in large corporations, based on interviews and research done in the 80s, but from my own experience, much of it was still true in corporations of the teens and at least some of it applies to academia of the 20s. The thing that really drew the two together, though, is that the book/summary talks about how middle managers become incentivized to do things that are *actively bad*, rather than merely negligent.

    Here’s the logic: let’s say you as a manager have a choice of 3 things: 1) something that makes the company money with no ill effects on the world outside, 2) something that makes the company money and may or may not have ill effects on the outside world, or 3) something that makes the company money, but will definitely have ill effects on the outside world. If you’re being evaluated on how much money you make the company, these would have about equal incentives pushing for them. The trouble comes in when systems reward loyalty more than effectiveness (spoiler alert: any organization with more than 3 layers starts doing so at least a little bit).

    Choices 1 and 2 are insufficient signals of loyalty, because you could *claim* that you picked them because they’re good for the company while secretly caring more about the outside world. Choice 3 is the only one that demonstrates for sure that you care more about the company than the outside world, and so is incentivized if loyalty is the main thing rewarded.

    I share this, because it adds a troubling dimension to what you state in the post: it would be bad enough if those making decisions had to pass some reality-defying loyalty tests, but otherwise tried to do a good job. The implication here is that in very many cases, doing the job *obviously badly* in some ways becomes an ongoing loyalty test to which your promotion and identity become linked. Scary stuff.

  22. (Separate comment to help keep replies clear)

    The other thread from this post I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on is a distinction between William James and some of his predecessors I encountered on Eric S. Raymond’s blog a few years back about the difference between defining “truth” as “that which is predictive” (Charles Sanders Pierce) and “that which is useful to believe” (Pragmatism):

    ESR is a die-hard and admirably rigorous materialist and a long-time student of Korzybski’s whose thoughts I found especially helpful when I was trying to make sense of the world from a materialist point of view. He’s also open to magical and mystical practices, he just believes they all are perfectly explainable from a material substrate.

    Anyhow, from your writing and some of Jordan Peterson’s talks (especially his infamous first discussion with Sam Harris), I suspect that ESR does not place the fact/value distinction as low in the perceptive process as James, you, and Peterson might. As I said, though, I’d welcome any thoughts on this from you or any of the commentariat.

  23. A nice breakdown of the history of modern philosophy! At one point I got a little confused: when you write “There are doubtless things analogous to space and time … as the quantum physicists showed later on, they routinely behave in ways that make hash of our notions of the way space and time work”, can I substitute something like “subatomic particles” or even “their measurements” instead of “they”?

    Any lab scientist feels a small triumph just because a measurement repeats itself, no matter if the measured value corresponded to their wishes! And any neuroscientist knows the woeful abyss between our theoretical knowledge and the actual behavior of freely moving animals and people.

    Since the 1980s, Judea Pearl has revolutionized the design and understanding of causal experiments by pointing out how much better normal human beings are at understanding and predicting the world than the most sophisticated statistical models were, and by trying to mimic and formalize that normal human intuition.

  24. Sometimes I find my mind fighting to stay afloat in the turbulent abstract seas of today’s day and age and. It seems like occult philosophy and related experiences are my life raft.

    I started reading Schopenhauer as my designated bathroom break book. Hopefully I can deepen my understanding of the topics you mention here.

    Thanks for the great post.

  25. I collected a box full of quotations while in grad school. Here are two from William James writing about Hegel:

    WILLIAM JAMES :: It is not necessary to drink the ocean to know that it is salt; nor need the critic dissect a whole system after proving that its premises are rotten.

    WILLIAM JAMES :: The world is philosophy’s own, — a single block, of which, if she once get her teeth on any part, the whole shall inevitably become her prey and feed her all-devouring theoretic maw. Naught shall be but the necessities she creates and impossibilities; freedom shall mean freedom to obey her will; ideal and actual shall be one: she, and I as her champion, will be satisfied on no lower terms. … The insolence of sway, the [hubris] on which gods take vengeance, is in temporal and spiritual matters usually admitted to be a vice. A Bonaparte and a Phillip II are called monsters. But when an intellect is found insatiate enought to declare that all existence must bend the knee to its requirements, we do not call its owner a monster, but a philosophic prophet. May not this be all wrong. Is there any one of our functions exempted from the common lot of liability to excess. And where everthing else must be contented with its part in the universe, shall the theorizing faculty ride rough-shod over the whole?

  26. Aligning a truthful interpretation of objective reality with the narrative of our subjective mind is the crux of living skillfully. To be in flow, to live authentically, one with Tao. Unity with reality is the close alignment of the objective and subjective. Hard to do, reducing the ego and desires, the confirmation biases, the prejudices, the mind traps, etc that are the daily minefield of life. Your insights are always welcome.

  27. What about the notion that experience is the only reality, there being no fixed, independent or objective “Ding an sich” to which our experience refers, or which causes our experience? This still leaves plenty of room for us to misconstrue our individual or collective experience, either for lack of subjective acuity, or by secondarily superimposing all sorts of incoherent or delusional notions upon the raw data of our primary experience. Even if we’re experts:

  28. I am so very glad that flying cars are, and will likely remain, playthings of the reckless rich. In engineering terms, what makes a good car makes a poor aircraft, and vice versa. I do not want multi-ton machines made of steel and glass falling at random out of the sky when their engines fail. One of them might dent my roof!

    The recurrence of doubt should come as no surprise to those familiar with Socrates, who _invented_ philosophy, and who said, “I know only that I know nothing”. He called his system of inquiry ‘philosophy’, and not ‘sophism’, which he derided; for the word ‘philosophy’ doesn’t mean wisdom, it means _love_ of wisdom. And any true lover can tell you that to love is not the same thing as to possess.

    The love of wisdom is not in vain; for though the knowledge thus gained is relative and incomplete, it tends to be enough for our material and spiritual needs. I _like_ the world described by modern science; it is grand and glorious, and much more beautiful than the tiny worlds it supplanted. High technology, too, will stay with us; at least the cheaper, simpler, subtler, decentralized forms, derived from investment of thought and insight rather than money and power. Technology will advance, despite its failures; for most experiments fail. Their real value of experiments comes from what we learn from the failures.

    However, not even modern technology is enough for our foolish desires, especially the desire for power over the world and others. Hubris creates its own nemesis.

  29. Historically, what is the typical timeline for the “managerial class” to realize their errors… or get replaced? And what is the success rate of these changes, if you define success as not violating western values of human rights? The doubling down on failed policies is starting to get tiresome, but maybe a slow evolution to something new and improved is preferable if the status quo can survive and evolve long enough???

  30. “A world of hurt”. I’ve heard that phrase many times but you’re use of it here is spot on in describing our current predicament. Thanks John!

    Another thought, in looking at all the hurt caused by Covid and especially people’s response to it, when shouting dies down and we are back to more normal times, we will all have to learn to forgive. This application of forgiveness will be necessary to re-build our personal social networks and start to heal the damage. We are going to need each other.

    Thanks again John

  31. Clayton #8: Bravo! But the first line’s scansion limps. I recommend:
    “There once was a thinker from Deal…”

    Along the same lines, I wrote the following fable:

    Sage Advice

    Once upon a time a Sage placidly extolled the virtues of contemplating life with equanimity. He recommended this attitude to all, including the victims of flood, fire, earthquake, plague, robbery, rape, tyranny, atrocity and war.

    He said, “If only the common folk had sufficient wisdom and character for philosophic detachment, then they too could avoid suffering!” The Sage sighed and shook his head.

    Then he stubbed his toe on a rock, and he swore like a sailor.

    We all have the strength to endure the misfortunes of others.

    I stole the moral from de La Rochefoucauld. To me the Sage’s cussing redeems him. True wisdom knows when to play the fool.

  32. Vala, you’re most welcome.

    RogerCO, I recommend his book Pragmatism as a good start; like most of his best work, it’s based on a set of lectures he gave, and like everything he wrote, it’s highly readable. (That matters. If someone can’t write clearly, that tells you that they can’t think clearly…)

    Jeff, it was indeed. The blog software stripped your image, but fortunately Magritte’s work is easy to find online.

    Casey, good heavens. How did I not hear of Bernardo Kastrup before? I’ve just added several of his books to my get-this list; anybody who takes Schopenhauer’s metaphysics as seriously as they deserve is worth multiple close readings.

    Bradley, science has its own fundamentalism, and a lot of people fall victim to it. Like most things, science is a great servant but a terrible master.

    Pygmycory, two of many excellent reasons why domed cities are a really stupid idea!

    Viduraawakened, that’s an important point, worth exploration. Thank you.

    Robert, funny. From James’ standpoint, btw, the pin may be an illusion but the pain is real!

    Chuaquin, James meant it as such. If you actually explore the process of sensory perception it becomes impossible to miss the fact that naive empiricism is an embarrassing kind of nonsense.

    OtterGirl, you’re welcome and thank you.

    Ynu8ipbnxu, oh, we had a cohesive narrative or story — the myth of progress. It just happened to be wrong. Modern history is the process by which that narrative played out, from its bright beginnings to its dismal end. Lacking that narrative, we’d be living in a wholly different world.

    Dave, excellent! A fine Jamesian quote.

    John B, I just rolled d20 and that was a good solid hit. 😉

    Justin, yep. It’s a very, very ugly story. As for Tartaria — heh. Funny.

    Greg, that’s one of the most elegant applications of Pascal’s Wager I know of.

    Bruce, as I noted in the post, Descartes stands at the beginning of modern Western philosophy, and yes, a great deal of what we’re contending with today is a product of his ideas.

    Patricia M, speaking of people with their hands over their ears going “La, la, la, I can’t hear you…”

    Electricangel, thank you.

    Chris, as I noted in my post, Kant was simply the last of a sequence of brilliant philosophers — Locke, Berkeley, and Hume were the others — who made his work possible. All of them are well worth reading, and I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading some good Hume.

    DT, good. The wokesters grasped the fact that the standard Western worldview is limited and biased, but they failed to grasp that just standing it on its head and saying “what they say is bad is good, and what they say is good is bad” does nothing to improve the situation. They remain just as dependent on the existing worldview as before, since all they’ve done is say with Milton’s Satan, “Evil, be thou my good.” The thought that every worldview including theirs is just as limited and biased, and that we still need some kind of common ground for communication and mutual action, is outside their mental reach.

    Mary, of course it depends on your definition of optimism. “Every problem has a solution” is from some perspectives a blindingly optimistic statement.

    Jeff, interesting. That doesn’t surprise me at all.

  33. Older philosophers: Mankind can know Nothing of the World

    Newer scientists: Mankind can know Everything of the World

    William James: A person can know Something of the World.

    “Neither the whole of truth nor the whole of good is revealed to any single observer, although each observer gains a partial superiority of insight from the peculiar position in which he stands. Even prisons and sick-rooms have their special revelations”

    (Talks to Teachers. 1899, p 264), as cited here:

    Sorry if my simplification above does a disservice to either “older philosophers” or “newer scientists.” 😉

    But I am trying to pinpoint my dismay at the whole discussion of what a person can know, and how the idea that a person cannot know the world “directly” can be seized upon as a way to alienate a person from those Somethings which they do happen to know.

    And, it strikes me that this is not a million miles away from the observation made in several places, that those who cite themselves as belonging “Everywhere” (globalist outlook) actually belong “Nowhere”, and are very different in outlook from those who see themselves as belonging “Somewhere” (localist outlook).

    This is because there are people, as we speak, telling me that science (not philosophy) proves in many ways (see this study, read that link) that *I* can know Nothing. Their next move, of course, is to explain that since *I* can know Nothing, I have no option but to defer to the objective knowledge that “scientific consensus” – apparently – reveals. They find it quite logical to believe that, while individual people can know Nothing, humankind as a whole – represented by “scientific consensus” can know Everything. They fail to appreciate what seems logical to me, which is that if *I* can’t know anything then no one can know anything, whether singly or in groups – even very large groups.

    On the whole, I am therefore quite taken with James’ view that “each observer gains a partial superiority of insight from the peculiar position in which he stands” as it accords with the idea that it is both my right and my duty to make personal medical decisions based on my personal “partial superiority of insight” derived from being me, knowing Something, at this time, in this place.

    I feel safe in predicting that I will be reading more of William James in 2022.

  34. I thought you had mis-spelled “domed” and intended “doomed” but now I see what you did there. Living outside of Philadelphia, I can confirm it is domed. The murder rate is the highest it has ever been and the city department of health imposed a vaccine passport for the entire city. The media keeps saying restaurants only but the “guidance” (got to love that term – as if the DOH is providing wise counsel) says anywhere that even serves snacks falls under the rule. Movie theaters, bowling alleys, all sports stadiums, concert halls, and museums all off limited to non-vaccinated ages 5 and up.

    Meanwhile heroin addicts shoot up in the streets, much of the city were the working class lives looks like that last photo in your post, and the city is still behind on picking up trash from the start of the pandemic. It’s a failed state by any measure, but this tiny enclave in the center, feels secure in issuing meaningly edicts all day long.

    I found myself crying yesterday about it. The grief just hit me. Rather than ignore it, I let go and felt it. I could drown in it. I’m not surprised by the amount of cope people have to employ to exist under such insane conditions. I also think there are some good people who have tried to make a difference in recent years, but something cracked and I don’t think even the good people matter anymore. It feels horrible to say that. The federal, state, and large city governments are unable to manage anything anymore, aren’t they?

    Will a foreign power use this as an opportunity to invade do you think? Or will it be more of a takeover within? I see the printing of another $2.5 trillion and I don’t know that there is anything to take over worth having here. Farmland?

  35. In my opinion, our elites don’t really believe their own proclaimed ideology.
    I think Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Robespierre, etc, etc, believed what they were talking about, (and are perfect cases for your analysis), but Klaus Schwab, Hillary Clinton, our politicians, media ppl, Hollywood ppl and other influencers all over the world, they don’t.
    Maybe some do, but most of them not.

  36. @pygmycory regarding comment #6…

    Snow? Nah, that has an easy solution — the waste heat from using all that too-cheap-to-meter electricity produced at the nuclear power plant. Plus, a bonus: when we have to crank up the air conditioning inside the dome to deal with it, we get even more waste heat. Presto, no snow accumulation!

    (I can’t claim credit for the basic idea here — Isaac Asimov covers some of this in one of the Foundation novels.)

  37. @JMG, great timing. I just spent the last two days printing and folding William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience because it’s a 550-page doozy and I thought it would be a great book to read while experimenting with binding larger sewn paperbacks and hardbacks at home.

  38. “Where there is mind, there is stupidity” – Eastern European proverb.

    To me, it’s amazing how useful the scientific process (hypothesis -> test in the real world -> update your thinking) is.
    And how most people will not ever use it.

    I talked to people with kids that kept yelling at their kids and complaining because the kids never listened. Even a cat can learn the difference between an empty threat and an actual punishment. And yet people never made the connection, while their kids quickly learned what they can get away with.

    I could go on, but isn’t it good news that our abstractions DON’T have to be detached from the reality?
    All it takes is the willingness to discard or change them if they fail.

    Anybody knows why people become so attached to their beliefs?

    I think what we need is not a great reset, but a tiny one – every time you fail, just stand up and say: I got it wrong and boy am I happy I learned something!

  39. FWIW, actual scientists don’t like Neil deGrasse Tyson any more than anyone else does. His game is power politics, not science or other scholarly pursuits, and his episodes of public jackassery are part of the routine. I’ve never met one who wants him as their spokesman, yet there he is. Tales of face to face interactions with him are enough to drop one’s jaw, including from my somewhat famous former advisor (full disclosure: I come from this background myself and hold a doctorate, though am not currently working as a scientist).

    The perfect figure for you to use as a foil, in other words. He’s without substance.

  40. It is very useful to try to weave together the big strands in western history of philosophy. The awareness of the limits of our mind’s models of our sensory observation is a good focal point. I would argue that an under appreciated distinction is between the parts of the world that are simple enough that good mental models (when informed by good scientific theories) are able to accurately predict their behavior and the parts of the world that are much more complicated. The cup of tea is pretty well understood so that the mental model can include its temperature changes over time, what forces would break it, what we would find if we dug it up after 10000 years, and pretty much any other question you could ask they pertains solely to the cup of tea. Same with planetary orbits, and much of chemistry including the quantum behavior of small numbers of charged particles like Hydrogen and Helium atoms. Quantum theory is strange to humans familiar with macroscopic things, but the observations rigorously match the expectations of good mental models. It doesn’t mean the mental models are the same as the thing itself. But the things in question are simple enough that we have refined our mental models so they are essentially never wrong on certain simple questions. It is on this success that the reputation of science should rest. But a huge number of people seem to ignore the fact that most questions of interest to humans…like how to train a child, or how to manage a team running a business, or how a species should cope with the fact that it is degrading its ecosystem…are much too complex for our mental models to adequately describe and predict.

    A good example is in the pandemic. Science is able to work effectively with some fairly complex systems, so we know the genome and geometry of the variants of the virus that is killing people. The human immune though is much more complex and we can create vaccines that are effective in saving many lives but we don’t fully understand how they work or how individuals will respond. But science isn’t able to offer a lot of guidance about how to organize people to minimize transmission and or how to convince people to get vaccinated when they need it. There we end up relying on experience of what works to organize people.

    I place much of the blame of the failures of what you call the “managerial class” on failures of public communication. People want to hear that science will solve their problems and that a bright future is at hand, so politicians tell them what they want to hear and scientists and managers are guided to make it happen. It slowly becomes unacceptable to point out that the promises won’t be fulfilled because the world is much more complex and constrained than people have been told. Then further levels of abstractions need to be invented to make the promises come true at least in a fashion that can be spun believably. And it has slowly descended into the direct lying we see all around us today.

  41. I must admit that I’ve never really been very interested in philosophy. A lot of it is very abstract, and I just don’t care.

    Yes, I know I can’t know everything, and the senses provide an imperfect image of the world outside myself. But I can’t get outside myself to see better what’s actually there, so after a certain point I just don’t see the point of all the fussing. I’d rather put my energy into other areas of knowledge entirely.

    Especially when the teacher started talking about whether rocks were sentient and should have rights. I liked the Venn diagrams and discussions of logical fallacies, but rights for rocks?

  42. An aphorism from E.M. Cioran’s “The Trouble with Being Born”: “It has been a long time since philosophers have read men’s souls. It is not their task, we are told. Perhaps. But we must not be surprised if they no longer matter much to us.”

    JMG, it seems to me you have a near-monopoly on soul-oriented philosophy these days. Thank you for your work!

  43. Jeff, I haven’t yet started in on Pierce, much less his modern commentators, so I’ll have to wait until I have the necessary background.

    Aldarion, yes, that’s confusing, isn’t it? For “they” insert “whatever it is in the real world that we experience as space and time”. That’s intriguing to hear about Pearl. Can you recommend a source for further reading?

    Youngelephant, funny. Schopenhauer’s my current bathroom reading — I’m about halfway through volume 2 of The World as Will and Representation (not for the first time, of course).

    Karim, well, I’ve heard there are these fields of study called philosophy, psychology, and spirituality… 😉

    JVP, thanks for these!

    Tom, and yet we can’t know the objective except in a partial and biased way. As Lao Tsu put it, “the process we talk about is not the process that exists; the words we use to talk about it are not the things they describe.”

    Homo Novo, the Ding an sich can’t be known, and even its existence or nonexistence cannot be known. It’s a good working hypothesis, however, to explain why when I say, “Look, the sun is rising in the east!” you don’t respond by insisting that purple wombats have just devoured the horizon.

    Paradoctor, the whole history of western philosophy, neatly summarized!

    Kit, it really varies, mostly depending on just how ghastly a disaster the failed managerial class causes by its delusions of competence.

    Raymond, that came to mind when I was writing it, so you’re most welcome.

    Scotlyn, good. The switch from “Mankind,” that grandiose abstraction, to “a person” is of course crucial. Whenever someone’s saying this or that about “Mankind” it’s usually a grab for privilege in one way or another!

    Denis, the big cities are where our current process of elite failure is most evident. It’s worth grieving, but the pace of decline is such that I expect significant changes in the decade immediately ahead.

    Nati, I disagree. A good con artist always starts by conning himself.

    CS2, delighted to hear it! That was my first introduction to James — it was the basic textbook for the clergy training program of the Universal Gnostic Church back in the day.

    NomadicBeer, most people these days identify their beliefs with their ego. It’s not “this belief is incorrect,” it’s “I am wrong” — and so they resist that with might and main. Until you recognize that you are not your beliefs, it’s an easy trap to fall into.

    Loren, his denunciations of philosophy are the point at issue. Whether or not he has substance as a person or a scholar, his attitude toward philosophy is very widely shared among true believers in the civil religion of scientism.

    Ganv, that’s a valid point.

    Pygmycory, and that’s also a valid approach. No field of human learning is meaningful to everyone.

    Fritter, now there’s a synchronicity — I picked up a volume of Cioran for the first time a few weeks ago, and it’s in my to-read pile.

  44. I am glad to see you considering Rudolf Steiner in your essays..Steiners insights into art. education. agriculture and occult has been my inspiration for many years.His forays into the complex spiritual worlds can be a bit daunting and his christianaity can put some people off but his warnings that the materialism of the present world is leading to catastrophy is obvious by now>

  45. @ NomadicBeer #40, JMG, and the commenariat generally

    Re why folks become attached to their beliefs

    I was pondering something similar after reading this week’s post. It seems to me that there is a nature course of evolution–in people, institutions, and civilizations–whereby initially-robust inquiry becomes increasingly wrapped in layers of its own creation to the point where it is completely cut off from the outside. Just a first analysis, but the cross-over point looks to me to be when the model one is using becomes more self-referential than not. If I’m building a forecast for my utility’s hourly power consumption to decide how much power to buy for tomorrow’s operations, I need to feed that model with the most recent *actual* data available. If I’m having to forecast for a string of days, then I’m forced to “cantilever” my forecast by using forecast data in place of actuals that haven’t occurred yet, but I need that actual data to get incorporated eventually, in order to keep my model “on track.” If I simply use my model output as my past inputs without ever recalibrating with actuals, my model will diverge from reality. I can give you a lovely set of numbers for power consumption on Dec 15th, 2032, but they won’t be accurate in any meaningful way.

    Moreover, I wonder to what degree what we’re talking about are the ruts of well-worn grooves of in space that we encountered back in the Cos Doc discussions. Our concept of self is a set of mental habits–I’ve had mine shaken enough in these past years to realize that, although that realization doesn’t necessarily make the changes any easier. Given how much less self-awareness a society has than an individual, it makes sense that the same traps are stumbled into time and time again.

  46. DT, the questions you posed in the final paragraph of post #20 can be answered. Note, I don’t say well answered, but suitably glib solutions are available. You typed:

    If you are one who wants the status quo, how will you solve environmental destruction, resource depletion, socioeconomic inequality, racial disparities, and the like. If you are one who wants revolution, how will you ensure that costs of green energy transition don’t wreck the economy and get passed on to the poorest? How will you manage to help oppressed races without engendering racial animosity? How will you dismantle capitalism while still giving the common man the chance at upward mobility? How will you increase the government social programs without disincentivizing personal effort and causing budget issues and inflation?

    1. For those who want the status quo, everyone knows his or her place and happily remains in it, not requiring more resources than that to which he or she is by custom entitled. As for upward mobility, patronage, of course. Did not the ancient Romans manage their empire through patronage networks? Away with tiresome higher education, which only makes wimps out of red blooded workers, and let the leadership pick the likely lads and lasses for elevation.

    2. As for “oppressed races”, you have obviously been too much influenced by leftist agitprop. Let various communities have their own Bantustans, which will make their own contributions to the general welfare, not least as places for elite R & R.

    3. For those who want revolution, international trade rules! All can prosper if we only reinvent the USA as a trading hub, an oversized Singapore. No worthy PMC need ever get their hands dirty again. Bring on the knowledge economy!

  47. The first thing that strikes me about all those people you mentioned is how long ago they lived. The world seemed full of great thinkers a few centuries ago.

    I’m not the first person to make this comment but where did all the thinkers go? Other than Santayana, is there anyone relatively recent that measures up? And in this current era we’re in, is there anyone out there at all? Or is the void staring back at us?

  48. “ It’s one thing to manipulate abstract concepts and make a nice pretty picture out of them, and quite another to make realities in the grubby world of fact behave the way that the concepts do. ”

    Ahhh, a problem artists and craftsmen have faced since caveman days. I can paint a gorgeous painting (maybe 1 in 5 tries, lol)… but ohhhhh if you could see how it looked in my head.

    As an artist (university trained…. which still means something if you paint realism), most artist exercises are designed to make you stop labeing what you see, because if you look at a pipe and try to paint a pipe it’s a terrible painting, but if you forget it’s a pipe and see an interplay of color, light, and shadow, and paint THAT, the viewer will see a realistic pipe. So artists and craftsmen (and probably other people who deal directly with the raw materials of life) are a little more predisposed to recognize the world within is an imperfect model of the world out there…. But of course, human variation being what it is, not all artists will get it and not all who get it are artists.

    Jessi Thompson

  49. If a scientist is confusing the model with reality, you’re not really dealing with a scientist but a religious person. That whole “model is reality” isn’t just limited to scientific types though. I can’t tell you how many financial disasters start with “but our models said”.

    I guess when reality is too hard to deal with, models provide comfort from simplicity. Until they don’t.

  50. @ NomadicBeerr #40, JMG #45

    Re ego-identification

    One of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome (am still overcoming?) is the identification of my Self with my academics and education. (I am my degrees. I am my academic experiences. I am “educated.”) There are other identifications, of course–I doubt anyone has a single set–but that’s been one of my most significant so far.

    It is a jarring and humbling path, I tell you.

  51. Hi again JMG

    Re Kastrup on Schopenhauer. Kastrup’s last book is the only one specifically on Schopenhauer. Kastrup has been trying to work out his personal understanding of the world for maybe a decade or more… Only to find after writing The Idea of The World that Schopenhauer had beaten him to it by, what, well over a century…

  52. nuclear power plant somewhere nearby turning out electricity too cheap to meter.

    My favorite line of all time. I think of it with every BS promise I hear.

  53. Hi John Michael,

    You wrote: “The problem faced by this latter phase, in turn, is quite simply that the issues Kant described don’t go away just because you refuse to think about them.

    I’d suggest that even a grudging or sullen acceptance is a better path than outright dismissal. Mate, the whole thing looks like a turf war, and to fail to deliver the goodies is how it will end.



  54. I lost a considerable interest in math as a process to Truth after it lost is veneer of “the language of nature” when Goedel sent all the puffed egos of mathematicians into a tailspin too when he demonstrated that not all mathematical truths given a framework can be known from the axioms that create that framework. What happened to me that day? I found Dogme et Rituel and here I am, meditating on the hexagram drawing.

  55. “If there’s a conflict between the abstractions you prefer and the facts you encounter, and all your training (to say nothing of your class privilege) predisposes you to believe abstractions instead of facts, it becomes very tempting to treat belief in the abstractions and denial of the facts as a loyalty test for your subordinates.”

    I was subject to one of those loyalty tests recently. I’m a 30+ year veteran of the software industry, currently working for a somewhat well-known medium-sized company about to be acquired by one of the tech behemoths whose name everyone knows. In early November, at the tail end of my 7th straight glowing performance review, I was told to check out that important email from HR/Legal that went out that morning. It was an announcement that nearly everyone in the company was a federal contractor, and to be compliant with the presidential order we all had to prove that we had been “fully” vaccinated (a word whose meaning changes as fast as all the other Covid-related goalposts get moved). There were medical and religious exemptions that could be applied for, but no exemption for fully remote employees. I’ve been working from my bedroom for almost 2 years and have no intention of ever going back to the office. After thinking about it for a short time, I clicked the “I am not and have no intention…” option.

    I was on the fence about getting vaccinated and did consider it earlier in the year, but rejected it because I saw it as offering more risk than benefit for a very healthy person with no risk factors and who had already had the virus, but I’m not a reflexive anti-vaxxer. My attitude towards those managing the crisis and the ways in which they were doing it were rather more toxic, for reasons too long to list here. What was amazing to me was the speed with which I went from “critical employee” to persona non grata. My immediate manager was the only person the least bit concerned, and she was “shouted at” by her manager and the one above for even trying to ask HR questions. Their reason, which I found laughable and insulting, was that it was a violation of my privacy. I quickly got the sense that mandates were precisely the policy tech companies wanted but were too cowardly to implement of their own volition, but leaped at the chance once they had presidential cover.

    Possibly I was too harsh in that last assessment, because after spending about a month expecting to be terminated on the first day of January and beginning to document and transfer ownership of some of my projects, the company reversed course on Dec 9 and announced that they were suspending any enforcement of a mandate due to a district court ruling on Dec 7. But my manager and I are still awaiting future developments.

    For a while I was torn between whether I was more afraid of being fired or not being fired. The prospect of leaving this industry behind and resolving some long-deferred questions about where and how I would spend the rest of my life had its charms, which for now have receded as I plan to resume work in January. But I’m proud that I failed this particular loyalty test. The idea that my employer would veto my personal medical decisions for purely non-medical reasons has offended me deeply, and not even for a law but for a doddering dotard’s executive order.

  56. Scotlyn #35:
    Once I was chatting with one of my nephews, and I said something about pterosaurs.
    He gushed, “Aw, uncle, you know everything!
    I said, “Well, I don’t know everything… but I do know something.
    Suddenly furious, he said, “About what?!
    I said, “I know something about something.”
    He stormed out of the room, and I called after him, “Kid, that’s the most honest answer you’ll ever get!”


    After listening to this today, I’m inclined to think that concrete wall is a lot closer than we think.

    Otherwise that duck is not a duck, that pipe is not a pipe, and that “Trans” swimmer breaking all those female records is not a male and you Penn female swimmers will NOT talk to the media about it.

    I know the writer Wesley Yang is worried what he calls successor ideology is going to run the technocracy for decades to come, but I’m inclined to think they are their own worst enemies and the gig is nearly up.

    William Hunter Duncan

  58. Yep, those managerial classes will design the perfect clockwork that’ll work like a dream right until you leave the clean room and get into the real worls where dust and grit jam up the delicately calibrated cogwheels.

    However, lower classes are often not a passive bystander. There always seems to be the need to have absolutes, for rock solid assurances or at least very convincing lies. If one of the managerial classes dares to admit there might be a mistake, the rest of their class will pounce on them off course, but a significant number of the ones they are lording over will go to their shed to decide if it’ll be the tar and feathers or the good ol’ torch and pitchfork for this occasion.

    Is that just Stockholm syndrome, some hardwired need for a chieftain or rather an unhealthy fear of uncertainty that is the cause of this dynamic? In the end it’ll always put the ones convinced of their own infallibility in charge by weeding out the doubters and they’re kept there until it eventually falls apart.

  59. @pygmycory,

    In all my fantasies of domed utopias, even after all these years of thinking about it, not one of my fantasy characters has worked out a satisfactory way to clean all that glass. (Robots? How do they stick? Suction cups? Do they follow tracks? Do they use water? How does the water get there? I guess the dome is just dirty and smoggy and/or all scratched up and sandblasted…)

    Jessi Thompson

  60. Hi Community & JMG, question for you, what would you do? Option A: head for a rural secluded property in the forest learn and build a local community few tools but lots of nature. Option B: Stay in the outskirts of a failing City and live as a grifter/ recycler less nature but more bounty… Just think about it, how much stuff is left in an empty abandoned ShoppingMall or an Airport…. Your thoughts for a penny… Merry Christmas to everyone.

  61. John, If you could comment.

    “Kant, whose Critique of Pure Reason showed that the human mind can only know what it creates.”

    And, “Thus we cannot know the world directly.”

    Mind is a term used so many ways with different meanings dependent on the level of discussion. I think of mind on this site as mostly referring to rational thinking.

    Dzogchen Buddhism has a beautiful description of Mind as clear, luminous, emptiness or space. Aware and unobstructed.

    Kashmir Shaivism describes an astonished expansion that one identifies with when experienced, and, that this can be experienced, as a clear, unobstructed, spacial expansion, surprisingly visceral, and that I would describe as a circle without the dot at the center. I can not understate the descriptive accuracy of the word astonishment.

    The expansion experience is probably the kensho experience Zen is so careful not to describe.

    These are not rational or intuitive deductions or conclusions. They are experiences that claim to verify our identification with consciousness itself. And that consciousness and will are the creative principle of which we not only participate but actually are.

    Rational, intuitive, experienced. If one knew or experienced the above directly, did we create it? Is it true? Is it the ultimate? You can’t go any farther and all your experiences of gods and devas exist within that clear, luminous, conscious, empty, space which you are …. A circle without the dot at the center.

    Any thoughts John?

  62. Yes indeed. Another very good one!
    And re Mr DeGrasse Tyson et al- I always think of the summation given us by Terence McKenna. “Modern science is based on the principle: ‘Give us one free miracle and we’ll explain the rest.’ The one free miracle is the appearance of all the mass and energy in the universe and all the laws that govern it in a single instant from nothing. We are asked by science to believe that the entire universe sprang from nothingness, at a single point and for no discernible reason. This notion is the limit case for credulity. In other words, if you can believe this, you can believe anything. It is a notion that is, in fact, utterly absurd, yet terribly important. Those so-called rational assumptions flow from this initial impossible situation.”

  63. Owen, Regarding the lack of thinkers today: There’s this blog called Ecosophia. The author, John Michael Greer, and his readers/commenters are some pretty awesome thinkers. You should probably check it out. 😉

  64. QuicksilverMessenger–I like Sir Terry Pratchett’s summation “In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.” If this only appeared in a fantasy novel we could dismiss it as sheer fantasy. But what are we to make of its appearance in science books?

    As for someone’s question of where the contemporary philosophers are. I think the case is the same as with contemporary literary criticism. The subject has become so inbred, arcane and removed from the concerns of ordinary educated people that it has retreated to the halls of academia, seldom to emerge. I do occasionally see a journal of philosophy (title forgotten) on the magazine racks at Barnes and Noble, which I assume tries to be accessible. But I’ve never read an issue.


  65. Keith, Steiner is a fascinating figure, and his ability to take occult (in his terms, “spiritual-scientific”) insights and put them to practical use is among the most fascinating things about him. To my mind, he made some critical mistakes, but who doesn’t? His work deserves to be picked up and carried forward — and I’ve been reading him fairly intensively over the last couple of years with that in mind.

    David BTL, fascinating. I wonder if it would be possible to work up some kind of rule of thumb to figure out when a model has become fatally self-referential.

    Owen, the available philosophical space has been used up. I mean that quite literally. Every civilization has a certain amount of conceptual space available for philosophy, and when it hits the point where serious philosophizing takes off, thinkers move into that space, stake claims, and develop philosophies, until all the available options have been taken. After that you can have commentary and criticism, but there are no more great originators because there’s nothing left to discover within the worldview of that culture. We passed that point around 1900. Santayana’s a great example of how the last generation of philosophy winds down; now it’s a matter of working with the available resources, and that calls for a less colorful sort of mind.

    Jessi, oh, I know. In every one of my novels there are scenes where I can still see the gap between what I was trying to accomplish and what I actually managed to write.

    Owen, it’s more challenging than that. Models are all we have. We don’t have access to knowledge about reality — all we can do is model it, and hope our models have some predictive force.

    Casey, good for him — it takes an unusual sort of intellectual honesty to admit that. I hope he’s also paying close attention to The Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason — to my mind Schopenhauer is quite correct to say that that’s essential for understanding his major work.

    DenG, it’s a good example.

    Chris, I ain’t arguing!

    Augusto, mathematics needs to reinvent itself as one of the arts. It’s really beautiful, like a properly composed fugue or canzone, irrespective of any claim or lack of it to truth.

    Mac, thank you.

    Drake, thanks for this. Yes, that was one of the examples I was thinking of.

    Paradoctor, #33, but they’re both good.

    Dashui, no doubt.

    William, that’s been a possibility I’ve been considering increasingly often of late.

    JC, that is to say, human beings are human beings. Keep in mind that whatever ruling class replaces the current managerial class will follow its own version of the same arc.

    Martin, why not options C through Z as well? There really are lots of possibilities.

    DenG, there are many possible experiences of mind. The experience of mind as space is one of them. Is it better or more true than the others? Those are value judgments, and thus depend on the individual; there are those for whom the experience of mind that accompanies a really good laugh over a fart joke is more appealing.

    Messenger, McKenna was feeling very, very generous when he said that, wasn’t he? In point of fact modern science is a vast ramshackle structure held together very unsteadily with baling wire and duct tape; it’s not just one free miracle, it’s a galaxy of dubious assumptions, ad hoc improvisations, and we-don’t-know-but-we-won’t-admit-that prevarications. Did you know, for example, that every attempt to measure the speed of light for a couple of decades in the early 20th century came in drastically too low? Physicists solved that problem by defining the speed of light as 186,282 miles per second, and avoiding future attempts to measure it…

  66. Yes! That is how I felt as an undergrad about it but I couldn’t find a path for it. It is the elegance of it that I was always drawn to, as you say, irrespective of its claims to truth. In school doing demonstrations it was considered arrogant to use an overly powerful theorem to prove something in one step. On the contrary, building it up elegantly definitely creates a sense of beauty. Thank you for de-grumping me, that is not the point.

  67. DenG (no. 64), I am a fan of Jayarava Attwood, a critical Buddhist whose blogposts deconstruct a number of such concepts (ancient and modern). He would probably say that this Buddhist language was originally intended as epistemology rather than metaphysics (the latter being unknowable, as in the Parable of the Arrow), and that we tend to use “mind” in an imprecise, confusing way:

    On “the kensho experience Zen is so careful not to describe,” well, *somebody* out there must have effed the ineffable. I mean, how did *you* hear about it? Historically, as Christoph Anderl points out (in his contribution to the edited volume “Zen Buddhist Rhetoric in China, Korea, and Japan”), sometimes “enlightenment was triggered/conditioned exactly by words.”

    There seem to be a complex historical interrelationship between Kashmir (Trika) Shaivism and the varieties of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism that became Dzogchen / Mahamudra.

  68. Dear Mr. Greer,

    With respect to FDR and the beginning of technocratic government in the United States, I think the fact that there were plenty of alternatives to Capitalism at the time (Socialism, Communism (with lots of variations to choose from – Trotskyism, Stalinism, etc.) , Fascism (again in several variants – the National Socialist German Workers Party (aka Nazi Party) made sure to take care of the German worker), even the Anarchists) helped keep the elites minds concentrated. All were threats (of varying magnitude) to capitalism and representative democracy; many would have ended the dominance of the then-current US elites completely and very unpleasantly. The American public was by then not in a mood for abstractions divorced from real problems and current conditions. In addition, big government, business, and the media weren’t one big happy family, and kept close tabs on each other, making sure nobody got too powerful (or cozy). If the US elites at the time were bunglers, didn’t pay some attention to reality and the general public, or couldn’t at least adjust course when needed, they were finished.

    With the breakup of Soviet Union and the spectacular collapse of much of the Communist governments, I think the Neoliberals got a bad case of “Victory Disease”, just as the Japanese Empire did after their run of victories at the beginning of World War 2. Margaret Thatcher (There Is No Alternative), Ronald Reagan (Morning in America), Frances Fukuyama (The End of History), the Neocons, the Neoliberals and plenty more all seemed to think anything was possible, reality was what they said it was, etc. They would have been an epic failure in the 1930s, and they are not looking particularly competent or like a wave of the future now. After all, the Japanese experience shows Victory Disease is fatal!

    Ultimately they may be unpleasantly separated from their beliefs!


  69. Your writing reminded me of that one about you are not your thoughts; you [whatever it is] that observes your thoughts. And of David Bohm, whose Wholeness and the Implicate Order I can never quite grasp: .. the almost universal habit of taking the content of our thought for ‘a description of the world as it is’. Or we could say that, in this habit, our thought is regarded as in direct correspondence with objective reality. Since our thought is pervaded with differences and distinctions, it follows that such a habit leads us to look on these as real divisions, so that the world is then seen and experienced as actually broken up into fragments.

  70. “Did you know, for example, that every attempt to measure the speed of light for a couple of decades in the early 20th century came in drastically too low? Physicists solved that problem by defining the speed of light as 186,282 miles per second, and avoiding future attempts to measure it…”

    Well, actually, it’s defined in terms of metres, not miles, and it’s worse than that: the metre is defined such that it is the distance light travels in 1/299,792,458 seconds. This actually creates a problem, because whenever the estimate of the speed of light changes, so too does the metre, and thus every unit based on it. Thankfully it hasn’t caused too many headaches outside of certain extremely specialized fields yet (where even the tiniest errors can cause problems), but it could easily cause problems down the road if our measurements turn out to have been wrong….

  71. @JMG
    “Messenger, McKenna was feeling very, very generous when he said that, wasn’t he? In point of fact modern science is a vast ramshackle structure held together very unsteadily with baling wire and duct tape; it’s not just one free miracle, it’s a galaxy of dubious assumptions, ad hoc improvisations, and we-don’t-know-but-we-won’t-admit-that prevarications. Did you know, for example, that every attempt to measure the speed of light for a couple of decades in the early 20th century came in drastically too low? Physicists solved that problem by defining the speed of light as 186,282 miles per second, and avoiding future attempts to measure it…”

    I think that is rather over-stated. In many fields, a lot of science hangs together very well, is very coherent.

    Is capital-S Science the only arbiter of Truth/Reality/Value? Of course not!
    Is there venality in modern science? Of course! Scientists are people. Too much $$$, for a start. Especially medical research.
    Will Science someday understand everything if we just carry on with ‘The Project”? Of course not.

    Etc., etc.

    As far as speed’o’light… the issue you reference was a century ago. The speed of light is extremely well characterized. The fact that we have sub-centimeter GPS testifies to that. An exquisite characterization of the speed of light, and an exquisite characterization of radioactive decay that enables the highly accurate clocks that make it all possible. I have done a fair bit of surveying using GPS, and even a ‘simple’ laser range finder, incredibly accurate, knows about the speed of light to a fare-thee-well. TSW, in other words. In its proper domain. As another tool, not a religion.

  72. JMG, Many years ago when I was in university I had this hare-brained idea to take a course, Intro to Existentialism, as an elective, a second year offering with no prerequisites. Why? For no worthy reason. I did want to be like some of the cool kids who were philosophy majors (that didn’t happen) and to have some idea as to what on earth they were talking about (that didn’t happen either).

    What did happen is that I did get a few glimmers into that field, particularly as I was desperate to impress the professor after I revealed my abject cluelessness. He gently suggested that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. Well, he was right, I wasn’t.

    But that fine teacher with that one honest comment lit a fire under me and so I read acres and acres of densely worded tomes of original writing by such luminaries as Heidegger and Buber and Sartre plus scholarly commentary and criticism. And I have to tell you, if everyone were deliberately trying to obscure ideas with fogbanks of verbiage, they couldn’t have done it better.

    In one circuitous lecture I put up my hand and asked the professor what amounted to what in hell he was talking about. And to his great credit he didn’t lose it, he quietly responded that he was talking about ontology and epistemology, what do we know and how do we know it. Which is really the crux of the matter.

    I want clarity and precision and I was getting its opposite, especially from Heidegger. I had no idea what he was going on about and I truly doubt that anyone does, they only pretend to. He supposedly said that intelligibility would be the death of philosophy, which, if he truly said that, is lamentable. Not a good attitude.

    Which is maybe what De Grasse Tyson’s problem is. Maybe he just has a bad attitude because he has no real idea what anyone is talking about because on that score philosophers aren’t helping.

    I later read somewhere that if philosophy is an intellectual operating system, science is an application program. Maybe if he looked at it from that perspective he’d have a different take on things. I read that Einstein repeatedly asked himself how various philosophers would have approached the problems that Einstein himself was pondering. So it’s not as if philosophy is irrelevant to the scientific enterprise.

    Anyway, I wrote my paper on Buber’s I and Thou and got an A on it and got a final mark of A-. And I had to sweat for it.

  73. Dear Mr. Greer,

    And now, for something completely different!

    With the current Covid-19 mess, continuing Trump Derangement Syndrome (might be worth developing a vaccine!), the “efforts” at addressing climate change (can’t build wind turbines or solar cells without oil, there aren’t anywhere near the metals needed given current exploitable or known deposits [and mining them requires diesel fuel], and the COP-26 Summit – a sad, virtue signaling, carbon-belching, greenwashing extravaganza), the mess of the economy, and the flailing Religion of Progress, do you see an effort by least some of the elites to attempt to use Magic in accordance with your preferred definition: “Magic is the art of causing changes to take place in consciousness in accordance with will” (I believe this the correct quote).

    At least some elites are using incantations: “I am the science.”; believe in the science (I thought you believed in a god, a religion, etc.; I never learned that “belief” was a part of the scientific method); . The rapidly changing facts and narratives (Covid-19 wasn’t a lab leak – wait, now maybe it was), don’t believe those price increases, it’s not inflation, if a scientist disagrees with the main narrative, they are wrong and must be silenced immediately, kids and European footballers normally have heart problems (or ITS JUST A COINCIDENCE!); Putin meddled in the 2016 election (he must be ADHD; he didn’t bother with 2020!) are dizzying. So many of these narratives are obviously internally contradictory but the “true believers” repeat them without thinking.

    I am not suggesting that they are using magic effectively, but I am curious what you think. Also, could there be blowback?


  74. Thank you Mr. Greer for another interesting post. I have a couple things I’d like to share with you.

    First, if you have the time check out John Bishop’s “Believing by Faith: An Essay in the Epistemology and Ethics of Belief”. Bishop is a philosopher out of New Zealand who takes William James’ work and builds a case for ethically defensible religious belief in the absence of objectively certain arguments in defense of said faith. I think you’ll agree with much of what he says.

    Second, I thought you might find it entertaining to know that my dissertation advisor warned me about quoting you in my work (I am currently working on a PhD in philosophy and I quote you quite a bit). To be fair, he is a pious man and has nothing against you personally. But he explicitly pointed out your book on monsters and said in so many words that quoting a guy like you is very risky, that the academic community protects itself by filtering authors who work outside the established institutions, and that there was serious risk in quoting someone like you. If I was writing my dissertation through an Anglo/American department I honestly think they would require I replace all of my citations of you with Spengler. Since I am working outside those and other western channels I am mostly just getting a warning.

  75. Judea Pearl and causality: His big book, one of the few textbooks I have worked through since graduation, is “Causality”. However, though he makes recourse to human intuition throughout, e.g. about wet sidewalks or blue eye color, the book is brimful with mathematical formalism. It is his intention and hope to make artificial intelligence understand causality in the way that humans do, and I think there he is completely mistaken. He has written another more accessible tome called “The Book of Why”.

  76. While I am no expert on Mexican history, I think Porfirio Diaz’s presidency is one of the first examples of self-conscious rule by technocrats, with all its initial advantages and later pitfalls. The overthrow of the Brazilian monarchy in 1889 was also inspired by positivists who believed in rational rule. While the motto on the Brazilian flag reads “ordem e progresso” until today, the Brazilian republic quickly morphed into traditional military dictatorship and do-ut-des oligarchy.

  77. Dear JMG,
    I’m not sure if anyone has mentioned it, but did you see in the MSM last week the stories about the “planned” fission nuclear power plant in WY. Apparently Gates and other billionaires are going to spend four billion to build a prototype of a new type of fission plant in an old coal plant.
    The perfect pairing of greenwashing and vaporware. Of course my brothers that fall for all this bs were so excited, but they will never follow-up in a few years when the plans are still on the drawing board and it’s all but forgotten.

  78. @gregismay:

    I think religion and free will are both illusions and untrue but that doesn’t mean they aren’t very useful illusions. That being said, that an idea is useful doesn’t make it true. It’s how I can agree with someone like Francis Schaeffer on many points regarding the positive effect of Christianity on Western culture and the often deleterious effects of the loss of Christianity on Western culture without further agreeing that Christianity is some sort of objective truth.
    Wringing your hands over objective truth is futile if ultimately what you hold to be truth is a subjective mental map of the world. This is not to say that an attempt at obtaining objective truth isn’t worthwhile; but, understanding our limitations as humans sets boundaries on what we can expect of ourselves in this regard. It also informs us that the best path forward and the best decision, especially where it involves other people, is not always one that is “true” but one that is utiliarian. (Additionally, critics of “situational ethics” conveniently ignore mankind’s tenuous relationship with objective truth.)
    In this vein I find Christianity’s claim to “truth” and Christianity’s call to “humility” to be a particular conundrum. Any lay theologian with a knowledge of the Bible could provide an answer to this, but that just makes it all the more intriguing how mightly the church, in the public eye, struggles with this. Yet another example of thinking you have the “truth” and then seeing that it doesn’t really seem to matter.
    I find it instructive that oftentimes a change in ideology rarely comes about through logic and argumentation but through emotional reactions to experiences. This points to the fact that our mental map concerns itself with truth only secondarily and primarily concerns itself with a set of internal values and priorities. These internal values and priorities are given to us in our raising and are changed as we experience life and that experience changes us, and we seek out new systems of thought as a result. I think this is more evidence that free will does not exist.
    My intuition tells me that if mankind actually were able to embrace a consistent, accurate commitment to truth, it would be fatal. It has been said that intelligence is a fatal adaptation. What makes us human is not always what makes us objectively right. Given the limitations of our mental processing, it can’t be.
    You act honorably when you act in the best interests of others, and that does involve choosing to positively respond to social situations. It may not be free will, but perhaps the value is in the action, rather than the decision or the intent. After all, if our hold on truth is subjective, the result of our actions is really all that matters, not what goes on in our heads. Put another way, perhaps pragmatism itself points to the lack of a free will.

  79. “Charles Fort pointed out many years ago that the prestige of science depends on a slick public-relations scheme whereby every success is trumpeted to the skies while every failure is swept under the nearest available rug.” This is the best explanation I’ve seen of why that the near certainty that coronavirus was created as a lab experiment has been swept under the rug by the mainstream media.

    I am glad Jon Stewart, a former media darling, tried to point out the obvious on TV a few months back; I thought that would be the turning point along with the DARPA releases, but it’s been swept under the rug again.

  80. @Mary Bennett:
    I agree solutions can be had (and yours are a good example) but the far more interesting question is how we get there. If mankind could sit down and hammer out solutions to every problem instead of going through times of upheaval that would be nice. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, mankind is not so easily persuaded through logic. Society changes when society goes through things where the experience is profound enough to goad society into changing. And the solutions are less logical and more utiliarian, and so perhaps less optimal than anyone might like. But then some optimization may set in as a consequence of society striving for the same ideals, at least for a time.
    I do agree that the US is, in a best case scenario, headed for some sort of balkanization. We are already seeing it in the migration from blue to red states.

  81. Its another Wednesday and this week we look to space for our main post, “One To Worry About – The Kessler Syndrome” takes a look at one troubling scenario we need to prepare for. There are many problems facing us, and loss of the orbital infrastructure that businesses are embracing as a way to cut costs, boost profits and remove humans from the bottom line has a huge vulnerability they aren’t talking about. Find out how to prepare.

    Looking to the Green Wizards forums, two posts have gotten a lot of comments in the past week. The first is “Private Tutor As A Collapse Job”. The Educational Debt Industry which disguises itself as higher learning is going to be a big loser in the near Future. Already young people are looking to other paths for careers and high wages. In that environment, there may be a place for private tutors to thrive. Do you have something to teach?

    Second, many have heard of “fruit leather”. Have you heard of “Portable Soup”? An old standby for travelers and explorers for centuries, dehydrating soup into easily carried and stored dry pieces is a good addition to your Green Wizards pantry. Its something to do with bones and meat as well. Several people are trying it, will you?

    As always, to read the posts is open to the public but you’ll need a account to comment. Contact me either via email (green wizards dtrammel at gmail dot com) or here on Facebook via Messenger to get one set up. Come join us in preparing for the Long Descent.

  82. John—

    Re self-referential models

    That would be an interesting subject of inquiry, I agree. I’d suspect that we’d be looking at several orders of effects, the first and most obvious being the proportion of inputs which are outputs or functions of outputs. As we’re talking about models which evolve and (generally speaking) grow in complexity over time, a second order would also be significant: the rate at which those self-referential inputs are growing as a proportion of total inputs. Undoubtedly, higher order effects would be involved as well, but those first two would be a good place to start.

    My initial hypothesis is that there’d be several tipping points. For example, when self-referencing inputs outnumber external inputs, but also when the rate of growth of those closed-loop inputs reached a certain level.

  83. Augusto, you’re most welcome.

    Cugel, a case could definitely be made for that.

    Altepainter, thanks for the reminder — it’s been too long since I read Bohm or the system theorists more generally.

    Anonymous, so noted! The thing that concerns me is that the speed of light apparently changed in the early 20th century. It’s not necessarily our measurements that were wrong — it may be that nature has not laws but habits…

    Sgage, depends on the science. Some sciences are indeed fairly coherent. Others are not — and if you look into the replication crisis, you may find that some of the coherence is a function of statistical gameplaying and handwaving. As for the speed of light, what the evidence from the early 20th century suggests is not that our measurements are inaccurate — it’s that the speed of light is not a constant. What happens if it changes again?

    Roger, fair enough. One of the main contributions Hegel made to Western philosophy was the use of incomprehensible word salad as a way to pretend to profundity. Do you recall the line from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Patience?

    “If this young man expresses himself in words too deep for me,
    then what a very singularly deep young man this deep young man must be!”

    They might as well have been talking about The Phenomenology of Spirit. Though you’re right, of course, that Heidegger did his level best to one-up Hegel — wasn’t it Heidegger who wrote that clarity is the enemy of philosophy? He’s right, too, if by “philosophy” you mean academic gamesmanship…

    Cugel, good. Yes, it’s magic — inept and incompetent magic, but magic nonetheless. The blowback is precisely that they become unable to recognize facts even when the facts are whacking them across the face with a length of lumber.

    Stephen, I’ll definitely check out Bishop. As for quoting me in your dissertation, good heavens, I’m delighted to hear this. I think every scholar out here on the fringes looks forward to the day that he or she will be placed on the academic Index Expurgatorius and discussed in angry mutters by tenured professors as one of Those Awful People One Mustn’t Cite. My hour of glory has arrived! 😉

    Aldarion, thanks for this. I’ll pass on the mathematical formalisms, but The Book of Why sounds very interesting.

    Karl, oh, I’m quite sure they’ll flush a few hundred million dollars down that rathole before it gets abandoned. Hubris, meet nemesis…

    Dennis, such things will be swept under the rug over and over again. This kind of mythology doesn’t collapse as a result of rational disproof — it collapses when too many people have been hurt by it and too few helped, and the collapse is sudden, final, and unpredictable in its timing.

    David T, thanks for this! I’m delighted to hear that portable soup is up for discussion — there are plenty of 18th century cookbook recipes for that.

    David BTL, interesting. This strikes me as a useful field of research.

  84. What a wonderful lead-in to a great essay! I’ve already introduced one major point you made to relatives–that the demands for demonstrating loyalty to a failing paradigm are only going to get worse. One of these relatives, the family Karen, is now hesitant about the booster because he’s noticed that it’s the same agent that did nothing to prevent him from getting the dreaded plague last month.. A second one who had eagerly partaken is now out-and-out calling the entire US and international medical establishment liars. There is one hold-out, but I think his strategy is to avoid the topic.

  85. A major essay- thank you for being the one to clarify why ‘Safe and effective’ is obviously not true, and why they continue to insist the same at the top of their lungs anyways. Well said.

    As far as philosophy goes, if you read into non-dual circles the world doesn’t exist at all. All appearances to the contrary not withstanding. There is only the appearance of a world, and all you can actually find is feelings, emotions, and sensations. The universe is only a fictitious model of what might be expected if a universe actually did exist, which it doesn’t.

    On page one of this book the author states his premise that nothing exists. The rest of his book presents evidence to that cause.

  86. Do you have any thoughts on symbolic logic and its role in philosophy?

    My inclination is to think that’s part of why philosophy is deader than John Lennon here in America. Every time I’ve encountered symbolic logic, it’s made my eyes cross. More, none of the worthwhile philosophical books I’ve read have concerned themselves in the slightest with symbolic logic.

    Maybe I’m wrong. I’m often guilty of mental laziness. But I’ve never been able to connect an expression in symbolic logic to the big questions that have dogged me throughout my life.

  87. @JMG, Anonymous#77, sgage
    The speed of 299,792,458 m/s isn’t just the speed of light in a vacuum, it is the speed of causality.

  88. Perhaps explored elsewhere, but the question of _why_ the mind cannot track “the real” is one of the topics my specialist studies in Buddhism addresses. One of the most elegant summaries of the whole of Buddhist philosophy (whether Theravadin, Mahayana or Vajrayana) is: “Things are not what they appear to be…nor are they otherwise.” (I heard this from students of Trungpa Rinpoche.) The emptiness famously spoken of in Buddhism can be expressed as “things are empty of being what we think they are.” Which is of course an oversimplification of a vast subject.

    The basic refusal of any individual to acknowledge his/her limitations and the limitations of philosophy to overcome them has many names. I like James because he shows a way to keep going in the midst of the horrible chaos of ontology (science of being) and epistemology (science of “how can we know anything”) that are otherwise demonstrated by philosophy.

    When I was much younger, say about twelve or thirteen, I had what might be called an epiphany. I observed how a perception or idea would arise, be clothed in concepts then the concepts emerged in words, and then it could not stand up to the rigors of actual remaining in my mind, it would simply dissolve back to its fundamental conditions.

    Later, in meditation, I saw the fundamental conditions dissolve…yet “I” saw! Later still (and my apologies for it sounding like a Zen koan), I sat down, stayed a while, and got up. Nothing happened from beginning to end. I’m not bragging because I lack the conditions to sustain such insights into everyday life, demonstrating that this was a conditional (or contingent if you will) blessing and not actual enlightenment.

    Still, the issues of philosophy are very important. Nothing suggested in Western philosophy is missing from Eastern philosophy, and the two are able to interact instructively, I suspect. Also, no mistake in Western philosophy is missing from Eastern philosophy. If Descartes famously didn’t really say “I think, therefore I am,” it’s not going too far to say from a Buddhist philosophical perspective: I don’t exist as I think I exist, so while in one sense there’s no such thing as “I,’ yet I still go on acting in the world as if there were, and I must. Which may be close to the ideas expressed by James.

  89. I’ve become convinced that human vision is no trivial process by several experiences I’ve had when I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, looked around, and saw bizarre images. One time I looked out at the blank walls and perceived that they were covered by the letters of a strange script of an unknown alphabet. A couple seconds later, my vision resolved to the ordinary features of my darkened room. I don’t think this was any sort of hallucination or otherworldly experience, but rather that my brain was trying to interpret the dark grainy signals it received from the retina and imposed a model derived from previous contexts (black letters on a white page) that turned out to be wrong. The brain must create a model of the visual world that substantially depends on what was perceived in the immediate past such that starting from scratch in a dark room sometimes yields weird results.

    Further demonstration of the non-triviality of human vision is the inability of machine learning to consistently and meaningfully interpret photos. There’s an example out there of how putting a post-it note on a stop sign causes the computer to determine that it is instead a 45-mph speed limit sign (anyone want self-driving cars on the road that rocket through intersections?). In fact, I am convinced that so-called “artificial intelligence” has no real basis in science and engineering but instead is driven entirely by faith in Progress. After all, artificial intelligence featured greatly in that grandest of all founding myths of Progress: “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

  90. DT

    “If you are one who wants revolution, how will you…” etc.

    You won’t. Because that’s not what the “revolution” is about. It’s about replacing the current set of snouts in the trough with another set.

    To paraphrase Jordan Peterson (I’m not a Petersonite), the revolutionaries don’t love the poor, they simply hate the rich.

  91. Hi John.
    I owe to Bertrand Russell, this simple exercise to demonstrate that space in itself is something different than our experience of it. Here’s the exercise: Go to a quiet room and look around you, focusing only on your sight and no other sense. You’re experiencing space as perceived by sight. Still in the quiet room, close your eyes and wave your arms around. Notice how different this experience is than seeing; and now you’re experiencing space as perceived in your movements. To drive home the point go to a less quiet place, sit still, close your eyes and focus only on the sounds you hear, both distant and near. This is space as perceived by sound. All three experiences are very different perceptions of space, suggesting that space in itself is something different from all three, though making possible all three. Sometime in infancy, our wonderful brain integrates our diverse sensations, presenting such a unity that we easily confuse it with space in itself. Russell’s exercise invites us to experience space one sensory channel at a time, thereby dispelling that confusion.

  92. I find the philosophical writings of John Gray very interesting, and straight forward.
    Separately, not a philosopher, but ideas-of-god historian, the works of ex-nun, now atheist Karen Armstrong, are brilliant. ‘A History of God’ is a must.

  93. @Mary Bennett “I’ve never believed the canard that Americans are optimistic.” Mais oui, ceci n’est pas un canard!

  94. JMG et al. Re Heidegger

    From what I think I’ve understood from what I’ve read of his work, I feel he may have been making a similar point to your post.

    My understanding is that Heidegger talks about a ‘distinction’ as a separation *in our minds* of a reality that is whole. This is a primary move to the development of a mental model the mind can appreciate of a reality that the mind cannot really hold. His point seems to be that distinctions are creative – once we have them, we can see things we were unable to see before (a good example is the classification of cloud types last century – gave us distinctions to talk about and SEE clouds differently).

    [Henri Bortoft, an Independent scholar and student of David Bohm, explores this example in more detail in his Schumacher College Lectures in 2009 and, for those who prefer to read rather than listen/watch, in his book: Taking Appearance Seriously]

    Heidegger also pointed out that for every distinction that we make that reveals new things to us, we simultaneously lose the ability to see other aspects of the reality, i.e. as we lock one perspective into the mental model we lose the possibility of seeing through other perspectives.

    This is maybe what he meant by “clarity being the enemy of philosophy” – my sense of what he means by this is, as you incorporate distinctions into your mental models and take them as reality you may get mental clarity, but this goes against what he believes is the job of philosophy, which is to realise that these nice clear mental models are NOT the reality, and to move into the ‘upstream’ processes of the formulation or undoing of distinctions themselves.

    Which is pretty much a key point that the post was making here isn’t it?

    All the best,


  95. Thanks JMG for this oasis of sanity and humour.

    I expect everyone knows about this, but it does make one gasp and stretch and roll one’s eyes — I submit the latest JK Rowling row on matters of “This IS that”.

    A woman was raped recently in Scotland by an individual with a penis, who self-identifies as a woman. Someone not even undergoing any kind of treatment, hormones, etc.

    It has been ruled that, therefore, the crime be logged in the books as having been committed by a woman.

    Quite rightly, JK Rowling has pointed out that this is really not far different to Orwell’s “War is Peace”, etc.

    What if the rapist had self-identified as an apple-pie, or an earwig?

    I have every sympathy and support for the trans community; also every sympathy with women (“terfs”) who feel that their rights to think that women don’t have penises should be inviolate. These things should not be mutually incompatible. I think it’s perfectly possible for the rights of trans people AND women to be observed. But pretending things that aren’t true is completely bonkers. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t yet understand why the mantra “trans women ARE women” couldn’t be “trans women ARE trans women”. As a result, you may have seen, we have a biologically born man, who has transitioned to being a female, winning a swimming competition by FORTY seconds. The other competitors just say, what’s the point of all the training we’ve been doing?

    The sad thing is, that I am sure there is a way through the mire for everybody, but the denial of reality (ie that someone who’s gone through puberty, even if they thereafter have hormone treatment, will ALWAYS be faster and stronger than people who are born female). If this is not acknowledged, then the entire world of women’s sport becomes male dominated (like every other arena).

    Some women are saying that they think this is another way in which they are oppressed. I think it’s something more subtle than that — I have a suspicion that it’s a way of the patriarchy making the whole thing so ridiculous, through lunatic bureaucratic behaviour, that there is a backlash that hurts the trans-community. I hope I’m wrong about that.

    Human rights are absolutely crucial and they are a hill I will die on. But the hill I will die on first is the one that says that we must continue to see the world as it is (as far as we are able to, which isn’t all that far, as Kant pointed out), not live in a bubble of nonsensical fantasy.

  96. I’m not sure I’ve fully understood the concept of synchronicity, but I believe the occurence of this essay might qualify, as I’ve been thinking, talking and reading about this subject quite intensively over the last few weeks!

    Lately I’ve resorted to a rather worn-out (but functional in my opinion!) metaphor of our predicament, i.e. that of an ocean liner steaming full ahead towards an iceberg. From my lived experience it is obvious that the structure of abstractions that is the dominant world view does not permit the vast majority to even see the iceberg. They can only see blue skies and the horizon because the concept of an iceberg is not really available for them. The few that can actually discern something in the path of the ship insist that it doesn’t present a problem because someone will certainly think of something allowing the vessel to steam right through whatever stands in its path and, besides, the ship is unsinkable! So cue the band and full power please, we have a schedule to keep! It really is quite remarkable.

    Equally obvious is the fact that intelligence – at least defined in the standard way – has very little, if anything, to do with the ability to free oneself of this dysfunctional lens to any degree; I see people with sharper intellects than mine wax poetic about the clear waters ahead on a daily basis. This bothers me. What is the set of properties that allows someone to, almost instinctively, reject a dominant collective narrative? I know only that it feels like a curse sometimes to be the sole passenger trying to alert the others to the obvious danger ahead only to be met with blank stares. It’s lonely and frustrating. Keeping with the metaphor, it is comforting to at least have radio contact with like-minded people but it sure would be nice to find another passenger or two to share the burden with!

    So thanks for the essay John, and special thanks for upholding this invaluable space where icebergs are acknowledged and can be talked about!

  97. Jobcentres, for me, exemplify Progress as a lie:
    Living in Westmorland, England, in the mid 1990s I was out of a job and went to the Windermere jobcentre, where I was interviewed by a charming lady who showed an interest in me and gave me good advice which soon landed me in a temporary post I needed.
    A very few years later – can’t remember the exact date – I needed more help of the same sort. The Windermere jobcentre had disappeared, so I went to Kendal. I walked in. What was this? No friendly advisers. Nothing but a hall where members of the public were scrutinising plastic ribbons of printed information about the jobs available; not in any particular order as far as I could tell. It was all weird, impersonal, bewildering, computerised, faceless, useless Progress. I walked out again, having wasted my journey.

  98. My favorite philosophers that have yet to be mentioned either by JMG or the commentariat are Edmund Husserl and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Husserl is the founder of phenomenology and Wittgenstein thought that he himself had solved all the problems of philosophy in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (?), a title given to it by Bertrand Russell (?), one which the author hated. I have no qualms about humanity’s domed quest to complete omniscient of Reality when I consider that repeated attempts and attacks on the work of these two philosophers has yet to yield them to my intellectual grasp, especially when I’m not certain if I’ve correctly remembered the title of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. But as Castaneda’s Don Juan said, clarity is the third enemy of the man of knowledge (incidentally, the first is fear, the second is power, and the last is old age). So, to conclude, my vanquishing clarity means that I can’t remember the the title of the most serious critique of science from the pen of Husserl. But it exists or ceci n’est pas une critique.

  99. Ah, clarity assailed me in the form of a Google search. The title of Edmund Husserl’s “ceci n’est pas une critique” of science is: The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology.

    I have yet to read it, and as I’ve no affiliation with a research library, it will be some time before I do since his books are prohibitively expensive.

  100. Hermetix podcast had a Spengler episode with David Engels today. It really rounded out some of your points quite well, especially in regards to cultural ossification. Looking forward to your next appearance there.

  101. Bei Dawei #73 – Thank you for the link I have bookmarked.

    “…the latter being unknowable”, – Is it knowable? Yes.

    “…use “mind” in an imprecise, confusing way” – Every discussion needs to start with the speakers definition of this.

    Thomas Cleary – “Kensho is the transformative glimpse of the true nature of all things.”

    Cleary translates Zen quotes that talk all around the experience but never describe it as well as Dzogchen which appears to have taken non-dual Kashmir Shaivism and exchanged the Indian gods for Buddhist devas. I think this was also a political move away from Chinese influence through Chan Buddism by King Detsen.

    “…sometimes “enlightenment was triggered/conditioned exactly by words.”
    Or the Buddha holding up a flower, a shout or crack of a cane, a car horn beeping outside a window one evening while contemplating/meditating on a book passage with the mind very still.

  102. What gave Science its original merit. Is that when its abstractions(Hypothesis) is blown up by reality. The person is supposed to redo the Hypothesis until it conforms with reality.

    Therefore ensuing that abstractions actually reflect real pattern in real life.

    Mathematics in that sense is like this too. Abstraction that is actually according with reality otherwise it is invalid.

    “Such things will be swept under the rug over and over again. This kind of mythology doesn’t collapse as a result of rational disproof — it collapses when too many people have been hurt by it and too few helped, and the collapse is sudden, final, and unpredictable in its timing.”

    In particular what ensures faster error correction is only if the consequences impact the decision makers themselves more and more directly. If they can shield themselves from the consequences themselves then they would never care in the meantime.

  103. Your selection of the picture illustrating “this is not a duck” is most appropriate. The bird depicted is the Philippine Duck (Anas luzonica). This once common bird is now ranked as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one notch below Endangered. Another victim of the myth of progress.

  104. @JMG #71 and @Augusto #72 – on the subject of Mathematics as fine art:

    Paul Lockhart is a math teacher and author who asserts that math is best thought of as a fine art in his article “The Mathematician’s Lament” and he uses a powerful analogy to show what music instruction would be like if we treated it like math:

    Even as someone with a nearly lifelong distaste for math due exactly to the ways of teaching it he describes, I found it moving and beautiful.

  105. Great essay! The main point seems to be using Kant against the scientific rationalists, whose arrogance leads to disconnection with the very reality they claim to be in such direct contact with.

    The scientific rationalists and their forebearers—the moderninsts who gave us the new deal and mid-century planners with a government program for every social ill—basically built the world we have today. True, their domed cities never came around, but looking at history, actually I’d say they could have done a lot worse.

    I’d say they’re not in the driver’s seat now—they built the current world but aren’t building the future. Building *that* is a group that actually does take Kant seriously (and unfortunately Hegel even more seriously). The new group are not descendents of Bertram Russel and Aldous Huxley, but of Foucault and Angela Davis.

    Like Kant, the new group also does not believe our minds have contact with reality. But their arrogance is far worse than that of the rationalists. They belive reality is socially constructed, and ultimately truth-claims are a power game. Taking *this* idea seriously—as they are learning to do, right now as we speak—then they must do is socially-construct the reality that is preffered, and viola, it will ***be*** reality.

    At the moment the scientific rationalists are being driven out, taken advantage of, or worse, being actively converted to the new religion. Yes, Anthony “the science” Fauci has power, but he is a caricature and a tool. Does anybody look at that guy and say, “wow, what a pure rationalist; I can see he can’t wait to put all this behind him and get back to the microscope.” No. He’s a fool, a useful idiot. The people he is a useful idiot *for*, are the builders. What are they building?

  106. @JMG

    “…it’s that the speed of light is not a constant. What happens if it changes again? ”

    How would we know? 😉 Since the meter is defined by how far light can travel in a given time, and since that distance is determined by the speed of light… well, that’s a pretty cozy arrangement 🙂 And what of time itself? They’re all in it together, I tell ya.

    The replication crisis is very real, and doesn’t surprise me. I spent some time working in various labs in the 80’s and 90’s, and the pressure to find something interesting to write about for the journals was palpable. Especially with powerful statistical analysis software becoming available on desktop computers, people would just tweak the models until the sacred ‘significant difference’ appeared. That ain’t how it’s supposed to work. I got moved off of one project because I pointed this out to the leader a bit too plainly. On the other hand, I once pointed out statistical shenanigans on another project, and was commended for it.

    These statistical analysis programs take ‘garbage in – garbage out’ to a whole new level, especially with people who don’t have the statistical chops to understand what’s going on (which is most people). Many of the experiments I saw being performed were poorly designed anyway, and were essentially random number generators. But if you torture the data enough, it will eventually submit, and tell you what you want to know!

  107. Having a brain injury puts me outside of reality and truth and all that. First off, every day I have redefine what is real. So having someone tell that this is so or that is so is a bit much. How do they know what is so? Yes, I have vision problems in seeing the door but not the doorknob. But I can feel around for a doorknob to get out.

    I had to deal with science and all that bother. Of course, I can be healed. I can have my old brain back. if I turn myself upside, inside out, and backwards. And rely on the person telling me how to recover. Of course, that person has a stake in all of this, since people with disabilities scare them.

    We put on quite a show for the currently able bodied. We stutter, shuffle, wheel around, and feel for walls. All those things that make us scary. We do not go gentle into that good night. We take prisoners and drag them along.

    In other words, when someone tells me that this or that is true – i.e. vaccines against Covid, etc or democracy is endangered by Trump supporters, I look at them wall-eyed and ask – how do you know what you know? And then ask, what are you afraid of?

  108. @ JMG – re “From James’ standpoint, btw, the pin may be an illusion but the pain is real!”

    I would like to observe that there are a large number of people encountering the exactly opposite view in their experience of attending a medical professional.

    Although there continue to be many, many excellent doctors, it is also common for people to be told “your body is real, but your pain is an illusion.”

  109. Thank you for this post, JMG. On a tangentially related note, I would be interested to know what you and the commentariat make of the rationalist movement, which is beginning to exert a gravitational pull on two friends of mine, via a mutual acquaintance who is a die-hard believer. I find it a little bemusing, but I respect the desire to understand this strange and very Faustian subculture.

    In particular, they are exploring the work of Elieze Yudkowski. He appears to be something of a cult-leader, and I gather that those who read his work start to develop an “inner Yudkowski” who comments on every issue with the same droning, rationalist voice of progress and eliminative materialism. I would be particularly grateful for those who have *been* rationalists who might be able to share their process and experiences.


  110. “The endpoint of that trajectory was reached by Kant, whose Critique of Pure Reason showed that the human mind can only know what it creates.”

    I wonder if the publication of both Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World was a mixed blessing. To me, the most depressing part of both books was the end, when it was clear that the main characters, despite all the revelations they had made about the society they lived in, and the suffering they went through because of these realizations, were things that the rulers had already thought of and planned for.

    I imagine that the characters of O’Brien from the Thought Police and the world controller Mustafa Mond explained everything to the protagonists almost wearily, as if to a bright but not particularly special child. The sentiment in both novels expressed by the rulers was: “we’ve already thought of everything and your attempts to escape society are as futile as they are predictable.”

    After reading that, I remember feeling both shocked and deflated, but also a tremor of the feeling of power. Both of these novels, products of the ‘high’ industrial era, demonstrated two types of total control, two types of society as machines. And it seems a lot of people reading those novels took that lesson to heart.

    It’s clear to me now that this total control is a massive illusion.

    Exhibit A: the Covid pandemic response. Part of the dark thrill in both novels was the sense of inevitability, that one can never escape society. This is the feeling that the media has been trying to express. Behind every forceful editorial headline is the sentiment: “we aren’t going to force you to take the vaccine, but here’s how we are going to force you to take it. You’ll get the vaccine, one way or another.” Behind that seems to be a desire to play the world controller.

    This myth has become so heavy that the press and officials can no longer walk back on it, they HAVE to keep going, because if they change their rhetoric now, the loss of face and credibility will be immense.

    It will be interesting, in light of the forces shifting and recollecting under the weight of their heavy mandates and streams of contrary evidence spurting outwards angrily like a soda can being crushed, to see which mainstream channel breaks ranks first.

    The secret of this pandemic has been, perhaps, the revealing of the Great Bargain between our leaders and the population, and how the population has an active part in this Bargain: “If you, dear leaders, help us when we need it and even define our needs, if you can entertain us, if you can make us comfortable, then we’ll let you have your illusion of control.”

    No one chose to take part in the Great Bargain because no one chooses where they are born, and we’re educated to hide the fact that the Bargain even exists. By the time we are old enough to be conscious of it, we have hit the point of no return: locked in to mortgages, dependent on the Bargain for a living.

    Being unvaccinated, a cloud lurks over my continued employment. Why did I allow myself, by taking part so fully in the Bargain, to be so vulnerable? My standard of living and my possessions feel very heavy now. I watched a work colleague give in and take the shot because he felt that he couldn’t afford not to. I have been forced to judge whether the choice to do my part in the Bargain, and it’s always been a choice, has been worth it.

    Karl Rove made a mistake when he tried to be a mini-Mond and said “we create our own reality”. He made the mistake of thinking that you can create a reality that supersedes the unknowable reality. The only way, which I am trying to learn, that you have any influence at all over reality is through your own perceptions of it, your awareness of the ways in which you perceive it, the realization of the limitations of those perceptions, your awareness of your still more limited influence over its vastness, and then by your actions as a result of these insights.

    If the human mind only knows what it creates, that implies creativity, and that implies art, and that in turn implies that how you perceive and in turn act in the world is a type of art. The Great Bargain is not the only “reality” one can take part in. And the growing awareness of this in larger and larger portions of the population, as events continue to unfold, is not something our leaders will exactly be cheerful about.

  111. Not exactly on topic (and if it’s _too_ off topic, feel free to not put this through, and sorry about the bother), but I just came across this _amazing_ demonstration of what happens when a field for a given culture/civilization runs out of _good_ unexplored notional space and someone in the field is determined to break new ground anyway:
    (I was linked to the Pravda on the Potomac page from elsewhere, but given the subject matter, I’m guessing _this_ probably isn’t fabricated or too twisted.)

  112. The human mind can certainly grasp the whole of reality.
    As much as humanly possible!

    Trigger warning:

    Also you forgot to add Carlos Castaneda to your list of philosophers.
    The assemblage point. The theory of the rings. Pondering a of infinity.
    Inorganic beings. Mud shadows. Come on man.

    Merry Christmas

  113. JMG – I wish I could find a way to grasp the following mentally itchy/scratchy conundrum:

    IF “Models are all we have. We don’t have access to knowledge about reality — all we can do is model it, and hope our models have some predictive force.”

    THEN, how is ANYBODY able to do otherwise than: “insisting that abstractions are correct even when the facts (reality?) don’t bear them out”?

    If we have no access to knowledge about reality, but only have access to models (abstractions?), where do “facts” come in and how do we find out about them?

    Is it the case that facts are not available to “knowledge” but to some other faculty? “experience” perhaps? In what sense can we speak of facts IF “models are all we have”?

  114. Gologyte Golo, how much influence do you imagine the intellectual descendants of Foucault have? Their agenda is the agenda of whomever is bankrolling them. I doubt that what we see in the SF Bay Area today is the future that is coming. What I hope is that these poseurs and their patrons will be thoroughly discredited and maybe then a non-Marxist alternative to capitalism can be built around self reliance, with right to sufficiency being accepted–no more HMOs telling homeowners they can’t grow vegetables– and democratic syndicalism (workers own AND operate the means of production).

    JorisKarl, most of us are, I hope, not so simpleminded as to imagine every problem has a solution waiting to be found, but we do think that you work on what can be done. Begin where you are and work with what you have. I think of a cleanup job. First you clear away the trash, setting aside what can be used; then you take a good look at what remains and decide what can be salvaged and what is too far gone to be repaired.

  115. Hi JMG,
    I’m wondering if Andrew Nikiforuk has started reading your work. He’s recently started writing things that get the predicament we’re in rather well:

    He does focus on climate change more than you and had different ideas about covid, but he’s coming up with similar ideas on what to do about the crisis of our age – and he wasn’t saying this sort of stuff a couple of years ago. This is new.

  116. The scientist’s approach to knowing about reality is much less useful (for ordinary life) than is the engineer’s approach to knowing about reality.

    The engineer designs and builds a thing to get a job done, and is content if it gets the job done sufficiently well.

    How well is “sufficiently well”? There is “good enough for government work.” There is “good enough for one’s fellow engineers,” which is somewhat better. And so forth, with increasing degrees of “goodness.” …

    But an engineer never ever reaches absolute perfection in his work, nor should he expect to. A true perfectionist never can get anything done in real time for a real client. To earn a living, an engineer must fight his inner prefectionist. My father was both an engineer and a true perfectionist; I saw this struggle play out all the time I was growing up.

    Also, there is knowing about, which is expressed in Russian by the verb znat’. Then there is knowing how do, for which the Russians use a wholly different verb, umet’. No native speaker of the language would confuse the two verbs: for such a person, the abilities expressed by the two verbs are completely different, unrelated abilities. There are several other sorts of knowing, too, some of which are expressed by yet other verbs in Russian.

  117. One of the courses in high school that had the greatest impact on me was called “Semantics,” And the textbook was S. I. Hayakawa’s Lamguage in Thought and Action. It presented Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics in a form readily accessible to the ordinary reader, with very challenging and thought-provoking exercises for the reader at the end of every chapter. It planted seeds that led me, during my college years, to drift away from mathematics into anthropological linguistics, where I was introduced to the trail-blazing linguistic studies of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Both of these scholars persuaded me, by the time I left college, to take much the same view of the relation between thought and reality that our host presents here, but with a greater emphasis on the role of a person’s native language on shaping the form that that person’s habitual, unreflective thought and action will take. It has served me well for the last 50 years.

    Of course, languages all the world over differ enormously in their grammars, some of which lack even such formally distinct linguistic structures as the familiar European “parts of speech” (nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions, etc.), and thus can be forced into the “procrustean bed” of symbolic logic only by doing enormous violence to their actual grammar.

    Foir the curious, one can download Whorf’s fundamental papers here:

    and here

    Hayakawa’s book is available to read, but not to download, on as well. (It’s still under copyright in the USA.)

  118. @Scotlyn,

    These mental models are predictive. I can predict if I drop this glass on concrete it will break, and a lot of the time, it will (but not always). We notice when our perceptions don’t match what we predicted, even if we can’t ever fully grasp the true nature of glass and concrete. So the models aren’t perfect. Are they useful? If my model predicts the glass will break, and it does break most of the time, then that’s not too bad. If it never breaks, that’s not a great model, it’s not predicting what will happen next. If I walk around telling everyone how great my understanding of glass and concrete is, and I can’t predict anything about how glass or concrete behaves, I think that’s a valid reason for other people to be skeptical and critical of me.

    Jessi Thompson

  119. Nice words, JMG.
    But meanwhile I sit here (sober) and not there (drinking) because I am not vaccinated.
    A nice surprise of the week is an invitation to finally have a drink when the year changes its name. I was invited by quite normal, but to me unacquainted people, to their house. As beautiful as that may be I find it kind of frightening that this happens. This never happened. This only happened on the fringe or in alternative or dangerous circles. Something broke apart indeed.
    I hope there is a lot of glue somewhere.

  120. @JMG, sgage,

    Check early radios. Seriously! The ratio between wavelength and frequency is the speed of light for any electromagnetic wave. If technicians at the Marconi Company had the right dipole length for their broadcast frequency then you can say that the speed of light then must have been pretty close to what it is today, regardless of what the ‘scientific experts’ were measuring at the same time. While direct measurements of light speed were very hard with the technology of the early 20th century, and all over the place, I cannot ever recall hearing about that kind of trouble with radio tunings.

    Another thing that can (and has!) been done is indirect historical measurements. Believe it or not, “is the speed of light constant?” is something that has come up repeatedly over the decades from theoretical physicists trying to make a name for themselves in the academic crab bucket. In their own attempts to climb out of the crab bucket, astronomers have tried repeatedly to prove them right (or wrong). Since the speed of light is very important for nuclear reactions– to say nothing of how light itself moves about– astronomers can look out at distant stars and galaxies to see what’s up. Even if the speed of light was faster or slower in the past, such that our estimate of how long ago that light left the source is off by a bit, we can still safely say it was in the past. These surveys have been inconclusive at best. If there was a change, it must have been tiny.

    Coming closer to home (to things arguably more understood) we can look at the ‘natural reactor’ in Gabon. We know how nuclear fission reactors work much better than stars. (We can make a reactor; we cannot make a star). The speed of light is an important constant in defining how those work, as part of the fine structure constant. Based on that, we can say that 2 billion years ago, there was a period of a few million years (when the reactor was going) when the fine structure constant was the same as it is today.

    Honestly, I find Edwardian radio techs more convincing than astronomers or geologists, but that’s just me. (That said, just because the so-called constants of the universe don’t seem to have changed doesn’t mean they won’t! I just hope not, because the Sun might go out, and that would make me sad.)

  121. Patricia O, delighted to hear it. I know a lot of people who supported the vaccines are starting to back away now that it’s a matter of boosters every six months forever.

    Workdove, Berkeley made that same point back in the 18th century, but with a twist. Feelings, emotions, and sensations exist; doesn’t that mean that the world exists as a structure of feelings, emotions, and sensations? It can exist without having to exist as a collection of material objects.

    Cliff, as far as I can tell, symbolic logic is an unusually abstruse field of mathematics. Approach it in that light and you won’t mistake it for something useful!

    Stellarwind, now factor in the possibility that the speed of causality could change.

    Gwydion, oh, granted! My background in Buddhism is mostly in the Shingon sect from Japan — I have stepfamilial connections, and its aesthetic and philosophy has always appealed to me — and I’ve noticed the very substantial overlap between what Kobo Daishi et al. talked about and what Western philosophers talked about. Of course there’s been some direct contact between East and West — Schopenhauer was powerfully influenced by an early translation of the Upanishads, for example.

    Tortoise, that very experience is central to Owen Barfield’s book Saving the Appearances, in which he talks about the way the mind assembles the world from scraps of sensation. More generally, yes, exactly — the mechanical fantasies of the myth of Progress are central to it, and to its failure.

    Greg, thank you for this! Do you recall where in Russell’s work that exercise appears? I may want to cite it in a future book or essay.

    Gnome, maybe so.

    Lizzie, I find Gray interesting, but I confess I’m less impressed by Armstrong.

    MCB, he may well have been doing so, but he wrapped up what he was saying in so many layers of deliberately obscure language that I prefer to read the same point in other sources.

    Lark, yes, that’s one of the examples of the “is of identity” I had in mind.

    Tommy, it’s an old metaphor but a good one. You’re certainly right that intelligence isn’t enough — this is where the distinction between intelligence and wisdom comes in handy. The intelligent person can do exceedingly complex things with a set of concepts, without ever quite noticing that there’s something wrong with the fit between those concepts and the rest of reality. It takes a wise person to look at the concepts and say, “You’re missing one: ‘iceberg.'”

    Robert, good. That kind of concrete example is a helpful corrective to vague abstractions such as “progress.”

    JorisKarl, I have an allergy to philosophers who can’t be bothered to communicate what they have to say in clear language; as a writer and occasional teacher of writing, I’ve found that if someone can’t write something clearly, either they haven’t thought it out clearly, or they’re using verbal handwaving to fool you into thinking they’ve proved something when they haven’t. For both those reasons I’ve neglected Husserl and Wittgenstein alike.

    Aloysius, delighted to hear it.

    Info, no, you’re missing the point. We can’t compare our abstractions with reality because we have no access to reality. All we can do is compare our abstract models of reality with other models given to us by the ramshackle gimmickry of the senses, and see if they conflict or not. That’s why no scientific theory is ever proved — it’s merely not disproved.


    Moo Foo, so noted! I simply went looking online for a good picture of a duck.

    Jeff, thanks for this! I’m glad to hear it.

    Golocyte, if you really think it’s a great essay, why not read it a little more closely, and discover that the main point isn’t what you think it is?

    Sgage, keep in mind that a meter stick doesn’t change its length just because the speed of light varies. Ads for the replication crisis, I got to see it get started — when I was in college in the early 1980s, I knew a guy who paid his bills and then some by doing the very earliest forms of P-hacking for grad students and professors in the psychology department. They’d give him a mass of data, he’d find something that looked statistically significant, and then they’d rewrite their studies so that whatever turned up significant was the thing they were trying to prove. Quite a remarkable amount of garbage got into the journals that way — and of course the problem has just gotten worse since then.

    Neptunesdolphins, two excellent questions!

    Scotlyn, such doctors should be punched in the gut, hard, and then told that their pain is an illusion, too.

    Luke, that is to say, the religion of progress also has its fanatical cults with charismatic leaders and empty-eyed followers. Ugh.

    Jbucks, excellent. Excellent!

    Reese, oh dear gods, that’s funny. Thank you.

    Travis, I read Castaneda back in the day, but, ahem, he’s not a fave of mine.

    Scotlyn, excellent. All we can do is compare the abstract models we cook up in our conscious thinking with the more concrete models that are delivered to us by the gimmickry of the senses. That means that no matter what, the world may be doing something we don’t know about and don’t understand — and so all our notions, even those that are confirmed by facts (aka repeated experiences of sensory models), are tentative guesses.

    Logan, the headline says it all. “Given the competition…”

    Pygmycory, thank you for this. I’m delighted to see common sense creeping in!

    Robert, English is unusually crippled in only having one verb for the act of knowing. The French distinction between savoir and connaitre parallels that between umet’ and znat’. As for general semantics, I may have to do some digging and see if there’s something from the earlier days of the movement that’s copyright-free; it’s a mode of knowledge worth having.

    Michael, the world is changing. Of course it’s always been changing, but now it’s becoming impossible to ignore…

    Dusk Shine, so noted!

  122. Greetings all

    JMG wrote: “In due time you end up living in a dreamworld defined wholly by your own absurd demands for blind faith in abstract impossibilities”

    This flight into abstraction really is powerful stuff, some 10 years ago a friend of mine wrote in one of his emails: “Modernity knows no major dysfunctions, only minor ones which are fully expected”

    I was flabbergasted and could find no adequate responses. With time I realised it was as if he was arguing that modernity can survive any challenges thrown at it and so last forever. So whatever crisis modernity goes through, it can be only a temporary affair given that after corrective actions life will be back to normal.A near perfect example of the phenomenon of flight into abstraction.

    What surprises me to no end is that he is a highly intelligent and a well educated person yet incapable of perceiving the obvious flaws in such poor reasoning. The hold of the religion of progress on its followers is extraordinary. It is unbreakable, unshakable. It really looks like an enchantment that generates belief systems impervious to everyday reality.

    From earlier comments, it is clear that a lot of us has encountered such true believers.

    JMG also wrote: “—and it’s at that point, by and large, that the facts break down the door.”

    Do you think that the current Covid19 saga is sufficient to break down the door or will other major dysfunctions be needed?

    Many thanks!

  123. The predicament I see western society in now is not so much akin to a vehicle racing full speed toward an immovable obstruction as it is to someone who has just wet the bed. (Yes, that’s personal experience from childhood, the result of a dairy allergy that did not get addressed until I took matters into my own hands at about the age of twelve.) A discomfort in the bladder develops gradually until the body can no longer withstand the pressure, and then there is a sudden release. Initial reaction to the, uhm, “event”, is an overwhelming sense of relief accompanied by a cozy warmth against the body. But not long afterward, the odor becomes noticeable, accompanied by the distinctly uncomfortable effects of evaporation.

    Roosevelt’s New Deal was America’s collective bed-wetting. Sure, the new policies provided longed-for relief from the economic and social woes of industrialization, and spread far and wide the cozy “we’re all one big happy family” mushy sentiment of socialist idealizing – but these were just momentary effects, and they quickly passed their pull date. Now that we’ve had to tolerate these policies for a protracted period of time, they’re stinking. Getting up in the middle of the night to wash the sheets won’t be much fun.

  124. Lark — I also fear the backlash that will affect transgender individuals when the political hold of the WOKE is broken. Two talk radio hosts here in Calif. were discussing the U. Penn swimmer. They speculated that this issue will eventually be hashed out at the Olympics and that the “new records” will be walked back. They also mentioned a British Army study which discovered that individuals who start receiving female hormones retain their male levels of muscle mass and bone density for at least ten years. Obviously, they retain their height, arm and leg length, etc. Anyone who can’t see that admitting such persons to women’s sports teams will destroy women’s sports is blinded by doctrine and/or doesn’t believe that biological women have a right to fair competition in their chosen sports. I have also seen speculation about the possibility of uterine transplants that would allow transwomen to bear a child. What about the rights of the child not to be the subject of an experiment on the effect of anti-rejection drugs on fetal development, which is what any such pregnancy would be? As you note, anyone who questions any of this is defamed as a terf. My observation is that anyone so defined is accused of _killing_ people with their opinions.


  125. Writes Colin Wilson: “This seems to be a typical characteristic of western philosophy: if someone makes a stupid howler, his successors try to justify it and carry the thing to even further lengths of absurdity, when common sense would suggest that they get their foundations right by going back to square one.”

    Whole article here, “Phenomenology as a Mystical Discipline”, 2006:

  126. @JMG, et al.,

    I should have used a sarcasm tag after my last speed-o-light comment. It was meant tongue in cheek 🙂

    I knew a lot of investigators who were pretty good at P-hacking – it’s more like they were led down that path the by software coming out at the time (SAS, primarily). I’m sure some were quite aware that what they were doing was not kosher, but I think an awful lot of folks were simply clueless, statistically, and just thought they were doing what you were supposed to do. I mean, they paid a lot of money for that software! Or they hired it out the analysis…

    But I never knew a hired gun P-hacker. That’s pretty disappointing, though I suppose not surprising. Anything that can be gamed, will be gamed in our virtue-free society.

  127. @Jeff Russel, JMG, and all

    Whatever you learn labeled as mathematics in school is to real math as what you hear the occult is from the pop culture to what it actually is. Math is poetry in the full sense of the word, it is just that it uses mathematical concepts, symbols and their logical relationships given a structure created from axioms instead of a language, words and a cultural background.

    Thanks for the link to the lament! I am reminded also of “A Mathematicians Apology” by G. H Hardy. It is a little pompous and silly.

    It is a melancholy experience for a professional mathematician to
    find himself writing about mathematics. The function of a
    mathematician is to do something, to prove new theorems, to add
    to mathematics, and not to talk about what he or other mathema-
    ticians have done. Statesmen despise publicists, painters despise
    art-critics, and physiologists, physicists, or mathematicians have
    usually similar feelings: there is no scorn more profound, or on
    the whole more justifiable, than that of the men who make for the
    men who explain. Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for
    second-rate minds.

    This would be equivalent to the scene from the movie Death Poets Society, where some PhD is trying to qualify the value of poetry by a graph. “Excrement! That is what I think of this PhD’s work” says the poet. Or when someone is trying to explain, criticize and put a price on art –it destroys it and hides its real beauty and thus it is work for second-rate minds.

  128. Following on from the point made by gregsimay, the different perception of reality given by each sense can also be seen when the information combined by two different senses doesn’t “match”. One example is The McGurk Effect where visual and auditory information about speech is combined in “non-natural” ways and the brain must decide how to decode the result –

    It turns out people will interpret this differently depending on whether they are visual-dominant or aural-dominant.

  129. Archdruid,

    It’s ever the wonder to me that people can ignore reality as it punches them square in the face by simply doubling down on their abstractions. It isn’t just the wealthy and powerful either, its just people in general. The insanity of their claims isn’t that we WILL have domed cities and by zipping off into space, but rather that we already have domed cities and are zipping off into space. As far as they’re concerned that reality isn’t an abstract, but as real as real can get.

    Maybe that’s actually the trick? That these people are so entrenched in their own imaginations, that they’re interacting with the perception of reality as processed by their own minds and can’t seem to comprehend that the abstraction drifted away from the thing in itself?



  130. Logan at #123:

    A re-match between the King in Orange and the Hildebeast? Beg, borrow or steal any $$$$ you can, go to Wall Street and then go long on beer, skittles and popcorn. The entertainment value of this spectacle will be over the top.

    Electoral “democracy” has degenerated into a theatre of the absurd. I wonder how and when it will all implode, and what will evolve from whatever replaces it.

    Antoinetta III

  131. I wonder if they tried the McGurk video on speakers of languages other than English? I know a lot of these psychological experiments are done on WEIRD American college students because that’s who’s handy. Anyway, a couple of times where I was supposed to hear BAH, I heard MBVAH, as in “Mbvaya con Dios” (written “Vaya con Dios”). By the time it got to FAH, they had me trained so that’s what I’ve heard.

    —Princess Cutekitten

  132. Karim, that’s one of the best examples of blind faith in abstractions I’ve encountered. As for what will be needed to break down the door, I don’t think it’s possible to know that in advance.

    Kyle, thanks for this.

    Steve, as metaphors go, that one’s colorful, fragrant, and spot on target. Thank you.

    A. Karhukainen, Wilson was good at hitting them out of the ballpark, wasn’t he?

    Sgage, okay, gotcha.

    Augusto, so noted. It’s not a language I can read, so there’s a lot I’ll never know about it.

    Simon, that’s a useful example.

    Varun, in a way, that’s the best evidence yet for Kant’s thesis…

  133. An entrenched abstraction I’m seeing a lot on Reddit lately: “It’s a wage shortage, not a labor shortage.”

    Well, yes, maybe wages are too low for the position in question, but it’s as if they can’t even conceive of the notion of there not being enough qualified people available and willing to work in a certain position under the terms you as the employer set, even at any wage. My suspicion is that they also can’t really comprehend the concept of “unavailable at any price,” either…

  134. Perhaps intentional on your part, but it strikes me how the jamesian/schopenhauerian thought you laid out is quite similiar to the two truths doctrine found in Madhyamaka Philosophy of the buddhists. There, it’s broken down as conventional truth, “the way we understand our everyday lives… truths which are helpful, not accurate; they are generally agreed upon understandings, not what is really happening” and ultimate truth “how things really are when they are not obscured by conventional stories”. Always interesting to see convergant philosophical evolution across history.

  135. Augusto, #139:

    I like Hardy’s succinctness.

    It took Ayn Rand 800 pages to say the same thing in The Fountainhead, though she did take the opportunity to mix in a bit of weird fantasy: ideal men, submissive women, architectural improvements via dynamite, stirring courtroom defenses, jury nullification, etc.

  136. @ Varun

    I used to play in amateur rock bands and it was very common for everybody in the band to sit around talking about all these great gigs we would have. At some point, I suggested that maybe we should, you know, actually do some things that might turn those dreams into reality. When push came to shove, nobody wanted to do the work.

    I used to think that phenomena was just because of the alcohol and drugs that are involved in the rock scene but it’s a general issue. A lot of people live entirely in their heads. It’s nice and comfortable in there.

  137. @JMG #132:
    Ah, glad I decided to make the comment after all, then, and you’re welcome.

    And yeah, it’s just such a perfect and explicit demonstration that, were it in something less mainstream than the Washington Post, I might suspect it of being a deliberate parody (those poor, poor writers at the Onion, having to top this…). I doubt that they’d want to _encourage_ the sorts of questions about our modern condition that that could raise, though, so I’m assuming they’re just not very aware of it.

    @Luke #117:
    (Ended up a bit long and rambly, this, looks like; sorry about that.)

    Most of my interaction with the Rationalist movement has been through Rationalist-influenced fanfiction — of which there’s some enjoyable stuff out there, though I assume that the general trends of fanfiction quality ratios apply. First one I read (years ago), I think, would have been Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, by Eliezer Yudkowsky himself, which, if you haven’t heard of it, could perhaps actually be called one of the movement’s core documents; certainly, I expect it helped popularize it. It has, as I recall, both some interesting bits, maybe some potentially useful bits, and some substantial problems — a description that might be applied to more of the movement than just that one text, though I’d guess I’ve been fortunate-slash-wise enough to stay away from the more problematic areas.

    I don’t recall ever calling myself a Rationalist, out loud or otherwise, but there may have been some points particularly in undergrad (again, years ago now) when I was somewhere around the border (I recall now with some embarrassment one occasion in undergrad when I voiced an as far as I’m remembering serious ambition of being a Von Neumann machine one day.). As far as I can tell, my primary “”mistake”” which blocked me off from getting deeper into it was applying scientific critical thinking and skepticism to Rationalism itself. After all, hard atheism, for example, is _bad science_. It is in a way the inverse of saying that some holy word must be literally true even though it quite clearly isn’t by saying that it’s true in a separate magisterium or somesuch thing (that phrasing, I believe, is actually a paraphrase of a vaguely-remembered bit of rationalist text); to claim that gods, spirits, etc. definitely do not exist because you haven’t seen (or at least acknowledged) any evidence of them is to claim to have proved a negative, and that in this special case a hypothesis about the underlying nature of the universe may be proven true rather than merely not disproven even after a very large number of high-quality data gathering experiments. Hard atheism is itself an act of faith, and Rationalists, as I understand it, are not suppose to _do_ acts of faith on this level — and yet, as I also understand it, atheist materialism is indeed a core tenet of the movement. If it deals with the fact that it fails by its own standards by refusing to turn those standards on itself, why should I believe it is The Truth and The Right Way To Live? It’s a denomination or subgroup of Progress: believe the doctrine unquestioningly, disbelieve the forbidden unquestioningly, and only explore, genuinely or performatively, in the space remaining.

    I do to this day still read and enjoy Rationalist-influenced fiction, though. One of the advantages it — or _good_ Rationalist-influenced fiction, at least — has, I think, is it’s under less ideological pressure. A Good Rationalist mustn’t hint that they might believe in the _supernatural_ in the _real world_, after all — but here’s another, safely fictional, world where that sort of thing can be explored. Alternatively, other things are written in versions, more or less divergent, of the world we’re _supposed_ to live in, and if the characters, plot, technical quality of the prose, etc. are good, they can still be fun and interesting fantasies set in worlds pretty different than the one we actually live in (well, if one can separate authorial intent from the resultant text sufficiently, I suppose).

    …Though, again, I’m not in at the deep end, so perhaps things in the fiction scene too are much worse over that way.

    Anyway, that seems to be about all I’m thinking of to say on this at the moment, but I hope it helps! And that your friends get through/out of this alright.

    (Oh, and if you’re interested in Rationalist fiction, I would _not_ recommend Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality for a fun read, these days, though it might be useful to get some insights into Rationalist thought. These two authors might be more enjoyable but still interesting ones to give a look:

    …Actually, one more thought I just had: I wonder if _A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court_ could be looked at as a piece of rationalfic. After all, it’s got a Modern Enlightened Science-Minded Hero entering a fantasy-historical world drawn from other authors’ works, complaining about how bad things were in The Past, showing that the magic isn’t real, and bringing in the Power of Science and Reason to make everyone’s lives better, in the process winning himself great renown, wealth, and political power. Of course, though, there is the slight matter of the book’s _ending_… But either way, also a story I consider enjoyable and interesting, even if I recognize a gap between that and “and correct on every point”.

  138. JMG, Russel and all

    But have you ever seen the proof of the irrationality of the square root of two? I find it beautiful and it requires only basic algebra and the notion of inequalities.

  139. Rita and Lark… I can’t say how much I agree with you that the backlash from this thing is going to be a tornado destroying everything in its path. Two of my clients are local lgbtq organizations and I am the mother of a trans woman. Yet I was called a bigot just tonight via email and there is a non-zero change that I am about to be expelled from the order of priestesses I was ordained into only six weeks ago (after 3.5 years of work and about $10k in costs) due to the heinous crime of saying the word “women” to refer to priestesses and writing that a priestess is someone who identifies as a woman (regardless of their sex). So now the word priestess is apparently meaningless and the word women is banned because someone might get their feelings hurt because….idk, maybe they identify as a tree or a bird or woke spirit with no gender. The entire purpose of the program was to ordain women priestesses in a subculture that only accepts men as the “real” priesly officiants and rulers. Really, that was its purpose – and now you cannot refer to priestesses as women, *even collectively,* and some sanctimonious wokster has complained to the heads of the order.

    Btw, thank you JMG for the wonderful SOP ritual that is obviously the underlying framework of the adaptated invocation I crafted for the event.

    I wrote two blog posts on these events if anyone wants to read the backstory. The circular firing squad is alive and well, and they don’t care what effects their quest for ideological purity have in the real world.

    The crash and burn is going to be spectacular, not in a good way.

  140. Mary Bennett,
    I completely agree with you! It’s just that when you used the word “canard” (I appreciate your diction) I couldn’t resist revisiting JMG’s Magrittian duck after reading his virtuoso performance and started on the comments. I know, daffy of me.

    I appreciate your position which is why I admitted that Husserl and Wittgenstein elude me. But I intuit that the fault is in me so that I can’t leave them alone and return to them at intervals after desultorily reading about in the secondary literature on them. Wittgenstein’s biography alone is fascinating. The Tractatus is famous for its lapidary, enigmatic style (almost like reading Heraclitus), and each paragraph or sentence receives a decimal number that supposedly make the argument’s structure explicit–it doesn’t. Here’s the first proposition, number 1: “The world is everything that is the case.” The last is number 7: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” So the reader knows what the seven (7) main propositions are (and can meditate on them? Yeah!). Sound familiar?

    Wittgenstein rejected the Tractatus in his later Philosophical Investigations which has a more relaxed, discursive style often in the form of dialogues with himself. So it’s difficult to find self-contained, quotable bits. It’s more like a web of queries and tentative answers.

    “The word ‘language-game’ is used here to emphasize the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life” (PI sec.23)

    “If a lion could talk, we wouldn’t be able to understand it.” (PI p. 235)

    Here’s a Husserl quotation that I found in a book explaining his stance on science:

    Mathematics and mathematical science, as a garb of ideas…encompasses everything which, for scientists and the educated generally, represents the lifeworld, dresses it up as “objectively actual and true” nature. It is through the garb of ideas that we take for true being what is actually a method.
    –Edmund Husserl (as quoted in Nature’s Suit: Husserl’s Phenomenological Philosophy of the Physical Sciences by Lee Hardy, Ohio University Press, 2013)

    I mistakenly interchanged the order of the natural enemies of a man of knowledge. 1st fear 2nd clarity, 3rd power 4th old age:

  141. @Jeff Russell

    “Choice 3 [damaging the outside world while benefitting ones company] is the only one [choice] that demonstrates [loyality] for sure” Reminds in a way of an article that described Chinese business men going to brothels – because then they are partners in crime, and have secrets that bind them to a common cause and make them secretive to the outside world. They become open to blackmail.

    Also reminds of the stereotypical story of the undercover DEA cop who has to take drugs in order to prove his belonging to the subjects he is supposed to turn over when the time comes, thus ending up drug addled himself.


    What can we really know? The question comes up especially with the corona debates.

    People quote “this doctor said that” or “that study says this” without being competent in the profession or having experience with what is debated. There was one debate here on ecosophia where one commenter posted endless links to the other commenter, and the other commenter responded with something like: “there is not anything I can reliably validate here, those are opinions or facts I cannot check, and piling up more opinions will not strengthen your argument or lead us anywhere”

    A man who studied medicine said about some studies, the one that claimed to prove AntibodyDependendEnhancement in 2020, that this was an in-vitro experiment under unrealistic conditions that has little to do with real life. The data is probably OK, but what follows is pages upon pages of interpretation.

    I find the same with energy economics; “renewables are cheaper than oil” – if you look at the meter price during a certain period of time with given subsidies and legal adjustments, yes, if you look at the costs for the whole energy system for a longer time, no.

    Omission is often a great way to spread faulty interpretations without really lying about the origin of your interpretation (data, study, event…)
    A friend in the hospital says: “I work with many people having experience direct with the corona virus, they can only laugh or cry at the incompetent assumptions of people from outside who think this thing is really harmless”.

    Another friend of the laboratory says: “The assumptions of many people attacking the vaccination campaign are clearly borne of incompetence -the journalists promoting the vaccines are just as incompetent, only with a different opinion” – Which does not help

    – Our own sensory input first, and what our mind makes of it second.
    Then there is shared experiences (Someone on this forum a longer time ago mentioned Korzybsy saying that essentially the initial point of common understanding is always “do you see that thing there that I see?”)
    Science, in my opinion, is the shared experience of a symbolic system of encoding experiments. People around the world learn to apply the same systems with the same examples of application.
    That’s what concerns a basic scientific education; from there on it becomes complex


    Often discussed here: nobody knows what the mind “IS”. A computer mimicking human action is just as good as a picture of the pipe mimicking our sensory input when we see one.
    The biochemical structure of a living human and the organic/anorganic composition of a CPU only share the fact there’s impulses of electricity active. There different otherwise.


    I think the more commmon and ubiquitous a factor to be inspected is, the better it is suited for a simulation. The Limits to Growth scenarios make very general assumptions; AFAIK there’s some law formulated that says: “the more a simulation imitates real data in detail, the worse the outcome is”

    Analogically, Klaus Kornwachs in his book “philosophy for engineers” says, we can measure the general pressure of a tank easily, but cannot make any claim to the individual particle movmement of the particles whose overall movement creates the pressure. As well as: a simulation easily becomes worthless when humans and their behaviour are involved – humans are the factor ‘X’ that does not behave like a physically inert object.

    In my experience two things play an important role: your social role in the society around you, and the connected fear of exclusion, as well as any fear of death and demise.
    As our hosts says, our culture always seeks to “amputate” human habits if they contradict its goals and premise.

    Those annoying “habits” and behaviour commonly seen as “anti-social” or psychologically ill are in my opinion often destructive interactions of humans biological nature with civilized living conditions.
    Take Addiction for example: what point would there be naturally to become addicted to something in a self destructive fashion? Manfred Spitzer says: constant nervousness and stress aren’t natural, they are originally a reaction to an immediate danger.
    The body under stress deactivates the immune system to conserve energy for an event of immedeate emergency, and when then body learns that some thing lowers stress levels and reactivates thus the immune system when there is constantly stress,
    it starts to crave.

    People’s opinion is strongly tied to their social position, and our subconscious does the rest; if some opinioin endangers our social acceptance, it is difficult to consider.

    Our host being an autist might have an advantage of immunity there.

  142. @Jessi (who, I have just noticed is “Another Amethyst” and not, as I had previously thought “An Aromatherapist”) 😉

    “We notice when our perceptions don’t match what we predicted, even if we can’t ever fully grasp the true nature of glass and concrete.”

    And @ JMG
    “All we can do is compare the abstract models we cook up in our conscious thinking with the more concrete models that are delivered to us by the gimmickry of the senses. That means that no matter what, the world may be doing something we don’t know about and don’t understand — and so all our notions, even those that are confirmed by facts (aka repeated experiences of sensory models), are tentative guesses.”

    Thank you both for responding. I have been giving this some more thought and to me, it seems that the question of “knowledge” could be viewed through an entirely different lens which is more a matter of depth and intimacy of relationship.

    That is to say, there is my own will, through which I “happen” to the world, and the [various and diverse and vastly numerous] wills of the world, which “happen back” to me, setting limits upon what I can do – as I, in my own small but real ways, set limits upon other wills within my reach.

    I can “try” to predict what other wills, operated by other consciousnesses, might do, but this is as useful as running a conversation through my own head in anticipation, and then expecting the actual conversation I later have with the other person to go down exactly as scripted in my head. The real interaction contains two parties, and only one of them is known by me “from the inside” as it were.

    The trouble here, it seems to me, is that the “somethings” that (according to William James) we CAN know, are gifts given to us via “the gimmickry of the senses” by the unrepeatable HERE that is THIS place and the unrepeatable NOW that is this time. And to know what gifts another consciousness’s senses and perspective are giving them, lies beyond my perception – because they are them, and not me.

    To aspire to perfect, “objective” knowledge, it seems to me, is to aspire to own the eyes of God, and be able to “see” everything everywhere always. Which, is both impossible, and intensely hubristic. Also, what if there are no “objects” but only “subjects” whose mysterious interiorities exist at various scales, some way too vast, or way too microscopic to permit of any interaction at all.

    Better, perhaps, to develop some intimacy and relationship with [some] other consciousnesses [at this scale and with whom some means of cross-communication is possible] and ask [if I need to know] what they know and if they are willing to share with me.

    And to think of knowledge, perhaps, as being at least as much a matter of “who” than it is of “what”…

    Anyway, this seems to me to be, perhaps, the beginning of one way out of this conundrum. Thank you both, again!

    * at which point she wanders off to develop intimacy, touched with gratitude, with the mysterious and delightful contents of her coffee cup *

  143. @ Varun #141

    Re folks in domed cities now and the retreat into abstraction

    I read your comment and immediately thought of Metaverse. I suspect that AR/VR is going to play a role in this as we move forward. What better way to obtain what reality has denied you than to retreat into a world of your own creation?

  144. Princess Cutekitten asked: “I wonder if they tried the McGurk video on speakers of languages other than English?”

    Yes, I second that, especially as different languages have different allomorphs, i.e., the same sound varies predictably depending on its surrounding sounds (e.g., whether it is at the end of the word or not). The funny thing that usually the native speakers don’t even perceive that their language might use multiple variants of that same sound (I was an adult when I realized that there are two variants of “e” and “i” in Finnish, after reading a book about linguistics), even though it is apparent to some foreign learners who hear both distinctly.

    So, even if the foreigners speak otherwise very well, it is when they use the wrong variant of an allomorph which keeps their speech a slightly foreign hint, even if the accent was otherwise very good. Of course a more usual situation is that the foreign learners don’t learn to distinguish two distinct sounds that appear as identical to their ears, because they actually might be just allomorphs in their own language.


    BTW, it’s a bit funny that whole branch of bad philosophy/semiotics/anthropology/whatever was concocted out of this simple phonological/linguistic fact. I mean “structuralism”, and of course when that is prefixed with “post-” it makes things even worse.

  145. @Augusto: Hardy was quite a stupid man in his mathematical machismo and fatalism. But still I thank him for taking Ramanujan’s letter seriously. Of course mathematicians should learn to explain their works better, not just to the interested laymen, but also to _other_ mathematicians who in mathematical conferences are usually as much at the sea as any layman, if the talk given is not about their own specific subfield.
    But I see in Youtube a nascent culture of great mathematical popularizers (Mathologer, 3Blue1Brown, etc), using new animation tools. I think there should be a compulsory, or even optional course for doing video animations for all wannabe mathematicians at the university.

  146. JMG, you have mentioned flying cars in so many recent posts, that I have started to suspect that you are secretly disappointed that they never came… But don’t worry, here they are at last:
    And according to the company, “driving” such a thing does not even require pilot’s license. Imagine the rush hour!

  147. I suppose the tl:dr version of above is:

    When you say “the world may be doing something we don’t know about and don’t understand” – well, in my experience this has ALWAYS been true of other people around me, and I see no reason to assume it is not equally true of other self-willed beings at every possible scale and dimension and kind of “HERE NOW’s” that there could be.

  148. Thinking further about this post, I realized earlier that a lot of people I know have what one colleague called, while referring to his wife, “control issues”. So in the spirit of ‘as above, so below’, or ‘as people, so society’, do you or anyone in the commentariat know what branch of psychology best deals with a tendency to be controlling? I’m interested in reading more about how this affects individuals to see if there are parallels in the wider society.

  149. @ Leah Kiser

    Re self-destructive wokeness

    I am sorry to hear of your experience. It is a shame that the organization you valued has decided on such a path. On the other hand, having been invested yourself, it may be that you now have the opportunity to create a women’s organization that will attract others who share your vision? As we’ve discussed on this blog and its predecessor, it is the task of rebuilding the new amidst the rubble of the old that is our lot (and that of the next several generations). Perhaps this is your chance to create something needed for other women like yourself.

    Just something that leapt to mind as I read your comment.

  150. Ahhhh…. yet another flying car; this time in Swedish. I just read the specs on the “Jetson Aero”. It has a top speed of 102 km/h and flight time of 20 minutes – therefore a maximum range of 34km [21 miles]. Then you have to find a wall socket to plug it into and wait 2 full hours before you can fly again. All this for the low, low price of $92,000.00 US plus shipping plus import duties plus taxes plus insurance plus put-it-together-yourself-and-hope-like-*-it-works. All that to get me a 5-hour morning commute? I don’t think so.

    By comparison, the car I’m driving today can go nearly twice as fast for at least 15 times as long and takes only 3 minutes to refuel – and I bought it for the equivalent of about $8,000.00 US. The remaining $84,000.00 US can buy rather a lot of petroleum, even at today’s overinflated prices.

    Once again, the great god Progress takes a sucker-punch from real-world economics.

  151. BTW, Stephen King wrote a sf/horror novel about a city with a dome, cleverly enough called “Under the Dome”. A plane or helicopter crashes into the dome in the first scene iirc. It makes you wonder how flying cars would get from city to city. But I guess “they’ve thought of that” would be the answer of a true believer. There is probably some garage type door opener that allows a hatch in the dome to be made so you can get through and go to the next town over.

    But whatever happened to jaunting? That beats the heck out of a flying car!

    I’d definitley prefer to jaunt from one place to the next 😉

  152. Drake #59 — Wow! I admire your clarity of thought on this emotionally-fraught issue. My own response to such administrative overreach is something akin to “Back off — you’re not my mommie”; or “You and who else are going to make me do that?” … succinct, but not nearly so eloquent as your approach!

    I really bothers me, too, that so many people who felt compelled to get poked to keep a job, in actuality have no more claim on that job after the jab than they had before. People can be laid off for any number of reasons, or no reason, but the jab is forever.

  153. #160 jbucks Psychology treats human behavior as either pathological or functional, and therefore always on a continuum. Being “controlling” is pathological if it interferes with relationships and behavioral outcomes. It’s functional if it gets important things done. And, yes, that’s really vague because psychology as a whole is vague. Yah, masters degree here, and then I escaped.

    “Control issues” terminology is generally used for an individual who is bossy or pushy, non-scientific words that we all understand. Beneath the urge for control is a deeper set of issues: chronic anxiety, fear, instability, or inability to form emotional bonds. In effect, the dominating control freak is someone who is experiencing deep distress, and seeks to hide their fear from themselves by projecting control over their environment. The more stringent the control, the less the fear is acknowledged or felt.

    “Ordinary” control freaks may be helped with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) aimed at gaining more personal chops in their own life, basically dealing with their inner demons. They have to want to do it, though.

    We can’t overlook physiological bases for psychological conditions, either, although psychology usually does. The typical control freak, for example, may be deficient in B-vitamins, have adrenal abnormalities, or even a benign brain tumor that presses on critical brain areas which influence behavior. With proper treatment, that’s all fixable and may lead to a more stable mood in the afflicted person.

    Pathological control can be found among sociopaths and psychopaths — both defined as lacking in empathy for their fellow humans. Control for a sociopath means ordering their world, no matter the cost to others. For a psychopath, though, it means something akin to emotional satisfaction coming at the expense of others. Both are considered personality disorders that CANNOT be fixed. They are who they are.

    The applicability to the greater culture is pretty clear. Perhaps doing a little research on sociopathy or psychopathy will point you in the direction you’re seeking.

  154. Brendhelm, an excellent point. Too many people in our society, especially but not only in the managerial classes, can think of no solution to a problem other than “throw money at it.” The fact that there might be a shortage of people willing to put up with current workplace conditions at any price, or (whisper this) a shortage of people healthy enough to do the work, has never entered their minds.

    Tamanous, it wasn’t intentional on my part, but the convergence is a real thing: if in fact the world has certain characteristics, it’s not surprising that the development of philosophy over time would lead people to recognize those characteristics.

    Reese, oddly enough, I was also thinking about those poor writers at The Onion, staring at computer screens and thinking “How the ring-tailed rambling frack am I going to come up with something sillier than this?”

    Augusto, no, I don’t believe I have.

    Leah, I’m very sorry to hear this. Keep in mind that as a properly ordained kohenet, you have the capacity to lead the rebuilding of something saner once the rubble stops bouncing. (The invocation was lovely, btw — a very thoughtful and creative development of the basic SoP framework.)

    JorisKarl, thanks for this. I may give Wittgenstein another try someday; now that I’ve sharpened my teeth on alchemical literature, enigmatic maxims are a little less challenging than they once were.

    Scotlyn, excellent! Yes, exactly — knowledge as relationship, with its inevitable factors of intimacy and negotiation, rather than knowledge as dominion, “I assign you to this place, now stay there, dammit!”

    A. Karhukainen, me? Good gods, no. I don’t even drive an ordinary car. Flying cars are just such a perfect example of the mindless pursuit of bad ideas that’s so prevalent in our society.

    Jbucks, that’s an important question to which I don’t know the answer. Anyone else?

    Steve, that’s par for the course with flying cars — poor performance at a sky-high price.

    Justin, now there’s a blast from the past.

    Lazycat, thank you.

  155. Hi #78 Sgage,

    I’m pretty sure that a second is defined as some quantity of vibrations made by a Cesium atom. However atomic physics deals with probability based paths for electron orbits.

    I’m pretty sure that the quantity of vibrations is simply an agreed upon value based on the expected ‘average’ behaviors, as measured by human beings, of a cesium atom.

    So I don’t think even the second qualifies as a wholly independent variable that is not limited by our human mental models.

  156. Hi John,
    If memory serves, the exercise appeared in Russell’s “The Problems of Philosophy.” I had the paperback version, and it was an elegant, quick read. The exercise appeared near the beginning of the book.

    At the end of the book, Russell offered a metaphor that’s also worth sharing. He compared theories to musical notation and reality to the music itself. I would add that you can’t judge the value of a theory unless you can hear the music.

  157. IMHO, parts of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus make more sense in the original German than they can ever do in any conceivable English translation, and his #7 is a prime example. “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen” really does not have quite the same meaning as “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”

    The two are logically equivalent, but the English sentence does not have the same hammer-blow impact on one’s on-going comprehension as the German sentence does. And “man” is not quite the same as “we”: “we” automatically implies that there are others than “we,” of whom Wittgenstein’s claim might not hold true, while “man” does not. Also, “Pass over in silence” is abstract and vapid, whereas “schweigen” is more down-to-earth, like “keep silence,” or even “shut up.”

    (Linguistic relatively in action here!)

  158. Our inability to directly experience the [i]ding an sich[/i] might mean we cannot know its true nature, but among our experiences are certain patterns in our other experiences that affect the nature of useful mental models of it. For instance, the relationship between the experience of drinking water and the experience of thirst. I can entertain the idea that material water as such doesn’t really exist, but something (a routine in a simulator, a fixed idea in the mind of the Almighty, some portion of my own mind opaque to my conscious awareness that insists upon that particular consistency, or what-have-you, but something) must substitute for it to explain that pattern. (Unless such patterns themselves are illusory, in which case, why even attempt to say anything about anything?) That is to say, any mental model of reality that doesn’t account for the relationship we experience between the experience of drinking water and the experience of thirst is, in my view, inadequate for most purposes.

    I have that problem, for instance, with Hume’s view of causality as (more or less) learned habitual sequences of impressions in our own minds. Suppose a psychopath acting alone hides a time bomb and then commits suicide. The next day, the bomb explodes. What impression in whose mind is the cause of the explosion? (Or does the scenario somehow contain an impossibility?) The bomb scenario is a mere thought experiment, but analogous tests can be made in laboratories (e.g. examining the results of the hidden actions of randomizing devices) or from actual common experiences (e.g. discovering something unexpected among a deceased person’s effects).

    The point, which seems congruent to your own (and that Hume would generally agree with), is that failing to test our mental models against our actual experiences is a mistake.

    It’s been about 2400 years since Plato trolled the empiricists with his Allegory of the Cave. An appropriate occasion for taking certain branches of philosophy, along with various present-day scientists, politicians, and elite classes, to task for letting go of empiricism.

  159. @LukeDodson I’m not sure what sort of information you’re looking for so here’s a summary that might help.

    While I was at most an ambivalent rationalist, I have friends who have ties to that community. They are positivists with the various strengths and foibles of diehard followers of an Age of Reason and devotees of Intelligence. As for Yudkowski, I haven’t paid much attention to him for years so I don’t know what he’s been doing lately. He’s most famous for Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and that’s likely the main work they’re reading. I never got around to reading it since I always suspected I’ll want to throw it at a wall so I can’t comment on it directly. But that’s where I would suggest you begin to get a sense of the mental framework of the community. From conversations with my friends, it’s got strong Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court vibes.

    An underlying assumption of the group is that everything material can be computed and flawlessly modeled by a Turning Machine, a hypothetical rules-based symbol manipulator. This is combined with a very materialistic worldview. Oddly in my experience most members tend to be less elimitative in that regard that other reductive materialists. For example, they may grant gods and spirits as existing, but they’ll then assume said gods and spirits are fundamentally material and therefore perfectly modelable and within their preview. This is done with a strong reductive approach and a preference for absolute hypothetical thought experiments such as concerning the nature of perfect copies. While there are things they’ll readily admit can’t be modeled, generally those are intellectual curiosities like will this program halt, and not things that most people care about such as their sensations of experience or yesterday’s dinner.

    There are strong ties as well with Superintelligence community as popularized by Nick Bostrom. I’ve read his book on the matter, Superintelligence. It’s a trap especially for smart engineer types. In it, Bostrom makes a demon, an inevitable AI with interests at best indifferent and at worst directly in opposition to humanity’s interests. He then endows it with superpowers such as an exponentially increasing intelligence and fears it. He then asks the reader to help him to prevent this demon from happening. Years ago, the state of this boiled down to make sure the AI’s motivation is to do what you should have told it to do in the first place.

    Last time I checked in on them a few years back, rationalists were getting big into nootropics, drugs that are said to increase intelligence or at very least tweak it in various ways. I don’t know if that’s still the case or not, but you may want to keep an eye out for it.

  160. Off topic:
    if you speak French, and like heated but very intellectual political debates, you could do worse than follow the French political TV shows right now and pop some corn. It’s quite sobering… strange times, where you don’t know which side should be defending which.
    Also intriguing how we seem to somehow mirror the USA in some strange ways… Maybe there is a spirit living through both nations, but in quite different ways.

  161. Reading this reminds me of three things, some childhood memory of coming up with really dark thoughts as a child reflecting on some of the more iconic bible stories from the OT, eventually coming up with the thought that if humans possessed the power of God or that we were God we’d simply go insane, and the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges.

    It’s not every day that you’ll find a kid ruminating over the iconic bible stories from the OT, namely Adam and Eve’s Fall, Cain and Able, Noah’s Ark, and Tower of Babble and current events coming to the conclusion that humanity is a cancer, a pestilence in need of extermination because of what we have done and what we are capable of. Luckily I had enough wisdom then to realize that was wrong. But there’s underlying ideas that are useful. The true nature and origin of free will and the deadliness of Morality to ones mind, body, and soul in the temptation and eventual consumption of the idea of godhood .

    Not going into detail of the contents of the Bible it can be seen that “Though shalt not have any gods before me to i am the Lord your God.” or any of the commandments in regards to worship of other gods could be considered “you will consider the bigger picture not, fragments of reality” or perhaps “Thou shalt not have any other abstract ideas before the larger and vastly more important abstract idea”.

    I think that’s the downside of certain forms of philosophy in general. Its not the ideas or practice of philosophizing that are the issue, its the fragmented aspects or process of fragmentation, abstraction, which makes it easier for an imbalance to occur if someone chooses to seriously entertain certain ideas or put them into play.

    “Hey this fragmentation/abstraction of x doesnt work as well as-”
    “Screeeeeeeeeee-! How dare you attack my beliefs and culture! You’re evil! You have no place here! You deviate from the way!”
    *facepalms* “You know why do we even try? We’re trying to help and connect.”
    “You know what? Go screw yourselves, in about 20-800 years your decendants probably try to revive your customs and make amends with enough foresight not to be like you. ”
    * years of suffering ensue soon after*

    For all I know I could be speaking out of my rear, but my point is, is that this isn’t a new occurence and never will be, for as long as humans have their Hubris, think they will be like God(s), think they have more power and influence than they really do, and make everything a matter of morality, they’ll forever be stuck in the same time loop eating dog turd sandwiches with delight with the Mad Hatter, door mouse, and March hare. They’ll own nothing, and they’ll be happy.

  162. I currently live in one of these crumbling cities (NYC). If this is the future of the rest of the USA, it is a pretty dark future. There is a mass renunciation of responsibility. Everything is “the system’s” fault. Even people trying to “help” things do so from the point of view of an overbearing nanny-state.

    I look for sparks of hope. Your past writings on lodges, fraternities, and voluntary associations seems like one way to “ride out” the current decline. Get groups of people together for responsible action and collective self-interest. I’m not sure if the internet makes these harder/impossible to form these days.

    Everyone addicted to the opium of social media rather than real social bonds.
    (He says, while leaving a comment on a blog)

    PS. Matthew Crawford’s books (e.g. Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work) present a good contemporary version of this pragmatist philosophy.

  163. @Luke #117, I’m a rationalist in the same sense that I’m also a typist and a bicyclist. That is, rationality is among the instruments I employ. I’m fully capable of criticizing Spock for not seeming to actually know very much about logic, assuming a spherical cow when the occasion arises, or pulling out a pad of paper and a pen in mid-conversation saying “let’s see if those figures actually make sense.” But I don’t think (and no up-to-date rationalist should think) that means there’s a chemical formula for love or an equation for happiness.

    I enjoyed Yudkowsky’s manifesto-in-disguise Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (HPMOR) very much in the early chapters, when his version of Harry seemed to be expressing and acting upon my own objections to Rowling’s Wizarding World, including the cruel and primitive (and internally unquestioned) justice system based on torture, the irresponsible and often cruel attitudes of the Hogwarts staff toward the children in their care, and most of all, the lack of curiosity about the magic they were teaching and learning. In the original the students were taught magic like they were being taught to operate a machine, do this to make that happen, with no thought of how it came about or how it worked or why it had the constraints it did, such as why it doesn’t work for muggles. (JMG easily picked up on the magic-as-technology quality without even having read the books.) By substituting a precocious unlikeable science-literate nerd for Rowling’s good-hearted jock, Yudkowsky’s version opened up all those questions, as Harry dug into figuring out how it all (the magic and the dysfunctional society) really worked while hilariously refusing to put up with the adults’ nonsense.

    Then, in a nutshell, it all goes sideways and strange because Yudkowsky apparently has a Gilgamesh-scale problem with death. Death is bad. Death is practically the only bad thing. Nothing (well, no human) should ever die and any endeavor not focused on preventing people from dying is a waste of effort. Anything is excusable (even, ironically, killing, provided the numbers come out on the plus side in the end) if it’s to prevent death. Harry’s agenda to understand magic, reform the Wizarding World, and prevent Voldemort’s return gradually morphs into a far less fun obsession with defeating death itself. And this isn’t played as something he’ll eventually learn is wrong (like Gilgamesh). Instead, Yudowsky shows how with his knowledge of rationality (and with a lot of help from Wizarding magic), Harry is bound to not only save the Wizarding World but to be the personification of the transhumanists’ singularity for everyone.

    Is that a typical position on death for capital-R Rationalists? Maybe in some cases, but generally not in my experience. I’ve encountered “I was fine for billions of years being unborn; why should I have a problem being dead?” far more frequently in rationalist, skeptical, atheist, and materialist circles. I might not have paid enough attention to the part of the story where Harry presents Yudkowsky’s rationalist argument for “I (and everyone else) should live forever” but it’s far from self-evident. It’s consistent with Yudkowsky’s materialism (there are materialist explanations for every Wizarding World phenomenon in HPMOR, including the talking ghosts) to decide that given there’s no soul and no afterlife, one might value continued life above everything in the world, but that doesn’t necessarily have to follow. Indeed, it’s a position I sometimes call naive materialism, a sort of Uncomfortable Valley where someone has followed the premises of materialism as far as “my physical self and the mind my brain gives rise to are all there is of me,” without going farther and asking, under strictly materialist assumptions mind you, what that mind is and how it must have come to be. (It didn’t come from your DNA, which means it’s not in the initial cellular structure of your brain. That only leaves one possibility for where it came from, which also makes it clear that certain things are illusory and death doesn’t mean what you might have thought it did, but few materialists think it through that far.)

  164. @JBucks #160 on the Psychology of “Control Issues”

    There might be a few different angles to come at the psychology of being controlling. Here are some that come to mind:

    1) The Big Five personality trait “conscientiousness”: The “Big Five” are a set of personality traits that have been pretty rigorously empirically arrived at by more than one method, and seem to apply cross-culturally (The full list is Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, Openness to Experience). “Conscientiousness” doesn’t just mean “you do what other people ask you to”, though that’s part of it, it seems to have more to do with how strongly you feel and value things being orderly and neat. Jordan Peterson and his lab (whose main area of academic research is actually personality) further splits each trait into two sub-traits, in the case of conscientiousness, those are “Orderliness” and “Industriousness”. Folks extremely high in orderliness get grossed out easily and are very concerned with making things “clean”. Hitler was extremely high in orderliness, to judge by the way he talked about the Jews and other things he didn’t like about the world – everything was a medical metaphor. So, folks high in conscientiousness are probably more likely to be “controlling” (“Get in your box where you belong, concept/person/thing!”). To learn more, Wikipedia has a pretty decent article, and if you want to go really in-depth, Jordan Peterson has a video lecture course called “Discovering Personality” that thoroughly covers each of the Big Five and their sub-traits.

    2) The Personality Disorders, especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Certain flavors of “controlling behavior” are more likely linked to personality disorders, or to folks who have tendencies towards those disorders without being full-on diagnosable. The one that most immediately comes to mind is Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Folks with NPD, or tendencies toward it, are very likely to be manipulative, but they primarily do so through emotions, by making other people feel bad for not doing what they want. Some of the other disorders, like Hypochondriac Disorder, show controlling behavior by things like being hyper-sensitive to presumed illnesses so that people around them will take care of them. You can find info on these on Wikipedia or blog posts all over the web, but if you’d prefer a book, “Emotional Vampires” by Albert J. Bernstein goes through Antisocial, Histrionic, Narcissistic, Obssessive-Compulsive, and Paranoid tendencies, being careful to show what someone with a full-blown disorder looks like, but also to show what tendencies in those directions look like in more normal people (in other words, it’s rare to encounter someone with a diagnosable case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but there are plenty of people who are some amount of narcissistic).

    3) Jungian: I don’t have as specific terms to give you here, but the analytical tradition would likely look at whatever area of life someone wants to be most controlling of and conclude that they are deeply afraid of that and/or that whatever they’re trying so hard to control embodies an aspect of their personality they cannot accept. Steroetypical example: a parent being over-controlling of how/when a child plays might be resentful that he doesn’t get to play, or totally out of touch with his sense of fun, or something of the sort. I don’t have a good specific source to point you to, but I’ve heard many folks recommend “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” as a good introduction to Jung.

    4) Transactional Analysis: Eric Berne’s school of Transactional Analysis (most famously presented in “Games People Play” and “Beyond Games and Scripts”) focuses on the patterns of behavior that folks get into as a group because those patterns mutually satisfy some kind of sub-conscious needs, even if the interaction is unhealthy and unhelpful. I can’t remember if he talks about people being controlling or not, but it would fit right in with his approach to look at a dynamic where one person is controlling and another is being controlled to ask “what are they both getting out of this? how are they both subconsciously contributing to this behavior continuing?” Maybe the person being controlled is, on some level, afraid of the responsibility of deciding for himself, so he seeks out controlling people to relieve him of that, but resents it the whole while.

    My apologies for such a long comment, but I hope that at least something in there gives you some fruitful paths to explore!

  165. Hi John Michael,

    I’m re-reading William Catton Jr’s book ‘Overshoot’. This may be my third reading. What surprised me from this re-reading, is that the book included a number of references to ecological thinkers at around the turn of the 20th century who were very concerned with the concept of limits. This of course around the same time period in which you are writing about in this essay, with the exception of the domed cities. 🙂

    Due to the coincidence of this timing, an odd insight popped into my head – Perhaps the sort of mindset required to disbelieve in limits, is also the same sort of mindset which can perform other sorts of acts of intellectual dishonesty? And we’ve discussed this before, but an alternative intellectual position of acceptance can kind of cast previous and future personal choices into a very poor light.

    A couple of decades ago I witnessed an astounding fraud. I was never really sure of what the perpetrator was thinking – and it was crazy easy to detect, despite the persons disbelief – but I wasn’t able to ask the person either, and so I often wondered whether it was some sort of slippery slope where they started small thinking that it wouldn’t matter and yet the acts got bigger. It certainly did matter and the person just didn’t count upon encountering a person (myself) who had a better understanding of the underlying realities. That was a really weird, but also quite fascinating experience.



  166. elkriver (no. 166), this makes it sound like murder or wife-beating are only pathological if I get caught / she escapes. Otherwise they would be functional, since they would be helping me achieve my desired relationship and behavioral outcomes.

    A. Karhukainen (no. 158) ‘And according to the company, “driving” such a thing does not even require pilot’s license.’

    I see no possible concerns here! I do sometimes wonder about the laws (and I assume there must be laws of some sort) covering the manufacture or piloting of homemade aircraft:

    David, by the lake (no. 155), this is kind of how I feel about sex robots.

  167. JMG, I’m reading Volume 1 but I am going to switch to On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason tomorrow because Schopenhauer refers to it many times in Volume 1 and you mentioned somewhere in the comments it’s key to his later works. I’m only 5 small sections in so it’s not a big deal to switch.

    Also, I realized after listening to a Tim Pool podcast with a rapper named RA the Ruggedman (this was mass psychosis embodied if anyone wants to look) that part of the drowning in ocean sensation stems from hearing ideas that are literally psychotic or emotional manipulation thinly disguised as reasoning. It doesn’t help that my discursive mind lags behind my being, especially when talking, which I’ve seen attributed to Mercury trailing the Sun in the natal chart. In many cases, I can’t make sense of things discursively until anywhere from minutes to hours later. It’s annoying because I can quickly intuit when things are wrong but I have to wait a while to process it. It’s something I hope to eventually rectify.

  168. JMG said:
    “Sgage, keep in mind that a meter stick doesn’t change its length just because the speed of light varies.”

    Actually since c (the speed of light) is one of the fundamental constants, the meter would change – independent of how we define it.
    c, like other constants are involved in every single equation that explain the nuclear reactions in the stars for example. So we should be able to see the difference simply by looking at distant stars and galaxies.

    That being said, there is definitely something going on in regard with the well-known constants. Read about the “Pioneer anomaly” or the fact that most galaxies rotate faster than they should based on their mass (explained away by inventing dark matter) or even something as simple as sonoluminescence (

    It would take a brave physicist to collect all these together and at least allow people to judge the possible explanations – instead most books ignore them altogether.

  169. Another strike against William James is that he took pains to write in such a way that he could be understood by any reasonably intelligent, reasonable attentive person. I mean, who did he think he was?!

  170. @ Scotlyn

    It’s been a while since I read James but I think he would agree with you on the personal nature of philosophy. In fact, I recall him saying that a person’s philosophy is one of the most interesting things about them. There is a similar idea in Nietzsche where he frames philosophy as being a “confession” by the philosopher. That is certainly a big step down from the grandiose ideas of godlike knowledge but it is a human (all too human) sized appreciation of what is possible.

    I wonder if philosophy is a little like fashion. There are some people who claim not to care about fashion (usually men). Nevertheless, when you put clothes on you are “doing fashion” whether you like it or not. Similarly, if you have ideas, you are “doing philosophy” whether you like it or not.

  171. @ Purple Tortoise re #96

    Your account of your visual experiences brings back a memory of something which happened a number of years ago to me. I was driving along Interstate 93 (northbound) crossing the border from New Hampshire into Vermont. This area which crosses the Connecticut River is called the Styles Bridges Highway and offers a view extending nearly a mile. (You can access it on Google Maps to get a sense of what I saw)

    On this particular day, I was driving along and scanning ahead on the road, I saw far in the distance a black flapping object on the highway which I at first took to be a crow in the road. However, it didn’t move about and as I drew closer, I could see it wasn’t a bird. So my brain immediately perceived it as an injured animal in the road struggling in agony. I think my brain based this on a previous trip where I had passed by a dead deer struck by a truck, its smashed body still in the road. After this horrifying perception, I drew yet closer and was able to see that wasn’t what it was either. It was as if my brain was thumbing through a Rolodex trying to come up with the ‘right’ image for what I was seeing. It wasn’t until I actually passed by it that I saw it for what it was: a black garbage bag which had fallen off a vehicle and burst open, the black plastic flapping in the breeze.

    If I ever needed a good example of how our brains recognize what our eyes pick up, this was it. We can only recognize things based on what we have previously seen. And yes, you can get some pretty disconcerting results from this kludgy process.

  172. @Griff (#179):

    “All models are wrong, but many models are useful … some of them are even useful to the same degree.” — Polyexegy!

  173. @Scotlyn,

    I really love your response! I think the idea of developing relationships with whatever you or I might encounter makes a lot of sense, and it sums up nicely the difficulty of knowing the outside world, because it really is like trying to know another person. How do you ever know another person from the inside? I really like that your approach demands respect and mutuality.

    And just for fun, I do have a stash of essential oils, so maybe it’s possible for perception to be wrong and right at the same time? Haha

    Jessi Thompson

    PS the name “anotheramethyst” came from me struggling against the web to create a unique user name. Since so many variations of “amethyst” were taken, I jokingly put in “another amethyst” and hilariously, by succumbing to the sea of other amethysts I stumbled upon a username so unique that I’ve never had to make a new username. When my username is taken it means I’ve been to that site before… I think of it as a lesson in humility and its unexpected rewards. By acknowledging I am not unique I took the road less traveled.

  174. I’ve just run across the writings of Eamonn Fingleton, an Irish writer on economic affairs. He’s recently (that is, in the last 20 years) written about the (economic) decline of the West (which makes him relevant), though he asserts that our decline is the result of Asian ascent. First Japan, and the China, were ignored, then underestimated, then misrepresented by just about everyone who expected to make a profit on doing business with (and in) Asia. I’m about 50 pages into “In the Jaws of the Dragon” (2008).

    Fingleton, in a blog essay, draws an unexpected line from the rise of Japanese shipbuilding to The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Shipbuilding was once a major industry, and a major EXPORT industry for Ireland, but Japan, Inc., decided to cultivate its own and put the Irish out of the business with no good substitutes for the displaced workers. So, they fought each other!

    Our discussion of “truth” and “reality” shows that the task is hard enough, without international competitors engaging in campaigns of illusions and lies to promote their mercantile interests. If you can’t really know what’s going on in your own dining room, how can you make sense of your job being sent off-shore?

  175. @jbucks,

    There are probably a lot of different answers to that question. I’ve been dealing with issues relating to abusive relationships and intergenerational trauma and stumbled across some interesting work on complex ptsd and how it relates to personality disorders. Specifically learning about emotional flashbacks can help a lot when someone feels the overwhelming need to control the actions of another person (usually their significant other).

    Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker has been particularly helpful so far. I suspect the approach could help treat the “untreatable” personality disorders.

    The need to control your environment is a different category, I would look at anxiety disorders first for that.

    Jessi Thompson

  176. @Brendhelm and JMG,

    To offer yet another invisible limit (this one I learned from reading Gail Tverberg’s blog)

    Because of rising energy costs and inflation, it becomes harder and harder for employers across society to pay a living wage to low skill workers. They simply can’t afford it. If she’s right about this, the fast food restaurants and gas stations may not be able to afford the wages workers now demand. Theoretically, this period of rising wages could lead to business closures, inflation, and other negative effects before our economy finds a new equilibrium.

    Jessi Thompson

  177. Archdruid,

    Oof, if that’s the case most of these folk are going to be marching to their graves with their senses telling them they’re living in the promised land.

    Simon S.,

    Man I know the feeling. When I was a stoner I would spend most of my time drifting in my own reality, when I came out of my stoned phase I was never able to manifest any of my plans. Actually I see that trend with the media. We endlessly talk about the need for a “just the facts” news network, literally every alt-news and academic discourse on every side of the political scene talks about this pressing need…but no one actually just gets down starts working on it, even people with an actual audience.


    That’s going to be an extreme example for sure. I’m still waiting to see how much of the management class gets stuck in that little trap, either way they’re out of our way when they do!



  178. Greg, thanks for this. The music metaphor works.

    Robert, that makes a great deal of sense. I may have to put some work in getting my reading knowledge of German up to speed.

    Walt, that’s the great argument in favor of Kant’s insistence that there really is a Ding an sich. We can’t know its true nature, but we can find regularities among our experiences that really do make much more sense if we assume there’s a world out there.

    Naej-Neiviv, I wish my French wasn’t purely a reading knowledge!

    Copper, welcome to human history, 😉

    Griff, I think NYC stopped being the future a long time ago. Now it’s a ruined city of the fading past that hasn’t quite finished collapsing in on itself. Lodges are thriving, interestingly enough, in other places…

    Chris, it was easy to think of limits at the beginning of the 20th century. Coal was beginning to run short and petroleum was still mostly a source of lamp oil, and of course the major empires of the day were already well into decline. As for the possible connection between the fantasy of limitlessness and more general kinds of fraud, hmm! That makes sense.

    Griff, that’ll certainly work.

    Youngelephant, I’d recommend it. The Fourfold Root is not as well written — it’s a typical first book, with the usual flaws — but it makes some very important points. As for the sense of drowning in an ocean of psychosis, well, yes — that’s why I mostly read books by dead people.

    NomadicBeer, it doesn’t matter if the formal definition of the meter changes. The physical objects called “meter sticks” don’t — and that’s an example of one of the ways we notice changes in inconstant constants. If the second were to change length, say, any of our clocks that don’t depend on cesium atoms would drift out of time with those that do. As for the anomalies — well, yes. Science is crawling with them these days!

    Thomas, very true! It’s one of the things that endears James to me — the man could write clearly, which tells me he wasn’t just shoveling smoke. You can’t write clearly unless you can think clearly.

    Lathechuck, I’ll have to read Fingleton as time permits. He’s very likely correct. It’s worth remembering that before the age of European colonial expansion, the great Asian nations were the richest countries on Earth and Europe was a cold and soggy backwater; the poverty of Asia in the recent past was a function of European colonial powers stripping the whole continent to the bare walls. Now that that’s over, and the major Asian economies are recovering, the shift in global wealth back to Asia is having traumatic effects all across the western world.

    Jessi, that’s also an important factor. Most of what we think of as a normal economy is no longer economically viable once growth ends and energy-driven contraction begins, and so a great many things that are currently done by way of the money economy will either go away, or will have to be provided by some other means, in the centuries ahead.

    Varun, I know. That’s a very common event in the decline and fall of civilizations.

  179. @JMG I think that one of the greatest revelations of 20th century physics is that the universe is fundamentally non-deterministic in some aspects.

    @NomadicBeer #182
    I agree with your post

  180. @Jessi Thompson #189 @JMG
    “Because of rising energy costs and inflation, it becomes harder and harder for employers across society to pay a living wage to low skill workers”.
    McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski: Total Compensation $10.8 Million
    Burger King CEO José Cil: Total Compensation $20.1 Million
    Yum Foods CEO David Gibbs: Total Compensation $14.6 Million
    (Yum Foods owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC)

  181. Jessi Thompson (no. 187), “Since so many variations of “amethyst” were taken…”

    I blame “Steven Universe.”

  182. I like science. It is such a learning experience.

    The Soviet scientists wanted cotton, so they got the Aral lake.
    The Western scientists wanted to put people to sleep, so they found chirality in talidomid.
    The Global scientists wanted new kewl mRNA injections so they threw all other scientific inquiry out with the drowned baby and followed the one and only road to salvation. Only some of the consequences are to this date known.

    Just a reminder that science performed by humans are not infallible, on the contrary. Especially when lucrative contracts and government immunity is granted on the horizon.

  183. You are right that the PMC did solve many problems, I kind of like (or liked – past tense) the Swedish welfare state.

    The irony is that the PMC (at least in Sweden) might have been more long lived, had they either continued as before (traditional Social Democracy) and/or listened to *some* of the complaints from the shop floor. But naah, they just had to give us the neo-liberal/left-liberal/globalist neo-PMC hybrid we´re suffering today. Open borders, weird gender ideology, vaccine mandates, soon mandatory electric cars perhaps?

    Much preferred the paleo-PMC, give or take a few foibles. At least they didn´t throw the working class under the bus. As soon as that happened, well, let´s just say many workers aren´t too keen on Social Democracy anymore!

    Of course, even a New Deal-ish PMC would eventually have gotten into trouble (due to the energy crisis), but it´s always easier to manage a transition if the elites and the people aren´t locked in a virtual civil war…

  184. Btw, do you have any ideas about what kind of new elites will replace the PMC? Is there even a traditional bourgeoisie today? Or are they too closely hybridized with the PMC? Some kind of non-PMC-ish state officials?

  185. JMG,
    I read in Simply Wittgenstein, a brilliant, accessible exposition of his philosophy, that one of his (Ludwig Wittgenstein’s) favorite books was William James’s Varieties of Religious Experiences, and that’s saying a lot since he didn’t read much. Another of his favorites was St. Augustine. Unlike Wittgenstein, I’m an inveterate, besotted reader, and I very much enjoyed reading Santayana’s, who was a colleague at Harvard of William James, they both taught in the philosophy department, portrait of James in his gnomic, ironic autobiography, Persons and Places. Santayana also met William’s brother, the Wittgensteinian/Phenomenological novelist, Henry, and has catty things to say. Fascinating reading. Of course, nowadays, Santayana is a has-been. No one reads his actual works. For myself, his autobiography is enough.

  186. Regarding self-referential models: I can’t think of a more beautiful example than modern architecture. A central feature of its ethos is explicitly self-referential in that it states that architecture should only be judged within itself, i.e. according to specific criteria in the architectural canon.

    In other words a statement like ”this building makes most people feel anxious” is meaningless for someone who has adopted this system, which includes most architects and their acolytes. This explains the light-hearted disdain expressed by members of this cult when confronted with the fact that nearly every non-architect finds their work abhorrent; it is simply irrelevant!

    What is truly remarkable to me is that the inmates of this bubble have actually alienated themselves from some very fundamental aspects of being human and more broadly, from being a part of the natural world. The way we react to our environment, be it built-up or not, has very little to do with personal ”taste” and very much to do with deep primordial feelings encoded within us as biological beings. That a doctrinal system can override such fundamental properties is astonishing.

    But, accepting this, it should come as no surprise that our built environment looks the way it looks. The architectural bubble is but a subsystem of a subsystem which itself has lost all touch with reality (the dominant worldview founded on the myth of progress). So our buildings then just mirror the soul of industrial civilization and to me it’s beginning to feel like it could never have been any other way. How could a civilization that regards itself separate from nature produce anything but alienating ”unnatural” structures?

  187. All (except JMG!) –

    It’s time for my semi-annual observation that the Solstices are a convenient schedule to drop some money into this blog’s tip jar. If you got some value out of reading the last six months, encourage the author in the most sincere way I can think of. Money may be an illusion, and fiat money a fraud, but those are not reasons to avoid sharing it.

  188. Reading crime noir and pulp fiction has given me a different take on philosophy and reality. In these genres, ordinary people are doing extraordinary things to keep themselves safe. Crime noir especially has ordinary people resorting to violence to work things out. However, they have this point of view of dark realism, that what is is.

    I was reading the “Black Fedora” by B.C. Bell, Phillip Drayer Duncan, Kevin Paul Shaw Broden, a recent pulp novel with three short stories. The focus was on the people with the black hats.

    From the blurb:
    “The Anthology For When The Good Guys aren’t Good Enough is here! BLACK FEDORA from Pro Se Productions throws the spotlight on those in the shadows, the other half of every great story- The Villain. Welcome to the dark side. Within this book you will find stories where the hero is the villain and one person’s crime is another person’s glory.”

    Actually, that sums up how I perceive the times we are in. That one person’s crime is another person’s glory. We do live in the shadows and in the dark sides of things. Problem is that all these people who want shiny cities and flying cars do not understand that without the dark, you do not know what “light” is.

  189. @ Bei Dawei #180, you wrote: “this makes it sound like murder or wife-beating are only pathological if I get caught / she escapes. Otherwise they would be functional, since they would be helping me achieve my desired relationship and behavioral outcomes.”

    As with everything human, the concept of something being functional vs pathological lies on a continuum. There’s pathology (say, serial killing) and there’s functional (such as, soldiers killing in battle). Dead people result from either situation, yet moral, religious, and legal concepts decry one and sanction the other.

    It looks like your example may be mistaking psychology for religion, morality, or law. Psychology seeks to *explain* human mental processes, not to judge the rightness or wrongness of those processes. CLINICAL psychology, is the branch of the larger field of psychology that concerns itself with changing human behaviors away from pathological toward functional. It’s success rate, overall, has been pretty low.

  190. @JorisKarl (#199):

    Sanatyana also painted a second, very insightful picture of William James and his brother Henry in a lecture he gave at the University of California in Berkeley in 1911: “The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy.” (University of California Chronicle, vol. 13, no. 4, which journal is available online.) The household in which the James brothers grew up was a Swedenborgian one, which goes a very long way to accounting for William’s wonderful openness to unorthodox religiosity and psychical research.

    Santayana was also a keen observer of the wide-spread California pantheism of his day, and he has something to say about that as well in the same lecture. He was friends with Porter Garnett, who is now even more forgotten than he, and he appreciated Garnett’s pantheistic drama of the same year, “The Green Knight: A Vision.” (Also available online.)

  191. Griff at #179

    Even better, models aren’t wrong, they’re models. Some have more predictive power than others.

    I find this line of thought very liberating. I have realized it intellectually for decades. After twenty or so years of meditation practice (and an ecstatic trance session or two) I have begun to realize this in a visceral way, in a second nature kind of way.

    Thomas Parker at #183

    That is the sad truth. William James is really easy to follow and dare I say fun to read. David Hume does this well too. I really wish more philosophers could mix a quarter of the humor Hume weaves into his discussion. Then you get Kant: a writing style for people who find linear algebra textbooks too thrilling of a read. Or Heidegger which reads like obscurity for the sake of obscurity.

  192. Stellarwind, true. The thing that fascinates me is that so few people, even in the sciences, have drawn any of the obvious conclusions from this.

    Science, well, there’s that!

    Tidlösa, no question, the managerial elite did some good, back before they became hopelessly corrupt and incompetent. That’s true of most ruling aristocracies. As for what will replace them, Spengler suggests that it’ll be charismatic leaders backed by the masses — Caesarism, in his terms.

    JorisKarl, Santayana’s one on my get-to list.

    Tommy, that’s a fine example. Notice the political dimensions of architectural self-referentiality — it’s not just detached from the world everyone else inhabits, it’s actively hostile to anything that the rest of us find beautiful or useful, since it’s by distancing yourself as far as possible from beauty and utility that you show your loyalty to your own caste.

    Lathechuck, thanks for this — well, of course, for both of these.

    Neptunesdolphins, not at all. Why do you think the people who think they’re in favor of shining cities go out of their way to support policies that maximize poverty and misery?

  193. Almost two decades ago, back when I was a professional philosopher (thank the gods I bailed on that job!) I got a paper published. Google Christopher Smith, Social Epistemology, Contextualism and the Division of Labour (Social Epistemology is a British journal thus the ‘Labour’).

    My idea was to stop looking at knowledge as some sort of attempt to reach The Truth or as a natural kind, but to look at knowledge in terms of how we use it. The theory I proposed was that knowledge is a designation we use to tell one another who is competent to do what. We say Bob knows how to fix a car because if you take your car to Bob, he will probably be able to fix it competently. Similarly if I say I know how to cook lasagna (and I do!), you can rely on my lasagna being good when I serve it up.

    One problem with academic philosophy, particularly so-called analytic philosophy, is that knowledge gets reduced to knowing which propositions are true. Propositions are just statements capable of being true or false, like “the cat is on the mat” (she either is or she isn’t) and “2+2=5” (false, but that it is capable of being false makes it a proposition). One should stop here and consider that this is a very narrow way to construe knowledge, but that is where contemporary analytic philosophy went. And we wonder why philosophy departments are dying.

    The classic formulation of this is you know a proposition when (1) it is true, (2) you believe it, and (3) you are justified in believing it. (Anyone familiar with Edmund Gettier should be having a chuckle right about now; followed by a frown for actually knowing about this stuff.)

    Regardless, I applied my idea to propositional knowledge. I wrote that when we say Bob knows a proposition (e.g. Bob knows the cat is on the mat) what we are doing is telling our audience that the cat is on the mat and that we can rely on this being true because Bob did the work to verify that it is true. Maybe Bob went and checked the mat for a cat, maybe he asked someone who he could rely on about the status of the cat and whether or not she was on the mat. In the end though, we are just using knowledge to tell someone that a proposition is true and you can rely on it being true because someone did some competent work to verify it.

    In other words, maybe our model of knowledge as being about capital T the Truth is not so great of a model for understanding what we are actually doing.

  194. One thing about domed cities – as a reality, not a metaphor – is that you never get to breathe fresh air, only the endlessly recycled and processed air of a semi-closed system. You never get to feel the wind in your hair, or smell the hard mineral smell of rain in a desert, or the rich earthy smell of rain in a wetter climate. The changing of the seasons becomes meaningless, and if you ever get a glimpse of the moon and the stars, you’re extremely lucky. In short, it’s a space station, a habitat, a people-zoo (apologies to to day’s zoo-keepers!), The Radiance’s wet dream.

    I would dearly love to see the mental health statistics for this Jetsons-timeline community.

  195. Hi John Michael,

    Hmm. Thinking about limits is one thing, but backing away from the implications of that understanding at a cultural level is a far more serious matter. And it looks like a fraud to me, even if undertaken with the best of intentions.

    Mr Greer, I can’t make this stuff up: Australian AdBlue manufacturer charters planes ready to fly in emergency urea as diesel additive crisis continues.

    A preview into the future – Yeah, we’ve got this covered, but it’s gonna cost ya!



  196. @stellarwind 194: I completely agree with you that those incomes are obscene. However, dividing $10.8 million (McDonalds CEO) by 218 000 employees (a number I found for 2018) gives an increase of about $50 per year per employee, or little more than $4 per month.

    Of course, the greater picture would involve paying less to all managers, not just the CEO, in order to increase the hourly pay of the employees. I haven’t tried to estimate that, but it is entirely possible that even if all people at McDonalds, from burger flipper to branch manager to CEO, gained exactly the same income, that it would still be too low to motivate people to work there. If it isn’t now, it will be at some point in the future when energy becomes even more expensive. I think that was JMG’s point, and the inevitable consequence is that people will have to cook more at home and buy less ready-made food.

  197. Hi JMG,
    On Bernardo Kastrup
    Have read a couple of his books and found the analogies kind of took over on occasion. I think he was aware on this so next went the academic route and that’s where I left him.
    Very clever, very earnest and so far seems to have failed to sell idealism to the materialists, no matter how technical his attempts:
    Given his most recent two books, at this point it looks like he’s getting more philosophical about it all!
    (Here all week)


    For those who do videos, a short TED talk by an anthropologist about how language shapes reality. Relevant to JMG´s posting and Robert Mathiesen´s comments earlier on the thread. Mentions the Russian language. Note also the comment that most cognitive studies are made on American undergraduates! Who are not like most people…

  199. Chris S, fascinating. I’m going to look that essay of yours up when I have the time.

    Patricia M, yes, there’s that!

    Chris at F, it is indeed a fraud, and it’s going to cost ’em!

    Jay, of course he won’t sell idealism to materialists — the difference is a matter of will, in Schopenhauer’s sense, rather than one of representation. He may still be interesting to read.

  200. @ Chris Smith

    What if half the cat is on half the mat? Is the statement “the cat is on the mat” true?

    Sounds like a frivolous question except that is the question we have all the time in IT work. Any good software tester knows the bugs are at what are called “edge cases” such as at what proportion the cat ceases to be “on the mat” and is therefore now “off the mat”. Because computers are machines, the decision one way or another causes a cascading series of effects which often lead to counterintuitive outcomes (bugs).

    The statement “the cat is on the mat” also raises the questions which cat? and which mat? Human language is always context based and so we assume that both the audience and the speaker who understand this proposition have already agreed on which cat and which mat. But, again, in software development a very common source of bugs was that somebody thought it was Cat A and somebody else thought it was Mat B. Whoops, now you have another bug.

    In software, we used to write huge specification documents that amounted to a set of propositions and hand that to programmers to turn into code. That method always led to a huge number of bugs. Nowadays, it is accepted that a better way is just to put everybody together in the same place and let them talk and interact so that the context is understood by everybody.

  201. @Stellarwind and Aldarion,

    That’s certainly the point I was trying to make. Yes, CEOs are absolutely overpaid, and I agree that if things were more egalitarian it would solve many problems. However, it’s not enough to solve the problem I am talking about, which is Limits to Growth. To take the exercise further, money can be increased without limit, but goods and services can’t. So as we pay workers more, they want to buy more things. Costs rise and more goods are produced… until you hit the limit of say, how many apples you can grow. Then the prices rise until demand falls, not because people don’t want apples but because people can’t afford apples. We appear to be very close to peak production of goods and services right now. The labor shortage today may be today’s equivalent to the moment that ancient Rome’s farmers started quitting en masse.

    Downsizing is an excellent idea for both individuals and society right now. Our host has repeatedly mentioned that as things decline, we could bring back stability by jettisoning useless and resource intensive parts of the economy. For example, we could buy some time if financial trading suddenly stopped feeding a parasitic investment class. Cutting CEO pay won’t make much difference (but it will feel good), but removing entire sections of the rentier class from their parasitic livelihoods can make a difference, for a little while. As we use more resources, and production continues to decline, we will have to cut more and more from our society (and many of those cuts will be things we things we want to keep) if we want to make a conscious soft landing wherever we bottom out. The more likely scenario, unfortunately, is not a conscious, managed descent, but a haphazard societal collapse that falls much further than it ever had to.

    @Chris at Fernglade

    I’m really starting to think the Onion should close up shop and start doing serious journalism. They really won’t have to change their writing style much at all.

    Jessi Thompson

  202. @Elkriver

    “Pathological control can be found among sociopaths and psychopaths — both defined as lacking in empathy for their fellow humans. Control for a sociopath means ordering their world, no matter the cost to others. For a psychopath, though, it means something akin to emotional satisfaction coming at the expense of others. Both are considered personality disorders that CANNOT be fixed. They are who they are.”

    Societies would have to evolve ways to keep them out of power or destroy them.

    Societies that fail to do this ends up with piles of corpses like what happened in the Khmer Rouge.

  203. “Info, no, you’re missing the point. We can’t compare our abstractions with reality because we have no access to reality. All we can do is compare our abstract models of reality with other models given to us by the ramshackle gimmickry of the senses, and see if they conflict or not. That’s why no scientific theory is ever proved — it’s merely not disproved.”

    In a sense you are right.

    But senses all share commonalities in what they experience and what happens to us because of said perception is in accordance with our perceptions.

    Therefore we should surely share the same reality which are knowable in a limited sense

    For example gravity pulls us down. Certainly our senses are measuring the same thing in perceiving the same downward force towards the earth. But in imperfect ways. Its ramsackle but certainly it is accurate enough to serve its purposes in its own limited way.

    Making correctives to abstract models of reality by way of Scientific method possible.

    Certainly reality is knowable in some sense otherwise we have to doubt everything including our own existence.

    If we have no true access to reality at least in our plane of existence. How do we know we aren’t in a Simulation and our Brains are in a Vat?

  204. Hey hey JMG,

    So Neil deGrasse Tyson is picking on philosophy? I suppose it is to be expected that the universal expert needs a whipping boy when the residents of his secular universe misbehave. I think that the problem here isn’t so much that he has mistaken the map for the territory. The problem is that he only has one map.

    Someone summed up philosophy elegantly and concisely (was it you JMG?) as “what you do before you do anything else.” Meaning one’s fundamental approach to the world. Do you trust the mind or the senses, zen out and go with the flow or follow your convictions regardless of the consequences; do you need to map the world onto an ordered framework or can you just revel in the absurdity of it all?

    Tyson thinks that a lot of otherwise useful brain power is being wasted on philosophy when it could be put to better use advancing human knowledge. He thinks this because his one map puts philosophy under the heading “pursuit of knowledge” and since that pursuit hasn’t yielded any scientific dividends in decades it has been wasted.

    I don’t think that he realizes he has staked out a philosophical position that regards all other philosophies as invalid and misguided in much the same way that a monotheist regards other religions as invalid and misguided. In short, his one map is his philosophy, a Faustian understanding of the world that has reduced all human endeavors to mile markers on a road from monkeys swinging through trees to man conquering the universe through reductionist empiricism. Put in terms that he would understand philosophy is orthogonal to his objective function.

    It’s not surprising that Neil deGrasse Tyson, science communicator, is the standard bearer for our time. He is affable, avuncular, and media savvy, though not particularly articulate or precise he does manage to get his message across in a “you get the gist of this” hand wavy fashion. There are a number of physicists who are more articulate and precise; Einstein would have had more poignant commentary and Feinman would have had clearer analogies. It is both fitting and tragic he and his one map are the public face of science for our age.

    It is also ironic and a bit sad that the plethora of experts our society calls upon to address the issues of the day are really all experts in the same thing, the one map, the exhausted notional space of Faustian philosophy, the universal expert. Sad because expertise in a particular area used to be known as a sphere of thought.

    A sphere of thought is a pretty easy concept to grasp. A person might believe in psychology, western medicine, acupuncture, physics, and astrology, but that person wouldn’t go to their acupuncturist to fix their car’s transmission any more than they would want their GP looking at a diagram of a person’s meridians when setting a broken bone. Similarly a person would be better served consulting their astrologer or psychologist than their physicist over matters of the heart.

    It’s not so much that a physicist’s interpretation of emotional matters is wrong, but rather it is fundamentally outside of their purview. The physicist’s map of the heart isn’t a bad map per se. It is well suited to understand the fluid dynamics of blood flow, the electrochemical nature of neurons, and the mechanics of a compression pump.
    It just isn’t relevant to the matter at hand.


  205. I don’t really have a problem with models-are-everything. Pretty much all the critters have this feature, it’s just hoomans that are aware of it.

    I guess the next relevant question is how do you rank the different models, or you can fall into the Postmodern swamp and claim that all models are equally valid. Hey, those are meta-models. I wonder how far you can go.

    And models-are-everything does neatly explain how people can go from “believe what I say and not what your eyes tell you”. A nasty problem that seems keep cropping up over and over again. It’s not a bug – it’s a feature.

  206. @JMG @Walt @Tsuzua & @Reese:

    Thank you for all of your thoughts. It’s good to hear stories of having come through the Rationalist movement, and interesting to hear that many of them are not quite as death-phobic (thanatophobic?) as Yudkowski’s lot.

    The application of the Rationalists’ own methods to their treasured beliefs seems to be the way to go about escaping the worst excesses of the movement. My friend showed this Rationalist acquaintance of ours some solid scientific evidence for psi phenomena, which the Rationalist dismissed by saying that, if it were true, someone would have “munchkinned” it by now (a D&D term that refers to exploiting some particular set of rules to maximise an outcome for oneself). So, in other words, he couldn’t find a way to fault the evidence itself, so he had to find an indirect route to dismiss the pesky bit of evidence that didn’t it in with his philosophy.

    And yes, they do seem to have some very weird views on gods and spirits – tulpamancy is quite popular amongst that crowd, apparently.

  207. @Simon S – Thank you. Yes. Three cheers for a human-sized notion of what a human can know, and do. As I always say, our scope in both is small (perhaps tiny), but nonetheless real ENOUGH to never be entirely disregarded, nor reneged upon…

    As to fashion, well…

    “I wonder if philosophy is a little like fashion. There are some people who claim not to care about fashion (usually men). Nevertheless, when you put clothes on you are “doing fashion” whether you like it or not. Similarly, if you have ideas, you are “doing philosophy” whether you like it or not.”

    Perhaps what people most people think of as “fashion” is – that which you find attractive enough to try to copy or imitate. Fashion in that case becomes about “following” – and there are good “followers of fashion”, and those who are in some sense its “leaders” – ie “trendsetters” – and finally, those like myself, who certainly wear clothes, but picture ourselves somewhat off to one side, where we neither lead nor follow. Which, of course, does not mean we are as “fashion-free” as we might fancy. 😉

    But, then, just now, the ability to step sideways and not follow the fashions and trends of the times may turn out to be a fair survival trait…

  208. @stellarwind72 #193 @JMG #207
    Once, years ago, after a bizarre interaction with a desk lamp (inanimate objects may not have personalities but I think that sometimes they think they do) the thought came to me that “it’s all happening somewhere all the time” and that reality is most certainly not what we think it is. Your posts brought this experience back to me.

    Thanks to JMG and the fellowship here for keeping this port in the sea of chaos open.


    Jeff(surfing the flows)inWA

  209. Hello JMG, do I correctly sense a heavy James Burnham influence in this post, or am I imagining things?

  210. JMG,

    Thank you for this article. I am glad that someone is finally confronting Steiner’s epistemology in relation to Kant. Most philosophers arent even aware of this challenge. It could at least be a good springboard for deeper discussion.

    That being said… this was not a promising start at all.

    JMG: “He even showed that space and time as we experience them are products of human consciousness, not “out there” in the world.”

    This quote aove already implies a dualism, i.e. “products of human consciousness” cannot also mean the content of the objective Reality. That is a clear reflection of the Cartesian mind/matter divide that Kant also subconsciously imported into this epistemology and has practically been with us ever since, save for a few thinkers such as Steiner. There is no logical warrant for assuming this divide from the outset and it throws off all subsequent reasoning through what it means to “know” the noumenal Reality.

    The evolution of cognition is also being ignored entirely, which was understandable for Kant, but is not anymore, especially after Steiner, Barfield, Gebser, Jung Teilhard de Chardin, Auribindo, and others have documented it so extensively. Rational intellect was last cognitive mode to develop and it will be first to go as imaginative cognition blossoms. So you also reified the limitations of his abstract intellect, which humanity has only been with since the 15-16th cenutries, into that of the Cosmos at large and practically for all people and all time, just like Kant. This is a naive realism of cognition – it is implicitly claimed that what immediately appears to be the way humanity cognizes the world is actually the essence of cognition itself.

    All of these philosophers, and Steiner especially, understood that abstract space and linear time do not directly reflect the underlying Reality. The question is whether our Thinking can trace back the relations from which space-time and spatiotemporal symbols were abstracted from. You inadvertently admit this is possible and therefore Kant was in error when saying, “there are doubtless things analogous to space-time”. Your own thinking activity has already gone beyond the ‘impenetrable veil’ of the phenomenal world to perceive the analogy which marries phenomena and noumena, which is supposed to be impossible under Kant’s epistemology. Emerson summed it up when he wrote,

    “Space, time, society, labor, climate, food, locomotion, the animals, the mechanical forces, give us sincerest lessons, day by day, whose meaning is unlimited. They educate both the Understanding and the Reason. Every property of matter is a school for the understanding,— its solidity or resistance, its inertia, its extension, its figure, its divisibility. The understanding adds, divides, combines, measures, and finds nutriment and room for its activity in this worthy scene. Meantime, Reason transfers all these lessons into its own world of thought, by perceiving the analogy that marries Matter and Mind.”

    – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1836)

  211. JMG: “That was also why Rudolf Steiner, whose ideas we’ll be discussing in future posts, launched his career with a volume, The Philosophy of Freedom, in which he tried to prove that thinking really could grasp the objective truth about the world. It was a gallant attempt, and he carried it out about as well as anyone could have done, but it didn’t work. He had the good sense to turn in other directions thereafter.”

    When asked what book he would save if there was a fire and he could only save one, Steiner said PoF. This cocrete understanding of what it means to “know” the World Content is at the base of the Christ-impulse unfolding in the 5th Post-Atlantean epoch and therefore absolutely critical for the rest of Steiner’s spiritual scientific research. It is simply incorrect to suggest that he abandoned the phenomenology of perception-cognition to pursue his spiritual science. I am happy to explain further for anyone interested.

  212. Jessi Thompson, I can remember when burger joints were local affairs and chains of such establishments extended into several counties or maybe a few states but not nationwide. Those joints were often distinguished by wild and weird retail architecture, the ultimate in vulgar excess in their day, but which weathered into a kind of retro charm in later decades. About 10 years ago a giant orange could be seen along HWY 99 in CA north of Fresno. Those establishments hired and sourced locally. Then Ray Croc and his imitators muscled in with their well funded economies of scale and we know the rest.

    “…removing entire sections of the rentier class from their parasitic livelihoods can make a difference…” Do you have a plan? A place to start would passage of UBI, combined with rent controls, and taking the place of the so called “welfare” beaurocracies, and reassigning the social workers to places like schools where more help is needed. Good luck getting anything of the kind through congress or any legislature.

  213. Awakening Soul, you typed: “Rational intellect was last cognitive mode to develop and it will be first to go as imaginative cognition blossoms.” How do you know this?

    Furthermore. in the following sentence I read “…abstract intellect, which humanity has only been with since the 15-16th cenutries,…” Been with?? What does that mean? Is the account of evolution of cognition to which you refer not a bit Eurocentric? Please explain. I for one have no reasonable access to any of the writers you mention. I have read some literary criticism by Owen Barfield, but in general, Tolkien is the only one of the Inklings for whom I have ever had much use. As for Jung, one hears such different accounts one hardly knows what to think. In general, I think there is much of late 19th and early 20th century speculation, including Freud, Marx, and possibly Jung which simply needs to be left behind.

  214. Info, that’s the standard naive realist viewpoint. As epistemologists have been pointing out for a very long time, however, mistaking the phenomena of experience for reality lands you in a galaxy of insoluble quandaries. Are the phenomena of experience consistent enough in some contexts that we can predict repeating patterns and manipulate one set of phenomena to produce another set pretty reliably? Of course, but nobody’s disagreeing with that. As for brains in a vat, notice that “brains” and “vat” are again phenomena of experience. What if the actual reality is nothing so comprehensible to us? That’s what the quantum physicists have been saying for a century now…

    Tim, it wasn’t my phrase, but it’s a good one. As for the rest, no arguments there.

    Owen, good. Ranking the models, and deciding which models are more or less useful for which purposes, is indeed the next step.

    Luke, you’re most welcome. I have to admit that rationalists creating tulpas strikes me as one of the funniest things I’ve heard about all year.

    Phil S, I’m not at all familiar with James Burnham. Can you direct me to a good source?

    Awakening, if by “promising” you mean accepting the truth of everything Steiner said, yes, you’re going to be disappointed, but then I never promised that. I consider Steiner’s work to be brilliant but flawed, and as I see it, his rejection of Kant’s insights into the relation of appearance and reality (not “mind and matter”) is one of the reasons his ideas are flawed. As for the rest, you seem to be jumping to a galaxy of unwarranted conclusions; I’ll be discussing the evolution of consciousness, though I disagree sharply with the frankly dubious linear models the thinkers you’ve named have imposed on the evolutionary process, and I’m not suggesting that Steiner abandoned the phenomenology of perception and cognition — quite the contrary, with the beginning of his Theosophical phase he took it in a new and immensely promising direction, one that deserves far more attention and development than it’s received. The mere fact that Steiner made some mistakes in that process is normal in so pioneering a venture, and simply means that much more work is needed.

    Patricia M, old news. Very old news.

    Bucintoro, I saw that. I’ll look forward to reading it.

  215. An essay framed around William James written by a druid that doesn’t mention The Varieties of Religious Experience?! Curious about your opinion of that work.

  216. Hi JMG, many thanks for the post.

    A bit off-topic but a judge of the 6th circuit has dissolved the stay issued by the 5th circuit about against the OSHA’s (Biden) vaccine mandates originally issued by Attorney Generals of dozens of US states:

    The judges declared:
    “Pursuant to our authority under 28 U.S.C. § 2112(a)(4), we DISSOLVE the stay issued by the Fifth Circuit for the following reasons.”

    So now the OSHA’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate is again in full force, and what do you think the “rebel” states will do? could be this pave the way for a kind of Fort Sumter incident?


  217. Uh – some of those “parasitic rentiers” living on passive income are pensioners with a patchwork income from a rental condo, some royalties, Social Security, a few investments, a few annuities …. and that’s just us privileged ones. Not all the investment class is sharks; quite a few of us are minnows.

  218. Hi John Michael,

    In my lifetime the population has doubled from 4,000 million to 8,000 million souls. Little wonder that souls are in rather short supply these days. 😉 Anyway, I was reading Mr Catton Jr’s words from 1980 and thought that they might be of interest to the readers here:

    “If somehow, man’s agricultural modification of the web of life (with steel ploughs,mechanical harvesters, fossil fuel-burning tractors, synthetic fertilisers and pesticides) were to falter, and the web were to revert to something like the structure it had only six generations ago, then (because of these two recent doublings) four earths would be needed to support the present human population of this one earth.

    And that was penned over 40 years ago. And here we are today and it looks to me as if that gear is now happening.

    Interestingly, given the bloke is getting a bit of mention this week, I have no doubt that Steiner’s biodynamic agricultural system is genius – it just doesn’t gel with my worldview and desire to get to the basics as to why things work the way they do work. I like to replicate systems using the resources available to me, and mysterious formulations don’t fit that criteria.



  219. Joel, I have a very high opinion of it. You might be interested to know that it was the core text in the clergy training program of the Universal Gnostic Church, and I studied it as part of my training with John Gilbert. We’ll be talking about that in due time!

    DFC, I don’t know. We’ll have to see what happens.

    Chris, I’ve had that bit of Catton in mind as well. Also the Limits to Growth base run, which shows the food supply beginning to drop steadily starting right about now.

    Awakening (offlist), perhaps you can save your lectures about who’s misunderstood what until I start posting about Steiner. I don’t normally permit people to hijack the comment thread with teal-deer diatribes about their hobby horses, you know, and my comment about Steiner was a passing reference. We’ll get to him in due time.

  220. @Mary Bennet

    “ Good luck getting anything of the kind through congress or any legislature.”

    100% agree with you there! I haven’t seen any proposal for UBI thst makes sense, because there’s always a giant hole in the proposal that fails to explain where the money is supposed to come from. If it were up to me, I eould pass the carbon tax as a UBI, where fossil fuels are taxed at the source of extraction (and imports are taxed based on their carbon footprint), and the taxes are passed on to consumers/citizens (obviously as inflation hits due to the tax there are limits to what kind of lifestyle this tax could support). The main benefit to this plan is since it’s a tax, a president could pass it without congress, and once the voting population is getting the checks (tax refunds, essentially) it will be exceedingly difficult for other politicians to reverse the legislation. It’s the easiest way to pass legislation like this. But I don’t have any hope or faith that even this will happen. I think the more likely scenario is that businesses and institutions and governments will fail or make cuts on their own in a random and haphazard fashion without understanding the real reason it’s so hard for them (and us regular people) to make ends meet.

    In other words, I like to talk about ideas that could cushion our landing, but I fully expect the kind of crash that happens when you try to hit the brakes but accidentally hit the gas… only the crash happens extremely slowly is drawn out over such a long time that the crumpling bumper looks completely unrelated to the shattered windshield.

    Our host has mentioned brief periods of stability may happen when parasitic institutions collapse. So, for example, if the us dollar lost all value, we would all crash to a lower level, but at that level, Wall Street wouldn’t exist, and much of the excess wealth wouldn’t exist, so bringing the consumption of most rich people to the same level of poverty as everyone else allows the resources to reach more people, so the population could go through a brief stable period after the dust settles. You get a similar result if something causes a lot of deaths, if it doesn’t destroy the resource base in the process. We don’t have the political will to face these resource constraints and plan for them, so the most likely result is multiple crises emerging on their own until a crisis accidentally reduces resource use. Like covid lockdowns reduced resource use, briefly. The 2008 housing crisis/Great Recession also reduced the use of resources. I think 2008 was the first year co2 emissions went down, since we started keeping track. If something reduces consumption so much that there are extra resources, a period of stability can follow.

    Jessi Thompson

  221. @JMG

    “What if the actual reality is nothing so comprehensible to us? That’s what the quantum physicists have been saying for a century now.”

    I think you are talking about ultimate reality that is beyond mere materiality.

    I remember watching a series of videos about Quantum physics. Our current material reality requires observers to be a consistent whole. That person I think who has a channel called “Inspiring Philosophy” thinks this entity is God.

    This is the video I think:

    That through this powerful observation effect and also supplying the information like a sort of projection that maps out said reality that allows us to share a single material universe with consistent rules of physics and mathematics and allows interaction between us in said consistent materiality.

    The ultimate Mind which gives form to matter. All Materiality according to Quantum Physics that he cited is the result of the Holographic projection of underlying information.

    Seems to accord with the Biblical Notion “Upholding the Universe by the word of his power”(Hebrew 1:3).

  222. This quote seems relevant to Pragmatism, current craziness, and probably more I’m forgetting.

    “The universe is just there; that’s the only way a Fedaykin can view it and remain the master of his senses. The universe neither threatens nor promises. It holds things beyond our sway: the fall of a meteor, the eruption of a spiceblow, growing old and dying. These are the realities of this universe and they must be faced regardless of how you feel about them. You cannot fend off such realities with words. They will come at you in their own wordless way and then, then you will understand what is meant by ‘life and death’. Understanding this, you will be filled with joy.” -Muad’Dib to his Fedaykin (from Children of Dune by Frank Herbert)

    The Dune series is highly quotable.

  223. @patriciamathews

    Yes there are a lot of people who live off money they get by means other than working. And I wouldn’t call social security or pensions parasitic at all since they are compensation for physical work. (Putting pension funds in the stock market was a terrible idea which has contributed to their insolvency, but that’s not the fault of retirees). And I don’t blame individual landlords. i am considering buying rental properties, myself. Nevertheless, it’s obvious to me at this point there are far too many skims going on at every level of society, and that’s part of what’s driving income inequality, and income inequality contributes to economic collapse.

    If you have a party, and one guy claims all the champagne, the party’s over pretty fast. But if everyone has access to the champagne, the party lasts a lot longer. But when the booze runs out, the party is over, regardless. Well, the booze is running out for the working classes right now, and whether you’re a good person or not, you can’t be a landlord without renters and you can’t make money on the stock market without customers (and tax payers, apparently… but that’s another conversation).

    So when the next round of cuts happen, who’s going to get by with less? If you could (strictly theoretically) cut some of the skims, wouldn’t you rather do that? How much of your mortgage payments went to the bank instead of your equity on your properties? Sure, the bank should get some money, but that much? How much of your taxes went to subsidizing multinational corporations? Propping up too-big-to-fail businesses? How much of your money goes to inflated prices on goods and services sold by quasi-monopolies? Like the increase in the cost of insulin, for example. All of these are skims. These are a few of the parasites I’m talking about. A small scale landlord could never cause the kind of financial pain a hedge fund manager can.

    Jessi Thompson

  224. JMG, you could look up James Burnham on Wikipedia. In particular I was referring to 2 books that he wrote: “The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World” (1941) and “Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism” (1964). However, I am not at all sure that reading him will be a good investment of your time, since clearly you are familiar with ideas that are very similar to his.

  225. “Knowing has meaning only if we do not regard the configuration given to the senses as a finished one, if this configuration is for us a half of something that bears within itself something still higher that, however, is no longer sense-perceptible. There the human spirit steps in. It perceives that higher element. Therefore thinking must also not be regarded as bringing something to the content of reality. It is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colours and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas. Idealism is therefore quite compatible with the principle of empirical research. The idea is not the content of subjective thinking, but rather the result of research. Reality, insofar as we meet it with open senses, confronts us. It confronts us in a form that we cannot regard as its true one; we first attain its true form when we bring our thinking into flux. Knowing means: to add the perception of thinking to the half reality of sense experience so that this picture of half reality becomes complete.”
    (Goethean Science)

  226. @Chris at Fernglade Farm #235 @JMG
    I’ve read Overshoot, by William Catton. It convinced me that in the long run, China’s one child policy was a good idea and that more countries should adopt similar policies.

  227. Hi, recently came across your work and it is like a breath of fresh air.
    We really are just children in adults bodies.
    Science is a method to find an explanation of percieved phenomena. If someone else comes to the same explanation when the same phenomena are percieved, that’ll do for now. Sooner or later, something will pop up that means another explanation will be needed.
    A scientist is someone who can say ‘I am not sure’ with eyes wide open in wonder. However, because people are emotionally warped from having lived lives that are completely counter to what we have evolved for, they crave stability, and cling on to any dogmatic rock in the sea to stop themselves from drowning in reality. We are not taught to swim, or are told that we cannot.
    Any person who goes bat**** at an idea is scared of it. Scared of losing their grip on the little rock. If they were not scared, why so hostile?
    Come on in; the water’s cold and deep but you have always been able to swim.

  228. “Kant, whose Critique of Pure Reason showed that the human mind can only know what it creates.”

    Reminds me of Monty Python “Philosophy Football “: When the Greeks score and the Germans are diputing the goal:
    “Kant, via the categorical imperative is holding that ontologically [reality] exists in the imagination, and Marx is claiming that he was offsides. “

  229. @JMG – replying to “info” you say “mistaking the phenomena of experience for reality”…

    What, then, should we understand the phenomena of experience to be?

    Is experience not, after all, where we encounter the kinds of “unwelcome facts” common to the “grubby world of facts” you describe in your post, and where we discover that “facts” (sometimes “unwelcome”) may “conflict” with our “abstractions” and fail to “bear them out”? Do “facts” not “whack [us] across the head with a length of lumber” – ie grant us, via the gift of experience, something that is, at least, orthogonal to the models we have made in our heads, something that divides the world into that which lies within reach of my influence, and that which does not?

    Is it necessary to claim EITHER that “experience” is 100% = “reality” OR that “experience” is 100% =/= “reality”?

    Can we not, instead, make much smaller claims about small ways in which experience is a way to connect (in SOME way) WITH reality such that… whatever is the shape of the terrain my map is trying to describe, when I go out and take a walk in it, I am bound to find that my map does not describe it all? That my walk will not have taught me EVERYTHING about the terrain, but it has not taught me NOTHING, either? That my encounter with terrain that I walked around in, taught me some wee and likely insignificant, but real SOMETHING? And that that SOME[WEE]THING is, at least, enough to teach me that there IS a distance between map and terrain? And, that the terrain can “surprise” me in ways the map is unlikely to ever do?

  230. @ Jessi – “If you have a party, and one guy claims all the champagne, the party’s over pretty fast. But if everyone has access to the champagne, the party lasts a lot longer. But when the booze runs out, the party is over, regardless.” – Brilliantly succinct! (I may borrow this analogy!) 🙂

  231. @Luke #221:
    And regarding the psi phenomena thing, well, what evidence did they actually have that someone _hadn’t_ munchkinned it by then? Human history is, after all, _jam packed_ with stories of people with mystical powers of one sort or another. Even if over seventy-five percent of those were either fictions or frauds — well, you know, munchkins are a minority of DnD players too.
    Of course, there’s the argument that such stories must all be definitely false, because there’s absolutely no evidence such things are possible, and since all those stories are false, obviously they can’t count as evidence such things are possible, and since there’s so much past evidence of definite misunderstanding or fraud, we should be extremely, that is completely, skeptical of anything which purports to be new evidence of such things, and hey, look at that, still no valid evidence of such things, despite all the people looking, so it must be false… but I think that argument has some flaws.

    As for tulpamancy, I never took part in that myself, though I did go through a period of thinking that even if my childhood faith only existed as a useful pattern inside my head, it was still useful — which allowed that to carry through until I grew up some more and started saying “Hey, wait a minute…” about a number of things.
    …Heh. And _now_ I’m remembering that I recall hearing (not finding evidence to back it up in a quick search now, though) that there was a period when the Catholic church allowed heliocentrism as a _calculation tool_, so long as the people using it didn’t claim too loudly that that was how the solar system _actually worked_.

  232. @JMG #207
    “Tidlösa, no question, the managerial elite did some good, back before they became hopelessly corrupt and incompetent. That’s true of most ruling aristocracies. As for what will replace them, Spengler suggests that it’ll be charismatic leaders backed by the masses — Caesarism, in his terms.”

    I am back with some questions after a longer hiatus (due to important family events).

    I have read about ancient Greece political theory postulated by Polybios having pairs of good and bad government forms, based on the number of ruling persons.

    Single ruler -> Common Good: Monarchy, Self-interest: Tyranny
    Ruling elite -> Common Good: Aristrocracy, Self-interest: Oligarchy
    Ruling citizens -> Common Good: Democracy, Self-interest: Ochlocracy

    Where do you see the western nations within this matrix? I would say that here in Germany we definetely are only seldom in an area which could be seen as common good (the whole Covid topic also smells like oligarchical tyranny). The politicans act as if they do not care a lot (or at all) about the citizens. Politics is mostly for corporations, groups within the population are agitated against each other (men/women, parents/children, young/old, citizens/immigrants, etc. ). Then, you read on a more personal level that charity organizations have to close because the only get garbage as donations, so even on a more personal level self-interest seems to be at the forefront.

    My second question would be, whether the charismatic leaders are more likely to come from the current oligarchs (e.g. Trump) or from the “mob” (e.g. Hitler). I mean Trump could have started a movement which will become visible in the future, but he by himself was not very successful to “drain the swamp”.

  233. In response to Mary (#228). Agree with the goal but not the means. The response to Covid has definitively exposed UBI as a bad idea. UBI would become another lever of control. But then we already knew that “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. A better idea, in my view, is for cities to ban corporate businesses in favor of locally owned and operated ones. We seem to have forgotten that political freedom depends on economic independence. We are past the point where tweaking social policy will make any real difference.

    JMG, glad to see Pragmatism highlighted in your article. I wonder though if the line between the senses and nature isn’t being drawn a bit too sharply. Our senses evolved in response to and are a product of nature rather than having been formed ex nihilo. This connects our senses to nature in a way that is perhaps stronger than that suggested by the philosophers quoted. For me this means that our senses are more (but not completely) trustworthy and is an argument against Cartesian skepticism.

  234. Given I just spent a good hour scrolling through the very long list of thoughtful comments following this nuanced article, and the mostly brief, time-constrained replies from Mr Greer–no doubt a busy guy–frustratingly leaving one wanting more detail, EcoSophia surely could use a proper discussion forum format within which to house that commentary, allowing for much more thorough and far less disjointed interaction. Of course, there is the problem of managing, monitoring, and moderating it all, as I’ve discovered at the metakastrup forum, but, if manageable, so much of the insightful commentary by followers here is surely worthy of it.

  235. JMG, have you read Voltaire’s Bastards, by John Ralston Saul?
    Managerman has truly screwed the pooch.

  236. @elkriver:

    Thank you for the overview and for giving me some more starting points! Fear and anxiety as a possible source for controlling behaviour makes a lot of sense. Come to think of it, I now remember that an author named Joel Bakan wrote a book and later made a documentary called The Corporation, which tried to show how the legal form of an incorporated company forced it legally to behave like a psychopath. I don’t know if anyone has ever applied the same sort of analysis to the legal structure of a nation or a society as a whole.

    @Jeff Russell:

    Thanks also for your overview! I have some familiarity of Jungian psychology and some also of transactional analysis, but I’m not as familiar with the other avenues you mentioned. Thanks again for giving me some sources to look further into.

    @Jessi Thompson:

    And thanks to you as well! Going through the table of contents of that book leads me to think it touches on the topics you and elkriver raised, so thanks again.

  237. Re models, reality, and our (in)ability to directly perceive the latter

    Translating the issue into math (as is my wont), I would model the issue of modeling reality (!) as a classic “noisy channel” problem. Namely, you have a signal time series, call it x(t), but the measurement of that signal introduces “noise”. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume the noise is additive and denote it by u(t). So our observations are actually the sum of these two series:

    y(t)=x(t) + u(t)

    Now, we are trying to model x(t) but only have y(t) to work with. Moreover, u(t) is a time series of unknown structure, which complicates things immensely. We can make some assumptions about u(t) in order to deal with the noisy measurements (e.g. u(t) is a random variable of a certain distribution), but the resulting model then depends very much on those assumptions. If u(t) turns out to be of a significantly different nature than assumed, then our model is correspondingly degraded.

    The first step in developing an effective model, of course, is acknowledging that u(t) exists and is non-zero…

  238. Re models and the inherent assumptions therein

    Apologies for the disjointedness, but to follow up on my comment above briefly and give a quick example about how the assumptions of known “error” impact our models.

    Again, we have a series of observations y(t)=x(t)+u(t) where x(t) is the underlying signal (‘reality”) and u(t) is a series of unknown structure representing the noise or error in our measurement. We are trying to ascertain the nature of x(t) while limited to working with y(t).

    We might assume that u(t) has a certain structure. A standard method is to assume it is a “white noise” process–a normally distributed random variable with a zero mean (average)–which simplifies the calculations considerably. There are several key elements in this assumption that are highly relevant, but let’s focus on two: the fact that the normal distribution is symmetrical and the zero-mean assumption. Taken together, these assumptions make u(t) out to having no bias–that is, if we were able to isolate u(t), it would tend to average out to zero in the long run, which allows us to make certain inferences about x(t) from y(t).

    If, however, we are mistaken, and u(t) has some other (asymmetrical) distribution and/or has a non-zero mean, then u(t) will tend to bias y(t) with respect to x(t) and our resulting inferences will be accordingly inaccurate, rather like a clock that is a bit fast or slow and which accumulates error over time.

    We are caught between two possibly contending needs: 1) selecting assumptions which result in a model simple enough to be useable, and 2) selecting assumptions which result in a model with sufficient explanatory power. All, of course, while lacking the ability to assess the model against “reality” directly.

  239. Hi John Michael,

    We have a lot of food waste in our current systems, but even reducing the waste merely delays the inevitable, whilst depriving the creatures who have come to rely upon the waste.

    Oooo! Have you noticed that there seems to be a concerted effort to cancel Christmas by the ghosts of power and control? It needn’t be this way you know. A better strategy would be honesty, but what will be, will be.

    Happy winter solstice to you and Sara! 🙂



  240. “The maxim is this: that the antidote to excessive indulgence is development, not restraint. When the young psychologist feels that he is getting altogether too abstract, too intellectualistic; that he is taking logic too seriously and forgetting ‘Life’, let him meet the situation by – taking logic a little more seriously still! Only this time let him do so of his own free will. Suppose, for example, that certain ideas are put before him, which he regards as erroneous; instead of immediately detailing the ‘complexes’, ‘ulterior motives’, ‘disguised desires’, ‘attempted adaptation to environment’ and so forth which gave rise to them, let him first of all consider those ideas on their own merits and in the light of pure Reason. Moreover, let him seek out the best and most rational expression of them, not contenting himself with a refutation of some flaw in the particular exposition which fate has thrown in his way. In this way let him gradually accustom himself to the notion that, if a proposition is really false, it can be proved so out of itself and irrespective of the fact that its originator yearns for it to be true or has indigestion.”
    – Owen Barfield, Psychology and Reason

  241. “Did you know, for example, that every attempt to measure the speed of light for a couple of decades in the early 20th century came in drastically too low? Physicists solved that problem by defining the speed of light as 186,282 miles per second, and avoiding future attempts to measure it…”

    Wait….What ??

  242. blue sun – It occurred to me that vaccination is to immunity as graduation is to knowledge. Vaccination is a credential. It may or may not be superior to the immunity that follows actual infection; it may or may not be more effective than healthy eating. I will grant that vaccination, like education, may provide a certificate of minimum capability under predictable circumstances. But like other credentials, some will be forged and some will simply be irrelevant to the problems at hand.

    A recent Covid test is another credential, though one with a well-known expiration date… somewhere between one day and three, I suppose.

  243. I found this interesting, “How the Mid-Victorians Worked, Ate and Died.” Basically, once refrigeration came in and Britain started importing a lot of food, and they spent a lot of time travelling on trains etc, their health declined. When they were eating local, seasonal stuff in large amounts and being very physically active, they were in overall good health.

    The things which made their longevity worse than ours were infant and maternal mortality, which is largely dealt with by sanitation and vaccination – relatively low-energy and low-tech interventions.

    For those whose thoughts are that if we don’t have the fusion-powered flying cars in the future, our only alternative is medieval poverty – well, it’s something else. As JMG has said many times, the future is likely to look like the past.

  244. A very happy Winter Solstice/Yule/Alban Arthuan/Jul to you, JMG, and Sara, and to all here who celebrate the turning seasons!

    –Sister Crow

  245. @Lathechuck – “vaccination is to immunity as graduation is to knowledge. Vaccination is a credential” – woowee!

  246. Joel, I can promise you that it’ll be strange.

    Info, there was a famous pair of limericks about that:

    There was a young man who said “God
    Must find it exceedingly odd
    To think that the tree
    Should continue to be
    When there’s no one about in the quad.”

    And the response:

    “Dear Sir: it is you who are odd;
    I am always about in the quad.
    And that’s why the tree
    Will continue to be
    As observed by, Yours faithfully, God.”

    Are you at all familiar with Berkeley’s philosophy? He was on this a couple of centuries before the quantum physicists got there.

    Youngelephant, Dune and its first few sequels are among the few really philosophically literate works of science fiction. Eminently quotable!

    Phil S., thanks for this — I was looking for book recommendations. I’m always open to the possibility that ideas familiar to me have facets I haven’t noticed yet.

    Ash, now compare that to what Goethe himself wrote in “The Experiment as Mediator between Object and Subject,” where he explicitly critiques the notion that it’s a valid approach to insert the creations of the mind into observed phenomena and treat them as though they belong there. One of the most fascinating things about Steiner, and one of the sources of his mistakes, is precisely the incomplete way that he followed up on Goethe’s insights. It’s to the credit of the Anthroposophical movement that some of its best exponents — I’m thinking here of Olive Whicher and Theodor Schwenk, among others — followed Steiner’s advice more closely than Steiner did, paid exceptionally close attention to Goethe’s principles of research, and produced such fine work.

    Tidlösa, thanks for this Too funny!

    Benn, can you please forward this to the marketing flacks in lab coats who mistakenly think that they’re scientists? I don’t imagine they’ll pay any attention to it, but here’s hoping.

    Goedeck, funny.

    Scotlyn, good. These are among the issues that philosophy used to deal with — at much vaster length, of course, than one brief essay on a blog can handle…

    Secretface, Polybius’ schema doesn’t necessarily work in all cases, though it was accurate enough for his own time. Consider the twilight of the Roman Republic — it went from oligarchy to monarchy in a hurry.

  247. I’m looking forward to the future postings on Steiner. I’ve read some of what he has to say on Goethe’s scientific writings. Especially if you can highlight where Steiner deviated from Goethe, that would be great. Oswald Spengler contrasts Goethe with Darwin, and regards Darwin as a product of an English socio-economic environment, if I’m recalling correctly. I’d really love to hear your exposition of Goethe’s scientific method.

  248. +Starfish @ 253. UBI, or guaranteed annual income, was a good idea back in the 1970s when Daniel Patrick Moynihan persuaded President Nixon to introduce it to congress. The president had vivid and painful memories of the humiliations of poverty; the proposal was also a way to dismantle Johnson’s Great Society. Then, it might even have worked. It was shot down by Democrats, the left in particular, who were headed for lucrative jobs in the poverty programs–the beginning of today’s PMC.

    At the present time, UBI would be a further subsidy for real estate, with a little going to retail sales. Andrew Yang has a constituency, the East Asian diaspora, many of whom get or got their start in small retail. Shopkeepers can’t make money if no one spends.

  249. Blue Sun, thanks for this. I suspect people will have to learn it for themselves, but we’ll see.

    Dana, thank you, but this is the way I like to handle my comments pages, and other forum formats are far too open to entryism, forum hijacking, and other internet annoyances.

    JT, yes, though it’s been a while. I should revisit that.

    David BTL, hmm! This is fascinating, and makes a good deal of sense.

    Augusto, nicely summarized. I certainly hope the flurry of recent earthquakes off the Oregon and California coast don’t herald the arrival of an even more dramatic factor…

    Chris, and a happy solstice to you and yours. I wonder if the people who are busy canceling Christmas will be waked up in the middle of the night by a ghost rattling chains, in the best Dickensian manner!

    Ash, were you going to say something yourself, or just cite proof texts?

    Pyrrhus, just remember that “the map is not the territory” is also a map…

    Graham, yep. Look into it — it’s one of many remarkable anomalies suggesting that the foundations of physics aren’t anything like as solid as they’re made to look.

    Amanda, remember that I have Aspergers syndrome; I have no idea if you meant this seriously, or as sarcasm, or what.

    Bei Dawei, just remember that anyone who uses shampoo or sleeps in pajamas is a cultural appropriator unless they’re from India!

    Hackenschmidt, thanks for this.

    Sister Crow, thank you and likewise!

    Reader, duly noted. If you’re not familiar with it, this essay by Goethe is a good introduction.

  250. “Ash, now compare that to what Goethe himself wrote in “The Experiment as Mediator between Object and Subject,” where he explicitly critiques the notion that it’s a valid approach to insert the creations of the mind into observed phenomena and treat them as though they belong there. One of the most fascinating things about Steiner, and one of the sources of his mistakes, is precisely the incomplete way that he followed up on Goethe’s insights. It’s to the credit of the Anthroposophical movement that some of its best exponents — I’m thinking here of Olive Whicher and Theodor Schwenk, among others — followed Steiner’s advice more closely than Steiner did, paid exceptionally close attention to Goethe’s principles of research, and produced such fine work.”


    Sorry, I did not notice this reply before posting my other one. Thanks.

    Indeed, it is not valid to insert “creations of the mind” into observed phenomena, but Goethe does not consider ideal archetypes “creations of the mind” in that sense. Like Steiner, he held that ideations are fundamentally shared. This is the only possible conclusion of a consistent monist idealism. Coleridge also distinguished between “fancy” and “imagination”. The former is the abstract intellect working in the phantom layer of picture-concepts, rearranging them endlessly, while the latter is the transpersonal ideational activity of higher beings, in which we also participate with our cognition. It is how we co-create the phenomenal world, according to Goethe, Coleridge, and Steiner.

    “The idea is eternal and single; that we also use the plural is not appropriate. All things of which we become aware and about which we are able to speak are only manifestations of the idea.”
    – Goethe

  251. @JMG

    More specifically to Goethe in “The Experiment as Mediator”, the main takeway for me was that we should take our standards for scientific investigation from what the phenomena disclose to us. This is a core point of Steiner’s PoF as well. Goethe says that the phenomena evoke ideations within us which connect fragmented perceptions, not arbitrarily or “subjectively”, but lawfully. That is why we can trust in where the experiment leads us via our Reason, if we refrain from inserting unwarranted assumptions born of the intellect, esp the “view from nowhere”.

    Steiner says the faculty which perceives this disclosure by the phenomena is Reason. Our Thinking is a sense-organ which perceives ideal content in the phenomenal world like our eyes perceives colors and ears perceive sounds. In the article you say we can discern an analogy which marries phenomena and noumena, appearances and reality, matter and spirit, soul and spirit, etc. So the question is, what faculty of the human soul-spirit which discerns this analogy if not Reason? And how does perception of the analogy square with Kant’s ideology?

  252. @Walt F

    “I was fine for billions of years being unborn; why should I have a problem being dead?”

    I’m struggling to find any interpretation of this sentence which makes any sense, besides being a psychological defense device. Could you explain what it really means for you?

    Time is apparently asymmetric, so what reason allows us to equate nothingness before and nothingness after? Should we also not care about being hit by a car tomorrow because we weren’t hit by a car yesterday? Why not?

  253. @red75prime:

    Walt F will no doubt answer you as he sees fit. Meanwhile. here is my own answer.

    This only matters if you have a highly active ego and value your life for your own sake. If your ego is fairly quiescent and you act largely for the sake of others, not yourself, then life and non-life seem much the same to you.

    Did you ever watch the first “Men in Blackl” movie? After the MiB save Earth (once again), the screen pulls back, showing Earth, then the solar system, then the galaxy of which it is a tiny, insignificant part, then the whole universe — which doesn’t even fill the screen. And then the angle shifts, and you see this vast alien being playing a child’s game of marbles, with our universe as the marbel in its appendage. It rolls the marble, which hits another marble/universe and scores a point. Then the being picks up both marbles/universes and adds them to his bag, which already holds at least several dozen such marbles/universes. And clearly, this vast alien is simply one quite young member of an entire species of aliens vast beyond human comprehension.

    That’s part of what I mean here,

  254. You might want to have a look at this essay from this summer:
    The author is Malcom Kyeyune, a Nigerian Swede. In it, he argues that the Afghanistan debacle has dealt what he calls the managerial class ruling western societies a devastating, delegitimizing blow, similar to what Napoleon did to Divine right kings in the early XIXth century. They might still stand for a while, but their metaphysical claim to have a right to rule is done with.

  255. I read Steiner’s critique of Kant several years ago. Steiner points out all the machinery that Kant’s understanding required, of the object being observed, the channels of sight, the perceptual apparatus of the eyes and the “making sense of it” of the brain. He points out that this pretty complicated, and that surely there must be a simpler theory.
    Steiner failed because, in fact, that’s what happens. We have a eye, with all of its structure and limitations, an optic nerve, brain cells and some not-understood-yet “making sense of it” center in our brains. Kant’s theory works because it describes the structure of our actual perception. Kant ended up anticipating a lot of science; to put it another way, science confirmed Kant. William James is now considered one of the earliest psychologists, and his work on religions is read by undergraduates but ignored by scientists. Pragmatism wasn’t an answer either, but I’d say that science was.
    Of course, people claim that science backs their hair-brained schemes (e.g. Hitler’s appropriation of social Darwinism) but that’s a problem with the people making hair-brained claims. I think you push your point here far beyond what is reasonable.

  256. @tomriverwriter

    That is not Steiner’s critique of Kant. Rather, it is that Kant must rely on naive realism of inner processes in order to reject naive realism of outer perceptions. At some point, he must assume something in the chain of “machinery” is the ‘thing-in-itself’ for his argument to be coherent, even though the argument concludes nothing we can perceive or conceive is a ‘thing-in-itself’. Steiner also rejects naive realism, but he points out how “critical idealism” is internally incoherent. It is only by understanding the role of Thinking in the world content that we really have a solid foundation to reject naive realism of perceptions. The latter by themselves are “blooming, buzzing confusion”. The former provides the pole of meaning to the pole of perception, restoring the polar Unity of experience. Modern science has now shown precisely how thinking is inseperable from perception, but that very fact presupposes Thinking can penetrate to deeper layers of noumenal meaning.

    The naive realism of Kant also extends to abstract intellectual cognition. He must assume that the abstract intellect which he experiences is naively real, i.e. there is no other possible mode of cognizing the world content. It is only through that assumption that he can claim there exists “pure concepts” which have no corresponding sense-experience. The domain of his own limited sense-experience is naively taken to be the domain of all possible sense-experience, across all humans, past, present, and future. There are very simple errors of the intellect, but they are the sort which take many centuries to perceive and rectify. Steiner is not the only one who understood these errors. Out of 20th century thinkers alone, I would say Bergson, Husserl, Heidegger, Barfield, Gebser, Jung (in a more indirect way), all perceived this occurring in the Kantian epistemic tradition.

  257. @Ash Thank you for your post. You clearly understand Steiner’s argument, and have presented it much better than I can. I’ll try to paraphrase. There is this idea of “thing in itself” which is real thing, the fact that everyone is searching for. The “thing in itself” was what Heidegger and Husserl pursued.
    Actually, I give up. I can’t make sense of philosophical concepts like “thing in itself” and “pure concepts” and “naive realism” and “critical realism.” I’m an software guy, and to me it’s clear that the brain is a machine (software) that organizes sense perception so as to direct the body how to response to threats and opportunities. The world exists, and it’s about to eat you or bite you, and the function of the brain is to prevent that. Many animals have these brain functions; my dog is as good at surviving as I am, and much better in many regards, because it has much better smell and hearing.
    Homo sapiens developed a much higher degree of intelligence than other animals. We don’t understand our intelligence, what it is, where is came from, what its strengths are, what its weakness are. We are learning about ourselves.
    I’ll take one more step. I think that philosophy is a religion that values mind, and is an evolution of the Classical Greek idea that we can use our minds to understand the world. But when we try to understand the mind using the mind, it gets very tricky, and Steiner is lost in that hall of mirrors.
    The best way to approach the problem is with modesty. Let’s understand what we can understand first — perception, brain structure related to perception, perhaps memory. Everything should be based in the examination of the machine, of the brain. The mind can’t perceive itself, but it can perceive the brain, so the focus should be on the brain.

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