Not the Monthly Post

The Myth of Modernity

A few weeks ago I took the time to reread the book that launched my current sequence of posts about enchantment, Jason Josephson-Storm’s intriguing study The Myth of Disenchantment.  One test of a book’s value is whether it can handle being read more than once.  Josephson-Storm’s book stands up well to that test.  Each time I read it, it does the thing you’re not supposed to do while walking in the mountains in winter, and sets lumps of mental snow spilling downslope, setting off avalanches of ideas that sweep away whole villages of preconceptions in their path.

One of the reasons the book’s so fascinating is that it draws on a field of scholarship that has by and large been far more notable for its failures than its successes, and still does something useful with it. The field in question is critical theory.  If you’ve been watching the latest pitched battles in the culture wars here in the United States, you’ve doubtless heard of one offshoot of this body of work, the much-ballyhooed and much-denounced field of critical race theory.  One thing you won’t get from the media furore about that subject is any notion of what critical theory (with or without the word “race” stuck in the middle) actually is. We can start there.

Despite what the media wants you to think, there’s more to critical theory than this.

Critical theory was born in Germany between the two world wars. Its founders were a clique of Marxist academics in Frankfurt who discovered to their horror that the grand march toward the communist utopia predicted by Marx wasn’t happening on schedule. On the one hand, communism in the Soviet Union, instead of becoming the workers’ paradise of intellectuals’ wet dreams, had devolved into a totalitarian nightmare with a reliable habit of mass murder on the grand scale. On the other hand, the working people of one of the most educated and cultured nations of Europe, who according to Marxist theory should have been flocking to the banners of proletarian revolution, were turning their backs on the entire spectrum of respectable political beliefs, to rally around a weird little man with a toothbrush mustache who called on them to abandon rational politics for an archaic, bloodthirsty mysticism of race and soil.

Obviously something had gone wrong, not just with Marxism but with the entire enterprise of Western rationality summed up in the phrase “the Enlightenment.” Pause and think about that phrase for a moment. One of the basic credos of the cultural mainstream in Western countries is the rather odd notion that, at a certain point not that many centuries ago, for the very first time in human history, intellectuals in western Europe saw the universe as it actually is. Before then, despite fumbling attempts in the right direction by ancient Greek philosophers, humanity was hopelessly mired in superstitious ignorance; afterward, Western intellectuals led a rapid ascent toward true knowledge of humanity and the universe. People still speak of that period using such far from neutral terms as “the Age of Reason” and “the Enlightenment;” in Germany the term is die Aufklärung, literally “the Clearing-Off.”

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. I doubt they’d be impressed by the people who are reading them these days.

It’s to the credit of the founders of critical theory—Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse—that they didn’t just sweep all these problems under the rug and go on believing in the secular mythology of progress. They grasped that the Enlightenment had failed to accomplish what everyone expected it to accomplish. They set out to understand what had gone wrong.  Since they were Marxists, of course, they still framed things in terms of the march toward a utopian society of the future, and critical theory from its early days thus set out not just to understand society but to change it.  It sought, in Horkheimer’s words, “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them”—but it tried to do that by understanding the entire panoply of reasons why those circumstances happen to exist at a given place and time.

That’s what makes critical theory useful. Treat a belief as though it’s timeless and context-free and all you can do is accept or reject it. Recognize that every belief has a history and a cultural context and you can understand it instead, and this opens up a galaxy of new possibilities. Critical theory tries to do that with the core beliefs of Western society. The first major book to come out of the critical theory movement, Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, tried to make sense of the way that Enlightenment rationalism led to the twin tyrannies of Stalin and Hitler. It’s still worth reading today, even though much of what passes for critical theory in the present time is very little more than empty propaganda.

Ezra Pound. The opposite of one bad idea is generally another bad idea, but you can learn quite a bit by comparing them.

In the opening lines of his Guide to Kulchur, Ezra Pound made a comment that’s relevant here.  “In attacking a doctrine, a doxy, or a form of stupidity, it might be remembered that one isn’t of necessity attacking the man, or say ‘founder,’ to whom the doctrine is attributed or on whom is it blamed. One may quite well be fighting the same idiocy that he fought and whereinto his followers have reslumped from laziness, from idiocy, or simply because they (and/or he) may have been focussing their main attention on some other goal, some disease, for example, of the time needing immediate remedy.”  It’s quite common, in circles unsympathetic to what critical theory has become, to assail Adorno, Benjamin, et al., because of the current antics of their followers. This is unfair. The founders of critical theory did in fact make a massive mistake, but it’s one that pretty much everyone made in those days and too many people still make today.

The mistake?  The failure to recognize that the academic circles to which Adorno, Benjamin, et al. belonged, and to which their current followers by and large belong today, themselves form a privileged class with a straightforward interest in furthering its own influence and grabbing more than its share of wealth and privilege. Critical theory by and large avoids talking about that.  A genuine critical race theory would interrogate the discourses concerning race used by left-wing activists in today’s society, and show how those discourses are used as instruments of hegemony by those activists and the people who pay them.  A genuine critical theory would also interrogate the discourse of “liberating human beings from the circumstances that enslave them,” and talk about how that rhetoric of liberation is used, as of course it is, to replace one set of enslaving circumstances with another, and to disadvantage one group of people instead of another.  You can read a whale of a lot of critical theory and never catch the least whisper of this sort of thinking.

Jason Josephson-Storm. It takes a certain amount of gumption to call a myth by its proper name, when everyone else is insisting that it’s just the way things are.

That’s the thing that makes Jason Josephson-Storm’s work so fascinating to me. He tiptoed very close to the edge of that forbidden territory, by suggesting that one of the most fundamental assumptions of modern thought—the notion that we modern people are disenchanted, freed from the superstitious burdens of the past and venturing heroically forward into a new world free of myth and magic—is simply another myth, playing the same role in our culture that the things we like to call “myths” play in other cultures.. He’s applied the tools of critical theory to one of the basic assumptions that underlies critical theory, and showed that belief in disenchantment is just another set of discourses that emerged out of a particular set of historical circumstances and is employed to advantage certain people over others. It’s an impressive project.

One of the writers who has influenced him, a scholar he cites at important points in the course of his book, has done the same thing on a bigger scale to an even more vulnerable set of narratives. This is Bruno Latour, one of the first scholars to study the social construction of scientific facts. That last half sentence is quite a mouthful, so let’s take it a step at a time.

Welcome to near space. Yes, you can get there with a balloon.

It’s part of the mythology of science that scientists in their research are simply following where nature leads. In practice, it’s very nearly the other way around.  This is best understood through a concrete example.  Let’s imagine, then that, you intend to do some research into the atmospheric physics of near space—that fascinating realm where the atmosphere thins out to blackness, radio waves bounce off fluctuating layers of charged particles, and solar radiation, lunar tides, and a galaxy of other influences kick off intricate processes with poorly understood effects on the planet below. So you prepare for your research by reading the relevant literature, you craft a hypothesis you want to test, you consider the available equipment you can use to find out what’s happening miles above your head, you design your experiment, and you find funding for it.  All these are standard elements in science as it’s actually practiced. It’s quite common for these steps to be dismissed as mere details, but they’re far more significant than that.

Their significance can be grasped by taking a closer look at the steps just outlined. The literature you’ve read is the product of the complex social process of peer review and the evolution of scientific opinion, which has at least as much to do with academic politics as with anything nature is doing. The hypothesis you devise is a product of your education, a social process, and also of current fashions in the field of near space studies—anyone who thinks that scientists are immune to the blandishments of intellectual fashion has never met a scientist. What equipment is available for you to test your hypothesis depends on who’s put how much money into developing which kinds of experimental gear, and also on what gear is popular and readily available in your field just then.  Your experimental design is just as subject to fashion, and it also has to appeal to funding sources and to whoever controls access to the necessary equipment and other resources in your department.  The decision to grant or withhold funding for your experiment, finally, depends entirely on the behavior of human beings involved in the funding process.

An immensely complex social process.

Now let’s take the story the rest of the way. You’ve navigated through the immensely complex social process necessary to run your experiment, the high-altitude balloon that carried your experiment eighteen miles into the sky comes down to earth again in a Pennsylvania pasture, and you have the results in hand. You then have to interpret the results, write a paper, get a prestigious coauthor or two to sign on, submit it to a journal, wait nervously while it goes through the peer review process, revise the paper at least once in response to comments by the anonymous peer reviewers, see the paper through publication, and wait to see how other researchers in near space studies respond to it and adapt their own research projects in the light of what you’ve found. All these, again, are social processes.

The end result of your research project—a half sentence and footnote, say, in some future textbook of near space studies—is thus almost entirely a product of social interactions among human beings. At the center of theose interactions, the flake of grit at the heart of a big and strangely shaped pearl, is the fact that you asked nature a specific question and got an equally specific answer. That process of question and answer is the thing that makes science as effective a way of making sense of the world as it is, but it does not erase the effect of social processes on the result—it just means that the result has to have some contact somewhere with nature.

Now take that and multiply it by four centuries or so of scientific effort, and the result is a vast social process built atop a relatively narrow foundation of natural facts.  Those facts are carefully selected, curated, and assembled by the social process into a model of the world.  Ask different questions, use different equipment, give the results a different theoretical spin, and combine them in different ways, and you can quite easily end up with a completely different model of the world. That’s not something most people want to talk about in the scientific community, because it would weaken the claims of that community to its current share of influence, wealth, and privilege. That’s why so many scientists were shouting “Believe the science!” at the tops of their lungs not so long ago:  maintaining the cultural prestige of science, and thus their own social status and its perks, took precedence over nearly everything else.

Nature is what’s outside the window. It’s probably not surprising that so many scientists these days never quite notice that.

If you want another glimpse at just how far the social enterprise of science veers from its imagined ideal, look up the phrase “replication crisis” sometime. One of the essential principles of science is that any scientifically valid finding has to be replicable; it can’t be some kind of temporary fluke; anyone who repeats the same experiment should get the same results. These days, for an astounding number of studies in a very wide range of sciences, that’s no longer true. Very few people in the sciences want to talk about how much of this is caused by experimental and statistical fraud, both of which are pervasive in those branches of science where corporate profits are involved and far from rare even in less lucrative fields of research. Then there’s the question of how much of it is simply the result of only asking those questions that will support existing theory, or of spin doctoring of data to make it fit current theoretical commitments—and these, too, are extremely common all through the sciences.

If science was really a matter of following nature wherever it leads, the emergence of the replication crisis would have caused a sudden frantic search for the causes. We’re talking, after all, about something that challenges the act of faith at the center of the scientific enterprise, the trust that the results of scientific inquiry really do provide reliable glimpses into the behavior of nature. By and large, that search hasn’t happened. Instead, most scientists have shrugged and kept plugging away at their existing commitments, with at most an uneasy sidelong glance now and then at Retraction Watch or one of the other websites that talks about who got caught.  Other scientists have gone on the attack and denounced anyone who talked about the problems with modern science. That’s the typical behavior of any elite group faced with a challenge to their legitimacy:  that is, a social process.

Bruno Latour, regarding the absurdities of our time.

This is the kind of thing Bruno Latour writes about. His field of study is the sociology of science as it is actually practiced, and how the social practices of science shape, and often define, the model of nature produced by science. He’s not alone in that field, of course. I’ve written more than once in previous essays and books about John Ellis’ 1975 study The Social History of the Machine Gun, which shredded the claim that technology is value-free by showing how specific values guided and required the creation of one particular technology.  I’ve also written here and elsewhere about Misia Landau’s 1991 book Narratives of Human Evolution, which showed that 19th and 20th century scientific accounts of how human beings evolved were simply rehashes of the myth of the hero’s journey, with Man as the collective protagonist and every single incident discussed by Joseph Campbell in his writings on hero myths present and accounted for.

Latour’s strength is that he’s taken up this approach and generalized it.  One of his books, the one sitting on my endtable right now, takes it in a direction deeply relevant to the work of this blog. The title?  We Have Never Been Modern.

The argument behind that teasing title is complex and draws on a great deal of social theory that’s not especially relevant to our discussion. The heart of the point he makes, though, is easy enough to express. Most people who live in the industrial world at present are convinced, or at least act as though they’re convinced, that the modern world is something new and unique in human history, because unlike all others, our sciences really do tell us the straightforward objective truth about nature, undiluted by social processes.  They are also convinced, or act as though they’re convinced, that the same thing is true of everything else in our culture.  When authorities in the modern world claim that something does not exist, in other words, that claim implies that it never existed and never will exist, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar or a fool; when those same authorities claim that something is morally right, that implies that it has always been right and will always be right, and anyone who disagrees is evil.

How modernity imagines itself. Our descendants may beg leave to differ.

Other societies, other ages of history, had subjective opinions about what’s true or false, right or wrong.  We and we alone supposedly know the truth about everything that matters, and if we don’t happen to know it yet, nobody else could have known it either.  That’s the heart of modernity.  That’s the conviction that keeps people nowadays from making use of any of the hard-won lessons of past civilizations, or even learning from our own civilization’s catastrophic mistakes.  It’s a fond, false, foolish belief, it’s hardwired into the foundations of contemporary thought—and Latour and Josephson-Storm have shown, from two different angles, that it can’t be justified except by the most absurd sorts of special pleading and circular logic.

What does it mean if we give up the myth of modernity, the conviction that we—alone of all the human beings who have ever lived—see the world truly?  Surprisingly enough, we don’t have to give up science. The plain realities that scientific facts are socially constructed, that scientific worldviews are not given by nature but assembled out of data points drawn from nature in much the same way that a mosaic is assembled from bits of colored stone, and that the pattern in which those data points are assembled is as much a human product as the pattern of the mosaic, does not make science meaningless or false. It simply makes the work of the scientist a product of human society and culture rather than a revelation handed down from on high.

In a very real sense, science stripped of the myth of modernity takes on the same shape as the study of history. It’s absurd to think that history is simply an account of what happened; “what happened” in a month in any small town would fill entire libraries. The historian’s task is to craft a narrative which illuminates some part of the past, using actual incidents as building blocks. A scientist without modernist pretensions, similarly, crafts a narrative that illuminates some part of nature, using replicable experimental results as building blocks. Theories along these lines are useful rather than true; they start by accepting the reality that the human mind is not complex enough to understand the infinite sweep of the cosmos, and then goes on to say, “but as far as we are capable of making sense of things, this story seems to reflect what happens.”

A less arrogant approach to science has existed all along.  It deserves more attention.

This sort of thinking is doubtless a bitter pill to swallow for those who have founded their own  identities on the notion that humanity is or should be the conqueror of nature, the acme of evolution, the measure of all things, and all the rest of that self-important drivel. Here again, though, the failure of those notions as a means to create world fit for human habitation is increasingly clear to many of us. I’d like to suggest that the sooner we accept that today’s industrial societies are just another set of human cultures, that the stories they tell to explain the world are just another set of mythologies, and that the technologies they’ve created to manipulate the world are just another set of clever gimmicks—why, the sooner we do these things, the sooner we can get to work discarding those aspects of modernity that have failed abjectly, picking up those older habits and stories and technologies that are better suited to the world we find ourselves facing, and do something less inept and foredoomed with our time on earth.


  1. That balloon looks like it’s sailing perilously close to Ring-Pass-Not… 😉

    (Sorry, couldn’t help myself… now to return to this fascinating essay…)

  2. JMG,

    I’m not sure how well this dovetails with your over all thesis, but there is one aspect of Marxism that you brought up that has always confounded me.

    communism in the Soviet Union, instead of becoming the workers’ paradise of intellectuals’ wet dreams, had devolved into a totalitarian nightmare with a reliable habit of mass murder on the grand scale

    I had even heard that there was a realization/admission that capitalism had provided for the worker a lifestyle that they had no wish to surrender. In essence, one of the benefits of CT was that if freed the Marxist revolutionaries from having to focus on the proletariat.

    Okay, I get all of that. But the question I can’t find an answer to is “why?” If Marxism is failling in Russia, and capitalism is succeeding in giving people a decent life in the west, why do we still need a revolution? To what end? Revolution for revolutions sake? I just don’t get the motivation.


  3. The ancient Greek myth of the goddess Nemesis who exists to bring retribution to those consumed with pride, hubris, is still an excellent way of framing the course of history.

    I trained and worked as a geoscientist. Time and again my own prideful preconceptions were destroyed by actual facts and events. After working in the field for 40 years, that was my biggest lesson.

    A scientist who lacks humility is no scientist all. The goddess, Nemesis awaits, to exact retribution on the proud.

  4. “Ask different questions, use different equipment, give the results a different theoretical spin, and combine them in different ways, and you can quite easily end up with a completely different model of the world. ”

    Alfred Wegener and plate tectonics, or Harlen Bretz and the Missoula Floods for two examples. When I went to junior high they were still teaching the shriveling orange model of the earth.

    Plate tectonics didn’t win out until the drill ship crossed the Atlantic and found the alternating bands of matching magnetism on either side of the mid-Atlantic ridge.

  5. What do you make of Stephen Jay Gould’s contention (I’m paraphrasing) that, while ‘science’ has been wrong many times, it is getting less wrong as it goes along? I believe Isaac Asimov made a very similar point about ‘science’ being essentially self-correcting over time.

  6. Hi JMG and all,

    Great post, as usual. I find myself writing history, both old and more current, to tell a “narrative” that isn’t being told. I have over 20000 words and more every day. Thanks! Couldn’t have done it without you.

  7. “Very few people in the sciences want to talk about how much of this is caused by experimental and statistical fraud, both of which are pervasive in those branches of science where corporate profits are involved and far from rare even in less lucrative fields of research. Then there’s the question of how much of it is simply the result of only asking those questions that will support existing theory, or of spin doctoring of data to make it fit current theoretical commitments—and these, too, are extremely common all through the sciences.”

    Have you ever heard of the decline effect? It’s the widespread phenomena whereby scientific research leads to massive effect sizes, and then further research surprisingly reliably whittles it away to nothing. It’s been described since the 1930s, and is a well known phenomena; and given that some of the things subject to it had such large initial effect sizes I doubt they could’ve been faked, suggests to me that one of the factors driving the crisis of science may very well be that the laws of nature are not fixed; and allowing them to change calls the entire mythology upon which science rests into question.

  8. JMG, all I can say is a deep thank you for the clarity and intellectual forbearance you show in your writing. Such a satisfaction to read and great example to set.

  9. I saw something interesting about the history of academic subjects sometimes dismissed as ‘grievance studies’ – such as to do with race and gender. They said the first subject in that category was actually industrial relations, which taught managers there were alternatives to being a swaggering bully, and workers that there were other words than ‘no’. They also suggested it says something about the world those who decry those subjects would like to go back to.

  10. John,

    Another great essay. I need to let all that sink in for in a minute, but have you read Jason Joseph-Storm’s book from 2021, Metamodernism?

    I just requested the library to buy his books so I can read them. Latour seems great too. It would be interesting, if given different scientific assumptions, scientists went up to the E-Layer, and studied the ionosphere from an etheric, life-force perspective, for instance.

    Walter Benjamin and Adorno are worth reading for those who may be interested in that kind of thing. (They both wrote some really neat stuff about / for radio, among many other things.)

    Benjamin had some pretty clear ideas on progress. This is from his On the Concept of History.

    “Yet every day our cause becomes clearer and the people more clever.
    – Josef Dietzgen, Social Democratic Philosophy

    Social democratic theory, and still more the praxis, was determined by a concept of progress which did not hold to reality, but had a dogmatic claim. Progress, as it was painted in the minds of the social democrats, was once upon a time the progress of humanity itself (not only that of its abilities and knowledges). It was, secondly, something unending (something corresponding to an endless perfectibility of humanity). It counted, thirdly, as something essentially unstoppable (as something self-activating, pursuing a straight or spiral path). Each of these predicates is controversial, and critique could be applied to each of them. This latter must, however, when push comes to shove, go behind all these predicates and direct itself at what they all have in common. The concept of the progress of the human race in history is not to be separated from the concept of its progression through a homogenous and empty time. The critique of the concept of this progress must ground the basis of its critique on the concept of progress itself.”

    Parsed as this here:

    “For Benjamin the idea of progress becomes all-consuming such that revolutionary pursuits become impossible. This idea of progress means chronological progress as well as political, social, and technical progress. That is, Benjamin sees many historians as understanding progress through time as necessarily bound up with progress in the technological sphere, and in turn technological progress becomes equated with social progress. Thus, these understandings of progress allow for the triumph of evil under the guise of progress.”


  11. The Goddess of Truth was talking with her husband the Lord of Lies.
    The Lord of Lies said “It is so sad that people can never truly see your beauty.”
    The Goddess of Truth replied ” it saddens me that people have such a negative view of you and can’t see your creativity, humor and expansiveness.”

    The Lord then replied ” i have a plan to help them.”
    The Goddess replied “Really??….. I bet involves sex. lol”

    “Yes my love it does! I want us to combine our energies and make an incredible number of children that contain both truth and lies, some will look more like you and other more like me but they will all be to the people what we can never be, ………”

    The Goddess smiled and said “Oh my love what would i do without you? Our Children can be Useful !!! A kind of elegant blending of truth and lies that those poor limited beings can actually understand.”

  12. Spot on, Mr. Greer.

    Other than the fancy toys we have that our forefathers did not (all available solely because of the ready supply of cheap petroleum that we shall soon enough rid ourselves of) the only aspect of society that has actually changed in the last thousand years or so is that ‘health & safety’ have supplanted ‘piety & faith’ as the ultimate standards of moral excellence.

  13. Oh man, I’ve got a fun data point for you.

    Scott Alexander has a long, detailed, scientifically and statistically rigorous, sincere, and frustratingly circular discussion of parapsychology as the control group for the scientific method. He examines some parapsychology research to see what they find and how well their experiments are designed. He finds that some of them are actually done better than most other science, including his own field. All while refusing to countenance the notion that the field has any merit.

    It’s especially funny that near the end he shows fundamental problems of bias in experiments ment to show how bias seeps into to rigorous empirical research that are pretty exact parallels to the psy research that he is dismissing outright.

  14. I’m reminded of an interesting article, suggesting that Bruno Latour too was subject to the same social processes he spent most of his career describing. In 2004, when Republicans and conspiracy theorists were using his theories to contest the objectivity of scientific facts such as global warming, he wrote: “My argument is that a certain form of critical spirit has sent us down the wrong path, encouraging us to fight the wrong enemies and, worst of all, to be considered as friends by the wrong sort of allies”.

  15. >to liberate human beings from the sanity that enslaves them


  16. I love this post, this is my favourite post in this series so far.

    I have always felt exasperated at some of the criticisms of “post-modernism” coming from right-leaning people. For example, Jordan Peterson and his fans like to use “cultural Marxism” as a snarl word, but I find that Peterson’s own work is very much influenced by postmodern thought itself or at least by the notion that our beliefs and knowledge are highly subjective and informed by our context.

    Another recent example I saw on Twitter was this: The author is a Silicon Valley tech founder (who nowadays are having a cultural war with woke progressives, but that’s a digression). He wrote about his experience at Hereticon, and how he was shocked to find that people had epistemologies based on personal trust, a “social theory of truth” as he put it, rather than one based on “sense data”.

    I found this Twitter thread quite entertaining, as I read it, I was also thinking to myself, “You do realise that your notion of truth is also constructed socially, and you don’t actually form your knowledge purely from sense data, right?”

    It seems to me that many people immediately jump to either side of the dichotomy that either 1) human beings can directly apprehend reality 2) truth is socially constructed. They don’t see that there is at least one other alternative: 3) this might or might not be true in an ultimate, objective sense, but it is accurate and useful enough now, as far as I know, compared to other alternatives.

    Personally, as a Buddhist, I find that the idea of the “two truths” helps me accept that “conventional truths” even if not true ultimately, can be more or less useful. Also, reflecting on the fact that the scientific “laws” we have are all approximations from experimental data.

  17. Years ago my son was renting an upstairs bedroom in a large old Victorian house. I would visit him and the place had a deeply creepy vibe. One day he encountered a neighborhood boy on the sidewalk out front and the kid said, “Oh, you live in the haunted house”.
    My son encountered a series of poltergeist activities, exploding light bulbs, an object suddenly spinning and then balancing upright in an ‘impossible” unable to duplicate way, some coins materializing out of thin air in front of him and friend.
    This, of course, is impossible to bring into the laboratory in a repeatable at will fashion, to reliably duplicate the preconditions, whatever they may be, to repeat the phenomena. I have also witnessed incredible instant medical healings, had precognitive dreams and dreams giving me accurate information about events at a distance. The standard scientific methods are very weak tools to investigate these things and therefore are considered by some minds to be “unreal”.

  18. JMG, this kind of bracing unflinching gaze upon Reality, or at least our flickering illusion of it, is why I so much look forward to your blog every week. You have just got to stop adding books to my reading list, though. I just can’t afford to buy them, or read them, fast enough to keep up.

  19. I can’t help but be reminded of how when we’re young, we often do the most damage to our lives when we behave as though our pet ego-fantasies are some kind of unassailable absolute truth built into the fabric of the universe, and it isn’t until we can let go of such sophomoric foolishness that we can start to repair or make up for the damage we have done to ourselves.

  20. Your articles are always worth the time, but this one is out of the ballpark. I’d say that one of the measures of a blog post is the necessity to read it more than once… (heh heh!)

  21. It is interesting how a casual and unquestioned assumption of scientific realism underlies so much of how today’s world thinks about science, and what it is–despite the huge influence of Thomas Kuhn who made some very strong arguments to the contrary. I hope we’ll eventually also see a revival of interest in Pierre Duhem.

  22. What an exhilarating breath of fresh air! A brilliant gift to us all on YOUR birthday. Thank you, and may the rest of your day be delightful.

  23. “That’s what makes critical theory useful. Treat a belief as though it’s timeless and context-free and all you can do is accept or reject it. Recognize that every belief has a history and a cultural context and you can understand it instead, and this opens up a galaxy of new possibilities.”

    I’m reminded of Descartes here with his effort to determine everything from first principles. It was ambitious, a lot of the work was brilliant, but he never quite got there. Likewise here: this is a very ambitious project, but I don’t think it’s possible for a human being to question everything without entering a severe mental breakdown.

    Applied to individual beliefs, I think this is absolutely incredible, and with a few centuries of work applied to it, it may end up being recognized as one of the greatest insights in human history; but as with any new innovation to our mental toolkit, one of the core developments needed will be a sense of when it can work, and when it won’t work.

  24. Excellent!…Looks like very interesting reading…One way of putting it is “Humankind cannot bear too much reality”, as T.S.Eliot observed, and so we make up narratives to cover the gaps…These narratives are essential to our mental health, but they are of necessity not a totally accurate, or perhaps even close to accurate, portrait of what happens, or has happened in the real world…They may be simply inaccurate, or as in the Covid “vaccine” trials, a product of major fraud….In physics, where experiments are usually extremely difficult to get right, and interpretations tentative, anything important is replicated hundreds of times because the stakes are so high…In the Humanities, pretty much the opposite…

  25. Ken—The notion that science is always self-correcting has been falsified a few times in practice..When those in control of major institutions don’t want a correction, usually because it would destroy the basis of their reputations, the resistance is epic…for example…The plate techtonics theory had been pretty much established by fossils for more than 50 years before it was accepted by Academia, while the meteor impact 65 million years ago, clearly established by the worldwide Iridium layer, was resisted tooth and nail until very recently…Piltdown Man, a blatant fraud, was protected by the British Dons until the 1960s….etc…

  26. “The plain realities that scientific facts are socially constructed,…” reminded me of this quote by Alan Sokal:
    “Anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. I live on the twenty-first floor.”

  27. Excellent, JMG. As a former scientist (field biologist) married to another former scientist (lab-based biochemist) I entirely recognise your description of the scientific process – and it is one which has become more and more marked over the years.

    As for replicability, even as a 14 or so year-old studier of physics, I lost count of the number of times some class experiment of 20+ of my fellow pupils failed to demonstrate the required results, and out physics teacher would say “what you should have seen was…….” We learnt “what we should have seen”, of course, to pass our oh-so important exams.

    These days, I still take the same enormous joy in observing my beloved frogs, toads and newts spawning, the buzzards wheeling overhead and the young foxes eating brambles, but thankfully I no longer have any hypothesis to test while I do.

  28. We and we alone supposedly know the truth about everything that matters, and if we don’t happen to know it yet, nobody else could have known it either. That’s the heart of modernity.

    I suspect that a reason many have believed this is they saw life around them becoming demonstrably better than daily life ever had been for their forbears or, so far as they knew, ever before in history. I am old enough to remember my parents and grandparents building a modern, that is 50s modern, bathroom onto our house; we had used an outhouse previously. I can remember one grandmother cooking on a wood stove, and when we first got a telephone. Also I remember, as a very small child in the early 50s, being driven through windy, twisted roads, sometimes flooded, and sometimes icy and chains needed, before the interstates were built. It was also not forgotten by the newly prosperous working class that their forbears were servants and serfs.

  29. Yes, another great essay, so much of what you write deserves a much bigger audience.

  30. My first thoughts were to think of Pierre Bourdieu and his critiques of the academy, especially Homo Academicus, and then the critical realist philosophers of science and in particular Tony Lawson’s Economics & Reality. I must go back to them and re-read them in this context

  31. “Most people who live in the industrial world at present are convinced, or at least act as though they’re convinced, that the modern world is something new and unique in human history, because unlike all others, our sciences really do tell us the straightforward objective truth about nature, undiluted by social processes.”

    As someone who has actually done science, the truly hilarious part of this misunderstanding is that OBJECTIVITY is operationalized by measuring inter-observer reliability. But then you find out that you must train your observers so that you can increase reliability. Of course this just ignores the shared biases of your trained observers.

    It is much better to think of science as a partially structured grab bag of useful ideas, rather than a path to the TRUTH.

  32. Scotlyn, it’s right up against the Ring-Pass-Not…for balloons! (Above that, they pop.)

    AV, the point is as simple as it is unmentionable in Marxist circles. The purpose of Marxism is not to liberate the proletariat. The purpose of Marxism is to allow an organized faction of the intelligentsia to seize power over the proletariat from the people who currently hold that power. It’s not about liberation, it’s a power grab — and as long as there are people greedy for unearned power, or who at least like to daydream about having it, Marxism will have a following.

    Raymond, I like that. In a sensibly polytheist society, every laboratory would have a little shrine to Nemesis where the scientists would offer incense and, at intervals, failed theories.

    Siliconguy, plate tectonics is one of my favorite examples, but of course you’re right about Harlan Bretz — I read his work while it was still controversial.

    Ken, that entirely faith-based conviction was blown not merely out of the water but halfway across the nearest continent by Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Each generation of scientists turns its attention to different facts, highlighting the ones that can be explained effectively by currently fashionable theories and quietly ignoring those that can’t; each scientific revolution refocuses attention on a different set of facts, which its preferred theories explain better than the last set. That’s why navigators still use Ptolemaic astronomy, for example.

    Orion, delighted to hear it.

    Anonymous, thanks for this! I’d encountered references to it but didn’t know the label for it. That needs to be factored into any general analysis of enchantment and disenchantment, since it’s possible that science as a whole is subject to the same effect.

    Marc, you’re welcome and thank you.

    Yorkshire, the first subject in that category may well have been useful. That doesn’t mean that current applications of the same principle are as useful. Galoshes are helpful for crossing a mud puddle but I don’t recommend using that as a justification for the claim that you can walk across the Atlantic…

    Justin, no, Metamodernism is on my agenda but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I’ve got a bunch of Adorno, Benjamin, et al. on the reading list as well.

    Dobbs, I like that. Thank you.

    Old Steve, it’s quite common for some pragmatic measure to replace piety and faith as a civilization hits its age of reason; then the age of reason proves unable to provide the expected results according to the pragmatic measure — the way modern medical care, for example, no longer provides health and safety — and it’s back to piety and faith.

    Team10tim, funny indeed — but also revealing. The fact that Alexander is even paying attention to parapsychology, much less admitting that its methodology is good, is a huge breach in the wall of exclusion (another social process) that mainstream science has raised against its dissidents.

    Omer, yes, I know. It just goes to show that for academics, the prestige and political commitments of the academy take precedence over everything else!

    Other Owen, in a certain sense, yes. We’ll get to that.

    Alvin, thanks for this. You’re right, of course; it’s a very common misconception that a belief can either be based on nature, or it can be socially constructed. The fact that it’s both — that a scientific belief, to be valid, has to be able to make accurate predictions about some phenomena in nature, but that such a belief is a socially constructed instrument for making such predictions — is unmentionable. That said, I have a certain amount of sympathy for the guy in the twitter thread. If he was philosophically literate, which unfortunately most scientists aren’t, he’d realize that what he’s talking about is the difference between a social process in which nature has a seat at the table and a voice in what’s being constructed, and a social process from which she’s strictly excluded. That’s a difference that matters, even if he’s misunderstanding its nature.

    Moose, yep. These things happen, and they happen tolerably often. One thing that isn’t often realized is that science is a clunky, cumbersome gimcrack that can only function under a fairly narrow range of conditions, and then only if it’s coaxed along by people who know how to make it work. We use it because nothing better is available — and within its sharp limits, it can do amazing things. But the kind of experiences you’ve mentioned here are among the things it can’t deal with at all.

    Bruce, bwahahaha! Trust me, my reading list is even longer…

    Mister N, that’s a telling comparison. Too bad civilizations don’t generally last long enough to grow up.

    William, thank you!

    Alex, I’d love to see Duhem get more attention. In fact, I should reread him soon. He has a lot to say about our current theme.

    Jim, you’re welcome and thank you.

    Anonymous, oh, granted. The thing is, the same discovery has been made before. I’ll talk about that in an upcoming post.

  33. Pyrrhus, I’m tempted to describe that phrase — “Humankind cannot bear too much reality” — as Eliot’s Law.

    Doodily, now notice the vast and soaring difference between saying that scientific facts are socially constructed, as they are, and saying that they are “mere social conventions.” If you can’t see that difference, consider the difference between saying that a house has been constructed by human beings and saying that a house is a mere social convention…

    Marsh, “what you should have seen” is of course the point at which science loses its way. I’d like to see more science done the way the great achievements in the early days of ecology were done, by simply watching those frogs and toads and young foxes, and paying attention until patterns emerge, rather than trying to shove a hypothesis down their throats.

    Mary, exactly. It’s a very old story — temporary but striking successes in a few fields are taken as proof that the underlying belief system is correct. The Crusaders thought the same thing when they captured Jerusalem.

    Moose, thank you for this.

    Kerry, those are two more names for my reading list!

    Dobbs, exactly! “Objectivity” in practice means the consensus of a bunch of trained observers who all have the same background — and that’s been true, as Latour points out, since the beginning of science.

  34. “…a weird little man with a toothbrush mustache who called on them to abandon rational politics for an archaic, bloodthirsty mysticism of race and soil”.

    As for the toothbrush moustache, those were fashionable in 1920s; George Orwell wore one in Burma. Hitler, being a conservative man, held on to his long after the fashion had past – perhaps seeing it as a valuable “trademark”.

    As for “rational politics”, that made me laugh harder than almost anything I have seen this year. As a concept, it ranks with other oxymoronic phrases such as “freezing fire” and “military intelligence”.

    Politics is precisely the activity in which human beings engage when reason fails them. It consists substantially of rhetorical and fallacious arguments, appeals to bias, prejudice and self-interest, conspiracies, and mind-numbing bureaucratic rituals. If an issue can be settled rationally, there is no need for politics.

    The foreign policies of today’s enlightened, liberal nations embody exactly the same selfish, cynical, and unscrupulous aspirations as did those of the Nazis – without their somewhat refreshing honesty. The US government, for instance, has killed several times as many foreign civilians since 1945 as the most enthusiastic devotee of the “Holocaust” claims for it. Yet the great majority of its citizens, and those of other countries who should know better, praise it to the skies.

  35. My own foray into “sciences” that proved wrong started with discoveries of ancient hominid remains – where the ‘old guard’ would not accept that new discoveries by the younger set meant that there needed to be a reset of the “tree”. Then came the theory of plate techtonics that was also fiercely debased by the ‘old guard’ for a long time. Now there is, if only at its beginnings, the battle of economists trying to overthrow the “obvious scientific value” of neo-classical economics leading irrevocably to ‘modern’ neoliberalism.
    The latter has proven to be a virulent parasite across a wide spectrum of socio-political “thought” and polity.

  36. I think it all goes back to challenge and response. When the response is working, the public follows the experts. When it’s not working, the public distrusts the experts.

    The last few decades have seen the public increasingly distrust our appointed experts as this country goes down the tubes. A current example is parents increasingly attacking school boards. The Los Angeles area has seen two riots at school board meetings in the past week which the media has tried to minimize.

    The real challenge we face is population growth which causes more resource depletion and a reduced standard of living. The public has tried twice to prevent population growth but the government has managed to sabotage both attempts.

    Since the judicial branch legalized abortion in 1973, about 60 million abortions have been performed. Meanwhile the political branches have allowed about the same number of immigrants to enter this country.

    The public has responded by lowering its fertility rate below replacement level. Washington has responded by accelerating the immigration rate to increase our population to over 300 million to keep the current system going.

    When illegal aliens cross the border their carbon footprint probably increases at least tenfold. But Biden does not care which shows that there are other motives for the current climate hysteria.

  37. Hi JMG, many thanks for the post!

    Walter Benjamin:

    “A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the Angel of History. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a hurricane is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This hurricane irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This hurricane is what we call “Progress”.”
    (Paragraph from the essay: “On the Concept of History” by Walter Benjamin)

    Well I have changed the word “storm” for “hurricane” from the original text, because now I think we are in the eye of it…

    I am sure you know what painting is.


  38. AV #2 – if I may:

    “…why?” If Marxism is failling in Russia, and capitalism is succeeding in giving people a decent life in the west, why do we still need a revolution? To what end? Revolution for revolutions sake? I just don’t get the motivation.”

    I would say – short answer tl;dr – “man does not live by bread alone” – ie. the “decent life” claimed by capitalism (and confirmed if one considers *only* quantitative data) involved a great deal of “deracination” (ie – pulling people up by their roots) which is a painful process, and destroys a great deal of “qualia” that made people’s lives worth living, and monetary gains – even when measurably real – do not necessarily address what has been lost thereby.

    The irony is that the attempts to replace what was lost (ie – socialism, communism) fail even worsely… but this does not negate that what capitalism represents is, firstly, a loss of previous *rooted* and *place-based* quality of life.

    If you are interested in the long version of someone puzzling over this interesting dilemma, I would recomment this series of essays….

  39. The Frankfurt School seems to to be composed of exponents of the European bourgeoisie that have attempted to create a parallel universe Marxism that ignores both the centrality of the working class and the nitty gritty of the economic relations between the classes.

    Stalin was the continuator of Lenin’s vision in the USSR. Yes, lots of people ended on the wrong side of the Soviet state, but then, enemies were numerous.

    Today, the mental flights of fancy of the Frankfurters are used to attack the legitimate aspirations of workers everywhere. Their ideas are convenient for the misrepresentation of the truest, purest Marxist thought, the only social ideology that poses a real threat to the capitalist system. That’s why the Frankfurt school is a darling of the capitalist elites, a convenient source of wacky ideas that go against material reality and can be easily represented as “Marxism”.

  40. The evolving “social process” of ever-more-jab-injuries continues to pop more balloons. Just last month, the peer reviewed scientific journal Vaccines published an article not only popping the balloon that the jabs were “safe and effective”, but explains in detail one of the major bio-chemical mechanisms behind so many of the harms.

    You may have already come across this, but this to me more than anything else really points to a cultural tipping point in regards to how people are recognizing more and more how dangerous it was to blindly “follow the science”, or at least follow what those in power claimed the “science” was.

  41. JMG,

    You mentioned Ecology above, and I assume that’s the “less arrogant science” that the individual in the picture is engaged in. I have been meaning to ask if there is an introductory Ecology textbook or author that you recommend, if it isn’t too far off topic?

  42. AV #2, you nailed it – postmodernism is what happens when Marxists give up on the working class. In this instance they probably thought the Western working class had been bought off and become a complicit ‘labour aristocracy’, and the torch had now passed to the oppressed and exploited of the Third World. That attitude was wrong (see Paris ’68), but it explains a lot.

  43. >Other Owen, in a certain sense, yes. We’ll get to that.

    Sigh. Please tell me you don’t have urges to color your hair blue and scream.

    As far as the problems with science, part of what makes the social part of it so important (and perhaps oppressive) is the massive cost it takes both in theory and experiment to reach the frontiers of knowledge. How many years and how much money does it take to just understand how all the gears of the Standard Model fit together? How many billions of euros did it take to build CERN? And at each point along the way, you have to not offend too many of the gatekeepers and there are a lot of them. What you should marvel at is that things still get done at all, not that things have calcified or atrophied.

    The age of Ben Franklin taking a kite he built on his tabletop and publishing a paper based on what he discovered went away probably some time at the end of the 19th c, although it was still possible to tinker with stuff well into the 20th. I mean, that’s how Feynman got his start.

    Nowadays? Forget it.

  44. Good essay.

    I have been saying to people for years, that the claim that “Science proves that religion is false” is an absurd claim.

    No long ago, I wrote the following to a close family member, who thinks that he can’t have religious fath “because Science!”:

    ” I remember you once writing to me, that you wished that you could have a religious faith, but that “science” somehow prevented you from doing so. Permit me a few brief comments on that, if I may.

    I hold certain truths to be axiomatic, namely:

    * There is only one Reality (Yes, I know that some post-modernist “philosophers” dispute that – bear with me!)
    * Religion and natural science describe different aspects of the one Reality.
    – Religion describes God (or the Divine, or whatever expression you wish to use) and humanity’s relation thereto, as best as such things can be expressed in human terms.
    – Natural Science describes the material, created world.
    * Although they are distinct forms of knowledge about the one Reality, there is some overlap, Venn-diagram style.

    If these premises are accepted, then it follows that true science and true religion can never clash. If they appear to clash, then (a) the science is wrong, or (b) the religion is wrong, or (c) both are wrong.

    Finally, reductionist materialism is not a scientific theory at all, since, by definition, it cannot be tested. Rather, it is an a priori ideological or philosophical assumption. It is the assumption that the “real” is matter, which is the fundamental thing to which all else is added. It assumes that mind, intelligence and being are simply accidental, subjective effects of material causes.

    Only modern, Western culture has ever believed this, and even that only in the last 300 years or so. All other cultures, past and present (including our own), have always presumed that the “real world” is not that of external phenomena, the “world of appearances,” but the eternal one of the gods or God. Thus, instead of matter creating consciousness, it is Consciousness, or Self-Existent Being, which creates matter. Matter is radically contingent, depending for its very existence upon the Self-Existent Being/Consciousness (or God) which manifests and brings it forth.

    I find the latter explanation to be simpler and more “parsimonious” than the former. Clearly, the scientific method, as such, can neither prove or disprove either proposition. These are not scientific theories which can be tested, but prior ideological presuppositions or philosophical assumptions which either make sense, or do not make sense, of the world we experience.

    In fine, much of what gets spouted by people who trick themselves up in lab coats and proclaim that “Science says…”, is actually shabby, tendentious ideology. Distinguishing the difference allows one to accept actual, natural science and find a saving faith at the same time.”

  45. You mention science, and I think that it is reasonable place to start. But the reordering can extend to areas that are even more fundamental than hypothesis-test science.

    I clear example of this is Taleb (the admitted popularizer of others work) and his shredding of ubiquitous use of bell curve statistics. Taleb first pointed out that much of what we viewed as trends and systems, was simply putting a pattern on randomness and naming it (Fooled by Randomness), than latter he shows that not only do results not always find a simple bell curve output (long tails), in complex systems they still have strange off the graph results (aka Black Swans).

    Math may be the “purest” form of knowledge, but the application of much of it is less straightforward than advertised.

  46. “To what end? Revolution for revolutions sake? I just don’t get the motivation.”

    Power! The purpose of revolution is to put someone else in power.

    One of Marx’s big mistakes was assuming the workers wanted to overthrow the system. The workers could see the system worked for some, they wanted in on the deal.

  47. Here are all of the requests for prayer that have recently appeared at and, as well as in the comments of the prayer list itself. Please feel free to add any or all of the requests to your own prayers.

    If I missed anybody, or if you would like to add a prayer request for yourself or anyone who has given you consent (or for whom a relevant person holds power of consent) to the list, please feel free to leave a comment below.

    * * *
    This week I would like to bring special attention to the following prayer requests.

    JH’s mother-in-law Sue, who lives in Spain, has had a severe arthritis affliction in her knee that has left her unable to walk for weeks now, leaving her more or less bed bound; for prayers and/or healing energy for swift resolution of the issue and swift recovery of her ability to walk.

    Tanamous’s friend’s brother David got in a terrible motorcycle accident and has been diagnosed as a quadriplegic given the resultant spinal damage; for healing and the positive outcomes of upcoming surgeries and rehabilitation, specifically towards him being able to walk and live a normal life once more.

    One of @open_space’s best friends, Patricio Lopez de Nava Amezcua, was shot and killed last week; for the safe and pleasant passing of his soul. (Photo of Patricio here.)

    Nicole’s (shewhoholdstension) 41 year brother Robert died suddenly in bed on May 15th; for a smooth and blessed journey on the other side. Robert was a single dad and he leaves behind three children: Hannah, Zack, and Jordyn; that they and Nicole be blessed and protected, and find what comfort they can during this very difficult time. (Update here.)

    Lp9’s request on behalf of their hometown, East Palestine Ohio, for the safety and welfare of their people and all living beings in the area. (Lp9 gives updates here and most recently here, and says “things are a bit… murky”), and the reasonable possibility seems to exist that this is an environmental disaster on par with the worst America has ever seen. At any rate, it is clearly having a devastating impact on the local area, and prayers are still warranted.

    * * *

    Guidelines for how long prayer requests stay on the list, how to word requests, how to be added to the weekly email list, how to improve the chances of your prayer being answered, and several other common questions and issues, are now to be found at the Ecosophia Prayer List FAQ.

    If there are any among you who might wish to join me in a bit of astrological timing, I pray each week for the health of all those with health problems on the list on the astrological hour of the Sun on Sundays, bearing in mind the Sun’s rulerships of heart, brain, and vital energies. If this appeals to you, I invite you to join me.

  48. The real test of science is engineering. If something can be replicated and used for a purpose, then the science at its basic level must be correct in function. Of course theory could be out to lunch.
    But we have to account for twisting the world to our will—through knowing how things work. Repeatedly. Is it better for the world or humanity? Meh

  49. The shame of the cultural strait-jacket is that it constrains not just scientists and politicians and journalists and members of the PMC, but your regular thoughtful people who imagine they have been well-informed and who build their lives on this basis. Our friends and relations, in other words, from all classes. Some of whom may actually also be (or have been) scientists, politicians, or journalists, and academics, or honorable members of the PMC or erstwhile “official” thinking classes.

    Speaking of politicians, when I was a young man, I worked at the state legislature in North Carolina, and soon discovered that very few of them were actively bad people of evil intent. Most went there wanting to do good things for the state and their constituents. It has been said that the brake that prevents them from doing whatever good they might do is not want of motivation, but for want of having a broader world-view. Then, as now, a significant portion of our would-be leaders are graduates of law schools. I think somewhere around 90%. This unanimity of perspective has its own limiting effects on them, beyond even the usual cultural strait-jacket.

    Also, let’s not underestimate the good so-called evil (self-concerned) people may do. One of the most thoughtful legislators I knew made sure he was elected year after year in order to prevent what he felt were unprofitable decisions about migrant labor. He was a potato farmer who handed out five-gallon tins of potato chips to everyone working at the legislature (including staff) to remind them why he was there. Otherwise, he had no ambitions, interests or agendas, and worked tirelessly and with enormous objectivity for the common good. Of course, he was not a lawyer, about whom Shakespeare wrote such a drastic thing.

    There’s no place to hide from the currently fashionable way of doing/being stupid. We have constantly to be on guard for our own blinders (which we can often only discover by inference or through the help of our friends and enemies).

    All of us will be engaging (even indirectly) with the strait-jacket. Just knowing “better” doesn’t give us an exemption. I thank you all for giving me more tools for that task.

    Somehow, since so many of us are discovered to be on the spectrum (i.e., many are Aspbergian), this lot are hard to force into being part of the consensus purely in order to get along socially. Frankly, when growing up a thoroughgoing Aspie (which I discovered unofficially in my sixties), I found the whole world I lived in so puzzling that I was unable to accept the world as it was presented to me, and came up with largely unacceptable answers for myself to explain things that tolerably often proved to be correct. Never fashionable, though. Modernity never impressed me all that much. But I appreciate it more now than I did as a callow youth (still not saying much). I’m glad to have more knowledge of why my intuition was yelling so loudly about this stuff. Kudos to y’all, whether coming soon or late, who are joining the discussions here.

  50. I remember reading in some book that there are always current scientists who are held in high regard, and therefore their theories are regarded as sacrosanct orthodoxy. Only once they’re dead can their theories be challenged. “Science advances one death at a time”.

    This video below shows archeologists who allegedly found evidence of human existence going back far further than is believed possible, according to current theory. Human artefacts were found way deeper than presumed possible. One woman presented her archeological findings, all in accordance with the accepted scientific methods, mind you, and was hounded out of her profession as a result.

    FORBIDDEN ARCHEOLOGY 2 Ancient Alien Discoveries of Early Man

    I am not sure why the YouTube poster included the word “alien” in the title, though.

    The video is based on the 1993 book “Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race” by Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson.

  51. Tom, you seem to think that “rational” means “morally good.” That’s a common fallacy these days, but it’s still a fallacy. Politics is very often utterly rational, especially when it’s at its most brutal; if you want to seize power, for example, staging a coup d’etat and slaughtering your opponents can be a perfectly rational way to do it — and the advantages that will come to you after you do that can make that a highly rational choice. Yes, the United States has slaughtered vast numbers of people to maintain its global hegemony, just as Britain did in its day and Spain did before that; immense wealth flowed to each country as a result. Wicked? Sure, but perfectly rational.

    Bruce, that’s a fine rogue’s gallery! I like to include very nearly every modern school of economics in the list, for what it’s worth; the neoliberals are simply the ones who’ve had the chance to act out their fallacious notions most often.

    Roman, that’s a little oversimplified, but by and large, yeah.

    DFC, I know the painting, and of course the quote. It interests me that I see history so differently…

    CC, thanks for this. I’d be interested in reading a more detailed Marxist critique of the Frankfurt school, if you know of one.

    Chris F, yes, I saw that — I’ve been tracking the collapse of the Covid vaccine myth very closely, for obvious reasons. You’re right, of course, that this could mark the end of our civilization’s age of reason and the coming of a prodigious blowback.

    Steven the book to get as an introduction to ecology is Fundamentals of Ecology by Eugen P. Odum. It’s very solid, very thorough, and nicely balanced.

    Other Owen, of course not. I’m just having fun taking the misused weaponry out of the hands of the screaming bluehairs and showing that it’s entirely possible to do something useful with it. Did you know, btw, that Franklin never did that experiment with a kite — he was trying to get a rival of his to try to duplicate it, knowing that the rival would be fried by the lightning? I’ll have to see if I can dig up the author and title of the book published a few years ago that demonstrated that.

    Michael, nicely argued. I’m amused to note that a century-old Rosicrucian document I’ve been using as meditation fodder recently made exactly the same point — that true science and true religion must be compatible, and that any apparent conflicts between them are caused by mistaken notions concerning one or both. (It goes on to suggest that theologians who make statements about biology generally know nothing about biology, and biologists who make statements about theology generally know even less about theology!)

    Russel1200, of course! It’s just that science is an easy target just now.

    Dan, funny how that works. 😉

    Quin, thanks for this as always,

    Dave, no, that doesn’t prove that the science is correct. It merely proves that for whatever reason, it comes up with accurate predictions in certain cases. I’m reminded of a famous story in anthropology; an anthropologist and a Kalahari bushman were following wildebeest tracks, and the bushman told the anthropologist, “In a little while you’ll see the tracks of the male wildebeest heading off in a different direction.” That duly happened. The anthropologist asked why, and the bushman said, “Oh, this time of year male wildebeests always get into quarrels with their mothers-in-law and go off to sulk.” His prediction was accurate. Does that mean his science was correct?

    Clarke, oh, granted. None of us can get outside the limits of the human mind — neurotypical or otherwise.

    Batstrel, Charles Fort used to have a lot of fun with that sort of thing — and William Corliss did a more earnest job of following in his footsteps.

  52. Hi John Michael,

    Scientists are just like everyone else, they have to pay the bills, or else face the consequences. And so that conflict of interest is built into the results. What did they expect? It’d be an awful trade to work in. Having to reapply for your job every couple of years, no matter what prior achievements, would eventually tire the strongest of wills. And! You’d have to stand by and observe that happening to your peers. If you tolerate that, sooner or later you’ll be next. The conclusion I’ve long since come to, is that there is a flawed belief in independence with them, and from there, problems flow. It’s a bit like the economists claiming that: “Now let’s just believe that humans are rational, and we’ll take it from there”. Well, they ain’t! 🙂

    In breaking we’re going to have a warm and dry winter long term forecast news, 75mm or 3 inches of rain have fallen here over the past few days. Who knows whether this will continue, but they did get the warm bit right. It is strangely warm here for only two weeks out from the winter solstice. Hmm. Had to laugh, yesterday was so bleak that I recorded only 10.3 minutes of peak sunshine for the entire day (the second worst day in my records of solar energy). Can’t run a civilisation off that sort of energy output, and the components in the power system ate all that energy. It’s going to be a strange summer weather wise down under.



  53. “On the one hand, communism in the Soviet Union, instead of becoming the workers’ paradise of intellectuals’ wet dreams, had devolved into a totalitarian nightmare with a reliable habit of mass murder on the grand scale.”

    I’ve never understood why intellectuals were so hung up on a workers’ paradise.
    Did they ever meet any workers?
    Why was a workers’ paradise so special?
    What did intellectuals gain by salivating over freeing workers?
    Who did they think was going to do the work?

    This is what always stops me cold. I can’t understand the rationale because it doesn’t make any sense to me.

  54. JMG,

    It was worth coming out of the shadows to tell you how much I appreciate the comparison of modern data to a narrative people are trying to tell. In effect, data has become many modern peoples Holy Scripture. That helps me make sense of why so much importance has been placed on data. I find it a useful tool, but so many people can’t do anything without data these days. It gets a little infuriating because I’ve tried to follow the adage to use the right tool for the job. Data isn’t always the right tool for the job.

  55. Recently in 2016, a group of the most advanced remote viewers in the world, viewed the collapse of Atlantis. They, independently, given nothing more than a number to focus on, were able to relate what really caused the destruction of Atlantis.

    In search of power, the Atlanteans drilled simply immense holes in the Earth’s crust near Antarctica, to harness the power difference from the extreme cold water in the Antarctic basin and the heat from the magma below.

    They continued to do this successfully, time after time, until at one point they ruptured the Earth’s crust and the resulting disaster literally wiped out human civilization back to the stone age.

    If not suppressed by those who know the truth, this would be a lesson for history as our own modern civilization struggles to get the very last drop of hydrocarbons out of the Earth’s crust.

  56. I’m still digesting all this, but something that interests me is how many intellectuals and writers pin the beginning of modernism, or the beginning of its expression, on Charles Baudelaire. Muvj of that spin came from Walter Benjamin’s pen.

    Then there was Benjamin’s friendship with Gershom Scholem. The pair had a lively correspondence, which I haven’t read. I do have an advance reader copy of a Scholem biography that came out in 2017 I haven’t cracked, but felt might come in handy some time. (Stranger in a Strange Land by George Prochnik). That time may be when I’m done typing this!

    To me Baudelaire, the symbolist, had a strong mystical and magical streak. It’s interesting he was an obsession of Benjamin’s. Then with Benjamin’s friendship to Scholem, he was trading thoughts with another mystic and scholar of Kabbalah and Jewish magic.

    I don’t really know what the Frankfurt school may have said canonically about religion and spirituality, and such (as with others here, more and more reading) but the above is suggestive of threads of connection around what I may as well call enchantment influencing at least Benjamin’s thought.

    My reading of Adorno and Benjamin has been piecemeal, and something that comes up in reading art history and media studies type stuff, so that has been my principal encounter with these fellows.

    The Arcades Project, while not very coherent as a straight-forward text, is impressive as a kind of obsessive collage of myriad ideas. In a sense it reminds me of Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis, something they each worked on, and just kept adding to.

    Alright, time to crack that book.

  57. @Alvin #16 – Us common folks have an expression for your Alternative #3. “Good enough for government work.”

  58. I wonder how academic culture nowadays would treat something as revolutionary as the discovery of relativity or quantum mechanics.

    Let’s say, for example, that Einstein had been derailed by circumstance and had never done what he’d done, that is, built on the work by Poincare and Lorentz? What if he’d spent his life as an unknown clerk in a patent office?

    They say that relativity was sitting around waiting to be discovered. Maybe it was. But what if the eventual discoverer had been born in the late 1990s instead of 1879 and he’d done his thinking in the 2020s, a very different time than Einstein’s?

    They say that Einstein didn’t really discover anything new, that he just repackaged what was already known. So I wonder what would have been the reaction by the august and mighty 21st Century physics community to a paper by some clerk in some government office with the temerity to pronounce on such weighty subjects, coming up with E= MCsquared?

    Would modern the academics have the integrity to consider a revolutionary work by a nobody? Would the ground-breaking thinking sit around for another hundred years?

  59. “isn’t simplicity a virtue?

    Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler

    Einstein did not actually say that, but it’s still good advice.

    When you can explain everything you need to explain is as few terms as possible, you are done. Adding complexity might improve accuracy (the heat capacity of water changes with temperature, but the error in the flow meter is usually more significant, so there is little gain from including it.) but leaving out terms entirely is usually wrong too.

  60. There probably is no such thing as objective truth. Except maybe in theory. All we have is our perceptions. When enough people have the same perception, we call it objective truth. But these objective truths keep changing. Plus there are the cultural, economic, and financial factors.

    Anyway I think we understand the world better than prior civilizations. It’s just that we cannot help but fall into the same cyclical rise and fall pattern.

  61. “Anonymous, thanks for this! I’d encountered references to it but didn’t know the label for it. That needs to be factored into any general analysis of enchantment and disenchantment, since it’s possible that science as a whole is subject to the same effect.”

    I’ve given this some thought as it is highly relevant for a research project I’m working on, and in a way, for the mythology of science, it may actually be more troubling if The Decline Effect is not universal, but particular to either certain times, fields, or places: if even the ways in which the natural world changes can change, then this is even more troubling for the ideology that it is possible to understand it.

  62. Wonderful article. I would love to see you explore how you see science transforming during the long descent ahead. The fragility of the supply chains that allow modern labs to even pretend to do useful work was one reason I left academia. The possibility of a cultural backlash against scientific authority is another. Will modern science end up with the same fate as poor Hypatia?

  63. JMG, I noticed something similar when reading about the philosophy of science. It is very clear that at least a few of our greatest scientists throughout history have deeply understood that our best scientific models were not ‘truth’ but rather the best abstractions humanity had come up with to explain various phenomena.

    It was also clear that another civilisation might have come up with a different set of abstractions to explain the same phenomena. Neither is inherently wrong, although it might well certainly be that one model is generally more helpful or better developed than another.

    And since then, I’ve been surprised at how many brilliant scientists have failed to grasp this insight and simply point to the current science as ‘truth’ with no awareness of this distinction between reality and scientific abstraction. (Although in some cases, they are clearly pushing an agenda.)

  64. Chris, science has suffered badly from its post-Second World War professionalization. We had more inventions and more interesting research when it was still mostly being done by amateurs. But then I’ve talked about that before.

    Teresa, they couldn’t care less about the workers. That’s all sloganeering to get the workers to fight and die so that a cadre of intellectual cranks can seize power and tell everyone what to do.

    Prizm, an excellent point! Data isn’t always the right tool, and crucially, the specific set of data someone is brandishing is very often the wrong tool for the job.

    Workdove, that’s interesting. Has anyone checked to see if any traces of those holes exist? Atlantis sank around 9600 BC, and that’s recent enough that large holes in the crust in the ocean around Antarctica should still be detectable.

    Roman, no, and neither is complexity. The right balance of simplicity and complexity for each individual situation is more useful than either one on its own.

    Justin, the Frankfurt school had some very harsh things to say about occultism. Theodor Adorno wrote an essay entitled Theses Against Occultism — it’s a remarkable production, and one that I’ll be critiquing in detail one of these days.

    Smith, that’s an excellent point. I noted in an essay elsewhere that if Darwin had proposed his theory of natural selection today, the standard logical fallacies scientists now use to chase off “pseudoscience” would work just as well to chase him off.

    Roman, when you say that you think we understand the world better than previous civilizations, do you have any evidence for that? Or is it simply a statement of faith?

    Anonymous, one way or another, it’s a huge issue. I’ve downloaded some papers. One question that comes immediately to mind: what if the scientific method itself is subject to the decline effect?

    Shane, I’m very worried right now that a good many scientists may be risking Hypatia’s fate, possibly in a literal and personal sense. The number of people who have been harmed by the medical industry in recent years is very high, you know — medical error is the #3 cause of death in the US, just for starters — and the possibility of violent mass blowback against the entire scientific enterprise is not small. As for the broader issue you raise, I’ve dealt with that in some of my books, but I’ll consider revisiting it.

    SD, I know. I also notice how many scientists these days are actively hostile toward philosophy — it’s as though they fear that learning anything about philosophy will take away their fantasy of having personal ownership of the truth.

  65. If science cannot adapt to the new realities, cultural, ecological, etc…. that will make the fall a lot harder!

    Alvin – the two truths! Using that lens to look at science, that’s a project for me of many years. But I don’t see anybody else talking that way… so you mentioning it is a true delight for me! Have you found anybody else exploring that way, or maybe you feel as isolated as I do?!

  66. Just thought I’d add on about Marxism, etc.
    True socialism was achieved for 10 minutes in Russia when the peasants got their dreams of volya after the tzar fell. Basically it means freedom, and for them it meant being free to just get on with their lives without having to bow to landowners, tax collectors, soldiers, or priests. They minded their own business, decided what to do themselves in village meetings, and decided themselves what to sell or swap for goods they needed from the towns.
    Then Lenin (second son of an aristocrat) got power and that was the end of it. Pretty sure all his machinations were a cry to his dad, begging him to see and love his son.

  67. Great post, JMG. A related issue is the chronocentrism that springs from the odd idea, that our “present time” is in some special privileged sense THE present, more than (say) the year 1923 was present to the folk of 1923, or that of 2123 will be to the folk if 2123. From that springs the emotion of boredom that “history” arouses in those who aren’t interested in it – they view the past not only set in jelly from our point of view but also (by a kind of transference) as though it really was fixed in that jelly at the time it was happening, so that it just quivered through its inevitable textbook motions, utterly lacking in the live shimmer of contingency which we in our real vivid present enjoy… With a mind-set like that, it’s an easy step to belief in “modernity”.

  68. 1. Early school taught me that science was about making observations, hypotheses about observations, tests to verify the hypotheses, rinse and repeat.

    2. Later school taught me that science is about [Famous Name] making [Important Discovery] that resulted in [World-Changing Breakthrough].

    3. TV and movies taught me that science was about crazy people in white coats with equally crazy hair working inside a room full of crazy gadgets doing crazy things.

    4. The Internet taught me (at least, the “skeptic rationalist” movement that had its heyday in the 2000’s when I first came online), that science was about papers being published in a “reputable” journal with a “rigorous” peer-review process.

    They’re all kinda, sorta correct, but are actually referring to different facets of science. I’m not a science philosopher, but if I were to tease out the above in my own terms:

    #1 is the substance of science
    #2 is the history of science
    #3 is the forms and matter of science
    #4 is the social institution of science

    There are more facets than these I’m sure, but for now these are good enough.

    Now, #2, 3, and 4 are all supposed to be in service of #1. The decline of science is because the priorities have been reversed: the substance is ignored, the history forgotten, the forms and matter are messed about, all in order to (pre)serve the social institution (or rather, the wealth and privileges of those who are high-up in it).

    I can’t help but notice that science is declining in pretty much the same way the Catholic church has declined, for very similar reasons that I outlined above. The parallels go right down to the sex scandals!

    I’m both a Roman Catholic and a pop-science enthusiast. The decline of both the Church and of science are things that I lament very deeply.

  69. A new thought has occured to me as a result of reading this. I wonder if the entire political howl over immigration, including both sides, is utterly framed by the idea that man controls Nature. If Nature is in charge, then it’s a foregone conclusion when races, tribes, ethnicities end, how they endure, or why they are called to a new place. It may be a deeper subject, and this is just an aspect of a vast vista, but if for example, Ireland gets to decide who is Irish, then ones political preferences are at best and the most, merely a means or way or manifestation of that force. Which is, if this is true, quite poorly understood, currently. I’m in Ireland right now, so it’s on my mind. The layers of history here are impressive. It was amusing for me to see a Smash Fascism sign in Dingle and some other propaganda. Btw, inflation and immigration are issues here too.

  70. Even mathematics is susceptible to this phenomenon. The classis work about this is Lakatos’ “Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery”. Things get reworked and redefined – sometimes out of all recognition – until they conform to the current esthetic.

  71. Great post, JMG, thank you.

    I work as a junior researcher in analytical chemistry, and can second most of what was presented about our current scientific establishment. It is quite unfortunate that market forces have become pervasive in our work.
    Most researchers (the word “scientist”, ironically enough, is almost never used by “scientists”, at least in Portugal) are just trying to stay afloat, to keep their jobs. The adage “publish or perish” is all too real these days. So it’s little wonder that researchers find themselves trapped in these social conventions Mr Greer talks about.
    Furthermore, I think most people not in the field ignore the fact that most research done nowadays has very little to do with some idea of naive curiosity or even “progress”, but is mostly meant to benefit the market, either by producing new products, medicine, etc. simply because that is where the money comes from.

    When I was studying as an undergraduate, I was quite struck by the lack of emphasis given to critical thinking, logic or the scientific method. It seems most college degrees nowadays are about cramming facts for tests, and then forgetting them. Most MSc’s have little theoretical knowledge about what the scientific method is or implies (and a number of them don’t really care about it, because to them knowing something or being able to read it on wikipedia is almost equivalent). Even so, I am not trying to be critical of professors and scientists, because they are conditioned beings with dreams and suffering, like the rest of us.

    A very interesting professor once told me that he had given hundreds of courses on design thinking throughout the world, and only a single one had to be cancelled midway. Design thinking is basically an approach to designing solutions to problems/pains/desires which encourages us to think outside the box and in different ways. The one course which had to be canceled, because the participants were simply not getting it, was to a room full of university professors.

  72. JMG; “science done the way the great achievements in the early days of ecology were done, by simply watching those frogs and toads and young foxes, and paying attention until patterns emerge, rather than trying to shove a hypothesis down their throats.”

    Well, amen to that!

    ‘Twas happily still largely being done thus, back when I started out, though I can’t lay claim to any of those “great achievements” – a few titchy ones maybe, and a definite, enduring love of toads.

  73. What reasons are there to think experiments have ever been reproducible? Few scientists see the point of reproducing other’s experiments. They know when they strike gold.

    They say science progresses “one death at a time”. When old scientists die, their part of science disappears, and is replaced by the science of a young scientist. In addition to change over time, different groups of scientists can have unrelated visions of the same subject. Science is a set of small and changing human visions.

    As our energy consumption decreases, so will the size of the science we can maintain. The body of science will decrease in size, but it will keep renewing.

  74. JMG at #32 – Thanks very much for the paragraph about Marxism! Seems like it could be applied to quite a lot of “isms” with very little editing. You’ve given me (yet) another thing to ponder on.

  75. Hello JMG:
    Thanks for your post! I’ve remembered thanks to it the “old good times” at Universitiy (in 90’s), when I studied some Philosophy. Critical Theory was one of the students’ “black beast”, ahem…

  76. Reading this essay and some of the comments, it occurred to me that the scientific method could be likened to a magical operation. A trained group of initiates gather in a sacred space in ceremonial garb and conduct prescribed rituals. They communicate in a specialized language, using their own words of power. They conduct their ceremony in an exacting fashion (ideally, but as any mage knows, it’s easy to make a slip-up or fudge things here and there). The results are written up and the paper that results is something of a talisman, in that it then holds some amount of power over the consciousness of those who view it.

    Since many scientists are atheist or at the very least would scoff at the idea of their operations reaching up into the spiritual realms, the whole thing may create a bit of an empty form that could be utilized by something else.

  77. JMG and kommentariat, me and a friend were arguing on this topic recently: what do you think about the attempts for obtaining a GUT, Grand Unified Theory? Do scientists have any possibility to succeed in it next years? or just are they making “mindfrack”(mind masturbation)? I mean “succeed” in empyrically confirming the GUTs.

  78. Thank you for writing about critical theory. Your concise overview helps me get a grip on a challenging set of ideas.

    I think we are working on similar projects. I’m working on a book that says that many things we don’t think of as religions actually are. My paradigmatic example is Nazism, which I call an atheistic religion. It draws its myths from social Darwinism, that Nature is red in tooth and claw, and that predators are the victors of the natural world. So the victorious man and victorious society should be predators. It’s a myth because another part of nature — bees — show that successful species should be cooperative and selfless. The myth is the meaning that we draw from our surroundings. From that scientific myth, Hitler crafted a religion with its own ethics, practices and connection to its society.

    Communism is also an atheistic religion based in the idea that history is an understandable, predictable process and that class conflict is its engine. Communism in the USSR developed a theology called material dialectics, and a class of priests that ruled in the name of the theology.

    I’m also working on the Trump phenomenon as the latest version of Protestant evangelicalism, which is the way the common people protest their treatment by the ruling classes. This strain manifests as the “paranoid style”, because it immerses itself and lives in myth. In other words, it’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a new myth that reflects a fear of elite domination.

    I try to show that religion is a natural part of being human, because its how we develop a useful approach the complexity of our natural and social worlds. Another way of saying it is that religion is a social technology with social benefits for believers.

  79. @ Dave #49 “The real test of science is engineering”

    This would only be true IF getting something to work is indistinguishable from understanding WHY it works.

    I submit to you that there are a million things being done at every moment that achieve desired results without the achievers (or anyone else) having the least idea *why* it does. The “why” is not essential, although the tinkering and playing around with materials and processes *may* be…

  80. I found a version of that essay by Adorno (in addition to your link). It is rather harsh. Kind of reminds me of Wilhelm Reich when he is inveighing against the spiritual as well. (But I think I like Reich better than Adorno). I guess Adorno was just dialectically materialist.

    Benjamin seems at least more sympathetic. Though there is a lot to wade through. This article is interesting: “Divining Benjamin: Reading Fate, Graphology, Gambling” by Eric Downing. It gets into Benjamin’s take on telepathy, and reading as a form of that, and also divination, and his convultued interest in magic.
    (Don’t know if you have an account with jstor to read free articles).

    Yet the piece this is based on, Benjamin’s article “Surrealism: the Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia” is just as harsh on the surrealists as Adorno is on the occultists (obvious links there). A bit unfair IMO.

    I did read a chapter of Stranger in a Strange Land last night and it was insightful as to Benjamin’s character as a person and Scholem’s interaction with him. There was some discussion of “spiritual aestheticism” and Benjamin’s idea of the aura around certain works of art… the word enchantment even popped up!

    Yet all this scholarly and academic stuff might make my head hurt after awhile, and with a nod to Chris at Fernglade I will have to go back to reading some pulp fiction for a breather. (A collection of Karl Edward Wagner’s short stories is on my night stand… from the same publisher who is putting back out Manly Wade Wellman’s John the Balladeer this fall: )

    Yet, it’s also kind of fun looking at this stuff, and I treat it as a puzzle to see how things fit together -or don’t.

  81. Hello JMG and fellow commenters,

    Following this essay and foremost the one JMG linked to (A Useful Kind of Madness), I’d like to point that one field of study and thinking still retains some aspects of what prevailed before the advent of science-as-a-bureaucracy: mathematics.

    Knowing quite well this field myself as an amateur, the researchers who are allowed to pass (and actually pass) for crackpots in modern institutionalized scientific research are mathematicians. Most of them are just geeky and aloof persons but some are truly eccentric and by far do their research almost single-handedly. That’s not the norm but I think maths are the only field where one researcher can still discover new original stuff alone. Speaking of examples, I have the name of Grigoryi Perelman who recently proved the Poincaré Conjecture (and told the Clay Institute and the Fields Medal Committee to go pound sand) and the late Alexandre Grothendieck who helped started such a revolution in the field of abstract topology that some of his insights are still worked on by graduates all over the world.

    What is really interesting to ponder with maths is that different civilizations at different times came up with the very same concepts and definitions. In addition to that, maths is, in my opinion, the only academic field (along with philosophy perhaps) where truth is treated with respect (and can obviously be objectively proved most of the time).

    Which makes me wondering (but I’m veering off-topic there) whether math concepts exist per se waiting to be discovered or are they just simply mental constructs expressed in a fancy and weird language?

  82. We have to know more than prior civilizations just to be able to support a global population of over 8 billion. This of course is something they didn’t have to deal with.

    The most basic knowledge we all have, which prior civilizations did not, is that the Earth is not the center of the universe. A few prior speculations that this may be the case really don’t count.

    Another example, which I tried to say in a prior post, is that we know that humanity has spent most of its time as hunter-gatherers. This is something that people in Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and even the Enlightenment did not know.

    All these prior civilizations collapsed with populations far smaller than what we have today because they didn’t have the knowledge to sustain further growth. We seem to be heading for a similar collapse. But at a far greater level.

  83. “Shane, I’m very worried right now that a good many scientists may be risking Hypatia’s fate, possibly in a literal and personal sense. The number of people who have been harmed by the medical industry in recent years is very high, you know — medical error is the #3 cause of death in the US, just for starters — and the possibility of violent mass blowback against the entire scientific enterprise is not small. As for the broader issue you raise, I’ve dealt with that in some of my books, but I’ll consider revisiting it.”

    While I’m not normally a fan of them, Freudian psychoanalysts demonstrated that under certain circumstances of severe stress and cognitive dissonance, people are able to behave in ways which seemed completely irrational to anyone who tries to analyse their behaviour according to what they consciously say; but make perfect sense if they are pursuing a different goal, hidden from themselves.

    I can’t help but note that our society has spent the last fifteen years under an enormous amount of stress and cognitive dissonance as dreams of progress have whittled away; a very, very large number of people once said they’d rather die than live to see the end of it; and a huge number of people involved in making the decisions which have landed us in this mess have egos the size of planets. I know more than one person who has said that when they die, they want to make sure others (loved ones or hated ones) go with them; and the ongoing wave of crises makes a disturbing amount of sense as a collective murder-suicide on the part of the privileged classes….

  84. I recently listened to a dredged-up TED talk by Rupert Sheldrake from about 10 years ago which was wildly popular in views, but which has since been taken down from TED on the charge of being ‘pseudoscience’ and therefore not acceptable. (The said talk is on a YouTube channel that looks at awkward questions with unsatisfactory “officially acceptable” answers. It’s not apparently pushing an agenda other than the need to ask better questions to get better science and points out legitimate flaws in official narratives.)
    The core of the talk contains the curious fact that over the course of the 20th Century, the speed of light apparently changed minutely, but consistently. All over the world, at the same time, labs were getting the same different results measuring the speed of light. Everyone was measuring light against a fixed measure. Since doctrine holds that the speed of light is a constant, this “problem” was solved by redefining distance in terms of wavelength of light. Voila! Since then, the speed of light is constant! And all the implications and problems of a non-constant speed of light go away! (You can meditate on the implications of this approach.)
    Decades ago, I asked an astrophysics professor why every planet has some major feature, i.e. Hawai’i on Earth (largest volcano), Mount Olympus on Mars (absurdly large volcano), the red spot on Jupiter, storm spot on Neptune, &c., at 19.5 degrees latitude. If you drew a regular tetrahedron within the sphere with an apex at the pole, that is where one apex would be. He airily dismissed my question with, “co-incidence.” We laughed when I retorted that in the army, there is a saying, “Once is happenstance, twice is co-incidence, three times is enemy activity.”

    A light moment, but I understood viscerally that there exists in all fields unacceptable avenues of exploration. I wasn’t until I started reading the Archdruid report years later that you began to pull the pieces together for me. Thank you for that.

  85. @Shane, JMG

    Regarding pharmaceuticals, I just wanted to add something that I know from personal experience – I work for a healthcare R&D company as a mathematical biologist, and a big chunk of our projects are devoted to testing medicines/nutritional supplements. Most of our clients are pharmaceutical companies, although we do get quite a few clients from the naturopathy and Ayurveda fields, respectively. As it turns out, a good many products aren’t tested in the real world as extensively as the law mandates, so the companies in question do clinical trials for a small set of circumstances, and send the resulting dataset to us. What we do is build differential equation models that use parameters obtained from said clinical trial data, and validate said models against reliable data from the experimental research literature (finding reliable data is difficult, as you may have guessed). Once the model is validated, we use it to conduct virtual experiments/trials. This fills in the gaps left by the lack of real-world testing. I agree it’s not a foolproof approach, but as it turns out, many companies (even big ones) cannot test their products themselves owing to reasons that may be legal or financial or even physical impossibility. This in itself is evidence of decline to me – not only have the medicines gotten more complex, but the ability of companies to test them has become more strained, to say the least.

    I’m happy to say, though, that Ayurvedic/(insert name of alternative medicinal system) products are NOT BOGUS, and they do work tolerably well; it’s just that the time-frame on which they operate is longer, and that they do have somewhat stricter dietary requirements than allopathic medicines do – very few, if not none, Ayurvedic doctors would be okay with you eating burgers and pizzas regularly while on Ayurvedic medication, for example.

    @Roman, JMG

    I do think we understand *some* aspects of the world better than previous civilizations did, although I’m far from sure successor civilizations will be able to do more than us in these said areas. While it is true that we can only understand part of reality, and that too via models (which are partly socio-cultural constructs), the strength of a model isn’t measured by whether it’s right or wrong – all models are wrong, but some are useful (as said by Prof. George Box); and our models have been useful enough to put human bootprints on the moon, send space probes flying past Pluto, and manufacture photolithography machines, so I’d say they’ve done reasonably good work.

  86. “Where is the life we have lost in living?
    Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
    Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
    -T.S. Eliot, The Rock

  87. “What reasons are there to think experiments have ever been reproducible? Few scientists see the point of reproducing other’s experiments. ”

    Scientists may move quickly on, but the chemical plant reproduces those results in tonnage scales around the clock. In between the ‘Hey, this works’ and tons per hour scale is multiple repetitions at different conditions to find the best operating conditions before you scale up to full size.

    “Which makes me wondering (but I’m veering off-topic there) whether math concepts exist per se waiting to be discovered or are they just simply mental constructs expressed in a fancy and weird language?”

    The math concepts exist or they could never be discovered. The weird language is from humans trying to adapt our ‘hit rock with stick’ brain to the world of continuous flows where everything affects everything else. Not everyone can really get into that head space. I hit my limit at Ordinary Differential Equations. I passed the class, but I can’t say I really understood what was happening at a deep level. The same thing with eigenvalues and eigenvectors from Linear Algebra.

    Our host’s book Stars Reach broached the topic with his aliens that intrinsically understood calculus because their environment was based on continuous flows, but they had trouble with discrete math because there was no ‘the rock’ swirling in the top of the ocean and no sticks to hit it with.

    Even with three semesters of calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, applied numerical methods, Boolean algebra, engineering statistics, and experimental design (of statistical tests) I still don’t pretend I can play with the real mathematicians.

  88. Teresa, I think it’s telling that all the descriptions of post-revolutionary Marxist utopia you see always seem to have very little work going on. In fact they sound just like college campuses – people sitting around on the grass, talking about philosophy, tossing a ball back and forth and playing guitars. Most blue-collar workers I know, on the other hand, actually like making stuff – they just want to be able to pay the bills and sleep in once in a while. Lots of humans actually enjoy farming, woodworking, mechanics, etc. – they just want to make more than poverty wages and have a little bit of authority to make their own decisions during the day. It’s only the intelligentsia that imagine utopia as sitting around talking all the time

  89. @Roman. Who is “we”? And why do you think prior civilizations thought they were the center of the physical universe? Instead of, say, the bottom?

  90. No one knows exactly why Hatha Yoga (the yoga of the body) emerged six hundred or so years ago as a system. But one theory (mine;) is that the sages and mages “knew” that humanity was developing a hardening because of objective/concrete mind to the detriment of their more “porous” ability to commune with the mind of Nature.

    Hatha Yoga practices (they consist mainly of the yoga poses, energetic redirection and breath awareness) open up a dialog with the body – learning its language, so to speak. And from there, the microcosmic harmonizes with the macro, hence a relationship with all Nature and her language.

    Ok, going out on a limb here and opening myself to much critique from the expert adepts here, but the resurgence of the Druids and Mages now might also be a timely and much needed antidote for an increasingly clueless scientism World view?

    I remember reading that he resurgence of Hatha Yoga in the 1920s and 30s was predicated by the Indian independence movement: to deliberately build up young men physically and psychologically to cultivate a sense of pride and freedom. Yes, there are stories about one of the great Yoga masters Krishnamacharya fusing together classic Hatha Yoga postures with what he saw when the British Raj soldiers performed their drills, but nonetheless his new Vinyasa style caught on in India, and then all over the world.

    I apologize if I sound like an apologist for Yoga, but I am!
    And don’t be deceived by the silly ways Yoga is usually portrayed in the commercial sphere; Yoga is a deeply complex system of mind-training with profound and ancient metaphysics.
    And the entire third chapter of the seminal text of Yoga by Sage Patañjali is devoted to Nature Magic!

    Everyone in any shape or size can practice Hatha Yoga- as long as you’re human and breathing, you’re “in”;) And as far as any fancy product needed, there is none but perhaps a mat or towel or a chair. In fact, chair yoga is a marvelous way to start a practice.

    So! Druids and Mages and Yogis unite! The World needs us NOW!

  91. The discussion of proving how something works reminded me of my days at Operational Testing and Evaluation Force (OpTevFor). That was a small, independent flag command in Norfolk.

    They evaluated and tested new systems for the Navy.
    There are two kinds of testing: developmental and operational.

    In developmental testing, highly trained and skilled technicians demonstrate how the fabulous new apparatus will work under controlled conditions.

    In operational testing, that same apparatus is installed onboard ship and sailors operate it. Many, many flaws show up in good operational testing.

    Sometimes, the Navy even pays attention to the results of operational testing and the contractor goes back to the drawing board. But only sometimes.

  92. Synchronicity, wow! Just the other day I came across this short speech by James Lindsay that provides an overview of Marxism and critical theory. He’s less charitable to the founders’ intentions than you are.

    Sharing the link for those who do video, although one could just listen to the audio and still get the whole message:

  93. @thinking-turtle #77: Experiments are reproduced by building on them. If somebody has published that a certain antibody binds (under certain well-defined conditions specifically) to a certain receptor in the brain, then other people will try to see the effect of some treatment on that receptor by quantifying the antibody binding. Each group may be interested in a different treatment, but they all initially suppose that the published results are reproducible.

    As long as publications mostly contain reproducible results, those other research groups have a good chance to build on the first one, and the domain of knowledge will expand bit by bit. However, they would be ill-advised to simply trust it.

    Suppose somebody can’t make sense of their own results, decides to reproduce the published experiment as best they can and finds that the antibody did not bind specifically, but bound to just about every cell in the brain to randomly varying degrees. Suppose they have learned the hard way that every single antibody has to be distrusted until they have confirmed its specificity themselves. The domain of knowledge will expand much more slowly now and will actually get burdened with ever more published nonsense.

    Been there, done that.

  94. @Benn #69: You seem to ascribe to Lenin some belief in the afterlife, since his father died when he was young!

    @teresa #54, scotlyn #38, @av #2: When Karl Marx grew up, “Germany” (the German federation) was still pre-industrial, and he would have been hard put to find a single proletarian – if he wanted to! Marx however was already a rebel. I took some peeks at his early work to try and understand what he was actually rebelling against when he wasn’t yet interested in proletarians. It turns out he was railing against monarchy and Christianity – the Tsar was his big bogeyman. One could hardly call Germany capitalist at that time, the Prussian serfs had been liberated only a few years earlier, the state church and landed aristocracy were still powerful, and the king of Prussia ruled without a constitution. Marx very much wanted non-religious, non-aristocratic men like himself to do away with all of that.

    Only after he actually met the first stirrings of industry in exile in Paris, and later in London, did he conceive the idea of a socialist overthrow of capitalism in the future. But he always maintained that first, all-dissolving, all-accelerating capitalism had to overcome feudalism, and only then, it could itself be overthrown in a proletarian revolution.

    When Germany became more and more urban and capitalist, and when workers began to keep some shares of the new riches, the Social Democratic Party mostly stopped advocating for a violent revolution. They believed in a peaceful, inevitable transformation of society into socialism, arriving like the ticking of the clock. The events starting in 1929 disabused them of that illusion.

    The situation in Russia was of course very different.

  95. @Smith and JMG: If the theory of relativity had not been devised before the present day, there would be a pile of unexplained observations. (Assuming technology developed the same; after all, there’s not much technology whose invention actually depends on special let alone general relativity.) Why do unstable particles decay more slowly when they’re in a faster-moving beam? Why do clocks in Earth orbit slow down, so that they have to be built to run about 7 microseconds/day too fast (or be reset every few minutes) for the GPS system to work correctly? Why has the precession of Mercury’s orbit differed from Newtonian expectations despite centuries of increasingly accurate measurements and increasingly precise calculations? How can the measured speed of light in vacuum possibly remain constant despite the relative motions of the source and/or the measuring apparatus?

    It’s conceivable that there could have been a bunch of different ad hoc explanations for all those observations, which physicists and astronomers were all socially pressured to accept, but it just doesn’t seem likely. Special relativity can be derived mathematically from just two assumptions, the symmetry of the laws of physics across inertial reference frames, and the invariance of the speed of light. Both of which would have been verified by increasingly sophisticated experiments, so I’d expect someone would at least try that scenario out and see where it led, and then noticed the fit to all those troublesome phenomena.

    That is, unless the existence of the theory of relativity affected the actual phenomena being measured (so that, for instance, GPS would have worked perfectly without relativistic time corrections if it weren’t for that meddling patent clerk in 1916). That would be a philosophic bridge too far for me though.

  96. On the topic of relativity, one of the things which is striking to me is that the two major scientific revolutions of the 20th century, namely quantum physics and relativity, both occurred and were confirmed in part as a result of “weird” results from a series of experiments done over the late 19th and early 20th centuries; in some cases, however, these experiments could have been done earlier; and this raises a question to my mind: why weren’t they done earlier?

    Years ago, I asked a friend of mine who had a PhD in the history of science, and she said something that has stuck with me: the handful of experiments which were done and appeared to confirm these got a lot of attention, but there were a number of other experiments which could have revealed quantum or relativistic effects, if they existed; and which did not. This played a role in the scientific community resisting both theories as they first came into being in the early years of the 20th century; and the fact that this has been effectively erased from our histories says a lot about just how easy it is to craft histories that exclude crucial elements of the historical reality.

  97. DaveOTN #93, which post-revolutionary Marxist utopias are you thinking of? I think I’ve got all of them but I’m always on the lookout for more. 🙂 Off the top of my head I can think of one with a lot of work going on. In Alexander Bogdanov’s Red Star the human protagonist hasn’t a chance of keeping up with the speed and skill of Martian factory workers, in what has been a socialist society for generations.

  98. “It’s quite common, in circles unsympathetic to what critical theory has become, to assail Adorno, Benjamin, et al., because of the current antics of their followers. This is unfair.”

    Is it unfair? If disenchantment is itself a myth, then wouldn’t we expect scholarly works to be just as likely to enchant the reader as non-scholarly ones? Are scholarly authors responsible for the enchantment they cause, whether deliberately or accidentally?

    This was one of Gebser’s more interesting ideas. He claimed that the “deficient mental consciousness”, which would include the Enlightenment, ended up producing malign enchantment because people who have been educated in “disenchantment” become defenceless against the enchantment that is everywhere in the world.

  99. JMG,

    I don’t know if a person can reject the myths of modernity without rejecting the society those myths are located within. I think you would have to either physically move outside of that society or that society would have to weaken/dissolve to the point of having little to no pressure on those living within it.

    I guess I am saying that other myths are accessible at society’s end….

  100. Roman,

    I don’t think we know those things anywhere near as well as we think we do!

    In particular, while I would agree that the Earth is not the center of the universe, it’s not because somewhere else is but because the concept no longer has any meaning: the edge of the universe in current cosmological models is not a boundary in any normal sense, and at any rate is constantly changing. (And here note that this is still a model, a set of assumptions based on observed data but not itself directly observable: we have never actually seen the edge of the universe and never will.)

    However, it gets more interesting: the various geocentric cosmic models held by other civilizations almost never places any importance to the Earth being in the center. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in The Discarded Image, a common scholarly belief in late European antiquity and throughout the middle period, which followed pretty clearly from Aristotelian physics, was that the Earth was in the center precisely because it was not worthy of being in the heavens. Earth is composed of matter that, because of its impurity and flaws, fell to the “bottom” (i.e. center) of the cosmos.

    And at the very bottom/center of the cosmos, the lowest of the low, the center of the Earth, is where Hell was.

  101. James, so far science seems to be doing very little to adapt to anything at all, other than the latest requests from the corporations that pay researchers’ salaries. That’s not going to help.

    Benn, or he may just have been one more power-hungry intellectual. There are a lot of those, you know.

    Robert, yes, and that’s a crucial point. I wonder if there’s any way to pop people out of that bizarre mindset.

    Carlos, in practice, all of those are in the service of #5, which is science as a way to manufacture and market products. That didn’t use to be the case, but nowadays, the rest is pure window dressing.

    Celadon, that’s an intriguing thought.

    Lieven, is that book written so that nonmathematicians can understand it? If so, I may just give it a look.

    Brinco, thank you for this update from the trenches! I’m not at all surprised about the design science classes. There’s an American saying: those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; those who can’t teach, teach at university.

    Marsh, toads are wonderful creatures. We had one living happily in our backyard when we lived in Maryland, and a welcome guest he was.

    Thinking-turtle, back in the day — we’re talking the 19th century here — it was absolutely standard for any experiment to be replicated, often many times by many different researchers. It’s only in the last half century or so, as far as I know, that that’s broken down — and the replication crisis happened at once.

    Tom, it could indeed.

    Chuaquin, that’s why I put some snark about critical theory into one of my tentacle novels!

    Ari, good! I’ve seen white lab coats used as ritual garb in radionics workings, with good effect…

    Chuaquin, I consider that to be exactly equivalent to the efforts made all through the Middle Ages to find a version of the Ptolemaic theory of astronomy that would make sense. Success was always just around the corner! What happened instead, of course, was that the whole kit and caboodle was thrown out. The same fate, I expect, awaits most of modern physics.

    Tomriverwriter, have you encountered the concept of a civil religion? It’s not original to me — it’s something I borrowed from sociology. I used it in my book After Progress to talk about faith in progress as a religion of the same kind you’re discussing.

    Justin, Adorno’s essay is extremely harsh. That suggests to me that he felt the attraction of occultism, and was arguing to convince himself. Thus my interest in exploring it! I can’t get JSTOR articles — you have to access that through a participating library — but I found another source online. Karl Edward Wagner — now there’s someone I haven’t read in too long; thanks for the heads up.

    Sebastien, thanks for this! Mathematics is odd stuff. For what it’s worth, I don’t think mathematical concepts are out there in the cosmos waiting to be discovered, but they’re not just mental constructs, either. They’re what happens when you take the hardwired patterns the human mind uses to process information, and get them to run without outside data.

    Roman, the sole reason we can temporarily support seven billion people on the planet is that we’re drawing down fossil fuels at breakneck rates to make that possible. We certainly know different things than other civilizations, but that’s not a matter of knowing more. It’s been pointed out that an Australian Aboriginal elder knows as much as a professor of quantum physics; they just know different things. The Aboriginal elder doesn’t know how quarks work, to be sure, but the professor doesn’t have the intricate knowledge needed to guide a band to food and water sources in the Outback!

    Anonymous, unfortunately, I could see that.

    Renaissance, thanks for this. I want to find print references to the changes in the speed of light; that’s a crucial example, and to my mind, of the very highest importance. And thank you for that detail about 19.5° latitude — did you get that from a source I can cite?

    Viduraawakened, let me get this straight. Instead of running actual tests, these companies are doing virtual tests extrapolating results from an inadequate basis of data? Oh dear gods.

    Justin, oof. Thank you for this.

    Jill C, I don’t think you’re wrong, for what it’s worth.

    Teresa, I think a lot of Ukrainian soldiers are finding out right now about the problems with inadequate operational testing…

    Blue Sun, interesting. I’ll see what I can find in print.

    Walt F, if the theory of relativity hadn’t been devised, no doubt some other theory would have been come up with to explain, or explain away, the same facts. It’s possible to create many theories to explain any given set of facts — if I recall correctly, in fact, it’s been proven that an infinite number of theories can be concocted to explain any finite collection of data — so doubtless something could have been found. It may not have been as elegant, granted.

    Anonymous, hmm! That’s something worth looking into.

    Simon, no, just as I don’t blame Tolkien for the number of idiots who are running around insisting that anyone they don’t like is Sauron, I don’t blame Adorno et al. for the number of idiots running around trying to twist critical theory into a justification for their own condition of privilege.

    GlassHammer, good. Yes, it becomes much easier to find new myths when the old ones come apart. That generally happens well before the society itself falls to bits, since material realities have a certain tendency to linger.

  102. JMG,

    I think idiocy is a separate thing. We are the first society rich enough to educate our idiots and then let them loose on the internet all day long. That causes one set of problems.

    There’s a separate set of problems caused by “intellectual enchantment”. Anybody who’s met a Marxist true believer knows what I’m talking about. In that sense, the myth of disenchantment actually lets scholars off the hook because they can say their ideas are “objective” or “rational” and anybody who uses those ideas for “irrational” purposes is, by default, misunderstanding.

    But if we assume that ideas are always potentially enchanting, then the ideas become dangerous and we might say that the scholar, or society in general, has some responsibility to ensure that the enchantment does not become malign. It would be the same way in which we ensure that car drivers must learn to drive before being let loose on the roads.

    I think this issue of intellectual enchantment is now becoming a major problem because, as the intellectual standards of the Enlightenment are loosened, our educational institutions really are becoming enchantment factories and the people coming out of them are “possessed”. Although, I guess this is just another way to say – the barbarism of reflection.

  103. Charles Eisenstein wrote an essay back in midst of the covid panic in summer 2020 called “The Banquet of Whiteness”

    He points out the hypocrisy of the “anti-racist” left relying on narratives that came from the paradigm of modern industrial society, with a focus on the covid narrative. He argues that since the modern worldview was developed primarily by white people, those on the left who supposedly oppose “whiteness” should be more open to different cultural paradigms.

    Eisenstein comments in his book “The Coronation” that this essay was largely ignored, in contrast to some of his other writings during the virus panic that got lots of denunciations from those in support of the mainstream narrative as well as praise from more alternative circles. Someone using leftist language to oppose the current leftist ideology was just too much for people to wrap their minds around so they pretended it never happened.

  104. The cultural bias of science goes even deeper than you say! “SI units,” the base units of scientific measurement, are themselves kind of arbitrary (and I don’t just mean comparing meters to cubits!)

    Think of the difference between mass (in kilograms… you can’t reduce it any further) and speed (in meters / seconds, not an SI unit because it’s composed of length and time.)

    When I first studied them I remember seeing some of the more complex composed units and realizing they can be arrived at in different ways… Thinking back on it it was a function of when these units were discovered (electrical measurement units is where this came up for me, and obviously they showed up later than many others!)

    One other nuance this made me think of is that, at least within the circles of those practicing it, public health is overtly a “science stripped of modernity.” Medicine would include the study of the effects of sugary drinks on the human body. Public health would include the study of whether a ban on sodas over 30oz will reduce obesity. And of course both are influenced by our society’s attitudes towards obesity.

  105. Walt F re: #100 –

    I can come up with a theory that, given 1916-era information, might seem plausible: time is a particle and is affected by gravity, so the “density” of time on the surface of Earth is greater than the density of time out of the atmosphere. In other words, gravity warps time, which is also, of course, true under special relativity.

    (This doesn’t explain the invariant speed of light, however.)

    JMG et al. –

    It strikes me that if there is some sort of “objective” “reality” underlying everything, we seem not to be able to actually know it, only approximate it…which is more or less analogous to the mathematical concept of a limit. You can never actually reach an infinitely large value or an infinitely small value; similarly, you can never actually reach an infinitely true value. But you can come up with good approximations.

    It’s kind of like pi. To accurately calculate the volume of the observable universe (the largest thing we can measure) to the precision of the Planck length (the smallest distance theoretically possible to measure) would take less than 200 digits of pi. We’ve calculated considerably more than this – trillions – yet the “true, complete” value of pi (or any irrational – and interesting word, that, “irrational”) number remains forever elusive. Objective truth lies, I would venture to say, in the Infinite – it cannot be distilled into the finite.

    We suspect the laws of physics are constant over time and across the entire universe, even the parts of it beyond the observable universe, but how can we know for sure? Maybe the universe is actually composed of “physics bubbles” a hundred trillion light-years across, and just outside of ours is Discworld, just outside of ours a different way is one where the Star Trek future is actually possible, beyond that is one where stars orbit planets, space has air (and the sun and stars glow because of friction with said air), and spaceships literally look like sailing ships, then one where Harry Potter-level magic happens routinely…

  106. This conversation makes me think of “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” It has been my experience in this lifetime that as I was ready for new information or a different way of looking at thing, authors that I had not read before or people with ideas that I considered interesting came into my life. I would go down the rabbit hole of this new thread until I came to a fork in the road and followed the new path. Of course, the Arch Druid Report and subsequent material has been part of the journey that I have been following since about 2011. I have other threads that I am using to make my tapestry, too, but it occurs to me that if Life is doing this for me the greatest miracle is that it is doing this for everyone all at the same time. Even if we don’t agree/understand other people’s level of consciousness, it doesn’t matter because they are learning exactly what they are meant to learn each moment. This is part of my personal religion and it is backed up by the anecdotal science of my life. Good luck disproving my laboratory findings. Synchonicities abound! Life is emergent. Eternity = Ever Present. We are all the main characters of our own stories. Have fun storming the castle 🙂

  107. Funny, I always referred to it as the “Arrogance of Modernity” when pointing out to people that the wider availability of information, technology, etc. doesn’t really mean we’re the least bit smarter than our ancestors. Heaven knows so many dismiss historical lessons assuming “we know better now”.

    I bring this up most often when people start questioning the Constitution or Bill of Rights. Everyone seems to think we know something the Founding Father’s didn’t and yet there’s overwhelming evidence to the contrary confronting us daily.

  108. @JMG (#33):

    Eliot’s Law — I very much like calling it that! As Eliot formulated it, is is even more restrictive: “human kind cannot bear very much reality,” with “very” instead of “too.” [It’s from his Four Quartets, “Burnt Norton,” if anyone is wondering.]

  109. Celadon and others. Yes, good technical point. Prior civilizations probably thought they were the center of the universe psychologically. But probably at the bottom physically.

  110. @ AV

    > Okay, I get all of that. But the question I can’t find an answer to is “why?” If Marxism is failling in Russia, and capitalism is succeeding in giving people a decent life in the west, why do we still need a revolution? To what end? Revolution for revolutions sake? I just don’t get the motivation.

    Well, AV there are (and were, when those 20th century marxists were writing, you can look it up if you wish so) several answers to that:

    1) Capitalism is succeeding in giving people a decent life in the west, BUT does at the expense of the rest of world, via colonialism, imperialism, coups, resource stealing and so on. It also maintains a well oiled millitary machine, put to use for those purposes (from Phillipines to Vietnam). So this needed to be fixed.

    2) Capitalism is succeeding in giving people a decent life in the west BUT doesn’t give the workers the fullest decent life possible, because capitalists keep the lion’s share for themselves – and capitalism is not optimal anyway, as production is focused on money first.

    Note that this is in line with original Marx’s writing. He thought capitalism was an improvement over the past, and brought forward progress, but not fast enough, as greed got in the way. So he thought a communist society, where production isn’t up to the whim of some capitalists to serve their private interests and greed, but controlled by society for the common good, would improve things even more and build greater prosperity.

    (You might ask, but didn’t the see that USSR failed at that prosperity? Sure, but there are two schools here too.

    One is that USSR did improve a lot, but not as fast as the west, because the west had a headstart (Russia was a poor country when the revolution happened), plus it didn’t have the whole western powers against it, plus a civil war to deal with, plus a disproportionate toll from WWII. And that eventually it will surpass the west. At the time that wasn’t that wild an idea: USSR did well in the space race, and did make Russia, a not well equiped mostly agricultural country, into an industrialized state, able to withstand against Nazi Germany with thousands of tanks and weapons).

    The second is that USSR failed because it didn’t apply communism correctly, and the bureucracy took the power for itself after Stalin’s rise (or even in October 1917, when the party rule took over the previous popular “soviet”, that is, direct democratic grassroots worker councils). And that a real revolution, if/when it succeeds it would do better.

    3) The third answer is not that alien an idea here as well. That capitalism did succeed in “giving people a decent life in the west” BUT that was “things”-wise (food, products, mass entertainment) but not a decent life in the general sense. In that, it works by alienating people, turning them into consumerism drones, brainwashes them with mass media and advertising, keeps them isolated and un-cooperating and so on. So a revolution would put an end to that.

    In fact the answer why those people felt revolution was still needed was a mix of those things (and some other ideas). Of course the world back then still had a lof of what those wanting a revolution saw as moral stiffness, exploitation, lack of women’s rights, seggregation of blacks and whites, mandatory draft (for Korea, Vietnam, etc). So it was anything but clear cut that it didn’t need a revolution.

  111. Another aspect to humanity that I have noticed is that we fluctuate between peace and drama. Anytime that things are too peaceful for too long folks get uncomfortable and find a reason any reason to create chaos. Some blame it on the planets/gods. I am sure that science has a reason for it, but I just follow the Dao. When Yin becomes extreme it turns to Yang. And when Yang becomes extreme it turns to Yin. Thus is the Way of Life.

  112. Simon, exactly! It’s the barbarism of reflection, exactly as Vico described it. That’s why ages of reason end, and why they’re followed by ages of memory, in which a canon assembled from the civilization’s earlier thought, pruned of its dysfunctional offshoots, becomes the frame for thinking and education. The creation of such a canon is already taking place in the homeschooling movement, which is always where it starts: first you make sure the children get a meaningful education, then that carries over into adult culture.

    Kashtan, interesting. I’ll have a look at it as time permits.

    Jack, and it would also involve asking whether legal bans on beverages are really an effective way to change human behavior, and whether behavior is really as central to obesity as current prejudices claim. (You might find the study referenced here worth reading along these lines.)

    Brendhelm, good! Now consider the possibility that nature has no laws, just habits, and those habits change over time. It’s even harder to approach a limit if the underlying reality is a flux…

    Clark, I’ve had that same experience all through my life. Sometimes it’s really remarkably weird — somebody unknown to me pops up online, says “I think you need to have this,” and forwards me an entire occult correspondence course or some such thing; sometimes it’s much subtler; but I’ve come to believe that thinking is a cooperative process and when I need something to point me in a new direction, something happens to give me that.

    TJ, that’s at least as useful a phrase as “the myth of modernity.” Certainly snotnosed arrogance is one of the defining features of the modern intellect!

    Robert, you’re quite correct, of course.

    Clark, well, we’re heading into quite a bit of drama just now…

  113. Viduraawakened wrote, “While it is true that we can only understand part of reality, and that too via models (which are partly socio-cultural constructs), the strength of a model isn’t measured by whether it’s right or wrong – all models are wrong, but some are useful (as said by Prof. George Box); and our models have been useful enough to put human bootprints on the moon, send space probes flying past Pluto, and manufacture photolithography machines, so I’d say they’ve done reasonably good work.”

    How can you go from positing that right vs. wrong is an inappropriate measure to use for models, to declaring that some preferred set of them has done “good work”? Is that good/bad dichotomy in no way affected by the limitations placed on the right/wrong one? Those same successful models have also been ‘useful’ enough to damage countless ecosystems, homogenize much of human creativity by destroying countless cultural worldviews, and render large swaths of humanity so self-congratulatory that we can’t even begin to tolerate contemplating our failings… to name but a few of their more dubious ‘accomplishments’.

    Sure, all models are in some way wrong, but each one is useful in accomplishing some goal, however dubious. Is the goal to drive entire populations insane? There’s certainly plenty of models that can do that, like, say, the one we’re finally beginning to get out from under at the moment! Try imagining all the various religious, social, mythical, and ethical models that do not go out of their way to valorize the accomplishments of machines. They may each end up pushing us towards different versions of insanity, but I’m pretty sure each one’s proponents would ultimately resort to rating its cherry-picked accomplishments by employing the anodyne compliment “they’ve done reasonably good work.”

    God help us, if that’s the best cheer leading we can muster for our dying mythic worldview at this point, we must truly be in dire straits. “But we managed to pollute our space junk out beyond Pluto. Does that not make us like unto gods?” Ummm… not really sure about that… you know, I have to say, I think that the gods might manage to keep their romper rooms just a wee bit more tidy than we have of late.

  114. In medicine there’s a saying when a new treatment comes out: “Make the most of it while it still works!” It’s a recognition treatments lose effectiveness, and not just those with a known reason like antibiotic resistance – it happens generally.

    If science adopted ‘make the most of it while it still works’ it’d certainly make scientific research and technological planning more fun. And if there were two incompatible theories that both had good results, engineering based on both could be developed and milked for all they were worth while there was still time.

    The question is when does the clock start running? Is it when someone first has the idea, when it first goes operational, or does each innovation just work x number of times? Either way, high performance research and development, fast implementation, and prioritisation of what to use each for would be key.

  115. @ Celadon #73 – if you are travelling about Ireland, and fancy a face to face chat with another ecosophian up in Donegal, you can contact me at my username and AT protonmail DOT com.

    Also, I like your deeper point about the land exerting the more important influences…

  116. @ Jack #109 “at least within the circles of those practicing it, public health is overtly a “science stripped of modernity.” Medicine would include the study of the effects of sugary drinks on the human body. Public health would include the study of whether a ban on sodas over 30oz will reduce obesity.”

    Strictly speaking, public health is NOT a science, but a craft – the craft in question being “statecraft”… Facts do not have values, and therefore, by themselves, do not speak to policy-making. Statecraft must work both with facts and with values, and its job is to do so while reconciling potentially conflicting interests.

    The question of whether a ban on sodas will reduce obesity might gain one (likely promising) answer under “controlled conditions” of the kind required for research, and quite a different one in the messy real world, where (just for example) a ban on sodas could produce a lively black market, and launch a whole new criminal underworld network into a society already heaving with them. These are not questions science – in ANY of its guises, from the purest to the most corrupt – is fit to answer.

  117. Reading some of the comments here, something just clicked. The notion that everyone else in history insisted the Earth must be the centre of the universe, that prior ages were self-centred and blinded by their arrogant belief that the universe was made for humans, is another case of shadow projection! Our culture insists we are the centre of the universe in a much more real way (nowhere and no other time matters!) than anyone else ever has, and simply cannot deal with it given we also insist we know more than anyone else, because we are the first society to be able to deal with reality as it really is, not as we want it to be.

    So our culture projects this arrogance on everyone else, rather than admit it is our own collective failing. Hmm.

  118. Well, JMG, I was afraid the GUT were only a very elaborated bulls**t for scientist nerds…Thank you for your opinion, I’ll take it on account.
    Now, maybe I’m going to open a can of worms for you and the kommentariat.
    Is psychoanalysis a real science? (There’s been a lot of critics of it since a century ago, but psychoanalist have been defending his knowledge like “a scalded cat”!) and: if it’s a genuine science, what psychoanalysis school would be more related with mind reality? (Freudian, Junguian and so on).
    Personally, I think Freud made a lot of mistakes but later analysts deserve some credibility, although not every point of their points of view are “falsable”, in Poppers jargon. I’ve been discussing it with a friend and we don’t have dogmatic responses on it…

  119. I just downloaded and read the paper you referenced: “A Contamination Theory of the Obesity Epidemic.” I find it quite convincing.

    I have switched to distilled water for cooking and drinking about a year ago. At some point, I will purchase a home water distiller, to be extra sure that what I am getting is as “clean” as can be.

    I have also cut out all seed oils from my diet (e.g., canola oil, et al.) as well as getting my food at an organic butcher shop and an organic greengrocer shop. In addition, I make my own condiments, such as mayonnaise, using avocado oil or cold-pressed olive oil, as the case may be.

    However, in light of that paper, I almost wonder if I’m trying to do the equivalent of emptying the Pacific Ocean with a teacup. Even if all pollution were to stop tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m., these existing contaminants will be around for centuries. I just wonder if there is any way (chelation therapy?) by which we can detoxify our bodies faster than we absorb toxins through our environment.

    Ideas, anyone?

  120. Hi John Michael,

    I think I’ve mentioned to you before that in my very earliest working days I’d worked with folks who’d gotten into the profession via the path of apprenticeship. Despite the condescension directed towards me, which may also have been an age thing (me being so young at the time), their skills seemed pretty good. I too have long wondered about the professionalisation path, and in fact I’d have to suggest that the profession is becoming under resourced and over worked. People are leaving the profession from what I can ascertain. Clearly this strategy is benefiting a few.

    There have been some very interesting statistics released in the news today by no less an authority than the tax office. I think you’ll find that five of the six highest paid workers are in a certain industry. ATO data shows 66 millionaires paid no income tax in 2020-21, with eastern Sydney postcodes home to the richest people. It must mean something don’t you reckon?



  121. @Doodily Do #26

    Re: “Anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. I live on the twenty-first floor.”

    But this dodges the question. Gravity can be viewed in different ways. The familiar one is “force at a distance”, a concept that has always troubled scientists. Another follows from general relativity, where time runs slightly more slowly closer to massive (whatever that is) bodies and space-time is warped, and gravity is therefore merely a gradient in space-time. And does gravity have wave-like properties as suggested by some recent observations? Or is it carried through space(-time) by the Higgs boson (whatever that is), which side-steps the “force at a distance” conundrum?

    We all experience gravity, and since the time of Newton we can make precise calculations about how it will affect bodies subject to its influence, at least in geometrically simple cases. But this merely makes our understanding of it “useful”. As to the ultimate truth of it though, we may not have the wiring needed to comprehend it.

  122. @JMG

    Thank you for your reply. I agree with your skepticism regarding virtual testing of medicines; indeed, I did say that such practices represent a state of decline. That said, I think you misunderstood the method of testing (or at least, that’s my understanding of your reply) – we *do not extrapolate* from the small clinical trial dataset that we get. Instead, we use mechanistic models made of nonlinear differential equations, with said equations being derived from first principles, and based on the laws of physics and chemistry – our biology team works out a biological mechanism that explains the interactions between the drug, the target organ, and the human body systems as a whole (the systems biology approach). My job (as well as that of my teammates’) is to translate that biological mechanism into mathematical language, and the alphabet I use for the same are differential equations. The dataset received from the company is used only to estimate the values of the constants in our model; but the model as such can be extrapolated – indeed, that is a strength of the diff. eq way of doing things. The data-driven approach is based on identifying patterns and using them to predict things, but it very rarely involves an ‘under-the-hood’ understanding of the system in question – here, we build models that seek to explain and understand the system, and only then do we use it for conducting virtual experiments. While this route is not perfect, it’s a more old-school approach, and hence, more reliable, IMO.

    But I do agree that virtual testing cannot fill in completely as a substitute for physical testing. One of the reasons behind this is that the managements’ focus on ever-increasing quarterly profits forces companies to opt for the quick-testing option. Then there are others like difficulty in finding volunteers for trials – a good many people have become weary of pharmaceutical companies in general (and for good reason); also, the cost of physically testing products which are getting increasingly sophisticated by the day, is a major factor.

    That said, I think this approach, while not necessarily the best for allopathy, can work very well for alternative medicine. Sure, there are fakes in there, but TSW (as you once said about occultism). What’s more, you don’t need to invoke occult concepts to explain their working – a systems biology-based approach can very well explain the efficacy of Ayurveda, all while remaining within the mainstream scientific paradigm.

  123. In a way Adorno, in his Theses Against Occultism essay, seems to be hitting a similar tone as H.P. Lovecraft in his stories, though from a diabolically dialectic angle. They both seem to be afraid of these vast, larger than human, forces that are alive with an intelligence of their own.

    I get why you are interested in it. It does have that intense, knee-jerk reaction and denunciation you get, when people who are secretly attracted to something, instead attack it, i.e., the gay preacher phenomenon.

    So Adorno & Lovecraft were maybe closeted occultists in those incarnations -perhaps to become practicing occultists in a future one.

    So entrenched in a materialist worldview, I suppose the idea that thought precedes matter, rather than the other way around was rather scary to them.

    – –
    On pruning: In your response to Simon S you wrote “It’s the barbarism of reflection, exactly as Vico described it. That’s why ages of reason end, and why they’re followed by ages of memory, in which a canon assembled from the civilization’s earlier thought, pruned of its dysfunctional offshoots, becomes the frame for thinking and education.”

    It seems to me that this pruning is what the work of Jason Josephson Storm is doing. I guess the stage after pruning -taking what works, leaving behind what doesn’t- is the stage of synthesis, and combining these different past strains of knowledge together in a new weave.

    One tool that might be useful in a new weaving of critical theory is Asger Jorn’s Triolectics, at least in helping move away from all the binary dialectics!

  124. @JMG

    Lakatos is accessible to non mathematicians. His running example is a relation between the number of vertices, edges and faces of a convex polyhedron like a cube or a tetraeder. I think you would also enjoy looking at some of the stuff by another mathematician mentioned in this thread: Grothendieck, arguably the greatest mathematician of the 20th century. By some weird coincidence I came across a cheap edition of his Recoltes et Semailles in a book store this week so another 2000 pages got added to the unread pile. Avoid his mathematical work since it’s peak abstraction but he was a druid like figure and he started an ecological group already in the early 70s.

  125. European Reader @ 115, your post reminded me of something I once read by the communist dissident, Milovan Djilas. This was some years ago, and I am afraid I have neither a link nor even a title, but I do believe the statement I read dates back to the time when Djilas was still part of Tito’s government, so late 1940s-early 50s. Djilas said that communism offered to backwards (his, or the translator’s, word) countries, such as his own Yugoslavia, the possibility of rapid industrialization. An industrialized country can field a well-equipped army, or could in the early to mid 20thC, and thereby hope to avoid both invasion and colonialist exploitation. The way he put it was something along the lines of if a small country hopes to play a part in history, it must industrialize, which I take to be standard communist euphemism. Djilas was born in 1911, I believe. For that generation of leftists, the imperialism and meddling of the European powers was a very near memory, not just something they had read about in a textbook. What he did not spell out, but which is pretty obvious, is that in order to accomplish the desired rapid industrialization, all of society must be organized around that goal, which organization can be best, or maybe only, accomplished by totalitarian, one party rule.

  126. @JMG

    Civil religion is a term that Emilio Gentile uses. He thinks fascism is a form of political religion, and that after the September 11 attacks, Bush sacralized politics. But Gentile is part of the disenchantment that you’re criticizing. Gentile thinks that the world is disenchanted, and that fascism and Bush’s sacralization is implicitly wrong, or not useful. Gentile believes in Progress, and that it leads away from the sacred.

    To me, Nazism isn’t some atavistic remembrance of a true religion, but a religion in its own right. To most people, religions involve gods. I think gods are a simply a form that religion takes, that gods are passing away and that religion is taking new forms.

    I see a divide between an elite that is pursuing disenchantment, and a common people that is still alive to religion. The founders of critical theory made two mistakes. First, they believed that Marxism was a form of rationalism, but it was a religion with a theology claiming rationalism to justify itself. Second, they didn’t understand Nazism because they didn’t understand that religion still had power, particularly over the common people.

  127. #126
    Even if the experimenter manages to figure out the mysteries of gravity in the relatively short time of their descent, they are unlikely to be able to write the results up after impact.

  128. JMG, interesting that you should bring up Australia. I was born and raised in Australia and know something about Aborigines. Most of them prefer to live in cities. Sydney has the biggest number of them.

    The number of them trying to live in the old way must be very small. The government probably is subsidizing these programs. I believe they have been called “subsidy dumpsters.”

    I’ve noticed that when pre-industrial people encounter modernity they usually quickly embrace it. Before you know it they’re wearing jeans, T-shirts and eating commercially prepared food. They like the immediate benefits of modernity.

    But the problem is that they have jumped on the modernity bandwagon as it seems to be starting to implode because there are too many people on it.

  129. @Michael Martin I have worked in the alternative health industry for 25 years. I see people worrying about germs and industrial contaminants all the time. Generally speaking, what I recommend to people is to build your immune system by being exposed to germs instead of trying to avoid them like the plague. A sterile environment leads to a weak immune system.

    And as for industrial/chemical pollutants, I recommend to do your best to avoid them and then accept your karma. We were born into this age and that is a predicament not a problem to be solved.

    In this regard, some theorize that distilled water leaches out the minerals in our body and spring water is recommended to mineralize our bodies. Either way, I think the take away is that when we try to live too clean of a life it actually hurts/weakens us in the long run. Remember the middle path is the one most recommended for a balanced healthy life. If you try to control everything you run the risk of becoming OCD.

  130. Thank you again for such a stimulating piece. I admire that you, who is not a big fan of the bearded one or of utopian intellectuals, are willing and able to see what is useful within one of the more interesting schools. Even when their successors have made such a travesty of their ideas. Your broader point that the Frankfurt School was a response to the crushing disappointment of the times is correct, I think, and is what is most important.
    I want nonetheless to quibble on details. I read the Frankfurt School and related folks (Lukas, Gramsci, Telos magazine, Reich, Chomsky) in the aftermath of the Sixties and see a liberatory impulse that runs from Hegel through the Young Hegelians then Marx, Marxism, and the attempt to restore that liberatory impulse by folks like the Frankfurt School. With elite-subsidized woke politics having done an Invasion of the Body-Snatchers on the remnants of what was once the Left, I see that liberatory impulse as being finally dead. For me, this is a crushing disappointment. If I want to go to any media with any serious reach and hear opposition to vaccine tyranny, to the US war against Russia, to the class cleansing of the once prosperous American working class, I have to go to Tucker Carlson. He is humorous and soft spoken enough to listen to, but he also promotes hatred of immigrants and sexual minorities and promotes the campaign to prepare the American people for conflict with China. There is no one on “the Left” to say what not so long ago would have been obvious to the Left. That is a bitter blow. I am still figuring out how to adjust to this new reality. So please forgive me if this is too much inside-baseball.
    It has been a while since I read the Frankfurt School so I don’t remember what each of them said about its origins and many of the books I read then were post-WW2, but the event that triggered the “what just happened? everything just went completely wrong”, the event that birthed the Frankfurt School was neither the Germany of the 1930s and 40s, nor the degeneration of the Soviet Union, but the Great War (known much later as World War 1). The Great War was a crushing, bitter blow in two ways. One was simply the war itself, the massive loss of life, the revelation of the savagery of people’s who had thought themselves civilized. But another, which is largely overlooked, was the failure of the vaunted socialist/social-democratic movement not just to stop the war, but its complete failure to even try.
    Shortly before the war, the entire Second International swore up and down on a stack of Das Kapital’s that in the event of a war between European nations, the working classes would stand down and refuse to be the cannon fodder for what would be (and in fact was) an inter-imperialist war that served only the elites. Swore up and down. And the moment the war started, all the socialist parties signed off on the war and encouraged their members to join the military. The only exception was the Bolsheviks. The communist parties in Europe were founded after the war by the folks who rejected this cowardice, this careerism.
    Maybe it was all going to turn out the way it did anyway. But the UK, France, and Germany all had periods during the war when their populations wearied and were willing to negotiate a peace. The soldier’s in the trenches of the French Army were in a state of semi-mutiny, unwilling to undertake any offensive maneuvers, for over a year. Who knows what might have happened if there had been an anti-war force with the moral authority that would have come from sticking by its principles and opposing the war from the start. After all, when the Bolsheviks rejected Russia’s participation in the war, they were so unimportant that even the other socialists barely paid attention to them. Three years later, the Russian people had rejected the war and the Bolsheviks were in power. (Yes, in that case much suffering ensued, but anti-war forces in power in industrialized Europe need not have gone down that road.)
    Anyway, my point is that any Marxism+ (for example +Freud or +Gramsci) that ignores that crucial betrayal is operating from an ignorance so deep that I have to suspect bad faith, even if unconscious.
    However great the evils unleashed in Germany and in the Soviet Union, those only happened because of the moral collapse of the Left at the onset of the Great War in 1914. (”Where have you gone anti-war Karl Kautsky, all of human history turns its lonely eyes to you, woo woo woo. What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson….”)
    We now return you to our normally schedule broadcast, which is another fascinating discussion by our gracious host and this wonderful commentariat.

  131. Helix, yes the laws of physics are the closest thing we have to objective truth. But Newton has already been replaced by Einstein. Someday someone will probably replace Einstein.

  132. @ Chuaquin #123

    “Is psychoanalysis a real science?”

    If the answer to this were said to be “yes” – would that not imply that every person undergoing psychoanalysis is an experimental subject? And every psychoanalyst’s office is a laboratory where “conditions” can be “controlled”?

    What if, instead, you call it one of the “medical crafts”? Would that not answer the question of whether the persons practicing the craft *should* be well trained, and skilled, and responsible to the ethics and codes of their guild, while also explaining that there can be different schools in the craft, and that results, as in everything that involves another human being, depend on variables too numerous to perfectly control, but extremely useful to those who find it to be so?

    (And incidentally, those who would choose to avail of the craft, in this second case, can be endowed with agency, and no longer required to play the role of “experimental subjects” – is this not a plus?)

  133. @ Christophe

    Thank you for your reply. I think I should have been a bit more precise – the models I spoke of are the ones that define STEM fields. The models used by modern civilization to study heat dissipation, for example, are far more useful than those of previous know civilizations, in that they enable us to know and control (to some extent) the forces of nature.

    Now, it is of course possible to use models simply to study nature, and not control it. For example, models built using the Mass Action Law in reaction kinetics could be used to study the science behind the making of jam, as opposed to using said models to make chemical weapons. Remember that models are also a type of technology, and they don’t tell us what we should do with them – those questions are best answered by philosophy, sociology and religion. As a thought experiment, imagine a rerun of history where the Hermetic Christianity of the Renaissance becomes big, and mathematics advances as it has done so till today (all fields of mathematics except numerical analysis, that is). Machine-building is not a priority, and the mathematical tools developed by Poincaré, Lyapunov and others are used to study stuff like the sloshing of coffee in a cup (there’s an actual paper on this, BTW), or phytoremediation, for example. This imaginary world is actually wholly possible; in fact, I expect at least one future civilization some 100000 years or a couple of million years into our future to do something like this.

    Regarding models outside of STEM, I totally agree. For instance, the Hindu model of time makes more sense to me than the linear Faustian one does. Similarly, the theory behind Hindustani Classical Music is to me, not only fascinating, but an alternate way of thinking about sound itself.

    Best wishes!

  134. “Even if all pollution were to stop tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m., these existing contaminants will be around for centuries. I just wonder if there is any way (chelation therapy?) by which we can detoxify our bodies faster than we absorb toxins through our environment.”

    I recently asked myself the same thing about plastics after a recent article or three about micro plastics and nano plastics turning up in the body. Instead of looking at industrial or waste management issues I looked in the kitchen. I didn’t have to look any further. The cereal box contains a plastic bag that holds the cereal. Something coarse and scratchy like granola will inevitably create plastic particles that will be eaten.

    The freezer compartment is full of plastic bags for moisture control purposes. Bread ships in plastic bags. Vegetable oil is mostly in plastic with a few exceptions.

    White sugar, flour, and oatmeal are some of the only things shipped in non-plastic containers, and the oatmeal box has a plastic lid. Oh, about the waxed paper milk cartons, the wax was replaced with polyethylene many years ago.

    The inside of the canning lids are also coated with a thin layer of some plastic so they don’t rust since most of the things home canned are acidic.

    So where plastic in the diet is concerned, you are doomed.

    Ironically, they started using plastic instead of cellophane because cellophane is porous, to keep the contents from going stale the bag had to be treated with BHA. A few decades ago people were in an uproar about preservatives in food, including BHA, ignoring the fact that stomach cancer rates went down after they started using BHA earlier in the century. The BHA may have been stopping something worse (it is known that certain molds are carcinogenic) but all preservatives were deemed equally bad, so better packaging needed to be found, and they went to plastic. After all, it’s inert, it can’t hurt you. 😉

    Did we do an own goal health-wise. Maybe. Or maybe the trade off is worth it.

  135. Thank you very much for this essay. It made me wonder what ‘modern’ meant to people of other times, so I looked at some old dictionaries.

    The entry for ‘modern’ in a dictionary from 1728 defined it as ‘Something new, or of our Time.’ It further noted that modern philosophy and astronomy began with Galilaeus and Copernicus respectively.

    But then it defined ‘modern authors’ as: “According to Nauda, all those that have wrote since Boetius.” Now I assume this refers to the Roman senator Boetius who in 523 wrote Consolation of Philosophy, which was well-known in the Middle Ages.

    If so, he lived about one thousand years before Galileo and Copernicus. So I wondered about the huge time disparity in the definition of ‘modern,’ what was meant by ‘authors,’ and why Boetius was considered the last pre-modern ‘author’.

    In other words, why would a dictionary that defined ‘modern’ as ‘something new’ also define ‘modern authors’ as being ”anyone within the past 1200 years?”

    I guess it might have something to do with the Consolation of Philosophy being not particularly Christian, with its personification of Philosophy as the source of wisdom and solace. Maybe the Christian authors after that were considered ‘modern authors’, and ‘modern authors’ was not so much a label for “something new”, but a label for a canon.

    This is just a guess however, and any ideas would be most welcome.

    In any case, this gives me the feeling that ‘modern’ does not necessarily have to mean “of our times.” It is just a question of who gets to define it. This does seem to relevevant to our time, in which some old ideas are considered ‘perfected’ or ‘eternal,’ and therefore perpetually ‘modern.’

  136. @Robert Gibson. #70

    I loved what you wrote about how boring history can be. Seeing the past as “set in jelly” is a perfect and funny way to describe it. I relate so much with that. But sometimes I get the feeling “they were here!” Anyway, you expressed it so well.

  137. Yorkshire, that’s the decline effect in a nutshell. I’d like to find some good sources for that!

    Anonymous, ha! You’re quite correct, of course, and I feel rather stupid for not noticing this before. Thank you.

    Chuaquin, no, I don’t believe that psychoanalysis counts as a science. To begin with, it’s not a method of research, it’s a method of treatment, so it belongs on the technology/engineering side of the line. Second, and perhaps more important, very large parts of it are unfalsifiable and unproven. Jung’s the furthest into that territory, but then Jungian psychology is best understood as a very interesting branch of 20th century occultism, anyway.

    Michael, it’s impossible for any of us to isolate ourselves from the environment. Of course it’s reasonable to take sensible precautions, but the state of our bodies will inevitably mirror the state of the ecosystem around us. Accept the inevitable as karma, and move on.

    Chris, ’twas ever thus. The other day I was rereading an old favorite, The Age of Arthur by John Morris, which talks about how the fall of Roman Britain was made inevitable by the simple fact that the very rich — who owned most of the assets and got most of the income — were never willing to pay enough taxes to fund the defense of the province…

    Viduraawakened, thank you for the clarification.

    Justin, thank you! It hadn’t occurred to me to compare Adorno to Lovecraft, but of course you’re quite right. I may use that metaphor — and if I do, I’ll be sure to cite you.

    Lieven, so noted and thank you. I’ll see if I can scare up a copy of Lakatos’s book, then; that running example is of course familiar to anyone who knows traditional sacred geometry.

    Yorkshire, congratulations. That brings a meme to mind:

    Tomriverwriter, hmm! I’ll have a look at what Gentile says about it. I got the concept from Robert Bellah’s 1967 article “Civil Religion in America,” and some of the scholarship that followed on it.

    Roman, there are complex reasons why indigenous people generally end up in big cities; the urban population of Native Americans is pretty high, too, but it’s not generally because they’re excited about becoming part of the dominant culture…

    Jessica, thank you for this. I don’t claim to be an expert on the Frankfurt school; I’ve read Dialectic of Enlightenment, of course, but I have yet to get into the rest of the school’s work. As it happens, though, I’m familiar with the total failure of the Left in the opening moves of the First World War — that was what convinced me, many years ago, that the methods of pursuing change being proposed by environmental protest groups were doomed to fail — and it makes perfect sense to me that this would have had a massive impact on the Frankfurt school.

    Lavender, there’s actually a very straightforward answer. In 1728 people didn’t yet use the modern three-part division of the (Western) past into ancient, medieval, and modern. “Modern” in those days meant anything after the fall of Rome, and people in 1728 didn’t see themselves as living in a world that had cast aside the Middle Ages; they lived, and realized that they lived, in the world the Middle Ages made.

  138. Dear Archdruid:

    Regarding the word “science”, thanks to my hard but unsuccessful efforts in the study of Gustavo Bueno’s system of philosophical materialism – which I told you about in a comment to one of your posts a few weeks ago – I have learned that the term “Science” is a misleading term, because the correct thing is to speak of “sciences” wich contain truths that are only valid within the field of each science.

  139. Since this post relates to implicit mythologies, I hope this has enough connection to the topic to be acceptable. I’ve had a major insight into why things have gone so horribly off the rails since 2016, and it has to do with the implicit mythologies of the Western World. One of the enduring fault lines in our society is between those who embrace the myths of the left, v. those who embrace the myths of the right; this fault line runs in some odd places, but by and large the political right and left see the world in different ways at a fundamental level. I think the political differences unfold from an even deeper cultural difference, but I’ve never done the kind of research nor given it the thought it requires to tease out exactly what the difference is.

    Even those myths which cross the lines, such as Progress, are viewed differently in the right (where a scepticism of its claimed benevolence remained a strong element, even though it’s inevitability was rarely questioned until recently) compared to the left (where Progress is as just as it is inevitable); and crucially, the ways in which each side of the political spectrum views the other had, by 2016, taken on a firm mythological framework, with both the right and left strongly demonising each other. This played a major role in the breakdown of bipartisanship in the US, and generated a huge amount of social stress and tension. By 2016, then, given the left’s presuppositions about the myth of progress, their own self image, and the like, it became unthinkable that Trump could possibly win. To the right, meanwhile, Trump’s victory seemed like a long shot to many, but it was possible within the existing mythic framework. While it called a great many things into question, it did not call the worldview as a whole into question.

    Now, faced with the crashing defeat of their worldview, the left’s entire worldview no longer valid, what stories were there available to make sense of the world? There was one which was close at hand: the stories of the right. As a result, the left found itself with no story to make sense of the world with aside from one in which they played the role of villains. Now, faced with this reality, they embraced their new story, and their new role, and have been playing it with gusto.

    Anyone who was able to see the role that mythology plays in their own thinking would have recoiled in horror from this; but most people in the Western World have been trained never to notice this, and the fact that this appears to have lead a major political party, and millions of ordinary people, to redefine their political goals in this fashion without even noticing it is perhaps the best evidence needed that this is a terrible idea.

  140. #120 @ Scotlyn. That’s very handsome of you. Unfortunately it is impossible although maybe one day…yes, I was struck by the nouveau-Americana pose here, and wonder how that will go down with the land. It’s got a 10000 year relatively continuous history, and seems happy, as is…my impression. And I come from a pretty part of north America. We have nothing even close to what is going on here

  141. Thank you JMG and all of the commentariat that responded. It sounds like there is always a good reason (if you look hard enough) for a revolution. Sort of like me and a cookie (there’s always a good reason to eat a cookie).



  142. The nagging question that kept popping up in my head while a read this was, “what about China?”. Because that seems like the one giant counter-example to these failures in the West that you accurately point out.

    The USSR could never make the leap from heavy to light manufacturing. China went from backwater to the bleeding edge of production techniques in a few decades.

    Western Marxists are clowns who have had zero relevance for 60 years. The CCP led China to a position of significance and prosperity it hasn’t had in centuries.

  143. @Roman #114: No, they thought that God and angels and saints, or gods, were at the center, psychologically. Angels ands saints were imagined e.g. to reside in the Empyrium, outside the fixed stars sphere, not on the earth like mere humans.

  144. JMG said

    Teresa, I think a lot of Ukrainian soldiers are finding out right now about the problems with inadequate operational testing…

    A wide range of NATO Wunderwaffen, from the Patriot air defense system to the Leopard 2 tank, has been tried and found wanting, and in the most embarrassing fashion imaginable, with the Russians gleefully posting video footage and geolocated photos on social media. I don’t see how the reputation of the American Empire or the credibility of NATO survives the flustered cluck unfolding in Ukraine right now. As one Spetsnaz officer recently put it, “hurry up and send over the F-16’s and Abrams tanks. We are getting tired of blowing up Leopards and Bradleys.”

  145. Hi John Michael,

    Yeah, now why doesn’t that point about the Romans surprise me?

    I’ll tell you a funny story. One of the most chilling things I discovered whilst working in the top end of town was that there appeared to be an unwillingness to change when confronted with new circumstances. Before then I had this naive belief that this was not so, and so what else could could I do other than accept reality. So, when faced with new circumstances and information, I changed direction, but others, dunno about that. My gut feeling suggests that embracing change in the face of new conditions is a rare skill in the population. Arthur always has something to say. And mate, not quite two millennia on, we’re still the same folks.

    You’ve mentioned before about ‘doing the right thing, when all other options have been exhausted’, but to me, that suggests an inability to alter course without a monster crisis. How could it be otherwise? So that’s where we are headed.



  146. On the topic of civil religion, I recommend Sociology of Religion by Ken Wilber. It is not encased in so much teleology and belief in inevitable progress and excess abstraction. It would perhaps satisfy even folks justifiably not interested in Wilber’s broader work. The book is largely a presentation/response to a specific book. That might be the Bellah book, but I don’t remember.
    In any case, Wilber’s discussion of the collapse of the American civil religion in the Sixties is very good. He claimed (the book is from the 1980s) that roughly a third of the US wanted to undo the Sixties, another third or so wanted to push forward, and a big camp in the middle didn’t know what to do. In a sense that still applies, though I consider the folks currently leading the push forward camp to have completely betrayed the liberatory impulse of the Sixties.

  147. Darkest Yorkshire: Jessica #136, wait, is it Dunk On Kautsky Time?? *blows party pipe*
    Thank you for the laugh.
    To me, nothing else Kautsky did or did not do could matter in comparison to his failure to stand up to the war promoters at the start of WW1. He was in a unique position to do so. Everyone (in the political game in Germany) knew that.
    If ever write an alternative history, that would be my pivot point. I know of no other point when one person might have done so much good and failed.
    The best recent comparison would be Obama winning in 2008 because folks wanted another FDR and him governing as Herbert Hoover.

  148. JMG: ” I don’t claim to be an expert on the Frankfurt school”.
    I would never do so either. I would be afraid to. I am sure that someone has written an entire PhD thesis on Adorno’s use of commas in his early versus his later work or some such “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”. But it was an important source when I first tried to find a path to freedom.
    In recent years, I have been fascinated by the Situationists, who combined a much stronger dose of bohemianism with their politics and were most visible in the 1968 events in France (not coincidentally, one of the last times the intellectuals worked together with the working class). Even the Situationists have apparently been preserved in amber so that academics can count the angels, but “The Beach Beneath the Street” by McKenzie Wark makes a worthwhile attempt at finding the living essence in the historical relic.
    By the way, the fact that much of my best thinking is done in response to good writing or talks indicates that I have a feminine astral body?

  149. Given that science is a social process and seemingly a process that a lot of people make a good living out of, it maybe explains decades of barking up wrong trees and driving up dead ends.

    I was thinking of string theory for one. I read that nothing much has come of all the effort spent on the field since the 1960s. Same with the search for dark matter, which strangely enough, given its apparent influence in cosmic affairs, has stayed resolutely hidden. Nobody, despite a lot of money burned on the search, has found hide nor hair.

    I could probably come up with more examples of these exercises in futility. Quantizing gravity? Or is that part of the string thing? You would think that at some point researchers would collectively sigh and say, ok, enough, no more.

    Has anyone ever said that maybe dark matter doesn’t exist? I suppose the answer is MOND. How good is MOND? I expect it provides partial answers but I read somewhere that it just doesn’t get you there.

    Maybe it’s time for a re-examination of some basic, um, ‘settled science’? Is the universe really uniform in all directions? What if it isn’t? Are natural laws really unchanging over very long time frames? What if they aren’t? Is the universe really expanding? What if it isn’t? Was there really a Big Band? What if there wasn’t? What if we’re looking up at the night sky into a cosmic hall of mirrors?

  150. @Daniel H The Chinese Marxists, to put it bluntly, decided to go back to being Chinese and return to their age old ideal – a strong central government with a competent educated bureaucracy, Chinese nationalism (yet another iteration of the “Master Race” concept), government superintendency of capitalism done for the power of China – basically a variation on fascist Germany, Japan, and Italy. Marxism transmuted into fascism with the difference of avoiding messy dangerous military aggression this time around. The aim being outdoing old style western imperialism and colonialism and technological and economic prowess and becoming the top dog. This is very consciously being done by the Chinese elite. The book The Hundred Year Marathon amply documents this. Of course circumstances may foil this effort. But our inane American and European elites unwittingly are doing what they can to help the Chinese along in this.

  151. Anselmo, that’s technically correct, of course. Within Western cultures, however, “Science” — meaning here the set of institutions and personalities that claim ownership of the scientific method and leverage that ownership to grasp and maintain privilege — is unquestionably a social reality, however illegitimate it may be as a philosophical concept.

    Anonymous, hmm! I’ll have to think about that, but it seems very plausible.

    AV, exactly. And Marxists have quite an appetite for cookies. (Now all I need is an image of the Cookie Monster with Karl Marx’s hair…)

    Yorkshire, I like it!

    Daniel, I tend to think of the CCP as rather more Chinese than Communist; they had the immense advantage of a society that’s been urban, literate, and technologically sophisticated (by the standards of each century) for some 5000 years. Keep in mind also that China, India, and the coastal regions between them were the richest part of the world pretty continuously from the Neolithic to 1600 or so, and only lost that status temporarily due to being stripped to the bare walls by European colonial governments; now the European empire is gone, and the center of global wealth is going back to where it’s usually been.

    Platypus, yep. It’s quite something to realize that one of the defining battles of the 21st century is raging right now in southern Ukraine between Melitopol and Zaporizhzhe — and that so far, at least, the West’s weapon systems and proxy forces are doing so very badly.

    Chris, that’s exactly where we’re headed. Quite possibly with a fairly high body count.

    Jess, interesting. I’m not a Wilber fan at all, but I’ll consider taking a look at it.

    Jessica, I see we have some common influences! Yes, I’m familiar with the Situationist International, though I haven’t read Wark; Society of the Spectacle and The Revolution of Everyday Life are more my style, but I’ll consider Wark as well. It’s quite possible that you have a feminine astral body; I do, and that describes my experience fairly well.

    Smith, once you start asking questions like that, the entire scientific enterprise falls apart. That’s going to happen anyway, but that would certainly give it a good hard shove.

  152. Chris at Fernglade Farm, greetings,

    Wasn’t it Lenin that said that for decades nothing happens and then in days decades happen? Maybe things change at a rate of three percent per year, so it seems like nothing much is happening, but after thirty years, at an annual rate of three percent, almost everything has changed and then a monster crisis be it economic or political or military.

    Thirty years ago did anyone foresee China being made into a world power, mostly by the blind greed of Wall Street, by offshoring US industries for the exploitation of a Chinese dollar-an-hour work force?

    It’s not like nobody saw the resulting massive changes taking place both in China and the US, the US going down the drain and China doing the opposite. Did anyone in the US raise any objections suggesting meekly and modestly that maybe a change in direction might be in order? Ross Perot did and so did Pat Buchanan but they got slapped aside.

    American elites figure it’s their Mandate from Heaven to give orders to foreigners. But now those American elites are freaking out because the fellas in Beijing are the ones giving orders – and to American elites at that – and those same fellas don’t mean ‘maybe’ and they don’t mean ‘later’ they mean ‘run’. And so maybe we’ll see decades happen in the space of days.

    Or, as you say, a monster crisis.

  153. There’s one deeply troubling followup thought to my “The left has embraced their role as the villains defined by the right” that I simply cannot shake: and this thought is that it calls into question a huge number of things which are normally taken for granted, because people are being driven by a narrative that puts them in a profoundly unpleasant role, one which is contrary to their normal thinking, and deeply contrary to their previous identities.

    For example, the kind of widespread conspiracy that would involve nearly the entire world’s governing classes, complete with corporate and governmental abuse of process is normally not possible: too many people are pushing in too many different directions. However, the bulk of the bureaucratic class are on the left, and “widespread conspiracy by leftists” is a common talking point on the right about the left.

    So, even though it makes no sense, is likely counterproductive, and is very, very likely to come undone fairly quickly, because their narratives call for it, there are likely to be plenty of people who will try to craft exactly the kinds of massive conspiracies of the leftists in power that the right likes to talk about; and when confronted with such attempted conspiracies, a large number of ordinary people on the left will crumple, since their new narratives are such that they are weak willed people who go along with whatever government says. Especially given certain other conspiracies on the right, this reframes a number of current events in much more troubling light….

  154. For several years now I’ve thought that Rupert Sheldrake is a good antidote to the more stiff-necked part of the scientific community.

  155. Well, Scotlyn #138 and JMG #143: OK; Thank you for your sentitive and wise comments about the alleged “scientis-ness” of psychoanalysis. My friend and I never are tired on commenting about this topic, but we agree that medical practices arent’a a “hard” science”. Doctors aren’t scientist, so psychiatrists aren’t neither, and analysts…
    By the way, I think there’s really two questions about Psychoanlysis schools (and other popular mind therapies).
    First, is psychoanalysis a science, even soft science?
    OK, some parts of it are unfalsifiable and unproven, like the Oedipus complex. I’ve found in my daily life “pyschoanalysis fans” who told me that complex and the mind parts are useful tools, metaphorical, to understand human mind. OK, I could accept this “soft” analysis if you enter in their therapies system. However, there are “hardcore psychoanalitics”, like another friend of mine, whot reaally believes in it LITERALLY. Ahem, that’s like a doctrine or religion ersatz…Obviously, this isn’t a science, neither a rational philosophy.
    Second, even with the non-scientific parts, is it useful for analysed people?
    Here I think we are going into a risky zone. My friend an I have agreed that if a therapy (analysis schools, Gestalt, cognitive and so on) is believed by the “customer” and the therapist is competent and honest, maybe people would be healed…By the therapy effectiveness or…placebo effect.
    The problem is that some people get stuck in a therapy for years and years, spending a lot of money with poor outcome.

  156. @ AV – #120

    Ah, yes, I see that I may have answered a *different* part of your question, than the obvious one you clearly asked… 😉

    The part I was addressing was one of your IF’s “…[IF] capitalism is succeeding in giving people a decent life in the west…

    The fact is, I do NOT agree that it is succeeding… or maybe, what I should say is that [in my humble opinion] it is BOTH succeeding and failing, but in different domains. It succeeds in almost every measure of *quantity* which can be measured. While failing in almost every measure of *quality* – which cannot be measured, cannot be priced, cannot be bought or sold, cannot even be properly explained to others. And the ways in which it fails are extremely significant to people – every bit as significant as its successes, only harder to put into words or argue for politically.

    This writer, in the conclusion to a lovely series of posts from 2017 draws a useful distinction between two types of power – “agency” by which he means, the power to direct oneself, to act and to accomplish one’s purposes in meaningful ways, and “command”, which is the power to direct OTHERS to act.

    What I observe is that while there are various kinds of “command” contending for a piece of each of us – both formal, state-organised types of “command” and informal, social pressure types of “command”, there is a huge and increasing dearth of “agency.” We are individually, less and less capable of acting and accomplishing ordinary, day-to-day purposes, and less and less capable of fending of external structures of “command.”

    Personally, I do not think what we need is a “revolution” – not if it means simply a change of who is in command, or how they go about commanding.

    For me, the current mile-wide gap between the quantifiable gains of capitalism (or more broadly, of modern statecraft) and the qualitative losses people are intimately aware of but find almost impossible to articulate to others, is contained in that dearth of personal agency.

    And here is the thing.

    There is *no way* that a person can be COMMANDED to become an active AGENT. Which means that there is no possible command system change that can bring about the recovery of personal agency.

    The necessary road is a different one, and looking back, I think this blog keeps enticing, seducing, persuading people, on a one-by-one basis, to take it up. Because to become the central power in one’s own life (to reclaim one’s agency) entails owning that power, taking responsibility for that power, assuming the risks of acting (eg failing), and accepting that consequences, for good or for ill, will flow.

    Who knows what will happen after that? But, for sure, too much command over people too lacking in agency, is a terribly unbalanced situation.

    One of its dangers, in fact, is the ease with which people afraid to take responsibility for their personal power/agency, can be drawn into mob actions… the mob itself, meanwhile, is capable of wielding a great DEAL of command power, for which none of its parts is prepared to take responsibility.

    Anyway, IMHO we do not need a revolution, more (maybe?) a restoration, or a reclamation, of personal agency, personal power, accompanied by personal responsibility.

  157. Hi John Michael,

    Here’s hoping for a whimper this time. Certainly, the policies being pursued will end in wide spread poverty. Do you reckon this most likely result is a reflection of the magic back at the management class?

    Just had a listen to your Sound Public Policy podcast. Good stuff.



  158. >hurry up and send over the F-16’s and Abrams tanks. We are getting tired of blowing up Leopards and Bradleys

    I notice nobody and I mean nobody.

    Is breathing a word about sending over F-35s.

  159. >Djilas said that communism offered to backwards (his, or the translator’s, word) countries, such as his own Yugoslavia, the possibility of rapid industrialization

    Giving credit where credit is due, the communists of Russia managed to take a country that was stuck in 1200s-era feudalism and managed to bring electricity to most of their people, put a man in orbit and a robot on the moon. And they did it in a few decades. From 1200 to 1930. Granted, that’s where they stayed for the most part.

    Maybe like that Monty Python song said “It’s only just a phase”…

  160. “Maybe it’s time for a re-examination of some basic, um, ‘settled science’? Is the universe really uniform in all directions? ”

    As far as the telescopes can see in every wavelength tried, yes

    “Are natural laws really unchanging over very long time frames?” There is good evidence the fine structure constant has changed, by about 6 parts per million in the last 9 billion years. As far as we can tell no other constants have changed, however the instruments that can detect the very small changes have not been around very long.

    “Is the universe really expanding?” The change in observed wavelengths of very specific electron transitions are consistent with the universe expanding.

    “Was there really a Big Band?” There were several. Benny Goodman was famous for his… Oh , Big Bang, the oscillating universe is still viable but recently there were constraints put on the possible options.

    “What if we’re looking up at the night sky into a cosmic hall of mirrors?” The closed universe, where you go in a straight line and return to the starting point. If true then it is really big or we would have spotted the reflections in the cosmic background radiation.

    Gravity now, that is driving everyone crazy. The dark matter particles don’t seem to exist, but the galactic rotation curves are all wrong, but MOND fails to explain some things we see, but Dark matter fails to explain other things we see. Also gravity is too weak by a huge factor, so much so there is talk it leaks into other dimensions. If that is true then it’s quite possible that the missing mass we can’t account for is in the next dimension over. (If you want to call it the astral plane that’s fine with me.) But they did find the gravitational waves they have been looking for, albeit they were weaker than expected. They do travel at the speed of light which made a lot of people happy.

    Neutrinos are also very annoying, no one is quite sure exactly what they are. So not everything is figured out yet.

    The point worth considering is the things not figured out are increasing irrelevant to routine life. Does the problem with the galactic rotation curves really matter to getting dinner on the table? The flux of solar neutrinos at the earth’s surface is on the order of 1011 per square centimeter per second. Are you being shredded as you read this reply? No. They ignore you, you ignore them.

  161. @JMG
    I’ve read Bellah’s article. He gives himself away in the first paragraph; he says that he’s going to discuss the civil religion in the US, then undercuts himself: “or perhaps better, this religious dimension.” So he’s not claiming an American religion, but that religious overtones creep into governance.

    He’s shockingly historically ignorant. He muses on the US motto of “In God We Trust” without mentioning that it was changed during Eisenhower’s time from “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, one). He muses on the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance without noting that the phrase was also added by Eisenhower and was controversial.

    Those changes were made during the Red Scare that followed WW II. It’s emblematic moment was the McCarthy hearings. Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech, which Bellah starts with, is a clear attempt to co-opt the religious rhetoric of the Eisenhower era and redirect it toward liberal goals, such as “the power to abolish all forms of human poverty.” Because Bellah has so little historical sense, he takes Kennedy’s words at face value.

    Because religion is important to many parts of US society, politics must include it, while at the same time politics must not let religion dominate. We’re still doing that balancing act, as our abortion controversies show.

    Bellah’s paper is shot through with unexamined assumptions like this. He needs to read some Critical Theory. He didn’t prove his claim of an American religion, or even have a decent definition of religion.

    What interests me is that the Red Scare tried to fight Communism with Christianity, suggesting an equivalence, that Communism was a religion too.

  162. “As one Spetsnaz officer recently put it, “hurry up and send over the F-16’s and Abrams tanks. We are getting tired of blowing up Leopards and Bradleys.”

    Since WW II Western strategy always involves air superiority. Air superiority requires decent planes, but also training, training, and more training. Put undertrained pilots in good aircraft and you get the Battle of the
    Philippine Sea, AKA The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.

    Whole books have been written about the failure of the Japanese pilot training program.

    Twilights Last Gleaming had a good account of what happens if you can’t maintain air superiority. Afghanistan shows what happens if air superiority is irrelevant due to terrain. Aircraft can’t hold ground. They can sterilize it for a while, but can’t keep it. Tanks can hold ground but they need a continuous supply line. As the saying goes, amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics.

  163. Anonymous, hmm. I’ll consider that.

    Christopher, I’ve been a fan of his since Nature ran that editorial insisting that his first book ought to be burnt. Anything that gets the bureaucrat-bosses of corporate science that apopleptic ranks high on my list of good things!

    Chuaquin, I see it as an art, or perhaps a craft, not a science. As for whether it can help people, of course — but only if it’s pursued for the purpose of healing, which isn’t always (or often). Psychotherapists were among the first to embrace the “disease management” model that’s now standard all through health care, where you don’t cure the illness, you just keep the patient more or less functional but still sick, so he or she has to keep on paying for your services. What’s the saying? “A patient cured is a customer lost.”

    Chris, I think it’s very possible. One consequence of the end of empire is that there’s a lot of jobs for farmers and other low-status jobs, and a lot fewer for imperial bureaucrats!

    Other Owen, ha! An excellent point, and of course we all know why: sales for the Lardbucket will fly about as well as it does once it has to go face to face against fighter planes that actually function.

    Tomriverwriter, I’m not saying that it’s especially good — quite the contrary. American sociology was impressively lame in those years, since it was essential not to talk about the things that mattered most. (Sociology, like economics and political science, is a discipline that cannot be honest if its practitioners are paid out of government funds.) I value it solely because it gave me the concept of civil religion, and that in turn allowed me to make sense of faith in progress.

    Siliconguy, the Ukraine war is quite a spectacle. I’m watching it closely, of course, and wondering just how accurate Twilight’s Last Gleaming will turn out to be.

  164. Since western science thinks it is based on a realist vision of reality, it can claim to provide the one and only objective truth. Western society expands on this by claiming to be the only society that has real and true knowledge of reality as it is. This makes our civilisation look absolutely unique in the history of the human race. Thus the seemingly minor flaw of having a realist vision of reality leads to extreme hubris and a totally distorted view of reality.

    Clearly, a true scientific civilisation must have a constructivist view of reality. This looks like a difficult aim to achieve. Western society seems to be addicted to having unique objective truths that cannot be doubted.

    One needs to be humble to accept one does not have the one and only objective truth. I would say that being humble does not seem to be very high on the list of western values. Being humble will probably only be valued again after hubris has been cured by nemesis.

  165. With respect to Bellah’s 1967 article, “Civil Religion in America,” I’d like to make several points here.

    First, it was not written as an academic research paper, but as an intellectual position paper, even a political one. That’s why he sent it to Daedalus for publication, and not to some more academic journal in the field of sociology or religious studies. Its object was to persuade and to change opinion, not to examine some thesis dispassionately. Of course Bellah framed the article in terms of his own professional field, which was sociology (and more narrowly, the sociology of religion).

    Second, Bellah had quite a personal agenda in writing it, which is largely unrecognized these days. During his student years at Harvard in the late 1940s, Bellah was a Marxist and an active member of the Communist Party USA, and he came under considerable pressure during the McCarthy era. This seriously jeopardized any future academic career he might aspire to, no matter how strong his professional qualifications for it might be.

    Bellah had began his academic career at Harvard, where he had a strong base of support going as far back as his undergraduate years there. In 1967, however, he was recruited from Harvard to the University of California at Berkeley right at the height of the Free Speech Movement. His Marxist past and his former membership in the Communist Partty USA were a big plus for him with most of the students and the more radical faculty, but a distinct minus with much of the university administration. Some sort of public statement that could be construed by his supporters as a recantation of his former “godless Marxism” was essential. “Civil Religion in America” was very well designed to serve that purpose.

    Of course, Bellah knew about the change to the Pledge of Allegiance and the Motto of the United States under Eisenhower. They attracted very wide public attention at the time, and were very widely approved. (I, however, was a rebel who felt they betrayed the very foundations of our nation, and to this day I have never once pronounced those added words when I say the Pledge, nor used new Motto.) Bellah was a politically savvy adult when these changes were made, and he cannot have failed to notice them and understand just why they were made. It would, however, have contravened his purpose in writing his article if he had discussed them in it.

    And third, the difference between a theology and a political ideology is an extremely fuzzy one, best defined (IMHO) with reference only to content, not any more fundamental character. One might therefore even characterize a well articulated political ideology as a sort of “civil theology.” If so, then any ceremonies of shared political ideology might equally well be characterized as a sort of “civil religion.”

    Bellah’s article remains important for its insight about the similarity–nay, the virtual identity–between religious and political ceremonial activity in the United States. So far as I know, it was the first piece to bring that insight to the attention of the wider public.

    And one final comment. The current extreme polarization in our national politics reminds me of nothing so much as the various major schisms in the history of the Christian Church, for example, the schism between Catholic and Orthodox in the 11th century, or between Catholic and Protestant in the 16th. If churches can undergo schisms and hunt down heretics in the religious sphere, Nations can do the very same things in the political sphere. When each side has the resources for an independent life, and the two are more or less equal in the power that follows from those resources, then the schism is hardly ever healed, no matter how many centuries may pass.

  166. Dear JMG,

    I was intrigued by your comment to Jessica: “I’m familiar with the total failure of the Left in the opening moves of the First World War — that was what convinced me, many years ago, that the methods of pursuing change being proposed by environmental protest groups were doomed to fail”. What methods are you referring to? Street protests? Planning to take over the government and then push changes from the top down? Recruiting writers and other artists?

  167. Dear JMG and commentariat,

    This essay reminded me of a very little social beliefs observation; how, say our ways of healing, might be influenced by our families’ beliefs. (Our families’ beliefs are in turn influenced by what they learnt from their ancestors, schools, doctors and other authorities…)

    The observation: I have been taught by my mother (and grandmother) that if I have a sore throat, I should drink hot tea and avoid drinking or eating anything cold (especially ice-cream; this was unthinkable, we were warned, threatened; if one cheated and ate ice cream with sore throat, they would definitely end up in much longer and serious illness.) Much later in life I met a friend, who to my utter astonishment, told me that she had had sore throat and needed to get ice cream, or at least some ice to “freeze” the little buggers… (Ice cream was preferable, since it was more delicious.) I thought she was joking, but no; sure enough, she went to the nearest shop and when we talked about the issue later, she said that this was a traditional way of healing the sore throat in her family and it worked nicely for them…

    Since, I have observed more such peculiar little ways; and I have been attentive to these stories. (I also experimented with the ice cream – but, perhaps because it being the wrong thing to do was so deeply ingrained in me since early childhood, it did not help me; indeed, it worsened my condition.)

    I believe😊, we should always question our beliefs to help put them in their context; firstly, because unquestioned beliefs like to turn into dogmas and secondly, because dogmas tend to mess with what we manifest. One might be able to choose more freely, thoughtfully and reasonably getting to know the contexts and their rules and boundaries better. But it is a long, long road…

    With deep regards,

  168. @JMG
    Sorry to burble on, but I want to address your concern about Progress. I think that Progress is a myth, but not a religion. Progress is Big Story that tries to explain our society. Some Big Stories have enough internal structure to become myths.

    For example, you point out that Progress is always paired with Apocalypse, which is what happens if society doesn’t give power to a class of technocrats. So Progress justifies technocratic governance, just like the myths of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia justified their hierarchical societies.

    Progress also hides the damage it causes – the vast consumption of resource and the ilth (your term) that it spreads everywhere.

    Progress even generated a new form of fiction – science fiction. So it has really captured the imagination of some people.

    For these reasons, I think Progress is a myth. But I don’t think it’s a religion. First, what is the higher power being served? Perhaps it’s Reason, but no one goes into ecstasies when the Voice of Reason speaks through them. Second, what are the practices that bring you closer to Progress and console? Third, Progress has little emotional impact, so it’s not a valid answer to “Why live?”

    Progress is a myth good enough for a society to rationally organize itself around, but it’s not powerful enough to create a religion that gives existential meaning.

    (The Bellah article is old — 1967 — and reflects its era. The Gentile chapter is much more up to date — 2006.)

  169. Governor Newsom of California is apparently pushing for a 28th amendment for gun control. And he is calling for a National Convention!! Depending on how this might go, well Twilight’s Last Gleaming…

  170. @Siliconguy and JMG: regarding air superiority and pilot training. I have enjoyed commentary by airforce veterans about the prospects of Ukies flying F-16s and they just laugh. The reason being that for combat aircraft, pilots need to be trained so extensively that they can fly based on muscle memory and instinct. And there simply is not the time to do that much training for the current conflict. In battle situations, the fighter pilot who has to think before acting will quickly be toast. If F-16s end up flying the skies over Ukraine it won’t be Ukie pilots who will be dying…

  171. @ JMG
    I apologize. You thought you were trying to help me by providing a source, and I came back with my hair on fire. If I could offer an explanation (not an excuse), I’ve written a 125,000 word book called Godless Religions, in which you are one of my main sources. It covers civil religions, political religions, as well as all the new religions of the 20th Century. It took 1000-2000 hours, I suffered a lot of abuse from my beta readers and have no prospects yet for publication, so I’m touchy about it. I was reaching out to you, because you might find some of its ideas useful. Sometimes I get angry when I read inferior work, but I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. If you would like me to stop commenting at, let me know.

  172. Dadaharm, nicely summarized. The realist/constructivist distinction is one I plan on addressing later on in this sequence of posts.

    Tomriverwriter, er, I don’t need a further source to introduce me to the concept; that happened in the every early 1980s. That said, I’ll consider reading Gentile for other reasons.

    Robert, thank you for this! I appreciate the historical and contextual framing. My point in borrowing the concept of civil religion as a way of talking about faith in progress was not to impose some kind of essentialist notion of religion, of course; it was to point to the way that popular notions of progress seem to fill the same emotional and collective needs that religions do, and that faith plays a central role in the entire rhetoric of progress.

    Aldarion, the entire framework of protest methods, including but not limited to the ones you’ve named. The entire toolkit of protest is an effective way to allow a minority to seize power but it’s not an effective way to bring about significant change — “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” is inevitably the result of a protest movement succeeding in its aims.

    Markéta, hmm! Thanks for this.

    Tomriverwriter, obviously I disagree. I consider progress to have far broader of a range of religious functions than merely providing a guiding narrative, though of course it does that as well. If you want to see the raw emotional power of progress, try telling people that we’re not going to keep progressing, that in fact we’re already in decline and the decline will accelerate for centuries to come. I’ve done this, and the reactions leave me in no doubt that faith in progress has a huge emotional component!

    John, yes, I heard about that. He really wants to guarantee a GOP victory in 2024, doesn’t he?

    Ron, that’s true. Russian air-to-air missiles are also effective at a much longer range than the ones used by the US and other NATO countries…

    Tomriverwriter, good heavens, don’t worry about it. Yes, you had your hair on fire — I trust you’ve wrapped it in a wet towel or something 😉 — but that happens to all of us, very much including me. Did your beta readers object to the writing and the framing of the arguments, or did they just reject the content? If the latter, get somebody else to read it. If the former, well, there’s always Strunk and White — I’ve seen more than one manuscript become publishable after the author applied S&W’s precepts to the text.

  173. Michael Martin wrote, “Even if all pollution were to stop tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m., these existing contaminants will be around for centuries. I just wonder if there is any way (chelation therapy?) by which we can detoxify our bodies faster than we absorb toxins through our environment.”

    Have you considered that mammalian bodies have been evolving to protect and detoxify themselves over hundreds of millions of years? From the body’s perspective, we’ve always been swimming in a sea of deadly toxic sludge. It had already learned to deal with that unavoidable fact long before we ever had minds complex enough to worry about those dangers consciously, and it’s likely that it will always be better at dealing with them than our self-regarding conscious minds would prefer to admit. Though the particular mix of toxins we’re exposed to is always changing, our obsession with finding profitable ways to market the horribly toxic chemical waste stream resulting from fossil fuel production has certainly left us exposed to a bunch more nasty chemicals. But it was always thus. Our bodies evolved thorough countless forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and meteor strikes. Who knows what kind of garbage those events exposed mammals to down through history.

    Just as our misguided mistrust of our amazingly competent immune systems left us quite vulnerable to the genetic tinkerings of madmen, mistrust of our bodies’ healthy ability to detoxify will just open us up to the depredations of charlatans and snake-oil salesmen. There exist some chemicals out there that can kill us in seconds flat at one part per million. That’s just life — let’s face it, around those toxins we were never going to have enough time to find that bottle of snake oil anyway!

    What about just letting your body do what it is so extraordinarily talented at — protecting, recovering, and healing that body? What about learning to pay attention to its other extraordinary gift — communicating its needs and concerns with your mind? Cravings, sudden intuitions, revulsions, and instincts are all ways that our bodies can convey to our minds how we might help them to stay healthy. Unfortunately, all human cultures end up placing serious taboos on our listening to our bodies’ revelations without some continuous overlay of preconceived judgements intervening, because doing otherwise would grant us each an amazing level of autonomy and power over ourselves. Think about how wild canines don’t just sit around whimpering by our doors, desperately waiting for someone who can operate a can opener to show up and save them. Their bodies can survive just fine in the wild on their own instincts, while we industrial humans tend to be about as free and independent as our house pets are, as we wait whimpering for someone who can operate a stethoscope to show up and save us.

    Of course, our minds have all sorts of gifts and talents as well, but micromanaging what our bodies do or do not want to be exposed to is not one of them. Listen to your body, thank it for its guidance, and then let it do what it finds to be healing. What your mind is actually so extraordinarily talented at is protecting, recovering, and healing… your mind. Wow, what a surprise that turned out to be! There are just as many toxins and viruses for your mind to find revolting and have deep intuitions about as there are for your body. The difference is that our bodies dwell in the physical plane, while our minds dwell in the mental plane. The poisons that the mind is gifted at detoxifying itself of can’t be found in the physical world, but they are every bit as real.

    Any time that we find our minds obsessed with body purity, trying to take over the body’s roles and competencies, it’s a pretty good bet that that’s a comforting and distracting way for the mind to ignore that it is disregarding one of its most important jobs — mental hygiene. Should the mind be able to quit projecting its worries onto the body and start cleaning up its own baggage instead, the body will naturally find it much easier to recover and heal. Every phenomenon expresses on all of the planes, so any body dis-ease will affect and be affected by mind dis-ease, and vice versa. Our bodies can scream their desire for exercise, rest, healthy diet, and play all they want. If our minds in their unaddressed toxicity instead deliver sleepless, junk-food-fueled bouts of sedentary screen watching, our bodies’ resulting disorders are likely to be the least of our actual troubles. When we ignore all of our bodies’ communications about their needs and lock them away in isolation for months (or in some cases years), because our minds were so toxically vulnerable to a coordinated scare campaign about a specially named flu, clearing out our debilitating mental toxins is by far the most pressing priority we need to address.

    To rephrase your question in light of the above: Is there any way (perhaps reverse brainwashing therapy?) by which we can detoxify our minds faster than we absorb toxins through our environment? And the answer, of course, is a resounding yes. For one thing, reading Ecosophia is a damn good start! The Octagon Society’s Order of Spiritual Alchemy, detailed over at John Michael’s dreamwidth blog, lays out quite an intensive dive into the mind’s accumulated baggage. One of the most delightful things about practicing mental hygiene is that simply going to the trouble to contemplate the more fetid contents of our mental realm is enough to clear out a surprising number of those disorders all on its own. For the more tenacious mental parasites that don’t simply whither away under attentive consideration, taking up a daily spiritual practice and asking for assistance from higher powers can work wonders.

    My apologies if this comes across as disregarding your initial question. There are certainly plenty of herbal and bodyworking means to aid the body in its detoxifying, but, in the end, allowing the body to express its innate physical healing talents, unimpeded by any accumulated mental anxieties, is profoundly detoxifying in itself. The best way I know of to clear away cluttering mental anxieties is by encouraging the mind to express its innate mental healing talents, which then detoxifies in another way. That makes for quite the potent twofer!

  174. Mr. Greer,

    I will be a dissenting voice again. But let me start by saying that there are many things that I agree with you, otherwise I wouldn’t be following this blog for so long as I do. I agree with the limits to growth, the peak oil, these simple common sense things that for some reason (cui bono?) contemporary economy is blind to. I agree that the ruling elites are hopelessly corrupt but I see the causes and nature of this corruption differently then you do.

    “… the notion that humanity is or should be the conqueror of nature, the acme of evolution, the measure of all things, and all the rest of that self-important drivel.” Yes, it sounds very familiar. Obviously, you are talking about Christianity. Humanity is or should be the conqueror of nature – check: Genesis 1:28 – Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” The acme of evolution – check: humanity is so much at the top of evolution that it’s not even part of it; evolution is for monkeys, man is made by God (which is btw. one and only). So, indeed, we have never been modern, at least not all of us and, more importantly, not our societies. Just look at America: the new president swears on the Bible, witnesses in court swear on the Bible and “In God We Trust” is written on all American currency. Is that modern? A sign and display of reason, science and enlightenment? Obviously not.

    Science did not produce the self-important drivel that describes the man as oh-so-special, on the contrary. The theory of evolution did exactly the opposite. That is why it was and still is the target of viscious attacks by the group of people which bases its identity on them being oh-so-special. And which group is that? Duh, Christians.

    Next. The essential principle of science – replicability – never stopped working for valid science. Consider the airplanes: a thing weighing many tonnes suddenly raises up in the air and flies for hours and then lands on the ground in a perfectly safe manner. And it happens each and every time, like a charm, something so unbelievable that indeed, as Clarke said, it is undistinguishable from magic. This wonder replicates hundreds or even thousands of times each and every day. So, what suffers from “replication crises” is not the true and valid science, but rather it is the fake and corrupted science, a product of deceit and corruption that permeates our society. This fake unreplicable science is the social product that you describe.

    And our civilization is a bit special because there was no other which flew in the air, which spanned the globe, which landed a man on the Moon and sent it’s contraption to the stars.

    What is the cause and the nature of this terrible corruption that plagues our society? Plutocratic elites, I think that we both would agree on this. But analysing further I would say that it is the capitalism, the greed, the inequality before the law where the rich always have get-out-of-jail-free card and use it to get even more rich and then buy even greater impunity. It is protestant ethics, straight from the heart of Christianity to the Wall Street. You would say that it doesn’t matter who owns the means of production, in fact, it’s even better that they are in private hands because otherwise stalinist mass murders can’t be avoided. You would say that the root cause and the nature of this corruption is that people believe that they will get flying cars and that they will colonise space which is impossible and won’t happen.

    Well, I’m sorry but I don’t like middle ages and would prefer not to go there and live in such a world. I would prefer to colonise Mars. I agree that it might never happen, but I believe there is still a chance and I’m rooting for this chance. Is there an objective reason which makes the colonisation of space impossible? I understand that Antarctica is more suitable for living then Mars, but science and technology might make the Mars more than suitable. Again, is there an objective reason why it would be impossible? Not that I know of. Rather, we are running out of juice (oil) and our (global) society is facing decline due to this peak oil and also polution and also due to this corruption. So, indeed, we might never leave Earth but instead decline and fall. Not an outcome that I would ever choose but I can accept its possibility with stoicism.

    In your post “When Nature Gazes Back” you said that “enchantment” is “the capacity to experience the world as full of life, consciousness, meaning and magic.” This is exactly how I felt a long time ago when I was a teenager reading science fiction. As Sam Delany said in Dhalgreen (quoting by memory which remains from those days): science fiction is a belief that the universe is full of hospitable planets where you can crashland your spaceship and live long enough to have an adventure. I got enchanted then and I remain enchanted, consciously and willingly. This vision of humanity’s destiny in space is the epitome of enchantment for me. Not because humans are oh-so-special and deserve to plunder and rape the whole universe and not just their own planet. But because humans are part of eternity of life and consciousness and space is not some vast, empty and dead vacuum but is actually “full of life, consciousness, meaning and magic.”

    There is a lot of merit in your analysis of the myth of progress but the subject is not so simple and straightforward. There is a lot of wheat which needs to be separated from a lot of chaff.


  175. @JMG

    Hope this isn’t off-topic, but I wanted to just share this because the discussion was about the myth of Progress – I recently came across a book published by Springer, no less, that essentially features visions of exploring our Solar System that look straight out of old-school sci-fi novels on the Solar System; the difference here is that it’s written with ‘inputs from professional scientists’. The book is titled ‘Living Among Giants: Exploring and Settling the Outer Solar System’. I hope you enjoy reading it; it can be downloaded for free from as a PDF😉.

  176. Celadon # 147 – c’est la vie! 🙂

    That said, we will always be happy to provide an off-road stopping point of hospitality for any ecosophians managing to come this far…

  177. SEBASTIEN LOUCHART: Not long ago, when I was refreshing my knowledge of geometry, it occurred to me that, to the extent that every mathematical proof depends ultimately on a very small set of axioms, every new “discovery” in mathematics was always embedded within the axioms. It’s sort of like the mature form of an organism being embedded in the DNA of the gametes that created it, but we recognize that there’s a great amount of entropy within a DNA sequence. How much entropy is implicit within the axioms of Euclid?

  178. I think that the war in Ukraine is demonstrating that the forces affecting science that you describe in this post can unfold in many ways. I sometimes get in discussion with folks who are aware of the problems with the empire and its failed foreign policy ( not NYT readers ), but the one thing they can’t seem to accept is that much of the US militarie’s technology is inferior to that of the Russians. They can’t seem to believe that the country of Elon Musk and Apple can have inferior weapons to a bunch of Vodka swilling ex-commies. After all we have the largest military budget in the world. And yes, as you have described much of this is due to the corruption in the U.S. Military Industrial Complex.
    But much of cutting edge weaponry is in the realm of applied science, and even theoretical science. This applies to hypersonic missiles, electronic warfare, anti-aircraft missile guidance systems, etc. The U.S. development of hypersonic missiles is not just moribund but years behind due to many things, but weakness in some basic science makes it worse. The Russians are far ahead of us in high temperature materials and the fluid dynamics ( air is a compressible fluid to engineers) of scramjet engines.
    I think much of the blame for this lies with the comparative forces on science in the U.S. compared to Russia. Science in both places is molded by institutional forces but they are different in both places. The US military assumes dominance of the land and the sea due to an unrivaled aircraft carrier fleet and a huge number of bases and fighter planes. Developing cheap effective missiles that destroy both these things and render the U.S. advantage null and void is not high on the list of Pentagon Brass, so science in these areas is probably not encouraged ( I am assuming).
    But Russia’s collapse gave it’s civilian and military leaders a very stark choice. They could eventually be taken over and colonized by the west in a process that was started in the 1990’s by Clinton, Sachs and the ” Harvard Boys” or figure out how to defend themselves on a shoestring. Russian was no Soviet Union and a huge carrier fleet or one to one fighter parity was economically impossible. So they decided to put their effort in to cheaper stuff. Antiaircraft missiles, cruise missiles, hypersonic missiles , anti-ship missiles and targeting and jamming technologies to compliment them. So it is my guess, that science in those areas got the most encouragement. Plus the Russians already had a lead in high temperature materials research ( all my high temp materials textbooks in engineering school in the early 80’s were translated from Soviet books of the time).
    The Russians kept all their old ” heavy factories” from Soviet times to build tanks, artillery and shells while we mothballed most of ours or turned them in to. museums because these things don’t turn a ridiculous profit like $100,000 F35 helmets.
    So while we laughed at them and spent our money on electronic plane catapults they ended up with the technologies best suited for battle in Eastern Europe due to a tight budget. Old fashioned artillery and armor, with high tech missles to clear the skies and target command and control bunkers far behind the front line. While we have fighters that can’t fly from non-pristine airfields, slow clumsy missiles that Russian cadets can could shoot down, and an aircraft carrier fleet that can’t be brought within range of the conflict.

  179. Dear JMG,

    your evaluation of protest methods is intriguing. The militarist change of heart of the German SPD in August 1914 bears quite some similarities to that of the Greens first in 1998 and then in 2022. The British Labour party made a similar about-face in 1914 and on other occasions – particularly in 2001.

    You say in general: ‘The entire toolkit of protest is an effective way to allow a minority to seize power but it’s not an effective way to bring about significant change — “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” is inevitably the result of a protest movement succeeding in its aims.’

    The eight hour work day was implemented by the German SPD in 1918. The French Front Populaire instituted the 40-hour work week and payed holidays in 1936. Labour installed the National Health Service in 1948. All of these had been fought for over decades, had been the aim of strikes, protests and campaigns. What do you think made these happen, but made the same parties forget pacifism and internationalism whenever push came to shove? Do you think external circumstances like the effect of the wars and the Great Depression were more important than which party happened to be in power?

  180. I think that faith and emotion are not the same thing, although frequently confused. I think of what are called articles of faith as things the believer “just knows” even if not provable by logic. Perhaps the proof of faith is encounters with matters unseen? I am not able to respect a sect or preacher whose main appeal is to emotion. So, it seems to me that people had faith in the idea of progress because they had seen their own lives greatly bettered by what they saw as and had been told were the fruits of progress. And, there was also great fear of losing those benefits. The phrase “going back to the stone age” is a meme no one believes; but hearing that phrase activates fears that “people like us” will become servants again.

    While I don’t necessarily believe every conspiracy theory–lizard people? –that comes along, I do believe that many of great wealth would like to dispense with any smidgeon of egalitarianism and reinstate a highly stratified society, wherein they and their descendants live large and the rest of us do what we are told, including conveniently dying when the Masters of the Universe decide we are no longer needed. I suspect they hope to maintain social stratification with high technology including surveillance, use of which they will, of course, reserve for themselves. They know quite well that the world’s resources won’t sustain current levels of mass consumption for everyone, but austerity is for the lower orders, not for them.

    While I do agree that collapse now and avoid the rush is a good plan for individual survival, I wonder how we are ever going to maintain republican forms of government during a long decline.

  181. Eyrie #184 “The essential principle of science – replicability – never stopped working for valid science. Consider the airplanes: a thing weighing many tonnes suddenly raises up in the air and flies for hours and then lands on the ground in a perfectly safe manner. And it happens each and every time…”

    I would put it to you that the airplane is not a result of science – which invents and tests theories, but of engineering – which invents and tests machines/artifacts. It amazes most people how little theory is necessary for testing machines. Humans have always tinkered with, tested and perfected things that worked, and it is questionable whether 99 out of 100 of them ever understood why or how it worked. They just kept plugging away until it did… while maybe later economic constrainst kept “cutting their corners” until they didn’t… but that is another story… 😉

    Although, I grant you, airplanes and spacecraft may owe something to science fiction… sometimes the idea that a thing is even possible has to be imagined before it enters the practical world where it can be tested.

  182. Eyrie, as you’ve said yourself, you’re under an enchantment — the enchantment of the myth of progress, which was communicated to you by science fiction. I know that enchantment well; I read a lot of science fiction in my youth, back in the 1970s, and only at the end of that decade realized that the future of perpetual progress and space travel was a pipe dream, as alluring and unreachable as perpetual motion and the glorious Communist future Marxists like to dream of. (You may not have read my blogs long enough to have encountered the many posts I’ve written talking about that; this is a good place to start.)

    The crucial point, though, is that being under an enchantment makes it difficult to think clearly. To live in an enchanted world and avoid that, you have to become an enchanter, and that requires giving up the simple faith in the objective reality of the things that enchant you. No, I don’t expect you to do that — but be aware that the arguments you’ve deployed here are claims I’ve fielded endlessly since I started blogging. I’m not going to argue with you, as it’s as useless to argue with a true believer in progress as it is to argue with a fundamentalist Christian or a devout Marxist, since faith-based belief systems are not amenable to reason. But I’m going to sigh and go on posting about the truth as I see it.

    Viduraawakened, funny. It fascinates me that the same old fantasies are still being retailed by true believers. As fantasies, they’re great — I’ve argued in print that what some call the Old Solar System, the solar system of pre-Viking Lander science fiction, is the grandest and most glorious of all the shared fictional universes of imaginative fiction — but they’re still fantasies.

    Clay, those are valid points, of course. That really does show how much of our attitude toward technology is a matter of belief in mythic narratives, doesn’t it? Of course there’s another factor, which I call the Stormtrooper Fallacy. You know how the imperial storm troopers in the Star Wars franchise fill the air with blaster fire but somehow never manage to hit anybody on the other side? It’s amazing how many people insist that this must be true of whatever side they don’t like. “The Russians must have inferior weapons, because they’re bad!!!” That’s the logic, if you want to call it that.

    Aldarion, those reforms could be implemented without any significant change to the distribution of wealth and power in society. It’s always possible, if you’ve got a party strong enough to make trouble in the national legislature, to extract such things from the existing order. Neither an end to war nor an end to environmental exploitation can be achieved without massive transformations of society — for example, without military expenditures, the problem of industrial overproduction becomes insoluble within a capitalist system.

    Mary, given how poorly republican forms of government are working these days, I’m sorry to say we probably aren’t.

  183. @JMG, re: your reply to Aldarion in #182: So what are effective ways to bring about significant change (and preferably change not just in a random direction, but in a direction which will make life better for most people – i.e. in a somewhat controlled way)?


  184. I don’t really see China (and Russia, for that matter) as ethno-states rather as multi-ethnic civilizations. Hence why millions proudly call themselves “Chinese” or “Russian” without them being Han or ethnic Russian. I don’t see a “master race” component to it at all (to the CIA’s disappointment, no doubt).

    Marxism transmuted into fascism could be called “Trotskyism”. But it never really had a foothold in Eurasia where “socialism in one nation” prevailed. If anything, fascism’s remnants survived after the war in institutions like the EU, NATO, and Scientific Establishment (NIH, NASA, etc.). So it’s easier for me to trace a straight line from Nazi Germany to say, NATO or the WEF, than the CCP.

    As for our inane elites, they are desperate for war with China as far as I can tell. It’s the only thing they think will save them at this point.

  185. I still remember the moment I realised that the people of, say, 1923 saw their year as the ‘most modern year’. Or thinking that people in the Victorian era saw all those trains getting built and saw their future as wide open and full of promise. (Certainly the train network was a bigger revolution than the Internet). It hurt my brain to realise, at first.

  186. Hi John Michael,

    Thanks for that phrase: The stormtrooper fallacy It’s pretty funny, except it isn’t. 😉

    Man, I hit that belief system too, and all that happens is that I have to expend my own energy deflecting a whole bunch of emotional energy directed at me. And there is always more. At first, I really tried hard to break through that, like really hard, but soon learned the great energy sink for what it was. As people know by now, all them extra calories convert to heat. Probably why there’s a lot of hot air out there, hey? 🙂

    George Orwell sneakily wrote about the issue of over production in his book 1984. It was a central theme of the book. It was the first time I’d encountered the concept, and it looks like a hungry ghost. Hey, I’ll tell you a funny side effect of things declining economically. People are dumping more rubbish. I’ve even observed a couple of people recently chucking empty take away coffee cups from their moving vehicles. That’s new. Now ignoring the obvious that life is too short for take away coffee (or tea, or whatever), it looks to me like people are doing what the brain care folks (psychologists etc.) might describe as: ‘acting out’. Yeah, I’ve done everything you told me to do!!!! Pressure always escapes. Are you seeing any dummy spitting in your part of the world? This morning I observed that some nice folks dumped a whole trailer load of rubbish in the forest. Aren’t they nice.



  187. After I wrote my last question, I read up a bit on what members of the SPD had written on militarism and imperialism before 1914. Rosa Luxemburg, particularly, seems to have seen quite clearly that it was impossible to transform one European country alone. Since she thought a disastrous inter-European war was an inevitable outcome of imperialism, even a utopian socialist country would still be drawn into the war. Her suggestion was a violent socialist revolution in all countries at once, which I think would have been at least as bad, probably worse than the two world wars that actually happened. But at least she would have agreed with you that “without military expenditures, the problem of industrial overproduction becomes insoluble within a capitalist system.” Some conservative thinkers in the SPD also agreed with you and with her on that, but drew the conclusion that the SPD should wholeheartedly support the armament race of the imperial government.

    Sweden, the city on the hill for democratic socialists after WWII, had an absolutely massive military expenditure, justified by the Soviet threat, but probably necessary for creating and maintaining the welfare state.

    I have learned something today both from you and from those older thinkers: preparing permanently for war on a large scale, which incurs the risk of actually going to war, is more central to a growing economy than any distribution of income within it…

    I am certainly as curious as milkyway at #194, though I think I can imagine the general direction of your answer. Change happening on the individual, family, enterprise (cooperative), municipal, regional and nation state level, more or less in that order and always self-motivated, not through social shaming or state imposition. We have seen that this path has also not been walked in answer to the twin challenges of the last decades (environmental degradation and end of cheap fossil fuels). It is an open question if it could have been walked and if it still might be at some point in the future. The other possibility is of course involuntary change through necessity.

  188. I would like to comment on the Myth of modernity and Ukraine. Arguably, nowhere the religion of progress with its myth of modernity is as strong as it is here in Silicon Valley, particularly among the immigrants from the former USSR. These are the people who got ahead in life because they were the best and the brightest. They FELT the progress. They didn’t question modernity. In the early 90-s my friend got into MIT by asking strangers at Sheremetyevo airport boarding the flight Moscow-New York to smuggle his application to the US and pay the postage and the application fee – he didn’t have any money. He did it 20 times and wrote on every application, “If you received my previous application please disregard this one.” 19 out of his 20 applications made it to the MIT admission office. He got in and never looked back. My other friend immigrated to the US with her mother and landed in one of the worst public high schools in Bronx. She went through a metal detector every morning and was the first person in that school to ever go to an out of state college – also MIT. Her house in Palo Alto looks like a palace compared to that studio in Bronx. That’s progress! The list goes on. These are my friends. They invite me to their parties. I go and have conversations like these:

    Me (gloomily): Now with no water from Kakhovka dam people in Kherson oblast will have no vegetables to eat and nothing to sell – they will have to leave to survive.
    Friend: Many people can not leave.
    Me: Then they will die.
    Friend: It’s a 21st century, they won’t just die!

    Me: Hard to believe, but this war has been going on for more than a year!
    Friend: It’s gonna be over soon. A friend recently came back from Saint Petersburg – you can’t even buy an iPhone there – they can’t win.

    Friend: Russia has been an evil aggressor. The US will not let it win!
    Me: (nodding politely) More wine?

    It boggles my mind how such smart people can have so many completely unexamined assumptions.

  189. Scotlyn #164
    I absolutely agree with your comments on capitalism, power and agency. For many years I have felt that although we are materially better off than a number of people I do not dislike anyone enough to wish them the kind of society we have developed. Agency is the greatest power any person can have. Revolutions bring further misery to the already miserable. They sound like a quick solution to problems we cannot be bothered taking the time to fully engage with.

  190. JMG #193:
    “You know how the imperial storm troopers in the Star Wars franchise fill the air with blaster fire but somehow never manage to hit anybody on the other side?”

    Hey, John, I realised that fallacy when I was 8 and watched Star Wars first time in my life. OK, I’m not an intellectually gifted man, but I consider myself a very open-minded andd curious person since my childhood, so I wasn’t “abducted” by the fallacy you are refering to.
    It was clear for me as a child that Stormtroopers had a (suspicious) very bad aiming, because “they are the bad guys”. A movie gimmick, of course!
    The bad people doesn’t know how to shoot, ha ha!
    Very good reference, JMG.

  191. >you can’t even buy an iPhone there – they can’t win

    Wouldn’t it be ironic (and amusing to some degree) if the reverse turned out to be true in the long run.

    re: the Stormtrooper Effect

    What if, there are no heroes in the story? What if all there are, are stormtroopers bumbling about on both sides? I’m thinking about military history, like Stalingrad, like Verdun,

    like Bakhmut.

    Maybe all there ever was, was stormtroopers. No Darth Vader, no Jedi, just stormtroopers. And maybe some droids.

  192. Mr. Greer..

    With regard to John of Redhook’s comment re. Newsome/GunControl/National Convention…..

    Read that on the Hedgerow. Yeah Gavin, Go For It!!

    I see gleaming all right – as in Gov. HairJell’s swept coif erupting in flame, as things go, um .. sideways!
    Honestly, pols like him .. and the people he and his ilk pander to, are absolutely craycray .. to the nines!

    He better hope somebody close by has a six-pack or ten of Budlight, should he be in prompt need of extinguishment.

  193. “just how accurate Twilights Last Gleaming will turn out to be”

    Mr. Greer. Perhaps one could create a meme that puts the Eleven Degrees of GMG way beyond the realm of Kevin Bacon!

  194. Re: the Storm Trooper Fallacy. Since “our” side in the Ukrainian Russian war of 2022 seem to be the ones unable to inflict the majority of casualties, they must be the bad guys. Both the Storm Troopers and the AFU (and the US Army) wear helmets modeled on the Stahlhelm, an obvious sign that they’re the bad guys.

  195. Eyrie,

    Objective reasons not to try to go to Mars? Well, …

    1) No air
    2) No water
    3) No soil
    4) No magnetic field (i.e., lethal levels of radiation)
    5) A nice day in summer could get to 50 degrees Farhenheit, before it drops to minus 150F at night. Winter is much colder.

    As bad as the Earth could get in next billion years, it will never be as bad as Mars.

  196. Milkyway, it depends entirely on circumstances. The gay and lesbian community did it by building effective political blocs and manipulating the political system. (I’m fairly sure the transgender thing is being pushed so far by the corporate system in an attempt to punish them for doing that.) Right now a lot of people are having an impact by simply refusing to buy products or take jobs that don’t align with their values. There are other approaches — but marching around with signs is not one of them.

    Kfish, it can be a shattering realization!

    Chris, I may have to do a post on the Stormtrooper Fallacy; depending on how the current battle in Zaporizhia goes, that may be a suitable time. As for stuff being dumped, interesting. No, I haven’t seen any noticeable increase in that.

    Kirsten, I wonder how many of them know perfectly well what the score is and simply don’t want to deal.

    Chuaquin, it made me chuckle, too — I went to see the first Star Wars movie seven times in its first run, and the absurdly bad aim of the storm troopers was one of the many fun things about it.

    Other Owen, unfortunately plenty of people got hit in Bakhmut, and plenty of people are getting hit right now in Zaporizhia. They may be ordinary grunts, but they can shoot — and be shot.

    Polecat, I have to say that dousing someone in Bud Light strikes me as a really humiliating experience — I wouldn’t kill slugs with that stuff.

    Peter, ah, but try telling them that…

  197. Eyrie (offlist), when I said I wasn’t interested in arguing with one more true believer, that was not an invitation for you to post the same repeatedly failed faith-based arguments here. By all means keep believing if you like, but don’t expect the rest of us to buy into your belief system.

  198. Other Owen
    Afraid Bakhmut wasn’t two sets of stormtroopers bumbling about. It was the Russians leading the Ukrainians onto the killing ground, and killing them at the ratio of about five to one. That’s what air, artillery and missile superiority gets you. For that matter, i wouldn’t have categorized Stalingrad, bloodbath that it was, as bumbling.

  199. @JMG re: #207: Would you consider a post on these other approaches, with regards to the times we are living in, and especially with regards to their potential downsides?

    For what it‘s worth, the example coming to mind from Germany are the Greens who (as a newly founded political party) changed the public discourse and awareness quite a bit – and look where we have ended up, with them leading the march into the abyss and shoving everybody else along.

    I‘m not sure the approach through the political system has less pitfalls than the revolutionary approach some people favour. Although, of course, it tends to cause less casualties (at least in its first stages).


  200. Well, you and Alastair Crooke seems to be tag teaming ideas again. In his recent article “A Chaotic Re-Sorting: Europe’s ‘Seminal Shift’ Is (Broadly) Moving in the Same Direction as U.S. Politics” he takes on politics with its presumed truths, reviewing them not as sacred precepts but as the result of complex social processes.

    What intrigues me is that in analyzing the same process of “dizzying political realignment – scrambling all of the traditional categories”, which you have so often written about, Crooke has identified a different fault line than class war (or possibly he’s just given class war a different name.) What he is calling this disorienting shift away from left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, is insider vs. outsider. I guess that would make for more of a feudal class war, where there’s some interconnected aristocrats wielding power, leaving all the excluded non-aristocrats out in the cold.

    It certainly makes for an interesting theory. One could be lower class and an insider, so long as you stay sheepishly subservient. One could also end up upper class and an outsider, like RFK Jr. or Trump. Which fault line —class or innie-outie— are the executors and underwriters of the long-shot overreach at a cultural revolution we’re currently suffering through placing their various bets on, and in which demographics? Their castrated legions of trans warriors, which they keep deftly maneuvering around, are clearly grasping at the dangled carrot of insider status, as opposed to rich upper class status. Except that Dylan Mulvaney was somehow managing to succeed in jumping financial class… well, until he managed to total a blue-chip-stock company, that is. I don’t know — it’s all gotten so complex of late; who can even tell anymore?

  201. People, scientists being ‘people,’ will always be mythological beings. Look at how many urban legends people automatically believe? Take a myth from the space age. A story circulated in the 1960’s that NASA needed a way for astronauts to write in space so they invested boku bucks (thousands back then. Millions or billions today,) inventing a pen that would write in a zero-G environment. It took a long time to develop and cost, well, boku bucks!

    The Russians used pencils.

    This, of course, is wrong. Pencils need to be sharpened. Sharpening pencils generates wood shavings and, more dangerously, graphite dust that gets into lungs, clothing, expensive and sensitive equipment, Tang dispensers, and all the other high tech spaceship stuff. The Russian space program buys their space pens from the same company that supplies them to NASA.

    But the story of the Practical Russian vs. the Over Budgeted American Space Scientist persists even today since it’s such a good story! It is a kind of myth known as the ‘Morality Tale’ and is no different from the folk tales my Russian grandfather used to tell about the Wise Peasant and the Foolish Aristocrat. People haven’ t changed. We just keep inventing new language to tell the same old stories.

    Try as we might, these stories won’t go away.

  202. This is a late entry to the thread, but I have just discovered the essay of C. S. Lewis’s called “The Abolition of Man” – which contains this strong challenge to the Myth of Modernity:

    “I am only making clear what Man’s conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself.

    “Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have `taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?”

    I have to say the essay is slow going for me, because it is chock full of punches to the gut, like the above. I’m dipping in and slowly chewing a couple of morsels from it each day. Still, down the decades since it was written, it sounds echoes of what is to be seen and heard all around us at this time.

    Anyone who is interested can read the full essay, which appears to have 4 linked parts, and which begins at this Way Back Machine site:

  203. Uhg..
    Just (belatedly) realized an error in my #204 comment. Meant to type (J)MG instead.

  204. JMG, Greetings from the edge of the Colorado Plateau, where the deer and the antelope play. But now only the deer live in the suburbs of our MAGA county, where conservative means progress, and fossil fuels are our most important product. Better living through chemistry and the sky is the limit. I live the myth of modernity, typing on this keyboard, using two of the titanium stigmata of the modern era, a titanium port in my skull and an upper titanium limb. I have a library of recorded music and I can find my philosophy in that music, or in all those science fiction books like 3 stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, or riders of the purple wage, or the new riders of the past, found in old vinyl of the 1970’s, or in new John Barleycorn Reborn CD, Aye, that has become 8cd’s, and counting. I watched Denver Nuggets win on tv last night and saw some of a stoic MVP of the game, “It’s a job.” He likes horses. I spent the whole week looking at my world around me, cars misbehaving, madly, people racing to get there. “It’s New! Exciting. wondrous..awesome’ ‘, but incomplete. Never enough. New houses taking pastures. I live in suburbia now, more cars, but it took them forty years to get here, so when I leave, if I can get out of my driveway, I’ll know the new owner will cut down all my trees to plant houses. I live in the middle of a lack of imagination, a prankster’s paradise, where there can be no alternative but to always be a colony, extractive, of course, to feed the empire. Meanwhile, we might have a trial to determine if someone broke the law chasing bad election conspiracies. The number of people without houses or resources increases and the camps down by the river are not useable because the Colorado River is too high, still, so we got plenty of water. We all live as if there can be no alternative. Through it all, in my mental fantasies, I build my compost pile, often taking the too big pieces of my sifting the final product to create a layer, turning it and letting it breathe, and inhale it all the way down to my gut. The Book of Changes says a revolution is coming with the change of seasons, lets all get together right down here. I am singing If you could read my mind, I wasn’t born to follow, catch a falling star, all in a dance to understand how to live in this fantasy world. Is the price of admission to this our minds? It seems to be a catch-22. If microbiology is our interface to the world, killing it is suicide. it seems we need to find something to counteract the paradigm, one person at a time, using what tools are around, and be able to laugh. I need to laugh and sing, drink a beer and tell stories like I’m a free man in the colony.

  205. Right now a lot of people are having an impact by simply refusing to buy products or take jobs that don’t align with their values.

    JMG, would like to focus on the first part of that statement. In your view, how can one distinguish between effective consumer boycott and mere virtue signaling? When I deliberately buy such products as I can afford from local farmers at the Farmer’s Market, some would call that virtue signaling and even a kind of offensive expression of privilege. What is your view on that point? Cesar Chavez’s table grape boycott was widely denounced as elite virtue signaling, though the phrase had not then been invented. I thought what made that boycott effective was precisely how easy it was to simply not buy grapes. It seemed to me that the boycott had the effect of exposing the fragility of corporate structures. If you don’t buy their stuff, they don’t profit.

  206. re: stormtroopers and combined arms

    In the prequels, the stormtroopers were seen flying fighters, driving tanks and shooting artillery. Oddly enough, they seemed a lot more competent in ep1-3 than they did in ep4-6. They certainly were aiming well when they executed Order 66. Maybe that’s why the Empire fell – they lost all their competent stormtroopers :P.

  207. >As for replicability, even as a 14 or so year-old studier of physics, I lost count of the number of times some class experiment of 20+ of my fellow pupils failed to demonstrate the required results

    Reminds me of a rather ill-though-out lab in college where someone thought it was a great idea to get us all to derive Avogadro’s Number from experiment. The procedure, looking back, was horribly designed but how were a bunch of kids almost straight out of high school supposed to know that.

    Anyways, it was an exercise in both pain and hilarity as nobody and I mean nobody was able to get the right number based on the measurements they were taking.

    And even though everyone was getting wrong results, did they think to blame the experiment? Nope, they pretty much failed everybody instead. There were one or two who did manage to “make the number” though. Making the number also meant fudging the data in a way that would be hard to figure out where it got fudged. Like changing a strategic 1 to a 7 halfway through the calculations. Presto, here’s the number you were looking for!

    Maybe that was the real lesson of that lab – how to fudge the data, so you made your numbers. A real world type lesson there. And people wonder why everything is falling apart now.

  208. @scotlyn #213: it’s a very condensed essay indeed! That Hideous Strength is basically the fiction version of Abolition of Man. Some people will prefer the story, some the essay.

  209. Speaking of the decline and fall of the American Empire, there is a renewed push for de-dollarization in Africa going on right now, with efforts underway to set up a pan-African bank that will trade in local currencies, thereby eliminating the need for African countries to trade in US dollars.

    And the Biden administration just received a major slap in the face from Dubai the other day.

    Combine that with other recent news coming out of Africa and the Middle East, and its becoming clear that America and its European client states, particularly Ecnarf, are getting pushed out of large areas of the world in favor of Russia and China.

    But then again, as Sol and others have been pointing out for some time now, when Western politicians, apparatchiks and media talking heads bloviate about “the international community”, this is what they really mean…

  210. I cringe when I hear anyone glorify the miracles of science. As a professional analytical development scientist, I knew something was afoot when I heard them say “trust the science.” No real scientist worth their weight would ever just “trust the science.”So many times experiments are flawed due to improper control setup. For years, government agencies recommended adding trace amounts of gold into solutions in order to stabilize mercury for trace analysis. As it turned out, the gold never stabilized mercury as the gold standard solution they were adding contained 30% hydrochloric acid. It was in fact the hydrochloric acid that was producing the desired stabilizing effect and not the trace amounts gold. To this day, companies are needlessly adding trace amounts of gold to their samples and standards to help stabilize mercury.

    Oddly enough, none of the analytical chemist at my company took the vaccines including myself. We were all prepared to receive our walking papers when the Supreme Court ruled that only government workers were mandated. We all independently came to the same conclusion that this was a bad idea. Unfortunately for many, they still trust that the medical community is looking out for our wellbeing. It’s difficult to unsee what has happened to our regulatory agencies and not conclude that they’re trying to kill us. My back yard is now a rather large potato field but somehow this may not be enough without a general wake-up call in the population.

  211. Greetings–
    very much enjoyed your essay. One thing puzzles me, if I may: the choice of the Hermann der Cherusker statue as triumphant pose of … modernity?
    Yes, it’s 19th C metal, and fed the late 19th C desire for German national aspirations; but old Hermann was the hero who trounced the Romans in the Teutoburger Wald…. So I’m not sure how to understand the reference. Sorry if I’m obtuse.
    Thank you.

  212. This is the end of the cycle, but I just wanted to resume what I have learned this week. If a change is small enough to be realized within the existing economic order, it can be achieved through strikes, protests and election campaigns (eight hour working day, paid holidays) or through other means (gay marriage; wind power and photovoltaics so far). However, what about changes that would completely transform the existing order? JMG suggested the anti-war movement pre-1914 as a foil for the modern environmental movement. What were the options?

    1. Becoming the enemy: Social Democrats who propagated “socialist colonialism” or supported the imperial army. The equivalent to environmentalists defending “green growth”.

    2. Protesting: countless declarations and huge street demonstrations against war, but at the moment of decision, complete spinelessness. Too many modern examples to count.

    3. Revolution using “as much violence as necessary” in order to transform society. Ended up causing more bloodshed and hunger than any revolutionary had foreseen. Has been rarely proposed by environmentalists.

    4. Any other method? Some countries stayed neutral during the war, but none of the most powerful ones did. For the environmental movement, JMG has often suggested that there was a window of opportunity in the 1970s for a bottom-up, DIY ecological transformation and planned degrowth. However, we don’t have an actual example of such a transformation.

    That leaves involuntary, unplanned degrowth…

  213. Milkyway, I’ll consider it.

    Christophe, good for Crooke! “Insider” vs. “outsider” is a good convenient typology because it allows people to get past the canned binaries of modern political thought.

    Jon, human beings think with myths as inevitably as they listen with ears and walk with feet.

    Scotlyn, it’s a very solid essay, and worth close reading. Fortunately all Lewis’s work is in the public domain at this point — you can download it in several formats from here.

    JDM, welcome to life in a falling empire.

    Mary, as I see it, it becomes virtue signaling if you parade around the fact that you do it. If you just do it, and don’t boast about it, it’s your free expression of your right to choose. If a lot of people feel the same way you do, it’s a boycott — but even if they don’t, even if it’s just you, there’s a point to making your money follow your ethics.

    Platypus, I’ve been watching all this very closely. The rise of Africa may turn into the most important geopolitical fact of the 21st century; it’s a big, resource-rich, and potentially economically and politically powerful continent. I’ll take your seriously funny image…

    …and raise you this one:

    It’s a huge continent!

    Jake, thank you for this. In my experience, it’s people who have no actual experience of science — and that includes bureaucrats in charge of scientific bodies — who are the ones yelling “trust the science!”

    Pmg, the image of Hermann is classic 19th century German pseudoheroic kitsch — swaggering and faintly absurd, the sort of thing that Wagner exemplified at his worst, Nietzsche mocked at his best, and Thomas Mann skewered so neatly in the later chapters of Buddenbrooks. I see the modern world’s self-image as a kind of overblown Wilhelmine self-parody, with the strutting legions of scientists in lab coats rather than Pickelhauben.

    Aldarion, unfortunately involuntary, unplanned “degrowth” — or to use a more straightforward word, decline — is what we’re going to get.

  214. re: stormtroopers and combined arms

    Another thought, from Asimov. An emperor doesn’t want a competent army because a competent army competently lead could overthrow him.

    Stalin had quite the reputation for killing competent generals, two of the three who soundly thrashed the Japanese in Manchuria were soundly shot. Of course when Hitler started rolling east this came back to bite him.

  215. Hi JMG,

    I agree that most science is biased by the narratives ingrained in the scientific community, but I’m on the fence about Physics. It’s true that we could have a different model of the physical world, but the simplicity of fundamental Physics is very appealing. For example, the equations of motion for a heliocentric model of the solar system are so much simpler than the ones for a geocentric model. I find it hard to imagine a geocentric model that makes sense in the face of the simplicity of the heliocentric model.

    There’s a nice article by Eugene Wigner titled “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” where he argues that it’s not crazy to consider the question of the uniqueness of physical theories because of the surprising effectiveness of math to describe inanimate objects like planets and particles. We may not understand it, but we’ve definitely uncovered something mysterious about the physical world.

  216. Thank you for the brief intro on critical theory, I’ve always wondered what those Fox News videos with angry guests were talking about exactly haha. It’s those Marxist intellectuals at it again along their French post-structuralist friends.

    I’m no expert at the Enlightenment but it seems that what’s happening today is not a faithful and balanced practice of the classical libertarian ideals. True liberty is being attacked from all sides at this moment, it’s the last and desperate attempt of the ”slave-gods” and their black lodges to use esoteric language. So sad to see similar tactics only wearing different clothes with some of the supposedly reactionary traditionalists and conservatives who think they’re the cool kids these days, it’s plain atavism.

    We indeed need to look at science and approach it in a different way, I think some scientists are aware of the problems vexing it, but they’re not at the forefront unfortunately.

  217. Jon #212: The way I’ve heard that story, and seen the actual artifacts (at least, in photos), is that the Russian “pencils” were not graphite-in-wood pencils, but what we call China-markers, or grease-pencils. Like a dry-erase markers, when used to write on a hard, smooth surface, the writing can be wiped away as needed. It would be fine for drawing up a weekly schedule of events during a space mission. For making permanent notes in a log book, the ink pen would have its place, too.

  218. Hello JMG and fellow commenters,

    I’m answering kind of late mainly because I was somehow reading other stuff than this blog.

    @Lathechuck. Regarding maths it goes even further than what you state about Euclid’s axioms. There’s no concept of entropy in math (as far as you put it, there is a concept of entropy in information theory) but I think I guess what your point is. You think of what we call “indecidability” which is the property of a statement of being impossible to be proven or disproven within a certain set of axioms. I don’t want to get to many lengths into that subject because, well, I’m late commenting and moreover I don’t want to completely set an off-topic course that will annoy every guy and his dog. Anyway, suffice to say that, within the framework of a certain set of axioms, it’s been proven (by Gödel) that there is some assertions that are indecidable. To add insult to injury, the word “decidability” has two meanings: a strong meaning if you’re a mathematician of the logician subspecie or a weak meaning if you’re a mathematician of the computer theorist variety.

    I do concur with our host that maths are odd stuff and mathematicians an odd lot.

  219. replying to Jose Garmilla #227… a lot of the simple beauty of physics comes from the way we prepared experiments. We create very clean polished environments and watch what happens there. The movement of the planets is at the root of modern physics – the planets move in a vacuum and are very small compared to the distance between them, etc. Fluid mechanics is one branch of physics that doesn’t have that beautiful simplicity!

  220. @jmg
    Thank you for your kind response. The non-religious readers didn’t want to hear any positive about religion, and the religious readers didn’t want to hear anything negative about religion. That’s the problem with trying to find a compromise.

  221. Important stuff. Your summary of “critical theory” and its roots in Marxist rationalization is very helpful. Obviously science is socially constructed. Essentially everyone agrees on that point. The interesting question is whether certain conclusions about repeatable observations of simple systems reach a level of coherent lock-in with observations that essentially any society who had sustained access to observations of the subject would agree with the conclusion. Claims like “the matter we observe is made of atoms which are each one of the elements of the periodic table” and “the earth is a nearly spherical planet orbiting a star” are the kind of thing that are really under debate in the science wars. The enlightenment wasn’t a discontinuity. A lot of the modern scientific synthesis was embedded in common sense from earlier ages. But the level of coherence possible with chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy, etc. is much much higher than it was before the 17th century or so.

    The path of the science studies crowd isn’t very helpful. Latour is one of the more useful ones, particularly his later work on reappraisal of critical theory. They correctly identify that “science” is given much more hope by humanity than is rational. But they misunderstand the reason. The problem is that science is claimed as a solution to complicated things. When what it has really done is help us identify a few simple things that it actually explains with nearly irrefutable clarity. When philosophers of science offer us ways to distinguish complex things that current knowledge can’t explain from simple things that it can, then they would be helpful. The important stuff is too complicated for science. That doesn’t mean science is wrong. But we are in serious trouble because human are prone to optimistic extrapolation to totalize whatever ideology has seemed successful recently, and science has been badly extrapolated.

  222. @JMG Regarding civil religions:

    It comes down to the definition of religion. If you believe in civil religions, then it’s reasonable to believe that Progress is a civil religion. If, like me, you think that civil religions stretch the idea of religion too far, then you won’t believe the Progress as a religion.

    Since arguing about definitions is boring for everyone but the people involved, I won’t comment more.

  223. Replying to James Kukula #232:

    Yes, I agree. Nature is messy and unpredictable. It’s not just fluid mechanics, a system of 3 or more objects that interact through Newton’s law of gravitation is chaotic, so the solar system is of course chaotic. The reason planetary orbits seem regular and predictable to us is because the system converged to an equilibrium, and we’ve been able to reproduce that equilibrium in computer models. Over time it may wonder beyond the current equilibrium and after a period or erratic behaviour converge to a new equilibrium, so our predictions for positions of planets can only go so far.

    I think the interesting bit is that whenever we are able to create a pristine environment (or nature does it for us) simple equations can be used to describe the behavior of inanimate objects to very high precision. Wigner argues it didn’t have to be this way, and I think he’s correct. I think we’ve discovered there’s order and regularity at the very bottom, and that is a deep result.

  224. Hey John,

    James from Hermitix here. Excited to see you’re reading Latour – a figure who I’ve recorded a few episodes on (including one on *We Have Never Been Modern*). I’m commenting to recommend a figure who directly influenced Latour and is commonly overlooked, one Michel Serres, and especially his book *The Natural Contract* wherein ‘Serres calls for a natural contract to be negotiated between Earth and its inhabitants’. I believe you would find it both interesting and eventually worthy of a re-read.


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