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We are in the habit of visualizing man’s political and social history as a wild zigzag which alternates between progress and disaster, but the history of science as a steady, cumulative process, represented by a continuously rising curve, where each epoch adds some new item of knowledge to the legacy of the past, making the temple of science grow brick by brick toever greater height. Or alternately, we think in terms of “organic” growth from the magic-ridden, myth-addicted infancy of civilization, through various stages of adolescence, to detached, rational maturity.
In fact, we have seen that this progress was neither “continuous” nor “organic”. The philosophy of nature evolved by occasional leaps and bounds alternating with delusional pursuits, culs-de-sac, regressions, periods of blindness, and amnesia. The great discoveries which determined its course were sometimes unexpected by-products of a chase after quite different hares. At other times, the process of discovery consisted merely in the cleaning away of the rubbish that blocked the path…
All we know is that mental evolution – from cave-dwellers to spacemen – cannot be understood either as a cumulative, linear process, or as a case of “organic growth” comparable to the maturing of the individual; and that it would perhaps be better to consider it in the light of biological evolution, of which it is a continuation.
Evolution is known to be a wasteful, fumbling process characterized by sudden mutations of unknown cause, by the slow grinding of selection, and by the dead-ends of over-specialization and rigid inadaptability. “Progress” can by definition never go wrong; evolution constantly does; and so does the evolution of ideas, including those of “exact sciences”.
New ideas are thrown up spontaneously like mutations; the vast majority of them are useless crank theories, the equivalent of biological freaks without survival-value. There is a constant struggle for survival between competing theories in every branch of the history of thought.
The process of natural selection, too, has its equivalent in mental evolution: among the multitude of new concepts which emerge only those survive which are well adapted to the period’s intellectual milieu. When we call ideas “fertile” or “sterile” we are unconsciously guided by biological analogy.
Most geniuses responsible for the major mutations in the history of thought seem to have certain features in common; on the one hand scepticism, often carried to the point of iconoclasm, in their attitude towards traditional ideas, axioms, and dogmas, towards everything that is taken for granted; on the other hand, an open-mindedness that verges on naive credulity towards new concepts which seem to hold out some promisse to their instinctive gropings. Out of this combination results that crucial capacity of perceiving a familiar object, situation, problem, or collection of data, in a sudden new light or new context…
This act of wrenching away an object or concept from its habitual associative context and seeing it in a new context is, as I have tried to show, an essential part of the creative process. It is an act both of destruction and creation, for it demands the breaking up of a mental habit, the melting down, with the blow-lamp of Cartesian doubt, of the frozen structure of accepted theory, to enable the new fusion to take place.
Every creative act – in science, art or religion – involves a regression to a more primitive level, a new innocence of perception liberated from the cataract of accepted beliefs.
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Roughly within the five generations from Canon Koppernigk to Isaac Newton, homo sapiens underwent the most decisive change in his history. The uomo universale of the Renaissance, who was artist and craftsman, philosopher and inventor, humanist and scientist, astronomer and monk, all in one, split up into his component parts. Art lost its mythical, science its mystical inspiration; man became again deaf to the harmony of the spheres. The Philosophy of Nature became ethically neutral, and ‘blind’ became the favourite adjective for the working of natural law…
As a result, man’s destiny was no longer determined from ‘above’ by a super-human wisdom and will, but from ‘below’ by the sub-human agencies of glands, genes, atoms, or waves of probability. This shift of the locus of destiny was decisive. So long as destiny had operated from a level of the hierarchy higher than man’s own, it had not only shaped his fate, but also guided his conscience and imbued his world with meaning and value. The new masters of destiny were placed lower in the scale than the being they controlled; they could determine his fate, but could provide him with no moral guidance, no values and meaning. A puppet of the Gods is a tragic figure, a puppet suspended on his chromosomes is merely grotesque.”
ARTHUR KOESTLER (1905-1983)
Penguin / Arkana.
“Most people confuse “self-knowledge” with knowledge of their conscious ego personalities. Anyone who has any egoconsciousness at all takes it for granted that he knows himself. But the ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious and its contents. People measure their self-knowledge by what the average person in their social environment knows of himself, but not by the real psychic facts which are for the most part hidden from them. In this respect the psyche behaves like the body with its physiological and anatomical structure, of which the average person knows very little too. Although he lives in it and with it, most of it is totally unknown to the layman, and special scientific knowledge is needed to acquaint consciousness with what is known of the body…
In this broad belt of unconsciousness, which is immune to conscious criticism and control, we stand defenseless, open to all kinds of influences and psychic infections. As with all dangers, we can guard against the risk of psychic infection only when we know what is attacking us, and how, where and when the attack will come. Since self-knowledge is a matter of getting to know the individual facts, theories help very little in this respect. For the more a theory lays claim to universal validity, the less capable it is of doing justice to the individual facts. Any theory based on experience is necessarily statistical; that is to say, it formulates an ideal average which abolishes all exceptions at either end of the scale and replaces them by an abstract mean.
The statistical method shows the facts in the light of the ideal average but does not give us a picture of their empirical reality. While reflecting an indisputable aspect of reality, it can falsify the actual truth in a most misleading way. This is particularly true of theories which are based on statistics. The distinctive thing about real facts, however, is their individuality. Not to put too fine a point on it, one could say that the real picture consists of nothing but exceptions to the rule, and that, in consequence, absolute reality has predominantly the character of irregularity.
These considerations must be borne in mind whenever there is talk of a theory serving as a guide to self-knowledge. There is and can be no self-knowledge based on theoretical assumptions, for the object of self-knowledge is an individual – a relative exception and an irregular phenomenon. Hence it is not the universal and the regular that characterize the individual, but rather the unique. He is not to be understood as a recurrent unit but as something unique and singular which in the last analysis can neither be known nor compared with anything else.
If I want to understand an individual human being, I must lay aside all scientific knowledge of the average man and discard all theories in order to adopt a completely new and unprejudiced attitude. I can only approach the task of understanding with a free and open mind, whereas knowledge of man, or insight into human character, presupposes all sorts of knowledge about mankind in general.
Now whether it is a question of understanding a fellow human being or of self-knowledge, I must in both cases leave all theoretical assumptions behind me. Since scientific knowledge not only enjoys universal esteem but, in the eyes of modern man, counts as the only intellectual and spiritual authority, understanding the individual obliges me to commit lèse majesté, so to speak, to turn a blind eye to scientific knowledge. This is a sacrifice not lightly made, for the scientific attitude cannot rid itself so easily of its sense of responsibility. And if the psychologist happens to be a doctor who wants not only to classify his patient scientifically but also to understand him as a human being, he is threatened with a conflict of duties between the two diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive attitudes of knowledge, on the one hand, and understanding, on the other. This conflict cannot be solved by an either-or but only by a kind of two-way thinking: doing one thing while not losing sight of the other.”
The Undiscovered Self
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I’m currently working on an original article about Jung’s seminar, from 1934 to 1939, about Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. Stay tuned… i’ll publish it here soon. He’s a taste of what’s to come:
“Nietzsche was in a sort of fighting position against the whole contemporary world and it gave him a peculiar feeling of inefficiency that his words reached nowhere – no echo anywhere. That really was the case; nobody cared, his was the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, and so naturally he would increase his voice instead of lowering it. (…) He needed strong language in order to overthrow that small fellow who was so overwhelmed by tradition.” (JUNG, Seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, 9 May 1934)
On Being: He bestowed the title “Mahatma” on Gandhi. He debated the deepest nature of reality with Einstein. He was championed by Yeats and Pound to become the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Rabindranath Tagore was a polymath — a writer and a painter, a philosopher and a musician, and a social innovator — but much of his poetry and prose is virtually untranslatable (or inaccessibly translated) for modern minds. We pull back the “dusty veils” that have hidden his memory from history.
Listen to the podcast:
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Sadhana: The Realisation of Life
Download e-book (McMillan, 1913, English) or Listen to audiobook:
“…records the exciting intellectual friendship of three amazing minds pushing to the edge of history in search of new consciousness, blending scientific observation, mythic imagination and visionary speculation.” – Riane Eisler, The Chalice And The Blade
“Stimulating and often startling discussions between three friends, all highly original thinkers: Rupert Sheldrake, controversial biologist, Terence McKenna, psychedelic visionary, and Ralph Abraham, chaos mathematician. Their passion is to break out of paradigms that retard our evolution and to explore new possibilities. Through challenge and synergy they venture where few have gone before, leading their readers on an exciting journey of discovery.
Their discussions focus on the evolution of the mind, the role of psychedelics, skepticism, the psychic powers of animals, the structure of time, the life of the heavens, the nature of God, and transformations of consciousness. Three fine thinkers take us plunging into the universe of chaos, mind, and spirit. Instead of leaving us lost, they bring us back with startling insights and more wonder than we knew we had.” —Matthew Fox, Original Blessing and Sheer Joy
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BRIEF BIOGRAPHIES: Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of many books including The Sense of Being Stared At and Other Aspects of the Extended Mind. Ralph Abraham is a mathematician, one of the pioneers of chaos theory and the author of several books including Chaos, Gaia, Eros: A Chaos Pioneer Uncovers the Three Great Streams of History. The late Terence McKenna was a scholar of shamanism, ethno-botanist, psychedelic researcher and author of many books including Food of the Gods and True Hallucinations.
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George Monbiot in Heat – How To Stop The Planet From Burning:
“The effort to tackle climate change suffers from the problem of split incentives: those who are least responsible for it are the most likely to suffer its effects. Bangladesh and Ethiopia are two of the countries which will be hit hardest. A sea level rise of 1 metre could permanently flood 21% of Bangladesh, including its best agricultural land, pushing some 15 million people out of their homes. Storm surges of the kind the country experienced in 1998 are likely to become more common: in that instance, 65% of Bangladesh was temporarily drowned, and its farming and infrastructure ruined. Ethiopia has already been suffering a series of droughts linked to climate change. Spring rains have steadily diminished since 1996. In 2005, partly as a result of the droughts caused by the failure of these rains, between 8 and 10 million Ethiopians were at risk of starvation.
Most of the rich countries, being located in temperate latitudes, will, in the initial stages at least, suffer lesser ecological effects. They will also have more money with which to protect their citizens from floods, droughts and extremes of temperature. Within these countries, the richest people, who can buy their way out of trouble, will be harmed last. The blame, as the following data suggests, is inversely proportional to the impacts.
COUNTRY / CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS (TONNES PER CAPITA)
Luxembourg – 24.3
United States – 20.0
United Kingdom – 9.5
Bangladesh – 0.24
Ethiopia – 0.06
Source: US Energy Information Administration
Asking wealthy people in rich nations to act to prevent climate change means asking them to give up many of the things they value – their high-performance cars, their flights to Tuscany and Thailand and Florida – for the benefit of other people. The problem is compounded by the fact that the connection between cause and effect seems so improbable. By turning on the lights, filling the kettle, taking the children to school, driving to the shops, we are condemning other people to death. We never chose to do this. We do not see ourselves as killers. We perform these acts without passion or intent.
To make this even more difficult, the early effects of climate change, for those of us who live in the temperate countries of the rich world, are generally pleasant. Our winters are milder, our springs come sooner. We have suffered the occasional flood and drought and heatwave. But the overwhelming sensation, just when we need to act with the greatest urgency, is that of being blessed by our pollution.”
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BILL MAHER LAYS WASTE TO GLOBAL WARMING DENIERS
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Merchants of doubt: how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming
Author(s): Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway
Dowload ebook: http://bit.ly/UBI3Kb (PDF, 36 mb)
Synopsis: The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers. Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. Remarkably, the same individuals surface repeatedly—some of the same figures who have claimed that the science of global warming is “not settled” denied the truth of studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. “Doubt is our product,” wrote one tobacco executive. These “experts” supplied it. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, historians of science, roll back the rug on this dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how ideology and corporate interests, aided by a too-compliant media, have skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.
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RT’S “DEBUNKING THE DENIAL”
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“Our problem is that the climate crisis hatched in our laps at a moment in history when political and social conditions were uniquely hostile to a problem of this nature and magnitude – that moment being the tail end of the go-go 80s, the blast-off point for the crusade to spread deregulated capitalism around the world. Climate change is a collective problem demanding collective action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Yet it entered mainstream consciousness in the midst of an ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.”
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“This deeply unfortunate mistiming has created all sorts of barriers to our ability to respond effectively to this crisis. It has meant that corporate power was ascendant at the very moment when we needed to exert unprecedented controls over corporate behaviour in order to protect life on Earth. It has meant that regulation was a dirty word just when we needed those powers most. It has meant that we are ruled by a class of politicians who know only how to dismantle and starve public institutions just when they most need to be fortified and reimagined. And it has meant that we are saddled with an apparatus of “free trade” deals that tie the hands of policymakers just when they need maximum flexibility to achieve a massive energy transition.”
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“We also have to confront how the mismatch between climate change and market domination has created barriers within our very selves, making it harder to look at this most pressing of humanitarian crises with anything more than furtive, terrified glances. Because of the way our daily lives have been altered by both market and technological triumphalism, we lack many of the observational tools necessary to convince ourselves that climate change is real – let alone the confidence to believe that a different way of living is possible.
And little wonder: just when we needed to gather, our public sphere was disintegrating; just when we needed to consume less, consumerism took over virtually every aspect of our lives; just when we needed to slow down and notice, we sped up; and just when we needed longer time horizons, we were able to see only the immediate present.
This is our climate change mismatch, and it affects not just our species but potentially every other species on the planet as well.”
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N. Klein interviewed by Bill Moyers in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
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SOME U.S. CARTOONS:
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TO BE CONTINUED…
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