TL;DR version: The Apology of Plato for the age of peak everything and castrophic climate change
"We're fucked," Iraq War veteran Roy Scranton says aboTL;DR version: The Apology of Plato for the age of peak everything and castrophic climate change
"We're fucked," Iraq War veteran Roy Scranton says about our present position as a globalized species and civilization slamming into our planet like a slowmo asteroid. "The only questions are how soon and how badly." (p. 16) His argument
is that we have failed to prevent unimaginable global warming and that global capitalist civilization as we know it is already over, but that humanity can survive and adapt to the new world of the Anthropocene if we accept human limits and transience as fundamental truths, and work to nurture the variety and richness of our collective cultural heritage. Learning to die as an individual means letting go of our predispositions and fear. Learning to die as a civilization means letting go of a particular way of life and its ideas of identity, freedom, success, and progress. These two ways of learning to die come together in the role of the humanist thinker: the one who is willing to interrupt, the one who resonates on other channels and with slower, deeper rhythms. (24)
Here is where I interject and say, wow, someone finally attempts to answer the question that has been hovering around me like an irksome insect, which is to say, what is the value of the humanities in the age of bloating universities, shrinking budgets, dazzling technoscience hype, and changing climates, geophysical and otherwise? Though I've always dug math and science, my formal educational background is primarily in the humanities, and this is also where my career meanderings have brought me thus far, so I have something of a horse in this race. Many of my colleagues scratch their heads and ask why the humanities disciplines, along with the arts, are the first on the chopping block, but also take umbrage at any questions about the importance, if not the usefulness, of the humanities in a "21st century education" (by which of course is meant an education for the present, as if the folks in 1916 could've planned in any meaningful sense for a "20th century education"). Scranton provides a provocative answer to those questions, but he does so by assuming equally provocative propositions (e.g. "we're fucked") that are typically off the table in all circles, academic and otherwise, where the dominant faith is still in the god Progress.
Our choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less ad less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can't sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.
If we want to learn how to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die. (27)
Scranton argues that the humanities, and in particular the sort of detached, critical awareness that comes with the study and practice of philosophy, provides an important counterbalance to the political and social media technologies with which we communicate and contend. These technologies perpetuate our habits of reaction and compulsion, at the cost of corresponding habits of critical reflection, and do so within a system that renders these reactions and compulsions politically impotent, in terms of connecting to power or effecting change.
Instead of reacting habitually to these stimuli, the humanist philosopher, analogized to a bee, an "aberrant anti-drone," by German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, slow-dances
to its own rhythm, neither attuned to the collective beat nor operating mechanically, dogmatically, deontologically, but continually self-immunizing against the waves of social energy we live in and amongst by perpetually interrupting its own connection to collective life.... Interrupting the flows of social production is anarchic and counterproductive, like all good philosophy: if it works, it helps us to stop and see our world in new way. If it fails, as it often and even usually does, the interrupter is integrated, driven mad, ignored, or destroyed. (87)
Philosophical humanism in its most radical practice is the disciplined interruption of somatic and social flows, the detachment of consciousness from impulse, and the conception of conceptual truths out of the granular data of experience. It is the study of "dying and being dead," a divestment from this life in favor of deeper investments in a life beyond ourselves. In recognizing the dominion of death and the transience of individual existences, we affirm a web of being that connects past to future, them to us, me to you....
Learning to die is hard. It takes practice. There is no royal road, no first-class lane. Learning to die demands daily cultivation of detachment and daily reminders of mortality. It requires long communion with the dead. And since we can't ever really know how to do something until we do it, learning to die also means accepting the impossibility of achieving that knowledge as long as we live. We will always be practicing, failing, trying again and failing again, until our final day. Yet the practice itself is the wisdom. (91–2)
Scranton goes on to quote Zen master Dōgen Zenji, but he could just as easily have referenced Socrates, Paul of Tarsus, Gautama Buddha, Zhuangzi, or the many others who've called us to stop and to look deeply into our hearts, minds, bodies, and lives.
Stopping, interrupting, detaching, accepting—all afford a sense of panoramic awareness, to borrow a phrase from Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa. Scranton reminds the reader of how the study and practice of the humanities can open our eyes to new possibilities through other ways of being-in-the-world:
The comparative study of human cultures across the world and through time helps us see that our particular way of doing things right here, right now, is a contingent adaptation to particular circumstances, yet at the same time an adaptation built with universal human templates of meaning-making and symbolic reasoning, with tools and technologies we have inherited from the past.... The record of that wisdom, the heritage of the dead, is our most valuable gift to the future.
The study of the humanities is nothing less than the patient nurturing of the roots and heirloom varietals of human symbolic life. This nurturing is a practice not strictly of curation, as many seem to think today, but of active attention, cultivation, making and remaking. It is not enough for the archive to be stored, mapped, or digitized. It must be worked. (98–9)
As I keyboarded that in, I could not help but get caught up in the gardening imagery. As someone who is increasingly exploring green wizardry, primarily through vegetable gardening (for now), I don't think his choice of metaphor is haphazard. Gardening means getting your hands dirty in the most literal sense but dirty with rich, loamy life that must be worked.
As biological and cultural diversity is threatened across the world by capitalist monoculture and mass extinction, we must build arks; not just biological arks, to carry forward endangered genetic data, but cultural arks, to carry forward endangered wisdom. The library of human cultural technologies that is our archive, the concrete record of human thought in all languages that comprise the entirety of our existence as historical beings, is not only the seed stock of our future intellectual growth, but its soil, its source, its womb. The fate of the humanities, as we confront the end of modern civilization, is the fate of humanity itself. (109)
"Not what I expected," is how my wife and I both summarized this funny, quirky, once-probably-groundbreaking novel about, well, a hot dog sta3.5 stars
"Not what I expected," is how my wife and I both summarized this funny, quirky, once-probably-groundbreaking novel about, well, a hot dog stand in Washington's Skagit Valley and the Second Coming (sort of) of Christ. Robbins is a great stylist, falling in the literary yarrow stalks somewhere between Vonnegut and Pynchon, and his characters engage in many engrossing and substantive-if-stoned philosophical conversations, but because most of the action in the story happens off-screen the plot is somewhat lacking. This book was probably a lot funnier and more provocative when it was published 45 years ago, back before the "bad Christianity killed good paganism" meme got a little stale and dogmatic. ...more
You have to admire the audacity of the man who wrote "The Declaration of Independence." Who else would take a knife and pot of glue to the very GospelYou have to admire the audacity of the man who wrote "The Declaration of Independence." Who else would take a knife and pot of glue to the very Gospels, and, with an intuitive hermeneutic rooted in his own Enlightenment-era deistic presumptions, attempt to strip away what he considered the "dung" and reveal the "diamonds" of Christ's teachings? Jefferson's attempts to find the universal, essential teachings of Jesus foreshadowed the higher critical approaches of the 19th century, and the 20th century's searches for the hypothetical Q sayings gospel and the "authentic" words of the "historical Jesus". Those facts, plus the insightful preface (by the late UU minister Forrest Church) and afterword (by the late scholar Jaroslav Pelikan), would, by themselves make this a four- or -five star book.
Unfortunately, since the only English translation of the Gospels that Jefferson had on hand was the King James Version, the resulting "Jefferson Bible" retains the usually impenetrable and too often stultifying language of that translation. He also didn't have access to gospel parallels, and evidently didn't think to look at the Gospels synoptically, because his redaction includes many duplicate stories and parables that make reading it more tedious than necessary. Finally, in reading through what remains of the Gospels, I began to see, for the first time, what many of my atheist friends have argued for some time: that there are fewer clear and flawless "diamonds" in Christ's teachings than Sunday school would leave one to believe. The import of many parables, even with interpretations provided, is lost on a modern reader (heck, it might have been lost on a 1st century reader), and the various discourses and teachings don't sum up to a comprehensive ethical or cosmological vision. This book left me wondering whether Jesus' ethics really were that profound (or even coherent!) after all, or if we just continue to assume so as inheritors of a tradition that insists on this as a fact, even after the obviously mythical elements get stripped away. ...more
In an article on the author ("Raymond Tallis Takes Out the 'Neurotrash'") in The Chronicle of Higher Education, neurophilosopher Daniel Dennett descriIn an article on the author ("Raymond Tallis Takes Out the 'Neurotrash'") in The Chronicle of Higher Education, neurophilosopher Daniel Dennett describes Tallis as "a sort of outraged defender of an obsolete worldview that's losing ground fast." I didn't detect much outrage or defensiveness in this book; to the contrary, Tallis' writing conveys quite a sense of generosity, one rooted in his appreciation of our improbable, if cosmically insignificant, place in the universe. His worldview, though, an atheist humanism that refuses to reduce to neurology those aspects of human experience that have properly been the domain of the humanities, is one worthy of further exploration, if not defense. In this book, though, he only touches on his criticisms of what he calls "neuromythology" (although the enormous fact that he omits anything about the brain from a book about the human head, like a guidebook about NYC that omits Manhattan, says a lot). The majority of the book focuses on all of the non-cerebral aspects of the head, and I was surprised by how many heady matters Tallis was able to conjure up and philosophize about. Much of what he has to say is about how amazingly awesome and profoundly painful it is to have been born human; being deeply philosophical without being in the least bit religious. His prose is intelligent, literate, and lucid, but his voice grew a little tedious by 2/3 of the way into the book. Worth a read, not a keeper.
The world enclosing you is but the minutest portion of the world without you. And yet this world without you, this 15,000 million-year-old universe, 100,000 trillion light years wide, populated by 6,000 million heads like yours, exists together, as a place for you to be or feel lost in, only in your head. It is your head that brings together things that exist, but do not coexist, to torment you with your own nullity. (64)
Ultimately we are no safer than speechless animals: the huge, many-layered bubble of "that" in which we live, will pop. For the present, we can keep it aloft; and so much knowledge and ignorance, so much sorrow and joy, is borne on the air our heads trap for purposes quite unknown to the organic processes that led up to the creation of our bodies. Our lungs would be nonplussed if they knew what was happening to the stale air they were expelling. (97–8)
Whatsoever the legislation under which you live, however blameless or blameworthy your life, you will sooner or later suffer beheading, disarming, distrunking, debodying; and your body will be de-selved. Such thoughts about your head's thoughtless future are meant to awaken you out of your usual wakefulness—which is what philosophy is or should be. The philosophical view endeavours to liberate us from our daily (usually described as "petty" though they rarely feel like that) concerns. Imagining our empty skull, as a focus for our absence in the world, giving our future nothingness a local habitation, should open dormers in our consciousness, so that we take the long view and see how small and unimportant we are. (249–50)
By putting our heads together, we have been able to achieve what Munchausen only boasted of: lifting himself up by his hair. Our heads have lifted themselves above the organic material of which they themselves are made. Humans have made themselves at home in organic bodies that could not have conceived of the things that fill the lives those bodies now permit. Humankind has increasingly made the world its own thing. Far from bowing our heads in shame, we should hold our heads up high. (290–1)
How to review this book? Well, suffice it to say it came down to either 5-stars or 1-star, and 5-stars finally seemed more honest an assessment of the book and the ideas therein as really pretty darn profound rather than merely overwritten, pretentious, and verbose. (It should be noted, however, that this book was overwritten, etc., and was precisely the sort of book that made me realize why a Ph.D. studying this sort of stuff was simply not my cup of tea.)
Here's my butchered summary (or maybe my summary is concise, and his presentation butchered; he got paid a lot by the University of California, though, so I'll bet on him):
In the postmodern world, God is silent, if not dead, and theists and atheists alike grapple everyday with the consequences of this world without God. Panikkar explores Buddhism and the claim that it is an atheistic, or at least a nontheistic, religious tradition, and finds space for God in the silence of the Buddha and his unwillingness to affirm or deny metaphysical doctrines. He examines crucial Buddhist concepts like anātman and pratītyasamutpāda and draws inspiration from them for a new middle way between the idolatries of theism and atheism. Rather than get provoked and involved in speculations on God, we should be about the work of losing ourselves in service to others, and thereby in that loss and that silence gain epiphany, as both Christ and Buddha would have us do.
(I am currently reading Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson, a much less sober and rigorous‒and far more funny and readable‒thinker than Panikkar. In that work, Wilson discusses propositions that are "meaningful" and those that are "meaningless," in operational terms. I cannot help but note with a smile that much of the material in the Panikkar book would qualify as "meaningless" in those terms, and I note with irony that that might be one of the main theses Panikkar is trying to get across.)
(I'm also currently reading Ahmed Ali's translation of the Qur'an, which brings to the reading of Panikkar's book its own set of questions, about how the Qur'an as Logos affirms or disputes claims about the silence of God, for example.)
According to his obituary in The New York Times, Panikkar, comparative religion scholar and Catholic theologian, earned three different doctoral degrees, in philosophy, chemistry, and theology. Perhaps that level of scholarship is why this, his attempt to make Buddhist thought understandable to an educated Christian audience, is so densely written and exhaustively footnoted. Those footnotes are also one of the reasons this book is a keeper. Maybe that Ph.D. isn't as dead as I like to think. Or maybe I just feel smarter when I read books like this.
Invocation—the raising of the heart in a plea for true love, the raising of the mind in a quest for salvific knowledge, and the raising of the life of the individual in a cry for real help—is becoming more and more necessary in the contemporary world, and at the same time more and more impossible.
First, it is becoming more and more necessary. We cannot bear up along under the weight of existence. Modern life is becoming ever more precarious... Individuals cannot know all things, or solve all problems, or control all of the factors that mold their life. They can place no confidence in their peers, who are as fragile and fallible as themselves. They cannot rely on society, for society is precisely one of their greatest burdens. They feel the need to ascend higher, to cry for help, to reach out to something above, to trust in a love, or a goodness, or a someone. Invocation, as emergence from oneself in order to trust, or take refuge in, or at least to contact, something or someone superior to ourselves, becomes ever more imperative.
At the same time, such invocation is becoming impossible. The God to whom this invocation is directed, the God at the acme of the hierarchy of beings, appears impotent, and from that moment forward is silent. (xxi)
Surely nothing can tell us what the world is, for neither question, that of being or that of non-being, can be asked with regard to the world. Ontology is not false, it is just that it is caught in an endless circle. Ontology insists that to on corresponds to ho logos. The Enlightened One has seen beyond this. What has he seen? Nothing! Śūnyatā, nirvāṇa. (66)
We are dealing with avyākṛtavastūni—things (literally) inseparable, ineffable, inexpressibl—things "inexplicable," in the etymological sense of being so tightly intertwined as to thwart all unraveling. The principles of identity and noncontradiction, properly speaking, or primario et per se, are logical principles—principles of thought, raised to the status of ontological principles in virtue of the "dogma" of identity, or at least of the adequation, of being and thinking. The Buddha has "seen further." ... If my interpretation is correct, then it seems to me that the intentionality of the avyākṛta does not regard the logic of thought—does not bear upon a softening of the principle of noncontradiction or of the excluded third [middle], but rather points to the imperfection, the limitation, the inability to express the real, intrinsic first of all to the verb "to be" and then to the very concept of being, inasmuch as, ultimately, being itself is not deprived of membership in the kingdom of the impermanent, the changeable, the contingent. There are actually propositions that are inexpressible, owing to the limited grasp of the ontological comprehension available to us. Accordingly, although there is no third alternative between A and not-A, there is between "is" and "is not." (69-70)
Were we to attempt to sketch these main lines in broad strokes, we should speak of a tissue of mythos, logos, and spirit. Humankind cannot live without myth. But neither are human beings fully human until they have developed their logical potential and spiritual capacities as well. Just as the essence of the "primitivism" of an archaic culture lies in its mystical characteristics, so the essence of the "barbarian character" of contemporary Western culture lies not in the material component of a given civilization, but in the supreme power that it confers on the logos. If there is a single concept in which we might capsulize the contribution that the Buddha could make to our times, it is the conviction that the logos cannot be divinized in any of its forms, either ontological or epistemological or cosmic. Mythos and logos can exist only in spirit. But spirit cannot be "manipulated," either by mythos or by logos. (84-5)
If we look carefully, we see the the trust the Buddha asks is not a new acceptance of someone else's experience, but a reliance on our own experience once it has been enlightened. It is not a matter, then, of the renunciation of knowing, on the implicit presupposition that there is something real to know and some real subject to do the knowing. It is a question of recognizing that creatureliness cannot transcend itself, and that consequently nothing in the order of being, nothing that develops in space and time, can be included in the realization of what ultimately matters. And what ultimately matters is the orthopraxis that eliminates contingency—that is, suffering. (90)
The human situation may appear self-sufficient in its reciprocal solidarity, but the fact remains that, shut up within its own limits, it will suffocate. Its very sacrality projects it toward the infinite, toward eternity, and unless it is willing to remain irremediably closed off within the spatio-temporal coordinates that delimit it, it will have to be able to find a mediation with an extrahuman order of salvation. This is the traditional function known by the name of "priesthood." (94)
Without an objective something outside themselves for which to strive, human beings may fall victim not only to the self-centeredness that issues in dishonesty with their neighbor, but to the ennui that flows from the meaninglessness of a contingent life that comes to constitute its own stifling limitations. Human beings must lift their eyes to a horizon that is higher than simply themselves and their own story. What I consider that earmark of the new atheism is rather the emergence in contemporary humankind of a tendency to adopt an ideal that is personal in nature. That is, each individual consciously adopts some particular ideal in order to maintain the very need to believe. (95)
And yet does it really seem wise to break with a tradition, a religious one as it happens, that for centuries, for better or for worse, has furnished a large part of humanity with an effective support? Indeed, have we not begun to see that the drastic solution, tested several times now in the course of history, of discarding religion, does not seem to have yielded very satisfactory results? On the contrary, it seems almost as if the "place" vacated by God has been filled up by... nothing at all—and that this "nothing" has loomed up before an unprepared modern humanity with a force that terrorizes it, threatens to swallow it whole. Only silence has filled the void left by divinity. God is gone now, and the silence seems even more disappointing and incomprehensible than the God who has been wished away. (102)
Here our speculation will have to adopt a culturally and religiously pluralistic outlook if it is to have any hope of finding paths to a solution of the problem before it. The challenge of the present age will be to examine whether it is possible to "de-divinize" Being, and de-ontologize God, without either one suffering any detriment, so to speak. Apart from such a possibility, only one alternative remains: identification or nihilism. (107)
God may be or appear to be no more than a handy, bourgeois solution for so many of the problems of modern human life; but at least God represented a hypothesis that, once accepted, really did solve human problems. Left to themselves, without their Gods and without God, human beings simply "don't make it." They must forge themselves every manner of idol in order to survive. Atheism is powerful when it comes to destroying a determinate conception of God; but it betrays its impotence the moment it pretends to transform itself into a worldview that would replace what it has destroyed. Now the cure is worse than the disease. (126)
To express myself in the simplest way possible, then: persons discover that, in their deepest heart, there is a "bottomless bottom," that "is" what they largely are, and at the same time is identical to what each "other" human can likewise experience—the bottom that constitutes what is deepest in every human being, as anyone who has had this experience can attest—that same depth, moreover, that is lived, perceived, intuited as the unique source of all things, and yet never exhausted in any of them, so to speak. (139)
The Buddha delves to the root of the problem—not via a direct, violent denial of God, not again through some harmonization of the various paths, but with a demonstration of the superfluity of the very question of God or of any ultraterrestrial world. In the Buddha we see the vacuity of any possible response, because of the nullity of the entire question. Yet we are not obliged to renounce the possibility of an outcome in terms of salvation and liberation.... Let God's existence be affirmed or denied as it may: neither "answer" will be of any importance, for both are equally invalid. (150-1)
Faith, though of course comporting an intellectual dimension, is not fundamentally an act of the intellect. It is an act of the whole person. The perfect and universal formula of faith is not "I believe in God," but "I believe," as an expression of total self-bestowal, as an utterance of the abandon with which the answer given in the gospel by the person blind from birth is charged: "I do believe, Lord." Faith is an act of sheer openness. Any closure upon an object wrings it dry. The very presence of God is detrimental to the constitutive openness of faith. Neither the Buddha, nor the Prophet, nor the Christ can remain at the believer's side without representing a dangerous obstacle to that believer's leap of faith. (154)
What matters, then, is not "God," in the classic sense. What matters is only a path, a way that leads in the direction of liberation. Ultimately our lot is in our own hands. We and we alone can deliver ourselves from the suffering that assaults us on every side. The only help available is a reliance on the experience of the Buddha himself and of the monastic community of his followers, in observance of right conduct.... When all is said and done, neither orthodoxy nor orthopoiesis matters. What saves is the refusal to entertain any ideology of philosophy that in some degree would center on God. What is of true value, what carries us beyond this nearer shore of ours is orthopraxis. Now we "arrive" indeed, but without vaulting into the arms of a transcendence that can be manipulated, one that is but the product of our unsatiated desires. The dharma is not infertile, and indeed per se. It suffices to follow it; there is no need to concern oneself with it by reflecting and willing. One need only rely on the Buddha, who has indicated the way, and on the community—that is, on solidarity. (174)
As people turned their interests increasingly to the visible world, the distinction between soul and Spirit became more difficult to maintain and tend
As people turned their interests increasingly to the visible world, the distinction between soul and Spirit became more difficult to maintain and tended to be dropped altogether; man, therefore, was represented as a being compounded of body and soul. With the rise of materialistic Scientism, finally, even the soul disappeared from the description of man—how could it exist when it could be neither weighed nor measured?—except as one of the many strange attributes of complex arrangements of atoms and molecules. Why not accept the so-called"soul"—a bundle of surprising powers—as an epiphenomenon of matter, just as, say, magnetism has been accepted as such? The Universe was no longer seen as a great hierarchic structure or Chain of Being; it was seen simply as an accidental collocation of atoms; and man, traditionally understood as the microcosm reflecting the macrocosm (i.e., the structure of the Universe), was no longer seen as a cosmos, a meaningful though mysterious creation.
If the great Cosmos is seen as nothing but a chaos of particles without purpose or meaning, so man must be seen as nothing but a chaos of particles without purpose or meaning—a sensitive chaos perhaps, capable of suffering pain, anguish, and despair, but a chaos all the same (whether he likes it or not)7mdash;a rather unfortunate cosmic accident of no consequence whatsoever.
This is the picture presented by modern materialistic Scientism, and the only question is: Does it make sense of what we can actually experience? This is a question everybody has to decide for himself. Those who stand in awe and admiration, in wonder and perplexity, contemplating the four great Levels of Being, will not be easily persuaded that there is only more or less—i.e., horizontal extension. They will find it impossible to close their minds to higher or lower—that is to say, vertical scales and even discontinuities. If they then see man as higher than any arrangement, no matter how complex, of inanimate matter, and higher than the animals, no matter how far advanced, they will also see man as "open-ended," not at the highest level but with a potential that might indeed lead to perfection. (37–38)
On the notion of adaequatio or of being adequately receptive to differing levels of significance:
In short, when dealing with something representing a higher grade of significance or Level of Being than inanimate matter, the observer depends not only on the adequateness of his own higher qualities, perhaps "developed" through learning and training; he depends also on the adequateness of his "faith" or, to put it more conventionally, of his fundamental presuppositions and basic assumptions. In this respect he tends to be very much a child of his time and of the civilization in which he has spent his formative years; for the human mind, generally speaking, does not just think: it thinks with ideas, most of which it simply adopts and takes over from its surrounding society.
There is nothing more difficult than to become critically aware of the presuppositions of one's thought. Everything can be seen directly except the eye through which we see. Every thought can be scrutinized directly except the thought by which we scrutinize. A special effort, an effort of self-awareness, is needed: that almost impossible feat of thought recoiling upon itself—almost impossible but not quite. In fact, this is the power that makes man human and also capable of transcending his humanity. It lies in what the Bible calls man's "inward parts." As already mentioned, "inward" corresponds with "higher" and "outward" corresponds with "lower." The senses are a man's most outward instruments; when it is a case of "they, seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not," the fault lies not with the senses but with the inward parts&mdash"for this people's heart is waxed gross"; they fail to "understand with their heart." Only through the "heart" can contact be made with the higher grades of significance and Levels of Being. (44)
The change of man's interest from "the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things" (Thomas Aquinas) to mathematically precise knowledge of lesser things&mdash"there being nothing in the world the knowledge of which would be more desirable or more useful" (Christian Huygens, 1629ndash;1695)—marks a shift from what we might call "science for understanding" to "science for manipulation." The purpose of the former was the enlightenment of the person and his "liberation"; the purpose of the latter is power. "Knowledge itself is power," said Francis Bacon, and Descartes promised men they would become "masters and possessors of nature." In its more sophisticated development, "science for manipulation" tends almost inevitably to advance from the manipulation of nature to that of people.
"Science for understanding" has often been called wisdom, while the name "science" remained reserved for what I call "science for manipulation."...
When "science for manipulation" is subordinated to wisdom, i.e., "science for understanding," it is a most valuable tool, and no harm can come of it. But it cannot be so subordinated when wisdom disappears because people cease to be interested in its pursuit. This has been the history of Western thought since Descartes. The old science—"wisdom" or "science for understanding"—was directed primarily "towards the sovereign good," i.e., the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, knowledge of which would bring both happiness and salvation. The new science was mainly directed toward material power, a tendency which has meanwhile developed to such lengths that the enhancement of political and economic power is now generally taken as the first purpose of, and main justification for, expenditure on scientific work. The old science looked upon nature as God's handiwork and man's mother; the new science tends to look upon nature as an adversary to be conquered or a resource to be quarried and exploited. (53–4)
The assertion that the endless repetition, silently, of a short sequence of words leads to a spiritual result, signalized, as it were, by physical sensations of spiritual warmth, is so strange to the modern mentality that it tends to be dismissed as mumbo-jumbo. Our pragmatism and respect for facts, of which we are so immensely proud, does not easily induce us to try it. Why not? Because trying it leads to the acquisition of certain insights, certain types of knowledge, which, once we have opened ourselves to them, will not leave us alone; they will present a kind of ultimatum: Either you change or you perish. The modern world likes matters it can trifle with, but the results of a direct approach to the study and development of self-awareness are not to be trifled with. (74)
Inner work, or yoga in its many forms, is not a peculiarity of the East, but the taproot, as it were, of all authentic religions. It has been called "the applied psychology of religion," and it must be said that religion without applied psychology is completely worthless. "Simply to believe a religion to be true, and to give intellectual assent to its creed and dogmatic theology, and not to know it to be true through having tested it by the scientific methods of yoga, results in the blind leading the blind." This statement comes from W.Y. Evans-Wentz, who spent most of his life "editing" sacred writings from Tibet and making them available to the West....
"Applied sciences in the sense understood in yoga" means a science that finds its material for study not in the appearances of other beings but in the inner world of the scientist himself. This inner world, of course, is not worth studying—if it is an impenetrable chaos. While the methods of Western science can be applied by anyone who has learned them, the scientific methods of yoga can be effectively applied only by those prepared first of all to put their own house in order through discipline and systematic inner work.
Self-knowledge is not only the precondition of understanding other people; it is also the precondition of understanding, at least to some extent, the inner life of beings at lower levels: animals and even plants. (89–90)
Our main help in obtaining knowledge in Field 3 [i.e., knowing ourselves as we are known by others] comes from the fact that we are social beings; we live not alone but with others. And these others are a kind of mirror in which we can see ourselves as we actually are, not as we imagine ourselves to be. The best way to obtain the requisite knowledge about ourselves, therefore, is to observe and understand the needs, perplexities, and difficulties of others, putting ourselves in their situation. One day we may get to the point when we can do this so perfectly that we, little "egos" with their own needs, perplexities, and difficulties, do not come into this picture at all. Such total absence of ego would mean total objectivity and total effectiveness. (98)
What we need to grasp at this point—and to inscribe on our map of knowledge—is this: Since physics and the other instructional sciences base themselves only on the dead aspect of nature, they cannot lead to philosophy, if philosophy is to give us guidance on what life is all about....
All the same, it is evident that the instructional sciences, even though they afford no guidance on how to conduct our lives, are shaping our lives through the technologies derived from them. Whether the results are for good or for evil is a question entirely outside their province. In this sense, it is correct to say that these sciences are ethically neutral. It remains true, however, that there is no science without scientists, and that questions of good and evil, even if they lie outside the province of science, cannot be considered to lie outside the province of the scientist. It is no exaggeration today to talk about a crisis of (instructional) science. If it continues to be a juggernaut outside humanistic control, there will be a reaction and revulsion against it, not excluding the possibility of violence. (105–6)
A statement is considered untrue, not because it appears to be incompatible with experience but because it does not serve as a guide in research and has no heuristic value; and, conversely, a theory is considered true, no matter how improbably it may be on general grounds, simply because of its "superior heuristic value."
The task of the descriptive sciences is to describe. The practitioners of these sciences know that the world is full of marvels which make all man's designs, theories, and other productions appear as a child's fumblings. This tends to induce in many of them an attitude of scientific humility....A faithful description, however, must be not only accurate and also graspable by the human minds, and endless accumulations of facts cannot be grasped; so there is an inescapable need for classifications, generalizations, explanations—in other words, for theories which offer some suggestion as to how the facts may "hang together." Such theories can never be "scientifically proved." The more comprehensive a theory in the descriptive sciences, the more is its acceptance an act of faith.
Comprehensive theories in the descriptive sciences can be divided into two groups: those which see intelligence or meaning at work in what they describe and those which see nothing but chance and necessity. It is obvious that neither the former nor the latter can be "seen," i.e., sensually experienced by man: In the Fourth Field of Knowledge there is only observation of movement and other kinds of material change; meaning or purpose, intelligence or chance, freedom or necessity, as well as life, consciousness, and self-awareness cannot be sensually observed. Only "signs" can be found and observed; the observer has to choose the grade of significance he is willing to attribute to them. To interpret them as signs of chance or necessity as as "unscientific" as to interpret them as signs of suprahuman intelligence; the one is as much as an act of faith as the other. This does not mean that all interpretations on the vertical scale, signifying grades of significance of Levels of Being, are equally true or untrue; it means simply that their truth or untruth rests not on scientific proof, but on right judgment, a power of the human mind which transcends mere logic just as the computer programmer's mind transcends the computer. (109–10)
It is the task of science to observe and report on its observations. It is not useful for it to postulate the existence of causative agents, like a Creator, intelligences, or designer, who are outside all possibilities of direct observation. "Let us see how far we can explain phenomena by observable causes" is an eminently sensible and, in fact, very fruitful methodological principle. Evolutionism, however, turns methodology into a faith which excludes, ex hypothesi, the possibility of all higher grades of significance. The whole of nature, which obviously includes manking, is taken as the product of chance and necessity and nothing else; there is neither meaning nor purpose not intelligence in it—"a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing." This is The Faith, and all contradicting observations have to be either ignored or interpreted in such a way that The Faith is upheld....
Evolutionism, purporting to explain all and everything solely and exclusively by natural selection for adaptation and survival, is the most extreme product of the materialistic utilitarianism of the nineteenth century. The inability of twentieth-century thought to rid itself of this imposture is a failure which may well cause the collapse of Western civilization. For it is impossible for any civilization to survive without a faith in meanings and values transcending the utilitarianism of comfort and survival, in other words, without a religious faith. (113–4)
How can opposites cease to be opposites when a "higher force" is present? How is it that liberty and equality cease to be mutually antagonistic and become "reconciled" when brotherhood is present? These are not logical but existential questions. The main concern of existentialism, it has been noted, is that experience has to be admitted as evidence, which implies that without experience there is no evidence. That opposites are transcended when "higher forces"—like love and compassion—intervene is not a matter to be argued in terms of logic; it has to be experienced in one's actual existence...
In the life of societies there is the need for both justice and mercy... Only a higher force can reconcile these opposites: wisdom. The problem cannot be solved, but wisdom can transcend it. Similarly, societies need stability and change, tradition and innovation, public interest and private interest, planning and laissez-faire, order and freedom, growth and decay. Everywhere society's health depends on the simultaneous pursuit of mutually opposed activities or aims. The adoption of a final solution means of kind of death sentence for man's humanity and spells either cruelty or dissolution, generally both. (126–7)
The "inner world," seen as fields of knowledge (Field 1 and Field 2), is the world of freedom; the "outer world" (Field 3 and Field 4) is the world of necessity. All our serious problems of living are suspended, as it were, between these two poles of freedom and necessity. They are divergent problems, not for solving. Our anxiety to solve problems stems from our lack of self-knowledge, which has created the kind of existential anguish of which Kierkegaard is one of the early and most impressive exponents. The same anxiety to solve problems has led to a virtually total concentration of intellectual effort on the study of convergent problems. (134)
It may conceivably be possible to live without churches; but it is not possible to live without religion, that is, without systematic work to keep in contact with, and develop toward, Higher Levels than those of "ordinary life" with all its pleasure or pain, sensation, gratification, refinement or crudity—whatever it may be. The modern experiment to live without religion has failed, and once we have understood this, we know what our "post modern" tasks really are....
The art of living is always to make a good thing out of a bad thing. Only if we know that we have actually descended into infernal regions where nothing awaits us but "the cold death of society and the extinguishing of all civilised relations," can we summon the courage and imagination needed for a "turning around," a metanoia. This then leads to seeing the world in a new light, namely, as a place where the things modern man continuously talks about and always fails to accomplish can actually be done. The generosity of the Earth allows us to feed all mankind; we know enough about ecology to keep the Earth a healthy place; there is enough room on the Earth, and there are enough materials, so that everybody can have adequate shelter; we are quite competent enough to produce sufficient supplies of necessities so that no one need live in misery. Above all, we shall then see that the economic problem is a convergent problem which has been solved already: we know how to provide enough and do not require any violent, inhuman, aggressive technologies to do so. There is no economic problem and, in a sense, there never has been. But there is a moral problem, and moral problems are not convergent, capable of being solved so that future generations can live without effort. No, they are divergent problems, which have to be understood and transcended.
Can we rely on it that a "turning around" will be accomplished by enough people quickly enough to save the modern world? This question is often asked, but no matter what the answer, it will mislead. The answer "Yes" would lead to complacency, the answer "No" to despair. It is desirable to leave these perplexities behind us and get down to work. (130–40)
Good book for a Religious Themes in Science Fiction-type course. What if Nietzsche's famous statement that "God is dead" was literally true? What if tGood book for a Religious Themes in Science Fiction-type course. What if Nietzsche's famous statement that "God is dead" was literally true? What if the Creator --- the two-mile tall, bearded, bephallused, vertebrate, bipedal Creator --- died of unknown causes and plunged into the sea? Would atheists see God's death as a victory or a failure (since His death means He really existed in the first place)? Would women see the death of the patriarchal Abrahamic God as a case of just deserts or would the fact that the male Creator WAS the prototypical human ("Man") lead to even worse times for women the world over? These are some of angles from which Morrow probes the theme of the death of God. The epic quality and maritime context echo *Moby Dick* and make for a compelling read. (It also didn't hurt that I read it as a break from the Aeneid, and so blazed through it in a couple sittings.)...more