Speed and The Great Asymptote

One morning I put the TV on to watch while I had my breakfast, always a risky proposition given the ever-present danger of the sudden random appearance of yet another sick-makingly vile politician, and sure enough I found the same particularly noisome individual popping up at the same time on both BBC and ITV, so I switched to Channel 4 as they usually show comedy in the mornings these days. And found myself watching a curious slo-mo scenario where a key character – called Raymond I think – sailed over a settee as a soft toy headed in the opposite direction over his arcing body as he dived towards what looked like a front door. To the soundtrack of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the camera cut towards a hand reaching slowly to the outside doorknob, then cut back to Raymond continuing on his journey to the other side of the door, presumably to lock the door and stop this dreaded person from getting in, then back to the threatening hand outside. The cuddly toy then hit the hi-fi, causing it to somewhat theatrically explode, emitting sparks and stopping the music, perhaps to increase the psychological tension. Raymond managed to make it to the door and lock it, sliding down the door to the floor with a look of relief on his face, now in Beethoven-free normal time. But there was a twist – the hand of dread came through the letterbox and ruffled his hair. The credits rolled.

This was obviously the denouement of a comedic scenario, but devoid of the setup it was just strange. There was a sense of something hanging in the air, a gnomic code without the necessary key to unlock its secrets, to ‘get’ it. And there was no way in principle of working out just what had led up to this scenario. I could guess that it was very important that the somebody on the outside didn’t get in, although the way this somebody affectionately played with Raymond’s hair was perhaps a clue that they weren’t that bad really, but the cuddly toy was a mystery that would require deep speculation. And why was the hi-fi playing Ode to Joy? Presumably it was to add an ironically dramatic soundtrack to the scenario, but what was it doing on the hi-fi in the first place? Was that glossed over for the purposes of the scene or did it in fact have a deeper significance that could be found only by finding out what the rest of the script was? Was the cuddly toy a comedic flourish or a MacGuffin or a leitmotif throughout the rest of the show? I’m guessing a flourish, but who knows. 

There would certainly be ways of applying an enormous amount of guesswork to create possible lead-in scenarios, setting them off against each other to see how they pan out, but for the humour to work fully as created by the scriptwriters, what would be required would be what the scriptwriters actually wrote, or maybe at the most extreme a group of skilled comedy writers could as a creative challenge write different leadups to the same endgame. Perhaps as part of the scriptwriting process that’s just what happened – quite likely, in fact.  But the writers would have to have that extra skill that only comes through learning, through practice, as creativity is particularly sensitive to subtlety, ambiguity, allusion, irony, character

Character. Also found when the art’s overloaded with depth, with resonant communication from the soul.

Of course we are asked to believe that the soul doesn’t exist, barrages of intellectual ideas aimed at the concept until it (supposedly) goes away, destroyed by all the cleverness. What might it mean in practice? Well the best sort of cleverness is sciencey cleverness, precisely because it does away with the fogs of superstition and woolly thinking and shows us how things really are which enables us to make and do properly. Which is all very clever of course… in a way. To consider what way that might be, it’s worth examining what happens when we use clever science to examine intellect. Which means computers of course.

There is an almost touching tendency abroad to suppose that if you add computers to things, it will somehow make them better.  It doesn’t matter how many expensive failures this approach is responsible for, we feel that somehow next time it will be different.  Sometimes next time is different, and things are improved, which keeps us going back to computers. But if you examine in what way things have improved, or how often they’re genuinely improved, it isn’t quite that simple. One curious aspect of it all is the way that the apparent ‘improvement’ always seems to go with speed for some reason. Things are quicker, which is more convenient, there’s less time spent with that awful frustrating pain of waiting. Which brings us to the first problem:


This is the problem of impatience, which leads to the idea that speed is inherently good.  It’s taken a long time to attain the proven discoveries of science up to now, and this apparent slowness offends the Big Data evangelists for some reason.  The ego is excellent at inventing false timetables, where it decrees that something somehow ‘ought’ to be done by a certain time, which time it often abstracts out of thin air due to its disembodied disconnect from the concrete flow of life.  But because scientific progress has always included data crunching based on observation, somehow the impatient Big Data gang have let themselves fall for the idea that that’s all that’s needed… so if we just speed that up and do away with unreliable scientists, we’ll get all our goodies in triple quick time. The futility of massive speed for speed’s sake.  Land speed records are always on the flat, but Life is not flat. Life has bumps, twists and turns. Life lives, speed for speed’s sake is not actually life. Scrape enough data for AI art and the creepiness resultant of flat pure speed becomes visible, permeating the toxic imagery that results. Think of that nauseating oddness as a visual presentation of something that normally is invisible. Ponder it a while, but perhaps not too long. (I find much AI art reminds me of when I was a kid and had eaten something that disagreed with me – I knew something was wrong when I began finding unwanted intrusions of the memory of the food in question would start popping back into my mind. The memories would be partly visual, partly conceptual, and it was so striking that that’s why I still remember it now all these decades later. Vomiting would usually follow – but when you’ve ingested some visual poisoned food, what do you do exactly to rid yourself of that poison? You can’t vomit it out the way you can with food. Bear that in mind when making choices over what to visually ‘eat’.)

As science is a real-world project, it might be instructive to look at what happens out there in the world if you believe in speed and do science accordingly. A good example would be the Human Brain Project, which launched in 2013 with a $1.3billion award from the EU. It involved 150 organisations located around the world. It was going to provide us with profound insights into how the brain works. There were going to be ‘breakthroughs’. But the more data the Human Brain Project consumed, the more chimeric those breakthroughs became. After a few years of non-success, it was downgraded on the quiet to a software project providing tools to scientists for research. The original leader of the project, Dr Henry Markham from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, claimed in a 2009 TED talk that within 10 years we would have a complete computer simulation of the human brain. Does it look like we’ve made much – or any – real progress there? This is just one major example, but it’s easy to find others, to find yourself reading the same hype tropes of how the Breakthrough is coming down the line for sure this time… But these misguided projects have money momentum, and are thus subject to sunk cost fallacies, and we have human pride and ego in the mix as is always the way with real-world science. Ever more data is fed into colossally expensive projects seeking to show that data in itself can somehow give rise to creative insight – and if you make foundational assumptions of that sort then you lock yourself in to a sterile circularity, a wasteful running on the spot that will drain money and resources for either nothing or next to nothing.

By rushing to get there, we get nowhere.  Where even is ‘there’?  Can there even be a there when we are speeding to get ‘there’?  ‘There’ existentially is the here and now, a here and now that contains the past and is faced towards the future.  We can conceptualise ‘there’ for practical purposes but seem irresistibly to fall into impatience in terms of the journey ‘there’.  Very wanty and aggressively acquisitive.  But the uniquely human pathology of speed for speed’s sake of disconnects us and we move out of our bodies and into our heads and we seem strangely unaware that this is even happening, so we continue to get faster and faster, rushing to get ‘there’, never arriving, only starting to feel something’s wrong when we develop mind/body illnesses… 

Speed goes with anger.  Real life is never impatient, for when we’re impatient it’s a kind of haze that fades life out. Rushing often leads to things being done less completely than when they’re done in their right course, i.e. mindfully and completely. There is a nexus here between ‘objective’ research and human psychology.  To rush is to be out of accord with the Tao. 

Speed = Good masks the mystery of the concept, how the hypothesis comes from and through intuition. This masking can be seen with the next big problem:


There are two limitations inherent in data that can never be escaped, namely data saturation and overfitting.

Data saturation refers to a point at which collecting more data becomes futile. Knowing when we’ve reached that point is where the human comes in. This can have aspects of trying to evade human subjectivity, but in a controlled, contained way in order to hopefully bring through new objective theories. But the human is nonetheless a requirement in the decision-making process – how do we decide which data to collect, and when to stop collecting? Naturally there is much disagreement in various fields of science on this topic – as there really ought to be in order to keep science ‘well oiled’ and working properly.  But what is not in doubt is that data saturation is a serious problem in AI research – for serious researchers, at least.  The manbaby Musks of this world seem to think that by ignoring it it’ll somehow go away. Close your eyes, and the world disappears! Meanwhile, back in the real world, we see here an echo of the problem that invokes the Great Asymptote – ever deeper diving into ever more detailed data doesn’t actually lead to the intuitive leap, because the human is too fully absent from the machine calculation.   But the ‘just shut up and calculate’ crew claim that the Beatles were wrong – pragmatism is all you need. Love, and intuition and all that woolly stuff is all very nice (if a bit girly), but we’re talking Clever here, so move over you intuitive silly-minded wusses and let’s get calculating.

The assumption that number crunching is all that is needed is now widespread. It has its own culture, its own set of beliefs – dataism. You can find books by low-truth high-sensationalism authors such as Yuval Noah Harari in WHSmiths. They seem very popular with a lot of science fans despite not being that scientific when examined more closely. They always seek to put us in our place somehow by appeals to science without being particularly scientific. (Years ago we had to make do with Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape, which again is full of contentious ‘science’ while being at heart more a matter of ‘us humans think we’re so clever but really we’re just apes’ stuff.) Amongst various other important-sounding futurey things, Harari’s books claim, based on nothing particularly scientific, that we’re ‘clouds of data’. (As for how scientifically valid YNH’s writing is, you might want to read this.) But what is it that watches the data? What is it that perceives unbroken, unsampled movement? What is it that understands the data? What is it that separates the data into true and false?

For but one example of the vulnerabilities that can occur as a result of data saturation, consider how the AlexNet large scale visual recognition system was tricked into confirming with high probability that images of a school bus, a temple, a praying mantis and a shih tzu were all ostriches. This was done by manipulating just a few well-chosen pixels in the pictures.  A few pixels is a tiny amount of data, and the pictures in question looked identical to the human eye, yet in the right place those altered pixels rendered an award-winning AI recognition system powerless.  But life can change drastically due to ‘a few pixels’ – it’s inherently got a factor X that comes seemingly from nowhere, disasters or happy accidents that come from leftfield, things that suddenly break, or go unpredictably wrong in a way that’s never happened before. Humans appear to have something of a knack for dealing with the unexpected, up to a point at least. We don’t need to learn all possible scenarios by rote in order to deal with them. But what we’re actually discovering as time goes on is that there is no way in principle any AI system can deal with these scenarios. 

This has turned out to be a serious problem for self-driving cars, another area of scientific research always over-optimistically hyped, always generating made-up-out-of-thin-air predictive timeframes that imply some kind of sentience or quasi-sentience 10 years or so in the future, which predictions of course never materialise in the here and now.  In 2018 in Tempe, Florida Elaine Herzberg died because she wheeled her bike out into the road with bags on the handlebars of her bicycle, which particular eventuality wasn’t in the coding of the recognition sensors of an Uber self-driving car.  There was also the issue of the safety driver being distracted by watching a TV talent show on her phone.  Safety driver?  Funny how they’re always there – looks like they’re going to always be, too.  Which drastically curtails the whole idea of self-driving cars in the first place.  Yet so many supposedly scientifically-minded types are so gullible here, so eager to parrot tech bro hype. For some reason. A human always needs to be present at some end point to breathe life into the data, to bring it into the world of human life, with their human mind. The very fact that this is so is taken as something to overcome, perhaps because it’s a bit of an insult to those seeking to eliminate human unreliability from shiny pure tech. But this necessity for human involvement reminds the science-gullible that there’s something interesting about the human mind that resists being pinned down by science as it presently is, and they get uncomfortable with that. Which hints at a kind of worldview that perhaps is not particularly healthy, or human…

As for overfitting, this refers to when a mathematical model contains too many parameters for the amount of data.  This results in a reduction in the ability to predict future behaviour – the very thing that data collection is meant to be for.  Some of that data may be noise, some may be crucial, but we can’t tell merely by digging ever further into the measuring – see the horror cascades below.  The fuel for progress remains intuition.

Data on its own ultimately always kills itself. To the excessively rationalistic this creates a kind of horror that we are lost in an ultimately meaningless universe. To those who retain their awareness of the numinous, it’s a huge relief, and results in deeper understandings of our freedom and the obligations that come with it.

Without a theory there can be no hypotheses to test, to collect suitable data for in the first place, and to have a sane idea of where to stop looking, when to stop counting.  But something about the creation or discovery of theory doesn’t fit with mere calculation.  Theories never originate from machine code, they come from intuitive insight.  Denial of this grounding, foundational truth is ultimately what has led to this ever-faster onward AI charge.  There is no concept behind the idea that more data will lead to more insight – all we have is empty speed as if that will for some reason make things happen when the data’s big enough.

This all creepily displays back to us our crisis of meaning, where we can’t tell what’s significant, or if anything at all is significant, or if there’s such a thing as morality, or if anything or nothing is true – because we confuse counting with meaning.

That clue leads to the heart of science, to an outstanding feature of the mind itself that AI is in principle currently unable to deal with, and which it is unlikely to ever be able to deal with barring an ultra-profound scientific breakthrough which would inherently change the character of science. 

This sounds grandiose but only because the understanding of what science is has become so distorted. There are legions of misguided people out there who simply keep repeating that science will somehow sort this like it sorted so much else that initially seemed mysterious, as if just repeating that will draw attention away from the billions wasted so far on getting precisely nowhere with AI in terms of either creativity or conscious self-awareness or real world common sense. How on earth could common sense knowledge turn out to be a colossal granite-hard problem for AI research when science is supposedly so pragmatic and down-to-earth? Hold to that, for it’s important…

Meanwhile, let’s examine scientific method a little, to see if the ‘science has solved other mysterious things so it’ll sort this as well’ crew have a decent understanding of how science actually progresses. 


Twenty years or so ago, I remember reading snide comments in books and online about how science comes up with truths, with cold hard facts (never soft fluffy facts), unlike those woolly vague philosophers, so I take some pleasure from seeing that just as I thought would happen, AI researchers and neuroscientists alike are beginning to look to philosophy, and even taking philosophers on board for help (see the Introduction to Phenomenology book referenced in the Cynthia Cruz article for various examples of current scientific research inherently including concepts from philosophers like Bergson and Heidegger). More insidiously, philosophy is getting into scientists’ minds directly as scientists are increasingly realising that they have to consider philosophical aspects of consciousness if they want to progress further and more fully, and this is resulting in changes of worldview. Funny how something as supposedly epiphenomenal, trivial and vague as consciousness turns out to have the heft to expel false concepts to the point where new worldviews are created – worldviews that change scientific behaviour. One example would be erstwhile reductive materialist Christof Koch changing his mind and now espousing a version of panpsychism. It would be lovely if more of the ‘just keep calculating’ brigade could look up from their coding and take note of how the same sort of thing keeps happening to AI researchers and neuroscientists, and perhaps have a little wonder as to what that might indicate. This would require looking past the sludgy floods of bullshit hype, of course. 

Those sludgy floods are (yet another) example of a striking phenomenon of this world whereby there is always a true version of something and another version that seems to follow it around that somehow parodies it, feeds off it, or is otherwise fake while resembling the real thing. This concept is found in Buddhism as the near enemy – pity instead of compassion, for instance.

So let us assume that there is a science-1, which is true science, and a science-2 which is its near enemy, a fake that looks like the real thing but is ultimately lacking a centre, a ‘truthiness’ (a neatly imprecise term sometimes used by scientists who have more of an idea of the inherent necessity of intuition as fuel for scientific enterprise). Despite being fake, science-2 is commonplace and often presented, and thought of, and defended as, science-1. This may seem a bold claim as science is supposed to be all about truth, about the way things really are. But the whole point of the near enemy concept is that it often appears to be the genuine concept it’s parodying. Parody is only possible when there’s a real version. To turn to a western concept, we have all the stories of Satan’s con tricks, that work by way of surface-attractive counterfeit. And there’s the more widespread idea that the Earth is the Trickster’s domain. 

We know the difference between compassion and pity, and which is the right, the ‘good’ version.  We know the difference between cruelty and kindness, we know the difference between good behaviour and bad.  We know when somebody’s basically a decent person, or not.  We know the truthiness of truth. Yet we can’t easily explain why this is so. Still we know. We may be initially mistaken, we may come to kind of mixed picture, but still we have the true and the fake, the good and the bad – and this is how intuition works. Some kind of pondering or consideration based on real-world, embodied experience. Compare and contrast with the watery vacuity of ‘it’s all data’.

But how do we discriminate between science-1 and science-2?  Let us assume the commonplace description of science as being all about objective measurement is true. Cold hard facts all the way. With a heavy dose of ‘you may not like the facts but the facts don’t care about your wimpy, sentimental human-ness so you’re gonna have to man up, cissy’. Which isn’t objective at all obviously but offers wonderful opportunities for people (it must be said usually young men) to posture online (see also Nietzsche when it comes to philosophy). Science is cold hard facts, all about measurements, not about humans apparently. This is the science of number crunching, and not just number crunching, either.  In the (high quality, recommended) pop-science book The Knowledge Machine author Michael Strevens writes about research scientist Andrew Schally needing to ‘process’, as in grind up, the hypothalami of 160,000 pigs in order to obtain less than a milligram of the hormone LRF in order to discover its structure. Here we already see something of the Machine, mechanical and grinding, non-biological even as it engages with the biological. And as Strevens addresses, something is particularly tedious about it too. Vast quantities of scientific work, the large majority of it, consists of repetitious lab work, testing and testing, hours a day, on and on and on for years, with no guarantee of any sort of success.  Strevens compares the results of tried-and-tested, truthful scientific research to a coral reef, which with its reference to (albeit microscopic) skeletons also nods to something non-living about the whole enterprise. (As an aside, the Finnish word for computer, tietokone, is a compound word consisting of ‘tieto’, knowledge, and ‘kone’, machine. (And it’s quite surprising to see that there currently aren’t any minimal wave bands called Knowledge Machine.)) 

This grindingly dull, uninspired aspect of scientific work, Machine work, is of course widespread in many other fields. (And much office drone work has a similarly lifeless, repetitious, robotic quality. More on this later.)

And this scientific grind has of course given rise to the thought ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could use our ultimate fast repetition machines to speed things up and reduce the drudgery?’. Which is where computers come in. And speed=good, after all. 

‘Speed = Good’ is perhaps so attractive due to complexity. Indeed science is currently at a point where the vast complexity of the human organism as a whole, and in particular the brain, could perhaps be seen as taking on a somewhat daunting aspect. Biosciences in general and neuroscience in particular seem to be getting mired in extreme complexity at all turns due to the ever-burgeoning realisation of the large-scale interconnectedness of living biological systems. To take but one example, a team of molecular biologists in Brussels decided to investigate the interactions between four cellular cascades (Dumont, Pécasse & Maenhaut 2001). They discovered that ‘With four cascades of five steps, the number of possible positive and negative interactions is 760. This does not take into account the multiplicity of different isoforms of proteins at the different levels of the cascades, the multiplicity of effects of each intermediate in each cascade, the stimulation by a cascade of the secretion of extracellular signals, or feedback or feedforward controls within cascades. In fact, so many interactions are now described (everything does everything to everything) that it is difficult to reconcile this concept with the known specificity of action of signals in each cell.’  It’s been nicknamed the horror cascade for some reason:

Five cascades. How many cells would, say, your body contain? Then there’s the active way that DNA behaves in living organisms in an environment. And of course the brain, the most complex object in the known universe, estimated to have 86 billion neurons each of which possibly with tens of thousands of synaptic connections. Which is where we start to see the outlines of the near enemy… The brain’s so complex the answers must be in there somewhere, mustn’t it? So let’s use AI to speed up the quest. Genomics and neuroscience, perhaps the two sciences most affected by trying to find a way through extreme complexity, are natural candidates for AI research. Which in itself is actually fine – as long as we understand our conceptual limits.

The near enemy doesn’t even generate itself from science-1 per se. Science-1 consists of the hypothesis aspect, which we can term science-1(H), which gives rise to the ‘FAFO‘ testing aspect, science-1(E), where E is for experiment of course. Experiments can sometimes find themselves enhanced by human insight, which is a particularly unmediated form of science-1(H) fueling science-1(E), right there in the lab, seemingly spontaneously. But science-2 claims data is all you need these days, confusing science-1(E) with some kind of non-human number crunching, as if insight can emerge from pure data. That very assumption is the problem.

The reason why science-2 is fake is precisely because we have no working models of consciousness. And we have to have some kind of working model to get the hypotheses and testing of science-1 up and running – it’s not an option. This is how we can spot science-2 – it looks like science but it’s more that the lights are on but nobody’s at home. It’s a vacuous parody lacking an essential interiority found in the real thing.

Yet somehow the inanely overconfident idea that we can somehow discover or generate valid hypotheses by pure data crunching has got of a lot of AI research in its talons. This false (E) = (D) view has already resulted in an incomprehensibly vast waste of money and resources none of which have remotely got anywhere near the breakthroughs that have been sought for so long. It’s a fool’s expedition because we don’t even know what the breakthrough even could be. There are no hypotheses, unless you count a bunch of ideas that various groups of scientists and researchers just argue amongst themselves over. They argue over hypotheses too, but hypotheses lead to experiment design, to research.

Hypotheses are in themselves somewhat strange.  Where do they come from?  They can get people to believe, or to at least entertain, all manner of weird and wonderful ideas.  This seems to be linked with the way that radical hypotheses in science are so often slammed as ‘woo’, cranky, bizarre.  There is a trope so often brought into play along the lines of ‘yes, while scientific breakthroughs slammed as nutty have often turned out to be right in the past, far more that were attacked as peculiar turned out to be nonsense’.  But this is back-to-front. The trope puts the emphasis in the wrong place. The issue is more that for a breakthrough, especially a deep/wide-ranging breakthrough, to be valid it is necessary that it contains something of the strange about it even if that of itself is not sufficient for its validity.  The attacking of breakthroughs tends to veer towards the idea of ‘rationality’, of being able to clean out the weird, as if progress could be made without it, purely by following rational processes… and here again we start to see the near enemy.  The fear of the outlandish does have a role to play in saving wastes of time – but where does it come from?  And why is it so often so superior and contemptuous?  And why is it a matter of saying ‘well this time your weirdness worked, so we’ll make an exception for it this time, but…’ over and over and over again for all genuine breakthroughs?  This implies that next time, pure rationality will somehow sort us out, no woo required, while ignoring the necessary strangeness of true breakthroughs. This is a kind of mindset that refuses to look at the strangeness of intuition, of the creativity inherent in coming up with theories or hypotheses, arguing instead that all that stuff’s ‘woo’. Science-2, the fake one, insists that FAFO on its own will drive science forward. As if. With regard to AI we can see that so far at least, this has very expensively not been the case – but the built-in ‘optimism’ (in fact a self-replicating design flaw akin to a machine not having an off switch) means that the ‘it’s just round the corner’ aspect continues unabated, which in turn brings in sunk cost fallacies, which keeps it all going, and going, and going…

(Science seems to regard its woo-phobic aspect as really good for the way it stringently strips out timewasting concepts. Well up to a point sure, but a bit more modesty here wouldn’t go amiss. Consider eugenics, for example – commonplace amongst bien-pensant intellectuals on the left for decades, and would still be today if it wasn’t for the Nazis. Indeed as a thought experiment it might be worth considering an alternative history where Nazism never happened – is there anything in science per se that would have raised any ethical concerns with eugenics? I haven’t been able to spot anything myself. Oh sure there’s lots of ethics around – but when you love science and buy into ‘it’s all just self-replicating DNA in a meaningless universe’ and scoff at those silly-minded religious sorts and their backwards superstitions, and you have the ever-growing worship of data and that entirely genuine desire to make life better for everybody, and you’re not able to give any kind of account of morality other than preservation of genes… well… try running with those ideas for a while…)

Without a theory, there can be no hypotheses to test, to collect data for.  And something about the creation or discovery of theory inherently isn’t found in mere calculation.  Theories never originate from machine code, they come from intuitive insight, but because the origin of theories is not out there in the light of objective reality, it’s easy to deny that there’s even an issue. One common denial is that place in the mind where theories come from is ‘just’ the subconscious. This implies that it’s merely the same process as our rational, analytical intellect really, which makes it all seem less mysterious, and thus no doubt less threatening to the supposedly ‘scientifically’ minded. But this glosses over that curious coincidence that the sub/unconscious aspect of the process just happens to be where the key difference in ratiocination lies. How convenient. The mystery remains.  There is no concept behind the idea that more data will lead to more insight – all we have is empty speed as if that will for some reason make it happen when the data’s big enough. 

Science-2 eventually meets the brick wall of reality and gets smashed up by it, but somehow Terminator-style rearranges itself to continue its pestilential attacks. Which brings us to the next issue:


This has cropped up before on this blog, in terms of ∑ versus ∫.

On a more esoteric (or subjective) level, we appear to have forgotten that our mind has analytical and intuitive aspects.  This could perhaps also be expressed neurologically as the left hemisphere and right hemisphere of the brain.  There is a fair bit of noise around concerning how this particular dichotomy is supposedly false, but as is the way with science things move on and the left hemisphere/right hemisphere (LH/RH) hypothesis is looking to be a goer again (see Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter With Things if you harbour any doubts on this).  But to avoid getting tangled in arguments let’s for now use a modified take on Jung’s concept of solve et coagula, where solve is intellectual analysis, focus and clarity and the like, and coagula is intuition, seeing as a whole, and so on.  The coagula term needs modifying however, as the alchemical term coagula means ‘solidify’, whereas for whatever reasons in practice our human mind has it the other way round, solidifying the solve, turning analysis into coral reefs of dead data, while our intuition, our coagula is of something that flows.  You never step into the same river twice – reality is not static. Yet we have fallen in love with our measurements, our measurements that act against the flow, because they help us make tools to do stuff, and that is automatically good (apparently).

Why exactly we solidify what we have ‘dissolved’ into data, and view the intuitive as somehow vague and needing to be pinned down, is another matter.  Consider the various myths of the Fall, and consider how precisely because that Fall can be thought of as a takeover of the heart/intuition by the head/intellect, the ways back out of the mess we’ve fallen into must therefore be communicated through intuition first, intellect second, and that the intellect will nonetheless constantly seek to barge in and take over, thus trapping us again.  It is a vulnerability of the intuitive that the intuitive must include the rational – which then constantly seeks to override intuition, to take its insights and reduce them to feed the arrogant, insecure ego. This hijacking process perhaps suggests why we appear to be drifting off into a pop-science-2 dreamworld where solve has all the answers that we could ever need to all our questions if only we’d just keep pressing on, further into the dream, sinking ever further downwards into the bottomless abyss of complexity while telling ourselves things are getting brighter because we’re getting rid of ‘superstition’.  We are in danger of forgetting that solve may have brought us the many wonders of science – but only when it’s been in the service of intuition, of ethics, of our sense of value, of our sense of meaning.  Without the warmth of the heart, of our inherently compassionate nature, science immediately becomes a blitz-strength toxin.  The very fact that this is so contains in itself a clue to our way out. The very neutrality of science with regard to ethics shows that science per se cannot solve issues found in subjectivity – including the social, the political.  The kind of issues that have their own fields of research that are snootily dismissed as ‘soft sciences’ or not even science at all by those labouring in the illusion that ‘science’ can solve everything.  Solve may be necessary but it isn’t of itself sufficient for true progress in any area of life.

Henri Bergson wrote uncannily presciently about the excessive solve, data based approach 100 years ago, but more positively he also made a valiant attempt at an alternative worldview, an alternative metaphysics, that would at least show some promise for both philosophy and science, creating – or rather restoring – the bridge that used to exist between them which then somehow got badly degraded from the second half of the 19th century onwards. In doing so he gives us a flavour, or a feel, of what an analogue approach to consciousness might be like. There is a tone of metaphor here, of provisionality, but also therefore of a certain philosophical power of insight. Science arose from philosophy, was birthed by it, and we can thus call philosophy the mother of insight, and we thus must point out that this ‘female’ aspect leaves it vulnerable to violation by aggressive, inhumane ‘masculine’ intellect, showing its negative principle of domination, control, violence. This shows in modern discourse as patronising contempt for philosophy, the assumption that philosophy must bend to science instead of the other way round (which latter way is of course the right way), and just as violators love to laugh at and mock their victims, so we see the most precious aspects of the human scorned, held in contempt, maliciously parodied, by a sadistic, bitter, loveless intellect, which on one level only acts in that way out of a deep fear. This badness skulks in the shadows, creeping around and about in the background of the discourses of scientism, semi-hidden because its proponents do know somewhere inside what they’re doing and how evil it is. This stuff is therefore deadly serious. So bear this in mind when reading the following.

In his Introduction to Metaphysics, Bergson zeroes in on memory as being a particular mystery. He compares its operation as being more like the fixing of an image on a photographic plate than the collation of a series of snapshots. This is crucial. The ‘snapshots’ concept is of course ∑. The Asymptote is where it has brought us. It’s also brought us some very cool, and life-changingly good, technologies along the way, but we’re still waiting for it to produce anything of merit in respect of consciousness per se, or of the nature of AGI, and assuming that it can and will do so has wasted us a lot of money and research hours. The fixing of a photographic plate is of course analogue, and using this analogy for memory dodges the serious problems caused by the infinite gap/total qualitative difference between the summing, ‘bitty’ ∑ and the integral ‘whole’ ∫. If memory was a series of snapshots, Bergson asks, how many millions of images need to be summed to create a specific memory? How exactly does nature decide how often to take those snapshots in a way that will sum them sufficiently? Obviously nature doesn’t do this. Furthermore, Bergson points out that the various forms of aphasia show that despite disconnect with memory, emotion or shocks or jolts (including physical jolts) can suddenly bring back memories supposedly lost forever. This suggests the brain is not a massive storage device. Bergson points to the way we actually seek to remember memories, which is more a kind of casting about involving both mind and body. This has an echo in Michael Polanyi’s classic metaphor in ‘The Tacit Dimension’ of progressing as a blind man learns to use a cane, by a process of feeling one’s way, which gradually forms a kind of intuitive unity between the subject and the world, the cane eventually becoming an inherent part of the person using it. Which metaphor of course is intuitive, not all about some kind of supposed pure ‘rationality’ or data.

The analogue, holistic nature of memory can be seen in an experience we’ve all had, namely redintegration. Back in 2011 I found myself attending a conference in East Grinstead, a place I had no recollection of ever having visited before. I turned a corner into the high street, only to suddenly find myself looking at a familiar scene from childhood, with the immediate realisation that this was a familiar place somehow. After my parents divorced in the mid 70s, sometimes during access visits my father used to take me and my sister around and about various places in Sussex, and in 2011 it all came back – we were here regularly once. Furthermore, I had a visual memory of being in the back of the car as we went past the fire station training tower near the high street, and automatically knew that this was a regular occurrence, and indeed knew that in some way it was a kind of ‘sign’, I think that we were going back home for tea, though that bit’s not quite clear. But the whole complex of associations appeared as a unified piece, not as something constructed out of some kind of data pixels. If I’d been asked to remember the places I went back in the mid-70s with my Dad on access visits, I’d’ve turned merely to a few well-worn memories, none of which included East Grinstead, which I would never have even remembered visiting. Haywards Heath (and various other more rural locations), yes, East Grinstead, no. (It’s not a particularly arresting scene to be fair.) Visiting a place I’d forgotten I’d ever been prompted an instantaneous re-development of the ‘photographic plate’ of my memory, involving not just the visuals but a whole set of childhood memories they were part of.

But where, and how, does life become memory?

Bergson had the crucial insight that we are analogue and our approximations of measurement, being data pointillist, are qualitatively profoundly different. Memory is of course intimately part of time – it’s through time that we build up memories, and time is analogue. Insuperable difficulties appear when we seek to account for memory while using measured time and its associated pixelated approach to brain function. Our clock time depends on repetition of division in a kind of circular schema with repeating labelling (seconds, minutes, hours), whereas our mind, our inner nature, our very humanity, depends on analogue repetition, also in a ‘circular’ schema but one which Bergson compares to the base of a cone, a base that gets ever wider the more memories accumulate in our lives, with the point of the cone an ever-onward-moving point sensing its way as we go forward, intuitively probing like the cane of Polanyi’s blind man.

Bergson uses another analogy for the way that memories are ‘fixed’ that being intuitive and deep can bring on a sense of vertigo – appropriately so given the profundity of the issue. He describes two train tracks curving in different directions that nonetheless for a time are joined before they curve away again. Where they join is where matter becomes memory. And this is a metaphor, and a suggestion of a starting point, not a call to start ever more minutely dividing up two supposedly separate substances like ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ in order to get one to somehow imprint on the other. To even attempt to think about the metaphor in those terms is to immediately fail to understand it. The whole point of the analogy is that it is a different way of taking that chopping up, clock time approach.

Bergson’s Matter and Memory outlines in minutely thorough detail the processes of trial-and-error in life, of neurological/neuromuscular circular/centripetal feedback gaining ever greater complexity as life evolves, the whole process being unbroken, flowing, developing memory somehow as it gains in complexity.   It is noteworthy in this regard how Matter and Memory isn’t ivory tower philosophy, and refers throughout to a great deal of then current neurological research and discovery. This is embodied philosophy. It’s also noteworthy that as time goes on, at least some AI and consciousness researchers are turning to philosophers such as Bergson for inspiration. Those issues outlined by Bergson at such length are still very much live. ‘Snapshot’-based research has still provided us with some seriously useful aids to the reduction of human misery so let’s not be too down on it – but as the Asymptote gets ever more sharp-edged, a pressure is developing to get something concrete to happen about consciousness instead of just pretending that we’re ‘nearly there’ or just copping out of the whole thing and saying it doesn’t matter, and that pressure is only intensifying the profound gap between where we’re seeking to be and the never-quite-there place we find ourselves with our summing approach.

Due to the trial-and-error nature of how we ‘tune in’, we gradually build up a worldview that is based on making our way in this world.  Bergson states that this way that we build up understanding based on how we live as humans means that we have a natural tendency to confuse metaphysics with what works for us as living beings – which insight potentially offers a really good, sound link between science-1 and philosophy.  But this embodied nature of memory leads to it being inherently based on potential, or virtual action in the world.  This in turn means that we get metaphysically confused, one prime example being the way that we regard Platonic ideals as supposedly more real than the real-world version.  Or indeed regard numbers as somehow transcendent. (More on this later.)

This can all be found in quite mundane aspects of life , as you would expect if this whole tuning-in is inherently based on sussing out the practicalities of life.  Anybody who’s had a desk job will know how a system might be set up to deal with, say, incoming paperwork.  The system starts to run in the real world, issues come up in practice that weren’t foreseen, including the occasional unusual situation or outlier, the system is modified, sometimes drastically, and this process of trial and error continues for a while until the best possible system in practice is found, ‘best possible’ not meaning perfect. (Complete with the issue of how much ‘weighting’ to give to outliers – precisely because they’re rare, how much do you change the system to allow for them bearing in mind the various (time/effort/money) costs of changing systems? It’s very easy to get this sort of thing very wrong and either not notice it or to deny it.) A set of provisional ideas is tested in the real world and subject to a process of modification.

And there it is again – analogue, embodied common sense, right there amidst the quotidian world of office work.  It doesn’t have to be all high-minded concepts pertaining to metaphysics and philosophy – except of course, the curious twist is that actually, once you start addressing this everyday stuff in AI/consciousness research it does… if you want to get anywhere with deeper progress in understanding consciousness, that is.  There’s a mystery in the heart of the mundane, at the heart of the human…

Science-1 works in a similar way. A hypothesis is mooted, ideas for experimental testing are put forward, and based on a kind of intuitive taking a punt, small, ‘low’ quality research projects check the ideas out, the lack of quality being perhaps more a matter of sample size and various technical issues to do with double or triple blinding and the like. It’s a tentative tap of Polanyi’s cane, a feeling the way in the dark based effectively on informed guesswork (not out-of-thin-air guesswork). If the results suggest (note that word) that things may be worth following up, better quality research is planned and performed. Science-2 on the other hand, will tell you that if there’s no peer-reviewed research then there must be nothing to it, whatever ‘it’ is. Science-2 implies that rough-and-ready initial scientific work isn’t really a thing. It’s all pure calculation, which error also leads it it to tout some kind of supposed perfect predictivity, because with enough data points we can become omniscient. But all the scientific work that has given us high-accuracy predictivity always started as well-educated intuitive hunches and low-quality research. Scientific progress cannot happen any other way. Meanwhile Science-2 has created nothing radically new at all. All the AI projects that have helped (such as with protein-folding research) have been applied to Science-1 systems. Nobody ever created new ideas out of thin air that magically worked first time and perfect prediction is impossible, yet perfect prediction is sought after (by automatic car designers for example) and it’s using up a lot of mental energy and money, for nothing.

Life ‘tunes in’ through repetition.  To learn to play a musical instrument well takes years of practice, even (or especially) for prodigies.  Now consider how this applies to neurotic overprediction.  It seems strangely analogous to the way repetitive practice is a must in order to ‘get the hang’ of music, or art in general – but also basic life survival and social skills.  Skill contains the learning but not just the learning.  It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. 

The ‘spirit’, the swing, differs from ‘outlier pixels’ in one key aspect however – it is found throughout the melody, the art, the joke and the way it’s told, the context.  Chasing after outlier pixels as if collecting all of them will catch spirit only makes spirit ever more elusive. Yet Big Data AI is deliberately set on a path of trying to capture, or even just convincingly mimic that swing, the swing of our everyday human understanding and our more unusual intuition and creativity, through ultra-exact predictive techniques, as if the boring office filing system could be implemented immediately and perfectly, with no testing in the field.  And of course this can never happen, so we’re all being dragged into online bot training for systems that must have real-world feedback in order to ‘learn’. One tiresome example of this would be the way Facebook introduced all manner of ‘profanity’ or abuse filters that landed people in Facebook jail for, say, using the word ‘ho’ at Christmas as part of Santa-based jollity posts. As of the date of this article, it’s still hiding and flagging as ‘potentially offensive’ posts that are anything but. These bots have no sense of humour either and are unlikely to ever allow for it. And when you get a Captcha with images of, say, lorries that include ambiguous images and you have to try again, that’s bot training too. But the random unforeseen, the factor X, is also what stops prediction from ever being perfect, as prediction in principle misses the spirit.  Data saturation and overfitting are but externalised examples found in AI research of a more general power-seeking, neurotic mindset that tirelessly seeks to finally pin things down once and for all.  Which you can do by killing things, but then they’re permanently out of context.

And again, if you think perfect prediction is possible, consider the possibility that given the dictates of what we already see outlined by the Great Asymptote, as we seek ever greater refinements of prediction, due to the impassability of the sought-after breakthrough wall, AI may instead just warp and bend and spread over time, and thus by the time it reaches that sought-after point of perfection, it will have changed so greatly that it would consist qualitatively of what we already see – a mix of rote repetition and deeper learning that can’t actually ‘predict’ in the way originally intended as it still lacks the human sense of context. 

To return to the difference between the analogue and digital approach to science and philosophy, in ‘Matter and Memory’ Bergson uses the analogy of a poem and how analysing it word by word cannot in principle then result in the poem’s meaning being discovered, or recreated in the mind of the reader.  We’ve all seen what happens with google translate. In other writings he uses the analogy of music, whereby analysing the notes of a melody can never explain anything about the melody – all it can provide is separate data points.  The simplicity of this point paradoxically makes its profundity easy to overlook.  The melody exists across the entire melody.  The hilarity of the comedic scene I caught by accident on the TV inherently includes the whole scene, the whole episode, to some extent the whole series due to the way the series as a whole sets up various kinds of ‘resonances’ or characters or vibes that then form part of the new comedy situations.  Life’s meaning is only found in life as a whole.  But of course that whole goes back, and back, and back… into the vast echoing abyss of history.  My first cat’s name was written nowhere yet was somehow in the minds of the people who looked after her, who met her. It’s still in my mind. So is my second cat’s name, which I’ve never told anybody and never used as the answer to a security question. You’ll never know what it is. We know we’re born, we know we’re going to die, but we’re inherently a part of something unimaginably vaster than us that nonetheless somehow gave rise to us. ‘Nihil ex nihilo fit’ – nothing comes from nothing – yet existentially that is just what we all apparently did. And if you grab too hard with your analytic intellect, you risk the unbearable lightness of being as you try to sever yourself from that vast organismic growth and flow, losing its counterbalancing weight that normally keeps you grounded, suddenly grasping for the solid in an existence where everything moves, launching you into panic – 

And more prosaically, you risk throwing a lot of computer power at the wall with little to show for it. 

Bertrand Russell and George Santayana are interesting here. Russell disagreed for years with Santayana’s view that the beautiful panoply of mathematics was probably after all based on what we need to live, but in later life changed his mind and admitted to Santayana that he’d come round to his point of view. Which is ironic considering Russell’s earlier slamming of Bergson’s philosophy which suggests such a similar view to Santayana’s.

But Bergson’s philosophy puts the idea that numbers are based on what we need to live in its proper place. As memory is virtual, and exists in consciousness, there is a strange squaring of the circle here whereby numbers being in consciousness gain a kind of transcendentality due to their existence in virtual memory. Numbers may be based on the practicalities of life, but the practicalities of life become suffused by the mysterious flame of consciousness, which is transcendent in a way which we know deep down inside yet find tantalisingly difficult to even define.

Of course repetition, so innately linked with counting and therefore number, is also inherently found in time, that great mystery that we yet all know so well yet cannot easily give an account of to ourselves.

Consciousness is somehow, we still don’t know how, not a matter of mere adding.  It is not found in numbers, or division of any sort.  It transcends all of that, completely, all the way through.  Could this perhaps be a kind of bridge between the Platonists and numbers-are-just-what-we-need-to-get-by-in-the-worldists?  Note that the latter like to be skeptical, to reduce, to remove ‘specialness’, to deny transcendence is even a thing.  And note how the Platonists posit an unchanging transcendental eternity of forms.  Now consider that coagula in truth is not static, and how flow, Bergson’s duration, is what contains counting, and how in the inyo, the Japanese yin/yang, the feminine principle encircles the male and contains it, and consider now how when two electrons approach each other perpendicularly (and here one axis represents counting and one axis represents flow), the counterintuitive result is that they start to dance, spiralling around each other…

The systems that tune in to what works have this remarkable paradoxicality that they are precise, and they are not, they deal with discrete quanta – of letters coming in that need filing in the right place, and perhaps then moving to another place dependent on ‘IF’… ‘THEN’ type instructions which themselves can have self-modifying loops to take various factors into account, for example – yet they also flow. There are bits in them – bits of paper in an office, say – but there is a seamless flow too. This curious dual nature of points and flow leads us now to the concept of…


This is defined as the ratio of the size of a projected image to the rate of change of the image’s size and is an important aspect to understanding optic flow. Optic flow is for example found when playing a first person video game, or when piloting a plane to land. It’s called ‘centrifugal’ as everything’s coming straight at you from a virtual central point. Here’s a music video that starts with centrifugal optic flow:

Laurie Anderson – Sharkey’s Day (youtube.com)

Tau is a feature of the light available at the eye and has been shown in animal research with gannets to guide their (diving) behaviour without internal calculations (David Lee 1980, Lee and Reddish 1981). Tau doesn’t give information about absolute distance, it’s about time-to-impact. Note the inherent importance of time to this concept, as opposed to some kind of timeless datapoint. It is available at the retina – no need for complex calculation. That’s another key thing to note. It’s crucial to you when you cross the road, as you need time-to-impact – not ‘how far away in metres is this car which is going at x km/h and what is its acceleration if any so I can calculate’. Tau is immediate. Tau is a ratio that exists in duration. Tau does not depend on epicycles, on adding ever more bits of data to bits of data. We are at one with the tau.

Ponder now that tau is simultaneously mathematical – a ratio – yet it moves. Data of itself can only bring us static points of valuation – to even speak of data as flowing is to fatally subvert the essential deadness of mere number counting, yet instead of seeing this, far too often animated data is presented as if it was really flowing.  When watching film or TV we don’t see frames per second, as our minds provide the flow. Platonic ideals are lifeless yet number lives, number is intimately part of how we live our human lives – but not in a reductive way, as our concepts of number (and of species, of types of things in general) come through repetition occurring in lived duration, not just abstract time. As with the tau, our sense of mathematical ratio is inherently of living biological life, yet is found in something entirely transcendent of that life – it’s contained in consciousness.

And in this paradox we see a fingerprint of our truest nature. And again it is to do with our being in the world, or human living, and all living on this earth, while also knowing something else.

Intuition comes first, the flow envelops the discrete, not the other way round. 

What happens when we take a ‘millions of snapshots’ approach, with its ever-increasing need for more data labelling?


Always adding a bit more data to correct something left out, we end up with epicycles added to epicycles, a known sign in science that the model is probably wrong, and possibly completely wrong. I still remember seeing on the telly back in the 70s comedian Kenny Everett proudly displaying a gadget from Japan for sticking to the edge of a toilet seat so that you wouldn’t need to touch a potentially dirty seat with your fingers. But as Everett gleefully pointed out, once you’d touched that gizmo, you’d need another gizmo to attach to that in order to avoid getting your fingers dirty, then another one to attach to that… The younger me found it hilarious, but also fascinating.

Here’s a typical version of the problem from a paper called ‘Cognitive Wheels: The Frame problem in artificial intelligence’, by a certain Daniel Dennett no less, published all the way back in 1987 (‘The Robot’s Dilemma: The Frame Problem in Artificial Intelligence’, ed. ZW Pylyshyn, pub. Ablex). Dennett asks us to imagine a robot that needs to move its spare battery out of a room in which a bomb is about to explode. The robot formulates a plan to roll a cart with its power supply out of the room. But the bomb is also on the cart. How can the robot assess what to do given that:

  1. Moving the cart would change the position of the power supply
  2. Moving the cart would change the position of the bomb
  3. Moving the cart would change the position of the robot
  4. Moving the cart would change the position of the shadow cast by the cart
  5. Moving the cart would not change the colour of the carpet
  6. Moving the cart would not change the mass of the cart
  7. Moving the cart would change the distance between the cart and the Eiffel Tower
  8. Moving the cart would change the distance between the power supply and the Eiffel Tower…

… and so on, forever. The point being that the robot needs to know which side effects of its actions are or aren’t relevant, in order to only consider the relevant side effects. This was in 1987, and of course still Dennett insists that consciousness doesn’t exist, and still we have the framing problem, pristine, untouched despite vast increases in computing speed and power.

It’s data epicycles all the way.

Diagrammatic lists proliferate when the framing problem is around. Often with many, many arrows busily to-ing and fro-ing between their multifarious items, curiously reminiscent of the horror cascades above. And to even notice these schemas, these layouts, and to ponder them, is to be outside the machine. Alas, the mind feels lost trying to even consider what an integral, ∫ science could even be, we’re so mired in bit-ty calculation… but in a funny sort of way perhaps we can hope that the Great Asymptote might eventually bring about a more widespread fruitful culture of communication and collaboration between scientists, philosophers and artists. This would require excluding the mindset of denial of transcendence, of dataism, of scientism though, and indeed require artists not to show unwarranted obeisance to science. Maybe this might yet still happen.

All this cross-pollination would of course involve Science-1. What would the science-2 version look like? How could we sniff it out? We can say that it would be lifeless, it would be overconfident, and it would be scared of the intuitive. As luck would have it, we have an embarras de richesse of examples all showing just these character traits, brought to us by


You will have encountered smug blanketeers at some point. They’re all over the internet. On a more mundane level, they’re often found talking quasi-sciencey-sounding rubbish about AI and consciousness on social media, but unfortunately they are also sometimes to be found writing books or worse still, driving scientific research. They insist that concepts are not needed for hypotheses, and hypotheses are not needed for testing, in direct contradiction of the history of science to date.

We’re currently amidst a vast proliferation of a science-2 culture where the ‘just so’ story rules, ironically in direct contradiction to the supposed all-encompassing explanatory power of science.  Just so stories are by definition not proof, yet they proliferate in smug blanket culture as if they were. It’s a heavily loaded worldview which paradoxically depends for its social transmission on a nice, neat simple denial that it is so – the very lightness of that denial is crucial as it makes scary non-rationality seem small and irrelevant, as if it wasn’t massively powerful. Its predominant emotional tone is a kind of condescending smugness.

The smug blankets’ constant numb-minded repetition of ‘we just need more data’, usually combined with a kind of patronising contempt for the (supposedly) woolly-minded has the distinctive scent of a suffocator.  It’s creepily similar to the suffocating idea that data moving through circuits in a computer will somehow ‘see’ things by its own action in itself.  The seemingly irresistible pseudoreason here resembles the idea that by drawing a kind of circle in the right way, then that will somehow as if by magic give rise to the Answer, as if drawing a 2-D line in the right kind of circle could create a 3-D image, and furthermore that that image will somehow show us an Answer to a question we don’t know how to articulate in the first place.  2-D drawings can create the illusion of 3-D, but that’s the point – they are always 2-D.  And smug blanketeers get round this by insisting that 3-D is ‘really’ 2-D, and by insisting the 3-D image in this metaphor will be some kind of Qualitatively New Breakthrough. Watch for how often science-2 peddlers refer to circular analogies for consciousness – things like car security systems that sum inputs from different parts of the car for example – without stopping to consider what circles have to do with this issue in the first place. It does seem to be quite a common theme. And ironically does seem to be a good metaphor for what happens when you’re conceptually out of your depth but insist that more of the same will somehow come good one day.

Consciousness is a particularly deep mystery and thus a particularly deep insult to the surface-fixated minds of the smug blankets, so it results in particularly peculiar denials – the smug blanket acolyte will blandly state ‘consciousness is not significant’, or ‘consciousness is merely an evolutionary adaptation’, with no proof, no philosophical backup, just as bare fact. It must be so! Because it just is so. No need to concern yourself with it.  Online scientific and/or philosophical articles about the problem of consciousness always garner a crop of robotic-automatic ‘what problem?’ comments from blanketian denialists.

The scientistic disortion of science pushed by the smug blanketeers insists it’s all about practical facts and claims to be pragmatic, but it chooses what to examine in the first place based on a set of metaphysical principles it claims are sound because they bring results and are based on fact. This creates a curious circular reasoning whereby there is ‘no proof’ of certain phenomena but those phenomena are not studied in the first place as we already know they’re illusory… because there’s no proof for them. This doesn’t need to be ‘psychic’ stuff, either – Daniel Dennett (see above) believes consciousness doesn’t exist. As for (perhaps) less way out ideas, such as our supposed lack of free will, despite there being no proof for this (how could there be?) it is nonetheless taken as a given. Here we are now in the world of assumptions and intuitions, yet this is denied or ignored or waved away. This has non-abstract implications in the world of human behaviour. One example would be the recent publication of a pop-sci book by neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky that ‘explains’ why we don’t have free will (‘Determined: Life Without Free Will’). As (in this sense at least) it’s impossible to prove a negative, the book has to take determinism as a given, and the book is thus constructed around this unprovable assumption, which somehow is supposed to gain a kind of truth due to the clouds of ideas, of data, that form around it. Of course it’s garnered plentiful 5-star reviews on Amazon, presumably from people who like to consider themselves as non-gullible. The self-nihilising psychology of it all is quite strange, resembling a kind of cheap knock-off near enemy fake version of Buddhism. This appeals to a lot of westerners for some reason.

The dataist approach confuses quantity with quality. To bring home how serious the problem is, consider that when you add a lot of ‘small’ together you get ‘big’, which is a kind of change of quality – but then look at what’s been happening with AI research for so long now, where addressing change of quality in this ‘change of size’ way has got us precisely nowhere despite exponentially increasing computer power. But the change from small to big is a change of size, and it is a change purely of static ‘Platonic’ concepts. Successfully addressing the change from slow to fast – now that would be a massive breakthrough. But it would involve movement in time…

Just as the way that a requirement for an escape velocity that must be reached in order to escape the Earth’s gravitational field is not immediately obvious and needs to be worked out with the aid of maths in order to be proven to be necessary, so it is with the ongoing failure of AI to attain real-world viability, which viability requires a hypothesis in order for Science-1(E) to proceed.  Escape velocity must be attained – but the twist is that when it comes to data mere speed is not ‘velocity’ in this analogy, as it represents still going up a staircase as if that in itself will get us there, as if running up steps instead of walking up them will enable us to break free and start to fly.  Running up steps will never get us there.  Something different is required.  Unlike the escape velocity concept, which can be shown with some reasonably easy maths, we are entirely in the dark here.  We’re effectively casting about at random hoping something comes up.  One current of thought in AI is that we need to address abductive inference.  Or perhaps quantum computers will help, if they’re ever viable for proper research, because they’ll be far faster, because speed is good apparently.

But no amount of huffing and puffing about wooliness or vagueness or woo can even slightly dent the immovable requirement that science rests on a metaphysical foundation. Science so often claims to be the royal road to Truth while belittling philosophy, but without a certain input from philosophy science ossifies into a series of ‘just so’ stories, as if explaining how something works or where it comes from exhausts all explanation. This very ossification shows that philosophy has a power to renew science, and is thus in a profound way superior to science. It’s certainly humbling science these days in matters of consciousness and AGI. Science tends to the rigid and dead (the coral reef of the Strevens book) and thus periodically needs the enlivening influx of philosophical understanding to free it up to explore more fully and further. Science is contained within philosophy, and when you start seeing philosophy being mocked by allegedly ‘scientific’ people you know their understanding isn’t as deep as they presumably think it is.

Perhaps smug blanketeers are perhaps just a little scared of what they see as the bottomless pit of unreason that is the intuitive.  Assuming it’s nothing really makes it seem small.  Scientism seeks to put intuition in a box, as if it was the servant of reason instead of the other way round.  But intuition is always there at the heart of science.  To give but one example, the Strevens book goes into quite a bit of detail concerning the way Eddington ‘fudged’ (or really, just altered) the data on his 1919 Brazilian expedition due to it containing blurred images from his telescope and ‘blurred’ data, but there are countless examples in research where the intuition that a hypothesis is correct leads to ‘tweaking’ of data to get it to fit.  This is how actual science, Science-1, progresses in the real world, away from dataist fantasies. (There is a serious concern here that the mindset of Science-2 worshippers with their denial of the role of intuitive insight at the heart of science then gives rise by reaction to its shadow form – a rejection of science altogether as being inherently unreliable or dishonest or even evil. This can have disastrous effects for example with anti-vaxx garbage. It is worth at least considering how much scientistic posturing and aggression has caused vaccine scepticism, and indeed various other bad health outcomes by driving people towards pseudoscience.)

Ironically, the smug blankets’ dull, matter-of-fact droning takes place in slow, real time, the time of Bergson’s duration, the time where the intuitive somehow lives. Speed everything up, and intuition disappears. This is a deep aspect of the mystery. Of course the smug blankets regard ‘appeals to mystery’ as somehow invalid. But how exactly is the word ‘mystery’ being used here? In practice it appears to mean ‘appeals to the supernatural’, with the associated assumption that the ‘supernatural’, whatever that is, doesn’t exist. But science progresses through mystery, and science-1 will always throw off any restrictive blanket that seeks to limit its intuitive powers.

Smug blanketeers use a false dichotomy framing where they already ‘know’ better and the correctness of their worldview is taken as a given.  Any attempts at genuine discourse with them are first forced into the frame of this procrustean bed, then after they have been fatally mutilated, the results are held up as ‘proof’ that the ideas were wrong in their unmutilated form.  It’s what happens when the LH, or the egoic intellect, takes what doesn’t belong to it (data that originally was in an intuitive habitat), keeps it for itself, then assembles it into a false worldview that being false, will always attack all that is precious, as that which is precious will never be found in mere data. The whole idea is precisely to erase the numinous by forcing it out of discussion.  This often shows in two stages. As erasing the numinous wholesale would create horrors visible in broad daylight along the way (on a pointless journey to the impossible in any case), there is a first stage where the metaphysics of reductive materialism are taken as a given while constant appeals are made to a sense of ‘wonder’. This ‘wonder’ – really just a kind of mean-spiritedly reluctant (and ironically mandatory) acceptance of the intuitive – is corralled into the scientistic approach with anything explicitly numinous derided, awaiting its transport to the antiseptic scientistic abbatoir. Naturally the smug blanketeers protest – they love poetry, they love music, they love literature – but they are working hard to recast that ‘love’ as an empty hallucination, a mere epiphenomenon that’s all very nice but ultimately an evanescently frothing meaninglessness set against the absolute zero hard cold of a dead cosmos, a cosmos that we can somehow only genuinely decode through cold hard reason.  Quite Schopenhauerian that, although not-so-cuddly uncle Arthur’s worldview was more of energy than cold, with the blind energy of Will constantly writhing.  Still, the inescapability of metaphysics is quite something to behold. You’re going to choose a metaphysics whether you like it or not, though where and how the choice takes place may not be easy to discern.

Wonder, like consciousness, can’t be simultaneously non-mysterious yet also wonder. But the smug blanket project is stubbornly determined to ignore this and proceed at all costs – anything rather than open the floodgates to the dreaded irrational.  But despite the supposed ‘rationality’ (as evidenced by the numbness of the smug blanketeers), false dichotomies always depend on emotional charging (note a similarity here with the contract between the objective notes of music and the emotionality of the actual music the notes represent) and the smug blanket nihilist worldview thus does very well amongst those who are easily pleased by having their prejudices tweaked.

Smug blanketeers will reinvent life as a machine, then showing you this strange, somewhat ugly unliving clockwork puppet parody, this faintly nauseating AI image exuded from the depths of uncanny valley, will with no sense of irony or humour and a completely straight face, explain to you that this is what life ‘really’ is.  Their only response to your protestations that it seems utterly otherwise will be to take their little diddy two-bit ideas and try to bring them to life, which will necessarily involve nihilistic pronouncements that it ‘just’ seems that life is precious, that it’s all ‘really’ a kind of mistake from the human point of view, that humans are a kind of spandrel, our consciousness the accidental creation of an illusion as a byproduct of an evolutionary process that blindly falls into an ever-more efficient way of prolonging its transmission in a universe heading for the eternal heat death triumph of entropy.  Which is a philosophical bewitchment, a trickery that steals our truest inner knowing of who we really are, but which is enjoying a certain ascendency in the west these days.  Trickle-down economics is of course bullshit, but trickle-down philosophies can be profoundly effective precisely because we all have this profound philosophical aspect as a key part of being human. Always remember however that the determinism of Hume – a key aspect of the smug blanketeers’ worldview – is unable to confirm that the sun will come up tomorrow and in principle it never can.  Science proceeds by deduction, not induction.  An inconvenient truth requiring diversionary tactics.

Claims that science just ‘tells is as it is’ would perhaps be more convincing if so many scientists, and gullible science fans didn’t so often make grandiose metaphysical pronouncements to do with matters such as free will, the nature of nature, the nature of matter, consciousness, meaning and so on. These statements are usually emotionally tinged, using terms such as ‘woo’, ‘nonsense’ or ‘delusion’, or at other times a kind of negative appeal to the numinous (“and then in trillions of years’ time the last remaining red giant will burn out, leaving the universe cold, entropic, dead, forever…” as Brian Cox solemnly intones in a pop astronomy programme on the BBC) and they are by design destructive of various important aspects of what we feel – or rather know – to be human . All of these behaviours betray hidden metaphysical assumptions but as can be seen from the quick tendency to rage when challenged, belief systems. And it’s important that they are denied as such, which is why we have the effortlessly supercilious-grand claims that the physical world is the only world there is, that the supernatural is mere woo, and so on. Of course these metaphysically-infused claims are precisely there because of scientism, and if they’re not there, neither is scientism.  They specifically rely on the straw man versions of ‘spiritual’ stuff, which of course also follows the real thing around to feed off it to create its own counterfeit.  As soon as any half-way respectable evidence for certain phenomena is produced a hard rush commences to blitz the unwanted data, move those goalposts, and attempt to subject it to granulisation in order to make it go away.

Who’d’ve thought that the metaphysical is intimately linked with emotion – or whatever it is in us that gives rise to emotion in the first place.  Maybe emotion is more important than we’ve been led to believe.  Maybe it’s linked with our sense of aesthetics and morality…

The repetition of learning to play an instrument, to paint etc enables you to bring through what these things are really about – they are channels.  But as poems are play, as music is play, so the repetition of work is deadeningly uncreative. That soul-sapping cruelty of being worked ever-harder, subject to ever more surveillance, ever more monitoring. Again that suspicion of the creative person – which is ironic because as previously mentioned humans are inherently creative anyway – which can then turn into the various cringey work cultures whereby people are persuaded to get enthusiastic about their job. Though if you’re forced to work in order to live, a kind of Stockholm syndrome does make sense, really.  As long as you leave it behind when you go home…

For now, the ticking of clocks gets ever louder. Clock time is where unruly life is trammeled and trained, made to jump through hoops by a powerful, cold intellect. And this leads to…


Let’s continue in a metaphorical way with Bergson’s concepts of clock-regulated time (temps) and our lived sense of duration (durée). Duration is of course where we live. It’s unbroken and unbreakable. No amount of trying to catch it in the net of clock counting will ever get us anywhere with it. Confusing clock time with duration gives us Zeno’s paradox, and a load of futile neurological research on consciousness and memory. It also enables people to convince themselves that free will doesn’t exist, and write books to that effect where they don’t come near to proving it, and everybody praises them for having proved it. This has worrying aspects (the ever-increasing seepage of destructive nihilism away from the ivory towers of academia into the everyday life of humanity) but once again shows how that pesky metaphysics just won’t go away and thus offers at least a gesture to the way out.

Clock time is the time in which data is made to move by a rapid succession of separate datapoints. There is always a clock in the background in data flows. It’s how the flow’s synchronised, how it’s sampled. Despite the name, data ‘flows’ are never analogue – they are the near-enemy of the analogue. Something in us sees rapid data change, like the frames of a film, as flow… and that something is not digital. The fake ‘flow’ of digital data brings to mind the viewing devices of the grimly dualist gnostics of Theodore Roszak’s novel Flicker. (Which features a secret anti-Cathar Catholic group called Oculus Dei and a protagonist with the surname Gates – fill yer boots, conspiracy theorists!)

Meanwhile, when there’s a clock there’s the possibility of illusions created by interference patterns between the clock and regularly repeating data points. We see this sort of thing when we’re in a vehicle going past two sets of railings and shimmering light and dark bands appear. In digital sound recording a similar effect is called aliasing. (It’s worth just looking at the ‘alias’ photo on that wiki page as it’s reminiscent of the way that the back of Lt Frank Drebin’s suit jacket in Police Squad has wide bands of interference actually sewn into the pattern, which is (a) and utterly hilarious visual gag, and (b) seems not to have been noticed by anybody else, which I find incredible.)

As for analogue interference patterns, the classic example is of dropping two stones a certain distance apart into water, which creates outspreading concentric circles. This is the difference – the interference patterns thus created are really there. The alias artefacts aren’t.

Consider now the idea of the near-enemy and how it acts against beauty, and consider now the gambit used for the problem of evil whereby it’s said that no matter how terrible its effects it ultimately isn’t really there. Consider also the classic advaita analogy of seeing a snake in the twilight that turns out when fully lit to be a rope. Consider furthermore that the near-enemy of science, science-2, can’t actually create anything new no matter how much computer power is thrown at it, and how the demons of the night side of the Tree of Life can only challenge, never create…

… and how all of this is not new and always tends to spread, abstractions filtering always downwards into the concrete world of duration and entangling it, and how it’s always spreading, which brings us to…


Cold Hard Reason does not exist in the world (it’s metaphorically an ‘alias frequency’) and we should not submit to its supposed acolytes’ empty-headed demands to somehow justify the noumenal, not least because the phantom of CHR always sets things up so that it can never have what it demands.  CHR is a hungry ghost, ever leading us onwards to our breakage upon the adamantine wall of the Asymptote. CHR is the near enemy of intellect. Reason that works, reason that is grounded and embodied, always has an emotional aspect, in the same way that the notes of a musical score are just a code for music that must be heard by a human to be appreciated, to be understood – and understood in a specifically musical way.  To analyse the notes of a song will never lead to the appreciation of the song as a song, i.e. musically.  Just as breaking a poem down into single words will destroy it, so it is with what it is to be human – our inherent creativity. Taking things to bits, or converting them to bits, will inevitably result in the impossibility of making them truly live again. Creativity part of us whether we’re ‘artists’ or not. Cracking a joke to affectionately take the piss out of a workmate shows this creativity.

Of course the ultimate triumph of some kind of Cold Hard Reason is thus impossible – but never underestimate how deeply humanity can be damaged while heading for that unreachable destination. We are each of us a galaxy, and through giving away our connection with the numinous we allow ourselves to get ever more closed off from that galaxy. To even announce that you are an atheist puts a kind of suffocator over a key aspect of our intuitive vision.  Just as how the most sophisticated facial recognition system can be rendered useless by wearing a simple cardboard mask, so does the suffocator of self-declared ‘atheism’ place an uncomplicated but highly effective block over the place where the light gets in, rendering everything permanently twilit. The gate is narrow, and merely asserting a positive atheism will close it off and render the multifarious wildlife of the phenomenological jungle ultimately meaningless and dead and dying.

This particular fascination with ‘Atheism’ is a peculiarly Western phenomenon as perhaps can be seen by watching what happens when some supposedly ‘sensible’ or ‘clever’ westerners encounter Eastern systems such as Buddhism that are non-theistic, or Vedanta which is technically theistic but not in the way that the west understands this (for example, Bhagavad Gita ch. 13 v. 13 states that the Brahman is beyond existence or non-existence). The arrogance of the west is that somehow through ‘science’ of some sort, we have proved that the material world is all there is – this being a metaphysical view at heart, not proven by science-1 and ultimately not provable. But as the West apparently knows best on this score, we have the (in fact entirely unearned) right to ‘westsplain’ to profound systems of philosophical insight and learning that have been around for literally thousands of years, barging in and taking over, correcting anything in there that we deem to be ‘supserstition’, confidently stating that our metaphysics is the best, there’s no supreme being, there’s no such thing as transcendence, and we can thus affirm ‘Atheism’. It’s nothing to do with science, either – it’s a kind of arrogance born of the same worldview that has given rise to science-2. It’s a destructive take on an unimaginably profound system of insights into what it is to be human, and it’s a fantastic way to screw up the Dharma as a result. And it’s


Having messed up many countries and cultures with its unjustified overconfidence, and now facing at least some reckoning with this, the west has moved this strain of colonial thought away from terrestrial lands into the mind itself.

The spiritual sickness of the West is to obsessively seek a settled finality, so that the subject of this grasping can be turned into a failsafe method, a gadget, a machine. (Which is perhaps the mindset that enables Yuval Noah Harari to be an accomplished Vipassana meditator while spouting specious dataist guff – for YNH, meditation is a useful tool to get somewhere, nothing else.) As Thich Nhat Hanh once pointed out, westerners are fascinated by machines. But while machines that, say, keep hearts beating properly are obviously good, there is a grim tendency abroad to make machines of everything else – including the human mind.  Worse still, the illusion of smooth motion, like the frames of a film or ultra-fast processing, is taken as having somehow ‘solved’ the innate difference between ∑ and ∫.

Just remember that in the name of some kind of uniquely Western ‘progress’ we’ve had (for example) asbestos, CFCs, DDT, nuclear waste and microplastics, all of which created long-term destructive messes that have taken and still are taking huge long-term effort to clean up.

We do not (if we’ve got any proper understanding of Science-1 that is) deny climate change, and indeed in this respect it’s always worth referring to the incredible coincidence of the industrial revolution with the onset of this new and potentially gravely destructive phenomenon on earth.

Yet we affect not to notice, or to properly look at, the incredible coincidence of the widespread appearance of the ‘Atheist’ mindset amongst the ‘educated’ in the West around the same time as the industrial revolution. Whatever Marx’s role was or wasn’t here, the real issue is that ‘Atheism’ really took hold at that point in (western) history. It’s also around the time that lies were propagated to the effect that people used to believe the Earth was flat (we surely know this is bullshit now, right?), or that the Copernican revolution was perceived as a tragedy when in fact the Earth was regarded as a muddily chaotic warzone between light and dark. Montagine expressed it thus:

“Man is the most blighted and frail of all creatures and, moreover, the most given to pride. This creature knows and sees that he is lodged down here, among the mire and shit of the world, bound and nailed to the deadest, most stagnant part of the universe, in the lowest storey of the building, the farthest from the vault of heaven; his characteristics place him in the third and lowest category of animate creatures, yet, in thought, he sets himself above the circle of the Moon, bringing the very heavens under his feet. The vanity of this same thought makes him equal himself to God; attribute to himself God’s mode of being; pick himself out and set himself apart from the mass of other creatures…”

The ‘Copernican Revolution’ and its supposed devastating effect on religion was bullshit emanating from self-satisfied Victorian ‘Atheists’ with a (false) point to prove. Mere ‘education’, the accumulation of facts, would apparently dispel the darkness of ignorance… which seems strangely familiar when watching Big Data overconfident pillocks insisting that just fact-truths will bring about paradise on earth. This is the idea already mentioned here that ideas can take on different garb in different times while still having strangely atemporal aspects, aspects more real than their evanescent manifestations in culture, to do with Good and Evil, Dark and Light, War and Peace, Destruction and Creation…

This so-called ‘progress’ still continues, but now as part of the deliberate colonisation of the numinous with ‘reasonable’ counterfeits in the name of leaving supposed ‘superstition’ behind.  But once it becomes apparent that these approaches are the asbestos of the spirit, complete with brutal side-effects that weren’t apparent at the time, there will then once again begin the long-term project of trying to undo the damage caused by the sophstistupidity of overconfident ‘rationalists’ in the name of this supposed ‘progress’ that poisons the whole world, including the world of the mind, of the spirit.

This patronising western assumption that the numinous is either ‘superstition’ or of the nature of a machine or gadget like every other aspect of the brain and mind and everything else is no better than the arrogantly scornful response of the first western explorers of the East when they encountered ‘pagan idols’ with their gods and goddesses with multiple heads and hands and arms and legs… before finally later it came to light just how profoundly ignorant the western invaders were, in so many different ways. After which the repair work once again needed to be undertaken, and the West began learning from the East.

The west is going to learn yet more, though.  The world is not a machine. After error comes correction.  After a haughty attitude comes the fall.  This looks to be already well underway, showing as the world’s ecosystems becoming more wrathful in aspect. Put the power of the intuitive in a box as if it was your pet to torment and mistreat at will, and it will start to get wilder, and of course more powerful in its wildness. The intuitive will ultimately never be boxed and it will have its way in the end. It will reclaim its rightful place and its energy will break through to do so by any means necessary.

The personal is the metaphysical.  This isn’t about AI as such, it’s about what is reflected back to us when we are under a collective illusion of thought of a particular kind that is valorised, regarded as the lodestone for some kind of ‘progress’, that in turn through the technologies it creates erodes our attentivity and our very sense of embodied being in the world, making us ever more demanding, impatient, angry, volatile, disconnected, while gradually wrecking the environment on which we depend for our lives.

Outside of AI research, a far more all-encompassing, and all-trapping, manifestation of the western colonial mindset is of course the world of work, where we are all being screwed to produce ever more work ever more efficiently for ever less financial reward.  Ever more intense, exhausting, cognitive running on the spot. Your life is being marshalled into following the same outlines as the asymptote.  You are expected to work ever faster without ever quite getting ‘there’.  Your true life, Life-1, is being colonised by its near enemy, Life-2, a life based on empty speed and ‘efficiency’. This includes your ‘leisure’ time, which following this process becomes a matter of never-ending projects.  Should you actually manage the rare feat of completing a clock time project, you will find that the promised satisfaction, the closure, evaporates quite quickly, leaving you feeling incomplete.  The issue is ‘once I get X then the itch will be permanently soothed’, a compelling illusion that we all fall for again and again. It’s the near-enemy version of enjoying a challenge and feeling due satisfaction after a success, or of say enjoying eating and eating properly. It’s the overdrive itch that’s the false version.

Be wary of ‘goals’ – they so easily lead to this feeling of still being hungry after you’ve got there. A far better approach is that of learning an art. This requires long-term self-discipline without a goal in mind, thus evading the emptiness/hungriness issues found in goal-based projects. You just keep going, enjoying it for its own sake, patiently gaining in artistry and skill and intuitive understanding year on year on year. And you never feel the sugar rush of a goal achieved followed by the post-crash emptiness that comes afterwards. And on top of that, long-term non goal-based discipline is much less likely to be harshly applied. Firmly yes, harshly, never. Repetition can be like learning a musical instrument, or it can have a desperate, driven quality. The former joins objective and subjective time in the way that we live when we are in accord with the Tao, the latter urges us out of our bodies, into our minds, setting us on paths of aggressive overreaction, of cruelty to others and to ourselves, leaving us permanently hungry. And this false path is what gives rise to science-2, which is then fed into a feedback loop of science-2 culture which then reinforces itself and disseminates and develops that culture of injury. And it spreads into our daily work, and it drags on our hearts. Once again, ponder the difference in tone between firm but realistic discipline, which can teach you a lot about yourself into the bargain as you discover what it’s like to lean into yourself, and harsh discipline, which is more like treating yourself as a wild animal, or a donkey, to be whipped and beaten into good behaviour. You can guess which of these approaches is the one that sells apps, courses, classes and the like, which also has an associated dazzlingly vacuous online culture of showing off, of a coldly glittering ecstasy of surface-to-surface communication, and all the injuring vacuity and fakery of it all…

As we move out of our bodies and into our intellect, we lose kindness, empathy, intersubjectivity, compassion, and move towards the cruel.  This in itself shows us we’re going in the wrong direction, away from the true humanity that resides in our heart, yet we’re being relentlessly trained into denying our own innately embodied compassionate nature.

To move in the right direction, however, the direction of ever-deepening humanity, will always require…


The arrogant LH ‘scientific’ intellect likes to mock the leaps of faith of religion, portraying them as a simple indoctrination into untruths. In a sense they often are, but once again appeal must be made to the true and the false version that is found in all matters of the mind. There is a real version of the leap of faith, and indoctrination into falsehoods is the fake version, of course.

When considering what the idea of the leap of faith might truthfully refer to, we consider that in consciousness there is the apprehension of the whole, the RH, the intuitive.  To break free of the downward pull of reductionism, of ever greater data granularity and its entrapment of our life in its rigid nets, we have to let go and make a kind of jump. This ‘leap of faith’ is actually just us acting intuitively, letting go of the handrail and exercising our wings, and it’s not good enough to say that because sometimes we’re wrong, that means we must therefore turn to ever more complex numerical tables.  This is fear of flying.  All it will do is shackle us to the earth, whereby we will lose the capacity to ‘fly’, to live as we ultimately truly are, with that ‘intuitive’ aspect that contains everything including data while being ultimately beyond all things. We actually ‘fly’ any time we act ‘from within’, making our way in the world based on informed vibes, or sudden hunches, or negotiating our way through the world of work, or enjoying the companionship of friends, but always from intuition. Here again the everyday is infused with the numinous. The transcendent is reached through realising that we live amidst conceptual approximations and successfully freeing ourselves from those approximations – which thus makes it fully a matter of the here and now, and more real than the merely approximate. Indeed, it’s completely real in a way that mere concepts, being approximations, only obscure. Bear this in mind when you’re encountering claims that there’s no transcendence.

The profound issue here is that the destructiveness of the mindset that gave us dataism has come about as a result of denying that a ‘leap of faith’ is necessary – or even possible.  But no matter how much data is collected we must act, we must live, and in that acting, that living and being, the data is inherently more than just summed because it is in a greater context of mind.  Just adding ever more datapoints is more likely to cause data saturation of the mind, a kind of paralysis over what actually matters to us.  OCD in one sense represents an overloading of attempts at pinning down that act against the flow of life, against our innate tendency to live in flow, not through excessive analysis.

Like fledglings leaving the nest, we have to make that jump, and in the end despite the risk it’s entirely natural, it’ actually just the way we are.


As the approach to the unattainable axis of breakthrough into meaning gets supposedly ever closer, ever more demandingly frustrating even as ever greater computative power is pumped into it, we are seeing ever more clearly the outlines of a pathology ever more furiously denied as time has rolled on.  This problem may seem somehow purely objective, yet it is always accompanied by a feeling tone of rage and desperation, a tendency to arrogant control-mania, just under the surface, ready to come out for example whenever the more scientistically-minded are reminded of the lack of progress – and the shape of that lack of progress – towards the goal that is apparently so important.  This problem is found in our personal cognition, our group cognition, our collective scientific strivings, our non-scientific urgent seekings of a better world, and our very sense of meaning. Meaning is found in time, as with music (and film – let’s not forget that other inherently timebound art). But time is unbroken, the drama requires movement, and time and movement are utterly alien to the left hemisphere egoic intellect, a hungry and ultimately terrified ghost that finds itself defensively occupying but a small part of our greater embodied consciousness that lives and loves and dies…

It’s not even just the repeated failures, it’s also the way they all fail in the same kind of way, with the same ever-more-clearly-delineated outline…

For now, we seem morbidly unable to break free from the machine, the rigidly robotic repetition we’ve all been herded into.  We know it’s wrong, but we go along with it because we have to in order to survive, and we can’t see an alternative. Just as with AI research, we think that endless repetition of the same will somehow magically lead to profound breakthroughs in life.  We’re chasing a chimera, always on the horizon, never getting nearer – the failure of Big Data AI to become creative, to gain common sense knowledge, is just a reflection of what’s happening to all of us, of the slipstream we’ve been pulled in to, and which we’re increasingly desperate to wriggle out of.  And if this way of living is so great, why all the suffering?

Be agnostic instead.  But stay agnostic through and through, and keep going on that journey, never surrendering to western-style static certainty, to the western tendency to treat everything as a tool, to the western disdain for ambiguity.  Use tools, but don’t give them undue significance. Approach the journey in a way more like learning to play a musical instrument, and forget any goal. Something beyond the still and moving will eventually come into view.

Despite the inane witterings of the ‘just so’ story-tellers, we are an interface between time and eternity, between the limited and the infinite, and we know this in our innermost core.  The increasingly profound loss of this understanding and its subsequent ways of living is effected via techniques of blocking the ways this understanding works, the behaviours that are inherently of the way it works, the way of its aliveness.  Ritual, living symbolism, community – all are being subjected to Big Data and the destruction that goes with it.  Big Data barges in and takes over because it knows best. It’s microplastics of the mind, set to cause a similar deep wreckage of the human that will take vast effort to undo, but this time in the ecosystems of the human spirit rather than the outside world.

The understanding of the heart is that of something moving, living, and thus innately a matter of behaving and behaviours.  These have their own concepts – but the heart, the begetter of behaviour and of living, is in truth primary, not the concepts.  We have it the wrong way round, always falling into being driven by concept.  Our entanglement in concepts is why we have the Asymptote, as we can never break through to a point where the concepts gain life, which they can never do as they are not concepts of the heart and thus life but instead concepts of the disembodied intellect.  Bergson invented the concepts of temps (clock time) and durée (subjectively perceived duration) precisely because he intuited that there is a profound difference between abstracted regularities of clock time and the seamless flow of life. 

Just as explaining a joke destroys it, so the ‘all is data’ mindset destroys life.  Currently the grand project to shackle humans to the Machine is well advanced, but it too will one day hit the wall.  The extent to which you’ve immersed yourself in dataist culture, in terms of action (e.g. using apps, becoming ever-more impatient and demanding of convenience) and in the abstract (e.g. buying into the reductive philosophies associated with dataism) will affect how hard the wall hits you.  You therefore ought to take steps now to cultivate a disengagement with dataist, online culture and a re-engagement with real life involving real people in the real world. (It’s worth remembering that this ‘project’ doesn’t need any kind of shadowy elite to run it, either – it’s much more likely to be stigmergy.) 

This article is a series of showings of the limitations of the dataist project. It’s written from the RH, integral∫ viewpoint because it has to be, because the LH, summing ∑ approach is incapable in principle of any real understanding of those issues, instead preferring to create its own fake clockwork version. ∫ resembles redintegration – seeing things as a whole, in one go. It’s an active consideration that’s far more likely to bring us fruitful routes of research than neurotically zeroing in ever more microscopically on a part of the whole.

But precisely because this has been a pointing, a showing, the smug blanketeers (who emanate a strangely matter-of-fact ‘blank’ness) will naturally just continue to argue that more data will explain it all.  There are deep reasons why this will ultimately fail, but because those reasons lie outside of the counting-obsessed mind which always denies there’s even an issue, all that can be done is to show, to point, to try communicating a feel, and this leaves the depth of the intuitive vulnerable to cold hard dataist violation. 

But despite the constant witterings of the ‘just so’ peddlers, we are an interface between time and eternity, between the limited and the infinite, and we know this in our innermost core.  The profound loss of this understanding and its subsequent ways of living is effected via techniques of blocking the ways this understanding works, the behaviours that are inherently of the way it works, the way of its aliveness.  The heart, the begetter of our life, is in truth primary, not the concepts.  We have it the wrong way round, always falling into being driven by concept.  Our entanglement in concepts is why we have the Asymptote, as we can never break through to a point where the concepts gain life, which they can never do as they are not concepts of the heart and thus life but instead concepts of the disembodied intellect. 

How can we get people to break their hypnotised gaze upon data and look up? Perhaps we can start by asking: what is it that watches the data? What is it that understands it, that contextualises it? What is it that perceives movement?  We need to be aware that there are two answers to these sorts of questions, one in the metaphysical abstract through which we could find our liberation, and the other in terms of everyday life which represents our imprisoning.  The first answer is a kind of koan and leads to transcendence – it is found by putting the heart, intuition first, with the intellect in proper relation to it and thus functioning powerfully and rightly.  The second answer is more mundane and not good.  It is that a human is required to recognise the data.  And data these days is power and money, and arcane – do you know where your data’s kept, where it’s taken from and what use is made of it?  As with money, humans have a thing about power, and the more they get, the more it tends to go to their heads. (It scarcely needs stating here that money and power are near enemies of… you work it out.)

But there’s a twist. Our true being will always escape surveillance, monitoring, assessments and tick boxing, as long as we make the ‘leap of faith’, because we ‘fly’ always in our pure consciousness, and we always have some kind of access to it, from meditation through to helping somebody in need, comforting the grieving, painting, making music… We have our primary intuitive aspect throughout all our daily quotidian doings – it’s always there and as the Asymptote shows, it will and can never be entirely imprisoned by the Machine…

PS – An article from the everyday world of football:

Jürgen Klopp is right: man-management skills are being lost in a rush of data | Jürgen Klopp | The Guardian

The Tao is Analogue

When the subject of sound recording comes up on line, it’s common to see men (always men for some reason) aggressively pushing the idea that various lossless formats are objectively superior to vinyl.  The idea is that hyper-accurate digitalisation of sound – something where you’ve got actual scientific graphs and stuff showing all that lack of noise and distortion – ‘proves’ that we ‘ought’ to be listening to music in these formats.   But this is like saying that because triple distilled vodka is purer alcohol than red wine, then vodka is somehow ‘objectively’ the better drink.  If people prefer red wine then that comes first, that is primary, not this supposed characterless ‘objective’ reality.  Subjectivity wins.  Life has surface noise and we prefer it that way.  The mystery is that ever greater technical perfection is not in itself necessarily superior from the viewpoint of the lived human life.

It is a commonplace of sound recording that a record producer may keep a technically less than perfect vocal take due to its superiority of ‘vibe’, or character, or the swing without which it don’t mean a thing.  There is a similar phenomenon with, say, Cuban music or mariachi or funk or soul bands – or for that matter classical music performances – where precisely due to virtuosity, or due to sheer weight of emotion, of artistic communication, the music is pushed beyond technical perfection into a kind of overfullness, or with non-classical music even a kind of raggedness, that transmits a more powerful, heart-full communication not possible through mere technical perfection.  We all know about technically perfect beauty that leaves the soul untouched, yet we all live in a culture where this aggressive pushing of soulless perfection is omnipresently touted as ‘success’ when it should be obvious that it in terms of what truly matters, of the heart of our being, it’s just a vacuous surface simulacrum for display on a screen, a mirage, an uncatchable chimera ever on the horizon.  But even anal-retentive sound quality maximising audiophiles refer to the ‘character’ of their hi-fi setups, in much the same way you can get tasting sessions for various ultra-expensive mineral waters (or see this study).  Not noticing of course the contradiction that they are still assessing the aesthetics of what in their ‘objective’ worldview would be regarded as imperfections to be eradicated.  But if the imperfections have character either good or bad or neutral depending on the subjective preferences of the listener, then we are now back in the analogue world of the human after all, with our likes and dislikes and opinions.  There’s always character in there somewhere, and we’ll always seek it out to taste it, ponder it, experience it.  Character comes first. Which is interesting seeing as some kind of squeaky clean denatured perfection is what we’re supposedly aiming for.  Perfection is not life.  Perfection is a kind of non-life.  Humans are analogue. If you want to get into extreme hi-fi (or water tasting) go for it, but be careful it doesn’t replace the lived experience of life (or music or water) with too much self-conscious ‘appreciation’. By all means refine your tastes, but against the backdrop of or amidst the vibrancy of life as a whole.

This is the significance of analogue ‘surface noise’.  It points to the soul of art, of life, of something necessary to life itself.  It’s not the glassine granularity of digital noise, which ironically represents actual surface without depth.  Analogue surface noise is only so called because it’s caused by stuff on the surface of vinyl records – but in practice it’s anything but surface. It’s a tactile lambent flame that touches the heart. And when music becomes so emotionally/technically loaded it creaks at the edges and that somehow makes it more powerful, that’s analogue, that’s life.  Digital dust is just grit.  Real dust smudges.  Overdriven digital just cracks and smashes against a brick wall of 1s and 0s. There is no give in the digital. But analogue ‘surface’ noise points to nostalgia, the melancholy of organic decay, redolent with poignant associations of the sadder side of life, reminding us of something essential without which life loses authenticity.

Practice is still needed to gain proficiency – it can’t just be ignored.  But rules are learnt to be broken properly as we dive further into the flow of life.  And the rules need to be learnt in an analogue way, without overly aggressive grasping striving for perfection.  The obsession with goals is bad news indeed, for they may inspire but at the cost of stiffening that which should grow organically, that which knows from the inside how it should grow.  Scheduled time is needed for practice, but that’s as far as it should go. It’s fine to be competitive but not when it stretches you out into an angry rigidity.   The very fact that the ‘swing’ is beyond technical perfection shows that we are more than analysis, more than intellect.  The heart is primary.  To express itself properly technique is required but the rules having been fully interiorised deep inside the body, the true journey continues. Rules are there for correct orientation and an aid to deeper understanding, but ultimately life is beyond technique.  To act otherwise is to bring a kind of neurosis into everything we do. 

On reading Cynthia Cruz’s ‘The Melancholia of Class’

My dad grew up in a tenement block in London SW3 that had one combined bathroom/toilet for all of the 8 flats there. It’s very posh there now, but it wasn’t 100 years ago. Dad’s family was large – six kids in all, plus a pair of twins that died shortly after being born. He left school aged 14 to work in the docks as a clerk and supplemented his income with prize fighting. His dad trained him up in the art of boxing, whereby working class people get a chance of earning some decent money by beating each other up in a complicated pretend-restrained way, and he started young – aged 12 dad was put in the front garden and told to take on all comers as part of a process to toughen him up. While working in the docks aged 19, word came down from London that Jimmy McHardbastard was looking for a fight in London, and of course dad was up for it. Everybody warned him not to do it, that the guy from Glasgow was notoriously hard, that he could badly injure dad or worse, but dad ignored the warnings and when the day came, pasted his foe to the canvas, winning a large amount of money in the process. A bit later, dad joined the Young Communists League and as there appeared to be a bit of a problem brewing with fascism, he took to patrolling the east end of London with two of his fellow hardnuts from the gym looking for blackshirts. If they found any, they beat the shit out of them. Dad always used to mention a big demo to stop the fascists from marching where there was a bit of a riot, police on horses everywhere truncheoning all and sundry, and generally a fair bit of ‘unrest’, as it were, which worked as the fascists didn’t get to do their march. I presume this was Cable Street. When World War 2 came along, dad joined the RAF. Due to eyesight issues he couldn’t be a pilot so they put him on signals. He was posted to various locations in North Africa and watched as the fighting stopped in all of them shortly after he arrived – he joked that he was the British Army’s secret weapon. He turned out to have a bit of a flair for working out garbled teletype communications, which is probably why he was headhunted by GCHQ after the war. Unfortunately his first wife (who he met while stationed in Morocco) said that if he didn’t come to live with her near her mother in Birmingham she’d divorce him immediately, so post-war Birmingham it was. (His wife divorced him anyway a few years later, which is why I’m writing this, his second wife being my mum.) Dad ended up working in the civil service as a tax inspector but was never promoted as according to my mum (dad never mentioned this, perhaps out of pride) he told a couple of his superiors what he thought of them and was repeatedly passed over for promotion, earning (again it was mum who told me this) ‘little boy’s wages’ for the rest of his life. No doubt dad’s mouth got him into trouble at work, but I suspect class may have been involved somewhere – this was the civil service after all.

As for my mother, she grew up in a Catholic family in the south of Ireland with six siblings. Poverty was always a bit of a threat so to keep food on the table her dad often used to go out at night to poach salmon from the local gamekeeper’s reserve and catch rabbits. He had a special coat where he could hide his catch, and he never got caught. Mum came over to England in the 50s to work as a hairdresser, eventually meeting dad and getting married and having two children, one of which is writing this right now.

Having got on the property ladder, which I’m pretty sure didn’t exist as a concept back then, at the end of the 60s, my parents got off it for good when they divorced in the mid 70s. Mum did basic work cleaning in hotels, care homes and the like for piffling amounts of cash in hand. Me and my sister were latchkey kids for a bit there in the 70s. Then at the end of 1979 we finally got council housing – a 2-bed flat (for all 3 of us) in a tower block in one of ‘those’ estates, with a bit of a local reputation. It was December, and it was a revelation to experience communal heating at a time of year when we’d normally have ice on the inside of the windows. Obviously money was tight, and it always was, when my parents were together and when they weren’t.

But I was always well-spoken. Out playing with local kids they’d say I spoke ‘posh’ and this stressed me. I still don’t know where my accent came from – but this was not all. I turned out to be good at music. A brilliant local music teacher spotted me at age 10 and taught me viola for a few years. I think I was noticed for a reason, though. Post-divorce, when I was 8, I used to play records – a couple of Beethoven LPs and a Top of the Pops compilation – on a Dansette in my bedroom. I suspect it was my escape from the divorce. Mum got a piano, and a Jewish guy who drove a bread van round the area and who clearly fancied mum (and who I dearly wish mum had got together with because he was just brilliant – as as kid I loved that man) used to play a kind of party piece on the piano which I now recognise as being klezmer. I began piano lessons, and began writing, or trying to write, my own music.

My viola lessons continued. I did O level music at a superior secondary school which of course was in a very nice, middle class part of town, so all my schoolfriends were middle class. As it was outside our catchment area mum had to fight for it, but somehow she did it. Again, I was lucky to have a brilliant music teacher. While doing music O level I had a friendly rivalry with another music student, which I remember as perhaps the only time in my life where I persistently did just that bit better than somebody I was supposedly ‘in competition’ with. I played in the local youth orchestra which again was very middle class. Once a year they’d go on a tour abroad, something entirely financially out of reach, and I’d be one of the 5 or 6 members that got to go on tour thanks to a grant for those of us from poor backgrounds.

So obviously I studied A level music. There were two pupils in my class, the other one being a very pretty, very ‘nice’ middle class girl who was clearly the (pompously middle class) teacher’s favourite. At one point I was given a properly demoralising mini-talk when I chanced my arm at writing some music purely with my inner ear, about how few musicians even have it, etc, etc. Discouraging stuff. But credit where credit’s due, the prejudiced posh scrotum who taught me had a look at my A level aural paper before he sealed it to send to the examining board, and told me I’d only got one question wrong, and that question was worth 3 marks, and the aural paper was out of 100, so I’d got 97%. He hadn’t seen this in 25 years of teaching music at A level, though he’d had one pupil who’d got 87% a few years earlier. Meanwhile, for my grade 8 viola, which formed part of the A level exam, I got 137 out of 150 (my nice middle class fellow pupil got 130).

My ascent into the world of classical music continued. As I also took A level physics and maths, I could be considered for the University of Surrey’s Tonmeister course. I went for interviews and tests, which again I smashed, and was taken on board. In the first year the aural classes were divied into upper, middle and lower streams, and there I found myself in the top stream with four other public school educated undergrads receiving personal tuition from the Head of Music at the time, contemporary composer Sebastian Forbes, in his office no less. And I did well in this select group too.

Still I didn’t quite join the dots. I was the only student on my course on full grant the whole time I was at Surrey. Most of my new friends had parents who were university lecturers themselves, their homes were in places like Blackheath, and what really amazed me was the levels of confidence. I’d had one friend in particular at secondary school who was incredibly confident, to a level I couldn’t understand, but that was it. At Surrey, overall undergrad confidence was all at that ultra-confident level – it daunted me, stressed me even, as it was so vastly different to the depressive anxiety and insecurity I wrestled with all day, every day.

Meanwhile, in the second year aural was all one big class of mixed Tonmeister and music students (i.e. Tonmeister without the sound recording aspect). There were 25 or so of us. And one day we were played a musical extract to identify which I immediately spotted was a trick. We were supposed to say it was Bach but it was immediately obvious to me that the style wasn’t anywhere near as fully realised. It completely lacked the distinctively transcendent quality of Bach, but I thought it could’ve been something that inspired the great JS, so it could’ve been his teacher, who I happened to know from studying music history was called Buxtehude. The only other person in the class who didn’t write Bach, and who like me got the answer right, was a church organist who was a big Buxtehude fan and knew the piece in question. I’ve not knowingly heard any Buxtehude before or since.

Dots still unjoined. As for my O level music rival, the one I consistently just outdid all the time, he went on to run a couple of very well-known orchestras in a couple of major Northern cities. As for me, I did nothing with my degree and I’m currently working as a secretary. Which is where it starts to get interesting. Like my parents I’ve never had a career, though for 10 years I lucked out with a temp placement that turned permanent where I earned decent money (by my standards). Suddenly I got sensible with money, and paid off a fairly sizeable credit card debt I’d built quickly built up after my sister and dad died in quick succession in the early 00s. I’d always avoided credit cards but around the turn of the millennium me and my girlfriend at the time both got one, and both of us maxed them out at £1k within a few months. I did always think they’d be a bit of a temptation, and thus did it prove. As for the girlfriend, she went on to have a successful career working for a big TV production company – the sort of career where if you’re made redundant you sign a settlement agreement forbidding you for looking for work for 6 months, and the settlement figure is so large that it’s fine to be unemployed for a while.

… dots unjoined, time passing…

Having gained a 2.1 in my exotic degree, a degree that few people can even be considered for, obtained from one of the top 10 universities in the UK, I was suddenly faced with the real world, the adult world of work. It was overwhelming. There was no guidance, anywhere, and I had to find work immediately with a degree that had no relevance to the vast majority of any work anywhere, inside or outside the music industry. Worse still, I supposedly had an arts degree, a BMus Hons, while in practice it was pretty much 50/50 arts and science. Many are the times I have heard uncreative middle class sorts pontificate on how you need to do a ‘proper’ degree (i.e. not arts or humanities) if you want to ‘succeed’ (i.e. earn lots of money). But this bullshit didn’t even apply to me anyway.

After leaving Surrey I had no financial safety net and had to grab what work I could. By this point mum had gone back to Ireland and remarried, which meant there was no parental home for me to stage a tactical withdrawal and regroup. Less than two years after I graduated I had a breakdown, or if you like a transcendent negative spiritual experience. I had to keep getting back in the saddle in order to get money to pay rent, to live. Always with that nagging feeling that I could, and should, somehow sort out some sort of career and it was a failure on my part that this didn’t happen. I carried this for many years. I saw friends who’d been living what could be called distinctly ‘bohemian’ lifestyles get their act together and embark on proper well-paid careers, but I continued to bump along the bottom in terms of wages, somehow mysteriously never able to construct a sensible, grownup life like my friends had ‘achieved’. (To their credit, Surrey radically changed the industrial year and guidance aspects of the Tonmeister course years ago to prevent this sort of scenario ever happening again. But it’s far too late for me.)

It’s difficult to put across the drag on the psyche caused by having no access to Bomad – my abbreviation of ‘bank of mum and dad’, so called as a nod to the famously middle class Womad festival. And only now, after long years of striving, of thinking I could somehow ‘get there’, have I started seeing what’s been going on these last few decades of my life. Things have finally started coming into clarity. Curious things. Stuff staring me in the face for years that I somehow didn’t notice precisely because of the miasma of pernicious meritocratic bullshit pumped out into the intellectual air supply everywhere by the self-serving liars of the PMC [later use] as a way of retaining and solidifying privilege. (Even if doing so means its practitioners pay a heavy price themselves. But more on that further down the page.)

The dots began at last to join up after I was made redundant back in 2013. A year or two down the line it came into my awareness that by some inexplicable coincidence all the people that lost their jobs were working class, while all the people that kept their jobs were middle class. Well I never.

I made my redundancy money, which wasn’t bad in my book, last years, something I managed only by not being out of work too long and somehow managing to find temp work that led to a permanent, if badly-paid job. Meanwhile, a couple of years after my redundancy, a friend of mine who I’d known from the local youth orchestra and who’d inherited a house from his grandmother, happened to mention in passing that he’d spent his redundancy money – at £20k a goodly amount more than the amount I’d received – in 6 months. He wasn’t happy about this at all – but he was able to do it without any real consequences. He did own an inherited house after all. And he sold that house shortly afterwards at a profit to move out to the suburbs where he gives piano lessons in order to have money to live on.

I began noticing other things too. In every place I’d worked over the decades, secretaries and other low-paid low-status jobs such as receptionists, ‘admin assistants’ and the like were nearly all women. And a fair few of them clearly had extremely high anxiety levels, like me.

I don’t remember how it happened, but one day I clicked on the ‘Look Inside’ tab on a book on Amazon, and read that the book in question was written because somebody had said to its author Cynthia Cruz that she didn’t dress or talk like a working class person – which of course naturally led to a kind of angry wondering on Cruz’s part about how a working class person is supposed to dress or talk. Having been told that I ‘don’t seem working class’ here and there throughout my adult life, I immediately knew I had to read this book.

The book is The Melancholia of Class. It’s potentially quite dangerous and I would advise anybody working class who’s thinking about reading it to be careful to make sure that they’re in an at least fairly good place first. TMOC showed me just why I’ve lived a liminal life, and how various friends of mine over the years somehow ended up owning properties, with successful careers, doing things, projects that require money, like setting up their own recording studios, or taking gap years or sabbaticals, or going on holidays (sometimes even more than once a year!) and how all this has not been due to some kind of weakness or failure or moral turpitude on my part. Some of my middle class friends led very hedonistic lives for years, yet somehow managed to come good. Thanks to internalised just world drivel, a kind of drivel constantly spread everywhere by the PMC for their own ego-serving ends, I spent years falsely feeling that my inability to do any of those things was due to some kind of lack of character on my part – even though I’ve spent the entirety of my adult life trying as hard as I can while getting nowhere (in the supposedly ‘important’ terms of the PMC). But precisely because of Cruz’s powerful insight, and the ways of that insight, it showed me why I will never amount to anything in PMC terms, and in disconnecting from those terms through reading TMOC I became acutely aware of how they are omnipresent in all media, and how they are relentlessly touted as true success – with no validation, it turns out – and how these so-called ‘values’ ended up festering away, or just living uninvited, in my psyche. Precisely because of the power of Cruz’s insight I had to spend a few weeks digesting this lump of truth and all its many ramifications… and after that, I felt a certain relief and healing. So it might be dangerous, but that’s not the whole story. I may not be able to afford talking therapies, but TMOC worked pretty well like those therapies are meant to, and that’s all I needed.

Firstly, though, let us examine the book’s dangerous aspect. Obviously since this is a matter of melancholia the book must therefore be dangerous if it is to have any true insight. And if you’re prone to sadness and not feeling great about yourself, maybe wait until you feel at least a little better before reading it. Or maybe dive in and see how it goes and stop if necessary. If you’re middle or upper class, I would say you are obliged to read it, and should expect to feel uncomfortable. This isn’t a guilt tripping thing, it’s an honesty thing.

TMOC features a particularly masterful analysis of Julie Hogg’s film The Souvenir. It’s about an aristocratic woman who decides she’s somehow interested in the working class of Sunderland and would like to make a documentary about them, for some reason. The film as a whole is quite meta, as it would be seeing as it’s about a film maker making a film about the working class who has an affair with an actual working class person. This is Anthony, a working class classical music buff now working for the civil service (at the Foreign Office) with a father who worked in the Sunderland docks. The film (as in The Souvenir) opens with a montage of old footage of the docks, and this is all we see in respect of Anthony’s background – there is no further context, just as there is no context for Anthony. This was the first heavy impact for me, with my working class father who came from the docks yet who worked for the civil service. That strange lack of sense of home,l of a background that ought to have been there yet just wasn’t, that feeling of never fitting in anywhere – always met with “oh I get that” but in fact sometimes justified. We’ve all sometimes met people that genuinely didn’t fit in despite the fact that everybody claims to feel like they don’t fit in whether they do or not. We’ve seen those people from the outside, as it were. And all of use that actually don’t fit in are a challenge to this weird way that we are expected to be individual yet also conform.

As for seeing people from the outside, in The Souvenir it is not immediately clear why Julie is making her film as she has no understanding of the working class except as some kind of object – perhaps the project is a kind of performative expiation of aristocratic guilt, but this is never made explicit. Julie has no real engagement with anything or anybody working class – not even her affair with Anthony, throughout the course of which he seems to exist as some kind of representation, a cipher.

Anthony eventually ODs on heroin, and indeed TMOC features a parade of suicides, drug deaths, and general profound unhappiness. The book has to be like this of course.

Walter Benjamin features quite heavily in TMOC, as do Freud and Lacan. What strikes me about all of their worldviews is the depressive darkness. In Love & Will Rollo May (rightly in my view) criticises Freud for having a quantified view of psychic contents that seems based on Victorian-era industrialisation – you’ve got x amount of libido here and it needs to be changed to y, that sort of thing. I’ve long had a real antipathy for most matters 19th century – the art, the civilisation, the culture. Behind it all, I suspect the effects of the first great manifestation of the Machine and its horrific effects on the working class. I find 19th century culture mostly dark, stultifying, grim, full of working class squalor, suffused with maudlin hypocrisy, exhaustingly tedious, energy draining, dull. The brownish brooding energies of the subconscious, the sheer ugliness and latrine-filth of the slums, the grimness of soot-coated wrought-iron machinery, the churchifying amidst child prostitution… it’s all a nightmare. There is the fertile brown of the soil, then there is the poisonous brown of shit, or sewage. The kabbalists say that demons on the night side of the Tree of Life arise because of the persistence of faeces. Shudder.

I also wonder why we take on board these psychoanalytical worldviews, why one and not another might speak to us. There are (almost) no scientific studies in respect of long-term talking therapies, yet something about these worldviews invites us to take them seriously, to participate in painful long-term talking therapies. To return to Rollo May, he writes in Love & Will of intentionality as a kind of stance, a disposition of the mind/body situated deeper within than the conscious mind. Intentionality also references the way that consciousness is always of something, the way it intuits something before fully knowing it, and that this is all outside the purview of the intellect-dominated ego/superego. All us unhappy people hope that somehow ‘sorting out’ our minds at that level will lead to happier, more fulfilled lives. That intuitive, probing connection does suggest a better, truer connection than that of the disembodied intellect alone. I’m sure it’s also due to the ever-increasing imposition of an atomised individuality on society, a monetised atomisation that pushes the classes apart – how can poor people afford these years-long therapies? So they are for the better off. The twist being that this actually gives the working class at least a chance of finding something better, though this may not be immediately obvious. More below.

The neoliberal culture of atomisation first posits that we are all unique and in-dividual, then sprays around the misappropriated Eastern idea that the self does not exist. There are plenty of pop science books written by privileged PMC types touting the idea that we’re not really there, our free will is an illusion, all meaning is driven by the ongoing self-eating violence of biological evolution, and this world is all there is. Unfortunately there’s a load of conspiracy crap out there waiting to entangle you in bollocks if you start questioning what’s going on there. But you can still question this relentless pushing of nihilism and ignore the conspirabollocks – in fact you should do this, as by doing so you will start to find your way out of the nightmare maze. If the working class find their connection with Source – and it’s much nearer for them than it is for the other classes which is perhaps why we’re being dumped on so vigorously – that changes everything. We are neither atoms nor non-existent, we are a flow in time with a touch of the infinite within. We are waves and particles, we are not ‘either/or’, we are ‘both’, we are complete. Stuck here in time we are prone to being tempted to look elsewhere, to look outside, and of itself that’s fine – except when it becomes our sole focus. Its true place is as one of the 3 points of the triangle.

To return to Freud/Lacan/Benjamin. They all provide persuasive interlocking intuitive insights that enable certain ways of describing the way things are – intentionalities. So if the way things are is dark, then their descriptions must contain darkness. So throughout TMOC we have references to the nightmarish cycling of history, Freud’s death drive which “drives the working-class subject further and further into death which is also the origin” (p 154), references to Antigone and how the working class were never properly buried…

These are all persuasive views. They intuitively resonate precisely because on one (deep) level they are right as they come from true insight, but they all miss something important, something that radically changes their context in much the same way as making a 2-D representation 3-D.

We all know that we grow through living, even if we have some kind of settled career, nice family life, lots of money and so on. At a bare minimum we will lose our parents, but on top of that life pretty much always comes with a goodly amount of pain and wounding and which ultimately always ends in death.

Due to the personalisation of growth touted by neoliberalism as part of its vast project of atomisation, we all seem to be curiously under a cosh of self-improvement these days and it’s worth therefore subverting this with a two-pronged approach. Firstly, the working class must help each other – the external aspect that links with the inner precisely because we as humans are made to help each other, to hold each other. It feels good in the heart to be giving, altruistic without expectation of reward. Secondly, we do have the working class version of self-improvement, away from the middle classes’ distortions of it all. But if you genuinely want to grow as a person, you must cultivate honesty with yourself, which has an extra layer of difficulty for those of us who are already self-attacking or self-rejecting, as even then you will have behaved genuinely badly, and you need to disentangle the false self-attacking from genuine honesty with yourself. However, if you do start on a path of honesty with yourself, you will start noticing that most people are liars. They lie to themselves and they lie to others. A class component appears quite quickly because one massive, all-pervasive lie borne of the all-pervasive ego is that if you just try hard enough you will succeed. It’s self-serving nonsense of course, protective of the ego – middle class people in particular are shy about inheritances, about having a safety net, about their access to Bomad. The upper classes aren’t enormously honest either, but they’re obviously upper class and seen as such – it’s the middle classes where the true ick sets in. How it works is that hard work, while being necessary for proper success, is not sufficient. Yet due to the machinations of the ego and the pervasive influence of the just world fallacy it is falsely claimed by the middle class that it is sufficient.

All this means however is that for the middle class, the supposed foundations upon which they base their much-promoted ‘personal growth’ are actually on stilts. They are sturdy foundations indeed, built through hard work and developed strength of character, but they only intermittently touch the ground. And it is unbearable for the middle class ego to admit this – far easier to keep to the comforting lies about success being earned purely through merit.

The middle classes might be shy, but they’re not embarrassed enough to properly interrogate their role in barging in and taking over, or the whole psychology that leads them to behave like this and the culture that enables this behaviour, or how they are in control of the media both left and right, or how they can start businesses and know they have a backup of some sort should those businesses fail (which the large majority of new businesses do). That would mean accepting that they’ve been living on a false higher level while throwing full chamberpots full of their unjustified criticism over those of us on the ground. (One irony of course being that middle class ‘spiritual’ people always regard a kind of ‘grounding’ as necessary.)

The very word ‘spirituality’ has now become unusable for me due to what the middle classes have done to it. The disgust reactions people have to the ‘spiritual’ are justified. But the word has to be used, somehow. And ‘spiritual’ truth is egalitarian through and through. True hierarchy can only ever be spherical.

But this is the twist – the working classes are grounded in a way that the middle and upper classes aren’t. At heart is the way that (relative) wealth inures from life’s vicissitudes, and is falsely claimed by the ego as purely the result of its own hard work. This really interferes with deeper ‘spiritual’ development. Just on a practical level, we all have bereavement and other tragedies to work through, but financial insecurity adds a certain edge to it, adding to the already enormous stress of it all in many different ways. You’ve got to keep working or else you’ll be out on the streets.

The way in might be easier to find if you’re middle or upper class.  But in that case you’re at the near-inevitable risk of becoming wrapped up in yourself, blaming of the working class, building your spiritual foundations on stilts, building walls around your new-found ‘spiritual’ world, forming gated communities of the mind that may even feature the odd poor door, as a gesture.  Concepts such as karma provide handy excuses for your ego to tell you that we all somehow deserve our place in the world, even in the face of rampant injustice and inequality.

The awfulness of middle class ‘spirituality’ makes it completely unacceptable (and indeed irrelevant) to the working class, but spiritual truth can never be taken and held by any class. It belongs to all humanity. Perhaps this is why the negativity and darkness of the profound philosophies of aristocrats then skips the middle classes (who can fend it off with their crystals and wellness vibes of course) and lands on working class intellects.

However, us chthonic plebs of the working class also have a more serious problem with the aristocrats, because we have let ourselves become unjustifiably wowed by what their philosophers have created. In TMOC Cruz quotes Mark Fisher referring to Joy Division as the most Schopenhauerian of groups and does a decent bit of critiquing as to why this might not be so – but getting more foundational, I would ask why Schopenhauer is referred to by Fisher in the first place. It’s worth reading Tolstoy’s Confessions to see how he regards the likes of Schopenhauer (and indeed his pre-Confessions self).

Here then is the question – why have the working classes been saddled with such profoundly negative, pessimistic worldviews? Supposedly the idea is that the ‘parasite’ class (to use Tolstoy’s terminology) have the resources (time, education, independent means) to successfully pry into the truths of life on earth, and thus they have the truest insights. Thus do those insights percolate, via intuitive intentionality, into working class intellectual life. Our intellects then draw on these energies, become suffused with them. The middle and upper classes can play with these ideas without getting too contaminated by them as they use them in their own particular ways to be intense, to show off, to performatively transgress – but it also means they’re frankly taking the piss with their own deeper selves.

As for the working class, how can there be any kind of liberation through any ways of thinking that are saturated in clinically depressive nihilism?  All is redolent of the rot and decay of hauntology, of the yearning pains of nostalgia, of the deep sadness of the working class diaspora.  But this will never be the long-lasting fuel we need for liberation, as nostalgia is the autumn of the emotions, and the golden glory of autumn is the way it is precisely because everything is dying, entering into winter. 

We must own our deep sadness, we must mourn, but then?  Winter is a prelude to spring, then summer.  After atonality came neoclassical music and the vast explosion of vibrant working class musics.

It seems obvious once you notice it – how can morbid mental energies be used to liberate the working class?  Obviously they are going to drag it down, keep it down. 

If the working class are now ghosts – how much influence do ghosts have upon the physical world? We can rattle our chains and scare the shit out of our supposed betters for sure, but that’s not necessarily going to effect much in the way of positive change.

And in any event, here we somehow still are, alive.  We may be ghosts to the so-called ‘upper’ classes, but we are vibrantly alive to ourselves nonetheless. 

Let us be Defiant.

What does it mean to defy the darkness of the world? If depressive darkness is one important aspect of our being, what other aspects are there? At the level of intentionality in the body, which is where and how we live, we are in a way trying to ‘change our taste in music’. This can be done, but not through some kind of supposed self-attacking self-improvement – leave that for the PMC. It is effected through what ‘food’ we take in – the flavour of the books we read, music we listen to, films we watch. These energies (if that’s not too new age a word) become part of us. To continue the analogy, we should aim to ‘eat’ in accord with what our ‘body’ (mind/heart) genuinely would find nutritious, which of course is complicated because of the way we get zapped and messed up by life. But it’s still good to consider anyway. Sometimes you really do need something cheap’n’dirty, sometimes you need something bland and soothing. Sometimes you want to treat yourself with something expensive. Classical music can be good here – you get astounding feats of technical artistry combined with hummable tunes, and there’s something about how just listening to classical music seems to heal.

Of course Western classical music disappeared up its own arse around the start of the 20th century, creating an etiolated elite music for etiolated elites, ugly and tuneless, disembodied, written by and for elites.  Ask yourself why this should be so, and consider that something was acting in the rareified spheres of the cultural elites that resulted in this splintering. The rest of us voted with our ears and began creating powerful, original music from the heart.  Being music, the head is of course heavily involved, but in the right context of being fed by the heart.  And of course one particular continent now features heavily in this music – Africa.  We see here a yearning in the West in particular to heal that attentivity gap, the gap between us and the Earth, and to reconnect by dancing, to reconnect with the Earth which gave us life and on which we live.  This is an issue I have with Cruz’s take on music – everything is the dark side of the West – circularity is the death drive, Ian Curtis’s dancing is spastic, rigid, libido pushed into contorted shapes, the machine metaphor ever lurking.  But the way of Black music’s repetition is profoundly different, and liberating.  And it’s inherently connected with the communal, with music that brings people together.  This cannot be appropriated, it can only be shown.  Like many of the most crucial aspects of life, the aspects that ultimately grant liberation, it cannot be grasped by the disembodied egoic intellect as being inherently intuitive, the more it tries to form itself into something that the intellect can understand on its own limited terms, the more it loses its key deep intuitive attributes.

Noticing the ‘one speed’ aspect of many Black people so easily turns into racism – but it is crucially important to keep your connection with the earth, to keep grounded. Too many people these days are in an angry rush, pushing hard against the Tao, fighting the inevitable and lawful kickback when this happens yet just redoubling their efforts, living by and through aggressive turbulence. To have the ‘one speed’ way of being is in fact a profound staying properly connected with the physical world – the world in which we make our way. Stop rushing, start growing. Festina lente.

In connection with this, it’s worth noting that it’s precisely through the travails of being working class and staying closer to the ground that greater understanding of life is found, that true inner growth can develop.  The deep Truth of the ‘one speed’ way is far less attainable or understandable by the middle-class due to their consumerist hyperactivity and vacuous privilege, but the working class have that chance.  

This is where it gets interesting.

I was struck by the references in TMOC to Walter Benjamin’s concept of messianic time. It’s an interesting word to use – it comes from the mystical concept of tikkun. It doesn’t seem to go somehow with the all-pervasive gloom of the rest of the book. Here now we have a further clue. A light in the darkness.

The working class both develop as individuals, and develop in terms of helping each other. Or rather, they used to – currently we have a vast neoliberal onslaught of atomisation – and what seems to be missed is that an extremely powerful aspect of this attack is its false, one-sided metaphysics that only features an intense negative against an absent positive. This is where the reconnect becomes necessary. We are designed to help each other. To do this best, however, we must regain our connection to Source energy. This is where light starts to shine in the all-pervasive darkness.

In his monumental masterwork The Matter With Things, Iain McGilchrist also refers to tikkun, which he frames in his whole Right Hemisphere/Left Hemisphere (RH/LH) worldview. We live in a world dominated by excessive LH, but what isn’t mentioned in TMWT is that the working classes have been particularly badly caught and mangled in the cogwheels of the machine, used as its fuel.

Something dark entered the West around the middle of the 19th century.  In the LH/RH schema, this darkness acted through the LH, i.e. a particular kind of extremely focused, analytical, making-and-getting, practical intellect. Homo faber. This ‘new’ dark energy – in fact ancient but adept as presenting itself as novel – gained purchase first in the minds of certain intellectual big hitters, and it did this by flattering their egos. These ideas were suffocators, persuasive lies. Having infiltrated philosophy, these ideas then began to influence science, where despite the way that great scientific progress was often made by Anglican country vicars who found it nonetheless left their faith untouched, science per se began to be saddled with reductionist materialism and unjustifiably promoted as being properly metaphysically thus.  This is where lies began to be promulgated about how everybody in the middle ages thought the world was flat (simply untrue), or to give another example the falsehood that the Copernican revolution somehow put us in our place (in fact it was more likely to be regarded as liberating, as people in those days were far more realistic than us about the nightmarish aspects of the world and its ‘mud and shit’, to use Montaigne’s phrase, not least because they were far more likely to encounter them without mediation).  Certain powerful Victorian atheists with points to prove deliberately spread these lies, which rapidly caught on by means of flattering the egos of the supposedly ‘educated’, who of course were all privileged upper- and middle-class people that the working classes were cajoled into wanting to imitate. This toxic worldview then made its way ‘down’wards into the working class, in particular via Marxism. But while Marx’s attention was rightly focused on the material conditions of the working class a back door was left open, and something snuck in there on the quiet, something that wasn’t good. Relying on a strong but ultimately lopsided LH-heavy take on theism, one that failed to acknowledge the right-in-our-face obviousness that our very lives are a supposedly impossible interaction between the finite and infinite, the alleged ‘impossibility’ of that interaction was gamed into a kind of knowing, really a pseudo-knowing, called atheism. Western classical music became ever riper, ever heavier as it headed towards the self-splintering implosion of atonalism.  Being music, this in itself was thus a profound depiction of some of the deepest currents of Western civilisation. It’s not a matter of ‘just music’.  There was a generalised crisis in all the arts, but this spread ever outwards into the world, ever deeper. Despite being told religion was the source of war, we had a non-religious World War, then another one.  We split the atom and the Nuclear age began.  The generalised disintegration continued, affecting society, culture, and the individual mind.  The ‘nuclear’ indivisible lonely monad of the ‘free’ individual was heavily promoted as some supposed brilliant aspect of Western civilisation even as the awful problems of loneliness and alienation that resulted from it became endemic. Those with money turned to talking therapies – an option not available for the working class, who may just have got lucky here. We are indeed individual but we depend on society – once again, it’s not either/or, it’s both. Meanwhile beauty in art became passé, ugliness celebrated and promulgated – ugliness of aesthetic, but also of spirit and mind.  A lot of this ugliness was a kind of desperate response to the many atrocities of the 20th century, but it kept veering off into a kind of soul-crushing cold nihilism that ill befits art at its best and hurts the people who encounter it. We were asked to believe that in the bad old days peasants lived short brutish lives of illness and ignorance by the very people that were part of, and creators of, a system that created a vast proliferation of factories, pollution, slums with all their generalised dinge, a tsunami of squalor and poverty which swamped and suffocated the working class.  All that so-called ‘progress’ built on foundations of the consumption of the working class, their use as a kind of food for a demonic system that resulted in industrial darkness, sewage, violence, tenement grime, a proliferation of morbidities. 

How humans in particular work in practice, not theory, is that if we identify with the reductionist materialist worldview we become at once arrogant and insecure, pressured, argumentative, despairing and depressed. Too much pressure on our ego, pressure that it’s not designed for. Our individualistic ego only exists properly in relation to our deeper, intuitive aspect, which in turn only gains its being through connection to the Ultimate.  We have difficulty learning too – no matter how many times supposed scientific boons turn out to be disastrous, we continue as if we will somehow know in advance that they will definitely be benign this time, for sure.  Yet how could we know?  Unintended consequences continue to surprise us but on and on we blindly go, creating more and more problems to fix by the same means we created them. We struggle too with determinism’s denial of personal responsibility, yet we are driven to live with the unending desire to make things better, and for justice both personal and social even though justice is inherently linked with moral responsibility. We are told that morals don’t ‘really’ exist too when we know that’s not true. We are told that ‘really’ we don’t exist, yet we are meant to somehow ‘be ourselves’, on our own, by somehow getting the right things, whether ideas or houses. The apex of the triangle has been obscured.

Music again. The link between thought and emotion, and how deep it goes. Wittgenstein once commented to a friend on how he could hear the machines already appearing in the music of Brahms. We’ve come quite a long way since then.

Machines. The externalisation of the ‘machinations’ of disembodied, regular, emotionless, inhuman LH intellect. And the widespread effect those machines have had on the working class.

Atheism. The externalisation of an intellect that refuses to reconnect with the RH, the intuitive, which is where our depths lie. The only true starting point for humans, limited as we are, can only ever be agnosticism – a committed agnosticism that refuses on principle to give anything to the intellect to grab as its own. Atheism, the positive affirmation that there is no supreme being, is the LH taking something for itself that does not belong to it. By atheism’s own reckoning, how can evolved monkeys make grandiose pronouncements about supreme realities? It’s often pointed out that there are no great atheist monuments, yet nobody seems to want to properly look into why this might be so. It’s a serious sign, a sign that something is very wrong somewhere.

The inbuilt fault with the LH intellect is that solidity is given to the negative to a degree that it does not grant to the positive. Schopenhauer refers to this with his analogy of a stone in a shoe – without the stone all is well and we don’t notice anything while we walk, yet a simple small but sharp stone nags away at us every time we make a step, causing constant pain. This is the design flaw of the LH intellect – without the stone, there is no positivity experienced as such, merely a neutral experiencing of this as they are meant to be, yet with the stone the negativity of pain is constant and seems more real. The LH, lacking depth or true context, not only wrongly reacts to the negative but then clings to its wrong reaction, making a kind of solidity of it, creating a kind of identity with it.

In truth we all come into this world trailing clouds of glory, but the world is so dark and noisy and tumultuous, so full of war (in nature as well as mankind) we are easy targets for being tricked into looking the wrong way, taken in by the lie that this world is all there is.

But why exactly is the philosophy, the metaphysics of left politics Schopenhauer instead of Beethoven? For working class liberation, the key is music. Therein is the power and the freedom. Indeed, throughout her brilliant book, Cruz returns to music again and again.

This is not a call to just ignore the sheer awful darkness of life – far from it. But. It is a call to restore something that was missing. Left politics has become fixated on the shadows without noticing that in order for there to be shadows there has to be light coming from somewhere.  It’s become Freud and Lacan and hauntology, which is a start for sure, but… 

Let us now bring music back into the mix. Cruz repeatedly mentions the polished production of various new wave bands, which she contrasts with her preference for the more ‘honest’ production found in working class bands.

Much though I did like the Jam (and of course occasionally taped their stuff off the radio), a key moment in my life was being reduced to hysterics by the Flying Lizards’ appearance on Top of the Pops in 1979 with their cover of Janie Bradford and Berry Gordy’s ‘Money’. It was my first ultra-strong reaction to a piece of music, and I instantly understood that something could be deeply silly yet brilliant, creatively destructive – this was no mere novelty record. Later I discovered that it was a big hit at Studio 54. It was extremely lo-fi but incredibly carefully done. Ars est celare artem.

There is perhaps a bit more to the whole new wave polished production thing than is acknowledged in TMOC. The original ultra-irony band, Devo, took their decision to become droll parodists commenting on the de-volution of humanity after Gerald Casale, a founder member saw two of his friends shot dead in the Kent State massacre. (Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and Chris Butler of the Waitresses were also there – two more new wave bands.) Casale has stated that Devo thought there were two ways to react – either with despairing rage and fury, or to become heavily ironic. Obviously Devo took the latter path.

As for the humour, proper humour seems to always be a priori missing from ‘spirituality’ (whatever that is) and politics, yet it’s such a key aspect of being human.  It changes everything.  My musical hero maniac-Catholic John Maus is the exemplar case, somehow mixing in 10% ridiculousness into his songs and thereby hugely intensifying their might.  It’s analogous to a painter mixing in just a bit of a dark in order to bring out the light.  This gives Maus’s music a psychologically all-encompassing intensity not found anywhere else.  His music is wreathed in a kind of darkness – but there is light coming from somewhere. Darkness is not the whole story. Hold to this. Maus is from a middle/upper class American family, but there is that curious connection between the upper and working classes.  To give another example, Charli XCX has released a lot of hyperpop produced in conjunction with AG Cook, son of the architect Sir Peter Cook and a member of the upper class. AG Cook’s solo stuff I find a bit too hyperactively clamourous, although it is impressive on an intellectual level. But Charli XCX’s music features immensely clever droll humour that somehow turns what could’ve been just all postmodern ironic sheen into something more multi-dimensional that eradicates any distancing effect.  And it’s 100% proper pop that appeals to educated middle aged and teenagers alike. That healing of the divide between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, that bridging of the distancing gap. Mixing of humour with what would otherwise be dissociated irony gives structure and dimensionality to the space opened up by the distance. It becomes filled with a kind of fiery energy of the heart. Art is more likely to include or involve this extra dimension the deeper the place it’s coming from.

Glossy production sheen can indeed lack depth – Cruz refers for example to what happened to Cat Power’s music – but it doesn’t have to.

There can be a distinctive kind of power, a particular depth, to music when you include the ironic, the humorous. Maybe pulling and pushing the mind’s thought can loosen its attachment to the rigidity of either/or and let a bit of warmth and light into the gap thus opened up. Philosophy, like the religious and the ‘spiritual’ seems to have a problem with the humorous. There’s a clue right there. Analysis wrecks humour, but humour is a powerful energy. It remains untouched out in the wild but is killed dead when the LH intellect gets hold of it. And that very wrecking intellect has busied itself infiltrating all the stuff that might actually help us at a deeper level get out of the quagmire we find ourselves in.

And here perhaps is another clue. Precisely because I didn’t want to be reminded of the sheer dinge and darkness that hovers about the working class precisely because of our misuse, abuse and oppression by so-called ‘betters’ (who generally have been nothing of the sort), I found the euphonious, the sleek, the ironic more healing to hear, more inspiring. This is the other side of being a wraith – you are no longer earthbound.

I’ve listened to a lot of ‘dirty’ music, noise etc – it’s not an either/or situation, this whole thing is a both approach, whereby like a magic eye picture suddenly the 3-D becomes clear, as long as you’re not too tensed up. (Though as I get older, I tend to appreciate beauty and good-sounding production more, with or without irony or humour. I feel I’ve paid my dues with the really dark stuff – time to move on.)

Cruz refers to the dandy, who lacking the means for an ‘in’ to supposedly ‘sophisticated’ (i.e. middle and upper class) society (which is mostly only sophisticated in terms of finely-cultivated pretentiousness) dresses to the nines to embody a kind of scream of despair. Yes, but let us not forget humour. Inspired by TOPY and more particularly David Tibet of Current 93, who met a couple of times (and interviewed) I made of myself a dandy of the mind, enthusiastic in my reading, always seeking the most exotic, keeping things highbrow, but on my terms. Though in the end I found those terms always seemed to tend towards poking fun at the pomposity, the overseriousness, the humourlessness of the industrial music scene and various influential public school educated ghouls found therein. Apart from anything else it was fun. But it also meant I owned their ideas, not the other way round. Eventually (after decades) I won, they stayed stuck in their ‘Schopenhauer’ nightmare.

But as for this nightmare, the grinding nightmare of history, all the predation, the eating and grinding and pecking and bloodletting and violence… precisely because I’m one of those chthonic plebs that the ‘upper’ classes find so objectifyingly fascinating, like a kind of exotic trinket from a foreign land to be put on the mantlepiece, I eventually lucked out and discovered for myself that it all takes place in a far vaster concept – and it isn’t the Schopenhauerians who have the last word here, with their intellectual barging in and taking over. Not at all. Lacking that certain something, that power source, even the most immense cities of the intellect always tend to run down, to become deserted, to start to decay…

I found all this out without indulging in anything cranky either. Indeed I sometimes suspect that a weaponised exaggerated fear of being somehow a bit ‘loony’ is put about as a kind of shield against the uncanny, against the stuff that doesn’t fit this wrong worldview of physicalism. To be fair, perhaps it can also serve a useful function in keeping people grounded. But the reductionist materialist worldview itself is absolutely wrong, and continues to have an ongoing catastrophic effect on the left, dragging it down, clipping its wings, making things worse in the long run for the very people it should be helping.

We must look up – which is also paradoxically looking within depending on which embodied metaphor you focus on – and note that there is light. How else could there be shadows?

We must then try to trace back (within) by a kind of intuitive triangulation by examining the angles of the shadows. Think of Michael Polanyi’s metaphor of the blind man probing his way with a stick. At first the man feels the impacts against his fingers and hand. But with practice, a kind of internalisation, or reaching out into the stick, occurs whereby it becomes part of the man, part of his meaningfully making his way in the world. (It’s worth mentioning here that this kind of insight has been used in scientific research – see ‘Phenomenology an Introduction’, Käufer and Chemero, Polity Press 2015.) Again this curious way that we intuit our way in the world from within – whereupon we will see (metaphorically) that the light that we are seeking appears to move, in a similar way to shadows changing length as the sun progresses across the sky. (“God” is not static, not an object, and all the atheist arguments that reify God make this mistake.) Help is available, and escape is possible – as long as we look for it properly, sincerely, with patience and commitment, practising looking in the right direction.

As the working class, we must come together for sure, but we must also find something else. Cruz gets so close. At the end of the book she states “By wasting time, by doing nothing, we can access memory, memory that is graspable only when looking askance” (p 194). But while wasting time, we can also inhabit the present moment – and that present moment includes the past, the nostalgic. We have all been trained to inhabit anywhere else along the timelines of our precious lives. And the middle and upper classes have barged in and taken over and created whole cultures and philosophies and spiritualities based on their in the end ultimately misguided take on it all. It was actually a westerner, Pascal, who commented on how “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”. In fact it can be even better to sit quietly in a room together. But odd though it may seem to suggest it, the way in was here inside us all along. We have our ‘automaticity of phenomenological associations’, our knee-jerk hairtrigger reactions, which regarding in respect of the so-called ‘spiritual’ are understandably set off by even a hint of middle class ‘spirituality’. But leave those reactions be, and instead keep looking towards the light, which doesn’t belong to any class but which the working class have a better chance of finding.

It’s all very well tutting at ‘going within’ stuff but we do need to get on with each other and this requires at least some personal development. It’s a painful irony that the endless fighting and splintering and splitting on the left happens precisely because we have principles whereas the right is always willing to put them on the back burner (which is then quietly turned off) while turning to $$$ as the overriding principle. A bit of quietness, not overreacting, and empathic understanding amidst the working class would help. As would the protocol of the stick, whereby nobody can interrupt the stick’s holder when they’re saying what they need to say, and they only pass it to the next person when they’ve finished speaking. Which isn’t possible online, so real life it is, then.

As Cruz states, once we start seeing through the neoliberal brainwashing and start to disconnect from it we are highly likely to notice internalised middle class/neoliberal ‘furniture’ in our minds that isn’t really who we are – aspirational guff, self-attacking ‘self-improvement’ subroutines autonomously running away there, sapping our joie de vivre, feelings of failure that are predicated solely on false ideas of success…

But deeper than that there’s something else to disconnect from – the over-representation in art of the working classes with the machines that have oppressed us… and deeper again, the machine-like colonisation of our minds by mechanical LH thought, which got into the very ways of thought that could get us out of this place. Over time this has created endless representations of the working class in our own minds as somehow machinelike, and we must disconnect from all this too.

Then even deeper again, at last we find that… something, one drop of which spreads out and waters the vast sere deserts of melancholia, the drop that changes everything, that is deeper than the immensity of suffering and holds it and helps us find that warmth and powerful compassion in our hearts that saves us and brings us together. The sadness is still there – this isn’t the spiritual bypassing that middle class ‘spirituality’ so often mistakes for some kind of ‘healing’ or ‘growth’ – but it becomes mysteriously transformed, turned into exquisite wine. We’re designed to help each other. As Cruz says in the final chapter, there are so many of us, if only we could come together.

We have both. We have the sadness, the intellect, the industrial and post-industrial grime and dirt and depression – and we have that deep inner connection that puts all that amidst the profoundest context of our humanity, who we really are. We have the connection to the heart, or the RH if you like, we have insights unique to ourselves that the other classes can only ever grab for themselves and misuse out of jealousy. We have true warmth. The working class have such a head start here if only we knew it…

Appendix 1 – TOPY

The Temple of Psychic Youth started out as a working class occult left hand path ‘spirituality’ movement but was effectively ruined when various public school educated, monied, privileged and enormously confident middle class people barged in and took over. I used to know two or three of them from the London branch, very nice people who I occasionally went out for drinks and got on well with despite me being very rude about TOPY in my fanzine. After this I then randomly met a few very pissed off working class people who weren’t overly pleased about what had happened to what could’ve been a genuinely subversive working class movement. Personally I had various issues with the whole TOPY thing, but on the ‘take what is good’ principle I did set about creating my own culture (which was one of their ideas as I seem to recall). In any event, although magick does actually work that doesn’t of itself mean people should get up to that sort of thing. There are good reasons why in Buddhism and Hinduism siddhis, or ‘powers’ are viewed as a distraction from the more important business of staying on the way to the true destination, and the working class deserve better than getting distracted in that way. Furthermore, the practice of magick seems to always come at a cost of ruining our metaphysical aspects. To me it feels like certain inner levers get snapped off, stopping important insights into life from developing. Hence the overly pragmatic ‘just get on with it’ aspect of magick. So (to give but one example) you get black magic(k)ians ‘resting in the light’ by (re)converting to Catholicism, then going off back to their original dark practices, as if Catholicism is a kind of tool to be picked up and used as necessary then left. But religions, or indeed any systems of anything that have something of the metaphysical about them, are not tools as such. Part of the mystery of religions is that they are inherently beyond being ‘useful’ in that way.

Appendix 2 – Music

Oklou – Galore

Marylou Mayniel, a.k.a. OK Lou, which became Oklou and which sounds like the French for hidden (‘occlu’) comes from an estate in Nowheresville, North-West France. The relentless barking of dogs on the estate is worked into the heartaching sadness of the last track, and also features in her playful piece Lurk, which has a little dance music magic sprinkled on there courtesy of French Canadian queer artist Casey MQ. Distinct flavour of early Wim Mertens Crumar jams here yet it’s 100% Oklouesque. It’s written like classical music but is yet replete with contemporary r’n’b stylings, which just adds to the poignancy. I swear you can hear the French Catholicism in there somewhere, particularly in ‘Lurk’. Music of the heavens and at the same time the earth. If you’re prepared to learn from it, here in this music is a taste of that which can get us out of our current dire situation. How often have you ever heard music like this? You think you have? You haven’t. But the originality needs noticing. It is rare indeed at this stage of musical history to even be able to somehow create your own unique style, but Oklou did it, without hype or fuss. And her music is profoundly sad, but somehow doesn’t stop there. (There are many earlier tracks by her as Oklou and Avril23 on YouTube – in particular try 22 and Gravity.) Sometimes pure originality doesn’t come with fanfares and fireworks, sometimes it’s found in lullabies in the middle of an enchanted midsummer’s eve…

CRi – From Me

It’s important to understand that ideas about music are not music. And the only way this can be shown is through music itself. It is of grave concern that the LH (or egoic intellect) is somehow staging a takeover, but we must be careful about how we apply this sort of discourse to the arts. On paper From Me is a machine music nightmare, yet I don’t mind admitting I cried the first time I heard it. It starts with an asymmetrical mechanical loop that’s slightly off-kilter before quickly blossoming into music of vibrant analogue beauty, the beauty of humanity. ‘From Me’ features a strikingly silly/sadhappy/whimsical/playful quasi-robotic vocal sample that gets cut up and rearranged throughout the course of the piece. According to continental postmodern philosophy, this music would be schizoid, mechanical. But in practice this isn’t psychotic at all, it’s the opposite (for which there seems to be no word, though I coined the term ‘holophrenia’ back in the late 90s (and have taken some satisfaction from seeing it coined again years down the line by a couple of psychology researchers)). From Me is all manner of beautiful flowers grown around the hulking beats of the machine, the machine eventually becoming part of the music, its repetition becoming of the Earth, not the machine. The key difference is of course warmth. Heart energy. There’s no warmth in the left hemisphere – it’s not called cold reason for nothing. Postmodern philosophy is all very good at pathologising everything with its verbosely quasi-clinical re-presentations of the broken, the cold, the schizoid, but it’s rubbish at taking us where we need to go, which is of course a place of warmth and togetherness and warmth and compassion. Pomo would perform a kind of mind surgery on this beautiful music that left it entirely dead. We already know about the Machine, thanks – we live in it and we have it creeping ever further into our minds. What should we do about this? No matter how many surgeries are attempted on it, music always lives on. ‘From Me’ is from CRi’s Juvenile album, which contains several songs featuring guest vocalists – there is in these tracks an interplay between song structure and the repetition of the dance track. As you’d expect in a concept album based on reminiscence the dominant flavour is nostalgia, and there’s that sadness again, yet there is something else, something that touches on the deep mystery of what nostalgia might ultimately be. It is heavily repetitive, but attentive listening to the detail shows that no two phrases repeat in exactly the same way – the difference between LH and RH repetition, between the mechanicity of scales and arppegios and ‘it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’.

Imagine that this music represents what the working class could do with the Machine. And remember that we do have that power, just waiting to be accessed…


Various bits and pieces

Nontheistic Western philosophy seems to lapse so easily into a strange kind of blankness or absence.  Westerners in particular seem to get a bit fixated on voids or white/clear light, a general featurelessness. But the whole idea of the apophatic approach is to remove obstructions to something, or some process, or whatever, that is not a zero, as ‘zero’ is a localised thing in the mind. The apophatic approach ought to go with a preliminary, primary understanding that we are out of our depth when we use solely our intellect to address ultimate matters. This means humility. This means letting go.

The heart knows – truthfully, deeply – that the idea that (what we call) the physical world is all that exists is false, but the ego is too busy making a noise, shouting, arguing, grabbing the heart’s insights to misuse for its own venal, egotistic ends, faking it for effect, becoming entangled in its own rages, hatreds and bitterness, waging wars left right and centre, simultaneously confidently announcing life is meaningless while nonetheless feeling endlessly compelled to act as if it has not only meaning but that that meaning is inherently competitive, feeling the lonely strain of the obligation to do it all itself, to win against other people, life and the world itself, aggressively arrogant while feeling secretly empty, worthless, insecure and thus defensive, sadly too proud to ever honestly accept that without the grounding, orienting, influence of the heart, it is doomed to forever fail in all the areas where it matters, where the heart is, where the true limitless energy from which we spring resides in eternity. But to turn to the heart is the last thing ego will do, as that would mean the initial (agonising) pain of admitting what it’s been up to, then the ongoing relinquishing of neurotic, aggressive control. It would mean the admission of vulnerability. But maybe the human world at least would be somewhat more homely for humans if we could acknowledge our capacity for love, and gave gentleness its due importance in our worldly schemes of things. Maybe things are so bad with us precisely because we’re not able to admit the primal importance of love. We even sneer at the idea. Maybe we should stop doing so.

That which is True – not mathematically true, but truly true – can only ever show and hope that it is noticed and pondered properly.  Were it to give in to the ego’s demands to explicate and prove, as soon as it started to do so it would start to lose its truthfulness due to the lack inherent in ∑ compared to the completeness of ∫ . 

It has become a thing in certain quarters to say that people worried about inattentivity in the Middle Ages, so therefore we shouldn’t be too worried about it now. The implication seems to be that somehow we managed, and even progressed, then, so why should we worry now? We’ll be fine! But this overlooks our ‘progress’ throughout the ages in waging war, in atomising society, in destroying the Earth on which we depend for our very lives. The truth is that inattentivity was an awful thing in the past just as it is now – it pulls us out of the core of our being. Though these days the mechanisation and weaponisation of inattentivity is orders of magnitude worse than it was hundreds of years ago… and it was probably worse in those days than it was hundreds of years before that… we have been falling and falling through the aeons and pointing out we were falling in ancient times doesn’t mean it’s OK for us to be falling still further even now. Indeed we have now reached the point of mass extinction, even as we continue to argue and fight and form into gangs that hate each other (based on what exactly?), quite apart from the regular appearance of tyrannical warmongers that have to be stopped, thus causing war after war after war… And all of this has its fount of origin in inattentivity, or to be precise the wound in us that leads to inattentivity. Let’s return our gaze to Mind again, and from that perspective consider the Buddhist concept of the ‘near enemy’ (pity instead of compassion for example), whereby we are preyed on by the fake version of spiritual truth, which attacks and undermines us even as it professes to be the genuine answer. Being false, it has to eventually fail, but it will do so much damage along the way, until we realise we haven’t been paying attention. But this constant appearance of the fake version, the skeuomorphic appearance that isn’t at all what it presents on its surface design, keeps trying to attach itself to all our truthful and good aspects. It doesn’t do what it says on the tin – the tin’s empty. Every time we manifest something good in humanity, the fake creepily appears, pretending to be more of the same while being nothing of the sort. By way of analogy, consider how due to undoubtedly impressive advances in medicine, people now live much longer much more often – of course there’s a slight issue with dementia, and the associated crisis with funding care of the elderly, but no doubt science will somehow sort it all out in the end, won’t it? This is where humanity appears to be now – suffering a kind of cognitive decline due to having overused one particular approach to life and now finding itself in ever-deeper waters, ever more lost, ever more confused. The mind is really Mind, and if you step back far enough to get a proper view you will see Mind develop some kind of imbalance far back in prehistory, and that imbalance has gathered into itself and developed its own automatic, machinelike structures, and put on a luciferic beautiful surface hiding its inner truth, and we have become fascinated by that surface, and invested more and more time, money, emotional energy, scientific research, effort of all kinds into that strange, dark, non-human set of structures pretending to be our friend because it helps us with external life in some Faustian way that always comes with a fee, but we seem to think that we can sort out the (ever-growing) payback without any lasting problems and keep feeding that Machine, and it’s now become externalised in the form of AI, and we’re worrying it might start to train us in some way even though it doesn’t actually have a mind of its own. Looking at AI art it is directly obvious that it displays an eerie creepiness that is straight from the night side of the tree of life, where beings reside that can only challenge, never contribute. We are now starting to see a near enemy of humanity itself, and it’s becoming vaguely threatening and we’re worried it’ll develop a pseudo-mind of its own, and by pure coincidence no doubt, the planet is starting to burn and flood and is colossally corrupted with our industrial pollution and industrial pollution of the mind, and our inattentivity is now jet assisted and rocket fuelled, but somehow we’ll sort it out for sure this time, even though we inevitably start arguing with each other over everything and never did manage to get that sorted…

There’s a deep mystery in the way that it’s so much easier for us to be against something than it is to be constructive with solutions.  This is why hanging a worldview on what you’re against will not work in the long run.  Reality has a way of demanding positive answers to problems. To some extent insight into our problems needs to be cultivated and made ever clearer, but there has to be, in principle, a counterbalancing rebuilding aspect to our approach to problems to effect healing, positive change. This principle will be intuitive in its creativity and thus ever-vulnerable to hijack from the precision demanding, aggressive intellect, which through its contempt for and destruction of ambiguity can only make things worse.

Ego is adept at ascribing the most mean-spirited, judgmental reality to other peoples’ inner lives while being wonderfully generous when it comes to its own.  But for true communication and understanding to take place between people, the ego’s double-standards must be reined in.  Precisely because of the ego’s insecurity (found even in the most surface-confident people) this will be hard to do due to the discomfort it (temporarily) causes, but the choice is either do this and reduce anger and objectification of the Other, or continue as before.  That’s it.  That’s the choice.  This one actually is either/or.  The process of ego-taming isn’t either/or, of course – it requires a lot of practice over long periods of time.   But growth is only possible by engaging with resistance through time.

Music is a sixth sense.  It is in the world yet not of the world. 

We are all separate from each other, but contained within each other. Intersubjectivity is our true connection. It feels good, deep down inside, because it is. This is why the profoundly good stuff is found in those imponderables such as friendship, relationship, giving and receiving. Stuff where we automatically know it’s good, innately feeling its good nature, yet which somehow is never properly pin-downable by mere intellect.

The central mystery is that reality is continuous, yet we still perceive starts and finishes, and boundaries.  So a boundary is where a 0 becomes 1, yet there are no boundaries.  Where and why do we sense boundaries then?  This way in which 0 becomes 1 draws us to analyse ever more intensely precisely because it offers the prospect of being able to pin things down properly, finally, once and for all – but this is a chimera, always on the horizon, and now we’ve pushed things to a kind of ultimate with the science of physics, and things have gone strange as the unitary aspect of reality reimposes itself with a kind of fullness that leaves the isolated intellect bemused, casting about in thin air to something to hold on to.  This is surely a sign that our approach is imbalanced in some way.  Analysis is certainly valid, but it reaches an ultimate limit, and the rebound is a forceful reminder that it is only analysis, i.e. it is contained within something larger.  But the only way ‘larger’ can mean anything from within the analytical mindset is through being non-analysis i.e. something inherently undivided and undivisible.  There are emotional implications – to the extent that the individual identifies with their analytical mindset, the inherently non-analysable will ultimately tend to appear as a threat precisely because of its resistance to analysis.  But if you don’t find it a threat, you will likely find the mysterious realm of the intuitive inviting. Note the interaction between the psychological and the supposedly ‘objective’ ‘scientific worldview’ – a worldview which surreptitiously hides away the fact that it inherently depends on the intuitive to make any deeper progress.  Note also how so often the scientific report of supposed ‘objective’ reality is then weaponised to push negative myths to do with our meaninglessness, our smallness, our destructive nature.  Why is that exactly? Quite how we’re then supposed to just ‘get on with it’ and sort out the proliferating problems caused by this approach without making things even worse is anybody’s guess… 

AI is ersatz, skilfully and mindlessly creating ‘art’ with no heart.  But there is an eerie parallel with religion.  We also have religion that’s all façade.  Whited sepulchres – the most telling analogy for hypocritical humans ever devised. And a concept that applies to AI…

Arguing against self-styled ‘sceptics’ (in fact some of the most gullible people around) can be compared to the situation regarding aphantasia.  If it wasn’t for the fact that most people can see things in their mind, sceptics would never accept that this was possible because of its supposed outlandishness and it wouldn’t be provable either.  To the sceptic, just because the majority of people consistently report somehow being able to see things in their mind, that doesn’t actually prove it’s real – it’s an outlandish idea so therefore requires a particularly high standard of proof.  The fact that many people report being able to do this could actually be that delusion is widespread – something sceptics like to claim after all. Maybe a lot of people just think they can see things.  Whatever that might mean.  Of course we have brain scans that show the relevant neural correlates of imagery-based thought.  But if scepticism about aphantasia was the norm, then we would somehow ‘know’ that all those weird reports of being able to see something in the mind were likely to be delusion, and we wouldn’t need to even look for proof that they were real. In any event brain scans solely show different kinds of activity in the brain, not what is being reported.  Worse still, brain activity has been shown to decrease during psilocybin trips, yet psychedelic tripping is notorious for its intensity.  If you try clinging to the whole mind=brain concept by saying that it’s still possible for dec(r)eased activity to go with intense experience, this then takes away the whole foundation of brain=mind, because the whole idea of brain=mind is that there’s some kind of 1 to 1 correspondence between subjective experience and brain activity.  But if reducing brain activity can lead to either a descent into unconsciousness (which is what you’d expect in a brain=mind schema), or a spectacularly full-on subjective experience (which entirely violates that schema), what are the criteria for making the necessary allowances for this?  Once you start saying that brain=mind explains all mind, but also that somehow reduced brain activity can in that schema also produce the sheer intensity of a trip, brain=mind is now being made to work beyond its own identity. And how do we decide to choose the criteria for ‘less activity=more experience’ in the first place? Can there even be criteria in such an anything-goes schema? If reduction in brain activity can produce ultra-intense experience, then that implies that as the activity reaches zero, experience reaches a kind of limitlessness…

So ‘sceptics’ ask for proof that there is a God, which confuses everything as the proof they require is somehow ‘out there’, outside the mind, of something physical which of course then can never be proved as God is beyond the physical and is not an object anyway.  A famous definition of God is ‘love’ – which at least points to the way in which we are limited, subjective beings finding ourselves living amidst eternity, unable to use pure rationality to tell ourselves anything of deep importance about our situation despite our endless attempts to make it do so, yet seemingly unable to put that rationality in its proper place, always trying to use it to raid reality for Ultimate Answers, never satisfied, rarely noticing that this is what we’re so caught up in doing…

Again and again, our science is now coming up against boundaries. One is the boundary of extreme complexity of biological life. One example amongst many can be found in Michael Pollan’s simultaneously witty and faintly horrified book In Defence of Food, where he delineates scientists’ gradual discovery that the effects of what we eat are so vastly multifarious that it is effectively impossible to keep track of them all. And he points out that we have now lost our innate knowledge of how to eat. Imagine that – we’ve put men on the moon but need constant guidance, guidance that often drastically changes over time as further discoveries come to light, about how we ought to feed ourselves. What happened?! And the latest developments are indicating that ultra-processed food – about which Pollan was sounding the alarm in the mid to late 00s – is poisonous, and heavily implicated in the obesity crisis. But it’s not just over food – boundaries due to extreme complexity are appearing everywhere, and this ought to give us pause and consider that perhaps our approach needs adjusting. In particular we are now encountering a rock-solid boundary in all matters of scientific research in respect of the mind.  Neuroscience is hitting brick walls precisely due to its success at analysing the brain and central nervous system – but it’s become ever-clearer that we are now discovering seemingly unending extreme complexity without any unifying theories or ideas to keep them in context and enable further discovery. The most telling example at the moment is AI.  We throw ever-greater computational power, and ever-greater data, at a model of AI that cannot in principle include common sense, or abductive inference to give it a more formal name.  There is no theory of abductive inference, but without that theory there will be no further progress in respect of this absolutely basic aspect of intelligence. And no matter how much progress is made with AI, that annoying thing about ethics refuses to go away. The data torrents get ever more intense, yet never breach the wall… 

The boundaries within greater consciousness are boundaries but are also not boundaries, and one way of conceptualising this is to consider them as porous.  The boundaries in many cases become biological beings, and the beings have a localised eternal aspect we can term soul.  The ideas that matter are always of the same nature as us – they are the gist, the vibe, the spirit, the you-know-what-it-is-without-needing-or-being-able-to-provide-clear-definition-ness that is primary and which can include precision but can never be captured in its net, much like the boundaries between us and everything/body else. 

The eternal from our timebound point of view seems to come from somewhere lost in the past and head towards an invisible future.  We are angled towards it somehow.  We are ∑ in our minds but ∫ at heart.  Consciousness is non-finite, immeasurable.  The very way we can sense this is via sensing the limited.  Boundaries cast shadows, but where is the light coming from? 

An obstruction to the light can cast a long or a short shadow depending on how much it juts out and the angle at which the light hits it.

Two sets of waves without beginning or end intersect at their one and only nexus, creating a finite interplay amidst infinity. A model for infinite/finite interplay?

Think of rainbows and water refracting at 42° when the sun’s light passes through them – the spectrum thus created is in the form of a circle despite the essentially random movement and number of raindrops.  In this analogy think of people, or individual minds, as the raindrops.  Also note that raindrops are bounded, but not rigidly so.  And each drop is unique yet also part of the raindrop family – all the same yet different. This shows again the idea of unity, of the fecund void, the rainbow circle in the sky of Mind that appears when we stand back and see the interplay of same/different as a whole. But when the self-identified ‘rational’ ego tries to pin down elusive ultimates such as consciousness it sets out to describe its own circle, and it creates not the beautiful arc of the rainbow but instead a kind of agonised constrictive snare.  It seeks non-porous boundaries, unambiguous definitions, atomisation.  None of these things are possible, in the same way that a square circle is in principle impossible. A great booming fearful noise appears in the universe of Mind as the ego grinds against ultimate reality.

Tikkun as waking up – in the same way that dreams relate to everyday waking life, so is restoration to this world. 

Enhanced Existential – enhanced by taking the here and now truthfully, which leads to transcendence grounded in the here and now.  A-atheism.  (Or Anatheism?)  (A vaguely-remembered sleeve note on an Einsturzende Neubaten LP back in the 80s – ‘The double negative is more powerful than the positive’). Standard existentialism presumes certain aspects of reality, in particular naive realism (the idea that this world is the only world), which are untrue. At a foundational level its concept of consciousness is false – and that concept being (falsely) intuitive it then radiates throughout the rest of the philosophy, spoiling it throughout. The only way to be truly existential is to drop these unfounded claims and to gain more understanding of the true nature of mind. This is always what the sacred has been, ever since there have been humans. Not existential engagement with the idea of transcendence is valid, precisely because of its inherently false worldview. We find ourselves in a pretty dark world, but to find our way out it is necessary to first drop wrong assumptions about consciousness, about the mind, which will require periods of stillness, of intuitive understanding/appreciation of the way that all concepts are inherently limited.

A proper understanding of science should form part of, even arise from, the properly spiritual mindset.  There should be no indulging in pseudoscience, conspiracy guff, mis- and disinformation, dodgy Youtube videos, wishful thinking.  It’s like Gurdjieff’s concept of the ‘obyvatel’, the householder, but with regard to the mind in general.  As the practicalities of a typical adult life lead to a certain type of grounding that permits a balanced broadening and deepening, so a kind of practicality of the life of the spirit keeps it heading in the right direction, even in deep waters.  We’re in quite a difficult situation here on Earth and practicalities should always be attended to – including such grounded activities as helping others.  Science in the service of scientism is a dangerous, dreadful thing, but science working as it often/usually does is capable of bringing great good into the world.  Although some (or many) of its proponents have a bad habit of making unfounded metaphysical assumptions, that’s not a reason to drop science, or to choose to follow its dodgier pseudo-manifestations instead. True intuitive deep understanding can easily include science within its vastness.

The similarities between the structures of the universe and those of the brain are uncanny.  (See Vazza and Feletti). But once again we have here a numinous cosmic pondering that ignores the harsh realities of human life. So to bring things ‘back to Earth’ as it were, consider that perhaps in this universe=brain schema the Earth represents the Universe’s ego – relatively small in the great scheme of things, yet the scene of such drama and suffering… 

What kind of numpty puts a collection of random snippets on their blog and gives it the same name as that given to a collection by one of the all-time philosophical titans?  But philosophy is not disembodied and context is all (not in a postmodern way, but still…).  This is why atonal classical music is not part of the musical canon in the same way all other classical music is.  It doesn’t speak to most people.  Our lives are different now, and we need different sorts of music.  In particular as a response to the unusual stresses of modern life, we need music that will speak to the pain(s) it causes, which is something classical music may well be able to do but by no means always.  This is where the compressed information metaphor comes in.  To resonate with us properly, a certain level of intensity, of mood, of sonics, is needed but so is a certain amount of musicality, of musical ‘information’ if that isn’t too misleading and/or bland a word.  And thus it is with philosophy.  So perhaps these Zettel are 7” singles of thought, each with an idea that hopefully will catch in the mind of the reader to some extent… 

Cosmic Arrogance … so what’s that then?

In ‘God, Freedom and the NHS’ neuroscientist philosopher Raymond Tallis gives as a reason for his atheism the apparently insurmountable problems that arise from how our human timeliness could possibly relate to any concepts of timelessness. Using the example of the God-fearing Mrs Smith who having led a blameless life dies in 2017 and passes into eternity, he points out the inherent contradiction in the way we’d say in 2019 that she’d ‘been in heaven for 2 years’ – but of course Mrs Smith being eternal now, what could that even mean? And how exactly could God or any other atemporal being interact with us stuck down here in linear time?

Meanwhile, in The Order of Time physicist Carlo Rovelli riffs in a very entertaining way on the way that time passes faster at the top of a mountain than it does at sea level. It’s relativity of course – and the distortions in the space-time field caused by the mass of the Earth have to be factored in to satnav satellites to make them accurate, so we know that relativity theory works in the real world. But a weird result of this relativity is that it makes no sense at all to talk about a universe-wide ‘Now’. The example Rovelli gives is of your sister on the exoplanet Proxima B, 4 light years away. We are convinced that it makes sense, is a coherent concept, that we can know what she’s up to at the same time we’re doing something here on Earth, but due to relativity the idea is actually meaningless. Maybe you can see with your ultra-powerful telescope what she was up to 4 years ago – but she has a separate timeline and thanks to relativistic time dilation your sister’s time will be different to yours – you just don’t notice this in everyday life because of the small distances involved. It reminds me of when I was a teenager learning physics for O level, and suddenly realised that utterly minuscule though they were, space-time distortions would happen every time I moved, every time I approached or moved away from a building, every time I got up off the sofa to switch the light on… (In fact artificial consciousness researcher Stephen Earle Robbins has gone in to a fair bit of detail critiquing relativistic theory in terms of what it could possibly mean ontologically, and gives decently clear thought-experiments that show just what a problem this is – see his book Time and Memory).

Compare the last two paragraphs, then consider that this ‘impossible’ paradoxical interplay between the finite and the non-finite is an inherent aspect of our being alive.  We all individually experience the seemingly contradictory interface between our individual minds and infinity all the time, every day.  It’s only due to familiarity with it all, with a kind of learned skill set of the mind that develops after birth, that we fail to see this.   Somehow, the world holds together, all of a piece. We are part of the world, somehow mysterious able to interact with that world and with each other, yet somehow isolated in our own separate timelines – contradiction again.  Do we then reject relativistic physics?  Maybe, or maybe it isn’t a matter of rejecting it but discovering and developing a wider, deeper picture that includes it.

(And again, note the strange lack of human drama, of human affect, in all this conceptualising. Is there a tendency to escape in there somewhere? It’s a strange tendency though, the way it keeps apparently showing us that we don’t exist, that we’re not meaningful, that there is no other reality than this contingency in which we live. We seek answers and get a kind of spiritual injury on the journey, an injury that triggers negative emotions.)

There is a known aspect to meditation, in Theravada Buddhism at least, whereby when a certain proficiency is attained an ultra-rapid flickering on and off of consciousness becomes apparent – reality itself switching in and out of existence. But what is it that sees the flickering on and off? If it is itself part of this switching on and off, how does it even become aware of it? If it’s separate from it, what is that awareness?

Similarly, if we’re all part of an inherently multifarious reality how can we even experience the illusion that it is unitary? Why do relativistic effects permit this illusion over small distances? And how do they permit it? Or to be precise, how is it permitted at all?

All this happens in consciousness, and that changes everything. The quality of being alive is an inherent aspect of the non-finite, the atemporal, precisely because it is not findable through ∑ .  It’s a nice paradox – living beings are by their nature bounded and therefore supposedly finite yet the more we try to define those boundaries, far from finding some essence of life, instead we find it’s vanished.  We seek to de-infinitise the infinite with our analytical intellect and end up asserting that ‘really’ life doesn’t exist.  Infinity has now returned, but in a fake, lifeless way. 

When disembodied rationality starts taking over intuition, intuition is smothered, life hides and science starts losing its intuitive power, becoming something more sinister, more mechanical.  It’s after the important discoveries have come through in deep but only sketched form that the more overtly rational, ordered, quasi-mechanical approach comes into its own for filling out the picture and making it more detailed, so of course it’s essential – but in that subservient role.  The profundity comes from intuition – the home of the woolly, the ambiguous, the impossible-to-quite-pin-down.  All the stuff the (arrogant) ego finds offensive. 

Seeking to somehow ‘solve’ the entire universe so easily shades into total intellectual arrogance. 

There is a strange attitude abroad whereby it’s apparently nonsense to posit higher beings than us, yet at the same time either science has all the answers, or perhaps we’ll never know all the answers but science is (for some reason) the only way to discover the truths we can ascertain.  Something isn’t right there – a kind of arrogant self-limiting, a denial, has crept in on the quiet.  That denial – that there is in principle no higher reality – is supposed to be the reason for science’s success.  But science is at its best (and is only true science) when it’s kept completely away from metaphysical pronouncements and used purely as a tool contained within an ethical worldview, for it has its own kind of provisional metaphysics, a metaphysics to enable a practical approach that is in fact entirely false outside of that ambit.  The positive discoveries gained through science are truly great and a boon for mankind, but they only gain their positive aspect through being of profound worth, not just because they’re science and science is automatically great.  This shouldn’t even need pointing out.  As it is, science is very good at creating problems as it goes along – problems that being scientific, people feel need to be solved by more science, when perhaps a bit more humility might be in order. 

As for religion, all that religious stuff apparently means that God thinks we’re special, but it was arrogant of us to think this – cosmically arrogant in fact. ‘Really’ we’re nothing, merely jumped up monkeys with a genetic spandrel that made us self-aware and sciency, so we could use that science to show ourselves how worthless we are.  And there’s an odd self-contradiction.  We are simultaneously unique in our reasoning capacity, yet mere arrogant animals too.  Which is it?  We are nothing – although with a unique ability of self-awareness that lets us regard ourselves as such – yet we can plumb the depths of the universe as no other creature can (apparently).  But as the (supposedly) old Chinese saying has it, ‘when the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work the wrong way’.  Currently we are simultaneously saying we’re shit and useless while then trying to face up to dealing with the enormous human-generated degradation wreaked on the planet.  This planetary degradation certainly looks like it was caused by arrogance, but also over-optimism, thoughtless short-termism, vast corporate corruption, and of course misused science.  It’s hard to believe that the best way of dealing with this mess is by emphasising our uselessness.  Maybe regarding ourselves as inherently worthless when it comes down to it isn’t the best attitude to take when wielding enormously powerful tools like science.  Maybe a healthy self-worth would bring better results for all.  By putting ourselves cosmically in our place, we are undermining at the start our ability to know how to truly act to heal the damage we’ve caused.  It’s adolescents who simultaneously feel self-indulgent self-loathing and over-confidence.  With adulthood comes a much truer sense of responsibility, which depends on a foundation of not regarding yourself as totally useless – and how can we even start to heal the damage we’ve caused without a proper sense of responsibility?  But we have arrogantly ruined our sense of self-worth in the name of science, then placed upon ourselves the responsibility in our supposed worthlessness and meaninglessness to clean up the mess we’ve made.

This is where we are right now, with our science.  Where’s the arrogance really here?  We obviously act appallingly in many different ways – and addressing that is part of the infrastructure of religion in the first place.  Self-proclaimed ‘Atheists’ like to performatively witter on about fairy stories and comforting lies in a cold, dead, hostile universe, but the crucial aspect of religion is more to do with our self-awareness of good and bad, of good and bad behaviour, and the nexus between that awareness and how we actually act – what to do, or not do, and how to do or not do it, i.e. the quality of our consciousness and resulting actions in life.   It’s where techniques appear, codes for how to act, how to behave towards others, yourself, animals and the environment, how to keep your mind from getting poisoned.  It’s the nexus between method and result.  Our human condition however is that this nexus is generally broken, and technique keeps taking over to the detriment of what the technique is meant to give us the intuition of.  We can see this from a different angle in the arguing over whether bad behaviour stems from mental illness or just plain badness – the ‘mad or bad’ dichotomy.  Here ‘mad’ is analogous with malfunctioning mental processes while ‘bad’ is analogous with moral failure i.e. deliberate harmful actions.  One goes with a ‘sciency’ approach where things can in theory be fixable, the other is the realm of ethics.  A similar contrast can be seen in law with the concepts of mens rea and actus reus – the intentions of the criminal, the acts that they performed.  If the crime was committed without intent as a result of insanity that changes the character of the act somehow, in the eyes of the law and possibly for the victim too. Actus reus – agglomerations of molecules deterministically doing their thing / mens rea – the ghost in the machine… 

As for religion, because of the hijacking of technique by the ego, in practice instead of a guide for cultivation of insight and intuitive understanding, it becomes a system of hounding us like animals trained for the circus by systems and countings, naggings and tablatures, codes and customs, jabbings and proddings, all of which lead merely to a neurotic self-checking self-attacking, a tense, anxious trying-to-be-good-ness that lacks heart and misses the point.  The irony being of course that it’s the heart where all the goodness has its power.  Heart comes first, not head.  Spirit of the law, not the letter.  The head, the letter of the law is still needed, but that doesn’t of itself mean that it should be primary – the heart should be primary.  Why should the head be primary exactly?  Yes it’s clever but in a particular way only, a way that lacks wisdom.  Yet humans perennially struggle hugely with this.  Somewhere, something is persistently wrong.  The whole point of the New Testament is that it’s all about spirit of the law, yet here we still are with the letter dominating, and dominating through the centuries.  When learning a language, grammar must be studied, but the living language goes far beyond this into realms of idiom, gesture, intonation – again, the letter versus the spirit.  Only learn the grammar and you’ll never truly know the language.

Or sometimes we approach techniques and self-training in a different wrong way, taking the path of development whereby we work on gaining powers, occult or otherwise, and lose connection with our heart that way instead.  This is the way of power instead of love.  Power always burns out, love never does.  Yet in the world power is feted, power is regarded as a treasure.  How foolish.  When will we ever learn?  Will we ever learn? 

The religious ‘techniques’ – of controlling passions, of trying to do and think good, of trying to keep the mind free from poison, of various rituals and observances, are meant to be to our growth as human beings as scales and arpeggios are to music.  You practice scales and arpeggios in order to be able to play music well, not as an end in itself.  And as playing a musical instrument well requires the technique in order to understand and interpret the music properly, with depth and your unique insight into that music, so too are the techniques of religion meant to be a necessary aspect of being a proper human, but in themselves are not the be-all and end-all.  They are necessary but not in themselves sufficient. 

There’s something of an analogy here with how we can minutely catalogue extremely close correlations between brain states and mind states but have no idea how what we see happening objectively translates into subjective experience.  And precisely because we don’t actually know how this happens, many people say that nonetheless the electro-chemical goings on of the brain somehow ‘are’ our subjective states.  Similarly, the techniques somehow become the essence of a religion, with pretty grim results individually and collectively.  It seems to be an irresistible temptation for mankind to assume that objectivity dominates, or even is, subjectivity.  Which is the wrong way round.  Perhaps this back-to-frontness is what the biblical concept of the fall is about. 

The problems caused both directly and indirectly by religion are legion.  But this disconnect between the method and what it’s actually for is inbuilt in humans so is therefore in politics too, and in any and all of our societies and cultures.  It’s there in everything we think, say and do.  And to the extent that secular humanism blandly insists we’re somehow unaffected by this issue, that we somehow will be just fine without anything ‘spiritual’, or numinous, in our lives then it numbs us to our depths and to who or what we really are, and keeps us stuck within this problem. 

The hard truth is that something like religion – a long-term, tried-and-tested, ultra-deep understanding of life that calls us to change our day-to-day ways of being which inherently includes community as a necessary aspect of its way in this world – is essential if we are to survive as a species, to end our constant warring, to stop hurting and to stop hurting each other and the planet.  We have the capacity to be truly great in a way that humanists don’t properly understand – and that’s addressed by religion.  Though to admit that would require dropping that ‘you are not the boss of me’ mindset that a lot of humanists have – the whole ‘we don’t need priests or gurus’ thing.  It is a boringly inescapable fact that people vary in quality of character – we know from our own personal experience that some people are ‘nicer’, more understanding, more forgiving, more honest, more generous than others, and we know that this is a matter of quality of character, and that this is not a matter of intellect as such.  But the ego tries to occlude this truth because it makes it feel uncomfortable, and so the ego prefers us to concentrate on cleverness as if cleverness per se is good.  And it likes to put about this whole ‘we don’t need priests or gurus’ thing as if that solves the issue.  But it’s a red herring – we most certainly do need guidance from people who have better understandings than us, whether they’re priests/gurus or not.  It’s easy to pick up on abuses perpetrated by supposed spiritual ‘leaders’, and those abuses must be picked up on, but the arrogant ego makes far too much of it all, aggressively submerging awareness of the good work that genuinely advanced people do by promulgating this cacophonic sneering din.  It’s not very philosophically clever either – a quick glance at the history of the 20th century shows that mass genocidal violence doesn’t need religion, but if widespread violence happens either in the name of religion or not, then religion per se can’t be the problem. People say that politically-inspired violence just means that it was the ‘wrong sort’ of politics, but that goes for religion too.

Alas, we are born into a world where we are accidentally trained from birth upwards to develop minds that put the technique above the heart.  This is like the concept of original sin in the Orthodox church – we aren’t born with a stain on our souls as western Christians say, but we’re born into a human society that passes on a kind of mistake that leads to our estrangement from God, nature and each other.  And due to the action of samskaras, forces of mental habit that get ingrained from childhood onwards, this mistake gets ingrained and thus requires committed, determined work to correct. 

But we’re profoundly important to ourselves – so we need to examine this strange worldview, this attitude, this energy, that ‘really’ we aren’t important, or we only somehow think we are.  Remember that it is only ever humans announcing these things, remember that everything including all objectivity exists in our subjective human minds.  And we need to take a look at the game of saying we’re meaningless and worthless, while ascribing meaning and value to such statements. 

Firstly, this ‘cosmic arrogance’ nihilism is transcendent, while denying transcendence.  A commonplace example often seen out there in the wild is postmodernism’s reliance on shared objective meaning to establish that there is no objective meaning.  This nihilism seeks a validity, a truth (ironically) that expands throughout space and time and is always and forever the case.  How could it not?  It states that matter is all there is and that it is brute and blind like Schopenhauer’s Will.  The Universe is a closed system.  There is thus no escape from this transcendence.  And we are to believe that there is no such thing as transcendence.  There’s some craftily-hidden arrogance, right there.  And self-contradiction, too – if we’re pointless germs spread over the surface of a tiny planet in the middle of nowhere, how could we possibly make grandiose claims about the nature of the universe?  This nihilism ought to pull the rug out from under its own meaning – yet on and drearily on it goes, as if its foundationally self-destroying nature mysterious doesn’t count somehow. 

Denial of so-called ‘psychic’ phenomena is important to this worldview – it’s important to a lot of bien-pensant self-identified ‘clever’ people to keep us firmly grounded, on Earth, creatures of earth, trapped in the transcendence that isn’t.  If anything ‘psychic’ is true, then even if the universe is a closed system, the boundaries of that system are so wide that it’s effectively open-ended whether the system is ‘truly’ closed or not. 

Secondly, cosmic arrogance nihilism is clearly anti-religion rather than pro-truth, setting up a kind of straw religion by focusing solely on its bad effects, of which it must be said there are so many.  But if you’re going to cherry pick, most stuff of value will have to be rejected.  It’s a messy world, with good and bad, dark and light intertwined everywhere – be careful what you wish for, for if you reject anything that was ever associated in any way with badness, you will have to reject everything.  The trick is to keep what’s good – this will automatically rule out extreme evil while enabling us to save and cultivate further goodness.  And yes, we know what’s good – the denial of this is a key aspect of cosmic arrogance nihilism.  Keeping what is good promotes discernment and develops intuition.  Intuition may have a vague aspect but it can still paradoxically be sharpened.  Pure logic intellect will never be able to understand this.  Of course this takes work, but nothing of value was ever just plonked into our lap.  The work is what leads to growth, and to keep that growth from becoming pathological (powers instead of ethical growth), then the heart must be the director of that growth, with the intellect as its loyal servant. 

Cosmic arrogance nihilism (CAN) aims to securely implant the intuition that ultimately nothing is good and everything’s meaningless (and please don’t look over there behind the curtain where you can see it’s a trick because it relies on meaning to explain there’s no meaning), and it aims to plant this properly deep in our minds, out of sight.  Intuitions are deep, wide-ranging, simultaneously clear yet blurred round the edges, rational yet with an emotional charge.  (It’s why music is so important to us, combining as it does a kind of quasi-mathematical rigour and vivid, intuitive feeling, and in so doing providing profound comfort, inspiration, release from anguish.)  But CAN starts out by flattering the ego – ‘you can have all the good things in the universe without that silly religion, it’s just naturally part of you’, then sneaks in ‘but it doesn’t mean anything at all, has no value at all’, which leads to a vague sense of there not being any meaning to what is either good or bad – an intuitive sense that precisely because it’s intuitive captures something of what this nihilism is really about.  Which is a very uncomfortable feeling due to the self-contradiction, and which being deep and intuitive is pervasive, and spreads into the arts and sciences. 

Every day I miss my beautiful little cat Jess, a Bengal-tabby cross who I took in after my mother died and had the privilege of looking after for 5 years before she left me at the age of, we think, 21 or 22.  She was highly-strung, playful, imperious, quirky, demanding, whimsical, loving, dramatic, full of energy right to the end.  She was my guru, and I learnt deep lessons, lessons I needed to learn, from her during my time as her pupil.  One insight in particular is relevant here. 

Cats don’t have the human sense of time.  They know when it’s day and when it’s night, but they don’t regiment themselves to sleep at night and be active during the day.  There is no symbolism of night and day there.  They sleep as and when, doing their feline thing in darkness or in light, adjusting their behaviour accordingly.  But us humans when we’re active in the dark prefer to have lights around, and we’ve got to a point in civilisation where we can immediately bring light into a room or just as quickly make the room dark.  And I just saw it one day at dusk when I put the living room light on – the reaction from Jess wasn’t the human reaction.  It wasn’t ‘ah that’s better he’s put the light on’, it was just a contraction of her pupils, nothing else.  And I saw that from Jess’s point of view, when her human was around and about, lights would sometimes come on.  Was there any connection in her mind that this was something to do with me?  Maybe there was, but only in the sense of a realisation that when the human was around, lights went on and off.  But this was irrelevant to her. 

I then began wondering if Jess knew that my hands – the hands that cuddled and petted her and fed her titbits – were part of me or not?  I began to suspect that she regarded them as servant beings associated with the human, there to attend to her whims and needs. 

There was certainly proper connection there – it was clear when Madame was enjoying herself, and that she loved me too.  She’d call me out of bed at 5 am for feeding, then come back at 6 am with a distinctively different meow to get me up and out of bed to be with her on the sofa. It wasn’t all about feeding. The sense of togetherness was palpable, and deepened year on year.  So it’s not as if she was some kind of alien being.  But her categories of thought were limited, the boundaries of her world far smaller than mine mentally as well as physically. Maybe you can see where this is going.

What did she make of the lights, and the hands?  My insights were after all mine as a human anyway.  Yet somehow there seems to be a hint of something else there too, just a hint of how we can perhaps sense more than we realise, however we conceptualise it afterwards. Again, that something being beyond limited conscious thought.

It is profoundly humancentric to assume that we’d know what sort of interest ‘aliens’ (whatever they might be) would necessarily take in us, but more importantly, what that interest would look like to us from our human viewpoint.  Obviously we would be profoundly unable to do so, to an extent that we would struggle to even notice, never mind conceptualise – to an extent that would offend our egoic arrogance.  We can’t even assume that any kind of what we call ‘alien’ interaction even is that – it could just be them passing through, unaware that humanity is even a thing, while we in our self-importance assume they’re interested in us.  Worse still, the whole term ‘aliens’ comes with a vast quantity of cultural baggage that is in itself created by humans and thus totally humancentric.  And we would have no more understanding of these forms of life than Jess would know about what I was doing while I was at work during the day.  Worse still, ‘aliens’ might be ‘interested’ in us (if that’s even the right word) – but from the human point of view that would merely be analogous to rabbits in a research lab somehow deciding that they know what the researchers are doing, when really all they ever see is fragments of activity that are part of a context they have no hope of ever understanding.  In which case we cannot in principle even state that it’s humancentric to say that ‘aliens’ would be ‘interested’ in us.  We see odd things and label them ‘aliens’ but they could easily be signs of an intelligence far beyond us that is no more ‘alien’ than our hands are to us, an intelligence that knows what we’re about far more than we do. 

And if you’re feeling unnerved by this, you might want to consider whether a certain arrogance is at play. 

The real arrogance comes from not so much from science as scientism – we have indeed probed far into the deepest depths and out into the farthest reaches of space and time – but everything we’ve ever thought or done scientifically has taken place precisely within those bounds and no more, vast though it is from our vantage point.  Yet those bounds could be trivial to other beings, in the same way and to the same degree that we regard our pets’ lives (physical and mental) as limited.  Why exactly not?  Yet it is somehow ‘cosmic arrogance’ to suggest this might be so – it’s colossally important for some reason to expunge such ideas from human culture.  And yet the bounds within which we live could be (in fact actually are) limits within our own wider consciousness… 

Haven’t I been agreeing with the ‘cosmic arrogance’ crew then?  Not at all.  If ‘cosmic humility’ was a thing, then we would be more readily able to accept the idea of superior beings that aren’t actually ‘aliens’ as such. This is an important point to winkle out, quite clear in itself but tricky to get out in the open precisely because of the human ego and its need to puff itself up, but here goes: 

  1. Our consciousness is somewhat porous.  Boundaries exist but they are not impregnable, and our consciousness is ultimately unlimited even though we are bounded.  We can sense things ‘outside’ in some way, though our rational minds impose human categories on these things afterwards, and 
  2. We don’t get to arrogantly decide what these irruptions from beyond ‘ought’ to be like, and 
  3. Our intellect is a subset of our consciousness and not the sole differentiator of our significance.  Some of the most evil people in history have been spectacularly clever – a clear sign that intellect while being a gift is not the sum total of what it is to be human. 

Realise this, and we can see that it is entirely possible in principle that while we are ‘higher’ in some ill-defined sense than animals, we may well not be at the top of the tree at all, and it’s not that there are any animals on earth that are higher than us either.  Worse still, it’s not even something we can prove or disprove via science, through looking deep into space with SETI and the like, as the whole universe could be as my world of humans was to my little Jess, in any mind-based way we could ever conceive in principle, at least while we’re enjoying our sojourn on this planet.  Viewed from dimensionally ‘above’, the idea that the planet even rotates, or is part of a solar system that’s part of a galaxy, could be but one limited aspect of the deeper, truer reality.  All our laws of nature would then be as minutely detailed descriptions of the surface behaviour of a soap bubble compared to the innumerable laws of the vast universe in which that bubble exists.

The porosity of consciousness is something in a sense ‘outside’ of space-time, or included within it.  We have a piece of infinity within.  And just to make it clear, wittering on about multiverses is merely projecting human-verses outwards.  All those putative multiverses are space-time universes like ours overall while having different contents – we can’t think outside this universe-box.  Unless of course they’re dimensionally entirely different to ours… in which case we’re getting back to there being completely different realities that may or may not interact with ours anyway. 

But we have the ability, as part of our spark-of-the-infinite within us, to play a kind of trick on the ‘humancentric’ idea, by simply negating it.  This is borrowed from apophatic theology.  (And it’s worth considering that it can be applied to supposedly ultimate categories such as space and time.)  It leaves us still able to sense the idea, and to intellectualise about it, but in an open-ended sense, a sense whereby we can pick up living qualities properly without their partial or total suffocation by the analytical egoic intellect.  So here we have the concept that the ‘aliens’ are some kind of ET and we negate that.  We now have other ideas that being in our minds are in a way still ‘humancentric’ but which don’t prematurely catch whatever the ‘alien’ thing really is in a net.  This then leaves the intellect free to engage with those ideas more fully and deeply, with more nuance, with more complexity that also features simplicity.  ∫ not ∑. 

Historically, throughout the world there have always been found worldviews including ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ beings, both physical and non-physical.  These worldviews put in our true place in the cosmos, not too high, not too low, intimately and inherently connected with all that is – yet through this bizarre, self-contradictory ‘anti-arrogance’ worldview, it’s been trashed.

A haughty attitude comes before a fall, and this is what we’re seeing right now with the poison of scientistic hubris spreading ever wider, oozing into the arts, into daily discourse, into our minds.  But we need help.  We are not capable of being proper humans fully on our own, no matter how much we insist that we’re top of the tree and can sort ourselves out solely by ourselves. 

Sometimes it’s quite sad though, when we feel pressured by our supposed status at the top of the tree, and we feel we have to do it all on our own even though we’re imperfect beings.  Which just adds to the stress of it all.  Life is hard enough without that added pressure, and feeling like there is no help available will contribute to us acting in ways that lead to wrong results. 

This is where it gets heavy.  We have to consider that we may in some sense be ‘pets’, kept for various reasons by higher beings.  As below, so above.  And just as some pet owners should never be allowed near a vulnerable animal, so it may be with humans.  Our humility should render us capable of understanding that maybe we do not belong to ourselves after all despite what our current modern culture tells us, and that we may in fact be in some sense ‘innocent’ and thus vulnerable in a way that perhaps isn’t easy for us – or at least our egos – to accept.  When we see humans acting evilly, the serial killing, the genocides, the child abuse, the everyday violence of domestic abuse…  this is because at a level we are unable to conceptualise or properly understand, our owners are mistreating us.  Due to the limited mental categories inherent in our nature, we cannot formulate the reasons for our bad behaviour properly, but this does not mean we are guilt-free – we are inherently made with a moral sense.  And yet we somehow find it under attack, just as a drug dealer would systematically torment their muscular but good-natured dog until it becomes a violent nightmare of an animal.

Religion hasn’t been good here, with its constant blaming of humans born into this world, when we should no more be blamed for bad behaviour than you’d blame a child for succumbing to the grooming of a particularly cunning paedophile.

But we still need to find our way out of this world, find our way back home. And in a sense the only way out is through. This is what all the old, deep religions of the world are at their heart about.  It is why Hinduism and Buddhism both say we are to extricate ourselves from reincarnation, however you conceptualise it.  We are in enemy territory on earth, held transfixed and distracted by shiny toys but also negatively fascinated by horrific atrocity and skincrawling ugliness.  The way we are inherently made means that we cannot merely wish ourselves good, or wish ourselves rescued as if that sorts it all (though the latter wish may be cultivated into something helpful and good with some self-awareness and non-distracted discipline).  Things certainly do work out in the end, but once what is truly happening on this planet becomes even a little clearer then the idea of just staying here, of being trapped in a purgatory that’s often more like hell, for any longer than necessary rapidly loses its appeal. 

The something about us, or in us, that is hurt by the CAN worldview is vulnerable, subtle yet profound, gentle but powerful, at the core of our being yet pervasive.  It doesn’t fight back in the same way that God doesn’t intervene, and this in itself is another example of how we are made in the image of God.  We all have infinity at our core, and can always reconnect with it, whereupon we discover that infinity is not a cold, gleaming mathematical concept, but something much more lovely.  Infinitely more lovely even.  The fact that the world is the way it is should not be allowed – and need not be allowed – to overwhelm this. 

Help is available.  Arguing over where evil comes from, or why bad things happen, or the ultimate nature of reality, will distract you from making your escape.  You are surrounded by darkness whether you realise it or not – keep your gaze fixed on the glimmer of light visible far above, and start heading towards it.  Sense the help that is available.  Listen for it.  Act on it. 

Beware of the Suffocators

It is smallness, narrowness, lack of spiritual development which makes a person exclusive, distant and different from others. He feels superior, greater and better than others; his friendly attitude seems to have been lost. In that way he cuts himself apart from others, and in this lies his tragedy. That person is never happy.

Hazrat Inayat Khan, in The Mysticism of Sound and Music

Years ago my mother got me a mug as a present. Who said this blog was boring. But it’s a decent size mug for drinking tea and it has a somewhat whimsical design on it featuring a closely-knit (see what I did there?) flock of sheep, just one of which is black. As is the way with this imagery, the black sheep is facing in the opposite direction to the rest of the flock. I like the mug, it’s a decent size, and I’ve been using it for my mandatory morning mug of tea for years, but that imagery always vaguely bugged me in some way I couldn’t put my finger on.

The mug’s imagery was of course ‘aimed at’ me. Is ‘aimed at’ the right turn of phrase, though? I’ve long wondered what happens when through ‘being yourself’ (whatever that means in practice), you find out that you don’t fit in anywhere. What then? That humans are social animals is inescapable – we all form tribes, and it does look as if we need them. Ostracision from your tribe is a very serious punishment. Some say it leads to a kind of death by wasting away. So we are simultaneously expected to be individual, to ‘be ourselves’, yet we are also somehow under a pervasive pressure to fit in, to be in a tribe, with other like-minded unique individuals.

But our individuality only exists in contrast to others, to otherness, and we all know from personal experience that now and again you encounter people that do stand out in some way, either good or bad, or just odd. As for myself, I’ve long never fitted in anywhere, but this has always gone with an ability to get on with pretty much anybody, whatever sort of person they are, and indeed I’ve long found it really enjoyable to be able to do this, despite a constant battle with fairly aggressive social anxiety. The older I get, the more muscularly I work with, ride or even subdue this anxiety. Sometimes I even use it as a kind of fuel. I even enjoy it. All this has ultimately led to the knowledge that although tribes are a key aspect of the human, it’s good to travel between them, good to meet all sorts of people and realise how well you can get on with people that if you judged them by, say, political allegiances or taste in comedy or music only, you’d regard as the enemy, the despicable Other, a source of hate. Through years of mundane work in mundane offices, I have also discovered at length that no human being is actually mundane, which in turn has helped me grow profoundly as a human – growth that would never have happened if I’d only consorted with ‘out there’ or ‘artistic’ (or indeed ‘spiritual’) people. We do need community, but you’re potentially missing out on deeper growth if you only hang around with your own.

But although growth happens anyway by just living, paradoxically it’s never a given. Some of the things that get in the way are barely even noticeable even though (or perhaps because) they’re quite commonplace, and one particular problem at large in the world today concerns a type of concept floating about out there that has a peculiar power to stifle deeper growth. These are the suffocators. Of themselves they are gossamer thin, but they are peculiarly stifling with regard to certain deeper aspects of life. If you aren’t aware of them and don’t therefore brush them away or just move out of their way, the suffocators will stop you from progressing as you need to – as you have to – along any path of growth. It’s good to know about suffocators, and if you have any interest in ‘what it’s all about’ it is particularly important to understand that you will encounter these sneaky operators along the way. They will effectively stop you deepening in your understanding in a major way, yet they seem so trivial on the surface, if you even notice them in the first place. Which is the problem.

Consider now a certain sort of person who fancies themselves as a bit of an intellectual. They are quite pleased with their ‘rationality’, and have spent years improving it, reading the ‘right’ books, exercising their mind in debate, while always choosing of course the ‘right’ sort of people to debate. Somewhere along the line, they have developed a particularly rationality-heavy aspect to their mind, and they have started running all ideas past and through that. They have identified with ‘rationality’ (of a particular sort, mind). They hum and hah and consider and examine and analyse. This person is on a quest, to be as interesting and well-read and original as possible, but because of this they have started to encounter certain kinds of ideas that have a distinctly different flavour to them, a taste of the numinous, a vibe about them that indicates they’ve come from somewhere deep, outside of the light of supposedly ‘pure’ rationality. Immediately their ‘rational’ ego springs into action, looking for flaws, faults and above all inconsistencies (as if inconsistencies aren’t an inherent aspect of life, all the way through). What then happens is having hummed and haa-ed and acted accordingly, they then either consider the matter sorted and in future treat all ‘that sort of thing’ with contempt – the usual response – or for some reason they feel they need to keep going, keep trying to deal with it with their rational intellect, keep feeling the need to prove the Strange thing wrong instead of just leaving it alone. But what never happens in any event is that the Beyond is explored. The rational ego stops it all, stops growth, stops discovery. Here then we see the work of a suffocator, making its host go on a strange sort of ‘path’ that consists entirely of walking on the spot. Such people often have a depression about them, or an anger, or a strange ‘coshed’ vibe, whereby their wishing for things to be better, for the world to be a good place, has taken some kind of violence and is now hurting and forcibly limited.

Suffocators work by flattering the ego. This is a big thing – for example, we currently have a vast, planetary on-line network called the internet that is to a large extent fuelled by ego flattery, and its ever-present partner ego tweaking, whereby various mostly negative emotional reactions are evinced by online (dis)content. If you want to learn about a subject properly, it’s best to read books, or even reputable online articles, but what is not a good way to learn about anything at all, ever, is by zeroing in on the ego tweaking trash that infests the internet. You wouldn’t go swimming in sewage-infested sea, yet you take that risk every time you decide to set sail on the internet. Even if you dip your metaphorical toes in at the edge, you still risk getting filth on those toes, straight from the untreated effluent pipes of other people’s minds. Ego tweaking is everywhere in human society and always has been, but the internet weaponises it in a novel way and to a degree that’s so extreme it challenges the mind’s ability to even conceptualise it, in a similar way that the mind can’t form any proper idea of large numbers even though it thinks it can. (To give an example of the latter, try doing that thing where you assume somebody earns £1 a second, then check how long it will take them to earn a million pounds, and then how long it will take them to earn a billion. That’s pretty counterintuitive in itself, but then consider on top of that that the greatest number most people can naturally ‘get’ in itself without thinking about it is… 7. One more than the highest number of dots on dice.)

Ego tweaking is a kind of titillating stimulation of outrage and/or superiority feels which relies on simplification, distortion and generalities to stoke those arrogances in a quick, easy way that lacks depth, context, ambiguity, subtlety, or indeed anything usually associated with life. McIdeation. It has long been known (at a research level) that social media interactions have a strong tendency to become polarised in a way that doesn’t happen in real life. The very lack of face-to-face interaction makes extreme aggression so easy, and the lack of adult maturity invites gangings-up on hapless individuals who didn’t quite phrase their faux-spontaneous comment in the exact right way so as to pass the parasocial approval of the online mob. Even in supposedly light-hearted Facebook groups at any moment the machetes can suddenly appear, the flames of righteous anger, the lynch mob with their meat cleavers of the mind, hacking away at a human, all fired up on high-octane self-righteousness, all jeering and mocking and ranting of their own superiority as they commit their butchery.

Thankfully, this has never happened to the author – I mention this because for some reason a certain type of online entity seems to think that anybody writing about this sort of stuff must have been personally affected by it – and that means they’re a really bad person deep down inside. They’re only posting about this because they were butt-hurt once and the more they try to deny it, the more it must be true!

And that, right there, is a certain kind of suffocator in action. More on this below. (As an aside, butt-hurt’s a really grown-up, non-adolescent turn of phrase, isn’t it? You can tell there’s an adult in the room when the word ‘butt-hurt’ appears.)

Another key aspect of this inherently pathological, screwed up online weirdness is what could be called gerundisation – a tendency for any concept or even single word to be viewed as infinite when viewed online. And in infinity there can be no nuance, as nuance involves the limited, the ambiguous. It’s become a truism that nuance tends to disappear in online discourse, but it’s good to keep this in mind at all times when interacting with others on the internet as it’s unbelievably easy to lose sight of this – it takes real practice to keep it in mind. As soon as you post online, be aware that your brakes have disappeared – there are no brakes on online discourse, and you must therefore drive with extreme care.

Gerundisation is high-octane ego fuel, as it feeds the ego’s tendency/need to feel unlimited, unfettered, universal. Naturally this is entirely against the reality of our limited human life, human insecurities, human need for love and attention. So to compensate for this vulnerability the ego fires up its supposed unlimitedness with various hard-edged aggressions that make it ever more impossible to back down.

But the egoic intellect will never accept one hugely painful insult – that the ultimate truths are to do with love, with gentleness. Perhaps this is so strangely devastating to the ego precisely because it invests so much energy into being hard in this world of combat and hunting, competition and outer display.

As for strength and its inherent gentleness, the Taoists got it right 2,500 years ago with their concept of the strongest trees being those that bend with the storm. The hardness of this world is not the whole story, not by a long way. Observation of nature shows this. To truly observe nature shows that it is inherently predatory, violent and cruel, often grossly ugly… and inherently full of friendship, playfulness, and of course vast stretches of beauty at all scales of perception.

And the worst wreckers of this deeper understanding are the There Is No Happy Ever After crew. Here is a very serious suffocator roaming the polluted oceans of the mind, waiting to wrap itself round a certain kind of conceited, very intellectually clever, proud buffoon who never really got the idea of encountering people as equals. Maybe they didn’t fit in at school, maybe they were bullied. Who cares. One task as a human is to not let this stuff poison you in adulthood – no excuses. We’re all in this together, we all have tough stuff to deal with. It’s called being human. The Facing Up To Hard Truths gang of suffocators have a very peculiar take on this, a take that subverts itself due to its lack of honest admission of the ‘hard’ truth that kindness is key.

By being honest, and gazing into and past the ‘look at me I’m so hard, I face up to unpalatable truths’ ego guff, we can actually see that something else is going on. It starts looking more and more as if something good and pure and gentle and beautiful has been dragged into and onto a planet which is none of those things. This is weird, but life is weird and we only forget this as we progressively get sleepier and duller, and angrier, through our repetitious immersion in human falsities. And having this insight leads to a deeper understanding that the facinguptohardtruthists will never gain, unless they learn some humility. The pompous asses who fancy themselves privy to The Hard True Secret of Life will one day need to drink deep the burning hot brew of the inconvenient, uncomfortable truth that everybody else already knows how hard life is, maybe not earlier on but definitely by the time they’ve buried their second parent. They may spend their lives immersed in junk celeb culture, they may go through life lacking in the your supposedly superior understanding, but they also live, as humans, and deal with every day’s challenges, as humans. And humans are deep. And if you’re one of those Hard Truthians, you may want to consider a certain truth about that, too, namely that people have all sorts of hidden aspects to them you don’t necessarily know about.

Of course The Special Black Sheep Brigade, in all their pomp and grimness are in truth no different to the herd, the ordinary sheep milling about on the earthly plains below, munching on their grass while the brave warriors of The SBSB fancy themselves chewing on the raw meat of Facing Reality. If only these puffed up specimens of the human race would deign to mingle with ‘normal’ people, they would soon discover that so many of the supposed underlings are far stronger and more powerful than the self-consciously ‘superior’ . I’ve personally encountered so many people who’ve grasped deep truths about life in ways I’ve lacked. Which makes the pound shop Nietzsche posturings of the facinguptothehardtruthists seem faintly ridiculous. And I wonder if there’s a certain avoidance going on, a kind of prissiness (like that of Nietzsche himself), that can’t face immersion in the grubby rough and tumble of plebeian life.

I’ve spent a bit of time on this particular type of person because they illustrate with painful clarity the result of letting a suffocator flatter the egoic intellect, especially when that intellect is muscularly well-developed. And this leads to the next point – suffocators may be these kind of passive plastic bags floating around the polluted ocean of human thought, but they can turn people who haven’t rid themselves of them into active suffocators, who then go about their business being almost comically up themselves and unpleasant and Brave and Having Extra Insight. But any time you dismiss an idea for being silly or woolly or sentimental, and act accordingly, whether on line or in real life, you are now an active suffocator, effective in the world.

The view of humanity when you see our lostness certainly is sad, but for true depth it must include compassion. And setting yourself apart from the rest of the herd while under the sway of bigging up your personal ‘difference’ is not the way to cultivate that truer deeper understanding. The truly outstanding humans have never formed hard-edged uber-egos, they’ve never formed an ugly sense of superiority, they’ve always been about bringing some kind of tender strength into this difficult world in a way that helps. And the deepest understanders, free of the suffocators, seek to help everyone.

We’re all black sheep – uniqueness and diversity depend on each other all the way down, all the way up. In the real world everything is a unique example of a wider idea – we’re all unique humans, for example. Some people do indeed stand out in terms of artistic creativity, sheer badness or sheer goodness, in terms of skills or lack thereof, but there is not and can not be any clean break between the concepts of uniqueness and similarity. Consider the paradox of artistic creativity, whereby true originality is only possible by referring to what has gone before, transmuting it somehow into something new. If a work of art was actually 100% ‘original’, it would be meaningless as it would have no context at all in which to mean anything. It would be just gibberish, mere noise. (If you don’t believe that, try to prove it wrong.) And this of course goes for the works of art known as people.

So, there are no normal people. Being alive is so remarkable that ‘normality’ can only ever be an impossible mirage. Imagine that. All those ITV-watching, sleb-obsessed thickos are just as valuable as you are. I’m sorry. All of us will eventually know at some level that life is tragic even if you in your nice clean cold castle of superiority can’t understand or accept this ghastly, ego-disconcerting fact.

Here’s another ‘hard’ truth about softness – it is not justifiable to reject any idea in principle purely on the grounds of its supposed sentimentality. This hugely offensive to the egoic intellect, but it is nonetheless a truth that the ego must bow down to before further progress can be made. Gentleness is vulnerable, so it’s going to extra double offend the ego when it truly sees that no further progress can be made without losing the warrior’s armour and opening to softness, kindness, vulnerability.

Suppose somebody says they hope to meet their beloved mother in the afterlife, or better still, their beloved pet. If you are the plaything of suffocators, you will immediately become sorrowful and sad and superior, and try to pass those suffocators on, as if you somehow ‘really’ have the last word in the matter, as if you somehow ‘know’. That sort of stuff is mere sentimentality you will say or imply, or if you’re further down the road of superiority, you can regard supposed ‘afterlife’ contact as the mind’s way of coping with the Cold Hard Truth, or even if you’re more superior again say yes, you made contact with ‘the other side’ somehow, but it was with one of the shells that scavenge the earth looking for darker emotional energies and disguise themselves as lost loved ones! There may even be (some) truth in this, who knows. But you in your arrogance are imposing a kind of double bind/catch-22 on the other person – any upset people show at your bleak worldview is just an embarrassing attempt to deny it, apparently. Expecting pulling a stunt like that on somebody to not then wind them up hugely is in itself quite arrogant. Ironically, inflicting double binds like that on suffering people because you think you’re clever will actually then stifle your ability to understand more deeply. The strange thing is that despite the power of the suffocator to stop growth, its only an intellectual con, operating outside the realm of life. The suffocators close the gate by means of a kind of logical trick, while life is deep and open-ended and continues on and past mere analytical intellect and the smug self-satisfaction of those who use tricks to try to make the deep stuff go away. Anybody who honestly faces the numinous, the mysterious, the deep, is now no longer in Kansas, and they are the people who have to explore carefully, and develop and use their discrimination as they make their way through the deep forest – which means they are the ones taking real risks as they explore what it means to be human, to be alive in this world. Which ironically makes them in that aspect at least, superior people to the Hard Truths lot. They’re certainly sailing through deeper potentially stormy waters, taking more risks, honestly trying to sound out life’s depths without prematurely settling.

To see suffocators in action – observe. Stand back in the face of emotional expression (yours and other people’s) and just disinterestedly watch. Without observation you will never gain this valuable insight, because you are ruled (up to a point at least) by the lifeless world of the so-called ‘rational’, to a far greater degree than you may have realised. But the rational never exists ‘in the wild’, as it were, without a display of emotion – it’s quite amazing how the default setting for so many supposedly ‘aware’ people is to ignore this and return to the supposedly ‘superior’ emotion-free world of the ‘rational’. Bit of lip service paid to the truth that emotions are key to human thought, then it’s straight back to egoic blathering on about rationality again, at enormous, ironically highly emotionally charged length. It’s the issue again with this strange human inability to be truly aware in the present, preferring to stay with static abstractions. But you can see suffocators at work every time somebody who prides themselves on their supposed ‘rationality’ starts performing their distinctly non-rational emotional blustering, huffing and puffing their contempt, scornfully laughing at a concept because it’s supposedly ‘sentimental’. Maybe it is – but often when looked at honestly, it isn’t. Shame more of the Hard Truths lot can’t summon up honesty about this awkward philosophical truth. I wonder why they can’t/don’t want to?

(This scorn and contempt is often quite gendered, too – so often this ‘sentimentality’ is and has been associated with women. Silly women with their weird non-rational way of being in the world, with their funny ways of knowing things that don’t make rational sense. Maybe it might’ve been better to have ditched that arrogance as civilisation developed – surely it would’ve reduced its cruelty and enhanced its depth.)

Suffocators work by means of a kind of strange loop/double bind that’s hard to pin down logically but which can be more easily shown didactically. As mentioned above, they can take the form ‘the reason you’re getting upset about something aimed at you is because you can’t face the horrible truth’, which implies that only people who have ‘faced up to’ the horrible truth are right (whatever ‘facing up to’ something means). But this is not true in principle. That ‘because’ is important – in the flow of real life, such a link doesn’t exist. The person reacting might be getting defensive because they’re feeling guilty, but it might be because they’re sick of arrogant know-nothings wrongly accusing them of being a debased human being, and they’re tired of being falsely taunted. Their rage might be coming from a dripping tap effect they’ve been dealing with since childhood, which may have created an inner tormenting voice in their psyche repeating ‘you’re just like those scum’ which has been there since childhood and which has now been prodded and poked into action for the millionth time by your posturings of superiority. The point is it is impossible to know, especially online, and this breaks the spell of the suffocator, as it breaks that false, double-binding link between reaction and accusation. It may well be possible to tell what’s going on in real life, of course, where you can intuitively sense and gain a measure of who you’re talking to – but the Facing Up To Hard Truths brigade tend to shun that and stick to the internet instead. It’s because they’re special, see – superior because they See Things As They Really Are. It’s best to avoid the awful unwashed crowds to keep yourself pure. And precisely because they See Things As They Really Are, they don’t need to bother with the great unwashed…

Suffocators turn logic into a sociological playground game of emotions. But ‘well if you’re getting upset about this, it must’ve touched a nerve’ is really just a kidulty version of ‘takes one to know one’. It’s not actually very grown up. Yet it’s a commonplace suffocator encountered on paths of growth, which seems to stymie the natural development of compassion, of love, of gentleness, pushing those energies into a kind of swelling of the ego where they become tainted. Ego always loves stealing the good stuff so it can parade about in it. But egoic intellect no more knows of the ways of love than a bunch of thieves who’ve stolen some robes from their local vicarage and are drunkenly tottering about in them for a laugh know of the esoteric mysteries hidden in exoteric religion.

Take the irony of the way they form their own online tribes, just like the ‘sheeple’ they so despise, and they create millions of hours of cruddy Youtube videos that they show to each other, all these ‘individual’ so-called ‘black sheep’ with their supposed ‘truths’ that the herds of ‘normal’ humanity can’t handle, which all strangely resemble each other despite the supposed ‘think for yourself’ ‘individuality’ on offer.

It’s not as if the arrogance of the Hard Truths brigade is foolproof. They are sometimes even arrogant about good, effective science. Which is when we then see physically super-fit super-people, who know the ‘truth’ and saw through the supposed ‘lies’, dying – yes, suffocating – in intensive care units, on their own, begging their family and friends to take a vaccine they were too proud to acknowledge as an effective treatment, knowing that for them it’s too late, and they now have to leave their family and friends behind as they go into the Great Unknown, on their own.

So we can see that suffocators can work in different ways. The humble ego (which is a thing and a good thing) acknowledges that in certain ways, despite all its issues science can and does discover a lot of good stuff and gets it profoundly right. Discernment is a powerful thing – perhaps a more powerful thing – without the interference of the suffocators, and now you are at the point where you can consider the further, deeper ideas beyond them. These ideas, these thoughts, are alive and profound and not to be butchered by the knives of the arrogant egoic intellect. And you get a deeper, truer understanding of science along the way, too – true clarity of mind enables that.

Part of learning through life is that it requires a certain openness in order to properly cultivate insight, to cultivate intuition, to gain in wisdom. Wisdom lies infuriatingly beyond the reach of the arrogant egoic intellect, yet that intellect can see that it’s clearly something important and good that the ego is unable to grab for itself. In real life, life outside the constipatedly gloomy citadels of the Superior Ego, we use aesthetic and/or intuitive judgments to ascertain what is true. These judgments include the rational but not to the exclusion of deeper intuitions. Rational ego doesn’t like this – it regards it as most unfortunate, like having to go to the toilet or fart. For example, if somebody (usually online) decides that a deeper truth is actually sentimental, they will so often go through a process of performing sneering, chuckling, getting angry and/or scornful. Or of course if dealing with a grieving and/or traumatised person, keeping their supposed ‘real’ insight into the bleakness of reality to themselves as a mark of respect – we hope, at least. But there is no pure rationality anywhere in the world. This is such a challenge to the ego with its puffed-up ideas of ‘pure’ rationality that it turns away from the whole issue. But those non-rational aspects of ourselves include who we really are – and the ego in its various ‘Hard’ posturings has actually no idea how to relate to these mammalian, warm, complex, ambiguous, social vibings of our being as we sail along the stream of life. And worse still – the ego still has to remain tangled up in this animal ambiguity anyway because it’s inescapable. It’s not as if it can ever successfully keep it at bay. But the ego tries to do so anyway, and fails, and becomes monstrously distorted in the process.

This strange and marvellous realisation that the rational is only ever expressed emotionally… it’s how we’ve only ever lived the entirety of our lives, our rationality always intimately intertwined with and suffused by the emotional, but we keep forgetting this, over and over again, and so does everybody else, and we’ve all been doing that the whole time we’ve had self-awareness. And indeed it’s this very forgetting that we’re trained into that leads to problems further down the road of growth. The suffocators are so thin, but they can cut off your growth as surely as a flimsy plastic bag floating in the sea can suffocate a turtle.

But what ultimately is gentle and can never be hard? Love. Tough love may be needed on the way, in the way that serious illnesses demand powerful medicines that can have strong side-effects, but in the end Love always is gentle and this gentleness is an inherent aspect of its supreme power. (Are you getting triggered ideas right now about hippies, about the badness of the world, about how tough everything ‘really’ is?)

Here is (yet) another huge offence to the Sad Ego – there is no such thing as a purely impersonal love. What would that even mean in practice anyway? A universal love has to include the personal due to its universality, and this apparently profound distinction between personal and impersonal love is therefore ultimately irrelevant. ‘Personal’ love includes our individuality, our uniquely personal limited biological manifestation and everything else about us – it includes our individual tao. Love is not an object but draws everything together, and what exactly is Love without a community of difference to unify? Christianity has this with its doctrine of the trinity, whereby the Ultimate is both one and a community. Compare with the idea mentioned above that unity and diversity go all the way up and down. I mention this here because a certain kind of ‘seeker on the path’ likes to misuse ideas of impersonal love to subtly big themselves up, superior ego-style.

This is where we come to the most serious suffocator. This is the one that comes into play when discussing the tragedy of human life. The Serious Ego loves to say that ‘there is no happy ever after’ as it makes it look (and no doubt feel) noble and realistic. Any philosophy that engages with the hardness of the world – the predation, the war, the death – is extremely vulnerable to being grabbed by the ‘facing up to hard truths’ ego which then, of course, suffocates any idea of escape, or that help may be available, or any idea that actually despite the supposed sentimentality of the idea, maybe there is a ‘happy ever after’ after all. Note however how the phrase ‘happy ever after’ subtly shifts goalposts, framing the idea of an ‘after’life in such a way that immediately belittles it. But who said exactly that any ‘after’life could or should be characterised as ‘happy ever after’ as such? Note how the phrase subtly but tellingly makes it sound like a fairy story. But we all know that life is not a fairy story, so why use that particular phrase in the first place? Only kids and fundamentalists believe in fairy tale stuff – most people don’t. And again, we’re back to ‘most people’ – not some kind of elite with ‘special’ insights into life. (And of course there’s the whole myth/fairy story crossover anyway, which the Hard Truths brigade have nothing good or true or useful to say about.)

But there’s something sad to consider about what’s behind the cynicism of the suffocators – being like that is a (superficially) great way to deal with the more brutal pain that life always serves up sooner or later. It is easy to mock the over-serious, but in the end they have to deal with the same crushing agonies of loss as everybody else. It just isn’t good that their way of dealing with it often involves inflicting pain on others (especially online where there are no brakes), and in any event if these people were truly facing up to truths, then they have to face up to what lies behind the gates closed off by the suffocators. Even if to be fair, those truths can initially seem a little spooky.

(There is a twist in the tale. Thanks to the ‘facing up to harsh reality’ brigades, it’s become very difficult to discuss the possibility that death is not after all the end. But maybe there is after all a good reason for this, because in the wrong hands this knowledge can be dangerous – if you know for sure death isn’t the end, it can lead to the realisation that you can do anything and ultimately get away with it as long as you’re willing to pay the price. Most of us won’t be affected by this, but there are people on dark occult paths that, somewhat incredibly, are willing to act accordingly. Best leave them get on with it. The suffocators here actually perform a useful function, by putting across the idea that the whole idea of this even being a thing “therefore” shows that there can’t be an ‘after’life and thus protecting people from inflicting huge damage on themselves and others. There is also the issue that this worldview can lead to a kind of ‘nothing truly matters’ nihilism – but the whole point of this drama we’re caught up in is that it really matters at the time. This makes it properly a drama, and you tinker with this at your peril. Maybe the suffocators were originally in their proper home, clustered around these insights but then some of them broke free and are now floating about willy nilly… which is more speculative than I’d normally consider including on this blog so I’ll leave it there.)

As for meeting pets, or anybody else, in the ‘after’life, there is a whole kind of culture of so-called ‘mediums’ talking about ‘bringing through’ much-missed loved ones and anybody with a reasonably well-developed discrimination should regard this as suspect. But if you avoid the suffocators that move in when you consider this issue, and instead keep going… then you may encounter new, deeper things to ponder, such as the idea that Mind, or Mind0, is involved in animal life, and animals don’t have that ‘thing’, that mark or blemish or extra aspect of their consciousness that humans have, and are thus innocent and just doing their thing, whether it’s predation or kindness, and are in the present moment whatever happens in their lives, and thus when Mind withdraws from this world it withdraws having grown something True and of Love. The loving being of all animals involves their physicality but in the end becomes atemporal. (This is alluded to here.) But humans have this extra ‘something’ that means we create – and need and try to live by – ethics and morals, and we find ourselves deep in a world of predation and impermanence. Think of the world as a place where loving beings come to be tweaked and attacked in order to produce negative energy. Animals get to leave when they die, but humans get trapped so easily because of the wrong way we raise each other, which causes us to become deeply mired in this world and then have grave difficulty extricating ourselves from it. (People under the sway of suffocators like to sneer at the kitsch Western understanding of reincarnation, but there are good reasons for the Buddhist and Hindu view is reincarnation is to be escaped and certainly not viewed as somehow fascinating or even a good thing.) Now consider the idea that “all shall be well” as the famous phrase of Julian of Norwich has it, and understand that, for example, it is Catholic doctrine that the body will be restored, i.e. worldly physicality will somehow be redeemed and rescued from earthly time, or consider that in Judaism there is the concept of tikkun. Consider the idea that the most important part of the rite of mass is where we are asked to eat Jesus’s flesh and drink his blood as this symbolises that even meat-eating – in this case even knowingly eating the flesh and drinking the blood of someone you regard as the holiest-ever human to walk this earth, a depraved thing to do and worse than anything any wild animal could ever have done – will be redeemed one day, and thus all predation from the highest to the lowest levels will be redeemed. Consider also the power of symbolism, and that the ontological status of symbolism cannot be properly understood by the ego and is far deeper than the ego can ever understand.

And now meta-consider, as it were, step back and consider the profound ideas outlined in the above paragraph, and take good note of how you would never even have encountered them if you’d let the suffocators have their way. This is meta-consideration – you don’t have to buy into any of these ideas, they’re just shown to you here as existing out there somewhere – but the point is the suffocators will stop you from properly engaging with them in the first place. Before you even properly encounter these ideas, the suffocators will present you with superficially attractive ideas of silly-mindedness on the part of others and superiority of understanding on your part, and in so doing con you into thinking you already somehow know in advance it’s all nonsense – as if your limited egoic intellect would know what to do with any of it. You still of course run the risk right now, as you’re reading this, of the knee-jerk reaction of denial that the suffocators produce in their victims, but you don’t have to accept that. You can still dismiss this stuff as mere speculation, but if you want to escape the suffocators you have to drop the idea, or meta-idea, that it’s all in principle untrue. Don’t get all a priori about things that are beyond your ken. There are absolute oceans of rubbish out there outside of the rational, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse to not properly bother exploring to see if some of it is sound. As Theodore Sturgeon put it, ‘90% of everything is crap’. But he didn’t say 99.9999% is – you’ve got a 10% that’s worth seeking out and using properly developed intuition can help you find it a lot more quickly than just relying on the egoic intellect. Once again, it comes down to cultivating and using discrimination – a talent we all have, and can all develop over time.

In the book quoted at the start of this article, Hazyat Inayat Khan writes about the concept of unlearning. To quote again from The Mysticism of Sound and Music:

‘How can one unlearn? You would say that the character of the mind is such that what one learns is engraved on it, and how then can one unlearn it? Unlearning is completing knowledge. To see a person and say ‘That person is wicked’ – that is learning. To see further, and recognize something good in that person – that is called unlearning. When you see the goodness in someone whom you have called wicked, you have unlearned. You have unravelled that knot. … First you learn by seeing with one eye; then you learn to see with two eyes. That makes sight complete.’

So to learn is essential, and this is stressed by HIK, who states that our learning ‘is of great use’ as it ‘gives us the power of discrimination and of discerning differences’ (which these days is only the case as long as learning is not stifled by suffocators). To grow fully, we must then unlearn. Perhaps here is a suggestion of a way to deal with suffocators, which can also be thought of as knots, and thus learn properly, with proper discrimination, and also unlearn properly. Again, HIK: ‘You do not look first at the sky when you are standing on the earth. First look at the earth, and see what it offers you to learn and to observe, but at the same time do not think that your life’s purpose is fulfilled by looking only at the earth. The fulfilment of life’s purpose is in looking at the sky’. We have a big problem now with suffocators seeking to keep people only ever looking at the earth. But if we’re aware of that, we can get to learn of the earth properly, and then the sky properly also. In ‘Gravity and Grace’ Simone Weil states ‘There is only one fault, only one: our inability to feed upon light’. But we can make our way back, and connect with the light, as long as we don’t let our ego take over and try to direct our journey.

Always remember that the dinosaurs died out and the mammals took over. Warm-blooded mammalian furriness wins. Regardless of any evil possible in this dark world, you can refuse to let yourself become hardened, you can find your way in a way that helps others. Remember the Taoist concept of true strength as being able to bend in the wind. Arrogance can’t bend. Discrimination is important, and you keep your rational ego as it’s a crucial helpmeet on the journey, but keep it in context, in service of your deeper self, and never make the mistake of thinking that because individual character traits can be ‘better’ or ‘worse’, then that means that hierarchy is like a ladder – it isn’t, it can only ever be like a sphere…


“And last are the few whose delight is in meditation and understanding; who yearn not for goods, nor for victory, but for knowledge; who leave both market and battlefield to lose themselves in the quiet clarity of secluded thought; whose will is a light rather than a fire, whose haven is not power but truth: these are the men of wisdom, who stand aside unused by the world.” – Will Durant

In his 1974 book ‘Mind and Cosmos’ the author Jacob Needleman writes at some length about the profound importance of stillness in respect of connection with spirit, and indeed making any spiritual progress.   ‘Spiritual progress’ may sound like some kind of nebulously wishy-washy hippy guff, but perhaps inconveniently this not so, not even a little bit.  You’ve seen the state of the world, right?  Spiritual progress is what would heal all that.  The last thing it is is wishy-washy, or sanctimonious, or a means of control of the populace, or some kind of airy-fairy nonsense with no grounding in truth.  None of these popular views of the spiritual are ultimately valid.  The fact that there is no easy way to talk about such matters without sounding somehow insipid or sentimental is itself a clue that something is not right.  But ‘spiritual’ progress is indeed so very important, because ultimately connection with spirit means losing that problem in us that makes us objectify other people, that makes us so explosively fragile and insecure while expecting others to cater to our needs.  That means no more egoic defensiveness, no more us-and-them, no more regarding other people as a threat simply because of who they are, no more double standards when it comes to good, or bad, behaviour.  No more tribalism, war, sexual violence, alienation, rampant fear, hatred, panic, no more treating the natural world as resource to be bought and sold as we use it up and trash it.  Connection with spirit means being fully human, truly understanding what this is all about, understanding and living oneness in the world.  Yet even using the word ‘oneness’ smells a bit off.  How has it come to this?

Our inherent inner stillness is under the most severe attack in the history of humanity.  The Powers That Be (who probably aren’t even conscious of themselves as such – no conspiracy stuff needed here) want to keep everybody in a state of agitation precisely to break that connection, and in order to keep everybody buying stuff to temporarily make the pain go away.  It’s what keeps the Machine going.  With the advent of television, then the internet, then smart phones, our attention has been progressively aggressively eroded.  Naturally there is argument about the direct effect of internet use on attentivity, with some researchers saying it’s bad, others good, but in any event it’s perhaps better viewed as a widespread change in how we behave during our waking hours, and during how many of our waking hours.

There have always been problems with human attentivity, but we have a new, turbo-charged way of ensuring that our minds stay aggressively turbulent, and those ways are deliberately designed to be addictive and keep us coming back for more.  The best psychologists in the world are hired by social media companies like Facebook to conduct the best research on how to do this, any qualms of conscience they may have about doing this are numbed for a while by huge salaries, then when their consciences kick in, they bale and start warning everybody else about how toxic their inventions are.

Television – as 5 second jump cuts weren’t exciting enough, Australian TV networks shortened them to 2 seconds.  This was a great ‘success’ and became the norm for children’s TV and light entertainment programmes throughout the world.  You might also want to try watching, say, Saturday night light entertainment TV out of the corner of your eye, while mindfully looking somewhere neutral, such as a wall or a carpet.  That detachment might bring home to you at least a flavour of how insanely hyperactive jump cut TV actually is.  It’s also often extremely noisy, featuring a relentlessly agitated cacophony of “enhanced” explosive sound, hyped audience reaction, dazzling fx, on and on and on, all the way through.  Try listening to the sound with detached mindfulness, and see what it presents as then.

Of course most of us humans throughout history have always had some kind of problem with attentivity, have gone for shallow noisy distraction, have sought out overstimulation.  And as for us in the west, Blaise Pascal’s quote ‘All humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone’ comes from his Pensées, written in the 17th century.  But this should not be used as a tactic to try to deny that what’s happening these days is unusual, and qualitatively new.  A common tactic of shiny-eyed scientistic sorts is to try to say ‘we’ve always had this, here have always been moral panics about it, lighten up’, but doing so firstly ignores that maybe this problem has always been serious even in antiquity – why should the fact it’s always been around make it OK exactly? – and secondly plays a trick with confusing qualitative and quantitative effects.  Human life may never have been that quiet, but they didn’t have the fiendish ways of scorching minds and destroying attentivity then that we are immersed in now.  Things are qualitatively different these days.  Always remember that if you add many ‘small’s together you get ‘big’.

The internet – there is a growing body of evidence that attentivity is being eroded by surfing the net.  With ‘jackpot’ novelty dopamine triggers, ‘likes’ validation addiction, and the general rush for everything to happen at once, to be available immediately, we’re all being trained in becoming ever more what used to be called ADD but which has now been somewhat clumsily rebranded as ADHD-PI , complete with associated rage reactions and corroded self esteem.  Claims that some of the neurological changes that are occurring with excessive internet use are actually good need to be put in the context of how shitty and awful the social aspects of online interaction so often are.   Faster reaction times are a neutral thing – faster reaction times in terms of being part of an online pile-on aimed at a solitary individual who’s said something attackable are not neutral at all.  Scientism so often confuses the neutral with the good.  Indeed it would do, because that’s what scientism ultimately is – saying that science per se is good instead of neutral.

Smartphones – instead of talking to each other, everybody is now glued to these as much as they can get away with, and sometimes beyond.  Portable mind torment training.  People have died due to being enrapt by their gadgets, their lives ended by misplaced attention.  Try going to, say, nightclasses, or a meetup.  Twenty years ago if there was a break in a class, or if a group met to talk about something, that was where people got to know each other.  Now of course during those breaks there’s that constant aggressive tug trying to pull everybody’s eyeballs to their smartphone screens.  So a lot of people whip out their phones and get absorbed in those instead – people walk outside to get a better signal, or maybe even to be polite, or perhaps because they don’t want people hearing what they’re saying, and suddenly they’re no longer part of the meatspace group – there’s a break where there could’ve been person-to-person human socialising.  Which brings us to…

Real world meetups – anybody who has tried organising, say, a birthday party, or indeed any kind of social event, since the advent of non-smart mobile phones knows what it’s like start getting that dripping accumulation of last minute cancellation texts, so often involving some kind of ‘thinking I might be getting a cold’ wording.  The texts gradually aggregate into a mosaic of insincerity as they build up on the organiser’s phone, but this doesn’t matter to the droppers out, because the disconnect means it’s so easy to pretend that a short few seconds of feeling vaguely guilty when you drop out at the last minute because in reality you just can’t be bothered is somehow a sufficient ‘payment’.   Naturally the double standards of the ego are applied when it’s the turn of the droppers-out to organise their birthday party or whatever – in that case it’s a cause to feel righteously aggrieved, because it’s different, because this time it’s them.  And so on it goes.   The insight that these sorts of double standards are so often applied is peculiarly rare… for some reason.

And it’s always a text, never a phonecall.  Interacting with people in real time means leaving the Womblike Personal Comfort Zone, and the WPCZ is ever more attractive, ever more magnetic… You can go back there any time you want to dose yourself up quickly and easily with vapid opioid stimulation and do just what your little self might happen to want right then without having to meet or even just talk on the phone to bothersome biological entities who might be able to read your tone of voice, or pick up your general vibe some other way, and being biological entities realise in less than 1 second that you’re clearly lying – you know you aren’t ‘might be getting a cold’, you’re just plain lazy, actually uninterested in celebrating something with somebody who’s supposed to be a ‘friend’.

And one of the good things about the internet, the ability to find like-minded people, is so often dragged into this dynamic.  If you ever manage to successfully meet up with online people, they’re usually so different in so many ways to their online persona IRL.  The worst aspect of internet culture here is found on dating sites, touted as the way to meet the person of your dreams, but in reality a powerful way to promote a checklist mentality that shuts down the deeper innate wisdom we all have in terms of person-to-person contact, a wisdom that’s been with us for countless aeons and which is so utterly different to online trash interaction.

And here you are, reading this on the internet.  How aware are you of the way you act, the way you feel, when you’re on the net?  It’s hard to do (even though it shouldn’t be) but at least just take a mental step back, repeatedly, and see how driven you are, how impatient, how angry in your impatience, how you’re always seeking a novelty hit and instant results, your rage at a slow loading page that you angrily close in a blaze of hot fury napalm because it still hadn’t finished loading after a whole 3 seconds – seconds that felt like a violation of your entire life in their sheer arrogant slowness.

This is the irony – the “power of now” when your attention span is attenuated is no power at all.  This is the mystery – by training your attention to remain present, the infitesimal present moment opens up into infinity, for the simple yet strangely secret reason that there is no such thing as a minuscule moment – it’s flow all the way down, up, and sideways.  Panta rhei.  The ADD version of being in the moment isn’t being there at all – it’s a profound absence despite, or perhaps because of being stimulation-addled.

The paradox is that you need to train your attention to be fully present.  But you need that training more than at any point in the history of mankind, and you need it urgently. You need it as it is – you don’t need to be thinking about it, downloading apps to help with it, talking about it, reading about it. You actually need PRESENCE as it is.

It’s quite common for spiritual schemas to feature an involution followed by an evolution, an archetypal example of this being spirit’s descent into matter before then rising back up again.  There is an ever deeper descent into the darkness of matter, before then rising back into the light again.  But what we’re seeing now is everything being scrambled – there is no descent as such, just a disconnection from spirit – and the body – by means of getting our minds totally jumbled and agitated, randomly shocked by encountering horror, tweaked and teased by click farmers, repeatedly zapped by deliberately designed overstimulation techniques, with all the negative bodily effects that this agitation causes – tension, migraine, muscle sprain and strain, loss of connection with the outer world, depression, anxiety, loss of connection with our inner ground.

If you have a regular mindfulness practice, you may well notice that you buy less stuff, and you become a lot more aware of the systematic, society-wide destruction our natural ability to be attentive.  You become generally more grounded, more emotionally stable, empathic, more knowing, more insightful.   You also become aware of pervasive fear-mongering and start wondering why it’s so prevalent, and whose interests it serves.  The politics of meditation.

Just to make one thing clear.  There’s a vast maelstrom of drivel out constantly circling on the internet about 5G, anti-vaxx, ‘Soros’ style shy antisemitism (‘it’s just anti-Zionism!’ – yeah, right), ‘wake up sheeple’ parapolitical bullshit often mixed in with this ‘noticing the fear-mongering’ by an immense ramshackle army of self-appointed ‘people in the know’ (lol) who perhaps aren’t as clever or insightful as they think they are.  And where do these people egg each other on, work together to build and reinforce their fake, toxic worldviews?  Right here, on the internet.   It’s become a running joke, the way these buffoons demand that you watch an hour(s)-long video by a fantasist with a Masters in Facticity from the Youtubiversity of Drunning-Kruger.

Sometimes, being irritated at being asked to watch a Youtube video is justified.  Discernment is the key.

But nonetheless, deliberately induced ADD is everywhere, and it’s getting stronger, and it’s still spreading ever further into our subjective time, where our lives are.  You really do need to do something about this, as a matter of paradoxical urgency.  So log out more often, use discernment, and start trying to find a way back to being fully present, back in the world of human social interaction, before it’s too late.  You will encounter your own laziness, and you will have to find a way through it.  As you have been trained to expect instant perfect results, to be aggressively impatient, you will have to persist and learn self-compassion as you do this, but you must do it.  It may help here to treat learning patience actually an inherent aspect of the whole process rather than a goal or a separate add-on.  Do it out of love for yourself and keep a gentle self-discipline.  It’s best to avoid any kind of goal-directed approach, as that’ll pull your escape from the Machine into just another ‘thing’, another object to keep as a personal possession, and the escape is far beyond anything like that.

If you’re fighting impatience, consider how many hours in the day you spend doing other things compared to the amount of time you spend in life time, i.e. doing things like meditating, or just slowing down and being present, maybe looking out the window with a cup of tea, pondering everything/nothing.  Again, keep away from any goal-directed ideation here – you are planning an escape, and the crucial thing is to make your way along the path of escape, bit by bit.

Your true time, your life time is being stolen. This substitution of fake, driven, clock time has all sorts of unintended consequences too, one being the huge dentristy crisis (here in the UK this is). Which may seem like a surprising reference here, but consider this. We have teeth, and they are used to eat, and they pick up food which gets stuck in crevices, and food with sugar that promotes bacteria that in turn promote decay.  Teeth may be coated with enamel, but they are alive, they have nerves inside them.  They can bite, yet they can become fragile.  This is the way teeth are.  This comes first.  Yet somewhat incredibly, so many people actually can’t spend TWO MINUTES twice a day ensuring their teeth are properly cleaned. The average amount of time spent brushing teeth is apparently around three-quarters of a minute. So people are in pain, they have teeth pulled, or pull them themselves because of the current desperate shortage of dentists , they have mouths full of broken, painful, ugly, rotten teeth – but they pay that price (including often a heavy financial price) because they can’t brush their teeth for 120 seconds x 2 per diem, as part of a day where they’re up and about for 16 hours, which is 57,600 seconds, because the rock-hard drivenness and impatience that has them in its vice-like grip makes spending that time – 0.42% of the waking day – on avoiding a world of pain and cost and inconvenience further down the line, simply unthinkable, absolutely not to be ever faced up to honestly. And that madness is everywhere else too – it’s just the whole dental thing that really shows it vividly.

Teeth, like everything in the objective world, have their own solidity which we need to engage with on its own terms, without leaving bits out, in order to live fully.  But the driven egoic mind creates its own false timetables, disconnected with the outside world, where activities somehow ‘ought’ to take a certain amount of time even though that imaginary time bears little or no relation to truth.  Obviously it’s not just about brushing your teeth, it’s about the entirety of your life in the world, as you live in and through every waking day.

And because the mind has been trained to be driven and angry and scrambled and in so doing create its own (somewhat infantile) ‘ought to’ mentality of time,  and the mind gets energised in this bad way over a period of years, it gains its own pathological momentum, and that momentum needs to be dealt with somehow in order to get rid of it.  Once again, patience and firm self-compassion will be needed to learn, with repetition over time, more grounded behaviours.

Sitting to meditate can light the touchpaper.  The touchpaper may ‘go out’, i.e. you may find you can’t keep a practice going for more than a day or two, but if you keep with it, gently but firmly, eventually the flame takes, and if you keep it alight it will go through the touchpaper and reach the kindling.  There may be more problems with the flame going out, but keep going and eventually the kindling will itself kindle.  It will then require a little gentle nurturing, and will then deepen…

But the vortex of driven vacuity is getting itself ever more deeply installed in your minds by way of an unpredictable novelty that’s usually positive (amusing/cute stuff) but which could at any moment turn out to be utterly horrific (animal abuse, genocide, sexual violence, pictures of all the horror of the world suddenly appearing in your feed (and note the aptness of that word – you’re feeding your conscious and subconscious mind with this junk), and the vortex itself is ever intensified by way of anger stimulation, tweaking you in a way that’ll leave you feeling shit for a good long while afterwards, addicting you so you return like a dog to its vomit.  Instead of living, being present to what is right there now all around you and thus gaining ever deepening understanding of life, vast quantities of people, including people who haven’t yet reached adulthood, are being pulled into the Machine and its idiotic, cacophonous dramas that evaporate so quickly on the surface yet each of which leaves a mark that’s semi-permanent, until the marks start to coalesce into a weeping sore, an infected burning boil on the soul.  It’s not just in our supposedly ‘spare’ time that this is happening either – at work the vortex machine demands ever faster, ever more intense rushing through tasks to the point of burnout.  When ‘vacation’ (an interesting word in this context of all-pervasive emptiness) comes along, because the mind/body retains impressions and stresses and strains, the negative mental and physical effects continue on and on for at least a week or two of your supposedly destressing time.  Unless your employer can still contact you, in which case you will be re-stimulated again and again until the holiday’s over.  Whereupon it’s time to go back to the Machine, the Machine which is eating you and to which you have allied a key aspect of your identity as a human.  (‘What do you do?’ ‘Oh I’m a job description.’)

We know the internet isn’t all bad – so what.  Just dispassionately take a step back and look at how bad the bad stuff is – how all-pervading, how multiply unpleasant in so many different ways, how vacuously dramatic it is by design.  Note how its badness is so intensely emotionally powered, so intimately entwined with poisonous worldviews, poisonous arguing, poisonous stupidity, poisonous politics, poisonous philosophies.  Note how awful you feel, and how long it takes to wear off, after just a little interaction on so-called ‘social media’.

You’re in serious trouble, alright.  And here’s a Youtube video…

Heart and Mind, Body and Soul

So here we all are then… all the same, all different, all like that throughout our life on this earth. We are completely ourselves yet yearn for connection, we’re individuals yet must live in tribes, we’re all unique yet can only share ideas, art, and indeed ourselves, through shared languages, shared ideas, an inner knowing of our commonality that somehow is on the outside too.

And we love our abstract concepts. It certainly looks as if they’re a key aspect of being human. So here’s a couple – mind0 and mindi. It would be usual at this point to set out clear definitions of each, but the approach here is to present matters to ponder, for reasons that will hopefully become clearer further on.

First, consider mindi. Here it refers to the individual mind belonging to each of us, as individual as a fingerprint. We refer to ourselves as ‘I’, and this is associated with mindi. Here, ‘i’ also stands for ‘imponderable’. ‘Imponderables’ are things like companionship, good company, humour, beauty, sister/brotherhood, being treated with appropriate respect, the particular sort of innocent love we receive from pets etc etc. All the things that in principle are not catchable in the net of science, and never will be. They are ∫, never ∑. They are life itself – love being the greatest imponderable of all, yet something that humans seem inherently prone to becoming profoundly disconnected from.

Science can analyse imponderables ever more minutely, and precisely by doing so ensure that they slip ever further away from the living and towards the abstract. Imponderables are vibey, boundaried yet simultaneously without a clear boundary and with no boundary at all. We know them well yet struggle to define or explain them (which in itself is a clue to perhaps realise and thus understand that analysis has limits – even if ironically those limits aren’t easy to define in themselves). Imponderables are vivid yet they’re fuzzy, they’re clear but they smear. They are neither-both and/or both/neither. They are somehow beyond, and yet the most profoundly present aspects of our lives. And they are the true material from which our lives are woven (not put together like Lego). They are the ‘gist’ of things, but also somehow their completeness. The fuzziness can include precision, but not the other way round. More on this further down the page. Alas, this isn’t the preamble to a easy-to-prepare slow cooker recipe that will ‘change your life’ or at least taste good – all of this writing is the important bit, all the way through, so it would be good if you could just read without skipping anything, thank you.

My beautiful pussycat Jess – there was a curious unclarity about her size. She seemed compact somehow, yet stretched out on the sofa next to me she seemed far larger. But her compactness was so striking other people commented on it. Then there was her pussycat style, the way she moved, moseying to the kitchen to perhaps nibble a few snacks, curling into a circle to sleep, deciding to view the room upside-down, all four legs in the air, yawning way beyond any yawn a human could attempt, meowing, burbling, trilling, rolling about in patches of sunlight on the carpet in the spring and only the spring, effortlessly radiating profound contentment, becoming imperiously haughty then in a flash full of affection, running over to see if I was OK…

There was her cat shape and way of acting, clearly defined (in particular when it came to graciousness), but in principle not pin-downable (especially when I had to get her into the carrier for a trip to the vets). And so it was with her companionship, the bond between us that grew ever deeper somehow the longer we shared a living space. It was all bounded, de-finite, and limitless. There was a Jessyness that was unmistakeably Jess yet without sharp edges (apart from on her claws, of course, one of which left a small, precise white scar on my hand that I treasure as a memento).

And Jess, my small-not-small furry guru, my teacher who brought me round to reality over and over again when I got home from work, my mind teeming with burning rubbish I’d brought from the office that had no relevance at all to where I actually was and who was actually greeting me, Jess pulling me out of my obsessive interiority right back to what was actually happening right there and then, Jess wanting food and cuddles, and communicating away with me – here clearly was a unique be-ing. Jess was both a physical cat and a feline process in the style of Jess, a representative of catdom with her own uniquely quirky Way, with an inner life of which I formed just a part, and she had a boundary to her being and yet she didn’t. The size and not-size, the boundary and not-boundary, her physicality but then the connection between us, that resonance in mind and heart – this all was soul. There was Jess, surrounded by not-Jess, yet also here we both were, companions.

The classical Greek concept of pneuma has always been somewhat troublesome for modern-day translators/interpreters. It seems quite slippery. It’s something to do with breath, but it also somehow refers to individual physical being. There are arguments over how to define it clearly. But to us moderns , the very unpindownability of pneuma displays the same characteristics outlined in the previous few paragraphs regarding Jess – so there’s some kind of identity, or an isomorphism, between the concept and what it refers to. So maybe the difficulty us so-called ‘modern’ people have in understanding pneuma is because we’ve become too reliant on – or even too dominated by – definitional boundaries. The point being that becoming overly or prematurely rigid over definitions can block out profoundly important insights further on. Which is one reason why mindi and mind0 were not clearly defined above.

(They say that the word ‘guru’ comes from a root meaning ‘heavy’. The heaviest aspect of my guru was losing Jess, then realising later that I’d needed to learn this profound lesson about love. Like all the important lessons, it was truly hard-won. But learning it changed me forever, in a way I urgently needed to change. This was a lesson of the heart, not the mind.)

Regarding ‘objective definitions’, it is important to note that science makes a big deal about the way in which we can ‘know’ things that turn out to be wrong. You think that the moon’s made of cheese, here’s the evidence it’s rock – moon rock, but rock nonetheless. Sorted. But science contains something in it that people can’t resist misunderstanding, and then misusing. If you think the moon is made of cheese you’re deluded and you can be proved wrong, but you can’t say that the vibe you get watching a full moon rise on a balmy midsummer night over a forest is either deluded or objectively real in the same sense. Getting contemplatively wrapped up in watching bright spring sunshine dance about on the surface of a glass tumbler of water you’ve just put on the table… is this ‘true’ or ‘false’? And don’t try saying it’s either good or bad by referring to effects on the brain, or mind, or society, or evolution – we’re referring to the watching of that interplay of light on the surface of water. That comes before all the post hoc, left-brain analysis.

Next time somebody mentions that they like something, try telling them ‘well you’re wrong!’. Obviously it doesn’t work, and it’s a bit silly. If somebody loves the beauty of a sunset or a moonrise, or being with friends, or the knowings that come upon them while listening to their favourite music, then that’s it – these things are primary. Yes opinion may in some circumstances be changeable or tastes change over time, but that doesn’t mean that their subjectivity doesn’t have this primary quality to it. (We certainly do have ideas of moral right and wrong, though, and appear to have got into proper trouble by saying those ideas are subjective in the same way as any other subjectivity – a huge mistake right there, yet unnervingly common these days. For some reason.)

We live the entirety of our lives in a consciousness that is completely outside the machinations of science, in a society that so often tells us science is capable of providing all the answers.

We turn now to mind per se – mind0. This is the ultimate ‘imponderable’ as outlined above, and can only be understood in ‘imponderable’ terms. In principle there is no outside to mind0, no other sort of anything through which anything can be understood, in the same way that there is no beginning to a circle. The fact that in terms of mind we act and keep acting like there is, or ought to be, ‘something outside the circle’, or a start to the circle that we can attach our projects to, something to aim for, pin down and ‘get’, is a key aspect of the tragedy of the human condition. We have this gift of self-awareness that somehow then gets snagged on itself and leads to so much suffering. Mindi blocks mind0 in the same way that the moon blocks the sun during an eclipse. We see (figuratively or who knows, maybe even literally) just the coronas of things. We never see them in their true radiance. There is this odd coincidence that the moon is nearly the same size as the sun in the sky from our human standpoint, which this strangely suggests the way that the ego nearly but not completely blocks the radiance of ‘objective’ reality, which really is (in) mind0.

The drama of a total eclipse is truly one of the amazing sights of nature, a powerful and awe-inspiring experience for those lucky enough to see it, but it only exists from our viewpoint on Earth. We love the drama when it’s exciting, or pleasurable, or beautiful, or loving and kind, but when it’s none of those things its horror hurts the heart.

As part of the tragedy, we create vast philosophies, religions, sciences, an endless variety of multifarious systems of thought, all of which represent a trying to neutralise the world, to tame it or use it, through abstraction. We hope to somehow go to the abstract level then come back with something that helps us in life… in this case with the concepts of mind0 and mindi, though these concepts have a ‘meta’ quality that makes them a bit different to regular ‘clear’ concepts even if there’s also clarity in there somehow.

A profound blind spot that is found everywhere – all our endless thinking that seeks to somehow ‘explain’ life in terms that themselves are not living.

But life cannot be distilled like water. For example, at the moment there is a movement towards espousing the philosophy of idealism and backing it up with some quite impressive intellectual firepower, yet the whole thing leaves the mystery of life-as-it-is entirely untouched. It’s curiously reminiscent of Wittgenstein’s dictum to the effect that even if all scientific questions were answered, it would leave the mysteries of life entirely untouched. As Bernardo Kastrup (currently a particularly visible proponent of idealism) put it on his FB page after the tragic chemical dump explosion in Lebanon, ‘why would Mind at Large do this?’. No matter the intellectual arguments for or against anything, the mystery of life remains untouched. The tragedy and the love continue, whether reality is ultimately mind or not.

There is a difference in that if everything is mind, death changes meaning, but even then there is still an imposingly huge barrier between death and life. And if we start looking into that, more questions of meaning appear, this time with even more bite… perhaps because they’re questions (and answers) that we’re not ready for in our current state. When it comes to the deeper aspects of life, the injunction against putting new wine in old skins is there for good reason. Imagine knowing that there definitely is an ‘after’life – so many people would be killed due to arguments and rages and lusts for power. The effect on the value of human life and indeed the whole drama of living would be catastrophic. Somewhere in John Cage’s book ‘M’, in amidst the cut-ups and typographic play is the phrase ‘if we knew for sure what happens after death we could not love each other’. A phrase that invites pondering, mulling over…

There both is and isn’t a boundary between mind0 and mindi, in the same way that there is and isn’t a boundary between you and other souls (in the pneuma sense), or you and me and the ‘outside’ world.

Maybe if we were able to see our individual mindis interacting with this apparent outside world and other mindis, we would be seeing it all from the viewpoint of mind0, in the same way that when we individually look at brain scans we can see somehow there’s a close correlation between brain activity and subjective consciousness but can’t go any further than that.

We see ever more clearly how different activities in the brain are somehow associated with subjective experiences, but we have no idea just it might give rise to those experiences. We try to duck the issue by referring to ’emergence’, but this leads to the question – ‘if matter can do this, what else can it do?’.

And perhaps the supposed ‘emergence’ of the drama of our lives within mindi, a drama that is so different ‘on the inside’, as we live it, follows an analogous principle. We can examine ever more minutely the workings of the brain associated with subjective thoughts yet with no explanation of that correlation, and so – perhaps – we can examine our mindi lives from the viewpoint of mind0 without ever being able to put together an intellectual ‘explanation’ for it all.

Again, the hint that by looking outwards we are looking in the wrong direction – even though there’s an objective world, even though that world sometimes gives us the impression it will offer up some kind of final answers if we just probe it the right way.

But in any event this mystery is not analysable into statistics dust, or mindi or mind0, or digital 1s and 0s, or in principle any abstractions, as doing so destroys what it was about in the first place. Thought and feeling, science and ethics, combine and there is always and ever a third Something we can sense but only understand by radically not looking for it. And the incredible thing is that yes, we can understand it profoundly – as long as we don’t go looking for it with our analytical minds. Looking outwards with our analytical intellect will only, can only, ever produce approximations. So be wary of those who have a prejudice against lack of clarity – they will block you from going towards deeper understanding. True clarity is not found in the neurotic pennings-in and pinnings-down of the egoic intellect. True understanding naturally goes with what the egoic intellect arrogantly likes to pejoratively think of as unclarity, fuzziness.

As you look at the 0 and i, even then you are seeing symbolism, intuiting it, being involved in an associative activity to do with O and I: the O of the void, of perfection, of the infinite, free from any localised particularity, and the I of I AM, but here seen as the small i of ego, with its imaginary nature that nonetheless is effective in the world in the way that imaginary numbers turned out to have practical uses, a limited reflection of I, with the head disassociated from the body, and the head being a tiny O that’s shrunk right down into a solid black dot, reminiscent of the way that our ego arrogates to itself the qualities of O, eclipsing the ground of being in the way the moon eclipses the sun, but without the emptiness within O that gives everything resonance, that permits everything to happen, that lets the light in…

But all of this is mere neutral philosophising, lacking in the sheer intensity of life as it is lived. In the end all arguments for and against the existence of God, all ideological and intellectual arguments, all the politicking, all that clever-clever clashing, is only happening because of our morbid craving for deracinated certainty. But the ironic paradox is that all this supposed ‘reason’ has become, or always was, intimately intertwined with emotion, intuition, feeling(s).

And however much darkness lets rip, its nature is that of a storm, and storms always burn out in the end – they have to by their nature. Love never burns out. It’s eternal. The beautiful nightmare of the world will be redeemed, no matter how utterly unlikely that may seem at any point in our life on this earth. It all works out in the end. All of it.

As for where we are right now in our lives, amidst all our approximations that are (whether we can see it or not) strangely suffused with the light of completeness, amidst all our struggles that we can’t let go of and have to live our way through… well… here we all are then.

At Last, it’s the Great Dodgy Band Name List

For 9 to 5 office worker drones, Fridays often have a curiously paradoxical vibe, featuring simultaneous boredom at still being stuck at work while the imminent weekend beckons, and excitement due to that imminently beckoning weekend. One thing I’ve often found that’s helped me make it through those last few tantalising hours to (temporary) freedom was inventing rubbish band names, and over a couple of years or so I built up a list – a list which I share now for the delight of you, dear reader, in all its meta-pretentious glory:

  1. Proton Pump Inhibitors (stern EBM from Chichester)
  2. Thee Luftwaffe Thinmints
  3. myrahindleyburgdisaster
  4. Colins
  5. Surgery Bombshells
  6. Thee Jane Horrocks
  7. Bury St Edmunds Divorce Unit
  8. Japanese Knotweed
  9. Habermas and the Public Sphere
  10. The Perfecitonists
  11. Dead Metaphors
  12. Chocolate Fireguards
  13. The Moon on a Stick
  14. Bollocks on Wheels
  15. Solicitors on Wheels
  16. Bollocks on Stilts
  17. Stilton Wheels (jangly indie from Mumbai)
  18. George Is In The Fridge And We Can’t Get Him Out (Nu-motorik meets free-form collectivist jazz from the founders of the Grimsby School)
  19. Derek on Wednesday
  20. Your Mum on Thursday
  21. The Tuesday Welders
  22. Without Prejudice and Subject to Contract
  23. New Age Sex Freaks (half a dozen denim-clad psych-rock jamming mountain-dwelling longhairs from West Virginia that change their name to Acid Grassland when the lead singer’s wife, an earth mother hippy called Flower (real name) joins in on flute)
  24. Nigel and Susan (6-piece crushingly heavy doom/sludge metal outfit from Northampton, obvs)
  25. Blanket Condemnation
  26. The Water Table
  27. Pregnancy
  28. Cars You Never See Anymore
  29. Chairman Mao’s Handwriting
  30. The Plan marked ‘A’ on the Copy Provided (‘Angular statistical analysis rock at its most angular and statistical. And analytical.’ – Shittocks fanzine)
  31. Barbara L’Arbre and her Macabre Candelabras
  32. Penoid Inexactitude (Californian thrashcore punk)
  33. Gonadic Catastrophe (Californian thrashcore punk)
  34. Testosteronal Demolition (Californian thrashcore punk)
  35. Venetta Get Back in the Pram (Stereolab-influenced pop from Gothenborg)
  36. The Deep Vein Thrombosis Band
  37. Ultrabuttocks (Ozric Tentacles meets ramshackle but enthusiastic squat party techno, the band decked out in pound shop “cyber” stylings featuring the post-ironic use of tinfoil as a signifier for “future”) (Their new, and so far only, album ‘WARNING – ULTRABUTTOCKS’ was mired for years in a legal dispute regarding the band’s name (see below) but should be released on Laxative Tapes ‘soon’.)
  38. Expecting White Space – debut album Elucidating the Vibrational Fingerprint of the Flexible Metal–Organic Framework out ‘soon’ on Haemorrhoid Industries
  39. Eileen and Wendy (Britain’s only plastic spoon chamber orchestra, from Leeds)
  40. International Sex Brigades
  41. Show Me The Invoices
  42. False Vacuum Fiascos
  43. £10.64
  44. £9.62
  45. £8.33
  46. £1,000,000
  47. Traffic Signal Faults (jangly doom/sludge metal from Bolton)
  48. Ablaut Reduplicants (more post-ironic grot party futurism, but this time the band members are festooned with bits of old circuit boards and red LEDs) (rumoured to consist entirely of members of Ultrabuttocks but because everybody including the band(s) has been so out of it when they’ve played, nobody’s entirely sure)
  49. Migratory Toads
  50. Fork Hunts
  51. Pom Pom Macoute
  52. Lower Back Pain
  53. Bradley Walsh’s Ultrabuttocks (after a lengthy, costly and ultimately futile legal argument with the ‘original’ Ultrabuttocks as to who came up with the name first (of which the Ultrabuttocks mentioned above have been entirely unaware from start to finish due to being so out of it), lawyers for both sides agreed on this name as a suitable compromise.) (Bradley Walsh was unavailable for comment yesterday.)
  54. Pruritus Ani (who, perhaps inevitably, have released a cassette of lo-fi harsh noise (‘Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc’) with a grainily photocopied monochrome cover featuring a photo of two unsmiling young men standing in front of a war memorial) (initial copies included a signed certificate of meaninglessness)

Luftwaffe Thinmints appeared in my mind about 20 years ago when my girlfriend at the time asked me how to pronounce ‘luftwaffe’ .

Surgery Bombshells is from the front cover of one of those lurid ‘Take A Break’ type magazines.

Ultrabuttocks is based on a band I saw at the George Robey back around 1995 called something like Genetix. They were an Ozric Tentacles spinoff doing Shamen-style techno/guitar crossover stuff in a distinctly post-ironic style that I really enjoyed. We’re talking wraparound shades and a certain smirk suggesting ‘we’re not taking this entirely seriously’ that paradoxically made it all brilliant. I thought that I’d found their cassette on the main record collector site Discogs once despite the fact that there are quite a few Genetixes on there, but annoyingly I can’t find it there now.

Traffic Light Faults is the heading of a notice on the front of an electrics box by the level crossing near where I live. I noticed that the vowel intonation in that phrase has an up, up, down intonation which led me to Ablaut Reduplicants, which I decided would be a good alternative version of Ultrabuttocks.

I think entry 37 may have been at least partly inspired by the missing short film in Peter Greenaway’s The Falls, which is supposed to have 93 short biographies in it but skips one entirely, no reason given. (I’m not really a fan of Greenaway these days but I’ll happily make an exception for The Falls, and would say that if you haven’t seen it, please do.) Maybe there’s a bit of John Cage in there too, with the implication that the band in question have taken 4′ 33″ out of the concert hall into, well, everything, even though that’s kind of what 4′ 33″ was about anyway. Or something.

Bury St Edmunds Divorce Unit was rubber stamped on a court bundle I saw at work a few years back.

False Vacuum Fiascos is a phrase in Jim Holt’s book Why Does the World Exist?

Proton Pump Inhibitors are a type of anti-ulcer medication. I’ve been on one since 2009 due to developing an ulcer that I suspect in part was due to cooking ever-hotter chilis con carne (or veggies) over a period of years, along with stress and drinking too much.

Habermas and the Public Sphere was the title of a book that my girlfriend in the mid-90s studied as part of getting a social work qualification. I saw it on her bookshelf, and imagined a large sphere in a town centre, perhaps a modern art installation, maybe somewhere in Holland or Belgium, and Habermas had something to do with it while not being its creator, perhaps he commented a lot on it, and the author of this book had in turn written about the relationship between Habermas and this sphere, and clearly the relationship was so important the publisher agreed to publish it. Maybe it included a chapter on the modern ballet dance performance that took place at its opening ceremony where the dancers all wore one-piece white body suits with a hole for their face – alas, we’ll never know, as none of these things ever happened.

Cars You Never See Anymore and Chairman Mao’s Handwriting were thread titles in a discussion forum I used to post on.

Expecting White Space was an error message that cropped up (just once and never again) on the work database (a kind of database hapax legomenon) – their album’s named after a research paper I found on the internet.

Venetta Get Back in the Pram was an overheard comment at the Victoria Station M&S, barked by a fratefully posh-sounding woman at her small child, who’d gone on the loose and needed to be brought back to her buggy.

At one point I had a markedly irascible boss who portentously snapped ‘show me the invoices’ at me for some reason, which I found inexplicably amusing (I nearly started laughing at the time but thought better of it as he was so very very cross about whatever it was he needed to see those invoices for).

If you don’t know what pruritus ani means, I’ll let you look it up.

And so, to round things off in a Rabbi Lionel Blue way, I would say that you know, isn’t it funny how in a very real sense, repurposing random guff can be a good way of changing the mundane into something magical, or mildly amusing anyway. The raw material is everywhere, and can be encountered at any time. And it can be a decent way of dealing with otherwise climb-up-the-walls boredom on a Friday afternoon at work (and if you type it up at your desk it even looks like you’re doing proper work – it helps not to smile while you’re doing it though…)

Have you ‘got’ it yet?

We get computers to mimic us, and programme them thus, and profess amazement that they act in a quasi-human way after we’ve programmed ourselves into them.  And a strange kind of hypnosis often occurs, whereby a lot of AI scientists (and their more gullible followers, which is a lot of followers) feel an overwhelming need to say that this shows that the computers are somehow ‘conscious’.  But at no point do the machines ‘see’ what they’re doing.  And this noticing is the rock on which reductionism flounders.  It flounders so completely, so humiliatingly, that rather than accept that it’s happened, otherwise very clever people such as AI researchers and philosophers of consciousness kid themselves that they’ve found an answer – an answer that when you look at it unflinchingly still boils down to a kind of programming, or a kind of disposition of 1s and 0s or electrical pulses, which as we all already really know, won’t ever ‘get’ anything.  Consciousness breaks the circle of this circular thinking. 

There seems to have been some kind of bait and switch.  We are asked to look over there, then when we look back a trick has been played.  Suppose, say, that instead of computers we got pointillist artists to convert everything into dots of paint, but coded in a way that ‘goes with’ real world events.  But what does ‘goes with’ even mean here?  Straight away science is getting itself in a muddle, before it even starts sciencing.  The dots can’t be used to create pictures, as that’s already getting human awareness involved in the creation of the picture, and we’re trying to avoid that in order to create machine awareness that doesn’t rely on humans.  So the dots must ‘go with’ real world events somehow, but without human involvement.  There’s the bit that’s easy to skip over.  There’s the bit where the switch happens. 

Those dots – would they ever create consciousness?  We know that could never happen – we can (ahem) see that.  So why is it supposedly different for electronic dots in the form of 1s and 0s?  Because computers, apparently.  Naturally there’s a lot of AI hype that begs the question, assuming as a foundation that consciousness can be created by computation, then setting about proving it.  Yeah, how’s that been going guys?  Not noted for its success so far, is it?  Perhaps one thing that doesn’t help is that electrical activity takes place in the brain, and in computers, so it’s assumed computers have a privileged property that can somehow give them a head start.  Though looking at the brain’s over 1000 neurotransmitters, and the way it has more connections between neurons than stars in the universe, is a trifle daunting.  Is it really necessary for a computer to embody this kind of complexity in order to create consciousness? 

So there’s now a line of AI research going on inspired by phenomenological philosophers, with embodied concepts of consciousness.  Suddenly philosophers are back on the scene, to some extent at least.  But phenomenological AI research always comes up against a new brick wall, namely the problem of common sense knowledge.  When even arch-eliminitavist Daniel Dennett acknowledges this as a serious problem then you know there’s trouble afoot.  Once again this issue, whatever it ultimately is, bounces off the brick wall of computation, now appearing as a deep problem in respect of location in the real world we all live in. 

In the end it’s the same problem – there’s no way even in principle that an outward-looking science can use that outward-directed approach in any way when it comes to interiority.  All the huffing and puffing and hand waving and just-so-storying of some scientists actually indicates is how ingrained the issue is, how widespread and embedded it is through so many different cultures, and how unacceptable, freakish, threatening this weird challenge is to that whole worldview.  We are all set for a long, long journey through frustration before this empty reactivity finally burns out. 

Then there’s another issue intimately bound up with the problem – time.  The standard approach in AI to divide the flow of time into snapshots, presumably at least partly because of the computer thing.  But what it is about that difference that means that moving electronic dots can create consciousness while still ones can’t?  Consciousness isn’t divided like this.  Remember that those dots, whether made of paint or electricity, are all individual snapshots of reality.  Why should creating a succession of them somehow go with consciousness?  How could it? And again, just how exactly is the coding done for transferring those dots or electronic blips into what they apparently ‘represent’? 

It’s the computer thing again – why do computers work by dividing things into snapshots?  CPUs always have a clock.  Why exactly is this the way computers work?  Perhaps it ultimately comes from the whole sciencey thing whereby we find out important things about nature by taking readings.  Get a lot of readings and you may well discover something profoundly important about the way that nature works – from the outside.  This approach hasn’t exactly proved successful when it comes to consciousness though. 

Here is the battleground – it’s not just that science looks outwards, it’s also the way that it runs on meter readings.  They’re a powerful fuel for the whole science project.  Combine particularly intense attempts to understand consciousness from the outside with a reliance on taking readings, and you get astonishingly fast sampling via computers. 

In mathematics, repeatedly adding the results of an equation is represented by the symbol ∑.  Meanwhile, integration is represented by ∫.  The difference between summation and integration is profound.  Summing with ∑ will bring the line of the curve on the graph ever closer to the axis, but only integration, ∫, will allow it to touch. 

Fourier analysis represents a particularly promethean attempt by humankind to get from ∑ to ∫.  And it must be said it’s incredibly useful maths in terms of technology.  The crucial feature here of this powerful mathematical tool is that undulating sine waves can approach square (on/off) waves by adding them in the right way in terms of frequency and amplitude. The easiest way to see it, is to see it:

This process in itself can be seen as ∑ making a claim upon ∫.  But to become true square waves they still need to be integrated, not summed.  The jump from ∑ to ∫ is still there.  ∫ triumphs after all, even when we’re making square waves – we can’t do it just with ∑ .  The difference between discrete summing and perfectly smooth integration isn’t just total, it’s key.  In integration is infinity, yet paradoxically there in the integral also is the everyday analogue world, our continuously flowing human world of crackly vinyl and emotion and feeling, of qualia and meaning, of feeling tone, mood and the sense of the aesthetic.  The situation isn’t symmetrical.  Precisely because ∑ can never reach the infinity of ∫ , sine waves created by Fourier addition will always have a hint of the square wave about them – it might be very fine-grained, but it’ll never be totally absent.  No matter how many snapshots you take, they will always be snapshots, and making a flickbook out of them will never result in the inherent smoothness of experience.

We can never make the final leap from ∑ to ∫ however, as you can add forever without end and still be finite, so digitally constructed sine waves will always have this hint of the square wave.  And infinite sidebands means a certain lack of presence, a not-quite-there-ness.

(As an aside, a curious feature of Fourier transformation is that square waves have infinite sidebands.  When a sine wave is modulated, spectral components are created in the sidebands. Perhaps this can be thought of analogously as how when we remove our day-to-day consciousness from consciousness in general, we start to see what we call ‘psychic’ phenomena. Without the presence of the ‘carrier signal’ of our usual egoic consciousness, these curiously appropriately named components are not pin-down-able in the way that concepts usually are in everyday consciousness. They’re there and they’re not – they speak of truth then they lie, they are ambiguous. Ideas of the trickster are found in the numinous, the liminal aspects of so many different cultures.

We can never make the final leap from ∑ to ∫ however, as you can add forever without end and still be finite, so digitally (i.e. square wave) constructed sine waves will always have this hint of the square wave.  And infinite sidebands means a certain lack of presence, a not-quite-there-ness.

And curiously, if you listen to a square wave tone, there’s something hollow about its sound.  It can be filtered and phased, treated so it paradoxically gains a certain fullness, and that’s a very satisfying sound indeed to hear, but the reason it’s satisfying depends on one level on the contrast between the fullness of the filtered sounds and the hollowness of the square wave. )

There are Buddhist methods of meditation that can bring you to the point where you are aware of an incredibly fast blinking on and off of reality.  But if you consist solely of that reality, how can you be aware of the alternating on and off?  What is it that is noticing it? 

We certainly aren’t digital beings, but we discovered something in our minds, something connected with how we make our way in this world, perhaps connected with the fact that we have digits in the sense of fingers, that finds the whole on/off thing profoundly useful.  But only in the slinky integral∫are we found, not in the jagged ∑.  Digits/fingers are for grasping, making, holding, playing, working on the world.  But discrete summation in our minds turns us into ghosts, makes our consciousness a deus ex machina.  And constant sampling is a form of anxiety, never far from OCD. 

Somehow as the ∑ whirls ever faster until it reaches and becomes the infinite (but only in our conceptual minds), time stops and the ∑ is now ∫.  A circle has no gradations, and as it whirls there are no snapshots in time – we cannot see it spinning.  But in our timebound human world the time-free ∫somehow now includes ∑ – we have brought the infinite sidebands of the square wave into our minds, in a major way, through scientific sampling, and we have become not entirely present, as with a sine wave with hints of the square wave of sampling in it.  The Fall is sometimes viewed as something that happened when humans brought time into the world.  The Fall was (and is) when our human ∫ became mixed with ∑ and we started to count out (and keep counting out) each petty second… 

The same issue seems to keep reappearing in different guises – there is the sum of discrete intervals but also the smooth integration of (the area under) the curve.  Light is a wave and a particle – there it is again.  The foundational barrier getting in the way of a Quixotic quest that can’t even delineate a definition of consciousness in the first place. 

In Christianity – we’re separate from God, so ∑. In Vedanta, we are ultimately God, so ∫. But we are beyond ∑  and even ∫ , because all dichotomies melt when faced with the ultimate truth.

Somehow consciousness is right in there at the heart of any reality we can ever know, and for that very reason all our attempts to get inside it from without can never cross the flaming sword barring our way back to the garden of Eden. 

So watch them.  Watch them as they dutifully go about tackling this problem in a way that will never work.  Watch them as they assess from the outside and ponder on their inside how they can make any headway with their outward-based assessments. Then watch as they lie to themselves and others, saying they’ve got a breakthrough theory of consciousness, this time for real.  Note how each new theory is hyped, touted as a genuine breakthrough this time for sure, before it recedes into the past, fading out along with all the other ‘breakthroughs’. Watch as all the appeals to theory, complexity, brain activity, computers inexorably begin to bend out of shape as they approach the unmeasurable mirror of mind.  Railtracks of science disappear into the radiant void of consciousness.  We try to see where the tracks lead, but they vanish into the light. 

To say that meter readings of any sort will – or even could – somehow provide anything in any way subjective is an article of faith that would make a creationist blush.  But it’s peculiarly hard to get a lot of people to see this.  The numb hypnosis of measuring and its dulling of our sight, its attendant deadening of our true human essence…  we live asleep, we are lulled to sleep, a sleep so often tinged with nightmare.  But there is no meaning in a meter reading…