Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The World as Representation

It can be hard to remember these days that not much more than half a century ago, philosophy was something you read about in general-interest magazines and the better grade of newspapers. Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was an international celebrity; the posthumous publication of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Le Phenomenon Humaine (the English translation, predictably, was titled The Phenomenon of Man) got significant flurries of media coverage; Random House’s Vintage Books label brought out cheap mass-market paperback editions of major philosophical writings from Plato straight through to Nietzsche and beyond, and made money off them.

Though philosophy was never really part of the cultural mainstream, it had the same kind of following as avant-garde jazz, say, or science fiction.  At any reasonably large cocktail party you had a pretty fair chance of meeting someone who was into it, and if you knew where to look in any big city—or any college town with pretensions to intellectual culture, for that matter—you could find at least one bar or bookstore or all-night coffee joint where the philosophy geeks hung out, and talked earnestly into the small hours about Kant or Kierkegaard. What’s more, that level of interest in the subject had been pretty standard in the Western world for a very long time.

We’ve come a long way since then, and not in a particularly useful direction. These days, if you hear somebody talk about philosophy in the media, it’s probably a scientific materialist like Neil deGrasse Tyson ranting about how all philosophy is nonsense. The occasional work of philosophical exegesis still gets a page or two in the New York Review of Books now and then, but popular interest in the subject has vanished, and more than vanished: the sort of truculent ignorance about philosophy displayed by Tyson and his many equivalents has become just as common among the chattering classes as a feigned interest in the subject was a half century in the past.

Like most human events, the decline of philosophy in modern times was overdetermined; like the victim in the murder-mystery paperback who was shot, strangled, stabbed, poisoned, whacked over the head with a lead pipe, and then shoved off a bridge to drown, there were more causes of death than the situation actually required. Part of the problem, certainly, was the explosive expansion of the academic industry in the US and elsewhere in the second half of the twentieth century.  In an era when every state teacher’s college aspired to become a university and every state university dreamed of rivaling the Ivy League, a philosophy department was an essential status symbol. The resulting expansion of the field was not necessarily matched by an equivalent increase in genuine philosophers, but it was certainly followed by the transformation of university-employed philosophy professors into a professional caste which, as such castes generally do, defended its status by adopting an impenetrable jargon and ignoring or rebuffing attempts at participation from outside its increasingly airtight circle.

Another factor was the rise of the sort of belligerent scientific materialism exemplified, as noted earlier, by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Scientific inquiry itself is philosophically neutral—it’s possible to practice science from just about any philosophical standpoint you care to name—but the claim at the heart of scientific materialism, the dogmatic insistence that those things that can be investigated using scientific methods and explained by current scientific theory are the only things that can possibly exist, depends on arbitrary metaphysical postulates that were comprehensively disproved by philosophers more than two centuries ago. (We’ll get to those postulates and their problems later on.) Thus the ascendancy of scientific materialism in educated culture pretty much mandated the dismissal of philosophy.

There were plenty of other factors as well, most of them having no more to do with philosophy as such than the ones just cited. Philosophy itself, though, bears some of the responsibility for its own decline. Starting in the seventeenth century and reaching a crisis point in the nineteenth, western philosophy came to a parting of the ways—one that the philosophical traditions of other cultures reached long before it, with similar consequences—and by and large, philosophers and their audiences alike chose a route that led to its present eclipse. That choice isn’t irreparable, and there’s much to be gained by reversing it, but it’s going to take a fair amount of hard intellectual effort and a willingness to abandon some highly popular shibboleths to work back to the mistake that was made, and undo it.

To help make sense of what follows, a concrete metaphor might be useful. If you’re in a place where there are windows nearby, especially if the windows aren’t particularly clean, go look out through a window at the view beyond it. Then, after you’ve done this for a minute or so, change your focus and look at the window rather than through it, so that you see the slight color of the glass and whatever dust or dirt is clinging to it. Repeat the process a few times, until you’re clear on the shift I mean: looking through the window, you see the world; looking at the window, you see the medium through which you see the world—and you might just discover that some of what you thought at first glance was out there in the world was actually on the window glass the whole time.

That, in effect, was the great change that shook western philosophy to its foundations beginning in the seventeenth century. Up to that point, most philosophers in the western world started from a set of unexamined presuppositions about what was true, and used the tools of reasoning and evidence to proceed from those presuppositions to a more or less complete account of the world. They were into what philosophers call metaphysics: reasoned inquiry into the basic principles of existence. That’s the focus of every philosophical tradition in its early years, before the confusing results of metaphysical inquiry refocus attention from “What exists?” to “How do we know what exists?” Metaphysics then gives way to epistemology: reasoned inquiry into what human beings are capable of knowing.

That refocusing happened in Greek philosophy around the fourth century BCE, in Indian philosophy around the tenth century BCE, and in Chinese philosophy a little earlier than in Greece. In each case, philosophers who had been busy constructing elegant explanations of the world on the basis of some set of unexamined cultural assumptions found themselves face to face with hard questions about the validity of those assumptions. In terms of the metaphor suggested above, they were making all kinds of statements about what they saw through the window, and then suddenly realized that the colors they’d attributed to the world were being contributed in part by the window glass and the dust on it, the vast dark shape that seemed to be moving purposefully across the sky was actually a beetle walking on the outside of the window, and so on.

The same refocusing began in the modern world with Rene Descartes, who famously attempted to start his philosophical explorations by doubting everything. That’s a good deal easier said than done, as it happens, and to a modern eye, Descartes’ writings are riddled with unexamined assumptions, but the first attempt had been made and others followed. A trio of epistemologists from the British Isles—John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume—rushed in where Descartes feared to tread, demonstrating that the view from the window had much more to do with the window glass than it did with the world outside. The final step in the process was taken by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who subjected human sensory and rational knowledge to relentless scrutiny and showed that most of what we think of as “out there,” including such apparently hard realities as space and time, are actually  artifacts of the processes by which we perceive things.

Look at an object nearby: a coffee cup, let’s say. You experience the cup as something solid and real, outside yourself: seeing it, you know you can reach for it and pick it up; and to the extent that you notice the processes by which you perceive it, you experience these as wholly passive, a transparent window on an objective external reality. That’s normal, and there are good practical reasons why we usually experience the world that way, but it’s not actually what’s going on.

What’s going on is that a thin stream of visual information is flowing into your mind in the form of brief fragmentary glimpses of color and shape. Your mind then assembles these together into the mental image of the coffee cup, using your memories of that and other coffee cups, and a range of other things as well, as a template onto which the glimpses can be arranged. Arthur Schopenhauer, about whom we’ll be talking a great deal as we proceed, gave the process we’re discussing the useful label of “representation;” when you look at the coffee cup, you’re not passively seeing the cup as it exists, you’re actively representing—literally re-presenting—an image of the cup in your mind.

There are certain special situations in which you can watch representation at work. If you’ve ever woken up in an unfamiliar room at night, and had a few seconds pass before the dark unknown shapes around you finally turned into ordinary furniture, you’ve had one of those experiences. Another is provided by the kind of optical illusion that can be seen as two different things. With a little practice, you can flip from one way of seeing the illusion to another, and watch the process of representation as it happens.

What makes the realization just described so challenging is that it’s fairly easy to prove that the cup as we represent it has very little in common with the cup as it exists “out there.” You can prove this by means of science: the cup “out there,” according to the evidence collected painstakingly by physicists, consists of an intricate matrix of quantum probability fields and ripples in space-time, which our senses systematically misperceive as a solid object with a certain color, surface texture, and so on. You can also prove this, as it happens, by sheer sustained introspection—that’s how Indian philosophers got there in the age of the Upanishads—and you can prove it just as well by a sufficiently rigorous logical analysis of the basis of human knowledge, which is what Kant did.

The difficulty here, of course, is that once you’ve figured this out, you’ve basically scuttled any chance at pursuing the kind of metaphysics that’s traditional in the formative period of your philosophical tradition. Kant got this, which is why he titled the most relentless of his analyses Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics; what he meant by this was that anybody who wanted to try to talk about what actually exists had better be prepared to answer some extremely difficult questions first.  When philosophical traditions hit their epistemological crises, accordingly, some philosophers accept the hard limits on human knowledge, ditch the metaphysics, and look for something more useful to do—a quest that typically leads to ethics, mysticism, or both. Other philosophers double down on the metaphysics and either try to find some way around the epistemological barrier, or simply ignore it, and this latter option is the one that most Western philosophers after Kant ended up choosing.  Where that leads—well, we’ll get to that later on.

For the moment, I want to focus a little more closely on the epistemological crisis itself, because there are certain very common ways to misunderstand it. One of them I remember with a certain amount of discomfort, because I made it myself in my first published book, Paths of Wisdom. This is the sort of argument that sees the sensory organs and the nervous system as the reason for the gap between the reality out there—the “thing in itself” (Ding an Sich), as Kant called it—and the representation as we experience it. It’s superficially very convincing: the eye receives light in certain patterns and turns those into a cascade of electrochemical bursts running up the optic nerve, and the visual centers in the brain then fold, spindle, and mutilate the results into the image we see.

The difficulty? When we look at light, an eye, an optic nerve, a brain, we’re not seeing things in themselves, we’re seeing another set of representations, constructed just as arbitrarily in our minds as any other representation. Nietzsche had fun with this one: “What? and others even go so far as to say that the external world is the work of our organs? But then our body, as a piece of this external world, would be the work of our organs! But then our organs themselves would be—the work of our organs!” That is to say, the body is also a representation—or, more precisely, the body as we perceive it is a representation. It has another aspect, but we’ll get to that in a future post.

Another common misunderstanding of the epistemological crisis is to think that it’s saying that your conscious mind assembles the world, and can do so in whatever way it wishes. Not so. Look at the coffee cup again. Can you, by any act of consciousness, make that coffee cup suddenly sprout wings and fly chirping around your computer desk? Of course not. (Those who disagree should be prepared to show their work.) The crucial point here is that representation is neither a conscious activity nor an arbitrary one. Much of it seems to be hardwired, and most of the rest is learned very early in life—each of us spent our first few years learning how to do it, and scientists such as Jean Piaget have chronicled in detail the processes by which children gradually learn how to assemble the world into the specific meaningful shape their culture expects them to get. 

By the time you’re an adult, you do that instantly, with no more conscious effort than you’re using right now to extract meaning from the little squiggles on your computer screen we call “letters.” Much of the learning process, in turn, involves finding meaningful correlations between the bits of sensory data and weaving those into your representations—thus you’ve learned that when you get the bits of visual data that normally assemble into a coffee cup, you can reach for it and get the bits of tactile data that normally assemble into the feeling of picking up the cup, followed by certain sensations of movement, followed by certain sensations of taste, temperature, etc. corresponding to drinking the coffee.

That’s why Kant included the “thing in itself” in his account: there really does seem to be something out there that gives rise to the data we assemble into our representations. It’s just that the window we’re looking through might as well be a funhouse mirror:  it imposes so much of itself on the data that trickles through it that it’s almost impossible to draw firm conclusions about what’s “out there” from our representations.  The most we can do, most of the time, is to see what representations do the best job of allowing us to predict what the next series of fragmentary sensory images will include. That’s what science does, when its practitioners are honest with themselves about its limitations—and it’s possible to do perfectly good science on that basis, by the way.

It’s possible to do quite a lot intellectually on that basis, in fact. From the golden age of ancient Greece straight through to the end of the Renaissance, in fact, a field of scholarship that’s almost completely forgotten today—topics—was an important part of a general education, the kind of thing you studied as a matter of course once you got past grammar school. Topics is the study of those things that can’t be proved logically, but are broadly accepted as more or less true, and so can be used as “places” (in Greek, topoi) on which you can ground a line of argument. The most important of these are the commonplaces (literally, the common places or topoi) that we all use all the time as a basis for our thinking and speaking; in modern terms, we can think of them as “things on which a general consensus exists.” They aren’t truths; they’re useful approximations of truths, things that have been found to work most of the time, things to be set aside only if you have good reason to do so.

Science could have been seen as a way to expand the range of useful topoi. That’s what a scientific experiment does, after all: it answers the question, “If I do this, what happens?” As the results of experiments add up, you end up with a consensus—usually an approximate consensus, because it’s all but unheard of for repetitions of any experiment to get exactly the same result every time, but a consensus nonetheless—that’s accepted by the scientific community as a useful approximation of the truth, and can be set aside only if you have good reason to do so. To a significant extent, that’s the way science is actually practiced—well, when it hasn’t been hopelessly corrupted for economic or political gain—but that’s not the social role that science has come to fill in modern industrial society.

I’ve written here several times already about the trap into which institutional science has backed itself in recent decades, with the enthusiastic assistance of the belligerent scientific materialists mentioned earlier in this post. Public figures in the scientific community routinely like to insist that the current consensus among scientists on any topic must be accepted by the lay public without question, even when scientific opinion has swung around like a weathercock in living memory, and even when unpleasantly detailed evidence of the deliberate falsification of scientific data is tolerably easy to find, especially but not only in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. That insistence isn’t wearing well; nor does it help when scientific materialists insist—as they very often do—that something can’t exist or something else can’t happen, simply because current theory doesn’t happen to provide a mechanism for it.

Too obsessive a fixation on that claim to authority, and the political and financial baggage that comes with it, could very possibly result in the widespread rejection of science across the industrial world in the decades ahead. That’s not yet set in stone, and it’s still possible that scientists who aren’t too deeply enmeshed in the existing order of things could provide a balancing voice, and help see to it that a less doctrinaire understanding of science gets a voice and a public presence.

Doing that, though, would require an attitude we might as well call epistemic modesty: the recognition that the human capacity to know has hard limits, and the unqualified absolute truth about most things is out of our reach. Socrates was called the wisest of the Greeks because he accepted the need for epistemic modesty, and recognized that he didn’t actually know much of anything for certain. That recognition didn’t keep him from being able to get up in the morning and go to work at his day job as a stonecutter, and it needn’t keep the rest of us from doing what we have to do as industrial civilization lurches down the trajectory toward a difficult future.

Taken seriously, though, epistemic modesty requires some serious second thoughts about certain very deeply ingrained presuppositions of the cultures of the West. Some of those second thoughts are fairly easy to reach, but one of the most challenging starts with a seemingly simple question: is there anything we experience that isn’t a representation? In the weeks ahead we’ll track that question all the way to its deeply troubling destination.


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John Michael Greer said...

Avenbury, thanks for this. All I can say is "yep."

Rad, delighted to hear it! That's a very good book, and deserves much more attention than it's gotten so far.

Armata, thank you.

Caryn, one of the grubby little secrets of modern philosophy is that a good deal of its obscurity is deliberate. Heidegger is supposed to have said that clarity is the enemy of philosophy -- and of course that's true, when you really don't have anything significant to say, and still want to present yourself to the world as a Deep Thinker of Deep Thoughts. (Apologies to Heidegger fans, but that's my considered assessment of the man.) Have you ever seen the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta "Patience"? The character Bunthorne has a song where he explains the basic modality of too much contemporary philosophy:

"If you're anxious for to shine in the high aesthetic line
as a man of culture rare,
You must get up all the germs of the transcendental terms,
and plant them ev'rywhere.
You must lie upon the daisies and discourse in novel phrases
of your complicated state of mind,
The meaning doesn't matter if it's only idle chatter
of a transcendental kind.

And ev'ry one will say,
As you walk your mystic way,
'If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep for me,
Why, what a very singularly deep young man
this deep young man must be!'"

To my mind, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit and Heidegger's Being and Time, to say nothing of any number of more recent tomes, can be sung very well to this tune. It's indicative, by contrast, that Schopenhauer's prose is considered a model of good clear scholarly German writing, and Nietzsche was one of the great prose stylists of any language, ever. Both were tremendously, even painfully clear, because they both had something to communicate and wanted to communicate it.

Dick Burkhart said...

Tyson doesn't claim to be the kind of scientific materialist that you portray. He says
"We think about the universe as an intellectual playground, which it surely is, but the moment you learn something that touches an emotion rather than just something intellectual, I would call that a spiritual encounter with the universe" (cited in Wikipedia)

That being, said I found epistemology fascinating as a young teenager still trying to figure out the world. But these days it just doesn't seem very useful - how does it help us solve the deep problem facing humanity today? I learned long ago that all knowledge is tentative, the lesson being a rejection of dogmatism, keeping an open mind.

True, a real materialism (greed, not scientific materialism) has overtaken much of society, even co-opting large swaths of religion. But enlightened epistemology seems to me to be a rather weak response. Much better to attack the philosophical basis of mainstream economics, the shining star of corruption in academia and a significant portion of popular media. Here we are getting much closer to moral philosophy and to religion than to epistemology.

Ray Wharton said...

I also understand Nietzsche as a distinctly non sympathetic to the systematic, and I think that at some point he gives a pretty good case for his stance. If I recall correctly Nietzsche calls out Kant for making his ideas seem more stupid than they needed to be in order to fit a motley quilt of ideas onto one procrustean bed of a system. Further more Fritz alleged, and if my own past motives are a window into the soul of another I find this likely, that Kant did this for power; more precisely to give his ideas a certain kind of impact. Regularly Nietzsche observes the superiority of power in the stupid, and truly for a particular and common sense of 'power'.

Thoughts and insights as they come very rarely do so systematically. More common are glimmer glimpses. Schopenhauer is a worth while counter example, just as you have said of TADR that it started as an extended project to express a particular insight or idea, Arther claims that the entire 'The World as Will and Representation' existed to articulate a single thought.

Arther's system was a natural necessity to articulate clearly a perspective then quite strange in Western Imagination. Kant's Critique's by contrast we a system but together to fill a preexisting gap in western thought; and gifted though Kant's insights were, the Critiques as works or prose suffer by being forced to complete this receive philosophic project.

Nietzsche gift was just being marvelously observant of countless fey things, especially what makes people tick, and reflective enough to think out the context clearly, and they articulate and passionate as a writer. Socrates made a glib remark about being a midwife to ideas: to bad most are still born; Nietzsche birthed many ideas that have so far had exciting lives, too bad toward the end he had ideas too big for his hips.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks! Thought you might enjoy that one. It was pretty funny! I checked out what was meant by "thing in itself" and a brief summary was provided on the Interweb as "In the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and those whom he influenced, a thing as it is independent of any conceptualization or perception by the human mind, postulated by practical reason but existing in a condition which is in principle unknowable and unexperienceable." Otherwise I don't really understand what was meant by that, but it sounds an awful lot like the whole: "If a tree falls in the forest..." And I that dispute claim, as trees (which are independent of humans by the way - as well as predating those creatures by a considerable time period) most certainly do make a noise if they fall, even if nobody is around and cares to listen to that noise. A rather silly argument that one. I suspect that Mr Kant is pointing out the obvious that there are things out there that exist beyond the human consciousness and perhaps even more importantly are indifferent to it? Or have I read that completely wrong? My personal philosophy is a bit closer to Conan's as I am all too aware of the trees and their benefits and threats and so I try not to over-intellectualise them and deal with them as they appear to me.

I recall reading a chance comment by you to someone else a week or two back that your wife's health is not good, although I may be incorrect in that understanding? Given that you also remarked that you are nearing the upper limits of your capacity for work, have you considered taking some time off blogging and/or replying to comments so as to free up some time to attend to your good wife? If I were in your circumstances, given that your blog is related to your income, I would most likely post blog essays, explain that for the next couple of months you were unable to reply, and then continue with the moderation policies for comments. No doubts that a lively conversation would continue for a while. Anyway, the above suggestion is intended as a friendly suggestion for you.

Life happens and it is rarely smooth. Incidentally blogging about diets would make for a most un-smooth week (imagine 1,000+ comments)! I read a very silly comment on a website about solar panels making the extraordinary claim that they actually increase the amount of sunlight! True story.



heather said...

Thank you for both the useful lens (or window?) to think through, and the reading list! I will be pondering those composite consciousnesses for a while, I think.
-- Heather in CA

onething said...

Goodness, I can't understand Nietzsche at all.

Scotlyn said...

Thanks for your comment on Heidegger's denseness & intention to confuse. I suppose the language of philosophy has always made me feel stupid & unable to find my way around in a way biology never did. Perhaps that's why. I could never get what philosophy was *about* whereas biology is clearly *about* life which is all around, all the time, and you can never get to the end of pondering and plumbing the mysteries of "bios".

Also, ref the search for what is "true" v what is "useful", it has always seemed to me to be a sneaky search for what is "useful" to clobber other people into submission with. You could say I have a built in suspicion of truth claims.

Robert Mathiesen said...

The use of "metaphysics" to refer to "avant-garde spirituality" is actually older than the 1920s, JMG and Eric S.. So far as I can document, it began during the years that saw the beginnings of Christian Science and other forms of New Thought, and also the creation of the Theosophical Society, that is from about 1875 onward. In 1883 Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, actually chartered a college in Massachusetts to spread her own teachings about healing and the primacy of mind over matter. She named it the "Massachusetts Metaphysical College." Before that, it may have had some currency in Swedenborgian circles, but I haven't found documentation for that yet.

A decade ago Catherine Albanese put out a thick and dense book on the history of this sort of 19th-century avant-garde spirituality, and titled it, _A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion_. (I haven't gotten all the way through it yet.)

MizBean said...

My intention is not pedantic, and I can't speak to how your teenager is using the term, but "meta" refers primarily to a kind of reflexivity in expression.

"A term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential."

There is inserted at least one additional layer of abstraction from the subject matter, e.g., breaking the fourth wall in a play or movie. Or thinking about thinking (about thinking...). It's often sly, winky, and quite ironic.

In reference to something you said about the Orange Julius a post or two ago, Charles P. Pierce (the very leftward writer for Esquire magazine's Politics blog) has taken to calling Trump El Caudillo del Mar a Lago.

My heartfelt thanks to all here.

Karen said...

Dear JMG and fellow readers,

Is there a website, book, whatever that provides a glossary of terms that we may encounter in this upcoming series? As I have no background in this, I would find it helpful. Maybe also a timeline. Thanks.

latefall said...


Thanks for the apt description - I have come across similar people in some engineering disciplines. Fortunately I had a prof who had been working the ground floor of a steel mill for quite a few years before he went back to school and fortunately kept a pretty broad horizon.

@Mario Incandenza

I second that impression. Particularly French society seems to put some emphasis on public philosophic discourse. It is quite interesting to see the philosophical (and history) magazines next to the pictures of naked people in the news stalls.

In Germany philosophic discourse tends to have a slightly different character I would say, but is still going pretty strong. Apart from being a school subject, I lived in the Kant street. One of my favorite night clubs was called the "Voltaire" (it was pretty seedy) and we would read e.g. Nietzsche to each other on our holidays (sometimes in funny voices). I would get some philosophical book as present quite often (even though I did not get much of a kick out of the modern stuff past Popper). We do have some "public intellectuals" who have some background in philosophy and get some air time, but mostly it is discussions with friends and family for me.


Thanks for that last comment - I have to agree. I've recently come across an interesting episode in the series of "keeping in touch with the out of touch (elite)". Even though I'd probably still identify as liberal I think we'd both share a dislike in many points regarding

Here is his take on "the counter-revolution". After reading more about his background I have to say I am much more at peace with certain currents of liberalism encountering stiff resistance.

Re Le Pen & EURO
I don't want to derail things, but let me state that the EURO was indeed intended as a weapon (but against Germany, to protect France). If Germany has become successful in spite of the EURO, what would you propose to reign in Germany? Sure, protectionism is an option to which Germany is exposed - but try to think it through from all the different European (or Asian) perspectives. And what do you do then? Also, once you play that card, you can't threaten with it anymore.
It better be something more effective than the EU is. By the way are you aware that parts of the Polish, and the majority of Dutch land warfare forces are integrated into the German command? This is happening outside the EU and of course in mutual agreement.

As for Germany forcing things on countries through the EU: I'd like to point out that the entire EU budget is around 150 bn (1% of GNI). The US Superstate (which also has variation among its states) runs a yearly DEFICIT of 3 times that, and throws around 3250 bn!

How much leverage does that give the Gottkanzlerin Merkel (also note that the German population is significantly underrepresented politically in the EU compared to small countries)? What exactly are the EEuropean countries _forced_ to do? And how is that exclusively due to Germany?

I can agree with a lot of the things in your last paragraph, but neither do I currently see Le Pen with significant chances, nor do I see her being able to do anything direct and positive about the internal problems of France. Le Pen would not let the necessary jolt go through France that would be required to rekindle the _will_ to fundamentally address the situation. I live in a very multicultural spot in France, and most of the problems (of which _some_ are also connected to immigration or lack of assimilation/integration) won't be fixed. They have more to do with tolerance of inefficiency and failure in my opinion - particularly the economic and security aspects.

Kate said...

Mr Greer: I want to add my thanks for this series along with the rest. It is very hard to find a diiscussion on philosophy that is not a advertisement for any one "brand" and that is presented in a way that can be taken in by those of us who "don't speak the language', much. :) I am interested in seeing how your view as a moderate Burkean conservative, overlaps with your messages here and in your books, and particularly as a practicing Druid teacher of us all. I guess you will get there in time.

Finally, you mention that there are more than two different cultures and attendant philosophies in America. I just read Colin Woodard's American Nations and found it fascinating. He describes 11 "nations", or cultures really, with their attendant philosophies, laid out geographically across the U.S. and neighboring and continuous Canada and Mexico. I am wondering what your view of his take on the American cultures is, their longevity and how they are playing in the Transition and current politics. One note: As a native of WI, MN and MI (but living most of the last 40 years in OR and WA) I feel the upper Great Lakes states would rightly be Midland, not Yankeedom, and feel the recent election proves this as they can swing like any of the rest of the Midland "nation". It is also fascinating to see how he outlines each and shows that state boundaries are largely irrelevant to culture/philosophy. And that the cultures are persistent in the face of in migration over time. Best, Kate

Breanna said...

Hmm. Come to think of it, untangling layers of representation was more or less the primary survival task of my teen and early adult years. I hadn't thought of it in philosophical terms, but I went through mental health challenges of a rather vivid kind. My "window" was rather more like a kaleidoscope so learning to see it for what it was and locate a Self behind it was essential.

It is hard to describe in words and it's not (for me anyway) quite possible to think in words from that perspective but it feels a bit like balancing. I learned to stop looking through the window and just be. I learned to parse what was happening on the window and what was beyond it, and to attend to either one. I learned to put up different sorts of windows to look through. I've never used psychedelic substances but I suspect I might be able to use the same skills to influence my experience of them.

Is this something like what you mean?

Hubertus Hauger said...

Oh, Plato’s cave!

How I understand it, is, that all I know comes from behind barriers. Them blocking my sight and do give me only images of the real thing. This I cannot directly grasp. So instead of seeing the real thing directly, I am only able to be connected to them through my imagination. Plus, as JMG adds, looking through the looking-glass of my upbringing. Such sets another filter still.

So that is the one thing; I see, what is real, truly only by imagination. I cannot be sure, if what I perceive is so in fact.
Well! So knowledge is relative. And our forefathers long ago recognized that already. More thoughtful people might take this insight into consideration. Often, not so, I suppose.

Most often the cognitive dissonance being observed is deselected, due to the collective awareness, which does overrule my personal doubt in order to be opportunistic.

However I heard with scepticism, that Neil de Grass does announce, that beside of the scientific materialism, there doesn’t exist nothing. Here I am astonished. In my memory I have not heard him say so. Even not so with Richard Dawkins. Also him I know to be quite outspokenly against religion. I guess he is against metaphysic as well. Yet I did never hear him proclaim such. Even it might me inclined. But if so it doesn’t surface.

Maybe, JMG, you might have citation for me, proving your statement. I am quite curious to look through it. But JMG, your stated opinion is not enough for me, to count as fact. So, please, may you give me fact’s, I do not know until now!

Scotlyn said...

The following (somewhat elided) passage from Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan's "What is Life?" seems apt.

"At the dawn of modern science, French Catholic mathematician, René Descartes (1596-1650) posited a fateful split between "res extensa", material reality, and "res cogitans", thinking reality. Only humans, Descartes argued, partake of God to the extent that they have souls. Even animals, though they seem to feel pain, are soul-less machines...

"By splitting reality into human consciousness and an unfeeling, objective, "extensive" world that could be measured mathematically, Descartes paved the way for a scientific investigation of nature constructed according to the mathematical laws of God.

"'God sets up laws in nature just as a king sets up laws in his kingdom' wrote Descartes. A kind of Cartesian licence gave precedence to matter over form, body over soul, outward spatially extended nature over inner awareness. Matter, body and nature could - unlike thought or feeling - be quantified, examined, and ultimately understood by mathematical physics.

"This Cartesian license permitted the human intellect, through science, to enter a thousand different realms, from the very small to the very large, and even the invisible. The blueprint underlying the great mechanism of the cosmos was thought decipherable...

"Flashing the Cartesian permit to practice science did yield results. Investigators returned the Bible and the classic books to their dusty shelves. Instead, they read Nature, 'written' as Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) had put it (even before Descartes), 'in a great book which is always open before our eyes'...

"To this day, the Cartesian permit rallies scientists to study a universe that is wide open for investigation, but in the 'fine print' is found the exception *[the conscious human soul]* - which, in Descartes' time was unquestionably made in God's image. Moreover, the Cartesian permit contains in the fine print this assumption *[the universe is mechanical and set up according to immutable laws]*...

"At the heart of the Cartesian philosophy are thus metaphysical presuppositions, springing from the culture that gave rise to science.

"Ultimately - in our very abbreviated story - the Cartesian licence proves to be a kind of forgery. After three centuries of implicit renewal, the licence is still accepted even though the fine print, erased or ignored, is no longer visible at any magnification. Yet this fine print was not incidental. It was the raison d'être, the rational basis authorizing scientists following the spirit of Descartes to proceed with their work and to receive the blessings of society, if not always the Church. The Cartesian view of the cosmos as machine is at the very root of the practice of science."

Tidlösa said...

It will be interesting to see how this philosophy series proceeds. One thing I never understood about your philosophy is that, on the one hand, peak oil and climate change (and the decline of civilization in general) presupposes an objective outside world which is indifferent to man, but on the other hand, you seem to like "subjectivist" philosophies according to which the world is a representation of consciousness, which in my mind is associated more with New Age people who claim that "if I believe it, it must be real" and since they believe in affluence, well...

My personal philosophy, or perhaps I should say instinctive philosophy, is a kind of combination of naive realism and naive Platonism, where both the material world and the "Forms" or "Ideas" are equally objectively real. I would even argue that, say, the color red is objectively real, at least in some sense. I mean, it´s *there*, right? If its there, how can it not be real? ;-)

Is the subjectivist part of your philosophy somehow connected to your magical practice? But aren´t the "gods" also objectively real? Unless I´m mistaken, you don´t see them as sheer projections of the human mind (archetypes and so on). It will be interesting to see where you belive the representations originally come from. The Will? The Will of The Divine, perhaps? But if so, only God can change it...

Phil Harris said...

I'm following Violet and Justin just now, (Garden of Eden and faith) but am also turning over the 'reality' of recognition. Judging by how crestfallen we are when it turns out not to be so, I guess our minds proceed with that very much in ... err ... mind. I am wondering if 'R' rates along with 'W...' as a non-representation. (I have a story about 'W...' (I guess) happening singularly the night before I read this ADR post, but I will save it up in case it comes in useful next week; smile.)

Phil H
PS What with Varun kicking the guy's shins and Cherokee Chris getting Conan in his puzzlement to strangle JMG, whatever next?

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...


what if I told you that there's something that isn't a representation that plays a constant role in your life, especially any time you encounter a representation?

"what is given" or the underlying "Nature of Reality"

Scotlyn said...

Aw, Heather, thank you. (And you're welcome). I'm glad someone else could make sense of what I wrote.

latefall said...

Forgot the link in my previous comment:

Shane W said...

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi gwizard,

Thanks and I enjoy your comments too.

Mate, if we choose not to engage in dialogue with people who live in the same sphere and then we exercise the ability to shut down that dialogue then we run the real problem of pressure building elsewhere in the system. Look at the dummy spit that occurred post Trump and post Brexit and you can see that pressure eventually releases elsewhere. And I read some rather unusual comments on that score after those events. It was an epic dummy spit you have to admit? And I have my suspicions on the why of it.

And I read yesterday in a very delightful book on manure - who's title will definitely breach the moderation rules here - the story of how someone potty trained a horse.

Look at Armata's most recent comment - and respect to him - for it was incredibly courteous, so people can adjust their conversational modes if given the chance. Unless of course you are suggesting that horses are smarter than humans? Which I don't believe that you are. ;-)! Just a few thoughts for you.

For your info, I do not identify with either the left or the right - because they look pretty much the same to me. And I don't much care for their personalities either.



Maxine Rogers said...

Dear JMG,
Thank you so much for giving me another chance to read, "The Grey Light of Morning." There is much I like about the Stoics except their distrust of pleasure. Still, "let justice be done, though it brings the sky crashing down."
Yours under the red cedars
Max Rogers

Gel said...

As one of those strange people (I also like avant garde jazz) who've become more interested in philosophy over the last several years, I found this post quite interesting, and appreciate the clear articulation of some of these concepts.

From a variety of unusual sources (conservative theologian Bernard Ramm, Ken Wilber, my friend Kenyth Freeman, etc.), I've come to the conclusion that the biggest philosophical challenge to this day remains the necessity to come to terms with Kant, and find ways to include and transcend his profound thinking. Our society and culture as a whole has not done so, and this is one reason why science and religion in general seem to be stuck in some very old patterns.

I do not pretend to understand Kant in any depth, but what seems to me to be the most promising, yet mostly neglected, response is the tradition of radical empiricism (William James. et al).

Nancy Frankenberry, in "Religion and Radical Empiricism": "...radical empiricism involves an important inversion of Kant’s philosophy…For Kant, the world emerged from the subject; for radical empiricism, the subject emerges from the world.”

Radical empiricist Bernard Meland said this in his book "Fallible Forms & Symbols":
“Much of the meaning we appear to find in life, we bring to it, as Kant observed, through our own forms of sensibility and understanding. But, as James and Bergson were later to remark, countering the stance of Kant and Hume in one basic respect, the nexus of relationships that forms our existence is not projected, it is given. We do not create these relationships; we experience them, being given with existence." [the reason we can't make the coffee cup sprout wings and fly]

P.S. JMG, did you ever take Kenyth Freeman's "Fly in the Fly Bottle" personal philosophy class when you attended Fairhaven College?
P.P.S. Currently reading Dark Age America, thanks to Michael Dowd's prodding when he visited me in Bellingham a few weeks ago. Good stuff.

Unknown said...

I have experienced angst at a level that has prompted me to question EVERYTHING...down to the bare metal of ontology (what is) and epistemology (how can we “know”). My quest for the nature of knowledge hit bedrock with the Munchhausen Trilemma (circular reasoning, infinite regress, axiom / presupposition) that defines the limits of what humans can objectively know.

My attempt at better understanding the intersection of ontology and epistemology is distilled in the “Knowledge Realm & Region Model” The three “Knowledge Realms” are outline below.

* “Hidden Knowledge Realm (HKR)”
- The domain of mystery

* “Objective Knowledge Realm (OKR)”
- The domain of consensus

* “Inner Knowledge Realm (IKR)”
- The domain of subjectivity

In the spirit of epistemic modesty, I would appreciate candid feedback and suggestions for improvement / build out of the model.

Thanks! - Warren Beam

davidm58 said...

JMG, your quote from Gilbert and Sullivan reminded me of a "delightful poetic satire on German influence in England," written by theologian Henry Mansel, and quoted by Kenyth (Kenneth) Freeman in his PhD dissertation, which was a critique of Mansel ("The Role of Reason in Religion," the same book that influenced my thought about the importance of dealing with Kant that I mentioned in my previous comment).
From "Phrontisterion":

Professors we,
From over the sea,
From the land where Professors in plenty be;
And we thrive and flourish, as well we may,
In the land that produced one Kant with a K
And many Cants with a C.
Where Hegel taught, to his profit and fame,
That something and nothing were one and the same;
The absolute difference never a jot being
'Twixt having and not having, being and not being,
But wisely declined to extend his notion
To the finite relations of thalers and groschen.
Where, reared by Oken's plastic hands,
The Eternal Nothing of Nature stands;
And Theology sits on her throne of pride,
As arithmetic personified;
And the hodmandod crawls, in its shell confined,
A symbol exalted of slumbering mind.
Bacon be dumb,
Newton, be mum,
The worth of induction's a snap of the thumb,
With a bug, bug, bug, and a hum, hum, hum,
Hither the true Philosophers come.

ganv said...

I am also interested in the decline of philosophy as a public interest. I love the description of it as an overdetermined outcome. The professionalization of teaching philosophy definitely played a role. The post-modern ideas that all words are tools to exert power over others have had a serious chilling effect on philosophy. People don't hear ideas any more. They hear agendas.

And you are dancing some of the issues most interesting to me. Somehow, the human mind with all its distorted representations is able to make accounts of the world that provide breathtaking accuracy (easily 1 part in 10^7 in many areas of chemistry and atomic physics and sometimes billions of times better than this.) and allow us to understand when this kind of accuracy is to be expected and when we have a complex system for which prediction will be much harder. I think the interesting issue is not with philosophical questions about representation. The human mind is able to represent simple things with sufficient accuracy that the behavior of the thing as it is can be reliably predicted without practically important artifacts from distorted representations. The interesting issue is why most questions that actually matter (take human effects on our ecosystem for example) are far too complex to address using the simple accounts that science and observation provide. So our problem is not need for better philosophy. Instead we need to be able to appreciate the extreme complexity of any system involving a human and build our epistemological modesty on the foundation of chaotic unpredictability rather than on fundamental problems in representing simple systems.

Grebulocities said...

When determining which of a set of loathsome politicians to support, or at least vote for, how do you differentiate between someone who has a decent shot of being better than an intolerable status quo, and someone like Fred Halliot?

I know there's no hard-and-fast algorithm, but I would welcome any insight at all into your thinking on this. It seems that countries around the world are entering into a period of electoral authoritarianism as a reaction to the shortcomings of the neoliberal agenda vis a vis the bottom 80% of every country where neoliberal policies have been tried. There's a huge risk of jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

People who think we just elected Fred Halliot make up a pretty large portion of the people who have been running around screaming since November. I personally don't think there is any actual risk of totalitarianism - maybe some authoritarianism, but mostly it will just contain such non-events as going back to the deportation rate of Obama's first term while being loud and obnoxious about it in a manner calculated to cause liberals to fulminate and expose their own hypocrisy for the umpteenth time. But it is hard, when your politics are clearly dysfunctional and some charismatic leader appears who is saying some of the right things, to tell what the risks are.

John D. Wheeler said...

"Can you, by any act of consciousness, make that coffee cup suddenly sprout wings and fly chirping around your computer desk? Of course not. (Those who disagree should be prepared to show their work.)"

Sure, that's easy... the sequence is:


(For those not rolling on the floor laughing, that was a reference to the Konami code, a popular cheat code on the old Nintendo Entertainment System.)

Seriously, though, I think most people who say they would like to change reality to fit their whims with just a thought have never played a video game with a cheat code and discovered the psychological consequences of such unlimited power: fun, at first, certainly! but rapidly becoming boring and pointless. With video games it's not too hard to go on to the next one. Thank goodness real life has limitations on such things.

mgalimba said...

@Ray Wharton Poor Nietzsche! if only the scope of the birth canal had not been so constricted. Too much philology and not enough outdoor exercise at a tender age, I imagine.
Though I have used them (guns), still I harbor an implacable ill will for the things and wish we humans had never Gone There, so I have to admire your scope trope despite all that baggage. And admire it I do. Though, of course, this problem of representation does presuppose a particular kind of eye, as I keep harping on about. :) As well as something to look at. All of which is so, you know, overdetermined.

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, some have Vincent Van Gogh's eyesight, and some seem to have Helen Keller's!

Dick, watch what happens when he tries to insist that one of his betes noires -- say, astrology -- can't possibly work, and you'll see the materialist presuppositions come out and do quite a little song and dance number. As for the usefulness of epistemology, it's precisely because too many people have rushed past the hard questions of what we can know and hurried on to the business of trying to bully other people into doing what you want them to -- which is of course what moral philosophy has become these days -- that the arguments of moral philosophy and religion have lost so much of their force in the last century or so.

Ray, we'll be talking at quite some length about Nietzsche, power, and morality as we proceed. I suppose you could say that one of his problems is that he stopped being a midwife to ideas and tried to give birth to them himself, without getting anyone to assist him -- and then had one turn sideways on him.

Cherokee, oh, for most practical purposes Conan's philosophy is eminently sound. Its one weakness is that assuming that what you see is what there is can leave you unpleasantly vulnerable to illusions cast by Thoth-Amon and his modern Brooks Brothers-suited equivalents. Thank you for asking about Sara's health! My writing time comes second to her needs, though, so it's not an issue.

Onething, which of Nietzsche's books did you read? I recommend starting out with one of the earlier books of essays such as Human, All Too Human, and reading a little at a time -- while using the bathroom or waiting for the bus, for example. It can take a while to get into the flow of his thought.

Scotlyn, it's absolutely standard for professional castes to come up with an impenetrable jargon to keep outsiders at bay. Philosophers took longer to get around to it than others, because until fairly recently most philosophers made their livings as authors, selling to the general reading public, and so had to write in a way their audiences could follow. It's only since most of them became tenured academics that they've been freed from that burden and allowed to come up with a jargon of their own.

Robert, thanks for the correction! I haven't read that book of Albanese's, though her earlier book on nature religion is on my ecology bookshelf to this day.

MizBean, Caudillo is such a grand old word -- and it really does sum up the current head of state of our Republica de los Bananas quite well. Thank you.

Karen, I'm going to try to keep everything in plain English. If you have questions about any word I use, please post the question so I can answer it right here.

Kate, thank you. Yes, I'll get there, though it's going to take some time -- starting from what we can actually know, we're going to proceed to some of the things people think they know and don't, and in due time talk about the explosive political implications of limits to knowledge in a world where so many people insist that they know the unvarnished truth. It should be quite a ride.

I haven't read Woodard's book, but there have been books on that theme for a while, and it's a valid way of making sense of the country. This is why a federal system allowing each state to pursue its own social policies is so essential!

John Michael Greer said...

Breanna, yep. It's tolerably common for mental health issues to mess up the process of representation, and I can well imagine that having to grapple with those challenges would have given you a very close look at the process.

Hubertus, I believe you're misquoting me. I said that Tyson dismissed philosophy as useless. Here's a podcast where he did so. Next question?

Scotlyn, good. Yes, and they're quite right to point to the "Cartesian permit" as the foundation of modern science. It's exactly the exclusion of subjective experience from science that makes it so powerful -- and so limited.

Tidlösa, er, did you read the part of my post where I specifically critiqued the New Age claims you've attributed to me? It's really rather vexing, you know, when I write something in so many words and even an intelligent reader like you slides right on by it and pretends that I didn't say anything of the kind.

Phil, stay tuned!

Gottfried, if something's "given," who or what does the giving?

Maxine, understood! It's the one thing about Stoicism that doesn't interest me, either. Given a choice between a life full of pleasure and pain, and a life without either, I'd take the first without a moment's hesitation -- yes, even knowing that the choice means I've given up the right to whine about the pain.

Gel, fair enough. I don't find either radical empiricism or subjectivism convincing, because "the world" and "the subject" define each other; each is what the other isn't, and so both emerge out of the primal act of representation, the one each of us makes when we say the word "I." As for Ken Freeman's class, why, yes, I did -- "The Fly in the Flybottle" and "Awareness through the Body" both.

Unknown Warren, I'll see if I can make time for that.

Davidm58, okay, this is two people mentioning Fairhaven professor Ken Freeman on the same day, when I don't think I've encountered his name at any time in the last ten years. Jung would be turning down the volume on his synchronicity meter by now! The rhyme is most funny, though.

Ganv, if you don't find the issues I'm discussing interesting, why, nobody's forcing you to read them, you know.

Grebulocities, I don't know of a simple means of doing so. The best guess I've come up with so far is to learn as much as possible about the personalities of past dictators, and worry much more about the intense, ideologically obsessed Hitlers than the pompous and posturing Mussolinis.

John, fascinating. I've never played video games, but that makes sense.

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...


if something's "given," who or what does the giving?

Well some call that God, Gaia, or the Great Architect of the Universe. Other parts of this universe may call it the Big Electron or 100 Billion Neurons. There are countless other symbols.

Now the next question would be, who or what gave "the giver"? Although one might argue "that" was always there -- neither created nor destroyed -- I would not pretend to know or perceive that which may be unknowable or imperceptible.

Would it be fair to say that the human mind has not experienced much, if any, evolutionary leap over the past several thousands of years? (And in some schools of philosophy, it would appear that the mind is only remembering that which was always there.)

If you accept the premise underlying this question, it would follow that the human mind operates -- inasmuch as it is limited by -- accounting for the forms of reality that it "re-presents as given", however incomplete that may be.

To answer the original question succinctly, I do not have a definitive answer and may never have one. Though, the thoughts tickle themselves within this "transistor".

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...


if I may, I would like to plug -- as an admirer -- a fellow soul's work, published within the last 42 hours following a 42 month hiatus.

Secret History - Kurt Gödel and the Secrets of Genius

Who would have thought that the greatest logician of the last century was also its greatest philosopher?

And, you (and others) may even appreciate the subtle shaming of Neil deGrasse Tyson in the piece.

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...

Kio and John,

On the subject of surprise, Alan Watts offered what I think is à propos:

"If you were God and knew everything, you would be bored...we push technology to its farthest possible development and if we had...a [gadget with a] more complex system of buttons, and one touch could give you anything you would eventually have to introduce a button labeled 'Surprise', because all perfectly known futures are past, they have happened virtually. It is only the true future that is a surprise. So, if you were God, you would say to yourself 'Man!! get lost.'"

Phil Harris said...

Raymond Duckling as he admits has gone off-topic in referring to Scott Alexander's "Considerations on Cost Disease", But as you, JMG, comment, it is good to hear people talking about such a crucial point.

I found the Alexander article riveting. The phenomenon is not confined to the USA, (Britain is pretty weird) but the USA looks like an outlier. There might be a connection with philosophy. Perhaps this and related phenomena emerge from Descartes’ world? What these days we call ‘information’ has ‘emergent’ outcomes – consequences indeed. Perhaps Americans have become uniquely ill-informed? One could guess that as ‘information’ inflates, so must the American mind become increasingly badly informed – positive feedback? We end up, for instance, with those rows of toothpastes? What happens when you recognise a particular brand? What distance does it put you from your fellow human being or from the original toothbrush? Is it just that America is further down the track than most other ‘advanced’ countries?

Did Descartes invent the basis of ‘Progress’? On the other hand, might this be old stuff in new guise. At the macro level it is as if we see a need for a new and better class of Pyramid, or perhaps if having judged we need a Totem then of course it would be better if we got 10 more just in case? (I have nothing inherently against a few Totems in the right time and place. Philosophically what are Pyramids and Totems; are they just ‘faith’ items? I shouldn’t ask; it’s a bit like asking what the Garden of Eden might be, or even the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.)

I am referring as usual these days to Alasdair MacIntyre’s ‘After Virtue’. He takes apart the belief in managerial expertise (and social sciences) and puts up Nietzsche as ‘the’ guy who shows up Kant’s intellectually powerful yet inadequate rationality. (“… new secular rational foundations for morality…” aka the Enlightenment project - Kant failed). Then in the end though, Nietzsche goes down. Accurate critique of modern thought apparently is not enough.

Phil H

Nathanial Perkins said...


I am wondering if you or one of your more helpful commenters could recommend a sort of "philosophical starter set." My own somewhat recent education neglected to include these topics. I've tried one or twice to jump in on my own, but without knowing where to start, quickly found my head under water and swam back to the shore. Perhaps someone could recommend a book or set of books that could get me started on more solid footing.


Tidlösa said...


For the record, I didn´t attribute the New Age notions to you. That was my point: since you sound "objective" rather than "subjective" (like the New Age), I´m somewhat confused by your seemingly "subjectivist" metaphysics.

MawKernewek said...

"the extraordinary claim that they actually increase the amount of sunlight"

Solar panels convert solar energy into electricity that one way or another would otherwise be heat energy evaporating water which later becomes clouds?
However eventually like all electricity (with the minor exception of light escaping to outer space) it too gets turned to heat eventually being released into the environment to evaporate water.

Or is it the low albedo of solar panels vs. e.g. grazing land which cause heat and updrafts, reducing condensation into clouds in the area? Something akin to the urban heat island effect.

Scotlyn said...

@Justin at the end of the last thread you kindly invited me to contact you, but though I carefully copied and pasted, I got an "undeliverable" message. If you want to try the other way round, I'm at Scotlyn DOT s AT gmail DOT com. Take care... Scotlyn.s

Hubertus Hauger said...

JMG said: “… a scientific materialist like Neil de Grasse Tyson ranting about how all philosophy is nonsense …” which in my understanding means that Neil de Grasse says, beside scientific materialism, nothing exist.

I listen to the podcast you send me ( I couldn’t verify a clear statement of Neil de Grasse that philosophy is nonsense.

Can you give me a citation of Neil de Grasse saying, philosophy is nonsense? Or for that matter from Richard Dawkins? Ought to be more easier, I suppose and would do for me too.

Cherokee Organics said...


I'm glad to read that you have your priorities sorted and that Sara is in good hands. Life is rarely smooth. Best wishes.

Thanks too. Of course and yeah, that was Conan's blind-spot wasn't it? It was always the wizard that took him out of action and never his human opponents. So they are definitely worth watching.

Speaking of which, I heard a politician speaking on the radio on Friday making the most outrageous claim that the homeless people in Melbourne were apparently professional activists. I would have thought that the homeless people would have better sleeping bags and boxes if they were, but beliefs may vary wildly. Anyway, I looked the guy up who made that claim and wow he's lead an elite life and I wondered if he'd ever left that bubble world that he lives in? If he had he might have had the unusual experience of being assaulted by a homeless person like I was one day a few months back. Unfortunately for the homeless dude he hadn't realised that I had done many years of karate and I clopped him hard in the sternum before the experience went any further. It was a satisfying experience to feel my knuckles hitting bone and also a good lesson for the homeless dude not to under estimate ones opponent. I was pretty grumpy about that, but I do like to nip problems in the bud before they escalate.

Anyway, my thinking is that the bubble politician has made the mistake of believing his own spells - a potentially fatal error for a mage.

Ha! I look forward to your treatise on diet as my grandmother lived to 94 and was very active lady, but it would be a stretch of the imagination to describe her as a sticky chicken! :-)!



Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

"I haven't read Woodard's book, but there have been books on that theme for a while, and it's a valid way of making sense of the country."

If you haven't read it, you should. Eleven Nations, while inspired by Garreau's Nine Nations, is not a simple re-hash. It's much more nuanced and thorough, beyond adding two more nations. It includes historical origins and development not found in Garreau's work, as well as predictions based on the thesis. It explained the political events of the last year quite clearly for me.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

davidm58 said...

I didn't realize on my first posting that this public computer was signed in under a different name. Both replies referencing Ken Freeman were by me. Jung can once again rest easy.

Good point about representation, but the value I see in radical empiricism is the recognition of the primacy of the relationships we are born into. Hard to summarize in a sentence, but to continue the Bernard Meland quote I used previously, "...the nexus of relationships that forms our existence is not projected, it is given. We do not create these relationships; we experience them, being given with existence. And from this matrix come resources of grace that can carry us beyond the meanings of our own making..."

I understand that the "resources of grace" is also an interpretation, but I do think it is a great point about "the nexus of relationships that forms our existence." I believe this nexus of relationships play a large part in influencing how we interpret, and that there is something "more" happening in this nexus of relationships and datum of experience than we are able to articulate via our socially mediated sign-systems.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Dear Mr. Greer, et all. And now for something completely different! :-). A Monty Python sketch. German vs Greek philosophers football match. Confucius is referee. Haven't checked any of the links out, but there's links to free, online philosophy courses.

There was some reference to philosophy for children. I wondered about that. Back when I worked in libraries and bookstores, sometimes if someone was looking for the basics of a topic (say ... electricity or woodworking) I'd suggest starting with children's or young adult books. The basics in simple and palatable form (usually, with lots of illustrations). And then work up from there. Lew

inohuri said...

Philosophers Football - Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus - YouTube

David, by the lake said...


I occasionally catch an episode of Asia Insight, a half-hour public television news show highlighting some aspect of modern events in Asia (including eastern Russia, I discovered on one episode). Tonight's particular episode dealt with the rise of cosplay in China and its increasing market presence. I found myself wondering about the nature of cosplayers' worlds, the inner lives of the fans, and the nature of story in all of this.

Now, certainly, story fills a role in society. We've had legends for as long as we've had people. And there are always those whose role is to tell those tales and sing those songs. But there was also an element of something else in this modern equivalent, mirrored no doubt in our culture as well, of sliding away from this world of experience in order to reside wholly within the realm of story. Am I being over judgmental? I cannot tell. Part of me looks at online and cosplay and similar fandoms as modern equivalents of troubadours' tales; but there is another part of me that sees a hollowing out of ourselves as we "upload" our lives to the internet.

What is the nature of representation in this case? How does a society like this effectively manage reality, if at all?

Unknown said...

- Mox

Devaluation is not a panacea, not for Ireland and not for anyone else. Sure, your debt and its interest are now 10% less. But it also means that foreign companies trying to buy companies in your country get a 10% discount, foreign companies get a 10% discount on your labor, imports are 10% more expensive, and that includes imports for the raw materials or semi-finished goods that your local companies need.

Devalution is an opportunity to get a bit of breathing room, but not a substitute for long-term economic development. As it is, the ECB is finally allowed to do what any other central bank does - threatening creditors with devaluation if they get too speculative. That's enough to stabilize the debt payments. An increase of investment support will only happen through policies that aim for cooperative rather than adversarial relations.

Germany used to be the sick man of Europe until very recently, economically. It's not the euro that revived them, but the cuts in the wages of their own workforce. Every other European country had to compete with that regardless of the existence of the eurozone or not. So it's better to strive for an economic policy that prevents destructive competition like that and instead forms a unified front against the speculative market forces.

onething said...

Scotlyn @2/11/17, 2:06 PM,

Most interesting. I hold a special and very dark place in my heart for Descartes, probably many hearts hold Hitler in a similar location. What a wrong track. What an idiot.

onething said...


I think the book I read was Beyond Good And Evil.

Although I consider myself to have a naturally philosophical mind, I too had written off western philosophy for the most part as it seemed so tedious and convoluted, not to say written in code, whereas the writings from the east are fantastic.

Candace said...

@ Hubertus

Give this one a try

John Michael Greer said...

Gottfried, it's very easy to come up with ad hoc entities to do the giving, but then you're back in a recursive trap, because those entities are part of reality as given, and once again, who or what does the giving? I have a rather different answer in mind, which we'll discuss on Wednesday.

Phil, we'll get to Kant's failed moral philosophy in due time. As for the Alexander article, no argument there!

Nathanial, I don't know of one, and the number of people who have been asking for one leads me to think that there might be a market for it. Hmm...

Tidlösa, but I'm not proposing a subjectivist metaphysics. I've made no metaphysical proposals at all -- that is, no proposals about what "really exists." I'm talking about epistemology, as I believe I said repeatedly, and what I'm proposing is a critical epistemology that asks hard questions about what human beings can know. That's not at all the same thing as a subjectivist metaphysics, you know.

Hubertus, funny, a lot of other people heard the words you didn't; you might try reading this and this for starters.

Cherokee, "it was a satisfying experience to feel my knuckles hit bone..." You're definitely sounding like a Robert E. Howard character now! ;-)

Glenn, fair enough; I'll put it on the get-to list.

Davidm58, to some extent I think it's a matter of emphasis; the model I'm borrowing from Schopenhauer et al. focuses on what has to exist in order for those relationships to be part of the world you experience, and to my mind that makes it easier to ask hard questions about how much of those relationships, and the value judgments that inevitably accompany them, are "out there," and how much are constituted by the experiencing mind. As we'll see, that's a matter of some importance.

Lewis and Inohuri, funny. Yes, and I also thought of the Python crew's philosophy drinking song...

Oh, Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable,
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy old beggar
Who'd think you under the table

...and so on.

David, good question. I think part of it's the simple fact that life in a modern industrial society is so miserably unsatisfying for so many people that they're desperate for anything that looks like an alternative -- thus the explosive growth in reenactment societies, cosplay, etc.

Onething, I suspect part of the difference is that the people who translate Asian philosophical classics know that it's part of their job to make the text as easy as possible to read and understand, while too many works of Western philosophy seem to have been translated by people who had the opposite ideal in mind. I'm surprised that you found Beyond Good and Evil opaque, though; that was the book that convinced me that what Nietzsche has to say really, seriously needs to be heard today. Some of the argument of this sequence of posts will derive from that book; I'll see if I can keep things as clear as possible -- and if you have trouble following me, let me know and we can try to find a clearer language in which to discuss the points Nietzsche makes.

Kevin Warner said...

In re-reading again your essay with the question posed at the end of it, I can see where this will go. I am guessing that everything, and I mean everything, that we experience in our lives is a representation in one form or another. What we see, hear, smell, taste and touch as well as any other sensory perceptions that there may be is still an abstracted representation. And with the same feeling of walking up a plank onto a ship that I have just realized that is not there, I think that I can see the next logical conclusion.

This must also apply then to what we perceive to be our own "inner" self. In fact how the damn hell do we really know what "we" really are? There must be something there to ask the question in the first place but I am beginning to realise that we are only really perceiving our true selves through the same sort of representations as we do the outer world. And that means that on a deep level, we can never really know what or who we are as we are still looking though that same window. This is starting to remind me of a passage from an old 1940 sci-fi story by Robert Heinlein and I quote:

"Man lives in a world of ideas. Any phenomenon is so complex that he cannot possibly grasp the whole of it. He abstracts certain certain characteristics of a given phenomenon as an idea, then represents that idea as a symbol, be it a word or a mathematical sign. Human reaction is almost entirely reaction to symbols, and only negligibly to phenomena. As a matter of fact, it can be demonstrated that the human mind can think only in terms of symbols.

When we think, we let symbols operate on other symbols in certain, set fashions - rules of logic, or rules of mathematics. If the symbols have been abstracted so that they are structurally similar to the phenomena they stand for, and if the symbol operations are similar in structure and order to the operations of phenomena in the real world, we think sanely. If our logic-mathematics, or our world-symbols have been poorly chosen, we think, not sanely."

My take on that all this is that perhaps using functionality to parse what we perceive may not be the worse that we can do. If I see coffee, I can enjoy it's taste. It may be "an intricate matrix of quantum probability fields and ripples in space-time" or it may be flavoured water but I still enjoy a good cuppa. On the same token, if I see a leopard in the wild I have the classic choice of fight or flight. Either way, the survival instinct kicks in and it has that name for a reason. In other words, if teach ourselves to have our perceptions match the real world as do our actions in relation to it, then it is a start. Not exactly ground-breaking but it has surprising utility. e.g. "I didn't get my way - this is a total disaster!" No, something happened that I did not expect. If I can't change it, I must learn to live with it.

Ray Wharton said...

Writing a general introduction to philosophy has been attempted many times, and so far it has been a tough road. Reading source books where a particular philosopher works on their feild of interest is, I think, a better approach. Philosophy has much in common with the occult. A book that tried to introduce you to, all the topics that could be labled 'occult' is going to suffer from ADHD. Similarly Philosophy is not an ology.

Nietzsche and Plato are to good places to start for virtue of their skillful prose at least. Professor Trelogan, when I was a schoolboy, told me that he dedicated all of his 100 and 200 level classes to teaching reading comprehension, because the vast majority of College students he received since the mid 90's did not have sufficient reading skills for studying most texts in philosophy.

Western philosophy is often a bit tweeked by our cultures emphasis on creeds, and "philosophies" are often read, and even written, as though they were creeds and the argumentation to defend that creed. It takes very cold reading to appreciate the jewels that shine regardless of the correctness of the 'philosophy'.

I think that the Death of Socrates arc by Plato is a great place to start, because the imagery and pathos of Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo is extremely deep in the culture of western philosophy. It is a myth that flows through western philosophy, and each book is filled with great and accessible thoughts to chew on. Very easy to start chewing, very hard to swallow... perfect starting material. I am most fond of Plato's Symposium, because it is about Socrates crashing a drinking party and starting conversation that was too deep for the wine, plus it has some of the thoughts from Plato that I have longest chewed. The Republic is the next text in the essential Plato I need to mention, but it is more difficult to read I think, and there are layers of irony going on that are easy to muddle - again it is a text to chew, but not to swallow - rubes dreaming of creating The Republic for reals are the runner ups to Hegelians for fracking up history. Finally from Plato I think that Ion and Meno are both good dialogues for beginners to chew on.. they quickly present very interesting ideas to chew over.

Spinoza's ethics is another top read. The style of writing is a bit tricky at first, but he writes with remarkable clarity, and his thought are as fresh as a parsley sprig. You have to become accustomed to learning to read a philosopher in accordance with their idiomatic ways of wording, and this is made particularly explicit by Spinoza, such that 'Ethics' will engender that skill nicely.

For Nietzsche, I am a fanboy for Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but unless you are generally familure with Nietzsche it is a hard road to hoe... though if you want the challenge then please just remember to read it as a work of fiction about a fictional philosopher / prophet Zarathustra who is most certainly not one Fredric Wilhelm Nietzsche, though they have both chewed on smiler matters. If you read it please consider how Zarathustra changes over the book as being at very least as important as any *creed* he seems to declare at any particular point in the plot of his transforming. Of Nietzsche's non-fiction I think 'Human all to Human' or 'The Gay Science' are both very interesting pieces to chew on... you can easily get your teeth around them, even if there are parts that you might be hesitant to swallow.

Michael Rynn said...

Thank you Ruben - 40 bits input per second reaching conciousness, and the link to The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size. I haven't read this book, published in 1999.

I did however read "Bottleneck - Our human interface with reality: The disturbing and exciting implications of its true nature" by Richard Epworth, published sometime after 2010. Epworth has described the limits of the maximum rate we can learn completely new information as being no more that a few tens of bits per second. Its probably much less than 10 on average, given our longer term concentration and attention spans. Epworth is a clever and creative engineer, much interested in our visual systems, whose surface information inputs are something like a few 100 million times higher, than what we can record. All those high-def digital movies we may watch get reduced to a few tiny bits of a story board in our heads, with not as much definition as the original sketch story board!

My mature and detailed science grounding was in medicine. Biology and evolution have provided us with specializations of neurones for sense, and signalling to and from the body, and vast assemblies of them for mapping, transduction and reflection in the brain. These are always operating at a high metabolic rate. Their architecture for processing for the benefit of the animal is a life-long investment. Making or changing structure of connections and making new nuerones and connections is a slow, and costly process, compared to the rapidity at which reality may suddenly impact the survival of the organism.

The purpose of the input systems, is to filter out all the stuff we already recognize, that map to our pre-learned architectures, and register what is new, especially what might be important to survival. What is new maybe has direct hot-wiring to our attention and fear centers.

In terms of whole architectures of connected representation and imaginings, it is much easier to try and incorporate or re-jig existing setup, than to start again from scratch. We grow representations and belief systems in a lifetime, rather like evolution develops species. Multiple co-existing parallel paths and representations are physically difficult, hence so many optical illusions.

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...


so now I understand why you left off the "the Will" from this week's blog title.

But who or what willed the will?


Scotlyn said...

Hi, Onething...

The account given by Margulis and Dorrion (and Margulis's education was of that rare kind that the Archdruid would thoroughly endorse, based on extensive reading of primary sources in philosophy, history and science) shows rational materialism to be a very Christian philosophy. Or perhaps, a peculiarly Christian-flavoured heresy.

This helps make sense, to me, of, for example, the entirely religious sense of awe with which Dawkins glories in the "immortal" nature of the selfish gene.

What Christianity (in certain versions which led to Descartes, and creationism, at least) and rational materialism share is a belief in the mechanistic nature of the universe, and the reason rational materialism fails in arguments against creationism is that "mechanisms" are "made" - ie created.

What I think Margulis, McClintock, Shapiro, and even Darwin discover is the embeddedness of all living things into @Davidm58's "nexus of relationships" into which each is born. We, living things, are certainly "begotten" and NOT "made"...

I am coming to the view that "begetting" is much more fundamental as a generating principle in the universe than "making". This is why I love biology, as it studies " begetting" in depth and detail.

sandy said...

Hi John Michael.

Anarchism is a political philosophy  that has gotten a lot of bad publicity over the last 300 yrs, and I wonder if you will discuss it in the future.

Pearce M. Schaudies.
Minister of Future

David, by the lake said...

OT but relevant to the blog as a whole. From a recent conversation, I believe that the psychohistory of collapse can be summed up in the phrase "if we can just keep what we've got going for another x years," the variable x generally being related to the expected remaining lifespan of the speaker. Collectively, this individual sentiment adds up to a considerable social momentum.

Tam Hob said...

For those requesting a basic introduction to philosophy, I have been enjoying Bertrand Russell's 'A History of Western Philosophy and Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day', available on the net at various places including here:

It was published in 1945 so some of his history is a bit dated and there is some fairly obvious bias (though in some ways that's good - I prefer it when the bias is easy to spot). However, he covers the main schools of Western philosophical thought from the ancient greeks to Nietszche and does an excellent job of explaining terms and unpacking complicated concepts. He also does a good job of weaving all of this into the historical context and tracing through how earlier philosophies influenced later ones.

Even better, it's available for free and it is very readable with little jokes and asides sprinkled through it. So, I would recommend it as a useful book to form the beginnings of a mental scaffold of Western philosophy.

BoysMom said...

Avalterra, I would like to introduce you and your seventeen-year-old to my acquaintance Joe as a potential model for a philosopher's career. Joe is an actor. He is highly in demand at the local theaters (which are volunteer organizations). He is the guy they call up at the last minute when another actor has caught the flu. I last saw him perform as the male lead in 'Sylvia'. Ninety percent of the time when I run into Joe, it's at the gas station he makes his income at (the other ten percent is at the theater we have season tickets for). But it would be stupid to say his career is 'gas station attendant', even though he's worked there for as long as I've known him. His career is 'actor.'

That is, if the desire is for philosophy, by all means study philosophy (though don't take on debt for it), make a career of it, but find another income source. I suggest as well that a local home school co-op might be well inclined to pay a philosopher to teach a class, though that would be more along the lines of pay for new tires money than all living expenses over the semester!

KL Cooke said...

Off topic

In case you haven't seen it, here's the latest breakthrough that's going to save us from ourselves.

Scotlyn said...

OK, may I ask a question, please?

"Arthur Schopenhauer, about whom we’ll be talking a great deal as we proceed, gave the process we’re discussing the useful label of “representation;” when you look at the coffee cup, you’re not passively seeing the cup as it exists, you’re actively representing—literally re-presenting—an image of the cup in your mind."

My question is: if you create (re-present) an image to yourself that "stands in" for the "cup as it exists" is your representation a lie?

The reason I ask is (it appears) that you are posing the inability to perceive the "cup as it exists" as an obstacle to "true" knowing.

Yet, it seems to me that my representation is not necessarily UNtrue, just differently true.

The fact that the cup's sheer awesomeness and glorious existence is obscured is the very thing that permits me to engage with it in a dynamic relationship, as opposed to blissfully becoming one with it and, ultimately dying of ecstasy, thirst and unmet caffiene cravings.

That the exquisitely arranged qualities and precisely balanced forces can be resolved to a manageable thing I can grasp, sip and savour is alone what allows the truth of our encounter to emerge. (So it seems to me).

In more concrete terms, if Chris of Cimmeria encounters a beggar at the city gates, and perceives the beggar's intent to importune him, and if the Cimmerian reacts with a physical gesture intended to put a decisive end to such importunement, is this not a true account of the mutual engagement of these two experiencing agents, notwithstanding that the media of exchange were physical bodies which are representations?

Raymond Duckling said...


What a way to bring Godwin's Law to this thread! Nice. :)

In mid-school and later, I was taught to revere Descartes as the first "modern" thinker. I think it was two or three years ago that I actually tried to read his Discourse of the Method, and it was kind of disappointing but I did not experience the fierce disgust that you apparently felt there. To me it was just kind of lame, like a prepuberescent kid trying very hard not to realize that SantaClaus does not actually bring gifts on Christmast Eve.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Nah, I'm no where near that witty.


Why do I get the feeling that the Chinese are going to be getting a tough lesson about messing with Aussies from some barbaric mountain tribes in the future?



nrgmiserncaz said...

Just thought this was interesting:
Lasers or Longbows? A Paradox of Military
Technology (see pg. 46)

Kate said...

Hi again. I believe the actual title of Woodard's book it American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. He also wrote American Character, which was released not long before the election and builds on his regional approach, but takes it to the political realm much more directly. I hope you enjoy them.

Fred the First said...

I am meeting with some friends at the new local brewpub Wednesday night and thinking about running Green Wizardry as a local class. Reading through a couple of chapters each month, using the exercises in the book, discussing what we can do in our own lives, share ideas, and then go home and do it and share what we are working on online. I was going to list it on to draw in the permaculturists, homesteaders and other eco-minded outside of my group of friends charges $9.99 - $14.99 a month to host a meet-up so I'm going to have to charge people something to cover the cost of the group and cover any photocopies and other materials. Does this sound alright to you? Do you want me to email you off-list? I'd be happy to share what we are doing with others who would like to do the same, through a group conference call each month.

I'm calling it a class because it is focused on actions, not just the sharing of what is talked about here or in the books. I have a permaculture design certificate and every time I think about running a PDC course, I get discouraged. It's so conceptual and one can only use it if you have land to do things on. And it requires lots of sometimes back breaking work to do the land improvements. I've done them on my property and its disappointing when they don't work out the way they are said to work.

I feel that there is a momentum to working in-person with people that just can't be replicated online. The green wizards site has some interesting topics and insights, but I certainly don't feel part of a community all working together toward a common goal.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yes, I probably ripped that turn of phrase from Mr Howard too. It was such a fun book. Mr Howard went through some dark times though and was also perhaps a difficult person.

Seriously though, the guy tried to grab me with both of his arms and he was clearly on something. As a quick story, I actually trained in karate for many years because I had to learn how to fight. I did my first two years of High School at a very hippy dippy alternative school and then because of disciplinary problems my mum then transferred me to a more English than the English all boys private school for the remainder of my High School. There was a little bit of culture shock involved with that! I can handle that, but what was interesting was just how aggressive that new culture was that I suddenly found myself in. And the kids organised fights after school, and let's put it this way, I was fresh meat. So, me being me, I spent a lot of my hard won paper round money on lessons for many years at the local dojo. And here is the weird thing, I won one of the organised fights and combined with the karate lessons, I must have carried myself differently and was suddenly no longer required to fight. Such a weird culture that one and I always laugh when people tell me how nice kids are. They're not nice, they're little animals and I would be hard to convince otherwise.

Anyway, the other thing that was not lost on me was that a person can learn to fight so that they don't have to fight. I've read that psychopaths can pick their victims just by the way that they carry themselves and I have no doubts that that is true.

Just an interesting side story.

I reckon philosophy is missing out not considering stories as most cultures tell stories. I wonder why stories have been largely ignored?



Hubertus Hauger said...

I read the first link you gave me. ( ) That one was helpful. The podcast was too incomprehensible for me. Reading was better so. Also the message could sink in more deeply. The comment and explanatory of Massimo Pigliucci also added to my understanding.

Now I can reflect about some observations.

In his science shows Neil de Grasse is quite vividly explaining how things in the stars mechanic do function. Astonishingly he doesn’t pronounce clearly and distinctly in his diatribes towards present day science. He keeps being very vague. Uttering general disapprovals, which leave it up to the listeners fantasy, what he really might mean?

I suppose, that was the reason, why I, with me many times watching his presentations, didn’t get the critique of philosophy. Lacking precision and specification, that is contradictory to his usual presentation about his point of views.

That got me speculating! Why does he do so? I have got an idea!

There is Harald Lesch, a likewise public scientist here in Germany. But he is having a different approach to philosophy and religion. In particular at one point he is announcing of having pain about one scientific field. Due to its, lets say philosophical vagueness. Interestingly that field does happen to be quantum mechanics.

Harald Lesch is saying, that quantum mechanics has become speculative to such an extent, its been on the verge of not being scientific. Because the physicists, came up with many ideas, how the universe and everything is functioning, Its rather evolving mathematically only. Being so speculative, however its not any more empirically verifiable. Pure speculations quantum mechanics tends to become. No reality-check. No evaluation. What a phantasm-orgasm!

To close my point, in this of Neil de Grasse highly regarded field of science, his beloved quantum mechanics, there is such widespread use of speculation and vagueness. That does look to me just suspiciously, why he might so much despise of philosophy. He has entered the limits of his wisdom. Maybe, he is just subconsciously arguing against himself. Having outsourced his retrospective by painting a devil on the wall he is now shouting at. Scapegoating is a age old strategy to get rid on ones faults, by blaming others.

Armata said...

Off topic, but how's this for global weirding?

After five years of severe drought, Northern California got hit with massive storms that dumped huge amounts of rain and snow into the mountains. Now, a major dam upstream of Sacramento is teetering on the verge of collapse as authorities open the spillways at the Oroville Dam and frantically try to lower the water level by 50 feet over the next two days in order to prevent the dam from completely collapsing. More than 188,000 people have been ordered evacuated. Reports suggest that if the dam goes, it would send a huge wall of water pouring downriver, flooding Sacramento and many other communities.

I think its pretty clear we can expect to see a lot more of this sort of thing as nature bites back and we reap the whirlwind of our folly. As has been pointed out on this blog before, we also see some very ominous signs going on in Greenland and Antarctica, suggesting that major ice sheet collapses have already started. We just haven't seen the full effects yet. There are more reports out today that the Larsen C ice shelf is breaking away from Antarctica after a 100 mile long rift formed, forming the largest iceberg ever recorded.

Armata said...

@ nrgmiserncaz

Now there is a blast from the past! Major Cameron Leckie used to be a regular commenter on this blog, posting as Cam from Oz and cited John Michael's writings as among the sources he used in his research. I remember when he originally posted the link to that very same PDF. I miss his insights. There was another Aussie, a young lad named Leo, who also had some brilliant posts and a great blog called A Melburnians Response to Overshoot, who was an active participant here for a while but dropped off the radar screen. Many of our best commenters, including Cherokee Organics, have come from Down Under.

I only started commenting here fairly recently, but I've been reading this blog off and on since 2008.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Scotlyn re "I am coming to the view that "begetting" is much more fundamental as a generating principle in the universe than "making". This is why I love biology, as it studies " begetting" in depth and detail."

Birthing even more so. It is a prolonged experience that goes very deep, though not always profound. (My feet hurt ... I have to visit the passing a pumpkin....Wow! It's a baby! A little girl! Awww... look at her nuzzle. Hungry? Ooooh ...hey! Won't she ever stop crying?) And while a lot of creatures of both sexes just cast their seed onto the wind or water or soil, the ones who bear and nurture have an added dimension somehow. Or why this is what the Goddess did to bring forth the world and all that is therein. (Not an argument, but a personal statement of faith.)

Patricia Mathews said...

@David, by the lake, re ""if we can just keep what we've got going for another x years," the variable x generally being related to the expected remaining lifespan of the speaker. "

Explains why a woman of 78, who knows blasted well we're at the climax of a crisis and deep into the downside of a megaCrisis, still voted for the Business As Usual candidate. Oh, if I'd been able to see what lay ahead....despite being told so at length and with compelling explanations. Patricia Feminia Sapiens is clearly NOT a rational being.

Marcu said...

@Fred the First
Would you mind contacting me on limitstogrowth1972[at] I would love to discuss you action based Green Wizardry idea further.

Scotlyn said...

Chris, I think you are my favourite barbarian...

I know what you mean about learning to fight so you don't have to.

When I was 10, 11, 12, 13 or so, my way to and from school involved two bus journeys each way, and I had two younger sisters in tow. Our first bus would arrive at the central bus station in San Jose, Costa Rica, which was a busy place, and our path to the second bus traversed the Mercado Central - a huge bazaar type market with hundreds of stall holders(still one of my favourite places to poke around in).

Well, tolerably often, we being young, female and fair, some fella would loom in, wanting to "cop a feel" or have a grope. I learned quickly to deny satisfaction to any such importunants. It was a knack of being able to move lightly, step aside or duck more quickly than expected, or the strategic use of an elbow or knee, or umbrella or schoolbag, and of putting the face in "back off" mode. Keep in mind I was protecting myself and my sisters, and I effectively learned to do it.

I suppose I learned a way of projecting a sort of determined force field around us and it seemed to have real effects sometimes - you could see people doubletake or step back.

Another thing that helped, I think, was that when travelling on the buses, I liked to stand, and practice a way of establishing a link between my feet, through the bus's unsteady floor to the earth's force - hard to describe, but I was able to keep my feet however the bus lurched. (Possibly the closest I ever got to surfing).

It seems to me that I have lived a charmed life since, in that no one has ever lifted a hand to me since that time. Perhaps some of those childhood learnings stuck. However, I was doubly fortunate in that, at no time did anyone I cared about ever trespass on my trust in that way, before or since.

I did Aikido in my 20's and figured that the most important thing I learned there was to fall [and get up again, and again], and Tai Chi in my 40's and 50's which has helped me keep my balance and move from my centre.

I do try to teach the kids I know, especially the girls I know, some of this. "How to stand" - sounds easy, right? I am fairly certain that very few people know how to stand up as if their feet were really connecting to the floor. You can toss them with a finger.

A barbarian, especially of the female kind, is going to have to know how to carry her body through the world as if she were a tiger, and not to be messed with. This is important learning.

Justin said...

Regarding 40 bits per second - wow! Considering that a character is roughly a byte (256 possibilities) and that a good typist can belt out 40 WPM, with an average (English) word length of 4.5 characters, that means that a good typist can spit out information faster than a person can really absorb it. It's true though, you can watch a movie in 1080p and be exposed to a megabyte per second of information but later sum an hour of TV up in a few sentences. Of course, most people would rather watch an hour of TV than hear a few sentences. There's something to be learned from that rather than mocked.

Marcus Aurelius said that wine is just grape juice, which is of course true, but it's also true that wine is soil, sun and culture and nice evenings with close friends. JMG is of course correct when he talks about TV, video games, etc as dancing pixels on glass screens, but the essential human needs that video games partially fulfill are worth talking about. After all, random static is just dancing pixels, and yet nobody has a problem with watching too much random static :).

Donald Hargraves said...

Mr. Greer said:

Donald, er, "contained within the scientific method"? I'm having a little trouble parsing this. Do you mean that gods can't be experimented with?

Here's what my understanding of what those who wish to use the "Scientific Method" on Gods seem to want:

1) Double Blind confirmation (The person doing the spells/prayers doesn't know whom is being prayed for, and the person targeted doesn't know they're being cast a spell at/prayed for)
2) Disinterested actions (i.e. the Prayer/caster isn't supposed to care about whether the prayer/spell works.
3) Mechanistically repeatable results (If a specific A, then a specific B always and without context) to five sigma (or, can do a thousand times and have the same stuff happen each time),
4) Weaponizeable (able to be used for or against others).

In short, the scientists don't want Gods, they want forces they can order around. Or, another way to look at it, they wish to be gods themselves by the proxy of being able to control the Gods/godlike forces.

Now, the Gods may be experimented upon, but I get the impression they don't like it and they prize their free will over all things – even if the item in question is the curing of scrofula (or – probably – Tuberculosis) and the God in question has sworn to cure scrofula in all sincere cases of people asking said God for their scrofula cure. Like, say, if it comes out that the person's soul shall be required of them within a couple of months, then to be cured of scrofula may open them up to a more violent, uglier end when scrofula may lead them to a comfortable, well-cared end with the sufferer ready to go when their time comes. Would said God be a false God? Hardly, I would say, because in this case the freedom to withhold the cure would be for the best in this case.

Scotlyn said...

@Patricia thank you. I've been pondering differences between deities who "beget" the world and those who "make" it. I could use more high-faluting terms like "generating" v "fabricàting", but the phrase in the creed (oft repeated in my childhood) describing Christ as Son of the Father, "begotten not made" always resonated with me and is producing much insight for me just now.

It seems to me when you beget (includes giving birth, but not at all limited to it) you surrender or cede control of the future to whatever comes, including the actions of as yet unknown others (and it so happens that sometimes the children of a deity are that deity's nemesis). In a world begotten of such a deity there is great freedom of action.

Whereas when a deity "makes" a world, they cede nothing, the world is their artifact, their thing, and they can impose upon it whatever conditions and meanings they wish.

Reflecting back upon my evangelical born-again Christian
upbringing, I think this was the tension too far for me. That I had the "freedom" to choose my "maker" (even if your "maker" made *your* life a living hell - per Job) did not feel like freedom at all. Whereas a "father" is someone you can honour, or not, and how he has treated you will have a bearing on what you choose, but will not determine or constrain it.

As to human birth and human (chorionic) pregnancy it is an unusually demanding process, even compared to that of other mammals, who can more readily and safely interrupt their own pregnancies when conditions are not suitable. A human mother gives of her very blood, bone and breath to the necessary nine-month "finishing" of the human child begotten in an initial glorious fertilisation. (Has anyone else seen the photos showing the brief burst of light emitted by the fusing sperm and egg at that moment? If not, please do Google this!)

Still, I far prefer the relaxed mammalian ability to carry baby food and baby with you on the hoof, to the mama & papa birds' ceaseless scramble to find and carry enough of it to the nest to satisfy that ravening infantile hunger.

Matt said...

I wasn't going to respond to Juhana, but seeing as it's been picked up by both JMG and Mallow, I feel the need to respond.

Why does the whole narrative have to be framed as one based on immigration, as if that's at the root of all the problems. That may be the interpretation of the horny-handed sons of toil that Juhana spoke to, but that's only their interpretation - it doesn't make it true. In the UK the tabloid media have been running decades-long campaigns of anti-immigrant rhetoric, so it should surprise us that some of the mud sticks. But to portray this as the root of all that has gone wrong is disingenuous, to say the least.

I can't help feeling I would like to say to these people: what did you do in the eighties and nineties, when there was still a chance to maintain a tradition of working-class politics and trade union organisation? Did you vote for the Tories, who undermined trade unionism at every step, and have sought to run the NHS into the ground?

I'm sure I sound a bit bitter, and I can't deny it. It's amazing how everybody's suddenly got interested in talking about the working class now they're only either victims or voting fodder for Caesars.


Scotlyn said...

Hello JMG and Gwizard - re courtesy and discourse.

I'm slipping this in at the last minute because I don't want to hammer on a point, but I do think there is an important distinction that needs to be made.

Firstly, courtesy is all well and good, providing - and this is a biggie - it SERVES the cause of dialogue. But dialogue, if made to serve the cause of courtesy would obviate the whole point of this beautifully moderated and amazingly informative comment space.

Reflecting on the kinds of comments complained of, I thought about the many times my own most honest thoughts have come across as frustration, exaggeration, hyperbole, loud, uncaring and/or insulting. Somehow the things you care about saying often do not come out in a way others care to hear. Communication is hard, and can take persistence to achieve.

To me the vast majority of comments listed as objectionable seem to have that character. Passionate, emphatic, strongly worded, but, with that, a striving to communicate a deeply held truth.

What I found signally different in the exchange between Dammerung and Unknown Deborah Bender was that Dammerung said "we will not be able to reason together". That is to say, while failing neither in courtesy nor in honesty, Dammerung effectively put an end to any possibility of dialogue between himself and Deborah.

In that context, the "blood libel" comment served simply to explain the reason further dialogue between them would be pointless. I suppose few people would expect to be able to convince someone else that their extermination is necessary. Conversely, having accepted the necessity of the other's extermination, it is equally unlikely *they* will be able to persuade the first person of its non-necessity. Thus, the kind of existential impasse is reached that no dialogue can ever break.

To me Dammerung did not breach any of the "letter" of the comment policy. Yet he breached the entirety of its spirit, if that spirit is, as I suppose it to be, about fostoring dialogue.

In summary, I support dialogue remaining first and foremost. Courtesy is nice, but, so long as there is no danger of it suppressing dialogue.

Thanks for your patience.

MCB said...

I saw this article by Matt Ridley, which speaks exactly to the depressing point of science becoming corrupted.

Thumb on the scale of temperature trends?

It's doubly depressing since it is an area of such sensitivity. The article left me feeling that as the reality of this corruption becomes more apparent to me I am really not sure what I can 'know' and what can really be 'seen' any more as a basis for the views I hold.

It's illustrating this weeks topic entirely.


Stephen cook said...

Thank for this article Mr Greer. It is extremely illuminating for me. I have found myself becoming pleasing addicted to reading your articles and eagerly anticipate each new one. Thank you again.

Jonathan said...

This is excellent. Thank you very much.

. said...


Obviously JMG does not subscribe to any narrative that immigration is the root of all problems anywhere. Nor do I. Nor does Juhana actually based on everything he has ever posted here (he would almost certainly point the finger at liberalism, third wave feminism and the decline of Christianity). And I would bet large sums of the money that the English people he spoke to don't believe that either.

So where is your idea that people believe immigrants to be the cause of all problems coming from? It's a narrative that comes from the left. It's not reality either. It's a strawman.

If you asked many people who express the views that Juhana's English friends have about immigration the questions you pose, many of them will tell you that they voted for Labour and considered themselves to be on the left. Many people who currently consider themselves to be on the left, who are active in unions and politics, also oppose current immigration policies. As did Marx, by the way.

No doubt there are those on the far right who feign concern for the interests of the lower paid in order to promote policies that they support based on racism. But the fact that they exist doesn't in any way imply that everyone who discusses the impact of immigration on the working classes is doing so disingenuously.


Mortimer D. Reardon said...

Haven't read the above comments; someone may have already pointed this out:

Your statement about Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is incorrect. You have confused two Greek words: ethos (starting with the letter epsilon), meaning habit, and ethos (starting with the letter eta), meaning character (I don't know how to do diacritical marks or Greek letters here). Although Aristotle does talk about habit in NE, the work is mainly about character and its relation to virtue/excellence (arete) and the good life/human flourishing (eudaemonia), and character, not habits or customs, is what the title refers to. It's very misleading to say the work is mainly about achieving "personal greatness".

trippticket said...

Mr. Greer, I pray that you’ll indulge me once more as there are big changes afoot in our lives as well, and this seems like just about the best place for this sort of announcement available!

We are selling our little homestead in the woods of North Georgia. Five years of carving a beautiful, nurturing and empowering off-grid home out of the woods is over, and the next chapter is waiting for us in the Missouri Ozarks.

If you know anything of our story, my family of 4 “went to ground” on May Day 2012, to live in a big wall tent in a hole in the forest without power and running water. It was a challenging but very special time for us, and we certainly have mixed emotions about seeing it come to an end. Especially considering what a lovely stand-alone sort of place we’ve built up since then.

We have never been grid-tied but, complementing the passive solar design, we now have enough PV solar power to cover the basics, including a chest freezer and small electric clothes washer. Anyone who has ever lived off-grid will understand the importance and luxury of those two items. All off-grid equipment comes with the home. There is also now pressurized cold and hot water to a sink in the kitchen (not shown in the listing). Hot pressurized water may be the most defining characteristic of the affluent life. It’s a real boon to our existence! There are established fruit trees – plums, peaches, apples, pears, and others – multiple varieties planted for climate change resilience, and all sorts of gourmet mushrooms, prized natives, and culinary and medicinal herbs blanketing the inner zone of the property.

Here’s the link to our MLS listing if anyone here is interested-

Cheers, everyone, and our very best to you, Mr. Greer, during your hiatus. Please come back soon!

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