Kant described that “pathless land” (that “negative geography”) as a freedom to speak for oneself, trusting one’s own intelligence. And this implied that science at its best recognizes that its theories remain shadows on Plato’s cave. At its best science is attentive to deviations from what is believed to be real. And not in the way Karl Popper conceived of falsification, which is still reductive in its quest for a perfect theory. But rather, at its best science remains alert to what is “false in the true, and true in the false”, as Krishnamurti phrased it.
Creationists have an especially hard time with this. A mentality alert to anomalies in what is true and false doesn’t have a vested interest in defending its stories. The theories of science are not weak because they’re perpetually changing. They’re intended as provisional sketches of a universe wildly erring from anything we imagine. Or as the physicist Hans-Peter Dürr phrased it, “Science also speaks only in parables.”Read More »
The same relentless energy driving a toddler in its Terrible Twos still drives that voice in my head. However, when I see a toddler, I know I’m in the presence of a genius, albeit a naïve one. It’s not the size of the intellect, but the velocity of learning that describes its intelligence. I, on the other hand, tend to move in well-worn circles, constrained by prejudice and vested interest. I’ve learned to “circle the wagons”, so to speak, around particular conclusions.
Essentially, I’m what happens when a toddler’s unstoppable urge to learn gets diverted into supporting a predatory status quo. Open-ended learning gets replaced by a narrowing framework of instruction as the driving force; and a dawning sense of some innate order or intelligence in the world gets short-circuited by dependence on authority and by conformity to the culture’s creeds and isms.Read More »
This humor essay/story/bullshit is related to Negative Geography. Admittedly, it’ll probably register as too bizarre for most. But I like bizarre. Here’s an excerpt, and it’s available in full here: The Title Goes Here
Here’s an excerpt:
Anyone could tell that members of the Meat Locker Association, thanks to their long and close association with the cows, were not thinking clearly: they couldn’t deduce a pocket handkerchief if they were shown a pocket, a running nose and a hand loitering first around the pocket an then around the nose. And the trails of illogic that they blazed could never be retraced: would grow back immediately into impenetrable thickets of random association; so that trying to argue with them was like trying to read fine-print under a strobe light. Read More »
I’ve been tremendously inspired of late by The Negative Psychologist — a doppelganger of Neg. Geo it seems. In every essay he finds a way to draw attention away from the conceptual level and back to what is actually happening in our heads (the function of thinking, as opposed to the abstract content of thought. Which is to say it tends towards “proprioception.”) Somehow he casually side-steps the trap of knowledge accumulation (of constructing an ego).
In his work I find countless heuristics in the form of amusingly critical observations. And his observations have a lovely sense of humor, a bemused detachment. “Ken and Barby Land”, for instance, makes me laugh. It describes that diabolically mundane work-a-day wold, the superficial world of constructs and images. This is from Gaining Perspective”, by The Negative Psychologist:
Such a mental condition might be called ‘Ken and Barbie land’, and another fitting image is that of the ‘Stepford Wives’. The scary thing is that, if we had our own way, we would probably opt for this as a full-time mode of being because it is so very ‘non-challenging’. We love not to be challenged. Easy is good! Easy is good! If you do not believe this, then just watch yourself for a day or two and see where your head is at for most of the time – are you in one of your various comfort zones (in the realm of the known), or are you somewhere new, somewhere challenging?
Here’s something very hard and extremely simple at the same time. A beautiful paradox. But it’s not an idea, that’s the hard part in a sense. Because we’re oriented to wanting some static knowledge that we can claim as ours. But knowledge is actually very difficult to process or really understand. To hold the idea that I’m selfish, for instance, isn’t the same thing as really facing my own selfishness. Real intelligence is honesty, not intellect.
Sometimes self-knowledge is a false cover, confirming our tired old convictions. But real self-knowledge is critical self-awareness. No firm conviction can survive the irradiation of critical (or negative) awareness. After all, I’m only being honest when I recognize that I can’t actually know anything for sure. The world is infinite, and my brain only measures a few measly inches. So being certain is a way of lying to myself, saying “reality is here in my grasp.” What I grasp is already past-tense, static and artificial.Read More »
I don’t know what is real. I know only stories. Reality itself is obscured behind an interpretive film. But if there was a way to remove these perceptual “cataracts” I’d blind myself, because I can’t make sense of reality without a story. Story and reality are impossible to separate. But I need to find a way to distinguish them. Otherwise I’m delusional. And this delusion has real and deadly consequences.
Stories create every objective thing and Other I encounter. Nations and races, for example, are highly selective distinctions that settle over the world like transparencies over a drawing. And when these fictional separations are conflated with reality, real national and racial divisions erupt. These divisions are not facts of nature, but what physicist David Bohm called “artifacts” of the story, of my own imagination.
There’s something electrifying here. Against a fact of nature I’m helpless. But my own agency is revealed in artifacts of the imagination. It suggests that much of what passes for human nature, including aggression between groups, is not inevitable.Read More »
Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly. (Wallace Stevens, from Sunday Morning)
Why this confidence that technical ingenuity can drive through, over or around any obstacle? Even the dead end of death itself is seen by the more fanatic of the Techno-Utopian thinkers as a barrier that will somehow be conquered. Apparently they’ll be carried into the infinite limit of the Singularity on the backs of 72 virginity-regenerating sex robots.Read More »
As CJ Hopkins pointed out in Counterpunch, “… we are not yet capable of conceiving a credible alternative system [to global neoliberal capitalism], or a way to get there.”
Or maybe we conceivealternatives, but the canopy of globalization has grown so wide that it stunts their growth. The media’s floodlight shines only on a sucker’s coin of allowable alternatives: Regressive Revolution — a rabid demand for the nation to be “great again”; and Patriotic Reform — a “gentler” allegiance to American exceptionalism. Both sides of the coin bank on what no longer exists – a sovereign nation.Read More »
Sometimes I wonder why I can’t stop all this burrowing into the bones of thought (as I like to think I’m doing).
But that’s when I forget what I love. I love feeling those bones, the hidden, labyrinthine structures supporting our simplistic surface consciousness. And I love encountering my own shocking assumptions, the ones I didn’t even realize I had until I started fumbling around among those bones.Read More »
I think there’s a close relationship between peripheral vision and the somewhat famous “overview effect”. The eye, after all, is an extension of the brain. Both peripheral vision and an overview imply a perception of context, which limits the distortions of self-interest.
What’s more, peripheral vision is too quick to be resisted by the ego. It’s only an immediate sensitivity to what is happening. Therefore it precedes wishful thinking. As soon as we “take sides” for or against what is noticed, then our focus has already narrowed. Therefore a peripheral vision engenders something of a suspended state (ala David Bohm). It allows contradictory ideas to sort themselves out.Read More »