The Nincompoop and the Better Angel or Taking the Red Pill or Rambling (Uncontrolled) Notes on Chaos and Control

red pill


Let this entry be chaotic and disorderly. I’m tired of writing in a suit and tie. Tired of this formal voice.

Now it’s time to drift into deeper topics so that I might get as close as I can to a real movement, not the idea of a movement. Everyone’s probably heard Korzybski’s “the map is not the territory”. If this is understood as a concept then it’s not really understand it at all. As a concept it’s merely another “map.” To really understand what he means the statement has to initiate a full stop, which is an action, not an idea or concept, not another map. I’m trying to write essays that run into the limitations of thought, which would initiate the action of negation, rather than the positing of ideas or concepts.

I’m not sure I’m doing very well yet. But for some reason I can’t stop trying.

So when a new meaning (which is a new way of being) eludes me, remaining tantalizingly close but still too vague to realize, I feel compelled to write. But writing involves not writing for the most part. I wait to catch myself in the act of some relevant stupidity. Then the writing draws attention to this movement of stupidity, and mainly by negation (the elimination of assumptions that divert my attention) I get closer to what is happening.

I’ll place the various negations I encounter in bold.

I wish the writing didn’t end up so f’ing complex, but in reaching for the thing that is just beyond my grasp there are no precedents. I’m always pushing into the dense underbrush of my own unconscious habits, where the new movement distinguishes itself (if I’m patient).

I don’t write knowing anything, but the writing itself allows me to discover things, so that I end up sounding as if I know something after all, which is a lie. But I can’t seem to avoid that lie just yet, so I’ll expose it up front.

One of the most tantalizing movements that I’ve never had enough patience to focus upon fully is the relationship between chaos and control. It’s a fascinating oddity: Order emerges by realizing one’s own disorder. Or honesty is the realization of dishonesties. Cosmos is the realization of Chaos.

This means the honest fool, who lives close to their own foolishness, never hiding from their mistakes, is a far more interesting and worthwhile companion than the intelligent person striving for the perfect theory.Read More »

The Limits of Ken Wilber: An Appreciation

ken wilber


Ken Wilber likes to say that every stage of human psychological or spiritual growth “includes and transcends” the previous stage. We don’t lose our capacity to access earlier stages of development; and we don’t reject those earlier stages as “wrong.” We see the logic that drives earlier stages and can operate within that logical framework whenever it’s necessary.

He also seems to imply that growth is a gradual diminishment of ego as a driving force. A wider and wider horizon of empathy accompanies each stage of development.

This vision provides the impression of a kind of winding stairway or double-helix of personal progress. Each step in this stairway represents a certain leap from one set of assumptions or “action-logics” to a new and more encompassing set of assumptions. But all in all this “inclusion and transcendence” represents a gradual growth.

There’s nothing wrong with seeing things in this way, even if the emphasis on inclusion and transcendence seems incomplete to me. Rather than saying we “include and transcend” each previous stage, I’d prefer to say that transcendence of previous stages involves inclusion and shedding or sacrifice (the positive and the negative). Because in every stage of development (whether from 1st grade to 2nd; or from an ethnocentric to a more interconnected vision) fundamental assumptions driving previous stages are lost or negated. This is far more significant than inclusion. Inclusion is simply what remains by default after certain fundamental beliefs are sacrificed. The real change occurs via negation or sacrifice of old beliefs. Negation removes a layer of confused mud, leaving the vision a little more cleansed and wider in focus. What isn’t removed is still (by default) included in the new vision.Read More »

Negative Knowledge and the Eruption of a Metaphoric Mentality


This essay is fictional. Not in the way fiction is usually defined. But this voice – anyone’s voice, even a scientist’s voice – is the invention of a framework that puts experience in a particular slant and color. And there’s no way to avoid this.

Nothing can be discussed or known without being painted in some fictional color.
Even the colorless voice of a realist is a fictional application of colorlessness.

Phrases like “everything is this…” and “nothing can be that…” sound reductive and dogmatic. But in this case I’m talking about what can’t be known, not what can. Reality is unknowable. Stories are all that’s known.

In other words, claiming to know anything conclusive about the nature of reality is a sign of bullshit.

And knowing what is bullshit is a fundamentally different kind of knowledge. It’s not reductive, but expansive, because this discovery releases perception from cages of certainty, and awakens a questioning or metaphoric spirit. Read More »

The Delusions of Me, Myself and AI: On the Origins of Our Crises

AI picture

This appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Do I need to justify what most call philosophy? Aren’t all these social and political issues building into huge cumulonimbuses that demand a less solely reflective response? But look, a thunderstorm has its origins in the vibrations of individual atoms. And as an atom of this society, I need to examine myself, because whatever is driving me (and you) is driving that developing storm.”

“In other words, what is the role of individual perception in all these less abstract issues of immigration, governmental control, war, and the dangers of AI?”

“Well, I bristle at the word “abstract.” I’m saying that the storm has a concrete origin in the atom of my personality. There’s a dynamic there that translates into society. My personality is a twisted wreck of inauthenticity —  defensive denials, and bald declarations of pig-headed belief in anything and everything. I leap from one conclusion to another, rarely questioning any of them. Rarely learning.”

“Are you saying that society is a cumulative stupidity?”

“I think so. But on the “atomic” level it’s only me and you getting caught on what we think and usually staying that way the rest of our lives. It’s not just stupidity, but a stubbornly self-enforced stupidity, which is beguilingly odd. There’s a clarifying thrill in this, like being trapped in a small cell my whole life and suddenly discovering that there are doors everywhere in the cell that I’ve simply refused to open. Every resistance in myself is a door I refuse to open.”Read More »

Science, Religion and the Pathless Land


Justin picture 3
Painting by Justin Adair

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 Radical Derelict: Giving Up the Work Ethic for Peace


This appeared on Counterpunch and Dissidentvoice.

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 »

“And I said, with rapture, Here is something I Can Study All My Life and Never Understand!”


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 »

The Epiphany of No Purpose

A minor epiphany hit me about three weeks ago.

An unobtrusive assumption came tumbling from the apex of a small inverted pyramid of beliefs and hit solidly enough in passing that I took notice. What came loose was the belief that doing things – even writing this rambling note — requires a purpose; purposes which are ulterior to the enjoyment one takes in the activity itself; as if it isn’t enough to do something for its own sake.Read More »

Death’s Good Intentions

This is a picture by Abulena Panduri, used without permission. I hope she doesn’t mind.

Friendships are Parallel Universes

Almost a year ago, one of my truest friends died. Pat Styer. I never met her in person. It didn’t matter. We spoke the same fundamental language. It wasn’t about agreeing or disagreeing. It was about playing catch with a perspective that few in my circle at that time seemed to find worth picking up. What she said broadened my own vocabulary. And whatever I said, she received without distortion. It was as if we were learning something that could only be discovered between us.

I think every relationship (whether with a human or a dog or a cat) gives rise to someone new between us, creates a context of understanding that will never be duplicated with another. We move between parallel worlds. Each infinite, but limited to our mutual contexts.Read More »

Part 2 of Imagine the Limits of the Imagination: A Proprioceptive Mirror

The Man Who Mistook Himself for His Dog
The Man Who Mistook Himself for His Dog

The Three Oddest Words

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no nonbeing can hold.
— Wislawa Szymborska

This is a continuation of part 1.

There are two very different ways of reading the phrase “imagine the limits of the imagination.”

One way is to assume that we’re trying to imagine what lies “beyond” imagination. This sets up a double-bind: trying to think beyond thinking; trying to speak about silence. It’s like asking that creature from part 1 (who can only hear) to describe a world of sight. It can’t be done.Read More »