Sunday, June 09, 2019

Why do I write these posts?

Athens, 1980
I write these posts to work out an idea, or share something cool, or to learn what you may think about something. And to teach.

Work out an idea: thinking is now. It's the place where all the energy and intelligence streams into - gushes into - human consciousness. It can't be remembered, in the ordinary sense. It is only when it is. Thinking is in the moment, as I'm writing or meditating. Then I step back and see how everything gelled, but that glob, no matter how beautiful and intricate and true, is not the real thing.

Share something cool: Just about everything I learn from my meditations, and from the voices in the books I read (not in my head), that I think is cool, I share: JRR Tolkien, Jesus Christ, Owen Barfield, Rudolph Steiner, Paramahansa Yogananda, Morris Berman, Jean-Paul Sartre, Patanjali, Alain Danielou, hyperobjects, neural and sensory plasticity, motorized traffic roadway design and vehicle driver training and performance, human/earth prehistory, and phenomenology.

To learn what you may think: I would like to know what your practice of phenomenology is. How do you do it? Where? When? Why?

To teach: I mention others' writing and work, and much that I share comes from them, in some direct or indirect way. But always, the source of the most necessary ideas come from inside myself. In fact, only my own experience can I most confidently vouch for.

That's what's kept me writing. The first posts on this blog are from 2006. Through the thirteen years, and even before, I've found a source of energy in my own experience that's enough to keep this a living document.

The living part isn't unique to my blog. But the source of energy is, not unique but rare, which is the practice of phenomenology.

That's what I'd like to teach to anyone who hasn't already learned what I've learned.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019


"It seems preposterous to think of [the human] as invisible. We are visible to ourselves every day as a physical body. But there are many ways in which we manifest our essential invisibility.

For example, close your eyes.

Your form is invisible to you; how do you know you exist?

You are aware of the body's weight; you can hear, smell, taste and touch. Nevertheless you are real to yourself only in terms of ideas.

You are an invisible nucleus around which many thoughts are revolving.

Now open your eyes.

Are you the form that you see, or that inner being you were just now conscious of with eyes closed?"

This is the start of phenomenology, amiright? In the sense that, by closing my eyes, I block out the howling stimuli from the eyes, and in the sensorial quiet, experience immediately the other senses, and more astonishing, the first real glimpse of my invisibility.

You can see, too, how phenomenology invents paradoxical, contradictory, preposterous, ridiculous, hilarious jargon, because we're talking about what we can't see, what isn't 'sensible'. Using the language we have - all of it grounded, at least, in sensible phenomena - forces us to 'glimpse invisibility.'

But here's what I don't get: why don't phenomenologists talk about meditation?

In any scientific paper, you include a section on the methods used in the research - including equipment, protocols, bio samples, etc., even if those methods are fairly routine.

Why don't phenomenologists describe how they came to the views explicated in the essay at hand? What were their methods - not only the rules of inference, or existential logic, but what sources and modes of knowledge and information and stimuli did the author invoke or experience?

I once interviewed a phenomenologist about phenomenology, and somewhere in the middle of an hour long mostly one-sided discussion and explanation of the method and its products, the interviewee made the only mention of meditation.

She had several times articulated a thread of the phenomenological method in a way that seemed to me to immediately imply the practice of meditation, but she didn't go in that direction. I thought perhaps I was making a spurious connection, until she again seemed to be heading toward the obvious conclusion about meditation, but ended her consideration with a rhetorical counter example, "Unless a person had a really deep meditation practice..."

That suggests a fundamental disconnect in the practice of phenomenology.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Consider this...

Accept as true, for the moment, that you determined, before you were born, the game plan and the important details of your present life.

What thought just came to you?

Monday, March 18, 2019

A Dialogue from the Late 1990's

Set in a small, progressive university mountain town in the northwest. 

It’s surrounded by mountains – local university geologists claim that a glacial lake hundreds of miles away burst its banks more than once, sending a flood of water into the town’s valley. A local brewery named one if its beers “Glacial Lake”.

We are in a renovated sugar beet mill, with original brickwork inside, air ducting and water pipes in the ceiling exposed and brightly painted yellow and orange and blue. The building is surrounded on three sides by a parking lot, full to the brim with cars.

The renovated sugar beet mill houses a software company with about 200 employees. Any company that size is big in this part of the country. For a software company, it’s huge.

We zoom into the second floor of the building, and back to the extreme of the northern wing of the building. We zoom in closer to cubicles, a square pod with the desks on the inside of the square.

There are three male software testers, talking. They find lots of bugs in the industrial strength GIS software of their company. They respectfully point out to the programmers what doesn’t work, or what works but not the way the customers want it to work. 

They joke a lot.

One – W – is looking at his monitor, his back turned to the other two – D and C.

W: Astronauts detected what they take to be the most distant object in the universe – it’s 31 billion light years away.

D: We’re going to have to figure out some other way to travel in this universe if we really want to get anywhere – anywhere beyond the moon.

C: I think we need to start with launching beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

W: At light speed the round trip would take…

N: 62 billion years

W: [still reading off his monitor] The ship would take 3 months to accelerate to the speed of light without whiplashing the astronauts.

D: I think we’re going to have to find some other way to travel.

C: You mean like through wormholes?

D: Yes. Something other than packing a body into a can, shoving the can through a vacuum, and opening the can at the other end of the journey. In fact, the trip to the moon didn’t even achieve that – the can opened, but the body was still inside a smaller can of the suit and helmet.

C: The astronaut was still there, seeing through the visor, and could lift up a rock and get a feel for the rock’s texture.

D: But he’s not touching the rock with his skin. Nor is he seeing it except through the visor of his helmet, however insignificant the separation may be.

C: But in that case, you would have to say that my feet are in socks, inside shoes, on the carpet, on the floor, above the ground. I’m not really touching the ground.

D: I agree – you aren’t touching the ground. But you can take – and have taken – off the shoes and socks, stepped outside, and walked on the grass in your bare feet, grass and skin touching.

To date, we can’t do that outside of earth’s atmosphere, not even in theory. Do you notice how, except for the aliens, our science fiction doesn’t even portray an intelligible story of humans traveling through space without ships or suits?

Anyway, our knowledge of space is wholly by inference, because we have, and can’t have, any direct contact via our five senses with anything outside the Earth’s biosphere.

The space probes go out, and we see pictures of Jupiter’s moons, of Neptune, and as a result we have the mistaken impression that a human can float in space and look all around at this vista of planets and moons and nebulae and galaxies. Not only that a human can, but that we have in fact done so, having seen the pictures from the probe. When really we’ve only seen representations of what a mere electronic instrument on the probe detected when directed at an infinitesimal portion of the whole view.

In the case of the moon, we can’t hear, taste, feel, see or smell anything directly, even if the only thing between us and the moon is a thin suit and gold-plated glass visor. In the case of the probe, we are profoundly more removed.

And here’s where it gets weird: When we say that something is real, we mean that we can experience it with our five senses. By that definition, space is not real.

[J, the boss, a young woman straight from Palm in Silicon Valley, where she managed testing for the Palm Pilot. Smart, sober, observant.]

J: But those radio signals from the probe are then interpreted into a visual image that we can see.

D: I agree. But we’re seeing a visual representation constructed from radio waves – we are not seeing the moons of Jupiter. We are inferring from the waves what the moons of Jupiter look like.

C: If that’s true, you’d have to say the same thing about deep sea exploration, is that right?

D: That’s exactly right. Have you seen maps of the bottom of all the oceans? Like in National Geographic? They show the entire ocean floor. But the maps extrapolate and infer. We infer from the sonar what the surface looks like. Then we extrapolate between data points.

But we haven’t seen, directly, the entire ocean floor.

J: But divers have seen the ocean floor.

D: Yes, but not the whole thing. They’ve only seen a tiny, tiny portion of the whole ocean floor, that is, they, collectively.

Most, anyway, are seeing through the glass of a mask, however irrelevant that may seem.

C: I was born by the ocean. When I was 3 days old I swam it it. I can see really well under water without a mask.

J: They’re feeling it with their skin.

D: Down to a certain depth, below which they’re in a can just like the astronauts.

C: Are you saying I’m seeing more of reality than most people because there’s no glass between me and the water?

D: No, it’s not a matter of quantity – like, you see more of reality than I do. It’s a matter of quality – you have immediate knowledge, I have inferred knowledge.

C: So with your glasses on right now, you’re not seeing reality? In fact, not only do I see more of reality than you, but lots more, because my eye sight is better.

D: Well, yeah, I guess there are quantitative differences in perception, but in those cases, we’re talking about immediate knowledge – experience – for both people. If I take off my glasses, you and I both have unmediated, direct perception, but yours takes in more detail.

C: So it’s just a matter of a more or less clear picture of reality. You have a muted perception of realitiy through your glasses.

D: I wouldn’t say muted, I would say inferred. It’s a difference in quality, not quantity. It’s a difference in the source of the knowledge – directly through the senses, or inferred from measurement.

C: On your view then, there is nothing left to explore – space exploration is pointless. We can only really experience what we’ve experienced for thousands of years: the Earth’s biosphere.

D: We can’t, or at least we haven’t yet, experienced anything beyond that, yes, in the sense I’m talking about: with our five senses.

J: You mean if I blindfold you, and put a glove on your hand, and cover your ears and nose and mouth, and put a drinking glass in your hand, that you can’t know that the cup is there?

D: No I can’t, directly, only inferentially.

J: But whether you think it’s there or not, doesn’t change the fact that it’s there.

D: But you’re imagining someone else corroborating your senses. If I’m the only one around, then I can’t know that it’s there and that it’s a cup.

J: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound?

D: No, it doesn’t, not in the sense you’re suggesting.

J: You can’t just make things disappear depending on whether you sense them or not.

C: This is a really depressing view. Why explore space? There’s nothing new to see. It’s all been seen. If you stood up at a Republican convention and gave your speech, they’d give you a standing ovation. “No more money for NASA!”

D: Yeah, finally a philosophical basis for cutting NASA funding.

C: This is depressing.

D: There are at least two ways out of the depression, though.

C: Well, we’re not going to sprout some new sense beyond the five we have. Maybe we’ll be able to see more of the spectrum, but it’s still seeing – it’s not a new sense.

D: Well, maybe, but even if that’s true, I can think of one last chance to escape the gloom.

C: Are you going to tell me, or do I have to beg?

D: I’m going to let you stew for awhile.

C: World wrecker. Dream killer.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Hyperobjects: Teaser

Take a look at these two apps visualizing scale:

In a sense, phenomenology exposes scale as meaningful, but not in the sense that bigger is better. Rather, think of Leibniz's statement that nature is infinitely articulated: the closer you get, the more detail is revealed.

These get you thinking, too, about the difference between size and distance. Are they the same? Different? Clearly, going to the moon or a distant star is fundamentally different than looking at a paramecium with a microscope....

So check this out too:

What's this got to do with hyperobjects?

Sunday, February 03, 2019

I have a theory...

My daughter knows some of my theories: dinosaurs aren't what we think they are; prehistoric people focused their eyes differently than we do today; humans of today wouldn't even recognize the physical bodies of their far distant future descendants; stuff like that.

I can now add to this fabled list, with a few that I've developed in the last few years:

1. Humans will develop the ability to fly, which first requires the development of vision that is truly three dimensional (you don't know just how profoundly we are tied to the surface of the Earth), that involves deliberate real-time modification of the visual field, and an emphasis on the phenomenon of buoyancy

2. 'Outer space' - that place where rockets and probes go - is much more 'inner' space than we realize

3. Material/outer expressions (copies, fakes, caricatures) of interior human potentials characterize technology as we know it. Phone tech - especially mobile phone tech - is a clumsy attempt at the reality of ESP; elevators mock levitation; interplanetary probes pretend to be the only 'real' way to travel outside/beyond the body. For instance.

4. Add roughly one thousand years to any 'prediction' of future events in order to get a true perspective on how tech, civilization, and human potential change. If the popular notion (zeitgeist) says 'by 2100 humans will be able to ...', think '3100' and you're much closer not only to the time estimate, but also to the underlying nature of the change itself.

Stay tuned for more theories, all free of charge.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Philosophy and the Evolution of Consciousness - Revised Edition

I finished this revision two or so years ago, fixing lots of typos, grammatical mistakes, formatting stuff, cleaned up footnote numbering, and generated a new index.

More importantly, I cut out a chapter or two, tightened up the remaining, and smoothed out transitions between chapters.

The chapter "The Impossibility of Interpenetration" deals directly with phenomenological insights akin to Barfield's.

Please comment - on readability, formatting, philosophical nuts and  bolts.

Thanks so much for checking in with me.