Sunday, July 30, 2017

Empiricism In Space

It is supremely difficult to get across, in words, the essence of the last post. Let's give it another go.

Try this: Whenever you look at a photo from NASA, or the cover of a sci-fi novel, or read about building a colony on Mars, or watch youtube video of life inside the ISS, remind yourself, gently, quietly, but clearly, that no human being in recorded history, to the present moment, has ever looked out into the deep darkness of space above our atmosphere with unshielded, unencapsulated eyes. No human being in recorded history has ever felt the rays of the sun on their skin, above the Earth's atmosphere, except through glass while encapsulated in steel. No human being in recorded history has ever set a bare foot on or taken in a naked breath of or seen with naked eyes the moon's surface. Nor the rings of Saturn. Or the Horsehead Nebula. Or the Andromeda galaxy.

No human has floated in 'empty' space, and looked all around in every three-dimensional direction and observed for themselves, even if only through coated glass, except the small list of astronauts taking spacewalks, whose view is mostly taken up by the beautiful blue and green and white and tan globe of Earth.

No human being, naked or encased, has ever traveled beyond the Moon. Ever.

No human being has ever dived down thousands of feet into the ocean, naked and conscious, to see and feel and taste and smell and know.

You yourself have never set eyes on, bare foot on/in, smelled with bare unfiltered nose, felt with uncovered skin, heard with unaided ear, probably 99.999999999999% of the surface of the Earth. You yourself have never set eyes on, bare foot on/in, smelled with bare unfiltered nose, felt with uncovered skin, heard with unaided ear, probably 99.999% of your own state, and 99.9% of your city.

So clearly, unequivocally, you - we - have very, very....VERY little empirical data to go on, when we're trying to explain to ourselves what's real and what's not. What we can - and have - touched, seen with our own eyes, smelled and heard, and what we can't, and haven't, touched or seen or smelled or heard or tasted.

What's solid, and what's not.

What's a dream, and what's not.

Don't you think?

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

More about our encapsulation

Think of - visualize - the area around your home that you've traveled through, but never set foot in. All (?) of such 'places' are, in this visualization, zones or regions, almost always identical with some stretch of street, alley, freeway, state or interstate highway, even freeway and highway interchanges, given that we are visualizing those places we've seen but never set foot in. Which means we've driven through, or flown over.

Visualize several such stretches, in some detail - what you can see at each corner of an intersection, or the front of a gated community, a high-rise apartment or office building. Remember - only places/stretches that you've traveled through or over but never set foot in.

'Never set foot in.' You've seen these stretches of houses or bars or gas stations or grocery stores or elementary schools, or the business district 5,000 feet below, but never walked that stretch of sidewalk, or on that patch of grass or under the boughs of those trees. Maybe never even smelled the air there. You've (maybe) never even looked around 360 degrees in that spot. You've never touched any of those door handles, or swiped your card through the reader on the gas pump, or punched in the security code on the gate of that condominium complex. You've never smelled the taco house kitchen right over there, or heard the ding ding honk honk of the light rail train at the station there.

You've never heard that boy over there talk. You've never seen the day-old beard on that man, or touched the hand of that woman. You've never seen that industrial building from ground level looking horizontally. All of these are almost completely images - objects of sight.

None of those areas or places - none of those people, none of those cars or buildings or trees - none are solid, so far as you, your experience, your skin, is concerned.

This is a glimpse of the varying thickness or hardness of perceived reality.

Now visualize, in the same ways, what the astronauts perceived as they traveled to and landed on the moon. Visualize what they smelled, tasted, touched, heard, saw - walking to the rocket at the launch site. Inside the command module headed to the moon. Inside the space suit on the surface of the moon.

Now visualize a space probe, heading to Pluto.

Then, an astronomer looking through a refracting telescope with bare eyes.

Then, an astronomer 'reading' the output from a computer-controlled radio telescope.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Focus On v. Pay Attention To


I sent the following question to a doctor of ophthalmology:

"My name is Danny Smitherman, and I have been very interested in the phenomenology of perception for a long time, both as an actual practice and as a topic of study. I am contacting you because I have a question that is very difficult for me to succinctly put into words, especially because I'm not a scientist nor do I have any training in optics nor grasp of any such scientific vocabulary. I found the abstract of your paper "A focus on the imaging of the retina", and taking a stab in the dark, am contacting you for help.

My question is: What is the difference between focusing on an object, on the one hand, and simply focusing the eyes directly and consciously, without a focal point? For instance, when I'm driving a car and looking ahead, I can focus directly on a car ahead of me, or the stop light further up, or the pedestrian about to cross the street on my left. But can I focus my eyes, instead, irrespective of any object?

My initial empirical "tests" show that I can in fact focus my eyes that way, and it feels much like crossing my eyes, but at any 'distance' I want, though without focusing directly on a specific object. Rather, my eyes are focused to any arbitrary plane in front of me.

When I have succeeded, even for brief moments, to focus my eyes this way, the appearance of the visual field changes subtly but profoundly. At this point in my thinking, I've distinguished between 'focusing on' and 'paying attention to', because when my eyes aren't focused on a specific object, I can then 'pay attention' to any area of the visual field without moving my eyes.

If I am making any sense to you, can you tell me if this is a real - repeatable, learnable - skill? And does it make a difference in how a person then 'moves' through the space of such a visual field?

If I get a reply, I'll report back. If I don't, I'll try contacting someone else who may be able to answer my questions, or tell me that I'm not making any sense."

Until then: Look behind you!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Flying Human Beings

If humans want to fly unaideded, we will have to be taught how to maneuver in three-dimensional space. I've written here and here and here and here about playing around with vision, experimenting with focusing my eyes, and what that means about the nature of reality, the nature of nature, the nature of space, especially. 

In my praxis and conceiving, what I've discovered is the plasticity, or better yet, the crystal clear gooey-ness that we call space. Gooey with push back. Your field of vision isn't a flat, two-dimensional triangular area drawn outward from your eye. Instead, your field of vision is actually the whole ball of gooey stiff intelligent clear wax that you wade through, that you call the world. The world in which Latin 'altus' means high or deep.

A sort of phenomenologically hydraulic world, where inside and outside are both alive, both expanding and contracting spontaneously. Space is smart. Space is alive and awake. A world in which intention is to reach out into space with thinking, gently, relaxed, and unhurried. Intention seeps into the goo like vessels of differently colored, dark dyes poured into a clear pool of water. The dyes spread out, with infinite articulation both deep and high, interpenetrating and compounding and obscuring one another.

This is the environment we will fly in.



Terraforming with Language, or Why I Love Ambient Electronic Music, Part Whatever It Is Now


Ambient electronic music is not only music. It's also a sensibility expressed in the track and album titles and the artist's name. Like aphorisms and fragments, like Pascal's Pensee and Nietzche's Human, All Too Human and the bits and pieces of Heraclitus and fellow pre-Socratics, the titles and names are all that is left of a language, lost centuries and centuries and centuries ago, to tell us what we're seeing or listening to. Ergo, what they were seeing and listening to.

This is true of any and all instrumental music (that isn't just an instrumental version of a vocal composition). The title is everything - everything cognitive, that is. So the title is extremely important.

Read the playlist, while keeping in mind - if you don't already listen to ambient electronic music - the lack of vocal storytelling. The whole story is then the music, warped into some shape by the language of the title and the artist's name.

This shape is an actual place, if only a clearing in reality. As long as you don't think a place is solid. This is a place that has lately been terraformed. This process is creation. It's like laying railroad track, but with language, where you imagine the place in which 'circular ruins' playing 'we carry them with us when we leave' not only make sense, but they make the only sense, and fill in details and feelings and color as we listen to the music and think of the title.

But don't think I'm talking about text. Not text. Language. Thinking in action.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What does phenomenology have to do with all this? Barfield's Debt to Steiner, Part Two

Put simply, phenomenology is an introduction to anthroposophy, as Barfield's work is to Steiner's. Also, this isn't just a random analogy, because Barfield's work is a work of phenomenology. And Barfield puts the reader through phenomenological exercises that prepare the thinking and feeling apparatus to engage with Steiner's spiritual science.

One implication is that re-reading and re-thinking Barfield is not meant to develop Barfield's thought and work per se. If the basic truths, insights, and movements of mind revealed in Barfield's work are practiced and internalized, then Barfield's work is done. With that accomplished, it's then all about developing spiritual organs of sense, personal moral development, and deepening meditation - the work of spiritual science.

Another implication is that phenomenology, too, then, is very limited in its scope and practice. It is. It is meant to constitute the training that instills in the reader/practitioner a necessary dexterity and sensitivity that makes possible the conscious engagement with spirit. It is praxis, a human technology, and can be developed in the same way. But it grows, not just as mere extension, but into new forms that don't depend on the original for sustenance or meaning.

Even as I write this, and think through the nuts and bolts, I see I've minimized this human technology, this wet-ware, as both Barfield and phenomenology describe it. The kind of development that phenomenology (which I now mean to represent both Barfield and phenomenology) is capable of, and meant to sustain, is profound, and meaningful. Maybe that is the very field of expression and development for phenomenology as phenomenology: meaning.

Even so, it is the development of meaning, and not of Barfield's written work, that is the focus of one's own work. That is what is deeper than any mere intellectual experimentation with the terms and notions that Barfield presents in his work.


Saturday, June 04, 2016

Barfield's Debt to Steiner, and Our Own

In his book Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, Owen Barfield said that one of the reasons he wrote and published the book was to introduce his readers to Rudolf Steiner's work. In fact, Barfield said many times that his goal in most of his lecturing and published work was to introduce Steiner's thinking to those of his own readers that weren't familiar with Steiner.

Since first reading Saving the Appearances back in 1988, I've read and studied Owen Barfield's work, and, for a short while corresponded with him, shortly before his death in 1997. I've read much of his entire published corpus, with perhaps a dozen personal letters from him added to the bibliography. I entered graduate school to pursue a master's degree in Philosophy, and wrote my thesis on Saving the Appearances. I reviewed new printings of Barfield's books. I was invited to be included in the founding meeting of the Owen Barfield Society. I was thinking through deep implications of Barfield's presentation in Saving the Appearances. I searched other authors' works for references to Barfield. I pursued many other authors' works on the basis of Barfield's own references and recommendation, including Stephen Talbott, Julian Jaynes, and Morris Berman.

But also, almost as soon as I had learned of and started on my intense and focused reading of Barfield's work, I began reading Rudolf Steiner's books and lectures. I started off with some of the Gospel lecture cycles, and of course Philosophy of Freedom. Over the course of the next few years, I had read a dozen books and lecture cycles by Steiner, and was referencing him in conversation and essays. So Barfield would be pleased to know that his very humble mission has been realized for me: I am fully a student of Rudolf Steiner, and regard him as my teacher.

Which makes Owen Barfield and I fellow students.

Barfield's work is rich, intricate, and keenly argued, and a subtly significant introduction to Steiner, if we judge by the extent to which I myself have studied and practiced Steiner's spiritual science. But that's the truth: Barfield's work is, after all, an introduction to Rudolf Steiner's work, not itself the subject of further study.

What I've found is that Steiner's work opens up realms far deeper than did Barfield's work, and that makes sense: first, that is how Barfield admitted it would go; second, Barfield was pointing to Steiner, whereas Steiner pointed to the whole of the spiritual realms.

Third, the 'quick start' feel of Barfield's work, compared to Steiner's, suggests strongly that Barfield's work won't sustain much development, and need not nor was it intended to. At least not Saving the Appearances. The only work of Barfield's that I am familiar with, that sustains steady meditation and personal development, is Unancestral Voice. That isn't coincidental, probably: in that novel, Barfield depicts a real-life working out of, and meditation on, and experience in, the spiritual world of which Steiner taught.

This shouldn't be surprising to me, but I think my loyalty to Owen Barfield has encouraged me to overlook the fact that going back and re-reading Saving the Appearances, and attempting to draw out new implications and work out new depictions of the arguments of that book, haven't been and won't be sustainable. The point of that book was to point to Steiner's work, to spiritual science, which is what needs to be meditated on and developed, not the theses and conclusions and insights of Saving the Appearances.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Philosopher's Cul de Sac

"In the Cartesian, Hobbesian, and Lockean traditions, which dominate our culture, we are told that when we are conscious, we are primarily aware of ourselves or our own ideas. Consciousness is taken to be like a bubble or an enclosed cabinet; the mind comes in a box. Impressions and concepts occur in this enclosed space, in this circle of ideas and experiences, and our awareness is directed toward them, not directly toward the things “outside.” We can try to get outside by making inferences: we may reason that our ideas must have been caused by something outside us, and we may construct hypotheses or models of what those things must be like, but we are not in any direct contact with them. We get to things only by reasoning from our mental impressions, not by having them presented to us."

Robert Solokowski, Introduction to Phenomenology

Solokowski's statement appears patently false, that 'the Cartesian, Hobbesian, and Lockean traditions...dominate our culture." I know not one person who in any way has indicated to me that they are 'making inferences' or 'constructing hypotheses or models' of what the Real Hamburger is that has induced these 'mental impressions' in them. This is strictly a preoccupation of academic philosophers.

I think this is a fair reading of Solokowski, as he later states that the "Cartesian predicament...is the unfortunate situation in which philosophy finds itself in our time." Philosophy, as an academic tradition. So, it is within that tradition that the phenomenological concept of 'intentionality' constitutes an answer to the 'problem' of being locked up inside the theater in our heads - us academic philosophers, that is. This is academic, or abstract, intentionality.

At the same time, Solokowski describes what I see also, but from a slightly different angle: people feel locked out, left out of something good, something big, and they are trying to get to it however they can. These people feel locked out, not in. They do feel in touch with the world, the world of the senses, but they ache for so much more. These people aren't philosophers, but they are making inferences and building and testing hypotheses as to how best, and most quickly, to reach their goal.

At this point matters look surprising: the philosophers, despairing of getting outside their heads, have come up with a way to touch the 'real': intentionality. This intentionality, though, is not concrete - only abstract - and so doesn't make any difference.

On the other hand, the non-philosophers, wholly in touch with and smothered by the 'real', are constructing hypotheses left and right, doing their damnedest to punch themselves out of the real and into the beautiful and joyous and free. This intentionality is only practical, and not successful in a sustaining, abiding way.

Can we find some way through these two experiments to a real method, an objective, self-sustaining and self-justifying experience of beauty and joy and freedom?