Thursday, 26 November 2015

A clerihew about me

Written by 'MC' of the Junior Ganymede blog:

Dr. Bruce Charlton
Refused to get snarled on
Metaphysical “maybes”
That don’t produce babies.
Note -

"Predicting the future" in modern secular societies

There is, to put it mildly, considerable inconsistency about the way that those with power claim to predict - or 'predict the future' as the common pleonasm has it.

But perhaps adding 'the future' to the phrase is not redundant  - considering that climate change 'predictions' are actually based wholly on the past.

When Global Warming advocates claim improved prediction, what they really mean is that they have a new (CO2 based) mathematical model that more precisely describes past data, what already has happened before the 'prediction' was made; and none of the climate claim predictions have actually been tested against what was supposed to happen after the prediction was made.

In other words, the climate change activists are using a specialist, technical and statistical definition of prediction in a general, public and media context where it will certainly be misunderstood.

Also, I know from experience as a professional epidemiologist, that there are plenty of statisticians who themselves do not understand the importance of this distinction between modelling what did happen, and hypothetical models that claim to predict what will happen.

Such gross errors are common and usually remain uncorrected in a world where scientists are ever more numerous and of ever lower ability and relevant experience; and where researchers are not even trying to tell the truth, and where all the significant incentives are in the direction of exaggerated claims. For several decades now, the mass of professional science just is, and is just, about funding, publishing, impact, peer status - and truthfulness is neither discussed nor evaluated.

The modern state and mainstream media opinion are, to put it mildly, inconsistent when it comes to prediction.

The discussions about claims of global climate change, and the common - and usually accepted - claims of groups to be able to predict future climate and to be able to control future climate, are instances where predictions are not just accepted, but enforced and acted-upon to the tune of trillions of dollars of international funding and regulations - despite the an almost complete lack of tested knowledge concerning a process of truly immense complexity. 

In other words, mainstream opinion accepts some gigantic claims to predict the unknown and unpredictable - and does not just accept these massively-implausible claims of exact predictive knowledge, but regards those who do not accept these speculative knowledge claims as actively evil or grossly dumb.  

Yet on the other hand, I have been on an inside participant in several political correctness witchhunts - either concerning myself or friends and colleagues - in which 'hate facts', or taboo knowledge, was the focus; and the standard of proof required was insane and impossible.

For example, back in 2008 I wrote a magazine article that accepted a century's worth of completely un-contradicted evidence of social class differences in intelligence to model the effect of university selectivity on the differential rate of social class acceptance (to show why it was that highly selective colleges with an assumed unbaised admissions system would be predicted to accept a much lower proportion of working class students than was present in the national population).

Yet the baseline claim of social class differences in intelligence being predictive of a mismatch in class acceptance rates at elite colleges - which is a very simple and straightforward claim compared to the morass of uncertainties and interactions involved in global climate, and which is supported by many hundreds of papers over many decades and refuted by not one single paper - was treated by university administrators, the mass media and politicians as an utterly outrageous, and therefore clearly malicious assertion.

When a politically correct taboo is broken, suddenly it becomes normal, acceptable and irrefutable to assert that this act of taboo-breaking will have catastrophic effects.

Suddenly, all the uncertainties of prediction are used first to allow wild speculation about what might or could happen...  and then to treat such 'what if?' assertions as if they were true, plausible and indeed likely.

It is impossible to exaggerate the degree of exaggeration! One person saying one sentence - or even one word - is treated as if there was a strict knowledge of causal linkages that can and will lead to seismic social damage. And treated as if that seismic damage was the intent, and that the perpetrator would be 'to blame'.

In effect, the rulers of modern societies - i.e. mass media and the linked bureaucracies of major social systems - behave as if they are capable of making precise and valid predictions concerning the effect of specific words and phrases and events on the minds and actions of millions of people. 

The implicit claim is that we have a highly precise predictive knowledge of how discrete and specific phenomena effect the emotions and cognitions of vast numbers of people. The claim is that we posses an exact-science of prediction of mass behaviour.


The reason for such absurd claims is simply that they are the basis of modern morality - which is utilitarian.

If moral goodness is supposed to be based on promotion of human happiness and the reduction of human suffering, and if such goals are assumed to be the basis of legitimate moral action by social rulers, then it must be possible to predict the effect of a word, phrase or image on the hearts and minds and behaviours of millions of people.

I am not saying that this type of prediction is possible - very clearly it is not possible, and there is zero reason to assume that it is possible - but I am saying that secular rulers must act as if it is possible: must act as if they understood what makes the mass of people (or those people they regard as important) happy or sad, angry or contented, motivated or despairing.

It is a lie, and it is a ridiculous lie - but since all legitimacy in the modern secular state, institution and corporation depends on this lie being true: then the ridiculous lie is treated as true; and enforced as true.

So prediction in modern secular societies has nothing at all to do with the ability to predict - but especially not the ability to 'predict the future'.  

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Owen Barfield on "the one thing needful"

Edited and adapted from several pages of the chapter "Religion" in Saving the Appearances - a study in idolatry by Owen Barfield, published 1957.

It is in the nature of the case that if, at any point in time, a new moral demand is made upon humanity, then moral judgements will grow for a time double and confused.
     I spoke earlier of symptoms of 'iconoclasm', meaning a new willingness to apprehend life symbolically instead of literally; and I now maintain that these have a moral significance, and indeed a paramount moral significance for the present times.
     Yet this does not correspond with the generally accepted scale of Christian moral values, but appears to cut right across it.
     There are plenty of people with a natural taste for dream psychology, symbolical art and literature, sacramentalism in religion and other things whose meaning cannot be grasped without a movement of the imagination. And many of these people are arrogant, self-centred and in other way immoral.
     Conversely, there are practical, humdrum, literal souls before whose courage and goodness we are abashed.
     It is not a happy task to maintain that, from one point of view, and that an all-important one, the former must be accounted morally superior - because they posses the one thing needful which the other lack.
   Because the 'needful' virtue is the one that combats the besetting sin. And the besetting sin today is the sin of literalness or idolatry - of experiencing the phenomena of the world as objects in their own right - independently of human consciousness.
     The relationship between the mind and heart of man is a delicate mystery, and hardness is catching. I believe it will be found that there is a valid connection between literalness and a certain hardness of heart. This is rooted in avoidance of self-knowledge and a determination to adhere to existent idolatry.
     On the positive side a certain humble, tender receptiveness of heart is nourished by a deep and deepening imagination and by the self knowledge which that inevitably involves.

In the sixty years since this passage was written I think its deep truth has become apparent. Literalism in Christianity has persisted and has been largely defeated by the literalism of secular mainstream culture.

Attempts to evolve a more 'symbolic' Christianity have been mostly insincere - typically a stalking horse behind-which liberalism was advanced, with a covert agenda of allowing conformity with secular morality (especially in relation to the sexual revolution).

In essence, we have had sixty years of Secular literalism slugging it out with Christian literalism. An ever more atheistic, and anti-Christian, public sphere has demanded a literalist response to its criticisms - then reacted with horror and disdain to the literalistic perspective that it elicited. Secularism sees Christianity as nothing more than a list of detached knowledge claims, rules, prohibitions and demands on human behaviour - and finds this version of Christianity to be absurd, dull, arbitrary and indeed appalling in its harshness.

And on the other side, those Christians who have resisted the mass trend into apostasy by a strict and stubborn adherence to legalistic definitions (e.g. Biblical inerrancy, an emphasis on obedience to priestly authority, rigid adherence to forms and rituals) have too often fallen victim to that hardness of heart that Barfield sees as a consequence of literalism.

There is indeed a beady-eyed and punitive fanaticism evident in the discourse of too many traditionalist and conservative Christians.

I think Barfield is correct in his overall diagnosis that literalism is a dead-end - and man must move forward to a new and more engaged relationship with the world: neither the immersive acceptance of the past, nor the manipulative nihilism of the present - but a view that feels each of us to be a participant in a web of family-like relationships that embrace not only God, and other people, but all things.

In sum - the way I interpret this passage is in terms of my musings on the deep metaphysical problem of modernity.

So long as we adhere to our nihilistic metaphysical assumptions - even Christianity will usually be neutralized; because Christianity will be distorted, drained, and sucked into an irresistible whirlpool of legalism, hard-heartedness and de facto hatred by the cold, dead-ly, meaning-and-purpose-destroying nature of its literalistic, idolatrous metaphysical underpinnings.

Because if our metaphysics presupposes that we are merely an isolated consciousness inhabiting a dead and indifferent universe the reality of any of which we cannot be sure-of - then doubt will feed on doubt until faith becomes merely a proud, indifferent and arbitrary zeal.

(At least, this is what I fear - that secularism will triumph because it has infected Christian thought so deeply that its presuppositions are undetected, or falsely taken to be logically necessary.)

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Hope-full, sunny optimism over the long-term, is the best possible and correct attitude to life: the implicit message of William Arkle's painitings

Building a highly successful modern career with High Honours by the Saruman Strategy

It is surprising to me how many highly successful UK careerists I have known within medicine, science and academia - and I know a lot more at one remove (i.e. via a friend who knows them).

By 'successful' I mean those who have been 'honoured' through the British Honours System of (in ascending order) medals (e.g. MBE, OBE, CBE), Knighthoods (Sirs and Dames) and Peerages (Lords and Ladys).

If this is the kind of success you wish for, and you are able and hard-working (and able to tolerate vast swathes of tedium) it is clear that the most successful plan is likely to be The Saruman Strategy.

This could equally be called the Fifth Column (i.e. the enemy already within the gates), the Quisling or the Vichy (Petain) strategy (the last two named for successful Nazi collaborationists in Norway and France).

The basic plan is simple - although not easy: become eminent in a social system such as medicine, science, education, law, the church, the police or military - and then subvert it to allow for managerial take-over with a politically correct agenda.

In sum it is the strategy of treason and betrayal for self-gain.

(Note: It used to be possible for British people to get honours by being good at their work - but that has become very difficult and rare - and is extremely slow compared with the Saruman Strategy. For example James D Watson was eventually knighted - honorary KBE - but more than half a century after he discovered the structure of DNA!)

So most modern honours are awarded for betrayal and treason.

But how do the honoured people justify this to themselves? By exactly the same rationale as drove Vidkun Quisling and Marshal Petain (not to mention Saruman) - that is to say by arguing:

1. Defeat is inevitable - therefore:.

2. Early capitulation will cause the least damage to 'our' nation/ institution/ profession (and I personally will undertake to manage it so as to cause the minimum of disruption).

Of course, defeat only becomes inevitable because of the multitude of Sarumans.

However, given the over-supply of Sarumans in the modern West, the canny strategy is: If you can't beat them, you might as well join them - and make the best of things.

And in a nihilistic post-Christian society, that argument is the ultimate conceivable bottom-line - hence utterly compelling.   

Pain and suffering in mortal life just is NOT a challenge to the validity of Christianity - to suppose it is, is to mis-frame the question, and thereby render it unanswerable.

Different Christians have different (valid) answers to the 'problem of pain' or human suffering, or evil - and each sincere and knowledgeable answer captures or highlights something of the truth; but not all of it - since that is the nature of answers.

(After all, how could anybody capture the whole truth in just one short sentence? The idea is absurd. And having written or uttered a sentence, how would be be sure that everybody understood it correctly?)

And there does not need to be one single cause of evil and suffering in the world.

There is the free will of men; the purposive Good-destructive evil of Satan and his minions (which themselves need explaining); the limitations - some logical and practical, other perhaps fundamental - on God's power and influence; the indifference (or hostility) of the 'non-living' world (e.g. natural disasters). And so on.

But at the bottom of it all is the fact, that ought to be blindingly obvious to anyone who understands enough about Christianity to become one, that nobody who knew anything about Christianity ever claimed that Christianity was about producing perfect or even optimal happiness in this mortal life on earth.

Surely it is crystal clear? (even to an Archbishop) that Christianity is about our happiness in the eternity after death and resurrection?

(Our happiness is this world is indeed affected by Christianity - very much so. But the degree to which perfect happiness is created - measured, as it will be, by existant, labile, partly corrupt evaluations - is not a measure of the validity of Christianity; nor is the failure of Christian belief to create perfect earthly happiness a refutation of its validity!)

This world and our mortal life is extremely important - and it is not merely 'a means to an end' - but surely the voices of the New Testament are unamimous and unambiguous that the Christian importance of mortal life is not about God making mortal earthly life maximally happy and eliminating pain and suffering on condition of belief...

Where (on earth) did people get that idea? Not from the Bible! That idea just is not a part of the message.

The provenance of the made-up notion that Christainity, if it were valid, would eliminate pain and suffering from the world is surely demonic, not divine.

This idea of suffering being a threat to the validity of Christianity is a pseudo-problem, falsely framed.

Which is why, having accepted this frame, the question cannot ever satisfactorily be disposed-of - 'doubts' induced by the sufferings of mortal life lead, not to answers, but to to more-doubts - and to the erosion of faith.

Which is not an accident.

We do indeed often seek an explanation of pain and suffering - and we may or may not find it (the reason is likely being personal to the seeker and specific to the cause - typically, general reasons will not satisfy us)  - however our failure to understand the reason or meaning or causes for specific sufferings has nothing to do with the truth of Christianity (it is 'orthogonal') - this just is not a reason for 'doubts'.

The valid domain of consideration that may (sometimes, for some people) be induced by the existence of extreme pain and suffering and evil in this mortal life, is an enquiry concerning the relationship between God's Goodness and His Power.

Christians have been told unambiguously that God is wholly Good; also that he is the creator and the most powerful of 'god's. To understand evil and suffering some people need a satisfying general explanation of how these divine attributes might fit-together.

And any explanation must start either with God's Goodness, or with his power. Which divine attribute you start-with (and this is a metaphysical assumption that probably should be based on interpretation of divine revelation) determines the range of possible answers you will end-up-with.

But none of this is to do with the validity of Christianity supposedly being challenged by the existence of suffering and evil. Our ancestors knew this - and their direct experience of suffering was, on average, far greater than our own.

However, our own experience of evil is greater than theirs. They knew, with considerable precision, what was Good. Yet we live in a world of moral inversion in the official arena of public discourse, a world of evil routinely and by high status persons propagandized as Good; and of Goodness depicted as evil - all this by communications (including everything from the arts and sciences to advertizing and public relations) whose reach and influence is (via the mass media) now almost all-pervading and universal.

And THAT fact of living inside an actively-evil world, is the reason why modern people have been duped into supposing it is valid to state that the sufferings of mortal life constitute as lethal challenge to Christianity.

The debate is itself a product of modern moral inversion.  

Note: Thans to commenter Joel whose questioning provoked this very full response: I hope it satsifies him!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Welby Watch - Archbishop of Canterbury plumbs new depths

Aside from the fact that he is not a Christian (but merely a Christianized socialist) any doubts that any Christians may have had that Justin Welby is the most cognitively-mediocre man ever to head the Anglican communion (still the third largest Christian denomination in the world) have been dispelled by his latest musings communicated to the BBC (aka the UK Antichrist).

Quotes from the Daily Telegraph:

Justin Welby said he was left asking why the attacks happened, and where God was in the French victims' time of need. He said he reacted with "profound sadness" at the events, particularly because he and his wife had lived in Paris.
Asked if these attacks had caused him to doubt where God is, he said: "Oh gosh, yes," and admitted it put a "chink in his armour.
He told BBC Songs Of Praise: "Yes. Saturday morning - I was out and as I was walking I was praying and saying: 'God why - why is this happening? Where are you in all this?' and then engaging and talking to God. Yes, I doubt."

The depths of theological ignorance, the feebleness and superficiality of the man's supposed faith are staggering - is he really unaware that things like this have happened rather a lot over the past two thousand years? Has he really not thought through this matter before? 
Or is he perhaps dishonestly pretending to doubt, perhaps in order to help atheists identify with him or so as to fit-in with the secular Leftist mainstream? (The man is a multi-documented and calculating liar, after all.) 
All in all, this is yet more evidence that the mainstream Christian church leadership in the West are strongly anti-Christian in net-effect (whatever their ignorant and foolish intentions may be).

With so much apparently-authoritative misinformation and misrepresentation of Christianity in the public arena - we must assume that the mass majority of the Western populations are not just ignorant about the faith - but have an actively misleading pseudo-knowledge - something that is much harder to correct.

Where do true hypotheses come-from? Imagination and intuition as the basis of science

From reading, especially, Owen Barfield, and the selections-from and commentary of Goethe published by Jeremy Naydler, I have considerably enriched my understanding of the essence of science from the state it had reached when I published Not Even Trying: the corruption of real science.

THE big problem for those trying to understand science has been the question of: Where do correct hypotheses come-from - given that there are an unbounded number of incorrect hypotheses. This does not entail assuming that correct hypotheses are either certain or complete (any hypotheses is almost-inevitably a shortened and selective model of reality) - merely that there are so many more ways of being wrong than right; and science could never get going if vast numbers of wrong hypotheses had to be eliminated with every step.

Upon this matter hinges almost the whole of science; because once good hypotheses are available, science becomes more-or-less a matter of applied routine (research and development, as it is called). But if god hypotheses are lacking, hen we either have nothing at all; or, as nowadays, we have fake science, pseudo-science, science that is not-even-trying to be truthful: a species of bureaucratic careerism which apes the superficial appearances of science but actually does nothing towards enhancing human understanding; except to expend resources, generate publications, and mislead in a thousand ways.

(By the standards of modern research evaluations, the more resources expended - e.g. grant income; and the more words generated - e.g. publications; and the more people who are misled by such lying profligacy - e.g the 'impact; the better will be the research evaluations, the higher the status and power. In these evaluations, 'truth' is never a variable.)

The origin of true hypotheses is not a question which can be answered by science itself - it is a meta-scientific question: that is, a philosophical question.

The uncannily prescience insight of Goethe was that true hypotheses come from the imagination of an individual scientist - constrained by a direct apprehension of phenomena

Thus, a real scientist gives himself over to a consideration of the phenomenon in question; and after achieving a correct orientation, by means of this honest devotion, he may be rewarded by a direct understanding of reality.

This primary understanding is 'present' in the scientists own imagination - and is initially utterly private. The point at which it becomes public is when it is formulated as a general statement such as a theory or an hypothesis concerning the nature of reality.

But the public statement of the scientist's inner imagination understanding is inevitably a partial and biased summary of what is in his own imagination - therefore he may need (typically will need) to modify, and re-modify, that public statement - in light of his experience of how it is being understood, and in light of linking it to other phenomena (i.e. the 'evidence') in order to make it more validly representative of what is in his imagination.

(Furthermore, any specific hypothesis lies in relationship to many other hypotheses, which me be of various validities - and further modifications are likely to be necessary as these adjacent, and gradually more distant, hypothesis are clarified - thus even real science is usually in a dynamic state - but one that is utterly different from the fashionable whims of modern mainstream pseudo-science.)

Once this point of a public statement has been reached, then normal, routine, R&D type science can commence.

But this begs the question of how it is that the science may be able directly to 'intuit' directly the nature of reality? How is it that the scientist can apprehend phenomena directly?

The answer to this can only be metaphysical - and is usually religious. It presupposes that direct communication is possible to at-least a significant extent - i.e. communication which is not-merely a consequence of the set-up of the scientist's own sensory apparatus, brain apparatus, and in general 'subjectivity'. A communication that comes from the phenomena as it really is, and not 'merely' from the way that phenomena are framed by the dominant explanatory mode of a particular time and place.

In sum, the above explanation relies upon the possibility of objective knowledge - not merely in the weak sense of objectivity as 'publicly-agreed knowledge'; but in a strong sense of objectivity as 'corresponding with reality'.

By this account, we get a very different understanding of the nature of science, and the way that the 'success' of science contributes to our understanding of reality. This is not to be understood in terms of the 'power' of science (e.g. to generate transformative technologies, such as Western medicine and engineering). The real evidence of science is in terms of confirming the possibility of direct knowledge of reality via the imagination.

Remarkably, science - real science - emerges as being primarily an imaginative apprehension of reality - and evidence that such imagination is potentially truthful: objective.

It brings us back to the individual scientist and his devotion to his subject as the basis of that vast (and, now, mainly corrupt) superstructure which is the public, measurable, appearance of science.

It aligns science with poetry, and the other creative arts; and it breaks down the barrier between our conceptualizations of these aspects of creativity.

It also provides indirect evidence of order, design and purpose in the universe - in reality itself. And, even more significant, a role for Man - that Man is enabled to know this reality, is in a sense is made to know reality.

The scientist - that is, the primary and real scientist - is a man of intuition and imagination whose love of that which he contemplates is (or may be - this is not an algorithm, not a manageable 'protocol'!) rewarded by a direct and true apprehension concerning its reality.  

NOTE: It should be emphasized that my understanding of these matters came mainly via Barfield and Naydler - but that the origin of these ideas is with Goethe and especially Rudolf Steiner. I have read probably some hundreds of thousands of words of Steiner, and can confidently confirm that he is indeed the true originator and developer of this perspective, building upon a relatively brief and preliminary account in Goethe - but I have seldom been able to discover this from Steiner directly, but rather by intermediary scholarship.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Personal reservations about the Arthurian legends

I have recently twice had the experience of commencing a modern retelling of the King Arthur legends with enjoyment, only to abandon the story before the end due to a kind of revulsion at the gross psychological implausibility of the narrative turn.

The problem in both instances was that well-established characters, characters I had got-to-know,  suddenly began behaving unnaturally, unbelievably, by tortured-logic - due to their actions being artificially shoe-horned into a pre-exiting plot shape.

The fault, in both cases, was that the authors had tried to stick to the shape of Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur (middle 1400s) - which (for all its excellences) is merely a compendium of diverse and originally separate legends, cobbled-together into a semi-coherent set of loosely-linked stories.

As indeed is the Arthurian story itself - apparently consisting of two separate strands of ancient legend - one about the prophet and wizard Merlin, and the other about a noble war leader and exemplary character called Arthur - probably based on real people, probably from different times and places of post-Roman Britain (from the 400s AD onwards).

These strands were brought together mainly by the genius of Geoffrey of Monmouth in the middle 1100s to make the basis of the Arthurian story. And these are the Arthurian elements which I love - especially those concerned with Merlin.

These are the British elements of the King Arthur story - the true 'Matter of Britain'.

The later additional French stuff about knights, chivalry, round tables, courtly love, the Lancelot/ Guinevere adultery, and the Grail Quest I find more-or-less repellent - although I can tolerate them if they are subordinated within the narrative.

(I find the Grail Quest a particularly horrible intrusion. It's hard to put my finger on why; but for me it gathers and concentrates many of the very worst aspects of medieval Christianity - exactly the kind of corruption and pathology masquerading as health and purity that helped keep me away from Christianity for so many decades.)

Of these later elements, that of courtly love is, for me, the worst. The business of knights 'serving' their ladies, wearing their favours, the stupid stuff about 'honour', courtesy and being held bound by a casual and unconsidered word to do some ridiculous or wicked thing...

Bah! it is Frenchified, decadent and anti-Christian (as made clear by the romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from the late 1300s; in which these elements are a threat to the goodness and purity of Gawain, and his stubborn adherence to this courtly code is revealed as absurd and unworthy).

Consequently, from my perspective, all version of the Arthurian legends I have encountered (in movies, TV, novels and poems) are extremely imperfect and unsatisfactory works of art - through which something strong and important may shine.

In this my attitude seems to resemble that of JRR Tolkien - who, for all that he tried his hand at an extended Arthurian poem, had strong reservations about the thing as a whole, even as he responded powerfully to specific elements.

In sum, I wish that some more authors could put Malory behind them, and re-imagine the Merlin-Arthur aspects without the effete continental intrusions - to create a noble and psychologically plausible tale that taps into deep roots of British myth and the Christian impulse.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Sherrill Milnes - Justice for baritones!

It is a sad fact that baritones never attract the adulation of tenors, or even basses - and even sadder that, on the whole, this is just; since the baritone voice - while capable of great nobility and comedy - somehow does not reach the aesthetic summits of the more extremes of the male range.

However, I do have a number of favourite baritone voices - none more than the unjustly neglected Sherrill Milnes; who was master of Verdi's ferociously taxing baritone roles, with their exhausting high-lying tessitura (which Bernard Shaw regarded as something of something of a scandal, and voice-wrecker). He has in abundance that virile, athletic masculinity which the best baritone embodies.

Here is an exceptionally beautifual aria from Wagner's Tannhauser (when he still wrote arias) - and this is, I think, one of the loveliest tunes ever.

For those too impatient to wait through the delicious recitativo, the main aria starts at 2:45 -

Milnes was most famous for his astonishing high notes: he was capable of singing a B-flat - which is only one tone below the usual tenor maximum high note of C - yet he sang these ultra-high notes with a full and ringing baritone-tone. A stunning example comes at the very end of this:

Three ways of being depressed

This is a small and preliminary study, which I supervised as a student project; but the results were very clear and interesting - suggesting that further research along the same lines would be worthwhile:

Friday, 20 November 2015

The True Tale of Thomas the Rhymer

The True Tale of Thomas the Rhymer

The truth of it was different from the tale.
But, after all, was pretty much the same...
I lay beneath the Eildon Tree, and slept.
And unto me she came, the Faery Queen

And this was not a dream, I know its truth
By consequence that after followed.
It happened all within the compass of a dream
But nothing afterward was ere again the same.

She came for me, she knew that I was there
It was no accident that I was seen and chosen.
A poet and - it seems - some little more
That might be gifted by enchanted touch.

A touch of the lips - my lips, her hand.
(Not, by God!, her lips! - a fatal act!
I never was her lover - nothing like.
Those who know me can be sure of that.)

A touch of my lips upon her lily-white hand
And everything changed - for me and for the world.
I was a man stunned - she swept me up
With supernatural strength and ease

To sit behind upon her milk-white steed.
A sudden whirl of motion, shadows,
Rain, and was it blood? Upon a bank we sat.
Three roads, or paths, there were ahead.

A narrow thorny path to Heaven strait.
That one was not for me - nor was
A broad, sinister road, with stones beneath;
But a bonny heather track with ferns aside.

What joy! to take that lovely track
Of poetry, prophecy and love of her.
To be her leman chaste, her servant, een an angel
Between the worlds of Faery and of Men.

A touch, my lips upon her hand, and lo!
The truth of things was open, veils a-part.
I could speak no lies, I saw direct;
And what I saw I after spoke - and men took note.

I stayed in Faery seven years of learning
And of bliss - then I returned.
Where had I been? Oh nowhere far.
A time so fast that Men perceive it not, a blur.

All I did, we did, to Men a shimmer;
Not quite seen, not quite believed - not quite.
And then back I came to wake upon that bank,
Hardly changed - but little time had passed.

I had, however, been missed - I could not lie.
I told my residence, explained that Faery
Had me taken. Now I'm back, with messages -
They flowed like milk, like wine, like rivers...

Few poems I wrote - but where ere I went
I spoke the truth in rhyme - astonished all.
They wrote of it, as best they could - the sayings
Compiled in ledgers; learned, repeated.

All was true. From this Men knew
Their narrow world was compassed about
With something greater, deeper, wiser.
Many came to faith by me.

Seven more years were passed - I held a feast.
Music, song, speeches, poems - I stood...
All around me friends, lords, retainers, family...
My steward came and told of wonders new.

A hart, a hind, through Ercildoune were walking.
Moon-white, and glowed a whiter still.
I kissed my wife, my bairns, my Lord.
I bowed to all - the meaning was foretold.

Onto the moon-lit street... I recognized
The Queen's beasts. They turned - I followed
Into a darkling wood: Time lurched
And back to Faery instantly was drawn.

Centuries passed on Middle Earth - My story
Remains, inspires, glamours - is garbled.
But truth persists. The Eildon Hills
Still cast enchantment wide into the world.

Bruce Charlton - extempore 20 November 2015

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Epic electric folk - Long Lankin from Steeleye Span

This is perhaps the very summit of Steeleye's achievement.

The words are traditional - and utterly chilling, the tune and arrangement are by Steeleye (especially the guitarist and singer Robert Johnson, I think), the lead vocal by Maddy Prior is just...

If this is your first time listening to Long Lankin - wait until you can give it your full attention, and listen to the lyrics: this is too good to waste as background music!

Modern Man's many blindnesses - and his ignorance of the invisible, rich, meaning-full world that surrounds him

It has been quite usual, since the self-styled 'Enlightenment' for Men to look back on previous generations with condescension at the childish misunderstandings and imaginary explanations. But there is nothing from history to compare with the blindness of modern Man - his inability to perceive the obvious - things he can see in front of him; and to deny obvious common sense.

This blindness is very general through society - probably we all exemplify some kinds of blindness, while being immune to others - but there is no doubt that modernity is in a crucial sense about this blindness - modernity is about making Men unable to perceive some things which used to be so clear that they required no emphasis or explanation, but were simply the basis of explanation.

And, as the Enlightenment makes clear, modernity is about assuming that such blindness is a virtue and mark or superiority - to be blind is to be better and wiser.

Most examples of gross blindness are to do with secular Leftism (political correctness) and almost all instances of modern blindness are inculcated by the mass media, or by official channels such as the educational or legal systems - they are about replacing the obvious perceptions and inferences with an abstract interpretation that renders them either invisible or else reverses their meaning.

Examples of blindness include the failure to perceive gross levels of dishonesty in, for example, the workplace, the legal system (nature and application of laws), educational evaluations and examinations; failure to see the gross and intentional ugliness of modern built environments; failure to recognize the wickedness-promoting and sin-denying and insanity-enforcing nature of policies and propaganda in relation to sex and sexuality, marriage and families. 

The point is that modernity is now substantially about inculcating and enforcing such blindness - and one inference is that there is a lot more going on in the world than people notice - as can be seen by a comparison of modern writing with older writings. And, when we find discrepancies between the older and current world views, we can be almost certain that it is our current world view which is most at fault, least accurate, most fundamentally misguided.

If we can unveil our eyes and other senses and simply perceive... then a very, very different world comes into sight - a far richer, more meaningful and purposive world; a world capable of engaging us in a way this the mainstream world does not (and is indeed intended to prevent). It is suddenly obvious that most people, most of the time are selectively blind.

The modern world view is an artificially created abstraction compounded of images, interpretations and explanations, asserted imperatives... it is an interlocking whole, a web, that incorporates the mass media (primarily, as the major implicit validator) and also most of politics, law, public administration, modern 'science', 'medicine', 'religion' and indeed the realm of public discourse.

Because it is abstract it is arbitrary, and we are disengaged from it - at may (and does) command and indeed compel our attention; it controls us, it shapes our senses and our actions... but it does not satisfy.

Our participation is an addiction, not a thing with meaning or purpose - and we know this, but cannot break free. Just as so many people cannot break free from sexual relationships they know are pathological - they are trapped by the consequent prospect of loneliness and misery and boredom. So Modern man is addicted to the pathologies of the mass media, fashion, the official abstractions - and his Blindness is the price he pays - and it is this Blindness which keeps him enslaved so he cannot see the escape routes (into meaning purpose and real relationships) which are located all about him...

For all Modern man knows, he is surrounded by nature spirits, gods, angels and elves; by miracles and 'paranormal' phenomena and all manner of remarkable events; and is himself part of a grand and terrible destiny! - as our ancestors perceived.

Surrounded, but self-blinded to them all.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Metaphysics versus the world

Metaphysics refers to a person's understanding of and belief concerning the basic set-up of reality.

For example, which side a person assumes is real between the religious view of the universe being essentially purposive and meaningful - or, alternatively, the modern mainstream assumption that the universe is some mixture of deterministic causes and random events (e.g. some mixture of relativity and quantum theory).

Metaphysics affects everything, sooner or later; because it frames all legitimate questions and dictate the legitimacy of answers.

Mainstream, normal, modern morality is is based on the assumption that everything which happens is either caused or random - and therefore ultimately meaningless and purposeless. By this account, all morality is therefore necessarily and only a matter of feelings; and is indeed a 'projection' of our own subjective feelings onto an uncomprehending and dead universe. Thus (according to mainstream modern metaphysics) things are good or bad, ultimately, because they make us feel good or bad - and this is universalized into a 'moral system' along the (dubious) lines that we feel better or worse when we feel that other people feel better or worse.

(Yes, I am aware that this is not actually 'a morality' - but that is what passes for morality in the public arena - see After Virtue, by Alasdair MacIntyre.).

There is no possibility of genuine moral debate within this modern secular framework, which is why we never see any. We see only assertion and counter assertion of feelings, and the imputation of feelings to various others.

For a Christian this makes honest 'casual' discussion about moral issues (around the water cooler, as it were) impossible - because all casual discussion is non-Christian, indeed anti-Christian, in its basis and tendency. To converse honestly about morality, the modern Christian must define and contrasts his metaphysics - which hardly makes for casual 'water cooler' conversation!

When an 'issue' arises in everyday conversation - such as whether tattoos are a good thing (or, some specific person's particular tattoo), or whether somebody's divorce was a good or bad thing and why, or what should be government policy about uncontrolled mass immigration, or whether some friend has behaved well or badly...Well, the honest Christian is faced with reinforcing, tacitly by participation without clarification, a moral system he deplores - or saying nothing, which dishonest but antisocial. 

But I can well recall, when I was an atheist, how absurd it seemed to me to envisage 'a moral universe' - I thought of stars and planets and volcanoes and I could not imagine how they could be part of a moral plan - and since that was most of the universe, then objective morality seemed absurd. Likewise with 'love' - how could love be the most important things (as Christians assert) is most of the universe is dead and non-conscious? At most I could imagine that the whole universe was a means to the end of the Christian God's purposes for humans - but that seemed like an absurd overkill when comparing the size of the universe with the tiny planet earth with its scattering of people.

I was, in sum, trapped by my metaphysical assumptions concerning the nature of reality - and I was trying to 'insert' God into this ready-made modern secular 'universe' (which had, as a matter of historical fact, been constructed so as to render God at best superfluous, and indeed to mainly and specifically to eliminate Him).

It is a great liberation of spirit and source of energy and hope to identify, challenge, recognize the ridiculousness of, then discard the nihilistic metaphysics which we had inculcated by mainstream, secular, modern society - via the mass media, the systems of education, politics, law, by work and bureaucracies... To see that this metaphysics is arbitrary, absurd, unnatural, self-refuting.

And then to realize that I have the power, right and autonomy to replace it with something that is spontaneous, natural and Christian - and to discover (despite my knowledge being radically incomplete and imperfect) that then, suddenly, everything makes sense!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A metaphysical wakeup! What if it happened?

There are many aspects to a metaphysical wakeup - such a wakeup being the sudden realization of being self-trapped by deeply held assumptions concerning the nature of reality, the sloughing-off of such assumptions; and the sudden recognition and adoption of alternative possible assumptions.

For example, The Animistic Wakeup.

That would be the recognition that we are killing ourselves (first spiritually, then physically) by our inbuilt assumption that almost everything in the universe is dead (in the sense of unliving, passive, non-conscious, lacking in any purpose) - discarding this assumption - and adopting instead the assumption that everything is alive and (I various ways and to widely varying degrees) conscious and purposive.

Try it as you sit now and look about you - or as you walk somewhere: the effect is utterly remarkable: the world is changed! It is not necessarily a change that will make you happy (that depends on the situation you are in) but it is a change when suddenly life becomes meaning-full and purpose-full and you are no longer lonely but at the centre of a web of uncountable relationships.


Such a wakeup could happen to you, it could happen en masse.

Many people have the potential for such a wake-up - for example the tens of millions who have been deeply moved and permanently affected by Tolkien, Narnia, Harry Potter and other good fantasy books - these people have this potential latent.

What might make it happen?

Well, part of this metaphysical paradigm shift is the recognition that there are multiple influences that are imperceptible - communications that may affect us at the level of the imagination, but of whose origin we are unaware.

HOWEVER - any such realization must be accepted. And at present when someone has such a realization - it is rejected (nearly always, and en masse).


IF such a thing happened - to a lot of people, enough people - it would be a cataclysm; one way or another. Things would never be the same again.

There would be (metaphorically) a stepping out of the shadows of (self-) deception and an experience of blinding illumination.

If, r once, this happens, the end of things would commence - because if it was accepted, everything would change; but if it was rejected then this would be a full, aware and conscious choice to embrace despair as Good.

Because this would be nothing less than a realization of our own sins against the light. We would suddenly find ourselves poised upon a knife-edge - with the choice of repenting (which is to say acknowledging the nature and reality of) our sins; or else denying our sins and relabeling them a Good.


As I say: things would never be the same again: for better, or for (much) worse.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Metaphysical imagination - You Are Free

Most people are made nihilists and forced-into despair by their metaphysical assumptions; but these can be changed. First by becmoing aware of them - then by changing them.

For instance people feel that everything in their own minds (and from their own minds) has been caused by something else - that their thoughts, feelings, motives... all have been put-into them - and what comes-out is just a consequence, merely a transformation of what has been put-in.

People will argue that this is so - that theythemselves are really nothing: a mere concentration of processes - an illusion.

But imagine that your mind is an uncaused cause: can cause without being caused.

Imagine that your mind can originate thoughts. Imagine that it is a remarkable entity, not like any machine, not even a super-computer - but a remarkable entity from which things arise that were never put there.

Imagine that your mind does not only process information - but can spontaneously generate it. Thoughts appear - but it cannot be explained from whence they came - they are absolutley incalulable!

It seems a dizzying notion  - but for Christians it is literally true, implied by revelation.

A quibble about the Lord of the Rings "trilogy"

Imagination, purpose and motivation

It is most valuable for us to learn to exercise our imaginative capability in order to muse upon the possibilities of purpose beyond any we have, as yet, been able to grasp.

For we can notice that in human nature we can withstand almost any difficulties except the loss of a sense of purpose.

We can make do without happiness, comfort and love, if we feel that the reason for doing so is some great purpose.

This will lead us to expect the same principle to apply to all other beings in any other level or classroom in the university. Consequently, if we can deepen, widen and clarify our sense of purpose, it will have a very far reaching effect.

William Arkle - Equations of Being: notes on the nature of love

I have often remarked that the number one problem in the modern West is Motivation! Motivation! Motivation! That is we are nihilists; and therefore lack any basis for powerful and sustained motivation - which renders us feeble, cowardly, alienated, and ultimately suicidal.

And it could be argued that our chronic feebleness of motivation is itself a consequence of lack of purpose - because purpose is what potentially generates motivation.

Modern man tends to suppose that purposes are interchangeable, malleable - that we can pick up and put down purposes, direct and then redirect our motivations. But that is not what it looks-like. What it looks like is that we are much better at destroying purpose and weakening motivation than we are at discovering or creating purposes capable of eliciting motivation.

We have done a great job of demolishing serious religion, traditional morality, long-termism in public life.

Government Officials and the managers of institutions and corporations are tremendously adept at eroding professionalism, long termism, inner motivation, honesty - but they can only replace them with sticks and carrots, working to rules and checklists, and a sense of purpose no higher than the latest 'targets' - narrowly and literally interpreted, pursued in a manner that is not-provably-dishonest instead of truthful.

In such a world, where might purpose and motivation emerge from except imagination? And what better function could imagination have than to restore to us that sense of purpose which enables us to withstand almost any difficulties?

I do not regard this as an optional extra - but a core task for modern Man. And within Christianity - we simply must have a Christianity that motivates us and restores purpose, builds-in resilience, sustains courage - else our faith will be so feeble as to become rapidly swamped.

Thus we need more than simply to know, to assent, to learn - we need imaginatively to appropriate our faith: to grasp it with the imagination - and where necessary to seek a Christian explanatory system, practice and community that we can, personally, so grasp and appropriate.

Why are fulfilled prophecies always surprising?

It seems to be a rule, in narrative as well as real life, that when a prophecy comes true and is fulfilled, it will be in some unexpected and surprising fashion. This is the case for the Old Testament prophecies of Christ.

Hence, while some will regard a prophecy as having been-fulfilled, another person may feel that it was fulfilled in some unexpected way - this is, of course, a staple of narrative fiction and myth: that prophecies cannot be eluded, because they are fulfilled in unexpected ways.

< Why? My explanation is that the reason is that prophecies come true not because the future is foreseen, but because the future is influenced such that the prophecy is made to come true.

For example in Psalm 22 of the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible verses 16-18:

For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

These predictions are taken to have been fulfilled by Jesus having been nailed, his bones not broken and his possessions having being divided by the onlooking soldiers. But the manner of fulfilment could not have been predicted from the words of the prophecy which does not mention nails, or a cross, or soldiers.

My impression of this, and other, prophecies is that they are not a result of God having (as it were) seen a picture of what would come - but as God having influenced the on-going situation at the time of the crucifixion such that the prophecies were fulfilled.

But what about free will? Suppose that who put Christ on trial had acquitted him? What then? Well, the prophecies, or some of them, would have been fulfilled in some different way - presumably at a later time - by God's direct action.

Suppose some soldier had tried to break Christ's bones? Well, perhaps the bones would not have broken - having been miraculously strengthened by God's will, or perhaps the blow would have missed its mark (after all, the spear thrust into Christ's side was directed such that it - surprisingly - did not break a bone).

Or, perhaps the bones would have broken and that specific prophecy would not have been fulfilled - but others would have.

My point is that - if God wants a prophecy to be fulfilled, He can make it happen - not by coercing human will, but by great knowledge of men, by the multiplicity of possibly pathways and timescales leading to the same outcome, and great direct power of action on things.

A sense of incompleteness about truth

It has been fairly common in my life to suppose I had grasped a truth, but for it later to seem incomplete. This can, of course, simply be a consequence of the finite capacity of the mind, in a finite time-span (and a context of distractability among many distractions). But it can be a clue to an inbuilt bias, a one-sidedness of understanding.

This one-sidedness may be necessary, at times - in the sense of there being priorities. For example, life in a context of war tends to be one-sided - and (as long as the situation does not go on too long) this may well be necessary and correct.

And in religion, similarly, there can be crises during which the main priority is to do some specific thing, now and wholeheartedly. For example, there are times when following a particular rule becomes the dominant need.

But there are also times when the pressure is off, and the one-sidedness and radical incompleteness of our religious understanding can become rather painfully apparent - those times when our faith and hopes (even at their best, at the best we can possible imagine) seem like - or are revealed as - incomplete in some basic fashion, radically unsatisfying hence ultimately unsatisfactory... The dry times.

This may be a problem in the self - an inability to appreciate on the part of the person - but it may also be a defect in that person's, or that denomination's, or that church's conceptualization of reality. And there is a tendency among persons, denominations and churches to cry heresy whenever this situation emerges - and most of the time they would be right!

But not always. The compromises necessary in the necessity of a church - the so called institutional aspects of Christianity - create deep problems (as well as been necessary to the survival and thriving of the Faith). In public discourse, it may happen (and it may be best) that the institution will 'double down' on doctrines and dogmas, when these are genuinely inadequate.

And when the inadequacy is genuine, and genuinely felt - then someone may be forced out from the church. And both parties may be correct, in their own way.

Anyway, the answer is that what is theologically wholesome, beneficial, necessary for one individual may be impossible for an institution. I am not talking about sins! but about the way that individuals conceptualize their faith - the focus, the understanding, the priorities, the 'flavour'.

Individuals cannot and should not advocate change on the basis of what they personally need; institutions should not be too rigid about what individuals believe in their personal context, and practice in their private devotions.

The socio-political arena and public discourse are crude and simple and fundamentally unsatisfying - however necessary; the private arena, the individual consciousness, has its idiosyncratic, sometimes unique, needs which can only be denied at the cost of a mutilating deprivation - but which are absolutely unsuitability for generalization as rules and rituals. Ideally, both sides need to be mature enough to know what is their own business, and what is not.