Saturday 31 July 2010

The death of civil society in the West

After the end of the Cold War there was a period when pundits and commentators were talking about 'Civil Society', and how this was what distinguished free societies from totalitariian societies. 

I came across this idea in Ernest Gellner -


Civil Society refers to the forms of social organization between the state and the individual: the church and individual churches; the professions, guilds and trades unions; schools; and also voluntary clubs and societies.

This level of society was inevitably either eliminated or infiltrated and enlisted by totalitarian governments. 

Yet - in spite of such self-awareness of the importance of Civil Society - in the past twenty years the institutions of Civil Society in Britain have either dwindled into insignificance or else been corrupted and enlisted into the state.

In my personal experinece, this has happened to the medical profession (which was one of the most powerful and independent professions) and to the universities. Both are now branches of the civil administration. A private library of which I am a member, the Literary and Philosophical Society, has also fallen: and it now pursues government driven ideologies in pursuit of state subsidies.


The societies emerging from the Soviet Union were aware that the suppression of Civil Society had been one of the ways in which the citizens were made helpless, and were enslaved; and that the vacuum created by the destruction of civil society would make it difficult for the post-totalitarian societies to become viable.

There is a functional aspect to this - a society which lacks organization at a small scale will be very difficult to order at a national scale - which is why early societies were segmentary (like feudalism), built of many autonomous and self-sufficient units.

But there is a spiritual aspect as well. In traditional society, a person feels membership of a variety of groups: perhaps a church, a job, a club. When stable and autonomous, such institutions evoke loyalty and love. Participation in these institutions creates a lot of the 'meaning of life'.

So why have they dwindled, or been hollowed out into shells of dishonest propaganda?


Two factors at least.

One is that distraction has become the major coping mechanism of secular life.

Instead of losing oneself in participation in civil society, one loses oneself in relentless distraction via the mass media, mass communications systems, portable music, images, narratives, news and other stimuli.

The other is that Civil Society has been systematically subverted by the state: by bureaucratic regulation, by taxation, by subsidy and coercively.

In a nutshell, this is because the ruling elite are mostly secular socialists (or communist atheists, to put it bluntly!). The West was too stable for revolution to succeed, but the policy of Fabian gradualism - - which aimed to introduce communism graduallly, incrementally, by means of the normal system of 'democratic' government, has succeeded almost completely. 

Fabian socialism is the dominant form, and the validity of Fabian socialism is inculcated and enforced by education, media, government propaganda (via the civil administration) and by the remaining shells of Civil Society.


The implication seems to be that the elite is self-corrupted to the point of being hermetically-sealed from reality, hence unreformable.

Presumably this means that when the Western system implodes from incoherence and self-hatred (or is sufficiently weakened such as to be taken over by outside or alien powers), and radical change comes, such change will involve wholesale replacment of the current secular intellectual elite - despite the massive loss of expertise that this will entail.

Misrule by the intellectual elite on a massive and unprecedented scale - the consequences of which are systematically invisible to the intellectual elite, but apparent to those outside the elite or immune to their propaganda - will tend to lead to the biggest anti-intellectual backlash in history; simply as a matter of social survival. A chilling prospect, for all readers of this blog...


So, assuming the theorists of Civil Society were correct - we in the West are now living in what, by definition, amounts to a totalitarian society.

But hardly anybody has noticed.

Because we swim in an ideology which apparently renders our situation inescapable, because the ideology represents weakness, chaos and self-loathing as moral progress.

The fact that intellectuals have barely noticed such a rapid, albeit incremental, imposition of a totalitarian system is a damning indictment of... something-or-another.

Friday 30 July 2010

Why the Byzantine ideal?

Given that I regard theocracy as the inevitable ultimate state of human civilization - of course chance has a huge role to play, but theocracy is the strongest, most cohesive social form over the long term - then the question arises of which theocracy.

The correct answer is, of course, that theocracy which is true: or at least true-est given human imperfection.

But how do we recognize truth?


*One* way that we might expect to recognize truth might be in contemplating our response to that kind of society as actually established, at some point in human history.

It was this consideration which (as I recall) first pointed me towards Eastern Orthodoxy, because of all the theocracies in history of which I knew, the Byzantine was that which exerted by-far the greatest appeal to me, at a gut level.

I will try to describe my thought processes.


Obviously, non-Christian theocracies have negative appeal. That leaves a variety of Roman Catholic and Protestant theocracies.

There have been RC theocracies in Europe until quite recently: for example Ireland and Spain approached that ideal - and there was of course the European Middle Ages.

I must admit that (although I have tried) I find it very difficult to be attracted to the recent RC-dominated societies of Ireland or Spain; and about the Middle Ages I have a strong reservation which I find hard to pin-down.

There seems to be a thin-ness or a flat-ness about this kind of theocracy - a kind of literalness. A legalism - which portrays life in abstract, philosophical, logical terms - and somehow leaves out the human spirit.

And, at its height, Western Catholic monasticism does not seem to know exactly what it is trying to achieve (either on earth or in heaven) - so there is a greyness and gruel about it, in my mind, that I cannot rid myself-of (despite effort): epitomized by what I experience as the chill of Gregorian chant.

I assume this is down to the intrinsic division of Church (Pope) and State (Monarch, dictator or secular republic), and the mutilation of the human spirit which this entails.


There have been many Protestant theocracies too - the 17th century puritan republic in England, or the New England puritan theocracies.

While hugely admirable in so many ways (and as a young man my spontaneous sympathies were always with the Roundheads against the Cavaliers), the monochrome *dryness* of these societies is what comes through for me.

There is precious little spirituality - in the sense of approaching or communing with God, and a heck of a lot of rule-following, transgression-detecting and -punishing. Life and worship are alike extremely *secular* in nature: no mystery, no magic; only an austere poetry and the release of communal activity and resistance.

Protestant theocracies seem to me dull; I feel sure that life would (after the first overwhelming flush of conversion) seem alienated, meaningless, superficial, routine, mundane: a hope-less drudgery in this world, awaiting rescue in the next.


While I would probably, in practice - given my personality and socialization - hate living in Byzantium, or in Holy Russia (its nearest equivalent); there is a gut level appeal to these societies for me - a wholeness, a colour, a richness, an integration of all aspects of life (aimed at as ideal, whether or not being achieved at a particular time) that I find massively attractive.

(Leaving aside uncomfortable aspects such as ancient cruelties, slavery, and the vital presence of a eunuch imperial and ecclesial bureaucracy...)

In Byzantium I have an image of gorgeousness and colour, of daily (more than daily) ritual, of pervasive devotion and awe-inspiring worship, of heavenly music and art, of self-confidence and religious ambition, of community, of decisiveness, of courage beyond our imagination, of extraordinary asceticism in pursuit of sainthood, of great wisdom in spirituality.


Having made these harsh criticisms of RC and Protestant theocracies, I hasten to add that there were huge compensations of many and varied kinds, including individuals who reached the highest levels of human achievement (Michaelangelo and Rembrandt; Verdi and Bach; Medieval cathedrals and Milton; Galileo and Newton; Aquinas and Adam Smith - and on and on).

I just wish to emphasize that they do not overcome my sense of repulsion and fear at the thought of such societies.


In sum, I believe that Byzantium succeeded - at times and for many of its community - in being a foretaste of heaven on earth and preparation for heaven after death.

And the Eastern Roman civilization was destroyed after a millennium - but not by suicidal self-hatred, nor by hedonistic decadence, nor by lack of will to defend that which it most valued: it was simply overwhelmed, step by step, over several centuries, by ill-chance and superior force.

No civilization is proof against the vicissitudes of the world.


If actual theocracies can be taken as at least indicative of the ideal theocracies which they attempt to embody, then it is only the Byzantine Christian variety which has any genuine, spontaneous appeal for me. (I cannot answer for others.)

For what it is worth, I therefore see Byzantium - in its contrasts with Protestant and Roman Catholic theocracies - as a validation, a token validation, of Orthodoxy.

Toy Story 3 - a superb depiction of the best of modern secular morality

I saw Toy Story 3 yesterday - which seemed to me (after a single viewing) a first rate movie, blending humour, adventure and sadness. Via metaphor, it is an honest exploration of spirituality in the modern secular world.

(Toy Story 3 is, after all, one of the premier mass media products of our era; product of the most intelligent and creative minds of our era working together and at their peak - so it would be surprising if TS3 did not epitomize our era: for good and for ill?)

I have tried to avoid plot spoilers here - because I think you should see this movie for yourself - so the discussion may seem rather abstract and remote!


The Toy Story movies work at the deepest level by their metaphor of humanity as Toys - Toy life is about being played-with.

The Toy universe is mostly utilitarian - about creating fun and avoiding misery (evil is seen as causing misery, delighting in causing misery, to other Toys).

Being played with is the greatest satisfaction for the Toys - it has an almost enlightenment-like permanency - to have been played with just once justifies everything.

But play is ultimately altruistic - because the morality is that a good Toy should be devoted to the happiness of its owner, and not to his own gratification.


There seems to be no ultimate reason for this moral code - except the implication than in the long run it creates the most happiness for the Toy to create the most happiness for the owner. That just seems to be the way that Toys are 'set up' - to be happy themselves via the happiness of their owners - but there isn't any further reason for it.

But their life strikes the Toys, from time to time, as futile - since it ends with the Toy being discarded by their owner, or destroyed in the trash.

So a Toy's life is the pagan life of a brief period of consciousness, with loyalty the prime virtue, and life as a brief flame in the surrounding infinite darkness.


Like modern man, Toys do not have souls (separable from their bodies, potentially immortal); they are potentially immortal (serially long-lived) as long as the Toy retains integrity (in a kind of suspended state - waiting to see whether their owner may need them at some point); but their souls are seemingly destroyed by the dissolution of the Toy (e.g. if crushed, dismembered or burned).  

Toys try to escape awareness of their fate by constant activity and interaction, by complete absorption in play, by not-thinking about their future fate but being absorbed in the here and now - this is Toy wisdom (like Eastern paganism - Hindu of Buddhist): *not* to think about their ultimate fate, since this would poison the present moment.

Or to cultivate an indifference to this unavoidable reality.


A wise Toy just lives in the moment of play. For a Toy, the moment of play carries everything - all meaning - justifies everything. Play has no meaning beyond itself, no further implications, but (like death in battle in defence of one's Lord) is simply the ultimate reality, what Toys are *for*.

Yet the system keeps breaking down. The Sunnyside Day Care Center (Nursery/ Kindergarten) represent an attempted solution, where Toys have a perpetual and renewing series of children to play with them.

Day Care Toys have discarded the primary ethic of loyalty, and the Toy leader (Woody) finds this shocking.

The ideal of the Day Care Toy (as epitomized in a sequence after the end of the movie proper) is very modern: and is appropriately presided over by modern icons of this life.

It is a life of continuous fun with renewing supplies of children who never grow up. Of course, it is a completely shallow experience for the Day Care Toys, since they have no owners who really care about them - and the Day Care Toys are merely selfish and strategically allied with other toys to sustain their own hedonistic life.


For Day Care Toys 'God is dead' and their universe is utilitarian - there are no owners, no demands from loyalty, no aim or ultimate act -their life is one of perpetual distraction. They may well be happier than the Toys with owners - but they lack any understanding of reality, their life is precisely such as to stop them thinking about reality - drugged by the pleasure of playing and the rewards of socialization. A life of endless fun.

Being a product of secular modernity, the ultimate morality (loyalty for owned Toys, fun for Day Care Toys) has no meaning or rationale - it seems to be a reaction to the psychological set up of Toys. Evil is selfishly to interfere with these or to substitute other goals (such as domination) - but the ranking of these virtues and sins has no teleology.

The general feel is that of a cyclical universe, a universe of endless repetition; and the Toys are supposed to be consoled by contemplating this eternal recurrence (eg when looking a photos or remembering kids growing up, the cycle of generations, the cycle of new arrivals at Day Care).

Yet there is no reason why this recurrence really should be consoling, since it is purposeless, and the morality of play is non-quantitative and not accumulable towards anything else.

A life supposedly built around a perfect moment (of play) cannot make sense as a whole, and there is no reason for repeating the moment either in one life or in many lives, or in the future.  


Toy Story 3 is a deft and wholly enjoyable, deeply-sad exploration, therefore, of the best and deepest aspects of modern secular worldly morality, and the scope of its ultimate moral categories - kindness, loyalty, the metaphysic of fun; but TS3 is also honest about the profound limitations of life conceptualized without soul or salvation.

Thursday 29 July 2010

For secular modernity, hypocrisy is the worst moral transgression

For secular modern societies hypocrisy is the worst sin.

Traditional Christian morality is that to sin is bad, but everyone sins since we are naturally worldly and self-loving (prideful) - what is important is to repent the sin.

And, traditionally, denying sin or defending sin or advocating sin in others are all very bad sins indeed.

In other words, although we cannot ever wholly stop ourselves from 'transgressing', we should never encourage others to transgress; people should aim at the highest standards; should publicly defend the highest standards - although they will not be able themselves to attain the highest standards.

Therefore, in the modern loose usage of the word, 'hypocrisy' is inevitable.


In secular modern societies, morality is regarded as being something invented and chosen; and Christianity in particular is vehemently rejected.

Yet there is a natural morality, natural law - or what C.S Lewis called the Tao in perhaps his greatest lecture series The Abolition of Man -

Natural morality is spontaneous in all humans at all points in history (quite possibly it is an evolutionary legacy, related to humans being social animals), and everyone (who is not a conscienceless psychopath) knows when he is transgressing it.

But secular modernity does not recognize the validity of natural morality, and the morality of secular modernity contradicts natural morality in many respects (usually with a utilitarian rationale) - this is what can be termed 'moral inversion' - where bad (according to natural morality) is re-labelled good and vice versa; bad people and good people are reversed in public esteem.

This is a normal aspect of political correctness, where monogamous heterosexual marriage among family orientated, law-abiding and hard-working people is loathed on the grounds of its hypocrisy and judgmental-ness; while open advocacy and practice of transgressive behaviours (i.e. transgressive according to natural morality) is morally aggrandized as being 'honest' and tolerant.


The moral inversion of PC seems to spring from its generally 'rebellious adolescent' mind set. Adolescents are (naturally) the worst behaved group in society - in terms of the psychology of personality across lifespan, it is during adolescence that a person will (on average) reach their highest levels of neuroticism, impulsiveness and extraversion, their lowest levels of empathizing/ agreeableness; and aggression levels peak around the mid teens.

The youth culture - driven by pride - has therefore evolved a new morality which makes adolescents the best people instead of the worst: the teenager as moral exemplar - the sensitive adolescent - impatient, full of angst, with multiple sensitivities, with easily bruised ego, lonely yet yearning for love - as the moral hero and compass for the rest of society...

Secular modernity (with its psychological neoteny - its essential adolescence, its suspended immaturity) therefore performs a moral inversion which relabels its own faultsas virtues, and reframes morality as primarily a matter of 'honesty'. Honesty means living by chosen standards. The square adult world is accused of hypocrisy - of failing to live up to the high standards it advocates - and this sin is seen as invalidating all else.

Adolescent 'honesty' is not, therefore, about telling the truth - but about advocating very low standards of behaviour, then exceeding them!

Only adolescents, so the story goes, are really moral - because only they adopt an 'honestly' low standard of behaviour which they - and everyone else - can truly live-up-to, can even exceed (and exceed gratuitously! - as a pure act of surplus goodness - not underpinned by religious or otherworldly rewards or sanctions).

This is perhaps the essence of moral inversion in modernity.


For example; for secular modernity; the open, explicit advocacy of impulsive sexual promiscuity is regarded as in itself morally admirable - since it is a standard that anyone can live up to (and gratifies at least the person doing it - the main problem being to convince the victims of assembly-line seduction that they too are being made happy and morally-enhanced by their exploitation).

Indeed, anyone who exceeds the very low moral standard, and behaves somewhat in the direction of natural morality, may be regarded as a genuine moral exemplar - e.g. a ruthless, manipulative, serially promiscuous individual who nonetheless maintains a long-term and affectionate relationship. 


In sum, the morality of secular modernity 'solves' the ancient problem of the inevitability of human sin by denying the sinfulness of most attitude or acts - the inevitable gap in behaviour between spontaneous morality and actual human behaviour is dealt with by down-grading the definition of moral behaviour until it is low enough that anyone can attain it.

But because humans cannot stop making moral evaluations, sin is not actually eliminated, rather the location of sin is displaced.

Evaluative neutrality is impossible for humans (we cannot be 'non-judgmental'; we are judging or evaluating animals), and because societal manipulations of natural morality are pushing against human nature, the displacement of sin is only possible with a high level of social coercion. The freedom to live a hedonic, gratification-oriented life becomes *moral advocacy* of a life of self-gratification.

The displaced sin then becomes the advocacy of high standards. High standards are regarded as aggressive because high standards will not be met, which will make people feel guilty, which makes them intractably miserable (because in secular modernity there is no forgiveness for guilt - only an attempted denial of the basis for guilt).

In a utilitarian society, to behave in a way that makes other people intractably miserable is regarded as the worst of sins...


In secular modern societies, people that advocate a high level of morality, especially natural morality, are seen as aggressors against the happiness of the majority - even or especially when such people actually achieve significantly higher standards of behaviour than the rest of society. The point is that their behaviour is not perfect, therefore they are hypocrites; which is the worst thing to be.

And of course such people really are 'hypocrites' in the sense that with high standards some level of degree of failure is inevitable.


So we get the profound moral inversions of secular modernity, in which exemplary citizens who advocate high moral standards - like Mormons and devout Evangelicals - are the primary hate figures.

While people who both advocate and practice lives of aggressive, exploitative, manipulative self-gratification are regarded as moral heroes.

Because so long as their explicitly advocated standards of behaviour are set even-lower than their actual behaviours; arrogant, selfish pleasure-seekers are immune against being regarded as that worst of modern villains: the hypocrite.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

The Jesus Prayer/ Prayer of Jesus

I suspect, or fear, this practice may turn out to be the core of real Christianity, the main means of salvation, in the future - if the mainstream Christian Churches continue their decline and corruption, and assuming the Eastern Orthodox Church does not have a resurgence in the West.

I heard of the Jesus Prayer first, many years ago, in Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger - and I would recommend reading the book discussed there - The Way of a Pilgrim, in the translation by R.M French.

This also is wise and helpful:

But the Jesus prayer was originated in Orthodox Christian societies, where a core knowledge of Christianity could be taken for granted - and that is certainly not the case now: ignorance and profound misunderstanding are the current norm; and erroneous or false teaching much easier to find than truth!

So (contra what is said in Franny and Zooey, and what is *superficially* implied by the Way of a Pilgrim) I do not think the Prayer of Jesus would 'work' (or even begin to work) unless the person saying it knew the essential meaning of the words.

For this, some prior teaching is necessary - which in our era may have to come from reading.

My own case is so very atypical that I really have no idea what would be right for other people - but I found this essay extremely helpful - Theosis: the true purpose of human life by Archimandrite George:

However, for me it came after several years of wide-ranging and mostly misguided reading, reflection and discussion - so it may not mean much to someone jumping straight-in.

The point is that Orthodoxy provides a very clear aim - Sainthood - and a (relatively) clear definition of what this entails (ascetic struggle) and what success brings (living in heaven upon earth).

Theosis is a path on which all can and should embark, and it is being on this path that matters to salvation - although almost all will fail to reach the end of the path and most will advance only a few baby steps - the necessary start being repentance (a turning-away from the Kingdom of Man towards the Kingdom of God) and by effort obtaining only a *foretaste* of heaven on earth. Ultimately, it is enough. 

Tender-minded, tough-minded; socialism, libertarianism

Among the atheist elites, the main cognitive styles are the tender-minded socialist (or 'liberal' in US parlance) and the tough-minded libertarian.

Socialism corresponds to a psychotic, delusional cognitive mode; while libertarianism corresponds to a psychopathic, selfish cognitive mode.


The socialist is tender-minded because he tries to care about others more than himself; and has a kind of empathizing altruism as the highest goal, and pursues this through an objectively-dishonest, subjectively fantasizing (i.e. delusional) world view. Operationally, secular altruism is defined in term of submission to those groups regarded as 'suffering' - the individual has no real function except to serve the community.

Socialism is paradoxical, nonsensical, therefore intrinsically dishonest (in order to make sense of itself to itself).

This is why socialism unwinds into moral inversion.


The libertarian is tough-minded because tries *not* to care about others except in so far as they influence his own happiness; and has autonomous individualism as the highest goal, and pursues this through a systematic gratification. Operationally, libertarian is defined in terms of maximizing choice of hedonic lifestyle options (those offering the most pleasure or least suffering) - the community has no real function except to serve the individual.

Libertarianism is extrinsically dishonest, perhaps honest with itself (because selfishly coherent) but necessarily dishonest to others (because selfish individualism must disguise its true nature in society; lest it be detected, punished and suppressed by the majority).

This is why libertarianism unwinds into animality (an ideal of unselfconscious, spontaneous, self-justifying hedonism).


Of course, many people alternate between these modes. And very few live up to their ideals - since corruption is endemic in man. So hedonic socialists and communitarian libertarians are common.

Also, natural morality is hard to repress altogether - and atheists usually, irrationally, behave much better than their ideals - although they have no reason to do so.

Indeed, behaving better than one's ideals is a common value among atheists of both stripes: and both regard the opposite - hypocrisy - as the 'ultimate' sin.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

David Horrobin's letter handing-over Medical Hypotheses editorship

I just came across this e-mail from David Horrobin to me, dated 3 March 2003.

It was the letter in which he offered me the editorship of Medical Hypotheses.

Reading it again after more than six years editing the journal (I officially took over in Septenber 2003, and began compiling issues in 2004) - and a bit more than two months after being sacked from the editorship for refusing to abandon David's vision for the journal - the letter provokes mixed feelings.

But I was very pleased to have found it.


Dear Bruce,

Although I am slowly recovering from the latest recurrence of my mantle cell lymphoma, I have to be realistic and accept the probability that I have only a year or so to live. Rather than leave everything to the last minute, I would rather put things in order now.

[Note: in fact David had less time than he hoped, and he died just a few weeks later on 1 April 2003. We had a chance to speak a couple more times on the telephone - once while he was actually having chemotherapy - but that was all.]

I am therefore writing to ask whether you would be willing to take over as Editor-in-Chief of Medical Hypotheses? Frankly you are the only person I really trust to take it over and run it in an open-minded fashion.


The primary criteria for acceptance are very different from the usual journals. In essence what I look for are answers to two questions only: Is there some biological plausibility to what the author is saying? Is the paper readable? We are NOT looking at whether or not the paper is true but merely at whether it is interesting.

I now make most of the editorial judgments myself unless I am really puzzled as to whether the paper is a lot of nonsense. I have found most referees far more trouble than they are worth: they are so used to standard refereeing which is usually aimed at trying to determine whether or not a paper is true that they are incapable of suspending judgment and end up being inappropriately hypercritical.

In the early days I used to spend a lot of time editing and rewriting papers which were poorly written or where the English was inadequate. However, I am now quite ruthless about not doing that which has greatly reduced the editorial burden. I simply return papers which are poorly written, suggesting that they are rewritten in conjunction with someone whose native language is English. If that does not produce a result then the paper is simply rejected.

I do very much hope that you will be willing to take up this proposal. Overall Medical Hypotheses is a lot of fun and it gives one access to a very wide range of interesting medical science. Since I started the journal in Newcastle in the 1970s there is an appropriateness in the possibility of it returning there.

Very best wishes, David Horrobin.

Whatever happened to the massive economic benefits of the internet?

Whatever happened to the massive productivity boost which much (surely?) have been the result of the internet?

Because (surely?) the internet must have led to an unequalled, world historical boost in productivity?

A decade ago people all over the place were saying confidently that the economic effect of the internet would outstrip the effects seen by the invention of railways and telecommunications, and that new synergies from fast and universal communication would generate a society of massive capability (a huge step-up like the effect of the population concentration of the first cities, or the nation state).

Science and technology would be accelerated qualitatively by the speed of access to the scholarly literature, rapid and universal sharing of methods, critique and results, international collaborations...

That was the theory. 

Yet economic growth since the internet came has been, well - ahem! - very modest...

Indeed, the current 'credit crunch' recession revealed that much of what economists had thought was internet-produced growth in productivity, was in fact a progressive increase in borrowing.

Some possibilities:

1. Economists were correct, and there really has been a huge boost in productivity/ growth - but its measurement was not captured by GDP or other economic measures in use. This suggests that we need to develop new measures of productivity and economic growth.

(This is surely the explanation economists will favour, since it does not involve an admission of error, and gives them a new project to justify continued funding etc.)

2. The boost in growth has been almost-wholly or more-than absorbed by an expansion of parasitic bureaucracy. This suggests that bureaucracy is a cancer which will kill the economy no matter how fast it grows - unless there is some kind of rapid, massive and unprecedented roll-back.

(I tend to favour this expanation. That there was a huge increase in efficiency and capability but all of the benefits - economic and in terms of capability - were sucked-up by expanding bureaucracy; indeed bureaucracy out-expanded productivity enhancements, to the point of actually damaging both productivity (per person) and capability (per social function). In other words, increased output per person has led to more bureaucracy and then less output per person: the cancer is outgrowing the host. This is being concealed by an expansion of public relations, hype and outright dishonesty: by inflation, in other words.)

3. There was *not* in fact a huge boost in productivity, which means that economists profoundly misunderstand these things.

(I would not be surprised if this explanation was true as well as the previous one - I don't find it at all difficult to imagine that almost-all economists have been almost-completely wrong - especially given the recent resurgence in Clever Silly (or plain corrupt) ideas such as 'Keynsianism' and the economists support for 'the stimulus', bailouts, higher taxes, long-term-mass low-skill immigration etc. And if so, it means that we misunderstand the psychology of productivity; and that human affairs are much more zero-sum than we would have cared to admit.)

My one and only peak experience in laboratory science

"One evening I had stayed behind to examine some new microscope slides of the human adrenal gland which had been stained to show both the cholinergic and adrenergic nerves. The cholinergic nerves were dark brown, while the adrenergic nerves glowed green under a fluorescent lamp. When I flipped the microscope back and forth between natural light and fluorescent light I suddenly realized that the slender, knobbly green nerves were winding over and around the thick trunks of brown nerves. The two systems were entwined, but the cholinergic nerves were passing through the gland while the adrenergic nerves were releasing their noradrenaline into the substance of the cortex. It suddenly dawned that nobody had ever seen this before. It was a moment of apparently mystical significance, in that twighlit room: I knew something for the first time in human history."

From my book Psychiatry and the Human Condition, 2000. 


I worked in laboratory science for about seven years (3 plus years in my MD, a year in physiology - on the kidney, 3 1/2 years in anatomy), doing things like radioimmunoassays, receptor measurements and histochemistry on human blood samples, post-mortem brain and adrenal glands. 

In the above account - from, I guess, 1991 or 1992 - I was using a combination of histochemistry- and immuno-histochemistry on slices of human adrenal which had been removed at operation by a surgeon (a collaborator) as a by-product of cutting out kidney tumour (as the name adrenal implies, the adrenal or supra-renal glands sit on top of the kidneys). 

I seldom enjoyed the actual hands-on aspects of lab science, which was mostly about trail and error troubleshooting in which the ratio of doing to thinking was excessively high; and was pleased to become a theoretician when I found an area (evolutionary psychology) where I had a strong spontaneous interest and something to say. 

But the incident described above was striking, because it was fairly close to the idea that most people have of the way science works - in that it seemed nature was 'telling me', or rather showing me, something that I hadn't been looking for. I seemed to be looking at objective reality. 


Along with my readings in comparative anatomy, I also was finding a larger question within which to work: the question of why the adrenal gland exists in the form it does: a combination of glandular tissue wrapped-around and interwoven-with nervous tisse - and the relationship between these two tissues in the integrated gland. 

In other words, I could try to answer the question of why the adrenal was a unitary anatomical structure, rather than two separate structures.   

So far as I know, the question has still not been answered - indeed, it is likely that nobody is even asking it (obvious though the question seems - you would imagine that this was something sorted-out long ago, probably by some of the late nineteenth century German anatomists)

But there were disappointing aspects, first it was not clear what the finding meant in functional (whole organism) terms - and it pointed towards other methodologies where I could not pursue it (not without retraining and getting funds etc), second was that nobody else was much interested in this (indeed, not many people were interested in the adrenal at all) and therefore the observation was not likely to be pursued, and thirdly that I myself was not terribly interested in the area of adrenal innervation on which I was working: I was not thinking about the adrenal day and night, not prepared to make big sacrifices in order to do my best work. 

Indeed, in working on the adrenal I had already needed to make the decision to work without research grants. Whereas I had no trouble in getting brain research funded in my early years, the adrenal was unfashionable - I had five grant applications turned down, and then I decided to stop wasting my time and instead do what work I could using within-department money (to buy chemicals), and my own labour (during vacations) and student volunteers. By such means I did enough empirical work in three years to publish five or six papers (as I recall) and the idea was cited in Gray's Anatomy. 


From a purely scientific (rather than professional, careerist) perspective, things were going quite well with the adrenals in the lab. 

But my heart was not in it and - as I mentioned above - I would probably have needed to learn some new lab methodologies to take the line of work further. And this lab work was for me just a means to an end - not satisfying in its own right. 

In the end, the critical factor was that I just didn't care enough about this line of work - it was a manufactured enthusiasm. Yet I was making a distinctive personal contribution, and had found a line of work which nobody else was pursuing - and because I didn't do it, I don't think it was done at all. 

(Of course, even if I had done it, and succeeded, the likelihood is that it would have been ignored; as was my other work in this line. The papers were cited somewhat, but it seems that nobody took on board the actual real implications of adrenal cortex innervation.)

So, overall, the adrenal peak experience was a glimmer of how lab science perhaps ought to work, and of the rewards of empirical research; but also an insight into the limitations of science and of my own motivations.

Monday 26 July 2010

If it happened to Classics, it could happen to Science

I find that people simply cannot take seriously that Science would collapse down to a small fraction of its current (vast, bloated) size.

Yet there is a recent precedent for the collapse of the dominant intellectual culture: Classics.

The study of Greek and Roman culture - language, history, literature, philosophy - was the dominant intellectual activity in the West for a couple of millennia. It was the mark of A Gentleman, especially a Scholar - the most high status form of knowledge, the main subject taught at the best schools and universities.

In England, when it was the top country and culture, Classics pretty much monopolized the curriculum in the Public Schools, Grammar Schools and Oxford University (Cambridge focused on mathematics - but had plenty of Classicists too). New subjects like Science had to fight for space in the curriculum.

Right up into the mid 20th century, the most prestigious degree in England was an Oxford four year Classics degree - the premier 'qualification' for elite ruling class professions. This was detectable even as recently as thirty years ago, and the 'two cultures' debate of the late 1950s and early 1960s marked the tipping point when Science began to dominate Classics in general cultural discourse.

Classics have now dwindled to the status of a hobby, taught in few schools and never given much prominence. Most UK universities have all-but abandoned the subject - only a handful of courses at a few  places can find undergraduates with any background or competence in Latin (even fewer in Greek); so most modern 'Classics' degrees are built on no foundations in three years, from zero. 

Advocates of Classics find it ever harder to justify their subject as worthy of study - certainly there is no automatic deference towards it, no assumption of its superiority.

So, in the space of about 250 years, from the time of Samuel Johnson - when he was apologetic about writing in English rather than Latin and focusing his dictionary on the vernacular - until now, Classics have dwindled to insignificance in general culture.

While Classics was quietly dwindling in importance for a few hundred years (at least since Shakespeare outstripped all rivals using the vernacular) this was becoming ever more apparent from the mid 19th century, and at least as recently as the time of the great English Classics professor (and poet) Houseman (1859-1936)  it looked as if the subject was on the verge of a breakthrough (using 'modern' scholarship). And of course classical scholarship has continued throughout all this, pouring out research books and scholarly articles for a dwindling audience of other scholars.  

My point is that if it seems unimaginable that Science could dwindle in a few decades from dominance into insignificance then think about what happened to Classics. The signs are already there for those who look behind the hype.

Of course a scientist feels that the real importance of Classics was trivial compared with Science - the modern world depends on Science. Quite true, but then the ancient world depended on Classics, and the collapse of Classics was linked with the collapse of traditional society.

The collapse of Science is linked with the collapse of modernity - both as cause and consequence.

I regret the time I spent reading Heidegger

I went on with this much longer than was necessary or sensible.

I did, however, satisfy myself that most people who write about Heidegger are being very... selective. One of his core beliefs is that (in the modern world) only Germans comunicating in German can be authentic - which makes the H. cult in France especially bizarre.

But H. does offer a self-gratifying fantasy on the vital importance of academics to - well - everything. A very elaborate, ponderous, erudite, serious fantasy - retreating to the silence of a hut in the Black Forest is so much more respectable than dressing-up as Dumbledore...

Even after I had satisfied myself that there was nothing there but pretentious platitude plus error, I went back again to sort out the Nazi question - about which there *seemed* to be some disagreement or confusion.

But that really is very simple indeed. Heidegger was a lifelong, unrepentant National Socialist, and that is all there is to it.

It is only a problem if you are a modern academic who affects to admire Heidegger (if the academic is non-German this entails not understanding him, by H.'s own assertion) - yet being an academic, the typical modern Heideggerian is a typical PC lefty.

(Richard Rorty was an example of the combination - he did not understand Heidegger, he was a PC lefty, and he ignored the Nazi business. Yet if Heidegger was such a great moral philosopher as Rorty said he was, then the fact that he was a National Socialist is... interesting, surely? In an *obvious* sort of way.)

But this is not really a problem, since PC leftys are intrinsically dishonest - therefore it is facile for them to deny or forget that Heidegger was a Nazi.

Hence the persistent pseudo-confusion on this matter. But, really, it is not worth the time or energy of sorting it out. My advice: Don't bother.

Sunday 25 July 2010

Chargaff - the great names of biology

From Heraclitean Fire by Erwin Chargaff. 

"The great names in the biology of the last hundred years are Darwin, Mendel and Avery.

"Darwin's influence on thought and action was almost instant. He is, in many respects, the Richard Wagner of science; and it is not an accident that a susceptible mind such as Nietzsche's fell victim to both.

"Mendel's fame took a long time to establish itself; but once genetics was recognized as a distinct, though popularly misunderstood, science, it became as rapidly and shamelessly vulgarized as did Darwinism. (...)

"Avery's influence was of an entirely different order. It was exerted only within the biological sciences; his name still widely unknown. Whereas Mendel's successors were able to demonstrate that the heredity rules discovered by him were due to distinct units of inheritance which had physical reality, being localized in the chomosomes, Avery's findings pointed to the chemical nature of those units, the genes. "

[page 105]


"Early in 1944 somebody told me about a paper he had seen in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. This was the celebrated paper by Oswald T Avery, Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty entitled 'Studies on the chemical nature of the substance inducing transformation of Pneumococcal types'.

..."it was clear that the virulent smooth cells contained some principle that could transform, permanently and inheritably, avirulent rough cultures into something resembling the smooth virulent donor organism. Avery and his collaborators set out to isolate, purify, and identify this principle. They succeeded; and these are the words with which they concluded their paper:

'The evidence presented supports the belief that a nucleic acid of the desoxyribose type is the fundamental unit of the transforming principle of Pneumococcus Type III.'

"It is difficult for me to describe the effect that this sentence, and the beautiful experimentation that had given rise to it, had upon me. (...)

"The new finding made it (...) extremely probable that the genes contained, or consisted of, DNA. I believe that few people would now deny that this is one of the most important discoveries in biology."

[Pages 82-4]



Oswald Avery 1877-1955

At first I thought Avery might potentially be an exception to commenter dearieme's assertion that there has been a complete lack of American first rate scientists (making the assumption that Chargaff was correct in saying that Avery was indeed a first-rater - a genius - which is of course debateable, although it cannot be denied that Chargaff did have extremely high standards and was not one to toss around praise willy-nilly).

However, Avery was in fact Canadian by birth (, and of English descent (naturally).

Synchronicity-type-stuff implies a personal deity

Jung should not be given much credit for inventing the word Synchronicity to describe meaningful coincidences, since his writings on the subject are so vague and self-contradictory. But there it is.


Most well-adjusted people have some kind of 'instinct' to guide them throughout life - a sense of what to do, what matters, and whether one is on-track - and I regard Synchronicity as a part of this.

When one is in a good frame of mind, and doing the right kind of things in the right kind of environment - for example, exploring a city on holiday - there may arise a subjective sense of things unfolding just right, of the right decisions being made, of coherent things happening. As a part of this, all kinds of coincidences, links between past and present, tend to arise.

If you have this sense of things, then its implications are actually extremely far reaching - much more far reaching than Jung ever seems to have recognized, and more far reaching than his modern New Age descendents recognize.

For example, James Redfield's popular 'Celestine Prophecy' series of books are mostly built on amplifying the Synchronicity idea and making it the centre of life - so that people are supposed to be guided through life by Synchronicity and to get into a frame of mind that encourages Synchronicity.


But any idea of the nature of life which sees it as having a path, or way - a proper goal and behaviour for that person, a way which can be walked or from which a person can stray onto the wrong path (wrong for them, that is) - is in the same general category as Synchronicity. 

My point is that although such ideas are a part of New Age alternative spirituality, of spiritual seeking, of - in other words - a philosophy which sees itself in contrast to and separate from 'institutional religion', separate from 'dogma' and so on - Synchronicity actually carries the implication that the universe is (in some sense) organized around the well-being of each individual human.

If coincidences can be regarded as meaningful for a person, and clearly many people do think this way, and if these phenomena point to a proper path through life - a proper set of decisions leading to a 'way'; then that person, and all other people, are all at the centre of the universe - the world must be organized-around them.

For instance, someone like Heidegger will talk about walking a way, being en route to an unknown goal, as if it was in contrast to Christianity - he talked about waiting for God or a new God or hoping for a God. As if he did not acknowledge the reality of God at the moment, but hoped to do so at some point - or that at some point society would enable this. But the fact is that by saying he was on a path, finding a proper way through life, Heidegger had already assumed the reality of a personal God.


In other words, for there to be a path, or even to look for a path (assuming such might exist), or even to deny knowledge of the right path but to believe that oneself (or mankind) has strayed from the right path - there must be a God, and that God must potentially be in a personal relationship with each individual.

So that, although New Age spirituality believes that it has rejected a personal God, in fact it has not. A personal God is logically entailed by even the most explicitly non-religious spirituality of this type.

Jung never saw this point - or at least never acknowledged it clearly, and neither do his modern descendents - but it seems to hold, nonetheless.

A meaningful path implies a personal God.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Max Delbruck's opinion on the moral qualities of science

Max Delbruck - 1906-1981. Nobel Prize 1969.

Question (1971): "Does scientific research by itself foster high moral qualities in men?"

Delbruck's answer: "Scientific research by itself fosters one high moral quality: that you should be reasonably honest.

"This quality is in fact displayed to a remarkable extent.

"Although many of the things that you read in scientific journals are wrong, one does assume automatically that the author at least believed he was right." 

(Quoted p282 in Thinking about Science: Max Delbruck and the origins of molecular biology. EP Fischer &  C Lipson. 1988)


Comment: that was written in 1971, by a man who was one of the most well-connected of twentieth century scientists, a kind of godfather to molecular biology, and a person of great personal integrity.

So Delbruck was in a position to know what he was talking about.

And, in 1971, he was able to state that scientific research by itself fosters the high moral quality that you should be reasonably honest. And that this quality is *in fact* displayed to a remarkable extent. And that when reading journals scientists could and did assume that the authors were telling the truth as they saw it.

Only 40 years ago Delbruck could state that scientists were in fact, in reality, in practice - honest...

I regret the time I spent...

...reading Samuel Beckett

I read a lot of plays and short stories and novels - too many - beyond the call of duty.

For a while I regarded 'Dante and the Lobster' as the most perfect short story ever written.

For a while I wallowed in Murphy.

(I never was impressed by the contrived dramas).

There was a great talent for language, almost first rank - and underneath it all there was profound dishonesty; and a kind of passive-aggressive sadism which one could only call evil - he used his glorious gift for phrase and situation to try and infect the minds of others with his incoherent, solipsistic and demotivating worldview.

And for a while he succeeded with me.

Wham Bam - thanks but no thanks Sam.

Friday 23 July 2010

What benefit from the trebling of university graduates in one generation?

Nobody learns from the history public policy (because public policy is not about making things better – ‘reform’ is merely the excuse).

In the UK we are about to embark on yet another 'reform' (reorganization) of the National Health Service - yet we know it is un-reformable, because reform has been tried repeatedly, and only succeeds in making health services ever more managerially- and politically- dominated. 

(Which is, of course, the real purpose.)  


But I am talking about education here. 

Nobody seems to have noticed that the UK did a *huge* experiment in determining the value of university education when it roughly trebled the proportion of 18 year olds going into degree programs over a period of about 20 years. 

The proportion of college graduates went up from about 15 percent to about 45 percent over less than twenty years. 

Such a massive, seismic change in public policy must surely have produced a vast societal transformation of some kind. 

But it didn't. 


Indeed, except for those who paid for it (parents) nobody has really noticed any difference in the economy, in soceity - except we have subtracted hundreds of thousands more of the most intelligent and highly-motivated young people from the job market for an extra three years, and each of the full time undergraduates has been subsidized by taxpayers to the tune of 4-5K pounds stirling - both of which *must* have caused economic damage. 

So, what about all this relentless propaganda about the economic need for a more highly-educated workforce etc? 

Complete and utter bollix, I am afraid. 

(And I fell for this nonsense, hook line and sinker - - until I eventually came to my senses by learning about IQ and personality differences - . I should have taken more notice of Alison Wolf -


Here are the numbers - for an historical perspective:

In round numbers, there were about 5 percent of the population doing degrees at a UK university in 1950 (there was a higher proportion in Scotland than England) - this approximately trebled in the post-Robbins era up to around 15 percent in the mid 1970s (but I am not sure what proportion were in universities, and what proportion were doing degrees in polytechnics). And from the mid-1970s until now there was a more than three fold increase in the percentage of the population going into in higher education degree programs (with the polytechnics having been renamed as universities, and with many institutions having more than doubled in size of intake). So there was roughly an order of magnitude (5-50 percent) growth in the proportion of the age cohort doing degrees over the sixty year period from 1950-2009.

Numbers mostly from Robert Anderson – British Universities past and present).

I don't know what proportion of these totals would graduate in one year. I guess probably less than a third, because of drop-outs and failures and courses lasting more than three years – so, maybe a quarter of these numbers quoted below would represent annual graduation rates? That's what I will assume.

1861 = 3, 385 English University Students (at this time Scotland had more university students than England) - i.e. under 1000 graduates per year.

1910-11 = 19, 617 EUSs (Scotland and Wales had 6736 and 1375)  - about 5000 graduates per year

1920s = c 48, 000 in Britain – maybe three quarters of them in England? – c 12, 000 graduates per year

1930s = c 50, 000 in Britain - maybe three quarters of them in England?  Still about 12,000 grads per year.

1949 = 85, 000 in Britain - maybe three quarters of them in England? Up to about 21, 000 graduates per year.

1962 – 118, 000 – if three quarters of them in England – then this is about 22, 125 graduates per year. Not much change.

1980 - 282, 960 UK students, correcting with a multiple of 0.75 for England (if about a quarter of the students were in Scotland, Wales and Ulster) the number of English graduates would be about 50, 000 graduates per year – a doubling.

2007/8 – c 2, 400, 000 college students in UK (ref  1 at
 – say 1, 600, 000 in England, say 400, 000 (roughly half a million) English graduates per year...

Huge increase in annual graduates from 1980 - eightfold? 

(I don't really believe this eightfold size of increase in the number of graduates!  As the proportion of the population in college has increased, so has the drop-out rate, and the rate of repeating years of study - probably the proportion of the total number of students that graduate each year has fallen considerably.)

But even if the numbers of graduates are considerably less than this estimate – even if it was half of this - the expansion in the output of graduates from 1980 to 2007 was utterly ginormous.

 So - where are the benefits commensurate with this vast expansion in graduates (relatively and in absolute numbers)….? 

The benefits should be pretty obvious, surely? 


My ineradicable prejudice in favour of the King James Bible

Just to note the fact (and it does seem to be a fact of my psychology) that I regard the King James version (KJV) of the Bible as being the true, inspired, correct English version of the Bible - as much superior to all the other 'translations' of the Bible as is Shakespeare to Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare.

And I'm afraid that I regard other people who disagree with me on this question with about as much empathy as I would regard somebody who claimed that Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare was just as good as, or better than, the original.

And while the Book of Common Prayer comes a close second to the KJV; in the one place where the two books overlap - the Psalms - the KVJ is as much better than the BCP as J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is better than C.S. Lewis's Narnia books. Both are good; but the difference is qualitative.

(Although of course the BCP version of the Psalms - by Miles Coverdale - historically preceded the KJV, so the analogy is inexact.)

That the Anglican Church abandoned universal usage of the BCP and KJV I regard as an abandonment of its own reality - the BCP/ KJV *was* the Church of England - and what remained after their excision is a hollow bureaucratic simulacrum.

Thursday 22 July 2010

But what about science?

When I think about future civilizations I often find myself spontaneously worrying about the future of science - will it survive, can it be revived?

Yet my worry is irrational - because science is not and never has been a part of the human condition: it is merely a localized and timebound phenomenon - at least, 'science' in the sense of a separate and recognizable system or institutional structure has been historically and geographically unusual.

Indeed, I suspect that science is in reality much, much more limited in its reality than in appearance. Most science is, after all, a kind of Laboratoire Garnier simulacrum: I mean like those TV adverts of bespectacled, serious-looking people with white coats and clipboards, who wander through a white room of test tubes and retorts, ticking boxes... 

It is also possible that science is actually the upper end of, and is a very unusual combination of, a distribution of general intelligence, creativty and motivation which differs widely between different societies of different sizes; such that a critical mass of such rare people has never been likely, and in fact has near-zero probability in most places at most times throughout history.

If so, real science is very seldom going to be common - even under ideal conditions, which are unlikely to emerge and even less likely to be sustained; and we should be careful not to confuse this with first a professionalization then later routinization of the external (but not core) features of real science.

A future society either will, or will not, have science as a recognizable activity - but there is not much (apparently) that we could (or should?) do about this: real science (when it really existed) was essentially a by-product, not a planned-product. 

Which religion gives the most happiness? C.S. Lewis's reply

Q: (Audience member) "Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness?"

A: (C.S.L) - "While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best."

"I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty*, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years , and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. (...)

"I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that.

"If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity."

From C.S. Lewis - Timeless at Heart (ed Walter Hooper) - Answers to Questions on Christianity.

* I guess this was Rev Dr Frederick Walker Macran or 'Cranny' (1866-1947) - biography in All my Road Before Me - Diary of C.S. Lewis 1922-1927 edited by Walter Hooper.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Should we trust professors? – the return of ad hominem evaluations

It seems likely that nowadays it is almost impossible to be both honest and also a professor – whether in science or in any other branch of academia.

And the dishonesty required is pretty much all-pervading. 


In general terms, a professor must subscribe to the incoherent, vicious nonsense of political correctness - or at the very least tacitly abet it at an institutional level.

Dishonesty is mandatory in education. For example, a professor is expected to collude in implementing racial, sexual and religious preferences at the cost of academic and educational goals; to make-easier and then ignore academic cheating (from school children, students and faculty); and to collude in the inflation of educational qualifications at every level.

And of course in the practice of ‘research’ dishonesty is necessary – root and branch. The professor must pretend to be seeking the truth when actually doing whatever is necessary to get grant funding. He must be merciless toward the errors of the junior researcher and the non-PC researcher – while apologizing for and fawning over the dominant researchers – the peer review cartel whose opinions determine appointments, promotions, grants, publications and prizes.

His academic standards therefore vary between happy acceptance of unsubstantiated opinion – when it comes from the peer cartel; and adopting a virtually Descartian, Humean or Nietzchian radical ultra-scepticism with anything asserted outwith this domain.

He must follow fashion in his research, wherever this may lead – otherwise he will be perceived as not merely marginal, but actively selfish – selfish in wasting his time and resources on pointless activity and thereby damaging his colleagues’ interests and endangering the viability of his department or unit.  

He must selectively publish only that which is acceptable to the peer review cartel and also to the pervasive leftist norm – and must bias interpretation of data to be acceptable to this ethos (this can involve explicit delay or suppression of results until a suitably PC spin can be found). 

In sum, a professor cannot be honest – honesty is forbidden, and sanctions against transgression are imposed most rigorously at the most elite institutions.


Of course no system is perfect, and sometimes an honest person does happen to slip through the net and become a professor. But this is so rare that it can be overlooked as a statistical outlier – and anyway these exceptions are mostly old or marginal. 

So, in reading the academic literature, the rule of ignoring everything expounded by a professor or associated with prestigious institutions is a necessary basic heuristic. 

Non-professors may lack knowledge and experience, but at least some of them are trying to be honest.

But if you are not even trying to be honest, then you will only be true by accident and unpredictably – like the stopped clock that just happens to show the right time twice a day.


More precisely, in dealing with modern academics we need to drop any pretence at avoiding ad hominem arguments – and we need (explicitly and fully) to take account of the honesty of the person making a statement. 

The academic convention used to be that we should always try to ignore the person and focus on their arguments and evidence. But in a world of endemic professorial dishonesty the avoidance of ad hominem evaluations will simply concede the argument to the successfully dishonest. 

Impartiality is an impossibility, and when it is not even being attempted the only answer is to be openly partial and simply ignore every statement made by people whom you judge to be dishonest – and, in dealing with modern academia, you will need to assume that everybody is dishonest unless or until proven otherwise. 


Declaration of interest: I am a professor; therefore this whole article is self-refuting and an exemplification of the ‘Cretan liar paradox’. The solution to the paradox is that metaphysics is itself, ultimately, a matter of trust. Trust comes first.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Daily spiritual injections - Seraphim Rose

"Again, in everything one must be looking upward, and not downward, at the kingdom of heaven and not down at the details of earthly life. 

"That is, the details of earthly life must be second, and this looking upward must be with zeal, determination and constancy. (...)

"Constancy involves also a regular reading of spiritual texts, for example at mealtime, because we must be constantly injected with other-worldliness.  

"This means constantly nourishing ourselves with these texts, whether in services or in reading, in order to fight against the other side, against the worldliness that constantly gnaws at us. If for just one day we stop these other-worldly "injections," it is obvious that worldliness starts taking over. (...) 

"These injections—daily injections of heavenly food—are the outward side, and the inward side is what is called spiritual life."

Fr Seraphim Rose - From "In Step With Sts. Patrick and Gregory of Tours" -


I find this concept of 'spiritual injections' both amusing and valuable - it is perhaps a way that we can use modernity to counteract modernity . 

The mass media provides the strongest of temptations to distraction and worldliness; yet, at the same time, this historically-unprecedented dissemination of all types of information may provide (for those who are motivated and disciplined) the ingredients necessary to administer frequent 'spiritual injections'. 

Scientific knowledge is mostly 'hidden in plain sight' - or worse

A couple of years ago I published an editorial which, amongst other things, noted that the history of IQ research showed how the subject had been 'hidden in plain sight' since about the mid-1960s -

I said: "It seems that even in modern times, and in a liberal democratic society such as the UK where information is freely and easily accessible, scientific knowledge can apparently be ‘disappeared’ when it comes into conflict with the dominant socio-political agenda: can become, as it were, ‘hidden in plain sight’."

My conclusion was:

"Since this area of science [IQ research] has so been comprehensively ‘disappeared’ from public consciousness in the face of socio-political pressure, it seems probable that other similarly solid and vital domains of scientific knowledge may also be hidden in plain sight."


Taking on board this lesson has been a slow process for me. But the implications of what I know happened to IQ cuts at the very root of the pretentions of liberal democracy.

It really is inconceivable that IQ is an unique exception; rather I would now regard the IQ story as typical of the relation between 'science' and general, public knowledge and public policy.

The IQ story shows that no amount of relevant evidence is ever going to be enough to change people's minds when they do not want their minds to be changed; and this resistance to evidence is the case for even some of the wisest and most intelligent of people - given that some very decent and smart people are able to write-off reams of IQ research without a blink, and believe what they want instead.

The IQ story is doubly important since the IQ literature largely conforms with traditional wisdom, common observation and spontaneous belief. So it ought to be pushing at an open door.

Yet it looks very much as if since at least the mid-1960s our society's much vaunted scientific basis has been a sham. In other words, the more modern, rational and scientific we believed ourselves to be in The West - the less true this really was.


'Influential' science, science that is linked to policy and supposedly drives policy (e.g. 'climate science', or 'evidence based medicine'}, is now - and long has been - constructed by policy: the tail of politics is wagging the dog of science.

Yet even influential science is only apparently influential, since it is wholly driven by policy needs, and if one person does not do it then another will - or it will be conjured up from pre-existing material, or something or somewhere... The climate science story demonstrates that it is now facile to construct a truly vast and all-pervasive yet utterly fake-science from dullards, errors, lies and rumors to rationalize political demands.


Influential scientists are servants, albeit well paid servants, they are not masters. This can be seen by the fact that they write and speak only what is acceptable to their masters (or else they stop being influential). The mismatch between what everybody knows and what can be published or even mentioned get larger with each passing year.

Real science, truth seeking science, where it exists, has been since about 1965 (probably earlier) a free-spinning cog, a group hobby - albeit perhaps a well-funded hobby - when it conflicts with the needs of policy.

Just think – whole research units, dotted round the world, headed-up by professors and assisted by armies of technicians, well-funded, publishing and discussing stuff that solid knowledge, is disseminated in the media – yet utterly ineffectual, beyond the pale of policy.

There but not there. Whole lives of delusion. Occupational therapy for intellectuals.

We are living in an age where politics controls science just as much as it did in the remote ‘medieval’ past. The autonomy of science - such as it is - is a sham, in the sense that autonomy comes at the price of disarticulation from the rest of life.

If the IQ story is typical rather than exceptional, does this imply that the scientific discourse and literature is basically worthless, a fraud in its relation to human belief and behaviour? It does begin to look that way, as a generalization.

But that seems too much even to bear contemplating.

Monday 19 July 2010

Is 'Mere Christianity' possible, nowadays?

I think *not*.

I was 'converted' to Christianity - to a considerable extent, and to simplify the matter grossly - by my love of, and respect for, JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.

And from CS Lewis I was actually converted to Mere Christianity - which is, as I understand it, a core, non-denominational Christianity.

His idea was that you simply revert to the religion of your Childhood or cultural experience - which was in my case Anglicanism: the Church of England. And you attend the nearest church - in my case a mainstream liberal Anglican church. And (as a lay person) you stay clear of inter-denominational controversy and theological dispute.

This turned out to be impossible for a modern Anglican or Episcopalian (the international church). I was, against my wishes, thrown into the horrible maelstrom that is current Episcopalian politics. I tried to ignore the controversy, but the controversy would not ignore me.

Nowadays, honest Anglicans have to take sides - and the church I attended explicitly did take sides - the 'liberal' side - and it was not a side that I could support.

On looking into it more deeply, I rapidly recognized that Anglicanism (having progressively abandoned its common liturgy) has no coherence beyond its (theologically arbitrary) organization; and that all the major Anglican denominations were, in one way or another (and I do not want to go into this in specific detail - since I agree with Lewis that it is harmfully divisive - but I choose my words carefully) dishonest, incoherent, two-dimensional, legalistic and/ or lacking in courage.

So I was forced to look outside, and - luckily for me - after a while came across Eastern Orthodox Christianity (specifically the Russian Orthodox Church); which embodies essential truth and an ideal to which I can subscribe whole-heartedly (even as I acknowledge that to be devoutly Orthodox is way, way beyond my ability; and is even beyond my aspiration).

But my point here is that it now seems to be impossible, in practice, to be a 'Mere' Christian in the manner advocated by Lewis 60-plus years ago.

Or, at any rate, it seems utterly impossible in the current 'Episcopalian' Church.

Unfortunately, perhaps, specific Christian denomination does matter. At least to some people like me, it turns-out to matter a great deal.

Chargaff looking back - Extinction of tradition, lost human pace and scale

Referring to his first twelve years at Columbia University, USA:

“The more than sixty regular papers published during that period dealt with a very wide field of biochemistry, as it was then understood; and a few of them may even have contributed a little to the advance of science, which, at that time, was still slow, i.e., it had human proportions.


“Nevertheless, when I look back on what I did during those twelve years, there come to mind the words ascribed to St. Thomas Aquinas: Omnia quae scripsi paleae mihi videntur. All he had written seemed to him as chaff.

“When I was young, I was required – and it was easy – to go back to the origins of our science. The bibliographies of chemical and biological papers often included reference to work done forty or fifty years earlier. One felt oneself part of a gently growing tradition, growing at a rate that the human mind could encompass, vanishing at a rate it could apprehend.

“Now, however, in our miserable scientific mass society, nearly all discoveries are born dead; papers are tokens in a power game, evanescent reflections on the screen of a spectator sport, new items that do not outlive the day on which they appeared.

“Our sciences have become forcing houses for a market that in reality does not exist, creating, with the concomitant complete break in tradition, a truly Babylonian confusion of mind and language.

“Nowadays, scientific tradition hardly reaches back for more than three or four years. The proscenium looks the same as before, but the scenery keeps on changing as in a fever dream; no sooner is one backdrop in place than it is replaced by an entirely different one.

“The only thing that experience can now teach is that it has become worthless.

“One could ask whether a fund of knowledge, such as a scientific discipline, can exist without a living tradition.

“In any event, in many areas of science which I am able to survey, this tradition has disappeared. It is, hence, no exaggeration and no coquettish humility if I conclude that the work we did thirty or forty years ago – with all the engagement that honest effort could provide – is dead and gone.”

Erwin Chargaff – Heraclitean Fire, 1978.



Pure gold.

Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.

Note: “the advance of science (…) was still slow, i.e., it had human proportions. (…) One felt oneself part of a gently growing tradition, growing at a rate that the human mind could encompass, vanishing at a rate it could apprehend.”

*That* is the pace of real science.

“…in our miserable scientific mass society, nearly all discoveries are born dead; papers are tokens in a power game, evanescent reflections on the screen of a spectator sport, new items that do not outlive the day on which they appeared…”

But “our miserable scientific mass society” does not operate at the pace of real science, but at the pace of management – and what is more, a management suffering from ADHD. Six monthly appraisals, yearly job plans, three yearly grants and so on. (All evaluations being determined by committee and bureaucracy, rather than by individuals.)

Note: “Our sciences have become forcing houses for a market that in reality does not exist…”

Nobody really *wants* what modern science provides, there is no real market for it; which is why modern science is dishonest – from top to bottom: modern science must engage in public relations, hype, spin – lies – in order to persuade the ‘market’ that it really wants whatever stuff the ‘forcing houses’ of modern science are relentlessly churning-out.

Chargaff - explanation versus understanding

"Profounder men than I have failed to diagnose, let alone cure, the disease that has infected us all, and I should say that the ostensible goals have obliterated the real origins of our search.

"The wonderful, inconceivably intricate tapestry is being taken apart strand by strand; each thread is being pulled out, torn up, and analyzed; and at the end even the memory of the design is lost and can no longer be recalled.


"In general, it is hoped that our road will lead to understanding; mostly it leads only to explanations. The difference between these two terms is being forgotten: a sleight of hand


“Einstein is somewhere quoted as having said: ‘the un-understandable about nature is that it is understandable.’ I think he should have said: ‘that it is explainable’. These are two very different things, for we understand very little about nature.

“Even the most exact of our exact sciences float above axiomatic abysses that cannot be explored.”

From Heraclitean Fire by Erwin Chargaff.



I did not want to go on quoting beyond that last profound sentence of Chragaff’s – but he goes on to say that although, in a fever of reason, one may believe that understanding can be grasped; “when one wakes up and the fever is gone, all one is left with is litanies of shallowness.”

Litanies of shallowness – it makes me think of the spoutings of today’s leading medical scientists when they try to ‘philosophize’ in the media on themes such as ageing, suffering and death.

Then Chargaff makes a devastating observation (elsewhere amplified), when he exclaims: “How often is the regularity of these ‘laws of nature’ only the reflection if the regularity of the method employed in their formulation!”

i.e. the ‘laws’ of nature – tested and true hypotheses – are typically no more than an artifact of the ‘regularity’ of scientific discourse: standard methods of thought, reasoning and ‘experiment’ generating repeatable results – we know not why – but this mere repeatability being mistaken for insight, for ‘understanding’.

More on that matter anon, I hope.

Sunday 18 July 2010

Solzhenitsyn - excerpt from Men have Forgotten God

"More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.

"Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.

"What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.


"The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century. The first of these was World War I, and much of our present predicament can be traced back to it.

"It was a war (the memory of which seems to be fading) when Europe, bursting with health and abundance, fell into a rage of self-mutilation which could not but sap its strength for a century or more, and perhaps forever.

"The only possible explanation for this war is a mental eclipse among the leaders of Europe due to their lost awareness of a Supreme Power above them. Only a godless embitterment could have moved ostensibly Christian states to employ poison gas, a weapon so obviously beyond the limits of humanity.

"The same kind of defect, the flaw of a consciousness lacking all divine dimension, was manifested after World War II when the West yielded to the satanic temptation of the "nuclear umbrella."

"It was equivalent to saying: Let's cast off worries, let's free the younger generation from their duties and obligations, let's make no effort to defend ourselves, to say nothing of defending others-let's stop our ears to the groans emanating from the East, and let us live instead in the pursuit of happiness. If danger should threaten us, we shall be protected by the nuclear bomb; if not, then let the world burn in Hell for all we care.

"The pitifully helpless state to which the contemporary West has sunk is in large measure due to this fatal error: the belief that the defense of peace depends not on stout hearts and steadfast men, but solely on the nuclear bomb...

"Today's world has reached a stage which, if it had been described to preceding centuries, would have called forth the cry: "This is the Apocalypse!"

"Yet we have grown used to this kind of world; we even feel at home in it.

*** (...)

"Our life consists not in the pursuit of material success but in the quest for worthy spiritual growth. Our entire earthly existence is but a transitional stage in the movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble and fall, nor must we linger fruitlessly on one rung of the ladder.

Material laws alone do not explain our life or give it direction. The laws of physics and physiology will never reveal the indisputable manner in which the Creator constantly, day in and day out, participates in the life of each of us, unfailingly granting us the energy of existence; when this assistance leaves us, we die. And in the life of our entire planet, the Divine Spirit surely moves with no less force: this we must grasp in our dark and terrible hour.

"To the ill-considered hopes of the last two centuries, which have reduced us to insignificance and brought us to the brink of nuclear and non-nuclear death, we can propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned. Only in this way can our eyes be opened to the errors of this unfortunate twentieth century and our bands be directed to setting them right. There is nothing else to cling to in the landslide: the combined vision of all the thinkers of the Enlightenment amounts to nothing.

"Our five continents are caught in a whirlwind. But it is during trials such as these that the highest gifts of the human spirit are manifested. If we perish and lose this world, the fault will be ours alone."

From a speech: Men Have Forgotten God - May 10, 1983, London.



Distilled wisdom from a great soul.

The implications are ominous, since the hope that Men will 'recall' God seems more remote, even, than in 1983.

The point about the permanent wound of the 1914-18 war is profoundly true, at least so far as England is concerned; and this fact was well known at the time. Yet even this has been largely forgotten.