Monday 31 October 2011

Reforming the calendar, Hobbit style


Thirteen lunar months of 28 days with one day left over and given its own name - say New Year's Day, or Christmas Day.

Every Leap Year, add another Leap Year's Day.


Each date would then fall on the same weekday every year: many diary makers would go out of business.


This system is (more or less) the one used by Shire Hobbits (according to the Appendices of Lord of the Rings); and was also 'discovered', or inferred, or at least claimed to be that of the pre-Roman ancient Britons by Robert Graves, in The White Goddess.


In contrast with the Total Perspective Vortex...


Contrast modern man

with ancient man.


From Psalm 8:

O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength ...

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? ...

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.


For the modern hedonic atheist nihilist - to look at the Universe is to feel insignificance, despair, meaninglessness...

But the uncorrupted man sees the heavens as the work of God, is overwhelmed by gratitude, delight, amazement - is moved to praise and worship.


Sunday 30 October 2011

Putting clocks back-and-forth - a pointless waste of human life


This ridiculous business of putting clocks backwards and forwards twice a year gets me more annoyed every time it happens.

It is so stupid that if it didn't already exist it would be utterly inexplicable, an exotic tribal custom.


The basic problem is that in the West we have adopted a work timetable of roughly 9-5 (09.00-17.00) which has three hours before noon and five hours after noon.

But to maximize the useful daylight we should arrange the working day so that (if you are on or near the longitudinal time line) noon falls in the middle of the working day with an equal amount of daylight either side.

This is, for most people, enough to get to and from work because the sun still cast a fair bit of light for a while before and after sunset (unless it is very cloudy).


But instead of changing the working day to fit with astronomical reality, we mess about with the clock.

British Summer Time puts the clock time forward, so that noon is at 13.00h, which means that the average working day is then equally distributed around noon - for an 8 hour day, four hours before noon, and four hours after.

We have this arrangement during 'summer' - but then the nonsense sets in. We reset the clocks to Greenwich Mean Time, as happened last night.


At extreme latitudes the different day lengths in summer and winter create problems. For example, I live at about 54 degrees North, and at the winter solstice there are only about 7 hours between sunrise and sunset; while at the summer solstice it is only fully dark for about 3 hours.

The summer has so many daylight hours that the clock change makes no significant impact. But in the winter, it really does become important to maximize the use of daylight. Yet we change the clocks such that noon falls less than halfway through the working day, and it is pitch dark by the time many people finish work.


And what about the timing of this change?

The Autumn Equinox is on 21 September, and we are by now only seven and a half weeks from the Winter Solstice (Dec 21) when the days are shortest.

By that logic, we should switch back to Summer Time seven or eight weeks after the Winter solstice - about 12 February.

But we don't. In fact we go back to BST on 25 March, which is after the Spring Equinox (21 March).

Please don't try to explain the logic behind this - because there is no sense in it.

Yet this is what everybody in Europe actually does: changes the clocks about 8 weeks before the Winter Solstice, and then restores them 13 weeks afterwards.


What I most hate about this business of changing the clocks - aside from the inconvenient waste of time, millions of man hours twice a year in England alone; and the disruption to circadian rhythms leading to sleep disturbances, which in the case of children may take a week or two to set right - is that the process distances us from astronomical reality.

If modern humans will not acknowledge the basic astronomical framework of the world we live in, and adjust human timetables to the timing of the rotation of the earth and the orbit around the sun of a tilted planet - but instead try to fit cosmology around our timetables by manipulation the measurement of time - then we are living in a world of dangerously extreme and irrational abstraction.

Which, of course, we are.


Anglo-Irish writers of the first rank


I was reading a memoir of Nevill Coghill (Inkling and Oxford Professor of English - a scholar and translator of Chaucer and Langland) - and I was struck by the remarkable, indeed truly amazing, concentration of literary genius among the Protestant Irish gentry (the Anglo Irish) in the days when Ireland was ruled by Britain.


With no effort, I came up with Jonathan Swift, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Richard Steele, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, WB Yeats, J.M Synge, Samuel Beckett, CS Lewis - all of whom are of the first rank in their genres within English Literature - plus a similar sized group of minor or lesser-known figures.

Indeed, considering that there are only few canonical playwrights, this is an extraordinarily high proportion (the only ones missing before the 20th century are ?Marlowe, Wm. Shakespeare (of course), ?Ben Jonson, ?Congreve...

...but really I am scratching around for anyone other than The Bard who is performed as often and provide such enjoyment as Sheridan (The Rivals, and School for Scandal), Goldsmith (She Stoops to Conquer), Wilde (mostly The Importance of Being Earnest) and (of course) Shaw (with a couple of dozen plays done frequently - perhaps even more than Shakespeare himself?).


Among the indigenous Irish I would only put James Joyce and Flann O'Brien into the same quality bracket.

At any rate, the number of Anglo Irish/ Protestant Ascendancy writers of the first or second rank in English Literature is grossly disproportionate to the small absolute size and minority status of their population.

And gives rise to the interesting question of the nature of the (much vaunted) Irish literary genius: it was certainly real, but actually mostly consisted of the English-living-in-Ireland (since expelled).

Note: Another first-ranker (among English poets) is Edmund Spenser, who was among the first of the English upper class to settle in Ireland as recent conquerers: the first of the great Anglo-Irish literary figures.

Saturday 29 October 2011

What's your real native language?



Total perspective vortex: the nihilist universe


Among the ways in which Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy expresses his nihilistic view of the universe

(a nihilism which is in fact mainstream in modern public discourse - thought very seldom expressed with such economy and wit)

is the concept of the Total Perspective Vortex.


The TPV is a punishment (indeed a capital punishment, in all but one instance) which shows the victim the (nihilist) Truth that they - and indeed everything they might value - are in 'reality' utterly insignificant, and that reality is (therefore) meaningless.


[The modern nihilist perspective should be contrasted with the description of the human situation of pre-modern man - for example the Medieval cosmology:

[A difference was that although the Medieval cosmology shared the sense of insignificance of size between humans (and earth) and the universe, and indeed regarded the earth as the lowest and most corrupt part of the universe - there was a spiritual sense which transcended physical differential by the centrality of the salvation of each individual soul.

[Adams believed and argued that this Medieval perspective, and indeed all genuine religious perspectives, were 'evil' (that is, evil in the sense of leading to sub-optimal human happiness) - and that adoption of the actuality  exemplified by the imagined operations of the Total Perspective Vortex would lead to a better world with less suffering.


[How Adams believed this, I understand - because I believed it too - but I don't know of any coherent rational argument which truly, actually gets you from accepting the validity of insight deriving from the TPV to Left-Liberalism, Relativism and Lifestyle Hedonism. Let's just say that this link is accepted.]


The nihilist cosmology which the Total Perspective Vortex forces upon its victim has no real answer - the only answer (as Adams makes clear) is to avoid thinking about reality - perhaps by distracting the mind with serial pleasures such as going to parties, perhaps by obliterating consciousness with a Pan Galactic Gargleblaster; or perhaps by the conviction of total egotism as possessed by Zaphod Beeblebrox: the grandiose delusion of one's own importance.


For Adams, as a representative modern elite intellectual, the most important thing about reality is to avoid it as completely as possible and for as long as possible.

To do this is assisted by Lifestyle Freedom and Serial Distraction - indeed, these are imperative.

The body's 'natural' appetites are exploited to (ideally) overwhelm consciousness with absorption in pleasure (preferably pleasure, but if this doesn't work then just absorption in something like status-seeking, plans of seduction, consumption; and if this doesn't work then daydreams about these things.


Nihilism is the attempted avoidance of reality by denial of the reality of reality; because if reality really was what it seems to be, and one is really an insignificant speck, then one's own knowledge of reality could not be valid (since insignificant specks lack valid knowledge).

The choice, then, is to accept a self-refuting and paralyzing reality, which kills you; or to avoid the whole question until you are taken by death.

(Modern society does both, mostly the latter - so far - but increasingly more of the former...)


(From Episode 8 of the BBC Radio series transcript. I still recall listening to this broadcast live and for the first time - one of the great comedy moments of my life.)

The Universe, as has been observed before, is an unsettling big place. The fact which, for the sake of a quiet life, most people tend to ignore. 

Many would happily move to somewhere rather smaller of their own devising, and this is what most beings, in fact, do.

For instance, in one corner of the Eastern Galactic Arm lies the great forest planet Oglaroon. The entire ‘intelligent’ population of which lives permanently in one fairly small and crowded nut tree. In which tree they’re born, live, fall in love, carve tiny, speculative articles in the bark on the meaning of life, the futility of death, and the importance of birth control, fight a few - very minor - wars, and eventually die strapped to the underside of some of the less accessible outer branches. In fact, the only Oglaroonians who ever leave their tree at all are those who are hurled out for the heinous crime of wondering whether any of the other trees might be capable of supporting life at all, or indeed be anything other than illusions brought on by eating too many Oglanuts. 

Exotic though this behaviour may seem, there is no life-form in the galaxy not in some way guilty of the same thing. Which is why the Total Perspective Vortex is as horrific as it undoubtedly is. 

For when you are put in the Vortex, you are given just one, momentary glimpse of the size of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation along with a tiny little marker saying, “You are here”.

Scene 7. Int. Frogstar


MAN: [Blood-curdling scream]

ZAPHOD: Hey man, what was that?

GARGRAVARR: A man being put in the Vortex I’m afraid. We’re very close to it now.

ZAPHOD: Hey, it sounds really bad. Couldn’t we maybe go to a party or something, for a while… think it over?

GARGRAVARR: For all I know I’m probably at one. My body that is. He goes to a lot of parties without me… says I only get in the way. Hey ho

ZAPHOD: I can see why it wouldn’t want to come here. This place is the dismalest. Looks like a bomb’s hit it you know.

GARGRAVARR: Several have - it’s a very unpopular place. The Vortex is in the heaviest steel bunker ahead of you.

MAN: [Blood-curdling scream]

ZAPHOD: The universe does that to a guy?

GARGRAVARR: The whole infinite Universe. The Infinite sums. The Infinite distances between them, and yourself. An invisible dot on an invisible dot. Infinitely small.
The Vortex derives its picture of the whole universe on the principle of extrapolated matter analyses.

To explain - since every piece of matter in the universe is in someway affected by every other piece of matter in the universe, it is, in theory, possible to extrapolate the whole of creation - every galaxy, every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition, and their economic and social history, from, say - one small piece of fairy cake. 

The man who invented the Total Perspective Vortex did so, basically, in order to annoy his wife. 

Trin Tragula, for that was his name, was a dreamer, a speculative thinker, or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. And she would nag him incessantly about the utterly inordinate amount of time he would spend staring out into space, or mulling over the mechanics of safety pins, or doing spectrographic analyses of pieces of fairy cake. “Have some sense of proportion,” she would say, thirty-eight times a day.

And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex - just to show her. And in one end he plugged the whole of reality, as extrapolated from a fairy cake, and in the other end he plugged his wife - so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.

To Trin Tragula’s horror, the shock annihilated her brain.

But to his satisfaction, he realised he had conclusively proved that if life is going to exist in a universe this size, the one thing it cannot afford to have, is a sense of proportion.

And it is into this Vortex that Zaphod Beeblebrox has been put, and from which, a few seconds later, he emerges.

Scene 8. Int. Frogstar

[The Vortex door opens]


GARGRAVARR: Beeblebrox! You’re…!

ZAPHOD: Fine, fine. Could I have a drink please?

GARGRAVARR: You’ve been in the Vortex?!

ZAPHOD: You saw me kid.

GARGRAVARR: And you saw the whole infinity of creation?!

ZAPHOD: The lot baby - it’s a real neat place you know, heh-heh.

GARGRAVARR: And you saw yourself in relation to it all?!

ZAPHOD: Yah, yeah, yeah.

GARGRAVARR: And what did you experience?!

ZAPHOD: It just told me what I knew all the time: I’m a really great guy! Didn’t I tell ya baby, I am Zaphod Beeblebrox!!


Note: In my college year book for 1982 the class elected each other for various spoof 'awards': mine was 'The Zaphod Beeblebrox Ego Award'...


Friday 28 October 2011

A parable of PC


I know I never link to other blogs (we don't do 'topical' here); but this is blimmin brilliant and written by frequent commenter aka. Crow:


Fifteen percent of people will say yes to anything: above that, it's significant


Having, like most people, been subjected to innumerable reports of surveys, it is clear that 15 percent of the population will say Yes to anything. 

"Are gibbons your favorite food?"

"Is the President doing a great job?"

"Have you got three legs?"

Yes, Yes, Yes - fifteen percent.


I conclude that fifteen percent of the population are simply crazed and incompetent (at least 15 percent - since it is the best case scenario that it is, in fact, the same 15 percent of people who make all the weird responses).


Fifteen percent sounds like a lot of people, nearly a sixth of the population, until you recognize that fifteen percent will say say (or no) to anything.

After which you can appreciate that any survey result showing <15% 'support' for something or another (or denial of it) should simply be ignored - indeed must be ignored.


Yet significantly more than fifteen percent is significant, by the same argument - and since that constitutes more than a sixth of the population then (by the logic of surveys) you have to take notice of it: this is way too big a proportion to ignore.

So fifteen percent is a sharp threshold: a clear demarcation of statistical significance.  


Yet of course it is much, much less than fifteen percent of the modern population who are correct about anything...

So the safest course is never do surveys...

Lest you be tempted to take notice of them.


Thursday 27 October 2011

Why I resisted fields and forms


Having recently become convinced by Rupert Sheldrake's ideas of morphic resonance made me wonder why or how I resisted their validity for so long.


I came across the ideas of morphic field from a lecture by Sheldrake in about 1986, then around five years later began to read about the branch of theoretical biology which focused on form - first in the historical writings of Timothy J Horder, then in Science as a Process by David L Hull - I realized this went back to Aristotle, via Goethe up to Conrad Waddington (the king-maker of British biology mid 20th century).

A few years after this, from about 1993, I read some popular accounts of chaos and complexity theory, with their field-like thinking in terms of strange attractors etc. - scientists such as Stuart Kauffman and Brian Goodwin

But I instinctively - and I think correctly - recognized that most of these thinkers evaded the fundamental questions of: 1. where these forms or fields came from (Did they evolve? Were forms 'just there'.); and 2. how we knew about them.

The material I read either evaded this question altogether, or else dealt with it so obscurely and inexplicitly that I never could discover anybody's real views. The argument boiled down to something like:

"Look, it's obvious, there are forms: see this, and this, and this - they all have the same form!"


Presumably forms were finite in number, but how could we discover the nature of a form or detect a field, how could an assertion be proved or disproved? And what were forms or fields made of?

The answer came when I encountered Thomas Aquinas for whom (I simplify, but then my own understanding is simplistic) the forms were in God, and we knew about them because such knowledge was put into us - built-into usby God.

This, of course, propels the whole discourse away from science and into theology, which most modern philosophers will not do. Nonetheless, it seems the only coherent answer to the question which stopped me from accepting forms and fields; and I think only someone who will accept this kind of answer can consistently proceed.

(Sheldrake also argues that forms can evolve - though I am unsure to what extent. Presumably the major and basic forms are finite and intrinsic to the universe (although not necessarily all actual or possible forms are active at any time or place), but new versions of old forms can evolve and strengthen e.g. by morphic resonance).


What emerged, for me, was the idea that forms are prior to all else, and they exert their effect on matter (or substance) by fields which organize the matter. The matter is stuff, the field is what shapes the stuff.

Before I began thinking in terms of fields as the main cause of things, then I had pretty much a 'billiard ball' model of causation, of one thing as causing another in long chains of cause and effect.

But now it seems to be obviously impossible to account for the regularities of the world in terms of such chains of cause and effect; because there are innumerable interacting chains of causation in the world, and each chain is exquisitely sensitive to the specifics of its initial event - such that imprecisions expand with each step in the chain or with distance from the cause - to become chaotic and/ or noise overwhelms the signal.


We could never make sense of the world (or so it now seems), could never predict or control things, if reality really was constituted from vast numbers of interacting causal chains.

Isolating, studying and understanding one specific linear causal pathway out of dozens which also interact is futile (looking for a needle in a haystack), yet studying them all would take too long and even if we did then how could we understand the vast possibilities for interaction including the interaction of imprecision and error?

Only if these multiple specific and interacting causal pathways are ordered by larger scale principles (fields) could we make sense of such overwhelming complexity and indeterminacy as the world present.

For the world to be understandable, predictable and controllable I therefore think that (if we insist on such meta-explanations - as apparently I do) we rationally need to assume a metaphysic which begins with form, where forms are finite (in principle), and where we ourselves begin with an inbuilt knowledge of (at least some) forms.


Sheldrake emphasizes that we understand the world (when we do understand it ) in nested hierarchies.

So we understand biology in terms of living things, the various families, order, species etc, individual organisms and their organs, cells and the cellular components.

But for such understanding to be more than detached factoids, the explanation must include (whether implicitly or explicitly) form, fields, or principles of organization which descend from the higher to lower levels.

Such forms are not detected, nor discovered, they are recognized.

Once recognized they can be used. If there has been an error, and a form falsely recognized and ascribed, then they imputed forms will not be very useful - will lead to internal contractions, failed predictions, inability to control.


And it seems that the different sciences, the different specialties, and sub-specialties within science, could never amount to anything ordered (anything comprehensible) unless they were in nested hierarchies of fields.

Lacking this, the different scientific disciplines or specialisms (such as the scores of branches of 'neuroscience' or 'brain science') are incommensurable, atomic factoids (as, in practice, they currently are).

So, instead of merely accumulating findings ad infinitum, science needs to proceed in a theoretically-informed fashion, recognizing that facts are worthless unless organized by form: form structuring fact-finding, facts and what count as facts.


At present, as anyone who works in theoretical branches of biology knows, none of this discussion has any traction - because what counts as 'science' is the bureaucratic process of allocating resources and conferring esteem markers for 'doing' stuff (=employing people and running machines).

But the analysis helps clarify why in - say - neuroscience, decades of international activity on an unprecedented scale has led nowhere (nowhere in terms of scientific understanding, nor indeed of medical breakthroughs - although of course there have been hundreds of thousands of careers built on it).

But to enter this arena and to have this discussion entails stepping outside of 'science' and into metaphysics - into discussing the nature of reality, the nature of science and of the human condition, and from these and the evaluation of science as a human activity.

Yet modern man, especially modern scientists, think (or think they think) that there is nothing outside of science, because they that science fills the whole world - supreme, subordinate-to (or structured-by) nothing else.

Hence un-critiqueable.


(Or, at least, that is what they say when pushed.

(In practice, of course, 'science' is merely professional research subordinated to Leftism, to political correctness; and practiced only within the envelope of careers which means bureaucratic constraint. In practice, nobody (well, hardly anybody) cares a jot for 'science' when it comes into conflict with professional research careerism. Because where peer review is the bottom line, as it certainly is now, then 'science' is nothing more nor less than what professional researchers say it is.

(But I am talking here about real science.)


The excitement of a perspective based on form and fields is therefore that of a wholly different concept of what it is to understand. A move away from the endless business of accumulating empirical data and a clarification of the kind of thing that we should be trying to do - the kind of understanding (the kind of theory) we should be seeking when (in biology) we try to understand the brain, or development, or genetics.

The metaphysics of science has no direct impact on the specifics of science (which is how people get away with ignoring it for long periods); but it is vital for ordering of the whole process of evaluating what counts as the specifics of science, and what to do with specifics if or when you have them.


Wednesday 26 October 2011

Meeting Richard Dawkins (and his wife)

A few years ago I met Richard Dawkins at a small, relaxed party.

I had a question I wanted to put to him.

At the time I was not a Christian, but I was interested in religions and was (for example) studying religiosity and atheism in relation to personality.

I had discovered that over the same period of the twentieth century that the US had risen to scientific eminence it had undergone a significant Christian revival.

The point I put to Dawkins was that the USA was simultaneously by-far the most dominant scientific nation in the world (I knew this from various scientometic studies I was doing at the time) and by-far the most religious (Christian) nation in the world.

How, I asked, could this be - if Christianity was culturally inimical to science?

Unfortunately I lack Boswell's ability to recall conversion verbatim, and I would not like to misquote. But Dawkins simply shook-off this point, with a literal shake of his head looking downwards, and the comment to the effect that the scientists and Christians were two entirely different groups of people.

(Even if broadly true, my point had been about US culture, not individuals.)

I had thought that this was a genuinely interesting and challenging paradox from Dawkins perspective and looked forward to some kind of analysis; but it was rapidly obvious that I was wasting my time and that no engagement with my point was going to happen.

Dawkins's mind was decided; the manner was impatient, irritable. 

I gave-up - and instead spoke to his wife, Lalla Ward, who was Dr Who (Tom Baker)'s assistant (I was a huge fan of the Fourth Doctor era in the late 1970s - LW was Romana II, dressed as an old fashioned schoolgirl); and she was absolutely charming in the face of my rather gushing fan-boy talk - indeed she was probably the nicest famous person I have met.

My point? Richard Dawkins was exactly like he appeared on the telly; Lalla Ward was much more of a real person than she appeared on the telly.

Intellectuals and the parable of the talents


First - read: 

Matthew 25: 14-30


Intellectuals who read this parable are highly prone to believe that they correspond to the servant given five talents.

And, being so talented, they must do something special to justify their enormous talents - must make at least another five talents worth of achievement.

Because they believe themselves possessed of so many talents, they are filled with pride; and because they must do something special with their abundance of talents they feel they need to make an impression, get attention, gain recognition for their achievements commensurate with their talents.


Yet most of the ways to make an impression, get attention and gain recognition in the world are wicked - so most intellectuals who suppose they have achieved five talents worth of achievement have actually achieved five talents worth of wickedness - or, indeed, a lot more.

Instead of creativity they pursue novelty, instead of truths they offer diversions, instead of virtue they adhere to consensus, instead of beauty they provide subversion.

The net effect of intellectual activity is negative.  

30And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


Really, honestly, almost all intellectuals have ONE talent's worth of talent - and therefore no more is expected of them than they use this slender talent for one talent's worth more of Good.

After all, that doyen of intellectuals, Thomas Aquinas, after writing some eight million words and then experiencing divine revelation, pronounced his oeuvre to be 'straw' in contrast to what he had perceived.


Intellectual ability counts for much, much, much less than intellectuals imagine; therefore they need to achieve less than they imagine - one talent's worth, not five; and are entitled to much less earthly reward than they imagine - one talent's worth, not five.


Other talents are much greater - especially Love and Courage. Yet, how many intellectuals excel in Love and Courage?

Indeed, how many more intellectuals, in contrast, actually denigrate Love and Courage?

How many intellectuals denigrate Love to elevate Pleasure and Comfort; how many intellectuals denigrate Courage to elevate Sloth and Cowardice?

(Do all intellectuals do this, or merely 99 percent of them?)


A minimally-qualified infant school teacher with merely average intelligence who diligently instructs children how to read and calculate, and sets them a good example, is worth... how much?... infinitely more than (say) the typical high status careerist college professor who energetically (not slothful in this at least) debunks The Good and spreads lies, ugliness, vice, spite, cowardice - and both indulges and propagandizes hedonism.

It is the difference between the making of one talent, and the deliberate destruction of five thousand talents.

(Making being infinitely more valued than deliberate destruction - quantities being irrelevant.) 

The talents of nearly-all intellectuals - whether clerks, teachers, scholars or scientists - are modest indeed; but could be enough if modestly deployed for Good.


Tuesday 25 October 2011

Abstraction & cohesion v clarity & simplicity


Over the past few years I have read about 'time' and God in the 'Western' philosophy and theology of Boethius and Thomas Aquinas, and also some Eastern Orthodox theology.

It brought out for me a very general point about abstraction and the cohesion of philosophical ideas, and how they can only be attained at a cost.

Whenever we ask a philosophical, abstract question, and accept an answer; the process narrows our understanding even as it completes our understanding.


When reading about God and time in the Western tradition, there is a fascinating theme concerning eternity versus the transient world; the idea that God is outside of time; for God (being omnipotent, omniscient etc.) all time is necessarily present simultaneously; yet for humans on earth time is serial and linear - with a past, present and future.

And there are vital transitions between these states of eternity and time : for example the soul after death and Christ's incarnation: the soul moving from time to eternity, Christ moving from eternity to time.


By this account, prayer for the souls of the dead make (philosophical) sense, no matter when they are prayed in linear time, because prayer operates in divine eternity, which includes the past (and also the future).

Prayer on earth is arranged in a linear sequence but all prayers from all earthly times are simultaneously present in Heaven.


For me, these matters of abstract theory are at the outer limit of my comprehension, yet I can comprehend them; and so I find the answers of Boethius and Aquinas to be (pretty much) perfectly satisfying.

But for someone less intelligent than I, these explanations would no doubt be incomprehensible; and for someone of greater intelligence than mine, no doubt there would be further problems of inconsistency which I cannot perceive.

So, the philosophical explanation of time and eternity is not true for all humans, does not answer the questions of all humans; its truth has been attested by Saints and Martyrs (for example) so we can say it is true by revelation, really is true - not just a made-up stop-gap explanation.

And yet its truth seems incomplete and distorted somehow. Many great Saints did not know this, could not understand it; certainly did not explain things in this fashion in their teachings from revelation.


When, on the other hand, I read in Orthodox theology about Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection; and about what happens to the soul after death, I find that all are dealt with in 'common sense' fashion using earthly linear and serial time: for example that the soul after death is escorted by two angels, passes toll houses of temptation for 40 days, at which point there is a choice/ judgement of Heaven or Hell - hence on earth there is a 40 day programme of prayer for the immediately deceased, prayers which ought to be done on earth at proper times.

Now, this is apparently regarded by the advanced Orthodox as both true and/ but also very partial, metaphorical and limited an undestanding - because of the inevitable nature of human limitations of knowledge and understanding and sin.

So/ yet the advanced Orthodox will strictly adhere to the earthly linear time program of particular rituals in particular sequence; there seems to be the simultaneous awareness that this is a simplified view yet it is the best that can be managed or the best that we know - and therefore imperative.


But in Orthodoxy (so far as I see it, not far) there is not the same sense of trying to reach an intellectually coherent and satisfying answer as there is with Western Catholicism.

For the Orthodox there are these parable-like narrative theological explanations, mostly comprehensible to the common man - and beyond these simple explanations there is mystery.

If you want to go further, the path is spiritual not philosophical. The understanding aimed-at, therefore, is not more complex or logical, but (presumably) an understanding which comes directly by revelation, and is not (perhaps) communicable to those of lower levels of holiness.

Intellectuals who pick-holes in  common-sensical narrative explanations of theology are regarded as lacking in true understanding of their meaning, as having misplaced concerns; because deeper understanding can only be gained on the other side of a process of purification and sanctification.


The Orthodox idea is apparently that it is - in general - a mistake to strive for philosophical explanations beyond simply comprehensible linear narratives; and to seek ever more-complete intellectual understanding is slippery slope, a never-ending fool's errand by which we come to mistake the ever-more-abstract and ever-more-partial for the reality and the whole.

For the Orthodox tradition, truth becomes knowable only from greater holiness (and  holiness is achieved by monastic 'Hesychast' disciplines of incessant prayer and ascetic practices - fasting, vigils, endurance of hostile environments).


Therefore both Western and Eastern Catholic traditions are hierarchical and esoteric, holiness being stratified, and the fullest understanding being only available to a few.

But for the West (in general) the fullest understanding requires a high level of theological and philosophical education - this understanding is not communicable to the majority who are low in intelligence, those who lack diligence and concentration, those who are ignorant.

Whereas for the East the few may be relatively unintelligent; may indeed by simple-minded - Holy Fools. But understanding is only available to, communicable to, those of advanced spirituality.

From this, I believe that the Eastern Orthodox understanding is the higher, the more true - although I personally fail to live by this truth.


Taking this into account; it seems to me that one of the worst things that Western intellectuals have done over the centuries, and continue to do, is to mock and denigrate simple narrative theological explanations and understandings - debunk them for their lack of abstract logical coherence, for their child-like quality.

At root this incessant debunking displays merely the lack of holiness of intellectuals as a class; that instead of seeking to understand the simple explanations by striving further on the path of sanctity, they choose the easier and more deceptive path of increasing further and further the complexity of explanations.


Monday 24 October 2011



The Left, political correctness, is clinically insane (if it were a person, it would be an insane person).

In the type of insanity known as catatonia, there may be a phenomenon called negativism: the patient understands instructions, then does the opposite (they can, indeed, be made to do what the nurses want by asking them to do the opposite).

Ask them to take their clothes off and they get dressed, tell them not to eat the food on the table and they will eat it.


The insanity of the Western governments of the Left (i.e. all of them) is surely now running very close to the surface.

I cannot begin to make sense of Western government policy at present – foreign policy, economic policy, social policy etc.

Indeed, even making the mental effort to make sense of it, I can feel my mind starting to become un-hinged.


Current affairs make about as much sense as the negativism of a catatonic - or the tantrums of a 2 year old toddler who doesn’t want this, doesn’t want that and stamps around in a fury – punching the wall and scraping their own knuckles, poking sticks at big dogs which then bite them, breaking their own toys and crying about what they have done.


It is a practical error to try and understand insane catatonics or toddlers in a tantrum - instead we should act swiftly to remove them from situations where they can harm themselves or others.


Sunday 23 October 2011

Anglican spirituality


What is distinctive about Anglican spirituality at its best?

What are the strengths and limitations?


In the first instance, Anglican spirituality is less pure and perfect than that of Christian (Eastern) Orthodoxy.

The Orthodox ideal is monastic, meditative, mystical - they aim at the highest levels of spirituality - ascetic Holy Fathers, Saints and Elders.

The 'typical' Orthodox Saint is a person of extreme holiness.


The Roman (Western) Catholic tradition also aims higher than Anglicanism. 

Rather than a specifically monastic and ascetic ideal, the focus is on the Pope, priests and a variety of religious orders.

Although there are ascetic Western Saints, typical Saints since the Great Schism are more likely to be great leaders, scholars or altruists.


The Church of England has not made and does not officially recognize new Saints; and perhaps has not itself produced any Saints except for (early) Martyrs.

Instead, the height of Anglican spirituality has been literary.


The greatest Anglicans in spiritual terms have been great writers, have expressed their spirituality perhaps most in their writings.

This is a limitation; but it is also a strength - because in a corrupt society words may remain available long after higher spiritual traditions have been cut-off.

To understand the core of Anglican spirituality entails, therefore, reading, reading-out and listening to words.


(The loss of awareness of this fact - the literary nature of Anglican spirituality, that words are its essence - has been therefore, perhaps more than anything, responsible for the spiritual decline of the Church of England. When words are at the heart of a spirituality, and then these words are casually and frequently altered, that spirituality loses its cohesion, its strength, its gravitational-pull: breaks-apart.) 


To learn Anglican theology one could not do much better - perhaps - than read and meditate upon the Anglican liturgy: the services of the Book of Common Prayer (in its original language, naturally).

In them is superficial appeal of course - literary beauty; but more importantly great profundity of doctrine, great balance and subtlety of distinction - a lifetime's worth.


Saturday 22 October 2011

Douglas Adams' attempt at nihilism


Douglas Adams (1952-2001) was the writer of one of the most perfectly satisfying comedy works; which is the 12 episode BBC Radio production of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

(Not the abridged Vinyl version of HHGG, nor the BBC TV version, nor the novelization, nor the movie - but the original BBC Radio production which ran in two six part series the first from 1978 and the second in 1980).

In this, Adams underlying metaphysic is just about the most complete nihilism that has been achieved in any popular work of art.

It is interesting to see what response Adams made to his own world view - in HHGG and also in his own life.


For a start - hear the revelation of near-complete nihilism in the character who is the 'ruler of the universe' which they finally encounter at the end of the final episode:

Starting at 46 minutes and going on to 53:40.


In such a universe, how are the characters motivated?

Essentially they seek distraction (touring the universe in search of pleasing amusement and interest - parties, sex, etc; or failing that then adventure); they seek the gratification of status (most successfully pursued by the total egotist Zaphod Beeblebrox); and failing all this they seek mental oblivion (especially by the super-intoxicating drink called a Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster).

Douglas Adams, consistent with this, became one of the most public and outspoken of British 'militant atheists' (his own terminology) - he wrote some more books, scripts etc (all on significantly lower level than the original radio series), got rich and famous, traveled, bought cars, became a keen technophile (an early advocate for Apple/ Macintosh computers), had a chaotic relationship eventually leading to marriage and a daughter, became known for his interest in conservation issues - and died young of a heart attack induced by hard exercising in a gym.

In other words, Adams' own life was fairly typical of the most successful members of the modern liberal elite and of the successful characters in HHGG and his other novels: a mixture of status seeking, fashionable activism, and serial distraction (of a high status type).


Aside from being cut short, Adams life was a complete success within the terms of his own world view - he was likable, popular with famous friends, did the kind of exciting things people want to do, and as a bonus produced a work of genius.

And he was a near-complete nihilist.

Of course, Douglas Adams was not a wholly consistent nihilist - such a thing is a logical impossibility. Obviously, no true nihilist could be 'militant' about anything, nor would they engage in strenuous activism.

But we can look at the nature of life as conceived in Adams novels and in his own existence to see the best that modernity has to offer - and to decide whether it is good enough: whether or not it is worth living (and dying) for that kind of life.


Friday 21 October 2011

A Christian shamanism?


There is a strand of spirituality in modern culture sometimes called neo-shamanism.

This aims at altered conscious states in order to have contact with the spirit world to get knowledge, healing, or pleasure. Or perhaps to get relief from the endemic alienation of modern life.


On the whole, neo-shamanism is anti-Christian (or, at least, non-Christian) in motivation and in effect - it is a part of New Age spirituality, which aims at personal growth or gratification - nothing to do with salvation.

My impression is that - by and large - neo-shamanism is bad for people, makes them worse people, more-selfish, prouder etc.


Fr Seraphim Rose wrote about the problem with New Age type spirituality in Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future.

From Fr. Seraphim's traditional perspective, neo-shamanism comes from an attempt to have spiritual, religious, supernatural, miraculous experiences.

The big problem is that it works - however, the spiritual experiences come from demons not angels; and serve the demonic agenda.


For the modern convert to Christianity there is the first step of conversion then the second step of 'what next'.

After the 'honeymoon period' (granted to many converts) where all seems easy and pleasant, problems emerge - one of which is the dryness of modern Christianity, and that the alienated state (which is the primary modern self-perceived spiritual malaise) is not helped by many or most forms of Christianity accessible to most modern converts.

Is there any possibility of using any kind of shamanism within the context of Christianity, to re-connect with the spiritual world, and heal alienation?


At one level the answer is a plain: yes!

This does not refer to the adoption of specific shamanic practices, but to the basic animistic perspective.

For a traditional, orthodox 'catholic' (small 'c') Christian, the world about them is alive with spirits, just as for the (real or imagined) native shaman; the difference being that Christianity recognized Good spirit (angels) and evil spirits (demons) - engaged in 'unseen warfare' over souls.


Further, the world is alive with intelligence for the Christian as the for shaman - as in the medieval view of the night sky, which sees the firmament as God's handiwork and the heavens as his province.

Rupert Sheldrake's morphic fields provide a language by which the animism of childhood and indigenous hunter gatherers can be conceptualized by moderns.

Anyone who lives by this traditional catholic type of Christianity gains the essence of that which the 'spiritual seekers' of neo-shamanism' hope for, insofar as the search is based on reality and not a self-gratifying fantasy.


The big difference between this kind of orthodox, traditional catholicism and neo-shamanism is that of motivation. Shamans, whether indigenous or 'neo' are seeking power and to use the spirit realm; Christians are (should be) seeking for truth and to love and worship God.

The snares of shamanism relate to power and pride; but worship and humility are some defense.

The lesson of traditional Orthodoxy strongly emphasizes the spiritual hazards of spirituality, meditation, altered states of consciousness, ascetic disciplines - that the fallen nature of humans and the world means that evil spirits are more numerous and likely to be encountered than good spirits.

Shamanism before or without repentance is the problem. Easy spirituality is evil spirituality.


Recommended practice is that all spiritual seeking should take place under supervision of an Elder (a spiritual 'Father'). Yet such supervision is not available for most people in most places.

Does this mean that modern Christianity - lacking a structure of spiritual supervision, must Christian life necessarily be dry and feeble and unambitious?

If the answer is yes - then will a dry, feeble and unambitious life be enough to support the near-solitary and unrewarded Christian against the temptations and deceptions of the world?

Let us therefore hope that the answer may be no - that there may, potentially, be such a thing as solitary and genuinely-Christian shamanism.


Thursday 20 October 2011

A (little known?) Compline Collect from the BCP


Be present, O merciful God,
and protect us through the silent hours of this night,
so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world,
may repose upon thy eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.



From Traditional language 'Night Prayer' of the Anglican Church; a version of the Book of Common Prayer 


Commentary versus revision versus re-translation


When some vitally important Christian writing (the Bible, the Psalms) becomes obscure or is believed to contain inaccuracies of translation or doctrine - what should be done?


First consider that they may have been right and we are wrong.

Even if translation is inaccurate according to modern secular scholarship, may it nonetheless be true because inspired?

And even if modern doctrine says something else than what appears in current scripture - is it possible that it is modern ideas which are wrong (has the matter been considered carefully enough, have there been for example - a couple of generations of sincere consideration?).


Might we have misunderstood the section in question (how did people of great achieved holiness, rather than scholarship, in the past understand this knotty problem? Do we really think we know better than them?)

And even we we become sure that something is wrong in a section of text, do we actually know what would be right?

Do we even know what would truly be better?


(It is one thing to point at specific imperfections, quite another matter to make something better overall. Shakespeare's plays are full of many serious specific flaws, many obscurities, dull passages, many alien and offensive elements - would it therefore be better overall to re-write them in streamlined modern language and fitting modern sensibilities?)


All such considerations point to the primacy of commentary as a way of dealing with concerns of accuracy and translation: the best strategy is (surely?) to leave the traditional, (hallowed) text unchanged, and to deal with such concerns by commenting upon them either verbally or in written form.


If this strategy of preservation and commentary is, for some reason, found to be intolerable - then there is the possibility of a very minimal revision to the text - but only when something better, indeed something definitive can be substituted.

And better means more-Good, not just more accurate in terms of contemporary secular scholarship.


If the revision is not truly and definitively better, then it will itself be revised (and the principle that revisions are necessary and acceptable will by then have been established); and the authoritative text will be pecked into pieces by cycle after cycle of change.

And all the Kings horses and all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Once the egg has been broken, the fragments can be glued together; but the egg is not thereby restored.


To be better a revision should be better overall (that is aesthetically and in terms of ethical effect as well as more factually accurate), and should not be the substitution of a technically precise but dry and dead word or phrase crafted by committee consensus, for one which is somewhat less exact but much more beautiful and morally inspiring.

Factually accuracy of scripture (according to current ideas of the facts, themselves exceedingly narrow) should never be allowed to trump beauty and moral effectiveness.

The real Good is not only Truth; it is also and equally Beauty and Virtue.


And what of wholesale retranslation?

Almost never is it right to do this; almost never - unless the translation is to be used as a commentary.

A re-translation of authoritative scripture should only be done when there is conviction of operative divine inspiration, both on the part of the translators and on the part of those for whom the translation is intended.

And this has happened only a handful of times in Christian history.


The correct answer is to maintain intact the old authoritative scriptural texts hallowed by tradition; and to clarify and correct them when needed by modern commentary.


Wednesday 19 October 2011

New truths versus Ruined truths: creativity and neophilia


Two conceptualizations of Creativity.

1. True Creativity.

The bringing to light of a New truth - or what feels new, feels striking.

Often enough it is an old truth, but seen from another angle.

Typically its sources are somewhat mysterious - because they come from trance or dream-like states of mind in which associations form spontaneously.

(Of course the truth may be a disguised-lie.)

True creativity is transcendentally neutral - the evaluation depends on its content - but it can be Good.


2. Neophilia - the love of novelty.

 Taking existing truths and doing something to them to make them different: selecting, combining, inverting.

The effectiveness of neophilia comes from outside the process of neophilia - it takes existing truths, which are of interest and have an effect because they are truths - and then it does something to these truths.


Neophilia is about ruining truths, not discovering truths.

It is an intellectual activity, done in the cold light of day; not dreamlike: it depends on knowledge (of past truths) and analysis.

Neophilia embraces all that we term fashion, in all the myriad areas of life where fashion is operative.

Neophilia is a vice.


Modern creativity is neophilia, not true creativity - as can easily be seen from its products as well as from the personality types and motivations of those who pass for creative in modern culture.

Modern creativity is high status, and at the same time it is anti-Good - it is literally parasitic upon real creativity.

Real creativity presumably remains, but kept in the private sphere - because real creativity is spontaneous, involuntary and not controllable: its products can be filtered, but not pre-determined; nor can they be explained.


Naturally, neophilia tries to fake true creativity. It fakes the products, it fakes the lifestyle of the true creative... so what is the bottom line, what is the essence of creativity?

The essence is the process not the product.

So a dream, vision, trance, flight of ideas is the essence of true creativity - what makes the product interesting or important is what happens next.

But what makes creativity Good (or indeed, evil) is inspiration - which comes from outwith the human mind.


Delete the conviction of inspiration, and true creativity withers, and becomes of private interest merely - like Jung's creative products (paintings, writings, building) - a therapy but not an art.

The roots of such creativity are valid, but the product is vapid.

So that is the state of things in a secular, modern society: true creativity retreats to an involuntary private activity (an amusement, a hobby) or perhaps a personal therapy (done as a means to the end of gaining self-knowledge and healing some wound of the mind - typically alienation).

True creativity cannot fulfill a role of shewing new truths, nor even a role of illuminating old truths, where there is no concept of Truth.


And public, high status creativity is One Hundred Percent fake: it is merely neophilia, fashion, a matter a job for intellectuals.

A matter of working through the old truths, and incrementally, systematically ruining them.


Tuesday 18 October 2011

Good intentions? Not so


I am always reading that such-and-such an evil movement has 'good intentions'; or a person will excuse their past behavior with the comment that their intentions were good.

I don't believe it.

Indeed I know that this is untrue. 


Good intentions are the rarest of things on this earth.

In fact almost all intentions are corrupt.


When I examine my conscience, I perceive that the worst intentions were typically those times where I was trying hardest to signal to myself and to others that my intentions were good, pure, blameless.

That was when I was most deeply in thrall to pride.


People talk as if good intentions were the easy bit, and the accomplishment of these intentions was what was difficult, and where things went wrong.

Not so - good intentions are the hard bit.

So hard, in fact, that good intentions are impossible (to the unaided human).


Let's hear no more nonsense about 'good intentions'...


Monday 17 October 2011

Thought Prison - the fundamental nature of political correctness


Thought Prison - the fundamental nature of political correctness by Bruce G Charlton

Published today.

May be ordered online.

Also available as a Kindle edition.


From the Acknowledgements:

The ideas and analysis of this book are indebted to a vast number of people over three decades, and of course to experience: personal, professional and political.

But the major positive influences on my thesis are threefold: JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Blessed Father Seraphim Rose (1934-1982) – a US-born Hieromonk of Platina, California in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad whose essays, books, translations, collections and personal example are the most profound of antidotes to PC.

A special ‘thank you’ goes to a group of thoughtful regular (and often pseudonymous) commenters at my blog Bruce Charlton’s Miscellany, where these ideas were first formulated and drafted...


How to change minds? 'Burn' hearts by contact with Truth


From the introduction to God's revelation to the human heart by Fr. Seraphim Rose.

This introduction was written by Hieromonk Damascene and described Fr. Seraphim's lecture at University of California, Santa Cruz on May 15, 1981:


[Fr. Seraphim's] ultimate aim, of course, was to awaken people to that which they truly desired: the living Christ.

He recognized that, for all the spiritual denseness of contemporary Western man, the basic process of his conversion was no different from what it had been in past ages.

Conversion takes place when something in the heart begins to 'burn' at being in contact with God-revealed truth.


Before this can take place, however, the person often has to feel an absence of truth, and to actually experience suffering as a result of this want.


People in the affluent West often have this feeling of spiritual torment suppressed from their consciousness, so occupied are they with physical comforts and stimulations. 

In countries where people are deprived of freedom and comfort, on the other hand, the spiritual hunger of man becomes more immediate and desperate. 

[Hieromonk Damascene describing the beliefs of Fr. Seraphim Rose.]


Tolkien and spirits



Sunday 16 October 2011

Tolkien and Vatican II



Why do people think the Romans were boring and cruel?


Since the decline of 'classics' at the heart of Western elite culture, there has emerged the casual conviction that the Romans were dull and depraved: their dullness enlivened only by their depravity.

By contrast, for the preceding thousand-plus years, the Romans (more exactly the Greco-Romans extending from ancient Athens up to the Greek-Roman Empire of Byzantium) had been regarded as the summit of world civilization.

Why the shift?


The answer is that modern culture became blind to religion.

The Romans were among the most devoutly religious societies ever - mostly pagan, then later Christian.

The Roman life was focused on religion, it provided the meaning and purpose for existence; the supposedly unimaginative Romans took their religions with extreme seriousness: everything else had to take second place - when the auguries were bad, then there was nothing so important that it could not, should not, be deferred.


This reality is obscured by the fact that, as pagans for most of their existence, the Roman religion was naturally fluid and variable both geographically and temporally - probably only a monotheistic religion can be unified and universal over many generations (and then only relatively so).


Yet, to modern eyes religion is (of course) merely ignorant superstition, and this applies particularly to devout and sincere paganism; so we simply disregard it from our understanding of the Romans: edit it out.

What is left after religious conviction has been subtracted from the Romans is merely I Claudius: a corrupt and boring Empire alleviated only by decadence and sadism.

This is itself absurd, since the Roman Empire was less cruel and more interesting than much of recorded history. Only its cruelties were regulated - hence obvious to moderns; and its main interest was one that moderns disbelieve.


Subtract the religion from any highly religious society, and what is left-over may not be very interesting; but that is not-at-all how things were typically perceived by people at the time.

The Romans saw their world through religious eyes, and so did the dark- and middle-ages; but moderns see the world through eyes blinkered by hedonic, secular Leftism.

Wearing such blinkers, the object of desire is a dynamic society of perpetual progress, located in 'the future' where the modern imagination dwells: hoped-for yet ever-receding.


Saturday 15 October 2011

Online daily worship from the Book of Common Prayer


There is a very edifying feature on the official Anglican web pages, whereby anyone can follow the cycles of Psalms and Readings by selecting the 'Traditional' language form of the Church of England service:

In the traditional Anglican style, the daily 'office' is divided into Morning and Evening prayer - with about three psalms in each (with a monthly cycle), an Old Testament and a New Testament reading (with an annual cycle), and the various other parts of the service which are almost exactly the same every day.

There in optional-extra service of 'Night' prayer - or Compline - which is intended to be followed by silence and sleep.

It is difficult or impossible for most people to attend these daily services - especially in the traditional language form derived from The Book of Common Prayer; but the language is so beautiful and inspiring that solitary reading is (for some people, such as myself) well-worth doing, whenever it can be managed.


In particular the 'Collects' or general prayers, near the very end of the services, should be recited or chanted with deliberation; as they contain some of the most evocative devotional phrases in English (presumed, I think, to be the work of Protestant martyr Archbishop Thomas Cranmer; 1489-1556).


Life Enhancing (LEn) versus Life Extending (LEx) medical interventions


I believe that people know when they have reached the end of their own 'natural lifespan'.

This can come at a wide range of ages - between extremes of about 60 and 90 years.

Once people reach this natural lifespan, I think they should acknowledge the fact to themselves; and alter their attitude to medical interventions.


Most medical interventions are intended to be Life Extending (LEx) - these may aim at curing - such as antibiotics, and many types of surgery.

Or they may be LEx by virtue of controlling chronic disease - such as insulin replacement in diabetes, or drugs to reduce blood pressure.


But perhaps the very core of medical interventions are related to Life Enhancement - making patients feel better.

The primary example of LEn is analgesia - pain killers - such as aspirin and the opiates; and also symptomatic treatments to improve symptoms like anxiety, or functionally restricting problems such as arthritis of the hip.


Life Enhancing treatments that are effective and safe are (pretty much) always desirable at any age - but the same does not apply to Life Extending treatments.


When a person reaches the end of their natural lifespan, I believe there should be a clear distinction between LEn treatments which are good and desirable, and LEx treatments which are bad and should be avoided.


Another way of conceptualizing this is that after the end of the natural lifespan, medical treatment should only be accepted by a rational chooser when that treatment is palliative in aim (and preferably in effect).

Medical treatment should (rationally) be avoided and refused when it is Life Extending in intention (and perhaps in effect).


I am not at all talking about society/ administrators/ doctors/ relatives preventing access to Life Extending treatment to people beyond a certain age, but instead that people who judge themselves to have reached the end of their natural life span should themselves refuse medical interventions which have a LEx intention.


Another way of conceptualizing this, is that quality of life (equivalent to LEn) should be the priority after the end of natural lifespan - and that patients need to be aware that most LEx treatments will reduce LEn - either due to the more-or-less inevitable side effects of drugs, or the inevitable short-medium term deleterious effects of surgery/ radiotherapy.


In distinguishing between LEx and LEn interventions, I am not talking about anything esoteric or difficult.

For example, it is obvious commonsense that surgery makes people feel worse - in hope of making them feel better.

After the end of the natural life span, if you already feel bad then surgery may be worthwhile as a means to the hoped-for end of making you feel better - but, if you feel okay to begin-with, then surgery is to be avoided.


As a matter of self-defense; even if doctors provide inaccurate or biased advice to say that drug X will make you feel better (when that is untrue) then this will be very obvious after starting the drug.

For example if the patient feels OK and is being treated for 'bad numbers' like a raised blood pressure or high cholesterol (with the implicit aim of reducing 'risk' and extending life span) - then it will immediately be obvious that (in most cases) the medication makes people feel somewhat worse, and therefore should be stopped swiftly because life is being diminished, not enhanced.

For instance, when hypertension (high blood pressure) is mild, there are usually no symptoms; but many or most blood pressure drugs will have side-effects that impair the quality of life to some degree: fatigue/ 'depression' being a common problem. And 'Statin' drugs may cause people to feel and function worse in numerous ways - due to their widespread cellular actions on the body and brain.


When you have reached the end of natural lifespan, then why make the end of your life worse than it need to be in taking Life Extending treatments with the hope of an unnatural life extension which - even if 'successfully' achieved - often leads to many dark years of dementia or severe debility?


We are now in a situation where, for many people, the exhausted and failing human body is artificially kept-going long after it 'wants to die' and would die if nature was simply allowed to take its course.

Humans have for many decades been trying to dispense with, even outlaw, the metaphysical concept of the 'natural' as a basis for the good life. But we cannot do without it.

The end of human life is just one of many situations where we need a concept of what is natural, and where the lack of such has allowed us unwittingly to stray far down a path of misery and wickedness.


Friday 14 October 2011

The disengagement strategy


As a society becomes increasingly corrupt (such that real motivations of officials are selfish and short-termist rather than truly operating in pursuit of the 'officially-designated' functions) the citizens tend to develop the default of 'disengagement'.


This means a disposition to avoid contact with institutions; because to ask for help is to draw attention to oneself, with potential to be drawn-into the pervasive corruption.

Disengagement is, of course, exacerbated when organizations are ineffective and unlikely to provide genuine help.

In a corrupt society, institutions are - on the one hand - dangerous and - on the other hand - useless: so it makes sense for the majority of people to have as little to do with them as possible.


So, ordinary, decent people tend to avoid, if possible, calling in the police or consulting lawyers; sick people would try to avoid medical contact or hospital admission; a private 'economy' grows detached from the sight and influence of the public administration; and the population increasingly ignores government and media information - as being merely propaganda - and instead relies on personal experience and trusted personal contacts.


In the past England stood at the extreme opposite of this kind of corruption and ineffectiveness - with a high level of trust and confidence in 'officials': police, national and local government; the 'serious' media (the BBC, the broadsheet newspaper); doctors, nurses and the National Health Service...

Yet I feel a culture of disengagement emerging ever-more-strongly in the past couple of decades and accelerating year on year.


The Crick/ Watson (& Charlton) way to do theoretical science


Work only from the evidence that you trust, evidence that you think is true: ignore the rest.

A good theory should never include all of the evidence, because some of the evidence is wrong.

Indeed, in some fields most of the evidence is wrong; but its wrongness cannot usually be demonstrated until after a good theory has become available.


Thursday 13 October 2011

A definition of decadence


To be so addicted to novelty, comfort and prosperity that one cannot lift a finger to sustain them.


Wednesday 12 October 2011

It really *is* a matter of nihilism versus God


From the comments:


Daniel said...

Mr. Charlton,

Your dilemma, as you have described it here, very closely resembles my own. But I don't understand your conclusion (the one that leads you to accept transcendence).

You very expertly lay out a paradox, and then point out that a belief in transcendence is the only way out of the paradox. But I do not see how this is necessarily so. It is the only satisfying answer to the dilemma. But there is also another, entirely unsatisfying answer: that nothing makes any sense and the only answer is pure nihilism.

One sees the problem in judging science vs animism (your example) without an appeal to transcendent truth. But what about the ole shrug of the shoulders? The materialist/nihilist would say: yes, you are correct, moral instincts are evolved. Yes, you are correct, science can't be proven to be more true than animism except that it is much better at manipulating the physical environment, and therefore is at least pragmatically more true. And yes (you don't suggest this one, but it's an easy argument that's been made many times), what seems beautiful in art is also just a product of evolution. We don't find beautiful what slugs find beautiful. Neither are slugs interested in Caravaggio.

So, to repeat, while I find your story relevant and indeed compelling, I don't see how you really made the leap you did. Acknowledging that you don't necessarily intend this as some sort of proof (you have presented it merely as your own psychological journey), can I ask you what I have missed here in my response? Or were these questions simply never important to you?

One more rephrasing, if you will indulge me. You seem to have chosen theism because it was more comforting that pure nihilism. But I don't see how it's any more necessary that pure nihilism. One or the other, it would seem. But why, from a formal logic point of view, the one and not the other?

PS: I ask all these questions in earnest and sympathetically, and do not mean to be needlessly combative.

bgc said...

@Daniel - "point out that a belief in transcendence is the only way out of the paradox. But I do not see how this is necessarily so. It is the only satisfying answer to the dilemma. But there is also another, entirely unsatisfying answer: that nothing makes any sense and the only answer is pure nihilism."

We are agreed that nihilism and God are the only answers - but when you say 'satisfying' you seem to imply emotionally satisfying, whereas I mean satisfying to reason.

A nihilist cannot use reason, since he has no grounds at all to assume that reason is valid. Indeed a nihilist has no reason to say anything, do anything nor even to stay alive.

A consistent nihilist presumably just *feels* that everything is meaningless, including the feeling that everything is meaningless.

But having decided that reason is valid, I was trying to satisfy *reason* - not my feelings.

"You seem to have chosen theism because it was more comforting that pure nihilism. But I don't see how it's any more necessary that pure nihilism. One or the other, it would seem. But why, from a formal logic point of view, the one and not the other?"

I hope that this is answered by the previous point. It is not a matter of 'comfort' but reason, truth, the nature of reality (belief in God may, or may not, be comforting, varying at different times and situations).

Eugene (later Seraphim) Rose sets this out in his (online) book Nihilism which I have referenced innumerable times on this blog. He makes clear there really is *no middle ground* between God and nihilism: and nihilism is denial of reality - so if there ever was a coherent nihilist we would know nothing of them.

What we actually observe in the West is a partial nihilism, where nihilism is selectively-applied - usually to those parts of Christianity which stand in the path of self-gratification, or applied only to enemies' beliefs.

However, once the process of nihilism/ secularization has begun it eats away more and more meaning, purpose and relatedness - until it ends up being a hell on earth (misery, purposelessness and alienation with no hope).

As we see.

P.S: 'Daniel' is now blogging at:


Tuesday 11 October 2011

The genesis of The Lord of the Rings



Another point concerning Natural Selection as a Metaphysical System


Further to:


I have said here that the theory of evolution by natural selection makes the simplifying assumption that the variation which underpins selection is un-directed.

I forgot to add that this assumption is very probably untrue - and at any rate unfounded.


And if the underlying assumption is arbitrary, then the theory as a whole cannot be the whole truth.

Does the untruth of the assumption invalidate the theory of natural selection?

I think not. Because this is precisely the kind of simplifying assumption which is made in every specialized branch of human knowledge.

Indeed, that is pretty much what science is: grossly simplified models of reality. Humans (being simple souls) can only use simple theories.


In being a simplified and ultimately untrue theory, natural selection is therefore merely conforming to the nature of all scientific theories.

The problem with natural selection, as with many other specialized forms of knowledge, is knowing when it is sufficiently true to be useful; and when using it is likely to be use-less, misleading or dangerous.

And for this there is no algorithm.

Which is why scientists must be honest, why they must be truth-seekers - because it is only this transcendental impulse which stands between natural selection and infinite error - and the same applies to any science - or philosophy, law, medicine etc.


Humans cannot decide when a theory is applicable and when it is not, experience and investigation cannot decide (because they are framed by theory) - only that bottom-line assumption which stands outside of theory for that person, that culture, can decide and will decide.

That natural selection theory is widely misunderstood and misapplied is true; but the fault does not lie in the specific theory nor in its specific limitations; the fault lies in the way our culture uses theories as such, in the basic assumptions about the nature of things - in the metaphysics of modernity.

Having an incoherent metaphysical basis (nihilism, relativism, secularism, materialism) modernity cannot help but misuse theories.


Monday 10 October 2011

Does it matter what goes on in people's minds?


There are two answers:

1. Not at all.

2. More than anything.


The modern idea:

1. Most of modern life is predicated on the belief that what goes on in people's minds matters not at all. That is the perspective of bureaucracy.


2. But there is another modern line of thought, which is the idea that what matters is pleasure, or rather its reverse: suffering.

According to modern idea number 2., people's minds are the most important thing in the world insofar as they suffer, and the imperative is to alleviate this suffering.


Suffering is, however, conceptualized as confined to the mind of the sufferer (which for this view means confined to the brain of the sufferer).

So, for others to know about suffering, and act upon that knowledge, that suffering inside the brain must be either explicitly communicated ("I am suffering") or be inferred (from behaviour and knowledge).


2. The  Christian idea:

What goes on in people's minds matters more than anything.

And, in order for this to be true, the Christian cannot (consistently) believe that thought is confined to the mind or the brain.

For the Christian; Love, or pride, must have general and direct effects on reality.


A Christian cannot believe that the Love of Jesus Christ is something which only has an effect on reality indirectly - e.g. by being communicated to other people, or by being inferred from a person's behaviour.

Love must operate directly. Therefore, and this is the big jump, I suggest that the Christian (as a Christian) cannot believe that the human mind is restricted to the human brain.

The Christian cannot, that is, believe that the operations and effects of the human mind are ultimately subjective and encapsulated, are radically confined to the human skull; cannot believe in a sealed-off mind operating only via the senses and actions.


Somehow (and there need not be an explicit hypotheses how this works) the Christian must believe that the human mind (what goes-on in the human mind) extends beyond the human brain and (somehow, and this need not be explicit) links-up with reality - with God, and with other human minds as in the mystical Church.


Therefore the Christian must 'believe' (by which I mean not that this specific and explicit belief be always or ever present in consciousness - but that this state of affairs must underpin, must be the implicit basis for, Christian life) that the human mind is able to interact with reality directly: must believe that the human mind can (in some way) be affected by reality and itself affect reality.


So, for the Christian, what goes on in peoples' minds (in each person's mind) matters more than anything; consistent with the fact that what goes on in peoples' minds (each person's mind) potentially affects everything.


What is Rupert Sheldrake?


The two conventional views of Rupert Sheldrake are that he is either a scientist, or a pseudo-scientist.

He certainly is a credentialed scientist by profession, (oft-cited) publications and practice; but I suggest that he is most profoundly a philosopher: specifically a metaphysical philosopher.


Metaphysics is concerned with the fundamental nature of things: it is the framework within which other disciplines are conducted.

Darwin was, of course, a metaphysical philosopher, although remembered as the greatest-ever biologist (with the possible exception of Aristotle who was of course another metaphysical philosopher - one of the two greatest).


That is, Darwin proposed a 'framing' metaphysical theory - evolution by natural selection - then gathered a vast amount of observational data which he set forth as consistent-with this metaphysical theory.

This strategy served to obscure that for many decades Darwin's theory of natural selection was - as science - radically incomplete.

(i.e. Natural selection did not work and did not make sense until the Neo-Darwinian synthesis of NS with genetics was achieved in the mid-twentieth century.)


Sheldrake has done something precisely analogous to Darwin: i.e. set forth a metaphysical theory (concerning morphic fields and their properties) and accumulated a vast amount of observational and experimental data consistent with this theory.


The use of empirical data to support metaphysics is sometimes termed 'saving the appearances' on the basis that a useful metaphysical theory is compatible with the 'appearances' of things - the obvious, raw, in-your-face observations.

Empirical data does not test or prove the validity of metaphysical theory - all of Darwin's examples from animal breeding and the diversity of species did not test natural selection theory - rather they are set-forth to illustrate the theory and its operations.

I regard Sheldrake's voluminous body of empirical work as having a similar function.


Taken together, Sheldrake's books and papers on numerous topics, his surveys and experiments, demonstrate that Sheldrake's theories of morphic fields do indeed (to a significant extent) 'save the appearances' - that is to say the theory is compatible with observed reality.

However, taken one piece at a time, each specific item of empirical evidence that Sheldrake (or anyone else) can bring forwards can be (and is) (if not simply ignored) explained using numerous other conventional ad hoc explanations...

(Including - when all else fails - assumptions of dishonesty, incompetence and bias; because his critics 'know' that Sheldrake is not doing science in the way they are doing it - or ought to be doing it, and therefore cannot be right.)


However, there are other functions served by Sheldrake's empirical work (as was also the case for Darwin's work following the statement of his theory).


1. The numerous observations are each a demonstration, which 'teaches' how to use the theory in specific instances.

By repeatedly working-through examples (like doing problems in maths) the learner becomes adept at using the theory.

Thus the student learns to think within the theory and using the theory.


2. The use of examples and observations serves to interest many people who would not be interested by abstract formulations of metaphysics. In fact very few people are interested by metaphysics - even or especially not modern philosophers.


3. By describing examples from various sciences, not just observations from biology but also knowledge drawn (especially) from theoretical physics, Sheldrake has aimed to explain his theories using analogies.

The analogies from 'hard' sciences, such as physics, serve to make the new metaphysics less alien and strange.

For instance, they make more plausible the alien-ness and strangeness of morphic fields and morphic resonance by showing that equally strange and alien things are found and used effectively in advanced physics without anyone getting upset about them or regarding them as 'unscientific'.


4. The multiple examples of empirical science no doubt serve to extend and refine the metaphysical system, to explore and explicate its implications by going beyond immediate 'appearances' to what (is presumed to lie) behind the appearances.

Naturally, at some point, pushing backwards and outwards - exploring the theory's tentacles of implications as they ramify through reality - every metaphysical system runs into problems of some kind. Either clashing with superficial 'appearances' or becoming very complex and difficult to comprehend.

But all theories which are simple enough to be useful to lots of people are too simple to account comprehensively and with perfect internal consistency for everything which those people encounter in all circumstances.


At the end of the day, Sheldrake's metaphysics would probably do the job for most people in most situations.

His metaphysical framework is easily and obviously compatible with a wide range of human experiences - probably a wider range of human experiences than the normal mainstream metaphysics.

For example, the description of reality in terms of morphic fields and their interactions seems to be straightforwardly compatible with Christian theology, as well as science.

That Sheldrake's metaphysics is (explicitly) foreshadowed by earlier philosophers is a strength, not a failure of originality; since any useful general theory which approaches the truth is almost sure to have been converged-upon by honest and independent thinkers.