Saturday, September 18, 2010

Transcendent Writing

Mysticism Today

I am seeing many examples these days of an undue fascination with mysticism and wonder for its own sake.

It's one thing to have an open mind, to consider carefully, to explore unique ideas as they come to you, and quite another to seek out notions merely because they are unlike any other, to live on the fringe.

Being on the cutting edge of knowledge is not the same as hovering at the limit of sensibility.

While I have no quarrel with those who are deluded through genetic flaw, driven to it by social pressures or personal demons, to the point where they are unable to distinguish between fact and fancy, I take issue with those who deliberately look for the quirky and controversial with full knowledge that the material will amuse the gullible and the untrained.

An example or two might serve to clarify what is bothering me.

I was recently invited to attend a seminar on guided, or transcendent writing which is purported to be, or simply described as “words that flow from the heart and pierce the heart at the same time”
Sounds innocent doesn't it?

Fuji (planchette writing), guided writing or spirit writing, has a long history in Chinese folklore and appears in other cultures in various forms. It arises out of superstition and strong emotionality surrounding loss of loved ones, a belief in a life after this one, supporting a desire for communication with the dead, and is absolutely unsupported by any testable evidence. Likely it is fostered by the exploitation of of the superstitious for fame or profit.

Simple observation of the act is seldom possible because the writer will commonly testify that some negative spirit among the observers is blocking communication with the spirit realm as if skepticism is more powerful than the supposed spirits will to communicate, as if negative beliefs are inherently more powerful or the spirits have a lot of ego and refuse to show themselves except to true believers. Writing done in isolation of course is abundant from the self-declared practitioner and will be accompanied by wonderful tales of extreme emotion and experience.

I ask why, when I feel inspired and have a fruitful day of writing, it is not seen as guided by a beneficient spirit and is something other-worldly to behold, and not merely the product of industriousness?

So the claims made by these persons of having produced writing guided by some spurious connection with another ethereal realm amounts to nothing more than, "Hey, look what I did! Yeah, I know its weird, but that's spirits for ya."

"Transcendentalists were strong believers in the power of the individual and divine messages. Their beliefs are closely linked with those of the Romantics." - wikipedia
"Edgar Allan Poe had a deep dislike for transcendentalism, calling its followers "Frogpondians" after the pond on Boston Common.[6] He ridiculed their writings by calling them "metaphor-run," lapsing into "obscurity for obscurity's sake" or "mysticism for mysticism's sake."[7] One of his short stories, "Never Bet the Devil Your Head", is a clear attack on transcendentalism, which the narrator calls a "disease". The story specifically mentions the movement and its flagship journal The Dial, though Poe denied that he had any specific targets.[8]" - wikipedia.

"The term transcendentalism sometimes serves as shorthand for "transcendental idealism", which is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and later Kantian and German Idealist philosophers."
- ibid.

"Immanuel Kant had called "all knowledge transcendental which is concerned not with objects but with our mode of knowing objects." The transcendentalists were largely unacquainted with German philosophy in the original, and relied primarily on the writings of Thomas Carlyle, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The transcendentalists desired to ground their religion and philosophy in transcendental principles: principles not based on, or falsifiable by, sensuous experience, but deriving from the inner, spiritual or mental essence of the human." - ibid.

"The practical aims of the transcendentalists were varied; some among the group linked it with utopian social change; Brownson connected it with early socialism, while others considered it an exclusively individualist and idealist project. Emerson believed the latter. In his 1842 lecture "The Transcendentalist", Emerson suggested that the goal of a purely transcendental outlook on life was impossible to attain in practice:" - ibid.

While Emerson may have waxed lyrical about it (transcendentalism), procliming the wonderful experiences to be had while in conjugation with nature, let your spirits run free, etc.:

"So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect, — What is truth? and of the affections, — What is good? by yielding itself passive to the educated Will. ... Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit." - Emerson, quoted in wiki article.

he used a different tone when pressed as to its veracity:
"In his 1842 lecture "The Transcendentalist", Emerson suggested that the goal of a purely transcendental outlook on life was impossible to attain in practice:
You will see by this sketch that there is no such thing as a transcendental party; that there is no pure transcendentalist; that we know of no one but prophets and heralds of such a philosophy; that all who by strong bias of nature have leaned to the spiritual side in doctrine, have stopped short of their goal. We have had many harbingers and forerunners; but of a purely spiritual life, history has afforded no example. I mean, we have yet no man who has leaned entirely on his character, and eaten angels' food; who, trusting to his sentiments, found life made of miracles; who, working for universal aims, found himself fed, he knew not how; clothed, sheltered, and weaponed, he knew not how, and yet it was done by his own hands. ... Shall we say, then, that transcendentalism is the Saturnalia or excess of Faith; the presentiment of a faith proper to man in his integrity, excessive only when his imperfect obedience hinders the satisfaction of his wish." - ibid.

The phrase above, "not falsifiable by sensuous experience" is telling. While the transcendentalists wanted to borrow the credibility of someone like Kant by describing their position as transcendentalist, they did not understand what that entailed. It just sounded good and was likely to baffle their 19thC peers who were just as ignorant, they wanted also to avoid "falsifiability by sensuous experience." To put it plainly they wanted to avoid having anyone observe them doing what they claimed to do which is have that connection with the non-material world, the spirit realm. Lockean empiricism insisted that knowledge could only come from the senses. If you couldn't tuch, see, smell, taste or hear it, it didn't exist, in the sense it was not real.

Kant tried to prove that you could have knowledge that was transcendent of experience, but he was talking about things like mathematical truths as exemplied by the Euclideam maxim, "the internal angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees," and two parallel lines do not intersect. The problem with that "knowledge" was not truth, it was that while it was true (by definition) it was not knowledge of the world. In the real world two lines were never parallel, they didn't exist.

The falsifiable part meant that for a claim to be knowledge it ahd to be falsfifiable by Lockean standards. You had to be able to observe it, through the senses. Or else it wasn't knowledge. It might be true in a Platonic sense, but that was mere tautology: it was true by definition.

Descriptions of trancendent writing abound with fluffy ambiguities that forbid clear, concise definition, enabling all manner of misunderstandings which result in no one being able to say exactly what it is, or what counts as an example of it, thereby avoiding exactly the kind of falsifiability that was wished for by its original practitioners. Unfortunately for them this also means TW defies verifiability. If you can't examine it you cannot refute it but you cannot prove it either. For fluffy ambiguity see the following.

"Transcendent states are those which take the mind out of the envelope of personal or at times, even transpersonal awareness and into a pure field of infinite silence. Here, the subject/object process no longer resides. In this state, the reciprocity between what we know as the "I" in its singularity melts and the internal wisdom that is easily manifest can render a complete elucidation of knowing in its totality.
further: "The contemplative manifestation, which is characterized by one's ability to enter a state of clarity to the point of arising in consciousness, is capable of meeting the transcendent at its depth. Here, the ability to witness the > field of pure consciousness and the point of recognition of the underlying state out of which thought emerges becomes self-evident."
- Re:[FairfieldLife] Transcendent Writing, a yahoo group

The above is a description of the transcendent state, not an example of TW.
As such it fails to say, coherently, what it is.
What the rules of grammar, and accepted word useage give us, is intelligible meaning. The above breaks both rules in numerous ways. It is also redundant in many cases, the very definition of double-speak.

"infinite silence" - infinity refers to something without limits as in describing something capable of degrees. Silence on the other hand is not something capable of degrees, the slightest sound ends it. There cannot be a little bit of silence, or a lot of silence, or by extension, an inifinity of silence.

Similarly, transcendence is a bi-value state, either a thing transcends experience, or it does not. It cannot therefore have depth, which is a matter of degree.
Other examples of bafflegab - simple linguistic error, exist throughout. there is not a single clear, concise sentence in the two paragraphs. Therefore the above example lacks any meaning. It is unintelligible gibberish.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this example, one: nothing can be learned from the offered descriptions, and two: no argument with TW can be mounted. It is hard to refute ambiguous rubbish.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fight Against Cancer: not a good idea?

We have just seen a national event, "Stand Up For Cancer" ontv, seen Cops For Cancer begin a 1,000 kilometre bicycle ride in a group of 25 riders. On the eve of 9/11, when almost everyone's mind is on the events of 2001 on this date, I wonder what would be the result of winning the fight against Cancer.
To put it bluntly, what if we won the battle against cancer, what then? And let us here let cancer, stand for all disease. The major disease killers are heart disease, cancer and stroke. Apparently nobody dies of old age anymore. Do we even know what death by old age is now? So if we defeated these 3 major killers, what then?

There would still be death by accident and natural disaster. But these causes barely put a dent in population growth. If we ended death by the big 3 causes, would not our population skyrocket?

If it did there must surely come a time when massive death by famines would occur. No matter that technology proposes to supply food endlessly. For even if finite resources could be extended by technology with cloning meat substances in a vat, or farming algae in the seas, whatever, there is still the logistics of transport to overcome. We have seen many famines in the world in the last 50 years, too many to mention, yet, even knowing in advance where and when they would occur, and that they would occur, we have still failed to get the food there, and millions have died.

In addition to the, as yet unsolved, logistical problems of food distribution, we have the insuperable problems of overcoming the lack of political will to feed everybody. Recently, the tragedy of Darfur has showed us that there is no unanimous belief that all people should be saved from starvation. In Sudan, Chinese oil interests trumped the death of thousands by starvation as they used their Security Council veto to prevent the tragedy when tons of food & supplies stood ready to be delivered to the beleagured population, and they died before our eyes.

East Timor is another example of political disinterest allowing the death of thousands. It is foolish to think that we would save everybody, merely by providing food, even if we could overcome the logistical problems.

There are the further battles with birth control and eugenics issues, for how else could we stem the tide of humanity that threatens to overwhelm our ability to feed the masses. UN figures show that by 2050 world population will reach 9 billion people, fifty per cent more than lived at the turn of the millennium. Dare anyone say massive death by disease or malnutrition is not certain.

So, why try to stop heart disease, cancer or stroke.

Clearly, the personal motive is to spare us the loss of loved ones or even personal demise, no one wants their life ended prematurely by a named cause.
The public motive behind the battle against heart disease, cancer, stroke is profit.
Pharmaceutical companies seek treatments, not cures. Fund raisers, like the Cancer Society, the Heart & Stroke Foundation, are run by people who depend on their fund-raising for their livlihood.
Not that there is anything wrong with that per se. There is a market for the drugs and a need for money to pay for them, but neither group is looking long term. Big pharma does not want an end to the diseases and they would lament the discovery of a cure because it would put an end to that profit stream.
Of course, they would simply move on to some other ailment, there is no shortage, and they are very creative when it comes to finding new income streams, even inventing problems that seemingly did not exist before. Prozac comes to mind. But to stay on topic, even though big pharma does not want an end to the big killers, neither do we.

And, by extension, we do not want fund raisers to continue either.

In reality, death by disease, a sudden heart attack, or stroke, a short final struggle with inoperable cancer, ameliorated by powerful pain killers, seems preferable, to me at least, to a long, slow, pointless, painful, death by starvation, with awful wasting away of the flesh in desperate wishing for something to eat, watching family members growth weaker, scrawnier, day by day until they finally succumb to wasting away as skin covered skeletons.