Saturday, 30 April 2016

Evolution of Empathizing and Systemizing - Bruce G Charlton & Patrick Rosenkranz

In the steps of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In the middle 2000s we had three family holidays staying in Greta Hall, Keswick.

This was the house found and initially inhabited by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), and later and for longer by Robert Southey - the poet laureate and the third, least but (personally) nicest of the Lake Poets who moved up to Cumberland from their early base in Bristol and Somerset. Greta Hall was much visited by Wordsworth and other luminaries of the era - and Coleridge's (unfortunate) wife stayed here (she was Southey's sister in law) when her husaband moved back south.

Coleridge was a tormented and difficult personality, an opium addict; and a world class genius in multiple fields including poetry, philosophy and theology. His influence was remarkable - and international - considering the disorder of his life and indeed his work. Coleridge could be said to have lauched the Romantic Movement - which has never yet gone away, nor has its destiny yet been fulfilled.

The book Lyrical Ballads that he co-published with Wordsworth (who was an even greater poet - regarded as a clear third in reputation to Shakespeare and Milton in English Literature), was probably the most significant single volume of verse in the whole Western literary tradition - nothing has been the same since. He was Britain's two-way link with the academic powerhouse of Germany - and the route by which Romanticism reached the United States via RW Emerson's 'Transcendentalist' movement - amplified by the major intellectual of the next generation, Coleridge's main 'disciple' and Emerson's best friend in Britain: Thomas Carlyle.

It really is quite something to stay in Greta Hall, and to work in Coleridge's study (now containing a a vast antique Chinese bed!) 

Indeed, we are returning for another visit this summer - when I am likely to be even more receptive to the place since I am immersed in Coleridge at present - partly through reading his works (in the astonishing and marvellous Delphi collection on my Kindle e-book - a whole library of Coleridge for £1.50! - thanks to Delphi I have much of the vast canon of Eng Lit carried in my bag much of the time), but mostly as refracted through the mind of another genius, Owen Barfield - in his astonishingly-profound and intelligent book What Coleridge Thought (1971).

Friday, 29 April 2016

What if The Lord of the Rings really *had* been an allegory of World War II?

Insanity is not subtle - if you need to explain it, there is no point in explaining it

I spent a year in the 1980s working as a psychiatrist participating in the admissions rota where I would cover all the medical work necessary in a large hospital overnight or at weekends.

Quite a few of the patients were brought in by the police, by ordinary police officers - who had been called to some incident and recognized that the person involved was 'mad not bad', and so brought them in for psychiatric evaluation instead of putting them into the cells.

The police were never wrong, in my experience. The people they brought in were always crazy - it was just a matter of sorting out what kind of crazy. In other words, an ordinary policeman was able to tell when somebody was insane - it was a matter of common sense (plus relevant experience).

But now? Craziness is built-in, high status, a marker of 'goodness' - increasingly compulsory.

It is hopeless to try and explain why crazy things are crazy - if they really are crazy, then everyone knows. But apparently everyone does not know - there is a bland acceptance of the insanities of political correctness which means that we are in the position of trying to explain, argue, prove that something obviously crazy really is insane...

Of course, this is characteristic of dealing with insane people - they have no insight. That is the nature of insanity - akin to nightmares in which we accept whatever extreme craziness and illogic the dream brings, after a the merest brief twinge of puzzlement. 

Indeed, such is the extremity of the situation, that the insane people label normality as crazy. And here is a clue....

The situation has arisen and continues because in the modern West normal people are impaired. They are indeed so impaired that they cannot do what every policeman used to be able to do - which is to recognize crazy.

What is the cause of modern impairment? Well, I have argued two main causes on this blog: genetic damage - population wide mutation accumulation over the past several generations (i.e. the posts labelled 'mouse utopia'). That means that nearly everybody is ill, and lacks spontaneous instincts which used to be taken for granted. People accept insanity because they are too sick to notice or be bothered.

On top of this is secularism: the atheist assumptions of all significant public discourse in the West: the assumption that there is no God, no soul, no afterlife, no supersensible realm - no transcendental purpose, no objective universal meaning to life... and the rest of it.

The developed world is itself insane because it has deleted religion; and Man without religion is insane.

Religion (of some kind) is natural, spontaneous, built-in. All societies everywhere have always been religious (a tiny minority of atheists make no difference) - life without religion is new, uncharted territory for humans. But now a whole public world and discourse of religious understandings, interpretations, explanations - religiously framed laws - religious reasons for significant actions of the state and of individuals etc... utterly gone.

The insanity of Man without religion was not immediately obvious, because the generations overlapped, and for many decades people were brought-up on a religious basis, and only abandoned religion in adulthood. But there was a tipping point evident in the mid-1960s, and now for fifty years (two generations) the West has been ever-more-completely functionally atheist (especially considering that most mainstream self-identified Christians have such a feeble faith that it makes zero observable difference in any way; not even to the litmus test issues of sexuality).

My overall impression is that although Modern Man is genetically impaired such that his instincts are weakened and deranged; even this is not sufficient to make him lose his basic orientation and discernment when religion is strong.

A strong religious society is, substantially, antidote to the behavioural impairments of mouse utopia.

This can be seen in the most profound marker of modern decline: the sub-replacement fertility universal in the entire developed world (less than two children per average women, usually much less when new immigrants are excluded) - this is (obviously!) a short path to irreversible decline and extinction.

Yet serious religion is indeed an effective antidote to sub-fertility - even among the very craziest sub-populations (i.e. the intellectual elites).

So - when confronted by the normal everyday experience of trying to explain to insane people why something insane really is insane... take a step back. Remember that it is the basic metaphysical framework which is wrong - it is the deletion of religion from life which is crucial.

Man must have religion and there is no arguing with 'must'.

Legitimate and constructive discussion is merely concerned with the choice of which religion.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The innocent are full of bitterness and resentment, while the worst are full of passionate intensity

There have been situations when I was attacked in the past, where I felt the attack was without justice, that I had been harmed and that I was blameless. But perhaps precisely because of my innocence, my response was self-righteous and proud. I egotistically 'took on' the opposition, and became increasingly angry and vengeful.

The question of whether such a response is 'effective' in the real world then becomes irrelevant - because one has been corrupted.

I have experienced this in myself - and I have seen it in others - many others over the years. When somebody has been genuinely wronged and they are genuinely innocent, it is a special hazard - or so it seems to me. Such people may destroy their own lives in bitterness and resentment; and are very resistant to repentance because they feel themselves so much 'in the right' and therefore regard any attempt to help them 'move on' as taking sides against them.

This is an absolute tragedy, a waste of a mortal life, when a person will not let go of his or her grievances (against a parent, spouse, nation, race, bigot or whatever). Whether or not the grievances are 'legitimate' this strikes me as one of the commonest and deepest sins among older people - even without encouragement - but of course this is a sin which is encouraged by our culture of resentment and victim groups.

Note: As CS Lewis also said somewhere, on the other side of the coin: it is a grievous thing when one's own selfish, spiteful or simply careless actions have led to this sin in others - and may well have happened without one's knowledge.

1987 memoir of Durham University, a book club, and my first contact with Charles Williams

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

We are worse-off than mouse utopia - because of evil leaders

Reader may recall the Mouse Utopia experiment as interpreted by Michael Woodley and myself in terms of mutation accumulation, and my crude attempt to apply this to modern Britain:

It seems ever more obvious that the mass of people in the West are behaving in ways consistent with significant genetic damage - that shows itself in terms of social and sexual maladaptation, and a kind of 'indifference' to survival trending over into self-destructive (extinction-seeking) attitudes.

The idea is a group-selectional concept (which I got from the great evolutionary theorist WD Hamilton - in the second, 2001, volume of his collected papers Narrow Roads to Gene Land) that when an animal is carrying a significant mutational load, it will cease to struggle to survive and may even allow itself to die (or seek death) because its own elimination will tend to benefit the rest of the group (e.g. by dying it will cease to consume resources, leaving more for the 'fitter' members of the species; furthermore, and more importantly, it will eliminate the mutated genes from the gene pool - this was plausibly seen in the Mouse Utopia experiment with the increasing prevalence of non-reproductive sex and solitary behaviour among the males).

But this 'self-sacrifice' for the good of the species is only useful when the 'mutated' individuals are relatively rare, and the rest of the group have 'good genes' and are low in mutations. The thesis of Mouse Utopia is that the whole population of post-Industrial Revolution countries have suffered mutation accumulation (mostly due to the near elimination of intrauterine and childhood mortality which used to run at more than half of conceptions) for periods that vary between maybe seven to ten generations - going back into the 1700s in England for the upper classes to a few generations less for the lower classes (because there was a lag before the lower classes benefitted from the decline in mortality rates).

However, when the mutated individuals make up the majority, or indeed the entire population, then this indifferent, passive, extinction-accepting/ seeking attitude becomes near-universal - as we see today.

Clearly the parallels between mice and men cannot be assumed! - nonetheless, this may not favour men. Things are worse in modern Britain (and the West generally) than in the Mouse Utopia experiment in at least three respects:

1. The mice were cleaned and provisioned by the lab workers, so did not have to care for themselves;

2. The mice were protected from predators and colonizers - which they would have certainly been unwilling to resist;

3. The experimenters were benign and did not take advantage of the situation.

But in The West, including Britain, we do not have these advantages - we have to provision ourselves, we are unprotected from predators  and colonizers and our ruling elites have an aggressive attitude that aims to encourage extinction and to seek and suppress any remaining adaptive and self-preserving behaviours.

So while Mouse Utopia did not reach extinction for several mouse generations even after reproduction ended altogether, because the last of the sheltered and pampered mice lived long (and passive!) lives - the timescale to elimination, in terms of human generations, would presumably be much shorter for the modern West.

It might be assumed that men had an advantage over mice in being able to understand what is going on, and do something about it - however, in practice, this is not the case; and it seems we will stumble to our demise just as ignorant of its causes as if we were mice.

Added clarification: Our ruling elites are not evil due to being genetically damaged by mutation accummulation - that does not make people evil, but merely diseased, biologically un-fit; instead our leadership class are (on the whole) evil because they have chosen to serve evil - in other words, chosen purposively to destroy that which is good.

(Note: Acknowledgment is due to Michael Woodley for ideas included above which he described and we developed in conversation yesterday.)

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The modern desperate need for utopia (and Heaven)

It strikes me that one great appeal of the best (from my perspective the best!) fantasy novels, is their depiction of utopia in the sense of not an ideal but a 'good' society - and that this is a thing which is otherwise almost wholly lacking in modern culture.

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings has an unmatched range of good, believable and powerful appealing societies: The Shire, Tom Bombadil's little world, Bree, Rivendell, Lothlorien, Rohan, Minas Tirith - take your pick!

Lesser fantasy fails to provide any such vision of the good life (and is praised by mainstream literary critics for this lack - which they assert, from their nihilistic and purposively-destructive roots, makes it 'dark', 'edgy', 'realistic' and 'subversive' - the ultimate accolade of those who are ultimately motivated by despair and hatred) - and therefore cannot provide what we so desperately need.

Because utopia is a selective microcosm of Heaven, and Heaven is necessary for Hope - and Hope is a necessity for the good life.

What I would love to see is believable and realistic descriptions, creative depictions and speculative discussions on the subject of Heaven; and perhaps fantasy is the best vehicle for this at present.

Heaven has become (and not merely by accident - but also by purpose) unimaginable to modern man. Thus Heaven has become ineffectual: it must therefore be made imaginable, we need actively to imagine Heaven, and to engage with this imagination.

The Inklings and writers' groups - a review of Glyer's 'Bandersnatch'

Monday, 25 April 2016

A critique of Rudolf Steiner's early work on Goethe's philosophical perspective

The cosmic, objective Christ (a thought experiment)

Imagine that we knew nothing about Christ - that his life had been obscure, that there had been no gospels, that all evidence and memory of him had been lost.

Would the existence of Jesus then have any value?

Yes - because the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was of objective, cosmic significance - even if nobody alive knew anything about it!

In other words, Christ achieved at least two things which have permanent and universal value even if we know nothing about them: he took away the sins of the world; and he made it so that when every person dies he or she will be resurrected.

Those who knew or currently know nothing of Christ during mortal life, will be made aware of these true facts after their death; and will face a decision and judgment about whether they accept Christ's offer of salvation.

This is simply a fact of reality, independent of human knowledge, belief or experience. This is the cosmic, objective significance of Christ.*

*There is, of course, a lot more to Christ than this! But this much is given.  

The modern impossibility of politics for Christians

When I first became a Christian, some seven to eight years ago, my first instinct was to look for a 'reactionary' politics that was strong enough to defeat the long tide in favour of secular Left progressive radical destruction in The West.

But that was grossly to underestimate the extent to which Christianity has been defeated. It took me some time to recognize that politics has long since become impossible for Christians - because politics requires some grouping of people that can wield power - and there is no such group of any significant size and strength (and no possibility of an alliance).

Some Christians in the public arena, including blogs, are forever addressing a totally imaginary audience of like-minded persons - trying to stir them to effective resistance and positive action. There is no such audience.

The fact is that the Left has already won in the secular public arena (and the public arena is wholly secular in its baseline assumptions)  - Christianity is on the ropes, and continuing their job is easy because it is easy to destroy, and very difficult to build.

A single person, one saboteur, can therefore inflict immense damage - especially when he or she is a head of state, chief executive of a major corporation, wealthy, a senior judge, prestigious media figure professor or the like... and there are many, many such persons at work and active. The Left is organized in its work - especially at the highest levels - but it hardly needs to be organized

The mass media is overwhelmingly dominant in people's lives; and is overwhelmingly anti-Christian and anti-Good in its content - more importantly the form of the mass media is anti-Christian, anti-religious, anti-Good.

In such circumstances Christians need to be far more realistic and honest than they are. Even suppose that - by some ludicrously unlikely series of coincidences - a Christian leader and government found themselves in charge of a Western nation, they could not do anything significant to reverse the trend towards destruction of the good because the Western populations are so widely, deeply, thoroughly corrupted: the mass majority do not want to be 'saved' and will exert themselves (in so far as they exert themselves over anything) to continue along the path to physical and spiritual destruction.

Having made a plain, simple and realistic appraisal of the actually existing situation; it is very clear that the active Christian must be active in the religious sphere and not in the political sphere (it is no coincidence that the pseudo-Christian majority of anti-Christian subversives who dominate the mainstream Churches are so keen on political 'engagement').

The serious Christian nowadays must be working to sustain the faith, to spread the faith (evangelism) and to deepen his own faith and that of others - as best he may and confident in the activities of imperceptible influences - and that is where his main energies need to be directed.

Time and effort expended on politics is time invested in aiding the enemy.  


Further reading:

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Durham University Ramblers - a great conversation group

Probably the most enjoyable and most worthwhile regular group of which I have been a member was the Rambler Club in the School of English at Durham University, late 1980s.

The name came from the fact that the group was focused on reading one essay per week from the 208 essays by Samuel Johnson published as a periodical called The Rambler from 1750-52. I was lucky enough to be asked to join for the last 20 or so weeks, completing the sequence - I infer the group had previously been meeting for at least seven years (since the group met only during term time, which lasted 27 weeks but some weeks would be missed to due exams). After finishing Johnson's Rambler, I believe they moved on to the Adventurer and Idler essay sequences. 

There were four 'core' members (which seems common for many lasting groups) of common interest. The 'Chair' was Derek T, whose characteristics were a nimbleness of wit, fertility of ideas, and a crisp phraseology - he tended to talk the most and shape the debate. The second most frequent speaker was David C - who was the most open-hearted and emotional speaker - he would also tend to give the conversation a dark and pessimistic turn. David F spoke only when he had something considered to say - with some diffidence, but always respectfully listened-to because his statements had a background of deep thought. Tom C was the oldest and most distinguished member, he beamed upon proceedings with a benign air - and he was turned-to to settle disagreements of fact, or he would chip-in with a 'crowning' verbatim quotation from a memory exceptionally well-stocked with the classics; especially Shakespeare (upon whom he was a great authority).

The structure of each meeting was quite simple. The timing was about an hour, people arrived carrying a packed-lunch, either having read the essay already - or, if not, then being given a photocopy to read while others arrived. Then the conversation would be kicked-off by Derek, who would usually take charge of moving it on or redirecting it as necessary.

The Rambler essays were essentially a stimulus to conversation, and the conversation was 'moral' in theme - typically beginning with whatever moral point the essay had emphasised, but evolving unpredictably according to the mind of the group and their interactions.

And the conversations were superb - due to the quality of the participants - especially the informal chairmanship of Derek T, and the necessary degree of structure. Behind the formal structure - and, I think vital to the success for the group - was a common purpose or philosophy; which was 'anti-critical'. These were hard-working and experienced teachers of English in one of England's premier universities who yet were very sceptical of the validity and value of mainstream 'literary criticism'; and were seeking a more personal, heart-felt and spontaneous way of discussing literature. By my estimation, they achieved it. 

I have attended and tried to form many small conversation groups, sporadically over the years - and they are in my experience, seldom at a high level and always very difficult to sustain - so I feel privileged to have participated in one of the shining exceptions; albeit briefly.   

Friday, 22 April 2016

The Inklings and the evolution of consciousness

Plus - at last! - an Inklings Group Portrait! (Not by me.)

God and sexual morality

Some people - most modern people, apparently - say that find it hard to believe that God - or, at least, the Christian God of Love - would exclude certain sexual behaviours, acts and identifications: would regard them as sins.

This labelling of sin seems to them arbitrary and unbalanced... it can indeed be made to sound ridiculous, to the point that through the twentieth century official public sexual morality was first - but only very briefly - made 'free', then now it has been inverted, with the 'normal', natural and traditionally Christian sex and sexuality becoming the problem; precisely because Christianity regards some acts and attitudes as sins... 

Of course, this whole matter hinges on the reality and nature of sin; and public discourse has long since regarded sin as unreal (arbitrary, artificially defined and open-endedly subject to re-definition) and has degraded the concept of sin to the point of ridiculousness - or indeed evil. The major modern moral inversion is that those who believe in the reality of sin are regarded as the ones who are evil.

Those who advocate what used to be (not long ago) regarded as sexual sin are nowadays treated as the virtuous ones and rewarded with praise and status (and material goods!) both by official culture and the mass media - they apparently 'solve' the problem of sin by dissolving the concept of sin and making it a matter of personal preference and freedom and the sacred pursuit of happiness. So long as the consequences of some behaiour can be portrayed (in official and media sources) as potentially happy, self-respecting, and kind - then that is taken to be the proof of rightness.

(And any contradictory evidence of consequent misery, suffering, despair following sin... is blamed upon those who 'label' the behaviour as sin. Essentially, this is Catch 22 in reverse!) 

At any rate, in a world of establishment and counter-cultural moral inversion - to focus on the sin of acts and behaviours has become counter-productive - even when true. I think the key to a response is regarding morality positively, as what God most wants us to do.


This differs among Christian churches - which is a source of weakness that has been exploited - but for the CJCLDS it is clear from multiple revelations and the teaching of living prophets that God most wants us to marry (I mean really marry, with a person of the opposite sex), stay married, have children, and live in loving families.

For Mormon believers, the primacy of marriage and family is not some bit of moral teaching 'parachuted' in from above, but something built-in from the ground upwards; from the basic metaphysical understanding of reality: the 'whole' human is ultimately (at some point, perhaps extremely remote, in post-mortal life, when Man has progressed to the fullest divinity) a complementary, irreducibly dyadic combination of an exalted man and a woman bound together by love.

'Celestial marriage' is the aim, and it is the completion, of Man.

This is the clear ideal - and this is what is taught, supported, worked-towards...

Now, there is compassion and help for those (which may be a majority) who for a multitude of individual reasons of many types, cannot do all of this (or indeed any of it) during this mortal life - and there is therefore a second strand of the ideal life of celibacy - it seems that this may be part of God's plan for some individuals during this mortal life, if not eternally.

There is of course the significant matter than the great majority of people will fail to live perfectly by the ideal; they will probably fail many times, in many ways both great and small, and they may not be able to stop failing. These are not 'damned' nor lost to salvation but they are required to 'repent' - i.e. required to acknowledge the ideal and their failure to attain it.

(And not, for example, to say that their failure is actually success; especially not to assert it is a superior kind of success: which is the norm in modern public discourse.)

But it is forbidden to argue and teach that 'other sexual ways' (of any kind) are either equal or superior to that which God has clearly said is the ideal. Anything other than the ideal must be acknowledged as sub-optimal.

The serious sin is not so much in doing otherwise than the ideal, but in assuming or arguing otherwise, or saying that sex and sexuality 'don't matter'; in making laws and regulations on that basis, or in failing to repent (i.e. acknowledge the sub-optimality of) other behaviours. 


I think that sexuality (in our era) shows clearly the two somewhat different requirements for public and private morality. Public morality (as a part of 'politics' - law, regulations, economic incentives etc.) must be, can only be, simple and clear.

If morality is not presented simply and clearly, then it will in practice be interpreted in a simple and clear way - whether we like it or not.

So public morality will always be simplistic and harsh - just as is our current politically correct morality simplistic and harsh, but in an inverted way than the past. And it is the job of individuals to soften and nuance this simplicity and harshness when appropriate, in individual instance, based upon wise judgement and not on rules.

We cannot expect, and we will not get, perfection in attitudes, justice or anything else - there will always be a bias, and we must make a choice of which direction 'the system' is biased towards: morality (as in the past) or anti-morality (as at present). 


For Christians there is the 'problem' of being strong and able to resist being swept into secularism, while remaining compassionate and empathic.

There is no rule for this - but some types of strong Christianity are brittle and if they yield an inch they seem to collapse altogether; while other types seem to be able to be strong without harshness or encouraging hate: strong in will but soft and warm in heart.

I think this ideal of strong-and-loving, tough-and-soft, clear-and-warm... is made easier by regarding sin as failure to live by the ideal, rather than in terms of specific acts and attitudes being sinful in and of themselves.

What has made the modern sexual revolution such a devastating anti-Christian force is that it has managed to reduce sex and sexuality to be considered as discrete and detached acts, which seem trivial and arbitrary, and therefore not the kind of thing to have eternal significance.

Christians should not fall into this prepared trap - but try to make clear (not least to ourselves) that sexual sin is mostly a matter of failing to live by divinely ordained sexual ideals; but this failure is not of itelf the major problem in modern life: the major problem of modern life is denying the truth that God does have a plan, an ideal, for human sexuality and sexual life; and that we know (because we have been clearly told) the basic structure of this plan - and that when we (so often ) fail to live by the plan, we muct acknowledge ('repent') these failures.

But if you don't know, here it is:

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The link between the evolution of consciousness and reincarnation in Owen Barfield's thought

Owen Barfield's central idea, and the one for which he is best known, is the evolution of consciousness - meaning that the nature of human consciousness has changed throughout history such that people in different eras and places had very different relationships with the world: these changes fall into three general categories of Original Participation, the Observing Consciousness and Final Participation.

He traces the evolution of consciousness mainly by observing the characteristic changes in the meaning and usage of words, which seem to display a cohesive development - and also looks at other cultural evidence. Barfield's idea of evolution in this regard is not natural selection, but a developmental process (akin to the growth and differentiation of a living entity): the emergence and unfolding of human destiny, interacting with the agency and free will of individual humans.

What is seldom appreciated or emphasized is that for Barfield the evolution of consciousness is divinely designed, and bound-up with reincarnation. To put it concisely, the reason for the evolution of consciousness through history is that this provides the necessary conditions by which successive reincarnations of  human spirits may learn what they require to develop towards divinity.

So, for Barfield (although this is hinted at much more often than made explicit) it is God who 'provides' the evolution of consciousness in order that reincarnating human spirits may have the necessary experiences they need to growth towards the ultimate goal of Final Participation - whereby firstly, and stepwise, the Ego or Self has become separated from its original 'unconscious' immersion in the environment and strong in its purpose and will - awake, alert and in-control; then secondly the now strong and purposive Self/ Ego comes back into a participatory relationship with The World.

To underlying rationale (the 'point') of the evolution of consciousness is, for Barfield, bound-up with the reality of reincarnation; and therefore those (such as myself) who disbelieve in reincarnation as the normal human destiny, yet who believe in the evolution of consciousness, need to be clear that we differ from Barfield; and are, indeed, denying the main reason for evolution of consciousness as Barfield understood it.

To put it bluntly: those individuals who are sympathetic towards Barfield's core idea of the evolution of consciousness yet who do not believe in reincarnation, need to explain what the evolution of consciousness is for - if not to provide the conditions necessary for educating the reincarnating human spirit.  


Note: My personal 'take' on reincarnation is that it is not the normal human destiny - but that reincarnation happens to some individuals for particular purposes - for instance, a sage, prophet or saint may be a reincarnate who has returned to assist in the divine work - indeed I suspect that many of the wise intuitive individuals such as Rudolf Steiner and perhaps Owen Barfield himself, who claim direct personal knowledge of the reality of incarnation, are themselves actually some of these rare and atypical persons. As a believer in Mormon theology, my explanation for the evolution of consciousness is that humans have a pre-mortal spiritual existence before being voluntarily incarnated into life on earth - and the evolution of consciousness allows pre-mortal spirits to be 'placed' - by God - into the historical era which best addresses their personal spiritual needs: i.e. their specific needs for mortal experience of a particular kind. 

Empathizing and Systemizing - evolutionary paper pre-published and open for review

Those who are interested by the personality traits of Empathizing and Systemizing, as defined and elucidated by Simon Baron Cohen, may like to read and perhaps comment on a theoretical paper now online at The Winnower in a pre-archive version:

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The centrality of John's gospel to reading and understanding the Bible

It is clear that modern people - me included - find it very difficult to 'read the Bible' - even if that reading is largely restricted to the New Testament.

The experience is too often confusing rather than enlightening, misleading rather than clarifying; and the reigning rival paradigms for reading the Bible - either regarding the book as 'inerrant' on a line-by-line basis, or else regarding it as if it was just another historical document to be dissected by scholars - both do more harm than good by regarding the text as if it were a mosaic composed of detachable and autonomous words and sayings.

Here is a concrete suggestion that I have been using for a while: I regard John's gospel as the central text of the Bible, and read outwards from that to the other Synoptic gospels, the rest of the New Testament, and then to the Old - regarding them mainly in terms of explaining and expanding the message of John.

The reasons I regard John's gospel is central are manyfold: that it was written by a disciple, eyewitness and participant in the events; the disciple that Jesus most loved and who was most faithful to Jesus; the only disciple who remained loyal and did not hide after Jesus's arrest; the only disciple who was present at the crucifixion, standing with the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene - where Jesus from the cross entrusted to John the care of His mother; who responded to Mary Magdalene's news of the risen Christ and who ran faster than Simon Peter to arrive first at the opened tomb; the disciple who did not die but is still alive today and with us - ministering until the second coming; and the Biblical author whose gospel is unmatched in its beauty, coherence and the goodness and newness of its message.

I think that reading John as a whole (in the Authorised Version, the King James Bible - which is the only divinely-inspired English translation) gives us the gospel, the good news which Christ was; and does this in a way that is uniquely authoritative, and at the level of the highest poetry - which is the only language capable of whole-truth.

John's Gospel is the very heart of the Christian message: and surely that is what we most need and the obvious place for our understanding to be located.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Death, Hell/ Sheol and Eternal Life - and the parable of Lazarus and Dives

I cannot shake the conviction that Christians often misinterpret Christ's message by misunderstanding what is meant by death, 'hell and eternal life - when they occur in the Gospels.

My understanding is that Hell refers to what is called Sheol in the Old Testament - and this refers to the Ancient Hebrew belief (which is indeed shared by many pagans) that death means death-of-the-body and that afterwards the severed-soul continues to live in a shadowy realms as barely conscious souls that have lost memories, their sense of self, lost their will and purpose - and simply subists moment by moment in a state of 'lostness'.

In other words, if we are to take mortal human comparisons, 'Hell' is more like a state of severe dementia than like a state of being perpetually tortured.

The reason that Hell is like dementia is exactly that the soul is separated from the body. Therefore, when Christ offers us the gift of eternal life, what he is offering is the resurrection whereby the soul is restored to the body.

So the good news of Christ, which gives the name to the gospels, is that we are all saved from the state of demented spirits in Hell/ Sheol.

Heaven and Hell are therefore properly what happens after resurrection - and the overall tenor of the gospels is that what happens after resurrection is greatly preferable to Sheol. What exactly Hell is like is metaphorically described in very unpleasant terms - but nonetheless Hell is a chosen state; and we know from our own experience that even in mortal life there are many people who choose to live in some version of Hell - alone, tormented with burning regrets - but utterly locked into this state and inaccessible by pride and defiant despair.

We need this framework because, without it, it is so easy to misunderstand references to Hell. For example, in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (aka. Dives) there are horrible depictions of Hell - but the point of the parable is not the literal truth of such depictions but the last verses 29-31:

Luke 16:
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

The point of the parable is clearly not to give us a literal description of 'what it is physically like' in Hell but to emphasize the adequacy of existing revelations and therefore the absolute necessity for faith: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
In other words, there are some people for whom there is never enough evidence - they always want more, and more, and more 'proof'; because all evidence without exception requires interpretation.

Not everyone who saw that Lazarus rose from the dead - or Jesus - was thereby converted - maybe they didn't really die, maybe it was a trick, maybe they had experienced an hallucination?
Most people who experience miracles are not converted by them - they find some other explanations, or they say (quite accurately) 'yes - but...'

Anyway - let us not get distracted from the good news by misinterpreting it as being bad news - ie, the fallacy that Christ came in order to send everyone to a Hell of perpetual torture excepting a few who successfully negotiated that obstacle/ assault course which is human life.

The tortures of Hell are self-chosen and self-inflicted - and none the less real for that; but Hell is not a matter of being tortured because that is what God wants. It is because that is what the inhabitants have chosen. The real horror  of Hell is that people really will, really do - in mortal life, choose this.  

Monday, 18 April 2016

Romanticism comes of age... Owen Barfield's insight

Romanticism Comes of Age was the title of a collection of essays published by Owen Barfield in 1944, and also of the biography of Barfield by Simon Blaxland-De Lange in 2006.

This matter of Romanticism is one of Barfield's major statements with relevance to our times - he is saying that Rudolf Steiner's core insights are the completion of what began with the Romantic movement, and they are a necessary next step for human spiritual evolution (ie. the divine destiny for Man).

I will summarize my understanding of this matter, including adding my own framework.

1. In ancient times, especially during the hunter gatherer era, Man lived undivided from, immersed in, his perceptual environment - and mostly lacked self-awareness or a sense of separate consciousness. This was termed Original Participation by Barfield.

2. From the 1700s there was a new era of alienation for Western Man - in which consciousness becomes isolated from perception; heralded by the work of Descartes and Newton, and implemented by the Industrial Revolution. Barfield subdivided this according to the stages of its gradual increase - but sometimes termed it the era of Observing Consciousness - because Man seemed to himself to be cut-off-from and observing 'the world' - and eventually even his own thoughts.

3. At the same time, the means for healing this dichotomy by moving forward to a new era of consciousness - what Barfield terms Final Participation. This impulse, mostly unconscious, began to emerge in the Romantic movement  - associated with such English poets and thinkers as Blake, Wordsworth and (especially) Coleridge - this rapidly spread to Germany via the likes of Herder and Goethe - and then to the USA with Emerson and the circle of New England Transcendentalists.

4. The unconscious impulse towards Final Participation strengthened the longer it was resisted or, often, perverted into a regression to the previous phase of Original Participation - with notable Romantic Revivals in the late 1800s-early 1900s, then again from the 1950s culminating in the middle-late 1960s.

5. The current phase is one of un-integrated oscillations (within individuals, and within culture) between the deal bureaucratic official world of alienated Observing Consciousness and regressive, instinctive, attempts at Original Participation (often by inculcating altered states of semi-awake consciousness with dreamy trances, intoxications, sexuality as a focus for life, and other types of regression).

6. This has led to the characteristic pathologies of our time; including in Christianity which is mostly divided between Observing and Original Participations.

7. What is needed, ever more desperately, is to move forwards into Final Participation - but this must (according to both Steiner and Barfield) be within the context of a truly Christ-centred Christianity (no matter how 'heretical' or unorthodox - Christianity must be Christ centred as its primary reality).

So this is the challenge, the necessary dual destiny, both for non-Christians and Christians - to adopt Christianity as the primary framework and within that to move towards Final Participation.  

Sunday, 17 April 2016

A Thoreau morning

This was a Thoreau morning - the kind of morning which always makes me think of Henry David Thoreau - his Journals, the memoir Walden, or some of the essays. The weather was sunny, the temperature below zero (unusual for this time of year), the birds were singing - spring just becoming visible even in the trees.

For decades, ever since I first encountered him in my mid-teens, Thoreau represented a kind of ideal for me - the life he described always eluded me, was always beyond my grasp - but it was about the best I could imagine (especially if I was trying to do without other people as much as possible - to be autonomous).

Always out of grasp because it required a certain kind of person to be content and fulfilled with that life of solitude, contemplation, walking and writing (mostly journalizing - for private consumption) - and I am not that kind of person: not really.

But then, neither was Thoreau. The life, and the person who was fulfilled by it, was a literary creation - not something which Thoreau actually did, any more than I myself did (i.e. momentary glimpses only). Thoreau's real life was very different - and indeed much more mundane and normal.

But even as an ideal, with the perfect Thoreauvian person living in the ideal situation and everything going according to plan - is not enough, is indeed radically incomplete and does not make sense even by its own account.

It is a vague and appealing daydream - a daydream in which the epiphanic moment is somehow expanded into forever - yet the same daydream itself denies the reality of 'forever' and claims that the momentary epiphany is enough (and all that there actually is).

As a guide to life Thoreau was the best I had, for a long time: the pinnacle - yet paradoxical, self-refuting, incomplete - and based on a literary creation and aspiration; not on achievement. 

The Thoreauvian perspective still retains a powerful appeal to me - but to suppose it is enough now seems absurd; to suppose it could replace and go beyond Christianity seems ludicrous... Clearly the Christianity of Thoreau's time was one which saw God more as a tyrant than a loving Father, clearly it was a Christianity which depicted this world as dead, purposeless, unmeaning, uncommunicative. It was almost intolerable (a kind of living death) for a man of Thoreau's sensibility.

But how I wish Thoreau had put his genius into expanding and refocusing Christianity - so it could contain those wondrous attributes he had in his writings - rather than in mocking, rejecting and attacking it...

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Why are we alive now? - and so many of us! (Opposition in all things)

We live - in the West - in times of unprecedented physical comfort and convenience - and unprecedented spiritual darkness.

Most of the darkness relates (more or less directly) to sex and sexuality - the sexual revolution has been used as both a lure and a battering-ram to subvert and destroy religion (specifically Christianity), to hollow-out and recolonize its institutions as inverted parodies of the truth.

So why have you and I and so many others been born into this situation? (You can be sure there is a reason why we are born here and now, and not some other time or place.)

Given that God is our loving Father, the reason must be some version of 'for our own ultimate good' - or 'because this is what we, personally, most need'.

Everyone's case is different - indeed unique - but I suppose that the main source of 'opposition' to good in our time does seem to imply the main necessity of our souls.

Presumably, many of us alive today most needed strengthening by this particular type of opposition - that the sexual domain was (in some way) the particular weakness of our pre-mortal selves - the main factor holding us back from spiritual progression, perhaps.

At any rate, overall the particular nature of corruptions and temptations - of opposition - in our time and place must be some kind of tough love, or bitter medicine; a necessary challenge for our particular souls and the souls of Men in general: a kind of make-or-break opportunity to deal with some extremely serious problem.


These are reflections on Elder Oaks's talk at CJCLDS General Conference earlier this month.

Friday, 15 April 2016

What kind of creator made this world?

Don't ask 'is there a creator god?' - which is absurd, because everyone who has thought deeply about this knows that there must be a creator of some kind, even if an impersonal principle - but instead you need to ask what kind of god created all this?

Life is (in part) a process of discovery about god, and this discovery is something that happens by communication between the self and god; and that entails disovering the self - the real self - as well as discovering god - both of which are within.

(The creator god is not only within us, of course - he is the creator, after all! - but a part of god is within us; like a small but perpetually glowing cinder - this inner presence is what makes certainty possible.)

The only way to know god with that certainty we need, is to know god directly: to feel god (and, of course, to acknowledge the reality and truth of that feeling).


How important is all this stuff? Well, you tell me! Do you believe Life is something we cannot know, and god something we cannot evaluate - so, therefore, we should leave this whole thing undecided, don't bother ourselves, and just 'get on with it'. But get on with... What exactly? Get on with what?  


NOTE: The answer to 'what kind of creator?' does not come from drawing up some kind of 'balance sheet' of good and bad things, as we crudely and ignorantly suppose them to be. Of course we cannot really know what is good and bad in terms of motives and long-term effects - but even if we could this would be a ludicrous exercise - is that method how we know for certain a mother's love, a wife's, a son or daughter's love? By compiling a ledger of hugs and treats minus sharp words and slaps?

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Review of In Pursuit of Music by Denis Matthews

Following my discovery of a treasure trove of recordings on YouTube by the pianist Denis Matthews, I have followed-up by reading his autobiography In Pursuit of Music (1966, 192 pages) - which I have taken quite slowly and which has delighted me.

The style is accomplished, light and engaging (rather like the writing for the humour magazine Punch) - but the depth and riuchness of the musicality is a wonder to behold. I am myself musical enough to know both when another person is less so - and also to appreciate when someone is off the scale above me. And with music, there is range of ability which is as extreme as in any aspect of human endeavor I am aware of; perhaps comparable only to mathematics - with which there is some occult relationship. In short, musicality has objectivity - again like mathematics: an objectivity to the measurement which is unarguable.

A real musician not only plays things, but more importantly hears things far beyond the capicity of ordinary mortals - and this brings objectivity to artistic judgment of music that is seldom matched in literature or the visual arts. So I have come away from Matthews book with a shopping list of composers and their works, and perfomers and their specialism, which will keep me going for a considerable time.

Of course, there is room for sheer taste - so that one may simply be unable to enjoy excellence, even at the very highest level. Matthews knew the conductor Arturo Toscanini, knew his work; and on the basis of deep understanding - the capacity to hear very fully what is happening in the music, what Toscania was doing - and wide comparison and experience with his 'rivals' names him the greatest conductor of his age, perhaps of any age. This kind of thing compels ultimate acceptance - even though I may not myself be able to enjoy what I have heard of Toscanini as much I enjoyed - say - Klemperer.

So, Matthews was a man who lived inside music, in particular the great composers of the classical era, and it is hard to avoid a kind of enviousness at someone participating so fully in the depth and complexity as well as beauty of this unexcelled world of human accomplishment... and yet... like many another great artist the lesson of Matthews life is that even this is not enough.

I found myself recurrently recalling what is revealed in this book, and what I have vaguely but reliably heard, of Matthews tormented and psychologically turbulent life; and his eventual death by suicide which (sadly) seemed to surprise no-one who knew him. 

Even the greatest art does not, cannot, substitute for religion: it is a lower and lesser world. And the greatest musicians - hugely though I admire them - are men and women of qualitatively lesser human  stature and human satisfaction than religious people; even when these may be obscure and unremarkable in worldly terms. I have no doubt which constitutes the most successful life.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Inequality --- Difference (variations in the basic set-up of our lives on earth)

1. (In the real, inner, true. eternal self) Men and Women are essentially different (each a complementary 'half' of the complete human whole).

2. Premortal souls differ in terms of spiritual advancement - and their needs for further advancement.

3. General earthly conditions throughout history have changed - the evolution of consciousness. We have been placed in the best for our needs.

4. The micro-specific personal conditions of our births differ - time, place, parents. We have been placed in the best for our needs.

5. Our specific natures differ: personality, intelligence, special abilities, defects, diseases and disorders. We have been placed in the best for our needs.

THEN - we are subject to the primordial agencies (of many types and strengths) of others - of men, angels, demons and the environmental features of animals, plants, minerals... These may make conditions better or worse for our needs.

These are responsive to our own choices and attitudes - there is nothing that 'just happens' to us; and nothing is random.

Our basic situation: We are who and where we are for good reason - so we should not wish for any other.

Which Inkling are you most like? My answer after reading Owen Barfield's This Ever Diverse Pair

I have often wondered about this, and never been able to make up my mind until today - the answer is Owen Barfield.

The reason is that I have been reading This Ever Diverse Pair, which is usually (misleadingly) billed as a novel but which is a fictionalized autobiography, mostly describing the relationship between Barfield's real self and his public persona as a drudging solicitor.

The atmosphere of this book is mostly light and comedic, but the sheer horror of the mundane situation of Barfield in legal practice struck home to me by analogy with the (relatively short) times when I was a proper doctor - i.e. a house officer ('intern'), a psychiatrist, and a public health physician; and how utterly alien I found these situations: how strongly at odds with my deepest being.

I couldn't really recommend this book, especially as it ends so badly (I think Barfield has a serious, recurrent problem with the difficult art (rarely achieved) of ending books well: he is bad at it) - but it was memorable to me for the above reason and for the powerful personal identification it yielded with Barfield: more powerful than I have ever felt for any other of the Inklings.

Having made this identification it suddenly seems quite obvious - in that I am a non-fiction writer, and indeed an essayist, at heart (like it or not, that is what I am) and secondarily a lecturer... which is pretty much exactly what Barfield was (like it or not).

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Yes, but what should we DO?

It is a question asked by reactionaries, and is intended to get people to move beyond analysis and to 'organize' - but, for a Christian, it is a version of the Marxian claim to have moved beyond interpreting the world to changing it (as if these were the only alternatives).

Marx was, of course, a materialist, a positivist - a denier of the reality of any reality except the sense-perceptual. For such a person there is nothing but what can be perceived with the senses (including the senses amplified by technologies) - and there isn't any point in talking about what is perceived except to change it. That which is perceived is regarded as independent of the person doing the 'interpreting', and the act of interpreting of itself does nothing - unless it is communicated, and has an effect on many other people.

From this perspective Christianity is a delusion and prayer is talking to yourself; any church is just a bureaucracy, and Christianity a has-been political party on the way-out.

But if you personally believe that it is true that there is more to reality than that which is perceived by the senses, understood by science and manipulated by technology; more than the utilitarian calculus of pleasure versus suffering - then you implicitly believe in an unseen, not-directly perceptible, but real and true aspect of the world - and if you are Christian you believe that we may (and indeed inevitably do) participate in this supersensible world.

(I must acknowledge that quite a lot of self-identified Christians seem to think this way too - they are much, much more avid about the positivist/ material/ reductionist/ worldly side of Christianity than about the... um... Christian bit.)

This supersensible world is denied by, unknown by, ignored by the overwhelmingly-dominant mainstream secular Leftist public discourse of the West - and this ideology is engaged in seeking-out and eliminating all dissent, while on the other hand continually changing to create new dissenters: this is the vast activity of perceptual communication of the mass media, official communications, governments and NGOs, education, law, science, the prestigious arts...

So what should we do, as Christians? Should we, like Marxists, organize (organize, that is, all handful-of-percent of us! - and this micro-minority of real Christians riven by theological and other disagreements and mutual accusations of heresy!) to roll-back the vast edifice of secular Leftism by... well, I can't honestly imagine how this might even conceivably be done; unless it is assumed that the mass of people, and especially powerful people are 'really' wanting a Christian revival - but are convincingly hiding the fact (even from themselves).

Or should we be working in that domain we claim to believe is real - that imperceptible, supersensible 'unseen' realm of reality that is mocked, rejected, and ignored by the mainstream. If that world is, indeed, real - then we have it 'all to ourselves'.

So yes, we can 'change the world' - but change aspects of the world the reality of which is denied, using communications the reality of which is denied, to work towards goals the reality of which is denied.

And in this activity we have a free hand; and indeed no force on earth can stop us doing it - except our own decision not to do it.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Meditation as Thinking-Practice: Escaping the prison of thought habits

Diagnosing the problems of modern Western life is not so difficult - the alienating mental prison of deadness, purposelessness, meaninglessness that we inhabit; knowing what ought to be done to improve the situation is much more difficult but still reasonably widespread; but actually escaping from that prison to inhabit a better place is extremely rare.

The reason is that habits of thinking which have become ingrained through our childhood and development, and which are sustained because they are the basis of public life and discourse - so that innumerable hourly interactions keep us in the bad-old-ways of thinking.

The way out from prison therefore involves more than just knowing we are in prison, and more than knowing where we want to escape-to - because the escape destination is intrinsically our-own-selves, we actually need to create our own destination by transforming our-own-selves, in the face of opposition from our current selves backed-up by almost all the forces of culture.

Since we live-in our own thinking, the new destination can be conceptualised as a new way of thinking - that is a thinking based on a new set of metaphysical assumptions concerning the nature of the world (its origin, purpose, meaning etc).

So, each of us needs to practice thinking; specifically to practice thinking based on the desired metaphysics.

Meditation is the general name given to the activity of practicing thinking - so meditation is the first and major activity which is needed.

Thinking-practice = a type of meditation.

This is where people begin to differ - because the nature of meditation must have the proper aim - must be aiming at the desired destination; this effects the actual nature of the meditation (and the nature of meditation - i.e. the type of thinking that is being practised - is extremely varied); and having chosen a possible method of meditation, then comes the absolutely vital 'subjective' element - that topic or content of meditation which must be practised.    

But how best, how effectively to 'practice' the desired thinking is not immediately obvious - and is indeed a matter of some dispute. But one aspect I would like to highlight is that personally effective meditation cannot be a matter of forcing ourselves through routine practice.

Effective thought practice means practicing the kind of thinking which we want to become habitual - and that kind of thinking must be alive, engaged; a thinking deriving from the new metaphysics; a thinking which is about purpose appreciated in the world as well as itself purposive; a thinking which is filled with hope, as well as hopeful in its intention.

In sum, when meditation is understood as thinking-practice, we recognize that meditating itself must be an activity of the desired kind: self-aware, alert, purposive, positive, hope-full, energizing - we must meditate-about the kind of things we have as our ideal.

Therefore each person will need, by trial and error and taking into account his own disposition and preferences, to devise some themes of meditation and methods for maintaining his own stream of thinking along the lines of such themes.

It is a question of 'what works for you' as a means to that end - for me, it is mainly a practice of thinking by writing... note-taking to hold my thinking onto the purpose, record that thinking, responding to my notes. In general, the act of writing is used to control my thinking, to keep it on-topic, to keep it along the right lines.

(The actual notes are merely a means to that end, and need never be looked at again.)

But I discovered this type of meditation for myself, by trial and error, and I am sure it would not suit everybody. So if you have not yet discovered what works for you - that that should be your first goal.

The second goal is, for each session of meditation, to choose a topic which is something both desirable as a themes for practise, and also effective for you personally; some thing which involves thinking in the way you want to become habitual (thinkig that is assuming a living, conscious, purposive universe of meaning, love and inter-relationship...); and also is a theme that is positive and enjoyable to yourself.

(For instance, today my theme - one which delighted and spontaneously engaged me - was reading and making notes on parts of a particular lecture by Owen Barfield.) 

Then you can start practicing-thinking.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Inaccurate knowledge as a concept (from Owen Barfield)

I have come across the term 'inaccurate knowledge' - and explanations of it - in the work of Owen Barfield; and it has been a great excitement to see something which I had felt, and even written about, so clearly set-out.


Barfield makes the point that before the modern era (before approx the 17th century) it was implicitly understood that knowledge could be inaccurate and still be knowledge; but that since then, and increasingly, knowledge has been equated with accuracy to the extent that:

1. That which is accurate is assumed to be knowledge, and

2. What is not accurate is assumed not to be knowledge at all.

This combination of assumptions is a thing I have struggled against for some twenty years in addressing the use of statistics in medicine (i.e. epidemiology, medical research, 'evidence-based' medicine and so forth).

Barfield locates this phenomenon in historical terms as something that was a more-or-less-inevitable transitional phase in the development of human consciousness - but a phase that ought to have been (but so far has not been) transitional.

Before modernity, legitimate knowledge included 'inaccurate knowledge' - that is knowledge which was true, but imprecise - and, as a consequence, included knowledge of that which was 'supersensible' - the 'invisible world' of things that are non-material, imperceptible to the senses.

The defect of the kind of accurate knowledge that has been associated with mainstream science and research is therefore that it is (by assumption) positivistic: that is, confined to the material world, to that which can be perceived by the senses (included by the technologically assisted senses).

Consequently, we get the modern situation variously termed positivism/ materialism/ reductionism - of the human consciousness alienated, solipsistic, utterly cut-off-from the rest of reality. On the one hand we have accurate knowledge of the material world, on the other hand we deny any possibility of knowledge of the supersensible world, and indeed deny (by assumption, that is by metaphysical assumption) the reality of the supersensible world. 

And the thing that this modern positivism should-have transitioned into is an accurate form of 'supersensible' knowledge - that is to say, knowledge which is potentially accurate and also includes the supersensible. In a nutshell, the idea is that the supersensible, non-material world is perceptible to the 'imagination' - which turns out to be potentially a kind of sensory organ for detecting the supersensible.

However, the ability to use the imagination potentially-accurately to perceive the immaterial does not come naturally or spontaneously to modern Man - presumably because of the antipathetic social milieu.

The missing link which prevents this transition is that we have so deeply internalized the metaphysics of modernity (the assumptions which deny the reality of the supersensible) that we have become unable to think and behave in the supersensible world - we have become blocked from progression by our ingrained metaphysical habits.

So, after understanding in a theoretical fashion that there is more to the world than the material and that the imagination is potentially the mechanism by which we might appreciate the supersensible world in a way that is clear, alert, purposive hence potentially accurate - then we can recognize that this is a mental ability which is rare, and difficult of attainment.

It is one thing to know what we ought to do, and it is another thing to do it. But actually doing it, in thought and behaviour, is what we ought to do.

And that is our task.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

From ancient and modern Catholic folk piety, via Lord Armstrong and a Rabelaisian doctor, through a best selling novelist and a great concert pianist, to an Art Nouveau gem: my regular walk through Jesmond

Most days I have a walk around the leafy suburb of Jesmond where I live - and there is one mile-long loop I must have done thousands of times. There are certain features I particularly like.

St Mary's chapel was built in the 1100s and was a major national site of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages, probably due to an apparition of Mary and the baby Jesus - giving the place the name Jesus's-Mound - Jesmond.

All that now remains is a crumbling picturesque ruin. However, during the past 20 year, and without any official intervention, the chapel has become again a site of spontaneous 'folk' piety - with people leaving small icons, statues, prayer cards and photos of loved-ones. I am pleased to report that these are left in-situ by other visitors - and some items have been there for many years.

The great Victorian industrialist Lord Armstrong built a residence and banqueting hall nearby, for a royal visit, and that makes another attractive semi-ruin.

Back in the 1970s and 80s probably the biggest selling, most beloved English popular 'women's' novelist was Catherine Cookson - certainly both my Mother and Granny Charlton were avid readers - and CC spent her last years in this somewhat secluded house around the corner.

When I arrived at Newcastle Medical School, the building below was the Vice Chancellor's Lodge (the VC being equivalent to a US college President) and had recently been inhabited by Dr Henry Miller who had died the previous year had been Professor of Neurology, Dean of Medicine and then VC at Newcastle University - and was probably the man who had had the greatest psychological impact on the university and city of anyone in its history. He was larger-than-life, a great wit and bon viveur whose doings were often repeated; also a much-loved national figure such that when he died the British Medical Association took the unusual step of issuing a book of memoirs and writings ("Remembering Henry").

I have recently posted about the Professor of Music and concert pianist Denis Matthews - and I think the house below was where he was living when I visited him as part of a carol singing group - but the houses in this part of the road have been heavily modified (at was a large but semi-detached residence thirty five years ago) - and the specific house may have been another adjascent.

ST George's church is a very unusual architectural gem - being built around 1900 in an Italianate style outside, and with Art Nouveau decorations including Burne Jones style figures and Byzantine mosaics (of course, I don't often look inside the church on my daily walks - and sadly it is nowadays a mainstream - i.e. extremely Liberal - Anglican institution)

So, those are some of the highlights and associations that typically come to mind in my local perambulations...

Friday, 8 April 2016

If Rudolf Steiner is essential - then what is his essence?

Thinkers I respect such as Owen Barfield and Jeremy Naydler have stated that Rudolf Steiner is essential to our time. But given the truly vast volume of his work, its range, as the problematic nature of his legacy this leaves open the question of just what it is about Steiner that is essential? (In contrast with what is of perhaps important but lesser status: as well as what may better be neglected or ignored.)

Steiner himself gave a clue in the importance he attached to his earliest books, especially those about Goethe's science, his doctoral thesis published as Truth and Knowledge and (in particular) The Philosophy of Freedom. In other words, these were works of a metaphysical nature rather than being concerned with Steiner's specific or detailed 'findings'.

Steiner's modern legacy, by contrast (as far as I can determine) is focused around these specific findings - for example in relation to education, medicine and agriculture. There is also a considerable and commendable publishing and dissemination activity with respect to the vast number of works and the scholarship of summarising, systematising and analysing these works. Beyond this, there is the activity of teaching and supervising a specific technique of meditation.

My feeling is that none of this captures the essence and none is 'essential'.

(In one paragraph) What seems to me essential is what Steiner called monism and modern people might call holism - in particular, the bringing of imagination into the realm of one, single mode of thinking that can be called true 'science'; so that the perceptual ('objective', external) world of the natural sciences is united (again) with the conceptual ('subjective', inner) world of imagination; and this in a way that both heals our personal alienation and also creates a realm of public and shared discourse - a realm which is variously referred to by Steiner as Spiritual or Occult or Esoteric Science. 

This making of a science of the imagination, and the possibility that each of us participate in it; requires, first, a proper understanding of the nature of science. This comes from the Goethe books - but has, I think, been lost underneath a focus on the Steiner-described and recommended technique of meditation as if this was the science.

As I argue in my book Not Even Trying

real science cannot be defined by technique but only by aim and ideals - science is, descriptively, nothing more specific than a truthful sustained examination of some rather specific class of phenomena, done in such a way that it is a social activity - which entails group production of some kind of public, communicable, evaluable content.

Thus, spiritual science cannot be captured by any particular technique of meditation, but only by the aim of some (perhaps small) group of investigators studying the imagination (presumably mostly by introspection, but in principle by any helpful method); honestly and in a sustained manner, and inter-communicating and critically evaluating their findings.

If this description of Steiner's essence is correct, then we can see that his essence is a mid-level activity, as appropriate to any science - it is not an ultimate activity like a religion.

This is confirmed by Steiner's biography - he was himself a Christian (albeit of a very unusual type) but did not require of his followers that they be Christian. But, and this is important, Steiner's philosophy presupposes religion of a certain type - it only makes sense within the metaphysical context of a religion that enables his work to have meaning.

Steiner's work does not make sense in a secular, atheistic context - with the nihilistic metaphysics that entails - because in such a context it is no more than a large number of bare assertions.

In sum, a true follower of Steiner must be religious (within a restricted range of deistic religions) - if he is not to be engaged in a self-refuting and ultimately incoherent activity; but he need not necessarily be Christian as Steiner himself was.

What makes Steiner essential (or, at least, nearly so) is that he uniquely offers the possibility of a Science (which modern Man seems to require) of the Imagination (which Modern Man to desperately lacks); and as an active, fundamentally-engaged participant (not merely as a passive observer, consumer or obedient follower).

In this sense, therefore, the essence of Steiner is as necessary for modern Christians and other religious people as it is for the secular majority.

Why does the world seem dead?

It is a fact that for many people the world seems 'dead' - this is the sense of alienation.

The fact that people do not find this strange, and seek to defend the idea - and indeed to propagate it actively by all possible means - is what invites explanation. There seems to be a very strong desire among some people that they themselves must regard the world as dead, and that they want to ensure that everybody else also regards the world as dead.

If asked, probably they would say they want this because it is just true; but the same people show no apparent interest in other and much solider truths - so such an answer is irrelevant.

There is a real edge to the propagation of the idea that the world is dead - those who propagate the idea (and who scorn, mock or vilify those who perceive and feel the world as alive) seem to be driven by something strong, insistent, demanding.

I think there is real fear behind the insistence that the world is dead - visceral fear. Fear of what? Fear that the world is not dead, presumably; and therefore what we do to the world is being done to a living entity.

But why should this evoke fear? Is it merely a primitive and superstitious and unrealistic fear - or is the fear based on something else? And, anyway - assuming they really exists - where did those primitive (or as moderns say 'medieval') superstitions come from?

The visceral nature of these emotions suggests some kind of personal involvement in the issue, and I suspect this derives from our memories (often implicit) of being children for whom the world was indeed alive. At some point almost everybody drops this belief, and changes to deny that the world is alive.

In some sense this change must come from a combination of maturity and experience, but the role of maturity seems to be to sensitise us to some experience (because the change to reject the aliveness of the world does not happen in all individuals societies, or is a temporary phase).

So if alienation and a permanent and ineradicable sense of being cut-off from life is the natural consequence of regarding the world as dead - then what is the compensatory advantage? Probably, the sense that the world is there to be used for our personal benefit - to make us feel better here and now and whenever we want.

Modern science is the apotheosis of this view - in that the world of science is set-apart-from religion, theology and philosophy (on the basis of certain, then-forgotten, metaphysical assumptions: this is the founding of 'science' as a distinct discipline) - and indeed as science evolves, one science is set apart from another; not just temporarily for the expedient attainment of certain types of understanding, but permanently and as a matter of principle.

The world is cut up into by-definition-dead chunks and examined - then used - on that basis. And the rationale for doing this is accepted as intrinsic assumption-free reality.

The invisibility of assumptions - first the creation of science by working within a set of metaphysical assumptions, then the denial of the reality or relevance of metaphysics, the denial that there any assumptions are being made... that thing again!

Maybe it is the root of what is going on with the dead world. At some point in our life we assumed the world was dead and explained everything on-that-basis. Then, after a while, we found ourselves regarding our picture of 'the world as seen through dead-world-spectacles' as evidence that the world really-is dead!

We made an assumption, lived by that assumption - and then the assumption became its own evidence, hence invisible!

If it is all a matter of assumptions - and it is - then why the vehemence!

Perhaps we sense that Modern Man is addicted to his dead world, because of the short term and selfish benefits this perspective brings (comfort, convenience, distractions etc - taken as of right). We perhaps sense that all this will have to stop if or when we regard the world as alive... that the whole edifice of 'entertainment', fashion, time-filling - of life as something we use or consume - all this will have to go.

And, because we are addicts, the thought is intolerable... 

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Inferring an Inklings 'group-theology'

Review of William Wildblood's Meeting the Masters

I came across William Wildblood through his enjoyable and useful comments on this blog, which led me to his web pages

And thence to his book Meeting the Masters: a spiritual apprenticeship. This is a autobiography of a young Englishman (slightly older than myself) who was of a nature that had powerful spiritual aspirations from childhood (and a strong sense of alienation from the modern world), and who needed to discover and experience things for himself.

The focus of the book is his experience of a relationship with The Masters (as he terms them: benign 'supernatural' beings, that a Christian would assume were angelic) who communicated with him over many years via an older friend and companion called Michael, by using the process sometimes described as channelling - in this instance, Michael would go into a trance and speak with a different tone and vocabulary as the voice of The Masters; and afterwards would not remember what had been said through him.

By such means, Wildblood (and Michael) learned what they needed to know, and what they ought to be doing. This book presents some of the communications from the Masters (transcribed from memory shortly after they occurred); but mostly reflection on the process and resultant knowledge - and expansions and consideration of the implications.

William Wildblood is a professional writer, and the book is easy to read and very well constructed - although running at nearly 400 pages, there is no sense of padding - it can be opened anywhere and the reader will find some substantive discussion or description. The general style is thoughtful, calm, considered; firm but unassertive.

Is this strange tale to be believed? Well, I believed it. If we are to judge by 'the fruits', the apparent result of Wildblood's education by The Masters is a validation - in terms of its general tone and tendency. Of course it isn't exactly the same as my own Christianity, and I interpret some of the phenomena and information differently; but I can certainly perceive how both of us might be viewing the same basic truth from different personalities, experiences, situations and traditions.

What I got from this book is that a serious spiritual enquirer may be met half-way by God, and provided with necessary teaching in the form he personally needs and is able to assimilate. This is what seems to have happened to William and Michael - the result was not anything especially startling, radical or spiritually impressive, and it is not claimed to be. It was simply that the necessary knowledge was provided in a way that was fitted to William and Michael and their situation - in other words, by direct 'angelic' communication.

I also got a renewed sense of the strangeness of modern 'Western' life, behind the official and privileged discourse of the public (including media) world with its nihilistic materialism - and that it is still possible for individuals to live (and live well) by a very direct contact with 'the supernatural'. 

This is a very encouraging thing - because it demonstrates that there are many routes to salvation, and that God is very keen that each of us takes one or another of these routes, and will do everything he possibly can to tailor things to each of our own limitations - so long as our spiritual seeking is sincere.

(Which is a major qualifier for many people - but Wildblood comes across as unusually humble and diligent 'spiritual seeker', over many years).

Which is all much as we would confidently hope-for, from our wise and loving Father in Heaven.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Christianity is incredible not paradoxical, commonsensical not contradictory - a fairy tale not a philosophy

That's today's aphorism - an encouragement to think of, to formulate, Christianity as something common-sensical in its mechanisms and causality, yet incredible in its claims.

Incredibility - It is an error to try and 'normalize' Christianity, to claim that it is obvious and no big deal - that being Christian is merely the product of reason and logic and solid history and that one would have to be uninformed, dishonest or crazy not to believe it.

Actually, Christianity is incredible, stretching of credibility - hard to believe because its claims are so extreme and astonishing; and incredible too in the scope and power of its truth when that truth is understood.

And if 'reasonableness' is one extreme to be avoided, so is paradox. Paradox, beloved of a certain type of intellectual (Charles Williams?) is not sophisticated but a failure to understand. Paradox stuns - it fails to bridge the worldly and heavenly, this life and the next - sooner or later paradox leads to despair; therefore it must be shunned.

When we try to explain Christianity to modern people we should be prepared that it will probably sound to them both as simple as a child's fairy tale and as unbelievable as a child's fairy tale.

It is a mistake to soften this impact, or to dress it up with philosophical imprecision and paradox masquerading as complexity, or to try and diffuse the impact of the strangeness and apparent absurdity of Christianity in a world where nothing is finally believed except that nothing is really real.

Because the bottom line is that Christianity is a story - essentially, the story told by the gospels; extended to including our own personal place in the story - which makes it real - and as a story Christianity  resists explanation in terms of 'meaning' (or philosophy) - just as a children's fairy tale becomes alien and unrecognisable when its supposed meaning is explained by an anthropologist, folklorist, or psychologist.

As so often, Tolkien got to the nub of it: Christianity is a Fairy Story that is true - it is the true Fairy Story. The implication, which Tolkien himself didn't follow up - but which CS Lewis did - is that Christianity ought to be explained as a Fairy Story, without compromising in the direction of modern notions of plausibility.

The story is told - and then we must each, as individuals, seriously ask God concerning its truth - ask God within us by meditation, ask God the Father in prayer... whatever - but that is how we can and indeed must evaluate the truth of a story.

(And once we know the story is true, then we can - if we need or wish to - spend the rest of its life in understanding just how it is true.)

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Two Owen Barfield philosophical dialogues reviewed: Unancestral Voice and Night Operation

You are living in the most bizarre and insane world - ever

I think you should realize this for a fact - especially younger readers who have known nothing different, and who do not read old books to discover the fact.

It has become very difficult, apparently impossible, for people to become aware of the very extreme strangeness of what is taken for granted here and now. This awareness was actually sharp and strong even as recently as forty of fifty years ago - especially in relation to Man's relationship to nature - but (for all the official and media yammering about 'the environment') current culture shows little awareness even of this obvious fact.

Contemporary Man does not even know what he wants or needs - to the point that great efforts are expended on mocking, subverting or destroying those remaining few activities and things which provide reality and goodness and connection.

Already in the mid twentieth century there was the strangeness of so many people spending so much free time reading newspapers and magazines, listening to radio or watching the TV - now this type of activity has expanded to fill almost every waking moment... and it seems a line has been crossed at which the strangeness is no longer apparent.

Indeed, the perception of strangeness appears in those brief periods when not plugged into the media when the mobile phones must be put aside for a few minutes or hours: weird is normal, and normal is aversive.

And humans are social and sexual; and our social and (especially) sexual lives are now almost wholly artificial, saturated in artificiality - to the point where normality is seen as bizarre, and indeed evil.

The casual assumption , possible because of such gross ignorance and disdain for the past and other societies, is that we, here, now have got things right and at last understand what it is to be human (neither a man nor a woman, for starters!)  - while everybody at every other time and place were being crudely hoodwinked.

I type this, sitting at a computer screen, linked to the world via the Internet, engaged with it in some kind of subjective fashion - expecting some kind of feedback... how very bizarre. What a weird, doped, detached life we lead - even our antidotes to this disaffection or alienation are themselves modern, technical and artificial - mass distractions and entertainments, mass music, pharmacology, intoxicants, travel, going to big buildings, participation in mass online conversations, mixing with crowds of strangers and the rest of it.

It is not too much to call this world insane, in a fairly-strict sense of psychotic - i.e. living from subjectivity, cut-off from reality, and with no insight.  But when everybody is psychotic - then who makes the diagnosis?

This truly is the Most. Bizarre. World. Ever.

And we should not lose sight of the fact.