Category Archives: Psychology & Consciousness

Autumn Longing: Alan Watts

Alan Watts, sometime in the 1970s

Yesterday, I came across a passage in a book by Alan Watts that reignited an old passion for what I have referred to in the past as “the autumn longing.” In a kind of “deep cut” vein for this blog, longtime readers — by which I mean really longtime readers, those who have been with me for the entire thirteen-year span of The Teeming Brain’s existence — may recall the series of posts I wrote on this topic beginning in 2006, just a few months after the blog’s founding. In the first of these posts, I explained the term “autumn longing” this way:

The autumn season has always carried a special emotional potency for me. When the weather turns crisp and the colors of nature change first to vibrant reds, oranges, and golds, and then progress onward toward deep russet browns, tending toward the death-sleep of winter, I’m struck with feelings of poignancy and melancholy that burn more brightly, or perhaps more darkly, than at any other time of the year. I’m also more exquisitely sensitive to the aesthetic influence of art, whether literary, musical, visual, or otherwise.

It was many years ago that I first realized and articulated to myself that this autumnal mood is inextricably bound up with a certain, strange longing. When the mood of autumn comes over me, it is always characterized by a kind of nostalgia for something I have never really known, as if I possess some vestigial memory of a lost knowledge or emotion that flits maddeningly and elusively on the edge of my ability to recall directly. It’s truly a numinous experience, that is, an experience that makes me feel as I’ve come into brief contact with some sort of transcendent spiritual truth. It tends to generate the impression of an absolute, unmediated experience of supernal beauty hovering just beyond the edge of my inner grasp. All the flickering hints of this beauty that I sometimes encounter in literature, film, music, and scenic natural vistas and skyscapes seem to reach their apotheosis in this ungraspable ultimacy, as if they are merely finite carriers that filter and refract partial glimpses of an infinite reality, like the Platonic Form of the Beautiful itself.

The remainder of that post was devoted to laying out the exquisite articulations of this experience that populate the works, both fiction and nonfiction, of C. S. Lewis, who made this longing the centerpiece of his literary aesthetic and his Christian apologetical writings. He employed the German term sehnsucht to refer to it, and he was in fact largely responsible for bringing this word and its rich set of uses and connotations to the attention of a popular English-reading audience.

Other posts in the series focused on the appearance and invocation of this longing in the writings of Lovecraft, Poe, and Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. I revisited the idea a few years later with posts about Huston Smith (as compared to Lovecraft) and, again, Lovecraft and Lewis. Beyond the boundaries of The Teeming Brain, I incorporated the Lovecraftian aspects of the autumn longing into my paper “The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets,” in which I explored the parallels and departures between the respective literary and philosophical visions of Lovecraft and Ligotti. I also published a two-part essay titled “Lovecraft’s Longing” in the late North Shore arts magazine Art Throb, and I wrote a blog post titled “Fantasy, Horror, and Infinite Longing” for SF Signal. In the latter, I discussed the subject in relation not only to Lewis and Lovecraft but to Stephen King and Colin Wilson.

So this is all to say that the matter was, and still is, of great importance to me, both philosophically and emotionally. This autumn longing, this sehnsucht, this tantalizing, maddening glimpse of some ultimate beauty and fulfillment and joy that lies perpetually beyond the horizon, this distinct scent or flavor of some infinite bliss that seems to reside half in memory and half in imagination, remaining always distinctly real and yet always just beyond my ability fully to grasp or realize — this is, apparently, a permanent part of my, and our, constitution as human beings, a kind of existential haunting that we as homo sapiens are blessed and doomed to know.

Although another span of years has now elapsed since I last wrote about it, the matter is never a non-issue in my life. I felt it more keenly when I was younger, but it’s still a living reality, not just as a matter of personal experience but in my life as a reader of books and literature. I’m still thrilled whenever I stumble across a new, or at least new to me, expression or description of this longing in someone else’s writings, especially since such descriptions often serve to evoke the longing itself.

Read the rest of this entry

Teeming Links – August 9, 2019

Before the links, a brief screed that arose spontaneously from some well in my psyche:

If you’re a writer or another type of creator, never compare your gift to that of others. Your particular gift of vision, subject matter, passion, skill level, style, approach, and the life circumstances in which these all exist and unfold neither gains nor suffers through comparison. Just write or create what you have to write or create, and do it in whatever way you’re inexorably called and driven to do it. Do the necessary inner and outer work of finding out exactly what those things are (your personal subject matter and style). Then make good on them.

(A brief gnostic/cryptic aside on “having to” create: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” – Jesus, Thomas 70)

And while you’re at it, enjoy the hell out of it whenever you see other people doing the same. Their gains aren’t your losses, and vice versa. It’s not a zero-sum game. When you live out your creative calling, you’re part of the rising tide that elevates everybody.

From the Illuminati to Alex Jones, how did conspiracy theories come to dominate American culture? “[S]omething new . . . has transformed the conspiratorial landscape: conspiracism — a mental framework, a belief system, a worldview that leads people to look for conspiracies, to anticipate them, to link them together into a grander overarching conspiracy. Conspiracism has been building for some time, and by now it appears to have emerged as the belief system of the 21st century. “

On the danger of off-loading human memory onto machines: “A new kind of civilisation seems to be emerging, one rich in machine intelligence, with ubiquitous access points for us to join in nimble artificial memory networks. . . . But dependency on a network also means taking on new vulnerabilities. The collapse of any of the webs of relations that our wellbeing depends upon, such as food or energy, would be a calamity. Without food we starve, without energy we huddle in the cold. And it is through widespread loss of memory that civilisations are at risk of falling into a looming dark age.”

Synthetic biology could bring a pox on us all. “There’s no telling when a manufactured disease will become a reality. If that occurs, the culprit might be a lab-trained terrorist or a basement biohacker, a bumbling grad student or a Russian microbiologist on the lam.”

Why Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is more relevant now than ever (paywall): “What happens when our newly created life forms can copy themselves, are immortal, can update their own software and make their own decisions? Will they feel remorse? Will humanity really be worth keeping?”

Beware the panopticon in your pocket. “You’re not using the phone; the phone is using you. The smartphone is a Trojan horse, and you are Pavlov’s dog. The machine studies you with an alien’s eye, serving you with injections of warmth and affection (grandchildren, frolicking dogs) in order to suck out information, assembling a dossier — noting where you have been, what you have said, what you have bought and thought, your very footsteps and heartbeats — reproducing you as a useful commercial or political object, as if in a 3-D printer. . . . It’s not entirely paranoid to assume that, not far down the road, smartphones and electronic appliances may fulfill old science-fiction fantasies by figuring out what we are thinking or even dreaming, and that the thought or dream — unless it is of an approved nature—will be enough to condemn us. Intellectual endoscopy, why not? Privacy of mind, an atavism already under siege, will vanish.”

Also beware the mindfulness conspiracy. “Mindfulness has gone mainstream, with celebrity endorsement from Oprah Winfrey and Goldie Hawn. Meditation coaches, monks and neuroscientists went to Davos to impart the finer points to CEOs attending the World Economic Forum. The founders of the mindfulness movement have grown evangelical. . . . [But n]eoliberal mindfulness promotes an individualistic vision of human flourishing, enticing us to accept things as they are, mindfully enduring the ravages of capitalism.”

Then there’s the more general subject of meditation. Everybody’s heard about how meditation is supposed to help. What everybody’s forgetting is that meditation can topple you over the edge into a hell of psychosis and/or a dark night of the soul: “I started having thoughts like, ‘Let me take over you,’ combined with confusion and tons of terror. I had a vision of death with a scythe and a hood, and the thought ‘Kill yourself’ over and over again.”

A question raised by recent startling reports from mainstream outlets such as Politico and The Washington Post: What the hell is going on with UFOs and the Department of Defense? “Someone or something appears to have some extremely advanced technology and the Pentagon is actively changing the nature of the conversation about it.”

The Navy says UFOs are real. UFO hunters are thrilled. “So why is no one freaking out about these revelations making front page news? As UFO author Chris Rutkowski once explained, perhaps it is because we have become acclimatized to seeing UFOs invading Earth in books and on screen. Whether you are of the Spielberg generation, watching a candy eating E.T., or a millennial who grew up watching The Avengers fight off hordes of evil intergalactic aliens, we are used to seeing this archetypal other in our media. UFOs, as a result, have become much less frightening and perhaps much more interesting. Have we negotiated UFOs into our cultural framework and identity?”

Alien Abductions, Flying Saints, and Parapsychology: Grappling with the “Super Natural” (paywall). An article (not free, alas) in the academic journal Religious Studies Review on Jeffrey Kripal and Whitley Strieber’s The Super Natural, Michael Grosso’s The Man Who Could Fly: St. Joseph of Copertino and the Mystery of Levitation, and my Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics: The Paranormal from Alchemy to Zombies. “[These three works] raise questions about exactly which questions scholars studying the paranormal ought to be asking. . . . Ultimately, Kripal, Strieber, Grosso, and Cardin dare us to take their work and the ‘super natural’ seriously.”

Exorcism goes mainstream: Combined Churches assemble in Rome to learn “best practice” eviction of demons: “The Roman Catholic Church has for the first time opened up its annual exorcism class in Rome to representatives of all major Christian faiths. . . . [T]he doors of the 14th Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation Course have been thrown open to groups once considered heretical and demon-infested only a few short centuries ago. Now some 250 Catholics, Lutherans, Greek Orthodox and Protestant priests have assembled to arm themselves with the sword of the holy word to battle Satan amid the souls of their parishoners.”

On forgetting how to read in the Internet age: “For a long time, I convinced myself that a childhood spent immersed in old-fashioned books would insulate me somehow from our new media climate – that I could keep on reading and writing in the old way because my mind was formed in pre-internet days. But the mind is plastic — and I have changed. I’m not the reader I was.”

To study the humanities is to study the meaning of life. “I tell my students, ‘Look, we’re here to discuss the meaning of life.’ The meaning of life is that I’m alive for the time being. I’m in a world which is making contradictory demands upon me. What do I do?”

Missives from another world: Literature of parallel universes. “Alternate history functions to do what the best of literature more generally does — provide a wormhole to a different reality. . . . We are haunted by our other lives, ghosts of misfortune averted, spirits of opportunities rejected, so that fiction is not simply the experience of another [person’s thoughts and viewpoint], but a deep human connection with those differing versions on the paths of our forked parallel lives.”

YOU ARE NOT ALONE: A Conversation with Christopher Ropes on Stigmas, Writing, and Mental Illness. “Writing is not easy for me to begin with because I dredge up all my own demons in my stories. When you have mental health issues, you have some pretty terrifying demons to encounter. I think we all face down those demons to some extent in our writing, even those writers who are writing more to entertain than to create an abiding sense of terror or awe. Human life is a process of coming to terms with those things that frighten and hurt us. I just go through that process in a very raw way that can sometimes actually damage me more in the process. . . . Possibly the best reason for creating art for mentally ill creators is that some other mentally ill person can look at, listen to, read, watch that art and say, ‘Someone out there sees me, hears me. I am not alone.’ Never underestimate that power.”

Speaking of books, reading, writing, and horror fiction, now see this: Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh, “an anthology celebrating the uncanny realm of the living inanimate. Featuring tales of dolls, mannequins, statues, and other varieties of humanoid horror, Mannequin explores the intersection between artificiality and life through a stunning variety of writers both established and new.” Featuring stories by Ramsey Campbell, Michael Wehunt, Christine Morgan, Richard Gavin, Kristine Ong Muslim, Nicholas Day, Austin James, William Tea, Duane Pesice, S. L. Edwards, Matthew M. Bartlett, S. E. Casey, Justin A. Burnett, Daulton Dickey, C. P. Dunphey, and Jon Padgett. Introduction by Christopher Slatsky.

My spiritual autobiography: A video interview

In 2017 I published an enthusiastic review of Jerry L. Martin’s God: An Autobiography here at The Teeming Brain, and also at Amazon. The book presents Martin’s account of being an atheist who was hit with an unexpected experience of what presented itself as divine communication. Over the course of about a year, he found himself involved in an ongoing dialogue with God (plus a couple of additional spiritual beings at one or two points) in which the nature of God, humans, life, death, and the universe itself were given decidedly unconventional expression. As I said in my review, these things are given added weight by the fact that Martin is no flaky peddler of New Age hype but a real philosopher whose resume gives him serious intellectual credibility. The first paragraph of his biographical entry at Wikipedia serves as handy evidence of this:

Jerry L. Martin is the author of God: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher (godanautobiography.com), coordinator of the Theology Without Walls project at the American Academy of Religion and a contributor to The Good Men Project. From 1988 to 1995, Martin held senior positions at the National Endowment for the Humanities, including acting chairman. From 1967 until 1982, Martin was a tenured professor and chairman of the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he also served as the Director of the University’s Center for the Study of Values and Social Policy. He has testified before Congress and appeared on radio and television. Martin is chairman emeritus of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. He served as president of ACTA from its founding in 1995 as the National Alumni Forum until 2003, when he was succeeded by Anne D. Neal.

A few months after I wrote my review, Jerry — whom I knew on a first-name basis from having interacted with him online — interviewed me via Skype for one installment in a series of videos that he was putting together to dovetail with the themes in God: An Autobiography. The videos were to present conversations between him and some of the thinkers with whom he had come into contact via the book.

These are now being released. My own interview was published just yesterday. In it, I talk about my religious upbringing in a conservative evangelical church. I recall my early love for fantasy and horror fiction and film, with horror coming to take center stage in my late teens. I describe my sleep paralysis and nocturnal assault experiences and their formative role in darkening my philosophical worldview and emotional outlook and thus catalyzing my birth as a horror writer. I mull over the question of whether darkness or light is more fundamental as the spiritual or metaphysical ground of being. I describe my fascination with the subject of the muse, the daimon, the genius, and experiences of both divine communication and demonic possession. And I relate these things to the subject matter of God: An Autobiography. Along the way, I also recount how I first came into contact with Jerry Martin when the online excerpts from the God book that he shared prior to its publication came to my attention as I was conducting some of my perpetual research into inspired creativity and the experience of anomalous communication from a seemingly spiritual source.

Two necessary notes: First, an apology for the lousy sound quality in the video’s first few minutes. I can’t imagine why I wasn’t using earbuds or headphones. Second, when Jerry asked me at the end of the conversation to suggest a starting place for those who are interested in reading my books, I didn’t name To Rouse Leviathan because it was still in a questionable hyperspace at that time. Presently it’s set for publication next month. If the conversation were recorded today, that’s what I’d name.

Richard Bach on Remote Viewing with Russell Targ and Hal Puthoff (video)

Mind Reach by Russell Targ and Harold E. Puthoff

During my senior year of high school, I was introduced to the writings of Richard Bach. I started, appropriately enough, with his first book, that ultra-mega-bestseller from the 1970s, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I read it in my high school’s modern literature class, taught by Mrs. Ellis, who included it on a list of books from which students could choose. She conducted the class in an independent reading mode, where we could each choose our books individually, spend time in class reading them, and then write reports and deliver presentations. It ended up being one of my favorite classes in all of high school, not least because Mrs. Ellis accepted suggestions for books not included on her provided list, which is how I came to read The Vampire Lestat and Stephen King’s It while sitting in first hour.

But back to Bach. I thoroughly enjoyed Jonathan Livingston Seagull and grokked it at a deep level (although I didn’t know the term “grok” at that point in my life). I then chose to read his Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah on my own time. It was a pure joy, and I still love it all these years later, even though I’m not really aligned with its central New Thought-inflected philosophy (although I do find value in some aspects of that). Something about Bach’s truly engaging and elegant way of presenting spiritual philosophy through the vehicle of a winsome semi-fiction, the way he combined his real-life experiences with an obviously fantastic story of how he ran into a bona fide messiah (now retired, having decided to quit the job when nobody would understand him) while making a private living flying an old biplane around the American Midwest and giving three-dollar rides, really enraptured me. I think it also added impetus to my then-developing penchant for books that deal with philosophical and spiritual ideas; shortly after finishing it, I started on Alan Watts, Robert Anton Wilson (including his nonfiction, although the boundaries are nebulous for him), and Nietzsche. Bach was also a featured author in the creativity class taught by Dr. Betty Scott that I took at the University of Missouri, which I talk about in my post “Shadow Visitors: Sleep Paralysis and Discarnate ‘Dark Ones.'”

Years later, when I was a hardcore reader of Wilson’s books, I learned from his The Illuminati Papers that Bach had been one of the experimental subjects in Russell Targ’s and Hal Puthoff’s remote viewing research at the Stanford Research Institute. At the time, I was only just learning about that whole wing of paranormal history, and its connection with Bach blew my mind. It was some time later that I discovered this info wasn’t exactly a secret, as Bach had written the foreword to Targ and Puthoff’s semi-classic 1977 book Mind-Reach: Scientists Look at Psychic Abilities (which also featured a foreword by Margaret Mead [!]).

Which brings me to this: A few days ago I stumbled across the following eight-minute clip from Jeffrey Mishlove’s Thinking Allowed in which Bach talks about his experiences at SRI. This discovery was thoroughly accidental, and it resurrected all those old feelings of affection for Bach’s books. This was helped by the fact that in the clip, he presents what seems to me one of the most candid and enjoyable accounts of what went on at SRI during those heady years. He starts by talking about the relationship between fiction, reality, and the ideas that seem to guide one’s life because they feel native when one first encounters them. The part about remote viewing starts at 2:33 and features Bach’s detailed account of one successful experiment that blew his mind.

I look back now on the last twenty years of my life and say, “Now, Richard, what have you been doing?” What I’ve been discovering is the power of the imagination and how ideas translate into what we call the real world around us. . . . [Russell Targ] said, “Richard, next time you’re on the west coast, stop by [SRI], please.” I did, and I walked into this room, and they shut the door behind me, and they closed the blinds. I said, “What’s going on here?” He said, “A fellow experimenter, Hal Puthoff, is somewhere in the Bay Area. You have no idea where. Now just relax, Richard, and tell us where he is. Describe what he’s looking at this minute.” “Well, what do I do, Russell? Do I open my eyes? Do I close my eyes? What am I supposed to do?” “Anything. If you want to leave your eyes open, that’s fine.” So I closed my eyes. I opened them again and said, “Russell, I’m making it up.” He said, “That’s right. You’re making it up. Tell us what you make up.”

An interview with Gary Lachman on occult politics, nihilism, and the dangerous potentials of the imagination

 

Just published here at The Teeming Brain: my interview with Gary Lachman on his new book Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump. As many Teeming Brain readers are already aware, Gary is a noted writer on occultism and esotericism who contributed to my paranormal encyclopedia a few years ago. In this new interview, he expands on the themes of his latest book, in which he examines the role of New Thought, meme magic, Chaos Magick, and other occult and esoteric movements in shaping current geopolitical affairs, involving everything and everyone from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to the rise of the Alt-Right and the advent of a “post-truth/alternative fact” world.

Here’s an excerpt:

MATT CARDIN: What’s your basic argument in Dark Star Rising?

GARY LACHMAN: Dark Star Rising is about the strange “occult politics” that seem to be a part of both Trump’s presidency and that of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. As I say in the book, I first became aware of this when I read a post on Harvey Bishop’s New Thought blog. Bishop was commenting on the speech Richard Spencer, founder of the alt-right, gave at the meeting of the National Policy Institute in Washington, following Trump’s election. Spencer greeted the crowd, hailing Trump’s victory, and saying that they — he and his comrades — had made it happen. They had “dreamed” Trump into office, had “willed” him into the White House. Bishop noted that turning dreams into reality, making your wishes come true, is a central aim of New Thought, mental science, and other teachings that emphasize the power of the mind to affect reality directly. Trump, we know, has been a lifelong devotee of “positive thinking;” Norman Vincent Peale, who popularized the “power of positive of thinking,” was a mentor. But now it seemed that people in Trump’s fan base were practitioners, too.

With this, I began to follow a trail which led around the world and involved things like “meme magic” (using the internet as a way of affecting reality), gurus, demagogues, and how some rather radical ideas about a new world order — or disorder — are informing some of the most powerful people on the planet.

Read the full interview.

This Is Horror, Episode 193: Jon Padgett and Matt Cardin on “Vastarien” and More

In this just-published episode of the This Is Horror Podcast, Jon Padgett and I talk with hosts Michael David Wilson and Bob Pastorella about our new project Vastarien: A Literary Journal, along with other matters of interest. Click to listen or download.

Note that at the time of this writing, our Vastarien Kickstarter campaign, to fund the first year (three issues) of the journal, still has seven days left!

Here are some show notes:

About Vastarien

Vastarien is a source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas.

Support Vastarien on Kickstarter

Show notes

[03:30] Vastarien origin story
[08:40] Why Vastarien title
[20:20] Penguin edition Conspiracy Against The Human Race/Cadabra Records Ligotti’s The Bungalow House
[28:10] Jon Padgett’s final message (in this podcast not in life)
[31:10] What is the worst thing that has happened to you as a result of your own mind or imagination
[34:20] Physical and mental and other sensations during sleep paralysis
[45:45] The creative self and self
[51:40] Andrew M. Reichart, via Patreon,
[54:40] Scott Kemper, via Patreon, wants to know about other Ligotti-esque authors to become acquainted with
[57:40] Films and TV shows that may appeal to Ligotti fans
[01:10:00] Kendra Temples, via Patreon, asks anti-natalism and philosophical pessimism and impact
[01:18:00] How Gnosticism fits into the vision of Vastarien
[01:22:25] What should and shouldn’t people submit to Vastarien
[01:26:35] Final question to ponder

Possession, exorcism, and the daimon: A brief history

A few year ago I had two articles published in editor Joe Laycock’s Spirit Possession around the World: Possession, Communion, and Demon Expulsion across Cultures (ABC-CLIO, 2015). One of these was a survey of possession and exorcism in the history of literature. The other was an article about the daimon.

When I submitted the latter of these, Joe got back to me with a request for significant revisions, the better to make the article fit harmoniously with the rest of the encyclopedia’s contents, and the better to make it align with his editorial vision of its place in the book.

As a result, the version that is now published in the encyclopedia is thoroughly different from what I originally wrote. The original version has never been published. And since I own the copyright on that version, I’m free to share it here with Teeming Brain readers. As those of you who have been here for awhile will immediately recognize, this is entirely appropriate, since the article lands right in the middle of several of this blog’s foundational interests, themes, and concerns.

Possession, Exorcism, and the Daimon

The word “daimon” has several possible meanings, but in relation to possession and exorcism it refers to a particular type of autonomous or autonomous-feeling force in the psyche that influences or, in some cases, dominates a person’s thoughts, actions, and feelings. It comes from ancient Greece and the ancient Hellenistic world, where it generally referred to a particular class of deity or spirit being, and where its basic meaning evolved over time to refer as much or more to an inner psychic or subjective force as to an objectively conceived entity. The concept of the daimon is one of the key components in the origin and evolution of the related concepts of the demon and demonic possession. Its adjectival form, daimonic, has been widely used in modern-day depth psychology to refer to a particular aspect of the psyche that lies outside a person’s conscious, voluntary control, and that is especially associated with creativity, anger, and other surging states of mind and emotion that can effectively swamp the conscious ego and result in violent outbursts of creation and destruction.

Among the ancient Greeks, the concept of the daimon led a dual existence as it progressed along two distinct but related strands. On the one hand, daimons were conceived in typically animistic terms as spirits that inhabited or haunted certain places, affected the weather and other natural occurrences, and so on. Some were associated with the spirits of the dead. On the other hand, a spiritualized or psychologized view placed the daimons in a position of deep intertwinement with human subjectivity. Essentially, the Greeks regarded daimons as objectively real presences that made themselves known through their influence upon and within the human psyche. The objective, animistic beliefs about them were thus matched and accompanied by a more subtle and psychologically oriented view that framed them as inner influences upon human thoughts and emotions, and even as the keepers and emblems of individual character and destiny. This second view gradually became dominant over time. Read the rest of this entry

You will be assimilated: Our future of tech-enhanced brains to keep up with AI

Here’s renowned neuroscientist Christopher Koch explaining in a Wall Street Journal piece that our future will be a dystopian nightmare in which humans will necessarily become ever more completely fused on a neurological level with super sophisticated computer technologies. This will, he says, be a non-negotiable requirement if we want to keep up with the artificial intelligences that will be billions of times smarter than us, and that will otherwise utterly rule humanity and pose an existential threat to us in all kinds of ways that we, with our currently unenhanced meat brains, can hardly imagine.

Or actually, Koch speaks not grimly but enthusiastically of this future (and semi-present) scenario. He views the technological enhancement of the human brain for purposes of keeping pace with AI as an exciting thing. The negative gloss on it is mine. What a wonderful world, he avers. “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated,” my own meat brain keeps hearing.

Whether you are among those who believe that the arrival of human-level AI signals the dawn of paradise, such as the technologist Ray Kurzweil, or the sunset of the age of humans, such as the prominent voices of the philosopher Nick Bostrom, the physicist Stephen Hawking and the entrepreneur Elon Musk, there is no question that AI will profoundly influence the fate of humanity.

There is one way to deal with this growing threat to our way of life. Instead of limiting further research into AI, we should turn it in an exciting new direction. To keep up with the machines we’re creating, we must move quickly to upgrade our own organic computing machines: We must create technologies to enhance the processing and learning capabilities of the human brain. . . .

Unlike say, the speed of light, there are no known theoretical limits to intelligence. While our brain’s computational power is more or less fixed by evolution, computers are constantly growing in power and flexibility. This is made possible by a vast ecosystem of several hundred thousand hardware and software engineers building on each other’s freely shared advances and discoveries. How can the human species keep up? . . .

In the face of this relentless onslaught, we must actively shape our future to avoid dystopia. We need to enhance our cognitive capabilities by directly intervening in our nervous systems.

We are already taking steps in this direction. . . .

My hope is that someday, a person could visualize a concept — say, the U.S. Constitution. An implant in his visual cortex would read this image, wirelessly access the relevant online Wikipedia page and then write its content back into the visual cortex, so that he can read the webpage with his mind’s eye. All of this would happen at the speed of thought. Another implant could translate a vague thought into a precise and error-free piece of digital code, turning anyone into a programmer.

People could set their brains to keep their focus on a task for hours on end, or control the length and depth of their sleep at will.

Another exciting prospect is melding two or more brains into a single conscious mind by direct neuron-to-neuron links — similar to the corpus callosum, the bundle of two hundred million fibers that link the two cortical hemispheres of a person’s brain. This entity could call upon the memories and skills of its member brains, but would act as one “group” consciousness, with a single, integrated purpose to coordinate highly complex activities across many bodies.

These ideas are compatible with everything we know about the brain and the mind. Turning them from science fiction into science fact requires a crash program to design safe, inexpensive, reliable and long-lasting devices and procedures for manipulating brain processes inside their protective shell. It must be focused on the end-to-end enhancement of human capabilities. . . .

While the 20th century was the century of physics — think the atomic bomb, the laser and the transistor — this will be the century of the brain. In particular, it will be the century of the human brain — the most complex piece of highly excitable matter in the known universe. It is within our reach to enhance it, to reach for something immensely powerful we can barely discern.

Full article: “To Keep Up with AI, We’ll Need High-Tech Brains(You may or may not encounter a paywall)

Bem’s Precognition Research and the Crisis in Contemporary Science

Recently Daryl Bem defended his famous research into precognition in a letter to The Chronicle of Higher Education. More recently, as in this week, Salon published a major piece about Bem and his research that delves deeply into its implications for the whole of contemporary science —  especially psychology and the other social sciences (or “social sciences”), but also the wider of world of science in general — and shows how Bem’s research, and the reactions to it, have highlighted, underscored, and called out some very serious problems:

Bem’s 10-year investigation, his nine experiments, his thousand subjects—all of it would have to be taken seriously. He’d shown, with more rigor than anyone ever had before, that it might be possible to see into the future. Bem knew his research would not convince the die-hard skeptics. But he also knew it couldn’t be ignored.

When the study went public, about six months later, some of Bem’s colleagues guessed it was a hoax. Other scholars, those who believed in ESP — theirs is a small but fervent field of study — saw his paper as validation of their work and a chance for mainstream credibility.

But for most observers, at least the mainstream ones, the paper posed a very difficult dilemma. It was both methodologically sound and logically insane. Daryl Bem had seemed to prove that time can flow in two directions — that ESP is real. If you bought into those results, you’d be admitting that much of what you understood about the universe was wrong. If you rejected them, you’d be admitting something almost as momentous: that the standard methods of psychology cannot be trusted, and that much of what gets published in the field — and thus, much of what we think we understand about the mind — could be total bunk.

If one had to choose a single moment that set off the “replication crisis” in psychology — an event that nudged the discipline into its present and anarchic state, where even textbook findings have been cast in doubt — this might be it: the publication, in early 2011, of Daryl Bem’s experiments on second sight.

The replication crisis as it’s understood today may yet prove to be a passing worry or else a mild problem calling for a soft corrective. It might also grow and spread in years to come, flaring from the social sciences into other disciplines, burning trails of cinder through medicine, neuroscience, and chemistry. It’s hard to see into the future. But here’s one thing we can say about the past: The final research project of Bem’s career landed like an ember in the underbrush and set his field ablaze. . . .

When Bem started investigating ESP, he realized the details of his research methods would be scrutinized with far more care than they had been before. In the years since his work was published, those higher standards have increasingly applied to a broad range of research, not just studies of the paranormal. “I get more credit for having started the revolution in questioning mainstream psychological methods than I deserve,” Bem told me. “I was in the right place at the right time. The groundwork was already pre-prepared, and I just made it all startlingly clear.”

Looking back, however, his research offered something more than a vivid illustration of problems in the field of psychology. It opened up a platform for discussion. Bem hadn’t simply published a set of inconceivable findings; he’d done so in a way that explicitly invited introspection. In his paper proving ESP is real, Bem used the word replication 33 times. Even as he made the claim for precognition, he pleaded for its review.

“Credit to Daryl Bem himself,” [University of California-Berkeley business school professor] Leif Nelson told me. “He’s such a smart, interesting man. . . . In that paper, he actively encouraged replication in a way that no one ever does. He said, ‘This is an extraordinary claim, so we need to be open with our procedures.’ . . . It was a prompt for skepticism and action.”

Bem meant to satisfy the skeptics, but in the end he did the opposite: He energized their doubts and helped incite a dawning revolution. Yet again, one of the world’s leading social psychologists had made a lasting contribution and influenced his peers. “I’m sort of proud of that,” Bem conceded at the end of our conversation. “But I’d rather they started to believe in psi as well. I’d rather they remember my work for the ideas.”

Note that the article also contains, in its middle section, a fascinating personal profile and mini-biography of Bem himself, including a recounting of his life-long interest in mentalism, which began in his teen years and persisted into his career in academia:

As a young professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Bem liked to close out each semester by performing as a mentalist. After putting on his show, he’d tell his students that he didn’t really have ESP. In class, he also stressed how easily people can be fooled into believing they’ve witnessed paranormal phenomena.

FULL TEXT: Daryl Bem Proved ESP Is Real. Which Means Science Is Broken.

Indigenous myths, animal ESP, and portents of apocalyptic transformation

Here’s science writer Carrie Arnold, in a newly published article at Aeon titled “Watchers of the Earth,” discussing the possibility that indigenous myths may carry warning signals for natural disasters:

Shortly before 8am on 26 December 2004, the cicadas fell silent and the ground shook in dismay. The Moken, an isolated tribe on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, knew that the Laboon, the ‘wave that eats people’, had stirred from his ocean lair. The Moken also knew what was next: a towering wall of water washing over their island, cleansing it of all that was evil and impure. To heed the Laboon’s warning signs, elders told their children, run to high ground.

The tiny Andaman and Nicobar Islands were directly in the path of the tsunami generated by the magnitude 9.1 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra. Final totals put the islands’ death toll at 1,879, with another 5,600 people missing. When relief workers finally came ashore, however, they realised that the death toll was skewed. The islanders who had heard the stories about the Laboon or similar mythological figures survived the tsunami essentially unscathed. Most of the casualties occurred in the southern Nicobar Islands. Part of the reason was the area’s geography, which generated a higher wave. But also at the root was the lack of a legacy; many residents in the city of Port Blair were outsiders, leaving them with no indigenous tsunami warning system to guide them to higher ground.

Humanity has always courted disaster. We have lived, died and even thrived alongside vengeful volcanoes and merciless waves. Some disasters arrive without warning, leaving survival to luck. Often, however, there is a small window of time giving people a chance to escape. Learning how to crack open this window can be difficult when a given catastrophe strikes once every few generations. So humans passed down stories through the ages that helped cultures to cope when disaster inevitably struck. These stories were fodder for anthropologists and social scientists, but in the past decade, geologists have begun to pay more attention to how indigenous peoples understood, and prepared for, disaster. These stories, which couched myth in metaphor, could ultimately help scientists prepare for cataclysms to come.

Reading this triggered a flood of associated thoughts this morning, mostly related to things I’ve read elsewhere that resonate with it. Although the basic focus is different, for me this article somewhat recalls a starkly apocalyptic and millenarian passage from the ending to Benjamin Hoff’s The Te of Piglet (1992), a book that many readers found off-putting for its semi-grimness, which represented a departure from the more charmingly whimsical presentation of Taoism that Hoff had adopted in its predecessor, The Tao of Pooh: Read the rest of this entry