Blog Archives

Teeming Links – August 27, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s opening word simply has to go to Ben Godar, who, in a marvelous little piece for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, offers exactly what we’ve all been frantically (if unwittingly) yearning for during our past two decades of seeking total fulfillment in cyberspace:

Are you tired of being in the slow lane with your current internet provider? Switch over today and we promise speeds so fast, you will lose your faith in God.

DSL can lag, especially if you’re far from the access point, and the cable companies are notorious for outages. But with our premium service, you can rest assured you will be always fast, always on and always alone in the universe.

No more waiting for that web page to load, that attachment to download or that divine spirit to listen to your prayers. Once you’re online with us, you will be surfing the web, sharing files and accepting the random folly of existence faster than you ever dreamed.

. . . While you may experience a profound sense of ennui at the realization that your existence is lonely and temporal, it will soon be washed away as you stream Netflix while surfing the web . . . without that annoying buffering!

— Ben Godar, “Our Internet Speeds Are So Fast, You Will Lose Your Faith in God,” McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, August 23, 2013

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The Confidential Memo at the Heart of the Global Financial Crisis (Greg Palast for Vice)
“The Memo confirmed every conspiracy freak’s fantasy: that in the late 1990s, the top US Treasury officials secretly conspired with a small cabal of banker big-shots to rip apart financial regulation across the planet. When you see 26.3 percent unemployment in Spain, desperation and hunger in Greece, riots in Indonesia and Detroit in bankruptcy, go back to this End Game memo, the genesis of the blood and tears.”

Economic Fears are Fueling a New Twist to Horror Film Genre (Le Monde, via Worldcrunch)
“[T]he end of the world as represented in several contemporary productions should not be seen as a millenarian threat but rather as the disappearance of a social bond that was damaged by the general workings of the economy. . . . [T]he fantasy of these extravagant tales hides a more tangible dread, that of dispossession, as if these nighmarish scenarios were born from the crisis of a globalized economy.”

Fukushima leak is ‘much worse than we were led to believe’ (BBC News)
Take note: this is a real-world disaster movie unfolding right before us. “A nuclear expert has told the BBC that he believes the current water leaks at Fukushima are much worse than the authorities have stated. . . . Meanwhile the chairman of Japan’s nuclear authority said that he feared there would be further leaks. . . . In a letter to the UN secretary general, [former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland] Mitsuhei Murata says the official radiation figures published by Tepco cannot be trusted. He says he is extremely worried about the lack of a sense of crisis in Japan and abroad.”

Appletopia_by_Brett_T_RobinsonAppletopia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs (Brett T. Robinson, Baylor University Press, 2013)
A new book, published just two weeks ago. Here’s a portion of the official publisher’s description (and also see the next two items below): “Media and culture critic Brett T. Robinson reconstructs Steve Jobs’ imagination for digital innovation in transcendent terms. Robinson portrays how the confluence of Jobs’ religious, philosophical, and technological thought was embodied in Apple’s most memorable advertising campaigns. From Zen Buddhism and Catholicism to dystopian and futurist thought, religion defined and branded Jobs’ design methodology. . . . As it turns out, culture was eager to find meaning in the burgeoning technological revolution, naming Jobs as its prophet and Apple the deliverer of his message.”

How Steve Jobs Turned Technology — and Apple — into Religion (An excerpt from Brett T. Robinson’s Appletopia at Wired)
“Apple product launches and conferences remain sacred pilgrimages where Apple fans can congregate, camp, and live together for days at a time to revel in the communal joy of witnessing the transcendent moment of the new product launch. . . . The question that remains is whether this mode of perception brings us any closer to recognizing the transcendent hidden at the heart of that which is not digitized or downloaded.”

The Faux Religion of Steve Jobs (Brett T. Robinson for CNN)
“Baked into Apple products is a troubling paradox. Like a technological Trojan horse, Apple products assail our senses with sumptuous visuals and rich acoustics while unleashing a bevy of addictive and narcissistic habits. The ‘i’ prefix on Apple devices is a constant reminder that personal technology is ultimately all about us.”

Learning how to live (New Statesman)
“Why do we find free time so terrifying? Why is a dedication to work, no matter how physically destructive and ultimately pointless, considered a virtue? Jenny Diski urges you to down tools while you can.”

Let’s Get Lost (Bookforum)
A novelist and inveterate traveler seeks life off the grid. “Nowadays, when cell phones track their owners’ whereabouts, while drones stalk people even in rugged hinterlands in order to kill them for secret reasons, the idea of getting away from it all and building someplace happier, such as Merry Mount, seems more far-fetched than ever. What’s an American to do?”

United_States_of_Paranoia_by_Jesse_WalkerRobert Anton Wilson & Operation Mindfuck (Disinformation)
An excerpt from the new book United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory by Jesse Walker, focusing on the role of the Discordian Pope, RAW himself. Of special interest here to those who didn’t previously know it is that the famous “Operation Mindfuck” talked about by Wilson and Robert Shea their classic Illuminatus! trilogy was real, and the novel was written as one of its major elements.

Aliens, Insectoids, and Elves! Oh, My! (The Vaults of Erowid)
A thoroughly fascinating rumination on encounter experiences with aliens, insectoids, aliens, demons, spirits, and other “entities,” especially as connected with the use of psychedelics/entheogens. From the forthcoming book DMT Underground: A Compendium of Unauthorized Research, edited by Jon Hanna.

One_Simple_Idea_by_Mitch_HorowitzPositive Thinking, Seriously (Mitch Horowitz for The Huffington Post)
Mitch is of course the editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin. We have referred to him and his work many times here in the past. His new book One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life is scheduled for publication in January 2014. In the linked article, he briefly talks about the fact that nowadays “positive thinking is the closest America has to a national religion. It is the foundational idea of business motivation, mind-body medicine, prosperity ministering and much more.” He also shares the following wonderful mini-documentary, which I heartily encourage you to watch.

Can dark matter, the multiverse model, and the observer effect help to explain UFOs and paranormal entities?

Here’s some fascinating, cogent, incisive, and subtle speculation/theorizing (marred in places by a mild stylistic clumsiness) from Kathy Kasten, whose accompanying bio describes her as “an experienced writer/researcher who delved extensively into the UFO phenomenon and related subject matter” and whose “resume includes acting as staff liaison on the Human Subjects Protection Committee while employed at the University of California at Los Angeles.” Ms. Kasten is ably connecting all kinds of compelling data dots, and is doing so in an admirably open-minded, nondogmatic way — which surely accounts for the philosophically and emotionally evocative vibe of her developing line of thought.

In order to get at the real phenomena we will have to begin to understand just what is human perception and how it functions…[M]ost of the time what appears to be happening “out there” is really happening “in here.”  Humans are continually projecting from “in here” to “out there”…[T]he universe does not exist in a state independent from the observer.  That new rule is according to Robert Lanza, M.D., scientist and author of “Biocentrism”…Dr. Lanza [states] that while we are in the process of sorting out the fact that time and space don’t exist without us, our reality will feel like a bit of madness. According to Dr. Mark Robert Waldman, the madness comes from the fact the human brain generates every type of belief.  Each human brain constructs its own version of reality and is biased by its experience of perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and social beliefs, resulting in a limited view of reality of what actually exists “out there.”

Read the rest of this entry

Aliens and ontology: Are abductions “not real” if they’re “just dreams”?

Note the predictable materialist-reductionist assumption that characterizes a newly reported round of research into the alien abduction phenomenon. Because people could be trained to see/experience aliens and abductions while such phenomena were clearly not physically happening, Michael Raduga of Los Angeles’ Out-of-Body Experience Research Center deemed the phenomena themselves to be, therefore, illusory products of the human mind.

From Live Science and its sister site, Life’s Little Mysteries (with emphases added by me):

Researchers say they have conducted “the first experiment to ever prove that close encounters with UFOs and extraterrestrials are a product of the human mind.” In a sleep study by the Out-Of-Body Experience Research Center in Los Angeles, 20 volunteers were instructed to perform a series of mental steps upon waking up or becoming lucid during the night that might lead them to have out-of-body experiences culminating in encounters with aliens. According to lead researcher Michael Raduga, more than half the volunteers experienced at least one full or partial out-of-body experience, and seven of them were able to make contact with UFOs or extraterrestrials during these dream-like experiences. Read the rest of this entry

The muse and the pineal gland

For over a month I’ve been pounding away at the third installment in my “Theology, Psychology, Neurology” series of articles over at Demon Muse. It will look at the third element in the series title by considering several possible biological locations of the muse experience.

The section on the pineal gland proved unexpectedly slippery to write. About five minutes ago I think I finally finished knocking it out after six weeks of work, during which its proper shape proved damnably difficult to intuit. To detoxify and decompress my brain, I thought I’d air a portion of it here before moving on to write the other parts, which will talk about 1) Stan Gooch’s positing of the cerebellum as the physical location of the unconscious mind, the muse experience, and paranormal manifestations, and 2) the modern school of “creative brain” research with its heavy-duty neurological focus, as explored by Alice Flaherty in The Midnight Disease, Michael Persinger in his research with temporal lobe stimulation and the experience of a “sensed presence,” Shelly Carson in her new book Your Creative Brain, and more.

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The pineal gland is a pea-sized structure located deep within the brain. In the mid-20th century it was discovered to help regulate our circadian sleep/wake cycle by secreting melatonin. Prior to that, nobody knew what it really did, but speculation ran rampant for over two millennia. In the 4th century B.C.E., the Greek physician Herophilus examined the pineal while dissecting corpses and speculated that it was involved in the functioning of the soul. Two thousand years later, the 17th-century philosopher Descartes famously declared it “the seat of the soul,” the physical point where mind and matter are joined together, and from whence the former exercises control over the latter.

Two centuries after that, the first real scientific findings about the pineal gland’s nature and function had the ironic effect of providing fuel for further mystical and metaphysical speculation. Based on the observation that we share this organ with other animals, including not just mammals but creatures of an older evolutionary age, such as amphibians and lizards, whose pineal gland is linked to a functional third eye called the dorsal or parietal eye that’s located on top of the head between the two main eyes, several scientists in the late-19th century began to conjecture that the human pineal gland is a vestigial dorsal eye or third eye of its own, a relic of our phylogenetic history. This was immediately pounced upon by esoteric philosophers, including, most notably, Madame Blavatsky, the formidable head of the Theosophical movement, as scientific evidence of the reality of the mystical third eye or “Eye of Shiva.” Today the idea of the pineal gland as a vestigial eye is an accepted part of evolutionary biology, even as members of the Theosophical Society continue to sound their mystical note:

The mind and senses are paths for occult energies that work through various psychophysical centers or chakras, among the highest of which is the pineal gland. These centers continue to develop as we evolve towards spirit. So while the third eye or pineal gland has certain physiological activities in conjunction with the pituitary gland—together they regulate the rhythms of metabolism and growth—it is also the physical organ of intuition, inspiration, spiritual vision, and divine thought.

So what is it about this unassuming, deeply buried gland that has inspired such interest and speculation? Medical doctor and psychiatrist Rick Strassman explains the matter concisely in his groundbreaking book DMT: The Spirit Molecule:

The pineal gland is unique in its solitary status within the brain. All other brain sites are paired, meaning they have left and right counterparts; for example, there are left and right frontal lobes and left and right temporal lobes. As the only unpaired organ deep within the brain, the pineal gland remained an anatomical curiosity for nearly two thousand years. No one in the West had any idea what its function was.

Endocrinologist and chronobiologist Josephine Arendt gets at the same thing when she begins her Melatonin and the Mammalian Pineal Gland by referring rather lyrically to “The pineal gland, the mysterious unpaired organ of the brain, the ‘third eye’, the seat of the soul, a ‘calcified vestigial organ with no function’, subject of medical jokes.” The New World Encyclopedia likewise conveys much the same point: “The pineal gland was the last endocrine gland to have its function discovered. This combination led to its being a ‘mystery’ gland with myth, superstition, and even metaphysical theories surrounding its perceived function.”

Most pointedly for our own specific interests, in the 1990s the pineal gland was implicated in fascinating research involving the psychedelic substance DMT and its tendency to produce an experience of coming into contact with angels, demons, aliens, and other paranormal presences with a distinct first-cousin relationship to the muse, daimon, and genius.

H.P. Lovecraft, DMT, and the mysteries of the pineal gland

pineal_glandLike a lot of people these days, I regularly absorb at least as much information from pop culture as from more exalted sources. And so it was that when I was a teenager, I first heard of the pineal gland — “the mysterious unpaired organ of the brain, the ‘third eye’, the seat of the soul, a ‘calcified vestigial organ with no function’, subject of medical jokes,” as endocrinologist and chronobiologist Joseph Arendt has described it — not in a high school or college biology class but from Stuart Gordon / Brian Yuzna / Dennis Paoli’s movie adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s minor short story “From Beyond.”

Both the movie and the story, the latter of which I read a couple of years after watching the former, tell of a mad scientist who creates a machine that sends out rays or vibrations to stimulate the pineal gland, thus awakening a latent sense that enables people to see monstrous extra-dimensional creatures that always exist in a kind of hyperspace around us. Unfortunately, the machine also allows those creatures to see us. Lovecraft explains the matter as follows:

The waves from that thing are waking a thousand sleeping senses in us; senses which we inherit from aeons of evolution from the state of detached electrons to the state of organic humanity. . . . You have heard of the pineal gland? I laugh at the shallow endocrinologist, fellow-dupe and fellow-parvenu of the Freudian. That gland is the great sense-organ of organs — I have found out. It is like sight in the end, and transmits visual pictures to the brain.

Although Lovecraft was probably working with a semi-satirical intent when he invoked the “third eye” pineal trope, which would have been well known to him because of its prominence in the mystical and esoteric literature of his day, his portrayal of it resonates rather shockingly well with the real-life research results obtained by Dr. Rick Strassman in his DMT experiments from the 1990s. Working at the University of New Mexico with the formal approval of the U.S. government, Strassman injected 60 volunteers with DMT to study its effects on consciousness and discover its possible dangers and therapeutic uses. Among the most startling of its effects was a consistent “encounter” experience in which the subjects came in contact with other-dimensional beings, which they described variously as clowns, elves, angels, demons, aliens, insectoids, and robots.

This is more than just a little interesting, especially given that Strassman organized the book he wrote about his DMT experiments, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, around the guiding hypothesis that the pineal gland may naturally produce DMT and thus be implicated in naturally occurring mystical and near-death visionary experiences, and also in dreams and experiences of alien abduction, entity encounters, and the like. In other words, we won’t be stretching the truth very much, if at all, if we make an imaginative leap and regard this aspect of his work as a kind of real-life, experimental verification of Lovecraft’s “hypothesis” in “From Beyond,” minus most (but not all) of the cosmic-horrific overtones.

Not incidentally, I interviewed Strassman recently for a blog post and book chapter about the pineal gland’s possible role as a locus of the muse experience in creativity. From my personal point of view, the upshot, aside from the inherent mind-blowing fascination of this whole topic, is that Lovecraft just keeps giving and giving from beyond the grave. He somehow ends up involved in some way, major or minor, in all of my ongoing projects and obsessions.

For those who are interested, here’s a trailer for the documentary movie DMT: The Spirit Molecule, released in 2010 as a cinematic accompaniment to Strassman’s book: