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Teeming Links – April 4, 2014


The International Business Times has become a worldwide online phenomenon with its network of different news sites that reaches (or so it claims) 40 million people. Now it owns Newsweek. And, as explained by Mother Jones in an extensive article, IBT is anxious to hide its ties to an enigmatic religious figure.

Are you someone who, like me, has watched the movie Groundhog Day repeatedly? If so, here’s some good news from political scientist Charles Murray (best known as the co-author of the classic and controversial The Bell Curve): now you don’t have to read Aristotle’s Ethics, because the movie imparts the same truths.

What if we all decided to resist and rebuff the insufferable cult of productivity that has taken over our lives? What if we decided to create a society and culture where we work less so that we can live more? Robert Anton Wilson’s RICH Economy,” anyone?

Some are saying America’s recent flood of apocalyptic science fiction and fantasy movies indicates that Hollywood hates humans. Consider the new Noah movie, which radically transforms the Genesis story into a parable of divine wrath at humanity’s destruction of the natural environment.

On the other hand, maybe a different and very popular type of science fiction apocalypse sends a different message: this week Bill Clinton told Jimmy Kimmel that, as in Independence Day, an alien invasion might unite the human race:

Forget about offloading human intellectual power onto computers. Over at the always excellent Archdruid Report, John Michael Greer argues that, given the epic atrophy of America’s collective intellect in this age of ubiquitous, media-driven, partisan-powered hype and jingoism, and with all of us staring down the barrel of an energy-starved deindustrial future, there will be plenty of job openings for real-world versions of the hyper-intelligent mentats — humans with super-trained intellects — from Frank Herbert’s Dune.

And speaking of the human intellect, have you ever reflected on the awesome and mysterious power of naming? Consider:

The act of naming is one of the central mysteries of human cognition — it is the visible tip of an iceberg whose depth below the surface of conscious thought we have only just begun to plumb. . . . Maybe the story of Rumpelstiltskin, in its cryptic way, is trying to tell us two intertwined tales. On the one hand it is telling us that unnamed powers lurk in the shadows: capricious spirits that can both help and harm us. Like stories themselves, these powers may be infinite. Perhaps our rational concepts can never fully account for them. But on the other hand, it seems to be telling us that when malevolent or irrational forces manifest themselves, we can — if we’re lucky — name them and tame them. But maybe I’m wrong about this. After all,

The Tao that can be expressed
Is not the Tao of the Absolute.
The name that can be named
Is not the name of the Absolute.

It turns out that we have a quantum reality problem: “When the deepest theory we have seems to undermine science itself, some kind of collapse looks inevitable.”

Could our quantum crisis have a bearing on why physicists make up stories in the dark? Here’s science writer Philip Ball, from an article where he calls out the close relationship between the history of science and the history of spiritualism, psychical research, and more:

Before science had the means to explore [the realm of unseen realities], we had to make do with stories that became enshrined in myth and folklore. Those stories aren’t banished as science advances; they are simply reinvented. Scientists working at the forefront of the invisible will always be confronted with gaps in knowledge, understanding, and experimental capability. In the face of those limits, they draw unconsciously on the imagery of the old stories. This is a necessary part of science, and these stories can sometimes suggest genuinely productive scientific ideas. But the danger is that we will start to believe them at face value, mistaking them for theories. A backward glance at the history of the invisible shows how the narratives and tropes of myth and folklore can stimulate science, while showing that the truth will probably turn out to be far stranger and more unexpected than these old stories can accommodate.

Finally, while we’re talking about stories in the dark we would all do well to recognize the influence of Victorian mysticism and occultism on subsequent Western culture:

[The larger cultural tapestry is] an interweaving of mysticism, technology, and art that began at the turn of the last century and is still with us in the twenty-first. . . . One strand wove into the history of science and technology; another became the New Age Movement; another is emerging in the techno-utopian transhumanists of Silicon Valley, who (seemingly unwittingly) borrow themes and aims from theosophy. It’s hard to say where it all will take us. But it seems fair to say that Besant and Leadbeater played a small but intriguing role in shaping the globalized culture of the twenty-first century, which weaves together East and West, mysticism and rationalism, sound and sight.

 Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /