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A new interview with me: “Life and Mind of a Teeming Brain”

 

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My online friend Rafael Melo has just published a new interview with me at his blog Cloudy Sky. Topics include my reasons for writing about horror and religion and such, my creative process, the centrality of depression and dread in my life as a writer, my favorite music and movies, the deep meaning of angels and demons, the current state of higher education, and more.

Here’s an excerpt where I get personal about my childhood anti-education in the realm of horror cinema:

RAFAEL: What are your main influences for writing about the horror genre?

MATT: My major horror influences include Lovecraft, Ligotti, Ted Klein, and a host of other writers in the weird fiction tradition and the wider tradition of supernatural horror in general. When I was young I read a lot of Poe’s and Bradbury’s horror stories, and this proved significant. So did a horror record that a friend played for me at his house one late summer afternoon. It featured some spooky sound effects plus a few readings of classic horror stories, including a deliriously unhinged performance of Poe’s “The Telltale Heart.” I can still hear the narrator’s voice as he goes for broke in an over-the-top reading of the final line: “Here! Here! It is the beating of his hideous heart!” That flat-out marked me, man.

Although I don’t usually name him in this regard, I suppose I ought to mention Stephen King, too, since I imbibed a large number of his books in my youth , along with the movies adapted from them, and this was influential. My parents didn’t let me watch scary stuff when I was young, so when the movie versions of Carrie and The Shining and the television miniseries of Salem’s Lot came out in the 1970s, I saw the ads but didn’t get to see the movies themselves, and my mind generated all kinds of vague expectations of the colossally frightening things that must be in them. The same thing happened with non-Stephen King movies, too, including Hell Night, Silent Scream, and several more. Whenever I accidentally caught the television advertisements, I was so frightened that I couldn’t stop seeing them in my mind’s eye for hours afterward. Quite seriously, these commercials filled me with a sense of terror and dread. But at the same time, I found them hypnotically fascinating.

I’ve realized in recent years that my parents did me a wonderful creative favor, albeit inadvertently, by forbidding me to watch such things, because this worked in tandem with a native bent in my personality to inculcate a deep and tantalizing sense of some elusive horror that’s loose in the world, and that can never really be seen or known directly, but that would absolutely fry you if you saw it face to face.

. . . When Lovecraft invokes the idea of unspeakable horrors and sanity-blasting cosmic gods and monsters, and when he says the fundamental supernatural horrific response is basically coeval with the ancient category of consciousness that we call “religious experience,” I hear him developing an eccentric version of negative/apophatic theology and helping to clarify the very thing that drives me personally.

FULL INTERVIEW: Matt Cardin — Life and Mind of a Teeming Brain

FYI, Rafael also runs the antinatalist blog The Last Page and has long been an active presence in the online community devoted to discussing antinatalism, including in the works of Thomas Ligotti. If you can read Portuguese, you can look up and read his book of antinatalist philosophy, A Última Filosofia: An Essay about Antinatalism.

Teeming Links – May 23, 2014

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Decline of religious belief means we need more exorcists, say Catholics: “The decline of religious belief in the West and the growth of secularism has ‘opened the window’ to black magic, Satanism and belief in the occult, the organisers of a conference on exorcism have said. The six-day meeting in Rome aims to train about 200 Roman Catholic priests from more than 30 countries in how to cast out evil from people who believe themselves to be in thrall to the Devil.”

Is there a ghost or monster? Is the weather always awful? Is the heroine a virginal saint prone to fainting? Is the villain a murderous tyrant with scary eyes? Are all non-white, non-middle class, non-Protestants portrayed as thoroughly frightening? Chances are you’re reading a Gothic novel.

The Return of Godzilla: “The first time Godzilla appeared, in 1954, Japan was still deep in the trauma of nuclear destruction. Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fresh and terrible memories. US nuclear tests in the Pacific had just rained more death down on Japanese fishermen. And here came the monster. Godzilla. The great force of nature from the deep. Swimming ashore. Stomping through Tokyo. Raising radioactive hell. Godzilla came back again and again. In movies and more. Now, maybe Fukushima’s nuclear disaster has roused the beast. It’s back.”

When you first heard the Snowden revelations about the NSA, did you just kind of shrug and feel like the whole thing merely confirmed what you already knew? This may be no accident: funded by the wealthy and powerful elite, Hollywood has acclimated us to the idea of a surveillance society.

Google Glass and related technologies will create the perfect Orwellian dystopia for workers: “In an office where everyone wears Glass, the very idea of workplace organizing will be utterly unimaginable, as every employee will be turned into an unwilling (perhaps even unwitting) informant for his or her superiors.”

Speaking of dystopias, James Howard Kunstler recently observed that it’s a true sign of the times when, in a society where our digital devices have basically become prosthetic extensions of our hands, it’s impossible to get anybody on the phone anymore.

Also speaking of dystopias, researchers are teaming with the U.S. Navy to develop robots that can make moral decisions. Meanwhile, scientists have no idea how to define human morality.

Net neutrality? Get real. It’s far too late to save the Internet: “The open Internet of legend is already winnowed to the last chaff. . . . To fear a ‘pay to play’ Internet because it will be less hospitable to competition and innovation is not just to board a ship that’s already sailed, but to prepay your cruise vacation down the river Styx.”

And anyway, as far as the Internet goes, it’s totally broken, including, especially, when it comes to security: “It’s hard to explain to regular people how much technology barely works, how much the infrastructure of our lives is held together by the IT equivalent of baling wire. Computers, and computing, are broken. . . . [A]ll computers are reliably this bad: the ones in
hospitals and governments and banks, the ones in your phone, the ones that control light switches and smart meters and air traffic control systems. Industrial computers that maintain infrastructure and manufacturing are even worse. I don’t know all the details, but those who do are the most alcoholic and nihilistic people in computer security.”

Despite Wikipedia’s skeptical disinformation campaign against all paranormal matters, remote viewing is not pseudoscience, says Russell Targ, the field’s most prominent pioneer. What’s more, he easily eviscerates the Wikiskeptics with a revolutionary tool called evidence: “Jessica Utts is a statistics Professor at the University of California, Irvine, and is president of the American Statistical Association. In writing for her part of a 1995 evaluation of our work for the CIA, she wrote: ‘Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well established’ . . . . [I]t should be clear that hundreds of people were involved in a 23 year, multi-million dollar operational program at SRI, the CIA, DIA and two dozen intelligence officers at the army base at Ft. Meade. Regardless of the personal opinion of a Wikipedia editor, it is not logically coherent to trivialize this whole remote viewing undertaking as some kind of ‘pseudoscience.’ Besides me, there is a parade of Ph.D. physicists, psychologists, and heads of government agencies who think our work was valuable, though puzzling.”

And finally: “Mesmerists, Mediums, and Mind-readers” (pdf) — Psychologist and stage magician Peter Lamont provides a brief and thoroughly absorbing “history of extraordinary psychological feats, and their relevance for our concept of psychology and science.”

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guerilla ontology on nuclear steroids: The realism of ‘Godzilla’

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Charles Fort wrote, “I cannot say that truth is stranger than fiction, because I have never had acquaintance with either. . . . There is the hyphenated state of truth-fiction.”

Robert Anton Wilson wrote, “The main thing I learned in my experiments is that reality is always plural and mutable. . . . Alan Watts may have said it best of all: ‘The universe is a giant Rorschach ink-blot.'”

And then there’s this, which significantly departs from Fort’s and RAW’s basic point about what the latter called “guerilla ontology,” but which, I think, may overlap with it enough to induce a valuable state of philosophical schizophrenia:

In the post-war Cold-War era, Godzilla could be a symbol of the threat of nuclear holocaust, which was a constantly simmering terror, never quite on-hand but never far away. Now, Godzilla can represent the fear and disgust we feel with ourselves over the disintegration of the Earth — this sense that at any time, a super monster could rise up from inside our planet.

Among its blockbuster counterparts, Godzilla takes the wanton, almost fetishistic destruction of superhero movies — Zack Snyder’s last Superman, which ruined New York for no particular reason, resulting in a real-life equivalent of nearly 1.5 million casualties and $2 trillion in damage — and creates a real-life parallel. Director Gareth Edwards used the word “god” to refer to Godzilla — strangely enough, the name is just an Anglicization of “Gojira” — and it makes sense: Gods are only extensions of humanity, serving to help us understand the parts of the world that we cannot otherwise. Where our superheroes are normally meant as fables, pop lessons in anthropology and sociology, a creature like Godzilla allows us to confront how humans deal with the non-human. In the same way that David Cronenberg literally fused the human and the technological in his films during the ’80s and ’90s — an era when we were beginning to understand what it meant to become cyborgs — Godzilla splices the natural and the engineered in 2014, when we are beginning to understand that there’s no turning back from what we did to the Earth.

Beyond its content, though, Godzilla’s form also embodies the weird place that Hollywood is in. Godzilla isn’t a sequel, and it isn’t a remake, but it also isn’t an original idea, which, in this climate, is the kind of nine-digit production budget you can only muster if you’re Christopher Nolan or the Wachowskis, someone with previous commercial-blockbuster success. Instead, it’s an attempt to resurrect a great and fallen franchise, which makes it feel original.

MORE: ‘Godzilla’ Might Be This Year’s Most Realistic Movie

Image by BagoGames via Flickr under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

 

Fearless Artist: Remembering Giger

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Many of you are probably (surely) aware that H. R. Giger died last week. The obituary in The New York Times — which is just one entry in the outpouring of recognitions and appreciations that have flooded the media — opens with a concise and excellent summation of Giger’s master themes and cultural significance:

A thread running through Mr. Giger’s work was the uneasy meshing of machines and biology, in a highly idiosyncratic blend of science fiction and surrealism. From books to movies to record albums to magazine illustrations to a back-scratcher inspired by ‘Alien,’ his designs challenged norms. He kept a notepad next to his bed so he could sketch the terrors that rocked his uneasy sleep — nightmarish forms that could as easily have lumbered from prehistory as arrived from Mars.

The same piece also contains a worthy quote from none other than Timothy Leary, who knew the man personally: “Giger’s work disturbs us, spooks us, because of its enormous evolutionary time span. It shows us, all too clearly, where we come from and where we are going.”

Someone else who knew the man personally is Teeming Brain columnist Jason V. Brock. Here, Jason offers a tribute and farewell in which he describes the time he met Giger and shares his reflections on the artist’s legacy and importance.

* * *

Jason with H R Giger

H. R. Giger and Jason V Brock

In 2006 my wife Sunni and I met the late visionary artist H. R. Giger at his home in Zürich, Switzerland.*

We were there to interview him for our forthcoming documentary Image, Reflection, Shadow: Artists of the Fantastic, and he, along with his lovely wife Carmen, entertained us for several hours. His house was a fascinating place, as one would imagine, and he was in a fine mood, laughing and discussing his artwork, as well as inquiring about a mutual friend, filmmaker Dan O’Bannon (writer of Alien, director of Return of the Living Dead and The Resurrected), who was still alive at the time. There was more to that fantastic encounter, including a fine meal, bottles of wine, the telling of amusing anecdotes, etc., but much of it is of a private nature; it is something that Sunni and I will always cherish and hold dear in our hearts. What I can share, however, is that Giger was very pleased that I had brought along a recent picture I had taken of Dan. He kept looking at the image in astonishment and muttering, “Mein Gott. ” I could sense that he was traveling back in time and reliving those moments so many years ago on the closed set of what would become the classic horror/sci-fi film Alien. Read the rest of this entry

Bobcat Goldthwaite: Why have a civilization if we’re no longer interested in being civilized?

A couple of years ago when I watched the movie God Bless America, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite (whom I once had the pleasure of seeing live when he was doing standup comedy), it didn’t turn out to be as good in its entirety as I had hoped. The trailer (see below) had been awesome, and the advance buzz about the movie had been highly encouraging, since it made it sound as if Goldthwaite had borrowed cues from both Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers and the likes of Morris Berman’s The Twilight of American Culture to make a movie that would channel the rage, horror, and sadness many of us have felt as we’ve watched America transform itself into a cruel, decadent, and degenerate “society of the spectacle,” to borrow Guy Debord’s useful and accurate term.

The finished film didn’t quite live up to the buzz or the trailer, since the pacing was off and the third act, including the climactic scene, felt particularly off-kilter. Nevertheless, it contains several scenes and sequences that fulfill the promise of the buildup, and none is better than the one below, where protagonist Frank, played by Joel Murray (yes, Bill’s brother), goes to the office one morning and delivers an immortal rant that, in my estimation, ranks up there with Howard Beale’s prophetic condemnations of America’s mass mediated lunacy in Network. And just as Beale was basically a mouthpiece for screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky’s personal views, so is Frank a mouthpiece for Goldthwaite’s.

Fair warning: Use with care. This clip contains NSFW language and some (intentionally) shocking violence. It also contains a compressed diagnosis of America’s (and the whole first world’s) cultural disease here in the early twenty-first century that’s incisive enough to start a revolution.

“Nobody talks about anything anymore. They just regurgitate everything they see on TV or hear on the radio or watch on the Web. When was the last time you had a real conversation with someone without somebody texting or looking at a screen or a monitor over your head? You know, a conversation about something that wasn’t celebrities, gossip, sports, or pop politics. Something important or something personal. . . . This is the ‘Oh no, you didn’t say that!’ generation, where a shocking comment has more weight than the truth. Nobody has any shame any more. And we’re supposed to celebrate it! I saw a woman throw a used tampon at another woman last night on network television, a network that bills itself as ‘today’s woman’s channel.’ Kids beat each other blind and post it on YouTube. I mean, do you remember when eating rats and maggots on Survivor was shocking? It all seems so quaint now. I’m sure the girls from Two Girls, One Cup are going to have their own dating show on VH1 any day now. I mean, why have a civilization any more if we are no longer interested in being civilized?”

John Hagee warns of blood moon apocalypse

Well, that’s a relief. After years of fanning the flames of religious doomsday fears, television preacher John Hagee, long one of the most prominent banner carriers for fundamentalist Protestant bluster and bombast, has decided to enter the apocalypse sweepstakes for real by giving a specific timetable for — well, something non-specific. But he says it will be “a world-shaking event,” and he says it will happen between now and October 2015.

How does he know this? Simple: He claims that our current cycle of “blood moons” is a direct apocalyptic sign:

Hagee is not, of course, alone in this. The blood moon phenomenon has set off an apocalyptic debate among many Christians. And suddenly I’m gripped by memories of myself, at age 17, watching the apocalyptic religious horror flick The Seventh Sign and finding it so cool as a Jewish kid sits translating a famous end-times passage from the biblical Book of Joel — specifically, Joel 2:31, which states that “the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful Day of the LORD” — when he looks out his window and sees the large full moon suddenly overtaken by a wave of crimson that turns it a deep bloody color. Demi Moore, what have you wrought?

But all joking aside, I think it’s important to recognize that the type of apocalyptic religious theorizing advanced by Hagee pointedly ignores certain aspects of the very sacred text that he and his ilk claim to take as absolute, infallible, and unchangeable holy writ. Consider, for example, the fact that the biblical/canonical Jesus’s right-hand man, the apostle Peter, states explicitly in Acts 2 that the Joel prophecy, including the part about the moon turning to blood, is already fulfilled in the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles at the Day of Pentecost. Obviously, such a claim represents a distinctly different understanding and interpretation of apocalyptic matters than the model of a literal timetable advanced by the Hagees of the world. Likewise for Jesus’s statement in Luke 17:20-21, where he directly tells the pharisees, who have asked when the kingdom will arrive, that it is not the type of thing that will come by looking for external signs, because God’s kingdom is already within or among them. Call me naive, but I doubt we’ll hear Pastor Hagee addressing the clash between his claims and this subtler view as he continues to spout and tout his literalistic apocalyptic views over the next 18 months.

Anthony Hopkins on philosophy, shamanism, and ‘a landscape of darkness and horror’ in ‘Noah’

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“The Flood” by Johann Heinrich Schönfeld (1634/35)
Via Art and the Bible, Fair Use

I recently saw the Noah movie, and I’m pleased to report that I really liked it. The angle taken by writer-director Darren Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel struck me as deeply engrossing and just right for our collective cultural moment. I was pretty well swept away by their deliberate re-visioning of the basic Bible story as an epic tale of antediluvian human civilization and planetary apocalypse, all revolving around the deep mystery of “the Creator” (the only term used throughout the film to refer to the deity) and His inscrutable nature and terrifying intentions for a world that has been thoroughly corrupted and perverted from its original purpose by humans.

One of the more fascinating changes was Aronofsky’s and Handel’s decision to incorporate an explicitly shamanic theme into the story, largely centered on the person of Methuselah. In the Bible, the Genesis genealogy does present Methuselah as Noah’s grandfather, but he is nowhere mentioned in the flood story itself. The film, by contrast, makes him an important supporting character, and it portrays him as a wise and mysterious old shaman-like figure who gives Noah a psychoactive brew to help him gain a clear vision of what the Creator has been calling him to do in a series of horrifying apocalyptic dreams. As described by Drew McWeeny of HitFix, upon drinking the brew

Noah is propelled into a vision of the Garden and the snake and Adam and Eve’s fall and Cain and Abel’s violence, and he sees the flood, and he sees the Ark, and he knows, with one complete revelation, what he is supposed to do. Methuselah isn’t remotely surprised. He knew that this particular brew would give Noah a direct pipeline to the voice of God, and Aronofsky uses a very real-world visual vocabulary to show a direct communion with the supernatural.

It’s a fascinating way to imagine what a prehistoric, pre-flood religion or spirituality in the general context of this particular tale and tradition might have looked like. It also strikes me as true in spirit to the history and probable prehistory of real-world religion. In the world of the Noah film, religion is experiential, not propositional or intellectual, and it involves a direct sense of communication with the invisible deity, along with an agonized struggle to interpret and understand the meanings of dreams and visions with the help of wise old mediator figures and psychoactive substances.

Methuselah is played by Anthony Hopkins, who does a marvelous job in the role. He also does a marvelous job in a recent interview with McWeeny for HitFix, where in addition to discussing the filmmakers’ decision to include Methuselah in the story he discusses the shamanic matters under question and the explicitly philosophical side of the screenplay as he compares its portrayal of Methuselah to the real-world philosophical figures of Socrates, Plato, and Diogenes. Then he ends with a brief comment on the way Aronofsky managed to create a film that presents “a landscape of . . . darkness and horror,” where the main character is “in tune with some inner signal” as “the ground of all being” speaks within him. It all adds up to a rare moment of true depth in a show-biz industry interview.

Make Mine a Double: On Being a Pod Person

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“STUART” SAYS:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the first film I remember seeing that actually terrified me. I was so young — I saw it when I was still just a highly impressionable child — and the concept driving the film was utterly, perfectly terrifying:

What if your loved ones were replaced by emotionless duplicates? Worse, what if you were replaced by an emotionless duplicate?

Everything the same, everything slightly different. Existential dread in a teatime SF film.

The heroes: Kevin McCarthy’s square-jawed doctor and Dana Wynter’s plucky divorcee look like they can handle themselves. Still, they are strangely vulnerable.

The cure: medicine and psychiatry will save the day. Or could it be that excessive rationality is actually part of the problem?

Minimal special effects: the fanciest come when the pods split open to reveal their duplicates.

Screenplay by Daniel “Out of the Past” Mainwaring. Directed by Don “The Verdict” Siegel. McCarthy’s voiceover is classic noir, as is the framing device where he tells his story to disbelieving authority figures. The only difference is that, instead of the police, he is talking to doctors. And the whole thing plays out in bleak black and white.

And oh God, the ending! It seems tame now, but my innocent young mind couldn’t cope with the stark ambiguity. I was terrified that pod people had actually taken over the earth and that they were such perfect duplicates that nobody had even noticed. My friend tried to ease my paranoia by talking me through it logically: if pod people had taken over the world we would know we were pod people, and as we didn’t, we couldn’t be.

I eyed him suspiciously: “But that’s exactly what you’d say to me if you were a pod person!”

“STUART” SAYS:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers wasn’t the first film I remember seeing that actually terrified me. I was a little older — I saw it when I was an adult — but even so, the concept driving the film remained utterly, perfectly terrifying:

Everyone you know — all your friends, all your rivals — is replaced by an emotionless duplicate. Would your love survive? Would your hate?

Everything different, everything eerily similar. Existential dread in a late night shocker.

The victims: Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams appearout of their depth; ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Still, they have hidden strengths.

The problem: pop psychology and New Age pseudoscience will condemn the day. Or could it be that credulity is actually part of the solution?

Minimal special effects: the fanciest come when a pod duplication goes horrifyingly wrong.

Screenplay by W.D. “Peeper” Richter. Cameo by Don “Dirty Harry” Siegel. Sutherland’s cynical everyman is classic neo-noir, as is his struggle to unravel the conspiracy theory. The only difference is that, instead of dealing with corrupt police and politicians, he is dealing with alien invaders. And the whole thing plays out in bleached, soulless color.

And oh God, the ending! It was bleak beyond belief, yet my jaded adult mind was able cope with the horror. That inhuman screech, overlapping a terrified scream as the last human emotion echoed around the world. My friend had trouble understanding the ending, so I talked him through it: a pod person pretending to be human was indistinguishable from a human pretending to be a pod person, until that final moment of revelation.

I eyed him suspiciously: “Should I be worried that you’re called Stuart, too?”

 

Teeming Links – April 4, 2014

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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 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teeming Links – March 28, 2014

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It turns out that right as I was putting together last week’s Teeming Brain doom-and-gloom update, a new “official prophecy of doom” had just been issued from a very prominent and mainstream source: “Global warming will cause widespread conflict, displace millions of people and devastate the global economy. Leaked draft report from UN panel seen by The Independent is most comprehensive investigation into impact of climate change ever undertaken — and it’s not good news.”

Did President Obama really just try to defend the U.S. war in Iraq while delivering a speech criticizing Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine? Why, yes. Yes, he did. (Quoth Bill Clinton at the 2012 Democratic Convention: “It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.”)

What used to be paranoid is now considered the essence of responsible parenting. Ours is an age of obsessive parental overprotectiveness.

FALSE: Mental illness is caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain. FALSE: The DSM, the psychiatric profession’s diagnostic Bible, is scientifically valid and reliable. The whole field of psychiatry is imploding before our eyes. (Also see this.)

And even as mainstream psychiatry is self-destructing, the orthodox gospel of healthy eating continues to crumble — a development now being tracked by mainstream journalism. Almost everything we’ve been told for the past four decades is wrong. In point of fact, fatty foods like butter and cheese are better for you than trans-fat margarines. There’s basically no link between fats and heart disease .

Meanwhile, researchers are giving psychedelics to cancer patients to help alleviate their despair — and it’s working:

They almost uniformly experienced a dramatic reduction in existential anxiety and depression, and an increased acceptance of the cancer, and the changes lasted a year or more and in some cases were permanent. . . . [Stephen] Ross [director of the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse at Bellevue Hospital in New York] is part of a new generation of researchers who have re-discovered what scientists knew more than half a century ago: that psychedelics can be good medicine. . . . Scientists still don’t completely understand why psychedelics seem to offer a shortcut to spiritual enlightenment, allowing people to experience life-changing insights that they are often unable to achieve after decades of therapy. But researchers are hopeful that will change, and that the success of these new studies will signal a renaissance in research into these powerful mind-altering drugs.

Don’t look now, but the future is a social media-fied video game:

In five years’ time, all news articles will consist of a single coloured icon you click repeatedly to make info-nuggets fly out, accompanied by musical notes, like a cross between Flappy Bird and Newsnight. . . . Meanwhile, video games and social media will combine to create a world in which you unlock exciting advantages in real life by accruing followers and influence. Every major city will house a glamorous gentrified enclave to which only successful social brand identities (or “people” as they used to be known) with more than 300,000 followers will be permitted entry, and a load of cardboard boxes and dog shit on the outside for everybody else.

Deflating the digital humanists:

[To portray their work] as part of a Copernican turn in the humanities overstates the extent to which it is anything more than a very useful tool for quantifying cultural and intellectual trends. It’s a new way of gathering information about culture, rather than a new way of thinking about it or of understanding it — things for which we continue to rely on the analog humanities.

Science and “progress” can’t tell us how to live. They can’t address the deep meaning of life, the universe, and everything. So where to turn? How about philosophy, which is unendingly relevant:

We are deluged with information; we know how to track down facts in seconds; the scientific method produces new discoveries every day. But what does all that mean for us? . . . The grand forward push of human knowledge requires each of us to begin by trying to think independently, to recognize that knowledge is more than information, to see that we are moral beings who must closely interrogate both ourselves and the world we inhabit — to live, as Socrates recommended, an examined life.

Take this, all of you scoffers at Fortean phenomena (and/or at Sharknado): “When Animals Fall from the Sky: The Surprising Science of Animal Rain

Finally, here’s a neat look at the evolution of popular American cinema in 3 minutes, underlaid by Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”:

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net