Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Understanding versus knowing

Having been a doctor or a scientist or some kind of an academic for much of my life, I have been focused on 'understanding' - and indeed my natural disposition has also pointed that way.

But 'understanding' the world is problematic, because what it really amounts to is making simple models of the world, and using these for prediction and manipulation. All human understanding is inevitably simplified - due to the inevitable constraints and also because that is implicitly the purpose of the whole business... to take the 'infinitely' complex and interconnected world and render it into something simple enough that we can deal with.

This also means that all understanding is wrong - we know it is wrong because we know that most things have been left out, and because to make a model we draw-a-line around a bit of the world and treat it as separate when in reality everything is somewhat connected with everything else.

So understanding the world is - no matter how apparently useful - an exercise in error.

We know that models are false, and we can never know that they are applicable or not - and we can't ever really know except in terms of the model itself - because on major simplification of models is that the outcomes are selective and limited.

And we might know a model worked - in its own terms - up to 'now'; but (as the history of science amply shows) situations may arise in which a previously useful (predictive, manipulative) model breaks-down and fails even to satisfy its own very circumscribed criteria...

The main problem with thinking in terms of models, however, is to believe that they are True. This is what Owen Barfield termed Idolatry, the worshipping of the model as an idol. As when Galileo asserted that his model was really-true - and refused to regard it as merely a more-or-less useful/ better model (hypothesis/ theory).

The modern error has been to assert that Galileo was right, when in fact we know for sure that he was wrong... we just keep on doing this! We assert that the models of science/ technology/ medicine, economics etc are true - when in fact they are never true... and often only last a few months or years before being superseded by something else we 'believe' is true.

It is a shallow and foolish error - a deep metaphysical error; but it is an error that pervades modern life and which is enforced with strong sanctions. 

It was an insight of Goethe that models are not knowledge, and that 'knowing' something is more analogous to knowing a person than to modelling a phenomenon. That is, we get to know a friend, we do 'understand' a friend - we do not hypothesis and test models of their behaviour - making and checking predictions, trying to perform manipulations etc. That is what 'managers' do, not friends!

We get to know a friends by... well being with them, thinking about them, being concerned about them... stuff like that. We may know our mother or father in this way, although we cannot and do not want to create a simplified model of them - and if we do, we don't suppose that the model has captured their essence; in fact we know for sure that all such models are wrong.

Through human history we went from knowing, to understanding, and now we should go back to knowing - but this time knowing that we know. Our original knowing (as children, as early Man) was unconscious, was simply taking-for-granted - but now we need consciously to know what we are doing, and to choose it rather than simply taking it for granted.

This is, indeed, the task of tasks which confronts us.


Reality made simple

Bear in mind that our understanding of the ultimate nature of reality is concerned with assumptions - metaphysics - and there is no 'evidence' for it. On the other hand, there must be first assumptions; and these assumptions have immense consequences. 
The primordial situation is pluralistic - many things, not one thing.

These primordial things are agents - which is to say they are dynamic entities: each agent a self-generating source of... thought. Thus ultimate reality is dynamic, changing. It is organised to the extent of there being distinct agents - but no further.

Thus ultimate reality is alive - all agents are alive.

('Polarity' or 'polar logic' is a consequence of this primordial situation - it is a metaphysics of dynamic, self-generating, plural agency.)

Among these eternally existing primordial agents is God; and God (at some point) creates our world by 'shaping' the primordial agents.

God does this with the objective and hope of developing other agents like God - so that God will not be alone, so that God will have a family. Creation is motivated by the desire for more Gods.

Creation is the cohesion and harmonisation of agents - by love. Love is the primary cause of creation - at the heart of everything that is created.

In sum, primary reality is multiply-dynamic, held-together and brought into harmony by love.

In creation there is an unfolding, a development - due to the dynamic interaction of agents; this is destined (ie. has a direction and goal intended by God) but is not determined, because of agency.

In fact the development is itself creation. Creat-ivity is agency participating in the developmental-unfolding of reality.

Consciousness is a necessary, intrinsic aspect of agency and life - but consciousness varies greatly in quality and quantity. The direction of the evolutionary-development of consciousness is towards greater awareness of itself and its operations.

In an ultimate sense, therefore, reality is dynamic - thus always changing; but also plural, thus permanently structured.

'Good' is that which affiliates with creation - with cohesion and harmony - with love. Good is an opt-into creation.

Evil is that which opposes creation - opposes love, cohesion and harmony. Evil is the intended destruction of creation.

Every agent is - in any particular action - aimed-at, tending-toward, either good or evil.

Friday, 23 March 2018

The destiny of modern Man - and its refusal

There is a shape to history (human, and ultimately planetary history) - but the shape is not seen in the usual focus of historians, but in the history of consciousness.

History has a direction - and intended direction; which is to say a purpose. But that destiny can be paused or diverted.

The direction cannot, however, be reversed.

Because we are talking of consciousness we cannot ever go-back. Adolescents behaving like children may perhaps be better than them remaining as perpetual adolescents; but adolescents behaving like children are not the same as children, because they have been-through childhood.

What drives the current and recent development of human consciousness are unconscious-impulses - instincts - that affect Men. These impulses originate in the divine, and they are intended to be spiritual impulses: that is, instincts intended to eventuate in the spiritual realm.

That is, these driving instincts are referenced to goals in ultimate, eternal  and spiritual reality (which is that universal reality of divine creation which we may access and participate-in by the Primary Thinking of our real self).

But when Men refuse to acknowledge the reality of the spiritual realm, will not recognise the divine-within, and will not think from their real self with agency and awareness...

Then these divine impulses will remain unconscious, and will become manifested in the material realm instead of the spiritual realm. What was intended to be a spiritual development of consciousness is then distorted into a parodic idol; hellish instead of heavenly.

For example; the divine spiritual impulse was for men to recognise - to know by direct apprehension, that we ouselves and all men have a partly-divine nature as children of God, and that our destiny is to live by loving participation in universal creating-reality.

The materialist distortion is socialism, communism, Leftism in its many manifestations as it has grown over the past couple of centuries (from early roots in pacifism); that is The System aspiring towards total ideological propaganda, monitoring and control; externally to impose a hellish materialist parody of the divine impulses.

The consequent materialist parody is most clearly seen in the modern results of the sexual revolution. The divine impulse for the development of consciousness in relation to sexual morality (as for all virtues, and the pursuit of beauty and truth) was that these universal realities become apprehended directly by conscious intuition, and freely lived-by in recognition of their Goodness. Instead the modern world has a literally-hellish materialist parody of sex and sexuality - legalistically defined,  ever-more prescribed and imposed, justified and sustained by lies.

So, the malaise and malignancy of modernity can be seen as a consequence of rejecting divine destiny; and this rejection is possible because the destiny entails that what was unconscious becomes conscious, what was obeyed because of authority becomes known-as-Good, and what was known-about becomes known-directly...

All of which requires individual agency and personal effort. Nobody and nothing can make us do this. Indeed, we cannot even learn from experience what to do, so long as we continue to hold to materialism, or indeed to hope for a return to an earlier era of unconscious obedience to external (benign, parental) authority.

We are in a situation where we cannot stay-the-same (because we are a slippery-slope to hell-on-earth) nor go backwards, and spiritually growing-up is the only Good possibility.

Yet we must choose this, each for himself or herself. We must understand and we must learn; and this takes effort; it will not 'just-happen'.

On the positive side; if we do understand, and do learn, and then choose - we will succeed. Because we will be following the divinely-destined path, will be fuelled and directed by those spiritual impulses and instincts I described at the beginning.

So nothing can stop us.

The above is my re-expression of a lecture of Rudolf Steiner from 1918, which I have often written about, sometimes translated as The work of the angels in Man's astral body. It is probably significant that Owen Barfield assisted in the English translation of this lecture, published in 1960. Certainly, there seem to be resonance of Steiner's prophecies in Barfield's works from Saving the Appearances (1957) onwards; and especially in the sexual dystopia described in Night Operation (written in 1988).

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

What is evil about Lucifer and Ahriman?

Edited from Chapter 13, the final one, of Unancestral Voice by Owen Barfield (1965).

By the Adversaries, Barfield means Lucifer and Ahriman, who are conceptualised as as actual but distinct aspects of 'Satan' - they are the adversaries of Christ's plan for the development of Men to the fully-divine form of consciousness. This idea comes from Rudolf Steiner, but is too complex to explain here. 

In what follows, Barfield makes a subtle distinction concerning evil that I consider to be not just misleading, but false - however (in the parts I have emphasised in bold text) he also makes a deep, vital, important and neglected point. Square brackets indicate editorial additions.

"[The Adversaries seek, not transformation but either continuity or substitution. 

"We have spoken little as yet of good and evil. If you are wise you will not think of the adversaries as evil. 

"Not they, but what they do - if man fails to prevent it - is evil.  

"They are not evil, because it is only in the activity of preventing them that Man achieves freedom: the freedom without his transformation [i.e. resurrection to eternal life] would not be self-transformation."

Now, I regard the best definition of evil to be that which opposes the divine destiny for Man; and in that respect, the adversaries certainly are evil; since opposition to God and to Jesus Christ is precisely what they do...

I think what Barfield means here is that the adversaries just are the way they are; and God has made this world such that Satan's activities are a part of it: in other words, opposition is allowed.

That is just a fact of mortal incarnate life. God has his reasons; which we personally may or may not understand - and which nobody understands in detail.

However, Barfield wants to put the focus on a place we seldom allow; which is that the major evil in this world comes from Man's failure to oppose, to prevent, that which the Adversaries want to do.

In a sense demonic evil is just a fact of life, about which we personally can do nothing. But demonic evil nearly-always works by Men's implementation. And another fact is that Men have freedom (agency) either to implement or to oppose evil.

Assuming that we are here to experience and learn from life - this is one vital thing we are here to learn: we are here to learn to 'prevent' evil; that is not to implement it, to work against it.

We should ideally never allow ourselves to think along the lines of 'the devil made me do it'. And when we do think like this, it must be repented.

What Barfield is saying here is that we need to learn to take responsibility for the evil that is done - and to take responsibility for 'preventing' evil as best we may; because that is to be free; and to be free, to embrace our being as a moral agent, is one of the essential things that God wants from us.

Should history be understood as a meaningful process of development?

Edited from Unancestral Voice by Owen Barfield (1965).

"I still wonder", said Chevalier, "if it is really as important as you suggest for people to find a meaning in history?"

"I will tell you one reason why it is important", came the swift answer. "As long as a man sees history as a meaningless jumble of events, he will see his own life - which is a part of history - and the lives of those around him in the same light... Just one-damn-thing -after another."

To find meaning in our own lives, or the lives of our friends, family, or those we admire - entails that history has a meaning; which entails that history has a direction, a destiny, an intended plan that is good.

It is also necessary that our own lives (and everybody else's life) be joined together; and joined with the destiny of history.

For there to be meaning in one thing requires a great deal more - in fact meaning in one thing requires meaning in every-thing.

And - taking a further step, which can't be explained briefly here, but may be obvious... Meaning in everything also requires that everything be alive and (to some degree, in some way) conscious...

Conversely... to deny meaning, shape, purpose to history (including that history which is the origin and evolution of the planet and life) - is to deny meaning in Everything.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Reilly on Barfield, Romanticism, Christianity and Time

 Owen Barfield in his seventies

Writing in a Festschrift to Owen Barfield (Evolution of Consciousness: studies in polarity, 1972 - edited by Shirley Sugarman); RJ Reilly wrote a superb chapter modestly entitled A Note on Barfield, Romanticism and Time.

What Reilly said has direct relevance to the 'project' of this blog.

He links to a comment by Barfield from Saving the Appearances to the effect that the romantic impulse never attained to maturity during the nineteenth century; and the only alternative to maturity is puerility (i.e. immaturity, childishness, foolishness).

What was missing from mainstream Romanticism was Christianity and Time.

Christianity, because rejection of the limitations of the churches went over into anti-Christianity (or 'anything-but Christianity', in the case of the 'spiritual but not religious' perennialist philosophers and seekers).

And Time was rejected because of the tendency of the tendency of Romanticism to regard enlightenment as all times in the 'ephiphanic' moment, that enlightened moment as out-of-Time and as all-Times - an indifference to chronology, or sequence - the denial of any destiny to history.

It was an achievement of Barfield to pick up the thread of Romanticism and point ahead to its maturity - including the inclusion of both Christianity and Time; and this highlighted those thinkers whose Romanticism did indeed include C&T - the likes of William Blake, ST Coleridge and Barfield's Master Rudolf Steiner.*

This forms a neat summary of the Romanticism, and indeed the strategy, I would endorse - a Romanticism in a Christian framework, and (also consistent with Christianity) one which understands human life and culture in terms of a destiny (an intended plan or sequence) unfolding through Time.

*To which I would add William Arkle.

Monday, 19 March 2018

The history of my personal interest in the subject of consciousness

I have been interested in consciousness, and unusual conscious states, for my whole adult life and continuing - but in various ways and with different focuses.

c1974: I discovered the work of Robert Graves; first the Claudius novels, then the essays and criticism. I became fascinated by his remarks concerning the poetic trance, and the possibilities of non-logical leaps of inference and types of knowledge. Bernard Shaw's writings on Creative Evolution (Man and Superman, Back to Methuselah) pointed at higher consciousness as the (impersonal) aim of Life - this amplified by a mystical nature writer called John Stewart Collis. HD Thoreau's Walden and Journals described moments of connection with nature, which I sometimes experienced.

1978: I discovered Colin Wilson's work, with its primary focus on attaining higher forms of consciousness - since then I carefully read through most of his books, many several times. About this same time I encountered CG Jung, and the idea of archetypes that lent depth, universality and significance to life and art. A book of essays by composer Michael Tippett (Moving into Aquarius) talked of the importance of this kind of thing in artistic creation.

1994: I began an active scientific study of consciousness from the perspective of the theory of evolution by natural selection. I began to publish on the subject. To Thoreau I added an engagement with RW Emerson and other 'related' authors like Walt Whitman, William James, Robert Frost.

1998: Shamanism was of increasing interest - I read anthropological texts, and also - from about 2001 - Neo-Jungian writers such as Joseph Campbell and James Hillman.

2010: Having become a Christian, I investigated Eastern Orthodoxy (and the analogous 'Celtic'/ Anglo Saxon British tradition) - i.e. the practices of constantly-praying/ meditating ascetic monks and hermits, wonder-working Saints etc.

c2013: Having committed to Mormon theology and metaphysics; this was the beginning of my current phase of great interest in William Arkle, Owen Barfield and Rudolf Steiner, supplemented by William Blake and ST Coleridge.

So, for me, consciousness has been (in different, sometimes contrasting, ways) the single major intellectual and personal interest over a span of more than four decades - and continuing.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The dawn of Romanticism in 1740 - publication of the first novel

Colin Wilson was the first to recognise that human consciousness changed in 1970; and what marked this historic moment was the publication in London of Pamela: or Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson - which was the first novel.

The novel produced an instant sensation and within months had spawned numerous imitations. And the novel was the first evidence of the power of Imagination. Romanticism was born.

From that moment, human imagination exploded in the Western nations: the British Isles, Germany, France - spreading to all the developed countries and increasing until it was the dominant social theme by around 1800 - and the world was never the same again.

But if 1740 really was The Moment - then the direction of causality remains to be established.

Colin Wilson argued that The Novel caused the change in consciousness; but I would argue that the change in consciousness caused The Novel - and that Pamela was merely the first evidence that Man (specifically Western Man) had already begun to undergo a change in consciousness.

Here we come to the ambiguity in the term 'evolution'. Wilson saw the evolution of human consciousness; but he saw this as consciousness adapting to changed circumstances - he saw consciousness as 'passively' following changes in the environment...

But I see a process of developmental unfolding, in accordance with divine destiny. Thus I see human consciousness as developing a greatly-enhanced power of Imagination as a process of a long term plan for humanity. The novel was an early product of this change.

Consciousness is itself the driving force; and it was the change in consciousness which drove the changes in the environment - such as the Romantic Movement and the Industrial Revolution.

Most historians of ideas, on the contrary, regard Romanticism as a reaction-to modernity - especially a reaction-to the Industrial Revolution. (e.g. That Romanticism was a daydream of escape into magic and nature from the grimy and alienating 'realities' of industrialisation.) But this can't be right if we consider Pamela as the beginning of it all, since in 1740 the Industrial Revolution was as yet so small in scale as to be almost imperceptible. The greatest commentator of the age, Samuel Johnson, saw continuity, not revolution.

Instead, I would say that both The Novel and the Industrial Revolution were different products of the same driving, qualitative change in human consciousness; a change that affected England before it affected anywhere else - but which before long had affected everywhere else in Western and Central Europe and the diaspora of these peoples.

This general insight - of changing consciousness driving culture - was articulated by Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield; although neither emphasised much the point that this was a developmental divine destiny; and that its ultimate aim was the aim of God in creation: to enable Man to rise to full divinity.

Enhanced Imagination was something that was imposed-upon Western Man - it was not his choice, he was passively-swept-along by this change in consciousness.

But 250 years later I think we can perceive that Imagination was only meant to be the first step - and the divine plan was that Imagination would lead on to Man's explicit choice to embrace an Intuitive consciousness that was also conscious and free. That is, Man needed voluntarily to embrace what I have termed Primary Thinking.

So, the intention was that Imagination would show us the way - but Imagination is not-necessarily-real. Imagination was meant to lead-onto Intuitive Primary Thinking. While Imagination is creative in the realm of public communications, Intuition is creative in terms of universal reality - Intuition is, in fact, human creativity in the context of on-going divine creation. Intuition is Man's participation in God's creativity.

Yet since 1740 this evolution, this developmental unfolding of consciousness, has stalled; and we now live in a world where Imagination is encapsulated, hermetically sealed-off from Real Life which is The System, The Bureaucracy, an invasive totalitarian web of surveillance and control... Intuition (or claims of Intuition) is regarded as merely wishful thinking, evidence of childishness, or an evil attempt to manipulate others for personal advantage...

This happened because, unlike previous unfoldings of human conscious development, this last one (into the divine type of consciousness - divine in quality albeit not - initially - in quantity or scope) must be consciously chosen.

(We must consciously and explicitly choose to become gods - we cannot be made gods unconsciously and without our consent and cooperation.)

We must become explicitly aware of the next-step, then need to choose it. And this entails becoming explicitly aware of God's Plan - of our divine destiny - and choosing to join this; to be, live and work in harmony with God's Plan.

So far - very few people seem to have done this - of those we know, perhaps Goethe, William Blake, ST Coleridge, Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield are among the well-known examples of people who have made this choice; who have made this choice and qualitative step...

But culturally - the divine destiny of consciousness has been roundly and comprehensively rejected by modern Western cultures; as foolish, childish, meaningless nonsense - itself evil or tending-to evil.

Modern Culture is therefore divided between two wrong answers: between those who reject the assumption of God, and those who reject the assumption of a developmental unfolding of human consciousness.

Yet my belief is that both need to be accepted - which entails recognising them explicitly, and choosing them freely. Only then can Man take-up and resume his development towards divine consciousness.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Good vibrations? High frequencies? The language of consciousness

It is common in spiritual writing over the past decades to discuss the raising of consciousness, the evolution of Man towards divinity, in terms of a higher Vibrational state, or high Frequency communications. This is done by many authors and thinkers - including some that I greatly respect (such as William Arkle).

It goes along with several other physics derived terms used in spiritual discussion - Energy is one popular one (especially in Alternative Healing) and of course Light - which is used often in the Bible...

There is a question of the extent to which these are intended to be literal or metaphorical. However, the work of Owen Barfield on the development of language tells us that this literal versus metaphorical distinction may be an artefact of modernity - and not an aspect of reality.

Reality may be, and probably usually-is, both literal and metaphorical; in the sense that literal factuality does not capture the 'symbolism' or meaning of facts, while the symbolism tends to discount or ignore the question of factuality.

So, I recall reading in the Russian Orthodox literature about light emanating from Saints being both literal and symbolic. My understanding is that such glowing could, in principle, be photographed or filmed - and was, in that sense, 'objective'. On the other hand, demons may, it was said, appear in the guise of brightly-glowing angels... so light is not 'evidence' of Goodness.

The question about Frequency/ Vibration is whether there is supposed to be a literal, factual aspect to the description; is high frequency consciousness something that might, in principle, be measurable by a device? Some New Age thinkers clearly suppose so.

But the perspective of Barfield and Rudolf Steiner was that objective phenomena are always and inevitably known via consciousness; and when consciousness is different, what is objective is different. This would include physical records such as photographs, videos, readouts... in reality they are interpretable, know-able, only by human consciousness, and when human consciousness changes, so does our knowledge of such records.

(Perception is thus bound-up-with knowledge.)

In other words, there is no-such-thing as objectivity separable from human consciousness.

This suggests that there may in reality be something describable as a frequency or vibrational state of consciousness, and this attribute may be perceptible or even measurable in some states of consciousness but not others.

On the other hand, I question whether this physics-based way of describing and discussing life and consciousness has in fact been effective - whether this way of speaking and writing is a good idea? My objection is that it is abstract, in the sense of being the opposite of personal.

There is a major divide among those interested in religion ad spirituality between those who seek to escape persons and regard reality as abstract; and the opposite. In general, the movement through human history is to regard higher, more true religion as being abstract. Probably because we all start out, as young children, seeing the world as animated and conscious (everything significant as alive and purposive, motivated - everything as quasi-persons) - then growing-up and becoming intelligent and wise is seen as an incremental process of abstraction.

We mostly regard the abstract as real, useful, generalisable; the personal as childish, unintelligent, crazy... and indeed children, mentally handicapped and psychotic people are often and characteristically 'animistic' in their thinking. (Paranoia, in the technical sense of self-referential delusions, is the natural state of the naive human.)

To discuss spirituality in terms of Vibrations, Frequency, Energy and Light are all ways of abstraction. Abstraction has been the trend for hundreds, even thousands, of years... And how is this abstraction working out, thus far?...

Well, abstraction is alienation, disconnection; it is to understand God as a series of attributes or properties, God's goals as akin to setting-up a machine, a computer, a force-field... a complex system. It is to see persons in terms of how they serve abstractions; virtues in terms of how we interact with a system; sins and vices as disruptions to our efficient functioning.

In sum, such language feeds an understanding of the universe as unalive and unfolding with inevitability and impartially... when, surely, as Christians we ought to be understanding reality in terms of persons, not the universe; in terms of personal aims, wants, needs, hopes... and of course love?

The recourse to physics concepts as a key metaphor or and the bottom-line factual-symbolic primary description of life, is a thing fraught with hazard; at least for the modern mind.

It is, at any rate, something I am working on noticing and expunging from my own thinking. The intent being to replace it with a conscious animism, an aware knowledge of reality as ultimately - factually-symbolically - consisting in living conscious Beings.

Such an animism is regarded as objective, meaning (as objective always does, in reality) shared perceptually between those of the same quality of consciousness. Those of a different quality of consciousness (such as the mass of modern people, and indeed the naive and child-like, would not and could not perceive this reality of reality-as-Beings.

That is to be expected....

(Note: Reality consists of Beings; including parts or components of Beings... Not everything in reality is a conscious Being in its own right; just as our right thumb, a lymphocyte in the blood, or a calcium ion in our nervous system are not individual Beings, in their own right. Yet everything not itself A Being, is part-of A Being.)

Friday, 9 March 2018

Original 'Participation' is not really participation

Just to clarify: Original Participation is misnamed, because it is not participation.

We cannot participate in that which is unconscious and passive - in OP we are immersed-in-reality, we go-along-with-reality... indeed we are swept-along by it...

But we cannot our-selves take a participating role in reality until after we have become consciously aware of reality; and then (from our-selves) actively chosen to join-in-with the ongoing work of creation.

So, Final Participation is, in fact, the only true participation.