Wednesday 31 October 2018

Why consciousness is the key

Consciousness is indeed the key - and the problem can be approached from several directions to yield this same answer: that (here and now, in our current situation) we must become aware of that which we used to take for granted, unconsciously - and must actively and knowingly embrace what we used passively to obey.

All this need to take place in a Christian frame - because consciousness without Christianity is a curse; and will be fled from into instinct, intoxication or passive obedience (as we see). And because without God (a personal God, the creator, who loves us each personally), there can be no knowledge.

The problem is seldom presented; but when acknowledged it is usually in terms of whom we should obey... The mainstream materialist media?  A particular church? Our own pleasure seeking/ suffering avoiding instincts?

None of these will suffice, none of them are acceptable or effective. Unacceptable to our deepest, intuitive selves; ineffective in terms of this modern world.

We need each to 'dig' down to expose our fundamentasl assumptions to consciousness, so that we know what we have believed; then we should either consciously endorse these assumptions as solidities upon which we can build; or reject them - replace them.

But this is not a safe path - and it is worrying how many assumptions melt-away under the spotlight of consciousness and the tireless gaze of intuition. It is likely that we will be left with fewer assumptions; at any rate that is my experience. It is almost certain that we will be in a minority of one...

But those assumptions which remain after such a process are solid; we know them, and can defend and retain them against external attack because we do not regard external attackers as valid.

We can defend them in thought - I mean. Indeed, better than that - much better - they no longer need defending... They have become ultimately unassailable.

Of course; external power can influence, perhaps control, our mortal bodies; can terrorise us, perhaps, into doing or saying this or that; but once an assumption has been exposed and made conscious and intuitively endorsed... well, then we have it forever, we can't ever again be rid of it even if we want to - because then we will know that we are only kidding ourselves, and would not be rid of it.

We can nowadays, in The West, survive and thrive only on known certainties (both known, and certain) - and this process seems to be the only way to get them.

Friday 26 October 2018

Jeremy Naydler's prehistory of computers, reviewed

Published in the current issue of Oxford Magazine – by Bruce G Charlton

Review of: Jeremy Naydler. In the shadow of the machine: the prehistory of the computer and the evolution of consciousness. Temple Lodge Publishing: Forest Row, Sussex, 2018 pp xi, 373.

Oxford residents might have come-across Jeremy Naydler; since he often guides tours of the city and has given lectures to a wide range of local groups over recent decades. He is also a Fellow of the Temenos Academy, and teaches at their London headquarters. Or perhaps you have come-across him looking after flowers and vegetables in the suburbs? Because Naydler’s main lifetime job has been as a gardener.

He read PPE in the nineteen seventies and then pursued scholarly interests independently before completing a PhD in middle age; on the subject of the pyramid texts of Ancient Egypt. Since publishing books on this subject and on Goethe’s science in 1996; Jeremy Naydler has become, in my judgment, one of the most interesting and original living writers in Britain.

Naydler’s central concern is the interaction between human consciousness and human culture; and he is of the opinion (which I share) that changes in human consciousness have been a driving factor in cultural evolution; as well as cultural evolution having affected human consciousness. Hence the subtitle of this book: The prehistory of the computer and the evolution of consciousness.

What makes this book distinctive is that it is a prehistory of computers. In other words, it is about the stepwise change in human thinking and technology that led, over a span of thousands of years, to the situation in the late 20th century in which - suddenly – computers became first possible, then developed with astonishing speed, and then swiftly took-over first the material world and, increasingly, human thinking. For this progression to happen in just three generations from the first electronic computers until today, was possible only because all the necessary pieces were already in-place.

In the Shadow of the Machine is thus a work in the genre History of Ideas, and as such it is exceptionally thorough and carefully argued. The argument is broadly chronological, describing many steps in the development of each significant component necessary for the computers of today. And as well as describing the specifics of the technological changes; these are related to the necessary conceptual change in the people involved, without which the technological progression could not have happened, and would neither have been understood nor implemented.

Naydler starts with some of the most simple of technologies from the oldest societies of which we have record; such as the Ancient Egyptian methods for raising water; or, as another example, medieval clocks and renaissance calculating devices. He explains why there were periods when apparently-valuable technologies were known-about but not used; then quite rapidly, something changed and the technologies became widespread.

But computers are software as well as hardware; so Naydler also lists and discusses the changes in symbolic notation, language, numbers, logic and so forth – and how these were implemented in physical form – via cogs, punched cards, switches etc.

Then there is electricity; without which computers would have remained exceedingly simple and slow. One of the most fascinating themes of this book is the discussion of the mysterious nature of electricity (and electricity turns-out to be much stranger, and much less well understood, than commonly realised); and the way that its ‘reputation’ began as something dark sinister, alien, inhuman – but later took on increasingly positive connotations until it became so pervasive as to be all-but invisible.

In the Shadow of the Machine takes up right up to the early years of modern computers and the threshold of our current era, and concludes with some wise words about the implications of computers for the way we think – and the established and increasing degree to which our own thinking is entrained to being computer-compatible; such that we habitually think like machines, and tend to disregard any thinking that does not conform to this reduced mode.

In sum; this is a book of ancient history that is of crucial importance for the present and future.

Christ returning in the etheric?

I have blogged before on the strange revelation or prophecy from the early 1900s onward and standing at the heart of Rudolf Steiner's entire (vast) corpus - and therefore - presumably, although I'm not sure - that also of Owen Barfield.

You will need to read that post first...

Now; I find that I cannot just put this prophecy aside and move-on, but I keep returning to think about and consider the matter. Because if it was true - this would, of course, be the most important fact in the world - and, although Steiner (in his later works) was often/ usually wrong in detail, he was nearly-always right in essence.

Thus I shall entertain the thought that Rudolf Steiner was factually correct that the Second Coming of Christ has by-now already happened, and not as an incarnation of the bodily Christ but in 'the etheric'; and I shall further assume that while the core revelation is true, the details are mistaken - so that there needs to be a clarification.

Then, I shall see where this experimental-assumption gets-me; and whether it makes any kind of sense...

1. If Steiner genuinely knew that Christ was to return in the Etheric; my understanding is that this was not a chronologically exact foreseeing of the future - because I believe such predictions to be an impossibility.

So that in reality Steiner's prophecy was actually an announcement of a current state of affairs; and it meant that the Second Coming had already happened, which is (I infer) how Steiner knew about it.

So instead of something going-to-happen circa 1933, let's assume instead that there was a return of Christ from circa 1750 - in other words from the beginnings of the movement called Romanticism.

This is how Steiner could sense the event; sense it both directly - as an ongoing reality; a fact of daily life; and he could also sense it from his profound studies of Goethe and the other German Romantics, and the change that had come over their thinking.

2. What about the Etheric? What does that mean?

Translating Steiner's categories of The Self (as I understand them) the Etheric comes in-between the Physical Body and Consciousness (the Astral Body) - so Christ's return is not in his body (i.e. he is not incarnated), and it is also not in a way of which people are conscious.

The Etheric implies that Christ is felt; a transformation of Life, an unconscious feeling, at the level of instinct.

The presence of Christ in the Etheric is known as an instinctive feeling.  

3. Does this make general sense? Yes, it does.

The impulse of Romanticism came upon Western culture beginning from 1750 - affecting poetry, literature - including the invention of the novel almost exactly in 1750, music, visual arts, philosophy...

Romanticism also affected Western culture, through several later waves - eg the 1890s, the 1920s, the 1960s-70s) in terms of a new and strong (often destructive) impulse of individualism, political radicalism and revolution, the sexual revolution, an assertion of the instinctive (and 'primitive', or 'tribal').

In religion and spirituality we could point to Quakerism, the US New Religions of the middle 1900s, New England Transcendentalism, Walt Whitman, DH Lawrence, the Beats, the New Age... Every movement (good, and - mostly - bad) that contains a theme of instinct, personal revelation, intuition, utopia, altered consciousness, hopes of transcendence or higher evolution; all such could be interpreted as having some degree of unconscious awareness of the new possibilities deriving from the actual felt presence of Christ. 

We could posit that there was indeed a second coming of Christ perceptible at an unconsicous level; but distorted, and indeed twisted to evil by such factors as adherence to materialism; the pro-instinctive, short-termist and hedonic theories of the sexual revolution; consumerism; and by the cultivated spite and resentments of the various Leftisms and, in general, politics conceived as primary.

Probably the main evil-tending distortion is that Modern Man will not allow himself to become conscious of Christ. 

In other words, we could ascribe the malign phenomena of Steiner's own amazing 1918 true-prophecy to Western Man's failure to respond properly to the Second Coming; indeed, by our wicked choice to have perverted and inverted our instinctively-felt urgings of Christ.

4. What would be the implications? (Continuing to entertain the notion that this understanding is correct.)

Well, one implication would be that we need to become conscious of Christ's presence... This needs stating more strongly: we must become conscious of Christ's presence in this world, and of his direct influences on each of us, individually.

To become conscious of an instinctive-feeling means that we each need to do 'scientific' work - because that is the core nature of science: to do science is to become explicitly conscious of phenomena.

Therefore we each need to become scientists of our-selves.

And that is exactly what Steiner and Owen Barfield (and, of course - following them, myself) have argued is the primary task of Modern Man; which is to embark on a 'scientific' introspection, to develop a clear knowledge of our own thinking, to make intuitions both primary and explicit; and to do all this is the Christian context of its being done in light of the first and second commandments to love God, and neighbour.

5. Does this kind of 'Second Coming' even make sense to a Christian?

Well, maybe. I am more inclined to think so than before I embarked on this exercise.

It may make sense if our understanding is that this mortal life is about experiences from-which we need to learn in order to become more divine. If, in other words, our main task (as mature adults) is theosis rather than salvation - because salvation, while not universal, is by-default; and Hell must positively be chosen.

On such a basis, it is imaginable that a return of Christ at the level of unconscious instinctive awareness may be a means to this end.

In sum; I am surprised what good sense can be made from making the contingent assumption that Steiner was correct-but-with-errors when he announced the Return of Christ in the Etheric...

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Incarnation is always a barrier to original participation (aka original immersion)

I have found Owen Barfield's idea of Original Participation - or Original Immersion, as I have sometimes renamed it - to be a vital tool in understanding the developmental-evolution of human consciousness throughout human pre-history and recorded history.

In broad terms, this posits that humans began as disembodied spirits, living immersed-in the divine consciousness - and as such with very little in the way of agency (or 'free will'). In other words, our original situation was a state of passive and unconscious being-part-of reality - 'animistic', regarding the world as composed of alive and conscious Beings - and ourselves as one among these beings.

When human spirits first historically become embodied or incarnated and also when each human is incarnated and as a young child; we at first retain many features of theis Original state of consciousness. This persepctive on reality is sometimes termed animism, or anthropomorphism - and is a form of consciousness shared by hunter-gatherers and all sufficiently young children.

But throughout the history of culture, and throughout the development of a normal child, there is a move away from Original/ Immersive participatioin - with an increased consciousness of the self, a sense of the self as increasingly detcahed from the environment and from other people - and a corresponding increase in agency or free-will. 

This next phase of Detached Agency is what Barfield (and Rudolf Steiner) terms the Consciousness Soul - it is developmentally characteristic of adolescence, and historically corresponds with teh modern condition of aleination.  

Thinking about thinking...

Thinking-about-thinking is something that we all ought to be thinking-about (I think)...

You see the problem?

Falsely-assuming, wrongly-directed, superficial and manipulated thinking is pretty close to being the core modern problem; yet it is a problem difficult to 'fix' - because it relies upon false/ wrong/ superficial thinking to discover and implement the solution...

I personally find most of what has been written on the subject to be unhelpful, because it falls prey to this boot-strapping paradox (ie. in trying to fix thinking with defective thinking ones is trying to lift oneself off the ground by pulling hard on one's bootstraps).

In particular, I find it painful and ineffectual try try and turn my thinking around to examine itself, as oft-recommended - this feels like trying to rotate my eyes backwards by 180 degrees, in hope of seeing the eyeballs: I can't do it, but even if I could - it wouldn't work...

But on the plus side; real and true thinking is always-going-on somewhere in our minds - albeit ignored and buried; and some-times it comes to the surface.

Yesterday it happened. I found my thinking suddenly clear, self-validating, and able to know reality wherever it roamed. This didn't last long; but I had the advantage of recognising what was happening, and regarding it as true and valuable.

The experience reminded me that real thinking puts down roots into that which is divine in us, and thereby - potentially - comes into direct contact with the thinking of all other Beings that are thinking from their divine selves. All sense of being alienated or cut-off from reality has gone; and I know myself a part of on-going divine creation.

What specific knowledge we get in such a state depends on where our attention is directed - which we control (since we are agent beings), and our own capacity to know.

I strayed from this state by (mistakenly, misusing agency) trying to think of non-realities - and thereby fell-out-from the thought-realm of the divine and into the usual externally-inculcated work of theories, hypotheses, models... of propaganda and manipulation. And so my thinking went back to its usual wrongness, superficiality, dishonesty.

My point here is that primary thinking really is attainable - albeit seldom and briefly. But we need to 'ask the right question'. It is less a matter of discovering and practising some special (esoteric?) method; and more a matter of transforming our ordinary, alert and purposive actual thinking - of having it suddenly put down roots into the real self...

Of the stream of thinking suddenly coming-alive and being intense, powerful, comprehensive.

That's what it feels like.