A Defense of Astrology, Alternative Practices, Spirituality, and the Death of “Pseudo-Science”
A Defense of Astrology, Alternative Practices, Spirituality, and the Death of “Pseudo-Science”
(PS: There are many links/references throughout this post — click on certain parts of the text for links)
I figured my last post would chum the waters, although I never assumed I would be delivered two such beautiful responses by two such beautiful creatures and dazzling minds!
I know better than to argue with philosophers, so here are some ideas I’m playing with, my hope being that we can have a little fun playing as we think them through. It also should be seen that while Astrology may have precipitated the conversation, really what we are discussing is something far larger and more elusive than the mere field of astrology… and which may very well apply to any dysphemised field of “pseudoscience” ranging from religion to reiki. (PS: the very idea of dysphemism and euphemism is a fascinating and powerful one – I thank Arvind Iyer for originally introducing me to the subject). Let me address this challenge first)
Also, don’t worry if this conversation goes way over your head! It is intended for a highly cerebral audience. I intended this to be short, however, I enjoyed writing it so much it has developed much further than its original intent!
My response here is in 3 parts separated by lines:
1: We must be clear to separate presumptive rhetoric from our logical discussion of sensitive matters: The Death of Pseudoscience
2: By directing the conversation away from truth and towards value, we can highlight the crux of the matter and recognize the benefit of these occult practices.
3: The God or the Good Magician Transform us in Ways Unimaginable to the Wisdom of the Wise Man.
Part One: We must be clear to separate presumptive rhetoric from our logical discussion of sensitive matters: The Death of Pseudoscience.
Science comes from “scientia” which means “knowledge” in Latin. “Psuedo” is a Greek prefix meaning “false” or “lying.” Put together, pseudoscience means: a lying or false knowledge. Not a very good way to introduce a subject: hey bill, this is my great Astrologer Mark… he’s pseudoscientific.
In fact, such labeling is not logical… its rhetorical… and if there’s one thing Philosophers seem to universally despise: it’s rhetoric… or sophism – to the exclusion of logical or reasonable thought. To propose a straw man for example as the target of this fallacy—the “pathetic” (from Pathos) labeling and grouping of a distinct group of things is about as far from reason as prejudice and presumption.
Beginning with the thought of “psuedosicnce” is a clear example of pathos or “argumentum ad passiones” – the auxetic (from auxesis) word itself an appeal to the emotions. Thus, the word itself emotionally primes us to prematurely reject its content (what it represents) without first even accessing our own reason on the subject. So, the thinking goes: if it was given the name “pseudoscience” (false knowledge) obviously by some pretty clever people… then it must not be worth spending the energy to investigate further – which is actually an emotional response (the same response as racism, for example) and not an intellectual one—granted of course there can be such a thing as a brilliant racists as well as an idiotic pacifist(?).
In the Elaboration Likelihood Model, a dual process theory of attitudes, Petty and Cacioppo identified two distinct routes for processing information: the central route and the peripheral route. The central route leads us to carefully examine arguments… to mull over every detail and to come to a well thought out conclusion. The peripheral route, on the other hand, is an appeal to authority—establishing Ethos—which, in and of itself, is a pathetic (remember: pathos) attempt to ensconce credence… not to mention the other emotional cues which govern following the peripheral route.
If one does just a quick study on decision making, they will find one thing to be quite true: more often than not decisions are made emotionally—not reasonably. Thus, according to this model, we operate by the peripheral route far more often than the central route. Therefore, beginning an important conversation with the presumption that we are speaking of “false knowledge” primes us immediately to follow a peripheral route as opposed to judging the matter for ourselves.
I bring it up time and time again – but it is important to remember Kant’s definition of enlightenment: the courage to use your own reason. Courage here is the courage to disagree with the consensus, the courage to move into central processing, and the courage to change your mind about what you previously believed… or, very likely, to place faith in something that you cannot prove.
Furthermore… if we read Kuhn or any critic of “The Enlightenment” – we would have to conclude with the Peircian Asymptotic Pragmatists that there is no such thing as “science” qua science… there is only pseudoscience which we accept as science at any given moment before a crisis leads us to explain things differently via a revolution… Aristotelianism… Newtonianism… relativity… quantum mechanics…
We consider the field of allopathic medicine less pseudoscientific than reiki, however, medical science is far from immaculate in its conception, committing countlessand mortal errors—from corrupt practices such as bloodletting to the rampant depravity of the Medical INDUSTRY. Meanwhile, if bedside prayer helps someone without necessitating surgery—why should we resort to rationalized barbarism when less invasive measures suffice… notice the rhetoric there?
Perhaps, we would be better off moving from Pseudo-Science to Elignosis (pronounced: el-ih-no-sis). From “false knowledge” to “alternative or choice knowledge” – from the Latin “eligio” to choose, pick out, or select and “gnosis” the Greek work for knowledge (especially spiritual, mystical, or occult knowledge). I certainly believe in Elignosis… but I have no idea what pseudoscience is.
That’s all I have for this subject – but if you’re interested in rhetoric, check out http://rhetoric.byu.edu/ … Moving on…
Part 2: By directing the conversation away from truth and towards value, we can highlight the crux of the matter and recognize the benefit of these occult practices.
It is unfortunate that on many subjects there is no unanimous, scientific consensus regarding the veracity of certain claims. Take the field of nutrition, for example. Diets and dietary guidelines proliferate in almost every direction. Some say, “this is healthy! Eat it!” Other say, “Are you crazy? Do you want to die?!”And so the conversation, or lack of it, ensues.
Now, I think philosophers can understand this dilemma more than anyone—it is the discipline of disagreements. There are about as many distinct philosophies as there are philosophers—even on such vital topics such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics which we would expect to understand perfectly by now (we still don’t have an answer to, “what is good?” How is that possible?!). Yet, the sensitivity required in answering such questions almost indubitably warrants the postponing of a firm conclusion either way. This is the pattern that we find.
There are many treatments (or cures, if you like) of an alimentary fashion. My friend and Doctor, Gabriel Cousens, has demonstrably proven you can change peoples diets and reverse their diseases (and so have many others):
Here are some other sources on the same topic. See:
Healing Institute: http://gerson.org/gerpress/
Hippocrates Institute: http://www.hippocratesinst.org/
As far as I’m concerned, results speak for themselves… however, there are still people—some very influential—who still say things like: a calorie is a calorie is a calorie or ‘there is no cure for….’ Etc. The point being: dogma is often louder than the denouement of a subject. Meaning: just as there are visual scotoma… there are psychological, emotional, and philosophical scotoma as well. Expectations are affectations and effectuations. See: The Invisible Gorilla Phenomenon / Book
On another note, let’s take the issue of vitamins and supplements. I meet many people who firmly believe that the propagation of the use of dietary supplements is pure chicanery meant to inflate researchers wallets as opposed to deflating any diseases. Let’s take vitamin C for example….
There are people who doubt the effectiveness of taking vitamin C – and studies to prove this. However, you see, there are great problems with every study… and that is, they don’t account for every contingency and therefore, very often no one study (or even meta-analysis) will prove to be “ultimately” conclusive on any manner…
Furthermore, there is a disgusting amount of misleading data out there which poses as fact. Remember that old book, Lying with Statistics? Well, pharmaceutical companies and compassionless corporations like Monsanto have consistently lied with scientific studies… so much so it seems separating the science from the pseudoscience is all but impossible without the hindsight of history (and by that I mean the careful analysis of someone smarter, more sensitive, and with more perspective to the subject than ourselves). We can even paraphrase Chekhov here: it would take a god to know the difference between science and pseudoscience.
Yet, in respect to vitamin C, we know that Vitamin C is a cure for Scurvy… Again, there is always ample evidence to the contrary to every subject—remember Spinoza says, however thin you cut it, there’s always two sides—so there is copious amounts of data on the effectiveness of vitamin C for curing illness/disease: High Dose Vitamin C Proved Effective: Since When was medicine based on belief?
I mean, c’mon… if people can read the China Study and still not believe that becoming a vegetarian is healthier for them… what does count as conclusive? Perhaps nothing… which reminds us of one of the mindwarping and frustrating part of ethics: motivation. Prichard’s question “why should we do what we ought to do” in the article “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake” recognizes the Munchausenian Trilemma of infinite regress… so does recognition of psychological looping as well as one of my favorite aphorisms “It is easy to push a wheelbarrow. It is hard to think about pushing a wheelbarrow” (thanks Courtney).
You see there is a interval—at least a potential interstice—between theory (or thought) and practice (or action); one that is perhaps irrevocably obscure. And so it exists: just because something is true or good or beautiful needn’t necessitate our concession to its status as such—nor lend itself to such a clear identification. Why should it be any different for things that are healthy, happy, or healing? We could spend an endless amount of time chasing our tail on this one… and for what purpose when we finally catch it? “Aye, there’s the rub.”
And if you still don’t think supplements are valuable… well say that to any professional athlete or body builder who most likely takes creatine and glutamine along with a host of other supplements (MSM, cordyceps, B-Vitamin Complexes, deer antler, colostrum, Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, resveratrols, antioxidants) – see this for example Tim Ferris on Superfoods (Note: I’m not endorsing his advice.. at all)
It may be easy for you to accept this last point about food acting as medicine – or supplements being important – I mean, you just have to look with your own eyes: there’s proof, its in the pudding—the muscles/performance of athletes and the recovery from disease. However….
… Now when I say that we have a healer who I’ve personally witnessed curing COUNTLESS diseases over the last 30 or 40 years…
Immediately the iron gate of disbelief will fall. The trouble with trying to defend this is quite similar to trying to defend the rites of astrology. It may be impossible for me to PROVE, one way or another, that the cause is true, regardless of the truth of the effect. Rather, my approach must consist in explaining value.
You see, the question: does it work—or is it a veritable treatment—really is a poor question. The question really should be: DOES IT WORK FOR YOU. I brought up penicillin in my last post… and sure enough, we would all agree: PENICILLIN WORKS! At least, I doubt that anyone would distrust this.
On the other hand, if Mary is allergic to penicillin, things change quite dramatically. No longer does the question of: “does it work” matter. What matters more than that is: does it work for Mary?
There is also no doubt that placebos work. What we mean by work here is not ambiguous. We are not speaking of counterfactuals: if Mary had NOT done X, then Y… We are rather speaking about what did happen. Mary took the placebo and then recovered (granted this is the case). Now, someone may argue that it wasn’t the placebo itself which contributed to Mary’s wellbeing—and they very well may come up with an alternative causal stream that explains the recovery brilliantly… however, we must assume that somewhere in that causal stream will be, “mary took the placebo”… and if this is the case, then it seems quite difficult to me that we can divorce this fact from the fact of her recovery—even if the placebo itself was not the efficient or most salient cause. Thus I say, “there is no doubt that placebos work” in this manner: people have taken them and they have recovered.
This is not to say that a placebo always works or that a placebo is guaranteed to work… it is only to say that it has worked so it can work. And that is enough. It’s hard to believe because, in theory, PLACEBOS SHOULD NOT WORK—and yet they do… “the turtles cannot sing and yet they love.” There is theory… and there is practice.
Understanding the mechanism of this intervention is useful for replicating it more effectively, however, perhaps our insistence that it is the essential ingredient to the treatment’s efficacy may in effect skirt the point: that regardless of the mechanism, it worked. Any attempt to explain this away or to dismiss it is naive in the sense that it favors theory over practice.
I’m quite confident the architects of the Millennium Bridge knew their theory very well… and yet in practice they found this theory to fall short of perfection. In practice there are things that no theory can anticipate, and to defer to theory first may be to sacrifice the integrity of our practices, though it may be that the integrity of our practices first and foremost depend upon their provenance of theory.
Bob Proctor says in the Secret: “You don’t understand electricity probably. First of all, no one even knows what electricity is. And yet you enjoy the benefits of it. Do you know how it works? I don’t know how it works. But I do know this: that you can cook a man’s dinner with electricity; and you can also cook the man.” To dismiss placebos because we do not understand them would be like dismissing light bulbs because we don’t understand them either.
I quote John Macksoud here in detail – partly because I think he has something to offer on the subject and also because I find him a fascinating and unfortunately obscured thinker: (From Other Illusions)
“But I know that the fact that you can predict a certain response correctly is still echoing in your mind. This only illustrates that we are frequently so dazzled by how much we can do that we conveniently forget how little we know.
“what does the word “know” mean here? Am I seeking more than there is? I hope I have made a case that to the extent that scientific tests are taken as explanations they are metaphysically grounded, but it is entirely possible that I am radically misconstruing the intent and use of science (although it is difficult to ignore the usual applications of scientific tests as explanations with which natural and social sciences are riddled). Perhaps it is not the intention of the scientist to explain at all. Indeed, one interpretation of scientific method is that explanation is one of the functions which is systematically closed to science. And many scientists would insist, further, that to require more of science than prediction and control is to ask that a fine grandfather clock should also have a cuckoo. Perhaps we should value science not, as we are included to do, because it can do so much, but rather because it can do the little it does so well…”
He goes on to speak about a magician who does not understand the mechanism of his own magic:
“what is it that makes the magician magical? Isn’t it just exactly that he knows or understands something that we do not? If you say that the magician is a tool in the hands of an outside force then why wouldn’t you say that of the scientists as well (but then you could not call him a scientist, for “science” means “to know”)…”
“thus, to the extent to which science is regarded as providential of knowledge, it ought to be regarded as metaphysical. And to the extent to which it only predicts and controls, it may be taken as relatively uninteresting for the understanding of phenoma… Does it require less faith—or even a different kind of faith—to accept the results of scientific tests than that amount required to sustain any introspective or intuitive belief? (By faith I only mean a continuous or consistent belief in some essential aspect of existence which underlies actions). It may be that magic and religion cannot work absent a willing suspension of disbelief—but then it may be that nothing does… there is nothing which can’t be accounted for by any system”
There are many alternative routes to curing a disease. Many of which we are far from understanding… and yet they work – at least in the limited way I have described. For example, as many articles in psychoneuroimmunology have shown: happiness itself can cure a disease—or at least provide a healthy, prophylactic measure. Now, instead of being mired in “what does it mean to be happy,” many people can simply accept “happy” as a treatment for illness… despite no definition of what “happy” is supposed to be. One can read Norman Cousins famous treatment of the subject—how he cured the upset of his humors with…. Humor!
So, more about my healer. Like I’ve said – if we confuse truth and value here, we potentiate the risk that what might be “false” for all intents and purposes will be the very thing to grant us the most value. For example, if in 15 minutes with this healer you can cure the disease that affected your right leg and cancel the surgery to have it amputated in the morning… well then… what matter is it whether or not healers possess “true powers” when in fact this healer has given you the ultimate value of saving your leg?
This is just one of the many miracles that I’ve seen this healer perform—and by miracle, to piggyback on Wittgenstein’s famous lecture on ethics, I don’t mean something that cannot be explained… rather I mean something awesome and profound—extraordinary and unexpected.
My housekeeper’s sister-in-law came to my house to see this healer. Diabetes and a host of other illnesses had led to edema of her right leg and excruciating pain. She couldn’t walk. She had to be carried.
Less than 5 minutes after getting out of the car to see him, he had her walking – without any support. Soon after around 15 minutes in my living room she was up and dancing… the swelling and redness in her legs suspended.
Feeling better, she canceled her surgery the next day.
Of course I was a little skeptical about this – if she really needed to get her leg amputated then it would only hurt her more to postpone this – I imagined if it were me: yes I could take the risk that I was healed… but this could result in a truly devastating outcome – worse than the original one of just losing my leg.
Meanwhile, I held my tongue and thought to myself: well, let’s see what happens in a month…
A month later she returned – even better than she had come the first time. Not only was there no swelling or redness in the leg… it was completely better. If I hadn’t seen it myself I wouldn’t have believed it… but then again, I’ve seen so many things like this around this guy that it’s even harder to believe that it wouldn’t have ended in that way.
Now for those of you familiar with James Randi’s famous debunking of Peter Popoff, we must bear one thing in mind. The problem with Peter Popoff was not that he performed life-changing magic—in the literal sense of making people’s diseases disappear—the problem was that he masquerading as something other than a magician.
You see, as much as people do not want to admit, we are all highly religious. You see, I have yet to meet one person who did not truly consider one thing sacred in his or her life, or exhibit one glimmer of hierophancy (think: in music or the realm of art…), or did not hold to at least one dogmatic stance or did not obey or justify an authority. To place faith in something is religious behavior—regardless of what that faith is placed in.
Therefore, the more hurt we are by religion and spiritualism, the more hurt by people like Peter Popoff we will be. As far as I’m concerned, we are born religious—I thank Professor James Heft for this idea—we are born with a metaphysical need—I thank Professor Anthony Kammas for this idea. How this need manifests in our life is yet to be determined—but skepticism is not an innate trait. Rather, skepticism is the result of disappointment… it is the fear of being disappointed or hurt again. For example, an animal that ate a certain poisonous or disgusting berry may become skeptical of all berries of that sort. If that same animal could have a similar experience with an abstraction as well—like an idea or a social construct—they too may become skeptical like us in the philosophical sense…
Are you skeptical about religion? Why? Is it because you’ve been hurt by religion? Because as a child you believed in God—just as you believed in Santa Clause—and then through the various upsets in your life came to regard that conclusion as ludicrous… or, worse, childish and partly responsible for your trust and demise? That you could be so greatly deceived? Or because your parents were religious and you hated them? Or maybe because you knew personally or about a religious person who was spiteful or committed heinous crimes?
“Pure reason” is not a reason for skepticism—at least not in the way that it is portrayed. To be careful is not to be skeptical—for to be careful implies that there is the threat of danger without a prima facie rejection: one proceeds with heightened awareness. To be skeptical, however, is to reject something before accepting it: it is to stop and not proceed.
Martin Seligman’s dogs became skeptical about their own efforts in his famous Learned Helplessness Studies [see ONE or TWO for extended discourses], not cautious. They did not continue to jump albeit less emphatically… they ceased jumping altogether. Skepticism, doubt, and depression are all pathways and conclusions to a negative dialectic, however, as I said—I do not believe this pattern is born from neonaty but rather from tragedy and experience.
I understand because I have been hurt by religion too.
However, I see now that my instinctual aggression towards the Peter Popoff scandal – and the thought of the like – was born from my own hurt and humiliation before God. Meaning: that I had felt humiliated that I could ever have believed such horse-shit to begin with.
Luckily, I see the debilitating effects of these believes and have so rectified them, however, if these feelings did not arise perhaps we would see Peter Popoff’s magical work as a godsend (no pun intended). Doctors are paid gratuitously in order to sometimes do more harm than good—so why shouldn’t a magician be gratuitously paid to do more good than harm?
Of course Peter Popoff is not what I would consider a “good’ or “exemplary” individual BY ANY MEANS. He uses his corrupted influence to take advantage of people and exploit them. There is nothing about this that “does more good than harm”—and, yet, despite this I only fault him for his procedures, not his process. While I am not proposing that he and others like him should become more “transparent” (for how could a magician succeed if you knew the gimmick?), instead I am criticizing him for using his prowess, his image as a religious leader, to bankrupt people when a simple admission fee would suffice.
But to return to my healer – who does not take advantage of anyone – who provides them an INVALUABLE service – why should such a thing be dismissed simply on the basis of its obscurity? No, I don’t understand it… nor have I ever understood it. But after witnessing the countless healing he has performed at my house… at a certain point I could not longer resist and reject the results. I suppose Kuhn would describe these events as a “crisis” and then a “revolution.” It became increasingly obvious to me: why would someone go get their leg cut off if it works for them to get it healed? If she knew that healers are all charlatans… then she wouldn’t have a right leg right now.
So I return to the first point of this: the important question is: DOES IT WORK FOR YOU? If you’ve never tried it… well, then, you don’t know. However, if you’ve tried it and it has failed… you try something else.
The question of whether or not astrology is a “true” scientia is not as important as whether or not it is a “valuable” scientia. If Peter Popoff is performing magic tricks and curing people of their diseases… it may not be a “true” practice, but the value is in the “true” results.
There is nothing disputable about walking in with cancer and leaving it behind—if we get stuck on the theory motivating our practice, it’s possible we’ll be dead before we’re fine. And for those who worry—as I did—that such a practice may anticipate an even greater harm… No one is forcing you to try it. Only, why run first to emergency and invasive measures when you may at least begin with what is safe and simple?
Anyway, I would be very curious to know how many more people (recently) have been killed by healers than by doctors… my guess is that it is not proportionate. Then again, you won’t see me running first to a healer if I ever get a staff infection—at least not at this point. Both… AND… remember: BOTH AND… why settle for either or?
Part 3: The God or the Good Magician Transform Us in Ways Unimaginable to the Wise Man.
It’s easy to dismiss what we don’t yet understand but I would hesitate to surrender certain salutogenic practices to the sterile knife of skepticism—at least not before the defeat was warranted.
For example: if you understood just how dirty the mouth really was—and at least your likelihood of becoming diseased—you would probably abstain from kisses in lieu of the prospect of such terrible discomfort.
Good things suffer critique at every level. I have yet to encounter something “good” (from food to art) which did not receive some level of criticism. As far as I know, there is not a hero in history (from Martin Luther King to Gandhi and now to Lance Armstrong) who is not culpable and guilty on some level. And yet, if we dismiss the work of Gandhi for his tragic flaws, his hamartia as Aristotle puts it, then perhaps all we are saying is that our standards can be made too high—just as we already agree they can be made too low.
Let me return to something I said earlier
It’s difficult—if not impossible for some to accept that placebos work because, in theory, PLACEBOS SHOULD NOT WORK—and yet they do…“the turtles cannot sing and yet they love”… they are the Millennium Bridge of medicine. There is theory… and there is practice.
Again, for us what remains to be seen is not: are these things good but are they good for us.
If Betty visits a clairvoyant and makes peace with her lost child—releasing 30 years of unabated grief in a single reassurance—then I prefer to hold my hungry dogs of doubt at bay and leave her in life-sustaining and fulfilling peace—which I understand makes no proposition to wrestle with the veracity of the claim… perhaps because the proof is elusive on either side of the matter, and the truth here is a slippery eel that twists about in many ways that I fear confusing the beginning, the middle, and the end of it in service of quenching a thirsty pride. For how soon can “not knowing” become “you don’t know” stealing the base of real experience in this game of life. As Longfellow says about our relationship to Nature, “being too drunk on sleep to understand // how far the unknown transcends the what we know.”
We could try to explain the physiological and psychological pathways of these phenomena… but, really, what level of understanding is necessary for us to utilize our knowledge? If we had to understand how a car works before driving it we wouldn’t get very far from our house… it is always humorous to me to consider what things people just accept and use… and what things require extensive and exhaustive information before they can be accepted.
I mean, if you just took a quick survey of the research on happiness you would see: across the board religious people are happier. Now, for atheists and nihilists who believe that there is no “meaning” to life nor does life have any “purpose,” I would wonder why then they would martyr themselves to an unhappy existence. It seems like they worship truth as devoutly as a God-Fearing Christian…
Personally, I disprove of dogma—to any extent. I have wrote extensively on what I call anti-dogmatism (a paradox). I think that the purpose of life is to feel good and to help others feel good too. This isn’t about superficial feeling good—sure heroine will make you feel good temporarily but there’s nothing salutogenic about it. It would take me a long time to explain what I meant by feeling good… but it definitely does not include: unhappiness, depression, and anxiety.
So, relating to God, Patrick Glynn wrote an interesting article on this subject, he says “’curing’ the mind of this illusion places the body and mind at increased risk of disease, for which the illusion itself can be a cure!”
Newberg and Waldman say in their book How God Changes Your Brain (2009):
“I have brain-scanned Franciscan nuns as they immersed themselves in the presence of God, and charted the neurological changes as Buddhist practitioners contemplated the universe.
“I have watched what happens in the brains of Pentecostal practitioners who invited the Holy Spirit to speak to them in tongues, and have seen how the brains of atheists react – and don’t react – when they meditate on a concrete image of God.
“Along with my research staff at the University of Pennsylvania and the Center for Spirituality and the Mind, we are currently studying Sikhs, Sufis, yoga practitioners, and advanced meditators to map the neurochemical changes caused by spiritual and religious practices.
“Our research has led us to the following conclusions:
- each part of the brain constructs different perceptions of God
- every human brain assembles its perceptions of God in uniquely different ways, thus giving God different qualities of meaning and value
- Spiritual practices, even when stripped of religious beliefs, enhance the neural functioning of the brain in ways that improve physical and emotional health
- Intense, long-term contemplation of God and other spiritual values appears to permanently change the structure of those parts of the brain that control our moods, give rise to our conscious notions of self, and shape our sensory perceptions of the world.
- Contemplative practices strengthen a specific neurological circuit that generates peacefulness, social awareness, and compassion to others.
“Spiritual practices also can be used to enhance cognition, communication, and creativity, and over time can even change our neurological perception of reality itself…
“It has been my goal to show that spiritual practices may help us to bridge the chasm between these inner and outer realities, which would then bring us closer to what actually exists in the world.
“I still don’t know if it’s possible, but the health benefits associated with meditation and religious ritual cannot be denied” (5-7)
In Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman introduces an idea he calls “Moral Jogging.” The idea is: just like we (can) go jogging through rain, sleet, and snow—exercising our bodies despite all odds—so too should we practice exercising such moral (or personally fulfilling) virtues such as gratitude, loving-kindness, and self-less service.
Often when teaching certain spiritual practices such as yoga and meditation to people – I tell them that these things are no more spiritual than a push-up. You don’t have to believe in anything. If you do the work, you get the results. It’s cause and effect. Very simple. Again, you don’t have to believe in anything. Of course, you need the faith to begin the practice—if you really didn’t think doing a pushup was going to do anything for you… guess what… you would never do it! But then you would never get the beneficial results from doing it…
But, then again, often with my clients I find that those people who are most resistant to spiritual things or “positivity practices” need it most. If you can’t look yourself in the mirror, authentically smile, and say: I love you and accept you exactly as you are… then you have some inner work to do. There are some people who can’t even say words like: Love, God, Yes, Happiness… and these are exactly the people who need to say them most.
Like I said – I’m not dogmatic. If research showed that denying metaphysical forces, becoming negative, skeptical, and fearful made us “feel good” and fulfilled—that’s what I would offer to help my clients. It’s a shame to me that people must be so committed one way or another that they would sacrifice their own well-being to justify their own beliefs—as opposed to the other way around: basing their beliefs on benefiting their well-being.
For anyone interested in the idea of Spiritual Atheism [the first step towards agnosticism (which, of course, makes more sense either way), the second step towards a devoted life], I recommend you read the works of Xunzi, the ancient Confucian scholar… perhaps one of my favorite intellectuals of all time. Furthermore, Alain de Botton has an amazing TED lecture called Atheism 2.0 which I think is also a step in the right direction.
At the very end, my modus operandi is to judge things for myself. I had no tolerance for astrology until an astrologer absolutely blew my mind with not only his precision but, most importantly, with the value his insight lent to my decisions. Maybe he is just a highly perceptive and wise man with no true occult knowledge after all? (Though, of course, this would be a contradiction: since, we’ve already established he is an astrologer, let us entertain the possibility! ) But that matters far less to me than results.
If you’ve ever been to a nightclub when it was silent and there was no music on you would notice that in this unprepared environment there is no magic. It is just a bland room. I think we as humans are greatly affected by ritual space—whether that be the lowlight of a loud bar to the astrologers crystal table—so if, at the very least, the astrologers science is but the cast spell of flashing lights and music with which he guides a subject safely towards himself…
I’ll take it! Who would dance in a empty factory warehouse when they can enter the rave? The wise man gives advice, the magician transforms us. So, you can visit a wise man for bland advice in a bland setting—or you can allow a magician to facilitate your transformation. I have been a part of a men’s organization (The Mankind Project) long enough and studied enough of psychopathology and forms of psychotherapy to know which one is more effective… far more effective.
But, of course, we would be foolish if we didn’t recognize stratifying differences between wise men. Some are of course wiser than others. The wisdom of King Solomon was that he knew 3,000 parables—not that he knew 3,000 different parables—but because he could explain the same thing in 3,000 different ways so that a person could understand it. This is the difference between Anthony Robbins and your average shrink (then again… I would certainly honor Anthony as a magician—far more than a wise man—a wise magician). There are similar stratifications for magicians—for this analogy tempts the crucial point: some magic is meant to deceive and so to profit only the magician at the subject’s expense—but other magic is meant to awaken, mesmerize (recall one of the original psychotherapists: Mesmer, Freud’s great inspiration), and transform.
To return to our original discussion of euphemism and dysphemism for a moment…. It’s a shame that some people can get so caught up in words they miss their meaning. Orwell wrote an excellent essay which is certainly worth reading: Politics and the English Language. He explains a similar phenomena to the one that I’ve described: how political leaders can manipulate us with well-crafted rhetoric.
For example: if I tell you that perhaps the mechanism we’re talking about is the induction of hypnotic trance—you may bristle up by the idea that I could suggest that hypnotism was an essential characteristic of effective therapy… but, if I tell you: strong rapport is an essential characteristic of any effective therapy—or sale—you would probably say: duh! Yet, the strategies for establishing rapport are hypnotic in nature—the effect itself: hypnotic in nature… and finally when the two begin to mirror each other’s behavior—we’re talking about hypnosis in one of its various forms. We say “euthanize” instead of kill… and the word itself makes a big difference—just like the color of the clothes we wear can make a big difference—but if it makes all the difference then you’ve yet to wrest yourself from Plato’s elusive cave.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying we should call everything for what it is… I’m only saying that the reason the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming has become so successful is that Bandler and Grinder recognized and deconstructed the entire transformation process into a hypnotic pattern: their practitioners are essentially magicians.
Near the portion I quoted, John Macksoud asks a questions: if the magician waves his hand, a corpse on stage arises, and he has no idea what he has done, then is he still a magician? The question here is resolved in respect to this point: one needn’t any knowledge in music theory to be a world class musician (just think about some of the most famous jazz or blues musicians)… however, knowing music theory can enable the musician to express more – just as a larger lexicon lets poets place [learn[ prosody, so the magician with an understanding of his tricks can perform them more effectively. “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”
The Con Artist and the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist are both magicians. They both transform us, albeit for different reasons. One to serve himself and one to serve another. The illusion of magic is not that “it isn’t real” – only that it does not work by the method we think. Perhaps a placebo is magical not because “it isn’t real” or “doesn’t work” but because it transforms us in a way perpendicular to ourselves.
Almost nothing works in your life exactly in a way that you would expect it to—from saplings, to cars, to light bulbs. Remember that quote: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?” Well, what isn’t sufficiently advanced technology? We, ourselves, certainly are, so are all living things… Life itself is magic. Yet we learn a little and forget that… Consider Edna St. Vincent Millay on the subject:
Pity me not because the light of day
At close of day no longer walks the sky;
Pity me not for beauties passed away
From field and thicket as the the year goes by;
Pity me not the waning of the moon,
Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea,
Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon,
And you no longer look with love on me.
This have I known always: Love is no more
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales:
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at ever turn.
Knowledge and belief are two different things. If I show you a visual illusion, you may KNOW that, for example, the two squares are the same color. But there’s no way to believe this when you’re looking at it. That’s the point of a visual illusion: you are literally perceiving it one way when in fact it is another.
Just as there are visual illusions there are cognitive and philosophical illusions… one of them, perhaps, being that knowing such and such means believing such and such… Now, this is a much larger topic than I can do justice to here – in fact I’ve already brought up a few ideas from my Eudaimonia Metalogico and dealt with them in far less detail than they deserve – however, I bring up the Millay poem to illustrate the issue: sure we may reduce the mind to brain and, as such, all of our experience to physiology… but we cannot reduce subjective experience to objective phenomena. As hard as we try, intellectual understanding will never rival experience: theory versus practice… theory versus practice… We know that a movie is a fiction and yet we still manage to suspend our disbelief and immerse ourselves in its world.
So, Millay says: she understands that men are programmed to lose interest in their lovers, that this is “natural,” however, that knowing this will never console her: the heart is slow to learn what the quick mind perceives at every turn…
We are physical creatures. The life of the mind is a life of denial. Even the most emotionally and bodily detached people I’ve met (and trust me I’ve met them all)—so disconnected they could even be diagnosed with Asperger’s or autism—were still human, with human desires and human needs. We are creatures of the body… not the mind. Sure, thoughts are things and thoughts can kill us (see Professor Wade Davis on Voodoo Death), however, we’ll die from starvation far quicker than we’ll ever die from fear, doubt, or shame. The heart rules the head… not the other way around. We only suffer thinking otherwise.
I think by now I’ve exhausted the point: the astrologer can enchant his wisdom in ways a wise man can’t. Why choose a less effective medium of delivery?
This article is in response to my article: Is There Proof for Astrology.
Instead of trying to defend the veritability of astrological scientia – or any such occult knowledge – I have essentially asked the question: why must we need prove that Astrology is a hard science before we acknowledge its value? What motivates us to seek certainty in the science of certain disciplines and not others? Why are we more tender to healthy and effective metaphysical deception than we are to other forms of healthy and effective deception?
There will always be critics. Like I’ve said: find out for yourself. Don’t dismiss OR ACCEPT things presumptively on the basis of someone else’s reason. You would think we would have learned this by now—not to submit to the word of authority, simpliciter, on any level.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t acknowledge the opinions of experts… just that we shouldn’t sacrifice ourselves to them. There are plenty of so-called experts that support GMO foods… or, for example, extremely dangerous pharmaceuticals by companies like GlaxoSmithKline… and as far as I’m concerned—anyone who just reads one source that’s already consistent with their beliefs and then thinks they have an informed opinion is, himself, dangerous. For that is exactly why abject ignorance proliferates.
I’ll never forget what a good professor said to me: chances are if something doesn’t make sense to you… it’s possible that means it doesn’t make sense at all. Never neglect that conclusion in favor of trying to conform to popular opinion. In fact, no great intellectual ever has… and yet, as the Asch Line Test has shown us: the struggle to resist this temptation can lead us to accept some of the most ridiculously absurd conclusions on the basis that it was the majority opinion and we come armed with the heuristic: the more people who think it, the more true it is—or the more value it has. Neither of which makes sense to me.
Again, the question we should ask is: is there potential value in this for me—regardless of whether or not we understand the magic?
“The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly.”
–WALLACE STEVENS: Adagia
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