Thursday, 2 April 2015

Unstructured solitude - where and how can we be free, good and happy?

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I have an unusually powerful need for unstructured solitude - that is for un-busy, un-hurried, un-distracted time spent alone and without any kind of detailed agenda.

I have been aware of this need since I was thirteen years old, and I have generally been fortunate enough to be able to get what I needed.

Because we are animals; Men require certain circumstances - and unstructured solitude needs some kind of context. What I aim-at is a type of meditation; but the mechanism probably does not look to other people like meditation - because it consists of 'journaling' - that is, hand-writing in a notebook.

Good places for meditative journaling:

  • Cafes
  • Libraries
  • Something like a shed, workshop, or part-covered, semi-outdoor niche
  • Public transport - especially a train
  • Walking - carrying a notebook

While my personal need for unstructured solitude is so great that it is painful for me to be deprived, even for one day; there are problems which, I think, prevent other and less 'driven' people from obtaining what they also likely require (albeit to a lesser extent):

  • Distraction by intrusive surroundings - especially from other people who may be un-ignorably gossiping, or behaving in a threatening manner.
  • The need for distraction - especially the addictive use of external stimulation. People reach for a newspaper, fill their heads with music from headphones, use social media etc.
  • Boredom - as a consequence of habitual passivity of mind. Sooner or later boredom will afflict everybody - but for some people boredom kicks-in, in just a few seconds.
  • Busyness - the pressure of time, a fully organized life, planning of everything and the notion that everything should be planned.

Most profoundly, a false metaphysics, a set of false ideas about 'what matters' - the idea that only active living is important, only social relationships are important; that to be alone and 'doing nothing useful' is selfish, self-indulgent, lazy.

The consequence of these preventive factors is that modern people waste their precious opportunities for unstructured solitude - they waste the time spent in a cafe, on a bus, walking; they waste it on chores, on distractions, or (more rarely) on sheer vacuity of mind (lapsing into 'stand-by' - a state of slack-jawed suspended animation).

If there was real truth in what Socrates said about the unexamined life not being worth living; then each person needs to think about when this 'examining' of our life is supposed to be taking place, if not in unstructured solitude?

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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The (near-total) eclipse of 20 March 2015

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From Newcastle upon Tyne (my garden)



The evilness of evil (in a pluralist universe)

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The reason that mainstream theologians have persisted for 2000 years with monism (and an Omni- concept of God) despite the insoluble and fundamental problems these cause for Christianity is that they want to be able to say that God is necessarily good - i.e. that the goodness of God is built-into reality, part of the existence of the universe; and therefore that to oppose God is to be irrational (i.e. they want to be able to state that evil is simply irrational).

(Note: this doesn't actually work, because it makes evil into a kind of insanity rather than a deliberate choice of evil. For instance, Satan could not rationally choose to rebel against God and reject salvation, and because he is a high angel who would know for certain the terrible consequences of rebellion; this framework makes Satan into a kind of lunatic or demented creature, rather than truly-evil).

Pluralism would regard this as a mistaken purpose in theology since it makes a universe where choice is meaningless and Man is a puppet. Such a universe is incompatible with Christianity.

(i.e. Incompatible in a common sense way. But obviously if theology is allowed to get-away-with recourse to paradox and mysticism then anything is possible - and paradox and mysticism have duly been built-into mainstream intellectual Christianity since not long after the death of the Apostles - e.g. in describing the nature of Christ, the Holy Trinity and the operations of free will.)

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As I understand it, pluralism starts with assumptions and a situation that 'just is' and cannot be (or does not need to be) explained further - and the main assumption is the God is God - He is just there.

(And, for Mormons, so is Mother in Heaven 'just there' - because reality is dyadic, male and female are two complementary and irreducible parts that together make unity. ^See note below)

God is inside the already existing universe of reality (matter or 'stuff') which is also 'just there' and has certain properties which are understood by us as the laws of nature including the principles of beauty and morality.

We Men (and other intelligences) were also 'just there' but as some kind of essence that lacked self-awareness.

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God (and, for Mormons, Mother in Heaven) then made us into self-aware 'children of God' so that now we are all related to God and to each other - relationships (or one enormously large family with multiple sub-families) is the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves.

Therefore, 'good' is to choose to live in accordance with these relationships, as established by God; evil is to reject these relationships and aim to live as solitary and self-sufficient gods. (This is pride.)

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So evil is a choice. It is not necessarily irrational, it is not necessarily dishonest - except that it seems always to involve a denial of the true situation and of our debt to God - but evil can be a hatred and rejection of the divine families in which we find ourselves - perhaps a hatred of God for forcing us to become self-conscious (and therefore liable to suffer) and to having saddled us with unasked-for responsibilities to our divine parents and siblings.

I think it is at least conceivable that a person might simply choose to reject self consciousness, and/or family ties  and aspire to live utterly alone. By the mercy of God this state could be made into an unselfconscious bliss; but this state too might be rejected and the person would then live in 'hell' of utter and self-imposed eternal and self-aware solitude.

The evil of this 'hell' comes from rejecting divine relationships but clinging to selfhood; rejecting gratitude and responsibility towards God but clinging to God-given powers.

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The primary moral decision in the history of reality was therefore that God (and Mother in Heaven) unilaterally decided to 'make' us into self-conscious personages, to make us into His children. His motive for this was love and our own benefit, just as the motive of earthly parents for 'making' children should be love and the children's own benefit - nonetheless it was unilateral, and is irreversible.

Consequently, because God is loving; I think it must have been the case that God made provision for us to opt-out of this situation in which we find ourselves, and to return to primordial unawareness and unpersonhood.

This is why I believe God has made provision for 'Nirvana' i.e. what feels-like loss of self/ personhood, and reabsorption into the blissful state of His goodness.

This is not an actual stripping away of our status as Sons and Daughters of God - that is irreversible - but it does allow a non-evil choice to reject the basic situation in which we find ourselves - to reject self-awareness, incarnation, intelligence, power and everything else. 

To 'return' to original un-consciousness.

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But these are all choices: suboptimal, sad - but self-chosen and self-inflicted. They are simply a consequence of the reality of agency/ free will.

The evilness of evil is really about the gratuitous spitefulness of trying to wreck the self-consciousness and divine family relationships which other people want and have chosen; of trying to persuade other people to inhabit 'hell' as some kind of eternal consolation for the misery of one's own choice of hell. 

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^The other explanation for God in a pluralist universe is an infinite regress - i.e. that God the Father and Heavenly Mother are children of previous Gods, are children of previous Gods, and so on forever. But this amounts to the same thing as saying 'just there' - it is merely substituting a process which is 'just there' for entities which are 'just there'.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Lloyd Alexander biographical documentary

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A fascinating, and highly-recommended hour-long biographical film about Lloyd Alexander has been posted on YouTube recently -


I have a special affection for Alexander's Prydain Chronicles series, which I have read multiple times, including aloud as a bedtime book - and Alexander comes across through the text as an exceptionally likeable author.

I found-out about these books from Lin Carter mentioning them positively in A Look Behind The Lord of the Rings, and was delighted when the first three volumes (only)  came-out in an inexpensive UK paperback - the final two volumes were only published considerably later. They have a special, earnest charm and good-humour about them which I find to be a wholesome tonic.

I knew nothing about Alexander until I read an intriguing interview in a book about fantasy authors; then, - after he died in 2007 - I found a TV programme recording a delightful visit to his home -



Alexander had a remarkable and unique face; and it seems that the face contained the truth about his nature: he was an absolutely driven author, a misfit and maverick in the world, he suffered badly from depression, he was kindly, idealistic and much loved. It is all written there.






I write for Britain's most PC newspaper

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OK, regular readers can have a good laugh at the fact I have today published a piece in The Guardian, which is famously the home of political correctness in British newspaper journalism.

It would not be dignified for me to try and explain myself; the fact that I am not getting paid probably makes matters worse rather than better...

The main reason was that I was asked to write 400 words in favour of lectures (one of my hobby horses), and as an ex freelance journalist, I became fascinated by the challenge of saying what I wanted to say, briefly and in an engaging manner.

Could I still do it, I wondered? Before I knew it, I had done it - so, yes.

Below is pasted the version I submitted - and to see how the sub-editors improved it, go to:

http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/mar/31/are-lectures-the-best-way-to-teach-students

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I am reluctant to discuss lecturing, since on this particular topic it is futile since I am in too small a minority. The fact is that real lectures are always greatly appreciated by students who want to learn. But what are called 'lectures' nowadays are a travesty. 

...Vast, stuffy venues that seat hundreds; students sitting in the dark and unable to see the speaker; a disembodied voice droning into a microphone; the lecturer reading-out endless powerpoint slides which have already been posted online; the scanty audience passive instead of actively making their own notes -  distracted by themselves and others intermittently browsing the internet and social networking; and the whole thing being recorded as if to emphasize to students that they don't really need to be there and they don't really need to pay attention... 

...well these atrocities are what people currently call lectures, and they are indefensible. 

However, so are the so-called alternatives to lectures! Mere gimmicks and novelties - designed to get praise and awards for teaching 'innovation'. (A bicycle with triangular wheels is an innovation - the proper question is whether it is fit for purpose.) 

But when lectures are taken seriously, and conducted in the proper way, they are the best pragmatic way of teaching knowledge to people who want to know. 

Good lectures are possible and achievable - I experienced many of them at my medical school. But good lectures are not easy, nor are they as cheap as some 'alternatives'. Good lectures require all-round effort from people who appoint teaching staff and design lecture theatres; from those who construct courses, and those who create the educational ethos.

And (hardest of all) good lectures require here-and-now concentration during the actual teaching period - effort from both lecturer and audience alike. A good lecture is hard work!

Because a good lecture is a one-off performance. Like the theatre rather than the cinema, everybody present contributes to the success or failure, everybody is 'involved'. But when it 'works', a good lecture is an experience that may be remembered forever. 

So real lecturing is irreplaceable in the same way that live theatre or musical performance is irreplaceable - real human beings, actually-present and in psychological contact; seeing and hearing each other in real-time; working together on something they both value. 

It is sad that so few modern students will ever experience anything of this kind. 

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Don't rise to Leftist provocation

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There is nothing that our secular Left culture likes more than for Christian reactionaries to expend their lives fulminating against it.

This indeed is a message always implicit but often also explicit in every triumph of the West - in policy, economics, law, and (above all) the sexual revolution:

"Suck on that you Christian bigots!"

"How do you like that you hate-filled conservatives?"

"What have you got to say about that? - Fascists!"

Much of TV, movies, novels, newspapers and magazines, fine art, comedy, social networking, government and NGO propaganda... has this exact same message: a slap or a punch in the face; a knife driven into the targeted religion, and twisted.

Then they sit back, rub their hands, and gleefully watch us waste our finite mortal time in impotent, futile, raging - until the time comes for another dagger prod.

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Despair and salvation to Nirvana

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When suffering exists with hope, we yearn for Heaven.

But when suffering leads to despair; then we yearn for release, permanent escape from suffering; escape into un-self-conscious being, reabsorption into the impersonal divine; bliss, Nirvana.

Cultures of despair reject the personhood of God - relationships are seen as a perpetuation of suffering. The Goal is detachment - especially from relationships.

Modernity suffers deeply and despairs deeply; modern Men yearn for Nirvana yet disbelieve it; because modernity starts-from a rejection of the personhood of God, and despair is a consequence of this rejection.

Despairing modern man can only imagine as real a temporary escape from self-hood into distraction or obliterative intoxication; or a permanent escape into extinction.

There are no other alternatives - neither hope of Heaven nor release into Nirvana.

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Shepherd and Lamb

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Jesus Christ is the Shepherd, master of the flock - and we his lambs.

And Christ is the Lamb - lovely and knowable.

The Lamb of God grows from innocent, joyous dependence to unresisting sacrifice.

The Lion is God the Father - and without Christ He is a thing terrible, awesome, un-knowable, feared.

The Lion would naturally kill the Lamb; and indeed the Lamb is killed.

The Lamb rises glorious and lies down with the Lion.

The Lamb evokes our love, compassion, care - but a mortal Lamb cannot save us. The Lamb must be reborn, and rule with the Lion.

The Lamb becomes Shepherd...

It is only by our love for the reborn Lamb that we may have a proper and necessary relation with the Lion.

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Mortal incarnate life is about TWO things: Salvation and Theosis (The primary focus of God's plan was *not* you and I.)

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The purpose and function of mortal incarnate life is not reducible to one thing - mortal incarnate life is not reducible to salvation unless salvation is given a dual meaning, in which case the duality of purpose is being covertly (and often insensibly) smuggled-in.

All Men live and die - that experience is common to all Men and to Jesus Christ - and that is the 'mechanism' of salvation. All that humans need to do is accept Christ's offer and gift of salvation (although that acceptance may not be as easy as it sounds given the corruptions of a long life in this world; and certainly acceptance of Christ's work cannot be assumed to be universal.)

But most Men are incarnated and die either in the womb or at or soon after birth; and more die while innocent babes or young children. These all experience the essential experience which is necessary for salvation.

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The basic experience of mortal life is that our pre-mortal eternal souls are clothed in a body, then die and become separated from that body - but not only the 'physical' body. Our souls also experience dwelling within a personality, a specific set of dispositions, abilities, motivations etc. You could summarize this by saying our souls dwell inside a mind, and the characteristics of that mind - and the mind is not the soul.

This 'personality' or mind is also part of the body (that is it depends on the body - especially the brain) and the soul also separates from the mind at death.

So, during mortal life the soul and personality/ body are in a state of necessary disharmony (this is what some Christians call original sin) but after resurrection the soul is perfectly in harmony with the body/ personality.

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Spiritual progression is linear and sequential, like Time. The primary aim of mortal incarnate life is salvation - which is first the experience of the soul dwelling in a state of disharmony with a personality/ body and then dying to be resurrected to the condition of a soul dwelling in harmony with personality/ body (unless the soul refuses the resurrection to harmony - unless the soul refuses to let go of the conflicted aspects of the body/ personality).

The aim of resurrection into harmony can only be achieved via the experience of mortal incarnate life and death, and via the work of Jesus Christ who underwent these experiences.

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All this is salvation - but theosis refers to the degree of progress towards divine-nature achieved during mortal incarnate life; and this depends upon length of life and circumstances and opportunities of life - as well as upon choices, will, and other personal factors.

A long life (i.e. to maturity, to include more primary experiences such as marriage and children, creative work, friendships, self-sacrifice etc) offers more possibilities of theosis - of a higher degree of advancement, and more possibilities of corruption.

The value of a long life may be remedial in some instances (a chance for those who most need it; pre-mortal spirits who are significantly deficient), or to enable a more advanced level of spirituality (a chance for those best able to make the most of opportunities). Or mixtures.

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Most of religious discourse which purports to be about salvation is really about theosis - it is about that small minority of humans who have lived a long life.

We should never forget that God's plan will very probably have been focused primarily on the majority of Men who never made it out of the womb, or early childhood. The plan was mostly about them; and only secondarily about us, about you and I - part of that tiny minority of long-lived Men whose business ought to be theosis.

(Although, tragically, many of us who live in the secular West explicitly state that we fully intend to reject salvation - and actively aim to persuade others to do likewise. But, fortunately, this madness has not afflicted the mass of men in history and does not afflict the majority alive today.)

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Monday, 30 March 2015

William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell

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Blake was a mystic - was divinely inspired - had direct access to and received evidence of reality.

Mystics provide us with what might be termed objective evidence; but most mystics are just as prone to misunderstand, misinterpret, and falsely-systematize objective evidence evidence as are you and I.

Blake was also a Man, of knowledge incomplete and fallible, and (perhaps more than usually) prone to hatred and resentment.

So, we can benefit greatly from the inspired wisdom of Blake - but need also to recognize that Blake's own understanding of Blake's own wisdom was rather poor - which is why so much of his writing is essentially meaningless (and hardly even attempts to be meaningful).

But if we consider The Marriage of Heaven and Hell from " Without Contraries is no progression" up to the end of the Proverbs of Hell "Enough! or Too much!"; then we are confronted with as profound and as concentrated a catalogue of truth as human hand has penned.

(With the exception of the Apostles.)

http://www.bartleby.com/235/253.html

Our task is to regard this as divinely-inspired evidence; but to edit-out Blake's own false interpretations and systematizations of this evidence.

And this is what we must do with all (true) mystical insight - whether from the Prophets and Saints; or from other modern Christian (or at least self-identified Christian) mystics like Pascal, Traherne, Swedenborg, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rudolf Steiner and William Arkle.

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There should be no division between religion and the state - 'theocracy' is a good thing

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There cannot and should-not be any division or distinction between religion and the state.

Unless the state is to be evil; it must-be and ought-to-be permeated by religion; at every level and in both its largest principles and its smallest particulars.

There is no pre-specified political (or religious) mechanism by which this desirable state of affairs should-be established - indeed no mechanism could, even in principle, achieve this.

But any approach towards the goal of complete harmony in all aspects of life, under the guidance of true religion, should never be allowed to be blocked by such nonsensical and anti-Christian principles as the supposed desirability of separation of church and state, or a belief in the intrinsic wickedness of 'theocracy'.

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It is not un-loving to judge people as having evil intentions - indeed such judgements are absolutely required

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Christians sometimes feel or say that they ought to suppose other people have 'good intentions', and that this attitude is entailed by being loving, as we are required to be.

But this is a mistake. Christians simply need to judge the intentions of others as accurately as possible, and then act accordingly.

When a person is judged as having evil intentions, then this may need to be said explicitly; and such a person should be treated as such.

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The Christian injunction to love, and not to hate - comes-in in the sense that a person's evil intentions should not be taken as a justification for hating them; because such emotions as hatred, resentment, grudge-bearing, vengefulness are un-Christian.

Of course, most people cannot help but feel hatred, resentment, cannot help bearing grudges, cannot stop a desire for revenge. However, such feelings should be acknowledged to be wrong, should be repented, and should not be justified.

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As Christians, we must acknowledge that we ought to be able (were we perfect in our obedience) to love even those who are motivated by evil - as did Christ.

But that does not-at-all mean we should always assume good intentions, nor that we should always give people 'the benefit of the doubt'. To do that would be dishonest (a sin) as well as simply foolish.

Christians are not supposed to be self-deluding dupes, deranged by wishful-thinking - but to be clear-eyed realists.

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Does Life have a plan, or is it just random? Neither - Life has a Plot

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Secular modernity has it that each human life is random, contingent and meaningless. Obviously; to a religious person that is wrong.

Against this, many religious people say that their life has what they call a Plan - but it seems that this 'plan' is known only in retrospect, and has (what looks to the secular modernists) a self-justifying quality: whatever happens is argued to be 'part of the plan' - no matter how apparently horrible or absurd 'whatever happens' turns-out to be.

'Plan' is the wrong kind of concept for life - to think of life as having a 'Plot' comes much closer to the proper Christian attitude.

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Life has a plot, and just like the plot of a play or a novel we only find out the plot at the end - however, any good play or novel is meaningful throughout precisely because we know that (so long as the author is competent) there IS a plot; and we are in IN it all the way.

A plot is not fully-planned-out, and a plot can accommodate all kinds of surprises and even accidents and disruptions without breaking the plot. In other words, a real plot has room for both free-will and contingency.

The plot of the Lord of the Rings requires that Frodo gets to the Cracks of Doom, but cannot fling the One Ring into it. In the actually used plot, Gollum fights Frodo, bites the ring off on its finger, and falls accidentally/ providentially into the lava.

But Gollum nearly repents in the tunnel approaching Shelob's lair, and in his letters Tolkien discusses what might have happened if Gollum had repented. Gollum's repentance would have been 'a good thing' but the plot was under divine providence, so the end result would have been the same - but by other means.

For example, Gollum might have taken the ring from Frodo and deliberately thrown himself into the cracks of doom (because he, like Frodo, would have been unable to throw the ring in). Of, if Gollum had been killed then Sam might have taken Gollum's role; either in some negative way if Sam had killed Gollum from hatred or disgust, or in a noble and self-sacrificing way if Gollum had died by accident or been shot by an orc.

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My point is that there is room in the plot of life for free will, and accidents and without violating character.

Human life is governed by providence, there are end points which will happen (God will make them happen) but the timing and precise nature of these end points remains open - and is determined by choices, and also by such random or divinely un-intended factors as exist in the universe outwith God's will.

In your life or my life, bad luck is not 'really' Good luck, evil is not the same as Good - everything that happens is not part of a pre-decided plan. Life is a plot not a plan - some ends are pre-destined, God will ensure that they happen - but not exactly how and when they happen.

This, for example, is how we can know that the end of the world will come, and we can know that these are the end times leading-up-to that end; but we cannot know when that end will come, nor exactly how the prophecies will be fulfilled (and neither does Jesus Christ know this - as explicitly stated in scripture); because 'the end', while certain, can be advanced or delayed and re-shaped by human choice (as well as accidental factors).

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Sunday, 29 March 2015

Review of Glenn Gould's 'Solitude Trilogy' of radio documentaries

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I have recently re-listened to the three programmes of Glenn Gould's 'Solitude' trilogy. The are The Idea of North; The Late Comers and The Quiet in the Land.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solitude_Trilogy



All comprise adapted interviews in what purports to be a documentary style, but which in fact uses the interviews as raw material to create monologues, dialogues and simultaneous speaking passages which are modeled on various musical forms - for example, some multi-voice sections have fugue-like aspects.

My impression this time is that none of the programmes are really successful, although all are interesting and worthwhile; also none of them are about solitude - but almost the opposite: they are about living in small, closely-knit and (in some sense) isolated communities - in the Canadian far north, Newfoundland and as a Mennonite (a group of Anabaptists who began as akin to the Amish).

The Idea of North is technically the crudest - and has long documentary like passages which are quite mundane; but it has the best overall dramatic structure, with a somewhat climactic ending featuring a background of Sibelius.

The Late Comers is probably the most interesting, with the best set of 'characters' having some accessible and relevant debates and discussions. The 'basso continuo' of ocean surf sounds throughout, binds it all together. But the programme lacks dramatic shape and just fizzles-out at the end.

The Quiet in the Land has some of the best, most moving passages - featuring a background of church bells, choirs, a sermon and an effective refrain discussing  'in the world, but not of the world' - but has too much argumentativeness, and discussion about disagreements and the dissenters among Mennonites; and not enough about the classic conditions of isolated, self-sufficient, self-confident Mennonite life. And again the whole thing fizzles-out inconclusively.

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What strikes me about the actual theme of these programmes is that:

1. Gould stated clearly that these three radio programmes were the nearest he ever attained (or aspired) to a personal statement of his innermost beliefs - that they were a symbolic spiritual autobiography of some kind. Yet...

2. The actual structure and content of the three programmes (including the choice of people interviewed and their sampled words) seems to indicate that Gould yearned for a technologically simple communal life, with common sense, down-to-earth people.

3. This starkly contradicts Gould's many other explicit pronouncements that he loved most solitude, the cocooning (distancing, safe) effects of technology,  and the in general highly individual and eccentric life of a recognized genius musician.

 4. In conclusion, the so-called 'Solitude' trilogy indicate that either Gould was a more conflicted and contradictory man than is usually acknowledged - that his world view does not 'hang together' at even the most basic level; or, less radically, that his deepest yearnings contradicted his public persona - and that what he most deeply wanted in his soul, he was prevented from having by the very different nature of his more superficial personality and intellect.

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This last interpretation is plausible to me, since it is the human condition that we as mortals wake-up to 'find-ourselves' (that is, we become-aware-of our deepest, our primary selves) as-it-were dwelling inside not just a body but also a 'personality' - and the soul and 'personality' are not integrated.

(At least, they are not integrated during this mortal incarnate life on earth.)

Our souls peep-out through a personality and set of abilities and habits which are, to some extent, arbitrary and alien - and what this superficial self wants and what it does can be (and can become) very different indeed from what the innermost soul aspires to.

Perhaps that is the coded message that Gould left behind in these 'Solitude' programmes - that his genius required the eccentric life of high-tech isolation for which is is a famous advocate'; but that genius is not the deepest level of a man - inside the genius is a soul who usually sees things very differently and wants very different things.

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Saturday, 28 March 2015

Placeholder post - end of the seven year cycle

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Yesterday, I quite suddenly realized, recognized, that I had (as of last summer) reached the end of one of my seven year cycles of primary interest and activity.

This cycle has been about intelligence, personality and genius and was triggered by reading A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark at the end of 2006 - but it took another year before the effects were felt, and it was 2008 before the tipping point came. That was also the time when I (covertly) became a Christian.

The previous cycle was from about 2001-2008 and focused on systems theory, public policy, and New Agey spirituality.

Before that was evolutionary psychology and psychiatry beginning in May of 1994 (triggered by reading an interview with Margie Profet in Omni magazine, then Matt Ridley's Red Queen), and before that was an eclectic mixture of all-sorts of stuff including epidemiology - as I was floundering-around and trying to find my destiny.

Anyway, what this means to the blog is uncertain - because I have not yet found-out what it is I am supposed to be doing from here.

I will not stop doing what I did before (just as I never stopped doing epidemiology, psychiatry, Ev. Psychol. and the rest of it). But I need to find-out 'the next big thing' - and this is a process of discovery, not invention.

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Reference: http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/seven-year-units.html
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Thursday, 26 March 2015

Flann O'Brien - a perspective

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Flann O'Brien is the best known pseudonym of Brian O'Nolan (1911-1966) - who also wrote outstanding comic journalism under the Irish name of Myles na gCopaleen.

O'Brien's output of worthwhile work is very slim, but the best is of the first rank:

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At Swim-Two-Birds - a novel, published 1939. Utterly unique - dazzlingly brilliant in parts but wholly unsuccessful (excruciatingly dull) in others; it was a critical success (well reviewed) but sold less than 300 copies.

The Third Policeman - a novel written after ASTB in the early 1940s but rejected, and only eventually published posthumously in 1968. It is an unqualified masterpiece.

The Best of Myles - A collection of journalism published by Picador in 1975. The later Myles na gCopaleen collections are greatly inferior.

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O'Brien became an alcoholic - drunk from mid morning every day - from the late 1940s, and none of his later work is worth bothering with. But the above are irreplaceable.

At Swim-Two-Birds has some of the funniest passages I have ever encountered - if you respond to the peculiar drollery of O'Brien's language. In that sense, it is the same order of humour as PG Wodehouse (although utterly different in flavour) - everything comes from the exact use of words, and the 'timing' of the passages.

Having said how much I love this - I would find it unsurprising when other people do not like it. You need to be on the same wavelength - to 'tune in'. It is possible that the reader needs some prior familiarity with Irish dialect and national character - but since I had these, I cannot really judge.

However, the novel was 'experimental' and was in fact a collage of various utterly different books and drafts written by O'Brien (including an MA thesis), including chunks of translated Irish legend (by O'Brien and a friend), letters, and other 'found' material. Some of the seemingly endless passages about Sweeney and The Pooka are best skipped. But the bulk of it is so good that I forgive all.

The Third Policeman is very different in flavour - a nightmarish fantasy/ allegory but with some extremely humorous aspects (particularly the footnotes about the 'savant' De Selby). The whole book is astonishingly perfect.

The Best of Myles is fragmentary journalism; but has a lot of highly original, wonderful, surreal stuff in it. I particularly enjoyed the Keats and Chapman parts.

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O Brien's life makes for depressing reading. He did all his good stuff before his early thirties, but was given little or no credit for it (with his greatest achievement completely unknown). The accounts of his morose, irritable helpless alcoholism are horrible - despite that Dubliners romanticise intoxication and have made the later O'Brien into 'a character'.

Compared with other first rate Irish writers, O'Brien is much more natively Irish. Almost all of the (many) top ranking Irish writers were Protestant British (e.g. Spenser, Swift, Sheridan, Goldsmith, Shaw, Wilde, Yeats etc.) - probably only Joyce and O'Brien at this level could be considered indigenous (both were raised Roman Catholic - Joyce lapsed but O'Brien remained devout).

Anyway.... if you don't already know O'Brien's work, I would recommend the best as worthy to stand at the highest level in the relevant genres.

If in doubt, start with The Third Policeman.

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Misconceptions about 'British Weather'

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Foreigners, especially Americans, have some pretty strange misconceptions about how 'bad' British weather is.

In fact, as the ancient authors often used to state in early accounts of the British mainland, it is easier to argue that Britain has just about the best weather in the world.

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Nonetheless, those who say the British weather is terrible are presumably responding to something.

1. I will define Britain for these purposes as the area bounded by London, Bristol, Glasgow and Edinburgh - since this contains a very high proportion of the population, and visitors seldom venture much beyond it.

2. Within this quadrilateral-ish zone, the weather is strikingly variable - notably there is a lot more rain in the west - about twice as much, such that a 'normal' day in Glasgow is rainy. Having lived there more than three years, I know from experience that this much rain does limit what you can do and how things look, especially as a tourist. But that is the extreme, the bulk of Britain to the South and East of Glasgow does not get anything like so much rain.

3. The British climate is more temperate, less extreme than just about anywhere.

Masses of people (I mean dozens, hundreds - never thousands) are only very rarely killed by the weather - by floods, storms, avalanches (!), heat etc - in the way that they are in North America and Europe - and even one single individual killed by the weather is rare and makes national news.

4. What is bad about the British weather is unpredictability, on a day by day - even hour by hour- basis. It is seldom you can be sure it will not rain on a given day; on the other hand it is seldom that the weather stays bad for long and there is always hope of imminent improvement.

(We do get - every few years - dry sunny midsummer and/ or icy-cold midwinter periods lasting multiple weeks - when there is settled High Pressure over the islands, and the weather stays the same day after day. People naturally remember these extreme stable periods, but they are uncharacteristic.)

5. My theory about 'bad' British weather is that people are responding to high latitudes - Britain is at a very high latitude compared with most populous countries; this means that day lengths are extreme (long days in summer, short days in winter), causing a considerable stress of the hormonal and neurotransmitter systems.

Those foreigners who spend the winter here are likely to experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) of some degree of severity - lethargy,somnolence, irritability, asociability, carbohydrate craving and weight gain...

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My hunch is that the bad reputation of British weather comes from extreme latitude rather than the actual weather.

Unless, that is, the disaffected foreigners who spread the bad 'rep' we have for weather had lived in the British rain-capitals of Glasgow or Manchester - in which case their bleak impressions were probably justified by experience. 

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(Note: The good news is that SAD is completely treatable nowadays, by the use of artificial bright early morning light. Which I suppose makes Britain paradise - as I look out at the cold rain lashing the windows... But yesterday was sunny and last week was warm - so I console myself that the weather will soon change. )

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

I do not want more geniuses

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http://iqpersonalitygenius.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/be-careful-before-you-wish-for-more.html
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Late thoughts of William Arkle

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http://williamarkle.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/last-thoughts-of-william-arkle.html
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My conversion story starting from synchronicity - in a nutshell, and with a philosophical perspective

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One interesting aspect of synchronicity is that it is individually focused - when experienced, the coincidence was focused on me specifically.

And when the coincidence is 'meaningful' (as the usual definition of synchronicity implies) - then it implies something for me specifically.

If so, then the experience of synchronicity implies some generally-operative power which has some kind of specific interest or concern with me specifically.

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It was this line of reasoning which led me from a New Agey belief in the importance of synchronicity, to the inference that - if real - it implied (entailed) a personal god having a personal relationship with me specifically (not an abstract god-of-the-philosophers).

From there, and the fact I am not a Jew, pure reasoning pointed to 'some kind of Christianity' as having a clear reason for god's concern with me specifically. That reason is god's love for me specifically.

(Pure monotheism lacks any reason why an 'omni god' who created everything from nothing should be concerned with individual humans.)

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Having arrived at the assumption of a real, 'personal God', what kind of Christian should I be?

That took a while to sort-out; but in retrospect I can see that there was a strongly philosophical process of evaluation going-on.

I explored the major classical theologies: Aristotelian Christianity (Thomism) and Platonic Christianity (Orthodoxy) - but always there were serious nagging doubts about their ability to explain the most important aspects of Christianity - and the sense that Christianity was being fitted-around these (pre-existing) philosophies; to the detriment of Christianity.

My stable conviction for the past two and some years has been that the most philosophically-solid and coherent branch of Christianity - the one which most clearly and simply and un-evasively explains the most important aspects of Christianity that seem to need explaining - is Mormonism.

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(The key trigger, the clarifying experience, was reading and understanding Sterling M McMurrin's Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion - written by an ex-Mormon (or non-believing Mormon) philosopher who treats the religion comparatively and abstractly.)

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Most people would regard it as bizarre to assert that Mormonism (of all things!) is the most philosophically coherent explanation of Christianity - especially when compared with the long and professionalized scholastic tradition, or any other theology devised by generations of full-time professional priests and professors.

But the reason I find Mormon theology philosophically convincing (miraculously so) is exactly that it does not require high-level abstraction and educated skills to explain those things that most need explaining.

As an intellectual system, Mormon theology displays the kind of stunning focus, simplicity and clarity which is characteristic of the most important breakthroughs in science.

As a lifelong lover of science, a professional science theorist and theorist of science, and ex-editor of a theoretical of a journal of theoretical bioscience; no wonder I love it so much!

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Of course, this above account is excessively abstract and leaves out far more than it includes - but a grasp of the unique philosophical solidity of Mormonism (among Christian theologies) was, and remains, of great importance and significance to me.

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Reference: http://theoreticalmormon.blogspot.co.uk

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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Does life (as a whole) make sense?

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This is perhaps The Big Question.

Secular modernity, public discourse, has it that life as a whole does not make sense, does not need to make sense - and that the idea that life makes sense is wishful thinking or a primitive and childish delusion.

Modernity thinks it knows that life does not make sense; modernity thinks that 'science has proven' that life does not make sense.

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If secular modernity is wrong, and life really does make sense, then claiming it does not make sense would be expected to lead to all kinds of harm.

But if life really does not make any sense - but just happens to be the way it is for no reason or purpose - then it does not matter what we think about it; indeed nothing at all 'matters' in any significant sense; everything is merely a matter of 'stuff happen' (or doesn't happen).

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That life as a whole makes sense (in some way, at some level, even if that sense is utterly unknown) is perhaps the most basic religious attitude; perhaps something common to all religions that ever have been.

We are all born and experience early childhood believing, or rather simply assuming, that live makes sense; some people abandon this in later life.

This is something each person is responsible for answering for himself: the decision is one loaded with significance.

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