Friday, December 14, 2012


Last year I wrote a blog about an incredible edition of the Keiser Report. I had sent the link to this report to a respected, Swiss, financial adviser, and he responded that, despite the mind-boggling enormity of its claims, it was "probably correct".

Here's the link to that blog entry, which itself contains the link to that Report. You will notice the barely-contained hysteria of the two reporters, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert. They cannot help but laugh at what they are revealing, it is so appalling. 

I have on more than one occasion been shocked and morally outraged at learning that this or that mayor or governor or general here in the Philippines is actively engaged in the trafficking of illegal drugs. "What blatant corruption!" "What a disgusting abuse of power!" "It's almost beyond belief!" "Not in the West!" I say, with conviction and more than a tinge of superiority.

Why do we persist, with moral indignation, in accepting the truth of evil-doing in other cultures, but dismiss it (as perhaps you will now) when the evil-doer is one of us? Here is some further mind-boggling commentary on what western governments claim to be spending billions to eradicate.


Monday, July 30, 2012


I am occasionally accused of being a Luddite. By this I take it that I’m seen as resistant to change. I am actually a sucker for sleek tech, but IT wizardry doesn’t have the instant surface appeal of, say, a carbon fiber bicycle, or the latest Canon digicam, and there’s a lot going on in the field of technology today that I find intrusive, infuriating, and, yes, downright scary.

The other day I had to attend a seminar introducing us exporters to the new electronic Export Declaration procedures demanded worldwide by a pseudo-paranoid America after the events of 9/11.  The slogan of the American company that runs the compulsory new system for our Bureau of Customs: "We Change the Way You Do Business". Either 'change' is now a club with which to belabor the powerless, or it has become an uncritical synonym for progress. 

That science and tech have both an upside and a downside is surely a cliché hardly worth repeating. So, when did change start being automatically good? True, I would almost certainly have been dead several times over without modern medicine - but a lot of Iraqis would as certainly be alive, or born perfectly formed, but for Depleted Uranium. 

The boffin in the lab all too often allows his enthusiasm for potential discovery to override his conscience. This process is greatly aided by a deterministic science.  If we are all mere biochemical cause-and-effect then behavior is determined by physical laws and scientists, bereft of free will, are automatically absolved of responsibility for their actions.

I therefore find the excitement of the scientist in the attached video terrifying.  His promiscuous thrill at the cornucopia of discoveries awaiting him and his clever colleagues in the new field of genetic engineering has been an open invitation to exploitation by amoral, profit-seeking multinationals. His childlike excitement at the heady prospect of reengineering life itself, far from heralding a brave, new world, is a harbinger of disaster. 

The thrill of discovery is amoral.  Its untrammeled expression is the very definition of recklessness, if not madness. Does a similar thrill also keep armaments researchers maiming lab animals late into the night, in their mad quest for a better way to kill people?  I sound extreme, but behind closed doors it’s happening.  Yes, to the dangerous extent that science has abandoned morality I am a Luddite.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Ghosts - 3

(Continued from Ghosts - 2...)
What we miss is that all meaning is arrived at in just the way I have been describing. Let me try to illustrate this further. We have all seen that slightly silly internet mystery “Secrets of the Twenty Dollar Bill”. I have reproduced it for you, below. Let’s take another look at it.

Is it possible to fold a twenty dollar bill in such a way as to show both the Twin Towers and the Pentagon after the attacks on 9-11? Take a look below and decide for yourself.
Step 1:
Take a new-style $20 bill and fold it in half lengthwise so it looks like this. 

Step 2:
Fold the left side away from you and up, making a diagonal crease on the corner of the "D" in “UNITED”, as shown here.

Step 3:
Repeat the fold with the right side (make sure the crease is on the tip of the "F" in “OF”)  and the Pentagon will emerge.

Step 4:
Then if you flip the bill over you can see what appears to be the smoking WTC Towers 1 and 2.

A remarkable coincidence, or something more...?
Want another amazing illusion?
If you fold a $20 note as the picture below demonstrates you can cause it to spell 'OSAMA"!

And so on.  No-one presumably supposes that these images of an actual event were conspiratorially embedded in notes designed before the event even happened. But even to call them coincidences also misses the point. The images are not in the notes at all. They’re in your head. They are ghosts. If 9/11 had never happened, would anyone have found them? I think we can say with a great degree of certainty that they would not. The word “found” would have no meaning in this context had there been no 9/11. Shown them we would cheerfully have dismissed their creator as a nutter, on the reasonable grounds that he was pointing to shapes that had no meaning in the “real” world.

What other images of future events lie embedded in banknotes, we might otherwise ask, waiting to reveal themselves once the events themselves have occurred and we have a reference point to which to anchor our imaginations? Again, the question is nonsensical. No such images exist. All that can happen is that an event occurs which causes us to find images of that event thereafter wherever our brains can match up a pattern. That recognition lies in us, not in the world “out there”. 

A face apparently embedded in a satellite image of the landscape of Mars was found, you will recall, among the photographs radioed back from the first Viking orbiter, in July 1976.

There it was, not in a cloud of vapor, but apparently etched into the Martian surface - a collection of smudges on our planetary neighbor irresistibly crying out to us “face!”. For a while it gave rise to theories of a now-extinct Martian civilization, signaling to Earth across the vastness of space. But these speculations were quickly squashed by the scientific community, because… well, because there wasn’t other evidence to support them, and so the image must be, like the cloud image, “just a plain oddity”.  If more evidence comes in to support the face interpretation then it will acquire more respectability as a bona fide image; that is, it will gradually become the “real” representation of a face, even though its features will not alter one iota during the transition from fantasy to reality. And so it goes. Reality is in our interpretation of the data, not in the data themselves.  There is no meaning in the so-called objective world.  We have to put it there.

Ghosts - 2

(Continued from Ghosts - 1...)
So here’s how it really is. The world you perceive is all-of-a-piece with your sense of you as the experiencer of it. It is you and you are it. The two are indissolubly one, outside of which there is nothing, for nothing can be meaningfully said to exist until you experience it. Subjects and objects are conventions which arise out of this experience; useful, undoubtedly, but conventions nonetheless. What we call “the real world” are the projections of our imagination onto the inchoate data flooding us every moment of every day – ghosts, in fact. They are our attempt to make sense of the world – a wonderfully literal expression for what we actually do. Ghosts are not the exclusive property of the uneducated. Ghosts are, precisely, the concepts with which we all handle all primary experience all the time, taking these concepts as reality, and fighting each other, sometimes to the death, over them when our interpretations don’t coincide – which of course they mostly don’t.

When something entirely fills your field of vision, indeed constitutes the very substance of your consciousness, it is extremely difficult to detect. Indeed, the very act of “encountering” our world is what gives rise to the distinction between us as subjects and the world as object in the first place.  The inferential supposition that the world as we see it is separate from ourselves, and goes on with or without us, is a convention powerfully reinforced by a Western upbringing, and all but impossible to dispel. The tautological fact that this world we comprehendwhich is the only one we know, or can know – is the sum total of our personal experience, and nothing else, is as invisible to us as water presumably is to a fish.

That we (and by we I mean our community) invent the meaning we find in the world around us – “This is a clock; that is my husband/wife…” – is lost in the familiarity of our collective creation. The West does not believe in ghosts because we have a label for everything we’ve invented; “A place for everything, and everything in its place”. Once a label has been assigned it’s almost impossible thereafter to dissociate the image from that label, wherever it occurs. But we occasionally get an inkling of the essentially ghostly nature of all our creations when our imaginations rush in to fill a conceptual void. Pattern – order - is the foundation of meaning. Gazing up at the random shapes of clouds on a summer’s day, or patterns of stars in the night sky, or the craters on the Moon, our compulsion to impose meaning on the world around us stamps on them the patterns of everyday objects we carry in our heads. Since we know these patterns are not “really up there” we have less difficulty in calling them figments of our imagination than we do “clocks” and “spouses” – which are nevertheless concepts every bit as imaginary as faces in clouds; the experiences to which we have applied the labels “spouse” and “clock” just recur more consistently, and are confirmed as real by the recurrence of other associative experiences the lack of which alerts us that shapes in clouds are not faces.  Everything we know and everything we are is comprised, not of earth, air, fire and water, or the contents of the Periodic Table of Elements, but of experience.

But even at the level of abstraction offered by a cloud it’s hard to grasp that the image we imagine (note the similarity of the two words) is not up there, but “in here”. The face we see in the cloud is, we insist, there to be seen by anyone who cares to look. “Ok, it isn’t a real face, but it’s still the image of a face! How else could I see it?” Among the uneducated it may even be that, lacking the straightjacket of schooling, the face in the cloud may be thought literally real – the manifestation of a celestial being, perhaps.  But we who pride ourselves on our objectivity should finally be able to figure that there is no face or image of a face of any description in that damn cloud. It is we who do the imagining, stimulated to do so by the application of memory to raw data, into the vacuum of whose intrinsic meaninglessness ghosts must rush, to fill it.  That others may also see the image of a face tells us only about the concepts we share. It says nothing whatever about any universal reality “out there”.  What we see is the reflection of our own previous experience, our recognition, lacking which we would see no pattern at all.

“So how come cameras can now recognize faces? Doesn’t that prove that there’s something out there to see?”  Well now, aren’t we a clever clogs? This riposte may seem significant, but in point of fact I think you will see that it’s diversionary. We have assigned meaning to a vast range of shapes, colors, sounds, and so on – almost to everything that can be identified from anything else. The recurrence of a particular arrangement (of shapes, say) is announced in you by a flash of recognition, as you involuntarily associate it with your previous experience of that arrangement, and – unless you have Alzheimer’s - the name you have come to associate with that experience identifies it as a remembered “thing”. It is now labeled and “known”. Instantly you and it are separated. But you are only aware of yourself as separate from what you see because of your obsession with labeling what’s in your head as something “out there”.  Were you not to have come across that pattern before it would have no effect on you whatever. You would not see it. The pattern is what identifies you as you. The pattern is part of you. It is you! Without all those patterns built up in your head who would you be?

For the camera, the salient elements that we call “face” were fed into its visual recognition program, not with any embedded meaning, but as a series of algorithms whose parameters will mindlessly register a match whenever one enters its field of view, just as a data mining program picks key words from the internet out of the billions that it sightlessly scans, or, more prosaically, the wheels of a train register a click whenever they cross a joint in the rails. Nothing else – that it was not programmed to recognize – is visible to it at all. But when you look through the viewfinder, all the faces are ringed – just in case you’d forgotten how to recognize them! 

Seeing patterns in the stars gave rise to the Zodiac. Our rational mind again should tell us (something that perhaps the mind of the ancients, for whom ghosts were as real as other objects, did not) that there is no pattern up there among the stars. Sagittarius, the heavenly Archer, must have been – was – a product of an ancient imagination familiar with archers and archery.  They projected onto the meaningless, random scatter of the stars patterns with which they were familiar, so that they could recognize them.  Similarly, but being mostly unfamiliar with Greek mythology, the first American astronauts imposed their own everyday images on the night sky, the better to make it recognizable.  Thus, for example, one constellation became known to astronauts of the Sixties as the Vacuum Cleaner. An ancient could not have been brought to see this image at all, because it had no correspondence in his mind. For him the vacuum cleaner image did not exist. Try as he might an astronaut would be totally incapable of conjuring in the mind of an ancient a vacuum cleaner image in the night sky, because it had not entered the latter’s experience. To exist at all phenomena must become incorporated in our experience. Facts are recurrent experiences. 

(For the conclusion of this post, click here.)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ghosts - 1

Truth! Now there’s an interesting word!  We're told it's from Proto-Indo-European dru through Sanskrit dhruv, meaning firm, fixed, and Latin durus, meaning hard, hardy (hence durable) – through Old English trum, meaning strong, firm, and into modern English usage as true. What is true, our ancestors tell us, is that which stands the test of time. 

A fact, I think we would say, is a species of truth, for we also think of facts as durable; they too are that which has stood the test of time. But facts are slippery things; more and more so, as the pace of life accelerates. In our attempt to keep facts fixed, to nail ‘em down – to keep them, as it were, beyond the reach of tricky fingers and wayward minds – society has throughout our history adopted various defensive strategies. Chief among these has been the appeal to authority. There are fashions in authority, as there are also fashions in facts. Tradition is the word we normally associate with the guardianship of facts in the pre-scientific age. The word has almost a negative connotation today, doesn’t it?  Religion is part-and-parcel of tradition, and religious authority, too, is on the wane in the West, but in its heyday religion had mastery of most of the important facts that ruled men’s lives. Today religious authority has been largely supplanted by the authority of science, whose province, you could say, facts are. You want to know a fact? The indisputable truth about something? Science will tell you.

That, at least, is the populist view. Scientists themselves are not so adamant. In science, on the contrary, nothing can be proved true. It can only be proved not to be false – yet. But it is the populist view that claims our attention, and science provides the authority today for much that we believe in, i.e. that which we hold to be true. So it’s really this populist view – that facts are hard and fast and immutably “out there” – rather than the scientific view, which I want to examine, because it is this (pardon the heresy) erroneous faith in the permanence of facts which is opening us to abuse by the very authorities in which we have put our trust

What, then, are facts?

My New Oxford English Dictionary pithily defines a fact as “a thing that is indisputably the case”.  Who would quarrel with that? And yet this definition contains within it the Achilles Heel of all facts, the one fatal flaw which ruins them all, namely that they are disputable! What human beings find to argue and kill each other over more than anything else are, precisely, those things that they had always taken to be facts - until someone came along and questioned them. It is their very assumed indisputability that is itself the cause of the greatest acrimony. One could – almost – turn the definition on its head without loss of meaning: “Facts are assumptions, and the more dogmatic the assumption the greater the disputes that will be generated as, sooner or later, it is called into question.”  Not as pithy as my Oxford English, perhaps, but you get my drift.

And now, by way of contrast, let’s look at what popular belief says about ghosts. Ghosts are almost universally accepted as real throughout the so-called developing world, but as almost completely rejected by the West as non-factual, at least among followers of science. The West doesn’t believe in ghosts because we have a label for everything we’ve invented, and we’ve invented an awful lot. There’s very little out there that escapes the mesh of our preconceptions. What little there is (UFOs, psychokinesis, spoon bending, precognition, ESP…) is quickly explained away by the ever-watchful censor in our brain, which slaps a label on these things (“weather balloon”, “gravity”, ”sleight of hand”, “amnesia”, “coincidence” …) before they can do any damage to our cultural immune system. Our resulting world view is crowded with theories we call “facts”: mostly things which have duration, velocity, mass, and so on, which can convincingly be said to exist apart from ourselves. This, we say confidently, is the objective world, of which ghosts do not form a part.

To one not brought up in the scientific tradition, however, a lot happens that is as yet unlabelled. While in the so-called developing world the subjective is thoroughly understood, the objectivity so familiar to the West is considerably less real. In such a mental environment there’s lots of uncharted territory the void of which our imagination is free to fill. There is, in a word, plenty of room for ghosts. 

The movement from a world dominated by the subject to one dominated by the object appears to be an evolutionary one. The latter world view simply explains things better. The benefits of science in every walk of life – in food production, disease control, transport and communications – are too staggeringly beneficial to humanity for us to doubt this. But at the same time you’d have to be blind not to notice that things are going horribly wrong in this objective world of ours. It’s becoming a cliché that our wisdom doesn’t match our power. Destruction of our habitat is occurring at a speed and to levels unprecedented in human history, driven not just by population pressure caused by scientific advances in medicine and food production, but equally by the rapaciousness which it is technology’s gift to gratify. Meanwhile, the scale and manner of killing that our armies now engage in – dispassionately of course, but overwhelmingly of innocent civilians – would not be possible without laser guided bombs, missiles, depleted uranium, and a utilitarian mindset, and although scientists are not to blame for the nuclear disaster resulting from the Japanese tsunami of March 2011, the overconfidence that placed six nuclear power plants in its path was that of scientists as much as politicians.

So the movement away from subjective interpretations of the world towards the objectivity of science, though an evolutionary advance, still leaves our world view manifestly skewed. While traditional religions may be fighting a losing battle against the seduction of technology, the hubris which haunts science will not allow it to admit its own limitations, which are in the long run more dangerous to the planet, involving as they do the misuse of more and more material power.  

And what are these limitations? There is really only one: as the subjective realm claimed universal dominion in the past (“Thou shalt have no other God but me”), so science - having relegated humanity to a small planet in an insignificant orbit round an insignificant star in an insignificant region of an insignificant galaxy, in a universe which, scientists now tell us, may be but one of many - claims that crown today (“Science answers all questions worth asking”). The doctrine of objectivity lays claim to everything, but (and here’s the limitation) unalloyed objectivity is amoral – it cannot tell good from bad. It cannot, for example, even make the claim, which I have just made on its behalf, that it is an evolutionary improvement on institutional religion, because “improvement” is a value term, like “better” and “worse”, and there is no value in objects qua objects.

But scientists make value judgments all the time. They just don’t see that in so doing they are routinely flouting their own rules. The trouble starts when they examine these value judgments in the same way that they do science – as objects. As objects values disappear in a puff of logical smoke, and the scientist, thereby confirmed in his belief in the lack of objectivity of values, continues building hydrogen bombs and depleted uranium weapons, splicing goat genes into corn, testing drugs on indigent Africans, and anything else his financial masters tell him to do, with a conscience that is not so much clear as non-existent.

Where subjectivity alone is blindly passionate, a world of utter objectivity is one bereft of meaning. Rigorous objectivity purges value from everything, leaving a “flatland”, as Ken Wilber calls it. 

What the world seems to need, therefore, is some kind of synthesis of subject and object, with neither claiming supremacy. But how are we to achieve this, when each, to be true to itself, must claim the whole of reality?

There is a way. Radical empiricism, though a bit of a mouthful, is a Western remedy for a predominantly Western mental disease. It cuts the Gordian knot by declaring that both subjects and objects are mental constructs, mere inferences derived from the primary reality that is experience itself.  In the words of Robert M. Pirsig,
everything you think you are and everything you think you perceive are undivided.
That is a deceptively simple statement. Please read it again. It is analysis – thinking - that divides the world into subjects and objects. To make ourselves whole again we have to unlearn the prejudice created by our addiction to facts (i.e. our belief that the world we experience is different from what we are), which causes us to feel separate from the world.  And if we lack the meditative ability (as I confess I do) then we can at least use the intellect itself, which created this illusion in the first place, to see through this crazy, destructive, false distinction between ourselves and what we deem to be our separate surroundings.  

(For the continuation of this post , click here.)