Category Archives: Writers
And so, my quest to understand magical theory continues with another volume on Chaos Magic. I gained a great deal of insight and clarity from Carroll’s prior book, Liber Null & Psychonaut. The present work under review, published five years later, has turned out to be not so valuable.
We begin with heady material on quantum theory from a magical perspective. The majority of this was beyond me, but what I could understand struck me as far too theoretical to place any real confidence in – the idea that magic, which has its roots in the transcendent, can be reduced to a few equations. I don’t buy it. Carroll also makes the startling claim that there was no singularity at the beginning of the universe. He states that no matter when you exist in time, the universe always gives the appearance of being four and a half billion years old. This claim is in stark opposition to what we appear to observe about the motions of galaxies, and what we know of gravitation.
Next we have some material on aeonics. Carroll claims that all philosophical worldviews fit one of three basic paradigms: materialistic, magical, and transcendental. The ebb and flow of these paradigms throughout history is reduced to a line graph that shows a definite cyclic pattern, as the world moves through aeons called shamanic, religious, rationalist and pandemon – the latter being the one that is allegedly emerging. It’s all very interesting, but unconvincing. There was plenty of rationality going round in the days of the ancient Greek philosophers, and there has been plenty of religion in the two and a half millennia since. There’s no doubt that Carroll has done a lot of homework, but his “psychohistory model” of aeonics appears fanciful at best. The decline and growth of our various worldviews is a product of consciousness, and consciousness will not be turned into a deterministic line graph that we have no control over. We are not automatic machines.
When Carroll turns to practical magic, that’s when the book takes a shift in a much more positive direction. He introduces a delightful phrase, “sleight of mind,” and explains it at length – as the key to effective magic. In my own experience with psionics, I can affirm that success requires a mind that is distracted from the task you wish to perform. You have to play a little mental trick with yourself to, for instance, accomplish a successful act of psychokinesis.
Terms like “psychic censor” and “sleight of mind” are useful in understanding the inner workings of magic, but a good portion of the book is also concerned with building new a system of magic, full of pointless new terms – as if the world needs yet another. Magic is divided into eight categories (seemingly for no other reason than the Chaos symbol has eight arrows). These are: octarine (pure magic), black (death magic), blue (wealth magic), green (love magic), yellow (ego magic), purple or silver (sex magic), orange (thinking magic), red (war magic). My question is: why? All these categories are arbitrary and artificial. It’s fine to break magic down like this for the purpose of talking about particular applications of magic in the practical sphere. But there is no benefit whatsoever to memorising this jargon as some kind of fundamentally meaningful system. Magic comes from that fuzzy non-dual transcendence from which everything springs. It isn’t truly eightfold in any sense outside of the author’s personal subjective preferences.
Evocation, divination, enchantment, invocation, illumination, sorcery, shamanic magic, ritual magic, astral magic, high magic. In my opinion, there’s a lot of pointless vocabulary being held up as important. And if that’s not enough, we have to contend with “sorcery invocation,” “shamanic enchantment,” “ritual evocation,” and a plethora of other allegedly meaningful combinations.
The book closes with some appendices that are mostly concerned with the administration of the organisation, the Illuminates of Thanateros (also known as The Pact). The material was of no value to me other than to reinforce the pointlessness of such semi-secretive groups.
I had high hopes for this book. Sadly, I have to report that I was able to extract only a few morsels of usable insight.
What happens when Mega City 1′s coldest, fiercest lawman comes in contact with the galaxy’s coldest, fiercest alien? A winning combination for a story. This graphic novel is not an attempt to say that Mega City 1 somehow exists in the past history of the Alien movies; that would be absurd. But why not take a creature from a popular movie series and drop it into a different mythos? It’s fun.
We begin with a citizen stuck in a traffic jam, desperate to get to hospital because he knows he’s going to die. It’s how he’s going to die that’s the surprising part – at least for the Judges, and those unfamiliar with the Alien movies. The creature bursts from its host’s chest and is on the loose, rapidly growing to adulthood. Where did it come from? How did the man get impregnated? Are there any more of the creatures? The answers come from an old foe of Dredd’s – someone he banished to the Cursed Earth, but who eventually found his way on to a starship. And now he’s brought something back to Earth.
“Incubus” is the name given to the Alien species here. It’s the first time I’ve heard it called this, and it’s a perfect fit, when you consider the historical meaning of the term: a spirit that comes to your bed in the middle of the night and has sex with you against you will. Not dissimilar to a run-in with a face-hugger. And after all, the Alien uses the human host as an incubator.
Incubus was first published as a four-issue comic, and can also now be obtained as a graphic novel. A highly enjoyable rollercoaster ride for fans of either Alien or Dredd. A mixture that’s likely to create a few new fans on opposite sides.
The new Dredd movie resurrected my interest this old comic book anti-hero from my childhood. In the late 21st century, America is a radiaoctive ruin known as the Cursed Earth. In the middle of this wasteland lie three vast sealed cities, one of which is Mega City 1. It’s an overpopulated dystopia of technology and squalour, where unemployment rates are high and crime runs rampant. Order is maintained by the Judges, police officers who act as arresting officer, judge, jury, and sometimes executioner. Crime is far too big a problem for the time-consuming procedures of democracy and trial-by-jury. These elite trained and heavily armoured Judges patrol the streets on bikes (known as Lawmasters). Their main weapon is a side-arm (Lawgiver) that is capable of being switched to a variety of firing modes, including “hi-ex” (high explosive). Judge Dredd is the fiercest and most uncompomising Judge of them all, utterly devoted to keeping the law. In the 30+ years of this character’s existence, from his origin in the early issues of the 2000 AD comic in the late 1970s, no one has yet seen his face (a boundary overstepped thoughtlessly in the the Stallone movie). All that is visible beneath his dark helmet visor is a permanent scowl – an expression that never changes. Fans of the comic will love the new movie, as it maintains the authenticity of the character to a tee.
Judge Dredd is basically a fascist and a fundamentalist in his thinking – traits that would ordinarily cause us to hate a character. But there is just something about Dredd that makes you root for him, and I’m not sure what it is. For whatever reason, the character has endured phenomenally. Perhaps it has something to do with the appeal of westerns. Dredd is basically the sheriff, and there are few, if any, romanticised outlaws in his world. People fit very obvious categories of good and evil. Law-breakers are greedy, murderous, and trigger-happy, while the Judges are an uncompromising force protecting civilisation. They represent a definition of good that is not weak and gentle and fawning. Although Mega City 1 is essentially a police state (which is not the most desirable thing), it’s the sort of place that we know would be hell on earth without the Judges. I’m reminded of the quote: “Evil reigns when good men do nothing.” I think we love Judge Dredd because he represents form of ethics that is happy to justify kicking your ass into next week without a qualm of conscience. Dredd is Lex Talionis, the jaw of the jungle, manifested on the side of civilisation rather than against it.
This volume contains repints of the earliest Dredd stories. There are over 300 pages of short stand-alone tales and multi-issue serials to enjoy, from the first years of 2000 AD. There’s so much material that you inevitably forget a great deal of it quickly after reading. A main highlight is the Robot War, which introduced the frequently recurring character of Walter. We also meet Judge Giant for the first time, graduating from the Academy. And Dredd encounters his clone brother Rico. Highly enjoyable reading, and merely the tip of the iceberg. There are at eighteen subsequent volumes, not to mention many graphic novels in the Dredd universe.
There is good reason to believe that the universe is, in some sense, holographic. Put another way: solidity isn’t quite so solid. Science has a lot to say in defence of this counter-intuitive idea. Atoms are mostly empty space, which is what allows vast portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as X rays and radio waves, to pass right through solid matter, including our bodies. Inside the atom, electrons are bouncing all over the universe with no regard for the speed of light restriction. There is a universe of localised objects which is held together by a deeper and more fundamental universe that is non-local. We may say the universe is “holographic” as a means of useful analogy. A holographic photograph has no actual three-dimensional solidity, but it gives the appearance that it does – as does the universe.
Talbot’s book begins by reiterating some deep and complicated scientific ideas by Karl Pribram and David Bohm. He suggests that the term “holographic” is more than mere analogy. Holograms have the curious property that if you cut them in half, you don’t end up with half the picture in each segment; you get two copies of the whole picture. The universe, it is claimed, is also like this. Each part contains the whole. Personally, I find more value in the simpler model that the universe is a non-dual unity; each part appears to contain the whole because there aren’t any parts. I rather like Bohm’s terms for the two sides of reality: the implicate and explicate order.
Once Talbot establishes his theoretical model of the universe, his interest is in showing how it can provide a rational basis for explaining paranormal phenomena. This is the very same insight that struck me some years ago, when I got to grips with non-dualism. I proceeded to experiment with psychokinesis, and managed to get some small but mind-blowing reults. PK was, however, something very slippery and hard to replicate on demand – which strikes me as the key reason why paranormal phenomena have never yet been integrated into science.
In the last two thirds of the book, Talbot tackles dreams, healing, stigmata, psychokinesis, the aura, clairvoyance, precognition, reincarnation, out of body experiences, near death experiences, etc. This is where the book started to fall apart for me. Although I have had direct experience of a psychic “ability,” there is no doubt that charlatans abound. Talbot provides a catalogue of paranormal experiences, some of which beggar belief. To his credit, he is conscientious about quoting his sources, but some of those sources seem more than a little dubious to me.
For instance, it is claimed that some stigmatics have nail-like growths protruding from their hands, mimicking the wounds of Christ. In Talbot’s view, this is due to the mind’s ability to change the body through intention. The Christian’s powerful identification with Christ through a lifetime of meditation eventually manifests in his own body. The problem is: if such stigmata are real, why isn’t the medical world standing back in awe? Why hasn’t it revolutionised our ideas about mind and body? This isn’t some highly subjective piece of evidence for PK or ESP. The stigmata is present and observable; it won’t wanish like a ghost when you shine a light on it. Since the phenomenon hasnt been subjected to scientific scrutiny, I have to question the reliability of the source. Talbot, however, doesn’t.
Similarly, he talks about Sathya Sai Baba in a positive light. Sai Baba was a very popular Indian guru, surrounded by countless devotees. He claimed to be able to manifest objects out of thin air. I have a hard time taking such claims seriously. The warning signs of fakery are all there: a love for public adoration, the projection of a larger-than-life image, and a refusal to subject your “powers” to scientific enquiry. It beggars belief how Talbot can simply accept this man’s claims without question. Talbot himself claims to have had profound experiences of his own in childhood: poltergeist manifestations and objects materialising out of thin air. All I can say about that is: I wish I had experienced it, because I’m unable to believe it otherwise.
I really wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. But when Sai Baba and the stigmatics came up, I lost all confidence in Talbot’s ability to separate truth from nonsense in the arena of the paranormal. If all the things that Talbot catalogues are true, then there is no good reason why James Randi’s Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge has remained without a winner for decades. For a far more rational and level-headed examination of paranormal phenomena, read the works of Dean Radin.
I’ve given less-than-glowing reviews of the first two Dexter novels. You might wonder why I keep returning for more. The fact is, I love the TV series, and I miss it between seasons. So this is the next best thing – except Lindsay’s Dexter is not quite the same as the on-screen Dexter. I saw that in the previous books, and the trend continues here.
The hook of the character, for me, is the personal identification with the human tendency to project a fake identity – or at least the inability to be completely transparent with people. Dexter may hide himself because he has a lust to kill, but all of us have dark sides, to one extent or another. Dexter provides a sounding board for exploring that side of human nature – albeit in an overly dramatic fashion.
Dexter refers to his nastier tendencies as his “Dark Passenger.” I always understood this as his way of personifying an aspect of his own psyche. But in this third novel, Lindsay has decided that it’s actually sort of demonic entity that he carries around with him. What?! This strikes me as the most colossal blunder that an author could make – ripping the very heart and soul out of what makes the character appealing. Dexter is now no longer a man we can relate to as someone strugging with metaphorical “inner demons.” He’s infested with a real demon. So now we can’t relate to him at all. Now’s he a victim of something outside of his control – just the way that Christians blame the devil for the things they don’t like about human nature.
Anyway, in the story, Dexter’s Dark Passenger leaves him because it is scared off by a bigger demon, and Dexter is left as a shell of his former self – realising that so much of his identity depending on having the demon in the first place. Worse still, Dexter becomes a teacher of his girlfriend’s two children, Astor and Cody, who have Dark Passengers of their own. Cody can sense the bad guy supernaturally, and can also sense when Dexter’s “shadow” (as he calls it) returns to him. This is a complete nosedive from intelligent psychology to Christian-inspired superstition. It’s hard for me to see how this will get any better in the subsequent books.
In fairness, if you leave your brain at the door and just read this as a trashy horror novel, it’s moderately entertaining. But the television series (now in its seventh season) has utterly eclipsed the novels in terms of good storytelling.
What an unfortunate title for an autobiography. Makes the book look like a how-to manual for the sexually inadequate. It’s hard to know what the marketing people were thinking, when they decided on that choice of words. You wouldn’t catch me walking up to a bookseller to pay for it. No, I got hold of this as an ebook.
My own interest in reading this volume comes from my fascination with understanding human sexuality – both the light and dark aspects. Society today has a very permissive attitude to pornography, except in religious circles. Although I am not remotely religious, I do tend to see porn as counter-productive to maintaining a healthy mind. In defence of this, I offer the increasingly fetishistic and downright abusive trends in pornography; essentially, woman is treated like a human ashtray. So it was highly interesting for me to get the inside story from one of the industry’s most popular stars, Jenna Jameson.
Jenna’s story confirmed my views. The porn industry is largely run by unethical and abusive men, who treat the actresses like whores (and call them the same). The word “whore” was a particular sore spot for Jenna; she would go berzerk if anyone called her that name. “Well,” I thought, “what do you expect when you’ve allowed your body to be abused by lots of men, for finanial gain?” Porn is basically prostitution with a camera running.
Insight into the industry was secondary to the main theme of the book, which is Jenna’s life story. In summary, it’s a catalogue of bad relationship choices, bad career choices, drug addiction, and hard living. I had some sympathy for Jenna’s teenage years when, in her naivety, she fell in with a bad crowd, and ended up getting raped. But no one forced her to make the many choices in life that led to her facing much suffering. Some of her sexual ethics are bizarre, to say the least. She’ll be talking about how much in love she is with a particular guy, and they move in together, and the next thing you know she’s falling in love with a woman, and having sex with her, while seemingly oblivious to this being infidelity – presumably because it’s not another man. On a side-note, gossip-mongers will lap up the sexual shennanigans that Jenna reveals between herself and various stars, including Bruce Willis, Nicholas Cage, Sylvester Stallone, Tommy Lee, Marilyn Manson. Later in the book she’s in a happy relationship with a guy, and no longer acting in porn, when an old boss compels her to fulfill an old contract and make one more movie. Instead of finding a way to get out of this, she goes ahead and makes the movie. Well, her boyfriend goes ballistic, naturally. I thought, “What did you expect, Jenna? You had sex with another man. This tends to be what happens when you cheat on your boyfriend.” The book ends on a happy note with her marriage to Jay Grdina. I was sceptical. While reading, I suspected this was not a happily-ever-after fairy tale ending, but just a peak on the rollercoaster of her life. And sure, enough, when I checked Wikipedia, the marriage finished in 2006.
It’s difficult to know what Jenna Jameson hoped to achieve in producing this book. It’s not really a damning critique of the industry, just the recollection of an unusual life – one that she doesn’t regret living. The problem is that such a book is counter-productive to her status as a porn star. First of all, the sort of men who objectify Jenna Jameson as a porn star are not the sort of men who would care about what she has to say. She’s just an ashtray to them. Those few who do decide to read her story will find that it steals the magic out of her larger-than-life projected image, by humanising her. So, who is this book for? I’m not sure, really. I could understand this sort of book if the author was trying to make a break from her past and create a new identity for herself, but that’s not the case. To her credit, Jenna Jameson, for whatever reason, chose to reveal a great deal of herself; it takes guts to be that vulnerable.
The book is co-written with Neil Strauss. As with most celebrity autobiographies, I suspect it is entirely ghostwritten by him, but hopefully the material is accurate. In regard to my particular aim of getting the inside dope on the porn instustry, the book was long-winded and far too detailed. For instance, I had no interest whatsoever in reading a catalogue of high school crushes from her old teenage diary. Still, if you can be bothered to wade through the fluff, the book makes an interesting psychological study of the porn industry, albeit from the perspective of one person.
This book is a transcript of several conversations that took place between Joseph Campbell, an expert on mythology, and Bill Moyers, journalist. Campbell compares myths across cultures, looking for similarities, in an attempt to show us the importance of myth as man’s way of understanding his relationship to the world in which he finds himself. In essence, if a particular myth reappears in different cultures and epochs, chances are it represents a universal truth about mankind.
Myth is essentially a means of modelling reality using symbols. And when you think about, that’s exactly what science is, too. This point was not covered by Campbell, which I thought was a startling omission – perhaps left out because he does not share this view. Campbell laments modern man’s lack of meaningful myths, whereas I see science as the modern myth unrealised. Man cannot escape myth, because all attempts to explain reality are done by modelling the universe. And even in science, our models change over time as we learn new things that cast old assertions into disfavour – just as the old gods are now replaced my more meaningful symbols of forces in natures: electricity and atmospheric pressure in place of Thor, the god of thunder, for instance. Sadly, this insight, which I personally find vital to my worldview, was not covered.
Even so, I was mesmesised by the breadth of Campbell’s knowledge and his ability to articule it without preparation, when prompted by questions. The book covers so much ground that it’s hard for me to pin down exactly what I got out of it, but it was definitely a unique and special read. Of particular interest to me was the notion that the modern man finds mythological significance in movies and television dramas. When I look back at old films and TV series that have endured in my mind as favourites, this is definitely true. Some of my favourites are Mad Max, The Prisoner, Blake’s 7, The Tripods, Forever Knight. The common denominator in all of these is the man who finds himself as an outsider, an individualist, a non-joiner, for reasons that are varied. There is the man who becomes a loner because of his brokenness, the secret agent who refuses to have his will broken, the cold realist who is not quite one of the good guys, the group of boys who fight against a brainwashed society, the vampire who attempts to better himself and conquer his nature. It’s not so much that myths were deliberately built into these fictions; only that it’s possible to draw mythological significance from them. Take Forever Knight, for instance. To many, it’s a tacky story about a vampire cop. To me, it’s about a man who is striving to be fully human – to conquer the beast (his vampire nature) within. He has done awful things in the past, but he remains ever cheerful. Tacky or not, this myth speaks powerfully to me as a human being, because it symbolically mirrors my own strivings.
When talking around the question of what life is all about, Campbell regularly employs the phrase “Follow your bliss,” which really stuck with me. It captures perfectly my own feelings about how the meaning of life is not one thing in particular, but consists in making of life whatever we want to make of it. A multiplicity of potential experience is open to us, but we can only follow one course. It makes the most sense, then, to follow the course that brings you the greatest sense of fulfillment: follow your bliss.
I hold a personal philosophy that I’ve developed through much study over a period of years. It could loosely be called non-dualism or pantheism. I’m always amazed when I read a book and discover that the author totally gets where I’m coming from, using certain words and phrases that reveal his inner depth. This was the case in the final chapter of The Power of Myth, entitled “Masks of Eternity.”
If you’re the sort of one-dimensional rationalist who is stuck with an entirely scientific outlook, presuming that ancient man’s beliefs were just exercises in silliness, you need to read this book. These interviews were also released as a six-part television series (now available on DVD), which might be an even richer way to enjoy them. However, the book does contain more content than the series. The Power of Myth is a book unlike any I’ve read.
Blake’s 7 was a British science fiction television series that began in the late 1970s. The special effects were very low budget, but this was more than made up for by the memorable characters and interesting stories. It was far grittier than Star Trek, Buck Rogers, or Space: 1999. The series creator Terry Nation described it as The Dirty Dozen in space. The heroes were a bunch of thieves, swindlers and soundrels who managed to get hold of the most powerful spacecraft in the galaxy. Led by Blake, a political activist framed by a corrupt galactic government, they take their ship, the Liberator, on a crusade against the might of the Federation.
I was fond of this series when I was a child, and it has stuck with me through the decades, becoming a lifetime favourite. There were 52 episodes in total, over four seasons, and I know this is going to sound hokey, but when sleeping at night, I’ve actually experienced the occasional dream about the discovery of a lost episode. Now it turns out that, in a manner of speaking, I’ve had my dream fulfilled. Imagine my delight when I recently discovered that the company Big Finish were in the middle of producing a series of new novels and full-cast audiodramas (starring the original cast members!) set in the Blake’s 7 universe. Blake’s 7 lives on!
The Forgotten is the first novel release in the forthcoming series. It’s a story set between the season 1 episodes “Mission to Destiny” and “Duel.” There’s nothing blindingly original about the story, but it serves beautifully as a highly interesting missing episode. Best of all, authors Scott and Wright, pull off the characters superbly – particularly Avon and Vila, who always had the best lines in the television series.
‘I don’t know why Blake sent me down here,’ said Gan. ‘I don’t know much about computers.’
‘Think of them as complicated idiots,’ replied Avon without irony.
‘Like Vila?’ joked Gan.
‘There’s nothing complicated about Vila, he’s just an idiot.’
I could visualise the scenes perfectly, and I finished the book feeling like I had just watched a missing episode. The story itself concerns the Liberator venturing into a strange nebula cloud bordered by Federation warnings. But the crew have no choice, since they are already under attack by a horde of Federation pursuit ships. Inside, the nebula plays havoc with the ship’s electronics. Deep within, the crew find a partially destroyed space station. Blake decides to investigate, and naturally, trouble ensues.
My only criticism is that some of the writing is a little sloppy and amateurish, but that’s a small failing. I just wanted to immerse myself in the Blake’s 7 universe again, and the authors successfully captivated me. Gazing at the book on my shelf as a fan of the show, there is something marvellous about seeing the official Blake’s 7 logo appearing on something brand new, when the series has been dead and gone for three decades. I’m thoroughly looking forward to forthcoming books.
This book is quite hard to find, not for any particularly esoteric reason. I imagine there simply weren’t that many copies printed and no one has yet produced an ebook of the text. The publisher is Hell’s Kitchen Productions, which might be the Church of Satan’s own self-publishing imprint. I was lucky to find a second-hand copy on eBay for £20, but the lowest price among the current ten copies listed on Amazon’s used books is £60. Owning this book now completes my collection of official Church of Satan literature. The other works are five books written by Anton LaVey, a biography on LaVey by Blanche Barton, and one book by Peter H. Gilmore (LaVey’s successor).
Blanche Barton, the author of the work under review, was Anton LaVey’s live-in partner for the latter part of his life, and the mother of one of his children. LaVey was, of course, the founder of the Church of Satan. This slim volume of 170 pages provides a brief history of the Church, beginning with some short biographical notes on LaVey’s carnival and occult background, leading to his reasons for forming a new religion based on man’s carnal nature. The growth of the church is catalogued, from its beginnings as a Friday night get-together at LaVey’s home, where he would lecture on the occult, to the eventual implementation of a nationwide “grotto” system. One of the most unfortunate aspects of LaVey’s earlier life is some of the claims are provably legendary. I personally find it a bit insulting that Barton reiterates these legends for her readers, especially when her intended readership seems to be Church of Satan members, rather than the general public. Michael Aquino’s Temple of Set gets a few jibes, as Aquino was responsible for splitting the Church of Satan in 1975. LaVey and Aquino spin that event in different ways, and its hard to tell who is entirely honest about what went down. Aquino’s claim that the Church of Satan ended in 1975 would seem to be a tad pretentious.
There is much material in the book that I have encountered before, but also some interesting new material, such as clarifications on the practice of ritual magic. The timing of the book’s publication puts it right in the middle of the Satanic Panic, a period of unprecedendent public hysteric about occult crimes against children. The phenomenon is rationally and effectively debunked.
The real strength of the book is the huge amount of direct quotes from LaVey himself. These are not from other printed works and public interviews, but presumably from Barton’s own conversations with the man himself. The quotes are so voluminous that LaVey could really be considered a co-author.
If you’re already familiar with Satanism, this book will serve as a refresher on the fundamentals, with perhaps a few new insights. For those who are not familiar with the philosophy, this is definitely one of the better books to read initially. Shame it’s so obscure.
I have quite an extensive knowledge of Christianity, but I thought it was high time that I educated myself on other world religions. A broad knowledgebase is essential in helping us to discern truth from error. But few of us have the time to study masses of information about many fields of inquiry. In the matter of religion specifically, I was instantly attracted by this book’s size (123 pages, illustrated) and the breadth of subject matter covered.
Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism are all covered in some detail, going into the history, basic beliefs, and culture of each religion. Around 16 large-format, heavily illustrated pages are devoted to each religion. Double-page spreads are also given over to the lesser players in today’s religious climate: Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, the Bahai Faith, etc. Finally, modern religious movements are covered.
This was the perfect book to fill a particular hole in my knowledge. It’s aimed at schools, but the information is by no means dumbed down. Highly recommended for readers who want to get a feel for world religions fast.
The subtitle of this book is “Science as a Candle in the Dark,” which captures the theme beautifully. The book seeks to teach the importance of the scientific method in determining truth from error. It’s careful not to assert that the scientific method is the only method, but is clearly the most effective, as given by its success. The value of critical and sceptical thinking is discussed, with many examples. One of the best chapters is the one where the author discusses what he calls the “baloney detection kit,” covering the various logical fallacies, such as ad hominem abuse, appeal to authority, causation mistaken for correlation, etc.
I confess I wasn’t prepared for how fun this book was going to be to read – and that’s chiefly down to the type of subject matter that Sagan handles, such as his lengthy comparison of the UFO abduction phenomenon to the old stories of religious visions. He also spends some time going into psychic phenomena, and even Satanic ritual abuse.
If there is one weakness in the book it’s that it doesn’t quite do justice to those occasional areas of human enquiry where the scientific method lets us down. I’m something of an occult dabbler, and I’ve made successful experiments in psychokinesis. I was curious to see if my convictions about my own work could stand up against Sagan’s assertions. He is a little overly dismissive of psychic phenomena, and while discussing this subject he seems to forget for a moment that the scientific method is just a method, not our only means of determining truth. The reason the scientific method has thus far failed to give us proof of psychic phenomena is because the phenomena are extremely slippery and hard to replicate. A genuine experience of ESP might be a sudden feeling of dread that something terrible has happened to a friend, then later finding out that he’s been in a car wreck. Such an experience cannot be replicated in a lab, because the experiencer has no idea what he did to prompt it.
The arena of religion understandably comes under fire for anti-scientific dogmatism, but Sagan handles the topic respectfully, while not pulling his punches.
Overall, this is an excellent book. The first step in truth-seeking is not to determine what to believe, but to learn how to think. The Demon-Haunted World provides an excellent guide to that initial enterprise. Sagan is masterful at making science understandable for the lay reader.
When browsing the “body, mind, spirit” section at my local bookstore, I am frequently disappointed by the books that I flip through. A lot of teachers of non-duality (or “advaita” as it’s called in the East) are quite disappointing, in my view. They are not grounded in a realistic appraisal of what it means to be a human being living in a physical world that is essentially adversarial. Spirituality becomes something that is divorced from the predicamenet of fleshly existence, and so it ultimately fails to deliver the promised goods. The Mystery Experience, by contrast, was a refreshingly realistic book. In the store, I read bits and pieces randomly from the text, and came across lots of little gems of wisdom about all kinds of things. I was really intigued by some of the chapter titles, such as “Mad Scientists Do Mysticism,” “The Ego as Hero,” “Celebrating Separateness.” And so, I had to get the book.
Tim Freke is very much in touch with the earthy, carnal side of life. Life is not about denying the body, or about subduing the ego, or about avoiding attachments. Life is to be lived fully, as an adventure. At the same time, Freke is in touch with the spiritual side of life, with an understanding that consciousness is something transcendment, and that under the surface we are all one.
In the book, Freke invents a new term called “paralogical” which he defines to mean two things that appear equally true but are incompatible with each other. It reminds me of what Stephen Hawking calls “model-dependant realism” – the view that we may have more than one model of reality, depending on our perspective, and that each model has merit within its particular context of observation, while the models themselves are in conflict with each other. Of the two authors, I would have to say Hawking explains it better (in The Grand Design), and I’m honestly not sure that the word paralogical helps in any way. It feels as if it almost gives us license to remain complacent about our paradoxes, failing to realise that it’s only our approximations of reality, gleaned through our inadequate models, that contain paradoxes, not reality itself.
I do have a few criticisms of Freke’s approach. He’s very much a believer in the importance of an “awakening” experience, whereas I feel this is too similar to the Christian idea of salvation. I don’t believe there is anything broken about natural life that needs fixing, even our natural belief in duality. Tim also puts a lot of emphasis on techniques as a means of deepening your spirituality. My view is that if you need a technique to convince yourself of something, then something’s wrong. When a truth becomes clear to the mind, it needs no repeated technique to constantly renew it. Freke also verges on the melodramatic when talking about love. I tend to think love and hate both have their place.
Don’t make too much of my criticisms, because I really did enjoy this book. I took it slow and savoured it, reading a few pages each night at bedtime. The writing was vibrant, easy to read, personal, and practical. In keeping with the title of the book, Freke places a huge emphasis on the mysterious nature of the ground of being. The “mystery experience” is the conscious appreciation of this impenetrable mystery at the heart of life. Freke’s writing on this theme helped me to deepen my own perspective on what I call the Infinite.
It saddens me that Eckhart Tolle gets all the fame, while guys like Tim Freke are little known by comparison. You might say that Tolle belongs to the “escape from life” branch of non-duality, whereas Freke belongs to the “embrace life” branch. The philosophy advocated by Tolle pales by comparison to this. I highly recommended The Mystery Experience, and it’s a book I’m likely to read again in the future.
The essence of the theory being proposed in this book is this: the Big Bang was not just the creation of our Universe. Simulaneously, there were many other universes, which operated on very different physical principles. Most of these failed to become coherent and collapsed, but at least one (ours) happens to operate in just such a way as to facilitate galaxies, solar systems, and evolving lifeforms. Effectively, the God hypothesis (intelligent design) is done away with by giving yourself an infinite amount of attempts at creation by chance, which take place in adjacent dimensions to ours. Interesting idea, but one which seems impossible to prove. Atheists will probably like it, and theists will view it as a convenient means of doing away with God.
From my own philosophical perspective (non-dualism), I’m more in touch with the Ground of Being as being something impenetrably mysterious, by virtue of it existing beyond the contraints of space-time. The pursuit of a “theory of eveything,” which is Hawking’s particular hobby-horse, seems like a fool’s errand – like attempting to write out the digits of pi, as if the infinite can be captured within the finite. Not going to happen. At the edges of our understanding there will always be mystery. That mystery, in relation to the Big Bang, is the non-dual essence from which duality springs. Religionists call it God. Scientists call it the singularity. We’ll ever get to the bottom of what it is, because we’re finite and it’s infinite.
It seems to me that Hawking’s hypothesis is based on the desire to maintain the idea of the Universe as a machine – a view we inherited through Newtonian mechanics. In science, materialism reigns, while consciousness is seen as an insignificant product of evolution. The flipside is the mystical perspective, where consciousness reigns, and material reality becomes real only as an experience of consciousness. I support a position of neutral monism in between, where the Ground of Being is neither matter nor conscousness but the mysterious essence that gives rise to both.
Putting aside the highly theoretical parts of The Grand Design, the book has much going for it. There is some stimulating historical material, charting science from the Ionian Greeks, through to Copernicus, to quantum mechanics. The latter, as usual, is very tricky to understand for a lay reader like myself, but I gained some new insight. The book is marvellously presented, with colour diagrams that help to make the science comprehensible. There is a very good explanation of the double-slit experiment.
The book coins the phrase “model-dependant realism,” and explains this as the view that certain things are true (real) within the boundaries of particularly defined contexts. The idea of matter as illusory is explained at length. Inadvertently, Hawking succeeds in demonstrating something that the mystically inclined among us perceive but often fail to articulate. This material was priceless.
One of the great quests of science is how to come up with a quantum theory of gravity – in other words, how to integrate general relativity with quantum mechanics. This continues to elude scientists. Hawking concedes that the quest for a single theory of everything might ultimately have to consist of a bunch of separate theories united through an understanding of model-dependant realism.
This is an alternate history novel, set in an America where the Nazis won World War II. The USA is a very different place from its reality. Japanese culture is everywhere and totalitarian rule is in place. The story darts from place to place, showing life from the perspectives of several loosely connected characters. The first is Robert Childan, an antiques dealer, coping with the discovery that some of his stock consists of fakes. We also have Frank Frink, secretly a Jew, who was fired from the company who made the fake merchandise, and who now wishes to set up his own handcrafts business. Frank’s estranged wife Juliana, a judo instructor, is travelling across the country with another man who has a secret agenda. And there are others. The central aspect of the novel is a book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, written by the character Hawthorne Abendsen. Interestingly, this is an alternate history novel-within-a-novel, which tells the story of the Nazis losing the war. It describes a world similar to our own – a tale of how life might have been. It is a banned book, and Abendsen is rumoured to be living in a fortified castle for his own safety, hence the title of Dick’s book.
I felt ambivalent about this novel. On the one hand I was awed by the amount of research that clearly went into describing this alternate reality. The downside was that the story severely lacked drama until its closing chapters. Perhaps if I had a larger interest in World War II the novel would have captivated me more. The subtext of the story seems to revolve around the projection of illusion. All the characters, in one way or another, are dealing with false realities. Frank Frink hides his true identity for reasons of safety. Juliana has no idea what her lover is secretly up to. Childan is distressed by the fake merchandise in his position. Abendsen pretends to live in a castle while actually living in an ordinary house. There’s no doubt that Dick had something very deep in mind when he wrote The Man in the High Castle. But when subtext becomes more important than story, the entertainment value of a novel often suffers.
Some will no doubt love this novel; others will hate it. It depends on what you want out of a story. Generally, when I read fiction, I’m looking for an emotional experience, and The Man in the High Castle fails to deliver that. At times, the lack of dramatic content made the reading tedious, and I confess that I only starting appreciating the novel’s strengths when I had a chance to read about it afterwards and reflect on its themes.