This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 593 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Book Review : Heretics : Adventures With the Enemies of Science by Will Storr

While I have a rather more optimistic view of the human situation than the one at which Will Storr arrives in this book, I think he sets a very good example through his approach to investigating deviant belief systems. He has also written a supremely entertaining book, at times very funny and at other times disturbing. He has a fine sense of ironic detail when relating his encounters with the heretics and also those who might be viewed as orthodox, but who are capable of their own absurdities.

If we genuinely wish to support reason in the world, it is not enough for us to know what is reasonable. We also have to know why other's beliefs do not conform to what we believe to be reasonable. The quest to find the answers to this question may shake us to the core, because anyone who tries to address a problem in the world but does not view themselves as part of that problem is deluding themselves. Everything is connected.

Storr comes to the conclusion that there is a general human characteristic which makes us view the world via a filter through which we appear to be the heroes and certain others the villains. His own self-image is so riddled with doubts that he is able to open up to the people he examines without immediately casting himself as hero in relation to them. And this is necessary if he is to learn something important about what makes them tick.

Personally, I think this hero-maker tendency varies from person to person. All of us are neurotically insecure to a different degree. If we are very insecure then we can't accept the idea that we might be wrong about something. As very young children we didn't have this need to recast our view of the world to fit the belief system in which we had invested ourselves, because we had not yet invested ourselves in a belief system, nor had we learned to repress our emotions and our drives in a way which made us neurotically inflexible. We had no character armour. The thing about character armour is that it is defensive and thus the more our worldview is attacked the more likely we are to cling to it. Storr finds this happening again and again with the individuals he interviews. But this is why I'm more optimistic than he is. If we learn to practise unconditional self-acceptence then our self-esteem will not rest on being right. Then we will not be locked into wrong-headed thinking as a matter of pride as is the case now. As for others, we can see that what is needed for them to move away from an unfounded belief system is not to have it argued against but for it to be accepted, not as our belief system but as theirs. I don't believe that the earth is only six-thousand years old, so why would I have a problem with the fact that someone else believes that. It is viewing such a belief as a threat which makes it a threat, because people dig the trenches, and start putting a major effort into trying to enlist others, to support such a belief only if others are fighting against it. View it as a harmless eccentricity and it becomes irrelevant.

Each extreme in the world is maintained and fed by its opposite. Creationism and proselytising atheism keep each other in business. There is an interesting example of this in the opening chapter on Creationist John Mackay. Mackay's father was strongly pro-evolutionist and anti-Christian and Mackay was following in his path until, at sixteen, he read a book about evolution which contained a chapter about why there is no God. Quite rightly, he viewed this as propaganda which didn't belong in a science book. This led to him reading the Bible and going the whole other way. Perhaps it was partly a rebellion against his father. But, apocryphal or not, this anecdote provides an example of how excesses on one side of a conflict inspire and strengthen the opposition. Bigoted atheists reinforce the faith of fundamentalists in just the same way that bigoted religious leaders drive some away from religion into atheism. And yet the bigotry of all has its roots in a buried lack of self-acceptance. Those who can accept themselves also accept all others. Anyone who doesn't accept anyone doesn't accept themselves. Not that accepting someone need entail accepting their behaviour, but accepting what underlies someone's behaviour helps us to restrain it where necessary. For instance, if someone wanted to murder me, the best starting point to trying to prevent them from doing so would probably be to accept that they have good reason for wanting to. To do otherwise would be to impose my world view on theirs.

What drew my attention to this book was a conflict between Rupert Sheldrake, a prominent scientist specialising in psychic phenomena, and self-proclaimed sceptic James Randi. Sheldrake, along with a number of other individuals, have accused Randi of lying and using his fame as a tool to wage a close-minded ideological war against researchers into psychic phenomena amongst others. Storr has a chapter on each of these individuals. He finds Sheldrake to be very reasonable, but he can't overcome his own disinclination to believe in the phenomena Sheldrake studies. And Storr does seem to catch Randi out in some lies. But then at least Randi is honest enough to admit that he is not always truthful.

The chapter on David Irving, the historian who reckons Hitler might not have been such a bad guy after all, is particularly entertaining, with Storr going undercover amongst a group of Nazi sympathisers on a sightseeing tour. Here again one wonders whether any danger Irving poses hasn't been created by viewing him as a danger. His ideas on Hitler have been pretty much universally dismissed by other historians, so wouldn't those ideas have less power to inflame disenfranchised misfits if he were not made into a persecuted hero figure through book banning and jail terms? But perhaps we need to act against villains like him in order to fool ourselves that we are heroes.

Homeopathy and its opponents also come in for coverage. Storr talks to a woman whose cancer went undiagnosed by conventional doctors until it was, apparently, terminal. After hearing this from them she took a course of homeopathic medicine and recovered her health. Of course an isolated case doesn't prove the effectiveness of a treatment which defies common sense, but I bet if you had had the same experience you would swear by it. The placebo effect is the most likely explanation, but if we can recover from a serious illness simply because we think we will why should be care that we were tricked into it? Opponents of homeopathy place a great deal of emphasis on cases were someone may have not received effective treatment because they placed too much faith in a folk remedy. But is fighting against the folk remedy the best way to address that problem. In most cases it isn't that serious. If someone has a headache and they buy a homeopathic headache treatment either their headache will go away more quickly (most likely from the placebo effect) in which case they achieved the desired result and will probably continue to do the same thing, or it won't work for them, in which case they won't buy it again. The sceptics Storr finds fighting against homeopathy are not terribly sensible. Some admit to having never actually examined any of the evidence even though they are arguing that matters be decided on evidence. And James Randi leads them all, sheep-like, in a mass "overdose" on homeopathic remedies. Now think about it. Does taking many times the recommended dose of a substance prove that it is ineffective? No. It only proves that it is very very safe. I have no reason to believe that homeopathy succeeds through anything other than the placebo effect, but I'm sure that those who do believe in homeopathy were not worried by this demonstration, which appears to be founded on the belief that homeopathic remedies are reputed to work in the same manner as pharmaceutical medicines, many of which are highly poisonous and therefore can be overdosed on. The demonstrators, like so many of us in this divided world, were preaching to the converted. But, then, perhaps saving the world is less important to them than maintaining their self-perception as heroes.

Book Review : A Woman's Courage : Inside Depression by Christina Taylor

I won a copy of this book. It wasn't quite what I expected. The title suggested to me that it was a refined narrative of the author's experience with depression. It is actually a two year diary covering the years 1997-1999, during which she experienced a depressive breakdown.

Diaries are generally not written to be read by anyone other than the diarist. There can be advantages and disadvantages when they are made public. On the plus side, they are often uniquely honest. On the negative side, some of what they contain may not have the kind of interest for others that it does for the individual doing the writing. They may also be poorly written. Christina Taylor's diary comes across as starkly honest, it is mostly interesting and, in places, is well-written. Some of the poems, in particular, are powerful.

The raw honesty here may be a test for some readers. I often found myself horrified. "What a selfish, cruel, dishonest, whiny bitch!" I found myself thinking as she related the ins and outs of her on-again-off-again relationship with her boyfriend Aaron. But I'm glad I kept reading as, when she goes through her breakdown and pours out the troubling story of how she came into the world and how it effected her relationship with her mother, I was able to see her behaviour in a more sympathetic light. It may be an uncomfortable read, kind of like watching a slow motion car wreck, but it can be rewarding.

And I did wonder a bit how some of the other people written about in the diary may have felt about having such intimate aspects of their lives exposed.

The book's title also gave me pause. As a person who suffered a great deal from depression and mental breakdowns from my mid-teens until my mid-forties, I don't think of my survival of those horrible times as a case of courage. Depression brings with it a lack of courage. It filled me with fear. I survived because I had help and because there was no other option except suicide. I made a couple of half-hearted attempts at that. But are those of us who survive more courageous than those who end up killing themselves? I don't think so. I would have ended it if I could have done so with a painless pill, but slashing my wrists would have required more courage than I had at my disposal. When we are depressed, even little things require a great effort. A lot of the people we think of as courageous are people whose psychological character makes it possible for them to do relatively easily things the rest of us might feel were nigh on impossible. Perhaps the author's concept of courage comes from the idea that the depressed individual fights a inner-battle which requires as much strength from them as climbing a mountain does from the mountaineer we call a courageous hero.

Depression is a kind of black hole in the heart arising from a lack of self-acceptance. It doesn't affect only those of us who are diagnosed with it. Each of us tries to fill that black hole with something - drugs, material consumption, sex... During the period covered by this diary, Christina tried to fill it with the sexual or romantic attentions of young men, among other things. But mental health and healthy relationships can't be built on shifting sand. The key to mental health is unconditional self-acceptance. If our acceptance of ourselves is dependent on whether someone else loves us, our school grades, whether we drive a flash car, etc., then it will always be tentative and the black hole of self-doubt will continue to sap our energy, creativity and joy in life. Replacing faulty coping strategies with the habit of accepting ourselves unconditionally can take practice, but it is the long-term cure for depression.

Can this book help those who suffer from depression and those who wish to help someone who does? I think it can, because it provides an example of the kind of thinking which is the substance of the depressed state, and it helps to break the silence about the darkness within. Most of us, whether diagnosed as depressed or not, live lives of quiet desperation but put on a brave face. This means that each of us feels alone with our craziness or our despair or our bitterness. When someone bravely lays themselves bare, it helps to break the ice for the rest of us. And if the selfishness Christina exposes shocks us it may be because we have a blind spot to our own. After all, selfishness is the natural self-directedness of the suffering individual. Hit your thumb with a hammer and it will be hard to think about anything else but your thumb. To blame ourselves for being selfish is to keep the black hole open. We might try to feed the black hole with the thought that we are courageous, but if our courage breaks we will condemn our self as a coward. If we learn to accept ourselves and each other as we are now, warts and all, then we have the basis for mental health and healthy relationships.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Book Review : The Science Delusion : Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry by Rupert Sheldrake

We view science as a winnower of dogmas - evidentially unfounded belief systems. When it works well this is what it does, but no human institution can be truly free of human weaknesses. Many scientists also cling to dogmatic beliefs and their work is hindered by this. Materialism (the belief that everything can be explained in terms of matter and known forms of energy), reductionism (the belief that complex phenomena can be understood by reducing them to their constituent parts) and mechanism (the belief that living systems can best be understood by analogy to machines) are dogmas. These are a priori assumptions not based on any evidence. Enquiries undertaken on the basis of these assumptions have sometimes provided useful information, but they have also hindered open-minded exploration.

Sheldrake looks at ten specific dogmas which may be holding back the progress of science. Most of them arise from a tendency to cling to the concept of materialism. Dogma is a barrier against free thought. The key that opens the door to free thought is the question, and so it is appropriate that Sheldrake examines these dogmas through a series of questions : "Is Nature Mechanical?", "Is the Total Amount of Matter and Energy Always the Same?", "Are the Laws of Nature Fixed?", "Is Matter Unconscious?", "Is Nature Purposeless?", "Is All Biological Inheritance Material?", "Are Memories Stored as Material Traces?", "Are Minds Confined to Brains?", "Are Psychic Phenomena Illusory?", "Is Mechanistic Medicine the Only Kind that Works?". Even if we don't agree with Sheldrake's own views, he raises many questions which need to be answered.

Of course Sheldrake has his own position on these questions. Back in the late Seventies he came up with the theory of morphic resonance. This is a theory which posits that the forms of nature can be understood as habits or accumulating memories connected by a resonance of similarity which is not limited by time and space. At first this seems crazy. It is so far outside of our conventional ways of viewing reality. But those ways of viewing reality are based on what we have been taught. I can't see that this theory is any stranger than some of the theories of quantum physics. And there is evidence for it. It takes a while for new compounds to form into crystals, but when they do the same compound in other parts of the world will be able to crystallise very quickly. And when rats learn a trick in labs in one part of the world, rats in other parts of the world will be able to do it as well. Morphic resonance might also explain why results from intelligence tests are increasing - the more people who take the tests the easier they become for people generally. It would also back up Carl Jung's theories for a collective unconscious and provide an explanation for the strange relationship between many identical twins who have been separated at birth. When it comes to the question of resonance itself, Sheldrake points out that the porn industry wouldn't exist without it - to get erotic pleasure out of simply watching someone else have sex there has to be some form of resonance between us and them.

Sheldrake is also a researcher into psychic phenomena, from the ability of animals to predict earthquakes or their owner's arrival home to the ability to predict who is on the other end when the phone rings or sense that someone is staring at the back of our neck. I've never been a believer in these kinds of phenomena. I can't remember having had such experiences myself. I experience what Jung called synchronicity - a coincidence between something external and what I'm thinking - quite frequently, but that is not the same as a psychic connection with another person or an animal. But I find Sheldrake's presentation of the evidence for such phenomena compelling. The evidence is strong outside of the laboratory - e.g. large populations of animals migrating several days before an earthquake or tsunami and individuals with an apparent ability to transmit information telepathically with a loved one when there is a strong need to do so. In laboratory experiments the results tend to be significantly over the level of chance, but people will still tend to get things wrong more than right. These more modest results can be explained by the fact that the tests are done with strangers and there is no great emotional impetus to form a connection. But how can the greater than chance results be explained if one takes the opposite view? These studies have often been subjected to intense scrutiny by skeptics. Sometimes they can point out flaws in the experiments. When they can't they often just assume there are flaws that they can't identify. Sheldrake gives examples of critics who have simply refused to look at any of the evidence. He tells the story of how Richard Dawkins wanted to interview him for his documentary program Enemies of Reason and quite explicitly stated he had no interest in looking at Sheldrake's evidence. Often when we set out to do battle with someone in the world we are doing battle with the projection of our own disowned self. Such, I would suggest, is the case with Richard Dawkins. He quite rightly criticises the irrational dogmas of religion, but the driving force behind his crusade is his own unwillingness to face the fact that he himself is a dogmatist, wedded to materialism and not interested in even looking at the evidence against his "religion". If Sheldrake's research is unfounded then there is no danger involved in taking a close look at it. The only real danger for the materialist lies in not being able to rationally discredit it.

Each of the chapters places its discussion within the context of the history of science and is full of remarkable information. Did you know that there is a single-celled organism that can learn? Did you know that humans have less genes then rice plants? Did you know that a pharmaceutical company got caught out faking reports on the effectiveness of its drugs and paying scientists to present those reports as their own work and get them published in peer reviewed journals?

This is an important book. If one agrees with Sheldrake then it is a brilliantly articulated critique which could become a rallying point for those who want to see science set free to pursue a truly holistic understanding of natural phenomena. If one disagrees with Sheldrake and views him as a practitioner of pseudoscience then it will be the alternative answers to the questions he raises in this book which will be the key to discrediting him and those like him. At the end of the book he talks about the value of scientific debates. I would love to see a live debate on the issues raised in this book between Sheldrake and Dawkins. I won't hold my breath.

The book  has a different title in the U.S.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Smashwords Interview

I've done an interview with myself for my Smashwords page. Here is a sample.
What has been the relationship between your experience of mental illness and your writing?

Throughout my life, my experience of mental illness has been both a motivation for seeking self-understanding and an aid to achieving it.

I've suffered from endogenous depression, anxiety, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder. I needed to find my way out of this maze of suffering. It is a part of the way the world works that what is inside mirrors what is outside. Our neurotic society is a maze of suffering for those of us who live within it. If I could find the path to healing within myself perhaps it would prove to also be a path to healing for the society of which I was an expression.

It is the thirsty man who most appreciates the importance of water. As someone whose neurotic insecurities left him lonely, shy and sexually frustrated, I came to see how important open communication and tender physical intimacy are to the health of society. Even now I'm rather poor sometimes at "practising what I preach". But I don't view my writing as a message from someone who knows better, but rather as an articulation by someone whose speciality is words of principles many have always been better at putting into practise than he. Words have the advantage that they can preserve ideas and spread a message over long distances with great rapidity. Life needs the wordsmith, but a good wordsmith is not always the best lifesmith. I hope that my writing helps to break the ice for discussions about the issues it raises, but look to others to teach me how to live the vision of a humanity united by love.

It is hard to find a beneficial side to most mental illnesses, but this is not the case with bipolar disorder. Historically, the norm for humans has been to be neurotic, that is to have an insecure ego which defends itself by blocking out disturbing ideas. A person with bipolar disorder has a breach in this system of defence. The ego at times breaks down and is flooded with disturbing ideas. At the time this produces the rush of a high, but when the ego tries to absorb the import of these ideas depression results. This explains why so many of the brightest and most creative of individuals historically have suffered from this condition. Bipolar breakdowns have been very disturbing and dangerous for me, but during such times my mind has been set free to breach the intellectual taboos which needed to be breached for me to achieve a better understanding of myself and society. And the delusions I experienced at such times were symbolic visions of the way ahead. Taking them literally was dangerous, but understanding them as symbols helped to guide my path.
Why did you pick the pseudonym Joe Blow?

Ideas are like viruses. They may be helpful or harmful and they spread from one person to another. What is most important is whether the idea is helpful or not. Sometimes paying too much attention to the person giving expression to the idea can be misleading. We may trust an idea because we have been led to believe that the person who expressed it is an authority of some kind. There are times when it is appropriate to place more trust in information based on the experience of the author. If you want information about the lives of bonobos you are better off going to the writings of a zoologist who works with them than to be satisfied with the information I pass on about them in my book "How to Be Free" based on a cursory reading of Wikipedia. But when it comes to general ideas about the experience of life, the best test is whether or not they bring clarity to our own experience. I'm not an authority in anything, except perhaps my own life experience. I want readers to assess the ideas expressed in my books on their own merits, and so I use the dismissive pseudonym Joe Blow to deemphasise myself.

There is also a deeper philosophy to this. Wisdom and creativity do not come from us but through us. They are an expression of something much larger than ourselves. Let's call it The Source. Our ego provides shape to the expression but the essence comes through the ego and not from it. There is a strong danger that our ego may try to take the credit. Keeping access to all the riches The Source provides means having an ego which defers to it. So it is important for me to remind myself that I'm just a Joe Blow.

You can read the rest here.

It is possible to add to the interview, so if you have any further questions you would like me to answer please feel free to post them in the comments section here.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Book Review : Spontaneous Evolution : Our Positive Future (And How to Get There From Here) by Bruce H. Lipton, Ph. D. and Steve Bhaerman

"There's good news, and there's bad news. The bad news: civilization, as we know it, is about to end. Now, the good news: civilization, as we know it, is about to end."

We find ourselves at a strangely schizophrenic moment in our history as a species. Never have we had such understanding of the workings of our world, and yet we appear to be propelling ourselves inexorably towards our own extinction through a combination of exponential population growth, an economic system which is dependent on an ever-increasing addiction to the consumption of unnecessary material goods and an unsustainable food production system which is emptying the seas of fish and removing vast tracts of forest which act as our world's lungs, replenishing the air we need to breathe. Many of us are also at war with members of our own species. How is it that we are, at one and the same time, the smartest of species when it comes to knowledge and the stupidest of species when it comes to behaviour?

Just as a computer is only as capable as its programming, the human mind is dependent not just on the accuracy of the information it has to work with but also the integrity of the conceptual framework with which it seeks to associate and draw conclusions from that information. Maybe some of what we "know" is wrong? Is it possible that our self-destructive behaviour can be traced back to what Lipton calls the "Four Myth-Perceptions of the Apocalypse"?

1. "Only Matter Matters"

There has been a tendency in science towards reductionism (an attempt to understand things by reducing them to their constituent parts), mechanism (making analogies between living things and machines) and materialism (a denial of the relevance, or in some cases the very existence, of consciousness or spirit). Personally, I like to think of this trend as an attempt to avoid considering the importance of relationship. Reductionism denies the importance of the relationship of parts in a functioning whole. Mechanism denies organic interrelatedness, trying to replace it with the simple inflexible workings of a machine. And materialism looks at things but not at their relationship to each other.

While there are advantages to breaking things down into their constituent parts, making analogies between living things and machines (if only because we can make more effective machines by copying the superior technology of nature) and considering forms of matter in isolation, each of these approaches falls far short of the apprehension of reality we can achieve when we take an holistic approach. And the denial at the heart of materialism can no longer be maintained now that we know that, when we look at the subatomic structure of matter, there is nothing there but relationship.

One of the major effects of this "myth-perception" on society is the tendency to over-emphasise the material aspects of our relationships to each other. Is it about whether we communicate with each other in a loving way or is it about whether or not we wear Armani designer clothes?

2. "Survival of the Fittest"

Lipton has a lot to say about theories of evolution. Natural selection is only one aspect of evolution. It was first written up in a scientific paper by Alfred Russel Wallace. Charles Darwin, who'd been thinking along similar lines but not yet written a paper, became a co-presenter of the theory and then, in writing it up in The Origin of Species, became the figure who sold the idea to the general public. In the process, the focus changed somewhat. Wallace's theory was that evolution progressed through the elimination of the weakest. While Darwin was not the originator of the term "survival of the fittest" (philosopher Herbert Spencer used the term in reference to Darwin's theories and then Darwin adopted the term himself in the fifth edition of The Origin of Species), the distortion of reality which it represents is attributable to his articulation of the theory of natural selection rather than to Wallace's.

Natural selection takes place through the survival of the fit, not the fittest. There is no advantage to being "the fittest" only to not being unfit, and thus eliminated. There is more cooperation than competition in nature. Predator/prey relationships between species are not competition but cooperation. By eating the weakest of an antelope herd, a pride of lions is helping that species to remain within the carrying capacity of its ecosystem and thus avoid the mass die off which would happen if there were too many antelopes and not enough grass. Within species there is some competition for food or for mating opportunities but, compared to human conflicts, these are relatively trivial. Stags may butt antlers to establish dominance, but what is being decided is no more than whether they get to pick the most appealing mate or the second most appealing mate. The major eliminations of species occur based on inability to adapt to environmental changes. It is less "survival of the fittest" and more "survival of the most adaptable". And "most adaptable" tends to mean "most able to cooperate with members of one's own species and with other species".

A social impact of this "myth-perception" is the idea that we need to fight our way up the "ladder of success". When we live our lives from this perspective we are so keenly focussed on the next rung above us, that we miss the opportunities to enrich our own lives and those of others which surround us right were we are now. In a "survival of the fittest", even if a few might "win", the majority will always be losers.

3. "It's In Your Genes"

Lipton is a geneticist, so this is one question on which he has a lot to say. This is another area where there is an attempt to deny the importance of relationship. In the "nature/nurture" debate, "nurture" is all about our relationships to each other and our environment. Clearly our genes provide us with certain physical tendencies and they probably have some kind of impact in the complex interactions of our emotional life. But they also are the perfect scapegoat if we wish to deny the importance of our relationship to each other or our environment. If you get caught being unfaithful, don't worry, you can blame it on the "cheater's gene". If you end up feeling defeated and depressed by your futile attempts to climb that "ladder of success", its not because the cultural expectation driving your life is faulty, its because you have a genetic pre-disposition to depression.

Genes tell our cells what kinds of proteins to make, but our genes take orders from their environment. The genes are not the "brain" of the cell. You can remove the nucleus of a cell, where all the DNA is stored, and the cell will continue to function in a healthy way until it dies from lack of proteins. The "brain" of the cell is the receptors in the cell-membrane which transfer information from the cell's environment. And a major part of the information which effects how our body operates is information which comes from our mind. The problem is that most of what goes on in our mind is subconscious. We know about the placebo effect in which the mind tells us we are going to heal and we do. But Lipton emphasises that there is also an opposite kind of effect, which he calls the "nocebo" effect, in which telling someone they have a genetic predisposition to cancer may be the very thing which causes their body to malfunction in this way. Stress has been shown to be a major factor in making the human body prone to all kinds of illness.

To embrace our power to replace faulty beliefs, to chose our actions and to build a basis for our health in loving community and responsible lifestyles doesn't preclude taking full advantage of the advances in pharmaceutical medicine and gene manipulation in those rarer instances where we can benefit from doing so. But to view our genetic make-up as destiny or excuse is an unrealistic form of disempowerment.

4. "Evolution is Random"

Recent experiments have shown that living organisms can evolve quickly to adapt to changing environments. Environmental stress can trigger a response which speeds up the cycle of reproduction while making the reproduction of genetic material "deliberately faulty" in such a way as to generate mutations which may prove a better fit to the new environment. This backs up Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge's theory of punctuated equilibrium, which views evolutionary change as something which happens in bursts with long periods of stability. It also shows that Jean Baptiste Lamarck's original theory of adaptive evolution is at least as relevant as Darwin's and Wallace's later theory of natural selection to a complete understanding of the evolutionary process.

The key insight of Lipton and Bhaerman's book is that we can be conscious agents of our own evolution. They make a comparison between human beings and cells. Each of us experiences our self as a single human being, but we are really a community of cells operating autonomously but cooperatively, the self-interest of each requiring the survival of the whole. Now we stand at a comparable evolutionary threshold to that which separated single-celled organisms from the first multi-cellular organisms. For certain single-celled organisms there was a survival advantage in grouping together in communities. Eventually these communities developed a membrane around them and became a multi-celled organism. Originally all of the cells were the same. Later the specialisation of cells within the community of the organism allowed for more complex development. As human beings we are grouped together as members of a society, but we are still working, to some degree, at cross-purposes. When these communication problems are solved we can work together, like our cells, as a single organism pursuing not just survival but "thrival" as Lipton terms it.

This is a very important book which I would recommend to anyone. There are aspects of it which many may not like, from its folksy tone full of cheesy puns (many care of Bhaerman's alter ego Swami Beyondananda) to what could be viewed as its America-centric view of politics to the enthusiastic presentation of experimental evidence for the power of prayer. None of these things put me off. I'm hardly one to complain about bad puns. While Lipton talks a lot about the virtues of the Founding Fathers, and even more about the Native American culture they emulated, this doesn't seem out of place when one considers that he is using these as examples of a tendency away from the oppressive monarchism dominant in other parts of the world at the time. He certainly is not slow to criticise his own country in most other ways, so I don't think this is a cultural bias. And when it comes to scientific studies in the healing power of intention and such like, I find myself increasingly able to keep an open mind. I won't place belief in these things without seeing a good deal of evidence, but I ask myself "Why do I believe in the existence of Black Holes?" I've never seen one. I don't even understand the theory of how they are supposed to work. If I believe they exist it is because a significant bunch of scientists say so. I have tentative faith in those scientist's perceptions. But, as Lipton shows clearly, the majority of scientists in a field can be wrong for quite some time. I could say "I don't believe in prayer because it doesn't make sense." That is to pre-suppose that we live in a world in which communication can only happen through easily detectible channels. We can't presume the non-existence of something invisible. There is a longstanding cultural belief in the power of prayer. I needn't take that as evidence, but there is something very arrogant in assuming that "the great unwashed don't know their arse from their elbow". An interesting problem arises when it comes to scientific testing in this area. Skeptics will accuse researchers of bias and may try to replicate the results, but, if psychic intention really does effect outcome, the results for the skeptics will necessarily show a negative result because that is their intention. So I'm happy to leave that as an amusing dispute for those who care about it.

However, it would be foolish to reject this book on the basis of any one aspect of it, or even a handful of aspects, because what it offers as a whole is tremendously valuable, the way that it brings together the threads of disfunction in our society - scientific, economic, political, religious, medical - and offers a constructive way of addressing them at their roots. Even if one doesn't agree with his viewpoint, the questions he raises are ones which will not go away. If we are going to come together into a single organism, it will not happen through a victory by one side or the other in any of the conflicts going on in our society, but through a process of attraction away from those conflicts to a unifying vision which sees a place for all. This is the kind of vision Lipton and Bhaerman (and others like them) are articulating. Maybe one day you'll join it, and the world will be as one.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Chimpanzees, Typewriters and the Inevitability of Paradise

We are an expression of an unpredictably creative deterministic system which some of us refer to as the universe" and others refer to as God".

A system has certain characteristics which are broadly predictable. It is for this reason that we are able to see laws behind natural phenomena and, to some extent, make accurate predictions based on those laws. But the direction of creation is towards greater levels of complexity. This takes place through a process known as emergence" and this is not predictable the first time that it happens. Something truly new is coming into existence and yet it is still a product of the functioning of an inevitable system. There is no such thing as randomness or chance in a connected universe.

To get an idea of how higher levels of complexity can arise from simple deterministic principles it is worth looking at the example of fractals. These are patterns generated by simple mathematical formulae. When mapped out with computer graphics they reveal wildly complex patterns in which the overall shape is re-iterated on each level :

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever spinning reel

The Windmills of Your Mind (Michel Legrand, Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman).

The relationship between our sun and its planets is close enough to a steady state for us to make predictions about where another planet will be in relation to ours at any particular time, but it isn't really a steady state. Scientists tell us that every year the earth moves 15 centimetres farther from the sun. This isn't much, but it shows that the stability of the system is relative not absolute.

Systems theory reveals that the emergence of a new level of complexity occurs through the process of a system becoming destabilised. Systems seek order, and if one kind of order breaks down, then a more complex form of order has to come into existence. This is not an imposed order but an order which arises from the expression of natural laws on a higher level of organisation. Where we see disorder, as we do in our social system, it is because that system is in the transition phase – it is in the inevitable state of breakdown which leads to breakthrough – to emergence into the next level of orderly system.

Another way to think of the relationship between the predictable and unpredictable aspects of creation is to imagine a classroom where a bunch of children are engaged in a creative writing exercise. There are rules about how they can behave. They are not allowed to fly paper planes across the room. They are not allowed to get out of their chairs. They are not allowed to chew gum. So we can make some predictions about how behaviour in the classroom will look based on those rules. But we can't predict that Tommy will write a story about a dragon that likes to eat its own bogies after roasting them in its fire. This story is an instance of emergence. It is an inevitable product of the universal system but we don't have the brain capacity necessary to process all of the information which led to its expression. We can tell that it is an expression of the intersection of the historical dragon myth with the eat your own bogies" meme popular with little boys, but we could not predict that Tommy would be the point in the system where this particular manifestation of this intersection should be expressed at this particular moment unless we had a complete dynamic map of the social system of which Tommy is a part. All we could do is to make a probabilistic prediction that between 5 and 10 school boys will write an essay about dragons eating their own bogies this year based on the number of school boys who have done so in each of the previous twenty years.

There is a tendency, where we can't understand something, to attribute it to an imaginary being. Primitive peoples who didn't know anything about the geological structure of the earth attributed volcanic eruptions to the anger of the volcano god. Today there are many scientists who carry on this trend by attributing anything they can't predict to a mythological entity called randomness". Randomness is the concept that something can happen which is not an inevitable manifestation of the system within which it takes place.

Our central symbol for randomness is the throwing of a dice. And it is from the study of dice throwing which we developed the theory of probability. We can't predict what number is going to come up when we throw a dice, but we can predict the likelihood of the spread of numbers which will come up over a large enough sample. While we can't predict the outcome of a single dice throw, that doesn't mean it is not deterministic in its nature and thus theoretically predictable. How the dice lands depends on such factors as its mass, its shape, how hard and in which direction we throw it and the nature of the surface on which it falls. We don't have the ability to measure and assess all of this information with enough accuracy to predict how the dice will fall, but it is theoretically possible.

Evolution is often presented as the result of random" mutations, rather than a deterministic interaction between members of species and their environment.

In physics, proponents of the theories of quantum mechanics claim that the behaviour of subatomic particles is evidence of randomness because it can't be predicted even though we can detect probable trends. Sounds a bit like our problem with dice. And this was Albert Einstein's attitude to quantum mechanics – God doesn't play with dice." Einstein, like myself, did not believe in a personal God, but in the pantheistic conception of God as a way of referring to the integrated nature of the creative universal system.

The belief that we live in a probabilistic rather than deterministic universe has led to much absurdity, such as the idea that an infinite number of alternate universes exist parallel to each other and that anything which we can imagine must have happened in at least one of them. This denies the relationships between things. How could there be a universe in which there are people who breath water but in which there is no water? I can imagine that well enough to write down the concept, but it can't exist in reality because it wouldn't work. If we want to understand the universe in which we live we have to understand its connectedness and thus its inevitability. It's no good me asking myself : What would it have been like if I'd been born in China?" because someone born in China could not be me. I could only have been born at the precise place and time at which I was born, because even the slightest variation, as chaos theory shows us, changes the whole system.

Another expression of the probabilistic world view is the idea that, if you could train an infinite number of chimpanzees to type and then waited an infinite amount of time, one of them would type the complete works of Shakespeare1. This would not happen. It is a complete misunderstanding of how things come into existence. Shakespeare's plays were an expression of the system which could only occur at the position of the system known as Shakespeare". No-one else could have written the plays and Shakespeare could not have written Finnegan's Wake or Twilight. They could only be written by James Joyce and Stephanie Meyer respectively. Each is an expression which requires the knowledge and influences unique to those individuals. Even assuming we could teach chimpanzees to type, they would not type keys probabilistically. An infinite number of chimpanzees might all just thump their fingers on the keyboard in a similar way, which would not produce the variety necessary to accidentally produce a novel or play. What would most likely happen is that they would quickly get bored and jam up the typewriter mechanism with their own faeces. The products of one level of complexity cannot be produced by an entity on a lower level of complexity. The same does not apply in reverse. Stephanie Meyer could quite easily jam up a typewriter with her own faeces should she so choose.

What about the concept of free will"? If we are part of a deterministic system, then does this mean that free will is an illusion? Yes. But we can better understand this when we recognise that it is also an oxymoron. And to understand why we need to look at the nature of freedom.

The best analogy for deterministic freedom is that of a water molecule travelling down a river to the sea. The molecule moves freely. There are no impediments to block its path. But that path is determined by the movement of the other molecules around it in response to the environment of the riverbank which determines the course of the flow. It's behaviour is determined but not determined in the way that a wind-up robot's behaviour is determined by its mechanism.

We human's are capable of acts of will, but these acts are the product of cultural influences which come from outside ourselves. We can't be other than an expression of the system. So what do we mean by will? The will is the active aspect of the ego. The ego is our sense of our self as a discreet entity. It is constructed of our beliefs. When we act on the basis of our beliefs, that is will. But we do not chose our beliefs, they are a crystallisation of prevalent ideas which come together within us in the only way they could. When our beliefs change it is because we have come in contact with other ideas outside of ourselves which have overridden the preceding ones. Of course, in each individual case it is too complex a process to fully break down and analyse and it is always in flux.

At the heart of any act of will is a lack of acceptance of something. There is something with which we do not feel satisfied and so our will drives us to seek to change it. This might be something as simple as washing the dishes or as complex as seeking a cure for cancer. But it is only an act of will if there is resistance. If I want to wash the dishes, then doing so is an act of free expression. But if I'm feeling lazy I have to will myself to do them. And if we are trying to change something in our environment will will only be required if that something is resistant to change, which is more often the case if we are working against the grain so to speak.

The central characteristic of will is the experience of a relative loss of freedom. The thought behind an act of will is the thought that we have to do something - that we have no alternative. The mountaineer must climb the mountain. The boxer must fight the fight. By contrast the state of freedom is like being a guest at a party where we could kiss the hostess, stand on our head or piss in the punchbowl, among many other possibilities. Such behaviour is not goal-orientated in the way that an act of will is, but whatever we do will be an inevitable expression of the universal system in the place we inhabit. So if someone pisses in the punchbowl, blame the perversity of the universe.

We may think that will is necessary in order that anything get done. No good just sitting around accepting everything. But acceptance is the basis for love and love desires to help and to understand. Love can be the basis for discovery and problem solving. In science love would inspire us to find understanding and work with nature to solve our problems, whereas will inspires us to try to solve problems by changing nature without fully understanding it first. It is the wilful approach to science and technology which has led scientists to misinterpret data in order to support their prejudices and has encouraged our technological development to be at the expense of our ecological life-support systems. The alternative, accepting what is and responding to it in the way which comes naturally to us, will lead to better results.

One way to picture our situation is that we are all cast adrift upon a stormy sea, each in a fragile little boat. The boat is our ego and we need it because the sea is so stormy. Were the sea calm we would swim in it happily. The sea on which we are cast adrift is the schizophrenic mind of God. What emerged in the jump from the other primates to humans was mind as we conceive it. Chimpanzees have the ability to reason on a very basic level, but human intelligence is to chimpanzee intelligence as the fractal is to the mathematical formula which leads to it. A period of disorder accompanies emergence. In the case of human intelligence the root of the disorder was a split in perception which led to the concepts of Good and Evil. This acted like a virus splitting our perception of the world and ourselves in such a way that everything became divided into warring factions. But this was a problem which would begin slowly and then increase exponentially up until the present.

In the beginning we experienced ourselves as an expression of the natural system. This was true as a species (expressed in such myths as that of Adam and Eve) and in our individual lives (as an infant we have to learn the difference between me" and not me"). We lived in God. But the idea that it is meaningful to split the world into Good and Evil caused a disharmony which alienated us from this sense of connectedness. We were cast out of the Garden of Eden". With the invention of language our mind became a collective mind in the sense that each of us is like a synapse and words and the concepts which are expressed through their varying combinations are the impulses travelling through those synapses. We have, as Carl Jung discovered, a collective unconscious. We soak up cultural material without even being aware of it and our subconscious associates this material in ways determined by the flow of different trends within the social system. Now, with television and the internet, the subconscious of each individual is more complex than it was in Jung's day, but the deepest trends are the most universal – the patterns which lie at the heart of the complexity – the formula that produced the fractal.

In science fiction we have the idea of alien species with a hive mind". We have such a mind and always have had, but it is a schizophrenic hive mind, it is perpetually at war with itself. And this is why we need our lifeboats – our egos – to stay afloat in the maelstrom. I once thought that, even in a state of psychological freedom we would still need our ego in order to self-manage, but this isn't true. We don't need to experience ourselves as separate entities in order to do what we need to do. Our body is made up of separate cells each doing what is required for the maintenance of the whole. But this is only possible if our hive mind" is not divided against itself and thus deranged. As long as that is the case we need our ego to keep afloat. Many of us have been thrown from our boats by the violence of the storms and come face to face with the reality of the divided mind of humanity in a way which caused us to be labelled insane" by those still safely in their boats and many have been lost at sea, i.e. committed suicide.

The development of the ego is symbolised in the story of Noah and the ark. When it became clear that living on dry land (remaining psychologically connected to the living system) was becoming impossible due to our internally divided state, and that we would thus become separated from that state by the sea of our growing conceptual consciousness, we developed the individual ego. In Noah's Ark were stored all of the complimentary pairings into which our dualistic conciousness had split things – male and female of every animal. In time the complimentary pairings produced by the dualistic split in our consciousness would become warring factions in many instances.

This analogy also appears in the Leonard Cohen song Suzanne :

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"

So our egos have been necessary, but the downside is that they separate us from the ability to perceive unfiltered reality. The ego is a structure of distorted beliefs about reality. It is a form of alienation from reality. If we are going to stay in our boat we have to twist our perception of reality in such a way that it doesn't challenge those distorted beliefs. This is why physicists will look at the behaviour of subatomic particles and see something that proves" the existence of randomness. Because to think down the honest pathway of the inevitable unfolding of all things is to follow a pathway of thought that leads inexorably to the dissolution of one's own ego. Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. And, yet, the death of the ego is the way to heaven once we have an understanding, as we now do, which can cure the virus of dualism, reconcile the warring factions and bring peace and sanity to our hive mind" – the mind of God.

The dissolution of our egos into the mind of God is what was predicted by Jesus was the Kingdom of Heaven" and the coming of the Son of Man". The term Son of Man" acknowledges that the next level of emergence is generated by the one which comes before. So unified humanity is the offspring of divided humanity.

Now before this would occur Jesus prophesied that the shit would really hit the fan. The key concept here is given in the passage which begins at Matthew 24:15 : So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation' spoken of through the prophet Daniel – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains... How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers..."

What is the abomination that causes desolation"? We can see that it is idealism. The original virus which contaminated humanity was the false perception that it is meaningful or beneficial to think of some things as Good and some things as Evil and to use our will to try to compel ourselves to pursue the former and avoid the latter. To be fully wedded to this false perception is to be an idealist.

So what is all this about the abomination" being put in the holy place"? Since we can see that an accurate understanding of reality is one which acknowledges the larger whole of which each person or thing is an expression we can see that how truthful something or someone is is dependant on how whole (i.e. undivided) they are and thus the degree to which they can acknowledge their connection to the whole. Our word for this is holy". We have begun to acknowledge this idea in a non-mystical way with our concepts of holistic medicine" and the holistic paradigm for science".

In 1988, an Australian biologist by the name of Jeremy Griffith published a book called Free : The End of the Human Condition – The Biological Reason Why Humans Have Had to Be Individual, Competitive, Egocentric & Aggressive. He said that the book, which he spent 13 years writing, grew out of my desperate need to reconcile my extreme idealism with reality". He presented it as an holistic understanding of the human condition. Central to his explanation is the concept that our conscience, that part of us which tells us what is good, is part of our genetic programming, and that our competitive, egocentric and aggressive behaviour has been an unavoidable rebellion against the oppressive criticism with which that programming responded to our experiments in the use of our newly found intelligence for self-management. He appears to believe that this knowledge" will itself bring about a reconciliation of all of the conflicts in the world. The problem is that his defence for humanity" is no defence because our conscience, for those of us who have one, is a part of our ego. In effect then Griffith's books are an unconscious attempt on his part to will his idealism onto the rest of us by presenting it as liberating holistic knowledge. And they are a brilliant attempt because they contain so many of the ideas which would be needed for a genuine liberating understanding but assembled the wrong way and presented with an emphasis on confronting us about our non-ideal" behaviour. Of course the number of people who've read Griffith's books, or even heard of him, is limited, but all ideas, especially about really important topics, leak out into general awareness. Many in Australia who never read any of his books would have seen him on daytime television at one stage defending his idea that sex is an attack on innocence". (from FreeMen invented sex, as in 'fucking' or destroying, as distinct from the act of procreation. What was being 'fucked' or destroyed was women's innocence.")

Griffith gives his own interpretation of the prophesy in his 2003 book A Species in Denial : ...when Christ was unmasking the lie of pseudo-idealism he used the deadly accurate description offered by the Old Testament prophet Daniel, 'the abomination that causes desolation'." So what does he mean by pseudo-idealism"? Later in the book he says : One of the problems to be overcome in introducing these denial-free understandings is that there have been so many 'false prophets' promoting artificial, pseudo forms of ideality that the whole business of bringing ideality to the world has been extremely discredited. These false forms of ideality, such as the New Age Movement, Environmentalism, Feminism, the Politically Correct Deconstructionist Movement, The Peace Movement, are such superficially satisfying forms of idealism to live through that when the real ideality arrives, namely the reconciling understanding of the human condition, people actually prefer the non-confronting, false forms of ideality... These false or pseudo forms of ideality are extremely seductive because they give people relief from the horror of their corrupted state by allowing them to feel good about themselves without having to confront their corrupted state. In a world where people are rapidly becoming more corrupted and in need of relief from their condition, pseudo-idealism has become a plague. In fact it has gained such a foothold that it now threatens to control the world and lead it to a totally non-confronting, truthless state of oblivion. Pseudo-idealism is the 'Antichrist' because it is at base anti-truth, opposed to the truth which Christ so wholly represented." Here we have a classic example of paranoia, a false prophet with an oppressive dishonest dogma seeing those who pursue other approaches to addressing the problems of the world as the ones who are deluded and dangerous – that is, he sees in them a projection of the truth he can't face about himself. A Prophet in Denial would have been a more appropriate title for the book.

Glossy insert used to promote A Species in Denial in Australian newspapers

So idealism dressed up as holism is what Jesus and Daniel where on about when they talked about the abomination that causes desolation" being in the holy place". And this was the peak point of the danger and destruction which grew out of that original concept of Good and Evil. But this is how systems work. Everything is inevitable and everything is necessary. Only by having the key problem crystallised into its most potent form could it be studied and the real cure found. But it has been a harsh ride for us all. I included the passage about pregnant women and nursing mothers, because one of Griffith's key beliefs is that babies are born with a genetically coded expectation of finding an ideal world and the protection of their innocence depends on being sheltered from contact with the non-ideal nature of the world. This concept puts a lot of pressure on mothers, but it shouldn't, because it is bullshit. The only idealists in the world are neurotic adults. What children most need is for we adults to stop worrying so much. So this prevalent concept, of which Griffith's expression is simply the most extreme, is itself harmful to the welfare of children. It is the generator of a negative feedback loop which causes depression for both mothers and eventually, when they reach adolescence, their children.

Just as these toxic ideas about Good and Evil have sowed division and conflict, so a clear understanding which heals the split will spread out through the mind of God and our ego boats will inevitably dissolve and free us into the bliss of Heaven on Earth. There is nothing to do but do what comes naturally. Acts of will are no longer useful.

The rise of the Kingdom of Heaven" is something which will happen both within us and around us as the divisions which have characterised our existence heal. When emergence takes place unexpected patterns are revealed. We wouldn't expect water vapour to form into beautiful snowflakes. In the same way we will witness seemingly miraculous coincidences, a phenomena which Jung labelled synchronicity and described as an acausal connecting principle". Another example of an acausal connecting principle is gravity. Ah," you may say, "but gravity causes apples to fall from trees." But it doesn't. Gravity doesn't cause anything to do anything, it only shapes the way in which it does it. The word cause" is defined as : A person or thing that gives rise to an action, phenomenon, or condition." Gravity doesn't give rise" to the fall of the apple, whatever dis-attaches it from the tree does. So synchronicity is like gravity, it doesn't make anything happen and it is invisible, but we will be able to know it by the way that it shapes the healing of humanity.

1For the sake of simplicity I will assume that William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays attributed to him, something which is disputed by some.