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, 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.