Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Giordano Bruno on Truth

A Facebook friend posted the following, attributed to Giordano Bruno,

"It was proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people."

I don't like the quote very much. I don't like the elitism, and I'm suspicious of the notion that truth is something out there, fixed and certain. I feel that truth is more in the relationship between the enquirer and the subject. Humans don't know any absolute truth, and without a partcipant in the process, perhaps truth doesn't exist.

Anyway, I was looking up the quote and discovered that it wasn't by Bruno at all, it was "
a summation of the arguments of Bruno's speech in a debate at the College of Cambray (25 May 1588) made by Coulson Turnbull in Life and Teachings of Giordano Bruno : Philosopher, Martyr, Mystic 1548 — 1600 (1913), p. 41. It is not presented as a direct translation of his statements, but a slight alteration of the first two sentences has sometimes appeared on the internet as a quotation of Bruno: "It is a proof of a base and low mind..."

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno


Friday, June 26, 2009

Some Books are Special

Some books are special. I'm currently reading The Yoga of Time Travel by Fred Alan Wolf, published by Quest, for a review in The Gnostic issue 2. There's a lot of quantum physics in it, well explained, and I'm enjoying the book consdierably, though I wonder how he will eventually tie up the physics theory with the time-doesn't-exist yoga view, and whether he can do it successfully. And also whether it will have any practical spiritual meaning.

The book is special not because of its contents but because it attracts attention in an odd way. Yesterday I was reading it outside a café in Dublin, when an Indian woman approached me and told me that she had noticed that I was reading a book about yoga (which it isn't, it's about time really) and would I be interested in the yoga courses that she attends? I want to do some yoga again, but I must admit to being wary of the Art of Living yoga school that she espoused, which seems to be a large organisation with a guru and a lor of money involved... you get the idea.

Today I was reading the book in a nearby park and one of the park attendants, a typical Dubliner, asked me what the book was. I showed him the title and he said, "Ah, it's a chillout book then." Then he added, "I don't do yoga. With me it's more 'The Diazepam of Time Travel.'

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Atheists

Here's a poem I've just written

Atheists

by Andrew P Smith, age 43 1/2

Atheists

They often piss on the floor

10% of atheists live under cover in extreme Protestant sects, doing good work for the cause

They won’t sacrifice to the Gods

Atlas-like, they heroically bear the weight of their existential honesty

Every last one of them is the son of a minister

They prefer deists to theists, “but one meets so few of them these days”

They apply remorseless rational logic to every area of their lives

They do not read novels

They don’t believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen

Their personal hygiene leaves much to be desired, unless they are American atheists

They secretly admire the last Pope

There are no female atheists

There are no working class atheists

Once I was late for a flight and I said, “Oh God, I’m going to miss my flight.” An atheist overheard me and started arguing with me about the existence of God, and sure enough I missed my flight

When they fall in love they blame it on their brain chemistry

They don’t even believe in the devil

Most of them are white boys

They don’t like security blankets because of the metaphorical association with theism

They do not blink

Not all of them are Marxists

They are always in danger of physical violence inflicted by theists


Their mothers didn’t hug them when they were young

The criminal classes who have never had a serious thought about anything in their life aren’t really atheists

They like the Dalai Lama except for his spectacles

Their heads are kind of big, don’t you think?

They think all religion should be banned except for the Church of England

Stalin wasn’t really an atheist

You can hear them guffawing heartily in public places when they remember that there’s no God

They don’t have a fucking clue about theology

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shakespeare on Recurrence?

Is Shakespeare referring to eternal recurrence here?

Sonnet LIX

If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguil'd,
Which labouring for invention bear amiss
The second burthen of a former child!
O! that record could with a backward look,
Even of five hundred courses of the sun,
Show me your image in some antique book,
Since mind at first in character was done!
That I might see what the old world could say
To this composed wonder of your frame;
Wh'r we are mended, or wh'r better they,
Or whether revolution be the same.
O! sure I am the wits of former days,
To subjects worse have given admiring praise.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Batman and Eternal Recurrence

Somehow or other, Bruce Wayne, the Batman, recently died in the comics. Writer Neil Gaiman was invited to script a coda to the story of Bruce Wayne and 'Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader' was published in Batman 686 and Detective Comics 853. WARNING MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW

The story begins with various associates and enemies of Batman/Bruce Wayne attending his funeral, while Bruce and another, unknown, voice comment on the experience. Bruce is trying to understand what is happening. One by one, his friends and enemies describe his death, each telling a contradictory story from his own point of view. When they have finished, he walks through a door and sees a figure in a shaft of life. Being a good detective, Bruce works out that this is a near death experience, and, in his case, the figure in the light is his mother. They review his life, particularly his childhood, a bit more, then she tells him that it's time to go on. Bruce tells his mother that he doesn't believe in an afterlife, and she replies that he doesn't get Heaven or Hell, his only reward for being the Batman is to be the Batman. Then there's a touching little scene where she persuades him to say goodnight to al the elements of his life, just as he used to do as a child when going to bed, 'Goodnight Batcave; goodnight giant dinosaur.' Then she tells him to let go, and we see his bat symbol metaphoricall being transformed over a series of steps into a pair of hands which then enter a hospital room where a baby is being born, symbolically presenting the baby. The baby is Bruce, born again into the same time and place.

A very touching story with the fascinating elements of near death experience and eternal recurrence.Perhaps eternal recurrence really is returning.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Origen on Eternal Recurrence

In the second issue of The Gnostic I'm including a long review of Anthony Peake's books Is There Life After Death and The Daemon. More on Anthony later, but I should add that a presentation that he gave on Philip K Dick will also be included in the issue.
I'm focusing particularly on the concept of eternal recurrence, to which Tony has added an entirely new twist, making it into what I call recursive recurrence, each lifetime repeating within the last.

The idea of recurrence found modern expression in the works of Nietzche and, particularly, P.D. Ouspensky. But it is an ancient, if marginal, view, to be found in Ovid and even Shakespeare. Origen rejected the idea as did Augustine (who I have not read on eternal recurrence.) Here is Origen's description and rejection of eternal recurrence. I wonder what his source for the idea was. His main objection is that humans have free will and so history could not repeat in the same way. Ouspensky allowed for some individual variation in people's lives, but felt that this was particularly limited in the lives of 'great men' whose deeds had such important repercussions and who were limited by the weight of history. This objection doesn't affect Tony Peake's view of recurrence. I wonder how chaos theory, with its sensitivity to initial conditions, might be applied to Ouspensky-style recurrence.

'And now I do not understand by what proofs they can maintain their position, who assert that worlds sometimes come into existence which are not dissimilar to each other, but in all respects equal. For if there is said to be a world similar in all respects (to the present), then it will come to pass that Adam and Eve will do the same things which they did before: there will be a second time the same deluge, and the same Moses will again lead a nation numbering nearly six hundred thousand out of Egypt; Judas will also a second time betray the Lord; Paul will a second time keep the garments of those who stoned Stephen; and everything which has been done in this life will be said to be repeated,—a state of things which I think cannot be established by any reasoning, if souls are actuated by freedom of will, and maintain either their advance or retrogression according to the power of their will. For souls are not driven on in a cycle which returns after many ages to the same round, so as either to do or desire this or that; but at whatever point the freedom of their own will aims, thither do they direct the course of their actions. For what these persons say is much the same as if one were to assert that if a medimnus of grain were to be poured out on the ground, the fall of the grain would be on the second occasion identically the same as on the first, so that every individual grain would lie for the second time close beside that grain where it had been thrown before, and so the medimnus would be scattered in the same order, and with the same marks as formerly; which certainly is an impossible result with the countless grains of a medimnus, even if they were to be poured out without ceasing for many ages. So therefore it seems to me impossible for a world to be restored for the second time, with the same order and with the same amount of births, and deaths, and actions; but that a diversity of worlds may exist with changes of no unimportant kind, so that the state of another world may be for some unmistakeable reasons better (than this), and for others worse, and for others again intermediate. But what may be the number or measure of this I confess myself ignorant, although, if any one can tell it, I would gladly learn.'
De Principiis Book II Chapter 4
http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ante-Nicene_Fathers/Volume_IV/Origen/Origen_De_Principiis/II/Chapter_3

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Agnosticism

To those who know me only from my books, it might be a surprise to discover that I'm currently some sort of agnostic. An agnostic with spiritual yearnings and a strong interest in religion, I would add. Although I'm fascinated by ancient Gnosticism, I've never quite managed to adopt it as my main viewpoint, though I wouldn't rule out the possibility of managing to do this at some point. Recently I became involved in an online discussion about atheism. Below are some of my thoughts about the role of spirituality and religion, from a standpoint that tries to make as few assumptions about the true nature of reality as possible. In other circumstances I might speak (or write) in quite a different way.

I can see three broad reasons to believe in God.

1. Belief in God is part of the culture(s) in which we grew up.
2. One's personal experience convinces one that there is a God.
3. Rational investigation leads one to think that there must be some sort of God.

Now, I'm not entirely convinced that 2 and 3 are absolutely separate from 1, although they must have been at some point otherwise religious culture could never have developed. But for me 1 is enough: a belief in some kind of God or gods and an investigation into the nature and existence of deity is a basic human activity. Recent research even suggests that religious experience is intrinsic to the structure of the human brain.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/belief-and-the-brains--go...

It's in us, and it won't go away.

As for life after death, I would say that the situation is similar, but there are some different issues. Do I believe that life after death is a possibility? Yes. Why? Surely the desire to continue with some sort of awareness and conscious experience is one reason. But also there's the experiential question. I cannot imagine my own non-existence--if I try to imagne my cold corpse rotting in a grave, all internal activity vanished, my current consciousness is there imagining the scene and giving the lie to the notion that my awareness has expired. I have no memory of experiencing death previously. I'm not convinced that there is any communication from beyond the grave, although I wouldn't rule out the possibility. So death is a one-way door. We really don't know what happens on the other side. We don't know what anyone's experience of death is. Near death experiences are fascinating but they aren't actual death. The mystical elements of NDE may simply be the result of chemicals flooding the brain, but the strong possibility that death will be accompanied by mystical experience encourages me to take a mystical view of death.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Letters to The Gnostic

Over the next few weeks I'll be finalising the content for the next issue of The Gnostic. While I've received plenty of comments about the first issue, I haven't received any really substantial letters that I could include in print. Are there issues raised in the articles and interviews that need further discussion? Is there anything that you disagree with? Is there anything that you didn't like about it, apart from the typos? Please send comments for publication to andrew@bardic-press.com

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

My Current Projects

In my last post I told you what I *wasn't* working on. So what am I working on these days? Well, there's the next issue of The Gnostic, due out in late July. I'm writing a column, a couple of articles and some book reviews for that, as well as editing the journal and putting everything together.

My major book-writing project at the moment is ... well, this is actually the first public annoucement of it ... a biography of Alan Moore. The first full book-length biography of the famous comic writer and occultist. I've been working on it for a few months and one of these weeks I should complete the first draft. I first came across Moore's work about 30 years ago and I've been following his career ever since. Alan was too busy to want to help with the biography, so it's (currently) unauthorized, but I interviewed him for The Gnostic 1. The book will cover his entire life and works, and will take a serious look at his ideas and his approach to life.


On the Bardic Press side, as well as Tony Cartledge's Planetary Types: The Science of Celestial Influence, we'll be publishing My Father Gurdjieff, by Nicholas de Val, a translation of the French original Daddy Gurdjieff, translated and introduced by Paul Beekman Taylor.

And, of course, A Dictionary of Gnosticism, published by Quest, is due out in the Autumn.

Monday, June 08, 2009

My Biography of Rodney Collin

A couple of times a month I receive queries about my biography of Rodney Collin. Collin (his given name was Rodney Collin Smith) was a pupil of P.D. Ouspenksy. He wrote some extraordinary books and lived an extraordinary life, dying prematurely in 1956 when he fell from a cathedral tower in Cuzco, Peru. I have a page of information and links on him at http://www.bardic-press.com/rcollin/collinindex.htm.

I have to say that the biography has stalled. I've been working on other projects and, since I'll be publishing the book through Bardic Press and hence have no editor pressing me to meet a deadline, plus I continually have the lure of interviewing more people who knew him and collecting more information, the project has become somewhat open ended. It would be nice to complete it by the end of the year, but I've been saying that for a few years in a row. I began research in the mid-90s, floundered for a few years and then picked up the threads about six years ago, finding that the Internet made research and communication so much easier.

However, Bardic Press is about to publish a new book which draws on Collin's human typology, Planetary Types: The Science of Celestial Influence, by Anthony Cartledge. Tony links the practical side of Collin's types with the research of Michel Gauquelin, suggests a possible scientific mechanism for the influence of the planets and generally pushes everything much further along. The book has a foreword by leading astrologer A.T. Mann and should be out by August.

In the meantime, the Rodney Collin page now has links to an earlier introductory article by Tony on Gauquelin's work and its possibilities, and an introduction to Rodney Collin, 'The Legacy of Rodney Collin'. There will also be an article by Tony in the second issue of The Gnostic. There has beens a certain amount of renewed interest in Collin in recent years, including the republication of his two major works, The Theory of Eternal Life and The Theory of Celestial Influence, and hopefully all of this should provide me with the impetus to finish the research and write the biography.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

More Philip Harland Lectures

Philip Harland has uploaded a couple more lectures at his Religions of the Ancient Mediterrannean site. You can now listen to the second part of the Gospel of Philip lecture and a lecture on the Gospel of Mary. It's all introductory material, but well worth listening to. http://www.philipharland.com/Blog/

Me, I'm growing a goatee and trying to get to frips with JOOMLA for my new author website andrewphillipsmith.com.