Archive for the ‘mind control’ Category


October 18, 2014

“To some extent the rigid distinction between ego and environment is equivalent to that between mind and body, or between the voluntary and involuntary neural systems. This is probably the reason why Zen and yoga disciplines pay so much attention to breathing, to watching over the breath (anapanasati), since it is in this organic function that we can see most easily the essential identity of voluntary and involuntary action. We cannot help breathing, and yet it seems that breath is under our control; we both breathe and are breathed. For the distinction of the voluntary and the involuntary is valid only within a somewhat limited perspective. Strictly speaking, I will or decide involuntarily. Were it not so, it would always be necessary for me to decide to decide and to decide to decide to decide in an infinite regress. Now the involuntary processes of the body, such as the beating of the heart, do not seem to differ very much in principle from other involuntary actions going on outside the body. Both are, as it were, environmental. When, therefore, the distinction of voluntary and involuntary is transcended within the body, it is also transcended with respect to events outside the body.”

From Alan Watts, “The Way of Liberation in Zen Buddhism.” In The Way of Liberation: Essays and Lectures on the Transformation of the Self (New York: Weatherhill, 1983), 13-14.

Cascading Thoughts

October 6, 2014

Someone mentioned synesthesia to me the other day and defined it as the opposite of amnesia. Although that’s not at all what it is, the latter notion stuck with me. The opposite of amnesia; A swirling vortex of thoughts and memories, cascading all at once. This overwhelming mental state I understand, since I’ve lived it time and time again. Some marvel at my recall or the quick and lateral associations I sometimes make, but often it is more curse than blessing. Ideas, concepts, memories, feelings, vague intuitions followed over-enthusiastically — all this blends in an uncomfortable palette of being. Deleuze’s multiplicities. Or nothing to do with post-modern French philosophy at all. Just an assault.

This then is the quest — to tame the brain and find flow, rather than get caught in eddies and backwaters.

Yet as I sit and write this, sitting on a rock overlooking a quiet backwater in the river, autumn sun dipping below the treeline across the shore, the bubbling flow of a gentle waterfall just upriver, I think there is virtue in how I think (imagine the convoluted nature of that). That my ruminations and absurdities amount to meaning. Or at least coherence.

Wasn’t it the “weeping philosopher”, Heraclitus, who said that “No man ever steps in the same river twice“?

Eddies, backwaters or thundering waterfalls…

It’s all flow.


October 6, 2014

“…Symbols are not invented, they are there, and belong to an inalienable estate of man; indeed, one might say that all conscious thought and action are the unavoidable consequence of unconscious symbolization, that mankind is animated by the symbol.”

From Georg Groddeck, The Book of the It. Intro. Lawrence Durrell (New York: Vintage, 1961[1923]), 49.

The Power of Vitalism

April 1, 2014

We exist in a social and intellectual world that is deeply schizophrenic. As the tradition of the Marxists reminds us, society is constructed and constrained by class, economics, and control of the means of production. Thinkers from the Frankfurt School extended the idea of limits and constraint into the realm of the academic and aesthetic, speaking of “instrumental rationality” and “the culture industry.” Philosopher Michel Foucault showed us how our very bodies and minds are disciplined and ordered by dominant knowledge forms, forms that further shape our most basic institutions. His project of trying to intervene into this normalizing process with his deep quasi-psychiatric analysis and treatment of post-Enlightenment society met with mixed results.

Postmodern thinkers like Derrida and Lyotard have added further complications, undermining the notion of grand narratives and even the fixed meaning of text itself. At times it seems we are left in a chaotic, endlessly confusing, frustratingly relativist world. Few still revel in this intellectual morass without any even vague guideposts, much as it at times does provide for dynamic and playful aesthetic outbursts.

And thus we are left with life. Life constantly ordered, organized, constrained, systematized, analyzed, institutionalized, disciplined, proscribed, described, and, sadly at times, senselessly destroyed.

But, despite these factors, life is a constant reminder of the small, essential truth of vitalism. It remains, sometimes only in slight, subtle ways, sometimes only in fits and starts, ultimately unpredictable in any universal sense. No ordered, mechanistic, technocratic system, regardless of its ferocity or scale, can completely consume life’s endlessly unpredictable and dynamic process of becoming.

Power is a heady and dominant notion in our world, but life is, in its essential nature, beyond the constraints of power. To believe in life as life, to accept some small segment of the idea of vitalism, is to, in the final analysis, “fight the power.”

N.B. The original draft of this text is about fifteen years old…It was recently rediscovered and necromantically re-animated and re-purposed as a blog post.

Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday

March 23, 2014

Much of what gets posted on this blog is essentially ephemera — random thoughts, idle speculation, little morsels of meaning, and the occasional snapshot. But I do also produce more cohesive work in my “real life” as a historian and philosopher of science. Believe me, in the age of the corporate university, that’s a lot less glamorous than it sounds.

Anyway, without further ado (well, maybe a bit more ado) here’s a link to a semi-popular piece that I wrote last spring in the literary e-magazine Berfrois about breathing, mindfulness and their simple transformative potential.

So take a deep breath and dive right in!

The Philosophy of Slack 9: Slack and Success

March 8, 2014

Slack states unequivocally that it remains sedated in the face of success stories. There is no success, only survival. In a Darwinian struggle for existence replete with killer asteroids, super bacteria, mutagenic cosmic rays, environmental toxicity, dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, and oncoming buses just making it through the day unscathed is success.

Slack is inured to the inundation of insights offered by an unending stream of success gurus. In any event, these all boil down to a conspiracy on the part of “management” to just get you to work harder.

There is no “secret” to success. Success is an illusion – there is no success, as thing out there in the world. We are all Holden Caulfield, and the brass ring will always be out of reach. Success, rather, is perspective. Getting out of bed is success. Alas, even here slack is sometimes unsuccessful…

Slack understands that success is, quite definitely, not directly related to effort. The winds of fate and fortune blow hither and yon, and for some, success is an innate function of being. Would anybody listen to Anthony Robbins if he were 5’7” and had crooked teeth?

Slack is its own success. In just letting go and being, slack has succeeded where most fail. Success, after all, can only be measured, never truly felt. Success is a function of comparisons – with others – and judgments of those around us by often arbitrary and obtuse standards. In its dependence on judging, success is actually by definition failure.

Slack grows weary of the whole self-help and self-improvement craze. Taking a page out of Alan Watts, slack knows that “self-improvement is a hoax.” Better how? Better when? Better than what?

In embracing each moment and languishing in it like a lizard sunning itself on a rock, slack happily waves goodbye to success as it speeds by on the highway of life, always moving towards its next goal, objective, meeting or coronary.

Besides, success in a contemporary context amounts to the acquisition of larger and larger quantities of stuff, which is really just a drag (c.f. “Slack and Stuff”).

Thoughts on Telos

January 20, 2014

Life doesn’t make any sense. There is no rhyme or reason. No greater understanding to be had, no deeper meaning to be made. But life has purpose. More than this, life is purpose. That’s all it is – a blind, instinctual drive to be; to exist. It’s a constantly renewed desire; a wanting and needing without end. It’s no wonder that some long for the peace of death, as life is the ultimate state of disharmony – a constant irritation. An itch that can never be satisfyingly scratched.

This is the purity of telos – of the end of life. Life pushes, life swells, life consumes and is consumed. This is the primal function of Aristotle – the anima nurtritiva – the nutritive soul. It exists, it generates, it grows, it seeks out nutrition and sustenance, without sense or reason. The philosopher Spinoza saw this as the essential, inevitable fact of the living; that it strives to survive. He called this principle of animation in living things “conatus” (striving).

This is also the essential madness of life. It’s an impulse akin to the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s “blind idiot god” Azathoth: “Outside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity – the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond space and time…” Indeed, it is we, as human beings trapped in a consciousness whose purpose and origin will forever escape us, who “gnaw hungrily” in our own minds – which in a manner of speaking are “inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond space and time.”

Life is the eternal cusp of becoming. It is what Heidegger described as “being” (Dasein). It is the point toward which we constantly strive but never arrive. Life, the essential fact of our very existence – our life force – is desire. Desire and pleasure are connected but not synonymous. Desire is that force which compels us to the point of satisfaction – to the point of reaching our goal (whatever it may be). It is the neurological system that behaviorists argue impels us towards certain behaviors.

The problem, of course, is that this system is at its most engaged – the neurons fire most intensely and the release of dopamine is most pronounced – at a point before we reach our objective. And so, in the end, we as living things are wired to seek and compelled to desire regardless of the outcome.

One can derive all sorts of pseudo-profound axioms about life and its meaning from this fact (i.e. “it’s about the journey, not the destination”). But these are just echoes of mind, of our desire to create patterns, to believe there is true purpose and meaning behind our actions.

There isn’t, of course. Our purposes and actions are no more significant than those of a flea biting a dog, or of that dog’s preoccupation with a ball or a bone that it cannot reach.

In the end, that is our end. We live and breathe and grow and think in spite of ourselves. We are built to strive. Towards what it usually isn’t clear. But always there is the impulse, the compulsion. Always we are propelled forward, oozing out into the world like a cup full of liquid spilling out onto a clean table.

And so, this is why the pursuit of desirelessness – of the contemplation of desirelessness – is the ultimate purpose. And yet, it is not a pursuit – or at least cannot be understood as a pursuit. In fact it cannot be understood at all. It’s a pursuit beyond all pursuits. This is the vipassana – insight into the true nature of reality. This insight is at root insight-less. It is being one with Lovecraft’s “blind idiot god.” It is, in a sense, a being beyond being.

The Sorcerers

December 1, 2013

The Sorcerers

L. Sprague de Camp

They say the men of magic are all dead.
No more does the diviner in his swoon
Perceive the future in his mystic smokes;
No more the reckless sorcerer invokes
A demon fell to serve him. Xaltotun,
Imhotep, Merlin, and the rest, it’s said
Are gone from modern life.

But yesteryear, one who, the tale relates,
Was called MacGregor Mathers, Kabbalist,
Had built his Order of the Golden Dawn,
Donned robes, and struggled with the Devil’s spawn –
The wizard Crowley, skulking Satanist –
And, exiled, played at four-men chess with Yeats,
A ghost, and Mathers’ wife.

Then, too, in London sat, with cigarette
In hand, unkempt and testy, azure-eyed,
The uncrowned empress of the occult world –
Huge Helena Blavatsky. Round her swirled
A horde of chelas who, though daily plied
With dicta from Mahatmas in Tibet,
Were locked in frenzied strife.

And what bewhiskered Alchemist of yore
Made gold from lead with such astute address
As Mrs. Eddy, Hubbard, and their kind
Turn doctrines full of gibberish refined
To fortunes from the dupes that they impress?
With such, as in the mystic times before,
The world will long be rife.

From Anne McCaffrey, ed., Alchemy & Academe (New York: Ballantine, 1970), 41-2.

[N.B. Synchromystically, this is the 666th post on this blog...]


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