The following is from a series of exchanges between me and Gregory Desilet. Gregory and I have been writing back and forth for over a dozen years or so. I have placed some of my letters to him under the letters section of this website, but this recent exchange necessitates seeing both sides. We had been previously discussing the semiotics of the occult as well as History’s channel’s Unidentified, which is about the UFO encounter referred to as the Nimitz incident, parts of which I have posted recently. In the following exchanges I think we get very deep into the heart of the misunderstanding between two major aspects of our culture. His comments are in red. Mine are in white.
Okay, I was just curious about the extent to which you find the information relating to the Nimitz event to be compelling and unusual given the number of Pentagon and Navy personnel who have been willing to talk about it and confirm the info in the infrared video showing the object to have no heat signature. Such evidence can gain social traction—as it has, as evidenced in the briefings of Congress—where other testimony and evidence have gained no such traction. The difference is in the infrared video and in other high resolution video shown to Congress but not made public. This kind of evidence combined with the testimony of those who had visual sightings of the same object show the significant difference between what is called science and what may more loosely be termed the occult.
Science generates a social traction that occult phenomena cannot. I realize the word “occult” has a broad use as you have pointed out in relating it to the history of esoteric traditions. These traditions have a certain staying power through the centuries but they have not been associated with broad consensus any more than have various religious traditions. Science achieves much broader consensus than religious beliefs when it manifests at the technological level. It’s what science can DO technologically and can do on demand and replicate on demand that makes it so compelling and gives it broad social traction (for example, there is a consensus among Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, and other religious groups about the technology of gunpowder and that guns can kill, but there is no such consensus that so-called “holy water” can heal).
Ken Wilber attempts to solve this problem with his AQAL quadrant theory from which he derives his famous maxim: “If you want to experience X, do Y.” In other words, if you have a revelation or an enlightenment or an experience of godhead or some other esoteric experience and you want to make this real for others, all you need to do is tell them what they must do performatively to achieve the same experience or to expose yourself to the same phenomenon.
The problem with this approach, however, is that it does not produce reliable results. When someone performs the necessary actions to trigger the experience and does not have the desired experience, then the methodology loses considerable credibility. However, it does not necessarily lose credibility for its proponents because they can always resort to the clutch fall-back position of asserting that the initiate did not perform the necessary actions in quite the correct way. If they had, then the desired experience would have happened automatically, just like a causal connection.
But this is precisely why occult and esoteric traditions and practices will NEVER (IMO) achieve the kind of social traction science and technology achieve because the relationship between the performative script and the results is not a causal relationship. It is instead more like a semiotic relationship and it works in some cases and not in others perhaps for the same reasons that placebo effects work in some cases and not in others. When held with a certain level of fanaticism, almost any belief can produce results that look like magic in terms of effects on the body, as in the case of placebo cures. The apparent viability of “subtle energies” and their manipulations that you speak of, can likely be explained in this way.
The esoteric subtle energies of the body and—extending the metaphor—to the planet (such as ley lines) constitute a nexus of beliefs very hard, if not impossible, to discredit or disprove due to the equally subtle nature of the precise performative magic necessary, it is claimed, to reproduce the results. Whenever the “magic” does not work, the triggering performance was at fault. Thus, many proponents of the occult assert that these esoteric forms of knowledge have not been discredited but merely “lost” through the ages because the practices necessary to reproduce the results have been lost or corrupted to the point where the performances are no longer viable. Thus, we have certain “gurus” who claim to have retrieved such knowledge and have a “special” connection to its origins that only they can pass on to others. How convenient for them! We have seen in all too many cases gross abuse of power on the part of such “gurus”—the vast majority of whom are eventually exposed as money-grubbing charlatans, con artists, and sexual predators.
So, in my opinion, your venture into the land of the occult and the esoteric is fraught with multiple dangers and the likelihood that these traditions and practices will remain on the margins of the social fabric—much in the manner of cults—until such time as their knowledge can manifest itself with results that correspond to the reliability and replication on demand seen in the connection between science and technology. To which I would add: good luck!
This does not mean I am a big fan of science and technology. On the contrary, I am a big critic of science and technology. But I am an even bigger critic and skeptic of the occult and the esoteric because I have seen too much abuse, loose thinking, and unreliable nonsense associated with these spheres of knowledge to award them with any heartfelt sympathy or support. So, as you venture down the esoteric road, keep your wits about you and do not take any wooden nickels. Look once, look twice, and then look a third time. On the third look you will probably see something you hoped you would not see. As you say, a certain amount of openness and faith may be required in making every connection, but that same openness and faith, as Derrida would no doubt warn, are also required for the success of every con artist and charlatan as well as the status of every “true believer.”
Thank you for the stimulating dialog and your concern over my interest in the “occult”, if indeed it is concern and not a rhetorical strategy! haha…just kidding, though it is interesting only knowing someone through this medium. I don’t think anyone that knows me in person would have such concerns. People tend to think the opposite of me, that I am too critical of everything. And it is true, I have a critique for everyone and everything. But I also try to see the value in everything and everyone, though it isn’t really my nature. It has taken a lot of work for me to be open! My tendency is to think everything is cliche, and I have never liked any groups, classes or teachers, just friends I can critique with. You are the closest thing to a mentor I have had in my adult life just because you are a living intellectual that I respect and talk to. I find myself exaggerating the influence you have had over me when telling people about you, mostly because I want to promote your work and deconstruction as a powerful discourse of promoting openness and respect—something I have always admired in you. But also because it is nice to have something positive to say about someone I “know”.
My instinct though is as a critic, and the more I listen and learn the more I tend to think that anyone with authority in this society is deluded or borderline autistic. I haven’t even been to a dentist in over a decade or a doctor in two decades. I healed all my tooth decay and my chronic illness and help others do the same, to think for themselves, heal themselves; though I enjoy helping people find the few smart people out there like you that have pieces of the truth to help them along. And I do think there is much to be hopeful for as non–reductive systems thinking is becoming more incorporated into society and its institutions.
Countercultural figures have problems too of course. There are good people everywhere and mostly well meaning but in health and psychology most people in the mainstream are incredibly dangerous and the alternative people are mostly crazy. The Chinese have a deep tradition of very grounded occultism though. The master I mentioned is a medical doctor and acupuncturist/ martial artist who fled China to get away from the thousands of students he was forced to teach there (not alternative at all, In China they fund and control their occult masters. They learned their lesson after they realized the value of their tradition again. Of course we just train our own in Black Projects). Like most humble Chinese men, he has no interest in cults or power. It’s those Indians that you have to watch out for! He just has little Tai Chi classes for his acupuncture clients sometimes, but my little brother, who goes around challenging every martial artist in town happened to figure this guy out as a real master. In any case, people started challenging him and after having to embarrass some of the supposed martial arts masters in town, he keeps to his medical practice now.
But honestly I hear what both mainstream and alternative physicians tell people every day and while they both say some stupid shit, mainstream doctors and nurses are some of the most brainwashed unthinking people there are, though they don’t realize it; In contrast Chi Gong masters are some of the most finely tuned instruments on the planet There is plenty of lab studies and research to back this up if you don’t have the personal experience. The level of sensitivity of these cats is worthy of respect. They can diagnose people accurately with a simple wave of the hand. Nonetheless I have little use for him. I healed myself and work with people that are doing the same. He can work on the people that can’t do it themselves. I do enjoy learning the tai chi he taught my brother. It is very empowering.
So as for the Nimitz incident, it is significant because it was recorded and allowed to be released by a group trying to use the public to advance their agenda. But as even they say, these events themselves are nothing special; they are near daily occurrences with the Navy; they just aren’t usually publicly acknowledged. Before this there was mountains of evidence but no one official enough to connect the dots for the common man who only listens to what he is told is acceptable. It’s just a conspiracy theory unless it is the corporate media’s conspiracy theory, then it is “evidence”. You seem to be impressed because it is an example of a formerly occult phenomenon rising to the level of banal consensus reality. Which is understandable. I am just less interested in judging truth by the standards of what reaches the level of common opinion. Doxa has its place, but thinking for one’s self is what is important. It is hardly just an issue of spiritual or esoteric culture.
In Deleuze’s metaphysics it is the opposition between doxa and creativity, between the singular and ordinary that is the important distinction. The banal binary of true/false is merely the brute and factual “secondness” as Pierce calls it. Same with anything reducible to cause/effect or the law of the excluded middle(again a theme in D&G’S WIP). Facts have their place, but they are always an abstraction from semiotic processes and their “quasi causal” inflection points. Ignorance of this breeds the worse kinds of delusion. Authoritative factuality is one of the most presently active destructive ideas in our culture. Hardly anyone listens to gurus anymore unless they call themselves scientists.
Again, I find it hard to reconcile your more Derridean inspired metaphysics with your positivistically flavored epistemology. But I look forward to reading your book to see how these influences pan out. It seems to me that you conflate some of the epistemological standards of linear science, which was dominant back when positivism was actually taken seriously by thinkers, with fields of science that are inescapably nonlinear—with the study of what is the vast majority of phenomenon in the world and which science is increasingly focused on. Nothing of real interest conforms to the standards you mentioned, though we can learn things by subjecting them to causal intervention. Yes machines and mechanisms are reliable and repeatable but we would have no psychology or social science, and no real effective biological modelling without complexity and nonlinearity, without a way of organizing mechanisms and models as causal interventions (see Ian Hacking’s work in philosophy of science and Byrne and Callaghan’s “Complexity and the Social Sciences” for an excellent overview).
Most of what we call occultism is just “practical psychology” as Aurobindo once defined “yoga”. But as Feyerabend points about scientific method, it is always just a myth retroactively applied to a process that is always complex and nonlinear. Method IS for suckers. But that is exactly why it is important for consensus, right? You just seem to value one kind of consensus as good because it happens to be the most popular now, and the consensus of the fringes as evil cults. Had the Nazis won, I think you would have seen a much more explicitly occult science consensus across the globe, and few in this reality would imagine that as good.
As it stands we are headed that way anyway under different terms because there is nowhere else to go. The universe is an occult game whether we call it that or not. It’s all just different sorts of power games, for good or ill. Just because someone is exposed as being unethical doesn’t mean they weren’t using occult power. A “free” will can do amazing and terrible things. Even someone with marginally strong independence and detachment can really dominate this world of needy suckers. And if you think it is all just normal psychology and placebo, I think you should take a look at the research before you assume too much. Again the line is fuzzy; in a sense we are all using occult power all the time. We just don’t have ways of understanding it that are coherent with our other cultural concepts. You certainly won’t understand UFOs without understanding the occult.
I understand not wanting to put the time in to learn and practice something without certainty of results. I never had that problem. I took too many drugs as a kid; meditation—learning to bring order to the chaos of energies I unleashed with drugs has been the only thing that has kept me sane. But drugs can be done safely. Aren’t mushrooms even legal in Colorado now? I took way too much LSD way too many times. I don’t advise drugs for most people, as we have discussed before. Don Juan told Castaneda they damage the energy body but that he uses them on people too stuck in rational structuring. The way I abused them they damaged my body for sure, but that forced me to learn for myself and figure shit out. Because after the floodgates opened I could not close them. There was never any choice or seeking out the occult for me. I stumbled into other worlds way over my head and had to learn to swim or drown. Too bad there aren’t more good masters to guide young people. I could have used one as a young man; though I doubt I would have listened, since all the authority figures in mainstream society jaded me to all authority.
It seems like the word occult has too many associations for you so let’s just consider metaphysics. I once heard Chomsky critiquing the word “physical” in an interview, pointing out how it is basically just used nowadays for whatever we think we understand. In which case metaphysical would indeed by a good synonym for the occult—just that stuff that defies common understanding. So by these definitions yes the occult will be countercultural, opposed to doxa, fringy, relegated to cults, precisely because that is how we defined it—as beyond what has been domesticated into common knowledge.
But as I was trying to illustrate before, the line changes all the time. As the metaphysical, that is, the abstract knowledge of generalities and “universals” gets formalized into concrete applied science, the metaphysical aspect gets repressed even though it forms the base of the science. The most easily understood linear phenomenon were the first to get formalized by modern science but over the last century or so, the formerly mystical aspects of biology and sociology, the “vitalism” and “Geist” of German idealism and natural philosophy have reemerged from a long battle with reductionism into the increasingly dominant paradigm of complex “emergence” in scientific modelling. (Physics was the first to get reductive and the first to discover reductionism’s limits, but the consequences have been diverted by both academic and occult politics).
Psychology and Medicine are on their way back towards the metaphysical after their reductive periods. Freud helped domesticate a lot of occult psychology, but it wasn’t through any narrow reduction to technological science. Though that did eventually play a part. But like in other sciences, the reductive aspects which played a part at the incipient stages of science, in order to separate it from the occult, eventually hits a dead end of banality and the occult reemerges as the virtual. The behaviorists will linger on but the cutting edge is at the fringe, where difference and differentiation (key Deleuze terms) are valued over repetition. Even theorists in academia while still couching everything in Freudian/Lacanian terms have long since embraced Jung in form while dismissing him in name (see Terrence Blake’s blog on this matter). Deleuze was ever the honest metaphysician, quoting Jung and Castaneda as well as the early Christian mystics along with his empiricism. He was smart enough to combine traditional metaphysics, science, an ontology of difference and reflexive modelling in a way that integrates everything in a nonconformist science and an (anti)psychology , unlike Ken Wilber’s conformist model of identity and compromises with positivism.
Both reductively and “generically” the virtual and metaphysical is becoming incorporated into the mainstream models and science itself is finding its metaphysics in the topological study of systems. It was this “metaphysics of science” that Bergson was looking for in his vitalism, that Deleuze embraced as it was just then coalescing in complexity theory as finally becoming “physical” or “material”, that is, understood with mathematics and capable of reliable modelling. Does it conform to the reductive logical formulas of linear science? Of course not. Not much in Biology does. Even linear processes in physics are the exceptions to the rule of non repeatable open systems. Only be closing down interaction and restricting systems to a linear relation between mechanisms can repeatability be maintained. This is helpful to find those causal trigger points within the virtual web, but if one restricts science to the mechanisms we can’t do much else beyond build simple machines and track the simplest point attractors. All the true high technology requires nonlinear science, requires an understanding of cybernetics, of how control is achieved in systems and especially evolutionary systems and organisms.
This doesn’t preclude predictability at all. It just necessitates modelling the occult; that is, understanding and formalizing the factors that have long been the domain of occult science—the extrapolations from patterns into predictions and projections of causal relationship. The fact that medicine seems to still follow the expectations of a scientific model long out of date is what causes so much misery. The focus tends to be on the relatively linear aspects of drugs, which have all kinds of unpredictable side effects, but their main effect is linear and therefore trusted over the traditionally intuitively nonlinear modelling of alternative medicine.
Are there charlatans in alternative medicine and psychology? Sure. But this is in some part a function of its position as countercultural. In China, where the esoteric aspects are still respected and are being integrated with Western science after a brief(in the timescale of Chinese civilization) Communist Party repression, there are more standards in place to protect against charlatans. To be a top acupuncturist there, you have to study for decades to develop an appreciation for and understanding of the complexity of those energy channels you seem to dismiss. Here doctors are little more than drug dealers and mechanics. Who are the charlatans really? The guy that sells you a quick fix that will repress your symptom the same way every time and keep you coming back for more, or the guy that works with you to develop a true progression towards independence if you make the effort? Again, this is no different than any exercise in self mastery. Most occultism is just helping people learn their instrument. Like any art, there are no assurances. It takes true creativity, not “automatic” formulas to master any medium or instrument.
But no need to debate. Once again, I think this comes down to you thinking this is about belief. You only believe what you think has been proved and I don’t believe in anything; that is, I find belief dangerous. I certainly don’t want to convince someone to believe anything. I don’t do anything I don’t understand or feel I can understand it safely by trying it. Though in practice, I am much more weary of things I do understand about what people don’t know they don’t understand, i.e. I don’t go anywhere near hospitals because they have no idea what they are really doing. I don’t “do” or believe in the occult either. It is how I see the world. Method is for beginners. Though methods are fun games when you know what they are about. All my choices flow from consideration of patterns that are common sense to me and other people who see the world like I do. Those patterns are formed through hours of daily self analysis. Unlike much psychoanalysis which you seem to be okay with and I admit has a limited use for those at a certain level (though even then, my style draws more from the alternative schools as well as philosophy and tantra as Peter Wilberg has formalized), the central theme of the occult is, as it was when philosophy emerged from it, self analysis, not experience or authority seeking. The irony is that I see the occult as the means to overcome external authority and you seem to be arguing for conformity as a way to protect against losing one’s self to someone else or to a false belief. The occult is always about self mastery, whether for one’s own good and the good of others or for the mastery of others in the black magic tradition.
Yes there is the tradition of surrender to the guru. When Ouspensky asked Gurdjieff about this discrepancy, Gurdjieff laughed at him. He said “you have no will yet to give away”. It is the same in psychoanalysis. The therapist must use projection and transference to help empower the patient. In a society where everyone is just looking for someone to believe or to approve of them, there is much room for abuse at all levels, though believing the certified authorities is often a much worse fate than believing the rather low level grifters on the spiritual scene. Reducing truth to what can be produced “automatically” as you suggest is not just a recipe for conformity, it is, despite the hope I have for a non mechanistic science and future spiritual culture, a likely dead end for humanity if we don’t recognize the con of neutral democratic liberalism and start scrutinizing every truth for the hidden “occult” will behind its power. My feeling though is that Theosophy, unlike the New Age might be right. We have a long hard road ahead regardless. I just hope to sew a few seeds for the alternative culture while I am here.