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New Age scientism (with Peter Wilberg)

Adam to Peter on New Age fetishizing of “energy”:

New Age scientism is just the flip side of corporate state science: commercialized counter cultural science. But people are looking for community and to feel like they are not alone in rejecting the mainstream narrative.  With the continued repression and demonization of alternative biology and medicine, it pushes the counterculture to politicize and take mass-culture forms and embrace its oppositional status. As always in politics or any mass culture phenomenon, people tend to gather around slogans that appear to oppose or at least mark off a group sense to differentiate from other groups. 

Mainstream medical science focuses on the reductive and mechanistic, and on the material substance, so the alternative crowd focuses on the neglected side: the “whole” system, energy, dynamic process, and they naturally turn to the narratives of validation: any of the sciences that appear to confirm or support the neglected side of medicine: quantum biology and systems science.  I can’t claim to be doing anything essentially different than them, albeit from a more nuanced perspective. I might even add that I think some of those guys go too far in trying to negate the mainstream materialist paradigm.  


One New Age thinker I have some respect for: Rupert Sheldrake.  Sheldrake has, I believe, done some good work, but I think his insistence on making everything about “morphic resonance” and morphogenetic fields, forces the opposition to reductive biology back into the vitalist mode by bracketing off life as something essentially different, as some kind of special energy, or some special field.  One of my heroes Mae Wan Ho called him out on similar grounds in a video I saw and he didn’t like it too much.  Though she too was a bit too eager to wave the neo-lamarkian banner in my opinion.  She did, however, have enough education to recognize she was carrying on something of the late 19th and especially the early 20th century version of Naturphilosophie and its project of integrating metaphysics and theology with science, for she would always try to ground her development of quantum biology in Whitehead and Bergson. 

The problem with the New Age science–just like main stream science–is that it lacks a knowledge of philosophy and so merely accepts the philosophical assumptions of the most generic empiricism and thus misses any possibility of effective critique or productive new vision.  Which is why I follow Bergson and Deleuze so closely.  They draw heavily from Darwin, Weismann, and the mechanists; as well as the vitalists.  They recognized the trap of dialectical negation that we are seeing playing out right now in the covid debates.  


Whether its germ theory vs. terrain theory, pro/anti-vax, or covid exists or doesn’t exist, the debate frames everything in such generic and sloganized terms that any mutual understanding is precluded. Which is why I am less concerned with the fetish of any one particular word than I am with fetishizing terms to begin with.  I see nothing any more essentially problematic with “energy” than I do with “awareness”.  I think both terms have their problems and value.  There are certainly just as much fetishizing of “awareness” as there is of “energy” in the shallower circles of the New Age.  But like you do with awareness, I can and do much to make the term “energy” more critically useful and meaningful.


As for the essay you sent by Tennenbaum, I liked it but I don’t actually buy the whole silly Larouchian agon between Platonists and Aristotileans.  Not that intellectual history can’t be divided up roughly along those lines (but where to put Berkeley–an empiricist idealist?), but it misses the point.  It does tempt the impatient and power-seeking with a feeling of grasping it all in a single melodramatic frame.  One of my first real wake up calls into philosophy was reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”as a high school kid, which has a similar theme and served my young power-seeking mind well.  A little later though, after some humbling initiation, I remember watching so many spiritual intellectuals fall for Ken Wilber’s shtick who also framed all cultural history as a competition between “ascenders and descenders” that needed to be “integrated”.  I read Wilber’s books but could clearly see the problem. Trying to articulate it led me to the humbling task of coming down off the transcendental high-horse and working to learn things on their own terms, and find the value in everything.  


So whether the goal is defeat or integration, the melodramatic trap works by appealing to our need to find generic abstractions and slogans instead of working patiently from within any discourse. These melodramatic narratives are what my essays have been about and the last one about how they feed into politics and the oedipal drives of culture producers.  
While I admit, relative to the mainstream, I am pretty deeply on the spiritual side of things, and so have a strong commitment to critiquing the dominant materialist leanings of modern society, I think it important not to attempt some external critique or even some integration of perspectives from some transcendent third term.  There is no “awareness” principle in my thinking that can deliver us to the ground of being or meaning outside the context of any situation, even if awareness is a good term for the process of immanent critique. 

As Derrida once said, “Peace is found only in a certain silence that is determined and protected by the violence of speech.”  I agree with Steiner that the most important thing in our times is not so much an integration of the descending and ascending currents(Lucifer and Ahriman), but an awakening of the individuating spark of love (Christ) that can spiritualize science and the intellect and ensure the spiritual becomes a process of individuation and not a regression into static (Platonic) essences.  

Peter:

I thank Sheldrake’s first book and his concept of ‘morphic resonance’, which I understand in a very particular way (the resonance of form and feeling tone)  for providing me with the vocabulary for my first ever attempt to conceptualise in writing, more than years after my first experience of it, the pair meditational practice of what I later came to call ‘morphic resonation’ or simply ‘resonation’. 


The important thing for me is to know what I am here for, and what my Intent is in what I do or write, and who or what purpose it is designed to serve, for this is rarely made fully explicit. 


We work within a horizon of possible accomplishents for the benefit of others, even if those accomplishment may require, to be accomplished, some compromise in terms of doing justice, within the limits of that horizon of possibility, to broader contexts and deeper questions and comprehensions. 


My books on The New Yoga are a case in point … which is why I still am keen to put them both out there and at the same time be done with them. But what gives them ongoing validity is their original grounding in lived and also shared experiencing of awareness.


My distillation of and site on ‘The Awareness Principle’ enabled me however to shed most of the Hindu symbolism which pervades The New Yoga, valuable though this was in coming to an living experience of it. 
Re. The Awareness Principle per se, I do see this an important new foundation for an enormous and very radical shift to a thoroughgoing ‘Consciousness Only’ ontology and epistemology, though linguistic questions around the word ‘awareness’ remain to be more deeply thought. But whether we speak of awareness of being aware, of sensing the activity of sensing, or of a knowing knowing, the ‘principle’ remains. It is certainly not a matter of merely raising the word ‘awareness’ to the status of some abstract transcendental signifier, but rather as a naming word for that in which we and all things dwell and of which they are all constituted and are constituent portions and embodiments, in a way that can be tangibly felt and experienced. 


This is what returns us to Berkeley’s ‘Three Dialogues of Hylas and Philonous’, and the  elegance of his arguments that the same cannot be said of the abstraction called ‘matter’, unless understood, as Samuel Avery understands it, as nothing ‘objective’ but rather a mere reification of the tactile dimension or ‘quale’ of (subjective) sensory experiencing. 
The fetishisation of ‘awareness’ by Rupert Spira and other new New Agers is a different matter altogether, going hand in hand as it does with a very traditional ‘spiritual’ rejection of the realm of sensory experiencing, and in particular a failure to recognise the way in which sensory qualities we are aware of give expression to innately sensuous qualities OF feeling awareness or ‘soul’ as such – to ‘soul qualities’.


And whilst I have a catalogue of formal disagreements with many of Steiner’s assertions, I recognise and resonate with his emphasis, which finds its echo in Seth, of the importance of the capacity to not just more or less crudely or polemically conceptualise experience in  intellectual discourse and generic concepts, but to experience concepts, even abstract ones, in a tangible and living manner (the “conceptual sense” in Seth). In contrast, what Heidegger called ‘the theoretical comportment’, ungrounded in inner knowing or feeling awareness and experience, reigns supreme even in the discoursive realm of existential philosophy and phenomenology. 


(I read a paper recently on the concept of ‘existential feelings’ which, whilst interesting in its own way, clearly showed that that the author had not made the slightest attempt to phenomenologically explore the concept experientially, but instead limited himself and his understanding of phenomenology to mere idle speculation ‘about’ its relation to ‘lived experience’ – thus turning even the latter into a mere unlived generic concept!)

Re. Lucifer and Ahriman, I have a hard time understand what is meant by ascending and descending currents, except in relation to breath and awareness. Currents of what? Descending or ascending from where or to where? Whence the named personifications of these currents? Of course I have read the ‘spiritual science’ on Lucifer and Ahriman but have not found in it a helpful guide to understanding ‘the nature of reality’, either personally or generally. I see more of a tendency to somewhat pompous mystification and reliance on symbols – rather than authentic mysticism or symbol and archetype free gnosis – in such language, and that of theosophy and anthroposophy in general. 


But then we all have our pet prejudices, and I have a cartload of them, including national ones:) To me, French philososophers tend towards towards a passionate but pure form of abstract intellectualism, often of an ornately, if not baroquely circumlocutionary sort of a sort which drives straight and linearly logically thinking English philosophers crazy. The English suffer from intolerance of poetic, dialectical or depth thinking in any shape or form. German thinkers swing to the furthest and most rigorous extremes in all philosophical directions possible – except of course, superficiality or eclecticism. 


Original ‘primary philosophy’ rather than secondary or tertiary writing about dead philosophers or past philosophies is hardly done anymore in academia. Instead it’s largely vultures picking over big-name bones. American thinking and philosophy? Well, that’s for you to say!!!But I am more than a little disturbed by a general tendency, symptomised by figures like Donald Hoffman and his ‘user interface’ model of reality.I agree wholeheartedly, of course, with all your well put comments on him. But he is by no means the only representative of this type of techno faux philosophy. I find it everywhere. And the growing problem is, who is there to see through this sort of stuff anymore? And for how long will there still be any more than a handful capable of really seeing through it (not least if and when that scary BidEd agenda is carried through. What will become of philosophy then, I wonder?) 

I begin to appreciate more and more Heidegger’s emphasis on the role of ‘the few’ or ‘coming ones’ in guarding a knowing historical awareness in the stillest silence. But I also begin to suspect that the whole reality-as-simulation type idea indirectly supports or prepares the ground for the normalisation of even more layers of virtualisation within the ‘Matrix’. NB Latest bright idea from the UK: new type of art camera that allows you to enter a painting and get a full multi-sensory 3D virtual ‘experience’ of everything in it. As if just looking at a Rembrandt was not enough for those with eyes to see. And what of a Picasso? Talk about Kindergarten ‘Kultur for Kids’. But really part of a wholesale assault on culture. ‘The New Barbarism’.

adam:

American philosophy? That is what I write about and why I like critiquing Spengler, for we are indeed the thinkers of civilization, leading the way to the future, for good or ill. Which is why we have spearheaded the New Age and contemporary spiritual thought. Wherever people may be born, whatever cultural heritage, this country forces you to think for the future, and those with their eye on the future are drawn here.  Theosophy started here, Astrology was modernized here by Rudhyar, whose book “Culture, Crises, and Creativity” influenced me greatly (he and his astrologer friends are probably responsible for the term “New Age”, coined long before it became pejorative.  Castaneda, Jane Roberts, William Irwin Thompson, every real original thinker of the New Age lived here, and most of the philosophers I read are American (or British whom I tend to think of as deeply related in complex ways).  One may say American culture is merely a utilitarian derivative of European high culture, but that is why I spend much of my writing defending the late-stage culture as the real challenge, as the potential transformation point to what Thompson calls Wissenkunst (see my “Sacrifice and Repetition” for details).


As for morphic resonance, it has good metaphrorical value, but as a scientific theory it suffers from the same problems as vitalism, namely that it is an ad hoc mystical sounding hypothesis that doesn’t connect with the rest of science. Sheldrake falls back on the same nomological tactics that the mainstream does but without any support from them or an alternative worldview.  It is the same with Hancock in archeology, and other alternative figures that try to play the mainstream game but are dismissed by mainstream nonetheless.  They should be embracing a metaphysics that can ground all this stuff instead of trying to make pseudo scientific claims about spiritual matters.


Sheldrake makes some references to Whitehead, but reads him nomologically, even if his arbitrary “laws” are subject to change and evolution. Whitehead and Bergson get productively read by Deleuze and refined into a vast metaphysics. Mexican-American philosopher Manuel Delanda refines Deleuzian metaphysics into a clear ontology for science and spirituality alike.  I am building on these guys into some more esoteric and technical areas.  As I point out in my essays, this is where culture and philosophy are going and need to go, to building a “world picture” coherent and open enough to allow for us all to build on, critique, refine, and creatively expand.  We get too hung up on semantic debates and creative competition. But I agree with your critiques of “matter”. I just also see value in materialist and realist critiques of phenomenology and idealism.  Being is all of these things.  Its meaning can never be exhausted.  Some qualifications are more confused than others, but some of those errors can be important launching points for new developments.


My comments about “ascenders” and “descenders” was taken from Wilber, which I brought up as an example of someone trying to crudely integrate the sides of the essential dichotomy we are discussing, with resonances to the whole Larouchian Plato vs. Aristotle scheme.  Steiner had a similar theme, at times putting it in terms of Platonists and Aristotleans, at times talking about these very broad categories in more cosmological and mystical terminology, but which I nonetheless see as related to this basic spiritual/material divide.  Basically: generel trends in culture towards the spiritual, the abstract, or inner phenomenon or the outer, concrete, and material concerns.  Steiner creates a mythology for this, but whatever terms we use, or whatever form of this dichotomy we want to discuss, Steiner’s point I think is important and I think it dovetails with my broader concerns, detailed in my last major essay mentioned that critiques politics as well as suggesting a deeper psychic politics of reaction and dialectic “negativity” that always keeps us from true creative individuation. Unlike Wilber I don’t think some crude integration gets us anywhere, or with WIlber anywhere close to even Hegel’s rather vast but linear vision of process and progress.  Wilber never understood postmodernism.  William Irwin Thompson does a little better following Gebser and Aurobindo.  But I think Gebser in particular has some serious limitations which I develop in “It Could Have Been Otherwise”, though I don’t mention any of these people. I am using a lot of names here as shorthands because you may know these people’s work, but I suggest reading that essay or reading/listening to Megan’s reading of my essay “Sacrifice and Repetition” if you are interested in the details.


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