Esalen In-House Get-Together

4 August 1998
Esalen, CA




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- Jonathan In Progress

and then again the question part makes it most interesting. We'll begin at 20:00 every night, and then we'll just go as long as there seems to be something to say. 

As far as today is concerned, it's completely open. People can say what they would want to hear, or ehm, or ask questions, or, you know, I can extemporize... Whatever works. I don't know what the expectations of the people here are, so why don't you tell me?

And if necessary, I'll organize some hideously declined process where everyone is forced to say something. Or you can just grow up and those of you who have something to say, say something, and those who have not, not! Your choice! Hahaha.

Jump into the fray, save a friend! Yeah.

Sure, I can talk about that. I mean I've been thinking I guess more about my own philosophy, because I've been in the past couple of years have had more negative attention than I ever had before. I mean it wasn't overwhelming, but those of you who are on the novelty list, know, that there were some fairly ugly catfights over the higher mathematics of the timewave, and eh, and so I got used to thinking of myself as something which needs to be defended. So that was interesting.

Also, I don't know whether it's that I'm getting older, or that the society is taking a sort of different developmental turn, but eh, I find lots more of what goes on seems, ehm, not only idiotic, but sort of personally irritating and confronted to.

And so I find myself, at least in my mind, going through a lot of kvetching and grinding about the situation in terms of public discourse and the search for truth and understanding. It's become, ehm...

Well let me talk about this a little bit: In California, at any rate, and since we're in California I'll talk about it more vehemently, because when I've tried this rap in England, and in New York City, people say: "We don't have this problem you're talking about!" Especially in England.

And basically, so what I've identified is a kind of social virus of political correctness, generated either north or south of here a couple of hundred miles, and the basic notion is: it has become uncool to point out, even to yourself, that somebody else doesn't make sense. And I've talked a bit about this a little bit at Esalen, I've called it the Balkanization of empistemology, which is a very fancy phrase for meaning you have to show due respect to people who can't tell shit from Shinola. You have to admit that it's a... the search for truth is a very uncertain enterprise, and that revelation is on an equal footing with science, and that the whole notion of evidence is hideously stifling and legalistic, and not to be taken seriously, and soforth and so on.

So ehm, I come up against this problem fairly often, because a certain portion of my audience is flakier than I am comfortable with. And so I've had to try and understand how this could happen. My thing consistently for 20 years or something has been in tight orbit around psychedelics, and the psychedelic experience. With special emphasis on "experience". That it's not a philosophy, it's not a revelation, it's not a lineage, it's not a teaching. It's an experience!

And how you obtain it is quite simple, you know, you ingest a plant or a substance. It's not about, you know, dietary prohibition, celibacy, obedience, constancy, moral work, none of these things enter into it! It was this very simple method.

And I always... The reason I was so keen for it, was because when I was growing up, in my youth, I was very interested in the idea of the paranormal. Of the miraculous. And I remember one of the early things I read was Rawcliffe's 18-19th century study "Illusions And Delusions Of The Supernatural And The Occult", which lists, you know, ectoplasm,

- ErikJ In Review

ectoplasm, crowd-hysteria, mesmerism, ouija boards, all these things are discussed in their turn. So my fascination was with the weird and the fringy, even the occult and the frankly magical and the heretical. But my method was always scientific, it was never to believe these things unquestioningly, it was always to take a A.E. Waite's book of ceremonial magic and, you know, collect rosemary and steal the proper instruments from the village rectory, and, you know, saves the hopes and then attempt the conjuration and then - if it failed - put a checkmark after 'medieval ceremonial magic': you know, "does not compute" and move on.

- jonas In Review

So, I grew up in a small town, in a very isolated situation, and nothing about this seemed strange to me - this method of approaching the occult, and I read J.B. Rhine and that was all about statistically gathering data and so forth and so on. Well, somewhere along the line, and some people interestingly have suggested, both to me personally, and then I've seen it in print, that these very substances and plants that I'm so keen for, have somehow had on the mass mind the effect of generally softening heads, so that epistemological rigor has broken down and rules of evidence have been compromised. And now, every half-baked intuition can come flooding through, and as long as it has its coatery of bleating adherence, it will take its place in, you know, the great yellow pages of american revelation as part of the spiritual smartness board. Well, I abhor this argument, because the whole point with psychedelics was to cut through the programming and the Kant and the propaganda of culture to true truth, real reality, not to just initiate an era of intellectual permissiveness, where everything in the spiritual marketplace was placed on the same pedestal as euclidean geometry. And in a way, this is what has happened. So I'm interested to understand what went wrong and, you know, I don't know if anything can be fixed anymore, but it can be fixed in my own mind if I understand it. It began this devolution of the discursive environment with a healthy skepticism of science, there had been too much science. And science had thrown out too many babies with the bath water. I'm talking approximately the time of the birth of the human potential movement and the coming on of LSD and all that. What was happening in science at the same time was: people were building atom bombs, or they were propounding behavioral psychology, ratomorphic theories of behavior, it was a great era of the triumph of reductionism and so forth. So a whole lot of people wrote deconstructive books and essays about science and trying to link it back to the spiritual, and successfully in my opinion. Probably the most dramatic of these books was Thomas Kuhns book, probably most of you have read it, 'the structure of scientific revolutions', where he offers the for the time startling proposal, and then proves it, that modern science is actually based on very woo-woo revelations, spiritual encounters with aliens, people who had visionary dreams and so forth, and that the story science likes to tell about how it does its work, which is: you take your colleagues, ...

- jonas In Review

you take your colleagues, earlier work, you carefully check the facts, you perform experiments, you advance the theory by incrementally advancing hypotheses which you carefully test, .... . That's the story you tell once you have the beast dead in the boat, but the real experience of dragging one of these things out of the water is much more dramatic and hair-raising and chance-taking and, for instance, we know now that Gregor Mendel, when he did his experiments with sweet peas, that if he had actually been rigorous in his observations, he would have missed the laws of genetic segregation: the sweet pea doesn't quite perform in the theoretical way that Mendel's notebooks seem to show. What he did was he rounded up and rounded down because he already had an intuition that the recessive gene would have a certain mathematical characteristic, so he played with the data to make the theory right. Well, then it turned out it was right, but rarely can you play this game and get away with it the way he did. So, as acid came on in the late 50s and the early 60s, and as science reached its most reductionist and obnoxious crescendo, there was this healthy skepticism of science: it had gone too far, now it was producing atom bombs but not giving us a social psychology or a theory of psychoanalysis or anything like that we could really use, that seemed to be coming from the underground. What was wrong with the science? Well, I don't want to spend a lot of time on this, but just as an aside if you're interested in it: I think it had become too dependent on probability theory, on statistical analysis, on certain assumptions in the way it did its mathematical book-keeping, (that) were not apparent to the second, third, generation of scientists working in this manner. So when I'm confronted with a historical phenomenon that seems like it's gone off the tracks, it got into the ditch, my method is to go back through its history to try and find the last sane moment that it knew, and then make judgements based on that. Well I think if you analyze science in that way, the basic idea of science before the rise of probability theory, is "science is the idea that human beings can understand nature", not relate to it, not ritualize it, not worship it, but intellectually encompass it, somehow, through modeling. And when you try to do this, a rule that quickly forces its limitations upon you is, and it's very basic to the western mind, is this thing formulated as Occam's razor. William of Occam was the 14th century philosopher, who founded a point of view called 'nominalism', but the thing that Occam said that is germane for this argument is, he said it in Latin and there's different arguments about exactly what he said but here's the boil down: "hypothesis should not be multiplied without necessity", or to further boil it down: "keep it simple, stupid", or halfway between these two points: "In all situations the simplest adequate explanation should be preferred". So, see what this it's also sometimes called the principle of parsimony, parsimony being the simplest and most elegant way of doing something, so it's the principle of parsimony that the simplest adequate explanation should always be preferred. This is a great idea! I don't think you will get into trouble with this idea. And, to sort of close the loop generated by Jim's question, this is where the reaction to science has gone wrong. 

- jonas In Review

- jonas In Progress

- poodle In Review