The dictatorship of sight

I hear that as many images have been captured in the past 6 months, as have been taken in the history of humanity to-date (paintings, drawings, films, photos etc).

There are also increasing numbers of people missing whole longed-for events because they are bound up with capturing them on their mobile phones. Unlike our grandparents we have a constant record of our past. It is re-presented to us on Facebook and by friends and family alike.

What effect is the fixing of our image having on our psyche and soul?

(It’s not a rhetorical question).

What was the life of our senses like maybe 100 years ago, and indeed for all of the development of our species until that point?

Our world would have been smelly. We each have our pheromones and scent, which are now covered, deodorised and washed away. Then, there would have been a rich scent-scape. Smell is a sense that is strongly associated with emotion. The nerves in the nose are a direct extension of the brain and feed in to the limbic system, our emotional brain. That’s why particular smells evoke such vivid memories and sensations. We now live in a relatively odour-free environment (a non-scence world?) and what smell there is from bottles rather than bodies. What difference does that make to our development?

Our world would also have been full of natural noise, and probably less of it. Birdsong, people arguing, the clip clop of horses in the street, the sound of wind in trees. (Oh yes, and sounds of pain and anguish from the diseased and dying).

Then of course, we lived hugger-mugger and would (I think?) have been constantly in- touching – literally rather than “by phone, “by text” etc…

..and our visual sense would have been present and alive rather than past and fixed. We would, I think, have perceived ourselves through the eyes of others rather than through mirrors and photos. Yes, we aged, but without the constant record and reminder of it.

We would, in short have been much more fully present. Here, now, alive, available to each other human to human. We would not have been waiting for the e-mail, the text, and the call. We would not have had some part of our mind in another place or another time.

We’re increasingly going backward into the future, with our eyes fixed on the rear view mirror, rather than on the road ahead or with the passengers in the car with us.

Which fixes us as materialists. The material, physical world is always in the past. Literally (see Whitehead, Process and Reality). It does not exists in the present, but is crystallised out by our free will from the stuff and limitless potential that is the future. As quantum physicists have shown again and again – everything is potential until observed. It is the act of observation that crystallises out the particular phsyical world – and by then its already in the past. As our ancestors put it, we are the sisters of Wyrd, spinning fate at the foot of the Tree Ygrdrassl.

The past, the material, is dead and done. Let’s live in the present, with each other, and look to the future.

On Composure

From “On kissing, tickling and being bored” Adam Phillips

The writing is a pleasure of itself; so much so that I suspect sleight of hand, the magician’s smile. Composure is proposed as a defence against and in the face of – “the cumulative trauma of development”. As Freud would have it, composure is part of the ego’s defence against the body – “a form, largely unconscious, of vigilant self-control”. Winnicot perhaps would view it as an affect of the mind, itself a defence against the uncontrolled environment that faces the infant; a form of self-reverence with the mind as substitute for mother.

Beautiful. Elegant. Revealing. What though, of the magician and his context? Is in not in the nature of an analyst to view development as a accretion of trauma; therefore to see all aspects of the psyche as defensive? This is not to blame, or take issue; simply though to point out that most writing about the mind has come from those treating mental disturbance – from Freud onward.

Instead of starting from Ruskin, “to compose, is to arrange unequal things”, where would Jung has begun? Perhaps in balancing opposites – anima and animus – and allowing for the potential of their resolution into a new state. In his language composure would perhaps have been a state evoked by integration, rather than a shield against inevitable trauma.

I would dearly love to know what Adam Phillips thought. Whatever it were, it would be a delight to read, and in itself worthwhile.

Depression. Real or immaterial?


The BBC ran a piece recently about depression (All in the Mind: Radio 4). Researchers have found that when depressed people find it almost impossible to call to mind any positive memories. They selectively remember dark events only. Even when specifically reminded about real happiness, depressed people recall this in monochrome and in distance, rather than the glorious technicolour happy memories of upbeat people. Which, though is cause and which effect? Who wouldn’t be chained to a black dog if their whole memory landscape was dark, fearful and painful?

I connect this with a piece from Whitehead’s Process and Reality. Working out of quantum physics and relativity he shows that “reality” is in fact a process, of becoming and not the “material” so beloved of atheists. He argues for a philosophy of organism where reality is eternally spun in the present out of crystallised past memories using the stuff of limitless potential that is the uncrystallised future. (Shocking paraphrase of course). In any event in his model, the fundamental atom of reality is an “actual entity” or “actual occasion” which inherits only a selective part of the past, and in that selection alters the path of the future, a process he calls “concrescence” ( the process of making concrete).

Is it in the selection of memory (or feelings as Whitehead describes it) that lies the mechanism of free will?

In any event, how sensible it seems that selective negative memories create depression – a state in which we can only remember negative experience. A seemingly unbreakable loop. Conversely, remembering joy, leads to joy and creates joyfulness. Perhaps a parent’s real job is simply to fix their child in a happy positively reinforcing mental rut? However, in absence of a childhood filled with love, what then? Well, according to theBBC, the researchers have found techniques that work to jolt people into remembering light rather than dark events, and that in turn works to set a new upward path. In all compassion for those of us who he been in the prison of depression- let’s keep reminding each other of all that’s good, loving and hopeful…

Spirit Levels

I was in a pub in Edinburgh yesterday. It was packed, shoulder to shoulder. We were all intent on following the British and Irish Lions in their final rugby match against Australia. At the end “we” won via a series of sensational tries.

We were, of course, intent on the television screens around the pub. I was lifted into a space and life shared with that group in that pub as each try was scored and we all cheered. We became something separate – the momentary “we” was new and different from the collection of individuals normally described as we.. I was struck by the sense of one-ness. Looking at the people, rather than the screen – we shared the same rapturous expression – but on each of our individual faces.

This is, I believe, what we are drawn to as the joyful solution to the pain and loneliness of living and dying. We can become something different and shared; living in common and on a different spirit level. As that happens we lose our sense of self, our individuality and our ego, and become something qualitatively different. (See God as emergent property, or epiphenomenon).

Whilst I have, at least to my own satisfaction, proved God. It is a proof that touches my mind rather than my real self. It turns out that rational knowledge of the existence of God is a poor friend with which to confront death and loss. In my 40’s I lived through existential angst, a dark night of the soul. I had been fed since childhood with the comfort of the knowledge of God and my friend and brother, Jesus Christ. I had though been trained as a scientist. Richard Dawkins had been something of a hero (I majored in verebrate evolution at Cambridge) and as we know he preaches that Science somehow disproves God. Who was right – my loving mother or an angry scientist? So, I decided to live in non-belief and confront that question from a premise and experience of an atheist. It turned out for me that atheism is a belief system, with internal logic and no proof beyond the opening statement. I know that now. Atheists open with the axiom – there is no God – and from that premise (and ignoring all awkward facts along the way) go on after some verbal and logical gymnastics to restate it as THERE IS NO GOD. It’s nothing more than a circus trick, and it’s only possible because NO premise can be logically proved or disproved. (Gödel, Heisenberg). Given a premise and some logic rules you can “prove” the premise. Well I can do that from the statement there is God, and to be absolutely frank it’s infinitely more likely. Here…

Let God be that which came before existence.
Time and existence exist.
Therefore God exists.


(By the way – who wrote those penetrating words in the Anglican service which define God as.. existing beyond time, both source and final purpose. Was that really written in the 16th century?)

So, it has has been a surprise and a relief to see through the ill-logic, one might say intellectual conceit, of materialists; and to move from the lonely existentialism of Sartres to the connected existentialism of Martin Buber. To perceive Whitehead’s rationale of our life in process at the ever moving edge of spiritual present as we crystalise the past out of the future.

But understanding is not the trick. It is in the moments of loss-of-self into the commonwealth of spirit in which there is intimation of immortality. The loss of our-self into the crowd in the pub, the shared smile, the surge of love for wife/mother/brother/friend/child, the rapture of connection with the countryside. Those are tangible glimpses of the next spirit level.

I have recently conceived of the moment of dying as a “fading to joy”, losing one’s identity into God. I now see that a better expression would be “surprised by joy”. Has that been used before?

After Linear Time: Anthropological Ruminations on the Afterlife

A review of “After Linear Time: Anthropological Ruminations on the Afterlife” an article by Phoebe Cottam UCL

At heart this essay questions the basis and nature of anthropology. This academic discipline is apparently caught up with a desire to be seen as a formal science – however “that anthropology is a science is a significant point of contention within the discipline”. Certainly within UCL there appears to a striving to prove anthropology’s objectivity. This is reflected in the seminar on discussion on “afterlife” which prompts this essay response. The seminar appears to have commenced with a demand to disavow any belief in afterlife and to consign any non-materialist beliefs to the “observed” and presumably inferior races and civilisations.

Cottam asserts that anthropology is a science – “firstly for its positioning within an ontology I call scientific, secondly for its commitment to objectivism”. The first half of this statement appears to be a statement of an axiom and the second to anchor the study of humans within objectivity.

The essay quotes Wallach and Schmidt (Repairing Plato’s Life Boat with Okham’s Razor) with their definition of scientific worldview comprising:

– The atomist hypothesis
– The mechanistic hypothesis
– The materialist hypothesis
– The time irreversibility hypothesis

The rest of the article questions the earlier assertion that anthropology is a science, essentially by attacking the latter time irreversibility hypothesis, which is a fundamental assumption of both mechanism and materialism. Anthropologists find many societies have a concept of co-existing linear and non-linear time , for instance “the two forms the Maya imposed on their past, historical time and cosmic time”. Essentially if existence transcends linear time then a fundamental tenet of the ontology of science is undermined. This leads to the essays’ eventual conclusion that there is a belief system operating within anthropology that wishes to suppress other beliefs – “we cannot presume an anthropological discussion of the afterlife to be apolitical”.

The essay might equally have made a significant evidence based challenge to each of the three other pillars of the scientific-materialist paradigm. However at heart it is pure logic that undermines any claim by anthropology to be a science. A study of man by man must always involve the subject with the object, and it has been proved within mathematics (Godel’s incompleteness theorem) and science (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle) that because of an infinity of self-referential feedback loops that all “knowledge” is unprovable and can ultimately be traced back to an original axiom or belief.

As Douglas Hofstadter puts it (Godel Escher Bach) “By the way, in passing, it is interesting to note that all results essentially dependent on the fusion of subject and object have been limitative results. In addition to the limitative Theorums [eg Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorum], there is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which says that measuring one quantity renders impossible the simultaneous measurement of a related quantity. I don’t know why all these results are limitative. Make of it what you will.”

Faith is at the core of all, and we would do well to step outside the edifice of thought that it gives birth to, and openly acknowledge our intrinsic beliefs. Atheist materialists simply start from that as an axiom (see above for the 4 hypotheses underlying the scientific worldview). Their dishonesty is to pretend that the resultant logic chain somehow proves the initial premise. Other great religions at least simply state their belief as just that – belief.