Saturday, June 18, 2016

Alexander Douglas — Apologising to Simon Wren-Lewis and Nick Rowe

This is probably going to be my last post on the philosophy of economics. Some recent events have led me to reassess my priorities.
I’m not abandoning politics or economics. I would just rather use this blog to write about the history of logic, and philosophy more generally. That fits my title better anyway. I’ve also come to the unwelcome conclusion that I’m quite bad at economics, whereas my career trajectory at least suggests that I’m not a terrible historian of philosophy.
What I’d like to do here is concede how much I now think I was wrong about and how much Simon Wren-Lewis was right about. A lot of this also applies to Nick Rowe, who has also been kind enough to engage with me over the last year or so.
First, I think that Wren-Lewis was probably largely right about MMT. His complaints were directed against the hard core of MMT supporters online, not the actual developers of the theory. He had two complaints:
MMT seems obsessed with the accounting detail of government transactionsThis seemed to lead to ideas that I thought were standard bits of macroeconomics
Now I think both complaints are quite fair, again if applied to the MMT fan base onlinerather than to Mosler, Kelton, Wray, Mitchell, Tcherneva, and the rest of the proper MMT theorists. In the blogosphere, I would add that they don’t apply to people like Eric Tymoigne, Brian Romanchuk, and Neil Wilson.…
Origin of Specious
Apologising to Simon Wren-Lewis and Nick Rowe
Alexander Douglas | Lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, London


Footsoldier said...

Then you wonder why Thatcher and Regan changed the world on this one lie.

"There is no such thing as government money just tax payers money"

They changed the world on this one lie.


Because they all stuck together no matter what and through huge amounts of money at a lie or lies.

The left are cowards,weak,apologetic with no spine. Like a bunch of Parisians sitting outside a cafe in Paris trying to solve the world problems. Then a bird shits on the table and the cancel the meeting because it is not perfect.

The left needs someone like Mike as a leader, no. bull shit and a spine.

Let's face facts here 99.9% of the left would not last 5 mins in Glasgow. They are too weak and why Labour was chased out of Scotland.

Alex really disappoints me here he has nothing to apologise for here. However, that is the huge problem

Yet he is just so eager to surrender.

That is why Thatcher and the right won every time.

If I met SWL I would stick the head on him and drag him down Sauchihall street for a mile until he was crying like a baby.

He is the one that should be apologizing and begging for forgiveness for the last 40 years.

Footsoldier said...

The rest of you can say well this is not how it is done pip pip.

Thatcher would be laughing at you all and that is why she won. She just didn't care winning at all costs is what mattered to her.

Bob said...

The name of the game is ridding ourselves of the status quo. That means some people have to be made uncomfortable. Alexander Douglas is welcome to retire to his fainting couch if the rigors of blog-based "debates" are too much for him.

Kaivey said...

I think I'm part of the hard core MMT fan base. It's awesome! The complete opposite of neoliberal austerity economics and it can blow the libertarians out of the water.

I was brought up with big government. In the UK, going back to my childhood, the government ran the trains, the energy companies, the health service, the Underground trains and the buses, the post office and telephones. My memories of big government are fond ones as it made me feel safe. And at school every year I would be checked by a NHS doctor to make sure everything was alright.

My dad had multiple sclerosis, MS, which crippled him badly and he couldn't work. So we were on benefits which wasn't very much money. My mum wanted a nice home like other people so she worked illegally as a dressmaker making garments for a businessman. The money was lousy as the businessman could take advantage of our situation. But nowadays I can understand that he was probably struggling to make a living too in a very competitive market.

At one point our whole house became a key ring fob making factory. My dad, my brother, and myself were all gluing the leather key rings fobs together and my mum was sowing them up. After a week of hard work I got pittance for it, and after a few weeks I gave it up - I would sooner be poor and just have no money - but my dad carried on for years gluing them. It was a struggle for him but he managed it somehow. We ended up with some nice, but cheap furniture, and the cheapest fitted carpets. Then eventually one day we got a nice colour TV like everyone else in the street.

We were told never to tell anyone about my mum working for the key ring man, and we had to make sure everything was put away before anyone came around. Many people would hate us, said my mum, and would turn us in to the police. I was really scared of my family getting caught. We had to shut the curtains early at night to make sure no one could see in.

We were not the underclass, we were a good honest working class family. At Sunday school we were taught the importance of sharing and that it was bad to be greedy. My mum and dad were never harsh, but they brought us up to be good, honest people. And today I still have this strong sense of right and wrong; so I find the Right shocking in what they can do, think, and feel: Their greed, their avarice, their hatred of the unfortunate, their lack of consideration for others, their selfishness, their aggression, their hypocritical self righteousness, and their tendency for war.

John said...

Alexander wasn't in any sense wrong. Why he's beating himself up over nothing is a mystery. Do you think the other side introspects in the way he has done? For pity's sake, the mainstream not only did not see Great Depression 2.0, they claimed that it was impossible for it to occur! He asked questions, the task of a good philosopher, which he unquestionably is: I'm currently reading his book The Philosophy of Debt, and it's clearly the product of a very sharp mind who has taken the time to really think about the subject.

Alexander wanted to pick apart some mainstream idea. He didn't succeed in the way he wanted. Well, so what? I probably can't pick apart, say, natural selection to the degree that I would like, but it doesn't mean that natural selection explains all aspects of life: how did it select and what evolutionary advantage is there for homo sapien sapiens ability to do algebraic topology and loop quantum gravity?

Alexander deservedly has taken issue with the MMT fanbase, who have not understood fully what the developers in fact say. But so what? Brilliant writers like Alexander need to keep plugging away: the neoliberal infestation is very deep, and it won't be cured easily. All good things take time. Evolutionary theory and cosmology is still plugging away.

Alexander may have concluded that price theory, capital theory and what not are beyond his abilities. But why beat yourself up about it? I've read most of Shakespeare's plays. I intend to read them all and reread all of them, and attend as many plays as I can. I have nothing original to contribute to Shakespeare studies, but that isn't a reasonable standard we should be aiming for. Promoting Shakespeare is, I believe, important. Like understanding and appreciating Shakespeare, I want to understand as much of the details of MMT as I can, but I know I'll never be Bill Mitchell. Maybe in time, with a great deal of effort, I'll be Neil or Brian, but Bill or Randy or Warren no! Alexander has a great gift for explanation, and I've found his posts informative and quite brilliant at times. I for one will miss him.

John said...


Unfortunately the story you tell is not unique. There are staggering numbers of people who are suffering and desperate. The hard right always do well out of people's misery, while the left always fumble the ball. We're seeing that with the EU right now. If the left refuses to educate itself and refuses to promote the policies that are available and understood to be available in a sovereign money economy, we are in for a nasty future.

Ralph Musgrave said...

So Simon Wren-Lewis claims there is nothing in MMT that is not in standard economics. Well as a senior member of the economics establishment he's bound to be a trifle dismissive of upstarts like MMTers.

Another point is that “standard economics” contains an awful lot of BS, e.g. Ricardian equivalence, rational expectations, expansionary austerity and much else. The beauty of MMT is that avoids the BS.

For an amusing slap down of some of the BS in standard economics, see this one minute video clip by Mark Blyth:

John said...

Ralph got there before I did. There seems to be a very tired old criticism of MMT that what is old is correct and what is new is hogwash. MMTers are the first to credit these old ideas that have been discarded for the bizarre stuff that fill textbooks today, some of which Ralph has pointed to. However, it does seem to me that there is a substantial amount of MMT that is original and correct. It's not just accounting, as those who wish to dismiss MMT claim. There are many aspects that jump out at you. In any case, those who dismiss important issues as mere accounting details or operation details are obviously unwell. Details are important, and show how the system in fact works, in practice not in some simpleminded, unrealistic model.

MMTers prefer to live in the real world. The mainstream fill their heads and their students' heads with mad ideas about rational expectations, efficient markets, equilibrium, indifference curves, veils over barter and all the rest of it. My favourite is all the empirical evidence against rising marginal cost. So what do the mainstream economists teach? Yes, rising marginal cost! Why? Quite simply ideology is more important than fact. You couldn't get away with this in almost any other subject, yet these economists demand their subject be considered a science.

I read Marc Lavoie et al's Microeconomics and Macroeconomics principles textbooks, and as different as they were to the standard Mankiw and Krugman fare, the new introductory macroeconomics textbook by Mitchell, Wray and Watts is conceptually different to anything I've seen in textbook format. Not only is it a matter of looking at the subject through a different prism, even the standard macroeconomic ideas can be seen in a different light. Don't fall for the mainstream lie that there is nothing new in MMT. There is, and it'll change how you look at economics and socio-economic and developmental problems forever.

For all the fans out there, buy the textbook and engage with the ideas in a serious fashion.

Matt Franko said...

John, 'natural selection' is another figure of speech....

So you can't make a statement like "how did it select?"

Ryan Harris said...

"the hard core of MMT supporters online"

I wonder which online MMT community he follows or refers to. Bill Mitchell, NEP, Mosler, are the only ones I know about. MNE features MMT prominently but has a much bigger focus on a wider range of topics, so I can't imagine he'd be put off by the stories that get presented here. Tom posts articles by mainstream and pk economists all the time.

John said...

Matt, good spot. I of course agree with you. My bad! Typing at speed and not rereading carefully what you have written leads to misunderstandings like that. But I hope you get the point about natural selection I'm making. It may be the major factor in evolutionary change but it just cannot account for all aspects of life. There's something else going on. There's some good work on natural selection, but like most science once you think you've cracked it, you realise that it just ain't so.

The only thing I really believe to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt is the second law of thermodynamics, although the other laws are almost certainly true. Everything else in science is up for discussion, and a lot of the fashionable stuff is fantastic nonsense. The unimaginably great Roger Penrose has a wonderful book coming out in a couple of months called "Fashion, Faith and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe". Other than his take on cosmology, his attitude is pretty much the same as mine, but then I've been reading him so long my views may have been formed by his! His previous books are astounding.

I think Brian Goodwin's book "How the Leopard Changed its Spots" is a better way of thinking about evolution rather than all the stuff that comes out of unquestioning natural selectionistas like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. Along with Brian Goodwin, I'd add the theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman and the so-called evo-devo researchers like Sean Carroll as making the best scientific cases for understanding the life sciences.

You can see why I was attracted to MMT. The intellectual renegades are always right!

jrbarch said...

Matt - what do you mean by 'natural selection' is another figure of speech.... So you can't make a statement like "how did it select?"

WikiDef - natural selection:
the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. The theory of its action was first fully expounded by Charles Darwin, and it is now regarded to be the main process that brings about evolution.

'Selection' is a noun and natural an 'adjective' and together they describe a noun 'process'. A process may be selective.

WikiDef - figure of speech:
a word or phrase used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect.

Am just trying to work out why you made the statement and how John understood and agreed with you. It's like trying to figure out a cryptic crossword for me. Thanks!

# and certainly quantum theory leaves natural selection gasping in the evaporating particle soup, as does all knowledge in a deeper context.

John said...

jrbarch, I took Matt to mean that the natural selection was in some sense "known". That is to say, it doesn't "know", it just does.These mutations act on the species and those that are best fitted to their environment survive. That's how I took Matt's point. Maybe he meant it in another way, a semantic way, which I've misunderstood.

It's not the best analogy, but it's something like asking how does light know that the way it travels is by the principle of least action? Light would have to travel along all known paths, find the one that has the least action, and then travel along it. Light does achieve the principle of least action, but it doesn't find the route of travel of least action and then follow it. So how does it do it? It's an amazingly deep problem. It'll mess with your head. It's like Mach's principle, the quantum measurement problem and John Wheeler's delayed choice experiment, amongst many other conundrums that will send you to a lunatic asylum if you think about them for too long.

There's some interesting stuff about Quantum Life. Haven't looked into it too deeply, but it may be more problematical for natural selection than it apparently helps. Many people are going gaga over how quantum mechanics can solve all of biology's mysteries. I doubt it, but it's possible. (Roger Penrose has his quantum mechanical solution to consciousness, but it doesn't seem right.) I'll just have to read the books and papers and make up my own mind.

Kaivey said...

Thank you for reading it.

Kaivey said...

They for hold of some monkeys and taught them how to open coconuts. It took a while for them to learn the method. Then they noticed that all other monkeys they had learnt how to open coconuts much more quickly. Then they found that other monkeys of the same species in other parts of the world also picked up the knack of opening coconuts much more quickly.

So they tried different things with the monkeys and the same thing always happened. After some monkeys had learnt something all the other monkeys, including wild ones, picked up the knack for more easily. It's as if there is some invisible tie between them. Carl Jung would have called it the Collective Unconscious. Very interesting.

Yes, life is a fantastic mystery that cannot be fully explained by our present science.

jrbarch said...

Thanks John!

My thoughts on the quantum world are simple, but I don’t know how realistic they are: I use the analogy of a seed. If all sub-atomic particles disappear off into a ‘force or charge’ state, then it’s within the force state that for example, light is instructed to follow the principle of least action, or biological nature is programmed to natural selection; shifting causation back one step into the unknown. In the same way that a tree is contained in a ‘seed’. I kind of like it when physicists talk among themselves of the universe as a hologram. In the perennial wisdom force is a vehicle for consciousness, which in turn is a vehicle for an absolute principle; matter is like an infill on a scaffold of force, and as quantum experiments reveal, in itself consolidated force. It doesn’t do my head in because of feeling.

jrbarch said...

Hence quantum monkeys ...!

Kaivey said...

I went out with this really posh girl once. She was gorgeous and I was doing my best to impress her. Her dad was very wealthy and ran his own accountancy business and had loads of professionals working for him. Her house was in the middle of the countryside with acres of land, and there was only two other houses to be seen.

Anyway she took to a small alternative cinema and they had the film on called The Twelfth Night. She was very posh and I was South London and was brought up on a very rough council estate.

I watched the film The Twelfth Night and thought it was very low budget, I was used to Hollywood films. Most of it seemed to be shot on a stage and I thought, this is going to be boring. But after a while I became mesmerized.

The King had a boy page, who was his boy servant. But to survive in this hostile land after their boat crashed there, a young woman pretended to be a young man and she eventually got the job as the kings page boy.

Now this is how it got interesting: The King would confide everything with the young pageboy. It was as if he had no one else he could really talk to. He was the king but was caught up in a war he didn't want. He wasn't happy.

Although the page was a boy the king would get far too close to him, and then almost kiss him. It was as if the king unconsciously knew the page was a woman. The scenes seemed to be very homoerotic and very daring, stirring up all sorts of conflicting feelings in me.

The young page girl had a brother who was also shipwrecked but had found himself in another country, and had become a page boy to the queen, and they had fallen in love too.

I watched the film in complete silence totally mesmerised, and when it finished I said to this girl that I was with, ' that's got to be one of the best films I have ever seen'. I was so taken in and delighted by it and I was sitting there a bit overwhelmed. And she said to me, ' not bad for Shakespeare, isn't it?'. 'What,' I thought, 'Shakespeare! well I never?"'. I was gobsmacked, I didn't know I had been watching a Shakespeare play. It was awesome.

Ignacio said...

The "bad guys" win all the time, because the "good guys" do nothing.

We can't expect academics to solve nay real problem, it has been proven again and again that they are worthless at it, even since Plato.

They can contribute through ideas, but nothing more. Right, this is all about politics.


Bob said...

jrbarch, I took Matt to mean that the natural selection was in some sense "known". That is to say, it doesn't "know", it just does.

That is when you anthropomorphize, or give it human characteristics. When Stephen Dawkins uses a ridiculous metaphor like the "selfish" gene, he is anthropomorphizing.

Natural selection is not a figure of speech.

Bob said...

Hey Kaivey,

I wish our teachers had made Shakespeare as interesting. Twas not to be :(

Bob said...

My bad, Richard Dawkins, not Stephen Hawking :O

Matthew Franko said...


this is where I am coming from wrt my "neo-liberal conspiracy!" metaphor too...

iow 'natural selection' is a figure of speech used by Darwinian biologists who work in that area of science just like we would use "neo-liberal" as a figure of speech among ourselves when communicating amongst each other it helps us communicate among ourselves efficiently via language... but it also brings some ambiguity in at the same time... (tradeoff)

But when we cross over then and start to apply intelligence or purpose to that same figure of speech (its a slippery slope) then imo it becomes anthropormorphism or teleological or something like that and its a mistake...

"money" itself is a figure of speech ... and is hence ambiguous...

Wittgenstein: "Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment (Verhexung) of our understanding by the resources of our language."

ok so pretend we are at a point in time before the figure of speech "money" crept into our language. We (mankind) had both state currency (nomisma) system and some used weights of metals (silver/gold/copper) metallic systems ... nobody back then would ever have said "we're out of nomisma!" or "we're out of silver! gold!" or "we're out of copper!" ....

BUT now go forth in time to a point where a figure of speech has been introduced that was a word that represented BOTH types of systems.. ie "money!" ... NOOOOWWWW confusion sets in...

Wittgenstien: " The problems are solved, not through the contribution of new knowledge, rather through the arrangement of things long familiar."

So this is how you address this whole "we're out of money!" philosophically, you have to go back in time domain and disemble the language... this is a textbook philosophical investigation 101...

Same with 'natural selection' probably in some way...

This is explained by John here "Then the angel said to me, "The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages." Rev 17:15

This thing is sitting on our languages...

James said...

Footsoldier is right. I find it laughable how these people look down their noses at the 'hardcore MMT followers', or whatever dismissive label they want to pin on us. The right wing have been having a field day for the past 30 years, do you think they sit around navel-gazing, worrying about their fellow travellers getting the minutiae of the economic system they're selling right?, no, they keep it simple, and hammer it home, no ifs, buts, or maybes. Meanwhile the left are waffling endlessly about trivial matters, and voters that most need to fight back against the onslaught of the right, end up slowly leaning in that direction, because they've kept their message simple, and to the point.

You cannot say the government isn't revenue constrained, and then follow it with a massive 'BUT', at that moment you're on the defensive, and you've lost a lot of the people you want to bring with you. Just maybe the problem is with the people who want to over-intellectualize what is a very simple issue. These issues were made needlessly complex to bamboozle the masses who have been, and continue to be deprived of the right to live their lives without the weight of a gilded parasitic class on their backs, bleeding them dry.

Tom Hickey said...

@ James

Right, like not having a price theory (faints).

andy blatchford said...

I think a lot of this misses the point Alex took them on on their terms and IMO did a great job, personally I wouldn't bother (there is 1 I do but that is an internal party thing and I won't accept his framing, funnily enough that has worked a bit and he has conceded on a few things) it isn't the orthodox we need to convince (can be fun debating them though.

John said...


Contrary to a lot of what you hear, causation is an extremely tricky concept. It is not well understood. Similarly the concepts force, charge, mass, space, fields, etc. If interested, Max Jammer wrote a wonderful series of books on these issues. The explanations we have are not particularly satisfactory. They are understood to a very limited degree, and no more than that. For example, we all have a conception of space and time, and think we understand them. You'll see the problem as soon as you ask, what is space, what is time, etc? These are very deep problems, and presently we don't have the concepts, let alone the theories, to understand them. That's why you get people like Stephen Hawking and a whole host of other top theorists refusing to even discuss these matters. Richard Feynman had to varying degrees the same attitude. They don't believe it is the role of science to explain in the way that everyday people define the term explanation. For them, all that is necessary is to give mathematical representations of experimental results. This is the scientific philosophy of Bohr and Heisenberg, radically different to the Einsteinian conception of reality and explanation.

The majority of today's leading theorists won't acknowledge publicly this dramatic change in how they view nature and the role of science. The real does not exist: you're asking nature to behave according to human notions. Nature is, and nature gives up some aspect of itself through an experiment. There is only what we can say about experiments. Matt reminds us of Wittgenstein's ideas of language. Today's theoretical physicists are - and I don't want to stretch the analogy to far - Wittgensteinians, and that's a philosophy of despair and copping out. It sounds sophisticated and deep, but it's a very negative way of approaching matters. There is a minority who believe in the traditional philosophy of explanation and reality. In theoretical physics there is a real divide between the elementary particle theory tradition, whose vast majority are philosophical Bohrians, and those who come out of the gravity theory tradition, whose vast majority are highly influenced by traditional conceptions of nature and the philosophy of Einstein.

The arguments never spill over for public consumption. Roger Penrose and Lee Smolin do tangentially inform the public of this very strange turn away from the traditions of natural philosophy. The rationalist enterprise which so deeply influenced the scientific revolution is not wildly held. It's now a minority opinion. Anti-real philosophy has turned the natural philosophy of Descartes through to Einstein into a quest for mathematical representations of clicks on an experimental device.

Tom Hickey said...

space/time, mass/energy, mind, live, observer (consciousness, self), etc. are philosophical concepts unless they are defined technically. But if defined technically, then they can only be used in that context with the technical meaning. The problem is that these are terms taken from ordinary language that have a range of uses and the specific meaning is determined by the context in which it is used.

Inquiry into the essence of space, time, mass, energy, life, mind, self, etc. is philosophy, and it's a bit of a bog.

Aristotle defined time in terms of a measure of change, while Augustine defines it in terms of the arrow of time. But neither provides the "essence" of time. As Augustine notes, time is self-evident but ineffable. The other terms above are similar as "givens." They play unique roles in world views as fundamental pieces in the foundation of the conceptual models involving them. As foundational, they cannot be explained in terms or anything else without involving either circular reasoning or infinite regress. These are the stopping points.

Aristotle: "Time is a measure of motion and of being moved, and it measures the motion by determining a motion which will measure exactly the whole motion, as the cubit does the length by determining an amount which will measure out the whole. Further 'to be in time' means for movement, that both it and its essence are measured by time (for simultaneously it measures both the movement and its essence, and this is what being in time means for it, that its essence should be measured)." —Physics IV, pt. 12.

Augustine: "What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not. Yet I say with confidence, that I know that if nothing passed away, there would not be past time; and if nothing were coming, there would not be future time; and if nothing were, there would not be present time. Those two times, therefore, past and future, how are they, when even the past now is not; and the future is not as yet? But should the present be always present, and should it not pass into time past, time truly it could not be, but eternity. If, then, time present -- if it be time -- only comes into existence because it passes into time past, how do we say that even this is, whose cause of being is that it shall not be -- namely, so that we cannot truly say that time is, unless because it tends not to be?" — Confessions, Bk. 11, ch. xiv

Tom Hickey said...

causation is an extremely tricky concept. It is not well understood

Causation is one of the knottiest problems in both philosophy and the philosophy of science, since most rigorous explanation involves causality.

Hume held that causation can be reduced to "constant conjunction" of sense data. There is no sensible phenomena corresponding to causes. This is the basis of statistical reasoning. But we are also warned that correlation is not causation.

Scientific causation involves theoretical explanation in terms of inputs and outputs (functions) that fit together in an overarching explanation (theory). The theory is evaluated on the predictions it makes that generate hypotheses specific enough to be testable.

A theory based on unrealistic assumptions cannot be a causal account since causal accounts involve actual inputs and outputs that are measurable (quantifiable). Nor is a function simply a black box that takes inputs and generates regular output. Scientific theories must account for regularity in terms of the theory as a conceptual system that models an actual system, such as forces acting in fields, to qualify as a causal account.

This is relatively straight forward in natural science where the subject matter is ergodic. Less so in life science and much less so in social science as the degree of freedom increases. Ergodicity is directly proportional the potential for general explanation in terms of causation. Ergodicity declines with increasing degrees of freedom of agents. Reflexivity enabling feedback and learning introduces complexity and emergence.

Matthew Franko said...

"They are understood to a very limited degree, and no more than that. "

John yes but it is still a satisfactory understanding for us to eliminate virtually ALL of our material problems short of death... we know enough to do at least this much...

Newtonian physics and euclidean geometry.... gets us 99.99%9 of what we need these days...

jrbarch said...

OK. Thanks Matt.

[BTW your use of the word “disemble” above (dissemble - to give a false or misleading appearance to; conceal the truth or real nature of) in the context of this discussion made me laugh - you can see how one little typo can change the meaning of a whole sentence if you meant to use the word symbol disassemble with the standard meaning :-) ]

John said...

Matt, the most pressing material problems - starvation, disease, poverty, etc - can be dealt with the technologies of, say, the thirties or forties. But modern life is intimately bound up with the great physical discoveries of the early twentieth century. A lot of the technology we take for granted today relies on quantum mechanics (for example, nuclear technology, lasers and everything they're used in, all modern computer and telephone technology requires transistors, advanced medical technology, etc) and special relativity for GPS and the more accurate satellite communication we need today.

But in any case this isn't or shouldn't be the *scientific* aim. The scientific endeavour has always had higher aims, as indeed it should.

John said...

Tom: "The problem is that these are terms taken from ordinary language that have a range of uses and the specific meaning is determined by the context in which it is used."

That's partially true: that doesn't preclude ordinary language also having precise scientific counterparts, although a good deal of scientific terms have no everyday equivalent. We see that all the time: everyday folk use a term in one way, the scientific community in another and more specific way. That isn't the major issue. The major issue is that, for example, the vast majority of the theoretical physics community now have a different interpretation of what the scientific enterprise is and should be. The more sophisticated among them repeat Bohr's contention that language and human ideas are not the appropriate way of teasing out nature's secrets. They impede progress, will eventually end in a fog of misunderstanding and is narcissistic. The appropriate way is to predict experimental results. Nothing else is relevant, nothing else is useful. The traditional concept of predicting AND understanding the universe is the minority philosophy. It's dumbfounding but true.

Tom Hickey said...

That's the pragmatic criterion and the instrumentalist view. Milton Friedman put forward in economics.

The issue with it is that without some external criterion stronger than correlation, it impossible to know whether the model is a general description of reality or one of the many possible models that happens to fit, which the scientists' criticism of philosophy as speculation.

Logically it generally comes down to criteria.

John said...

Tom, I don't disagree with your description of the issue. I'm explaining that it's a perverse way of arranging the scientific enterprise. I realize that is a minority opinion, and that makes it doubly perverse. This attitude may be one of the reasons all the stuff the theoretical physics community have been propounding for the last forty years or so are not showing up in the experiments at CERN and Planck for instance. This philosophy is intellectually bankrupt and can only lead to perverse results.

It's also self-evidently made economics a nonsense. Those who take the "realist" position have something to say, usually something worth hearing. Useful in, useful out.

jrbarch said...

John – I am interested in the subjects you mention contextually, and your discussion above with Tom.

For me, reality is an ’Absolute Principle, beyond the reach and range of all human thought and expression’. This doesn’t seem to stop people speculating endlessly about it, or creating religions to explain and approach it, or brokers to cut you deals. Anyway, in this view there is something within us that is beyond space, time, life, mind and causation: - within a doorknob too, but that doesn’t help us at all. In the perennial wisdom, a human being is a door; a feeling machine that needs to be tuned.

So from that p.o.v. even if reality could be represented by equations and experiments, still it is not the Absolute Principle itself. Without tuning, the experiments end at the door. I have seen this drive some experimental physicists to Buddhism (or drink, depending on the wolf they fed). Matter vaporising – is there nothing certain in existence!

Tom will know, but I think that some Philosophers arrived logically or theoretically at an Absolute Principle; I have seen modern physicists taking an interest in these Philosophers and v.v. Regardless, an Absolute Principle needs to be experienced to be confirmed, which leads us to the perennial wisdom, Esotericism, and poets like Kabir. Not many choose this as a career path. In the west there is an intense interest in opening up the secrets of matter, and the east has gone quiet in its esoteric pursuits; funnily enough they are popping up in the west, and v.v.

I have noticed a divide mentioned in particle/gravitational theory but haven’t read about it yet. Imagine getting paid for that!

Bob said...

So what's going to happen to the Standard Model?

Tom Hickey said...

Both philosophy and science are methods for disciplined thinking to prevent going off on tangents.

The methods are different.

Philosophy uses logic and reason as tools and the method is reasoning. It is conceptual and included quality as well as quantity and uses of language in addition to description.

Science uses math and measurement as tools and its method is theoretical and empirical. Science is a subset of philosophy, being narrower and more precise.

But the biggest difference between the two is wrt to criteria.

Both require formal consistency, but the correspondence criterion is different.

For an investigation to be scientific there must be an anchor to the real world.

What that anchor is gets hazy at the boundary between philosophy and science, and it may be difficult to get agreement about whether an investigation is genuinely scientific or merely speculative.

Theoretical science is very close to philosophy. It differs in that theory is expected to be anchored to the real world through testing rather than resting on reasoning.

One could say that scientific theory is a branch of philosophy — it used to be called natural philosophy or cosmology — until it is put to test. A theory might remain speculative for some time before it is tested and during that period it is often looked upon as speculation.

Tom Hickey said...

Tom will know, but I think that some Philosophers arrived logically or theoretically at an Absolute Principle; I have seen modern physicists taking an interest in these Philosophers and v.v. Regardless, an Absolute Principle needs to be experienced to be confirmed, which leads us to the perennial wisdom, Esotericism, and poets like Kabir. Not many choose this as a career path. In the west there is an intense interest in opening up the secrets of matter, and the east has gone quiet in its esoteric pursuits; funnily enough they are popping up in the west, and v.v.

Loads written on this.

Here are some interesting tidbits about the founders of QM who were well acquainted with Vedic literature and noticed the similarity.

The famous Danish physicist and Nobel Prize winner, Laureate Niels Bohr … was a follower of the Vedas. He said, “I go into the Upanishads to ask questions.” Both Bohr and Schrödinger, the founders of quantum physics, were avid readers of the Vedic texts and observed that their experiments in quantum physics were consistent with what they had read in the Vedas.…

Heisenberg stated, “Quantum theory will not look ridiculous to people who have read Vedanta.”…

Furthermore, Fritjof Capra, when interviewed by Renee Weber in the book The Holographic Paradigm (page 217–218), stated that Schrödinger, in speaking about Heisenberg, has said:
“I had several discussions with Heisenberg. I lived in England then [circa 1972], and I visited him several times in Munich and showed him the whole manuscript chapter by chapter. He was very interested and very open, and he told me something that I think is not known publicly because he never published it. He said that he was well aware of these parallels. While he was working on quantum theory he went to India to lecture and was a guest of Tagore. He talked a lot with Tagore about Indian philosophy. Heisenberg told me that these talks had helped him a lot with his work in physics, because they showed him that all these new ideas in quantum physics were in fact not all that crazy. He realized there was, in fact, a whole culture that subscribed to very similar ideas. Heisenberg said that this was a great help for him. Niels Bohr had a similar experience when he went to China.”…

Schrodinger wrote in his book Meine Weltansicht:

“This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of this entire existence, but in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins [wise men or priests in the Vedic tradition] express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear; tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as “I am in the east and the west, I am above and below, I am this entire world.”…

Schrödinger, in speaking of a universe in which particles are represented by wave functions, said, “The unity and continuity of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity of wave mechanics. This is entirely consistent with the Vedanta concept of All in One.”…

In his seminal book Man’s Greatest Achievement, Tesla says, “All perceptible matter comes from a primary substance, or tenuity beyond conception, filling all space, the akasha or luminiferous ether, which is acted upon by the life giving Prana or creative force, calling into existence, in never-ending cycles all things and phenomena.”


Tom Hickey said...


Of course, this is not a claim that these scientists derived theory from reading ancient texts. It just points out the similarity that noticed. Since then a lot of similarity has been noticed, enough so that some scientists are now dealing more deeply into the connection that the ancient wisdom traditions teach about the unity of being as consciousness. There is a unified state of consciousness that is nondual — subject and object are identical in pure consciousness — and other states of consciousness that are dual, in which the subjective and objective poles of consciousness appear to be separate and distinct. Duality is overcome in the experience of pure consciousness. It is also possible to experience the nondual state along with the dual state. These states can be experienced temporarily or become permanently established.

See Theoretical physicist John Hamelin's paper, Is Consciousness the Unified Field?

Tom Hickey said...

Oops. Should be Hagelin not Hamelin.

Tom Hickey said...

"Question [Dr. Abdul Ghani]: Will material science, in the near or remote future, be able to probe into subtle and higher planes? At the present rate of scientific progress it ought to be possible, if there be continuity or a point of fusion from the material to the subtle.

Meher Baba: You are going into deeper waters. Now listen carefully. The soul, essentially divine, infinite in existence, knowledge and bliss is, all by itself, the only Reality. Everything else exists only in imagination. The famous and oft-repeated parable of the snake and rope will elucidate the point. The soul somehow• imagined the rope to be the snake. This phase engendered fear which, to stretch the simile further, we may call mind. The mind extended itself to grasp it (the snake) ; this is energy, and actually grappling it means body. Thus we see mind, energy, body, although all three have no existence except in imagination; but in relation to each other they are altogether distinct, separate and independent.

Although mind emanates energy and energy in essence is mind, nevertheless in expression and form both are distinct and apart. Similarly, body is the outcome of energy, and though identical in essence the function and formation is radically different and independent. To illustrate the point, let us take thread to be mind, and cloth made thereof to represent energy, and clothing to signify body. The cloth here is of thread, but in utility and form is altogether different from thread. The clothing, say a coat, is from thread, but in form and expression is obviously and distinctly apart from cloth and thread.

The making of cloth and coat from thread is easy and possible, but the return of the coat and cloth to the state of the original thread means the destruction and annihilation of the form and expression of both. Similarly, the emanation of energy and matter from mind is automatic and natural; but the return of matter and energy to mind is almost impossible. This return business is the beginning of spirituality.

You must have felt by now your question answered by realizing how impossible it is for science to probe the subtle and higher planes. Science is, as yet, a long way off; it has up to now only touched the fringe of the matter. It may, at the most, touch the extreme limits of matter but that will take ages. And who, till then, can vouch for the integrity of this - the present civilization?"

Treasures From The Meher Baba Journals
Compiled and edited by Jane Barry Haynes
Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Press, 1980, p. 187-188

• This is explained in Meher Baba's God Speaks.

Tom Hickey said...

Avidya (Nescience) or Maya, called also the Undifferentiated, is the power of the Lord. It is without beginning, is made up of the three Gunas and is superior to the effects (as their cause). She is to be inferred by one of clear intellect only from the effects She produces.

It is She who brings forth this whole universe. She is neither existent nor non-existent nor partaking of both characters; neither same nor different nor both — neither composed of parts nor an indivisible whole nor both; She is most wonderful and cannot be described in words.

This Maya can be destroyed by the realisation of the pure Brahman, the one without a second, just as the mistaken idea of a snake is removed by the discrimination of the rope.

Sri Adi Shankaracharya
Vivekachudamani, 108-110
Translated by Swami Madvananda
Dt. Almora, Himalayas: Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, 1921, p. 44-46

Suppose you come along and mistake a string for a snake. This mistake creates maya. But, if you see that the string is only a string and nothing else, is maya gone? No, because the accompanying suppositions and fears — "What sort of a serpent is it? How long? Will it bite?" — these are maya. In the end, when it is found that it is only a string, you laugh at your false presupposition because your fears are gone — the illusion is removed. In the same way, when one attains Realization, he laughs at these false notions of maya — the world and all its connections — for he knows that they are totally false and not real.

Meher Baba
Lord Meher online revised edition, p. 684 (1926)

Totality is all, Brahm is all that there is. And then there is no duality, and then whatever appears to be, is just an appearance. It is Vivartvad—that it appears to be, but it is not there, like the snake and the string. It appears to be snake, but the snake is not there; it appears to be duality, but duality is not there. Duality is not there. What is there is only unity, and unity without duality – purely unity.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Global Conference on Unified Field-Based Administration June 26 2007

Tom Hickey said...

I have cited this POV of perennial wisdom in terms of Vedanta because the connection with the founders of QM, but parallels between ancient wisdom and modern science are also found in the other major wisdom traditions, since the experience on which they are based is identical. It has to be identical because pure consciousness is undifferentiated, as anyone who has experienced it however fleetingly realizes.

John said...

Tom, the Danish existentialists also had a profound effect on Bohr, at least as strong as the ancient Sanskrit scriptures. It's easy to forget how Bohr's attitudes, shaped as they were by his own existentialist and Sanskrit readings, moulded the revolutionary ideas of the 1920s and 1930s.

I would say that many of the insights, existential or otherwise, of the Sanskrit writings and others are not particularly applicable to nature, just as Marx's dialectics isn't useful, if not downright harmful. After all, eighteenth century empiricism and logical positivism have become either dead ends or failed completely. That isn't to say they weren't useful or interesting, just that they were from the off clearly inapplicable to the scientific endeavour. These and other moral philosophies may have something to say about the human condition, but will only lead to dead ends in science.

More is different: what is useful for one manifestation of nature (elementary particle physics) isn't applicable or useful to another manifestation (biochemistry), and it surely isn't applicable to something as mysterious and nebulous as the human condition, where the social sciences are more useful, and even religious scriptures can be insightful.

Tom Hickey said...

Whatever happens is a manifestation of nature. We speak of the distinction between natural and artificial, which is OK as far as it goes. But whatever humans experience or do is a product of evolution including the emergence of self-consciousness and the ability to use language and to reason. But that's not the end of it.

A study of world literature also reveals many reports of non-ordinary experience that are also natural in that they arose spontaneously in the people that had them or were cultured based on experience that had been past along. In this sense, non-ordinary experience is naturalistic.

Those who had such experiences reported on them and prescribed ways of replicating them. These have been preserved to some degree at least in the wisdom traditions. Reading about such experiences doesn’t transmit them. The most that can be gleaned is some conceptual models and instructions. Each person must develop non-ordinary experience in order to understand the literature in terms of experience rather than imagination.

How this may relate to science is not a subject of study in several disciplines, such as transpersonal psychology, and in cognitive studies, which is transdisciplinary. I would say that these studies are in a very preliminary stage, having been pursued in earnest for a fairly short time, beginning in the Sixties and Seventies. However, a significant professional literature has already developed and it's too broad for me to be up on it. In addition, many of the scientific studies require a good background in the field to understand.

But I would say that in this time, the tide has turned in the West and now non-ordinary experience is no longer dismissed as imagination or hallucination, although there is a good deal of impetus to reduce such experience to biology.

I have been working on the various maps of non-ordinary experience in the various wisdom traditions and among independent subjects. The outline of a common map are visible and while there is much diversity on the surface, the depths converge.

I obviously think that there is something significant there or I would not have persisted in the study historically, intellectually and experientially. I am satisfied that the time was well spent and what the sages have reported and taught is neither imagination or hallucination. Consciousness is a primary datum and it can be explored though the reflexive property of self-consciousness.

A number of scientists have also become interested in pursuing this line. John Hagelin, whose paper I mentioned above, was a friend when he was a grad student at Harvard in the late Seventies and already interested in consciousness and physics. He subsequently went off to CERN after completing his PhD, and then pursued this work later when he returned. I also have several friends who are psychologists that have been doing experimental studies on this for decades and have published quite a bit on it. These are just some people I happen to know. There are lots of others.

So I would say that humanity is now standing on the cusp of outer space and inner space as the new frontiers of knowledge. This promises to be an exciting century.

Incidentally, the West has a long and deep esoteric tradition that is only recently coming to light and then only hazily, since secrecy was required given the dogmatic ideology that repressed this knowledge. I recall being passed a paper in the mid-Seventies that was written by a very prominent psychologist whose name most people would recognize. It was marked confidential, do not duplicate. In it he said that he totally agreed with the direct of research in transpersonal psych but could not come out about it for reputational reasons — just as Warren Mosler reports being told about MMT. The conventional mindset is extremely influential and it doesn't change easily.

Tom Hickey said...

hat had been past along

Yeah, I know it should be "passed." I wrote "passed" (I thought) and the auto-correction turned it into "past."

I could turn the auto-correction off, but it really speeds things up when it works right. I could re-read what I write but that would negate the saving of auto-correct.


Bob said...

Erm, can they do all this and keep the Standard Model?
The general public believes that physicists are doing what they've always done, incomprehensible as that is. If something has changed, we need a sign. Scientists should not hide their beliefs, even if they are deemed mystical or in other unflattering terms.

jrbarch said...

Tom: Philosophy uses logic and reason as tools and the method is reasoning. It is conceptual and included quality as well as quantity and uses of language in addition to description.

Could you unpack "included quality as well as quantity" a little more please Tom?

Tom: I have been working on the various maps of non-ordinary experience in the various wisdom traditions and among independent subjects. The outline of a common map are visible and while there is much diversity on the surface, the depths converge.

Will you publish this Tom? Or, any chance of a read sometime?

Really interesting tidbits. Totally agree about pushing back the boundaries of both inner and outer ‘space-time’.

For me, I view the Vedanta as part of the ‘Ageless Wisdom’ – ‘mystical’ in content (Piscean) and the work of the Tibetan D.K. as ‘NewAge Wisdom’ – ‘occult’ or ‘esoteric’ in content Aquarian), but moving closer to the modern western consciousness. A Treatise on Cosmic Fire and A Treatise on the Seven Rays are foundational texts. [amanuensis A.A. Bailey, Lucis Publishing]

They both sit comfortably in my mind, along with whatever I can absorb of our modern human sciences, like old friends in conversation. Together with the simple message of someone like Prem Rawat, who shows people how to go inside via the portico of the human heart and contact that ‘energy’ within them, setting their feet as surely as they stand in the outer world, on the inner path.

Bob: - with the Standard Model, perhaps it is the forces of convention at work, both good, nervous, and timid.

jrbarch said...

I should add to the above comment that is not necessary to have a working knowledge of any of the ‘Ageless or NewAge Wisdom’ to feel the joy, peace, within. You just have to be a human being.

The prerequisite for learning to feel this energy within is also very simple. A child is open and willing to learn, and similarly the approach has always been – ‘with the heart of a child’. Doesn’t mean you park your intellect at the door. You are learning you, opening up something inside of you, and the first thing you have to learn how to trust is yourself and your own experience. The experience teaches you the experience; the teacher is a skilled guide who has taken many to the same place within them. That is not a problem for him or her.

John said...

Tom: "But whatever humans experience or do is a product of evolution including the emergence of self-consciousness and the ability to use language and to reason."

I agree, and these obvious constraints are not thought about very deeply by many. Colin McGinn does, and Steven Pinker much less so. So again what is self-evidently true is a minority opinion.

Tom, not wishing to be unduly personal but Hagelin, who I know to be a thoroughly decent and humane, and did decent work in his younger days when he wrote about elementary particle theory, is no longer committed to science as is commonly understood. He has unfortunately devoted a good deal of his life to fashioning tenuous connections between ancient Sanskrit texts and modern Yogic thought with quantum mechanics, various field theories and cosmology. The same happened to Frank Tipler, who co-wrote the extraordinarily fascinating book "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle". Good thinkers end up trying to find some great meaning to life, or become dissatisfied with the whole field, and having found Damascene-style wisdom elsewhere try to attach it to their life's work. I don't think there's anything more to it than that.

The book of nature does not give up its secrets easily. It's very hard work, and even geniuses have gone mad. Trying to connect the spiritual longing to quantum fields is a leap too far. John Locke didn't think it was obvious that inanimate objects didn't have some sort of conscious state. This idea hasn't died and lives on in what is today called panpsychism. Make of it what you will, but it just isn't true: my socks do not have a conscious state and neither does my toothpaste. Hagelin, Tipler and others are no different to the panpsychics: tenuous connections taken too far.

Tom: "A study of world literature also reveals many reports of non-ordinary experience that are also natural in that they arose spontaneously in the people that had them or were cultured based on experience that had been past along."

That tells us something very interesting indeed: the structure of the human mind is exactly the same everywhere, from Mongolians to an Australian aboriginals, from Inuits to Celts. All human minds have a deep structure, the result of evolution. That should lead to a great deal of introspection, but it doesn't.

Bob, the standard model does a functional job, no more than that. It needs to be extended, but it's proving extremely difficult. As morally interesting as they are, religious and spiritual texts are at best unnecessary and at worst detrimental. We know little enough about the inanimate world and even less about the animate world. Trying to make connections between the two is fanciful. This is where Tom and I have to agree to disagree. I usually agree with Tom about nearly everything!

Tom Hickey said...

Could you unpack "included quality as well as quantity" a little more please Tom?

See for example, Hard problem of consciousness

The fact v. value distinction is another instance the dichotomy between quantity as objective and quality as subjective.

Another is the difference between the "head" and the "heart." Head is intellect and reason; heart is the finer level of feeling and love.

Will you publish this Tom? Or, any chance of a read sometime?

I don't plan to. It's a huge undertaking requiring facility in a number of languages. And s you point out, jr, it's not necessary to have this conceptual map, since it is all within. Where experience rules, intellectual knowledge alone in the booby prize.

Moreover, some of this has been summarized already. In God Speaks Meher Baba summarizes the basic paradigm in the English and gives the correlates in the Arabic of Sufism and Sanskrit of Vedanta. The Qabalistic correlates in Hebrew can be found in summary in Leo Schaya, The Universal Meaning of the Kabbalah, and Daniel Feldman, QABALAH: The Mystical Heritage of the Children of Abraham. Buddhist cosmology is set forth in the Abhidarma , but it's complicated. I am not aware of a summary. This is also summarized in the cave analogy in Plato's Republic.

The basic structure is the "three worlds" or three dimensions of duality, subjectively, three "bodies" with their respective cognitive abilities, gross, subtle, and mental, and, objectively, three corresponding worlds, gross, subtle and causal. These are "nested" in consciousness as the only reality. Since consciousness is a primary datum, it is available for experience by all. The only requirement is to remove the obstacles to what is already present. Having a good guide is indispensable though in not having to reinvent the wheel.

Tom Hickey said...

Tom, not wishing to be unduly personal but Hagelin, who I know to be a thoroughly decent and humane, and did decent work in his younger days when he wrote about elementary particle theory, is no longer committed to science as is commonly understood. He has unfortunately devoted a good deal of his life to fashioning tenuous connections between ancient Sanskrit texts and modern Yogic thought with quantum mechanics, various field theories and cosmology. The same happened to Frank Tipler, who co-wrote the extraordinarily fascinating book "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle". Good thinkers end up trying to find some great meaning to life, or become dissatisfied with the whole field, and having found Damascene-style wisdom elsewhere try to attach it to their life's work. I don't think there's anything more to it than that.

Maybe. Newton completed his major work by the time he was 25 and spent most of the rest of his study time experimenting with alchemy which may have been his undoing from mercury poisoning. On the other hand, many others stepped out of the normal paradigm and pushed out the envelope even though they incurred reputational risk at least.

John Hagelin is not alone in this quest. There are a number of people heavily invested in it. Actually Stanford materials scientist William Tiller was one of the early pioneers. Now it is becoming increasingly more common for scientist to come out about this, and some younger scientist are going right into consciousness studies just as psychologists have wrt to transpersonal psych. A big plus is that now many people are actively involved in spiritual practice and this has provided a resource base for experimental research.

So we'll see.

Tom Hickey said...

This idea hasn't died and lives on in what is today called panpsychism. Make of it what you will, but it just isn't true: my socks do not have a conscious state and neither does my toothpaste. Hagelin, Tipler and others are no different to the panpsychics: tenuous connections taken too far.

That's an assumption on you part.

There's a lot of testimony through the ages that it is true and available to those who are willing to do what it takes — go within. I have spent years doing so and am satisfied that the reports of the sages are accurate based on landmarks so far.

I can testify that it is well worth it, as jrbarch does also. That seems to be two for two that have pursued this who comment here. Maybe not statistically significant but maybe suggestive.

Does this prove anything. Ofc not. But I came to the conclusion that there were more reasons for pursuing it that not, and that has been borne out in my experience.

Just sayin'.

After getting some experience, reading some reports, comparing experience with others, then think about it.

Panpsychism is basically the monistic view that consciousness is primary. The other monistic view is that matter is primary. The third view is dualistic; matter and mind are primary. The fourth view is pluralistic, the principle pluralistic POV being atomism.

John said...


Newton being Newton was unique: nobody else went to the lengths he did. Only the greatest genius the world has ever known could spend his time on what even then was considered unusual. Unusual, not crackpot by the standards of his time. He later spent a good deal of time hanging forgers, and seemed to enjoy it. Newton wasn't out of paradigm in the scientific work he most valued: mechanics, gravity, optics, calculus and other mathematics. He was a revolutionary and a visionary within the science of his day. All the other stuff he was interested (numerology, Rosicrucianism, dating the Apocalypse, etc) in was out of paradigm (if not crackpot) with his scientific and intlellectual milieu and the enterprise of natural philosophy that had being developed since Descartes. That Cartesianesque philosophy was the best way of approaching science: there is a real world and it can be understood by the human mind. I think it still is. Fine, there are evolutionary limits to what we can know, but that's not a relevant constraint to understanding what is possible to understand.

There's reputational risk, which many have shouldered, and then there's being a crank. If Roger Penrose wasn't who he was, he'd be suffering a risk to his reputation because he is genuinely out of paradigm on so many issues, but he wouldn't be considered a crank. Similarly with Einstein and Schrodinger, out of paradigm not cranks. I wouldn't confuse being out of paradigm with being a crank. Those who are out of paradigm usually have good justifications, even propose experimental falsification for their ideas. Cranks are the exact opposite.

Hagelin and Tiller are the least of it! The brilliant Nobel laureate Brian Josephson is into cold fusion, homeopathy and parapsychology, all pseudo-scientific nonsense. His ideas on quantum mechanics and consciousness goes down the same route as people like Hagelin. He, Hagelin and the rest are just confused or are desperate for meaning. Existential angst makes fools of many. The thing about Josephson is that he's always been cranky at the same time as being one of the leading and most brilliant physicists! He's the only one whose been able to pull that off. The rest are just cranks.

For someone who took Eastern philosophy extremely seriously but stayed on the whole within the scientific tradition, David Bohm is worth checking out. He said some odd things, not as odd as Josephson, and certainly not as odd as Hagelin. There's no accounting for this kind of stuff.

As to the experiments, we indeed will see. There's a part of me, admittedly very small, that hopes I'm wrong: it'd make for an even weirder universe!

John said...

Tom: "There's a lot of testimony through the ages that it is true and available to those who are willing to do what it takes — go within."

Testimony that could pass a scientific test? I'd like to hear the details of what they found, felt and understood, read their interviews or their reports. But it better not be ultra fuzzy rambling. I would want clear details. Yes, I'm highly sceptical of all of this, but the psychology would be fascinating. I don't need to tell you of all people what Wittgenstein said about a lion talking. And not wanting to appear glib, but would that not apply much more so to inanimate objects? What could we possibly understand of their alleged conscious states?

jrbarch said...

Ok. Thanks Tom. The lamp is rubbed and out pops a genie – how did that happen?

Tom Hickey said...

@ John

I know Hagelin and Josephson, and many others like them. Some have been friends like Hagelin, some acquaintances like Josephson and Tiller, and some close friends like Itzak Bentov. I would not call any of them cranks. I am one of them in my own field. We are curious, as scientists and philosophers should be. Moreover, we are curious for reasons that seem very good to us and we feel that pursuing this curiosity as led to more results than dead ends.

These scientists feel that they are at the cutting edge of the field in physics, psych, etc. There are now lots of them. They see themselves asking questions that eventually need to be answered and recognize it will probably take an expanded paradigm to do it.

Conventional science is an attempt to isolate the subject from the object in pursuit of rigorous objectivity. But in QM the observer enters into the result. This is what got people like Hagelin and Josephson questioning in the first place. OK, maybe calling Hagelin a crank has come justification. He did win the Ig Nobel Prize in physics 1994. But Brian Josephson was a professor of physics at Cambridge, like Newton made significant contributions in his twenties (superconductivity and quantum tunneling), discovered the Josephson effect, and received a real Noble for his work. Like Newton he later began investigating the "alchemy" of our day. Crank?


Tom Hickey said...


In psych it's a bit different since non-ordinary experience is actually being reported that demands, first, capturing in a rigorous way observationally and, secondly, explaining if the observation hold up. This kind of research is now pretty standard. In medicine, too.

All these people including myself are curious about non-ordinary experience and its potentially far-reaching implications for good reason. Our initial curiosity about the long naturalistic tradition of non-ordinary experience got us thinking in the first place. Then we decide where's there's smoke there's probably fire. So we checked it out and confirmed in our own experience that non-ordinary experience is achievable through the same testimony that the experimental reports arose from.

My journey has led to interesting experiences within and without. I have no doubt that non-ordinary experience is achievable. Moreover, some people seem to be gain it naturally. I know enough people with this type of experience to be able to discuss it with them intelligently and corroborate results. There is abundant psychological research establishing physiological and behavioral correlates. This much is non-controversial as far as I am concerned.

As one of the quotes by Meher Baba above states, science is not going to be able to get very far with an investigation of non-ordinary phenomena owing to the criteria of science, which are limited to the gross body and gross world. So it is possible to correlate psychological reports with physiological states, which has been done. Explaining the range of experience comprehensively lies beyond contemporary methods.

Philosophically, the challenge is to connect subjective experience with objective reality in order to show that the POV that consciousness is all there is and all phenomena are modifications of consciousness rather than matter is the case rather than only a subjective experience. This cannot be done by reason alone or by evidence. But neither can any of the other metaphysical options. Realists will prefer an materialistic or atomistic POV, for example. Monists will presume matter as fundamental while dualists, a mind and matter POV, and pluralists might go with atomism. Most people in the West are realists since that seems intuitive to them. People of other cultures may have different presuppositions if they grew up in cultures that incubated them.

This controversy extends into prehistory and many of the earliest records feature the consciousness as primary POV. The history of Western philosophy also reflects the ongoing debate between realism and idealism. It is very difficult to state a realist position rigorously without being driven to some sort to idealism. Edmund Husserl is a good example. He began with the methodological principle, Back to things themselves, and his last work was Ideas, which is idealistic.

jrbarch said...

I’ll add just a little to the personal experience meme.

In my life I have spent over 15,000 hours so far in the practice of ‘going inside’ (because what you practice the most you get good at). I wouldn’t do it for a null result. It’s like going into a cave and drinking, one drop at a time – no big bang! I can see the result over the decades and I couldn’t ask for more: - there has been an evolution at just the right pace, in just the right way. My heart is very happy with this; my mind as restless as ever. Appreciation grows and with that, gratitude and understanding.

The psychologists will shake their head, but when I was five months old, I ‘came awake’ and realised I was back on earth, who my parents were, my situation etc. There has always been a duality of consciousness within me that shifts in clarity (hence the going inside work, to widen and strengthen the contact): - in one phase it is the day to day consciousness of a human persona (I functioned as an architect); in another the consciousness of the self. An analogy would be the consciousness of a horse (persona) and the consciousness of the rider (self) but poles apart like the distance between the stars and the lampposts. The one appearing within the other. I don’t talk about this with people because I know their reaction; anonymity on the internet is partly self-protection. My duty is to say this too exists.

I have experienced a place inside of myself where the persona was left far behind; further than lampposts and stars. This experience is my foundation. As far as I am concerned consciousness can function outside of the persona. So wiring up the persona and experimenting with it, is kind of funny. For me, the essence of a human being is a spark, within a fathomless Sun; consciousness is its outpost and the human persona an outpost of consciousness. I can understand why the ageless wisdom speaks of consciousness as Cosmic Ideation, the World-Soul – it is present in every atom (of western science) and posits the goal of an atom as the human being and the human being the spark.

One time I greeted my teacher, and after an exchange walked up into the city and got on a bus. I was caught up in the self and felt as though its presence was everywhere, all over the city. Without being irreverent, I felt like the bus driver and passengers were in a world far far below me, like when you look down, almost like vertigo, at ants. The bus driver had his hand out, extended towards me, and I realised he wanted money. I gave him some and he was satisfied. I felt like this was a quaint archaic custom of this ant-like human world. I looked at the passengers, and they were all locked up, inside of themselves, isolated from each other, dreaming, because they were isolated from the self. Now, which world is a dream? Well, my answer is both.

I could add a lot more, but most people will find the above incredulous, or comfort themselves with a cursory dismissal.

Here is Krishnamurti with an experience I can also relate to:

There was a man mending the road; that man was myself; the pickaxe he held was myself; they very stone which he was breaking up was a part of me; the tender blade of grass was my very being, and the tree beside the man was myself. I almost could feel and think like the roadmender, and I could feel the wind passing through the tree, and the little ant on the blade of grass I could feel. The birds, the dust, and the very noise were a part of me. Just then there was a car passing by at some distance; I was the driver, the engine, and the tyres; as the car went further away from me, I was going away from myself. I was in everything, or rather everything was in me, inanimate and animate, the mountain, the worm, and all breathing things. All day long I remained in this happy condition. I could not eat anything, and again at about six I began to lose my physical body, and naturally the physical elemental did what it liked; I was semi-conscious .....

jrbarch said...


I felt myself going out of my body, I saw myself sitting down with the delicate tender leaves of the tree over me. I was facing the east. In front of me was my body and over my head I saw the Star, bright and clear. Then I could feel the vibrations of the Lord Buddha; I beheld Lord Maitreya and Master K.H. I was so happy, calm and at peace. I could still see my body and I was hovering near it. There was such profound calmness both in the air and within myself, the calmness of the bottom of a deep unfathomable lake. Like the lake, I felt my physical body, with its mind and emotions, could be ruffled on the surface but nothing, nay nothing, could disturb the calmness of my soul. The Presence of the mighty Beings was with me for some time and then They were gone. I was supremely happy, for I had seen. Nothing could ever be the same. I have drunk at the clear and pure waters at the source of the fountain of life and my thirst was appeased. Never more could I be thirsty, never more could I be in utter darkness. I have seen the Light. I have touched compassion which heals all sorrow and suffering; it is not for myself, but for the world. I have stood on the mountain top and gazed at the mighty Beings. Never can I be in utter darkness; I have seen the glorious and healing Light. The fountain of Truth has been revealed to me and the darkness has been dispersed. Love in all its glory has intoxicated my heart; my heart can never be closed. I have drunk at the fountain of Joy and eternal Beauty. I am God-intoxicated.

And Kabir:

Be strong, and enter into your own body: for there your foothold is firm. Consider it well, O my heart! Go not elsewhere.

Kabir says:" Put all imaginations away, and stand fast in that which you are."

He Himself is the tree, the seed, and the germ. He Himself is the flower, the fruit, and the shade. He Himself is the sun, the light, and the lighted. He Himself is Brahma, creature, and Maya. He Himself is the manifold form, the Infinite space; He is the breath, the word, and the meaning.

The Supreme Soul is seen within the soul; The Point is seen within the Supreme Soul.

O BROTHER, my heart yearns for that true Guru, who fills the cup of true love, and drinks of it himself and offers it then, to me
He removes the veil from the eyes, and gives the true Vision of Brahma
He reveals the worlds in Him, and makes me to hear the Unstruck Music
He shows joy and sorrow to be one
He fills all utterance with love.

Kabir says : " Verily he has no fear, who has such a Guru to lead him to the shelter of safety ! "

When I am parted from my Beloved, my heart is full of misery: I have no comfort in the day; I have no sleep in the night. To whom shall I tell my sorrow?

Kabir says : "You are going to the doors of death, bound hand and foot ! "

I am neither pious nor ungodly
I live neither by law nor by sense
I am neither a speaker nor hearer
I am neither a servant nor master
I am neither bond nor free
I am neither detached nor attached

I am far from none: I am near to none
I shall go neither to hell nor to heaven
I do all works; yet I am apart from all works
Few comprehend my meaning: he who can comprehend it, he sits unmoved

Kabir seeks neither to establish nor to destroy

The ageless wisdom does not fish for men. It says: ‘look, there is an ocean of which you are a drop’.

You still have to pay your dues and bills.