Monday, March 31, 2008

Book Review: Path of Light

The Course in Miracles is, without qualification, the best mystical path that I know of for those of us recovering materialists who come from a Christian background. If you abandoned Christianity because some of the doctrines seemed senseless and barbaric, the course will change your mind for you if you let it. It's what the New Testament should have been.

However, the course can be difficult to understand, and intimidating to approach. There are many books written to help with this, and Path of Light: Stepping into Peace with A Course in Miracles by Robert Perry is one of the best. This book will tell you what the course is about, what it can do for you, and how to proceed.

For example, the question commonly arises: in which order should the parts of the course be read? The short answer given is that it doesn't matter. The longer answer is that if you read the parts out of order, you will eventually find the need to go back and read the part you should have read first.

If you prefer the mystic path to the hermetic, you should read the course. In preparation, it will probably be helpful to read the Path of Light first.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On Climate Change

I'll start with my official position on climate change: there is no evidence that whatever climate change is occurring is being caused by human activity. That's right--none. I feel comfortable saying that because the vast majority of purported evidence is in the form of computer simulations. I'm a software developer by trade, and I can tell you that a computer simulation is good for extrapolating more data based on given assumptions. The accuracy of the simulation depends on the accuracy of the assumptions, so using a computer simulation to prove a scientific theory is circular reasoning, because the thing being "proven" is built into the assumptions.

On the other hand, it's quite possible that there is climate change, and that it is being caused by human activity. But not just carbon dioxide, and not just by activity. Those of you who have read "The Secret" or any of the other books that essentially say the same thing will remember that ideas that are focused on tend to manifest themselves in the physical world sooner or later. For the last 40 years or more, a small but significant portion of the population has been dedicated to the idea that the planet is going to hell in a handbasket, and that it's all our fault (or at least the big evil corporations' fault).

There does seem to be an emerging positive movement, and that's exactly what is needed. We don't just need to switch to hybrids; we need to change our minds.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Book Review: Conquest of Illusion

No one will disagree with the proposition that what we experience as reality is actually a representation created by our brain and sensory organs. The more optimistic materialists will claim that although it is a representation, it is perfectly accurate. One problem I have with this claim, especially coming from the evolutionists, is that an accurate representation isn't necessary for evolutionary fitness; only consistency is required. For example, it isn't necessary that our internal representations of an apple correspond exactly to what the apple really looks like; it's perfectly sufficient that we be able to consistently identify apples and distinguish them from other items that are not food.

Conquest of Illusion by J. J. Van der Leeuw (ISBN 0-7661-5769-5) takes this line of thought even further. According to this book, the representation is consistent at best, and bears little resemblance to the real world, which is referred to as Eternal Reality. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the perennial philosophy, bold and in all caps. The book goes on to discuss various philosophical problems; the common thread is that they are all only problems from our limited perspective. Free will, justice and immortality are covered, among others.

The real value of this book is that it gives another picture of what life might be like for the fully-recovered materialist, especially in the last chapter. I experienced it as similar to the scene in the Matrix movie where Morpheus was enduring torture presumably by telling himself that it wasn't real, whereas Neo not only had the experience if it not being as it appeared, but even managed to figure out the game. The author may have also gotten to that point; the rest of us have more work to do.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Book Review: Anansi Boys

The main character in Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman is called "Fat Charlie." As you may guess from that nickname, the character is a loser. He has a good job and a fiancee, but the whole thing is kept together with chewing gum and duct tape, and will collapse on contact with the next major disturbance. Like, for example, meeting his long-lost brother. Did I mention that the two brothers were sons of an African god?

Like in any work of fiction worth reading, the main characters undergo major transformations in character during the course of the plot. I'm sure that this is no accident; that's what myth is really about. And Mr. Gaiman obviously knows his myths.

This is a fun book. It didn't leave me feeling as if I'd been taken apart and put back together again the way American Gods did, but maybe that's just because I read the other one first. Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Review: The Mystical Qabalah

The book I want to talk about today, The Mystical Qabalah by Dion Fortune, is not for beginners, but it is the definitive book about Qabalah. Just to clarify, Kabbalah (final "h" required) is the mystic (aiming at direct experience of union with God) subset of Judaism; Qabalah (final "h" optional) is a symbol system used by hermetism. Hermetism, like mysticism, aims at direct experience of union with God, but only after balancing the different parts of the personality and then transcending personality to connect with what is called the higher self.

The central symbol in Qabalah is a design of 10 interconnected circles referred to as the "Tree of Life." Ms. Fortune explains it like this:
[The Tree of Life] is a glyph, that is to say, a composite symbol, which is intended to represent the cosmos in its entirety and the soul of man as related thereto; and the more we study it, the more we see that it is an amazingly adequate representation; we use it as the engineer or the mathematician uses his sliding-rule, to scan and calculate the intricacies of existence, visible and invisible, in external nature or the hidden depth of the soul.

Those who have done some reading about hermetism or alchemy will no doubt recognize the explicit reference to the principle of correspondence: "As above, so below." For the newbies, consider the structure of the atom, with electrons revolving around a central nucleus, and the structure of the solar system, with planets revolving around the sun. This is one example of the principle that the structure of the universe is reflected down even into its smallest parts.

The spheres (also called "sephiroth") of the tree have other correspondences, many of which are covered in this book. One of the correspondences, that between the spheres and the astrological planets, will be recognized by those of you who have read Dante's Divine Comedy.

There's a lot of information here, really too much to absorb on first reading. I've read it three times and only now feel capable of writing this review. Definitely not the first book you should read, but if you only buy one book about Qabalah, this is it. It belongs on your bookshelf.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Elect Eve Hubbard in 2008

To be honest, I haven't paid that much attention to the election race this year. The good news is that there's a candidate I really like. The bad news is that she's a fictional character: Eve Hubbard from the late Robert Anton Wilson's Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy (ISBN 0-440-50070-2). A full review of this book will have to wait, because I want to talk about Ms. Hubbard's economic platform.

The cornerstone of her platform is raising productivity and combating the negative effects of unemployment. To accomplish this, she would offer a prize of $50,000 annual income (let's say $100,000 in today's money; the book was written in 1979) for any worker who invents a machine capable of replacing him or her. Any other workers replaced by the machine would be granted incomes of $30,000 annually (probably $60,000 in today's money). Any income awarded by this policy would continue for life, even if the worker got another job. An especially motivated worker could invent themselves out of multiple jobs.

I normally would be against anything that even remotely smells like the Free Lunch Party, but this is different, so hear me out. The productivity gain is obvious, but consider this: any job capable of being done by a machine is by that very fact guaranteed to be only slightly more interesting than watching grass grow. The worst case scenario is given in the book:

The majority of the unemployed, living comfortably on $30,000 a year, admittedly spent most of their time drinking booze, smoking weed, engaging in primate sexual acrobatics, and watching wall TV.

When moralists complained that this was a subhuman existence, Hubbard answered, "And what kind of existence did they have doing idiot jobs that machines do better?"

Again, that's the worst case. But you wouldn't do that, would you? If you were of that type of person, you certainly wouldn't be reading a blog devoted to recovering from materialism; you would be one of the materialists who don't want to recover. Instead, you might go back to college and get a degree in a subject you found interesting, as opposed to one that would help you get a job. You might become an artist or musician (I know there's a surplus, but you can never have enough good ones). You might become an amateur scientist and fill one of our most pressing needs: scientific research that is unencumbered by the requirement of satisfying whoever is supplying the research grant.

So where would we get the money to pay for this? First, any beneficiary of this program won't need Social Security later. Second, we could reserve our defense spending for securing our borders. Any other country who needed our services would have to pay.

Of course, it would be a cold day in hell before this happened. I'm sorry I even mentioned it. I'll go back to doing book reviews now.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Secret History of the World Part 1

In a prior post, I hinted that there were two versions of science, one for the masses, and one for those in the know. Could the same be true of history? Mark Booth, author of The Secret History of the World as Laid Down by the Secret Societies seems to think so. Mr. Booth tells us in the introduction how he befriended someone who happened to be a member of a secret society. His friend gave him many of the concepts set forth in the book. Mr. Booth apparently also had the opportunity for initiation in the secret society, but the secrecy oath was a sticking point.

The first thing you will probably notice about the book is how many eminent scientists, philosophers and writers were involved. I already mentioned Newton, but Dante, Cervantes, Francis Bacon, Dostoevsky, Freud and Jung are also mentioned. But I don't want you to think that this is just about history. The important thing about this book is that it provides an excellent introduction to occult philosophy.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Book Review: Suddenly Psychic

I have used the phrase "recovering materialist" often in my prior posts, but I haven't said anything about what we can expect to experience along the road to recovery. That is because I honestly didn't know. I still don't know for sure, but in Suddenly Psychic: A Skeptic's Journey by Maureen Caudill we have Ms.Caudill's account of what recovery is like. The book details Ms. Caudill's experiences with the Gateway Voyage program at the Monroe Institute (see Hemi-Sync for more details). Each chapter of the book recounts a particular incident at the institute, combined with commentary on the supporting science. Examples of topics that are covered include remote viewing, remote healing, spirit guides and more.

I visited the Hemi-Sync website and their materials are expensive (up to $99 for a single CD), so I haven't tried any yet. I do recommend the book, however as an inspirational example for the rest of us.