Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Why we don't have space colonies yet

Peter Thiel (Creative Commons photo)

In many different articles and interviews, Robert Anton Wilson made bold predictions about technological progress that have not come true.

For example, the RAWilsonfans website includes a 1977 interview that predicted, “in the next 30 years,” developments that RAW said would include “the SMI2LE breakthrough – Space Migration, Intelligence-squared, and Life Extension.”

As more than 40 years have passed and we haven’t migrated into space and life expectancy in the U.S. actually has declined slightly because of drug addiction and suicide and booze, it seems reasonable to point out that RAW was too optimistic.

RAW apparently assumed that accelerating technological progress would continue unabated. He wrote about this expectation in "The Jumping Jesus Phenomena" in Right Where You Are Sitting Now. 

In the last few years, a number of folks have been arguing that scientific and technological progress have been slowing down, including Peter Thiel and Tyler Cowen. This point of view is captured in Thiel’s quip, ““They promised us flying cars, and all we got was 140 characters.” Cowen wrote a book called The Great Stagnation

Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex now agrees that tech progress has slowed down. In his blog post “What Intellectual Progress Did I Make in the 2010s,” he writes that he changed his mind about the controversy:

In the 2000s, people debated Kurzweil’s thesis that scientific progress was speeding up superexponentially. By the mid-2010s, the debate shifted to whether progress was actually slowing down. In Promising The Moon, I wrote about my skepticism that technological progress is declining. A group of people including Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen have since worked to strengthen the case that it is; in 2018 I wrote Is Science Slowing Down?, and late last year I conceded the point. Paul Christiano helped me synthesize the Kurzweillian and anti-Kurzweillian perspectives into 1960: The Year The Singularity Was Cancelled.

Cowen essentially argues that much of the "low hanging fruit" has been picked, and if you follow the link for "Is Science Slowing Down?" you can see Alexander embraces that theory. It's interesting to note that Cowen has swung more in the direction of Wilsonian optimism lately and believes that computers and AI will usher in big advances.

Of course, it is possible we’ll still get life extension, space colonies etc., and Wilson was merely premature in his optimism. I lean toward that. And the realization that a slowdown in technological innovation may be real did not become apparent until after his death.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Observations on music

Keith Moon in 1975 (Creative Commons photo.)

Eric Wagner's explanation behind his soundtrack selection in yesterday's blog post by Gregory is worth quoting again: " In 1985 after I graduated from college I went to Europe. I arranged my trip to arrive in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, on July 23. The next day I visited the concentration camp at Dachau which horrified me so much I just wanted to get out of Germany. I had a train ticket to leave for Vienna that night. I wandered the streets of Munich feeling despair about the human condition. I noticed a theater playing Bergman’s Magic Flute which I had heard about but never seen. I figured I had just enough time to see the movie and run to the train station to catch my train. I know some German, so I could barely follow the movie in Swedish with German subtitles, but the film restored my faith in humanity. Bergman’s realization of Mozart’s vision of a masonic society looking out for us seemed just what I needed." Eric linked to Bergman's Magic Flute on YouTube.

Certainly it is good news the movie is freely available and I plan to watch it when I have a nice chunk of time, but I also liked Eric's reminder that music in general, and classical music in particular, can be a positive force in our lives. Compare with RAW's essay on "Beethoven as Information" in The Illuminati Papers, in which he cites Beethoven's alleged statement that anyone who understands his music can never been unhappy.

Speaking of music, did you see Oz Fritz's comment in the Week 21 blog post of the Widow's Son discussion group, about the scene where Sigismundo Celine wakes up to find himself on the "ceiling" of his room? Oz wrote, "I wonder if RAW got some inspiration from The Who's maniacal drummer Keith Moon for the upside down room scene? From Rock Bottom by Pamela Des Barres: 'The road always beckoned and Keith got bored easily, but blessed with an ingenious, devilish imagination, he battled to keep the boredom at bay. ... Sleep never came easily for Mr. Moon: Once he spent hours nailing hotel-room furniture to the ceiling exactly as it had been on the floor'."

Moon, who died in 1978, was arguably rock's greatest drummer. My first thought when I read Oz' comment was "Probably not -- RAW didn't pay much attention to rock music." But RAW had plenty of young fans who did, and it's perhaps not far-fetched to think that one of them had told RAW about what Moon did.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Widow's Son reading group, Week 22

Illustration from “Right Where You Are Sitting Now” for “The Persecution and Assassination of the Parapsychologists as Performed by the Inmates of the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the Direction of the Amazing Randi.”

Week Twenty Two (pg. 361-382 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 15&16, Part III all editions)

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

Chapter 15 should be considered in light of an earlier article by RAW that was seemingly written during the time of the composition of either The Earth Will Shake or The Widow’s Son: “The Persecution and Assassination of the Parapsychologists as Performed by the Inmates of the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the Direction of the Amazing Randi.” (The name of the article is not-coincidentally named after a play that has already been briefly mentioned in our posts The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade better known as Marat/Sade.)

In the beginning of the essay RAW mentions “This interest was particularly concrete at this time because there was one part of the historical Novel that was giving him trouble. His hero, Sigismundo Celine, had seen a meteorite fall. Celine had dragged the Damned Things, which couldn’t exist according to 18th-century science, to the Academy of Sciences in Paris. Naturally, he was roundly denounced and mocked for his troubles. This was accurate: anyone who reported a meteorite to 18th-century scientists was treated like a Close Encounter of the Third Kind today.” Obviously, there were some changes made during the time in between the original High Times article and the final draft of The Widow’s Son. Instead we see our secondary protagonist Sir John dragging his stone and sanity before the uncompromising panel of scientists from The Royal Scientific Society.

Sir Charles Nagas is obviously a stand in for Carl Sagan. Sagan wasn’t present during the panel on “Science and Pseudoscience” that inspired RAW’s essay but his debate with Emmanuel Velikovsky is mentioned and our Author seems to think Sagan wasn’t fair to the iconoclast author of Worlds in Collision. As in the novel the Author takes time to point out that Nagas had discovered nothing himself but rather was merely well known as he wrote often for the papers and journals, RAW refers to Sagan simply as a “television scientist” in his earlier essay. I can understand RAW’s disdain for scientists who seem to think that proficiency in one of the multitudinous branches of science such as evolutionary biology (Dawkins), astrophysics (Tyson), mechanical engineering (Nye) makes them an (or the) authority on every facet of reality. These science communicators who follow in Sagan’s mold do as much to repel the public away from science as they do to popularize it. I don’t really need some creep who doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up online or a former kids television host telling me whether God exists or not but they sure seem to think I do. These science popularizers’ extraordinarily high regard for themselves led to the markedly evangelical efforts of atheists in the early 21st century by scientists such as Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, the aforementioned Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens. Like the unruly “Herbert Sharper” in the narrative, whose bigotry against “Papists” and “Moslems” is on full display during Sir John’s tribunal, these atheist-evangelists have at times shown that they are no scientists but rather run-of-the-mill bigots (see Harris and his hellish alliance with right wing thinkers to promote an anti-Muslim philosophy).

Gardner Marvins is obviously a stand-in for Martin Gardner who was known for his love of Lewis Carrol and GK Chesterton, his mathematical puzzles, and his founding role of CSICOP (now CSI). (RAW mentions a novel with a scientist named Bertha Van Ation that is in the works- he must have been talking about the novels in the Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy which also include a cocaine-addicted writer names Marvin Gardens.) Gardner, like his counterpart, had a lighter touch than other self-appointed skeptic inquisitions, but his works, such as Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, drip with paternalistic condescension for those who aren’t in lockstep with his understanding of current scientific consensus. (See also Sagan’s Demon Haunted World.)

The most belligerent member of the panel, Herbert Sharper, remains something of a mystery to me; his name is not a simple transposition of a famous scientist. After reading RAW’s article I can only deduce that Sharper is based on The Amazing Randi himself. Years ago I wrote about the so-called skeptic movement in the paranormal community and contended that it was nothing more than a movement of evangelical atheists who believe that current human knowledge is nigh-infallible. Nothing happens that cannot be explained by our human understanding of the universe. In that essay I quoted RAW’s article and can think of no better commentary on Randi and his character: “Finally, the high point of the morning arrived, in the form of The Amazing Randi, as he styles himself. Randi looks like Santa Claus and talks like the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (Rep.-Wis.) Randi is not a Liberal by any definition but a real, old-fashioned, honest-to-Cthulhu Conservative, fire-breathing variety. He wants to hit the heretics on the head with a blunt instrument.

You see, The Amazing Randi is of the school of thought which holds that he and his friends have the only ‘real’ reality-labyrinth on the planet. All proponents of alternative reality-labyrinths are therefore, by definition, a bunch of sneaks, cheats, and liars. This is the best rhetorical stance for a heresy-hunter, since it is rooted deeply in the primate psychology… Hitler pointed this out in Mein Kampf, every demagogue knows it, and Randi, an old showman, plays it to the hilt.

Randi’s presentation consisted of saying five different ways that the heretics are a bunch of dishonest bastards who lie morning, noon and night, and lie in their sleep just to keep in practice.  Then, in case there were any dullards in the audience who hadn’t gotten his message, Randi said it again, five more ways. The Journalist [Wilson refers to himself in different ways throughout the piece to show where his mindset was at] hadn’t heard such oratory since Jim Garrison way in his heyday, finding new Kennedy assassins every second newsbreak. It was a smashing performance, and the Sociobiologist was convinced that most of the audience were breathing harder and starting to tense their muscles before it was half over. Primate mode psychology at its most primitive.”

A footnote mentions how Hanfkopf disregards Barney and Betty Hill’s experience in New England as merely being caused by the stress of being an interracial couple in mid-century America. For anyone who has studied ufology this is a common explanation to write off the couple’s odd sojourn. In RAW’s essay a young physicist by the name of Stanton Friedman stands up to argue that some objects in the sky are unidentified and is roundly castigated. Friedman would become one of the leading authorities on the Barney and Betty Hill case on the side of those who aren’t sure what happened to the couple all those decades ago.

This chapter serves the same purpose of the essay: to show how certain humans are of their mastery of time and space despite the fact that we may presume, if there is a future, that our knowledge will grow and past convictions will become droll mistakes. Like the Royal Scientific Society, who are only aware of seventeen elements, it seems those who crusade on behalf of Science put the cart of certainty ahead of the horse of doubt which is, after all, the true driver of inquiry. (It is also humorous that the narrator mentions the full 92 elements that compose the universe as we are currently up to 118.) Given a choice between Randi and his ilk, I’d much rather hang out with the Divine Marquis.

Across the channel Sigismundo is still being bombarded by false circumstances that take place all over the continent and during different times. As he is being held in an English asylum in the nineteenth century Sigismundo again turns the tables on his interrogators before their conversation turns away from a concerned doctor and patient to initiate and interrogator. The symbolism of Masonry and mysticism swirls around as the drugged Sigismundo grapples through these staged circumstances: as he is led away by the Three Ruffians Sigismundo believes he is going to be thrown back in the well but is instead simply put back in his cell. The well refers to one of the initiatory rites of the O.T.O..

From Eric Wagner: “Well, with the Masonic talk in this week’s reading, I figured we might use the whole of Bergman’s Magic Flute. I considered “She Blinded Me with Science”, but I opted for Mozart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l17SQeytHN8

(Eric sent this as a follow up to Tom and I and I asked his permission to share it here. My thanks to you.) “I hope all goes well. In 1985 after I graduated from college I went to Europe. I arranged my trip to arrive in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, on July 23. The next day I visited the concentration camp at Dachau which horrified me so much I just wanted to get out of Germany. I had a train ticket to leave for Vienna that night. I wandered the streets of Munich feeling despair about the human condition. I noticed a theater playing Bergman’s Magic Flute which I had heard about but never seen. I figured I had just enough time to see the movie and run to the train station to catch my train. I know some German, so I could barely follow the movie in Swedish with German subtitles, but the film restored my faith in humanity. Bergman’s realization of Mozart’s vision of a masonic society looking out for us seemed just what I needed. Peace.”

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Luna Wilson, Cosmic Trigger in Congressional Record

With a fine sense of understatement, Jesse Walker remarks "Here is something unexpected," and  sends along a few pages from the Congressional Record, above, showing that Congressman John P. Hammerschmidt put an article from the October 1978 issue of "Omni" magazine, "Some of Us Will Never Die," into the Congressional Record for Jan. 31, 1979. If it's easier to read, here's the PDF. 

Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger is named in the text, and the article describes the murder of Wilson's daughter, Luna, and the attempt to preserve her cryonically for future revival, as described in the book.

Rep. Hammerschmidt is not, as you might guess, some hippy-dippy Democrat representing Berkeley, Calif., but was a conservative Republican from Arkansas who stood by Richard Nixon to the bitter end when Nixon was being forced out of office and who favored a law to protect the American flag from desecration. In one of his re-election campaigns, he defeated Bill Clinton.

Friday, January 17, 2020

An interesting restatement of Maybe Logic

Tyler Cowen (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Tyler Cowen, asked about a blog post explainingwhy he doesn't believe in God:

It struck me at the time that people who believe in a particular God of a particular religion are often reluctant to speak of it in Bayesian terms. Suppose someone said: “Well, I’m a Catholic, I think Catholicism is true with probability 2 percent, but all the other religions are true with probability of 1 percent. So I’m a Catholic, but there’s still a 98 percent chance I’m wrong.” That would actually make perfect sense to me, but I’ve never met a human who feels that way. Belief in religion is usually bundled with high certainty, and that to me doesn’t make sense. 

More interesting opinions here, I agree with sombunall.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Come see Daisy Campbell

Daisy Campbell is on tour again and has announced three dates in January and February.

"Daisy Eris Campbell recounts the bizarre and hilarious true story of the pilgrimage to the centre of CERN to Immanentise the Eschaton. She shares what happened to her in the aftermath, and heralds its mind-blowing implications for April 23rd 2020.

"Her tale will be followed by live music performances from some of the Cerne2CERN pilgrims and a bit of dancing about and drinking if we fancy it. And voodoo modelling."

More here. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Widow's Son reading group, Week 21

Week Twenty One (pg. 339-359 Hilaritas edition, Part III Chapter 13&14 all editions)

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

Howdy everyone, I can only beg your forgiveness for my tardiness; life and work have consumed the past few days.

Sigismundo’s ordeal takes such a bizarre and menacing turn that we are almost able to forget how kind our Author is towards their protagonist; Sigimundo has been led into the heart of some conspiratorial scheme that is able to warp gravity, time, and space but our intrepid hero is well-versed in the theory of conspiracy and is able to strike a claim in this new murky mental territory. Is this Chapel Perilous where Sigismundo may either grow insane or canny? Perhaps -- but much like a True Initiation, Chapel Perilous never really seems to end. Sigismundo has been thrust into so many mind-boggling, unpleasant situations and has learned so much contradictory information that it is hard to point to this sequence as the apogee with any certainty. But these experiences have taught Sigismundo the value of practical agnosticism and understand the nature of perspective.

One could expect a young man who has seen multiple people killed in front of him, been drugged by his own rapist/murderer father, killed himself, learned of the different infamies of life in such demonstrative ways to have been broken at this point; consigned to an ugly world or driven mad by its brutality. But Sigismundo is keeping his head above water, able to deal with his new circumstances in the Bastille, or wherever the chamber had been prepared, with enough calmness and rationality to see the nails keeping the furniture on the ceiling/floor. He is able to not dispassionately examine the pantomime behind his surroundings and even reacts with sincere good humor when dragged before what appears to be an Inquisitorial board. Many of us have the 23rd Psalm read after our deaths but how many have the conviction to recite that as we are led away to have the demons whipped out of us?

The hidden variable to Sigismundo’s supple mind isn’t that he has read widely but that he has an education that allows himself to examine ideas from many different angles. I would name the hidden variable as magic, the rituals and lessons in between have already brought him into the metamorphic world of occultism whose foundation seems to be composed of Fata Morgana, shadow-boxing, and a mountain that disappears and reappears with the blink of an eye. Magic is stronger medicine than most philosophy is one takes enough and is able to keep it down: what differentiated Wilson from others who lost themselves in Chapel Perilous? What techniques did he use to cope with his season in hell?

Like Cosmic Trigger, these chapters stand as a clear-enough enunciation of RAW’s theory of conspiracy. It does not do to give into first impressions, nor does the slitting one’s throat with Occam’s razor and subsequently giving into the next best choice of the “simplest” explanation. (As a fideist, I’ve always wondered exactly how anyone was certain that they knew what the simplest explanation would be.) Of course, like a flu shot, one must take some of the virus inside one’s body to prevent a greater sickness, and like most occultists who I give credence to Sigismundo’s mind is filled with gods and wild happenstance. But this adds flavor to paranoia and makes it considerably more edifying. Right now, when we see Sigismundo in such desperate circumstances, I see our protagonist stronger than ever, excelling in the light of misfortunate circumstance and such concerted conspiracy.

Notes: Don’t occultists always do a much better job of interpreting the profundity of Hume and Berkeley than run-of-the-mill academic philosophers? How anyone who truly buys into the religious nonsense of Academe thinks they grasp the arch-Skeptic is beyond me.

Another Freemasonic interpretation of the Ripper murders is covered in Alan Moore’s From Hell where Dr. William Withey Gull is fingered as the agent of destruction. Of course, Moore’s Gull’s crime exceed his mandate and he is eventually drug before a tribunal of high-ranking Masons, including founders of the Golden Dawn, before being sequestered in an asylum. Moore also adds his own take on conspiracy theory and muddy history in his epilogue, “Dance of the Gull-catchers.”

De Selby appropriately gets the last word on this part of the narrative as he splits reality into a trinity of interpretations.

Enjoy the Days Between.

The perfect pick from Eric Wagner: The upside down room suggested this Fred Astaire number: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsoYyDlYU8M

'Reality is what you can get away with'

Buck Henry in 1978. Creative Commons photo by Alan Light 

An amusing example of the slogan Robert Anton Wilson coined. From the New York Times obituary for screenwriter and comedic actor Buck Henry:

Then, in 1959, he joined forces with a friend, Alan Abel, who had created a hoax organization, the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, which was dedicated to putting pants — or at least undershorts — on dogs, horses and cows as a response to society’s evident moral decline.

Mr. Henry became the public face of SINA, as the organization was known, playing the role of its president, G. Clifford Prout, giving interviews to newspapers and magazines and appearing on television, where he would argue that zoos should be closed down until the animals could be properly attired.

The hoax wasn’t entirely unmasked until 1965, but until then many people — millions, perhaps — had been hoodwinked. Among them was Walter Cronkite, who featured a segment on SINA in August 1962 on the “CBS Evening News.” He never forgave Mr. Henry after learning that it had been a joke.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Neil Peart has died

Neil Peart (Creative Commons photo)

Rush drummer and lyricist Neal Peart has died. His lyrics were influenced by Ayn Rand, and he enjoyed a significant following among libertarians, although anyone who was into music could appreciate his drumming.

Mike Grossberg has penned a tribute at the Prometheus Awards blog. 

The New York Times ran an obituary  and also ran a separate article on ten of his best performances.  Rolling Stone's article also is available.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

What book influenced your life?

From the New York Times:

What book — new or old, fiction or nonfiction — has influenced how you think, act or look at the world? Tell us how it did, in no more than 200 words. The deadline is Wednesday, Jan. 15, at 10 a.m., Eastern time.

Email: letters@nytimes.com

Please include your name, city and phone number, and put “books” in the subject line.

Via Chad Nelson. I have already written the Times to describe how Illuminatus! changed my life. Chad says, " I will probably cite Quantum Psychology."

Saturday, January 11, 2020

News from a Colorado mushroom farm

Can you tell Joshua Hallenbeck is a RAW fan? He has officially launched two products from his organic mushroom farm in Colorado. His brand is Sirius Mushroom Extracts. The two products are Lion's Mane (a nervous system extract) and Turkey Tail (an antioxidant).

I tried photographing the two bottles he sent me, but I'm apparently not very good at photographing small objects up close, so I've published, above, the photo he sent me with his announcement. He doesn't have a website yet (I'll update this when the information becomes available) and the product at present is being sold locally in Colorado, but the extracts also are available by contacting Joshua. (See Facebook for his Sirius Shroomery page.)

Here is a piece on the health benefits of Lion's Mane mushrooms. You can also read about Turkey Tail mushroom benefits.  

Friday, January 10, 2020

Adam Gorightly on Thomas the Gnostic

Tim and Mary Wheeler, via Historia Discordia. There's a great photo of the Wheelers on William F. Buckley's yacht that I thought I saw on Adam's website, but I can't seem to find it. 

There's quite a bit of RAW material in Adam Gorightly's latest post on Discordian history, "The Epistles of Thomas the Gnostic." 

The post is about Tom McNamara, a relatively obscure early Discordian, but quite a bit of Robert Anton Wilson information crops up in the interactions between McNamara and other Discordians. For example, Adam quotes a letter from Greg Hill describing a Chicago get together that included Wilson, Robert Shea, Tim Wheeler from National Review ("Harold Randomfactor") and Mary Wheeler ("Hope Springs"); Wilson and Wheeler apparently got into a political argument. Randomfactor is mentioned in Illuminatus!

Adam's post links to "The Secret History of Immanentizing the Eschaton: The Mary Wheeler Interview" which gives quite a bit of background on Discordianism at William F. Buckley's "National Review" magazine and has a nice anecdote about Wilson.

Adam's post also includes McNamara's review of Illuminatus!, published in the Berkeley Barb. Martin Wagner points out there's also a Tom McNamara review available of Wilson's Sex and Drugs. 

Discordianism plays a big role in the Illuminatus! trilogy. If it and Wilson's other writings survive in the literary canon, as I expect and hope will be the case, Adam's hard work exploring Discordian documents in his books and blog will be a major resource for scholars for centuries to come.

More on Adam Gorightly and his books.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Silent Majority

The above from Martin Wagner's Twitter account, Robert Anton Wilson Archives. 

Martin says, "Playboy Forum Letter from Hugh Crane (mosprobably Robert Anton Wilson)
PLAYBOY, May 1970."

In an email, he adds, "Hugh Crane is a Schrödinger's Cat character which may or may not be Next Door Universe's Hagbard Celine."