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Newton was an alchemist. Napier a numerologist. Kepler an astrologer. And Giordano Bruno — Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s poster child martyr for scientists persecuted by irrationally superstitious and corrupt institutions — was an occultist.

The esoteric, the obscure, the fringe, the poetic, and the spiritual permeate the human intellectual landscape, both in the humanities and the sciences1. It’s a major motivator for intellectual investigation. When we come to that epiphany, realizing that our discovery affirms an underlying structural unity of the universe — an instantiation of the beauty of asymptotic change, or fractality, or symmetry, or equilibrium, and that laws seem to be baked deeply into the cosmos — it’s that realization, that glimpse for the mind’s eye, that causes within us a response of such dopaminergic climax and sense of profundity that even the most passionate session of lovemaking pale in its comparison.

To paraphrase the sentiment of a Gnostic text:

Sophia -- whose name means Wisdom, and who was God's divine co-equal and mother of Lilith -- was of such immense transcendental beauty and presence, that God, in his jealous love of her, covered her in the body-cloak of non-existence, never to have her name uttered, so that no mortal could look upon and covet her.

But how does one hide something so omnipresent as **Wisdom**? He thus inverted the *Tree of Life*.

The classic problems of the human condition, too, continue to motivate the scientific mind: the quest for eternal youth and immortality, for man-made sentient creature to aid us in our labors, for a Utopian society / Cornucopia where all resources infinite and people are thus (supposedly) happy, for whether there exists a substance that can turn into any other substance, for whether beings of similar intelligibility with us humans2 exist on other worlds or planes of reality, or for whether super-transcendent intelligence(s) have had some role in the creation or maintenance of our universe.

Whether a Renaissance natural philosopher is using alchemy to derive the philosopher’s stone, or a modern nuclear chemist is trying to miniaturizing nuclear transmutation for 3D-printing, quests of the above type are our intellectual motivators. But there is a tendency in our supposed post-“Enlightenment” climate of scientific and rational rigor to ignore, berate, or at least attempt to justify in some secular sense, a scientist’s interest in these bizarre Occultish ideas that go against the the Enlightenment model of scientific inquiry. In doing so, however, we ignore the underlying unity and composability of human abstraction: fundamental convergences of ideas that refer to the same higher principles of, i.e, symmetry, or man’s place in the universe — missing out on the shoulders of giants to stand on when probing these abstractions qua their nature as abstractions.

The notion that the universe is a hologram, as a theory, is but a drop in the ocean compared to the layers of emanated simulations, embedded virtualized realities, and multifaceted avatarism described in the Bhagavad Gita.

As any good scientist and mathematician knows, the process model-building to make sense of data is as much of a creative process as composing music or writing literature. Thus, could such pre-modern ideas of spiritual, religious, and esoteric origins offer insight into human abstraction qua abstraction, regardless of discipline? Would this enable greater fluidity between abstract ideas of different disciplines? Is there a kind of primordial ontological map of abstract concepts that construct any given discipline?

Often, too, we berate and ridicule these historical quests because of its supposed espousal of pseudoscience or dogmatism, only to be pursuing the same thing in our time. The quest for strong AI, is basically the modern version of the quest for the homunculus, or the Talos, or the Golem — we use Sci-Fi metaphors these days — basically, a man-made fully sentient being. A large part of AI’s history is already pockmarked by ebbs of disillusionment with the entire project because of grandiose promises, and putting our eggs in the dogmatic basket of a single technique like Symbolic AI. Since the AI Winter however, we’ve made some advances in pattern recognition and predictive feedback-control systems — often by using a connectionist correlation model called Artificial Neural Network — but there’s no reason to assume that Neural Networks / Deep Learning techniques will lead to the emergence of artificial sentience (the prerequisite for strong AI), or even that they’ll actually end up solving our hard pattern recognition problems.

While statistical correlation models have been used successfully in recommendation systems, fraud-detection systems, feedback-control systems, and beating world champions at Chess and Go, correlation models are what make superstition, popular horoscopes, pseudoscience, and popular delusions possible in the first place.

My point here isn’t that Artificial Neural Networks aren’t significant or hasn’t contribute to scientific understanding — after all, alchemy and herbalism have contributed to hard scientific understanding of chemistry and medicine — it’s that there’s a lot of “black magic” voodoo involved in Deep Learning that future historians may dismiss this current Renaissance in AI to be nothing more than hyped, superfluous pseudoscience.

That which constitutes our scientific and intellectual validity is always historically, socially, and politically determined, and always from the vantage point of the hindsight inherited from our intellectual forebears.


  1. CF. “Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” – [Carl Sagan] (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan#Cosmos:A_Personal_Voyage.281990_Update.29) 
  2. I refrain deliberately from using “intelligent life” here. Assuming humans are even to be considered “intelligent”, the Earth has its share of intelligent life that we haven’t cared much to enter into meaningful dialogue with. 
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[Reply from antigravity000:]

[…]

It’s funny though because after reading your message, particularly the part below, I can only nod my head in agreement!

“their reaction to modernity takes the path of least resistance, which has already been laid down for them by the demons of the Liberal Anglo-American machine — Reactionary Nationalism and Reactionary Religiosity.” [my message]

I can’t recall if you’ve read anything by Oswald Spengler, but your own conclusions on modernity, history & philosophy are reminiscent of his discoveries- in other words quite simply sensible & well-rounded!

On Nietzsche, I’m no zealot myself but even when I disagree with some of his topics, his style of writing is really appealing 😛 Aside from that, despite his sort of life-affirming assertions, there is a streak of cynicism, pessimism, and moral righteousness in his ideas that make their way in via his personality (shaped, understandably, by bad life experiences). I can’t help but notice it.

Maybe you have a different take on this that I’d like to learn of but I can’t really grasp what he expects of the ubermensch, and why this type of man hasn’t already existed- in the Western world at least. If he means that the higher type is a creator of values, then I don’t see why power-grabbers who set their own standards (in political, economic, intellectual realms), possibly Machiavellian types?, aren’t a sort of ubermensch in their own right, those who don’t give in to the norms or take advantage of them to get what they want- out of conscious doing or not[…]

To be honest, I’ve only read only read a bit of Spengler’s Decline of the West(the first two chapters of the first volume). I love him. But. My views on history and everything is the result of my own readings — that said, I’m sure I probably have Spengler’s and Hegel’s influence indirectly through my reading of other historians, or something. I entirely agree with Spengler’s organic approach to history, wherein human societies and civilization has its own emergentqualities and consequences that go far beyond human volition, deliberation, even our comprehension — perhaps even to the point that human civilization is its own neural network of some greater emergent organism. This theory of mine admittedly needs heavy refining and intense research before I go flashing it around, though. 🙂

That said, I’m quite (self-)schooled in the German intellectual tradition, so any of my Spengler-esque flashes of insights may just be a convergent coincidencefrom being schooled in the same intellectual fathers! 😉

Nietzsche is awesome — aesthetically, philosophically, everything, even if you don’t agree with him. But, he is a complicated read, seeming to contradict himself (but I think he’s just writing from different angles — and being humorous/sarcastic/playful more than half of the time. I do that a lot myself, so I can understand where he’s coming from {phenomenologically, at least}.) Reading him in translation, and reading him outside of mid-late 19th century European context, are also two very key barriers to understanding Nietzsche.

Regarding Nietzsche’s cynicism and pessimism, much of these passages are actually instances of morbid humor (black humor, really), absurdity, and, well, deliberately trolling his audience. Take his views on the Jews for instance — I remember a quote from memory where he starts a paragraph, “And Jesus said to his Jews…” — that shit is a straight-up trolling of German anti-Semitic ‘purists’. Nietzsche was a troll of the 19th century industrial printing-press era.

The Übermensch is sort of an ideal, yes, but it has existed historically and still does. But, I agree with you that if the Übermensch hasn’t already existed, there’s no reason why it should suddenly pop into existence. (Especially given Nietzsche’s views on Eternal Reoccurance — why were there no Übermenschen before Nietzsche?) Nietzsche has argued in Geneology of MoralsBeyond Good and Evil, and many other works, that such Übermensch-like individuals have existed in remote antiquity, and right up to his contemporary era (Goethe, Napoleon, and Cesare Borgia to name a few.)

The thing about the Übermensch is that, the Übermensch not a set of beliefs. The Übermensch is not an orthodoxy or orthopraxy. The Übermensch is not a dogmatic position. And the Übermensch is not a philosophical or political partisan position.

I understand that Nietzsche’s Ubermensch is surrounded in myth and strange interpretations of the Ubermensch as some kind of self-entitled, greedy, short-sighted, stuck-up, cut-throat asshole like the kind of douchebag you might encounter at an Objectivist meeting — but that’s not what Nietzsche is saying the Ubermensch is.

What the Übermensch isis a complex of dispositions,instinctstemperamentinclinations, a focus of energies, and a general attitude. The focus of the Ubermensch’s is on personal, individual liberation, on carpe diem, on (relative) self-sufficiently, and on self-empowerment. The Ubermensch is not a political view, nor is the Ubermensch expected to hold particular political views — the Ubermensch is not necessarily a “Libertarian” or a “Communist” or a “Centrist” or a “Socialist” — it’s more in the way the Ubermensch carries out life on a personal level. The Ubermensch concernspersonal attitudes — not political or philosophical positions.

I’m rephrasing here, but: Nietzsche has said many times that consciously formed political and philosophical positions are symptoms of our spontaneous subconsciousness and pre-intellectualizing selves that we might be aware of but will not admit. He also says that these consciously formed positions are determined by the context in which they originate.

Eg., taking a position in the academia or in the public forum is very different than, say, in recruiting for a revolution or getting support for political office —as Mitt Romney has demonstrated with his constant flip-flopping on issues, or Obama’s promise of CHANGE. I’m not suggesting that either of these men are Ubermensch, but I’m (and Nietzsche) saying that the conscious mind and what individuals say about themselves is a tiny fraction of their overall package. Such political/philosophical/religious positions are part-in-parcel to the Will to Power, which is actually this spontaneous subconscious and pre-intellectualizing process that can throw itself into the realm of intellectuality.

Basically, ^ is a lengthy way of saying, survival>all.

The Ubermensch is a strange concept to fathom strictly from the standpoint ofphilosophical argumentation alone — Nietzsche provides no argument. It’s a general framework for self-improvement, maybe even emulation? Maybe it’s better read as a kind of self-help book with philosophical overtones.

Just as an aside, the Ubermensch is actually comparable to Aristotle’s Magninmous Man of the Nichomachian Ethics, and from many tropes from ancient Greek mythoi (the so-called “Dionysian man” of Birth of Tragedy — although there are a plethora of Übermensch-like individuals and tropes from other cultures, as mentioned in Genealogy and even the Antichrist)

I think I officially love this person’s Tumblr. Here’s a reply, which sent me into my usual entranced philosophical diatribes and insights–

antigravity000:

Heat can be measured, there are values for its presence whereas ‘coldness’ is simply a description for absence of heat. Cold is the void, heat is space. Nihilism, atheism, absurdism are the voids, faith in god(s), in creative forces, is space.

I like this.

It’s funny, isn’t it? Once we stick that -ism on Nihilism, we have Nihilists — followers — who consciously adopt a system of philosophy they want to associate with Nihilism. But in adopting a system, they affirm an identity, and in affirming an identity, you now have an identity — a positive thing — associated with yourself. It’s quite literally counter-intuitive for someone to consciously adopt Nihilism.

I’ve always thought true Nihilism would actually be closer with simply lacking in  self-criticality, or any thinking what so ever — this McDonalds, MTV, Nike culture of the 21st century is true Nihilism, for example.

True atheism isn’t the scientific rationalization of the universe and coming to the conclusion that gods don’t exist — true atheism is just the complete lack of any form of theistic insight of belief: apathetically avoiding religion, or apathetically/ignorantly following religion. (This was Nietzsche’s point about atheism, actually, and how atheism is actually just the deification of humanity sublimated over the Abrahamic God. Hence, why he’s quoted for saying “God is dead”, and not for saying “God doesn’t exist”)

And true absurdity, is just the doing absurd things without reflecting on them. This is just the common condition of daily life.

So basically, what I mean to say is, the greatest of the Nihilists are not the suffering, paralyzingly self-critical characters from the pages of Dostoyevsky or Turgenev, or that angsty youth clad in a leather trench coat. The greatest Nihilists are the Kim Kardiashians and Paris Hiltons of this world.

meta-mash:

Does atheism = dogmatic materialism? How would Nietzsche feel about this?

No. Not necessarily.

Nietzsche frequently ridiculed dogmatism in all its forms — and the world-views of physicalism and materialism. And he pointed out the origins and functions of dogmatism in the unconscious, historical formations, in power structures, and in abstracted lies.

Further, while Nietzsche disparaged most modern forms of religiosity and many forms of theism, Nietzsche himself was not necessarily an atheist. A god has to exist first before the we who kill it kills it. (Not to mention what God’s deathmeans to Nietzsche!)

I believe (and I’ll write a more thoroughly on this someday) that the entire project of Nietzsche’s philosophy, was precisely this: the smashing of dogmatism in all its forms — especially the residual slave-moralities that persist after a particular dogmatism has been supposedly destroyed. We see this with the rise of dogmatic science after and with the Enlightenment — the destruction of the old aristocracy and new universal suffrage — modern free market economies creating effectively new aristocracies without the need to call on Divine Investiture — modern medicine, especially modern psychiatry, and prison systems taking the role of the Christian confessor and enforcing Christian penance.

The Decline of Thinking’s Universality:
Against the Hyper-Compartmentalization of Knowledge (or the Hyper-Compartmentalizers)

It may be ironic that a blog which draws heavily from the philosophical tradition would start thus:

Philosophy is dead.[1]

Of course, that’s not a particularly revolutionary idea, and especially not in this day and age. We all know that philosophy has been replaced by hard, solid, objective SCIENCE!, that has no need for the empty, pretentious quibblings of philosophers, who confirm nothing with factual, real, physical evidence…! According the prevailing creation myths of SCIENCE!, no one before Galileo conducted experiments, and all human knowledge was purely based on religious dogma, superstition. It was the Dark Ages, because Rome — the sole guaranteer of Reason and Progress — had fallen to savage invading barbarians and its own opulent corruption. It was the Dark Ages, and life was poor, nasty, brutish and short.[2]

What rationality did exist was what Christian monks working in dungeons and monasteries, hunched over on copying tables, were able to preserve by scraps and bits of unoriginally copying manuscripts from the Greeks and Romans — because Augustine said it was what any good Christian ought to read, since he was such a squealing fanboy for people like Aristotle, Plato, Ptolemy, Hippocrates, etc. And then finally, it took a handful of privileged white men in Western Europe to pull the ‘West’ up from its own bootstraps, out of the Dark Ages, and to dominate the world again, as they had meant to do, since they inherited the Greco-Roman legacy. Meanwhile, the Church burnt anyone at the sake who contradicted its dogma[3], so the ‘West’ had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the brave new world of innovation. In fact, before this “Renaissance” the West was so behind, that they had to learn and ‘recover’ what they historically knew about the Ancients from those fanatical, backward Arabs! Then thanks to these privileged white European men, we discover the world is not flat[4], revolves around the Sun (Heliocentricism), and Chris can finally discover America, the Reformation breaks the clerical stranglehold on PROGRESS!, and the rest (SCIENCE!)history:

^ Above ^ is a paraphrase of a cultural meme we see espoused by standard textbooks, teachers, TV presentations, Joe the In’ernet-Know-all-Tuff-Guy, etc., treating this subject of SCIENTIFIC PROGRESS! (and all the subtext notwithstanding.) Absurd as this narrative is, I’m not going to dwell on it here, as this entire blog is dedicated to smashing such creation myths of PROGRESS (aka positivism).[5]

Now in truth, things were, as they often are, actually a little more complicated. First of all, all knowledge — all SCIENCE! — was considered under the domain of Philosophy. If you were a thinking person — no matter how amateur or professional, no matter how shallowly or profoundly — what you were doing when pondering the universe, human relations, physical phenomena, God’s attributes, etc., all went back to that word: Philosophy.

  • When Galileo disproved prevailing beliefs about Aristotle’s theory of Motion, it wasn’t called Physics — it was called Natural Philosophy.
  • When Copernicus uprooted Geocentricism, it wasn’t called Physics — it was called Natural Philosophy
  • When Newton discovered the principles of gravity, and formulated MATH around this, it wasn’t called Physics — it was still called Natural Philosophy

( I’m just going to pause here and mention that Natural Philosophy was the discipline that is more or less what we would call science nowadays — philosophy concerning in the nature of motion, matter, astronomy, chemistry (shared with alchemy), geology, animals and natural history, etc. )

Intellectuality — the scope of things you would be educated in — was continuous, fluid, and organic. The Educated were well versed in theology, logic, natural philosophy, metaphysics, rhetoric, aesthetics, the Classics, politics, history[6], etc., because these were all universally recognized aspects of Knowledge of the Universetwo sides of the same coin — or, better put, different faces on the same die:

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