Thursday, October 28, 2021


We Shall All of Us Be Equal in Our Discombobulation

Many have remarked that The Big Disclosure, when it comes, will be very upsetting for those of us who believe in God, more or less conventionally.  Surely an alien form of Jesus was not sent down to Zeta Reticuli to absolve the greys of their sins.  Something will not compute here on a fundamental basis for the devout Catholic or Evangelical.

But I believe that the discombobulation will be general.  Let's take a committed, lifelong atheist like the late Christopher Hitchens, a man I admire deeply for his intellect and his courage.  It may be too much to say that materialism/scientism was a religion for him, but he was secure in its pieties, even as he faced an early death from cancer.  There was a narrative that explained his life, his place in the universe, even though it offered him no hope of life after life.  There was a place for humanism and for ethics in that narrative as well, and a place for caring about the fate of his friends and loved ones whom he left behind.

Hitchens and his fellow travelers have been secure in their conviction that "God does not exist."  Insofar as the God who does not exist is pictured as the God of the great monotheistic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam-- the Big Disclosure will not undermine this specific conviction.  The Disclosure nonetheless is likely to completely upend the materialist narrative.  God will not exist, but "the gods" will exist, almost as they did for the Greeks and the Romans, with all of their whimsicality and potential for mayhem.  The materialists/scientists will say "this cannot be!"   But no one will be able to will it away.

Lue Elizondo, the former head of the government's AATIP program, which was charged with figuring out the Phenomenon, podcasted for nearly three hours this week with Curt Jaimungal, the young host of "The Theory of Everything."   He intends to write a book that will have shocking and compelling "small d" disclosures in it, a book that will be vetted by the US government which, one hopes, will choose not to suppress it.

Lue said in the interview that his own psychological posture these days is "sober" and "somber."   "Why?," he was asked.  He replied that we have, all of us, come to think of ourselves as the zookeepers of the universe, and that it will not be pretty when we are hit with revelations to the effect that we are just animals in the zoo.  The zookeepers are among us, and they have not, unlike God the Father, Jesus His Only-Begotten Son, or Allah, set out for us rules to which we need only adhere if we want to stay on the right side of the law.  If the gods choose to make us their playthings, there won't be a damned thing we can do about it.  And for the materialist/scientist, the fact that these beings and their handiwork will be absorbable into an expanded and revised "Book of Nature" will offer no solace.

Friday, October 15, 2021



I once saw a tiny reptile and a tiny vole locked in existential combat, on a pavement in a state park north of San Diego.  The vole was, for the time, the aggressor.  (The reptile was lethargic even in such circumstances in the cool of the morning.)  The rodent held the lizard's neck in his jaws.

Two naturalists attached to the park watched the struggle alongside us.  They were dumbfounded and fascinated by the behavior of the vole, who was, in their view, decidedly "off script."  Perhaps he was rabid.

Carl Jung has an essay in his "Modern Man in Search of a Soul."  It is clear from the essay that Jung spent much time in the company of peoples that he calls "archaic" or primitive.  The principal theme of the essay is that the world-views of such people are not inferior to, nor less accurate than, our own.  They are shaped by the circumstances in which the people have lived for thousands of years.  Among other things, these people face natural perils that would defeat us in no time were we to be dropped into their environs.

When something happens that does not ordinarily happen, the people interpret it as reflecting the agency of important beings that reside in the spirit world.  The normally timid crocodiles might pull an adult male of the village into the river and eat him; the famously nocturnal anteater might stroll through the village when the sun is at its zenith.  These are not natural and predictable aberrations; they are signs and portents.

It is that classic New Yorker cartoon in its many variations, the one with the volcano spewing rocks in the background and the natives remarking that the gods must be off their feed.

Ross Coulthart reports, as others have reported, that Jimmy Carter, early in his presidency, was given a top-secret briefing on the subject of alien intrusions, alien visitations, and what the government knew about them.  After the briefing the president of the United States was seen with his head in his hands, crying.

Why do I feel that the veil is about to be torn, irrevocably, that we are about to be flooded with "high strangeness" that has no explanation?

A phalanx of demons.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


Oct 12/13

As the clock ticked down to zero -- midnight -- on Indigenous Peoples Day, I dreamt that my brother and I shared a multi-story house somewhere out on the Great Plain.  It was night in the dream as well, and suddenly a band of indigenous braves attacked the house in force, attempting to breech the doors and windows.  Kevin and I succeeded in fighting them off, but not without violence.  We pored scalding hot water on their hands and their heads when they broke the plane of a window, for example.

It did not feel like a victory, just a respite before they attacked again, more successfully.


Deja Entendu

As I settled my bill, alone, at Boston's best Irish pub last evening, the pub's playlist, which focuses on soft rock and Irish folk songs through the ages, hit me with Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." ("Count the headlights on the highway.")

In my junior year of college, in my mind, the Tiny Dancer was an Asian girl from Tarrytown who had a single across the hall from my double at Cornell.  She wore mens' shirts with the buttons undone.  I became clinically smitten with her, which became especially awkward when her boyfriend took the bus over from Ithaca College for an overnight.  A really foolish affair that cemented a long-lasting connection in my mind between romance and futility, at least as it related to me.

One day, after all my classes were done, I had a cup of coffee in the Ivy Room of the Straight, the building made rather famous a few years before when black student activists stood on its front steps with long guns and bandoliers.

The coffee was weak.  It came in flimsy little white plastic cones that were pressed into less flimsy plastic holders, in red or brown.  At the far end of this very large room, by the windows that looked down the hill at the Baker Halls, which housed (male only) freshmen in classic collegiate gothic, was a primo juke box that, in those peak days of (especially psychedelic) rock and roll, seemed to be playing all day every day, and at volume.

Was it Eric Clapton's "Bell Bottom Blues" or "Tiny Dancer" that set me off?  In any event, I put my head in my hands.  Another student, a stranger, asked me if I was alright.  I was not alright.  I couldn't see that I would ever have any agency that would make it possible for me to cross the barrier between me and any particular her who caught my fancy.

Fifty years ago.  Half a century.

Monday, October 11, 2021


God's "harvesting" of the boomer generation has begun in earnest.  

It has not spared my friends and relations.  It even has a name -- "Boomerdammerung."  Some openly welcome it.  There is a new day dawning, cleansed of all of our baggage and of course the better for it.

To whom can I turn as a role model, as old as or older than I, yet still focused with purpose if not enthusiasm on our shrinking future?

Jacques Vallee, Robert Duvall, Clint Eastwood and certain Supreme Court justices.  Tony Bennett before his mind began to disintegrate.  Lionel Shriver.

There's more.  Wait (if you have time) and they will come to me ...

Friday, October 8, 2021


The Early and the Later Wittgenstein, Contrasted

Wittgenstein's early philosophy crystalized in his "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus," more commonly just "the Tractatus."  The book was largely conceived and executed by Wittgenstein when he was a POW held by the Italians in World War I.  At Cambridge University, the two most eminent philosophers in the English-speaking world at the time, Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore, were so impressed by the work that they awarded the Ph.D to Wittgenstein as if it were written as a doctoral dissertation, waiving virtually all of the other conventional requirements for the degree.  Wittgenstein told them that they did not understand his work, and they agreed.

In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein laid out a "picture theory" of logic and language.  In relation to the actual world, words stand as pictures of the concepts that they represent.  This by itself seems fairly trivial, but let me use a picture of my own to try to explain what made his approach seem both radical and entirely new.

Picture a globe, a globe of the earth that is, approximately 20 feet in diameter.  It is made of the thinnest titanium, such that the inside of the globe shows with perfect definition the contours of the outside of the globe.  Those contours include all of the elevations on the surface, from the Marianas Trench to the summit of Mt. Everest.

Inside the globe, at its center, stands a little man, Harry Homunculus, with a long stick.  The length of the stick is such that Harry can trace, can define, every bit of the surface of the world from within as it were.  He proceeds to do this.

But what Harry is actually delineating are the limits of our logic and the reach of our language as a vehicle for drawing all of those pictures of what is happening in the world.  

This picture of Harry is a picture of what Wittgenstein purports to be doing in his book -- laying out the limits of logic and language as they engage with, and describe, the world.  Critically, however, the most important aspects of human life -- everything spiritual, the joy we find in works of art and in our most important relationships, the mystery of our mortality -- all lie outside the boundaries of the globe.  That is not to say that we do not attempt to talk about them.  In fact, the problems in philosophy that we have wrestled with for thousands of years can be seen as arising out of our futile attempts to try to address these things as if they were as susceptible to description and explanation as, for example, the disposition of two automobiles that we find on the road after a collision.  When we try to talk about them in this way, what comes out is "nonsense."  In a sense we can point at them, but we should not utter "propositions" about them, because the realm of propositions should be left for things that exist in the world.  "Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent."

It is a remarkable fact that the Tractatus was viewed as the most provocative and original philosophical achievement of the early 20th century, that its views were not systematically challenged in any way, but that Wittgenstein himself concluded, by the early 1930s, that they were fundamentally wrong!  His later philosophy, which dismantled the first, albeit in an oblique way, found its way into print only after his death in 1951, and largely in the form of books on particular themes, like "Remarks on Colour," that were pieced together literally from scraps of paper by his "disciples" and literary executors.   (He despised the fact that he had disciples, in the sense of lesser minds who spread his gospel, but without thinking rigorously for themselves in the process.)  The exception to composition from scraps by others was "Philosophical Investigations," which he himself compiled but which was not published in his lifetime.  "The Investigations" or "PI" should probably be viewed as the most important work of philosophy of the entire 20th century.

In what way did Wittgenstein depart from his earlier views in PI and related texts?

A fundamental new insight, derived from examining how language is actually used in the world by real people as opposed to philosophers, was that concepts are fluid; their edges are soft and shifting.  This does not mean that we must be sloppy in our thinking.  The concepts function just fine notwithstanding the fact that they are not "atomic."  We distinguish between the river and the river bed, and the difference is important, but we cannot describe a fixed boundary between the two.  So Harry the Homunculus cannot do what he set out to do.  It was impossible in principle for him to lay out a fixed boundary for a world within which we utter propositions consisting of concepts that themselves have fixed boundaries.

One radical consequence of this view is that it obviates the need to search for an "inner" mechanism, in the brain presumably, that accounts for, and mirrors, our outer facility with language and logic.  It is anti-Chomskian, and indeed rather scary in its insinuation that there is nothing beneath the surface, that, as Wittgenstein said in so many words, "nothing is hidden."  To the extent that there is an explanation for how we are able to use language, it is an "anthropological" one.  Language resides in "forms of life;" it is embedded in our culture.  No explanation beyond this is required.  Indeed, philosophers' attempts to come up with such explanations simply have led us into confusion and error.

The view has important consequences as well for artificial intelligence.  Wittgenstein would never say, I think, that even the most sophisticated computer could evolve into consciousness, or that Elon Musk could cheat death by uploading his mind into a machine. (It is perhaps noteworthy that Wittgenstein's time at Cambridge overlapped to some extent with that of Alan Turing; I believe that they knew each other, how well it's hard to say.)  The fact that the most powerful AI natural-language translation engines now extant have no real "semantic component" as it was conceived by Chomsky suggests, if it does not prove, that Wittgenstein was right about the soft and the fluid edges.  And likewise our ability to use words and expressions in novel ways and yet be understood.  The first person to say, before Stevie Wonder, "you are the apple of my eye," was understood, mirabile dictu.

One early view that Wittgenstein did not abandon was that the most important and profound things in life reside outside philosophy.   He admired Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in particular, as well as the gospels.  In this sense he very much embraced the "inner" life notwithstanding its ineffability; he just did not want to philosophize about it.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

 Farrah Made a Mental Note of the Gravity of Her Expression

What did the gypsy woman see, and how much did she say, having read the lifeline of Farrah Fawcett at Balboa Park in 1976, the year of the red poster and of the debut of Charlie's Angels, and noted the awful turn in her fortunes that was to come?