Overweening Generalist

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Promiscuous Neurotheologist: The Atheologies of Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Robert Anton Wilson

In the past few weeks I've been reading the so-called New Atheists - articles and passages in books by and about them, interviews, etc - and the more I read them the more each thinker seems slightly different than the others. The ones I'm talking about are Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dennett, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, Pinker, Jerry Coyne, Victor Stenger, Michael Shermer, and Lawrence Krauss.

                                              Ayaan Hirsi Ali, moving the New Atheist
                                              debate forward, although I must wonder
                                              why she's allied with the retrograde
                                              American Enterprise Institute

I could go into why I started to see individuation with each of these thinkers, but that's for some other day; what really fascinated me was what was not said, and the idea that this sort of thinking is "new;" it is not. Atheism has a long pedigree, even in Unistat, but it's largely been marginalized. I don't recall any atheist thinker being singled out in any class I ever took in high school. When I started reading compendia of atheist thought, one thing led to another and I realized it was just another marginalized discourse in Unistat; Randall Collins would say that the social and intellectual conditions were not right for a more mainstream discussion of atheism in the culture at large. It is no accident that this "new" discourse (also a publishing phenomenon, but it wouldn't be if people weren't buying the books) exploded after 9/11.

Randall Collins's magisterial The Sociology of Philosophies has a robust theory about why ideas gain ground at certain times and not others. He seems heavily influenced by Erving Goffman in developing ideas about emotional energies gathered in groups around a seminal thinker, and how the group branches out and disseminates and develops ideas, depending on culture and history, space and political  propinquities. Cultural capital is actualized around attention spaces and I'll just quote from him to give you a feel for where Collins is coming from:

Imagine a large number of people spread out across an open plain - something like a landscape by Salvador Dali or Giorgio de Chirico. Each one is shouting "Listen to me!" This is the intellectual attention space. Why would anyone listen to anyone else? What strategy will get the most listeners? [...]
A person can pick a quarrel with someone else, contradicting what the other is saying. That will gain an audience of at least one; and if the argument is loud enough, it might attract a crowd. Now, suppose everyone is tempted to try it. Some arguments start first, or have a larger appeal because they contradict the positions held by several people; and if other persons happen to be on the same side of the argument, they gather around and provide support. There are first-mover advantages and bandwagon effects. The tribe of attention seekers, once scattered across the plain, is changed into a few knots of arguments. The law of small numbers says that the number of these successful knots is always about three to six. The attention space is limited; once a few arguments have partitioned the crowds, attention is withdrawn from those who would start another knot of argument. Much of the pathos of intellectual life is in the timing of when one advances one's own argument. (p.38)

                                         Randall Collins, sociologist extraordinaire

The so-called New Atheist's arguments seem to have reached a plenum, but quite possibly we will be surprised by some new development in their lines of argument. I do think Unistat needed an intellectual avalanche of books and articles espousing atheism for one reason or another. I find the right wing Christian ideology - which to me always seemed closer to fascism than Jesus's words from the Gospels - stultifying. And no doubt there were plenty of people who didn't believe but found themselves in pockets of Unistat in which ostracism for "coming out" was a very real threat; so they endured Sunday mornings. Possibly the New Atheists, as their ideas trickle into the capillaries of small town thought, make it just a little bit easier to realize oneself. The rise of mainstream atheism in Unistat seemed dialectically necessary. We'll see where it goes. Meanwhile, I have my fascinations with the two thinkers mentioned in my title: their quasi-atheistic ideas don't seem to have captured an attention space.

Collins's ideas are about ideas appearing at the right place, right time, under the right conditions. Nonetheless we are free-thinking agents and do not place a high value on following the main streams in order to have the correct ideas to trot out at cocktail parties.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (NNT)
I combine two thinkers (Taleb and Wilson) of seemingly disparate personal disposition, each with seemingly quite different audiences, yet both thinkers have produced a body of work that shows a fascination with chaos, randomness, erudition and epistemological doubt. Indeed, Taleb's three major works (Fooled By Randomness;The Black Swan; Antifragile) are now being labeled "The Incerto Trilogy." A taste of Nassim's basic incertitude: "Prediction requires knowing about technologies that will be discovered in the future. But that very knowledge would almost automatically allow us to start developing those technologies right away. Ergo, we do not know what we will know." (p.173, The Black Swan)

Taleb - who seems a strident character who insists he has a good sense of humor, so I'll take him at his word - thinks it's a bad idea to bash religion, even though he himself seems an atheist. Why not bash like Dawkins, Harris, et.al? Because nature abhors a vacuum, and he points to the atheistic USSR under Stalin: something else takes the place of irrational religion, and it could lead to far worse outcomes. He traces the first suicide bombers. Were they actuated by fundamentalist religious fervor? No, they were not Islamic terrorists from the Middle East. Rather, they were Greek orthodox Communists in Lebanon. The vacuum left in the wake of The State's abolition or proscriptions against religion are replaced by "all kinds of crazy beliefs." NNT also would have rival religions not be in physical contact, which seems a tall order but interesting idea. Top-down attacks on religion do not work, and NNT points to the diminution of Catholicism in Southern Europe and Ireland, which saw an accompaniment of usury and debt. (Unforeseen consequences?) And here's one of my favorite passages from NNT; it gives much of the flavor of his overall philosophical caste of mind:

I am most irritated by those who attack the bishop but somehow fall for the securities analyst - those who exercise skepticism against religion but not against the economists, social scientists, and phony statisticians. Using the confirmation bias, these people will tell you that religion was horrible for mankind by counting deaths from the Inquistion and various religious wars. But they will not show  you how many people were killed by nationalism, social science, and political theory under Stalinism or during the Vietnam War. Even priests don't go to bishops when they feel ill: their first stop is the doctor's. (p.291, The Black Swan)

Later Nassim said that if you're critical of religion but invest in the stock market you're a hypocrite, which reminded me of Dawkins saying that the postmodernists who questioned the fundamental laws of physics who then got on airplanes were hypocrites. Skepticism is "domain-dependent" and 19th century "rational" Western medicine no doubt killed more people than it saved. When you have "experts" you have the "illusion of control."

NNT thinks that if religion has survived for millennia we shouldn't uproot it unless we can be damned well sure we can replace it with something less damaging. (But we cannot be sure, right?)

Like the late Robert Bellah and Robert Anton Wilson, NNT thought religion was not about "belief" but about action, and it starts with ritual. We have ideas about "God" all mixed up. Most religions started off with rituals, then developed deities post hoc. Religion makes people do things, and then the King arrives and uses the local religion for social control.

Further, NNT sees very strong historical lessons in Christianity and Islam that support his idea that history does not crawl but "jumps" and is best not thought of as something that develops slowly and relatively predictably: in noting the paucity of extant writings by contemporary thinkers in or near Jesus's time, "Apparently, few of the big guns took the ideas of a seemingly heretical Jew seriously enough to think he would leave traces for posterity." And: "How about the competing religion that emerged seven centuries later; who forecast that a collection of horsemen would spread their empire and Islamic law from the Indian subcontinent to Spain in just a few years? Even more than the rise of Christianity, it was the spread of Islam (the third edition, so to speak) that carried full unpredictability; many historians looking at the record have been taken aback by the swiftness of the change." NNT follows up these observations by making a general note about our study of history: "These kinds of discontinuities in the chronology of events did not make the historian's profession too easy: the studious examination of the past in the greatest detail does not teach you much about the mind of History; it only gives you the illusion of understanding it." (p.11, op.cit)

Illusions of understanding: this is at the heart of NNT's work.

For NNT, the Economist's religion of probability is as primitive as religious fundamentalists; here NNT's deliberate provocation seems to dovetail with Robert Anton Wilson's guerrilla ontological takes on "serious" bodies of thought. NNT reminds us that Syria, Egypt and Iraq were "secular" states, that churches are standing-room-only in Russia now, and that Dennett's argument for "science" clashes with most individual scientists,who understand how very much we do not know in the scientific world. Almost every decision every day is probabilistic and faith in the stock market or communism or "capitalism" works really well...until it doesn't.

NNT has also observed something interesting about the three monotheistic religions that most people would consider "good" or "fair" and I rarely see this mentioned: Christianity's ideas about sex ended the anthropologist's "Big Man"'s monopolization of women. One man, one wife: the little guy was not left out any more. Islam came along and made a restriction to four wives. Judaism had been a polygamous religion, but in the Middle Ages is became monogamous. NNT observes that this may have been a political move that headed off potential revolutions of angry, sexually-deprived men fomenting violence from the bottom of society.

So, for Nassim Nicholas Taleb: no New Atheism for him. And yet he's not exactly a believer. With regard to the desirability of religious belief, there seemed much unsaid, much overlooked, and he tried to point some of it out.

Robert Anton Wilson (RAW)
Born poor into Catholicism on Long Island in the 1930s, RAW recalls, in a documentary about him, that he found out that Santa Claus wasn't real. He kept waiting for them to admit that God wasn't real, but they never did. RAW's atheology - I adopted the term after reading a piece in which he used the term within the context of the serious/joke religion Discordianism - seems more avant garde than NNT's. RAW began satirizing the Bible and all monotheistic religions in one of the first articles he ever published, "The Semantics of 'God'" in Paul Krassner's The Realist, in 1959. RAW's main riff was Why do we call God a "he"? If we do, we must assume He has a penis. And how large must it be? Then RAW pretended to use math in comparing King Kong and the average man's penis size, Kong's height and the relative size of a penis-per-height ration for gorillas, then speculating about the size of God's schlong. If we're not prepared to admit "God" has a penis, let's stop calling God "he" and say "It." Neurosemantically, we might derive a more sane view of "God" if we said "It."

RAW even neologized over the overwhelming male-ness in monotheistic religions - why women can't be priests, etc: "theogenderology."

After more than a decade of very intense self-experimentation with psychedelic drugs, abstruse Crowleyan magickal practices, an immersion in the most difficult High Modernist texts, and all sorts of other self-described "gimmicks" in order to see how malleable his own mind was, RAW decided he was a "model agnostic," taking Neils Bohr's Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics and combining it with phenomenological sociology, a studiously ironic take on conspiracy theories, and Korzybski's General Semantics to make a heady personal philosophical brew about the "self" and the world of perception, "reality tunnels" and ideologies, and a radical doubt filled with endless wonder about the world, of which we must always be uncertain.

Some scholars of hermeticism may be able to discern a long line from 14th century thinkers to Wilson; what's interesting to me is RAW's abiding interest in popular culture, surrealistic humor, neuroscience, the quantum theory, Einstein's relativity, the main strains of 20th century philosophy (including Existentialism, Phenomenology, Pragmatism, Logical Positivism, and the "Linguistic Turn"), combined with Crowley's synthesis of seemingly all the major alchemical and hermetic practices. He liked to quote Crowley's line from The Book of Lies:

I slept with Faith and found a corpse in my arms upon awakening; I drank and danced all night with Doubt and found her a virgin in the morning.

Doubt keeps the mind alive and questioning. And yet doubt requires belief. Why not watch your own nervous system as you decide to "believe" in some idea for a week, and then doubt it? Believe, then doubt; believe then doubt. See what happens to your ideas about "reality." RAW seems to dare his readers to try this. (At times he explicitly advocated it.)

Here's the thing: for RAW and many other modernistic antinomians: all gods and goddesses are "real" in the sense that they are projections the human genome has made; they are externalizations of deep inner aspects emanating from the biology of humanity. And so, on that level, let us use them to gain poetic insight about ourselves. Note: he doesn't believe the gods and goddesses of history "really" exist "out there;" they exist "in here," which seems "real" enough. I think it will be quite some time before the New Atheist's ideas, working dialectically with the traditional believers of a monotheistic God, create a intellectual space in which to consider "god" in these terms.

Moreover, I have oversimplified RAW's atheology, as at times in his writing career he considered himself a sort of theologian, and near the time of his death he seemed to still agree with a boyhood influence, Ezra Pound, about "seeing" gods. Here's a passage from Pound that gives us a tinge of the flavor:

We find two forces in history: one that divides, shatters and kills, and one that contemplates the unity of the mystery. 
                                    "The arrow hath not two points."

There is the force that falsifies, the force that destroys every clearly delineated symbol, dragging men into a maze of abstract arguments, destroying not one but every religion. 

But the images of the gods, or Byzantine mosaics, move the soul to contemplation and preserve the tradition of the undivided light. 
(pp.306-307, Selected Prose 1909-1965, Ezra Pound)

RAW at other times seemed to identify with William Blake in naming our creative spark as God.

[But is this not what the modern guerrilla-ontological trickster hermeticist does?]

In an article published in Oui magazine in 1977, RAW quoted a fellow counterculture-hero-writer, Kurt Vonnegut, about the clash between science and religion:

As Kurt Vonnegut says, "A great swindle of our time is the assumption that science has made religion obsolete. All science has damaged is the story of Adam and Even and Jonah and the whale." Vonnegut goes on to say there is nothing in science that contradicts the works of mercy recommended by Saint Thomas Aquinas, which include: to teach the ignorant, to console the sad, to bear with the oppressive and troublesome, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to visit prisoners and the sick, and to pray for us all. (p.57, The Illuminati Papers)

In the bulk of RAW's writings on organized religion, though, he seems much more in the line of Nietzsche and Mencken and Carlin, with surreal barbed satire about good rich vicious Christians in church enjoying hell-fire sermons that seemed like the worst S&M trip ever, while they politically advocated "more bombs for Jesus."

Finally, a little article I found a while back made me think this would make RAW smile: The Claremont College Theology School desegregated the way the religious books were categorized and shelved in their library.

Some Sources:
Robert Bellah interview: Religion isn't so much about what we believe, but what we do
Nassim Nicholas Taleb on YouTube: 9 mins: On Role of Religion (live talk from Q&A with audience)
"Why Monotheism Leads To Theocracy," by Joshua Keating
"Atheism Is Maturing and it Will Leave Richard Dawkins Behind," Martin Robbins


Anonymous said...

My own experiences lead me to the
idea that you can't understand any
religious work unless you adopt the
temporary mindset of believeing it
to be true. The danger in such
things is making that a permanent
state of mind. Militant Atheism is
no exception to this, it can make
people as narrow-minded and naive
as the dumbest fundie from USA.

I think Lovecraft had the best take
on the effect of science on religion.
When you try to fit the newer facts
into the old religious paradigm,
something has to give in that
tension created.
Scientism on the other hand is just
as pernicious a substitute for
your reason as the most nutty type
of fundamentalism.

I thank Odin every day for making
me an Atheist. I also thank Eris
for the wisdom of her teaching of
Discordians are not allowed to
believe anything they see written
in a book.

There have been a lot of those who
pointed the way out of absolutes.
Mostly they are signposts to use
with your own experiences instead
of something to make into dogma.

I did like Ramachandran pointing
out that you can cut the soul out
with a scalpel, whether this is a
support for materialism or just a
proof of Descartes is left as an
exercise to think about.

Will we get a definitive answer ?
Past generations have had them but
they all were false or naive so
I doubt anyone who claims they
have the "truth".

We are going to generate meanings
because that's what we do with our
brain in the attempt to understand
but it helps to be sceptical as

Well done, a lot of ideas worth
examining and thinking about.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I don't recall anything in RAW's writings that would endorse "gods" or "God" as a separate creature, but I did find a passage referring to a sense of inspiration:

"I also suspect that this world shows signs of intelligent design, and I suspect that such intelligence acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and WITHOUT centralized sovereignty, like Internet; and that it does NOT function hierarchically, in the style (of) an Oriental despotism, an American corporation of Christian theology.

"I somewhat suspect that both Theism and Atheism both fail to account for such decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-causal feedback.

"I more-than-half suspect that all 'good' writing, or all prose and poetry that one wants to read more than once, proceeds from a kind of 'alteration in consciousness,' i.e. a kind of controlled schizophrenia. (Don't become alarmed -- I think good acting comes from the same place.)

"I sometimes suspect that what Blake called Poetic Imagination expresses this exact thought in the language of his age, and that visits by 'angels' and 'gods' state it in even more archaic argot."

All this from the "Note" at the beginning of "Email to the Universe," so it would represent the last statement, in book form, of RAW's beliefs on the matter.

michael said...

Are you saying I had written that RAW "endorsed" "gods" or "God" as a separate creature? If so, then please re-read.

I could have written 20 times more about RAW's relationship to religious thinking, but I think you'll agree few people want to read a blog post even half as long as the monstrosity we see above here.

Your first quoted passage addresses what may be to me the most interesting aspect of RAW's thought regarding "creation." He riffed on aspects of this since at least the mid-1960s.

The hermeticism and Pound/Crowley/Joseph Campbell/Alan Watts aspect of "gods" is illustrated in cryptic quotes found in many of RAW's writings, although do not show as a main feature in his books. As an example of what I think RAW always found interesting about "gods," - and I don't know if it's at rawilsonfans.com or not and they don't answer my email anyway - see his review of Jack Parsons's book _Freedom Is A Two-Edged Sword_, from Magical Blend, 1990, near the end:

"Always, Parsons sees religion as a metaphor, a set of symbols which can liberate the energies of an age, usher in a new evolutionary epoch, and unleash repressed human potentials - but which becomes poison if the symbols are taken literally and become Idols or dogmas. He prefers magick, which does not demand belief, but only incites what Crowley called neuro-physiological experiment. Like Crowley, Parsons regarded 'gods' and other spiritual entities as constellations of evolutionary forces, which the Will and Imagination of the magician compresses (invokes) into a 'being' or 'intelligence' with whom 'knowledge and conversation' is possible."

So: feel free to tell me why RAW would have quit thinking this before he died, or why this somehow contradicts something I supposedly wrote.

michael said...


It seems the inability to understand metaphor can eventually mount to a disaster.

Thanks for the reminder that we Discordians are forbidden to believe anything we read in a book! ("Bless me, Eris, for I have sinned...")

Yes we will generate meanings, because our brains are wired for pattern recognition, but skepticism about our these patterns seems too rare. Why?

I remember once talking about what we do when we masturbate with a friend...I mean: I was talking to the friend about jerking off. We used porn, we used porn mags. We used Victoria's Secret catalogs our girlfriends had sent to them through the mail. We thought of women we know. And we had this in common: very rarely did we conjure up the image of a beautiful female celebrity. And we both thought, given messages we'd gotten via electronic entertainment media, that men did think of...who? Scarlett Johanssen? Salma Hayek? Halle Berry? A lot. So we must be oddballs here? I can't think of the last time some celebrity female made me get my rocks off. (If I had to guess: the weather girl on channel 7.)

Then I said I tend to just make up some hot female in my imagination, or rather: She sort of just "arrives" without much "effort" of imagination. He said he did something similar. I haven't done the research to see how common this is.

But I have grown to see that mental activity as the localized-to-my-nervous system manifestation of the Love Goddess. I really can't see much of a difference between the female who I don't know but comes to my imagination and allows me some release of sexual tension, She arriving with some small amount of effort, and Aphrodite. Call her my/our own Aphrodite shape-shifter?

I often wonder about war-gods and hero-gods and wisdom gods and messenger gods and trickster gods that may arrive with little conscious effort in other peoples' minds.

In the exceedingly rare times when I think I've written something fairly intelligent, it often feels like there was some Wise Eminence in the room with me, urging me on, saying, "tap into me," but it's always a very vague feeling. And as I said, very rare. I end up with some writing and I re-read it two days later and say, "This is somehow better than 'me'."

I wish I could make that "god" appear far more often. The answer is probably the same as the answer to the question, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"

Anonymous said...

I worked offline on this one so my
odd signature style may be gone.

Now that is interesting. It is the sort of thing rarely discussed even though it is
as common an experience as breathing. I'm sure there are slight variations but the
neural basis of desire has to be common. The constant bombardment with advertising
designed to interfere with any natural feelings may account for rarity of celebrity
having any effects.

I think Brooks nailed the basis of neural actions when he had his heretical robot
ideas. Searle supplied me with another key to things with his Chinese room argument.
If we assume that the nervous system is modular task oriented and that whatever
arises to the level of consciousness is a result of the underlying modules contending
for being allowed to express themselves in actions (loose definition of action).
This means that the modules are task oriented with limited access in a sort of
visible tip of the iceberg way.

Poincare said he would forget about working on a problem for a few days, do other
things and the answer would suddenly appear. I have watched Zappa conduct and had
the impression that he was forming shapes from synesthesia that musicians could
see and reinterpret as sounds. I'm not a musician so can't verify that impression.
It would indicate if true that there is an underlying mechanism that ties shapes
or gestures to sounds below the conscious level. Mathematics involves building a
neural module that does mathematics, we call that learning. Oddly most of the
process is fairly repetitive until you can start trying to extend it into the
realm of conjectures, then it gets interesting.

Since we're used to working in language we probably assume that any neural action
should be framed that way but every evidence points in the opposite direction. I have
wondered if part of the underlying mechanisms were laid partially bare by DMT as
Terence M. described it. I am absolutely assured by my own experience that the so
called conscious part of me is not the real me in totality, far too much goes on
that cannot be accounted for so simply. On the other hand I have also noticed that
I had some terrible blind spots that I hadn't been aware of until someone pointed
them out. So in aggregate you are probably far better than the limited part that
claims to be you.

To tie it all back together, the Greeks assumed that all of the muses were hanging
around in a cloud hoping to get a chance to inspire them. Pantheistic gods are also
renowned as meddlers in human affairs, this was probably not by physical incarnation
except when retold later. That's a guess.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I apparently worded the comment poorly, because I wasn't attempting to disagree with anything you wrote; I was just submitting something I though was interesting. I think the quote I posted fits well with the additional quote you supplied.

I think RAW's discussions (in numerous places, for example Schroedinger's Cat) about the Guardian Angel also fits in well with the "gods" discussion.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

This leads to an interesting dilemma: If you put up a poorly-worded comment, do you delete it, or preserve a record of your Cosmic Schmuckiness?

The Cosmic Schmuck principle is related to the issue of certitude:


Perhaps I have achieved my monthly quota.

michael said...


Jesus H. Particular Chrysostomos on a Pogo Stick! You went to the next level I would have gone to: this notion of gods and goddesses as emanating from the human genome/biome, but unconscious and probably influenced by the local environment: all the rich Cognitive Science/AI/robotics and psychedelic drugs and synesthesia data.

Re: your point about Poincare: I was telling a guitar student the other day to TRY to cop by ear some of his favorite guitarist's lead breaks - even though someone has probably put up a transcription online that's fairly note-for-note accurate - and even if the student only comes away with 30-60% of what goes on in the solo, the favorite guitarists's "style" will seep more into the student's playing just because of the EFFORT. Furthermore: many times I've gotten hung up on a difficulty - whether in a writing project, or trying to understand a difficult text, or by copying by ear a musical passage - and I gave up, forgot about it, went to sleep...and damn if it doesn't just yield up easily the next day or another day later!

This all seems to relate to the rapid-fire conversation with bookish friends: you will want to cite certain names, titles of works, conceptual terms...but because of the sheer volume of dense-info being enthusiastically shared, I will inevitably get hung up..."Damn! What WAS the name of that book? It was...Nope...oh well.." and then 15 minutes later a the subroutine (now there's a metaphor) comes to that iceberg-tip consciousness like a Messenger with the answer, although I'd temporarily forgotten the context.

I would like to call this Messenger Hermes or Mercury, if only to give It a name.

Another guy I like who's at the center of all the Cog Sci stuff and trying to take it all in is George Lakoff:

"On the other hand, most of us think we know our own minds. This is because we engage in conscious thought, and it fills much of our waking life. But what most people are not aware of, and are sometimes shocked to discover, is that most of our thought - an estimated 98% - is not conscious. It is below the level of consciousness. It is what our brains are doing that we cannot see or hear. It is called the cognitive unconscious, and the scientific evidence for its existence and for many of its properties is overwhelming." - p.9, _The Political Mind_

After years of reading and pondering Searle's Chinese Room, the thing that strikes me most is the concept of qualia: an algorithm or program can't have it, can't possibly experience the mood and peculiarities going on while we're feeding Chinese language questions through a slot in a wall and getting good answers in English back.

Similarly, I suspect some of us will live to see the day when we encounter a robot that seems so humanoid that one part of our brain - or a collection of modules that bind - will react as if the robot is human, while another part will shout this down: No! Remember! It's just a clever simulation, and if we drink a beer together it WILL NOT experience anything like what I experience when that beer reaches my tongue, swirls around in my mouth, goes down my throat, and I soon after I get a certain buzz. It WILL NOT feel anything like that!

And then the robot will smile and say, "Hmmm...it's a bit too malty for my tastes; I prefer something with more hops. But then that's just me."

michael said...


I assumed you knew what I was getting at but just worded it ambiguously, and the only reason I responded that way was because I felt it was a huge aspect of what I was trying to get at: RAW saw "gods" as "real" on some level, but only when we want them to be "real." And how avant-garde this still seems.

And you're right: your quotes seem to complement the one I used.

Nonetheless, when I've brought up RAW and gods and religion with a hardcore atheist friend, she seemed unable to entertain what I was saying..and she'd read Wilson. I was trying to talk about the sense in which gods and goddesses were "real" and the feeling I got from her was, "What? So now you're suddenly saying Pat Robertson has something to say of value?"

RAW: one reason his literary reputation was not what he wanted it to be: too intelligent.

michael said...


I doubt your Cosmic Schmuckiness even approaches my level of Schmuckitude...which seems to make me LESS of one?

Please advise.


Eric Wagner said...

Great post. One of the original Discordians said that if he known it would work so well he would have chosen Aphrodite instead of Eris.

michael said...

Prof Wagner-

It's odd: I remember when I first read Illuminatus! I had not even heard of the Principia Discordia, so I bought a copy from Loompanics, the one with RAW's intro.

And I read it through and laffed but couldn't take it "seriously" at all. Now it still makes me laff but I've found great comfort in the surrealist/Taoist/Groucho Marxist There's-A-Very-Good-Non-Reason-Why-There's-So-Much-Chaos-ishness of the text. It helps take the edge off.

I remember when I kept thinking of Eris as related to Medea and also to Stephen King's Carrie. Sometimes I still think this.

Eris and Aphrodite LIVE!

chas said...

"But the images of the gods, or Byzantine mosaics, move the soul to contemplation and preserve the tradition of the undivided light. "

Thus the monotheist proscription against the "graven image"? Monotheistic monopoly depriving the believers of their own union with the "undivided light"?

michael said...


Yea, I think so. Maybe. It seems Islam is the one of the Big Three that enforces this most stringently; lots of bloodshed there over images. The history of Western art - esp during the Renaissance - is crammed to the gills with xtian symbols, depictions of their only god(s) (Holy Spirit/Jesus/Dad on the ceiling of the Sistine, etc).

The undivided light can't be kept under wraps; it's a Pandora's Box. But you need a Live Mind to seek out, look, and continue to try to make sense of it, as I "see" this.

An essay by Gore Vidal: "Monotheism and Its Discontents." I remember being floored by this when it came out: