1. From Peter Høeg’s The Woman and the Ape, an account of how a man chose to experiment on animals, as a trade:
As deep down and as far back as he could go – as a boy, in the country, on Jersey, Alexander Bower had been a genuine animal lover. He had grown up taking a delight in being close to a cat or a dog, savouring the smell of a stable and deriving from the presence of cattle a peace of mind that required no explanation. He had made up his mind to become a vet and had then gone to university. And there he had learned that animals are machines. Delicate machines, to be sure, with an ingenious biological mechanism, but still – when all was said and done – machines. And faced with this revelation his mind had, for the first time, split in two. Alongside the original Alexander, he developed a scientific alter ego. Now, when he stroked a dog’s head this onlooker would think: what is happening here, the feelings of warmth and kindness I am experiencing are but illusions, emergent phenomena made up of millions of processes all of which, taken singly, are quite banal and fully explained. By the time he finished his studies his innate reductionist was fully developed and for the next thirty years he had borne the ever greater burden of that test-tube monstrosity, the inner homunculus. He had come home from the USA with the very best references and a severe case of depression. All actions – whether physical or mental – were, he knew, fundamentally chemical in nature and thus quantum electrical and hence causal and hence deterministic and all, therefore, pre-ordained – if not haphazardly random – and so free will was an illusion, which meant that it made no difference what he did since the solution to what would happen in his life would make itself known of its own accord anyway. Which it did. One grey morning he woke up to the realisation that since there is, after all, nothing behind the physical universe except a handful of elementary particles and a standard formula for explaining the interplay between the forces of nature, one might as well go all the way, and this he did – that is to say, all the way into a world which is a little – but not much – simpler than that of physics, namely the world of finance, founded upon a few basic monetary units and the four arithmetical operations. And in this environment he had stayed ever since.
2. i am sometimes bewildered by the gross cultural differences between Germany and England. Being here is like going back in time a few decades, to a fairly orderly, traditional, relatively safe and civilised England. i wonder why two countries, apparently quite similar, should in fact be so different. Cultures are extremely complex, being as they are influenced by every living person’s imagination; and as individuals influence culture, so culture influences the individual. i know very little about engineering but i suppose it would be like trying to monitor heat flows when the heat flows themselves change the car, which then changes the heat flows, which then change the car, and so on. Except that it must be possible to construct mathematical models for heat flows, and one can run tests – not really possible with cultures (though one can draw certain conclusions from North Korea, the USSR, Maoist China).
Our culture is a bit peculiar. There seems a general feeling that technology is the only decisive, or even true factor (Wittgenstein wrote in 1947: “Because science and industry do decide wars, or so it seems”). And scientists are often strikingly ignorant of philosophy, logic, art, human nature. i gather that scientists are more likely to be autistic and when two geeks mate, they are more likely to spawn autistic children: one could say we live in an autistic age, a mathematical age. The only scientist i know well, the Viking, is certainly abnormal and somewhat autistic; not devoid of emotion or understanding, but with a scientist’s view of the world – so he flicked through The Brothers Karamazov and only read the Grand Inquisitor part, because someone told him this was the best part, and as a scientist he wanted to extract the data for processing; and for him, the most efficient method was to read 1% of the whole and discard the rest. Likewise, we were playing chess once and when i managed to take one of his bishops in the first few moves, he promptly surrendered and then instantly reset the board. When i indignantly asked what he was doing, he shrugged: “It would have been impossible to win.” Given that he normally won every game and i would doggedly continue until checkmate, i felt this was unsporting and unmanly: he wasn’t surrendering – he was simply cheating and resetting the game, undoing his mistake. He didn’t care about the game, only about winning. If we had been recording our scores, i’m sure he wouldn’t have surrendered. This is the autistic scientific type – the man who only sees numbers, data, information, and has no interest in, or feel for, the grain and nuance of reality. And this type is authoritative in our world; although they are derided as geeks and freaks, they determine our reality and their grimly reductionist account of things is taken as authoritative.
3. Such things have enormous influence over a culture. In my youth, i was castigated by Brit for speculating about the private life of Dawkins (does he appreciate art, does he have any decorations in his house, etc.). Although i wasn’t commenting on his blog, Brit nonetheless took issue with my mouthings:
This one is a long way past its sell-by date.
The blogs are just groaning with artsy milksops setting themselves in firm opposition to that mythical strawman who holds all sorts of opinions held by no real human beings, who is probably a product of the evil scientists in 1950s B-movies, and who goes by the dreaded name of ‘Dawkins Et Al.’
One could take this as a form of territorial pissing too – this is my internet, fuck off you arty milksop, go on, clear off before I give you a good hiding, set dog on thee, go on, gee art of it ye thievin gippo, don’t want yer clothes pegs etc., etc. However, i suppose i always want to see the human origin and consequence of ideas. Ideas themselves are too nebulous for me to make much sense of. i try, therefore, to be faithful to my own ideas, because otherwise they are just shapes in my mind and i don’t feel easy with them. This is, in a sense, the opposite of the autistic/scientific approach, in which ideas can supposedly be held without any personal reference; the Viking has approvingly uttered some really gruesome and appalling ideas which i wouldn’t cite for fear of him being lynched, but for him they’re just ideas, the human cost (rape, torture, suicide etc.) is irrelevant, because he’s a scientist.
4. One cannot get away from the human mind. And accounts of reality which would do away with the observing mind and the feeling heart, such as that in the Høeg quotation, are not merely wrong – they impose a damaging torsion upon the individual. It is eventually disastrous to be intellectually convinced of something false, and to have it always in mind as a lens through which to understand reality. The materialist atheist account of reality is wrong but i can see why it would appeal: no authority, no one to whom you are accountable, no morality, do what you want. i don’t think it really does any harm to think there’s no god, but to think that human beings and animals are just “soft machines” is serial killer stuff (the Viking is a latent serial killer).
5. The religions of the past were not, i think, exactly “true”. Even historically-based religions, such as Christianity, don’t strike me as true in the “it’s true that I live in Munich” sense; but i think they afforded a vocabulary by which one could make some sense of reality, as it is; they were not true but not exactly false either. i don’t think Jesus was God; he didn’t even look like we imagine (he had short hair and was clean-shaven, Roman style). But i think there is a god who made this world, and i think he does care about it, and i think he occasionally appears in some guise, or briefly inspires people to act, and so the Christian is not as completely and disastrously wrong as Høeg’s vet. i don’t personally like Christianity much, probably because i went to a Christian college and met so many saccharine Christians, middle-class Christians, and nutter-Christians. However, my own religious ideas are not wholly dissimilar – that god cares for this world and schemes against its dissolution, and inspires people, from time to time. He isn’t as nice as the Christian god but then i’m not a nice human being.
6. It’s natural that, in a world where a gun can kill a shaman, daubed though he be in all kinds of protective voodoo, we dismiss religion and magic as artsy milksop/deranged pamphleteer stuff (science and industry decide wars). Near the end of Black Elk Speaks:
I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.
And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth – you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no centre any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.
The influence of spirit is both subtle and enormous. In the physical world it is so subtle as to be almost invisible. i note that when i do magic for people the effect usually follows quickly, but generally it isn’t obviously to do with me. An example: Bettina, a student with whom i have a tandem (half German, half English) was feeling depressed by her job and life; i wrote a rune on her hand and a few days later she started reading Eckhart Tolle’s Now, and over a few months transformed herself, so she made peace with her job. She noted that she has read many books of this type, but usually just nodded, agreed, then threw them away, but this time it sank in and she was able to use the ideas. Occasionally, the results are more obvious – healing injuries – but it’s never Harry Potter stuff, with funny lights & flashes & dragons. i wouldn’t like to fight dozens of hulking, well-fed, pumped-up Southron apple polishers, armed only with 24 runes and comprehensive knowledge of English grammar.
7. The influence of spirit is enormous in another way. It frames and determines our minds, and even, i think, the physical reality – but slowly and very rarely in a drastic and clear way. i take it seriously, even for non-magical reasons. And it seems that our total reality is changing, has been changing for a while. Animals are becoming conscious, or rather their consciousness is developing, extremely quickly, to a new stage. Even if this were the only change, it would inevitably alter our whole world. i am interested to know what the future animal consciousness will be like, but also to know how human beings will react to this. Some is predictable – scientists will initially refuse to accept it and those who do so will be blacklisted and pelted with rotten eggs; then, as more and more normal people see the change, there will be talk of evolution and what not – but i dare say there will be some strange and unexpected developments.
And then the old forms of authority will be queried, and the Warlock Dobermanns will rule as God intended.