Thursday, September 13, 2012

Everything In Its Right Place

I'm of the opinion that genuine weirdness is usually an intimate affair. And as much as the capital 'S' Skeptics-- many of whom are in fact neurologically wired with various perceptive challenges-- yell and scream and rend their clothing, I still think the reductive materialistic viewpoint of Reality is inferior and incomplete.

But I also think it's necessary to build a consensus. Because things like Synchronicity are often so subjective, it's simply a question of being able to communicate in the fullest sense of the word; to share a common experience of day-to-day reality so we can all get along and get things done.

The experience we call "alien abduction" is a perfect example. It's almost impossible to prove. But contrary to the ahistorical misinformation you may hear in the media, this is by no means a recent phenomenon. It goes back forever. There have been multiple theories to explain it away-- sleep paralysis (which is an interesting explanation in some cases), hypnogogia (which is ludicrous), dissociative amnesia and so on-- but what interests me is how claims of extraordinary contact (of which "abduction" is only one kind) produce extraordinary results: changes in behavior, physical or mental ability, precognition, other kinds of breakthroughs.

Can these all be explained away through neuroscience? Sure, absolutely anything can be explained away if you're willing to throw out enough data and your audience has already made up its mind, as the so-called Skeptic crowd has with everything that falls- or ever will fall- outside the most reductive view of reality.

But even fungus is often an effective antibiotic. The paranormal world is a free-for-all and has always been a haven for ripoff artists and attention hounds. As tempting as it is to blame media shills like the Amazing Randi and the Mythbusters cabal (whose misery and misanthropy always ends up carved in their faces), the fact of the matter is that it's all too easy to find fraud in the paranormal.

Indeed, the frauds are always the most visible and the serious researchers and practitioners usually tend to shun the limelight.

And then there's the astonishing contradiction of organized geekdom- that the people who tend to be the most enthusiastic audience for the Skeptics and debunkers turn around and totally immerse themselves in the paranormal, the Occult, the pseudoscientific, the mythological, and the irrational in their entertainment.

I was recently at a comic book convention- after a few years away-- and was gobsmacked to see all of the stuff I've been writing about for the past few years-- UFOs, psi, magick, Alchemy, the Tarot, etc etc etc- out there in the open, practically punching the initiated in the face.

Isn't this a gross contradiction? Isn't this the moral equivalent of racists immersing themselves in Hip Hop culture, or feasting on Mexican food and beer?

Well, here's where I come back to the original inspiration behind this blog, as well as my books. As I've written before, all of this began when I noticed that artists who immersed themselves in the Mysteries seemed to produce art that was more resonant and influential than those who did not.

Why did Led Zeppelin seem to resonate on such a deep level when Deep Purple, who essentially followed the same formula, did not? What about David Bowie versus Elton John or Jimi Hendrix versus Eric Clapton? Or Jack Kirby versus Steve Ditko? Or Philip K. Dick versus Ben Bova, or William Gibson versus Bruce Sterling, or Alan Moore versus Kurt Busiek?

Even when similar artists had larger followings, it was those who most effectively tapped into deeper currents that were the more influential.

It is through art that I've had my most profound spiritual realizations. Music, film, comics, novels, painting. I recently watched the DVDs of Jay Weider's Kubrick documentaries and realized that 2001's influence on me is as powerful today as ever. More so, in fact. The Max Ernst exhibit at the Met left me trembling and in tears, it moved me so deeply.

There are any number of albums that have the same effect. My obsession with The X-Files is so deep that I find a new mindblowing sync almost every time I rewatch an episode, to the point that I almost wonder if reality is somehow being overwritten.

I have had what I believe to be genuinely paranormal experiences, but they've been so rare and sporadic as to seem like little more than glitches to me. But spiritual epiphanies, more often than not, are inspired by art. Art is the medium of Spirit, and always has been. Without Spirit, Art is dead and inert. It's masturbation, it's entertainment, it's a pass-time- but it's not Art.

It was this same realization that's informed great art throughout human history.

The thing is that it's very difficult to communicate paranormal experience in a literal sense. It never quite lives up to what the experiencer experienced. But if you can turn around and translate that into a work of art, you're not simply describing that experience to your audience, you're allowing them to relive it. And in doing so what an individual may or may not believe becomes irrelevant, because a good artist allows them to experience the irrational or the impossible through their art.

So the contradiction in geek culture becomes considerably less so in this context. From the simplest novel to the most elaborate video game, the audience is given the opportunity to relive these extraordinary experiences, and the more you can embellish them with resonant symbolism and whatnot the deeper their experience is going to be. There's as much bad art as there are crappy UFO or ghost books, but the artist doesn't ask the audience to make a leap that may violate their worldviews.

I get a huge kick seeing all of the Lovecraft worship out there, not only because I believe the man was considerably more irrational than he claimed to be but because his claims to atheism and the rest seem driven by his fear and hatred of nonwhites, whom he consistently identified with those "barbarous rites."

One fanboy has gone so far to claim that Lovecraft is the creator of Ancient Astronaut Theory (which in most geek quarters is restricted entirely to jokes about Giorgio Tsoukalos' hair) discounting Fort's theories and Jack London's (who was as famous as Lovecraft was obscure) story "The Red One", both of which predate Lovecraft's Old One yarns, whose malevolent demons and mystic rites bear no resemblance at all to anything you'd in Von Daniken in Sitchin.

But such is the power of us vs. them tribalism and such is the power of numinous writing.

Lovecraft's prose is famously overwrought (or he was a shit writer, depending on your POV), but whether through nightmare or drug use (or other means), you get the strong feeling that Lovecraft was intimately familiar with the things he was writing about. Too familiar, actually. The fact that the original Lovecraft obsessives were all occultists of the Aleister Crowley variety is one of those great historical ironies that make geek culture so fascinating.

But maybe that's how it all works. Ideas want to reach as many people as possible, and can only do so in the proper medium. Something to think about...


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  2. I've been trying for a good while to tie these same pieces together in a way that accounts for all of them. At the moment, my tentative conclusion is that the key underlying factor is a rewiring of human brain function. I believe our species is in the middle of a shift in how we perceive and relate to reality, but that this shift is more complete in some individuals than others, and only half-effective even in those.

    This half-in, half-out quality is why someone like Lovecraft could write so evocatively about the imaginal realm while claiming to be a die-hard materialist. It's even why someone like L. Sprague de Camp could devote his life to debunking occultism -- including writing an extremely lengthy biography of Lovecraft, whom he clearly despised.

    There's some research out there that hints at what may be involved in the shift -- ranging from "neuronal avalanches" to dopamine and the close relationship between creativity and madness -- but since what lies on the other side is inexpressible to someone observing from the point of view of ordinary rationality, those studies can be dangerously reductionist unless taken as indications and not as a final word.

    If I'm right in my guesses, paranormal experiences and abilities are a direct consequence of that rewiring. So are visionary experiences of all kinds, among which I would include alien abductions, which typically have the characteristics of waking dreams. Whether the change involves greater access to the individual unconscious, to a collective consciousness, or to alien entities is one of those things that can't be be known from the near side -- and I suspect that from the far side, they're all of a piece.

    Art is not only a record of what things look like from the other side but also a roadmap for those who are trying to get there themselves. But strangely enough, so are fraud and trickery -- which like art and music, were invented by prehistoric shamans as teaching tools, a way of convincing people that wonders and marvels exist in the world around them in order to turn them into generators of genuine wonders and marvels.

    There was a fascinating article on Madame Blavatsky in Gnosis magazine some years ago which suggested that she was engaged in the same shamanistic project -- knowingly promoting trickery, pseudo-science, and bizarre theories as a way of getting people to open their eyes to a genuinely stranger reality. And I've also read that Percy Shelley loved to read the conspiracy theory literature of his day, not because he believed it but because it helped shake up his head.

    In that sense, we're all into shaking up our heads -- even the Mythbusters -- but some run and hide behind the defensive shield of rationalism because they're scared of the outcome.

  3. Re:
    " One of the benefits of being a weirdo: you don't have to dress up as anything because you're always in costume".

    Like Christian Bale's character in "American Psycho" ?-)

    Great post,too,Chris.

  4. Hey Chris,

    Fantastic post. I love it when you discuss the art-spirit connection. I agree that most genuine weirdness is intimate, searingly intimate in fact. I often think of the art-spirit connection as a secret, non-physical lover. It knows what gets you off, what pushes your boundaries, what forces you to think in evolving, nuanced ways. Plus, it knows how to drive you crazy if you don't give it the respect it deserves.

    I also think were seeing some extreme polarisation in our culture, very intense cognitive dissonance. And I think polarisation can help us evolve, but only up to a point. Beyond that point shit has a habit of blowing up in your face. You can't walk a pathological tightrope AND juggle AND fellate your handlers AND listen to Nicki Minaj on your Iphone without eventually plunging to your death.

    Humanity seems determined to glide across a world of glittering surfaces until the dagger falls, ignoring all the weird glitches, potent meaning and calls of the numinous. And yet we still want these spiritual things. We must crave them, because we constantly reproduce facsimiles of them. Usually awful, desperate facsimiles. I'm kind of reminded about something you mentioned on FB about the origin of clowns. I can't help but feel like we as a culture/society are taking on more of these qualities. We're absorbing the mode and manner and energies of awful things that were originally intended to brutally mock us. You know what I mean? I notice these vibes a lot in Pop. Pop music, pop art, pop culture. A kind of nudge-wink-grin desperation that wants to sell itself as self-aware and chic, but is anything but. It's not the Spirit moving beneath all this hollow imagery. It's Super-Happy-Fun Time at the Neon Necropolis. Like you said, Chris, without Spirit what we call Art is dead and inert.

    Ok, I'm kind of veering off track here. But it just enrages me to see the state we're in; to see the same old tricks still working on the same old rubes. But conversely, it gives me great hope to know that there are still genuine artists and researchers and thinkers out there holding the line.


  5. Cory - great comment! The book Morning of the Magicians by Pauwels and Bergier is a great example of using an avalanche of ideas - some highly plausible, some speculative, some almost certainly spurious - to shake up the mind, and awake in it a sense of heightened possibilities. In this they followed in the footsteps of Charles Fort, whose writings attempt a similarly trickerish shaking up of the mind. The same must have been true, to some extent, of Blavatsky, although I suspect she was far less self-consciousness about what she was doing. The interesting thing about hoaxing and trickery, I think, is that quite often there is an overlap between hoaxing, genuine paranormal experiences, and art - they are often drawing from the same well, and accessing the same archetypal realm of consciousness.

    Brizdaz - one would hope with less bloodshed, and less Huey Lewis.

  6. The stuff about Lovecraft is interesting. He did protest way too much in that he insisted he was atheist and then digs up all this bizarre stuff in his stories.

    I can actually take him in small doses. His dream sequence has some interesting stuff in it, but with the Cthulhu Mythos stories, though there are moments of real, numinous terror, there's way too much bloviating about "eldrich horrors" that he never actually shows onstage. Also, one expects a certain amount of racism as a baseline for pulps in that era, but even by the standards of that time, HPL's racism is truly appalling, and for me, at least, gets in the way of the stories. He's also pretty misogynistic, too.

    Having said all that, I do think he was tapped into something. I think Cory's onto something in terms of a shift in human perception. Not only would it explain some of this, but it might account for a lot of the chaos and confusion of modern times. Transitions are never easy.

  7. You might enjoy this series if you haven't seen it already.

    The Shock of the New

    -Jon S.

  8. Genuine weirdness is intimate indeed. When I was younger, my friend and I would plan out all the stimulating things we would do when we dropped acid (or mushrooms). What would actually always happen though, is that virtually none of what we planned would happen. We would mostly be inside our own minds, marveling (and sometimes being terrified) at our own altered perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. I know that such substances are a tool, and shouldn't be abused, and I knew that without actively thinking it at the time. Where some of my friends thought it would be great fun to trip out for a few days in a row, I always needed a few weeks at least to process the experience. I think it ultimately led me to being far more receptive to everyday strangeness (like synchs) than some of them, who seem to have morphed into hard core "realists" who are basically skeptics in their close minded view of their worlds. To them the trips were just weird and fun and not something to be thought about beyond that. To me they were life altering and I had a strong need to analyze and learn from the experiences.

    Anyway, another great post, and thanks for reminding me that not everyone in the world takes the reductionist view of reality (because some days is seems like they all do).

  9. Another great post. And like Raj, the art-spirit connection also resonates deeply with me. Led Zeppelin operated on an entirely different level than a band like Deep Purple. But what of Blue Oyster Cult? Check out "Secret Treaties," for instance. But they sputtered out in later years. I tend to look at the 10-year span of 1964-74 as when this intense creativity was taking place. 2001 was created in the midst of that span. Like you, "2001" has a grip on me unlike any other film. I can't shake it and I don't wish to.

  10. maybe im too dumb to know better but...

    ive felt for some years that the modern context for media could be more significant than even the most liberal estimates. by that i mean, w/ movies/video and photography reaching a lifelike level of detail, seems like the sort of thing that would be very confusing for any life, spirit or entity that uses such things for reference. or maybe the opposite, better accuracy navigating temporality, im not sure. voodoo and hindu etc. religions have used photographs and things of this nature to focus rituals since they've been available. before this people did what they could, but in terms of thousands of years of human ritual practice i think its something that might leave a mark.

    if its real enough to fool a human, i cant imagine whats going on in the spirit/dream world. the form that synchs took before modern media must have been much more horrific i imagine, even lovecraftian. and paying attention to such things and having them increase the way synchronicity often does, w/out tv or monthly magazines must have been a very spiritual and even transcendent gnostic experience. although i imagine synchronicity was defined as something else pre-Jung. like some aboriginals being afraid that a camera could steal your soul, or disrupt the afterlife and surviving family contextually. maybe its a part of a spiritual singularity, either caused by tech or causing tech, parallel to the reductive materialist world, all coming to a head. though it would have to go back far into human prehistory in the context of language or evolutionary biology. my curiosity begs these questions, though i wonder if our species will go extinct before we can prove it scientifically to the rationalists. not live performance, but temporally divorced from the observer, like starlight. i wonder if any other civilizations, human past or xenos has seen a similar event corresponding with lifelike media and/or pornography addiction.

    visual creatures gain their advantage at the cost of blindness.

  11. Christopher around the mid Seventies this British TV arts program called The South Bank Show put out an edition concerned with a Welsh artist called Euan Uglow. The basic idea was they'd hired him to paint one of the nudes he was known for and were go'n'o film his progress to give the viewers some idea of the artistic process.

    Unfortunately though hardly'd Uglow started than he stopped unable to explain why he couldn't carry on or even whether he'd ever be able to finish it and the host Melvin Bragg looked so visibly mad with him you couldn't help but feel Uglow'd ripped them off somehow.

    At the time in my mid teens I didn't have the words to explain to myself what I was witnessing but years later I came to the conclusion based on personal experience what Uglow's problem'd been was he wasn't prepared to mechanically knock out a painting just for the cameras.

    For him for it to be authentic art he had to know his 'finger' was plugged straight in the socket of THE SOURCE and the current of truth was flowing directly through him out onto the canvas.

    Ditto Van Gogh. I once heard an art college lecturer pronounce Van Gogh glorified chocolate box art and the proof was his enormous popularity.

    I however envisage a time when technology will be able to show presently unseen but not unfelt electromagnetic dimensions to Van Gogh's art which'll clearly show their 'wholeliness' ie that their records of the few times in the man's life when he felt he was his real self because THE SOURCE was pouring through him bringing those paintings into existence.

    What I'm getting at is what you yourself've clearly and extremely cogently pointed out all these 'skeptics' seek to 'sort out' the 'paranormal' in the same way some unwitting paedofiles become child psychologists or join child protection agencies precisely to keep near as possible to THE SOURCE of a type of energy which so powerfully stimulates them they can't bring themselves to admit they're attracted.

    There's a teaching story covers the same idea. A famous poet goes to see a Sufi doctor with all these appalling symptoms. "Haven't you just supposedly finished a new work?" says the Sufi "Could you do me the honour of reciting it for me...and now recite it again...and again...and again..." and he keeps on in this vein until the poet suddenly cries out "Doctor you're a wonder I'm cured!"

    The point being where Van Gogh only ever knew true sanity and happiness when he was acting as a CONDUIT for the power from THE SOURCE and Uglow couldn't function as a true artist because he couldn't access that power from THE SOURCE the poet in the story is actually connected to THE SOURCE but because he can't complete the circuit and facilitate its flow through and out of him by reciting the poem a sufficient number of times it's actual making him ill.

    This's why I tease you about your oracular tendencies by way of encouraging others to express their equivalents of such capacities because ultimately it doesn't matter whether anyone else gets what each of us's onto though I agree with you a working consensus helps.

    In other words this's a public spiritual health issue and we're supposed to give expression to this sort of stuff in the same way we're supposed to regularly move our bowels.

    Or as the Gospel of Thomas put it "If you bring forth what's within you what you bring forth'll save you. But if you don't bring forth what's within you what you don't bring forth'll destroy you."

  12. Music is the language of the soul... at its archaic root… non-verbal. Although lyrics (and their denser cousin, poetry) provide a compelling narrative, it is the non-verbal forms of communication, just as in all language, that carry the weight.

    Per your comment… “I almost wonder if reality is somehow being overwritten.”

    ...That was an intriguing (and cyberpunk-ish) statement. If you please, you should elaborate on that theme…

  13. @sensei

    my interpretation:
    from what i understand the past is not as finite in some if not all senses, aka schrodinger's cat. saw an interesting study on memory occurring of future events like the past, specifically more w/ sexual visual stimulation. and memory is such a strange and dysfunctional thing, i digress. if the meaning has only existed in an infinite or semi-infinite state until it finds its way to the present/observer, the past is still mutable like changing plans for the future "can" effect the outcome, sometimes. i think it depends on how much interplay there is w/ non-local consciousness collapsing "being" into the continuum yada yada. pretty sure neal Stevenson's "anathem" covered this multi-dimensional pathfinding and mutable timelines rather well. not really cyberpunk though.

    spoiler: crazy (in a good way) old world psychic discipline.

  14. *nod* Right on...

    I think some skepticism is healthy. We're curious creatures, and it's good not to blindly believe. But you know, full out skeptics simply drive me nuts. They want to rationalize every damn thing and some things just don't have a rational explanation.

    They just... are.

    And sometimes, they are just other than "normal"... para-normal.

    I wish skeptics would accept that.

  15. Hi Chris,

    You said: My obsession with The X-Files is so deep that I find a new mindblowing sync almost every time I rewatch an episode, to the point that I almost wonder if reality is somehow being overwritten.

    I often marvel that it is possible to 'sync' with something that is not happening right now (ie. is pre-recorded or 'old'). For example, sitting and watching a movie and thinking things and then having the characters seem to respond to those thoughts, as if dancing/communicating with you.

    Perhaps reality is being overwritten, but purely because there is no such thing as time, just a single event happening, but which otherwise appears to us as disparate.

    Makes sense, doesn't it?

  16. One fanboy has gone so far to claim that Lovecraft is the creator of Ancient Astronaut Theory (which in most geek quarters is restricted entirely to jokes about Giorgio Tsoukalos' hair) discounting Fort's theories and Jack London's (who was as famous as Lovecraft was obscure) story "The Red One", both of which predate Lovecraft's Old One yarns, whose malevolent demons and mystic rites bear no resemblance at all to anything you'd in Von Daniken in Sitchin.

    You're misrepresenting the claim of that "fanboy", whose name is Jason Colavito--his basic argument as summarized at is just that von Daniken was a huge influence on most later ancient astronaut theorists, and that von Daniken was indirectly influenced by Lovecraft, insofar as he borrowed heavily from "Morning of the Magicians" by Pauwels and Bergier, who were very clear about Lovecraft being a big influence on their own thinking (also see for more on this).

    London's "The Red One" may have been earlier, but it's one of London's more obscure stories, and there's no evidence that it influenced any serious proponents of the ancient astronaut theory, directly or indirectly (the story only featured a crashed alien artifact worshipped by an island tribe anyway, not ancient aliens having a major influence on early civilizations). And London wasn't the first to write a story about an early alien visitation, either--predating "The Red One" was the 1898 story "Edison's Conquest of Mars" by astronomer Garrett P. Serviss (whose nonfiction science writing was enjoyed by Lovecraft, so it's quite possible he was familiar with the story), an unlicensed knockoff of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds", which had the martians visiting Earth long ago and building the pyramids and the sphinx! Even earlier is the 1887 story "Les Xipéhuz" by H. H. Rosny, in which prehistoric humans (living in the area that would become Mesopotamia) encounter weird glowing cone-shaped inorganic aliens who they must fight with for their own survival. And when googling this story (which I originally read about in the New Yorker article "It Came From Outer Space" by Jon Michaud about early portrayals of aliens--not available online unfortunately) I discovered that Jason Colavito actually wrote his own translation of the story, so clearly he would not make the claim that Lovecraft was the first to write about ancient aliens:

  17. "I have had what I believe to be genuinely paranormal experiences, but they've been so rare and sporadic as to seem like little more than glitches to me. But spiritual epiphanies, more often than not, are inspired by art. Art is the medium of Spirit, and always has been. Without Spirit, Art is dead and inert. It's masturbation, it's entertainment, it's a pass-time- but it's not Art."