Dialogues with Scientists of Matter, Life, and Mind

Figured I should collect these dialogues in one place. They range from the last year or two up through earlier this afternoon.

Timothy Jackson (Biologist and Toxinologist)

John Pohl (Physician and Gastroenterologist)

John Torday (Physician and Cellular Biologist)

Greg Henriques (Psychologist)

Praful Gagrani (Physicist and Origin of Life Scientist)

John Vervaeke (Cognitive Scientist)

Rupert Sheldrake (Biologist)

Our Planetary Moment: A Journey Through Cosmic Time

I was asked earlier today by someone I assume is an anti-natalist what I thought the purpose of the cosmos is. I answered that I mostly just want to encourage people to wonder about it. But I also linked to an essay I wrote 12 years ago as a sort of mythospeculative narrative intending to integrate my first two years of study with the faculty of the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program. I make some claims I would probably qualify today. I’d reword some statements I feel now were not well rounded and inclusive enough. But in essence I still believe this captures my basic sense of what it is all about. I read the essay aloud in this video:

Image by Chris Powers (https://www.fullofeyes.com/project/exodus-314-john-828/)

Psychedelics, Society, and Reality

That tweet came after I listened to several episodes of the recent NYMag/Psymposia podcast series “Power Trip.” Having now finished the series and shared a mixed review, I wanted to collect further thoughts on the subject. The NYMag/Psymposia series focuses on the dangers of both underground and clinically regulated psychedelic psychotherapy. The basic criticisms being leveled by coproducers Lily Kay Ross and David Nickles at what we could call “the psychedelic movement” are important and worth amplifying. These chemicals put those who ingest them into states of heightened suggestibility and thus increased vulnerability. Given the potentials for extreme transference and projection, and the probable incompatibility of the traditional indigenous shamanic social role with (post)modern western culture, psychedelic guides/therapists have a special responsibility to empower those they work with by upholding clear agreements, sexual boundaries, and ethical standards. Knowing many people who work in this field, both above and below ground, I think it is fair to say that the majority of practitioners are working with tremendous integrity to make these healing experiences available to ailing people. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of evidence of loose boundaries and less than virtuous behavior. Despite my criticisms of the way it was all packaged and delivered (see this twitter thread), Ross and Nickles’ plea to slow down and listen to the stories of those who have been trampled in the rush to mainstream psychedelics is worth your attention.

Bracketing Buddha’s First Noble Truth, I’m privileged enough to have gotten to this point in my life without debilitating trauma or mental health struggles. As a result, my interest in psychedelics has been primarily political, philosophical, and spiritual, rather than psychotherapeutic. “Political” because since I was 18 and began to seriously research the Drug War and the psychedelic counterculture, it was immediately apparent to me that a society intent on repressing such powerful consciousness technologies must be profoundly unwell. As I discussed in this recent Psychedelics Today podcast, I worry about the corporate capture of these medicines. Consumer capitalism has swallowed everything it’s touched, including much of the counterculture. I used to think psychedelics were impervious to commodification, but now I am not so sure. On their own, these chemicals are simply “non-specific amplifiers,” as Stanislav Grof puts it. Our intentions shape their effects. We should not be so naive as to think they could not be used to further the aims of the military-industrial complex or for broader cultural control.

I appreciate the work the non-profit organization MAPS has been doing to advance psychedelic medicine. This despite the fact MAPS founder Rick Doblin has been criticized for taking money from Peter Thiel and Rebecca Mercer. I don’t like their politics, either, but I tend to agree with Doblin that those trying to undue the repression of these sacred substances should be willing to build bridges across political divides. I also think those of us critical of the capitalist world-order need to spend less time preaching to the choir about how evil corporations are and more time designing and building alternatives (e.g., social threefolding).

While I think medicalization may be one of the paths forward, I am skeptical of an allopathic medical model that treats isolated brains as though the human psyche could be understood or healed in a way decontextualized from its social and cosmological contexts. I do wonder if the religious or cognitive freedom approach might not bear more nourishing fruit (e.g., see this talk on the psychedelic eucharist and this paper on psychedelics and religious studies). These issues came up in my conversation with Earth and Fire, the founders of Erowid.org back in 2017.

When it comes to the metaphysical implications of psychedelic experience, I’m grateful to have a chapter in an upcoming anthology put out by Bloomsbury titled Philosophy and Psychedelics: Frameworks for Exceptional Experience (forthcoming 2022). Here’s the original draft that had to be shortened substantially for inclusion in the anthology: “Alchemical Consciousness After Descartes: Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism as Psychedelic Realism

Abstract: The study of consciousness is today’s most exciting philosophical frontier. Such an inquiry provides an obvious example of the relevance of psychedelic experience: what better way could there be for coming to terms with the intimate mystery our own consciousness than through the ingestion of psychedelic—literally, “mind-manifesting”—chemicals? In the chapter to follow, I offer a creative reading of Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, reinterpreting his famous Gedankenerfahrung (“thought-experiment”) as a sort of psychedelic trip through hell and heaven and back again. I next turn to Whitehead’s process-relational reimagining of modern Cartesian philosophy, detailing how his approach more adequately incorporates the psychedelic ground of consciousness. I argue that Whitehead’s philosophy of organism opens up the possibility of a psychedelic realism that would allow us to take the ontologically revelatory nature of these experiences seriously. My hope is that this comparative reading of Descartes and Whitehead opens up a road not taken by modern natural science and philosophy, one leading away from the self-alienation and cosmic disenchantment that have so plagued contemporary science and society. Self-integration and world re-enchantment are possible. Ingested responsibly and in service of philosophical inquiry, psychedelics may act as alchemical catalysts providing an especially powerful medicinal aid in service of this Great Work.

“On the Edge of the Abyss or, How to Wage War on War?” By Edgar Morin

On the Edge of the Abyss

or,

How to Wage War on War?

By Edgar Morin

March 9, 2022

Now in his 100th year, Edgar Morin is a leading French public intellectual. A radically transdisciplinary thinker, Morin is the author of more than fifty volumes on complexity theory, sociology, human nature, ecology, popular culture, politics, and more, including Thinking about Europe and The Nature of the USSR: Totalitarian Complex and New Empire.

Writing these lines, I am reminded of the anguish that gripped me during the Russian missile crisis in Cuba in 1962. I was hospitalized in New York and my friend Stanley Plastrick told me daily that New York was in danger of being annihilated by an atomic bomb. Then the compromise came in extremis and Khrushchev withdrew his missiles.

Today, once again I see us on the brink of an abyss, and in the absolute uncertainty of tomorrow.

The simple and the complex

Let us try to see clearly what is simple and at the same time complex. The simplicity lies in the fact that there is an aggressor and an aggressed, that the aggressor is a great power and the aggressed a peaceful nation. The complexity is that the Ukrainian problem is not only tragic and upsetting but has multiple intertwined implications and multiple unknowns.

Let us then try to imagine a possible peaceful solution that would not spell the peace of the graveyard for Ukraine.

Let us also recall that Ukraine was divided at the end of the 18th century by Poland (itself subsequently divided), the Russian Empire, and the Austrian Empire. It became independent during the wars following the revolution of 1917, but was defeated in 1920 and integrated into the Soviet Union. Its peasantry suffered cruelly from the kholkozification of agriculture and the great famine of 1931. For a while, Ukrainians had the illusion of being delivered by the Wehrmacht; in 1941, Bandera, an independence fighter who had become a collaborator, proclaimed a pseudo-independent republic under the German occupation. Ukrainians, however, actively participated in the resistance to Nazism.

It is during the decomposition of the USSR that Ukraine and Belarus gained independence in agreement with Russia, led by Yeltsin. 

The situation of Ukraine worsened concomitantly with the worsening of relations between Russia and the United States.

Ukraine is not only a major geopolitical prey for Russia and America, it is also a major economic prey. It is the leading European reserve for uranium, the second for titanium, manganese, iron, and mercury.  It has the largest area of arable land in Europe and 25% of the world’s black soil. It produces and exports barley, corn, and other agricultural products.

Following a democratic revolution, Ukraine came under increasing pressure from Russia and in 2014 aspired to join the European Union. Putin then annexed Crimea and fostered the uprising and autonomy of the Russian-speaking region of Donbas. It must be recognized that Crimea is a Russianified Tatar province but not Ukrainian and that keeping the Donbas in Ukraine would require a federal solution. Putin justified his action by proclaiming on March 18, 2014, “they lied to us repeatedly, they made decisions behind our backs, they presented us with a fait accompli. This happened with the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] to the east, as well as with the deployment of military infrastructure on our borders.”

In fact, an ongoing war in the Donbass had begun despite the Minsk agreements.

In an article published in Le Monde on May 3, 2014, I predicted the danger: “Unfortunately, as far as Europe is concerned, the impotence of the West is not only military in character. It is not only an impotence of will. It is an impotence of political thinking, and of thinking as a whole. It would be desirable that Hollande, Fabius, and Manuel Valls become aware of the merciless rise of the perils and propose the only coherent plan of peace, that of a federal Ukraine, a link between West and East. We are no longer in the time when we must seek the best, we are in the time when we must avoid the worst.”

Since 2014 the infernal feedback loop of East-West conflict has worsened and the worst has happened in March, 2022.

The fatal spiral

This conflict has been provoked both by Putin’s growing ambition to integrate the Slavic part of the Russian Empire into his domain, and by the concomitant enlargement of NATO around Russia. It is more broadly determined by the intensifying conflicts of interest between the two superpowers following the Bush-Putin entente of 2001.

There was the reconstitution of Russia as a military superpower, establishing its zones of influence in Syria and Africa, the bloody reintegration of Chechnya through two wars (1994-1996 and 1999-2001), the military intervention in Georgia (2008), and then the growing pressure on Ukraine. At the same time, without a UN mandate, the second war of invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003 was catastrophic for the entire Middle East, followed by internal wars at least until 2009, and the invasion of Libya in 2011. Finally, the United States was engaged in a war in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021.

While in 1991 the American president had verbally promised Gorbachev that NATO would not be enlarged to include the former People’s Democracies, in 1999 NATO integrated Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, then the Baltic republics, followed by Romania, Slovenia, then Albania and Croatia in 2004, creating a de facto encirclement of Russia (with two gaps, Georgia and Ukraine).

This “objective” encirclement has reminded the Kremlin of the encirclement of the USSR by the capitalist countries between the two wars and the “containment” policy of the Cold War.

Hence, from a more subjective viewpoint, we see the development of an obsessive psychology in Putin and the hardening of his authoritarian regime.

Under the guise of war against Afghanistan, the USA has installed military bases in the former Soviet republics of the south, in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, while also in practice pursuing encirclement in Siberia.

We cannot hide either the role of growing opposition between two superpowers to extend or safeguard their areas of influence, or the role of encirclement by NATO.

A significant development is that, since the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States is now determined to avoid any distant war while the Ukrainian government aspires to be protected by the European Union and NATO.

However, it is necessary to consider that Vladimir Putin feels more and more strongly that what is tolerated for the United States, especially military interference in sovereign countries, is condemned for Russia. He will not tolerate Ukraine’s move to the West. He knows that the United States would not intervene militarily if he invades Ukraine. He may be thinking of a quick invasion and he has already organized reserves in case of economic sanctions, which he underestimates in the long term, but maybe he thinks that everything will be settled in the short term. Without wanting to be psychological, I can imagine the evolution of this authoritarian personality, for whom Western democracies are decadent, who is increasingly hardening his military-police regime in Russia, who believed for a time in 2001, in mutual sympathy with Bush, that the United States would treat his great country with dignity. He tends to hide the fact that his wars in Chechnya, his interventions in Georgia and finally in Ukraine in 2014 have put America and Europe on alert.

Cautious and cunning at first, Putin became bold in 2014 and is now driven by a terrible rage. 

It should also be recognized that, while Russian troops were concentrated on the border of Ukraine, Biden made a speech on March 1, 2022, intransigent in tone but where there is a small capital phrase—”we will not make war”—which, while legitimate, has upset the United States in the balance of power. And similarly, no people, no government in Europe has considered going to war over invaded Ukraine, despite the constant appeals of President Zelenski and Macron’s multiple attempts to negotiate with Putin. 

The difficulty of waging war on war

The heroic resistance of President Zelenski, his government, and the Ukrainian people has undoubtedly surprised Putin as much as it has aroused our admiration. It even made Putin abandon the huge lie of denazification, speaking now instead of Ukrainian nationalists. It has undoubtedly helped to unify democratic and national Ukraine.

Similarly, Putin’s war is unifying Europe, in its disapproval and reaction, at least for a while. The West is trying to do everything short of outright war: this would be a generalized catastrophe that would plunge Ukraine, Europe, and America into a terrifying new world war. Hence the economic response of multiple and generalized sanctions (personally I deeply oppose sanctions against culture, music, theater, the arts); then the response is amplified by economic aid, then with military assistance to Ukraine, and the organization of reception of refugees. And then we have the formation of a legion of volunteers to fight in Ukraine. One of the features of the tragedy is that we can afford neither weakness nor strength and that we are forced to navigate between the two in an uncertain manner.

That said, it should be remembered that sanctions also hit those who carry them out. Thus Europe will risk a shortage of gas and other products.

The economic war could be effective in the long term but by then Ukraine will have been swallowed. It could have major effects in Russia, impoverish the population, arouse a strong opposition (accurate information is already coming through a thousand private channels in Russian cities), and strengthen or overthrow Putin’s authoritarian power.  

Where is the borderline between economic warfare, assistance in arms, the intervention of volunteers, and the war itself? 

The distant bombings, the ruins, the deaths, the exodus that hit Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan are on our doorstep. 

At this point we have Putin’s repeated threat of an unstoppable weapon against those who would attack Russia: “you would all be vitrified”. Would he, in an excess of rage, be capable of taking action? In any case, the slippage towards a war that would exceed in horror the two previous world wars is not an impossibility.

As I write these lines, Kiev has not fallen.

Macron has made a new and valiant effort with Putin, without result.

Everything is uncertain, everything is dangerous.

The compromise solution acceptable to all would be a neutral and federal Ukraine, given its ethnic and religious diversity. It is currently unattainable.

A peaceful settlement of the war would allow for more general negotiations between Russia, the United States, and Europe. I don’t know if the Unity acquired during the crisis by the European Union will be maintained; there will be a new element: German rearmament, which will give Germany a hegemony that will not be only economic.

While waiting for a hypothetical solution, the permanent danger remains.  How can we find the way between culpable weakness and irresponsible intervention?

In any case, we have very often seen that the consequences of interventions go against intentions and decisions, both in the East and in the West.

………………………

English Translation by Sean Kelly

PDF of this article:

Tim Eastman Unties the Gordian Knot: Complete Seminar (Sessions 1-9)

Above is an embedded playlist featuring all 9 of the Eastman Seminars that I facilitated for the Science Advisory Committee of the Cobb Institute from June 2021 through February 2022. Tim Eastman, a plasma physicist and philosopher, is the author of Untying the Gordian Knot: Process, Reality, and Context (2020). These seminars invited other scholars prominently cited in Eastman’s book for dialogue with the author and the interested public. I’ve recently reviewed Eastman’s book HERE. Those interested in the implications of a rigorous process philosophical interpretation of quantum physics for science, the humanities, and spirituality will benefit from Eastman’s book and reviewing these seminars.

Session 1 “Quest” features Mikhail Epstein and Judith Jones.

Session 2 “Relations–Logoi” features Randall Auxier, Michael Epperson, and Elias Zafiris.

Session 3 “Gordian Knot to Logoi Framework” features Ruth Kastner and Epperson.

Session 4 “Causation, Emergence, and Complex Systems” features Alex Gomez-Marin, George Lucas, and Anderson Weekes.

Session 5 “Information and Semiotics” features Epstein and George Strawn.

Session 6 “Complex Whole” features Auxier, Gary Herstein, and Brian Swimme.

Session 7 “Peirce’s Triads and Whitehead’s Process: Fundamental Triads and Schemas” features Edward Kelly and Farzad Mahootian.

Session 8 “Contextuality–From Experience to Meaning” features Thandeka, Dan Dombrowski, and Kelly.

Session 9 is a wrap-up and features Epperson and myself offering concluding remarks.

Dialogue with Bernardo Kastrup: Translating between Analytic Idealism and Process-Relationalism

My long-overdue conversation with Bernardo Kastrup is above. I am pleased with how this turned out. We mostly attempted to translate between our respective orientations, finding many overlaps despite differences of emphasis. I think important differences remain, though we’ll have to iron those out together in the future. In the meantime, I’ll share a debrief conversation below with my partner Ashton recorded just after finishing with Bernardo, wherein we try to tease out some of these differences as regards the status of individuals and communities amidst the historical process.

Principles to Guide Philosophical Community (2021) By Eli Kramer (draft review)

The preprint book review below is forthcoming in World Futures: The Journal of New Paradigm Research

…..

ELI KRAMER, Intercultural Modes of Philosophy, Volume One: Principles to Guide Philosophical Community. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2021: 382 pages. [Reviewed by MATTHEW D. SEGALL, Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness Program, California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission Street, San Francisco, California, 94103, USA. <msegall@ciis.edu>.] 

Contemporary civilization finds itself beset by a multitude of crises. Though humanity’s present-day challenges are arguably unprecedented in scope and consequence, history stands as a reminder that, whether stemming from cultural vices or the vicissitudes of nature, there has never been a society unfamiliar with tragedy. Amidst the noise and confusion of civilized earthly existence, special communities in want of wisdom have arisen in every corner of the world in an attempt to realize ideals beyond the reach of the common lot. In the first volume of his planned trilogy, Intercultural Modes of Philosophy: Principles to Guide Philosophical Community, Eli Kramer has provided not only a deep interpretation of these community ideals and their lived expressions both historically and in the present day, he has also shown the breadth of their exemplification in traditions arising in Africa, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Vietnam, North America, and Europe.  

Kramer’s orientation to the study of the meta-ethical principles guiding successful philosophical communities is pragmatic and radically empirical. His book is not just an attempt to understand the role of philosophy in cultural life, but to actively cultivate the love of wisdom so as to participate in the renewal and educative enhancement of culture. While pre-modern philosophy typically involved mutually reinforced praxis as part of a commitment to values-oriented communal existence, times have changed. His inquiry thus constitutes a response to a problematic situation: namely, the professionalization of philosophy in the context of the modern research university. Thinking with historians of philosophy including Pierre Hadot and Thomas Davidson, Kramer asks: “Whatever happened to this hope of a shared philosophic life?” (5). While the transformation of higher education (particularly in the context of the United States after WW2) has undoubtedly contributed to the advancement of techno-science, questions of the ultimate ends of such advances tend to fall on deaf ears and hardened hearts. Rather than producing a “more ethical and personal world” (113), modern universities have tended to value the growth of information toward the end of increasing power over nature and society. Academic philosophy, far from serving as a cultural shepherd to build increasing determinacy of meaning in the universe, has become another specialized field of rarefied knowledge set apart from the general culture (101). Hyper-individualized professors of philosophy no longer pursue wisdom enhoused within contemplative communities. Instead, with precious few exceptions (e.g., the philosophic wanderers and speculators to be featured in Kramer’s subsequent volumes), as part of an effort to legitimize the middle-class identity of the knowledge worker they have been reduced to the roles of logical technician or “philepistemon” (105), lovers of knowledge abstracted from life and living. 

Seeking a balm for this tragic diminishment, Kramer offers his text as a “philo-dynamic image,” that is, as an aesthetic lure with a psychagogic function aiming to incite in the reader a mode of inspired reflection upon the illuminated order of the cosmos and our proper place within it (26-27). Before unpacking the “systema” (or purposefully organized phases of generality) constituting his dialectically concretized general, axiological, and cultural principles for philosophical community, Kramer sketches the history of their exemplification across several continents. 

He begins his historical sketch in 399 BCE with the death of Socrates, which marked a crucial moment in Western and Near-Eastern philosophical history. A philosophical wanderer guided only by dialogue and his daemon, skilled in the art of asking obnoxious questions and laying bare the pretense of those claiming to be wise, the Athenian gadfly was accused of atheism and corruption of young minds by a court of his fellow citizens. As dramatized in Plato’s Apology, rather than appeasing his accusers with a concession, Socrates defended himself against the false charges. Even in the face of what his accusers believed to be a capital offense, Socrates remained loyal to the Good: “The god orders me to fulfill the philosopher’s mission of searching into myself and other men” (28e; transl. Jowett). Their plea bargain rejected, the jury sentenced Socrates to be executed. In the Phaedo (67e), Plato has Socrates explain why it is unwise to fear death, since philosophy itself is nothing else than preparation for dying. In the wake of this most profound teacher’s execution, his students founded philosophical schools on the edge of the polis, distant enough to avoid further direct confrontation with the existing social order while still close enough to contribute meaningfully to civic life (34, 308-309). 

Not all philosophic schools agree about the postmortem destiny of human souls, nor even that souls are substantial realities (e.g., the Buddhist traditions taught at Nālandā University). But such metaphysical speculations are not the focus of Kramer’s study. Despite their metaphysical diversity, the philosophical communities investigated in this text are shown to share a sense of human ethical possibilities and the emergent practices that predict success in their attainment (7). Among the practical principles enumerated by Kramer are a symbiotic relation between reflection and action, a cultivated maladaptation to injustice, the humility to recognize the distance between particular experience and the broader possibilities of existence, a tragicomic sensibility that invites laughter and play into otherwise overly serious asceticism, the recollection of the unthought background of all understanding, a commitment to frank criticism of fellow community members in service to the collective cultivation of freedom, and holding the tension between fidelity to the unique personality of a place while also remaining hospitable to cosmopolitan guests. 

Kramer’s interviews with adherents of present-day philosophical communities serve not only to establish the continuity of these practices, but to emphasize the importance of attending to the very different ethical situation in which we find ourselves, relative, say, to ancient Athens or dynastic China. The proliferation of digital technologies, the worsening ecological crisis (including more frequent pandemics), the breakdown of liberal democracy, and the all-pervasiveness of neoliberal capitalism contribute to placing increased pressure upon contemporary philosophical communities. These pressures have pushed such “eutopian” (302) communities to the edge of extinction at just the time that their experimental and reconstructive posture toward human experience is most needed to ameliorate cultural decay (283). With humanity entering a dangerous period of transition, Kramer’s book offers an essential provocation to those even mildly infected by the philosophic itch. While philosophy has not the sort of power that could prevent civilizational collapse, its communal experiments have survived many prior upheavals, and they stand as “bright spots during the storms of time” (311), lighthouses luring us toward the highest potentials of cultural life.