As I study history, it becomes apparent that progress has a regressive tailwind. Just as melted candle wax quickly solidifies; the flash of genius-when it pauses for a mere instant-turns into stifling axioms and appeals to authority.
The genius that I am hinting at does not dwell in words. Especially not in the words of a normal guy such as myself, Gary Geck. The secrets of the universe must be re-discovered over and over. Progress has, in the very long run, kept alive, but not as a continuum.
Thus progress seems its own worst enemy. The universe has a hidden trick up its sleeve. Whenever you have success, the success itself tends towards failure and complacency. We become its victims. We axiomatize what we learn and worst of all, we start believing our own BS.
As soon as you have a rare moment of enlightenment, the mind tries to replace that pure experience with a symbol, an object, a concrete physical object of the brain. This article is written with an effort to unveil pre-symbolic knowledge, even if it for only a moment.
Introductory logic courses traditionally cover the common “logical fallacies” (which is a paradoxical term). One of them is the unjustified appeal to authority. This is when you base truth on the reputation of an individual rather than on the pure reason of an argument (independently of who believes what on the matter). The halls of history of filled with epic embarrassments by the world’s authorities.
There are still original copies around today of the prestigious Scientific American article which mockingly calls the Wright brothers the “Lying Brothers”1. This was after their flights had gone on for nearly a year. This story highlights the infinitesimal line between healthy skepticism and disastrous belief in one’s own authoritative BS. The truth asymptotically trends towards the false.
It reminds me of a great professor who was the authority on her narrow field of ancient study. There really where no others alive or dead who she could look to as an authority because they were all beneath her. So she started treating her own books and lectures as the authority to surrender her intellect to. She committed the logical fallacy of appealing to authority, not with another, but with her own self.
So as Gary Geck, who is just a normal guy, reveals the secrets of the Universe, a caveat is necessary. As one secret reveals itself, the mind immediately categories it into a symbol which is not the original notion, but a reflection of it. A mere symbolic understanding is second rate to direct understanding. As Bruce Lee tells us, “It is like a finger pointing away to the moon…don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of that heavenly glory.” (Enter the Dragon, 1973).
Bruce Lee (1940-1973)
I have tried to lucid dream and have had fleeting success. But as soon as I realize it’s a dream, my mind pulls a fast one on me and has me wake up in the dream. I then think to myself “I was lucid dreaming, but now I’m awake”. Discovering reality can be like grabbing at a slippery toad covered in grease. You can grab it, but not for long. Or maybe that is just me and my Geckian grasp on reality?
In the CIA’s declassified manual on remote viewing, 99% of the material is dedicated to learning how to distract and satisfy your sober, waking, “common sense” mind. If it shows you a pretty picture, you write that down. No, it’s not the answer, but by writing it down, we have satisfied the obsessive, objective mind of the senses. This time, we’re pulling a fast one on it!
The inner voice that allegedly can remote view, already knows everything according to the manual. But it speaks quietly. Getting rid of the rest of the noise is the hard part. It’s like isolating the sound of a single drop of water in a roaring tidal wave to borrow an analogy from the writings of Leibniz (when arguing against the empirical epistemology of John Locke2). We already hear it, we just don’t know we hear it.
Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716)
One of Leibniz’s greatest contributions to philosophy was the distinction made between necessary and contingent truthes. Contingent truth is that which an alternative universe could reasonably be imagined. I could have eaten a bagel for breakfast or I could have eaten leftover pizza. The truth is that I ate pizza, but it’s a contingent truth, not a necessary one.
To Leibniz, a potential universe exists where I did eat a bagel and every other type of universe that God could imagine, but they may be universes of a unrealized type. Through free will, we unfold some parts of the potential multiverse, but not other parts. Thus physical science becomes combinatorics and perhaps even statistics (at least when no free will is involved). Psychology is reduced to mental decisions and influences. Philosophy becomes the study of the possible and necessary.3
A necessary truth is that 2+2=4 or that even numbers can be divided without remainders. No universe where this is not so could be imagined. These truths remain consistent in all of the universes, even in the really crazy ones like the one where I ate Cookie Crisp for breakfast which tastes like dog shit and cardboard.
But as soon as you mistake the eternal truth represented as “2+2=4” for its symbolic representation, the truth turns contingent. A universe could easily be imagine where our concept of 4 is written as “5” and in that universe 2+2=5 represents necessary truth. Mere symbolic understanding cannot penetrate the yoke of necessary truth.
When we take ourselves too seriously and start believing our own BS, we take the contingent as necessary. But the biggest shock of all is that the necessary and contingent somehow co-exist. We appear, at times to have flashes of the necessary in our otherwise contingent existences. Can we imagine a universe where the two co-exist in harmony? Would that not be the best of all possible worlds?
According to Leibniz, this is that very world and it’s why we don’t live in another possible world. Perhaps the beauty of this idea is not its “optimism” but its darker, ironic shades. Because Leibniz would have to agree that this one, “best” world includes Voltaire writing a book (Candide)4 which mocks Leibniz as a buffoon and reduces this very notion I have been describing as absurd and is read for centuries afterwards as part of a complete education.
François-Marie “Voltaire” Arouet (1694-1778)
That is far from an appeal to the authority of Leibniz, so maybe Leibniz is right after all and there is hope? For surely a best world would not be one that believed its own BS on authority. Rather, I think that a best world would be one that mocked itself, even when it was at its most profound…
Is this how the universe progresses at all? Through mocking its regressive tailwind? Even Leibniz’s dynamic genius was posthumously axiomatized by Christian Wolff. An entire generation of German students were given a “Leibnizian” education (Immanuel Kant being one of them), but Wolff did not fully comprehend Leibniz. It was this Wolffian “Leibniz” that Voltaire was mocking. And it did the job.
Perhaps we can learn something from the universe. To avoid believing our own BS, it is wise to never take oneself too seriously. To never rest on the authority of oneself, but rather satire our inner Authoritarian. Both the individual and the society may progress with a regressive tailwind. My proposed solution is the art of mockery.
When we realize how much of our knowledge is just dogmatic BS, it can be unnerving. Every dogma, every symbol, every formal logical predicate must in some way be wrong or incomplete. Our very own sense of self comes into question. But there is hope. And overcoming our own BS is the first step…
1. “If such sensational and tremendously important experiments are being conducted in a not very remote part of the country, on a subject in which almost everybody feels the most profound interest, is it possible to believe that the enterprising American reporter, who, it is well known, comes down the chimney when the door is locked in his face — even if he has to scale a fifteen-storey skyscraper to do so — would not have ascertained all about them and published them broadcast long ago?” – Sci. Am. Jan 1905
2. The philosophical views of Thomas Jefferson very closely match the views held by Locke that Leibniz was diametrically opposed to. Locke agreed with Aristotle that the mind comes in to the world as a Tabula Rasa (blank slate) while Leibniz sided with Plato that the mind already knows all, but forgets or becomes confused. Thus in the Platonic tradition, truth comes through anamnesis or “losing amnesia”.
After Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick had a mystical experience in 1974 (some people believe he had an undiagnosed stroke), he wrote about “anamnesis” often along similar lines. After this experience, he developed a world view very close to the one espoused in the mystical tradition of Hermes Trismegistus, Plato, the Gnostics, Leibniz et al.. All have been considered authorities on the matter.
3. Whatever can be spoken or thought of necessarily is, since it is possible for it to be, but it is not possible for nothing to be.” –Parmendides, On Nature (Peri Physeos)
4. Dr. Martin Evens of Standard reveals in this lecture (available in podcast form) that Voltaire was not so much mocking Leibniz’s theory. In fact Leibniz may very well be right. But Leibniz is the serpent who temps us with the fruit of forbidden knowledge. As the Candide closes, the message is that we must tend to our garden. That is: to labor in humble and honest ignorance to restore the innocence of the Garden of Eden. This is the irony I have often found in “Enlightenment” works which, prima facie, promote intellect and science over superstition, but on a deeper level police thought. Professor Evans concludes his lecture urging his students to resist Voltaire’s plea.