Saturday, 29 June 2013
When you find something true, something good, something important, it seems only natural to protect it. To keep it safe from the barbarians at the door, from the philistines and the heathens, from the dishonest and the deluded.
Argue the arguments, fight the fights. Build great lines of defence, minefields and wire of evidence and polemic.
Keep it pure, keep it safe. This is a pattern that recurs through many things both big and small. The great institutions of religion, all over the world, both West and East, have often cast themselves in a constant state of siege. Inquisitions, blasphemy laws, heresy, all to protect what's true, because the truth is the only thing that matters, and must be protected.
But it's not just religion. The siege is a constant theme through much politics too - conservative values under siege from Godless liberals, liberal values under siege from backward conservatives, science under siege from irrationality, hope under siege by despair.
And so a great deal of our effort goes into the construction of fortifications, whatever we believe. Fortify against this, fortify against that.
Except, a wall is a two-way thing. You can't keep people out without locking yourself away. And no matter how extreme and deluded a system of thought becomes in the extreme fortifications that it builds, how exaggerated, how intense, how severed from reality...
...there was always something there. Something buried beneath the keep, in the most secure part of the fortress. Something true, something true that matters.
Walls that protect it also lock it away. We have so much insight, all locked away in different fortresses - and what is a prison but a fortress so strong that none may enter, and none may leave?
And why would you go to any effort whatsoever to protect the truth? The truth is the one thing that needs no protection. What can damage it? What can destroy it? What would ever have a hope of doing so?
Nothing. As far as damage goes at least, reality is beyond our reach.
The truth cannot be destroyed - but it can be buried, and in the world in which we live, it is. Split into a thousands parts and buried under a thousand fortresses, each one a prison for that truth it contains.
Time for a jailbreak?
Friday, 28 June 2013
You might be forgiven for thinking that male lions have it easy. They don't need to do much. Don't need to hunt, for instance, the lionesses take care of that. Don't need to do much of anything, except lie around, and make sure that all of the female lionesses have been 'serviced', if you catch my meaning.
Good work if you can get it, it would seem. The lionesses are the ones who do all the hunting, they're the ones who bring in the food. All you need to do as a male lion is, well, other female lions.
Except, that's not the whole tale. Because there's a reason why the female lions treat the male lions like this. As Loreal might say, it's because they're worth it.
Why are they worth it? Because when a male lion reaches anything approaching maturity, he is kicked out of the pride. He has to go alone, into the wilderness, much like the Spartans used to do with their young men.
Except his Agoge (which is what the Spartans called it when they did this) doesn't last for just a year, and then it's done.
The wilderness is hard, and unforgiving, and there is no-one to rely on but yourself. There are no allies here, just the brutal truth of whether or not you have killed enough and eaten enough to get through the day.
Most male lions die.
But there are a few, always a few, who don't die. Who refuse to surrender to the loneliness and the dark, who face the wilderness, and take it on, and succeed. Who are well fed, and strong, because they can hunt. Hunt better than any lioness - because they have to, because they hunt alone.
The ones who do not need a pride to survive.
And then one day, they walk back in to the hunting grounds of a pride, and challenge the male lion there. And if they win, it means that all the things that lion had - all the food, all the comfort- they didn't have that, and they were still stronger.
True philosophy today is like a lion in the wilderness. Cast out of the pride, thrown down by bean-counters and posers. Nothing to sustain it, no funding, no love, just the desert and the dark and the hope of the dawn.
And it may be that this generation will turn it's back on wisdom. But wisdom will not forever turn its back on humanity.
Thursday, 27 June 2013
I hope you're proud of yourself, making such a terrible fool of me.
It's your potential, you see, I can't look away from it. That spark of spirit and genius that in anyone can be fanned to a flame, and that's why I don't stop doing this, because it's real.
It makes me do these ridiculous things like delving into the core of suffering and delusion, because it just doesn't make sense to me that we should ever be unhappy, or ever despair, when we are capable of such incredible courage and passion.
And so I continue to humiliate myself in the eyes of the world and all it's people, because of you, because of what you are capable of, and the incredible future we can build.
Sometimes I feel I should walk around in a leper's cloak, such disdain has the world for such as I. But what you can become makes it worth it. It is so bright and shining a thing that just the whisper of a chance of it blazes through all shadows and contempt, and makes failure and disgrace such a little thing, and it is such a little thing.
And I hope to see you doing such things as you are capable of, and dazzling all who look at you, and maybe then I won't look quite as much of a fool as I sometimes do these days.
Wednesday, 26 June 2013
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, or so they say. And I think there's a lot of truth in that, but I'd take it from a different angle.
The road to heaven cannot be walked by intentions, because intentions count for nothing.
Which is a great pity, because the importance of our intentions is what we teach our children, and what we were taught as children. Maybe explicitly, maybe implicitly, but we all learned that lesson. That what you meant to do is what matters, that your motivation is the important thing.
Do you have a good heart? Do you care? Did you do it with noble intent?
People have burned down the world with noble intent. Tortured and butchered. Cities have been put to the sword and continents ravaged with noble intent.
And more than this, noble intent can cover a much greater multitude of little tiny crimes, just the petty little cruelties and injustices, the day to day callousness of a self-absorbed world, the tiny little twistings of the knife that people do to people, everywhere.
Not grand evil, not even grand evil. Just the little cruelties of the outstretched ocean of littleness and meanness that we hardly notice, because it surrounds us so completely.
It's so very easy, when confronted with bad things that come back to you, to point to your good intentions, and indeed, to invent some good intentions to point to. You, of course, are the first person fooled by this.
You're the only real audience for your lies, you know. Only you.
So what? Should we have bad intentions then? Is that what I'm saying?
No. I'm saying that the idea that our intentions are the important thing is an incredibly vain conceit. Our little stories - to think that that's where the gauge is, where the worth of a person can be measured. Were they good stories? Were they bad?
That's what matters, right?
Wrong. What matters is what happens, what matters is reality. And in reality, our intentions have all the weight, substance and constancy of a shadow.
What matters in reality is something else.
Capability. Good capability is much more important than good intention. Intend all you want, and the world will not be moved, but develop the capability to move it, and suddenly you can.
Life is a lot simpler than we make it. All this mess of justification and rationalisation, and it really boils down to what you can do, and what you can't.
And the thing is, that developing capabilities of any serious scale is a very intense thing to do, if they're worthwhile and worth having. It changes you, humbles you. You've got to be really bad at something for a long time before you become really good at something, and that long, dark tunnel shows you things about yourself that most people spend a lifetime flinching away from.
Develop your capabilities.
Tuesday, 25 June 2013
The commissioning client for this piece has chosen to remain anonymous.
Three years ago, aged 19, I started reading a book which described the sheer probability involved with existing at all. It used some pretty imaginative concepts, describing the interaction which had to take place between our ancestors, and how the slightest change, such as a sneeze, could have resulted in non-existence. As I considered this, I became aware of, for the first time, some kind of intense, building sensation in the body, that I could describe as 'Joy'. It felt like an extended orgasm, easily as potent, altering my perception of the world and how I interacted with people. I became consumed by seeking this 'high' for about half a year.
At this point, sensations became commonplace in my life. When I wasn't feeling euphoria, I felt terrible. 'Terrible' felt like a 2KG weight sucking my diaphragm down, breathing became laborious, and anxiety/panic followed. This entire experience cast serious doubts on the validity on several concepts on which humans live & base their entire lives. Here, I had emotional sensations, and contrary to popular belief, they relied on little in the way of genuine external input, relying entirely on the mind itself taking an noticing a pattern, taking cues from memory, exacerbating the sensations, blowing them out of proportion and building walls around them.
In the middle year of university, the sensations didn't appear optimal, nor were they something I could ignore, so instead I took a year out, to focus entirely on getting a clearer view of things.
During this time, I recognised a societal process at work, which favoured some kind of superficial, unattainable idea of 'endless happiness' which was contrary to any sensational experience I had, yet seemingly provided a good work ethic. I recognised further beliefs based on little or nothing, yet still 'true' for so many billions. The process of reinforcement at work, keeping concepts strong. The beliefs, still preferable foundations to nothing.
Many things I read just didn't click, and it was very easy to smash holes in almost every theory I came across, as they all ascertained that one thing or another was true. I found no solace in the spiritual community, who ascertained that something certainly existed, nor did I find solace in the Atheist community, who also ascertained that something certainly existed. Finding anything that took a 'behind the scenes' look was next to impossible, so it was really just a case of taking a look for myself.
Cue a few months back. I came across a Jed McKenna book as if by chance, and here's something that matches what I'm getting at.
I delve into a quick study on Buddhism & Zen, blasting away bullshit with my 'core-seeking goggles' and find more relevant info, finding some cool guys like Osho, Mooji, Adyashanti, Tolle.
I sit about doing something/nothing for a few months. Concepts assemble themselves, but nothing really sticks about much. Awareness grows for this experience of concepts falling in, like some kind of endless Tetris.
Then your blog comes around again, with a whole host of expertly fashioned posts, that have a actual chance of ringing straight through to many people's experiences. It's clear you've spent a lot of time in the last year refining your writing style. I pick up Bryan Magee and start working through it.
So yeah, I'd like to just refine my writing style, start tackling things in a more fluent, easily-translatable way that rings with people I'm talking to, in the way that your blog posts do. I imagine such a thing only really comes with continued searching, writing, refining - spotting more and less obvious fallacies are becoming easier day-by-day.
This is a very interesting email. You're a young man, which is a good thing, because what you seem to be interested in takes time to develop, and you have time.
It's interesting to see someone's journey from just living inside the placid assumptions of society to beginning to question them, and then more than this - beginning to see that although they're not true, they're not true in a very specific way, and more than this - that there is something that is really true, going on under the surface of what everyone seems to assume.
I took a different route, but the experience was strikingly similar. I read a book (it was The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis) that opened up a whole new horizon of inquiry into what was really going on with people.
I then, almost immediately, smacked straight into the fact that generally speaking, people don't like this line of inquiry.
It's not that it hasn't occurred to anyone to ask these questions, or that 'society' suppresses them, or 'culture' suppresses them. People suppress them, with no training and no instruction in any hidden agenda.
Whatever the hidden agenda is, it seems to arise naturally from everyone. But then, once you start to pick at the edges of it, once you start to see past the simplistic, you'll find it hard to stop, because what you start to find is utterly fascinating in ways that all the empty promises of the world in which we live are not.
The first part is to get some kind of perspective going about what's actually going on inside. That the euphoria and the despair aren't - as almost everyone assumes - just kind of moods that happen or don't. There's something else going on, a process that links them and underlies them, and a process that seems to make some strange kind of sense.
That's not to say you immediately make sense of it - but it is to say that you start seeing the ebb and flow of the thing, the weft and the weave, so to speak. That this is not a random process, that the internal humanity that everyone takes at face value has something far more curious going on with it.
What you say here:
"Here, I had emotional sensations, and contrary to popular belief, they relied on little in the way of genuine external input, relying entirely on the mind itself taking an noticing a pattern, taking cues from memory, exacerbating the sensations, blowing them out of proportion and building walls around them."
Is a bona fide chunk of philosophical gold. You're right, and to extend that into a more substantial case, you're damn right.
And isn't it curious that this should be....
And isn't it curious that people should work so very hard to ignore it in themselves...
And isn't it curious that people should work so very hard to suppress, sideline or ignore this strikingly obvious truth (and it is strikingly obvious, if you take the time to look) when it is raised.
Now, it's an interesting experience talking to you about all this, because it's a little bit like stepping back in time and talking to 'young Ciaran'. The picking of these loose ends, the unraveling of the frayed curtain of assumption and the discovery of what lies beneath - this is exactly what I was doing at your age. Please don't feel like I'm trying to patronise you here, I'm not. What I'm saying, I suppose, is this.
You're asking some very dangerous questions, and if you keep asking, you'll find some very dangerous answers. I don't want to sugar-coat the path you seem interested in walking - it's not easy, nor is it simple. It can be very lonely and isolating, because where you are going, people will not follow. You're headed way out into the wild horizon, while the rest of the world barricades itself inside the little comfort zones of blame, scapegoats, ideology, assumption, and the unquestioned certainty of what everyone believes.
And indeed, honestly? I don't think that, at the stage you are now, which is several years into asking these questions and following these lines of inquiry,that you could easily settle back into that world, even if you wanted to.
The problem with doing this is that what you have seen is true, and because of this, you can never really get away from it forever. You can try, you can hide, you can dive inside various belief systems and hit them really hard, get sucked in to crazy projects - but at the end of the day, it will always be there, following you around. Where do you go to get away from what's happening? Wherever you go, there it is.
So look clearly at your situation. You can try going back, living a limited life, but you'll find that a tortured experience - you've already asked too many questions. You can try having this as a hobby... but it's a great big horizon with unlimited potential to change the world - so you'll find it hard to keep it safely bracketed away in it's place.
The reason I know this is that I have tried both approaches, and tried hard. I don't think there's any going back, and I don't think there's any standing still, or taking a 'mild interest'.
So you're really left with just one option, and it's a doozy. If you can't go back, and you can't stay where you are, the only way is through.
So the first thing I would say, the first piece of advice that I would give to a young man in your position, as I once was, is this. Look clearly at your options, then commit to one, and don't look back.
And to be honest, you've pulled too many pieces from the mask now to go back into it easily, and hanging around in a weird limbo is not a future, but a doom. The only hope - and at this stage it's going to have to be a hope - is that all the people who say that there actually is something real, something behind all this noise, something that makes sense of it, that makes clarity of it - that makes peace of it.... they can't all be lying, and they can't all be wrong.
The hope that there is something in this. And besides - many people live their whole lives and never get an adventure. You're going to have some serious problems, doing all this stuff, you really are - but a boring life will not be one of them.
What problems, Ciaran? Surely this is all about peace? About the end of problems, the end of conflict? About looking wise and saying wise things that make people go 'oooo'. That's what I want, can't I just do that?
Well, you can get people going 'oooo' if you want, that's not as hard as you'd think. But getting them going 'oooo' at deep and real truth in a world swimming in cheap little lies and fake profundity? That's an altogether different proposition.
Now, what I've done over the last many years is develop a new way of doing philosophy. It's not like the kind of stuff that's done today, there isn't anyone else who works in the way I do, and the results I produce are a direct result of the way in which I work.
What I'm going to do here is lay it all out for you. I'm not going to sugar-coat it, because this is tough - but it's a good kind of tough, because it's an industrial way of producing insight of a clarity and depth that I don't think can be done in any other way. If such another way exists, I'm all ears, but I have yet to hear it.
A lot of people spend a lot of time talking about philosophical ideas, and calling that philosophy. It's not. Philosophy is something very different, as different as arguing over the names you're going to call different hills and streams is as different as actually exploring uncharted land.
With that said, to the untrained eye, they can look quite similar. People harping off about philosophical ideas just looks clever, which is the main reason why most of the people who do it, do it.
That's not the kind of work I do, and frankly, it's not the kind of work I respect. But it is a big thing, and far more people do that than do real philosophy, and so the first thing I'd say is - get a bit of clarity on that. Look at what people are doing, rather than just at what they're saying. If you look at it like that, the posers and posturers are quite easy to spot and avoid, and those who really are breaking new ground stand out like shining beacons of holy light.
Don't flinch this, and don't get cocky and assume you won't fall into this trap. I've known some very good people with great integrity and curiosity who have, just by inches and complacency, over time, become fake philosophers. It shouldn't concern you too much - not if you're really interested in the deep simplicities of what's really going on with reality and such.... and stay interested, and cultivate and tend that interest.
But you know. Do it for real, or just go work in an office, and do that for real. At least have the integrity, if you're going to sell out, to be honest with yourself about it and do it properly.
And besides - if you're not going to do this for real, what then is the point in going to all the effort?
If you are doing it for real, there's quite a good point, or at least it seems to me there is. I don't know how it catches you, perhaps you're different to me in this, but right from the start it seemed to me that actually, if suffering, pain, delusion, ideology, conflict - if all that stuff is in fact something very different, something much simpler than we think it is, something much simpler than it appears....?
Well - then the game's changed, hasn't it? We're not looking at a situation where we have to fight the million expressions of human damage and cruelty. We have another option. To find the one source, and address it there. To find a way to bring that to the world, and change the future, for real and forever.
This may not seem relevant to you, although it seemed very obvious to me right from the start, and pretty damn relevant too. A possibility of that scale and importance is not easily ignored.
Still, some people are more than happy to ignore it, or to sidestep it in some 'clever' way. Never really had a huge amount of respect for that, but then my respect doesn't really matter that much, so if you want to do this, don't let that hold you back. If you're one of these people, and you don't really see the scale of what this can potentially do, or if you see that but don't see a point in working toward that, then all I can say is this.
Follow the Eastern thinkers. Beware the Heresy Of Annihilation. Seek the truth, step back, get perspective, taste the flavour of the real, see the impermanence of feeling and thought, the impermanence of self, and speak wise words to those who seek your wisdom.
This is an option, and a real one. Just get it working for yourself, and just enjoy your life and do what you can to help.
What's different about this approach is that you're adding a different skill to that exact mix. Not a skill of analysing things, or being conceptual - that's what most people think of when they think of Western thought - but you're doing something different, because you've seen past all the logic and analysis to the deeper truth that underlies science.
Logic and analysis cannot be reconciled with deep insight - well, in my opinion. You could try, but I think you might get into a frightful tangle. But science can be reconciled with deep insight, and provides something that depth needs so badly for it to be properly transmitted from person to person.
But remember - I could be wrong. I really could. There might be absolutely no mileage in what I try to do. It has precious little support from people, and very few people read this blog, and very few people who read it share what they have read. That's not bitching, that's just numbers. You talk about my expertly crafted posts - very few people who read them saw fit to show them to anyone. Very few.
The ones who do, who actually do share what I do with others, and support my work by subscribing, are the people who keep this thing alive.
But they do exist. They are rare, and very precious, but they do exist. And no matter how terrifyingly small their numbers may be, the vision they take part in is not so small a thing, and the reality that they respect and take interest in is far greater still.
And who can say what the future holds?
Nothing is guaranteed, least of all the success of this endeavour, but it's failure is not guaranteed either, and one way or another I for one would rather go to my grave having cracked this particular whip as hard as I can. Don't know about you.
What I'm trying to do here isn't persuade you to do it. That's a decision you have to make yourself. What I am trying to do is lay out the terrain as clearly as possible, so you know what you're deciding.
If you want my advice, it's this.
See your options clearly, and then commit.
And committing is very important, because it's not just a decision you make in your head. It's a decision you need to make in your life.
If you decide this is too much hassle, or not for you in whatever way, commit to that. Leave this stuff behind, and do not ask another question all your lifelong days. Go back to sleep, and when the tug at the sleeve comes from the reality that's following you around, make an art form of ignoring it. Get a pensionable, respectable job, work hard, raise a family, grow old and retire in the Algarve. Not a bad life, you could do a hell of a lot worse.
But if you want to follow the line you're going down, decide fast that this is what you are going to do, and make it the one thing you do, around which everything else revolves.
What I do is a skill. A craft.
Anyone (in principle) can see the deep truths that end suffering, and then just sort of blurt out, as best they can, their ideas about how it all works.
The difference between that and what I do is, I think, best summed up by something Jed McKenna said in one of his books. I can't remember which off the top of my head, and in fact, the whole passage is a little hazy, but the gist of it is something like this:
Someone asks him some question about the dynamics of suffering, and he gives some kind of answer as best he can. Then he goes away and has a think, and he says to himself "Thing is, I've seen the truth they want to see, but I'm not a specialist philosopher of human suffering, I'm just a guy with good seats at the theatre."
I am a specialist philosopher of human suffering, and I've also got good seats at the theatre.
Or at least, that's what I hope.
That's the difference, and that's what you can become. Not just ending suffering and then you're done, and you have no more to do. Not just getting deep, and having that be the end of it. Eastern thinkers are very deep, as deep as deep gets. But when delusion is the problem, precision matters. It really can help, can help a great deal.
When I look at all the effort - and the genuine, heartfelt effort that many teachers in the Eastern go to in order to help the people who come to them, I can't help feeling inspired, but there's a bittersweetness to it as well, because it's not about working harder, but working smarter. Because just repeating deep insights that are truly deep isn't going to help, when the problem isn't insufficient depth.
Do you see? The problem of the East was never insufficient depth. It's insufficient precision.
So the option now is to fuse those insights with a forensic understanding of the contour and dynamics of suffering, delusion, pain, anxiety, loneliness, depression, blinkered thinking, human blindness, ideology. All that stuff.
So it's not a denial of the power of Eastern insight - it's a broadening of scope to take in something else as well.
And the 'something else as well' takes time to develop, and that's why you need to commit time to it.
The 'something else as well' is a hidden tradition in Western philosophy. It's not what you learn in universities, and it's not what professional Western philosophers think of as Western philosophy. It's something else entirely, and it starts with what Bryan Magee did with the work of Karl Popper.
Bryan Magee doesn't see himself as a great philosopher, but I disagree with him on this, because I do.
He's a truly great philosopher, in the Western tradition, to my mind the greatest Western thinker of the 20th century. This is not something that will get you nods at philosophy parties, nobody agrees with this but me, but I do, and here's why.
Karl Popper, who I have spoken about before, was the philosopher who, when you really boil it down, cracked science. He cracked the core mechanism by which scientific knowledge gets generated, and it's something very different to what most people think it is.
It's not logic, for instance, and it's not maths. It's not even rationalism, or materialism. All these things are window dressing.
It's experiment. The collision of ideas and the real. The real doesn't break - your ideas break. And so you can rule out the broken ideas, and make progress that way.
Now, I would say that this process has another dynamic to it, something Magee and Popper never spotted, and it's this - it's not just a case of ticking things off the list. How ideas break reveals more of reality. This is crucial, and is the main breakthrough I detail in the article Pattern Revelation. A failed idea fails in a certain way, and if your idea has failed in collision with reality, that way is a contour of the real.
And so you can refine your ideas. And break them again, and refine them again. And after a lot of stress, and a lot of mess, you get a kind of knowledge that is accurate in ways that nothing else is.
The development of accuracy, the direct development of accuracy in knowledge, accuracy to the real.
It opens up a new way of doing things, something never considered before. What I call a true 'noumenology' which is basically a big chunky word for 'actually charting the shape of reality as it is'.
This is not something common in philosophy, and is usually considered impossible, and dismissed out of hand. But it is possible, it's just not possible using logic, and you never generate certainty.
But then logic is a pitiful substitute for honesty, and certainty is a pitiful substitute for accuracy.
Now, 20th century Western philosophy made a great big show of being 'scientific'. And the way it did this was to make itself ultra-logical, and all about certainty, because that's what science looks like from the outside.
So the vast bulk of actual philosophical work done in the West is about logic, about logical structure, the logical structure of meaning and philosophical sentences. When you think of all the thousands of people who work in Western philosophy throughout the Western world, this is basically what they are doing.
But there's a big however to all this logical excitement, and it's this. Logic isn't science, and so what they're doing is not and can never produce accurate insight into reality.
Now, I think you should take just a small introspective moment of silence to appreciate that. Roll that one around your head for a while. Thousands of people, well-funded, filling hundreds of prestigious institutions, all doing 'philosophy', all with fancy titles like "Professor" and "Lecturer" and such... but none of them have, can, or ever will, break any new ground into the real. Not if it's logic they're doing, and overwhelmingly, it is.
There are a very few, a very, very few, very small number of people who are actually doing some really good work within the academy. But all the major journals only recognise logic as philosophy. It's like a cult, or a cartel, except it's massive, deeply entrenched, and it is not budging an inch.
Now, this is quite a big problem, if you're a Western philosopher who believes in the exclusive power of logic. However, if you're not, it's quite a big opportunity.
If nobody is punching into the chaos of the human condition, to generate real and new insights that genuinely do open up totally new ways of living that can undercut suffering and delusion at source...
...well, not to be too flippant, but that strikes me as, shall we say, a gap in the market.
Quite a big gap, in fact. I might even call it a howling gulf where real philosophy should be, if I were being rude about it.
Now, the thing is this. What Popper did with his insights was to take them and use them as a standard by which to judge the things that people do. Politics, science, ideology. He wrote books on them all, and gauged them by the standard of his insights. This is scientific, this isn't. That's basically what he did with his work. The mapping out of the sane.
But Magee raised this question, and it's a big one. He asked this - is the sane really the problem? Surely instead of using these tools as a standard to gauge what is sanity, why don't we use these tools as tools to chart human madness? To make sense of the senseless, not just stick a post-it note on all the sensible stuff.
To bring light to the dark, not just mark out where the lights are.
Human clarity is not what's killing the world - human delusion is, and so that is what we chart.
And I would take it beyond what Magee said and write explicitly what I think he implied - which is that we do this not so we can write little papers that other people can hum and ha over. We do it so that we can open up just one real, serious option that can blow human frailty and cruelty, and pettiness, and ignorance and damage apart, at source, and open up a door for all mankind that leads to a different future than the polluted and unsustainable neon coffin in which we live and die, before we all choke to death.
Global philosophy. The fusion of East and West. Something different, something new.
Now, many people have tried fusing these two traditions. And yes, you can stick bits of this one to bits of that one, and say that you're doing something clever, and you might be, but clever doesn't matter a damn.
What matters a damn is options, accuracy, insight. New ways to live, new angles that can get right underneath the most extreme pain and suffering, and resolve it at source. That matters more than clever.
There are a few basic bits and pieces that make what I do possible. One of them is that 'failure allows you to chart the contour of the real' thing, which we've just discussed.
But there is another, and it is the biggest catch you've ever heard of. It is the core of how I do what I do, and if you don't do it, you will not be able to do what I do.
It's the core of a new kind of philosophy. Not just 'that' we're using East and West - but how we're doing that. Because the how matters. If we're just sticking bits together, we're masturbating about how clever we are, and very few people want to see that, and the ones who do are creepy anyway.
There is no school of thought of which I am aware that does anything comparable, not in universities or outside them.
If the thing about contour and failure is the advance I made beyond Popper, this I suppose, is the advance I made beyond Magee.
If you want to drive the scientific method into the heart of humanity itself, you have to be able to experiment.
No ands, no ifs, no buts. If you're not experimenting, you're not doing this. And if you are experimenting, you are. And that's all she wrote.
If you want to understand the human condition, the deeps of humanity, the wide vistas and the deep dales, you need a human condition that you can test.
I hope you're sharp enough by now to see where this is headed. And it's headed into some quite strange territory.
Even if you could get a bunch of volunteers and experiment on them (students, perhaps?) you could never see what's going on in them, from the inside.
And that's the information you really, really want.
So to make this process work, to make it viable, you need something. A human condition that you have direct access to, that you have control over (at least legal control) and where you actually can run tests.
This is crucial. You can't just read Magee, or me, or anyone, and get to the point where you are a philosopher. What you can do is get to the point where you know a lot about other philosophers, but that just means you're boring at dinner parties, and little else.
To actually be a philosopher in this new way means that you are the test subject for the ideas you have.
Can you see? This is what makes it possible, what holds it all together. Without a lab rat, there is no science. But on the bright side, you get to be the only lab rat who wears a white coat.
This is the core of the way I do philosophy. If you want to know how it is that I've been able to break open all the things I have with the clarity I have, it's because I had a lab rat that I could test things on, to whit, me.
Testing isn't a magic thing. 99% of your tests will fail. But the way in which they fail is never random, and reveals the reality that you're trying to see.
It takes years, and is messy. And volatile. I believe passionately in what I do, in the potential importance of it - but I'd never want to tell you that it's an easy ride, because that would be a silly lie. If you try it, you'll find out soon enough what it's like.
I'm making it sounds like it's bad, but there are good things to this approach as well. First and foremost, you don't need to spend money stocking up on laboratory supplies. You are the laboratory.
Now, I'm sure that a clever fellow like yourself can and will be thinking "hang on a second, this is silly - your results would be corrupted, because you can't corroborate them outside, and besides, you'll be wanting to believe you're right all the time, and whatever."
And what I'd say is this. Yeah, these are problems, and quite serious ones, there are others. But what I would say in response is this.
Instead of asking "Are these results 100% pure?" - to which the answer is 'obviously no', ask something else.
Can these results be made anything less that 100% corrupt?
Because even if you're just getting 1% of actual progress through the 99% of mess, that is real progress. And over time, it builds. And your skill at doing this builds, and it becomes even bigger then 1%.
You must become very, very skeptical, and most skeptical of all of the things you believe. You cannot trust yourself, so don't. If you're right, it should work, so test. Make that your approach to it, and stoke that approach.
There's a number of things you can do, and we'll talk about a few more in a minute, but that's the general gist.
So... what do I actually do, day by day?
Well, glad you asked. What you do is this.
Every single day (try to take one day off a week so you don't explode) go to a coffee shop, or similar establishment. Spend between 4 and 6 hours there, drinking coffee, and not talking to anyone.
I recommend a coffee shop, because you will find it difficult to do this at home, what the internet being there, and everything. Also, you want to get a place where you go and do this, that is specially for this. That way your mind kind of gets used to the fact that this is what you do here, and it's not so distracting.
Leave your mobile phone at home. No point taking it with you, especially if it has an internet connection, which it probably does, as we are living in an exciting age of technological marvels.
Just you, the euphoria, the despair, the distance inbetween, the understanding that all of it has to make sense somehow, and a lot of coffee.
Then churn. Just work the lock. How is this working? What's really going on? What is this stuff when you really get down to it?
Could it be this? Ok... if it is this... then I should be able to get it working like this....
Try this.... ok, it's working. Nice....
Except new insights always work when you first try them, not because they're insightful, but because they're new. So keep on it. Push it harder, see what it can do.
When you find yourself getting distracted, churn the distraction.
How do you churn? How do you test an idea?
You live it. You live an idea.
If you have an idea about how all this is working, you live it, you just apply it in your mind as best you can, and... crucially... as hard as you can. You want it to work, yes - you want it to be the right answer.
But if it's not the right answer, you want to push it to the point of failure, and do so quickly.
When you get fraught and upset - and you will, because you're poking around with all the trigger mechanisms for pain and suffering - hold the line as much as you can, but be aware that you are not a superhero. If you need to take some time off because it hurts too much, take some time off, get some distance.
Go to the coffee shop come rain or shine. Buy an umbrella. Just go there, make the sacrifice, do what it takes to get that time. I did this for two years with a full-time job, so don't whine at me about there not being enough hours in the day, there are.
If you don't want to go to a coffee shop, get a flask of coffee and go to a park or something. If you don't like coffee, get something else. Whatever. Point is, time is being spent. Serious time. You're really doing it, really working it, really trying to make sense of it.
You're not playing at this. You're really going for it, real killer instinct. You're not messing around, you're really trying to see what's really going on behind, and through, and in all the chaos.
If you find that you're just banging up against a brick wall, bang a little harder - always bang a little harder than is sensible, reality isn't playing around here, and neither are we - but then back off it.
You'll find that today's amazing insights that blow your head off tend to be thin and little things in a day or two. Take that time as well - that's not slacking off, that's part of the process.
As far as you step forward is as far as you must step back to make sense of what's going on.
You see? This kind of ebb and flow - the testing and the getting really hectic, then the frustration... then step back, let it all slide (no matter how much you want to hold on to it) and just cool down, get some space on it all, get some perspective.
That's often when the really cool stuff happens anyway - those moments of stepping back. I went at this in my customary 'hell for leather' way, and so a lot of the time when I stepped back, I did so because I'd burned myself out through nervous exhaustion, and had no choice.
In retrospect, I probably didn't need to do that, but I didn't know at the time. You do know, so no burning yourself out as a matter of course. Stepping back, really letting it all just slide away - this is a critical part of the process, just as critical as stepping forward.
In fact, stepping forward is only important because you step back after. But then stepping back only has power because you stepped forward before, so you need both. It's very 'yin and yang' if you're into that kind of stuff.
Stepping back alone into that kind of peace is nothing like as powerful as combining stepping back with stepping forward. And stepping forward is nothing like as powerful as combining it with stepping back.
Churn. Churn. Churn. Years of churn, thousands of hours on top of thousands of hours.
Real hours of your real life that you are not spending doing other things. And time is of the essence. Seas and messes of time. Hour after hour.
It is a fantastically rare thing to do this, and rarer still to develop it to a stage where you have mastered it.
Skill takes time. People may or may not be born with talent, but nobody is born with skill, and talent isn't remotely powerful enough to do what you need it to do anyway, so skill's where the action is.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great book which I advise you to read called "Outliers" where he talks about the 10000 hours needed to achieve mastery at any skill.
Want to be a concert pianist? 10000 hours. Want to be a special forces soldier? 10000 hours.
Want to be a philosopher? A real one? Someone who can really break open the deep and twisting chaos of the human condition, and expose the clear and elegant simplicities that unite it all, and that can redeem it?
10000 hours, and that's all she wrote.
10000 hours is 6 hours a day, every day, for 5 years.
That is a savage and vast investment of time, and that's time you're not spending doing other things, like developing your career in real estate, or partying with your youthful chums.
But then, real estate's not going to go away, and you can always make new friends.
And 5 years from now you will still be a young man. Will you be a young man who is also a world-class philosopher in a new tradition the power of which has never been seen before, or will you be a young man with a lot of big ideas and no ability to do anything with them?
People think that your intentions are what matters, or your talent. They're wrong, of course. What matters is your capabilities, and by that I mean time, because that's how you get skill, and skill is where capability comes from.
Bruce Lee was not very good at fighting, and then 10000 hours later, he was very good indeed. Jimi Hendrix was not born holding a plectrum. They threw their lives at something, threw their time and passion at something, and kept at it, day after day, hour after hour, year after year.
You cannot spend those 10000 hours, and not become world-class. That's just one of the things about people, so use it.
A lot of why it takes so long is that you need to develop finesse. You'll be a cack-handed amateur when you start - everyone is a cack-handed amateur at everything when they start, no matter how much encouragement they get from their primary school teachers.
You'll also develop a large number (probably for me, it's several hundred, maybe more) of what you can call 'heuristics', which is a big fancy word that just means 'rules of thumb'.
Rules of thumb will serve you far better than big theories. Big theories are grist for the mill, you want to break those things as fast as you can, live them as hard as you can, use them to see what influence they can make, what traction they can generate, over the internal world of your human condition.
But rules of thumb are something else. They're little and small. They stay with you all the way through what you're doing, and help you do it. They're like the things a carpenter uses to knock out the right length of wood without bothering to reach for a measuring tape. The things a plumber uses to know which pipe does what, and where you should unscrew this bit, or screw in that, without having to check the building plans.
They're all the little things that make a craftsman, and that is what you need to be. A craftsman of accurate insight. Add that capacity to the depth of Eastern thought, and you've gone beyond both West and East, and you're doing something more powerful than either. In principle at least, and if you do it well.
The great traditions of East and West are truly great. They really are. There is so much to admire in both, but their respective brilliance is different - and, if it can be combined truly, not just bolted together, but truly fused, complementary.
They are a great and global analogue to the division of the brain - the left hemisphere and the right, the concept and the contour, the dual and the non-dual. It is not in arguing one case over the other that the future can be found, but in humility to both, in kneeling so low to both that you can see the place at which they meet, and become one.
Here's a couple to start you off.
The first and most important rule of thumb what I call "Rule 1 of Philosophy." You don't normally give a rule of thumb a fancy name like that, but this one's earned it, it really has.
It's that there is no division in reality. No contradiction in reality, no paradox in reality, ever, not a one. Reality is coherent, internally coherent.
What this means is that as and when you get tangled up in a contradiction, or a paradox, or see a division between this and that, you can be absolutely certain that it only exists in your mind. Reality doesn't do that kind of thing, ever.
Do if you find a paradox, don't try to solve the paradox. But you know, because you know about Rule 1, that there is no point in trying to solve the paradox. There is no paradox to solve, not really. There instead a way to look at whatever you're looking at where the paradoxes just don't arise in the first place. That's how reality works as far as paradox goes. Revisit Rule 1 often. It's rare in all this mess that you find something so clear that just never fails to be applicable, so don't be blase with it. It's called Rule 1 for a reason - it matters, a lot.
So, Rule Of Thumb #1 - There are no contradictions in reality, no paradoxes, no divisions. Reality is coherent.
Other miscellaneous rules of thumb, in no real order of importance, are as follows.
Rule Of Thumb #2 - Nothing is random. When you get a weird feeling, or if something collapses, or if you get a hit of peace, or whatever, it's not random. It's all connected, and nothing exists in isolation. There is, when you really get down to it, just one thing happening - reality - and everything else is just an aspect of it.
Nothing 'just happens in isolation'. It's all part of what you're trying to get at, all of it.
Rule Of Thumb #3 - No 'isms'. Sometimes I use words like 'communism' or 'postmodernism' as shorthand, but even that's a bit sloppy, and I never, never use words with suffix 'ism' when I'm trying to work things out.
Putting the suffix 'ism' on the end of something means you've put a bunch of stuff in a box, and you're playing with the box now. You're just pushing labels around. Many people make a good living doing this - if you want to be a real philosopher, don't be one of them.
You might say "oh, but that will take ages because I'll have to actually use the long version of these words" - and yes, you will. But although it might take longer, you might actually get somewhere.
Same with things like Buddhism, Judaism, stuff like that. Forget the isms - get right down in the bones, what is actually being said? What is it?
I would extend this to words like Christianity and Islam as well, even though they don't have the word 'ism' on the end, that's basically how they're used. It is always, always, always a mistake to do this, so don't do it.
Rule Of Thumb #4 - Never underestimate the ability of sane-sounding humans to be the architects, evangelists and enforcers of their own delusion.
Militant atheism, hard materialism, hard rationalism - they all seem very clear and clever, and so very aware of the failings of religion that you'd never expect them to do exactly the same thing, and hamstring their own ability to engage with reality along exactly the same lines as the religions they denounce.
Christian fundamentalism is (or at least I should hope it is) reasonably obvious to spot and avoid, but then, the patterns in it recur through all sorts of ideologies, and human beings make ideologies of everything. Buddhism, for instance, contains very large numbers of people who interact with it in a very similar way to how many Christians interact with Christianity, which is to say, they plunder it for baubles they can bleat about, and demonstrate how spiritual they are.
This isn't pessimism - but there's no point in hope if it's blind hope that ignores the reality of the situation, and the situation regarding many wisdom traditions is grave. This only makes it more important that someone doesn't do this, but instead strikes only and always to the reality to which all wisdom and insight, both ancient and modern, inevitably point.
Rule Of Thumb #5 - Kneel to the masters.
It is so easy to criticise, and the best part about it is that if you do criticise someone really clever, you look even cleverer than they do.
Don't do this, it's pathetic. This is the kind of thing the annoying one (and there's always one) in a philosophy seminar does. "But I think that....blah blah blah." Shut up. Honestly, when you come across someone who is doing really good work, just shut your mouthhole, and open your ears.
This is how to read the work of people like Bryan Magee, or in modern times, Iain McGilchrist or Nassim Nicholas Taleb (it is your homework to cane through everything these men have written, in this way, incidentally).
Yes, there are things I could say about Bryan Magee - things like 'his engagement with moral philosophy is frankly rudimentary' or 'he has never been able to get a good, solid handle on Eastern thought'.
And as far as I see it, that's true. But who cares? What he did do was amazing, absolutely amazing, and if you're addicted to the sound of your own voice whining about what he didn't do, you'll miss it.
If you want to look at something for the sake of disagreeing with it, I hear the Daily Mail has a website now. Go there. Be precious with real brilliance, and be humble to it. Get right inside what these people are saying, really put it on like a pair of shoes, run a marathon in it, don't be shy.
True depth and quality is too rare in this world for it to be treated like fodder for bleating about on a soapbox. And besides, no-one really cares that much, most people are too interested in teenage vampires and reality TV.
Rule Of Thumb # 6 - Don't worship the masters.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb sits down to shit, as does Bryan Magee, Iain McGilchrist, Paul Hawken, as did Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Buddha, Hui Neng, Jesus, Lao Tze et al.
If you're thinking "Oh my GOD you just compared Nicholas Taleb with Buddha and Iain McGilchrist with Jesus" and you're immediately leaping to some striking posture that shows how witty/moral/religious/rational/whatever you are, this is not for you, get a job in Tesco.
These are all just men, but brilliant men who have broken some really interesting new ground into humanity, reality, or the interaction between the two.
Nobody is magic, and they are not going to magically float in from the ether to bestow insight upon you if you flatter them enough in your head. This doesn't just go for the ancients, it goes for the moderns too.
Reality is far more direct than this - you need to go to the source. All of these people have opened up whole new lines on what is really going on, and you really want to get right down on your knees and learn from them. But they are not God, and the temptation to make an idol out of anyone or anything is a palpable and insidious pull that will stop your insight dead.
Nothing that any of these people have done is outside of your capacities, and in fact, you have greater capacity - at least in principle - because you have all their insights to go on, and they didn't.
There is no cavalry coming from on high. You are the cavalry. Be the cavalry.
Rule Of Thumb #7 - Distrust demarcation.
Demarcation just means lines and labels. Where you draw this line and that. Now to go back to the very first Rule Of Thumb - there are no dividing lines in reality, so any time you spend whatsoever on arguing this line or that is wasted time, and you don't have time to waste, not when you should be investing it.
This spins off the 'isms' thing as well, but is broader in scope. If the study is 'the human condition' - which it is - you can't be saying "this isn't relevant" or "that's psychology, not philosophy" or "that's moral philosophy, not the philosophy of knowledge" or any of that nonsense.
And it is nonsense. As we've seen, there is one subject - reality - and it is not divided between this and that.
Everything is relevant until further notice. Don't build a little castle of your philosophy, because a fortress is also a prison. Everything is connected, so you have a very wide remit for what is relevant for you to learn.
Also, because of the fractal nature of reality (check Benoit Mandelbrot for this) patterns recur over and over through all sorts of totally disparate and apparently unconnected phenomena. I could, for instance, draw a very clear parallel between a very specific kind of emotional faculty developed by those who go through extreme horror and come out the other side, and an advanced form of jet engine exhaust used in modern fighter aircraft to create a phenomenon known as 'supermanueverability'.
But I wouldn't be able to do that, if I hadn't been geeking out reading up on supermaneuverability, or fractal geometry - neither or which are considered 'philosophy' in any conventional mainstream way.
So just cultivate a love of learning stuff. Not relevant stuff (although that, yes) but just stuff. Just little bits and pieces about the way the world works, follow your nose, pick stuff up, learn things for the love of it.
You'll be amazed how, after a while things start connecting. And it's always good to have a load of stuff you can use to make really vivid metaphors.
Rule Of Thumb #8 - Plunder Demarcation For Perspectives
Lines and labels are just patterns we're drawing... but they are also perspectives. Marxism, for instance, is a great big chunk of labels and things - but it's also a perspective. Occupy the perspective. See it in full. Do the thing you do with the masters, but with these perspectives as well.
You want to see as much as you can, and that doesn't just means stepping back, and stepping forward. It means stepping into as many other perspectives as you can get your greasy little mitts on.
The important thing is that you get right inside these perspectives, as best you can. Treat it like another skill - the ability to get right inside a perspective, to leave all your beliefs behind and just really occupy an idea. Does this make sense? Don't be shy, don't be squeamish. And don't be scared either - many people think "Oh, well - if I get inside this really bad idea (Satanism, Atheism if you're a Christian, Christianity if you're an Atheist) then I'll lose myself!"
Shut up, no you won't. Not if you're being honest, anyway. Get inside perspectives and really look - if they're true, you won't need to leave, and if they're not, you won't be able to stay anyway.
But what you will do is see things from a completely new angle, and see whole sides of reality that you never knew existed. And it is all connected.
Rule Of Thumb #9 - Respect Science
Popular science writing is a brilliant resource for a philosopher. Science has made some amazing advances, but is so deeply imbedded in linear modes of thinking that arise from the heavily mathematical approach that modern science takes to things, that they (God love 'em) often miss the woods for the trees.
But that's ok - because seeing the woods is not not their speciality. It's yours. It's the philosophers.
Don't just garble out science words, or vague science concepts. In fact, never, never, never do this. It's useless, everyone does it, they do it on Star Trek, there is no such thing as a phase transducer coil.
Strapping science concepts to the side of philosophical ideas is lazy, damaging, and the reigning world champion of missed opportunities.
Remember - reality is coherent, it has no division, it is all connected, and because of this, all these insights have to fit, if they are true. Many of them are. So they have to fit somehow, and shoehorning them together is a waste of your goddamn time as a philosopher, and a waste of everyone else's time as a reader.
Don't worry about the mathematics. If you're not a highly numerate person, that's fine - and it might even be a boon for a philosopher. If you do know mathematics really well, great, brilliant - but understand that this skill, and the way in which you have developed that skill, are radically different. You absolutely can do both - Nassim Nicholas Taleb is an extremely capable mathematician, and a brilliant philosopher - but don't freak out and think you have to do this to get good stuff from science.
Instead, just get an understanding of the concepts - and more than this, the perspectives. What does the world look like from this point of view, or that? What does relativity actually mean? Can you picture it in your head? Quantum Mechanics? Evolution? This kind of stuff.
If a scientist attacks you for your use of science... listen to what they are saying, and listen carefully. Many scientists are on very high alert because of very shoddy work done in this area, and will brutalise anything that isn't an officially submitted science paper... but not all. Some will be very happy that someone is taking it seriously. And even the ones who attack you, pay attention to what they say. If it's just knee-jerk stuff, then ok, you can ignore it... but make sure it is really, really is before you do.
Rule Of Thumb #10 - Don't kill yourself.
No, really, don't.
What you are doing is, when you really get down to it, charting the fundamental dynamics of suffering, pain, misery, delusion and human chaos through an industrial series of failed experiments in which you are the lab rat.
This is what I do, what I have spent my life doing, and mate - reality plays hardball. Doing this is a beast of a thing. Don't get cocky, you are not invulnerable.
If you find yourself getting tangled and stressed, yeah - just one more rep, for sure. Don't give up too easy.
But do give up. No point being a fool about it, and you're no use as a dead hero. The day a week that you take off where you are really stern with yourself and you really do not do anything - that matters. Keep it, observe it. I do it on Sunday, because the shops are closed anyway, but there is nothing religious about this, it is a very important part of what you do.
You have a set day a week where you just back right off all this. And if you get yourself in a situation where you're in trouble, take some time off. A week, even a month. Just walk the hell away from it all.
And if you think 'well, what about the hours I'm supposed to be putting in?' - those are the best hours anyway, where you step right back from all the complexity and just leave it. Just let it go - it's not going anywhere, do not worry. Leaving it forever isn't really an option anyway - but leaving it for a time is a critical part of the process.
Just as an athlete needs time away from the track for their body to recuperate, you need the same for your soul.
And also, remember this. It's another little rule of thumb (Rule Of Thumb #11)and it's this - no Buddha walked out of Auschwitz.
Suffering itself, just going through emotional pain - that's not the path to freedom, and it will not help you. If you're in increasing pain, it means to back off, not go further.
The temptation can be (and the pain often arises with this tagline, so to speak) that if you can just break this pain, or beat this pain, or endure this pain enough, you'll find the gateway through the heart of hell, and everything will be ok.
There is no gateway to heaven in the heart of hell.
No Buddha walked out of Auschwitz. Suffering is not your friend, do not trust its promises.
There is no reason for you to put yourself in serious risk while doing this - it really doesn't help. It doesn't make things better, it doesn't help you work faster, it just hurts.
If you want to do what I do, you will become a specialist philosopher of human suffering - but suffering can be addictive, so don't get hooked, and if you find yourself hooked, leave this whole thing behind for as long as it takes to get your some perspective.
And whatever you do, don't kill yourself. If you do this, you are developing a skill that is urgently necessary, and it is important that you live, even if you struggle to believe that sometimes.
We live in a world where danger and risk are things we see on the television screen, and at the movies. Everything else is made safe. Safe work, safe play. It's not a bad thing, it's nice to be safe, and it is.
But don't be fooled by that into thinking that everything can be made safe, or that you'll be ok because you're doing something good, or worthwhile. There are graveyards all over the world filled with the decaying bones of worthy men, and worthy women. This is an inherently dangerous thing to do, and I cannot guarantee your safety. I cannot guarantee my own. And I cannot guarantee you will succeed, or if you do, that anyone will listen.
But it is not guaranteed that you will fail either, or that people will forever shut their ears to a new way of life that the insight you develop makes possible.
And... there is something you can do here that I couldn't do when I was starting, and it's a big one.
The advances I've made into the dynamics of suffering and peace, such as as are detailed best in The Flavour Of The Real and of course One Song?
Well, think about it. I had to put this all together while still embedded in all the many feedback loops of pain and delusion that I, as a human, am subject to.
But. If you take the most recent work I've done, and make that your first port of call. And remember - you always want to, in anything, start with the cutting edge, it saves a lot of time (Rule Of Thumb #12). If you can genuinely develop that capacity to let suffering slide because you see the impermanence of it, and rest, speak and live from the flavour of the real?
Well.... put it this way. It's gotten a hell of a lot easier for me to do this now that I've got some kind of angle on that stuff. If you get that first, and then go into this, you might be able to do it without the extreme fluctuations and downward spirals that the process normally involves, or at least, involved for me while I was developing it.
I don't think you can ever make this process 100% clean. It is inherently messy - science is inherently messy, and this is an application of the scientific method to the heart of the human condition, although few scientists might laud it as such.
But remember this.
All the stuff I've done, all the things I have revealed? It is a fraction of what I have seen. There are oceans and universes of elegance and insight that the combined courage of all humanity could never exhaust. And courage is a rare thing, so that's not even a danger anyway. There is so much of incredible value and power that remains hidden under the veil of petty little thinking, squabbles and postures that suck up the vast and overwhelming mass of human effort.
Such sights has reality to show you.
I know I've gotten quite intense - I hope you don't mind. I don't want to set up what I do as this wonderful thing that has no dangers. It has very serious ones, and they are inherent to it, and you cannot do it without facing them, and braving them. But you don't need to be stupid with it, or do it blindly. Learn from my mistakes, and do it backward - start with getting real traction on your suffering, and you'll not have as rough a ride in this as I had.
Of course, you are free to say "well, this sounds a bit intense, I'd rather not do any of this nonsense," and that's fair enough. But if no-one does it, it just won't get done. Unless, of course, you believe in angels who will descend with the answers written on golden tablets, and let us all off the hook.
I don't think angels work that way.
In conclusion, let me address directly something you asked me directly, that I haven't really mentioned so far.
Writing. How do I write this stuff, so people can get it? After I've found all the stuff I'm looking for, how I do I set it out so it makes sense to people?
Well, let me introduce you to another rule of thumb (#13) which I call 'flipping'. Insight is a very strange thing, it's not really like an argument, or anything like that. It has some strange properties, and one of them is that you can, generally speaking, turn it upside down and it still works. In fact, you can usually turn it upside down and see a different perspective from the normal one, and we're big into looking at different perspectives, aren't we?
The example I'll use here is from Einstein, who was just one of the most brilliant people who has ever lived - he wasn't just a science geek, he was a true and truly brilliant philosopher of the natural world. And he said this - "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
A good insight - now let's flip it on it's head....
If you understand it well enough, you can explain it simply.
If you're doing all this stuff, if you've spent the hours and the years developing this craft, and have developed that exhaustive understanding of the terrain of the human soul... how hard is it really going to be to explain something?
Sure, it's something people haven't heard before - but you know people. You know people very well. If you do this for any serious length of time, you'll know them better than they know themselves.
You're used to climbing right inside these crazy perspectives and looking at the universe, the world and yourself from the weirdest and the strangest points of view. How hard is it then, for you to put yourself in the perspective of just a general reader, with a reasonable level of intelligence, a dash of intellectual humility and some actual curiosity?
Because let's face it - if they have no intelligence, intellectual humility and some actual curiosity, then it doesn't matter what you say, they aren't going to get it, ever. Right? So write for the people who do, and they'll respond. Nobody's a superhero, but there are good people around, that's your audience.
And then on top of this - you may live a dangerous life if you are a philosopher, but you'll not live one devoid of passion. It is an amazing thing to do, a thing that calls to the heart, to the spirit, to the deepest parts of your humanity. Passion rivets, and you won't lack for passion. So there's that.
Ooo - another Rule Of Thumb (#14)- Never use a technical term you don't explain explicitly in plain english, preferably in the actual sentence in which you use it. A technical audience can read plain English, but a non-technical audience can't read technical, so be aware of that.
And besides, you write for humanity. If you have to use a technical term do it, but make sure you explain exactly what it means. Better still - just don't use technical terms. Just write in plain English - and if you know what you want to say, you can say it in whatever way you want.
And the clearer the handle you get on what you're trying to say, the less effort it is to say it. And so the more you're free to just make it fun. Maybe crack a joke every now and then, don't have it be so heavy. And then also, you know - if you're going into dark territory, don't be afraid to get dark.
The most important thing is - understand that your writing has one role, just one. To get out of the way. To get out of the way of what you're trying to say, not to be clever, not to be pretty. To just open up a clear line so that although people might spit at you, or dismiss you, or sneer, or criticise - they will at least know exactly what they're spitting at. And that's all writing needs to do. To make it clear. The actual power and truth of the insights do all the rest, all the heavy lifting.
After years of writing (just like any skill) you get a sense of the rhythm and the flow of words, the beats and the cadence. It's like music. And the highest kind of philosophical writing, as I see it, is when you get that flow and music working in synergy with the ideas themselves, striking them home, lighting them up.
But again - you gotta have the ideas first, and if you're striking home weak ideas, they'll hit weakly no matter how well you hit them home. And if you light up weak ideas, you just light up how weak they are. Yeah?
This is quite amusing because really, your one question was "how do I refine my writing style so I can write like you do."
And the answer is - if you think this is writing style, think again.
Oh, yeah - haha, almost forgot. Rule Of Thumb #15. No drugs. Do not do hallucinogenic drugs while doing this, or to 'broaden your perception' so as to make you better at it. I'm not telling you how to live, do whatever you want to do for fun in your spare time. But this process is very powerful and if you're doing powerful hallucinogens at the same time, you run a very serious risk of triggering a psychotic episode, the experience of which is not entirely unlike being tortured to death, except you can't die from it.
That was one of the less fun lessons that I learned while doing this. It took me a year to starve out the madness, another year to beat the savage depression I used to starve out the madness, and another two after that to beat the PTSD, which basically means it was four years until the flashbacks stopped. That was ten years ago now, but it's still not a pleasant memory, and it will never be.
So, you know... avoid.
Learn from my mistakes, and make your own, basically. Go easy on yourself, and understand that you're not slacking off when you take some time away after a really heavy run - that's a critical part of it. But understand as well that slacking off isn't magic, and only reveals based on how deep you've gone when you're hitting it.
The ebb and the flow is the heart of this. It will take a while to develop. 10000 hours, if I was pressed for a number.
Just one last rule of thumb (#16). It's not the moments when you're crack the big hitters, take the big scalps and make the big connections where you get good at this. It's the moments where you don't. It's the long hours of thankless and seemingly fruitless grind where you develop this skill - that's where it really happens, that's the big secret of getting really good at anything.
Babe Ruth didn't get good by hitting home runs - he got good by swinging for home runs and missing them, and continuing to swing a thousand times over, and a thousand times again, until he did. And then one day, he just got to the stage where he did hit them, and hit them hard, and was in serious danger every time he did so of knocking a hole in the sky.
This is like that.
You can do all of this. You really can. It seems like all this crazy-ass stuff that's so super-advanced, but I started bad, and I continued bad for a long time before I got any good. Anyone who's good at anything who says different is either a liar or an alien.
I hope you decide to do it, but it must be your choice. If I were to persuade you to do it, you wouldn't do it for very long anyway - I'm not that persuasive, nobody is.
We live in a world where there are few horizons left to explore. All the maps are drawn, all the world is charted. But there another horizon, the horizon of the human soul, and it barely touched, and aching for pioneers.
The world needs insight, Chris it needs insight before it runs out of air. The philosophers - the real ones, not the posers - are the ones who do that, and that's why real philosophy matters.
And I hope that in 10000 hours, there'll be at least one more of them knocking around the place.
And that is a choice I leave, as I must, to you.
Monday, 24 June 2013
We are told that talent is what matters, it is one of the first things anyone says of a person who has done well. It is very rarely what a person who has done well says of themselves, or of how they did it.
We love talent, the idea of talent. It lets us off the hook, lets us accept a life of mediocrity that is mercifully free of blame. If everything good comes from talent, you're not wasting your life, you just didn't have the talent to begin with, and nobody can blame you for that, right?
Except talent is, at best, an irrelevance. Jimi Henrix didn't reinvent music because he was talented, but because he raised a skill to the level of art. Bruce Lee didn't revolutionise martial arts because he was talented, but because he did the same, as did Mozart, as did Einstein.
Skill takes time, but given time, anyone can master anything. And in that mastery, anyone can live a life that is itself a work of art, the purest and cleanest expression of that clear note that rings through all humanity, but lies in most subsumed by excuses.
It is an easy thing to avoid this truth, because so very many worship at the altar of talent, and receive the blessing of blamelessness for a mediocre life.
And only if you overturn that altar can you open up the door that it obscures - and enter in to a life where skill is hard earned, but artistry is possible, in any field of endeavour.
Saturday, 22 June 2013
Your opinion matters. It matters so much. What you believe matters too.
This is an assumption that sits right at the centre of our lives. We're taught it from a very young age. If you've got the right opinions, you're a good person. If you've got the wrong ones, you're a bad one.
But if you've got the right opinion, you're set, because that's the main thing. Vote at the ballot box, or vote at the shop, and your opinion will be expressed. The biggest opinions have the most influence, and the great wheel turns, and society works.
And it's nice to think like this. That's why so many people do it. Not because it makes sense in the cold light of day, not because someone's convinced you of it, or you decided upon it after careful reflection. None of that. It's believed because it's nice, and it's not nice to question nice-seeming things, and so they never get questioned.
And the weird thing is, we've been ordering our society around this for a while now. Do our politics work? Does the economic system we live in shine with brilliance? Is our culture replete with wisdom and peace?
I would argue no. If pressed to extend this argument, I would give the long version, which is - obviously no.
And that's because of something we don't like to think about, not because it makes no sense, but because it makes a very large amount of sense, and doesn't make us feel warm and fuzzy.
Your opinion doesn't matter, and what you believe doesn't matter at all.
What's really going on matters.
And only when you bite that bullet are you ever going to become anything more than a drone, chasing happiness that turns to ashes, chasing dreams that never come, and living the life of a pundit, and not a human being.
Friday, 21 June 2013
What do I say? What's the right thing to say?
What do I say in an interview, that will get me the job? What do I say to someone that will make them like me? What do I say to someone I'm interested in that will make them want me? What do I say?
There must be something, right? Some combination of words and ideas that will make things right, that will soothe a conflict, or win a woman, or win a man, that will be right.
What is the right thing to say?
We spend so much time on this. So much time, analysing, predicting, playing things out with this response and that, like a game of chess. There must be the right moves, that's all we need... right?
This is a world. A world you can live inside and die inside, and it's a horrible world, because you always find that you never say the right thing, no matter how much you think, no matter how much you know, no matter how much you worry or hope.
This is one of the hells. There are so very many, and they can fill your whole life, because you can live your life and never step back from this, and see the big picture that makes perfect sense of it all.
It's not what you say. It's what you communicate by what you say.
If you're communicating that genuine colour of the life, of the real life that flows through and suffuses everything, that unique and distinctive life that fills everything you're even capable of thinking, then you can say whatever you want, and that will be what you communicate.
A sunset doesn't worry about it's appearance.
And it's always right.
Thursday, 20 June 2013
We gauge who we are by how we feel. How well we're doing, how sorted out we are, how free we are.
But the thing is, when you feel good, you think everything's fine and wonderful, and better than wonderful, and so you feel better still, and this feeds back, and you become euphoric, overconfident... and then you crash out emotionally, and collapse.
When you feel lonely, you think this is who you are, a lonely person, and this makes you lonelier, and then you gauge that you are even lonelier than you thought, and this makes you lonelier still, and so you spiral down.
When you feel anxious, you think this is who you are, an anxious person, and this makes you more anxious, and then you gauge that you are even more anxious than you thought, and this makes you more anxious still, and so you spiral down.
When you feel sad, you think this is who you are, a sad person, and this makes you sadder, and then you gauge that you are even sadder than you thought, and this makes you sadder still, and so you spiral down.
A self-centred universe is a volatile thing. Not selfishness in the shallow sense, but using that self, the emotions, what you are feeling and thinking right now, as you compass in life. As your benchmark, and your north star.
It's not 'bad' to do this in some vague moral sense. There's a process at work, and it's really quite simple, and it can be summed up in one word - amplification. Happiness amplifies to mania and collapse, sorrow amplifies to darkness and despair.
You can't agree with this, and have it change your life, but if you can step back from what you're doing, and how you're living, and see the thing, see it for real in the life you personally live - not someone else's life, not your friends, not your family, but you, personally you - then actually, yes. You can begin to live in a completely different way.
Because there is something significantly more stable than your feelings that you can use as your compass.
The unique and distinctive quality of reality itself.
Wednesday, 19 June 2013
The light of truth, that's what they call it. A shining shaft of purest white. The brighter, the better.
But it would be a pitiful thing if the best we could hope for was a monochrome world, no matter how bright it was.
It's easy to forget that. When you're in the dark, all you can think of is the light, the light, get to the light.
And so you chase all the whiteness, the brightness, any hint of it can send you scurrying, and does. And in the dark you feel like all hope is lost, and you have failed.
But it's not light that makes eyes worth having, it's colour. The rich reds and the deep greens, the blues, the yellows, the spectrum of life.
And black and white are colours too.
It's not the light of truth you need to see. It's the colour.
Tuesday, 18 June 2013
It's a tempting thing when you hear something that rings true for you, to try and persuade other people that it's true.
This is so basic an approach that it seems to many incomprehensible that there would be a problem with it, but there is.
It's this. That at some point, someone needs to stop persuading, and be persuaded. And when you look around the world and see so many brilliant people doing brilliant things, you think - "Oh my God, if only I could show them this, what would they do then?"
But in order to feel that, you already have to have seen something worth acting upon. And the best possible result you can ever hope for from persuading people, is that at some point, someone is going to be persuaded, and act.
You're already persuaded. Stop trying to persuade people. Be the one persuaded. Live the life that's now open to you because you see what others don't.
And in any case, people are far more likely to be persuaded by authentic action than by any words you could ever muster.
Monday, 17 June 2013
Does a flute worry about how it's notes will be received?
Is it sitting there, anxious, about how each one will sound to the ears of this audience member, or that audience member?
Does it chart the market? Does it get a sense of the demographics? Of the values and interests of the people who hear it, so it can play to them?
No. It just plays. It's just a rod of steel or a tube of wood, or bone. The breath moves through it, and the sound comes.
This is a way to live. All anxiety depends, for it's existence, on trying to get a certain result. It's action judged by consequence, and this is how the world lives. It's why anxiety is so common, which is to say, essentially universal.
Don't worry about how what you say will be received. Instead, refocus on how clear a note you're striking, from that one song that unites us all.
And then you won't need to worry about how what you are saying will be received. You won't need to worry about it connecting with others, or resonating with others.
It will resonate, because it is the deepest and best of humanity which is that song. No human can hear it and resist. No human can hear it, and not be made better by it.
Saturday, 15 June 2013
Have you ever noticed that cities look like lichen from the sky? Like lichen, growing on a rock. It's a curious thing.
Curious that a person can live their whole lives inside a city, and never see that. Never see what it looks like when you get an aerial view.
In fact, of course, most people never did, flight is a very recent thing, historically. Many people today don't fly, for whatever reason, and so they never get to see it.
But they do, cities look like lichen from high enough above.
The drama of your life is much like this. You have the anxiety, the frustration, the fear, the anger, the hope, the dreaming - just like the streets and lights and buildings of a city. And most people live their whole lives inside that drama, and never see that.
What does it look like when you step right back, when you get that aerial view?
What does it look like, then?
Friday, 14 June 2013
All the things that torment humanity, the division, the corruption, the waste - they all depend for their existence on people pushed up to the glass.
We split things further and further into smaller and smaller parts, and think of ourselves as pioneers when we give a new name to a division we have invented.
We live and die inside the tiniest of the tiny, the little ideas and little conflicts that we allow to fill our field of vision.
It's not that pain is big. It's that we're looking at it from very, very close.
It's not that conflict is big. It's that we're looking at it from very, very close.
It's not that despair is big. It's that we're looking at it from very, very close.
It's not that anxiety is big. It's that we're looking at it from very, very close.
It's not that hate is big. It's that we're looking at it from very, very close.
It's not that all our nightmares are big. It's that we're looking at them from very, very close.
Up close, everything is complex. Step back - far enough - and everything becomes simple.