The Reality Report

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Episode 111

The second episode in a series featuring religious studies scholar Angela Voss, exploring the history and nature of astrology. We continue discussing Iain McGilchrist's writings on the brain hemispheres, Angela reminding me that he concludes his The Master and His Emissary (2009) with the assertion that humanity's only hope is to rediscover the power of metaphor, a necessary bridge between the two hemispheric worldviews (one of which has become dangerously dominant). Citing various scientific experiments which have supposedly shown astrology's lack of predictive power, I probe further as to what it means to say that it "works" in any sense. Angela argues that such experiments are missing the point, confusing two levels of reality, and sets out her own neo-platonic understanding of the situation. Plotinus' treatise "Are the stars causes?" gets a mention, leading on to a discussion of something like a "universal mind field" and the anima mundi (world soul).



Thursday, 12 April 2018

Episode 110

The first episode in a series featuring religious studies scholar Angela Voss, exploring the history and nature of astrology. We begin with a quick historical sketch, with Angela highlighting an important transition that occurred in ancient Greece where astrology moved from a divinatory art to a mechanistic/predictive tool based on notions of causation. The Renaissance astrologer, philosopher and composer Marsilio Ficino gets a special mention before we go on to look at the fundamental misunderstanding he attempted to clarify. Kant's notion of "positive knowledge" and Carl Jung's "active imagination" are touched upon before we move on to the current wave of vigorous skepticism (led by Dawkins, et al.). Once again, Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary is discussed in this context.



Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Episode 109

Part nine, the final episode of another mind-map ramble with Miriam. We wind up our discussion of the so-called "Freeman" movement and then reassess the original list of six topics we randomly selected at the beginning of the conversation. We consider the breadth of application of the word "magick" (in ritual and religion, the origins of science, technology, language and law,...) and then the "re-enchantment" of the world, the fate of the "little people" and their possible return via technological interfaces. Miriam suddenly remembers the word "Fortean" (which she'd been trying to all evening) and we talk about Fortean phenomena, and one of Charles Fort's favourite stories, the "mad fishmonger", who was used to explain otherwise inexplicable layers of shellfish found deposited on roofs and streets one morning in Worcester. Finally, we consider the "Mandela effect" and a possible (rather dubious!) explanation involving branching parallel universes.



Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Episode 108

Part eight of another mind-map ramble with Miriam. We continue to discuss the "magickal" nature of law, in particular in connection with the so-called "Freeman" movement. Based on some talks I'd seen years ago by the movement's best known advocate, John Harris, I outline the connections between common, contractual and statute (Parliamentary law) and the extended legal notion of "corporations" (which supposedly includes individuals, unbeknownst to most of them). This leads to a memory of Rob Christopher (a.k.a. "Free Rob Cannabis", "Free Love Cannabis"), his attempts to challenge the Queen legally over "Her" government's cannabis prohibition law and how that went down in court.



Thursday, 22 March 2018

Episode 107

Part seven of another mind-map ramble with Miriam. I continue speculating about homeopathy, placebos and the role of belief in medicine. This leads to the question of how far (if there's anything in it) this could go, in terms of a collective "willing" of reality into certain shapes. The idea of a tech-free route to utopia, along the lines of the Transcendental Meditation movement's attempts to lower crime rates, etc. through mass meditation, is discussed. Wondering what a "techno-utopian cosmology" would look like, I'm reminded of James Garndner's "biocosm" hypothesis, the idea of "computronium", etc. This brings us back to AI safety, but we soon change tack and end up looking into modern druidry in Britain, Winston Churchill's involvement in this and a supposedly druidic symbol with links to both the Monarchy and the surveying of the land. Returning to our list of topics, we begin to tackle the "freeman" movement, starting by noting the magick-like nature of legal practice.



Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Episode 106

Part six of another mind-map ramble with Miriam. After some vague talk about occasional "glitches" in reality, Miriam brings up the 19th century "Bedford Level Experiment" which appeared, initially, to show the Earth to be flat. Skirting around the "observer" effect in quantum mechanics, we get on to talking about the magic of naming things, the cognitive "chunking" of reality, and the way the mind economises by sometimes operating with old maps (possibly explaining why we sometimes can't see what's right in front of us). Miriam then describes a childhood imaginal encounter with Santa before we're reminded of the South Park "Imaginationland" trilogy. This then leads to a discussion of homeopathy, placebo effects and the role of belief in medicine.



Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Episode 105

Part five of another mind-map ramble with Miriam. We continue talking about "techno-utopias" and "friendly AI", leading on to robotic automation, mass unemployment and schemes for a universal citizen's income. We then pursue a tangent regarding Joseph Weizenbaum's "ELIZA" (1960s proto-chatbot algorithmic psychiatrist), which gets related to themes in recent mainstream entertainment (Her, Bladerunner 2049). It then all gets quite speculative and far-out when I start to suggest that if some element of randomness is involved in the algorithmic behaviour of computer-driven "pseudo-people", this could potentially provide an "interface" for disembodied entities ("spirits"? "ancestors"?) to reconnect with the world of the living. Ouija boards, various types of scrying and divination are examined as "interfaces" of this sort, the cultural significance of the 16th century Abolition of Chantries Acts is touched upon, as is the Tupac Shakur "hologram" which appeared at Coachella Festival in 2012. I end up suggesting that deceased legendary musicians such as Jimi Hendrix may one day be "resurrected" for performance purposes in some sense with a combination of AI and holograms. But how would we know it was the real Jimi and not an impostor? Could this lead to religious factions? ("The Church of the True Hendrix"!)



Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Episode 104

Part four of another mind-map ramble with Miriam. We continue talking about magick in some branches of Christianity, in the form of the veneration of relics and the Holy Communion ritual. Miriam's suggestion that "tribal wizards" evolved into bishops and archbishops is then backed up by something I suddenly remembered reading in a piece by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Elizabeth I's court magician John Dee makes another appearance before we consider what the current manifestation of magick would be in the context of the British Monarchy. Miriam reflects on her teenage Wiccan experiences as part of a discussion about the possible "rigidification" of objective reality over time. Uri Geller, the evolution of skateboarding and Australian aboriginal culture are then all touched upon before we switch tack and start exploring ideas around "techno-utopias", transhumanism, nanomedicine and "friendly AI".



Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Episode 103

Part three of another mind-map ramble with Miriam. We continue to discuss the mysterious 17th century "Invisible College" and Isaac Newton's occultism, then Elizabeth I's court magician, John Dee. Miriam raises the fascinating (and amusing) question of exactly how one secured the job of "court magician" in the 17th century, leading on to a consideration of Nancy and Ronald Reagan's use of an astrologer, the London Psychogeographical Association, allegations of the British Monarchy dabbling in the occult, the new Scottish Holyrood Parliament building being part of a vast geomantic scheme and the magickal role of early Archbishops of Canterbury.



Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Episode 102

Part two of another mind-map ramble with Miriam. We talk a bit more about astronomical alignments (and number relationships) in megalithic sites before getting on to Isaac Newton's occultism, the origins of chemistry in alchemy, astrology in astronomy and mathematics in numerology, a new angle on the persecution of witches and the origins of the Royal Society in the mysterious 17th century "Invisible College".



Thursday, 8 February 2018

Episode 101

After a six-month hiatus, The Reality Report returns with a new series involving another extended mind-map-based conversation with RR veteran Miriam Gould. In this first episode we consider the diversity of cosmologies found across human culture and history, focussing in particular on the current Western version, the Big Bang theory (which is jovially critiqued from a storytelling point-of-view and for its "lack of entertainment value"). Astro-archaeology, especially in Britain's neolithic temple sites, is also discussed, as is the Book of Genesis.



Saturday, 19 August 2017

a short break

Normal service will resume after a short break. Thankyou.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Episode 100

The eighth and final episode in a series with Gyrus which sprawls across a variety of topics in anthropology, cosmology, cognitive science and recent political developments. We wind things down with a discussion of a philosophical/political position known as "accelerationism" (basically the idea that things have to be intentionally made worse before they can get better) and the associated work of philosopher Nick Land and so-called "cyberfeminist" Sadie Plant, formerly of Warwick University's 1990s Cybernetic Culture Research Unit.



Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Episode 99

The seventh episode in a series with Gyrus which sprawls across a variety of topics in anthropology, cosmology, cognitive science and recent political developments. We continue to discuss the psycho-cultural effects of the Copernican Revolution and Western humanity's losing its sense of being at the centre of the Universe. This leads into a discussion of traditionalism, which Gyrus contrasts with his own view (where there are two major historical "pivots" - the agricultural and Copernican/Scientific Revolution - rather than just the latter which the traditionalists dwell on). We consider the argument that human/women's/animal rights, the abolition of slavery, etc. were only able to be developed via a "scaffolding of oppression" and that modernity is far too complex to be reduced to simple narratives. Before the end of the episode we get onto the phenomenon of sudden ideological flips (e.g., revolutionary communists becoming right-wing libertarians) before touching on the radical thinker Nick Land and "accelerationism".



Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Episode 98

The sixth episode in a series with Gyrus which sprawls across a variety of topics in anthropology, cosmology, cognitive science and recent political developments. We return to questions of cosmology and its cultural impacts, particularly considering the Copernican Revolution. Gyrus provides helpful historical background to this before we consider the seemingly paradoxical pairing of humiliation and valorisation that it provided for the European branch of humanity (no longer the centre of the Universe, but clever enough to have figured that out!). In the process we touch on hermeticism, the discovery of hermetic texts during the Renaissance and Giordano Bruno's 16th century suggestion that there might be other worlds supporting lifeforms (which got him burned at the stake).



Thursday, 27 July 2017

Episode 97

The fifth episode in a series with Gyrus which sprawls across a variety of topics in anthropology, cosmology, cognitive science and recent political developments. Gyrus continues talking about his evolving ideas about "polar cosmology" leading us back to the topic of egalitarianism and how hunter-gatherer societies allowed hierarchies to develop. Gyrus describes some important work done by radical anthropologists David Graeber and David Wengrow on seasonal gatherings and how these may be key to answering this question. The 12,000 year old site at Göbekli Tepe comes up, leading on to a brief discussion of cave art and Graham Hancock's writings on the topic.



Thursday, 20 July 2017

Episode 96

The fourth episode in a series with Gyrus which sprawls across a variety of topics in anthropology, cosmology, cognitive science and recent political developments. Gyrus talks about his evolving ideas about "polar cosmology" and how there were affected by a story by anthropologist Mircea Eliade about an Australian aboriginal story, and its subsequent debunking by Eliade's successor at the University of Chicago, Jonathan Z. Smith.



Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Episode 95

The third episode in a series with Gyrus which sprawls across a variety of topics in anthropology, cosmology, cognitive science and recent political developments. We continue to discuss hunter-gatherer cultures. Gyrus talks about anthropologists such as Eliade who have sought to reconstruct paleolithic belief systems by tracing back "ancient" (actually quite recent) Greek and Mesopotamian myths to account for the sudden complexification of hunter-gatherer societies 30-20,000 years ago. He brings up the example of the (pre-agricutural) Natufian people before we briefly tangent off into discussing the origins of agriculture and the seemingly related 12,000-year-old temple complex at Göbekli Tepe (in modern Turkey). Gyrus then begins to outline the evolution of his ideas about the axis mundi and "polar cosmology" as it affected early human political structures.



Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Episode 94

The second episode in a series with Gyrus which sprawls across a variety of topics in anthropology, cosmology, cognitive science and recent political developments. Gyrus continues to explain his motivation behind his mid-late-90's journal Towards 2012, and how this led on to the journal and blog Dreamflesh. We then move on to some anthropological ideas as discussed in one of his Dreamflesh essays, these concerning seemingly egalitarian hunter-gatherers and the invisible "political" structures in which they may exist which also include various non-human "persons" (spirits, ancestors, etc.).



Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Episode 93

The first episode in a series with new guest Gyrus which sprawls across a variety of topics in anthropology, cosmology, cognitive science and recent political developments. We begin by reviewing his desktop publishing experiences in the mid-late 90's with a 'zine/journal called Towards 2012, leading to a discussion of Terence McKenna and his ideas, as seen from 2017. Gyrus contrasts my technical/mathematical critique of TM's "Timewave" theory with his own intuitive misgivings based on his understanding of the nature of Taoism and its "most sacred divination technology", the I Ching.



Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Episode 92

The ninth and final episode in a series wherein Mark Taylor talks with me about the mind-body problem and the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness. We wrap up with a discussion of the Penrose-Hameroff "microtubule-based" theory that consciousness arises as a quantum mechanical phenomenon in the nervous system. I'm reminded of a strange story involving "theatrical physicist" Jack Sarfatti who has been pushing for the manufacture of "conscious computer chips" via nano-constructed synthetic microtubules (this involves a telephone call backwards through time from a computer intelligence in the future!).



Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Episode 91

The eighth episode in a series wherein Mark Taylor talks with me about the mind-body problem and the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness. I continue to explain Robin Carhart-Davis's psilocybin research on the human brain's "default mode network", which leads Mark to explain Bernard Baars' "global workspace theory". We then start to wind things up with a (as promised in an earlier episode) an account of the Penrose-Hameroff "microtubule-based" theory of consciousness.



Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Episode 90

The seventh episode in a series wherein Mark Taylor talks with me about the mind-body problem and the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness. We continue discussing the elusive notion of the "self", leading on to a discussion of remarkable studies of people who've undergone neural comissurotomy (severing of the corpus callosum which joins the two brain hemispheres), then Benjamin Libet's groundbreaking experiments on free will. I bring up a possible link with retrocausation in "presentiment" research, and then, in response to Mark's account of how Daniel Dennett sees the brain working hard to preserve the illusion of a unified self, I'm reminded of recent psychedelic research involving the so-called "default mode network" in the brain.



Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Episode 89

The sixth episode in a series wherein Mark Taylor talks with me about the mind-body problem and the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness. We continue discussing Wittgenstein's elliptical remark about talking lions, leading Mark to bring up a recent book about someone attempting to mimic animal behaviour in great detail, which then leads back to Thomas Nagel's seminal article "What Is It Like To be a Bat?". Synesthesia and the various "modalities" of perception come up, as well as wider questions surrounding the whole idea of the "self".



Some relevant links:

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Episode 88

The fifth episode in a series wherein Mark Taylor talks with me about the mind-body problem and the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness. We continue to consider Plato's contribution to the mind-body problem via his theory of ideal forms, touching on Pythagorean and Buddhist concepts of the soul, then move on to Frank Jackson's "Mary the Brain Scientist" (or "Mary's Room") thought experiment. A Wittgenstein remark Mark quotes about talking lions then leads to a tangent involving an eccentric British zoo owner and the Canterbury psychedelic music scene of the 1960s before we get back on track.



Some relevant links:

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Episode 87

The fourth episode in a series wherein Mark Taylor talks with me about the mind-body problem and the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness. We start discussing "qualia" before being interupted by a falling artwork, this leading us into a tangent about experimental Hindu devotion and Dennett's ideas on religion. After returning to qualia, we're then led on to consider parallels between Wittgenstein's attempts to eliminate philosophical confusion and the Buddhist ideal of the boddhisattva who aims to eliminating suffering by propagating "clear perception". By the end of the episode Mark is explaining Aristotle and Plato's early contributions to the philosophy surrounding the mind-body problem.



Some relevant links:

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Episode 86

The third episode in a series wherein Mark Taylor talks with me about the mind-body problem and the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness. We continue talking about disenchantment and Richard Dawkins' role as "unweaver of the rainbow" and as one of the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism". Returning to Daniel Dennett's "zombie problem", Mark then explains Dennett's notion of "intuition pumps" and applies this to Descartes' ideas about the physical location of consciousness. This leads us off on a strange tangent about the pineal gland and Dr. David Luke's DMT experiences with pinecone-shaped entities covered in eyeballs and an artist who has produced some truly extraordinary paintings since being diagnosed with cancer of the pineal gland. We eventually find our way back to the "hard problem" of consciousness and I again invoke Thomas Nagel's seminal paper "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" as I try to get Mark to explain Dennett's materialist "explanation" of consciousness.



Some relevant links:

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Episode 85

The second episode in a new series of The Reality Report wherein Mark Taylor talks with me about the mind-body problem and the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness. We continue talking about Wittgenstein's influence on Dennett, on Russell's influence on Wittgenstein, then Dennett's "zombie argument", the film "Blade Runner", the "brain in a vat" thought experiment and other issues relating to solipsism.



Some relevant links:

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Episode 84

The first episode in a new series of The Reality Report wherein Mark Taylor talks with me about the mind-body problem and the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness.



Some relevant links:

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Episode 83

The ninth and final episode in a series wherein Juliet and I begin by jointly consulting the I Ching (ancient Chinese oracle), getting hexagram 4, "Youthful Folly", and then see where that goes. We consider various ideas about sentience and the balance of living and dead matter in the Universe before bringing things to a rather whimsical conclusion.



Some relevant links:

Episode 82

The eighth in a series of episodes wherein Juliet and I begin by jointly consulting the I Ching (ancient Chinese oracle), getting hexagram 4, "Youthful Folly", and then see where that goes. We continue to consider the question of how the phenomenon of biological life can be squared with the laws of thermodynamics (in particular the tendency of entropy to increase). I bring up Luigi Fantappiè's ideas of "syntropy" and life being "caused from the future". Juliet muses further on "entropic heat death" as the fate of the Universe, leading to a consideration of Buddhist doctrine which seems to aim for the elimination of consciousness, and the opposing tendency for certain ultra-rationalists to push for the spreading of synthetic life across the entirety of the "dead" Universe. After a detour into liminography (automatic or "threshold" writing), we return to how "Youthful Folly" could possibly be applied to our cosmological conversation of the previous few episodes.



Some relevant links:

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Episode 81

The seventh in a series of episodes wherein Matthew and Juliet begin by jointly consulting the I Ching (ancient Chinese oracle), getting hexagram 4, "Youthful Folly", and then see where that goes. They continue on the theme of disenchantment and alienation from natural environments before attempting to link the discussion back to its starting point by considering the current state of the Sun from the point-of-view of hexagram 4. This leads to a consideration of the fate of the Sun and then the fate of the Universe as a whole. Current theories of stellar evolution and "entropic heat death" are pondered before Juliet points out the immediate absurdity of thermodynamics as applied to conscious lifeforms contemplating the theory of thermodynamics.



Some relevant links:

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Episode 80

The sixth in a series of episodes wherein Juliet and I begin by jointly consulting the I Ching (ancient Chinese oracle), getting hexagram 4 "Youthful Folly", and then see where that goes. We continue to consider the extent to which various types of energy on the Earth can be related back to the Sun, touching on Thomas Gold's controversial abiogenic theory of petroleum origin, the quest for commercial nuclear fusion and the trapping of stars inside "Dyson spheres" before stopping to consider the Sun from an experiential perspective and the global/historical repository of solar myth and symbol (likewise the Moon). The contrast between these and the "official" numerical data-based descriptions of the Heavenly bodies in question leads to a discussion of disenchantment, re-enchantment and Australian aboriginal songlines.


Some relevant links: