The Reality Report

Monday, 18 June 2018

Episode 119

The fourth episode in a series discussing free will with Mark Taylor. At this point we've temporarily moved on from free will to more general issues of consciousness. Mark concludes his explanation as to why Dennett rejects the "Cartesian Theatre" model of consciousness, leading me to bring up physicist Max Tegmark's description of consciousness as "the mind creating a model of itself". Mark relates this back to Douglas Hofstadter's idea of consciousness as a kind of feedback loop, while I suddenly remember something I'd seen wherein someone has managed to show how Conway's Game of Life (a type of cellular automaton) is able to model itself - some quite remarkable footage of this is included. This then leads to the question "Could an algorithm be conscious?", which I take to be an absurd notion but Mark is less keen to rule out...



Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Episode 118

The third episode in a series discussing free will with Mark Taylor. Mark continues to talk about storytelling and narrative as ways of retrospectively making sense of events. We then go on to discuss Benjamin Libet's neuroscience experiments on voluntary muscle movement and their implications for the free will debate. Mark argues that even if the brain is capable of initiating actions before we consciously "decide" to do them, the notion of free will is not altogether lost. He invokes the ideas of philosophers Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, starting to explain some fascinating experiments involving the human field of vision, blindspots, etc. which undermine the idea of a "Cartesian theatre" from which a centre of consciousness operates.



Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Episode 117

The second episode in a series discussing free will with Mark Taylor. Mark suggests that ideas from physics like "quantum indeterminism" aren't the way to "save" free will. I pick up on the word "save" and how (just about) everyone wants there to be free will, which could lead to biases and wishful thinking in any arguments made in its favour. Mark then puts forward the idea of automata/robots of ever greater sensitivity to their environments and refinement of responsiveness, how eventually you end up with something indistinguishable from free will. This then leads me to raise the questions of: (1) predictability (which is here complicated by the fact that feedback systems involving an automaton in an evolving environment could render the automaton's behaviour effectively unpredictable); and (2) consciousness, in that we wouldn't generally attribute free will to a zombie-like entity with no self-awareness. Mark then brings up Kant's ideas about freedom depending on reason, and then the difference between reasons and causes for behaviour.



Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Episode 116

The first episode in a new series discussing the matter of free will with Mark Taylor. We begin with Mark outlining the key issues of (in)determinism and (in)compatibilism, i.e., whether the idea of free will is or is not compatible with the Universe obeying fixed physical laws. Mark explains his own position as a determinist and compatibilist, which leads me to question how the kind of "free will" this would allow could relate to the familiar, everyday sense of the term. I also raise the issue of how developments in modern physics (quantum indeterminism and statistical mechanics) have affected these philosopical questions of free will, which Mark begins to address.



Monday, 21 May 2018

Episode 115

The sixth and final episode in a series featuring religious studies scholar Angela Voss, exploring the history and nature of astrology. We continue to discuss misunderstandings surrounding the ancient Greek notion of eros, leading on to Angela talking about the true function of astrology as a consciousness-raising (rather than predictive) phenomenon. She provides a practical example of how she would apply it in her life, explaining certain astrological concepts in the process. Aristole's "Four Causes" get a mention, in particular the way in which modern scientific culture focuses entirely on two (material, efficient) and rejects the second two (formal, final).



Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Episode 114

The fifth episode in a series featuring religious studies scholar Angela Voss, exploring the history and nature of astrology. There's not much astrology in this episode, as we continue our discussion of the evolution of academia, and the emergence of the "third classroom" (Jeffrey Kripal's idea) as typified by the MA course in Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred run by Angela at Canterbury Christchurch University. She talks about the challenges involved in operating against the grain of mainstream academia, and touches on Rupert Sheldrake's observations about the differences between his skeptical colleague "on" and "off" the record when discussing certain unexplained phenomena. We end up talking about the dangers of trying to reduce the symbolic level of understanding to purely rational terms in order to satisfy skeptical critics. The almost universally experienced phenomenon of falling in love serves as a helpful example of something undeniably real that cannot be reduced in such terms, and this leads us to talk about medieval troubadours, the differences between the Greek concepts of eros and philia, etc.



Thursday, 3 May 2018

Episode 113

The fourth episode in a series featuring religious studies scholar Angela Voss, exploring the history and nature of astrology. Angela talks about 15th century astrologer/philosopher/composer Marsilio Ficino's interpretations of Plotinus' and Iamblichus' writings before we begin to discuss the transformation of academia which occured with the Enlightenment and saw the marginalising of astrology, etc. I compare the "Quadrivium"-based curriculum in medieval university settings (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy) with the STEM/finance-centred vocational training centres we see universities morphing into now. This leads Angela to bring up Jeffrey Kripal's concept of the "third classroom". Physicist/philosopher Bernardo Kastrup, a harsh critic of scientific materialism, is also mentioned in this context.



Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Episode 112

The third episode in a series featuring religious studies scholar Angela Voss, exploring the history and nature of astrology. I continue to question her about the nature of the supposed "correlation" between earthly and heavenly affairs if, as she has argued, astrology is not intended to have "predictive power". This leads into an expansive conversation exploring prediction, prophecy, fate, destiny and randomness, touching on failures of the New Age, a recent Papal Edict, the writings of Ptolemy, Plotinus, Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, natural v. judicial astrology, and Grayson Perry(!)



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: