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Do we now live in an enlightened age?

Craig Rowley is a regular Webdiarist, an esteemed moderator and a Director of Webdiary. His articles have included Everybody's talking about the bird ... but it's a very human story, Show us your true colours: An adventure into the sea of Australian humanity, and most recently (with Richard Tonkin) Follow the Big Money: Bad Business with Baghdad.

by Craig Rowley

"We should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organisation of society." - Albert Einstein (1949)

Science and technology were hailed as the new hope of humankind, as the road to wisdom and the key to happiness and freedom. Enlightenment was meant to be "man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity". That's what Immanuel Kant told us. And way back in 1784 he wrote that if asked, "Do we presently live in an enlightened age?" the answer is, "No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment."

As Peter Gay pointed out in his prize winning book The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Science of Freedom at the height of the Age of Enlightenment there seemed little doubt that in the struggle of man against nature the balance of power was shifting in favour of man. We went on to welcome modernisation with open arms and embrace the maelstrom of change that came with it. We placed scientific knowledge on a pedestal, knowledge to be esteemed above all others.

Most tend to equate science with technology, perhaps as a result of the constant reinforcement of a word association. Technology though, in its essence, precedes and is more fundamental than science. Technology, with origins in the Greek word technologia from techne (craft) and logia (saying), is about tools and techniques used to apply knowledge and achieve some practical result. The word ‘science’ comes from the Latin word, scientia, which means knowledge; thus the phrase scientia potentia est: knowledge is power.

Science and technology then are related, but not the same. The basic difference between science and technology, in the prodigious business thinker Peter Drucker's view, was not in the content but in the focus of the two areas. Science was a branch of philosophy, concerned with understanding. It was misuse and degradation of science to use it according to Plato's famous argument. Its object was to elevate the human mind. Technology, on the other hand, was focused on use. Its object was increase of the human capacity to do.

We’ve used science and technology to do things, like spark the growth of a new world, new forms of society, new ways of living. They produced for us great discoveries, changed our images of the universe (and our place in it), and they brought on the industrialisation of production. Now contemporary Western society is suffused with the products of scientific and technological 'progress', and hence the West has made its powerful presence felt in every corner of this small planet. So we’ve made our way out the dark ages and into modernity, but did the Enlightenment project really enlighten us?

Back in the eighteenth century Kant had said no, but asserted that there were “clear indications that the way is now being opened for men to proceed freely in this direction [toward enlightenment] and that the obstacles to general enlightenment - to their release from their self-imposed immaturity - are gradually diminishing.” The standing obstacles may have been diminishing, but we are creatures handy at constructing new ones. In taking up Kant's call to "Sapere Aude!" (Dare to know!) you could think we would have done a better job with Socrates' suggestion that we heed that precept inscribed in gold letters over the portico of the temple at Delphi - gnothi seauton (know thyself).

Science was meant to be a light that would, as Francis Bacon said, “eventually disclose and bring into sight all that is most hidden and secret in the universe” and it was meant to lead the way in the battle against blind faith. Instead we founded a new religion. The vast majority of scientists believe in the inviolability of progress and they do so with the driven purity of terrorists. Is it enlightened not to question the privileged status of scientific knowledge and associated technologies?

Here is a question we might ask to test our enlightenment: Could it be, as Herbert Marcuse wrote in what some consider to be the most subversive book of the twentieth century, that as a result of technical progress "a comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization"? Has science delivered us into a new kind of slavery rather than the universal liberation promised?

Francis Bacon entertained the idea of the universe as a problem to be solved, examined, meditated upon, rather than as an eternally fixed stage, upon which man walked. It didn’t seem to dissuade him from trying to construct a new eternally fixed stage of sorts though. Way back when there were relatively few readers – yet alone enlightened readers – Bacon wrote the utopian novel The New Atlantis (published would you believe by Dr Rowley). In the Introductory note to Fishburne’s 11th edition of The New Atlantis it says that “no reader acquainted in any degree with the processes and results of modern scientific inquiry can fail to be struck by the numerous approximations made by Bacon's imagination to the actual achievements of modern times”.  Bacon had imagined an ideal commonwealth; he’d depicted a society where the best and brightest citizens attended a college called Salomon's House, in which scientific experiments are conducted in Baconian method in order to understand and conquer nature, and to apply the collected knowledge to the betterment of society.

A little over two-hundred years later Aldous Huxley, member of a family that had produced a number of brilliant scientific minds, had set out his fourth novel Point Counter Point. In it his characters decry the dangers of sacrificing humanity for intellectualism, and express concern about the staggering progress of science and technology. The theme from this novel of ideas was carried through to Huxley’s fifth novel, his most famous and his first attempt at a utopian novel – Brave New World.

In between we find a history of utopia (or dystopia depending on your view) in which science is central. The widely held view of science is that scientific knowledge is proven knowledge. In the explanation of the world provided by empiricist science all knowledge is based on objectively verified sense experience and this is the way in which science was looked upon by those that set about to transform the world by scientific means.

So, given the pattern of scientists promoting their own social prescriptions, it is no surprise that in the nineteenth century, Auguste Comte, who saw himself as the Pope of Positivism, stated that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge. It was logical he would then advocate using science (as defined by empiricism) to govern human affairs. That’s why he is also known as the “grandfather of sociology” and why he penned the Plan de traveaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiser la société (1822) (Plan of scientific studies necessary for the reorganization of society). It is also why he founded what you’d have to call a vehicle to the utopia he envisioned: the Religion of Humanity, a humanistic, non-theistic religion.

There are two outstanding events in Comte’s early life that help to explain the nature of his thought. The first was his attendance at the École Polytechnique, which he came to see as the model for a future society ordered and sustained by a new elite of scientists and engineers (enter the technocrat). And it was in Paris that Comte met Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, marquis de Condorcet – French philosopher, mathematician, and early political scientist. Condorcet was an optimist on social progress, believing in the ultimate "perfectibility" of humanity.

The second great event in Comte’s life took place in 1817. It was in that year that Comte became the secretary to the French utopian so-called socialist Claude Henri de Saint-Simon and you can’t properly comprehend Comte without making some sense of Saint-Simon. By any careful definition, Saint-Simon cannot be properly labelled a socialist. The idea that he was arises because so many of his follows became socialists at a later stage. He was of an ancient noble lineage, had fought alongside Lafayette and the American revolutionaries. On his return to France he had become a friend of the financiers and speculators who flourished in the Thermidorean Reaction (the revolt in the French Revolution against the excesses of Reign of Terror) and he himself did well under the Directoire. He was just the kind of person who would be detested by fellow Frenchmen who were actual utopian socialists, like François Fourier and François-Noël “Gracchus” Babeuf.

For some time, Saint-Simon appeared to be a typical liberal aristocrat, a man who spoke a language favourable to the emerging liberal and progressive bourgeoisie. Yet Saint-Simon was something consistently more than a liberal, more than a simple-minded defender of laissez-faire capitalism. As his thought became more refined he became more and more concerned with the dangers inherent in uncontrolled individualism. Saint-Simon perceived the ramifications of the new industrialism of his own time and he attempted to place his perceptions into a broad theoretical framework. He idealised productivity, organisation, efficiency, innovation and technological discovery. Sounding familiar?

Yes, Saint-Simon condemned kings, nobles and the clergy as useless and parasitical (common enough a view in his time), but while he incorporated the working classes into his vision of the future, the workers were not to play a dominant or even important position. While manual labour would be honoured and the parasites pushed away from power, what would distinguish the new system were not so much labour but labour’s reorganisation and the application of technology to it. Thus, a meritocratic elite of intelligence and creativity would assume the highest positions of prestige and authority. Arise the technocracy. Saint-Simon was undeniably elitist.

So Comte had soaked up the Saint-Simonian view and unlike those that looked to capitalist growth with a suspicious eye, Saint-Simon had welcomed it. Both men had sought a science of human behaviour, what Saint-Simon had called a physique sociale or social physics and Comte came to call sociology. And it was sociology, Comte claimed, that would give ultimate meaning to all the other sciences - it was the one science which held the others together. Once a science of society had been developed, we’d achieve a synthesis of order and progress, opinions would once again be shared, and society would be stable. Once there was true social knowledge, people would not be as willing to fight over religious or political opinions. We would achieve true freedom.

Problem is that from Comte’s point of view true freedom is a new kind of submission. To Comte and those he influenced true freedom lies in the rational submission to scientific laws. The gradual awareness and understanding of these laws is what Comte meant by the word progress. The task then for a follower of Comte was to provide in effect a new religion and a new faith (with the technocrats as the new clergy). So Comte has a crucial, but insufficiently recognised, place in the formation of modern and post-modern thought. He and his followers set about busily building a “positive science” and a new “positive religion” - a nontheistic, atheistic religion, a religion of man and society.

What of that new religion? Based on a 'demonstrable faith', but otherwise homologous with the Catholic form of Christianity it was 'destined' to replace, the religion of Humanity was to be a triple institution. Its full establishment required dogme (a doctrine), regime (a moral rule) and culte (a system of worship), all organised and coordinated through a Positivist Church. Taken as a whole, the Positivist System would provide the scientific-humanist equivalent to what systematic theology had been in the high Middle Ages: it would serve as the intellectually unifying basis of the new industrial order. A new system of education would be needed, one geared to a lifelong process of moral education.

There were prescriptions for every major institution such as the family, the sphere of production, and the broader polity (reduced to the humanly manageable scale of a small republic). Most importantly, these institutions would be ordered and directed and that overarching direction would be provided by a leadership of temporal and spiritual authorities – les patriciens, which was to consist of bankers, industrialists and engineers (in other words the technocrats) to act as temporal authorities comprised as committees, and a new class of spirituals, the scientists-philosophers-teachers-pastors (the Positivist priesthood). Under the Positivist System it would be the elites of bankers, industrialists and engineers who would control the repressive organs of the state.

Does it all sound so strange to you? In practical terms, Comte's religious project was of course judged a complete failure. But was that failure so total? Look around and listen carefully and you can just make a hint of the Comtean Positivist System now. You can hear the echo of it in certain views of the role of family in our free-market world, in talk about work ethics (could we start to hear it in discussion of WorkChoices?), and whenever a politician says “Trust us, we’re the Government” as it sets us on a certain course (without much consultation, of course).

You can hear the echo of it in almost any voice that portrays the image of science as one of certainty and authority. I heard it the other week echoed in ideas shared by another Webdiarist. In discussion of Ralf Dahrendorf’s beliefs about an ugly phenomenon of our violent times we’d tossed around a question about how to create more harmonious relationships among the peoples of the world and the 'diarist offered a view of Eugenics as a way forward. I can’t see Eugenics on the likely path to enlightenment myself, but the other ‘Diarist professed, “In one or two generations we could have heaven on earth, a perpetual love-in.” The idea he shared sounds like it shares a lot in common with an emergent philosophy – Transhumanism, the movement advocating use of new sciences and technologies to increase human physical and cognitive abilities and improve the human condition in unprecedented ways and described by its sympathisers as the "movement that epitomises the most daring, courageous, imaginative, and idealistic aspirations of humanity" and by its critics as the "the world's most dangerous idea".

Aldous Huxley’s brother Julian, a biologist, was a proponent of Eugenics as a method of bettering society. He saw Eugenics as important for removing undesirable variants from the human gene pool as a whole, but he also believed that all peoples were equal, and was an outspoken critic both of the eugenic extremism that arose in the 1930s and of the received wisdom that working classes were eugenically inferior. He was a proponent of Transhumanism and as a Transhumanist believed that humans can and should use technologies to become more than human.

Have you considered the convergence of emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science? The Transhumanists have, and they would like to use them as well as hypothetical future technologies such as simulated reality, artificial intelligence, mind uploading (transfer of a human mind to a computer) and cryonics to fundamentally change the nature of human beings. They speculate that human enhancement techniques and other emerging technologies may facilitate a quantum leap, the next significant evolutionary step for the human species by the midpoint of the 21st century. But when you shine a light on their ideas what do you see? Do we want to go where their ideas would lead us?

From the Utopian optimism of the Age of Enlightenment, in which science and technology were upheld as agents of human liberation, through modernity - with its focus on constant change, progress and the realisation of ends, through the pessimism of the postmodern, to the heaven or hell this idea of making a technology-enabled human-transformation into a posthuman condition, science and technology have been central to debating the direction society will take in future, as well as interpretation and judgement of the path it has taken in the past. So perhaps we need to bring on some enlightenment and examine these ideas of those who want to redesign the human condition and decide whether its utopia or dystopia we see on the path ahead of us.


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That's what I have been trying to say

"It took a cognitive scientist who is also a musician to notice an obvious but scientifically ignored linkage: making music together is something that enables humans to improvise cooperation on the fly. Benzon uses his own experiences as a musician to tie the extensive citations in biology, psychology, sociology, and economics into a sense-making narrative. Benzon believes that when people make music together they create a kind of shared brain-state that exists in no single head, but emerges from the synchronised communications of a group, and uses an impressive body of knowledge to back up his case. Benzon might be proved right and he might be proved wrong, but he uses solid science and creative conjecture to make a highly readable as well as reasonable case."

That's what I have been trying to say, I haven't read the book, but I have been trying to locate this as movement within time and consciousness. Read my diary extracts, posts "overwhelmed", "Bach and TIme", "Time and Self expanded" etc.

John Henry Calvinist

John Henry Calvinist, thank you for your contributions, I need to absorb things very slowly and deeply, that is my way, just like a Jazz improviser.

The only line I know by Charlie Parker, is one of my guiding rules.

"Learn your horn and  then forget it."



Craig: “Charles, having not yet found an online version of Sartre's essay, I've gone back over our discussion on the Bingo! thread of last July in which you explained your conception of Cultural Time. Having done this I can see what you are saying about this idea you'd essentially formed from noticing how composers develop their musical language, looking at the times they lived in, who influenced them and why, and trying to picture what might be behind the sounds they create.”

Yes Craig, now go back to the comment titled Overwhelmed in this thread, were I gave my diary extracts, and see if you can work out how I developed those initial ideas in the Bingo thread.

Sartre’s description came to mind because it may be considered an example of Cultural Dissonance in the extreme, I was trying to correlate Sartre depictions to my concerns about paradigms of thought used to describe human and social reality, but which in fact are not representative of a human, social reality. The artists, poets, etc that Sartre describes, are trapped in a dissonant Cultural Time, everything becomes surreal and absurd.

In the Bingo thread, where I gave that thought experiment, I had Charlie Parker, the inventive and original alto saxophonist, who headed the bebop movement in jazz, going back in time and improvising with Mozart in Vienna. And the reverse, I tried to picture Mozart’s aural imagination coming forward in time and improvising in the setting of New York at the time of the Bebop movement initial beginnings.

It occurred to me that this movement in time would create a dissonance, and I tried to think this through as an example of what happens when cultural time frames are juxtaposed.

Depending on which direction in time you move, and depending on whether the movement is cross cultural, you can gauge the dissonance.

For example, if Mozart’s consciousness, represented by the relationship in his inner ear-mind , came forward in time within the same tradition, say to late Beethoven, and forward to Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and than Schoenberg, Mozart would be exposed to increasing dissonance. If Schoenberg was to go back in time, he would experience the opposite a consonance, because his ear-mind has already been exposed to the tradition, so therefore the tradition has already been absorbed, where as Mozart would have to absorb all the innovations of the future.

Now I than further extended the thought experiment to see how the ear-mind relationship would change if not only the ear-mind relationship was to go forward and back within the same tradition, but to go forward and back within different cultural traditions.

Charlie Parker, the 20th century African American jazz improviser, going back in time, and cross culture, to Mozart 18th century, and the reverse.

Both Mozart and Charlie Parker, would become totally dislocated, Mozart coming forward to Beethoven would probably experience mild dislocation, but bring him forward to Schoenberg and he would experience extreme dislocation.

Mind you, this is more of a background movement, not a foreground movement; up close it becomes harder to gauge the dissonance. Maybe Sartre’s depiction could be thought of as background movement, and Nazi Germany as foreground movement.

Craig: “Do you think, Charles, that we face something similar to what Sartre saw in what happened with the Czechs and Slovaks?  Do you sense our creative outlets are being stiffled or strangled in some way?”

Well Craig let me just say we should be vigilant.

In Nazi Germany most never really saw it coming, and if you did, no one would have believed you. It was gradual; let us say coming forward in time in imperceptible stages.

In Sartre’s example the movement was sudden.

I belong to an ethnic minority so, for me this has always been a concern, the dominant culture for me offers little refuge.

Do I think we face something similar, well I would leave that to others to determine, others who have more experience with Political and Social matters.

Some Further Thoughts re Disciplines

Charles...I've just been re-reading back through this (very lengthy) thread - and, I think I have some good news for you. But, first, I'll have to take a (rather lengthy) byway through some disciplinary histories/divisions.

Firstly, most of the biology we're frequently exposed to, via the media, is genetics, which has two major (and very different) subsections: genetics "proper", and population genetics - a tradition of mathematical modelling using radical (and long provenly false) simplifications, which is somewhat akin to neo-liberal economics in many ways.

Apart from some scientists (and many more science writers) making wild claims about discovering "the gene for" - rarely true apart from some genetic disorders - almost all of the grossly misleading statements to come out of biology these days seem to come from population geneticists (and their camp followers) who, like neo-liberal economists, are in love with their models, and intent on converting the rest of us.

A somewhat comparable divide exists in modern psychology: between what has (sadly) become mainstream cognitive psychology - the computational/"Artificial Intelligence"-based approaches - and developmental psychology, which has generally eschewed such models, preferring to build on the intersection between neurology, animal experiments, and the tradition of Piaget and Vygotsky...which grew out of their ingenious work with young children. I think you can easily see where my interests lie here...

Now, unfortunately, what has become known as "evolutionary psychology" mainly draws from these two model-obsessive approaches - population genetics and AI - and is, in consequence, more than somewhat dubious in my eyes. However, at the same time as that particular school became popular/established, revolutionary new imaging devices (and a variety of other technical means) changed neurology forever - to the extent that it is now generally known as neurobiology, in recognition of its larger scope.

What few of the laity are aware of, however, is that these two "fashionable" disciplines have very, very different approaches to the mind (basically rationalist vs organicist) - and that, rather than being allies, whilst evolutionary psychology does make (very selective) use of neurobiological findings, most neurobiologists ignore (or are critical of) the approach taken in the former. Pluralism in action?

In direct contrast, as one of the key founders of modern neurobiology, A.R. Luria, was Vygotsky's key collaborator in his earliest work, neurobiology and developmental psychology can easily be viewed as allied disciplines - and are certainly the closest match between any form of psychology and neurobiology.

So...next time you read an account of what some neurobiological finding "means", be very careful to discover where the writer comes from - because I've seen quite a lot of blatant misrepresentation here...particularly in support of narrow (model-driven, excessively modular) approaches that appear to have little or no following by neurobiologists themselves today. Pinker's "How the Mind Works" is a very good example of this, to cite a book already referred to in this thread.

Similarly, (but even more damningly) whilst "memetics" has plenty of followers - amongst those rationalists intoxicated by population genetics - it has produced zero in the way of genuinely new findings, after nearly thirty years of what I would (charitably) call blather. The only scholar I'm aware of that has actually got anything useful out of the idea is W.G. Runciman - and, his approach (social roles and the practices that constitute them) is enormously more limited in scope.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew go on as if the original idea meant something more than a stick to beat the religious with. No cultural historian of any reputation has taken it up - for the simple reason that it is far too vague to be analytically useful. Unfortunately, it's much, much easier to simply "buy into" an ideology than to actually understand all the factors involved, so memetics has turned - see the discussion groups for the evidence - into basically a smug religion-bashing cult. No wonder even Richard Dawkins (its originator, and a religion-basher himself) barely mentions it in his more recent work...

Now for the good news. You seem particularly troubled by two related sorts of ideas re the brain - excessively reductionist models that deny any role to creativity/human volition etc, and the lack of the social element in these and other scientific understandings of the brain.

Well, let me assure you - these (not consciousness) are the epiphenomena as far as the modern (mainstream) work goes in developmental psychology and neurobiology. The former, since Vygotsky's belated impact in the 1960s, has had an inextricably social understanding of human development, as does now the latter...albeit classical neurology (with the exception of Luria and some others) held to a more narrow view, partly due to its reluctance to examine higher brain functions. So, next time you see some science writer suggesting otherwise, be suspicious.

Science is a (very) broad church, and there are many competing sorts of explanations/theories on offer...particularly in a highly fragmented science such as psychology. Now, I have simplified here, as there are dissidents in all areas. For example, Merlin Donald's work has spawned a significant evolutionary approach that is entirely separate from the one I critique above...and one that (with the discovery of mirror neurones) is gaining more and more support.

Furthermore, most biologists and psychologists - if asked - are quite willing to come up with evolutionary speculations re their findings...which doesn't at all mean that they necessarily approve of the foundational modeling assumptions of population biology, or mainstream evolutionary psychology. Unfortunately for the casual reader, therefore, it is often difficult to assess where a researcher is coming from - in terms of their fundamental assumptions - and so, it is all too easy to lump it all together...and assume that the most strident voices epitomize what is going on.

But, as I said, take heart, because the views you appear to find most disturbing are hardly the cutting edge. Instead, they're the increasingly outdated remnants of an excessively "rationalist" turn, rapidly being superseded by a wealth of empirical evidence which has a very different look about it...social/developmental and highly responsive to experience, and whose discoverers appear quite willing to tackle the divides philosophy has built between thought and emotion, creativity and fixed action patterns and, indeed, between what you fear, and what you hope for...

The joke is, actually, that the built world abounds in self-monitoring/correcting systems, from thermostats on airconditioners on up, whilst the evidence of our crucially social nature is all over the place - including, most conclusively, the awful historical examples of feral children. Why, exactly, a clique of analytical philosophers (and their linguist allies), population geneticists, and overly rationalist psychologists should want to deny the possibility of a genuinely powerful, active, and creative conscious awareness which is inextricably social is, quite frankly, beyond me! Just put it down to one of those intellectual pathologies - like postmodernism - I suppose...but, please, don't mistake it for some kind of real scientific consensus... all the best

Some Thoughts on Time, Ideas and such

Charles, thank you for that thoughtful reply...I can fully understand, since (as you can well guess) I was feeling rather testy when I wrote yesterday.

I hope you will check out the reviews, as they are (to my mind) a very good and detailed introduction to the books. I came up with this format due to my dissatisfaction with conventional approaches, since these often told me much more about the reviewer than about the book!

As well, you might like to check out several other reviews on the site, since they have some bearing on your evident interests. In particular, I think the books by Stephen Toulmin, Peter J. Wilson, Merlin Donald, Walter Burkert, Eric Havelock, John Ralston Saul, and Theodore Zeldin you would find very useful, since all - in different ways - seriously address the question of how we create meaning in this world, and how and why this has varied over time (and place). The reviews are here, along with many others I've been accumulating...and, all of books which I feel are crucial to a properly rich form of humanistic understanding.

The governing idea - consilience - has, unfortunately, been widely misrepresented (by the inventor of sociobiology, no less), so meaning that few humanists today have any interest in it...but, it retains its original meaning - which is what happens when people drawing on different sorts of evidence (and, preferably, different traditions of enquiry) come to the same (or strongly concordant) conclusions.

To me, this remains the best way for well informed non-specialists to assess the ideas coming from specialist disciplines and, over the years, I've been heartened to find that its reliability is supported from within - as many then dissident positions I've adopted over the years are now increasingly mainstream, whilst those I rejected on these grounds are more and more embattled, if not largely dismissed, within their relevant disciplinary communities.

Now, onto your broader points, in which I found some surprising resonances. I, too, make more use of old culture than new (particularly in music)...and find its differences both illuminating and connecting with the human condition as a whole - rather than simply the mainstream of today.

Interestingly, outstanding cultural producers (horrible term, I know) almost always tend to do the same - albeit not usually with my theoretical bent - it's only the less influential ones (that allows me to fudge the notion of "genius" rather nicely) who mainly subsist on a contemporaneous diet, so you're in good company, there.

To my mind, the notion of finding one paradigm to understand humanity is a sad relic of typological thinking. Because, as in biology - except to a far greater degree - what we need is both theoretical modesty, and theoretical pluralism...which my site is attempting to promote.

As to our current fix, it's based upon the opposite - hence, I feel, much of the disillusionment with "science", too often (mis)used by policymakers as a club to beat back the pluralism of understandings and ideas we need. However, if we look past the headlines and popularizations, I'd have to say that many (or even most?) of the paradigms we need are actually out there already, and increasingly garnering support from professionals as more and more evidence comes in. This is bad news for the ideologues...but very good for the rest of us, who want a rich, creative, tolerant society that allows us to feel at home.

So, all I can say is that my approach to surviving "the onslaught of a society geared towards mass consumption, and the deadening of the creative spirit" is to learn and create...to take the human condition seriously - in all its variety across time and space - thus giving me a far stronger understanding than those who simply bow to the shibboleths of their age. But, to do so, I've had to read and listen very widely - and pay particular attention to ideas which resonate with one another, and which seem to be well supported by empirical fact, as I noted earlier.

What bothers me most, however, is that this strategy is too laborious for most, thus leaving them in the lurch. Hence one important reason, at least, for the existence of my website. For, I do feel that we need good ideas/theories, as well as creative action, in order to genuinely feel at home as human beings... all the best.

John Henry Calvinist

John Henry Calvinist, you're very well read, I just need more time to assimilate everything; maybe I am just too slow. But keep posting links to any reviews that are important, as I stated previously, sometimes a little bit of tension is a good sign, you must have caused something to stir in me.


Fair enough, discussion behind a computer screen is not always easy.


My comment on hubris should only be considered as a general comment on the propensity of humankind to place themselves at the centre of the universe and in particular at the centre of the focus of an almighty being. It is this collective hubris that is at the root cause of most of the world's ills

I would agree with you but I feel that there is the other side of the coin.

Societies and groups from within society create meaning, and it is this relationship to meaning that creates identity, but ideas and creative pursuits like everything else in the universe must end, they lose their vitality, and constantly need renewing.

I agree with you, that hubris is at the root cause of most of the world’s ills, but I would further qualify it by saying, that the opposite of having no connection to identity is also not an answer.

What I am saying is that we also need to orientate ourselves to the universe and create meaning, or else we are left bereft of meaning in our lives, and that for me is the paradox.

We don’t know how to let go and let life find its natural balance.

Music and the Mind

Craig...I've read the Robert Jourdain book you mention and, whilst it does make some interesting points, as you know, the findings of neurobiology have increased dramatically since 1988. If you haven't seen them yet, I can strongly recomend William Benzon's Beethoven's Anvil and Steven Mithen's The Singing Neanderthals – the former's idea (and evidence for) what he terms "neural coupling" through music is very suggestive re your evident interests.

Music, aesthetics and the mind have been central to my research interests for about fifteen years now, but to my mind the really adequate theories – such as Benzon's and Mithen's (which dovetail nicely) – have only really emerged in this century. Admittedly, both are indebted to Merlin Donald's groundbreaking work re what he termed "mimetic culture" (I've done a review, but will desist from linking here as some seem to take this amiss), but Donald didn't directly address music much as such, so it doesn't really count except as a forerunner...

Hope you find this useful.

Beethoven's Anvil

Yes, most useful, thanks JHC. I'll follow up and read Benzon's book, especially after seeing this review by Howard Rheingold:

It took a cognitive scientist who is also a musician to notice an obvious but scientifically ignored linkage: making music together is something that enables humans to improvise cooperation on the fly. Benzon uses his own experiences as a musician to tie the extensive citations in biology, psychology, sociology, and economics into a sense-making narrative. Benzon believes that when people make music together they create a kind of shared brain-state that exists in no single head, but emerges from the synchronised communications of a group. and uses an impressive body of knowledge to back up his case. Benzon might be proved right and he might be proved wrong, but he uses solid science and creative conjecture to make a highly readable as well as reasonable case.

I also found something interesting. Correspondence between Benzon and others on a memetics discussion list from back in 2001.

Music, Theory, and Memetics

, many thanks for the compliment - that's what I attempt to do, at any rate. You may also be interested to read Benzon's lengthy (and very complimentary) essay/review of the Mithen  - "despite" the fact that they take different (albeit complementary) approaches to understanding music, whilst still both leaving crucial aspects (such as the neglected role of timbre) largely unexplored. This, I feel, simply underscores the vital necessity of a genuinely rich theoretical pluralism - especially when it comes to the most complex areas of human experience, such as aesthetics.

In fact, although my new humanities project started (in the early 90s) as an attempt to make sense of aesthetics (particularly musical aesthetics), I rapidly found out that taking the task seriously meant I'd have to properly engage with the entirety of the humanities, as well as a lot of the sciences as wello, therwise I'd simply be making assumptions which have no warrant as to the "correct" understanding of some issue. In consequence, at this stage, aesthetics is still severely under-represented in the books I've reviewed (although that will start to change soon). So, I can easily understand why Charles takes the line he does...trying to understand music is just about as complex as understanding gets - if you really think about it - and eventually forces you to tackle just about every issue of lasting consequence to human beings.

A note re Benzon and memetics... like many others, he's intrigued by the idea, but feels that it badly needs clarification and development. If you look at the discussion list you mention (I have, at some length) and target the disputes he has with others, you'll soon see just how closed almost all "contributors" are to such ideas - and how fervent anti-religion is such an irritatingly consistent theme. I've corresponded with Benzon, and he told me that he now only visits such sites intermittently - to see if there's any new signs of thought - and feels that it has now mainly become a scientistic cult.

His own recent approach - abandoning "memes in the head" as both unworkable analytically and biologically implausible - does do away with some of the difficulties... but, to my mind, Runciman's model, which he doesn't call memetics anyway, is probably the only candidate for such relatively stable replicators in human behaviour which is likely to produce major insights in the future. There's a review on my site in which he explains what he's on about, and also shows that it is possible for a sociologist to think/write incisively and entertainingly!

So, just as I have serious doubts re the strong version of Mithen's explanation re cognitive fluidity, so too I feel Benzon is too soft on the idea of memes... and, after almost thirty years, I do feel that they've had a fair trial. I've read some of Benzon's other work, detailing and using his "memes in the world" approach and, frankly, I still can't see that it's particularly relevatory about its subject matter. Still, both books, in many other ways, seriously advance our understandings of music. You can't have everything!

All the best.

All the best

That's why I value reading your material here and on The New Humanities so highly JHC - it helps me keep track on all the best and brightest.

I'm most grateful for your take on Benzon's contribution to that discussion list and I'm still interested in exploring memetics to come to my own conclusions about whether it has had a fair trial. If anything it will be a fruitful exercise should it trigger thinking about other concepts.

I know what you mean about theoretical pluralism. I've always found the interdisciplinary lines most interesting to follow.


John Henry Calvinist, fair enough. I actually appreciate your references, gives me more to explore, I shouldn’t really have made that last post, because I was feeling too unsettled and unfocused in my own mind.

It was more a reflection of my own doubt, which is not a bad thing. It’s easy to build up ideas and to gain a certain security from them. If you start to challenge them too quickly, it can leave you with the feeling of having nowhere to place your feet, as if someone has taken the ground from underneath your feet. I don’t think this is necessarily the same thing as arrogance or hubris, but maybe I am mistaken.

It wasn’t only your post in isolation it was a number of them as they accumulated and I started to loose my focus on what was important to me.

Craig, the whole chemical issue is very new to me, so I am really in the dark and have only really given it any thought during this discussion.

Craig I appreciate you telling me about your musical experiences because I can start to compare them with my own.

You may have noticed I have this obsession with time, so my focus is more with listening on a larger time frame, for example I am more fascinated in listening to music and making comparisons with sounds that are separated in larger distances in historical time, for example say Early Church music to Mozart, or Mozart to the present day.

Why do I do this? My answer would probably be because I feel culturally adrift; maybe you could call it old fashioned alienation.

I do not watch TV or pay much attention to modern culture, and the reason for this is that I simply do not feel as if I belong.

The larger time frame gives me more room to compare what is happening in the background, for example political, social etc, and this may be hard for you to understand, but being adrift in time actually gives me a sense of being connected to something much larger, and I achieve a sense of security from this, the more telescoped approach of say reducing the time frame to years and decades would not leave as much room, but does offer its own advantage. Your thinking is more in the foreground to my background.

Not sure if I am making any sense, but basically I guess when I am lost in larger time frames I feel a certain connection to something much larger, and this connection gives me a sense of security that I don’t have in my immediate time.

My concern with the chemical issue is probably based on my own fears: if a person is totally out of step with his social environment, for example because of cultural reasons, inner sadness, depression, grief, alienation, mental illness can result. Now what do you do, if you are such a person, and are trying to find your way, out of the dark?

The wider society may have no idea of what is causing your inner turmoil; all they see is someone who is showing signs of not being able to cope.

Do I take medication to adjust myself to something that may in fact be harmful to me?

Craig, we all have different levels of perception, and I have very serous doubts whether the institutions of this country are placing any importance on what gives a real sense of inner connection with the social environment. What I see happening is a trend towards drowning out all differences. I think people who have no trouble with the dominant mindset and its cultural representations would not feel as threatened, but what happens to people who have different needs, perhaps of a more creative bent?

How does a person alive to his inner being survive the onslaught of a society geared towards mass consumption, and the deadening of the creative spirit?

Whatever paradigm you use to describe the human condition, whether it be chemical, biological, or whatever is the latest concept used to explain the human condition, what if the society itself allows no time for the creative spirit to develop?

Can you see what I am trying to say with cultural time: it’s my way of having a reference point outside my own immediate time, a reference point that gives me a measure?

With this measure I can gauge if I am out of step, or if it is in fact my surroundings that is out of step.

Was Nazi Germany in step with the creative spirit?

In one of the Fascist posts, some one gave a link to a description of how fascism just crept up on everyone without anyone noticing, well what if an individual does notice?

I have been reading some Sartre lately, in particular an essay he wrote, called, Czechoslovakia: The Socialism that came in from the Cold. Do you know of it?

Havel and others describe their experiences with what was imposed onto their culture, and it really resonates deeply with me. Their experiences were of the background type I tried to explain, but what I found interesting was what to me was the confusion of foreground and background, when institutionalised lies becomes so engrossed as to believed by the majority. How does anyone respond with honesty to what is coming out of his depth? Most people are terrified to get out of step; it takes a lot of self confidence and courage in certain periods of social insecurity.

Craig, it would be great if you could get to read the Sartre essay, I would be very interested in what you think of it.

I will take a deeper look at the other links you left.

Comprehending Cultural Time

Charles, having not yet found an online version of Sartre's essay, I've gone back over our discussion on the Bingo! thread of last July in which you explained your conception of Cultural Time. Having done this I can see what you are saying about this idea you'd essentially formed from noticing how composers develop their musical language, looking at the times they lived in, who influenced them and why, and trying to picture what might be behind the sounds they create.

Do you think, Charles, that we face something similar to what Sartre saw in what happened with the Czechs and Slovaks?  Do you sense our creative outlets are being stiffled or strangled in some way?

Sartre on Czechoslovakia

No, I'm sorry Charles, unfortunately I've not read that essay by Sartre.

I've looked for it online and discovered only that it is a 1970 essay in the book Between Existentialism and Marxism in which Sartre says, "The machine cannot be repaired; the peoples of Eastern Europe must seize hold of it and destroy it." 

I've been able to make out that the machine, or the "Thing" as he otherwise called it, was Soviet Communism and that Sartre's concern in this essay was to show how the Soviet's system of imposed socialism had been internalised by the Czech and Slovak peoples.

I understand it was written as his response to seeing true nature of the Soviet Union when it crushed Czechoslovakian reforms with tanks.

But I've not yet found a copy I can read online.

Music Cognition, Chemicals and Memes

Charles, your various questions have prompted me to start looking into the subject of music cognition and how an understanding of how the mind makes sense of music as it is heard (not as a score is read) draws on neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology more generally, music theory and musicology, computer science and philosophy.

I came across an idea Robert Jourdain expressed in his 1998 book, Music, The Brain and Ecstasy: How Music Captures our Imagination:

Psychologists have long known that different personality types are attracted to different types of drugs, legal and illegal. There's a parallel here. We "take" a certain type of music to steer our central nervous systems towards a particular condition: hard rock as the frenzied rush of cocaine; easy-listening genres as a martini; cheery supermarket Muzak as a pick-me-up cup of coffee; cool jazz as a laid-back marijuana high; the far flung landscapes of classical music as the fantasy realm of psychedelics.

He's saying that when we hear music the effect on our neurochemistry is similar to the effects of a direct chemical intake. I wonder how far the implication goes and I sense that thinking this through may go some way to answering your questions.

A few years ago I was a volunteer community educator with the beyondblue / Mental Health Research Institute's Depression Awareness Research Project (DARP). We attended a few weekend workshops to learn how to be a community educator and deliver presentations to people in our communities that raised awareness of major depression as a common illness (not a character flaw) that is serious but thankfully treatable. Now the reason for this backgrounding is this: when I mentioned music at one of the workshops everyone in the group of about 30-odd people sparked up and enthusiastically entered into discussion of music and mood. Some focused on 'moody' music that seemed to call on the black dog, whilst others were more eager to highlight how music raises one high. There was also some talk of subcultures and how musical preferences feature so centrally as a kind of cultural knowledge in a subculture.

I reflected on my own life journey and my changing 'taste' in music and my own shifts through various subcultures. (A quick aside here: I first went to write Australian subcultures and then thought they may well have been more global than local in character as I grew up in the lastest age of globalisation).

I remember that despite not being raised in what you might call a musical family I was exposed to a wide variety of musical influences. The choir music I'd hear as a child in Catholic churches as well as the reggae tapes my dad had in his collection for example. I recall classical music filling my grandparents' homes and popular music of the seventies on the radio (particularly in the car and our kitchen). Of all this eclectic influence my ear was most tuned into the reggae and 'surf rock' my old man had been into.

I recall the very first cassette tape I bought for myself with my own saved up pocket money. It was Complete Madness by the British Ska band Madness, and as well as getting into the music I'd entered a far flung outpost of the second-wave Ska subculture that had somehow been taken up by some parts of the skateboard centred subcultures of suburban Sydney. It'll be interesting to look back and try an answer some of the why questions: Why did some surburban Sydney skateboarders get into Ska? Why were we receptive to an influence such as this?

And I could ask the similar questions for some of the other subcultures I shifted into, some as a result of the evolution of skateboarding subculture and others as I explored new ground. For example, I recall my own exposure to some early hip-hop influences and at school I had a number of friends into each of the four disciplines. I remember well the turn from an old school party vibe to gansta rap was mirrored in the culture as much as the music. I can understand why gansta rap emerged on the US east and west coasts but why it caught on in Sydney's western suburbs is anyone's guess.

I recall how for a few years, those hard senior school years when you prepare for your HSC and feel all the horrible stress that comes with it, that I slipped into a stage where I'm sad to say I listened to little else but indie stuff and far too much of The Smiths in particular.

I recall how I dropped the indie scene and had my enthusiasm for hip-hop was energised again when I did a stint at 2SER in 1990 and got into DJing. We were mucking about with a big reel to reel and we recorded a mix of Public Enemy lyrics on a Stone Roses (Fool's Gold) instrumental track. That blend of sounds set me on a course into yet another subculture.

My mates (both old and new friends met through work and university), and me as keen as any of them, took a trip into an emergent subculture in the period from the summer of '89 through the early '90s - we were Ravers. To begin with I was a master of the mix tape and would splice together as close to a seamless Techno or House beat mix as you could get without turntables or computerised technology. Later I got my two Technics 1200s and a simple two-channel mixer, learned some basic techniques and cut all kinds of sounds for fun at home and house parties with friends.

Exploration is the best word I could use to describe the character of the subculture my party people friends and I were a part of. I found fabulously diverse musical histories to explore in the music we used to create an environment of enjoyment at our parties. To this day I'm still exploring them. I've been on the journey through jazz, blues, soul, the funk, and disco. Visited tribal sounds, Brazilian beats, experimental electronica and bangra. Hip-Hop, Trip Hop, Drum 'n' Base to 2Step back into ragga, reggae and roots more generally.

And with each style of music there are the subcultures that spawned it and the subcultures it now acts to sustain in some way. With each subculture comes a new set of memes and many of these are transmitted via the virus like infectiousness of new sounds in each style of music.

Hubris, Authority and Learning

Charles, just depends what you mean by "culture" and, of course, what you mean by "institutions". Using inclusive, rather than exclusive definitions, I'd say that, no, cultural transmission is much broader than that - but that it can only be transmitted via human interaction, which I don't think is exclusive to institutions, however defined.

And, no Charles, I don't think it's a sign of hubris to be irritated when people make basic to their arguments incorrect assumptions about an intellectual tradition of enquiry that I have studied at some length. I don't pretend to be a saint - and it also (importantly) happens not to be my "truth" that I'm touting here... merely the work of two very influential workers in these areas, who I happen to know (from other reading) are very inclusive and fair-minded when it comes to assessing/analyzing the truly vast range of evidence. Moreover, the "reviews" you so cuttingly dismiss are mainly composed of lengthy (and very carefully selected) quotes from the books under discussion - they are intended to serve mainly as a precis/introduction to the book's main arguments, not as the self-promoting devices you so unfairly appear to assume. Had you bothered to look at same, before making your assumption, you would have noticed this very quickly.

Hubris, to me - aside from the original Greek meaning - connotes massive arrogance as to one's own opinions... most clearly revealed in the blatant dismissal of lines of evidence which don't happen to fit. Thing is, as I made clear, there simply IS no such "line" when it comes to such statements as "we are all just chemicals". Without the emergence of truly crucial new structuring factors at higher levels of the hierarchy, there simply is no biology... and all biologists accept this so, whilst I'll plead guilty to irritation (and to less than diplomatic phrasing), I really can't see that personal hubris has anything at all to do with it. Meanwhile, I stand by the statement you found offensive: simply because it happens to be true. Had this not been the case, the "issue" of chemicals - at least, tackled in this matter - would've simply been a non-starter. You may not like that conclusion, but it's clearly derived from the evidence provided by this discussion, and reinforced by Ross Chippendale's questioning of me on exactly this issue.

And so, Ross... I think you clearly mistake the point of my argument. It's not that we aren't entirely composed of chemicals (at one level of analysis), it's that biological entities can't at all be usefully explained/understood on this level, as the Ernst Mayr quotation on "organicism" (and the embedded quotes) explained. For example, sure serotonin impacts on mood - as do several other chemicals. But, to even BEGIN to understand how it does so (or why), we need a working understanding of cell action/organization, as well as something similar at the level of the nervous system... and no reductive account of same stuck at the chemical level has, or can, provide us with that. Please try re-reading the Mayr quote, as it does help explain this. Since functional entities at higher levels of organization actively constrain/shape the activities of entities at lower levels of the hierarchy, it is simply not possible to provide a complete account solely in "chemical" terms - we need to understand things in a much more complex fashion. Thus, when I said "vacuous", I meant that literally... since not only do such entirely reductive explanations not exist, they could not exist...

On "quoting someone else's thought" as being "rather trite"... personally, I totally disagree, as do the vast majority of writers, in my experience. Authority, by my estimation, is not merely assumed - that, on the contrary, is fake authority, and best treated with contempt - it is EARNED... by seriously/critically taking into account all of the relevant forms of evidence, and can be usefully assessed (particularly in a relatively mature science such as biology) by the writer's peers in his/her area. That both Stephen Jay Gould and Edward O Wilson (to cite only the best-known of the book's many highly influential scientist reviewers) offered strong praise for Mayr's work is a very good indication of its quality, in my estimation. Moreover, when I make (or read) complex arguments drawing upon specialist knowledges, I vastly prefer to have the original thinker's own words as evidence as to how they thought, rather than merely burying everything in uniform prose. Because, dialogue is simply a much more interesting (and fruitful) form than monologue.

Moreover, this is not merely "opinion" we're talking about here - it's the working (and highly productive) philosophy of an entire science... developed over centuries as the resolution of the long-standing dispute between mechanistic and vitalist approaches, both of which were rejected early this century, for reasons that Mayr explains. Given this history, I do think it's excessively relativistic to put the entire thing down as mere "opinion". To attempt to revive a purely mechanistic/physicalist account of biology, contra the experience/knowledge of biologists themselves en mass, seems to me both ill-informed and hubristic... The reason, quite simply, why readers here probably haven't heard of "organicism" is that it is uncontroversial. Very real disputes exist in biology, true, but they are within this framework, and do not challenge its basic premises, which have rather been strengthened and reinforced by the plethora of new findings and theories in recent years. Unfortunately, many popular accounts, by stressing controversy to make their books more "interesting", end up badly misrepresenting the sciences they write about...and tend to leave their readers with a very poor understanding of the basics which underly such disciplines. And, whilst at least two readers here have felt that, in saying so, I insulted them, I nonetheless will not resile from this position, since nothing that has been said here contradicts it in any way. Me? I'm always on the lookout for quality new books and ideas... and am always changing my understandings of complex issues as a result. But, some things, nevertheless, are basic to proper understandings of any sort and, organicism (rather than its ancestors) is definitely one of these.

All the best.


Labels are very powerful, even if they are only inferred.

Looking back on this thread, especially the last few posts, rational argument has been replaced by labels, for example, in relation to chemicals being political, I posed a specific issue to Roger, that is,  culture can only be transmitted via institutions, now the issue  was totally ignored. There is a very important point to be made here, which is how do we have a multicultural society, when the institutions are made up of very real and specific power groups? Am I being unreasonable to suggest that the chemical paradigm of the brain can be used within a monolithic cultural power group to sedate ethnic minorities or other marginalised groups?

Please Craig or anyone else can I have some feedback on this issue?

I accept that this is an open forum, and I accept the decisions of the moderators, because I believe that it is the only way to structure rational arguments, and let me state that I feel overall that I have been treated very fairly, but the last posts have been more emotive than rational.

For example Ross’s post is incredibly rich in emotive power; it can be read in so many ways, that it is very hard to interpret, and Ross it is very hard for me to respond to your post, because I am not sure how much of it is your PROJECTIONS of your situation on to me and how much of it is an analysis of your predicament. Ross the material is far too personal and emotive, I read your last post addressed to me and I could not work out what was being addressed to me, or what was being inferred.

More examples.

Roger: “We are all these things, from the sub-atomic level to abstractism but as I wrote in my last post to Charles C what we are really good at is hubris.”

John Henry Calvinist: “Little shared by many who spout pop-science exaggerations.”

“And, to be blunt, some on this thread appear to badly need instruction as to exactly what the mainstream in the sciences they invoke actually have to say about life. Perhaps a trip to the bookstore is in order?”

Than John directs us to his web site, so that we can all bask in the light of his truth.

To be fair, John Henry Calvinist also referenced what appear to be very interesting books, which I intend to read.

My question to John is, is it not a sign of hubris to communicate in the tone you choose, and I would like to put the same question to Roger who seems to think that hubris is in the eye of the beholder.

For example in all my dealings with Craig, this has not been the case, I have never felt this way, Craig will simply say, Charles is this what you mean by this term, or something like that., in other words there is no projection or set of inferences put in place, or implied labelling.

I would appreciate a response from the moderators on this issue.

Is it fair that reasonable questions addressed to a person are ignored?

Hamish: it's not against the guidelines to ignore someone's question, and especially as there is not just one moderator it would be impossible to police otherwise. I do consider it courtesy to address specific questions directed to one, and if you feel there is something that can be inferred by someone ignoring a question, do point it out.

I Missed It

Charles, I can only say that I missed your question. In any case, I don't have an opinion on cultural transmission that would fruitfully further the discussion.

My comment on hubris should only be considered as a general comment on the propensity of humankind to place themselves at the centre of the universe and in particular at the centre of the focus of an almighty being. It is this collective hubris that is at the root cause of most of the world's ills

The chemical paradigm

Charles: "Am I being unreasonable to suggest that the chemical paradigm of the brain can be used within a monolithic cultural power group to sedate ethnic minorities or other marginalised groups?"

To properly address your question, Charles, I'll need to develop a better understanding of what you mean by the "chemical paradigm of the brain". Do you mean something akin to the ideas coming out of the science called biological psychiarty or biopsychiatry or something else?

Charles, my understanding of cultural transmission is that it is the process of passing on culturally relevant knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values from person to person or from culture to culture. To my knowledge the dominate paradigm, the prevailing worldview (at least in the West), is a genetic model of cultural transmission -- the concept of memetics -- not a chemical one.


Hello Ross,

I have sent you an email, maybe greater clarity will be achieved by direct communication.


You asked the questions about mental health or a balanced and healthy mind. This is rather long but expresses my thoughts and opinions on such questions.

Before I start that I was hoping you, Charles, might be able to point me to where your concept of Cultural Time is explained, or if you could give your understanding of that.

Firstly who decides if you have a balanced and healthy mind? Well there are a few ways this is determined with the mostly accepted one being that society through opinion and medical examination do so. How does society decide this? Well by basically identifying those who appear to "think differently" which is demonstrated through behaviour and interaction with the rest of society. If some people view the world in a totally differnet way to the rest of society the judgement is usually that the few are out of step and thefore cannot be "normal."

Medical science has defined as many mental conditions as they have been able to up to date and each of these has a set of criteria upon which the diagnosis hinges. If a person's thinking, usually as expressed through behaviour, meets sufficient numbers of those defined criteria, or symptoms, then a diagnosis of condition X can be made.

I should state here though that human's understanding of how the brain works is really fairly limited and as such today's opinions, treatments and decisions are made in what may be considered a primitive setting in the future.

So the majority of these decisions are made essentially by medical practitioners, usually though following periods where people who know and interact with a person identify behaviour that is out of the norm or not acceptable to that group. Society judges many to be mentally ill when they don't meet any defined criteria for known mental illnesses. That is just the usual response to someone who does not conform with what most think is "right" or "normal."

Of course the issue of what is normal is a moot point too. I certainly don't believe that society can always make such decisions although it does and of course many just follow along with such opinions simply because they don't want to be out of step themselves.

When it becomes clearer is when a person who behaves in a manner that is dangerous to themselves or others then society and medical opinion and practice may be required to intervene and make a decision followed hopefully by acceptance from the identified person and agreed treatment. Not always so of course.

Many of us don't know we have a mental illness as if you think and act in a particular way for most or all of your life you think it is normal and that everyone feels the same as you. Why would you think any different?

Eventually though there usually comes a time when such an individual cannot avoid the facts. That their thinking and behaviour is indeed out of whack and the person is in need of intervention and help through treatment. Hopefully the person comes to this conclusion before society through family, friends and workmates identify the problem. If the person doesn't acknowledge the problem then forced treatment and confinement may result.

The whole question of what is normal is the key issue I think. What's normal to me may be totally unknown to others and I may not have any clue why others think that. The reverse applies too, in that I may think such a group of opinionated people are themselves off the planet. Who is right?

I don't believe anybody is "right" in such a situation. If the person identified does not acknowledge the alleged illness and lives perfectly unharmed and is no danger to anyone else I cannot see that there is a problem.

Sometimes I think that those who are supposedly insane are either the happiest or unhappiest people on our planet. For instance if someone believes they are Jesus himself, who can harm them? They can accept everything with the style Jesus is reported as having done. Nothing can harm or upset such a person as their belief is true and full. Who knows, they may even be right! Who is to say anyone is not Jesus or any other character from history? Society judges that as does medical science but the person may be complete with their own knowledge regardless of other's opinions.

What is a balanced and healthy mind? I don't think there is a direct answer to that Charles. It's a question more for an individual to answer for themselves. If you feel complete and you deal with life as needed etc then they may well be right too. It's the interaction between individuals and society that really can be the telling factor. I may be totally satisfied with my own thoughts and feelings but also totally unable to deal with other people. That then becomes a choice of isolating (which is not totally possible anyway) or adjusting to what society wants. For example by taking medication an individual may be fully capable of work, life and interaction without any harm or unpleasantries with anyone. At home they may not take medication and act as they wish.

As to chemically balanced, that is fairly well recorded at this time, for the level of knowledge that medical science has. They are able to identify through blood and similar tests whether a brain and body is deficient in a particular chemical or drug and treatment is often aimed at adjusting that chemical's balance or level within the body and/or brain.

Again though, this is only what we know and accept today as normal and best treatment.

Bi-polar depression has extremes of high elation, confidence and certainty, followed by the direct opposite, low or absent self esteem, totally negative feelings about everything, no ability to see anything other than the worst outcomes of any event and so on. The change from one to another varies in time intervals with some experiencing what's called rapid cycling where the mood goes up and down in short periods. That is the worst case as the person and anyone associated with them has no idea what is coming next. Many experience longer periods of either or both which makes it more manageable but no less distressing. For example after a long period of feeling the best etc a drop back to the lows seems like the end of the world and some of those with bi-polar deliberately choose not to take medication simply to avoid that drop back, they sometimes describe it as dying as the loss is so severe.

Bi-polar, or periods of mania and hypomania (milder form of mania) can be brought on by treatment with anti-depressants and this must be monitored regularly by a person's doctor. I would always suggest a psychiatrist rather than a GP simply because they have more knowledge and experience in that field.

I've had one such experience which lasted for about six weeks. I was being treated in Darwin by a complete moron but I didn't know that until after I left Darwin.

As a result I did experience hypomania for that six week period although it wasn't identified as such until I got to Brisbane nearly a year later.

It's hard to describe how the highs of hypomania make you feel and think and I cannot comment on the deeper forms of mania other than from reading but what I can say is that period of six weeks was the best I've ever felt. No drugs or other substances have given me such a feeling of mental strength and power.

I didn't have a negative thought, I saw only positive things in life. The best way I can describe it is to compare with what we function as at so called normal levels. In that state we are told we are using about 10% of our brain's capacity. I think that is still the general consensus.

That six week period felt like my mind had additional resources on tap. Answers appeared instantly, problems began to disappear, everything looked and felt good. My behaviour changed from withdrawn and miserable to outgoing and happy. Like a car used to being in first gear suddenly finding there are actually five gears and they are all available. It was that powerful for me and I was devastated when it stopped, which it did overnight for no apparent reason. Suddenly I was back in the "dead zone" and there I've been ever since although I am on top of managing my depression and anxiety. Like many I know I will need treatment probably for the rest of my life but I'm OK with that as, in the end, anything to avoid the dreadful lows is worth while and makes life liveable, even wonderful some days.

I have also know a couple of bi-polar people who deliberately stop medication when they want to be creative, accepting the risks that brings. They do though have trouble deciding or being forced to resume their treatment, for obvious reasons.

A bi-polar person on a high can be extremely charismatic, charming, convincing, confident and creative beyond their normal capacity. This is fairly well known with quite a number of famous people suffering the condition but still managing to produce wonderful performances of results of their activities. Probably comedians are best known for this. The image of the clown, sad in private but funny in public. Winston Churchill is probably one of the most well know depression sufferers but look at his career.

What am I saying? I don't necessarily accept that how I feel when normal is the state man is supposed to be in. There is more than what we know and feel within our capacity and there is evidence of that.

Mind you the dangers of bi-polar also can be extremely damaging to both the individual and society. Mania can convince a person of almost anything. Mania is mainly unreality, fantasies in our heads, our brains creating images and thoughts that are not real and the danger is in believing those to be reality. Insanity is where it leads.

What does all this have to do with our thinking being affected, indeed determined, by chemical balance? Firstly my experience was brought on by the introduction of anti depressants which in turn were not monitored properly by my medical carers. My thinking, speed of talking and outlook should have told any competent GP that I was in trouble.

It is common knowledge amongst the medical fraternity that anti-depressants may have such an effect and to ignore the signs was blatant incompetence. I even asked my GP and psych at the time if I was expereiencing mania or something similar and they both said NO. How they responded was "If you think you may be experiencing mania then you wouldn't be asking the question". Bullshit, that's a trite old cliche that is false.

Secondly such highs, and lows are controlled by a range of chemicals, drugs as prescribed. Lithium is one such drug. What it achieves is a balance between highs and lows, hopefully an even mood all the time with no fluctuations. That is not an attractive thought if you are feeling as good as I was, or better. Fortunately my experience was ended without any specific intervention and it has not repeated. If it hadn't stopped of it's own accord I doubt I'd be around today as I certainly wouldn't have chosen to end it.

There are a range of "mood stabilisers" such as lithium and they are all capable of evening out people's mood swings. They are usually taken though with other drugs depending on the person's needs and symptoms. Anti depressants and psychotic drugs in conjunction with mood stabilisers achieve the balance for most so they can live a life where such mood swings are not a danger.

Clearly our brains and our thoughts are and can be varied by the addition or subtractioon of various chemicals. Alcohol, marijuana, party drugs, street drugs are all aimed at doing just that although we, as a society, don't know the long term effects of at least some of those. Even where society does know the long term effects, such as with alcohol, there is absolutely no thoughts or actions taken to prevent the dangers. Token efforts are made but in reality our society does not want alcohol to lose it's hold on us. Other drugs though are made illegal when they may actually be less harmful to people.

What is a balanced and healthy mind Charles? Really I think it is something an individual only really knows. Society makes judgements but I don't know that such judgements are either fair or relevant in many cases. Only where behaviour is out of control and a danger to an individual or others should there be a need to intervene.

Throughout our history there have been many "eccentrics" who have lived full lives, frequently in mainly isolation, and have been regarded simply as eccentrics. Such people certainly think and feel differently to the majority but do not harm anyone so they are left alone, a good thing.

Am I advocating mania or hypomania as the way to go? By no means. It creates dangerous unreality for individuals who are convinced their experience is valid and true. The dangers are clear are they not? I'm simply saying, long windedly, that what is considered to be a healthy mind is only assessed by our level of medical and scientific knowledge. This will change in the future as man experiments with the possibilities and there may even be some enlightenment along that road. Although my low opinion of mankind tells me such advancements will be controlled by the few, as usual.

Love Your Hypothalamus

I heard the theory, in that "What The Bling Do We Know" film, that all of humankind's reactions to situations were generated by physiological and psychologocal responses to hypothalamus created chemicals, and that we modified our existences to satiate our addictions to these self-drugs.

If the concept holds water then an artificial chemical reprogramming might, over a couple of generations, considerably increase mankind's self-contentedness. Perhaps the five million clones of my granddaughter, each with a potential lifespan of six hundred years, won't care about their individual survival chances as they're flung out to colonise the galaxy, their internal sense of self-fulfillment having augmented their happiness to participate in a collective experiment.

Cultivated nobility or engineered brainwashing, who can say? The moral of the story? Love your hypothalamus - before someone else does.

Chemicals and such.

I'd like to second here Scott Dunmore's plug for Melvin Konner's brilliant "Tangled Wing" - my review at New Humanities - now (again, after a complete re-write) far and away the best book on behavioural biology around, and the most elegantly written to boot!

Furthermore, as to "chemicals"... I really can't see the point in such statements, as they are in essence vacuous. We could just as easily, after all, say that "We are merely quarks and leptons" - but, again, such an "explanation" actually delivers nothing in the way of understanding... and, to be blunt, it doesn't even firmly support materialism, as the exact nature of said entities is currently the focus of highly fraught (and very technical) debate amongst leading physicists. This is not to say that new age nonsense about mysterious forces is anything but that... merely to insist that reductionism has clear limits - and that no working biologist finds any use in simply "chemical" level explanations...

For, such "explanations" are also in gross contradiction with the basic modern philosophy of biology - hierarchical rather than simply reductionist - most coherently discussed by Ernst Mayr (last surviving great of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and a key thinker in this area) who puts it very well in this account of the development of his own philosophical understanding (from his recent book This is Biology):

More and more clearly, I began to see that biology was a quite different science from the physical sciences; it differed fundamentally in its subject matter, its history, its methods, and its philosophy. While all biological processes are compatible with the laws of physics and chemistry, living organisms could not be reduced to these physiochemical laws, and the physical sciences could not address many aspects of nature that were unique to the living world. The classical physical sciences, on which the classical philosophy of science was based, were dominated by a set of ideas inappropriate to the study of organisms: these included essentialism, determinism, universalism, and reductionism. Biology, properly understood, comprises population thinking, probability, chance, pluralism, emergence, and historical narratives. What was needed was a new philosophy of science.
(Mayr, p.xiii)

This new paradigm [organicism] accepted that processes at the molecular level could be explained exhaustively by physiochemical mechanisms, but that such mechanisms played an increasingly smaller, if not negligible, role at higher levels of integration. There they are supplemented or replaced by emerging characteristics of the organized systems.... According to W.E. Ritter, who coined the term ‘organicism’ in 1919, ‘Wholes are so related to their parts that not only does the existence of the whole depend on the orderly cooperation and interdependence of its parts, but the whole exercises a measure of determinative control over its parts.”...[Hence,] explanatary reductionism is quite unable to explain characteristics of organisms that emerge at higher levels of organization.... To sum up, organicism is best characterized by the dual belief in considering the organism as a whole, and at the same time the firm conviction that this wholeness is not to be considered something mysteriously closed to analysis, but that it should be studied and analyzed by choosing the right level of analysis. The organicist does not reject analysis, but insists that analysis should be continued downward only to the lowest level at which this approach yields relevant new information and new insights. Every system...loses some of its characteristics when taken apart, and many of the most important interactions of components of an organism do not occur at the physiochemical level, but at a higher level of integration. And finally, it is the genetic program which controls the development and activities of the organic integrons that emerge at each successively higher level of integration. (Mayr, pp.16-20)

Unfortunately, such understandings, which clearly suggest that the (sensible) humanities - postmodernism not included - are not at all that dissimilar to any biology properly conceived (albeit w/a further, sociocultural, level added), are little shared by many who spout pop-science exaggerations. As someone who has formally studied both zoology and psychology, I'd have to say that such exaggerations have little or no explanatory value, as opposed to the much more fruitful ideas of people like Mayr and Konner, who seriously attempt to weigh all of the factors involved. And, to be blunt, some on this thread appear to badly need instruction as to exactly what the mainstream in the sciences they invoke actually have to say about life. Perhaps a trip to the bookstore is in order?

All the best.

JHC and chemicals

Hey John, your comment that statements about humans consisting only of chemicals being vacuous I find rather surprising given that they are proven to be such. Together with your pointed insult.

Quoting someone else's thoughts I find rather trite as well. As well as asserting authority from what you have studied. For every opinion there are opposing opinions and to put down people for holding particular views is extremely intolerant and rather boring. I know as I do it myself.

I make no attempt to cover the area you refer to, I stick to the basics, the known and proven.

The point in raising chemicals is to allow those that think otherwise to understand what are well known facts. That being, that our brains and thinking can be and are controlled by various chemicals, either naturally occurring or introduced. What we do with those thoughts and experiences is a different matter of course.

In simple terms chemicals can create a positive outlook of thinking or the opposite depending upon the intent. Do you question that?

To go further, is there anything at all on earth that is not composed of chemicals? The difference between humans and animals and inanimate objects is the brain and the ability to think. That though is affected by chemicals and without such there would be no brain.

As I said in my long post just now we are capable of thinking anything under the effect of chemicals. Be it a naturally formed deficiency or surplus of certain chemicals or introduced doesn't matter. Either can and does result in chnages to how we think. 

I do agree with Roger in that mankind has made more of us than there probably is, in relation to the vastness of whatever exists out in the nether regions.

Point of Agreement

John HC, I agree with you entirely, that not a lot can be gained by reducing the human condition to chemical reactions or their sub-atomic manifestation even though I have done so.

Then on the other hand, neither is it very helpful to talk in philosophical terms about the pre-eminence of the human species. We are all these things, from the sub-atomic level to abstractism but as I wrote in my last post to Charles C what we are really good at is hubris.

All the problems of the world since humans became sentient can be laid clearly at the feet of our woeful misunderstanding of our place in the universe.

Bush Prepares to nuke Iraq - New Yorker

This piece is coming out on front pages around the world. I had to read it in stages because of the nausea.

[Extract from New Yorker, 17/4/06. Read it all!]

There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. “That’s the name they’re using. They say, ‘Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?’”

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’”

I have grave fears that the US is about to instigate its own "controlled" version of the Apocalypse. There's "enlightenment" for you.

Happy Palm Sunday.

Philosophical Issues

Albert Einstein:

“Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society.”

Einstein to me captures the ambiguity I have been trying to express, and why this whole chemical issue is open to so much misinterpretation. What is the difference between a solitary being and a disenfranchised being, forced into marginalization and isolation? What is the difference between a social being and a mass conformist? Do the chemicals in the brain make philosophical distinctions? Does the doctor administering the chemicals make philosophical distinctions? Does the community understand the philosophical distinctions?


The notion of Time was first brought up by me in the context of the industrial revolution, and the context of history and how this forms our sense of Self. Is the Self made up of chemicals a process of inter active relationships or only within the individual? Consciousness from within Cultural Time can only transmit culture if the political institutions and the power groups that make up the society allow it. Complete control of access to all outlets of communication by power groups within a society, control what aspects of culture are transmitted and what aspects are not. The paradigm of the Chemical basis of the Brain has to be placed within a sociological framework. Without this Sociological Framework, the chemical paradigm can be used to justify any action and can be used to blame the victim. Are chemicals that form in the brain intra or inter active, or do they form in our brain in isolation, or from within social and cultural interaction? There are far too many questions left unanswered and unexplored. Justice, Marginalization of groups, cleansing of authentic cultural transmission, Mass Conformity, Corruption, how are any of these explained by chemicals?


All this talk of enlightenment reminds me of the story I heard concerning a lady resident of the Bronx. (She was one who had never learned to use a computer, let alone find the wonders of the internet.)

She was reading a piece in the New York Jewish Post about the Dalai Lama, when her attention strayed to a little snippet about the Most High Enlightened Parabrahm, who was living in a cave in the mountains of Bhutan, and spending nearly 24 hours a day in sublime meditation. She had been taking great interest in New Age literature of late, and decided to go there and seek an audience with the man.

After a nightmare journey from the nearest international airport in buses driven by suicidal maniacs and jam packed with the locals and their livestock; in springless yak carts bouncing over boulder-strewn roads and across terrifying mountain passes; on foot up near vertical goat tracks to altitudes where breathing was only just possible, she finally arrived at the entrance to The Cave.

Sitting lotus-like at the entrance to the cave was a sunnyasin, one of the Parabrahm’s numerous acolytes.

“I want an audience with The Most Hoigh Enloightened Parabroim” declared the lady.

“I am very sorry,” said the sunnyasin, “but The Most Enlightened One is in deep meditation, and is approaching a level of enlightenment never before reached, not even by the greatest of gurus. It is simply not possible.”

“But it’s got to be possible!” declared the lady. “I’ve come a helluva long way!”

After some time arguing, the sunnyasin relented. “All right,” he said. “I cannot promise anything, but I’ll see what I can do.” He disappeared forthwith into the cave.

A short time later he returned, with good news. “The Most Enlightened One has agreed to suspend his meditation in order to grant you a brief audience. But I stress, it must be brief. You may ask him a question or make a request, provided you use no more than four words.”

“Four woids!” said the lady. “Four lousy woids! Is that all I get?”

“Believe me, dear lady,” said the sunnyasin, “just one word, never mind four, is a priceless privilege, especially today.”

She pondered for a moment. “OK,” she said. “I got it. Four words. Agreed.”

The sunnyasin bowed, placed his hands in the prayer position, turned and led her into the cave. It was truly another world, lighted by a few candles placed discreetly into niches in the walls, but with an aural glow of its own as well. It was as if the very rocks were gaining enlightenment, particularly those of the platform on which He sat in a most serene lotus position, smiling beatifically.

Slowly He opened His eyes, but looked past her to infinity. In those eyes for a brief instant she saw the oneness of the entire universe.

“You may now speak,” said the sunnyasin.

So she ignored the universal oneness and said her four words: “Hymie! Come home already!”

No age of enlightenment.

“BAGHDAD, Iraq - Suicide bombers, one dressed as a woman, blasted worshippers as they left a Shiite mosque after Friday prayers, killing at least 79 people and wounding more than 160 in the deadliest attack in Iraq this year.” Mosque Suicide Bombers Kill 79 in Baghdad

“Israeli aircraft fired missiles into a car carrying Palestinian militants Friday, killing six people including a bomb maker and his 5-year-old daughter, in the deadliest Israeli attack since the Hamas-led Palestinian government took office.” Six killed in Israeli air strike

“Odette Mupenzi is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide in which an estimated 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. Now in the UK and awaiting reconstructive surgery, she tells the BBC on the 12th anniversary of the start of the killings that she is not willing to forgive and forget the people who murdered her family and shattered her mouth and jaw.” Genocide survivor can't forgive

Reading today’s headlines it’s hard to believe we are heading in the direction of utopia.

We must listen to the peacemakers. Whenever we use violence to solve our problems it always leads into dystopia.

Until we value all life we are not living in an age of enlightenment.



In his book The Amazing Hypothesis, The Scientific Search For The Soul, Francis Crick goes to great lengths to discuss the brain structures as much as the chemicals. They go hand-in-hand. Current research into the act of remembering suggest that important memories, those that pertain to our self-image, are laid out in the brain using hundreds and thousands of neural pathways. These path ways are just chemical structures fed by other chemicals and energised by electrical signals (themselves generated by chemical reactions).

Memories and Self-Image can also be a product of human interaction which is culture.

What takes precedence Chemicals or Culture?

Where is Cultural Identity, Justice, Institutionalised deception, love, happiness, sadness?

How convenient to exclude everything that gives life meaning including the Soul.


However, to change these important structures requires a considerable effort once they are in place. The price paid in breaking down the pathways is the production of even more chemicals, including hormones.

Another way of saying we screwed up, but were not responsible and don’t expect any form of justice, don’t blame us for the increased production of chemical and hormones.


You mention anger. The feeling of anger presents itself when external stimulii raise the production of adrenilin, testosterone and the other chemical ingredients necessary for the feeling. When the levels of these chemicals subside so does our anger.

Off course, cultural humiliation, ethnic cleansing, theft of resources, would have little to do with this external stimuli.


I don't know where contemplation of the soul fits into the reality of how our bodies work, but my bet is on more chemicals at work.

Let me bet it is on more Memes to distract from the reality of power.

Chikins and Aigs

Charles, as a former resident of Texas, I understand the conundrum. As I wrote very early in this forum, our view (humans) is self-indulgent. We form just a miniscule part of this planet’s bio-mass but we are given to musing about how it is all about us.

The grand plan, heaven, the soul etc are non-issues for any other animated collection of atoms (as Bill Bryson writes about so well in his Short History). It seems meaningful for us because Hubris 'R Us. It is a shockingly horrific idea to contemplate that we are irrelevant to this planet (would be better off without us) and the universe.

I have a funny story about Texans and chickens. A graduate of Texas A&M (the state's largest college campus) decided to farm chickens. He purchased 2000 chickens and planted them head first and watered them but they died. Perplexed, he called a fellow graduate who suggested that he try planting them feet first. This he did and was severely disappointed when all the chickens died again. In desperation he called his college professor and explained his conundrum. The professor thought about it for a while and then asked "Have you had the soil tested?"

Politics is Chemicals

Roger, if we are made up of chemicals that follows that culture is a manifestation of chemicals. Culture can only be transmitted via institutions.

A closer look at Transhumanism

Okay, perhaps it's time to bring back something into focus - this notion of Transhumanism.

Transhumanism is, according to its proponents (such as the Extropy Institute), an emergent philosophical movement which says that humans can and should become more than human through technological enhancements, ie becoming a new 'post-human' species.

What I see is a movement that has grown out of white, male, affluent, American Internet culture. The political perspective of this movement has generally been a militant version of the libertarianism typical of that culture.

What do you see?


Craig, Ross, Robyn, all of you in fact, I have been following all this for the last week trying to get my mind around the issue while at the same time chopping burrs on the plains. Good progress on the burrs as the hours pass with me deep in thought, hoe constantly hoeing. Not much progress though on the issue of enlightenment, going in ever decreasing circles on that one. I confess the whole issue is a bit too esoteric for me, but I can see a few others going round in mental circles as well so I doubt that I am alone. I think the word enlightenment is open to too wide an interpretation, so people head off in all directions, myself included.

Obviously every age has its advances in knowledge through science (used in its broadest sense) so every age is more enlightened than the next in the narrow meaning of the word. So I guess we live in the most enlightened age in that sense. It is how we use knowlege that is the issue, and we have used it to improve the human condition in many areas, for some people. But we have also used it to destroy and the twentieth century will go down in history for that.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the world's peoples do not share in the benefits of our greater knowledge. Some of us even guard our knowledge jealously denying it to our fellow man, for example, the refusal to allow the poor nations to make their own anti aids drugs at affordable prices. Not much enlightenment there. I think we need to join knowledge with wisdom in order to attain true enlightenment. Wisdom is defined in the OED as knowledge of what is true and right coupled with just judgement as to action, sagacity, prudence, or common sense. The world could use some of that.

Ross and Robyn, you got me headed off on the tangent of the soul, which I do believe in as a religous person. If I apply rational thought to the notion of a soul and of a higher being, then I query my own beliefs, but I then simply chose not to change them, for all sorts of reasons. I just say to my science graduate husband, I see your point, but I see no need to change what I believe.

I have some problem with any notion that we are just a collection of chemical reactions when it comes to emotional responses. Can we expect one day to have a pill that will help us avoid grief at the loss of a loved one; or one to end anger on the spot when we see an injustice and so on? In other words, a chemical to switch off unpleasant chemical reactions in the brain instantly. That would have been very useful the other night when I was so angry I could have committed murder, quite easily. That was after watching Foreign Correspondent, in which laboratory technicians in the Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratory in the UK were secretly filmed bashing up some little beagles for fun, then chucking them into their barren pens, screaming in pain and terror, and there to await being experimented on. Some knowledge has come at far too high a price for me.

So that night was when I answered the question for myself anyway. No. This is no age of enlightenment. Now I am out of here. I am quite out of my intellectual depth and don't mind admitting it. But I do know what is right and wrong, so I'll leave this debate to you all while I take issue with Huntingdon.

Good work on the burrs Jenny

Hey Jenny, I agree with you in that I don't think we, any country included, are enlightened at all. To me that is demonstrated by man's behaviour which has not changed since Adam was a boy. The changes we have had as knowledge increases are, as you say, generally confined to smaller groups than all. Even in Western society such knowledge as the mapping of the genome will bring is going to be restricted to those that can afford to repair whatever health problem they have. Again money is the god in our society and that assures me that enlightenment is some way off.

In many countries, as you point out, little has changed in hundreds of years.

Re the other issues, I think we have left the original question behind and zipped off into a few tangents, little to do with the original question but I am finding it interesting and enjoy the challenges that attempting to think outside your own square brings.

I suppose you could call that sort of thinking enlightened if you like, by simply trying to challenge your own beliefs and listen to what others have to say. Whether it's informative or just drivel doesn't really matter. It's a discussion and I'm keen to see where it goes, on several fronts.

Don't think that I have any real insight into where the discussion may go, or have any deep and meaningful answers either, just opinions is all I can offer.

Re your comments on the soul, why do you simply reject what your logical deductions are telling you? What is wrong with querying your beliefs? Isn't that how advancement is made? The old cliche of the world being flat for instance. If someone didn't challenge that belief where would we be now? Still afraid of where the edge is? Do we need to believe in things that are fraudulent to feel safe? I don't just mean religion here, politics is exactly the same as are many parts of what we have in our lives today. I can expand on that but it's a whole thread on it's own really.

On the religious front, only yesterday I saw the revelation that there is a "Gospel according to Judas" which is apparently challenging the role Judas played way back when. Supposedly the translation indicates that Judas's role was actually an agreement with Jesus. That he did betray Jesus but that it had been agreed.

If you think about it Jesus already knew what was going to happen and he did tell Judas he would betray him, as he did with Peter also. All this according to legend of course but immediately the reaction from the Church is "rubbish, it's been translated incorrectly". If that doesn't tell you  what belief is supposedly about in religion then I don't know what does.

Why would they even bother to oppose it until the translation is completed and studied? Is it simply because it doesn't match what has been formed through hundreds of years of political changes to such scriptures?

Beliefs are nothing more than an opinion you have come to, and frequently not consciously. Particularly religious beliefs. How many simply believe because that is how they were brought up, to believe? Think of all those kids learning the Koran by repetetive chanting in groups. Is that belief or just brain washing?

I was raised in a time and family where religion and God were just accepted as part of life. I didn't query it until later in my life and I have searched and thought and read etc and can find no proof of a god, other than those that are worshipped just because. But I have found belief, in myself and what is within me. A better way to put it is that my mind has finally declared peace with me and itself after many years of constant questioning within. Nothing spiritual about it either, it was survival.

Re being simply a collection of chemicals, that is not in doubt Jenny, it's science. What can't be decided scientifically is our own thoughts and beliefs but these too are produced in many ways by chemical reactions in our brains. They produce though what we all refer to in different ways as "me" or your soul or any other term that covers that idea.

Will we have a chemical to switch off unpleasant feelings? Of course we will, and we already do, they are mainly though illegal and have only short term effects. One such chemical is alcohol, used by so many to escape the unpleasant feelings. So it's not a matter of if we get such chemicals, it's a question of when will they be refined so people can deal with those unpleasant thoughts and the subsequent emotions.

Mental health sufferers are pleading for such drugs but to date we are only allowed to be prescribed those drugs that governments have approved for that purpose. Anti depressants and psychotic drugs do try to achieve exactly what you are asking about. Not altogether succesfully and again, only for short periods.

I don't though think we should escape any natural feelings as if you only ever have pleasant feelings and thoughts how would you know they are pleasant? It would be dreadful. Grieving, unhappiness, sadness, anger are all a natural part of human thought and feelings and, in my opinion, should be allowed to do the work they can do. That is help us deal with life normally, to be able to deal with the highs, lows and boring bits without becoming either totally miserable or insanely happy.

Your comments are meaningful and on target Jenny, don't think anything else.

Mike's cryptic comment about chemicals I would like him to expand upon as I am aware he has done a lot of work in such areas.

One thought I've had in trying to figure out what he is saying is that, given we are physically made of chemicals and our thoughts are controlled by chemical reactions then the creation of man and woman may not be as mysterious as we think.

Just to add to the controlling of thoughts by chemicals, essentially what happens is that drugs can give you a positive outlook, or allow your mind to make and see positive possibilities whereas other drugs, and mental illness can do exactly the opposite. I don't intend with any comment to infer that particular thoughts can be created by drugs/chemicals. It's the way the mind reacts to events and information that can be changed by such.

Transhumanism, chemicals and emotion of grief

Ross and Craig:

Craig, I took a look back at this issue of transhumanism and if I understand it for what it is, I would not believe it is a path that most would want to go down. But aren't we to some extent already nibbling at the edges? I think it is something that society as a whole has to be very alert to lest we start to cross a line from which it is difficult to retreat. We already use science to manipulate many plant species, and many animal species are similarly manipulated through genetics, and not always for the better. As farmers we get a lot of literature about improving our animals via genetic selection. Then there is cloning. Already some claim to have taken that beyond the sheep and the pig, or tried to at least. With the current focus of research on our own genes and genetic makeup I think there is genuine concern as to where some science might take us. Too often we tend to see the possible benefits without recognising the potential dangers.

Some will remember the time when many mentally disabled were sterilised for their “own good", read society's good. Today science has given society different tools to reduce the number of births of children with certain mental disabilities, eg the choice to abort a foetus that tests signal is abnormal. While some women chose not to go down that path, I assume this choice has led to fewer people being born with Down Syndrome. We are already headed down the road to choice of the sex of our child and have you noticed when you look around the street how good looking most kids are today? I recall there being a much wider variation in facial looks when I went to school. Have we without realising it bred out the not so good looking?

Then of course there is the current human gene research which is telling us more and more about defective genes or genes that predispose us to certain unwanted conditions, eg alcoholism, certain diseases. Many women in the future may not want to continue with a pregnancy if they are told the baby has a gene that predisposes it to certain illnesses, even though it is only a predisposition. And that is understandable, but could that not lead to a level of transhumanism by stealth. The next logical step could be foetus testing and selecting for intelligence. All sorts of possibilities spring to mind.

As science gives us more and more knowledge, it gives us more and more choices, but are they choices that society would want to make? I see the ethical debate over whether we should use embryonic stem cells as a sign of real alarm as to where the scientists might be leading us. We would all like the human condition to be better, free of some of the terrible diseases, but the cost of achieving that is unfortunately something we may not know until it is too late. God forbid that the transhumanists should ever rule the world. That would see ethics and science parting company totally in my view. No utopia down that road.

And Ross: I appreciate your insights and your time. Until I have read some more on the subject I reserve my thoughts on the whole chemical and emotions issue. But I had earlier read your post on depression and it helped me to understand what a struggle living with depression is for those who suffer from it. And I do understand the role that chemical intervention by way of antidepressants has played in alleviating that and many mental disorders. I have really only had what I would call real depression once, and it lasted for a week. It came from nowhere and I recognised it for what it was, and I found it totally paralysing. I sat in a chair for a week and could hardly move. It went away of its own accord thank heaven. But I disagree that long-lasting grief, and underlying sadness, are the same as depression. I am sure many people grieve terribly all their lives, (eg holocaust survivors) but not necessarily suffer true depression as you describe it. Grief is sadness, lack of a feeling of joy in life, but depression is far more than that and I am sure you would agree. I feel sad a lot of the time and can no longer find the joy in life that I used to know due to a series of very traumatic events that snatched three of the most important people in my life and my family. My life imploded overnight and since that time, (and it has been years now), experiences that once filled me with laughter and joy are still good experiences, but they are always muted by the underlying sadness that walks with me every day. I can bring joy to others with ease, but I can no longer feel it in my own heart. I do not impose my feelings on others around me, in fact few who know me would ever guess. But I see that as unresolved grief, not depression. I do not think you can hide depression, but I think you can hide sadness. Maybe you can answer that. Hence I do not think drugs are a help with grief. The banned drugs and alcohol and antidepressants may lift the mood for short time, but they are only a mask. When they wear off the mood will still be there, so why take them for a non-medical condition such as grief? I am making some assumptions here as I have never tried any of them, legal, illegal, or prescribed. But let us not dwell on all this too much. I like to avoid to. If I dwell on it all I find myself falling apart very quickly. I was just curious about this whole chemical thing and the notion that grief, or any emotion for that matter, is just another chemical reaction in the brain. If so, then some chemical reactions and changes are clearly long term in their effect.

As regards your question as to why I continue to believe in things my logical mind questions. I am sure a lot of Webdiarists would like to take issue with me on that! It is simply because I choose to and believing them does not hurt anyone. No amount of science can tell me for certain there is no God, no soul, no heaven or hell. My logical mind says there may not be, but is not human logic limited by what the human mind knows and can understand? The universe and all creation is an incredible thing and we will never have all the answers. I ponder a lot the beginnings of the universe and try to get my mind around what was there before the so called big bang. Out of nothing cometh all? If there is a god, then who created the god as the Jains of India ask. But that does not prove to me there is not something more powerful than ourselves, it would be arrogant to claim otherwise without being able to prove it.

My christian beliefs too were rooted in my family life from an early age, and they gave me a code by which to live my life. I find a certain spiritual peace in a christian church. And the ten commandments have a lot going for them. I have followed the related issue on Webdiary on our values. Kids today struggle to define what their values are or should be and they are taking their own lives in ever-increasing numbers. I never had a problem defining my values, because of my christian religion beliefs, and I never contemplated taking my own life no matter how hard it has been at times, for the same reason.

But brainwashing is another matter. I am not brainwashed as I know I still have a choice as to what I believe. I deplore all forms of brainwashing, such as that we see in the chanting kids you speak, of and in those mass suicide pacts some years back in the Americas. Fanatics will always find a home, and they are not all born out of religious beliefs.

Better sign off. We might meet up someday, toss around a few more thoughts. My husband (Webdiarist, Ian MacDougall) and I live between Canberra and Coonamble. It is a good marriage despite our holding very different views, in fact totally opposite views on many things. The things we share are same values, and without that it would no doubt have failed long ago. Back to the burrs.


Correction from me

Hey Jenny, glad to see your response. Having read it I read my own post and I see where I put my thoughts badly re grief. The first two statements of mine seem to be together and it does look like I am saying long term grief is depression.

Wrong, as you point out. What I attempted to say was that long term grief is one of the symptoms of depression and indeed it is, but on its own it does not lead to a diagnosis of depression.

Apologies for my badly worded post on that. Grief is a normal part of our lives and we need to feel it to be able to deal with life which is sometimes wonderful, sometimes awful and mostly just life, boring to some but these bits are the peaceful times for me. The day to day chores and rituals we have are life and these are what keeps us going. Drugs, including alcohol do provide relief from grief but not, as you say, resolve it. They simply allow us to be able to forget for a time.

Can you hide depression? Oh yeah, you certainly can, particularly from ourselves but easily from others, with the lower levels of depression. When there is a deep depression and anxiety though there is nothing to hide, it explodes out of you and no one can mistake what is going on.

But many of us do hide depression all the time, using a variety of methods and aids. I used alcohol for many years to blow away the problems, about twice a week was my average session. And that kept me going for probably 30 years Jenny. It's what a lot of people do and many don't really know that they are hiding, or papering over depression.

Today I view pubs and clubs as places for the depressed to gather although those that do go see it more as an outlet, a place to let go and enjoy themselves. An extreme view I guess but that's my experience. My best drinking partners, male and female all had depression and were prone to extremes of behaviour once less than sober, me included. But we never talked about depression as none of us could.

To me the absolutely hardest part of the D process is that initial recognition that "I need help". It took me until I was on the verge of departure before I knew inside myself that depression was what I was feeling. I thought it was normal and that all people felt that way as I had it for so long, from so young.

The ability to recognise it and bring ourselves to admit it, and seek help is basically a fight against our egos and survival instinct. Everything in us tells us we can cope, we can deal with whatever and we can do it all on our own. Breaking down those barriers is an enormous struggle and with society as a whole also telling us that D is imaginary or that we are weak if we say we have it, then it's easier to deny and try to go on as best we can.

In many cases people do succeed in healing the D for themselves, probably more so through changes in their lives than any emotional struggle. Simply by going on living and doing those daily things that hold us together. That is normal too.

I'm glad your own experience was short, terrible frightening, but short.

My heart goes out to you for the loss you have experienced but I see a strong person in your writing and know you cope with that and continue living.

My own D stemmed from a car accident and has rippled through my family ever since, including through to the next generation. All my family has been affected and still today when I see the news on TV, which loves to highlight car accidents, my immediate reaction is to think about the survivors, their lives and how it will affect them over time. I want to be able to snatch that pain away from them but if course that's impossible. They have to go through it all and find their own way.

What such accidents do to society as a whole, to me, is simply devastating. So many people affected every week, more ripples in the pond of Australia, all overlapping and the % of people affected must be extraordinarily high as there is no relief from the carnage is there?

I'll be writing more in answer to Charles but am still working through my thoughts on that.

On religion and beliefs, I have highlighted a statement from the web site Craig added which really defines how I feel about beliefs.

I think whatever we believe is enough. Where I lose understanding on that front is where the institutions of religion and the baggage that carries are worshipped rather than the internal beliefs we have.

Best to you and Ian, and all WD'ers.

Over and out Ross

Ross, Thanks for clearing that up and look after yourself. It must be very hard living with depression. Yes, trauma in a family shatters the whole family system and ripples on and on. Which is why I am bowing out of WD for a while. A major ripple to deal with. But yes, I am a strong person thanks to my mother who told me when I was five she needed my help. I grew up that day. I even remember the colour of the dress she was wearing. Strange the things you remember.

Cheers for now. Talk to you some more down the track a bit.

Hamish: all the best to you Jenny and come back to us soon.


Hey Craig, I've had a read of the web site re transhumanism etc. I can't quite decide whether it is a complete wank or someone's attempt to create a philosophy out of what humans actually are and do.

There is one quote from Vita-More, 2004 which I found very true and describes my own feelings on spirituality/religion:

Today we can harshly criticize those who have spiritual beliefs, but we learned that it is not completely appropriate since spirituality also includes those who simply want peace of mind.

That covers the whole area for me in that whatever we, as individuals, believe is all we need. If I have peace of mind on the issue then my beliefs are appropriate and that applies to all of course. What we believe in doesn't really matter does it? It's simply about having that peace of mind and certainty in our own minds.

About the only part of the transhuman site that seems relevant to me is that we are indeed in a time where technology is advancing rapidly and that too will include changes to the human body and brain.

Of course there are already such changes and as such the concept of transhumanism simply describes the human race in it's constant state of change. There are people who have a range of artificial parts in and on their bodies as health support and others who have started to insert chips in their arms etc as a way of speeding up and reaction with new techologies.

Is transhumanism enlightenment? Nope, afraid not. The site asks the question 'is transhumanism, extropy utopian?' Given that the aims are open society, freedom of ideas and cooperation amongst all then there is only one answer. Yes it is utopian and no humans are not in reach of enlightenment in those terms.

An interesting area which I was not aware of but as I said, maybe it's just another set of unique terms used by a group of people to elevate their thoughts and ideas above what they are, thoughts and ideas. Everything they detail can be expressed in simple English and I don't see the need to invent new terms simply to define what their thoughts etc are. That, to me, is a major failing of humans, the need to be "expert" in an area which encompasses the need to confuse others simply through the use of new words and terms.

Chemical Soup For The Soul

Jenny, welcome aboard the BWE. You say "I have some problem with any notion that we are just a collection of chemical reactions when it comes to emotional responses. Can we expect one day to have a pill that will help us avoid grief at the loss of a loved one; or one to end anger on the spot when we see an injustice and so on? In other words, a chemical to switch off unpleasant chemical reactions in the brain instantly. That would have been very useful the other night when I was so angry I could have committed murder, quite easily."

In his book The Amazing  Hypothesis, The Scientific Search  For The Soul, Francis Crick goes to great lengths to discuss the brain structures as much as the chemicals. They go hand-in-hand. Current research into the act of remembering suggest that important memories, those that pertain to our self-image, are laid out in the brain using hundreds and thousands of neural pathways. These path ways are just chemical structures fed by other chemicals and energised by electrical signals (themselves generated by chemical reactions).

However, to change these important structures requires a considerable effort once they are in place. The price paid in breaking down the pathways is the production of even more chemicals, including hormones. These slosh about creating other reactions in different parts of the brain. Feelings are quite possibly how we experience the rich chemical soup and changes to our brain structures.

You mention anger. The feeling of anger presents itself when external stimulii raise the production of adrenilin, testosterone and the other chemical ingredients necessary for the feeling. When the levels of these chemicals subside so does our anger.

I don't know where contemplation of the soul fits into the reality of how our bodies work, but my bet is on more chemicals at work.

Emotional pathways

Roger, will have a look at Crick's book sometime, sounds like something I should read.

Apologies Craig for heading off on a tangent but am interested in what Roger says about the subsiding of anger when the chemicals involved subside. I do understand that chemicals are activated when we feel emotions, but most emotions are usually brief, eg anger confirming that the chemical upheaval does subside. However I am wondering what actually happens when a feeling goes on for years, say intense grief.

Does extreme grief unleash a chemical reaction in the brain that can be more or less permanent, ie create a permanently altered state? I know from experience that to lose someone, say an elderly parent, there is an initial phase of intense grief which in time, does subside. But sometimes grief is unresolved due to say the trauma associated with the loss, eg accident, suicide, homicide. So in that situation has the event permanently changed the chemical soup and if so can it be reversed. Doctors of course talk of post traumatic stress, and reach for anti depressants which I believe only mask emotions like grief, they don't resolve them.

I can accept the notion of electrical stimuli stirring up the soup and counsellors talk of avoiding 'triggers'. Who was it who said something like: Slight may be the sound that brings back to mind the weight that it would cast aside forever?

Recently I had a tree chopped down because it reminded me of a child that had died, the last photo being of him mowing the lawn near that tree. I guess one could say that tree was an electrical impulse that probably set off a chemical reaction in my brain, and that could be controlled to some degree by removing the tree. But that does not answer the question in my mind as to why underlying feelings of intense grief sometimes do not resolve. What is going on in the neural pathways? Maybe when I read Crick I may be a bit more enlightened on the subject.

But back to the burrs at dawn. Would be good to get all the Webdiarists up here. They could pursue knowledge and enlightenment like me, at the end of a hoe. Now talking of technology, whoever invented the makka tool should get a nobel prize. Cheers Roger.


Hey again Jenny,

Grief can certainly cause a long term if not permanent change to one's thinking. That's what depression essentially is, the change to how you think, to expect the worst, to predict the worst, to accept the worst instead of experiencing any event with a balanced view and seeing both negative and positive possibilities.

The loss of a loved one is a major traumatic experience for anyone Jenny and it will always be a part of our memories. The difference between getting on with life and depression is mainly in the ability to accept that such a loss has occurred and be able to limit the focus on that. If we do focus on the major negative events in our lives all the time then our thoughts will follow, we will be sad.

One of the symptoms that supposedly defines the difference between grief and depression is that the feeling has been maintained for more than two weeks. Two weeks of course is not sufficient time to recover from losing a family member and there will always be things that will stimulate memories of that person but grief itself is part of our body’s way of coping with such events.

When such loss occurs it is important to grieve as needed. Many of us are taught to simply shut those thoughts out and act as if we are OK but that doesn't work as the pain is still there waiting to be dealt with. My own problems are actually based on exactly that. A major loss for which I was not permitted to grieve or talk about as that was "not the family way". It's the English tradition to keep the stiff upper lip and hold the emotions in and that is what hurts us most and maintains the grief feelings for longer and deeper than they should be.

There is no measure Jenny of how long any of us should grieve, a lost son is always that, major trauma and extreme sadness but time is supposed to help with that as well as the grieving.

The triggers you mention are indeed powerful. It can be anything too. A sight, sound, experience, movie, song, place and whatever. Such things we associate with what we have experienced in the past and to encounter such a trigger is naturally likely to bring memories of the event or person that we lost. One way of dealing with that is to avoid, some call it "denial", such things that are particularly powerful for an individual.

To me denial is also a way to survive until we have learnt to cope with the loss. If I lost a relative in a car accident is it logical for me to avoid cars? No it's not but if such a loss occurred in a particular place and the place is the trigger why revisit?

It's personal choice about how to deal with loss and whatever you decide is best for you. I'm a great avoider or denier as it happens. An example of that is my ex wife, 20 years ago now. I won't communicate with her as just the sound of her voice brings back what I went through at that time. She hasn't changed and neither have my memories so I choose to have no contact with her and have no qualms about so doing. Why put your hand back in the fire when you know the outcome?


I'm back

A man can change his mind can't he? Jay baiting took me ten seconds, max.

Before I have to read protestations about my last post can I say that it was unnecessarily dismissive and that I would not have posted it in the form that I did given time time to think? (Time I had, think I didn't.) I cannot resile from the sentiment however but by the same token I can also see potential value in all of this. It's a bit like independent pure research; who knows where it will lead?

I see the thread has moved on from conceptual time to brain chemistry. The inimitable Roger (cheers dude) has kindly provided us with source material for this and I would like to profer another. It is The Tangled Wing, author Melvin Konner. I referenced this in an old post back in the days of SMH. It is now a quarter of a century old but has been recently updated. My original copy is probably now mouldering in a land fill somewhere but not before it influenced many people. It returned to me every two years or so for a while, increasingly broken spined, dog eared and missing pages. It endures in my mind. A definitive work, a must read, see Amazon. cheers.

Ross cool

Ross, no problems, I am still thinking more about your post as well.

Chemicals are pretty mystical stuff

Ross wrote: "None of that is to say we are just chemicals."

What are chemicals?

Ponder that one deeply enough and Enlightenment may be at hand. 

Mistakes are just as important

Craig, you're spot on, you have to doubt everything and everyone, its the exploration that counts. An open forum is just that, OPEN to discussion. Discussion is not about throwing around mountains of thought density alone, its about imagination and trying to make connections, even if the connections turn out to be wrong, maybe you're wrong connection turns out to be someone else's correct connection.

The ancient Greeks made some pretty amazing connections. Atoms etc. that took a long time to reach a stage where the concept could be proven. Mistakes are just as important, I would go further, mistakes are more important.

Intellectual cul-de-sac

What a disappointment. This thread, like most others, has ended up in a narrow, tortuous, intellectual cul-de-sac, without resolution.

All of the sound and fury that the comments conveyed signify nothing except perhaps to prove conclusively that we definitely do not live in an enlightened age.

Perhaps the management of Webdiary could consider posing a question at the beginning of each article and, before the issue dwindles into its death throes, people could vote. At least then, some resolution might be achieved, some obvious, measurable outcome for the many hours of involvement by contributors (regardless of the agenda they have).

A vote?

Daniel, do you need a vote to make up your own mind? That's all that's going on mate, people expressing their thoughts and opinions. Sorry there isn't an answer for you. If you read all the posts you could get a result based on who has responded here. But that won't give you an answer either as it's opinion.

For Charles, I will respond to your last longer post, just need to think before I type as there's too much to say.

It appears some would rather not be involved in which case I do wonder why they feel a need to comment at all. Just like TV they don't have to watch or read do they?

The Emperors clothes

Can't help but agree with Daniel here. Left this for a few days considering it to be becoming unravelled. Came back out of curiosity. 35 new comments, ain't nuthin on. Enlightenment? Not from reading this stuff; the more you read the more confused you are.

Way back I said that enlightenment is a process, I stick by that but I suggest it's an evolutionary one. Let's come back in 100,000 years and talk again. Craig, you created a monster and to my chagrin I realise I have helped nurture it. Why on earth did I bang on about time ferkrisake? The very concept of enlightenment is born of a collective conceit, mine included.

Farewell for now now chaps, duty calls and I might have some serious Jay baiting awaiting me.

One last thought for Charles before I go. (Can't help myself.)

I've reversed my position on Bach being a product of his time. I've always been intigued by spikes in your "cultural time" in all forms of art. Not just chronological but also geographical. Sure the talent would have always been latent but would it have come to fruition in another time? I think not.

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