by Alan G Carter
[re-posted at the request of Navarth in Bodwyn Wook as a public information service to those interested in all that lies BEYOND religion, science and, indeed, Islam itself as well as any mere personal transcendance — Nazheem MaHmood]
‘Rolling the ball,
Rolling the ball,
Rolling the ball,
Kate Bush – ‘Them Heavy People’
From Clueless To The Trueman Show
The modern world needs rethinking because we are so rich. Since World War II automated farms and factories have abolished material scarcity, while computers embedded in devices like mobile phones and car engine management systems have made the world around us much more intelligent and useful. This is the best thing that has ever happened, because it is the end of a project that our distant ancestors began when they started getting rich, thousands of years ago. We don’t have to keep dragging ourselves around working, working, working, and fitting our lives into the gaps left by the work any more. We’ve done.
In the short term, reaching the stage where we have got rich presents a problem that needs managing. We’ve had our noses to the grindstone for so long that we’ve forgotten (as a culture) how to live any other way. We organise ourselves in ways that are about coping with scarcity, so when the scarcity ran out we went and created artificial scarcity, just to keep things running smoothly! There are two sides to why this doesn’t work. One is that artificial scarcity is never as good as the real thing – try as we might, the wealth just keeps showing through and screwing everything up. The other is that while we keep seeing ourselves as “struggling to keep bread on the table” (people still say that, like they haven’t noticed how they really live), we don’t get to spend our lives the way we should be now, learning, growing and having fun.
People who haven’t thought about it before sometimes find the idea that we are now creating artificial scarcity in the middle of an ocean of plenty to be a very bizarre idea. After all, they spend their lives struggling to make ends meet, don’t they? The answer is yes they do, but that’s because the way things are presently organised means they have to spend their days doing (usually rather pointless) things to get money, which they then use to buy stuff which has some very odd value associated with it. It’s the pointless activities and the odd value that are the problem, where the artificial scarcity sneaks in. Get rid of that, and the underlying material wealth shows through.
When your grandparents were young, they spent much of their lives working to produce material goods that other people then used. They might have dragged sacks of coal around, ploughed the fields, drilled holes in bits of metal or baked bread. While they did this, they also supported a small proportion of the population who didn’t directly do any of those things at all, but instead spent their time keeping accounts, using quill pens. Today the number of people who actually produce material goods (or even watch machines that do the real producing) is way, way down. So if things were sane, the amount of administrating that has to be done should be down by a similar amount. Things aren’t sane though, so we’ve seen a massive growth in the number of people doing admin work, and instead of quill pens, every one of them has a supercomputer that a multinational would have paid millions for just 15 years ago, sitting on their desk to help them. Since there are so few people doing real production these days, who are all these office workers administrating? Other office workers! The explosion in office work in the last two generations is entirely self-generated. They do the payroll for the personnel department who hire the IT support workers who keep the network running for the managers who operate the payroll department – and your grandparents got by without any of it! The only positive thing about the explosion of office work in the last two generations is that it has held a scarcity oriented society together by providing excuses and a framework for giving some people money each month. On the other hand there are plenty of negative things about it too.
Without the need or ability to produce real goods, very few people who do office work enjoy the sense of security that comes from being able to see a pile of real stuff that they have made. Because very few people who do office work really do useful stuff at all, office workers have to spend their time talking up their importance, and living with the fear that someone else’s “branding” will undermine their own. It’s wretched. The constant struggle to keep their own perceived importance higher that everyone else’s has meant that people dare not take advantage of modern communications, sit with their laptop somewhere in the countryside and do their administrating via fibre optic cable. To make sure they continue to be perceived as important even though they never have anything to show for their work, people always have to be in the gossip sessions round the water cooler. So they’re forced to pay increasing property prices to live near cities, spend fortunes on fuel (and often four hours of each day in travelling time), create traffic gridlocks and then pay road tolls. The anxiety and stress of running around like this without any sense of personal security has made stress related disorders including digestive problems, skin problems, asthma, cancer and heart disease pretty much universal.
Replacing real value with brand value has become a huge part of modern life. These days it’s possible to buy chocolate covered ice-creams for 6 cents each, from bulk freezer retailers. That reflects the true production price of the things, and gives the producer and retailer a healthy profit. Buy exactly the same product (often made in exactly the same factory) with a branded wrapper round it, and you’ll pay ten times that much. The same is true of clothing, footwear, toothpaste, toilet roll, printer cartridges – everything. The value has left the actual material good which was supposed to be the scarce resource the economy was managing, and transferred to the packaging which has an arbitrary value that is not associated with the utility of the stuff inside the wrapper. Then to buy that arbitrary value, people have to spend four hours commuting and two hours throwing up each day.
Following fashion can be an amusing pastime, and an amusing spectator sport as well. This is reflected in the popularity of the TV show Clueless, which features a group of young girls who have every material need catered for, and so have a stressful life worrying about details of fashion and gossip. Clueless is amusing. But when a whole culture gets so lost in an episode of Clueless that it can’t see it’s way out again, can’t break free of the irrelevant agenda, can’t see outside that value system, then fun can turn to horror.
The trouble is, when we get too close to something for too long, it can come to dominate our awareness, and our culture has been very close to “work” for a very long time – ever since we invented farming. The universe we perceive is one of scarcity, limited ambitions and drab features because that’s the kind of agenda our culture has had for millenia. If the machines can now do most of the work, whatever will we do with our time? To many people at the moment this seems like a very hard question, because the way our culture understands reality is distorted by the “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” effect. If we learn to see the universe as it really is, we will find plenty to do, and will be able to spend our years living in the full richness of our potential, instead of living to simulate industrial robots.
For some time now, awareness that we are trapped in some kind of a fiction, and that escape to a different way of seeing is essential, has been growing within our culture. TV shows like The X Files have explored the growing consciousness that there is something missing, something fictional, about the world we perceive around us. These shows express the fear that what is going on outside the fiction is hostile and terrifying, which is a mistake, but perhaps not surprising because it’s always people who are brought up in limited environments who are most fearful about new experiences. In The Matrix (possibly the coolest film ever made) Keanu Reeves must choose between a drab and ugly reality that he never guessed existed and a fiction that is slicker, more flexible and more empowering. He has to choose reality, because he’d rather deal with what is real than live in a cosy fiction where his triumphs – and his failures – have no meaning. The Matrix is a parable for our time, even though the real challenge facing our culture is that it’s the outside reality that’s slick and the fiction that’s drab. It’s reality that contains infinite possibilities, and the fiction that’s limiting in every respect.
In The Trueman Show Jim Carey gets closer to the truth. He plays Trueman, a man who does not realise that he has spent his entire life on a single, vast soap opera set. Everything that happens to Trueman has been scripted, and his life never strays out of the bounds of the soap opera. At the end, Trueman must choose between the comfort of the familiar and the infinite possibilities of the wide, mysterious world on the other side of the door he finds in the painted sky backdrop.
Our culture already contains the deep awareness that it’s time to walk through the doorway in the sky, but without a handy physical door like Trueman had available, how do we start? Fortunately, during the millenia our culture has been operating within a very limited framework, there have always been a few who kept the wider perspective. By bringing new ideas from outside, these people have had profound effects on our culture, stimulating it to evolve and grow when left to itself it would have stagnated into the attitude of business as usual.
Because they have seen things very differently, from a deeper and wider perspective, their ideas have often been misunderstood. Until now, the big picture hasn’t been anything like the one we are used to. It’s always been a completely different way of seeing. Learning to be a real magician has always involved unlearning wrong ideas even more than it involved learning new ones. Like the old joke says, “you can’t get there from here”. The student had to keep looking at clues until one day a sudden shift in awareness took place. This involved years of work, and the student didn’t even understand what the payoff would be until afterwards.
This left a huge gap in understanding between the magicians and most of the people in our history. Time and again, ideas were misunderstood, and the misunderstandings created further confusion. Even worse, there have been plenty of people in history who have then picked up the confused ideas, acted them out, and convinced themselves they were real magicians – when in fact they weren’t even effective in a limited way any more. One of the worst periods of confusion occurred in Europe during the Middle Ages, and it happened because the magicians at the time were introducing a lot of ideas which eventually built our modern scientific and technological culture. That culture has now learned enough about reality to be able to understand magical thought without going through the long, old process of learning, so from our modern perspective it’s easy to understand where the Buffy the Vampire Slayer idea of magicians came from, and get it out of the way.
During the European Middle Ages, groups of real magicians who were far in advance of everyone else’s understanding of reality had found a welcoming home within Islam, and they contributed to the kind of thinking that is sometimes called “mystical” within Islamic culture. They were called Sufis (although it’s important to remember that not all magicians are called Sufis, and not all Sufis are real magicians). These magicians were keen to get people to study the material world around them, and think flexibly about what they saw, so they could learn more about it. So they packaged up a bunch of ideas to help people get used to doing this, and introduced them through their Arabic speaking home culture as alchemy. Islam was particularly good for this, because it is the only religion which holds that the material world was created for a purpose, and people should study it. On the one hand the magicians’ cultural food parcel included things like astronomy and algebra (as well as the words alchemy, algebra and algorithm, the numbers we use came from India via the Arabs, and most of the bright stars have Arabic names). Even with practical stuff like this there were communication problems. When the Arabic lecturers were teaching the new techniques of algebra in the Spanish universities, they had to introduce a new idea – the unknown quantity that was sought. Since there was no word already in use for this in Europe, they just used the Arabic word, “shai”. The European scholars had never heard this word, but they had been taught ancient Greek, so they wrote down the closest sounding Greek word, “ki”. In English, ki is equivalent to the letter “x” – which is the only reason we see the letter “x” used so much in modern mathematics! Some confusion was more serious. In England official accounts were kept in Roman numerals and not the more useful Arabic notation until Henry VIII’s day because of fears that the Arabic way with columns for units, tens and so on might be the devil’s work. The problem was the digit “0”, used when there was no value in a particular column. A number for nothing? It seemed spooky – supernatural and suspect. The alchemical parcel also contained techniques for learning how to think. For allowing the mind to be flexible, so that by working on themselves people could learn to see things in different ways and deepen their understanding. This was described as converting “base” understanding to “golden” understanding. With people going round suspecting that even counting was devil’s work, perhaps it’s not surprising that the art of transforming one’s mind was often misunderstood as operations performed on lumps of physical stuff (specifically lead) to convert it into lumps of golden stuff (specifically… well… gold).
This explains why two of the great founders of science, Roger Bacon and Isaac Newton, were also practising alchemists. They weren’t bizarre idiot geniuses who wasted half their time on nonsense at all! That idea is based purely on the misunderstanding of alchemy as attempts to debase the currency by manufacturing gold. If Bacon and Newton had done that, they would have been fools – but they never did. The “nonsense” part of their lives was what powered their great discoveries.
As we’ll see later, it is very difficult to talk about alchemy – thinking flexibly – in English (or any similar language). This is because English is based on nouns, which are fixed categories or boxes that things get sorted into. Alchemy is more concerned with process and action – of the mind as much as anything the mind is studying. English just didn’t evolve to say those kinds of things. So alchemists had to resort to a kind of poetic allegory to communicate with other alchemists. When literal minded non-alchemists got their hands on the poetic letters, they couldn’t make sense of what they read, so they announced that the alchemists were obsessed with secrecy and communicated in gobbledegook code.
When people get good at real alchemy they start seeing all sorts of hidden truths about the universe. Look at Newton for example. A bit of alchemy and there he is, inventing calculus and using it to write down the hidden laws that determine where all the planets will swing to as they move around the sky. Of course there was a grand tradition of doing that. In ancient Greece people like Plato and Pythagoras were big on the hidden laws stuff, the Greek ideas were taken into early Christianity (with good reason because the early Christians were very able real magicians), and the idea of hidden laws that could be discovered by careful observation and flexible thought was corrupted into lurid tales of some different, spook reality. The rumoured spooks were imagined as having semi-human bodies and characters that were not inclined to respect local governments, instead of being mathematical (or if you prefer, artistic and musical) relationships of heart and mind filling beauty.
So by the Middle Ages there were rumours of these weird secretive people, having commerce with spooks to debase the currency and generally be very naughty. It didn’t help that in the Arabic colour symbology black signifies wisdom, and the alchemists tended to talk about the “Black Arts”. Oh dear. Before long, Europe was full of slobbering, demented fraudsters, having feverish sexual fantasies and cooking up all sorts of manuals (called grimoires) for the summoning and commanding of demons in order to debase the currency. These grimoires were full of scary looking Arabic and Hebrew symbols, and the trade in them was possibly the best con ever because no-one expected to hear testimonials from happy customers. People assumed that if the buyer hopped and chanted according to the instructions and nothing happened, his technique was lousy – and no-one’s scared of a failed summoner of demons. On the other hand, people reasoned that if the grimoires worked as advertised then either the pointy-tailed critters got the user or he kept quite for fear of being lynched by the fearful, greedy and gold-challenged mob.
And so a nonsense tradition of European magic pretty much as portrayed in Buffy the Vampire Slayer was born as a side effect of getting the laws of motion, optics, general relativity and quantum mechanics. This nonsense tradition concealed the fact that when people study real magic, it really is possible to jump to a quite different and far superior way of understanding the universe.
This book is about real magic, not the Buffy stuff. The ideas contained in modern science and familiar to most people in the culture are now sufficiently advanced that it is possible for a modern person to understand how the magicians see the universe without the years of difficult study, or the sudden and hard to achieve change of perception called “illumination” that were needed in previous times.
The same culture that needs to break out of the limited reality of scarcity, work and constraints because science has made it so rich now has the necessary background to accomplish the escape. This is not an accident. The problem and the solution both come from the same magical project to encourage the evolution of human life to a more advanced state. In recent years we’ve heard a lot about how the pace of change is getting quicker and quicker, when in fact it’s actually been slowing since the late 1970s. We now have the potential for all that technological change, but without an underlying conceptual change the technological change can’t happen. Now we’re ready for both. All the technological change we’ve been promised will happen, but we’ll scarcely notice because the conceptual change will take us further beyond our grandparents than any number of space stations, hypersonic jets, holographic televisions or medical advances ever could. We are going to learn to see everything in a deeper and more interesting way, and as that happens the uses we invent for the technology at our disposal will change. We’ll keep the toys, but what we do with them will be a completely different agenda.
This book is divided into six chapters, which lead through a series of ideas that are well known in modern popular culture, making connections to ancient magical writings, and building towards understanding the magicians’ way of seeing things. Just 30 years ago this journey would not have been possible at all. Today it is accessible to everyone. There are no rules or instructions here, because the time for rule based approaches to life – of all kinds – is now past. The magicians have always known that (in a way that is explained in this book) all consciousness is a single, unique and precious thing. It is central to the operation of the universe. Because we now possess so many computers and robots that are good at following rules, the vast number of human beings on this planet are now free to expand and fully use their entire consciousness. So long as everyone is following their own best ideas, everyone will naturally be doing exactly what they should, in the same way as each organism within an ecology just does what it does, to the best of its ability, and ends up doing what the ecology needs as a side effect of having fun. Just getting used to the idea that it’s really important to have fun is going to be a massive change in a culture that has evolved over thousands of years to think of learning and work as unpleasant, sometimes painful chores.
[Copyright Alan G. Carter, 2003]