Against ecstasy

My friend Jules Evans has recently published an essay arguing that religion has no monopoly on transcendent experience. The essay is in part inspired by his new book, The Art of Losing Control: A Philosopher’s Search for Ecstatic Experience. Despite the title of this post, I have nothing against ecstatic experiences per se, nor do I think that religion has, or ought to have, a monopoly over them. But I do think Jules gets a good number of things wrong, and I’m going to argue why.

Jules’ Aeon piece opens by recounting a mystical experience that occurred to the British author Philip Pullman back in 1969: “[he] was walking down the Charing Cross Road in London, when his consciousness abruptly shifted. It appeared to him that ‘everything was connected by similarities and correspondences and echoes’. [He] wasn’t on drugs, although he had been reading a lot of books on Renaissance magic. But he told me he believes that his insight was valid, and that ‘my consciousness was temporarily altered, so that I was able to see things that are normally beyond the range of routine ordinary perception.’ He had a deep sense that the Universe is ‘alive, conscious and full of purpose.’ He says: ‘Everything I’ve written has been an attempt to bear witness to the truth of that statement.’”

Jules goes on to say that Pullman calls that sort of experience “transcendent,” but that he prefers the term “ecstatic.” I call it hallucination.

Is it possible that a sudden (apparently unprovoked by drugs, but it could have been) shift in conscious perceptions gives a human being temporary access to a deeper reality (whatever that means)? Sure, it’s possible. Is it the most likely explanation of what happened to Pullman? Hardly. And as I wrote in a previous post, confusing mere logical possibility with actual empirical probability is a major portal into woo-thinking, defined as “adj., concerned with emotions, mysticism, or spiritualism; other than rational or scientific; mysterious; new agey. Also n., a person who has mystical or new age beliefs.”

Jules continues: “Over the past five centuries, Western culture has gradually marginalised and pathologised ecstasy. That’s partly a result of our shift from a supernatural or animist worldview to a disenchanted and materialist one. In most cultures, ecstasy is a connection to the spirit world.”

Indeed, although I would call supernatural and animist worldviews rather naive and ungrounded in reality, while disenchanted materialism is about looking at the world as it actually is (insofar as we understand it), and not as we wish it would be. There is, based on what is reasonable to know, no such thing as a spirit world.

Notice, incidentally, Jules’ tendentious use of words here: “disenchanted” and “materialism,” rather than, say, “reason-based” and “naturalism.” To be disenchanted is not usually considered a good thing, as disenchantment is next door to cynicism (with a small-c, not the ancient philosophy). And materialism sounds harsher than naturalism (yes, I’m aware that philosophically the two are not the same thing, but the opposite of supernatural is natural, not material).

Jules mentions an interesting statistic: “The polling company Gallup has, since the 1960s, measured the frequency of mystical experiences in the United States. In 1960, only 20 per cent of the population said they’d had one or more. Now, it’s around 50 per cent.” He takes this as a good sign, telling his readers that if they had some such experience they are not alone. But I find it disturbing that half the population has at times lost contact with reality, and am puzzled by the fact that the percentage has more than doubled in the past half century. Why would that be? Are human beings suddenly developing better abilities to get in touch with the Deep Beyond? More likely (again, possibility vs probability!) we live in times that are alienating and disturbing for a larger and larger chunk of the population, which then seeks relief in fantasies, whether induced by drugs or not. Both the problem (alienation) and the response (fantasizing) are worrisome, because wishful thinking has never been an effective answer to life’s difficulties.

Jules tells us that “the philosopher Bertrand Russell, for example, also had a ‘mystic moment’ when he suddenly felt filled with love for people on a London street. The experience didn’t turn him into a Christian, but it did turn him into a life-long pacifist.” I’m not so sure it did, Russell was a lifelong liberal-progressive. But at any rate I can hardly see one of the founders of modern analytical philosophy entertaining for a moment that his subjective experience was somehow a reliable window into an alternate, and better, perception of reality. The revealing phrase here being “it didn’t turn him into a Christian”…

Jules got interested in ecstasy after he had a bad accident when he was younger, a near-death experience during which he felt “immersed in love and light.” I’m really glad he survived and recovered, but a fleeting sensation one has under extreme circumstances hardly counts as evidence of a deeper reality, as much as I’m sure it was very psychologically useful to him. When he says “I knew that I was OK, I was loved, that there was something in me that could not be damaged, call it ‘the soul’, ‘the self,’ ‘pure consciousness’ or what-have-you,” I would say that no, there is nothing in you that cannot be damaged, and to believe so is a delusion. You just got very, very lucky. But then again, I am a “disenchanted materialist” who thinks that there is no reason to believe in a soul or a pure consciousness. (Though I do believe there is a self, of the Humean type, i.e., a constantly shifting, dynamic bundle of perceptions. That one too, of course, is hardly indestructible.)

Jules departs from the views of the above mentioned Philip Pullman, who thinks that ecstatic experiences just happen, they cannot be sought: “I disagree. It seems to me that humans have always sought ecstasy. The earliest human artefacts — the cave paintings of Lascaux — are records of Homo sapiens’ attempt to get out of our heads. We have always sought ways to ‘unself,’ as the writer Iris Murdoch called it, because the ego is an anxious, claustrophobic, lonely and boring place to be stuck.”

This passage reveals a number of things. First off, Jules is equivocating (in the philosophical sense, and very likely not on purpose, i.e., not in order to deceive his readers) on the meaning of ecstasy. Art surely is an attempt to “get out of our heads,” as he puts it, in a lose sense to “transcend” our selves. But so is, for instance, science. Just watch Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot if you doubt it.

Indeed, anything that we human beings do beyond taking care of our basic need to survive is an attempt to transcend ourselves, from paintings to music, from science to mathematics, from religion to philosophy. But it seems very strange to me to assent to the notion that our ego is a lonely and boring place. It is whatever we make of it. There is a wonderful world out there, full of other, fascinating human beings. There is a vast universe out there, full of wonders beyond our imagination. What sort of a small mind could possibly find that either lonely or boring?

How do we actively seek ecstasy, according to Jules? “In its most common-garden variety, we can seek what the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called ‘flow.’ By this he meant moments where we become so absorbed in an activity that we forget ourselves and lose track of time. We could lose ourselves in a good book, for example, or a computer game. The author Geoff Dyer, who’s written extensively on ‘peak experiences,’ says: ‘If you asked me when I’m most in the zone, obviously it would be playing tennis. That absorption in the moment, I just love it.’ … Or we turn to sex, which the feminist Susan Sontag called the ‘oldest resource which human beings have available to them for blowing their mind.’”

Of course. And I lose myself, or experience flow, in all sorts of experiences, including — bizarrely, I know — while writing blog posts or books. But none of this has anything whatsoever to do with Jules’ starting point, which, remember, was the perception of a deeper reality about the world. One can be a perfectly thoroughgoing “disenchanted materialist” and still lose oneself in a game of tennis. Or in sex (I much prefer the latter.)

Jules tells us that “such everyday moments might seem a long way from the mystical ecstasy of St. Teresa of Ávila, but I would suggest that there is a continuum from moments of light absorption and ego-loss to much deeper and more dramatic ego-dissolution. Csikszentmihalyi agrees, saying that moments of flow are ‘the kind of experience which culminates in ecstasy.’”

But there is, in fact, no reason at all to think that either Jules or Csikszentmihalyi are right. Rather than a continuum I see a hopeless mix of apples and oranges, and I seriously doubt St. Teresa would appreciate her mystical views being mentioned in the same sentence as tennis playing and sex.

Yet Jules tells us that “that’s what humans have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years, through various ecstatic techniques such as strenuous dancing, chanting, fasting, self-inflicted pain, sensory deprivation or mind-altering drugs.” Okay, if those are the choices, I’ll take sex and tennis, in that order. Or perhaps a dose of my favorite drug, a dirty martini with three large olives, shaken, not stirred.

Despite his skepticism of disenchanted materialism, Jules does bring in science when it seems to favor his take on things, as many people inclined toward mysticism do: “researchers have discovered that one dose of psychedelics reliably triggers ‘mystical experiences’ — moments where people report a sense of ego-dissolution and connection to all things, including to spirit beings or God. … One dose of psilocybin helped to reduce chronic depression and addiction, and also significantly reduced the fear of death in patients with cancer.”

But, insofar as we can reasonably tell, there are no spirit beings or gods, so what psychedelics are triggering are hallucinations, defined as “a sensory experience of something that does not exist outside the mind, caused by various physical and mental disorders, or by reaction to certain toxic substances, and usually manifested as visual or auditory images” (dictionary.com). And while there is no doubt that drugs can help with medical conditions, that does in no way make them reliable guides to the Deep Beyond, nor does it mean we should take them to buttress our wishful thinking, in turn generated by our “lonely and boring ego.” You feel lonely? Get out and meet people. You feel bored? Read a good book, enter in conversation with the best minds humanity has ever produced. Have sex. Play tennis, even.

And then comes more (pseudo)science from the article: “A 1979 study by the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield in California found that 40 per cent of participants on a two-week meditation retreat reported unusual experiences such as rapture and visions (including hellish visions). Kornfield writes: ‘From our data it seems clear that the modern psychiatric dismissal of these so-called ‘mystical’ and altered states as psychopathology … is simply due to the limitations of the traditional Western psychiatric mental-illnesses oriented model of the mind.’”

Uhm, no. What the study shows is that meditation can trigger side effects of the hallucinatory type. Which may still be acceptable if meditation provides benefits to its practitioners (it does, I myself practice), but, again, is absolutely no reason to reject “Western” science (i.e., science). If you have hallucinations while taking drugs you are normal. If you have them at frequent random intervals in your regular life you should see a psychiatrist.

Jules gives us another fascinating personal testimony: “I spent a year exploring the world of charismatic Christianity, including the globally renowned Alpha course, and eventually succumbed to the ecstasy myself. It happened in a church in Pembrokeshire filled with Pentecostal pensioners. Suddenly, I felt filled with a force that knocked me back and took my breath away. It felt like proof. The preacher asked if anyone wanted to commit their life to Jesus and, at the back of the church, I raised my hand. The next week, I announced my conversion on my newsletter, and around a third of my subscribers immediately unsubscribed.
A few weeks later, however, the high passed, and the doubts came back. There were still basic tenets of Christianity that I couldn’t accept, particularly the idea that the only way to God is through faith in Jesus. So what had happened? Had I been hypnotised by the preacher, the ritual and the crowd emotion? Yes, probably. But that doesn’t mean it was unhealthy or unspiritual.”

Actually, Jules, that’s precisely what it means: it was both unhealthy and unspiritual. As shown by your own rather quick de-conversion (“the high passed”), once you had time to reflect on what had happened.

“Ultimately, there’s something in us that calls to us, that pulls us out the door. Let’s find out where it leads.” Well, go ahead, but proceed with caution. As for me, I’m heading to sharing a nice dirty martini with some of my close friends.

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Categories: Atheism & Religion, Metaphysics

55 replies

  1. To follow up on synred. . .i spent 1969-76 immersed in the Church of the Nazarene, becoming not just a convert but majoring in religion at Northwest Nazarene College (now University) in order to become an ordained minister. That didn’t happen, thanks to NNC’s excellent historian of philosopher JW Jones, who gave me a new passion which led eventually to my professional life, and reading SK’s Fear and Trembling, which in one stroke blasted religious faith out of my life forever. But I wouldn’t trade my experience in that charismatic church for anything–because it taught me a lot about that form of religion. In short, I found out Emile Durkheim was right even before I knew who he was. I have experienced that ecstasy many times and first hand, at least the social form of it found in charismatic religious services. The feelings are real and profound–but ultimately just a function of one’s place within a powerful social group. It is just one outlier product of being a social animal. I suspect that another outlier is at the opposite end of the social spectrum–monastic-style mysticism. Immersion into one’s self can also rise to the level of ecstasy–a more abstract expression of and I-and-Thou as Buber said (I suspect drugs can sometimes help here too). The difference between these I suspect is chiefly a matter of causal direction. Ecstasy from immersion in others comes from them; ecstasy from isolation from others comes from us as seeking some such immersion. But its source either way is ultimately that we are social beings.

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  2. Given the high incidence of religious (ecstatic) experiences it would seem to be a ‘normal’ event, i.e.something that occurs with sufficient frequency in a ‘healthy’ population. Religious experience also is not significantly associated with other pathological findings, therefore it would not be proper to refer to the phenomenon as an hallucination.

    An obvious scientific question then is what is an ecstatic experience? My own folk idea was that deep core ‘unconscious’ information was brought to the fore by situations in which the wholeness of the person was being challenged, thus affirming and supporting the integrity of the whole. It turns out that I am way behind the curve. Dr Patrick McNamara, Boston U School of Medicine, has published “The Neuroscience of Religious Experience”. There is a strong association with certain parts of the brain being activated, usually with beneficial effects on the person. Who knew the there would be a science of religion one day?

    The ecstatic or religious experience therefore seems to be a physiological response from within us. As it says in the Bible, the kingdom of God is within us.

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  3. Hi Valariansteel, There are meta-analyses of the many epidemiological studies of “healthy voice-hearers” – median prevalence ~6%. About 20% of these “experience persistent auditory verbal hallucinations, yet have no need for clinical care and do not suffer significant distress”
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735816301064

    As to ecstasy…Hypnotic states are also characterised by the possibility of various extraordinary feats, but the consensus is that anything possible while in a trance is equally possible in a normal state of mind. I don’t think ecstatic religious practice gets to a state of consciousness that different from that experienced by football or Beatles fans. Another data point is sleep paralysis (the true nightmare) – there are many case studies of people being unshakably certain they experienced a demonic visit, even when they are told it is a well known condition.

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  4. Hi Jules,

    Thanks for the informative exchange. First off, apologies for the “small minds” comment, but it actually wasn’t directed at you personally. It’s just that I’m constantly amazed at how many mystically inclined people think that the world as it is isn’t awe inspiring enough, which prompts them to seek deeper truths where they don’t exist. Then again, you referred to me as the “woo-police,” a derogatory title I certainly reject, so let’s call it even and get back to the matter at hand.

    You say that humanism has nothing to fear from, but is also “fatally impoverished” by the lack of, the sort of ecstasy you describe. But I feel both those conclusions are predicated on what I keep seeing as equivocation on your part. Let me, therefore, be clear about what I do and do not object to.

    I have no problem whatsoever with people getting into the “flow” when they play tennis, have sex, or write books. I have no trouble at all with people seeking altered states of consciousness via special experiences, drugs, or meditation — so long as they do it safely.

    What I do have a big problem with is when people think that these experiences somehow give them a deeper and better insight into the nature of reality. Yes, you deny that in your response to me, and yet your language — both in that very same response and in your original piece in Aeon — clearly betrays that you do believe (or at least hope) there is some deeper metaphysical issue at stake here.

    If that were not the case, then I wouldn’t see what the big deal is. Okay, some circumstances, either externally or internally induced, alter people’s consciousness and make them feel different for a bit. So what? It is only if those who experience such altered states think that they have gained some sort of special conduit to what I call the Deep Beyond that things get really interesting. And I see no reason whatsoever to think that that conduit is real.

    This, I hasten to say, is not because I know that there is no such thing as the Deep Beyond. It is, rather, because — again in perfect Humean fashion — I do my best to proportion my beliefs to the evidence. And the evidence is that our scientific worldview, while incomplete (possibly forever so) simply leaves no space for the sort of mysticism implied or partially advocated by your writings. Not to mention that there is woefully little in the way of direct positive evidence gathered through such experiences that would make me even remotely consider jettisoning the scientific worldview.

    When I speak of “hallucinations” I don’t mean pathologies. We all have hallucinations, some of the times. I occasionally hear voices that are not there. But the key is “that are not there.” I don’t think, “gosh, a portal to another world has just opened, let me walk through it.” I too am glad that modern psychiatry is more cautious when it comes to pathologizing human experiences. But if someone regularly perceives things that are not there, I do get worried, and I would advice seeking medical help.

    You mention both Hitchens and Harris. If you check my writings about the New Atheists (e.g., http://tinyurl.com/jhgxf5v) you will see that I find both those characters to be terrible examples of the secular worldview I try to put forth, so I’m afraid I shall simply remain unconvinced by the fact that they may be on your side on this. (Though thanks for the correction concerning Russell, even though, as I write in the OP, and by your own admission, he remained a non-Christian throughout his life.)

    You keep telling me that people “benefit” from ecstatic experiences. I don’t doubt it. But, again, that simply means that people benefit from placebos, or from the use of drugs, or from meditating. There is nothing controversial there. It is only if one takes those experiences to be metaphysically cogent that the problem arises. And many do, unfortunately.

    Others here have pointed out the “side effects” of the sort of certitude that comes from the type of ecstasy you are advocating — a certitude that you yourself have, thankfully only briefly, experienced. I find that certitude disturbing, even when it doesn’t translate into violence and oppression of others, as it so often does. It is disturbing because it is based on an illusion, and because certitude is contrary to real inquiry. Revelations are rarely, if ever, sources of real insight.

    By the end of your response, you equivocate again, when you say “I would like to remain open to the possibility that this feeling of being connected to something greater than oneself … may perhaps point to a genuine reality, an extended consciousness. … Given that we don’t yet understand how consciousness relates to matter, why not stay open to that possibility rather than automatically dismissing it as woo?”

    So, are these experiences metaphysically cogent, or aren’t they? As you can see, you just don’t seem to be able to make up your mind about this. Yes, of course I’m open to the possibility, but that’s why I brought up a couple of times the crucial difference between possibility (which is vast and vague) and probability (which is far more narrow, and the rational basis for belief, Hume-style). I am reminded of Carl Sagan, who once said that it is fine to be open minded, just don’t be so open that your brain falls off.

    Will you join me for a martini?

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  5. Having had the immense privilege of having been tutored by R.C.Zaehner, and getting a glimpse of the breadth of his learning in this field, I think his works on mysticism would repay adding to any reading list on (types of?) mysticisim “Mysticism Sacred & Profane” is certainly relevant here, and perhaps (though not my favourite text of his), “Drugs, Mysticism and Makebelieve”….

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  6. Jules,

    It would seem everyone here has a fair amount of experience with these states. Possibly the problem is trying to see them as transcendent, rather than primal and that it is our conscious secularism which is emergent.
    The problem I have with the basic conception of monotheism is that, logically, a spiritual absolute would be an essence of sentience, from which we rise, not an ideal of wisdom and judgement from which we fell. The new born babe, not the wise old man.
    It just so happens that treating them as a higher order transcendence is politically useful, to bind people into larger groups and override their personal judgement.

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  7. Having read Jules’s new book as well as the article I think a lot hinges on the definition of this word ‘transcendent’ and why it differs in meaning for so many due its subjective nature. I enjoyed Jules’s accounts of varying human experiences of transcendence from the self but can only view it as some sort of detachment from one’s self-consciousness – self-distancing. Dancing like mad (usually in private!) is my way of completing forgetting myself and my woes, and in full flow I would love to get everyone on the dance floor too. I would describe it as a massive state of joy and happiness but ‘ecstatic’ – if that means leaving my body and connecting with some higher state of being – no, that doesn’t happen, but then again I was both too young and too old for the chemical drug scene (just as well maybe). So Massimo, because I’m a philosophy student, I agree with your argument here. However, I think it is essential that Jules brings these experiences that people have into the public arena as they are deeply meaningful and should be discussed. In particular, NDEs can be life changing for so many people. I would urge caution though (as has been mentioned here by many) with regard to the collective ecstatic state – even without drugs it can be highly addictive.

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  8. Massimo mentioned his thoughts on a couple of Gnu Atheists, similar to mine.

    Jules: I’m going to suggest a non-Gnu, an atheist or secularist of some nature who is nonetheless very “spiritual,” and yet, after extensive studies of issues parallel to yours, has rejected the idea of any metaphysical background.

    I am, of course, speaking of Susan Blackmore.

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  9. Synred:

    I agree.

    Your Marx Opium reference refreshed my interest to recall the background context. While I’m not a fan of the massive violent outcome of the evolution of his thought (and his personal behavior seemed appalling), Marx was quite the Critical aspirational inspirational wordsmith.

    Works of Karl Marx 1843
    A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
    Introduction

    “For Germany, the criticism of religion has been essentially completed, and the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.”

    “The profane existence of error is compromised as soon as its heavenly oratio pro aris et focis [“speech for the altars and hearths,” i.e., for God and country] has been refuted. Man, who has found only the reflection of himself in the fantastic reality of heaven, where he sought a superman, will no longer feel disposed to find the mere appearance of himself, the non-man [Unmensch], where he seeks and must seek his true reality.”

    “The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

    “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”

    “It is the opium of the people.”

    “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

    “Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.”

    “It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.”

    https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm

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  10. Incidentally, this part of the article:

    Nicky Gumbel, the Anglican priest who developed the Alpha course, says that ecstatic experiences – what he calls ‘encounters with the Holy Spirit’ – could be God, or could be simply human psychology. What matters is the fruit. Does it lead to healing and good works, or not?

    Might give some people the impression that the Alpha course does not push the religious angle too hard. Nothing could be further from the truth, the Alpha course was designed to evangelise for a particularly conservative brand of Christianity. Nicky Gumbel’s book which is required reading in the course, has a chapter on how homosexuality is sinful and how gays should remain celibate (so much for ecstasy).

    If the Alpha course is recommended as one of the ways of exploring ecstasy, then I am doubly out.

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  11. Who knew the there would be a science of religion one day?

    William James

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  12. Works of Karl Marx 1843

    I tried once to read ‘Das Capital’. I did not get very far. This seems so much clearer or at least readable. It doesn’t always seem that well argued, but at least I know what he’s arguing.

    II also too a shot at Hegel ( Hegel, Georg. Phenomenology of the Spirit (Kindle Location 30). Pettis-Lovell Independent Publishers Ltd.. Kindle Edition.) but didn’t get past the first paragraph before being buried in jargon.

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  13. To riff on the words of Marx, per this piece, aren’t some types of religion actually the LSD or mushrooms of the people?

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  14. Four points:

    (1) Having had a number of (amazing) experience with LSD, and a number of what Jules call ‘ecstatic experiences’ my conclusion is that they are quite different and should not be conflated. Nor should the latter be conflated with psychotic episodes.

    (2) Massimo is wrong to call them “hallucinations”. An hallucination is when you sense (see/hear) something that is not there (eg angels, the voice of God). In an ecstatic experience you sense what is there but experience it in a new way. My analogy (adapted from my friend the late Robert Solomon’s “Spirituality for the Skeptic”) is “falling in love”. I can best describe my experience as “falling in love with the universe”.

    (3) Contra Jules, I don’t think you can actively seek an ecstatic experience, just as you can’t seek happiness. It can be counterproductive, as John Horgan relates. As with happiness you can lead a life that puts you in the way of ecstasy.

    (4) The big danger is to try to interpret and/or analyse the experience, which you will almost certainly do in the light of your previous experiences and beliefs. Just enjoy it. If you fall in love you don’t want to know the chemical processes involved.

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  15. synred

    Like you, I was not ready for a turgid wade through Das Kapitel at this point.

    May I suggest you start with Paul D’Amato, The Meaning of Marxism, rev. ed (2014)? This is a very readable introduction and, at over 300pp, it covers a lot of ground. It is not a light weight introduction, but a very thorough treatment I found D’Amato’s book to be excellent. He has a helpful “further reading” section at the end to guide deeper study. You’ll be relieved to know that D’Amato only mentions Hegel three times in the book. D’Amato is the managing editor of the ISR (Internationalist Socialist Review). There was a socialist conference at Univ. of Texas in Austin, either last year or this year, and he was one of the speakers. I regret that I wasn’t able to go (I live in Plano and work in Waxahachie — Austin is 3.5 hours away).

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  16. Notes for Ian, re three of his points:
    (2) If one presumes that it’s not just the universe, but the Universe, as in a Ground of Being or something metaphysical, though, it’s not there. (Contra claims of those who say it is.)
    (3) I think you can indeed seek an ecstatic existence. For war societies, or cultures within them, the haka and berserk are ecstasy for war. Certainly, the entire praxis of charismatic Christian churches, or the Qawalli Sufi singers of Pakistan and Afghanistan, also disagree with you. The note is that these are group experiences. Seeking solo ecstatic experiences may indeed be different.
    (4) Yes, but … as in this is a subset of the “ineffability” idea. Some things, like falling in love, may be ineffable — at first. But, sometimes, that becomes “hand-waving.” Also, while falling in love may have a degree of ineffability, staying in love really doesn’t.

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  17. Waxahachie

    I almost ended up at Waxahachie when the SSC was going surround it. Fortunatly they did not offer me the job and then congress pulled the plug on SSC with the tunnel half built.

    Arthur Snyder, President “Paper Millionaires for Democratic Socialism” — a proto-PAC.

    –>Sounds like an interesting book, but I have a long list already…so may not get to it anytime soon.

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  18. In Zen they set you to solving a poorly posed problem, have you sit in an uncomfortable position and ever now and then wack you with a stick.

    Endorphin high follows…

    One hand clapping: slap your master across his face…

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  19. Given that Marxism is NOT “scientific” (there’s certainly no empirical evidence for history marching through reiterations and reconfigurations of Hegelian-type triads of thesis, antithesis, synthesis), and is based on a philosophical school of thought that itself is not even wrong, the only reason it continues to get discussed is all the problems with capitalism.

    Whether it’s non-Marxist socialism or something else, that’s what needs to be on the table.

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  20. Socratic,

    It’s not like what we have today is any Adam Smith, free markets form of capitalism, if it ever was. “Level playing fields?” Lol. Same old rule of the jungle it ever was.

    It’s all branding, because it is the bumper sticker slogans which encapsulate people’s emotions that rule their ideologies.

    The essential premise of capitalism is competition. The essential premise of socialism is cooperation. One day people will realize they are inseparable.

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  21. >not like what we have today is any Adam Smith, free markets form of capitalism, if it ever was. “Level playing fields?” Lol. Same old rule of the jungle it ever was

    Human resources?

    https://goo.gl/Ltjr3F America’s most valuable resource – Utah Philips —

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  22. Hi brodix,

    Lol. Same old rule of the jungle it ever was

    The great libertarian fallacy is that fewer rules means more freedom.

    I used to be a member of an anarchist housing co-op. At meetings we didn’t have a chair, because that wasn’t anarchist. I suggested that we have a tennis ball or something that we pass around and we agree that the person who currently has the ball does the talking.

    But others said, no, that was authoritarian, we should be proper anarchists with no rules. So it ended up that two or three of the loudest most aggressive people did the talking and most people had to sit in silence.

    I think that goes for so-called unregulated market economies.

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  23. Robin,

    Power does write the rules, but power ebbs and flows. Energy and form.

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  24. I read Bakunin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_Bakunin). He describes how things would be run under anarchist – lots of committees with overlapping responsibilities. I don’t know if they’d have chairs, but clearly not workable.

    He did give a critic of the authoritarianism in Marx’s and Marxism.

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