Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wired on the Problem with Causes

The problem with this assumption, however, is that causes are a strange kind of knowledge. This was first pointed out by David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher. Hume realized that, although people talk about causes as if they are real facts—tangible things that can be discovered—they’re actually not at all factual. Instead, Hume said, every cause is just a slippery story, a catchy conjecture, a “lively conception produced by habit.” When an apple falls from a tree, the cause is obvious: gravity. Hume’s skeptical insight was that we don’t see gravity—we see only an object tugged toward the earth. We look at X and then at Y, and invent a story about what happened in between. We can measure facts, but a cause is not a fact—it’s a fiction that helps us make sense of facts.

The truth is, our stories about causation are shadowed by all sorts of mental shortcuts. Most of the time, these shortcuts work well enough. They allow us to hit fastballs, discover the law of gravity, and design wondrous technologies. However, when it comes to reasoning about complex systems—say, the human body—these shortcuts go from being slickly efficient to outright misleading.
Trials and Errors: Why Science is Failing Us

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sanford L. Drob restates the Lurianic Kabbalah in abstract terms

(1) a primal nothing/being or “Absolute” (Ayin/Ein-sof) (2) initiates a contraction or self-negation (tzimtzum), which gives rise to (3) an imagined and alienated realm (ha-olamot) (4) within which a created, personal subject arises (Adam Kadmon). (5) This subject embodies the fundamental structures, ideas and values of both God and the human world (Sefirot), However, (6) these Sefirot are inherently unstable and deconstruct (shevirat ha-kelim), leading to (7) a further alienation of the primal energy from its source (kellipot, Sitra Achra) and (8) a rending apart of opposites, resulting in the intellectual, spiritual, and moral antinomies and perplexities of our world. As a result of (9) a spiritual, intellectual, and psychological process (birur), (10) the ideas and values of the world are restored in a manner that enables them to structure and contain the primal energy of the Absolute, and complete both God and the world (tikkun ha-Olam).
The Lurianic Metaphors, Creativity and the Structure of Language

This is interesting to compare with PKD's efforts in the Exegesis to restate his own mystical system in abstract principles. Also, Sanford L. Drob sounds like the name of a Character from a PKD novel.

David Gill on Exegeting the Exegesis without God - like listening to punk rock quietly

"And here's where the rubber's gonna meet the road: the Exegesis is hardcore theological speculation, an endeavor that many in our current milieu feel to be pointless, and what's worse, the sign of a degraded mind.

But to take the God out of the PKD, is kinda like listening to punk rock quietly: what's the point? I'm not getting all deist on you. I actually am pretty open minded about the whole thing. Recently, I asked a class of students to raise their hands if they thought Wilbur Mercer, the savior character in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was real, and I was amazed when not a single hand went up."
Total Dick-Head: Exegeting the Exegesis

I love the comparison with punk rock. Gill also has a great line about PKD's experimental writing on esoteric philosophy being like jazz improvisation.

On the affinity between Vonnegut and Dick (from a FB comment)

I've always felt a weird affinity between Vonnegut and Dick. Both are literary writers who happened to write a little SF, and who therefore got unjustly pigeonholed as SF writers. Dick was hugely inspired by Vonnegut's first book "Player Piano," while Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout character seems like a clear homage to the legend of Philip K. Dick: bleak and obscure but brilliant SF writer toiling in obscurity writing stories with brilliant concepts but terrible prose. Their writing styles and subject matter are very different, although both put a rare emphasis on compassion which I very much appreciate in my literary fiction. Did I ever tell you the story from college of when I was walking through the music stacks of the UCD library and found a PKD and KV book sitting together on the shelf? I thought it was a weird synchronicity since I had just read a ton of KV+PKD over the past year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

on God as a topic in SF

"God, as a topic in science fiction, when it appeared at all, used to be treated polemically, as in OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET. But I prefer to treat it as intellectually exciting."
-Philip K. Dick on his story Faith of our Fathers

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mystic Diagram from Kipple, a jazz project

Kipple: Flashes of Irrational Happiness

Call for Papers: Philip K. Dick Conference in San Francisco next September

Philip K Dick in 21st Century

The Largest Gathering of PKD Scholars and Fans Ever Assembled in North America, A Multi-disciplinary Celebration of the Legendary California Writer

Philip K Dick is arguably one of the most important writers of the 21st century. Dick’s uncanny prescience not only foretold of our current surveillance technology and color-coded terror, but additionally captured the narcissism and psychological withdrawal that defines the early part of this new century. Considered at the time of his death to be little more than a genre writer, Dick’s burgeoning literary reputation was kindled by a handful of fans and scholars. With his recent canonization in the prestigious Library of America and the 2011 publication of Dick’s esoteric religious notes, The Exegesis, now is the time to examine Dick’s influence and how he became such an important literary figure. The Bay Area, home to Dick for the majority of his lifetime, is also the perfect location for the event, allowing fans and scholars to step into Dick’s own past and retrace his steps in this vibrant city by the bay. Sept 22-23, 2012 will be a weekend long celebration and examination of Dick’s life and work.

The conference's guest of honor will be none other than Jonathan Lethem, the editor for Philip K Dick's three volumes from the prestigious Library of America, an editor of The Exegesis of Philip K Dick (from Houghton Mifflin), and a celebrated novelist in his own right. Lethem currently holds the Roy E. Disney Chair in Creative Writing at Pomona College and his writing about Philip K Dick appears in his essay collections The Disappointment Artist, and The Ecstasy of Influence.

Other confirmed guests include: Pam Jackson (Editor, Philip K Dick's Exegesis), Erik Davis (Annotations Editor for the recent publication of The Exegesis), John Simon (director of Radio Free Albemuth), Sam Umland (Chair of English Department at University of Nebraska Kearney and author of Contemporary Critical Interpretations: Philip K Dick), Douglas Mackey (author of Philip K Dick, Twayne's United States Author Series), Umberto Rossi (independent scholar and author of The Twisted Worlds of Philip K Dick), Marc Haefele (an Assistant Editor at Doubleday who worked with Philip K Dick on his masterpiece novels Ubik and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), William Sarill (a longtime friend of Philip K Dick who helped Dick develop the religious system in his novel A Maze of Death), and many, many more.

Stay tuned for more information about the schedule and lodging in San Francisco. If you are interested in either presenting or attending, please contact conference organizer, David Gill: We are currently looking for speakers to give cogent and plain-spoken presentations on the following aspects of Dick’s life and work:

1: Biographical
2. Literary Criticism
3. Science Fiction
4. Cinematic Translations
5. Sociology and Psychology
6. Religion and Philosophy

Best Book to buy somebody who's interested in PKD and Literary Criticism

Umberto Rossi's book is the PKD lit crit masterpiece we have been waiting for. Not since Kim Stanley Robinson's "The Novels of Philip K. Dick" have we seen a book on Dick's novels of this scope. Your giftee will find deep and learned analysis of the most important works of PKD. Rossi knows literature and criticism well, bringing an erudite perspective, but he's also sympathetic and sensitive enough to the reality breakdown and creaky prose of this complicated author.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

For Comparison: Jung "doing a schizophrenia" (see also Swedenborg's mystical crisis)

"As his convictions began to crystallize, Jung, who was at that point an outwardly successful and ambitious man with a young family, a thriving private practice and a big, elegant house on the shores of Lake Zurich, felt his own psyche starting to teeter and slide, until finally he was dumped into what would become a life-altering crisis.

What happened next to Carl Jung has become, among Jungians and other scholars, the topic of enduring legend and controversy. It has been characterized variously as a creative illness, a descent into the underworld, a bout with insanity, a narcissistic self-deification, a transcendence, a midlife breakdown and an inner disturbance mirroring the upheaval of World War I. Whatever the case, in 1913, Jung, who was then 38, got lost in the soup of his own psyche. He was haunted by troubling visions and heard inner voices. Grappling with the horror of some of what he saw, he worried in moments that he was, in his own words, “menaced by a psychosis” or “doing a schizophrenia.”

The Holy Grail of the Unconscious (NYT on Jung's Red Book)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Hegel on Eriugena

Scholastic philosophy is considered to begin with John Scotus Erigena who flourished about the year 860, and who must not be confused with the Duns Scotus of a later date. We do not quite know whether he belonged to Ireland or to Scotland, for Scotus points to Scotland, and Erigena to Ireland. With him true philosophy first begins, and his philosophy in the main coincides with the idealism of the Neo-Platonists. Here and there stray works of Aristotle were likewise known, even to John Scotus, but the knowledge of Greek was very limited and rare. He shows some knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew tongues, and even of Arabic as well; but we do not know how he attained to this. He also translated from Greek to Latin writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, a later Greek philosopher of the Alexandrian school, who more especially followed Proclus: namely, De coelesti hierarchia, and others which Brucker calls (Hist. crit. phil. T. III. p. 521), nugæ et deliria Platonica. Michael Balbus, Emperor of Constantinople, had in the year 824 made a present of these works to the Emperor Louis the Pious; Charles the Bald caused them to be translated by Scotus, who long resided at bis court. In this way something of the Alexandrian philosophy became known in the West. The Pope quarrelled with Charles, and complained to him of the translator, against whom he made the reproach that “he should have first sent the book to him in conformity with the general usage, and asked his approval.” John Scotus afterwards lived in England as head of a school at Oxford, which had been founded by King Alfred.

Scotus was also the author of some original works, which are not without depth and penetration, upon nature and its various orders (De naturæ divisione), &c. Dr. Hjort, of Copenhagen, published an epitome of the writings of Scotus Erigena, in 1823. Scotus Erigena sets to work philosophically, expressing himself in the manner of the Neo-Platonists, and not freely, and as from himself, Thus in the method of expression adopted by Plato, and also by Aristotle, we are rejoiced to find a new conception, and on bringing it to the test of philosophy, to find it both correct and profound; but here everything is ready to hand, cut and dry. Yet, with Scotus, theology is not yet built on exegesis, and on the authority of the Church; the Church in many cases rejected his writings. Thus Scotus is reproached by a Lyons church council in these words: “There have come to us the writings of a boastful, chattering man, who disputes about divine providence and predestination, in human fashion, or, as he himself boasts, with philosophic arguments, and without relying on the holy scriptures and bringing forward the authority of the Fathers. And he dares to defend this on its own merit, and to establish it on its own laws, without submitting himself to the holy scriptures and the authority of the Fathers.” Scotus Erigena hence even said: “The true Philosophy is the true Religion, and the true Religion is the true Philosophy. The separation came later on. Scotus then made a beginning, but properly he does not belong to the scholastics.
History of Philosophy

Hegel on Malebranche

a. What is most important in this book is his idea of the origin of our knowledge. He says: “The essence of the soul is in thought, just as that of matter is in extension. All else, such as sensation, imagination and will, are modifications of thought.” He thus begins with two sides, between which he sets an absolute chasm, and then he follows out in detail the Cartesian idea of the assistance of God in knowledge. His main point is that “the soul cannot attain to its conceptions and notions from external things.” For when I and the thing are clearly independent of one another and have nothing in common, the two can certainly not enter into relation with one another nor be for one another. “Bodies are impenetrable; their images would destroy one another on the way to the organs.” But further: “The soul cannot beget ideas from itself, nor can they be inborn,” for as “Augustine has said, ‘ Say not that ye yourselves are your own light.’ ” But how then comes extension, the manifold, into the simple, into the spirit, since it is the reverse of the simple, namely the diverse? This question regarding the association of thought and extension is always an important one in Philosophy. According to Malebranche the answer is, “That we see all things in God.” God Himself is the connection between us and them, and thus the unity between the thing and thought. “God has in Him the ideas of all things because He has created all; God is through His omnipresence united in the most intimate way with spirits. God thus is the place of spirits,” the Universal of spirit, “just as space” is the universal, “the place of bodies. Consequently the soul knows in God what is in Him,” bodies, “inasmuch as He sets forth” (inwardly conceives) “created existence, because all this is spiritual, intellectual, and present to the soul."(2) Because things and God are intellectual and we too are intellectual, we perceive them in God as they are, so to speak, intellectual in Him. If this be further analyzed it in no way differs from Spinozism. Malebranche indeed in a popular way allows soul and things to subsist as independent, but this independence vanishes away like smoke when the principle is firmly grasped. The catechism says: “God is omnipresent,” and if this omnipresence be developed Spinozism is arrived at; and yet theologians then proceed to speak against the system of identity, and cry out about Pantheism.

b. We must further remark that Malebranche also makes the universal, thought, the essential, by placing it before the particular. “The soul has the Notion of the infinite and universal: it knows nothing excepting through the Idea which it has of the infinite; this Idea must hence come first. The universal is not a mere confusion of individual ideas, it is not a union of individual things.” According to Locke the individual from which the universal is formed precedes (infra, p. 299); according to Malebranche the universal Idea is what comes first in man. “If we wish to think of anything particular we think first of the universal;” it is the principle of the particular, as space is of things. All essentiality precedes our particular conceptions, and this essentiality comes first. “All essential existences (essences) come before our ordinary conception; they cannot be such excepting by God’s presence in the mind and spirit. He it is who contains all things in the simplicity of His nature. It seems evident that mind would not be capable of representing to itself the universal Notions of species, kind, and suchlike, if it did not see all things comprehended in one.” The universal is thus in and for itself, and it does not take its rise through the particular. “Since each existent thing is an individual, we cannot say that we see something actually created when, for example, we see a triangle in general,” for we see it through God. “No account can be given of how spirit knows abstract and common truths, excepting through the presence of Him who can enlighten spirit in an infinite way,” because He is in and for Himself the universal. “We have a clear idea of God,” of the universal: “We can have such only through union with Him, for this idea is not a created one,” but is in and for itself. As with Spinoza, the one universal is God, and in so far as it is determined, it is the particular; we see this particular only in the universal, as we see bodies in space. “We already have a conception of infinite Being, inasmuch as we have a conception of Being without regard to whether it is finite or infinite. To know a finite we must limit the infinite; and this last must thus precede. Thus spirit perceives all in the infinite; this is so far from being a confused conception of many particular things that all particular conceptions are merely participations in the universal Idea of infinitude — in the same way that God does not receive this Being from" finite “creatures, but,” on the contrary, “all creatures only subsist through Him."(3)

c. As regards the turning of the soul to God, Malebranche says what Spinoza said from his ethical point of view: “It is impossible that God should have an end other than Himself (the Holy Scriptures place this beyond doubt);” the will of God can only have the good, what is without doubt universal as its end. “Hence not only is it essential that our natural love, i.e., the emotion which he brings forth in our spirit, should strive after Him" — "the will is really love towards God" — "but it is likewise impossible that the knowledge and the light He gives to our spirit should make anything else known than what is in Him,” for thought only exists in unity with God. “If God were to make a spirit and give it the sun as an idea or as the immediate object of its knowledge, God would have made this spirit and the idea of this spirit for the sun and not for Himself.” All natural love, and still more knowledge, and the desire after truth, have God as their end.” All motions of the will as regards the creatures are only determinations of motion as regards the creator.” Malebranche quotes from Augustine “that we see God even from the time we first enter upon this life (dès cette vie), through the knowledge that we have of eternal truths. The truth is uncreated, unchangeable, immeasurable, eternal above all things; it is true through itself, and has its perfection from no thing. It makes the creator more perfect, and all spirits naturally seek to know it: now there is nothing that has these perfections but God, and thus the truth is God. We perceive these unchangeable and eternal truths, hence we see God.” “God indeed sees but He does not feel sensuous things. If we see something sensuous, sensation and pure thought are to be found in our consciousness. Sensation is a modification of our spirit; God occasions this because He knows that our soul is capable of it. The Idea which is bound up with the sensation is in God; we see it, etc. This relation, this union of our mind and spirit with the Word (Verbe) of God, and of our will with His love, is that we are formed after the image of God and in His likeness."(4) Thus the love of God consists in relating one’s affections to the Idea of God; whoever knows himself and thinks his affections clearly, loves God. We further find sundry empty litanies concerning God, a catechism for children of eight years of age respecting goodness, justice, omnipresence, the moral order of the world; in all their lifetime theologians do not get any further.
History of Philosophy

what Dick thought was much more dangerous

(I have been making a similar point in the "was Dick postmodern?" discussions.)

"The Baudrillardians are happy to have him point out that time is an illusion; that the authorities are out to get us; that God can talk through cheesy television advertisements; and that, with the endless refractions of different media playing the same message back and forth, nothing is quite as it seems. But they are happy for him to do so just as long as it is a fun metaphor making an important point but not to be taken seriously.

Judging by these journals, however, what Dick thought was much more dangerous."
"Dick’s theology, though not quite orthodox, is not noticeably more odd or problematic than that of Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena or St John of the Cross."

"The oddest thing of all is that a man who perfectly described the world in which we all now live, who predicted the anxieties that would affect the citizens of the 21st Century, can – on the basis of these journals – be dismissed as a nutcase."

"The trouble is that the Exegesis doesn’t read like that. It reads like a clever man trying to come to terms with the world around him, a world that he had always distrusted, and that gave him reasons to distrust it."

"...the unfashionable truth is that Philip K. Dick believed in an old-fashioned story: this world is an illusion, and the world that matters, the one which can be relied upon, was revealed by Jesus Christ."

Did Philip K. Dick Dream of a Message from God?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Call for Papers - PKD Conference in Germany November 2012

“Worlds Out of Joint: Re-Imagining Philip K. Dick”
An International Conference
15-18 November, 2012
TU Dortmund University, Germany
2012 sees the thirtieth anniversary of the untimely death, at the age of
53, of Philip K. Dick – a figure whose cultural impact within and beyond
science fiction remains difficult to overestimate. Dick’s academic and
popular reputation continues to grow, as a number of recent monographs,
several biographies and an unceasing flow of film adaptations testify. Yet
while his status as “The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet”
(Paul Williams) is rarely questioned, scholarly criticism of Dick has not
kept pace with recent developments in academia – from transnationalism
to adaptation studies, from the cultural turn in historiography to the
material turn in the humanities. Too often Dick remains shrouded in
clichés and myth. Indeed, rarely since the seminal contributions of
Fredric Jameson and Darko Suvin have our engagements with Dick proved
equal to the complexity of his writing – an oeuvre indebted to the pulps
and Goethe, Greek philosophy and the Beats – that calls for renewed
attempts at a history of popular culture. The aim of this conference is to
contribute to such an undertaking. At a time when mass protest against
irrational economic, political and cultural orders is once again erupting
around the world, the Dortmund conference will return to one of the major
figures of the long American Sixties: to an author whose prophetic
analyses of biopolitical capitalism and the neo-authorian surveillance
state remain as pertinent as they were 30 years ago. Confirmed keynote
speakers: Marc Bould (University of the West of England, Bristol), Roger
Luckhurst (Birbeck, University of London) and Norman Spinrad (New
York/Paris). Possible topics for panels and papers include but are in no
way limited to: 1. The Realist Novels: What do Dick’s early realist
novels add to our understanding of his work? In what relation do they
stand to late modernist and realist U.S. literature? Can they be
understood as Beat writing? 2. Transnational Approaches: Dick drew on
various European and non-European cultures, and his SF worlds are highly
transnational in their hybridity: What cultural transfers and
transformations are evident in his work? 3. Dick’s Global Reception:
Dick’s fiction has been widely translated – from Portuguese to
Japanese, from Finnish to Hebrew. Yet we know little about his global
reception. How has Dick’s work been read abroad, and transformed in
translation? What has been his impact on SF outside America? 4. Dick and
the SF Tradition: Critics have rarely engaged in-depth with Dick’s
contribution to SF. What is Dick’s debt to the pulp magazines, to Robert
Heinlein, A. E. van Vogt, or other SF authors? To what extent did Dick
influence his contemporaries, and what does today’s SF owe to him? 5.
Dick and Fandom: Long before his canonization as a literary figure, Dick
was a cult author, and he retains a committed fan base. How has fandom
shaped the way we read him? What role does Dick play in SF cultures of
fandom today? 6. Narrative Structures and Aesthetics: Dick’s short
fiction and novels are linked by common motifs, tropes and fictional
devices. How do they shape his writing? His status as a popular writer has
also meant that the aesthetic dimension of Dick’s fiction has often been
neglected. How can it help us understand his work? 7. Dick and Mainstream
Literature: Dick’s impact on ‘serious’ literature has often been
posited but rarely analyzed. What do Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut or
David Foster Wallace owe to Dick? What role have his writings played in
the integration of SF into mainstream literature? 8. Adaptations: What
makes Dick’s writing so attractive to filmmakers? How have these visual
narratives changed our understanding of his work? Should we pay more
attention to adaptations to other media – from opera to computer games?
9. The Letters and Journals: How do Dick’s letters and journals, as well
as interviews with him change our understanding of his fiction? 10. The
Final Novels: Dick’s late novels are gaining increasing attention, but
critical evaluations vary widely. Are they evidence of a spiritual turn in
Dick’s writing? How do they allow us to look at his work of the 1960s
anew? 11. Dick and the Sixties: Recent scholarship drastically has changed
our understanding of the Sixties. Does this necessitate a re-writing of
Dick? What can we learn from the contradictions and achievements that
shaped this era and Dick’s writing? 12. Dick and Global Capitalism: How
do Dick's analyses of global capitalism, mediatized politics and
individualized consumer culture correspond to our own present? Please send
an abstract of no more than 500 words and a short biographical sketch to before 29 February 2012. Presenters will be asked
to submit a full version of their 20-minute presentation by 31 August, and
an electronic reader will be distributed before the conference to all
participants. A selection of the papers given at the conference will be
published in book form. Conference Organizers: Walter Grünzweig, Randi
Gunzenhäuser, Sybille Klemm, Stefan Schlensag, Florian Siedlarek, (TU
Dortmund University); Alexander Dunst (University of Potsdam) and Damian
Podleśny (Katowice) Conference Director and Contact: Stefan Schlensag
Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik TU Dortmund University
Emil-Figge-Straße 50 D-44227 Dortmund, Germany