May 15 2012

Checks and Balances

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I discovered the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft when I was in high school. His novella The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath was one of the bigger influences on me for my interest in dreams. I recently went back and re-read it, and found its prose to be far more purple than I remembered it, but still an enjoyable read. Lovecraft’s use of “certain” words (such as “certain”, “cyclopean”, “batrachean”) and fascination with the horros of “non-Euclideangeometries” and “blasphemous angles” are in full force. Yes, it’s over the top, and yes, I love it all. I have Lovecraft’s complete works on my shelf.

Lovecraft’s protagonists inevitably stumble upon some “forbidden tome” (usually “that cursed Necronomicon” or the “fragmentary Pnakotic Manuscripts, with their dark hints”, or some such), stay up all night reading them, and inevitably get their souls chewed on by Cthulhu or Nyarlathotep or something worse.

“Phn’glui M’gl wna’f, Cthulhu R’lyeh Wgah Nagl Ftaghn.

It would seem that (according to Lovecraft), there are some domains where humanity is not meant to tread.

A while back, I read Gary Lachman‘s book, Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius, a rather fascinating survey of occultism and the beginnings of the NewAge (rhymes with…) movement during said decade, and before. Interestingly, every major figure that Lachman profiled in the book “couldn’t cope”, it seems, with whatever knowledge or insight they thought they’d achieved (Lachman covers figures such as Crowley, LaVey, Manson, Leary, Kenneth Grant, and more – I’m not here to debate whether or not these people could “hanlde it” or not; go read the book and make your own conclusions).

Many esoteric traditions warn of “dangers” along the path.

Some of this, I suspect, is to keep out the riff-raff.

On the other hand, some of what is dealt with in these traditions can get pretty intense.

Sometimes I joke that with some of my own areas of interest, there are nights when i wonder if Cthulhu’s tentacles will be tapping at my windowpanes while I sleep.

I found something on the street a while back. I keep it on my fridge.

I have a great fondness for things like this.

Here’s the flipside:

I get roped into a lot of conversations involving subject matter like this. Usually by complete strangers.

I met God in a coffee shop once. He told me that the Native Americans had detonated a nuclear device on the border between Colorado and Wyoming. He had the Rand McNally Road Atlas to prove it, too. He showed me.

I always listen when people have important things like this to tell me.

First of all, there’s the obvious reason: what if they’re right?

If Space Reptiles are controlling us through the television, and turning women into CIA mind-controlled sex slaves, well, I want to know about these things before it all comes to a head.

But the real reason I listen, and I collect flyers and such like these, is that I realize that it is sometimes a very fine line that I am treading in my chosen path of inquiry. These things act as reminders for me. They ground me. They remind me to question, and to lighten up once in a while.

One of the greatest pieces of advice in this field I’ve come across, is from Charles Tart. In his book States of Consciousness, Tart talks about the necessity of “state-specific sciences”, where researchers could achieve “discrete states of consciousness” (d-SoCs) or “discrete altered states of consciousness” (d-ASCs) and corroborate their findings involving these states. This is essential, because (as he describes), researchers in d-ASCs might fall prey to what he calls the “obvious truth” fallacy.

“In many d-ASCs, one’s experience is that one is obviously and lucidly experiencing truth directly, without question. An immediate result of this may be an extinction of desire for further questioning. Further, this experience of ‘obvious’ truth, while not necessarily preventing the investigator from further examining his data, may not arouse his desire for consensual validation. Since one of the greatest strengths of science is its insistence on consensual validation of basic data, this can be a serious drawback. Investigators attempting to develop state-specific sciences must learn to distrust the obvious.”

(Tart, 1975, p. 223)

This is one of the things I try to keep in mind with my dream research, for instance. I have had some experiences in dreams that I can barely describe. Questioning such experiences is never a bad thing. It doesn’t diminish the experience at all, nor does it deny it.

Sources (and further reading):

Lachman, Gary. (2001). Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius. New York: Disinformation.

Tart, Charles T. (1975). States of Consciousness. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co.

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