As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance  -John Dewey

It’s not really about politics, and it’s not really about business, but it is about shadows and substance. In that way, it’s really about everything.

I hope you like it.

Direct download: tps7.SAS.mp3

Podcast Page HERE


15 thoughts on “The Philosopher’s Stone: part 7/8- Shadow and Substance

  1. Can we now just come out and say that there is a right way (and a wrong way) to use the brain? Not “right for some” or “better for some”, but actually a right way? Seriously, what’s so terrible about that? If you notice someone painting a house with a hammer, telling them that the way they’re doing it is incorrect doesn’t pose a moral quandary. Why should it be any different when it comes to the brain?

    There is a difference between imposing a view or a conclusion on someone and giving someone the tools necessary to think straight and to come to conclusions on their own. The latter is exactly where our society falls short to the point of grotesquery. Like children, we are constantly told in response to our questions, “Because I said so.” Either people in positions of authority – including the media – don’t think that the human brain will inevitably reach conclusions that are good, wholesome and true as long as you use it correctly, or they know it will, which is precisely why they’d rather you didn’t learn to do it or even know that it’s possible. That the actual truth of the matter is a little bit of both doesn’t seem very far-fetched, although it is rather distressing.

  2. I would agree with you with a slight tweak. I don’t think there are absolutely right and final ways of doing things, but I do think there are absolutely better and more efficient ways of doing things, that better accord with reality, and are usually more aesthetically pleasing, and beneficial to the whole. the problem is getting people to admit, in certain areas, that yeah there are actually qualitative judgments that can and should be made. if we’re unwilling to even set a direction (not even a final destination, just a direction), for ourselves and other people, then we’re in deep trouble and getting deeper.

    the ancient greeks believed the pursuit of excellence was the point of living. at a certain point their criteria for what excellence was got a bit nebulous, or was simply absent, yes, but there was a standard. pick your values, pick your goals and excel at them. anyone who tried to find reasons to not do this, or to rationalize that it was okay not to do this, was what we call a sophist, and any activity that is intended to undermine the pursuit of excellence, is sophistry.

    this isn’t some fascist trip either, as some overly sensitive souls are wont to say. it applies to anything. like love. excel at love. excel at the pursuit of beauty and truth. excel at justice and compassion. anyone who tells you that you can’t, or shouldn’t, or that there is no standard to excel by, is talking dangerous nihilistic, inhuman, crap.

    we don’t even need to agree on what the standard is, only that there is one, and that it is our responsibility to contemplate it, test it against reality, and live it. accepting that this is an unending process helps to dispose of old dogma and prevents the emergence of new dogma.

    end of rant.

  3. Rant away, my friend.

    And of course there isn’t a final way of doing things. But the way most of us live our lives is just absolutely ridiculous. If you want to go a different country, you use the tools, skills and knowledge that will get you there. That can be as simple as ordering a plane ticket online with money you’ve earned, or as complicated as building a boat and learning how to navigate it. Everyone knows this. Everyone expects it to be like this. If you’re going on vacation to the Caribbean, you don’t board a plane and think, well, maybe we’ll end up in the Caribbean, or maybe we’ll end up in Australia, or maybe we’ll just circle around and end up back home … we’ll just have to wait and see, and if we don’t end up where we wanted, there’s no use complaining about it because that’s just the way it is and you better learn to accept it. But that’s exactly the mindset most of us use when it comes to living our lives. WTF?

  4. I believe most people do pursue excellence, but only in some areas. Many seem to treat life like a game, where there’s one or two really good gameplay mechanics that they just have to repeatedly try out and get better at. For all they care, the rest could just rot.

    Try talking to someone who is a student and self-professed lover of learning about something they’re not intimately familiar with. Chances are you’ll get apathy as a response, even if said people are very enthusiastic in the pursuit of knowledge pertaining to their fields of already-established interest.

    And those were the people who claim to like learning.

    The same goes for a love of socializing or a love of writing. People tend to compartmentalize their inspiration to the point where things that aren’t perceived as being directly related to their interests are sort of insignificant.

    Perhaps many people just aren’t thinking too much about the efficiency with which they’re living their lives?

    Bring on the quantum physics, I say. It’s all related. Most of us just don’t seem to realize as much.


  5. A teacher I had once remarked that I had an impressive ability to not give a damn about the things that didn’t interest me. As I’ve grown older, my interests are still very much the same. But at the same time as those interests have deepened, their span has also increased. I don’t think having many or the “right” focuses is what matters. I think what’s important is that you could, theoretically, explore them forever.

  6. Only if the thinking behind your actions goes something like this: X amount of time spent doing something = I can stop doing it and start doing what I really want. That’s a way of using the brain that’s not especially helpful. A more helpful way of using it is to do the things that are inherently a part of your goal.

    You’ve got your ultimate cause, your proximate cause and finally, the result. Let’s say you want to be able to concentrate better, and that deciding to do concentration practice is the ultimate cause. Concentrating is then the proximate cause, and the result – being able to concentrate better – happens naturally and needn’t concern you. In theory, you could do this forever, and if you could apply it to everything you do in life, well, in my book that would constitute a pretty good way of using the brain.

  7. Well, let’s take it for a test run…

    I want to be useful to myself and others, and provide myself with an effective backlog of my progress. Therefore Primordial Chaos, for all its failings.

    Blogging being the proximate cause.

    Thus, blogging would be the natural way to get better at being useful in the aspect I’ve chosen, under the presumption that I keep up the practice of the actual techniques involved.


  8. ‘Actual techniques involved’ meaning both the blogging itself and the concentration practice etc. that I blog about.

  9. I think part of the problem with the way many of us view reality is that we decide to do something, but we kind of fudge the next step, the proximate cause. And that was kind of the point of the previous episode, that many of us hope for some sort of deus ex machina that will magically transport us from desire to result. Hoping for that means that’s your proximate cause, and the result is that you’re waiting for something to intervene and to point you in the right direction.

    I believe if you do get this chain of causation right, it’s like chewing and swallowing food. If you chew your food, you’ll eventually swallow it. The body knows when to do it. All you have to do is keep chewing. You can tell this isn’t the way most people do things. Instead it’s more like this: take a bite, start chewing and then appeal to some thing that will ensure that the food reaches your stomach. As a result of this you chew your food more slowly, and when you finally do swallow, you give the thing you imagined must have responded to your appeal all the credit for the achieved result. So when you take the next bite, you once more, maybe even more vigorously, focus your attention on placating that thing you think helped you out last time. And maybe you chew even more slowly this time around because of that, which probably leads to some resentment towards that thing, at least down the road. Because you’re sucking up to it more and more, and yet it seems to take you longer and longer to swallow your food.

  10. Don’t know if you guys have heard about the Long Now Foundation, but if you haven’t, it’s definitely worth looking into:

    Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem explores some of these very concepts in great depth. It’s a cracking good yarn to boot.

  11. Oh. Reading material! I love reading material. Anathem is readily available at my local bookstore, so I can go grab that whenever.

  12. anathem is highly recommended, by me. if you don’t mind a huge book that is almost completely people having conversations about complex ideas. but that’s only fair, since the main point of the book is that people need longer attention spans.

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