In the last couple of posts I’ve talked a lot about the rise of the Magical and its contribution to the craziness afflicting the modern West. The nudge units, spin doctors, psy-ops and other shenanigans all fit into the category of applied Magic, as does the modern propaganda machine consisting of what’s left of the mainstream media plus the various attempts to influence public opinion through the manipulation of social media.
After writing last week’s post, it became clear to me that I needed a separate post to address what I think is the other primary contributor to the modern madness which we can call the deficient Mental Consciousness. The Mental Consciousness arose with the emergence of logic and dialectic in Ancient Greece, Christianity and especially the activities of the Church in Europe, the scientific method and the patriarchy. It is this Consciousness which is breaking down right before our eyes and thus it’s no coincidence that science, logic, law and gender issues are at the forefront of that breakdown.
I gave a general overview of the Mental in a recent post. But in this post I want to focus in more detail on just two just two aspects of the Mental which I think are representative of the current problems. At the risk of traumatising people with memories of high school maths class, we’re going to start with the calculus.
Recall that calculus is all about little bits; increments of different degrees of smallness. The way my high school maths teacher explained it was by reference to the “minute”. The word minute comes from Latin minutus which means “small”. Minuta had already been in use in geometry to describe small degrees of a circle. It then got applied to time with the appearance of the now familiar circular clock face. The word “second” was originally secunda minuta which means the second order of smallness. Since then, we’ve added milliseconds which is derived from the Latin mille meaning “thousand”. The point is that these are all different degrees of smallness.
To return to beginner’s calculus, we start with the simple equation:
y = x2
Then we add the differential:
y + dy = (x +dx)2
When we expand this, we get :
y + dy = x2 + 2x * dx + (dx)2
At this point the teacher informs us that we don’t need to worry about that (dx)2 on the end because it is a second order smallness. It’s too small to matter. So, we can just cross it out. The same goes for equations like y = x5 where we get to leave out the second and third order differential. So, we solve some equations leaving out the smaller derivatives and eventually the teacher shows us that we can apply a short cut for solving such equations, which is nx(n-1).
Now, as a high school maths students who’s already sick of solving equations, this is music to your ears. You eagerly embrace the short cut, whizz through your homework and go and play computer games or upload a video of yourself dancing to TikTok. But that shortcut is based on having excluded the higher order parts of the equation. Strictly speaking, all of the answers given by the shortcut are a little bit wrong. But your maths textbook doesn’t reflect that and your final grade for the subject doesn’t require you to know it. No doubt most students forget it instantly. But it always bugged me. When, some years later, I read Gerald Weinberg’s Introduction to General Systems Thinking, I realised that this trick of leaving things out was more fundamental than I had realised.
Excluding things that were too small to matter was how Newton arrived at his law of universal gravitation: F = G(Mm/r2). Firstly, Newton deliberately ignored all the other celestial bodies in the solar system and focused on just the seven planets. Next, he assumed that because the sun is so huge relative to the planets only the pairwise relation between each planet and the sun was relevant. This allowed him to rule out all other combinations and reduce the number of calculations required. In essence, he did the same thing that we see in the calculus, he simplified things down by excluding elements that were assumed to be too small to matter. Just like in calculus, the simplifications free up our time and cognitive resources to solve more difficult problems. It’s only in this way that we are able to calculate anything because when there are too many variables the number of calculations grows astronomically (see the Three Body Problem as an example of that).
This use of simplifications is the secret to what is now known as classical mechanics. Recently, I randomly stumbled across a thread on an online physics forum. Somebody posted a question in relation to a university level physics problem which went something like this: “Are we supposed to leave out this part of the equation?” There followed a long conversation where people tried to remember why that part was left out but ultimately nobody could remember the reason. The resolution of the thread was that it should be left out but nobody could remember why. So, we see that this business is simplifying and excluding things that don’t matter is still a core part of the way physics is done.
Simplifying things is not a problem but it becomes a problem when we forget that we have simplified. Newton and others at that time knew the simplifying assumptions he had made. But sometime between then and now this knowledge seems to have been lost and science became reified into the quasi-religion that we see nowadays. Models which are descriptions of the behaviour of objects have come to be seen as if they are the word of God himself; as if they are reality itself. But the map is not the territory.
One way to think about the territory is that it is the testing part of the process. There are simplifying assumptions built into the theoretical models. Then there is the testing of those models and this introduces further difficulties. Newton worked out his theory of gravitation in relation to the massive bodies of the planets of the solar system. Down here on Earth, the force of gravitation is much weaker and this makes testing a problem because the equipment we have lacks sensitivity. This means that the empirical evidence is not conclusive that the law of universal gravitation holds for objects smaller than a human body. There’s no evidence that it doesn’t. But we just don’t know.
And this is the key point to be made. We need to know the simplifying assumptions we have made in the theory and we need to know what level of accuracy we have achieved in the testing. In other words, we need to appreciate that there is uncertainty. This is true even of something as fundamental as the law of universal gravitation (which isn’t really “universal” anymore since we know it doesn’t hold for black holes, to take one example).
Here we see the first element of the deficient Mental Consciousness. It’s the hubris of supposing that physics held the keys to the universe and that we would soon be able to calculate everything. The second element is related to the first and came to be known as physics envy. We took the methods of classical mechanics and began using them in other scientific domains including the life sciences. This led to an attempt to measure anything and everything, including things which could not and should not be measured. But the more damaging problem was related to the simplification trick.
In maths class, nobody’s life depends on us ignoring the second order differential. And in physics class, the other celestial bodies in the solar system are not going to get upset if we don’t include them in the law of universal gravitation. But if we are testing a new medication, let’s say a brand new type of vaccine, simplifying assumptions become a matter of life and death. If I told you the “safety calculation” was that the vaccine was 99.999% safe, that seems pretty good. A 0.001% fatality rate sounds pretty small. Is it “too small to matter”? Well, if we are going to give the medication just to people are who are on death’s door, it probably is too small to matter. But if we are going to give it to “everybody on Earth” including healthy people, then even a fatality rate of 0.001% mean tens of thousands of people will die. Who gets to decide that this is “too small to matter”? Who gets to the decide that any other injuries caused by the vaccine are too small to matter? Context matters and simplifying assumptions become questions of politics and morality.
The deficient Mental Consciousness counts things which don’t count and ignores things which do. It reached its peak in late 19th and early 20th century materialism but lives on in the idea that the calculating power of computers will enable us to reach into domains previously inaccessible. When that didn’t work as planned, we heard it would be quantum computers that would solve the problem. More computing power is all we need. Or smarter computing power. Somebody fetch me the AI.
This is a familiar pattern in science. A new theory comes on the scene, addresses some well entrenched problems that weren’t previously able to be solved and opens up new horizons. There’s a period of excitement and “progress”. Then the theory is pushed into new areas where it doesn’t work so well. It starts to accumulate “debt” and the beautiful simplicity of the original formulation gets lost as explanatory additions are tacked on to try and explain the parts of reality that just don’t seem to work. Eventually a new theory comes along and the process starts over.
Sometimes this process happens within a single discipline. Sometimes, it happens to an entire worldview. The mechanical theory of the universe that constitutes classical physics was, at the time, a revolutionary change of worldview. We know that because the Church fought hard against it for centuries.
One of the things it entailed was a new understanding of Earth vis a vis the heavens. When Newton compared the moon to an apple, he was implying that the same laws applied to both. But for millennia the heavens had been seen as more perfect than the Earth. This idea has strong religious and cosmological roots (e.g. The Fall) and also had a basis in theory as the movement of planets was seen to be more geometrically ideal than movement on Earth. The revolution Newton, Galileo and others brought was that the movement of the heavenly bodies and the movement of objects on Earth were subject to the same laws. The heavens were, at least in this respect, not more perfect than Earth, just different (frictionless).
These days we have divorced science from theology, cosmology and philosophy (another aspect of deficient Mental Consciousness). Thus nobody cares about these kinds of issue any more and they don’t get taught about them in school. As a result, few people can recognise that the Newtonian revolution looks incredibly similar to a pattern implied by the emergence of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. That is, there are technical and mathematical advances but those advances imply an entirely new world view. The change of worldview implied by relativity and quantum mechanics could be as revolutionary as the change that happened around the time of Newton. But this time it is not the Church that is working to prevent the emergence of the new worldview but the scientific establishment itself which is married to the materialist view of the universe. History has a sense of irony.
We can summarise the arrival of the deficient Mental Consciousness as follows.
Firstly, the success of classical mechanics went to people’s heads. We forgot about the simplifying assumptions and came to believe that physics was reality and not just a more or less approximate description of reality. Through the phenomenon of physics envy, the model of physics was used in other sciences where it did not belong. Applying simplifying assumptions to inanimate objects isn’t going to cause any problems. When you apply simplifying assumptions to domains involving living beings, especially human beings, you are treading into very dangerous territory not just from a technical but also from a moral point of view. It is no coincidence that early medical experiments and procedures were carried out on marginalised people i.e. those who were deemed “not to matter” (in the same way that people injured by or who refused to take the corona vaccine have been made to feel that they don’t matter).
Of more technical importance is the fact that, once the low hanging fruit of the mechanistic model had been picked, what was left were the domains where simplification could not occur and therefore the number of variables could not be brought down to a level where computation was possible. This is most notable in the living sciences: biology, medicine, psychology, ecology. These are the medium number systems talked about by systems theory. Models which attempt to simplify these domains don’t give us reproducible results; hence the reproducibility crisis in modern science.
On top of these problems there is the fact that science is now a career-path and most of the people who call themselves scientists earn their living from the system. It is said that science progresses one funeral at a time and this points to the fact that human beings really don’t like changing their mind, especially about deep elements of their worldview. But when you earn a living from the scientific establishment, you are even less likely to change your mind as this will likely hurt your career prospects, especially when the money that is paying your salary comes from sources that have a vested interest in certain outcomes.
Money, prestige and power now infest science. As we saw in the last two years, the number of scientists and “experts” willing to challenge the system that pays their salaries is small. Such dissenters were “too small to matter”. They were easily character assassinated by the propaganda machine, kicked off social media and relegated to the sidelines.
It all starts to look a hell of a lot like history repeating and the last two years have a lot in common with the psychology of The Inquisition. It is the view of Gebser and others that quantum mechanics and relativity are part of a larger change of worldview known as the Integral Consciousness. It is this which is trying to emerge but because it is such a threat to the existing worldview it is being fought tooth and nail. If this comparison is true, the change awaiting us could be as fundamental as the Earth no longer being the centre of the universe.
Viewed this way, it looks as if there is a quite specific dynamic in modern society that has developed as a way to prevent the Integral Consciousness (or something like it) from manifesting. On the one hand, we have postmodernism. There are some good ideas in postmodernism that fit with the broader concept of the Integral Consciousness but these are buried beneath a set of theories whose only reason for existing seems to be to sow division among the public (always a useful tool for politicians looking to divide and conquer).
Because postmodernism arose out of the arts disciplines, it is by definition relegated to second-class status in the general culture where only the rigor of “real science” matters. The arts are no longer thought of as a vehicle for new ideas (a notion which is not surprising given the current state of the “high art” in the West). The result is that postmodernism, and the grains of truth about the Integral that it contains, is easily written off.
Meanwhile, the idea of science based on the principles of classical mechanics as eternal and infallible truth about reality continues to hold sway in the general culture. This idea is, of course, promoted by all the practitioners of science who wish to partake of the prestige and power that comes with it and all the business interests who earn money from the system promote the idea through their propaganda efforts while beating into submission anybody who dares challenge the dogma. It’s not hard to see that such a system serves financial and political interests. But what is less obvious is that it also serves to uphold the worldview of western culture. That worldview is the deficient Mental Consciousness. It had metastasised so much that when it was challenged in early 2020 it had to respond with all the hubris and cluelessness that we have seen in the last two years.
The general culture no longer understands how science (classical mechanics) worked, has reified science into a religion, and is willfully blind to the fact that science no longer produces the goods. With corona, all of these elements came to the fore in the most spectacular fashion and the result has been a dismal, comprehensive failure of nearly all the institutions of society at the same time. All done in the name of “science”. Although many people are still in denial, you couldn’t hope for a more comprehensive defeat of the worldview of modern Western culture. For that reason, I think that corona represents a major turning point. In the next post, I’ll finally get round to explaining what I think that is.