This week’s episode is on Philip K. Dick’s famous 1977 paper, “If You Think This World is Bad, You Should See Some of the Others.” Phil Ford and I dive into the notion of multiple universes as Dick conceived it (for a time at least) and discuss some of the issues and possibilities that it opens up. Hope you enjoy it.
I really enjoyed your talk on Aleister Crowley, @jfmartel and @phord, a writer I’ve read little of, but whose reputation precedes him, as you well illustrate. I was especially intrigued to hear about his idea of human beings as “stars,” which resonates strongly with the Cosmos idea.
I particularly appreciate your thinking there at the end, JF, adding a narrative dimension of reality to the classical Aristotelian causes to explain the medium of magical functioning. I deeply suspect that language and meaning are inherent to the Cosmos, not just arising in the ‘conscious’ phases of evolutionary emergence, but in some real sense from the beginning—since there is no way I can imagine any kind of reality (in time, at least) without it.
You are developing some great rapport in these talks, and it’s a pleasure to listen to you guys riff. I hope you keep at it!
Thanks @madrush. The idea of a narrative dimension is something Phil and I have been discussing for a while. I agree with you that reality is inconceivable without something like it. You can’t conceive of anything like an event without this narrative, or to make it less linear/lingual/anthropomorphic, aesthetic dimension. No doubt this idea will come up again and again on the podcast.
New episode on the excellent documentaries of Rodney Ascher. If you haven’t seen Room 237 and The Nightmare (the latter is on Netflix, the former easily found online last I checked), I strongly recommend them. But you don’t have to have seen the films to follow this episode, which deals with the power of the moving image to restore the world to its inherent weirdness. We draw a lot on the psychology of James Hillman.
I guess to be more precise about what struck me, it was the connecting of ‘magick’ with efficacy by means of narrative causation rather than some unexplained influence on the physical directly (contravening the laws of nature). There was something in that formulation that shifted my understanding of how magic might work, because I was able to connect it with how writing works.
Stringing words together in particular ways creates particular effects in consciousness when given voice. But with magic, it is a matter of manipulating objects in the world (including but not limited to words), which creates narrative effects in reality. This seems clear to me now, in principle (assuming I understood your thought correctly). I have not gone back and re-listened to the segment; I am just remembering this now as I’m clearing my mind before bed.
That’s exactly what we were getting at, @madrush. In fact you sum it up much better than we did in the podcast. Seems to me that the question of why things happen as they do is always a poetic question, or more generally, an aesthetic question. It can’t be a meaningless question as some positivists have argued because, as you said in another post, you simply can’t conceive of any reality without it. It’s part and parcel of existence. So the idea that there may be some sort of quasi-causation or “occasioning” at the imaginal level, a force operating outside the chain of mechanical causation we’re used to dealing with and indeed conditioning that chain of causation, isn’t a nonsensical idea. For one it packs a lot of explanatory power, and gives thought access to a level of reality that we all know to exist even if our current philosophies don’t account for it.
I know I have taken a long time to reply in relation to this podcast. I listened to it and it affected me deeply, but I wanted to find the time to read the excerpt of Dick’s article referenced, which I eventually did, before writing a response that was fully grounded. Of course, we all know Dick’s writing in a general way, although I am continually amazed that back when he was doing much of his writing, he was hardly on anyone’s radar. In those days, we talked about Asimov, and Heinlein, and Clarke and perhaps early Leguin and Delany. Dick was part of the “wierder” edge of science fiction, along with people like J.G. Ballard or Phil José Farmer. I wish, now, I had paid more attention - he wrote so many interesting texts that have become iconic.
This article, however, your podcast and the way Dick thought through these issues was a revelation to me. Partly, I think, because my thinking over the past ten years or so, independent of any awareness of Dick’s ideas, has gone down similar paths. I have been noticing that the process of living a life has some similarities to the way one writes about characters, although I have been struggling not to acknowledge this too much. Hence, for example, I feel that in some sense the shape that my life has taken on “influenced” in some sense what I did as a young man. Not causally, I don’t mean that, but there is a kind of resonance between what one does later and who one is earlier that fascinates me. And, of course, this is not unlike what happens when one writes - what a character ends up doing often determines their character at the beginning. Dick goes considerably further into this kind of thinking. I love his idea that parallel universes may “overlap”, and that a person may live in several at once, a kind of quantum of parallel universes clustered together. Dick’s ideas opened up my thinking to new possibilities about these things.
We have been discussing the relationship between free will and determinism. I have been aware, for example, that my ideas about “reverse time” imply a form of determinism, but I have been equally fascinated by the ideas we have been discovering through Erin Manning’s writing in The Minor Gesture, which concerns itself less with different forms of determinism than will different forms of freedom. My “determinism”, if I may speak in these terms, is constructed around and in relation to the idea of paradox. In my experience, we spend much of life learning to trim away peripheral aspects of who we are to find the heart, and that heart leads us into a kind of “necessity of being”, which is where the determinism seems to come in. On the other hand, I also know that the way through a paradox is to sit with it until it starts to move into new territory on its own, and that true novelty often arises when that happens. Which is where free will comes in, but not the kind of free will that most people talk about. This is not the same as Dick’s thinking, but it bears a relationship to his writings and ideas.
Anyway, what I wanted to say was that the podcast got me thinking deeply about these things and opened up new ideas and possibilities, and also deepened my respect for Dick as a writer. A wonderful experience opened up by your podcast. Kudos, and keep it up!
Thanks for this, @Geoffrey_Edwards. And again, it was really nice to meet you and discuss Mother! last Saturday.
“On the other hand, I also know that the way through a paradox is to sit with it until it starts to move into new territory on its own, and that true novelty often arises when then happens. Which is where free will comes in, but not the kind of free will that most people talk about.”
This really resonates with me. I’ve always felt that truly transcendent free will to be an absurd idea. Free will only makes sense to me if it’s immanent to a situation, in that it’s an expression of freedom within a narrative or story. Like, Hamlet freely chooses to kill his uncle, and he freely chooses it every time, and only in choosing it does he affirm his freedom. Nietzsche’s concept of eternal return might be useful here. Be that as it may, freedom for me isn’t the abstract notion that one could have done otherwise; rather, it’s the quality of a real novelty, of a true act of creation in this world which affirms the singularity of a self. It’s like the freedom Nina Simone sings about in “Feeling Good,” the kind that’s expressed by “birds in the sky” and “scent on the pine.”
During last Saturday’s IC conversation about mother!, I mentioned that I was deep in Tarkovsky’s Stalker because Phil and I were preparing a Weird Studies episode on it. The conversation was too long, so we split it into two parts. Here’s the first, which can be envisioned as a kind of antechamber to next week’s magic room, where one’s innermost wish (of which one can know nothing!) comes true.
I look forward to viewing the film and listening to the podcast. I really liked the Heraclitus conversation. The unexpected Astral Turn towards the end of the conversation was a pleasant surprise. I would encourage you guys to go further in that direction.
Thanks, @johnnydavis54. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the collapse of our current theories is opening up new pathways that might lead back to some spiritualist, theosophical and scientific ideas that were cast out of the mainstream at the end of the 19th century. Stuff like the astral and ethereal planes (I know those ideas have remained strong in occult circles). The “Astral Turn” — I love the sound of that!
I think for all the excesses of the New Age there was a lot of interesting social experiments conducted that are continuing to make waves. The Myth of Disenchantment is a book by Josephson-Storm that tracks the the idea that belief in various forms of the paranormal are widespread except in academia and hard core materialist camps. We are not disenchanted. Also I am a big fan of Jeffrey Kripal who develops a similar theme. You and Phil are finding a good rhythm, as you oscillate between different metaphorical landscapes. It is fun and educational!
Good points, @johnnydavis54. Yes, it’s only within certain very limited precincts that the world ever seemed disenchanted. The problem is, how do we think the enchantment we know exists? That’s the challenge of contemporary philosophy, as I see it anyway.
I watched Stalker on Friday night and was deeply affected by it. Contrary to the article: I didn’t find it boring at all! Rather, I felt there was something interesting happening in every moment of the film. Everything about it—the cinematography, the acting, the dialogue, the action, the sound design and music—was utterly riveting. I have never experienced a film quite like it. Here is definitely an artistic vision that calls for deep thought…
I have not yet listened to your podcast episode, but look forward to doing so as soon as I can. I spent most of the day after watching Stalker in bed with a horrible headache, sick to my stomach. I may be generally exhausted; but I thought the film had something to do with it. Thanks; I believe it was well worth it.
Hey @madrush – So glad to hear you enjoyed it. Yeah, I’ve never been bored watching Stalker either. It’s a fantastic film that I find gets better with each viewing. Sounds like the Zone got to you afterwards. Hope you feel better! Let me know what you thought of the podcast when you get a chance to listen to it. We talked for two hours and then felt we hadn’t even scratched the surface. A big deep film, this one, as you point out.
I did find parts of it boring but that is okay. I find parts of Moby Dick and most plays by Samuel Beckett to be boring too. It is the nature of the adagio to lull a person into the liminal zones, that undiscovered country from which no traveler returns. So I dont reject the boredom when I am entering the zone with a great artist for I know they are working out something unfamiliar. Is the second part out yet? What I really loved is the snatch of Wagner, the burst of Ravel, the scratchy Ode to Joy…echos of the western musical culture turning into noise and static and weirdness. I felt the star of the show was the sound track. Wonderfully creepy. Look forward to part 2.