Thanks for reaching out to Lionel Snell…I became interested in his stuff when Phil mentioned his work a few episodes back (who can resist a title like Blast Your Way to Megabucks with My Secret Sex-Power Formula ?!).
Much of this discussion parallels with our recent focus on Aurobindo, particularly the writing on the Knowledge and the Ignorance. We learned that Ignorance is really a positive power of the infinite. It is required for the individual to exist and evolve in the cosmos. This shines some light into the importance of our human limitations and allows for the fool to come rushing in, not just as a dismissive character but as the character that is essential to the creative process.
On cyclical vs linear learning: There was a brief mention by Lionel that Yuval Noah Harari is another linear academic, but I see Harari differently. Actually, after having read Chapter 3A in SSOTBME entitled “Cycles of Thought,” Snell and Harari are both performing what Snell calls “pattern recognition” in the Magical sense:
… (The pattern is said to be ‘recognised’ rather than ‘discovered’, because the latter would imply the more Scientific notion that it ‘really existed’, whereas Magic is less bothered whether it is true or imposed as long as it can be experienced.) I then go on to recognise a similar cyclical pattern occurring at several levels in society.
…The process of pattern recognition requires us to lay aside the critical analytical faculty, but it does not require us to reject it outright. Once a pattern has been recognised you can always choose to analyse it, but there is little point in looking so closely that you no longer see the pattern. That is why I ask the reader to focus now on verification, not falsification. (p. 33 from 2001 edition)
Try to see the truth in what I am saying rather than to test it for falsifiability— that is the correct approach to a Magical theory. While Scientists compete to disprove or reject ideas, Magicians compete to accept them… The Magical method is to act ‘as if’ a theory is correct until it has done its job, and only then to replace it with another theory. A theory only fails if it cannot take hold in the mind and allow one to act ‘as if’. As long as this approach is carried out properly —with a Magician’s understanding that the theory is being accepted only because it is ‘working’, not because it is ‘true’ — then there is little danger of delusion. (p. 34)
I would argue that Harari is doing the same thing here, though less magical that Lionel. Harari is not linear in thinking, he does not believe in what he writes. He is presenting his case for the general “progression” of humanity which, in his view, sees humans as following a progressive, linear direction, worse for wear. In Sapiens, he wants us to recognize, with a bird’s eye view of history, his general thesis of progress “as if” it were true and see that we are ever repeating ourselves with but only different stories (something like “might is right --> the church is right --> humanism is right --> the algorithm is right”); we are repeating the same projections (mind as machine in the 19th and 20th century an now mind as algorithm in the 21st, for example) with a different story. Harari is quite magical in this book, approaching a prophetic voice. Also, Harari does point out various cycles in the book. Chapter 11 denotes the Imperial Cycle; the next chapter on religion (in which humanism groups well with Harari’s definition of religion) discusses the samsaric cycles of a trapped humanity, repeating the same human follies. This differs somewhat from Snell’s four cultures (Magic --> Art --> Religion --> Science) and Harari does not explicate much on the Magical and Artistic in Sapiens and focuses on the Religious/Scientific.
Where there is danger, it stems from lack of Magical understanding. Our empirical Scientific education inclines us to believe that if a theory is working then it is more likely to be ‘true’ — and such belief can indeed be dangerous. This is another reason why I consider it important to re-issue this book: the real danger lies not so much in Magic as in people’s misunderstanding, misapplication and denial of it.
Harari presents his case (recognizes the pattern) that we, as general humanity, follow a cycle of linear progress…often to the expense of our betterment and survival. We are now approaching an age (AI, etc.) in which science is giving way to technological wizardry. The main focus of the later sections (and moreso in the sequel Homo Deus) is that our religious inclinations have often crept up (in a cyclical manner) into things involving money, business, economy, science and humanism…now it is creeping into our (humanity’s) willful deception of AI as the truth, the savior that will keep our human progress churning.
…Also of interest is Sri Aurobindo on the Human Cycle, which describes five stages (symbolic, typal, conventional and individualistic and subjective) which map well onto Snell’s stages.
Great work, BTW. Still listening to all the episodes and appreciating the recent spell of guests to counteract your general “thuggishness.”