On “Alternative Realities”, “Biverses”, “Multiverses”, and Occultism in General
In a dishonest maneuver typical of the rhetorical strategy which characterizes much of the theoretical thought in sociology and anthropology these days, we are now seeing a diguised return of supernaturalist and matter-mind dualist ideas dressed up in fancy pseudo-scientific terminology. Slightly stoned and narrowly educated people such as Castaneda, Lilly, Laing and Huston and Masters. A very loose cabal (they rarely quote each other, much less pay reverence to their intellectual ancestors), they are all alike, as I see it, in wanting to “be scientific” but at the same time reach out and embrace all mankind in egalitarian grasp, thereby winning a vanity game and a popularity contest in one move, so to speak. I am not talking about genuine meta-scientific or meta-psychoanalytic thinkers here, such as Fabun and Norman O. Brown, for whom I have considerable respect, but about… cornballs, cornballs who want desperately to be “profound”. Typically the notions produced by these characters are never explained in philosophic terms (when they do attempt it, the results are said to be “dense”) but are offered in a very off-handed manner as something that ought to be quite obvious to anyone who has sampled the psychedelic drugs or the wondrous “alternative reality” obtainable in certain primitive cultures. Well, I have experienced hours and hours of visionary productions and witnessed many events which were inexplicable in terms of ordinary physical theory, but I do not care to be associated with occultist theory in any way and I resent the now common assumption (on the part of those who don’t know anything about it) that psychedelic drug use tends to support occultist theory. It does not support it. There are no occultists at the peak of an acid trip—only mystics, nihilists, solipsists, radical empiricists, subjectivists, Madhyamika and Yogacara Buddhists, Idealists, Monists. All the occultism is on the other side, coming down, where the ignorant, stupid, cowardly and dishonorable are gathered together to repress as best they can the knowledge of the Void and the illusory nature of the world (and themselves). So it has always been.
The danger lies not in occultist thought (there really isn’t any) but in occultist terminology, or, more properly, dualist terminology, gaining wide general acceptance. These people are made uncomfortable, for example, by the term “universe” and would like to get rid of it and subsitute “biverse” or “multiverse”, terms which imply the existence of “alternative realities”.
For economy, let’s consider “biverse” as the presenting alternative to “universe”. Either what is knowable contains unrelated phenomenological categories or it does not. If the class of all phenomena contains only one such divergent category, there is some justification for discarding the term “universe”, and it doesn’t make any difference how many more such categories are discovered beyond the first. Both terms, I presume, mean the totality of all things that exist. If the proponents of “biverse” mean anything else by it, why is it offered as an alternative to “universe”? They are still talking about a totality—but a totality described in a dualist manner rather than in a monist or interrelated whole manner—what is suggested is discontinuity or incoherence between sections of the existent. It is not the literal meaning of the term, which is simple enough, that bothers them, but the implication that some kind of central meaning or unifying principle unites all things. We may also discern in this the true difference between occultism and “religious” feeling or thought, which, although dualistic (in most cases) so far as human history is concerned, always finds an ultimate unity in the idea of God. Occultists are not satisfied with the idea of conflict and tension within a whole, it has to go all the way. Indeed, it has been my experience that most occultists have grave intellectual difficulty in forming an image of tension, balance, compromise and so forth. The epigrams of Heraklitus are incomprehensible to them. There is a kind of infantilism involved which is difficult to describe, a failure of thought at a very elementary level of development—the repression, not merely of this or that thing or event, but of an entire category of thought. It is as if they actively fear that the world may make sense rather than merely suspect that it may not.
Now, if it is that grand old favorite of yesteryear, the mind-matter dualism, that is being served up here under the new name of a “biverse”, why don’t the people who see things that way come right out and say so? I have argued with quite a few dualists over the years and have never encountered one yet who didn’t give up his fundamental ideas like a patient surrendering his appendix. You have to drag it out of them. To a man, they are ashamed of being dualists, because it just isn’t “in” anymore, and will engage in endless circumlocution to make you believe that they have something else (never pinned down) to offer besides the “spirit world”. Perhaps it is because they are not content to have their ideas published in Fate Magazine. They convince themselves that “spirit world” and “alternative reality” are not synonymous terms although they never use one of their terminological novelties in any way to demonstrate that assertion. If all “biverse” means is a universe in which there is both body and soul and mind and matter, the propagandist intent of the proposal to use it is apparent, and, what is worse, the dualist is obliged to define his terms and get on with the job of answering all the classic objections, which, in 9 cases out of 10, is too much for him, intellectually and morally. I only know one popular writer who does it in a respectable manner, and that is Anthony Burgess, who is a bitter enemy of psychedelic drug use and a Manichean of the old school. He can call it a “biverse” if he feels like it. At least he is willing to call a spade a spade, which, it must be admitted, is the beginning of wisdom.
Surely, the dualism or multiplicity intended is not merely trivial, a recognition that there are both pots and pans in this funny little world of ours? I would not put it past the typical occultist to retreat into some such assertion if pressed. Vibrational frequencies. An electro-magnetic spectrum. Sounds good, but what does it mean? Not disunity, but harmony. Not discontinuity, but a continuous and mathematical relatedness. Without a program, you can’t tell the good vibes from the bad vibes, which is why a high-class occultist system such as Ouspensky’s, based on a hierarchy of entities associated with “vibrational frequencies” only gets the most vague and formalistic recognition from common, garden variety occultists, who want, not a system, but terminology that sounds impressive for emergency use when confronted by opposition. Among themselves, they talk about what really interests them—spooks.
By “alternative reality”, we must assume (and we wouldn’t have to assume if these people would make themselves clear) that Castaneda and his friends mean “alternative objective reality” or “alternative world of external relations”. That is what the term reality conveys to non-philosophers. To me, and to most poeple who have thought about it, the term “reality” is a virtually meaningless term. True, it is tossed around with carefree abandon by sociologists and anthropologists, who take it for granted that “everyone knows” what is meant by “real” and “unreal”. The “real” is what is out there and the “unreal” is what is imaginary. This is naive realism at its most obtuse. Even in scientific terms, the most fleeting imaginary image is a manifestation of energy and all energy has “mass”. All images are “real” even if they are false reports. A picture of a unicorn is a “real” picture of a unicorn. The naive use of the term “real” as opposed to “unreal” is just matter-mind dualist propaganda. It is a covert affirmation of the externality of relations. The giant flea I saw on my trip, the occultist is saying when he calls it “real”, exists in the world of external relations and has an independent life outside my mind in contrast to the flea I dreamed about last night or the image of a flea now in my consciousness. To the monist or radical empiricist they are all equally “real” or all equally “illusions” as sense data. We are “acquainted”, as Bertrand Russell puts it, with nothing else. One may, if one wishes, of course, assert that some of these images are “reflections” of objects in the world of external relations and that others are not but, since Berkeley and Hume in the West and practically every philosopher you can name in the East, it has been widely recognized that doing so is arbitrary and unnecessary. Concepts such as “cause” and “force” play no part in genuine scientific thought, which does not require the mind-matter dualism in order to work. It is only in the vague constructs of the occultists (and the politicians) that one hears the continuous repetition of such primitive notions as “my power is greater than yours” or “if I lose my battle with my ally I will be snuffed out” and so forth. Oh, I forgot—you also hear that kind of talk from paranoid schizophrenics, which fact may give us a hint about what it is that occultists and politicians have in common.
Epistemologically, there is no justification for taking the term “universe” out behind the barn and shooting it, because what is knowable is what is knowable, all phenomena are unified by being phenomena, all things I know about are related by the fact that I know about them. Surely, the “biversians” are not maintaining that they don’t know what they are talking about, that they want to call totality by a dualist name to give recognition to all those things they don’t know about?
For anyone who does not care to affirm the externality of relations (and, on the grounds that entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily, it is a kind of logical crime to so affirm without evidence), for the “radical empiricist” or “subjectivist” or Madhyamika Buddhist who happens to be hanging around, this argument should be enough: all things are related through being perceived, all sense-data are related as part of experience. The “field” is experience. The sense-data may be categorized in a variety of ways, within the field of experience, but what is placed in one category one moment may be placed in another category at another moment, depending on the game being played, the operation underway. All are images, however, be they categorized as “direct” perceptions, memories, imaginary constructs, art, lies, or expectations. Or visions. Or hallucinations. It is clear that the “biversians” are believers in a world of external relations and it is also clear that the duality they seek to impose on the language is less profound than they imagine, being simply a return of a very old and tired cosmological idea which requires for its support the uncritical acceptance of “naive realism”.
But the “biverse” is, even in these terms, illegitimate. Where is this unrelated “alternative reality”? If we look at what they actually talk about we see a grab-bag of events and objects which cannot be satisfactorily explained in terms of current “scientific law”. In other words, from the viewpoint of the genuine scientific spirit which always assumes that what is not now explained in terms of general and coherent principles will someday be explained if everyone keeps his nose to the grindstone, the occultists are merely pessimists who are ready to surrender to the enemy at the first whiff of gunpowder. And not only are they pessimists, but they want to build their pessimism into the common parlance, so that everyone else will give up also. Since they cannot make their experience fit the available theories they assume that no theories are possible which will embrace the totality of their experience. Therefore, there is a world governed by physical law and a world governed by some law they know not what. Being infantile, fixated, and depressed, they want to have their cake and eat it too. It is too “mystical” (and will not go over in the scientific, or, better, technical community they seek to inhabit) to say that all things are governed by perceptual law and psychological, intra-psychic relations with supposed “physical” law as just one aspect thereof manufactured to provide continuity as in a dream. On the other hand, it is too dull and unrewarding for these persons (it is impossible to call deliberate liars “gentlemen”) to think of themselves as ordinary technicians or scientific workers. They want to “be” scientists without being obliged to follow the rules of the scientific method and “be” philosophers without being obliged to define their terms or face up to the perennial philosophic questions. In other words, they are frauds, cheats and spoil-sports. It is not accidental that so many of the “great figures” in the history of occultism were obnoxious and destructive characters. Occultist thinking is rooted in a value system in which self-respect has a very low place and self-preservation a very high place. Truth, as they never weary of saying, is “relative”. This is a doctrine which leads straight to fascism by way of “truth by consensus” and to paranoia by way of power magic and a world full of all kinds of mysterious terrors and “hidden” influences. There is no such thing as a paranoid experience. The most frightening visionary experience is, if properly interpreted, often the most rewarding in disposing of stupid misunderstandings and delusions. There is only a paranoid philosophy, a paranoid ideational (theoretical) system. What, for a true mystic, is a beneficial and revelatory wonder that leads to peace and joy can be, and frequently is, once put through the occultist delusional mill, a dark mystery of pure terror and/or vainglory. It is never understanding that they aim at, but always control. Never mind the meaning, the relation, the “moral” of the story—always invent a new name or a new category, or hammer an old one from the brimming dustbin of occultist history so it will fit. Such is occultism and such is paranoia and it has nothing to do with genuine mysticism or genuine science. It is a lot of stupid crap and nothing more. I know. My language is not very temperate. I admit that people like Ram Dass, Castaneda, Lilly (not quite as bad as the rest) and Huston and Masters make me angry, frustrated and intolerant, when, “consciously”, I would prefer a gentlemanly contest between honest thinkers. As it is, I sometimes feel like an old-fashioned revivalist bemoaning the degeneracy of the times or a bouncer assigned to throw bums out of a high-class cafe.
As I steel my mind to the task of actually quoting and dissecting an example of their “philosophic” prose (which I feel is required if I am to play this game fairly) I admit to feeling the kind of irritation which used to overcome my feelings when I had to clean out a grease trap in Basic Training. True, it is a job that has to be done, but why do I have to do it?
Well, let’s get on with it. Here is a statement of what I take to be Lilly’s epistemological position:
What one believes to be true, either is true or becomes true in one’s mind, within limits to be determined experimentally or experientially. These limits are beliefs to be transcended. This is the situation when one has been freed up from one’s environment, from one’s surrounding reality, and all of the usual forms and patterns of stimulation are attenuated to the minimum possible level.
There it is. One can only ask—what in God’s name is this man getting at? Does this mean anything? I don’t think so. I think it is rubbish. Judging simply by the conventional meanings of some of the key words sprinkled throughout, I think it is fair to say that the author is attempting to convey something about his theory of knowledge, his epistemology, but the fact is that his construction tells us nothing whatever about anything whatever. It may be an incantation, but it is not a statement, not language with any meaning in it.
Is he saying that truth is located in the mind? That 2 + 2 = 5 and squares are round if you think that way long enough? Does this mean he denies the externality of relations? If so, where do these “limits” come from? Are they external or internal? What is the meaning of “to be determined” (found? invented? agreed upon? cooked up?) particularly when, as soon as you have “determined” them, you get rid of them? Determined by what? Why, by experiment, at least in part. Is he maintaining that the truth of a proposition is demonstrated through the repeatability of experimental results which bear out the predictions based on the proposition? Fine. But, if this is all he is saying: why doesn’t he say it? What was that “in one’s mind” bit back there? Why the odd construction “either is or becomes” instead of the usual empirical formulations about the rules of the science game, which are quite simple and direct?
This is the kind of wobbling that takes place in the borderland between science and superstition. This man is “strung out”. He doesn’t know himself what he thinks. None of the basic questions in epistemology are answered or even asked. They are ignored. It is as if no history of philosophy existed and no schools of philosophy existed with conflicting opinions about the subject under discussion. The quality of thought is exactly that which can be found in the letters section of any second-rate science-fiction magazine, a word-salad of undefined terms and unexplained relations.
Take “these limits are beliefs to be transcended.” “TO BE?” What exactly does “to be” mean in this context? Does he mean “should”? If so, why? And why doesn’t he say so? Does he mean that it’s inevitable? Why? Who knows? The mind boggles at the rank super-abundance of possible meanings which might be assigned to this strange construction. And what was all that stuff back there about the truth of the beliefs in the mind determined experimentally and all, what was the point of it all, now that we have suddenly and blithely decided to give the whole business the old heave-ho? Ah! It was all only temporarily true? Lilly is a pragmatist! But, wait a minute, if he is, why doesn’t he say so? Because it doesn’t sound grand enough perhaps? Also, why did he make a distinction (I think he made a container-contained distinction) between “beliefs” and “limits” and then turn right around and say that limits are beliefs? Where does that get us? Why did he bring it up if he didn’t want it? Or is all this merely grade-school level psychology? Is Lilly saying that if a man has a certain set of beliefs it will not be easy for him to believe other things which are in contradiction to those beliefs and so he has to discard them before he can adopt a new set of beliefs? In other words, as we grow and learn, we discard old sets of ideas and adopt new sets of ideas? Far out! An idea like that deserves wider circulation, say in The Reader’s Digest.
Let us continue. “This is the situation when one has been freed up from one’s environment.” Again, there has been what I cannot help but identify as some kind of squeamish inability to make a clear and non-evasive statement. What is this mysterious “situation”, exactly? A man trying to make up his mind about something? Is he advocating a change of scene to give a fellow a new perspective on matters? “Take a little vacation in Miami, Morris, and all of this will seem like a bad dream?” Nor can we simply glide over the sudden introduction of the word “environment” into this supposedly philosophic sermonette. “Environment” is one of those words which we all use when having a casual conversation about this and that, but philosophy is not about this and that and the word “environment” cannot be used by a philosopher without considerable explanation of what he means and what he does not mean, because environment can mean many different things, depending on your school of thought. As a matter of fact, I cannot be freed from my environment because according to my school of thought circumstances are the product of my antakarana, and are me, just as much as my nose is me or my memories are me. It would seem then, from usage, that Lilly affirms the externality of relations — but we can’t be sure. We can’t be sure of anything around here. As for “attenuated patterns”, I don’t even want to talk about it. Let us move on to people who clearly do not deserve the benefit of a doubt. I suspect that Lilly has merely become confused by the adoration of those whose bills he is paying, and was not very bright to begin with.
No better example of the hypocrisy, falsity, deception and intellectual poverty associated with occultist habits of mind and use of the language can be found than the Jean Huston and Robert Masters book, Mind Games (Viking, 1972). In contrast to Lilly, who is clearly well-intentioned, one detects in the work of Huston and Masters a constant thread of deliberate misrepresentation of Castanedian proportions, a conscious effort to suppress evidence that doesn’t fit their little scheme of self-serving ideas and to convince the reader that a great body of evidence exists to support it. What we actually have is a couple of irresponsible fantasts scribbling down whatever half-baked and imitative notion pops into their heads, but always in such a way that the final product can be packaged and sold to the unsuspecting in such a way as not to offend any popular prejudice or law. An atmosphere of pseudo-gothic mystification and highfalutin’, other-worldly, Edgar Allen Poeish, googly eyed, white-robed dopey-mindedness prevails throughout. The participants in their “games” (hereinafter called “victims”) are given quite frank hypnotic orders, which are written out in the book word for word—and that’s it. The interaction is at a minimum. What it amounts to is occultist style tripping, using hypnosis instead of drugs. Psychedelic drugs, they say, are forbidden to those playing their games, and I can well understand why, since anyone with an I.Q. over 120 who was well stoned and yet obliged to listen to the kind of crap dished out by the H&M “guide” (“…and understand now we can and must materialize the Group Spirit, endowing that entity with a sufficiently material being that it can appear to all of us…”) would instantly dissolve into giggles or flee. I have been told on good authority that Huston has had only one very small acid trip in her life. What Masters has had, I don’t know, but, if the kind of trip he advocates is the kind of trip he has experienced, I suspect it was either belladonna, STP or Delerium Tremens. In all the trips I have had (including STP and Delerium Tremens) and all the trips I have witnessed and heard reported to me, not one “group spirit” has been “materialized”. Of course, the reification of this particular abstract is a paranoid (and fascist) classic, but few paranoids are free enough from fear to take LSD, as witness the present case.
Nowhere in the Huston and Masters book is there any statement, coherent or otherwise, about their views on the nature of the world, the mind, the source of knowledge or anything else of a fundamental nature which is not flatly contradicted somewhere else in the same book. Their favorite trick is to bravely affirm some radical and impressive notion and then weasel out of it, thereby, one must assume, getting credit for being “far out” from their constituency of sycophants and at the same time warding off any obligation to defend the logical consequences inherent in the position they have taken. It’s an old occultist trick. For people who constantly imply that they possess some kind of special knowledge not vouchsafed to the commonality, they are suprisingly “hypothetical” when confronted by the necessity of actually saying something about something.
An honest occultist (if that is possible) will say, for example, that he either believes or does not believe that a great esoteric mystery is hidden in the Egyptian pyramids.
Here is what H&M say:
“And there is also believed to be a very great mystery surrounding the Egyptian pyramids….”
Perhaps this should be called “cowardly syntax”. Mind Games is full of it.
Vagueness is bad enough, but consider the following “double-bind” producing selections (also typical of the book in general):
“The mind games are a means of advancing toward what must be the main goal of every person in our time—putting the first man on earth.” (page 5)
O.K.? All set? These people, no matter what they may come up with, at least believe very strongly that they are on to something. They do not hesitate to tell all of us very strongly that they are on to somehting. They do not hesitate to tell all of us very strongly what our “main goal” must be. Right? Wrong. The next selection is from page 237, after quite a lot of liquid shit has poured over the dam.
“Thus the players should know and fully understand that their mind-games experiences cannot decide, for example, anything about the reality or ontological status of worlds or images, or intelligent nonhuman life forms experienced as symbolic forms and images in a particular game.”
How’s that for a let-down? Insult is added to injury by the self-righteous tone of these little disclaimers which are scattered here and there, like booby-traps. The implication seems to be that only an idiot would have believed for a moment that all of this had any relation to anything that mattered. What we must do, in other words, has nothing at all to do with the truth.
If the trances which the victim endures have no relation to “reality”, what do they tell us about—unreality? What is that, exactly? Or, if the implication (made in the usual sneaky way) is that consensus is necessary to determine ontological status, why isn’t that fascinating and highly debatable assertion discussed anywhere else in the book? (The opening “thus”, by the way, in the sentence quoted has no discoverable relation to anything preceding it, but is merely thrown in to make things sound Biblical, a common occultist practice.) How much of a consensus is necessary to determing “ontological status”? 2 to 1? 100 to 1? One would think that the authors, having determined to their satisfaction that their favorite trances would help “put the first man on earth” and also having the confidence to flatly predict that “in the near future such mind games will be routine in education at all levels” would also have the confidence to say a few words about the “ontological status” (giving that phrase any meaning I can imagine) of their pride and joy. One would think so, but one would be wrong. One can look high and low in the pages of this great work and find not a trace of anything about the subject. Materializing “group spirits” will be routine in the third grade next year, that’s for sure, but if they are it won’t be because such “spirits” have any “ontological status”. Why, then, will such operations be routine? What good is it? The authors do not say.
What gets me is that the authors must be aware of this little foible of mankind (the absurd desire to couple education with “reality”) or they wouldn’t have brought the subject up. They urge the victim to accept their trances for “self-knowledge” after all. I hesitate to think that what they mean by this is the knowledge of exactly how much garbage the human mind can spew forth if given a chance (although that is one of the outstanding benefits of genuine “second bardo” visionary trips.)
In one of the games, the players are told, “…you will have some kind of experience of ultimate reality, Ground of Being, primordial energy, whatever your own experience may be, should you be able to go that far.” (Note that this energy is assumed to be “far” instead of “near”.) Such terminology abounds throughout their “programmed belief systems” but is strangely absent when they are talking to the reader face to face. Can it be that these people are so confident as to be willing to tell others what to believe under hypnosis but so modest as to shrink from telling us what they themselves believe? No, I don’t think it is modesty that is responsible. There’s something about the prediction that one’s methods will shortly be used in education at all levels and to put the first man on earth that makes me think they think they know something. It is unfortunate that they never tell us what it is.