Midweek Mysticism: The march of the clever clogs
I’ve read my fair share of articles in the philosophical press, as well as their scientific, psychological and political equivalents.
As a result, I’ve long come to the conclusion that modern philosophy exists solely to demonstrate how clever philosophers are — or think they are. French “sages” are notorious for this tendency, but the Brits and Americans are not far behind.
One of the commonest ploys is to represent a point of view by quoting the name of a long deceased philosopher: Kant, Spinoza, Wittgenstein et al. If you had previously read the entire corpus of their work, you will know what the writer is getting at. If not, hard cheese. You’re not as clever as the writer, obviously.
This is what might be called “shorthand jargon”, a method of eliminating anyone who’s not in the club, the “throw the rascal out” tendency. It’s rife throughout the academic journal scene — the way experts communicate with each other. This is true of science and many other narrower disciplines.
I think philosophy is the worst though, because it has developed an acute sense of inferiority. The grand old art of thinking in abstractions has been steadily whittled away by the advance of science, the massively funded language of our times. Moreover, mathematics is taking over from elegant set-piece argumentation over sylph-like points of disputation.
It’s not an idle thought that if you can’t express your most complex ideas, or convictions, so that any intelligent person can understand them, they are probably not true, and if you need mathematics to express anything, it is not of this world. Happily, mysticism is the simplest of all the grand philosophies.
Most big-picture science is tenuous. It hangs on a gallery of dubious theories and yet is presented by big-science communicators as the finished article. If you object, you’ll get a load of brain-busting jargon in return, couched in a withering scorn, the most supercilious of which is: You haven’t done the mathematics!
By the way, this is also true of Left-wing ideologies. If you take issue with them, you’re a fascist Tory toad — never mind that Fascism arose on the political Left (see Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism). It is a potent form of fascism in itself.
So, modern politics, modern philosophy, modern science and modern society have one element in common. They employ complexity and monocultural certainty to eliminate opposition and alternative viewpoints. The truth is being deliberately obscured by runaway egotism.
Where then does mysticism come into this? It existed before formal science as Idealism, the conviction that everything is made by consciousness, or Spirit. Most philosophers down the ages have been Idealists in one form or another. It can be simply expressed by the latest political buzz phrase: “We’re all in this together!”
Dualism, on the other hand, creates a sense of Us and Them, a central crutch of most academic disciplines. Theology and practical religion are not immune either. It is also the cause of war.
If scientists dismiss “woolly mysticism” out of hand, they are rejecting most of the predecessors in their own subject area.
True mysticism, being essentially an experiential mode, uses the classic tools of science in a private quest: personal experimentation, data collection and interpretation. It is individualism unbound, with the proviso that anyone can participate — if they dare.
It begins with the mystic and the mind and ends with a transformation. Once you have had one of the great experiences, you change irreversibly. Doubt disappears, except for the scepticism of an audience that did not share your moment of truth.
My conviction is that the 21st century will slowly introduce a new era of philosophical and practical mysticism. The younger generation has been brought up on the mental wizardry of Harry Potter. The seed has been sown.
We do need to overturn the 20th-century’s totalitarian approach to understanding.
John Evans is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.
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