Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cargo Cult Science and the Delusion of “Scientific Illuminism”

I got into a discussion not long ago on Lashtal about the “method of science” in relation to Thelema. One poster suggested that since the goal of attainment is supra-rational, science might not be that much help in attaining that goal. By the “method of science,” the poster said that he meant things like the “application of the scientific method, including experimentation, controls, validation of results - and not including belief, hope, wishful thinking, etc.”

However, I went on to point out that this description of the “method of science” is at the very least deeply misleading, and it feeds into a common delusion held by people who style themselves “scientific illuminists”: that their religious practices are somehow not religious practices but science.

In fact, such would-be "scientific illuminists" are not practicing anything remotely like science. Instead, they practice something much more akin to cargo cult science, in which they ape the *form* of science without understanding the *substance* of the matter.

Read on for my post.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gems from the Forums: Nietzsche and Thelema

Over the years at, I’ve made a number of posts discussing the finer points of Nietzsche’s philosophical writings and its relationship to Crowley’s Thelema (I hesitate to speak of Nietzsche’s “system,” as that is probably not the right word to use).

I thought it would be useful and instructive to compile them into a single blog entry.

In the spirit of Nietzschean philosophizing, I’ve decided not to try to turn these disparate thoughts, collected over several years, into a single, cohesive essay. They remain fragments, written in response to various interlocutors who appear below as block quotes.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Interesting Video of the Moment II: Why Do You Believe Without a Good Reason?

The second interesting video is another sampling from The Atheist Experience in which Matt Dillahunty and Tracie Harris talk about the strange phenomenon of people believing supernatural claims without sufficient evidence and without being able to give a good reason for why they believe.

Tracie gives a very striking account of her own history of escaping from supernaturalism, pointing out that even after she rejected Christianity, it took her the better part of a decade to slowly realize that supernaturalism itself was unsupported by evidence.

What’s most fascinating about her account is her assertion that her belief was something she *felt.*.In other words, her belief was “supported” merely by a kind of experience. Similar kinds of flimsy appeals to "experience" often prop up many supernatural beliefs from across the spiritual spectrum (including especially many of those discussed on this blog).

As ever, we ought to be aware that experience, all by itself, has no explanatory power. It is our interpretations of our experience (the explanations our rational minds attach to those experiences) that need to be carefully interrogated.

Tracie tentatively concludes that her “feelings” were ultimately the result of childhood indoctrination, and I am inclined to agree that in many cases indoctrination is at the root of people "feeling" the truth of something supernatural. It would seem that many “occult” supernaturalists frequently come from backgrounds of childhood indoctrination.

We might add indoctrination to a list of other reasons that people might believe claims for which they don't have any good reason or evidence: the fact that most people are bad or lazy thinkers, the fact that the vast majority of people don't question fundamental assumptions held by the culture around them, the fact that we are inclined to put too much emphasis on our own subjective interpretation of the facts or on our own precious feelings.
To bring this discussion around to Thelema -- and more specifically to the supernaturalist religions that many people practice and insist on calling "Thelema" -- I get the strong impression (as I've said a few times now) that many Thelemites see Thelema not as an alternative to superstition, but an alternate kind of superstition. This is because they come out of supernaturalist religions, and while they reject those religions as B.S., they don’t take the time to figure out why exactly those religions are B.S.

To put it another way, they leave supernaturalist religions, rejecting the “religion” part but cleaving to the “supernatural” part (in the same way that Tracie says she rejected Christianity but remained a believer in supernaturalism).
I think a great deal of people encounter Thelema as “seekers” undergoing a phase similar to that which Tracie describes during those ten years: flailing around with a vague “feeling” of divinity, convinced that there must be “something” supernatural (after all, they experience it!) and seeking a system or framework into which they can pour their extremely vague and flimsy ideas.
If that’s true, then it’s no surprise that a great number of people interested in Thelema appear to be flakes who cannot coherently explain their beliefs. You can consult this post I wrote a while back for an example of what happens when these people sit down and try to be honest with themselves about their “religion.”
You can watch the Atheist Experience video here.

Interesting Video of the Moment: The Failure of Prayer and Miracles

Presented for your viewing pleasure is a clip from the public access and internet show The Atheist Experience in which the hosts field a call from an ex-Mormon who says that he still “felt something” when he prayed.

I can’t help but think about what this kid says in the context of magick-practitioners who talk themselves into “feeling” all sorts of things that make them think that their magick “works.” It’s a very similar variety of crappy logic that undergirds all of these appeals to “personal experience” in validating the supernatural.

Among the interesting topics addressed (speedily!) in this video include how one knows that the cause of one's feelings is “supernatural,” the need to avoid the argument from ignorance, the Templeton Foundation study that demonstrated prayer does not work better than chance, the lack of evidence for miracles, the trivial kinds of things often claimed as “miracles,” the fact that “intuition” is nothing more than guessing and is susceptible to confirmation bias, and our own infatuation with our mind’s  ability to draw conclusions and see patterns.

You can watch the video here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Quote of the Moment

Perusing the archives of the old alt.magick forums – which contain a wealth of insight for someone willing to put in the work to dig it out – I came across this gem from forum legend Tom Schuler:

it's a good idea to be aware of reality, to be aware of what's actually going on as much as possible.  This makes your life less bumpy, less prone to avoidable catastrophes […] Your awareness of your True Will is not for the sake of making your True Will happen, but to make your life better while your True Will happens.

In response to that last wise sentence, yet another forum legend, Erwin Hessle 8=3, posted the following quote from Aleister Crowley:

"I have omitted to say that the whole subject of Magick is an example of Mythopoeia in that particular form called Disease of Language." - Magick in Theory and Practice

Further comment would only mar the sublime simplicity of this exchange.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Illusion of Free Will

The term “free will” commonly refers to the felt sense that people could have acted otherwise than they actually did. For example, I decided to sit down and write this blog post. Someone who accepts the common notion of free will (sometimes called “libertarian” free will) would argue that I could have chosen to do something else with my time, but I instead deliberately selected to write this blog post.

This is all well and good, and it describes how nearly all normal, healthy people subjectively experience the world. But do we have free will in this sense? *Could* I, in fact, have done differently than I did?
Read on for some reflections on free will.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Battle of the Bald Claims?

There’s a common tactic used by religious believers that has surfaced (once again) on the Temple of Thelema Forums. It might be instructive to look at this tactic and how religious believers use it.

On the thread I was posting on just prior to the start of a ban on certain posts (that is, any posts that do not begin from the assumption that “we are spiritual beings”) Jim Eshelman was doing his usual act of declaring, without any justification, that “the universe is inherently conscious […] consciousness itself is the fundamental substance of all that is.”

When I correctly called it a “bald assertion,” he responded, “That ‘bald assertion’ [is] just possibly the most important foundation principle of everything we're about."

This prompted the following response from me:

Right. That’s been my big criticism of your philosophy: you rest everything on a principle that you just baldly assert. I’ve asked you to support your claim with evidence, and not only do you not, you pretend that it’s not necessary to do so.

In a recent post over there, Eshelman actually did concede that his position (which he phrased this time as “Consciousness […] is the root matter of the universe”) is,“As stated […] just a bald, unsubstantiated claim.” He proceeds to add that the statement “consciousness itself is cerebral activity” is also a “bald, unsubstantiated claim.”

Well, what we’ve got here is a battle of the bald claims, isn’t it? Looks like neither side has evidence, so it’s a draw, right? I guess it all comes down to whichever side you just randomly pick because you like believing it or because your daydreams support it, right?


This tactic is remarkably similar to what religious types often say about atheism: they say that the statement “There is no god” is just as unprovable as the statement “There is a god,” so it takes just as much faith to say that there is no god. Therefore, we’ve got a battle of the faiths. You got faith in one thing, and I got faith in one thing, and nobody can be sure, so it’s equal, isn’t it? You make a bald assertion, I make a bald assertion, and then people just pick whatever they like. Like flavors of ice cream.

That’s what these religious believers want: they want important issues to be reduced to a question of preference.

Read on for an explanation of what this dishonest religious tactic gets wrong.