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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Andy SmithAndrew P. Smith, who has a background in molecular biology, neuroscience and pharmacology, is author of e-books Worlds within Worlds and the novel Noosphere II, which are both available online. He has recently self-published "The Dimensions of Experience: A Natural History of Consciousness" (Xlibris, 2008).


The Secrets of Illuminism

Andy Smith

More Illuminati, or individuals sympathizing with the program, are coming forward to reply to me. I welcome the feedback and will respond briefly to the newest respondents.

First, two of the respondents addressed my question, why the secrecy?

Ravi Maheshvar said:

As you well know, the fields of science, spirituality, philosophy, mathematics, psychology, religion, history and politics all overlap and intertwine. Presenting a scientific theory CAN therefore lead to religious riots, for example, and spiritual ideas can lead to a political revolution. Since the Illuminati are by their very nature rebels and revolutionaries, they must keep their identities hidden from the powers that be.

I think you're exaggerating this problem, though I agree it does happen to some extent. For example, E.O. Wilson has been subjected to a considerable amount of hate for his theory of sociobiology (now called evolutionary psychology), and of course any scientist or academic who suggests that there are innate differences between races (William Shockley) or the sexes (Larry Summers) has also been reviled. And individuals with unpopular ideas (particularly right-wing ones) are frequently the subject of protests when invited to speak on university campuses.

But political revolution? Come on. Sounds like fantasy to me, believing one has knowledge so profound it isn't safe for the world to know about it. Dan Brown stuff. The ideas are on the internet, they're accessible to the masses right now, and they haven't caused any revolutions that I'm aware of. In certain parts of the world, yes, I'd be concerned about proclaiming too publicly my association with certain ideas. But in the West?

Alex Martins replied to this question by saying,

As for the anonymity part, I don't care if you post my name but the reason people may want to remain anonymous is because they don't want their name or reputation tarnished.

Again, I agree this happens to some extent, but I think the problem is somewhat overblown. Consider Rupert Sheldrake, briefly mentioned by Pedro deJesus. His theories are at least as maverick, and as challenging to the scientific worldview as anything the Illuminists hold, and most of the scientific community, I think it's fair to say, doesn't take him seriously. But he has managed quite well, and doesn't seem to regret not publishing anonymously. Granted, he has been able to make a living through his books, so he does not need to hold a regular academic position. But he no doubt could obtain such a position if he returned to his original field of plant biology. Just because he can't obtain government funding for his work on morphogenetic fields doesn't mean he couldn't obtain funding for work more within the scientific mainstream.

I'll just add that I really don't care if authors choose to remain anonymous, as long as they make their ideas publicly available. But by not publishing in peer-reviewed sources, they forfeit a chance to have these ideas strengthened through criticism, and ultimately, depending on their reception, to spread further in the intellectual community. Though Sheldrake complains that most scientists ignore him, his theory is known to many scientists, and has stimulated a lot of debate and discussion.

I take mainstream scientific ideas, even those I don't understand completely, more seriously, because I know they get a thorough vetting by dozens or hundreds of other scientists. An idea has to have a lot going for it to survive this process. I don't think this vetting process occurs in the case of Illuminism.

A second point made by two of the respondents is that Illuminism goes beyond simply rationality.

Casey Copsey says:

Illumination, and by that term I refer to the gnostic experience which some of you may have had the opportunity to experience, is by its very nature impossible to capture with words. Any attempt to reduce this moment or experience into words is at best a fleeting chance for one to engage in creative poetry or a simple sharing of common experience with others who have actually experienced Illumination.

Copsey goes on to say that “the math is just to get people thinking”, and the other two respondents make the same point in their own way.

I don't disagree with the notion that there are insights that go beyond words, and I'm glad to have this clarification. But I will make two points. First, just because math is a means towards the end, rather than end itself, doesn't mean that it can't be criticized. There are relative truths, useful discoveries as Hockney would call them, but they are still true or effective within their framework. Saying that our purpose should be to go beyond this framework does not excuse us from criticizing something from being inconsistent within this framework.

The second point is that to say some experience is beyond words suggests a paradox. If it's beyond words, then words not only can't describe it, but can't even point to it. This is basically the problem of dualism, of two very different kinds of substances being unable to interact. I'm not going to discuss this further, but will just repeat that Greg Desilet's discussion posted here goes into this problem in some detail. He's really far more qualified to criticize the notion of an absolute than I am.

Ravi Maheshvar expands somewhat on the theme of illumination by quoting from Hockney in another book:

We ought to offer some advice on how to read this book and the others in the series. They are actually constructed in such a way as to provide a homage to Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game, which was itself a homage to the Illuminati.

The Glass Bead Game is an extraordinary game whereby underlying patterns in existence are discerned in apparently disparate things. It's a kind of hyper sophisticated musical chess using, as the chess pieces, strands of information from all sorts of different topics and subjects. The game is to link the pieces in the most elegant, unexpected, beautiful and harmonious ways, revealing their deep connections and having them accompanied by the most exquisite music.

So, these books are written in a "hyperlink" style where they leap from one thing to another and eschew linear, formal discursive techniques. The books are supposed to reflect the Glass Bead Game itself, played at the ultimate existential level of revealing absolute truth.

I understand this kind of approach, as a somewhat similar one was followed by another “spiritual revolutionary”, Gurdieff, whose work and teachings I followed very closely a very long time ago. There isn't much doubt that Gurdjieff made use of many of the same sources the Illuminists do. However, while this approach may be helpful for some, I myself never found it very helpful. Perhaps—I'm speculating here—it's because by the time I found Gurdjieff I had already begun to understand that many different superficially different issues were leading me in the same direction.

For example, my work as a scientist led me to believe that there are questions that science not only hadn't answered, but showed signs of not ever being able to answer. My activity in political movements likewise taught me not only that there were flaws in all of them, but deeper problems in humanity that no political system or philosophy even seemed aware of. Issues in my personal life at that time led to a similar conclusion.

Everything seemed to point to one central lesson that of course it at the heart of Gurdjieff's teaching: people are asleep. If writing in a certain manner can achieve the same, I have no problem with it. But no amount of reading material, or reflecting on mathematical equations, will by itself enable individuals to awaken. There's a process involved—the simplest thing in the world in theory, the most difficult thing in the world in practice.

On the contrary, in my experience, too much interest in these issues is more likely to sidetrack people, delude them into thinking that if they know things in an intellectual sense, they are awakened. Some—I would say virtually all—of the most brilliant scientists, philosophers, artists, and so on of all time have lived their entire lives asleep (and yes, I would include Leibniz on that list). That's no criticism of the immense contributions they have made, only that awakening is very different from knowing in any sense that can be communicated through books.

Finally, Ravi briefly discusses the political objectives of the Illuminist program:

Illuminism is not anti-science in that we fully appreciate the scientific method, and are in agreement with many scientific ideas (regarding evolution, chemistry, astronomy and so on). In fact, we would like to see the scientific method being used much more extensively in politics, and we would like to see many more retired scientists take up a career in politics (which they will only do when politics is no longer a popularity contest, and the super rich can no longer manipulate voters and politicians).

And quotes Hockney:

One of the aims of the Meritocracy Party is to abolish the 'moralising' approach to politics (what's 'right' and what's 'wrong' - the politics of principle) in favour of the scientific method (what works and what doesn't - the politics of pragmatism).

I'm in basic agreement with this. But science is increasingly being used to solve social problems, far more than it was in the past. There's no question that this is a major trend in modern civilizations. It's happening because the issues raised by very large, very complex societies demand a scientific approach. Look at modern medicine, transportation, communication, and so on. It's thoroughly based on science.

I understand that you want science to go further, to address political, economic, social and moral issues. I agree, but if science is not being employed to the extent you wish it were, that's in part because it isn't powerful enough yet. Economics in particular is far too complex to be understood by scientists or academics yet. And so, would I say, are other aspects of social interactions, such as the question of the best form of government, and what constitutes, or should constitute, morality. Science is definitely beginning to make inroads on these and other issues, but it will have to progress much further before it can be trusted to be the sole arbiter. Every time scientific experts are wrong—and they have been spectacularly wrong on a variety of social and economic issues—it just reinforces the belief among many that science has no business at all here.

But science has definitely progressed to the point where it can help us understand these problems better. For example, most of us agree that the current distribution of wealth in the world is profoundly unfair, and has to change. Why is the gap between the rich and the poor not only obscenely large, but continuing to grow? As I discuss in the article Same Values, Different Groups, posted here, network theory can go a long way to explaining this. The article also discusses some of the scientific studies being done to understand why people have the political beliefs that they have. I think these and other advances make it inevitable that we will eventually see science play a much larger role in political decisions.

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