Damascus, MD, United States | Member Since 2012
I detest being duped into reading books based on the uncritical, ill-informed opinions of others, even when well intended. Time is far too precious to waste in the hearing or reading of worthless books. I do not think I will be found guilty of this transgression in highly recommending Oliver Burkeman’s, The Antidote. Admittedly, there is some egocentrism involved here. Among the central theses of the book is that (1) viewing life (and oneself) positively is no secure path to happiness (2) seeking security is sure to undermine efforts at obtaining lasting happiness (3) accepting and embracing the unavoidable evils of life is essential to true happiness (4) efforts to delude oneself about the ultimate nature of reality in all its brutality and banality (e.g. through religion, entertainment, and other forms of ‘reality transcendence’) are bound to fail and (5) in due deference to both Bertrand Russell and Ernest Becker, acknowledging the existential inevitability of death is essential for philosophical integrity and psychological solace. Anyone familiar with the Author’s philosophy, especially as delineated in Mind, Matter, Mathematics, & Mortality, will immediately recognize the common theoretical threads. Nothing, however, can be subtracted from the value of Burkeman’s project—his contribution to what Huxley called “the Perennial Philosophy” is original and enlightening.
The complexities of the conflict between cultural conformity and individual expression, between ideological assimilation and existential authenticity, between familial loyalty and social commitment and between accommodationist/integrationist agendas and militancy as means of advancing the interests of the collective African American community are clearly and cogently captured in the brilliant book by Rita Williams-Garcia, “One Crazy Summer”. Especially salient is the symbolic significance (or ostensible insignificance) of names in the unique cultural context of the African Diaspora, the descendants of slaves in the Western World. Africans are certainly not unique in according appreciable meaning to names (though among the ancient Egyptians an entire aspect of the individual’s identity was conceived as being embodied in one’s “ren” or name). What makes the ‘Diasporic Dilemma’ unique is the almost entire obliteration of linguistic linkages to the specific language groups and families from which a coherent culture commonly derives its numerous names and its psychosocial sense of identity. Because Diasporan Africans are debarred from basing their names on known tribal or national affiliations, there exists a considerable cultural disconnection from our continental countries of origin. Concomitant with this disconnection is the lamentable legacy of the African Holocaust. The institution of slavery not only severed families and purposely deprived an entire people of its dignity, it added to this indecency the odium of affixing to Negro “property” the names of its oppressors, of its owners. Certainly there has been a rich tradition of rebellion against this particularly repugnant legacy of slavery, with African Americans and other Diasporan Blacks scornfully rejecting the “slave names” of their birth and adopting appellations identifying them as unambiguously African in origin and outlook. Analogously, there is a rich tradition that the Author only recently recognized (prompted particularly by reading this book) as entailing individualistic rebellion against Eurocentric influences on the names of Africans. That is, Blacks are fond of fabricating names expressly or unconsciously intended to be entirely unique phonologically and/or morphologically with little or no notion of lexicology, semiology or meaning. It is easy for an educated, assumedly informed, Africentric Diasporan of the 21st century to regard this practice as puerile, as exhibiting extreme cultural ignorance or indifference. Whatever truth there is in such a sentiment, it obscures an important existential observation. To a people whose collective identity has been decidedly damaged, individual identity assumes increased importance and the expression of that importance is often exhibited in the uniqueness of the name. Thus there is a serious, substantive psychological dimension to what may seem semantically absurd and superficial. This speculative notion of nomenclature is merely one aspect of the richly complex narrative that is “One Crazy Summer”, but it is one that has heretofore been inadequately expressed in (African) American literature. Rita’s work has rectified this representational dearth in a creative, compelling manner.
Dr. Nun Sava-Siva Amen-Ra, ‘Negro Nomenclaturist’
Damascus, Maryland USA
It is satisfying to see a serious Philosopher of Mind acknowledge the notion that science has hitherto failed to solve the central problem conceptually confronting cogitant Mankind: namely, how inert matter gives rise to consciousness. Nagel correctly contends that consciousness is the most complex, most astounding accompaniment of life extant in our corner of the Cosmos. He understandably argues that the nature of scientific investigation necessarily impairs its ability to offer an adequate explanation of the emergence of awareness from insensate matter and, further, that the invocation of Evolution does not diminish this deficiency. Impressively, irrespective of his acknowledged atheism, he encourages intellectuals to take certain arguments advanced by advocates of Intelligent Design seriously (however sentimental and self-serving such simple-minded statements seem). In essence, what Darwinian theorists unduly dismiss is the difficulty, indeed apparent impossibility, of naive Natural Selection sufficiently accounting for the creation of consciousness prior to the origination of organized life. While Natural Selection can clearly explain the efflorescence of intelligence (owing to its inherent adaptability) after the emergence of self-replicating structures, it cannot conceivably account for the factors that would have made this property productive prior to the appearance of Life.
If the Author is inclined to agree with Dr. Nagel’s aforementioned analysis, wherein does the distinguished Philosopher err? To elucidate the intellectual indictment of his heuristic enterprise we must mention the main metaphysical muddle—the Mind/Matter Mystery. Simply stated, matter is marked by properties such as ponderosity (weightiness), extensibility (space occupation), and ostensible insentience (absence of awareness). Obversely, the mind is immaterial—it occupies no space and possesses no mass. Further, it feels. To employ Nagel’s apt ideational imagery, there is “something it is like to be” aware, sentient, conscious. Despite their undeniable dissimilarity, the immaterial mind is dependent upon the physical brain. Though the best thinkers in the Western tradition have systematically studied this thorny issue since Descartes, it is arguable that the Ancients of the East and elsewhere also appreciated the problem and sought to effect a synthesis of soul and soma, spirit and substance. And yet, even in our advanced age of scientific sophistication, we seem no closer to an edifying understanding of this most fundamental philosophical problem. Persons privy to the pronouncements of “Mind, Matter, Mathematics, & Mortality (M4)” may not be so pessimistic in their assessment of our understanding however.
M4 maintains that modern science has established the infinitesimal (hence immaterial) essence of matter on its minutest level (i.e. that of leptons and quarks). This eradicates the alleged incommensurability of matter and mind in the materialistic sense—for fundamentally, there is no such thing as “matter”. M4 maintains that modern science has established that elementary particles exhibit irreducible awareness (as indicated, for instance, in the modified Double Slit Experiment). This eradicates the alleged incommensurability of matter and mind in the subjectivist sense. Admittedly, I am biased, possessed of pride and prejudice alike. What else could I be? M4 is my “Baby”, my Magnum Opus, and is arguably the most elegant exposition of Metaphysics since Plotinus’ “Enneads”, perhaps Plato’s “Timaeus”, mayhaps even the monumental “Memphite Theology” of the ancient Egyptians secured Shabaka, that Sudanic Sovereign of Nubian nativity. [Aristotle’s Metaphysics is anything but elegant, but this is purely the opinion of a professed Platonist.] It would be easy for an objector to eschew my self-appraisal as excessive intellectual egotism. However, a real refutation of my work would require a repudiation (or reinterpretation) of the sound science and substantive empirical evidence upon which it is based, not an unreasoned, reflexive rejection of my grandiloquent claims. Regrettably, my relative academic obscurity makes the task of kindred colleagues somewhat difficult, especially given my disciplinary dalliance in diverse areas of investigation. However, my manifest (and ambivalently desired) obscurity has not prevented prominent scientists and intellectuals from appropriating my ideas without proper attribution or acknowledgement. It is incumbent upon intellectuals (especially if they endeavor to ensconce their musings in a manuscript) to know what is known and already articulated, if indeed intellectual novelty is among their ideals—as it ought to be. In short, Dr. Nagel should know the nature of my work and adjust his arguments accordingly, even if he ultimately opposes them. Like Dr. Colin McGinn, with whom he shares a modicum of Mysterianism, he would be disinclined to dismiss the principle of Proto-Mentalism (or what I call ‘Immaterial Monism’) if he understood the implications of the inherent awareness (or ‘Proto-Percipience’) of elementary matter. But his inattention is altogether innocent, not malicious, and I take no umbrage thereat. But what, we may rightly wonder, would he say about this excerpt from M4 concerning the crucial Quantum Mechanical experiment cited previously:
“If the particles that certain suitably contrived machines detect are somehow, in some sense, ‘aware’, being cognizant of the conditions under which they exist, it should come as no surprise that a collection of quanta, atoms, molecules, cells, organs, and organ systems should, over the course of hundreds of millions of years, under the influence of a selective, guiding principle aimed at ensuring survival, result in the accretion of awareness and the emergence of what we call consciousness. Consciousness is the epiphenomenal result of the assemblage of molecules whose very elementary constituents are demonstrably possessed of the capacity for awareness. We do not know what it is like for a quark or an electron or an atom to be aware, but there seems to be little reason to doubt that they are in some sense aware. We know, moreover, that we are composed of these very entities. The key to consciousness may lie in the rudimentary awareness of the constituents of which we are composed. Animism is alive (pun intended).” (M4, p.46)
There is something superficially novel about one of Nagel’s arguments. This concerns Naturalistic Teleology. In Dr. Nagel’s estimation, Darwinian developmental doctrines that describe the emergence of awareness from insentient matter are unconvincing; there is, instead, an overarching Order, Intelligence, or Entelechy inherent in existence. This Entity appreciates and is oriented toward “value”—that is, it is able and inclined to discern “good” and “bad”; we sentient souls are manifestations of this Entity; any adequate Theory of Everything (TOE) must explain the irreducible value of value. M4 explicitly embraces Teleology—the idea of an overarching, Proto-Mental Entity inherent in the Universe. I call this abysmal, nebulous entity “Nun”. [See “Nun, Nous, & Numerous: Symbols, Science, & Supreme Mathematics”, in Ch IV of M4 (Amen-Ra, 2007).] Of course this idea is not entirely new, hence my employment of ancient Egyptian iconography to express it in M4. I could just as easily have employed the appellations Amen, Ishvara, Brahman, Purusha, Ptah or other ancient cosmogonic concepts conveying the primacy of consciousness in the Cosmos. What does make the M4 dispensation of Divine Teleology nearly novel is that it dispenses with a Divinity and offers naturalistic arguments and evidence for its principal postulates and conclusions. Thus, Nagel’s admonition to intellectuals to take Teleological Analysis seriously is appreciated though anachronistic. M4 has already introduced and explored the explanatory implications of Teleology for the mystery of Mind. Our case is cogent and compelling. It need only be considered.
Dr. Nun Sava-Siva Amen-Ra, Ascetic Idealist Philosopher
Damascus, Maryland USA
7 September MMIV
This is arguably one of the deepest discourses on depression that has been articulated in modern times. If the aforesaid declaration is overstated or erroneous, then all the better. For it would mean that there is elsewhere a more masterful exposition on the meaning of melancholy that remains to be read or heard by me. But of this I am doubtful.
When one assumes the responsibility of a Psychotherapist for over a quarter century and earnestly endeavors to acquire the insight and information that will enable one to alleviate the anguish of one’s patients (and peers perhaps), one deserves to be taken seriously by anyone aspiring to become a competent Counselor or who similarly seeks to understand emotional suffering and its attenuation. When such a Psychotherapist is forthcoming with his failures—the defeatism, despondency, and even death of patients—he deserves to be taken seriously. When such a Psychotherapist assumes the role of an expert Investigative Journalist and devotes his exemplary intelligence, endurance and energy to exploring the ideational (and economic) underpinnings of Depression—a diagnosis that dominates our modern era along with the odious aliment of Anxiety—he deserves to be taken seriously. When such a Psychotherapist candidly confesses to have suffered dual debilitating bouts of Depression and courageously offers us an in depth description of its qualia, of “what it is like to be depressed”, he deserves to be taken seriously and indeed admired. Lastly, Dr. Greenberg deserves to be applauded for his willingness to honestly declare and confront the darkness inherent in human existence and for his disinclination to dismiss this dismal darkness as an essential, ineradicable element in the origin of melancholy, a darkness that no drug can dispel and no medical diagnosis can diminish or do proper justice to. Despite critical condemnation from some quarters, Dr. Greenberg is not unduly dark. Rather, the Universe is dark and indifferent to our existence.
Dr. Greenberg defensibly decries the duplicity of Daniel Amen for his misguided materialism and coarse commercialism combined with puerile pretentiousness. It is the materialistic reduction of melancholy to mere molecules meandering through the myriad modules of the brain that bespeaks the baseness of much of modern Medicine, Psychopharmacology and the burgeoning arena of Clinical Neuroscience. I share some of these sentiments. Presumptuously, I perceive that I am in a privileged position permitting me to proffer palliative solace to such skeptics as our sullen Psychotherapist who, while repudiating material (and medical) reductionism, feel unfit to furnish formidable philosophical explanations for the ostensible interdependency of matter and mind. Essentially, I espouse an alternative, obverse reductionism—Immaterial Monism. Since it would be impractical to expound on the elements of an intricate metaphysical model of mine in the context of this book review, I shall only elaborate the essential idea and refer interested individuals to the text, “Mind, Matter, Mathematics, and Mortality (M4)” (Amen-Ra, 2007). M4 maintains that matter, molecules and all things “physical” in character are constituted by quantum entities that are infinitesimal and, perforce, immaterial. Importantly, it argues from fundamental findings of modern physics that such infinitesimal, immaterial entities exhibit an irreducible element of awareness at their core. Clearly, the convergence and concatenation of such ‘pseudo-sentient’ (or ‘Proto-Percipient) particles can produce what we properly consider “consciousness” in the course of time and under the orderly “instruction” of Evolution over eons. Empirical evidence for this admittedly astounding idea is amassed in my monograph and I welcome all intelligent, informed critique of its content. The insinuation of this Author’s ideas into the present analysis is appropriate (in my estimation) insofar as the author of “Manufacturing Depression” alleges the absence of valid explanations for the mysterious interplay of “matter” and “mind” and understandably excoriates individuals who presume to prescribe physico-chemical treatments for the correction of mental maladies, melancholic and otherwise. But if, fundamentally, there be no such physico-chemical entities, if the medicinal molecules that manifestly modulate our mood and mental operations are as immaterial as the mind (for Dr. Greenberg openly acknowledges that drugs alter emotional states and perceptive propensities), then there is no inherent metaphysical mystery—there is merely a deficiency of detail and depth of understanding on our part presently. [Or perhaps perpetually, if Dr. Colin McGinn be believed. See the latter’s “Mysterious Flame” for the Philosopher’s formulation of Mysterianism.] Such scientific ignorance would be unfortunate, but not epistemologically apocalyptic or overwhelming. Confessedly, this conception is edifying to my mind and I wish simply to share it with other serious-minded individuals such as the sagacious Psychotherapist, Dr. Gary Greenberg, and his admirers. I am one of them.
Dr. Nun Sava-Siva Amen-Ra, Ascetic Analyst
26 August MMXIV
Damascus, Maryland USA
The mind is my métier, my most absorbing intellectual occupation. An ambition to understand the mind of Man (and mine own) motivated my initial interest in Medicine. Upon entering medical school “under the influence” of such Neuro-Psychiatrists as Dr. Richard Restak and Nobel Laureate Dr. Eric Kandel, I reasoned that Neurology, Neurosurgery, or Psychiatry would place me in a prime position to purse my explorations of the mind and the mental maladies of mankind. Settling upon Psychiatry as most suitable, I soon came to appreciate the degree to which matters of the mind were marginalized by modern Psychiatry, molecules and medicine being the basis of most discourse in the discipline. I knew that I had made an error which would require rectification. After immersing myself for several years in independent study and self-reflection I became intrigued with Existentialism and Thanatology (the study of death) and took a Master’s degree in the latter discipline. In addition to being an author and researcher, I am an existentially-oriented Analyst in private practice. The purpose of this pronouncement and the preceding personalized preamble is to declare my distaste for Psychiatry owing to its domination by drugs, its defense of dubious diagnoses, and its overarching inclination to “over-medicalize” or “pathologize” innumerable aspects of the ordinary human condition. In short, I am inclined to agree with the central critique of Psychotherapy to which Dr. Szasz subscribes. This inclination is incomplete albeit. Dr. Szasz makes several important points in his highly informative opus. Piteously, the positive attributes of his exposition are not entirely original. Sympathetic souls can certainly appreciate his candid chronicling of the horrendous history of Psychiatry. [However, Investigative Journalist Robert Whitaker does a far better job of this in his “Mad in America”, available in audiobook.] He castigates the character of Freud and condemns the credulity of our entire culture for collectively countenancing such obvious inanity for so long. [I echoed this argument in my analysis of Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams”; see previous book review kindly posted on Audible’s site.]
Now for the not-so-positive points. Dr. Szasz restates his argument (expostulated in his classic “The Myth of Mental Illness”) that an ‘illness of the mind’ is a misnomer, a mere metaphor that is objectively untrue. Only physical illness is actual illness. He laments that language and its misuse leads to dangerous deceptions and duplicity and that this is true of the psychotherapeutic professions. He argues that Psychotherapy is not scientific but essentially spiritual in essence and that Therapists should accept this semantic signifier instead of purely pretending to practice Medicine or purporting to provide healing therapies. So, Szasz maintains that it is impossible to heal a mind; it is only possible to change a mind. While such conceptions may seem conservative to Szasz, they seem rather radical and overwrought in the estimation of this auditor. Is it absurd to accept that suffering can be as severe when psychological in origin as when afflicting an area of the body? Is pain more profound when palpable, when its nature is physical rather than psychological? Is it absurd to suppose that the psyche is subject physical, experiential, and ideational influences alike? Do not molecules manifestly modulate our moods? Do not deleterious drugs damage our minds, our memories, our very sense of self and reality? Cannot words, whether wise, warm, or weighty, often attenuate or eradicate emotional anguish? Is this not what some “Psychotherapists” earnestly endeavor to do? And when such Psychotherapists succeeded in assuaging another individual’s inner anguish, anxiety, depression, or grief—as clients commonly confess that we do—is it erroneous to regard such transactions as “therapeutic”, as “healing”? If the principles upon which such healing rests are rationally refined, systematically studied, diligently practiced and perfected, is it preposterous to pronounce such professionals “Therapists”?
Something must also be said for Philosophy. Dr. Szasz is a very learned scholar, steeped in history, literature, and the philosophy of science and ideas. The vehemence with which he rejects the notion of psychogenic suffering and psychological “treatment” suggests that he subscribes to radical dualism. If this be so, he should state it explicitly instead of (ostensibly) assuming that his audience assents to this view. Many modern men and women of learning are monistic, I imagine, considering mind to be a manifestation of matter (or vice versa). Conceptually constricting therapy to encompass only the physical realm, declaring suffering to be solely somatic and qualitatively distinct from disorders of the mind is arbitrary and conflicts with abundant empirical evidence and scientific studies too numerous to name. Finally, Dr. Szasz recommends that Psychotherapy be regarded as rhetoric. While I do not reject this denomination of our discipline, it is not irrational to regard it as (ideally) something more—something salubrious, something soterial, something scientific and, sometimes, sagacious. Is our society too lax in what it labels “therapeutic”? Yes. Are there demonstrable differences in the efficacy of diverse therapies and in the effectiveness of differentially skilled therapists? Of course. These are societal and professional problems that call for continual improvement in the provisioning of mental health care; they do not call for the dismantling of Psychotherapy as such.
Ironically, at the extreme end of his exposition, the enlightened Anti-Psychotherapist offers us an alternative appellation to employ in place of our ‘nonsensical nomenclature’. His suggested neologism is “Iatrology”. For someone who stresses the singular importance of semantics, of conceptual coherence and clarity of communication, this coinage is almost comical. I wonder if he realizes that the root ‘iatro’ originates etymologically from a Greek word signifying “physician”—or synonymously, “therapist”. Is this not the notion that he finds so noxious? The brain damage that certain psychotropic drugs and psychosurgical treatments have been documented to induce is defensibly described by some as “iatrogenic” in origin. [See Dr. Breggin’s bold and brilliant book, “Toxic Psychiatry”.] Dr. Szasz’s most recent audiobook is on this very topic. I wonder if he appreciates the irony. I do.
Dr. Nun Sava-Siva Amen-Ra, Ascetic Analyst
Damascus, Maryland USA
My profound predecessors in the field of Psychoanalysis—Drs. Yalom and Fromm—progressively prevailed upon me to take the expositions of Sigmund Freud seriously. I have endeavored to do so and I am heartily sorry for my assent. At the risk of repeating was is assuredly obvious to any informed observer familiar with Freud’s writings and his character as communicated by contemporaries and chroniclers, the ‘Master of the Mind’ was not nearly in control of his own cognitions. Not only did Freud suffer from extreme anxiety, he erected his therapeutic edifice upon the pathological primacy of anxiety and acknowledged his inability to understand (or overcome) anxiety as an unalloyed embarrassment. To those who regard meaningful interpersonal relationships as indispensable to optimal psychological health, it is saddening and shocking to see how many friendships Freud ruined, how many collegial relationships he destroyed with his despotic doctrinarism, his irrepressible personal ambition and easily-aroused enmity. Perhaps a person justly convinced of his greatness can be excused for exhibiting excessive ambition. But we must maintain that it is the mark of mental imbalance when one’s own aggrandizement can only conceivably come at the expense of others, by questioning their intrinsic worth and contemning their contributions.
Even this cursory catalogue of Freud’s character suggests a mind maladapted to social life, if not inherently ill. Forsooth, Freud is fitter for pity than praise. Such pity must be circumscribed such that it encompasses the particular person of the dread doctor, not the perspective that his perplexed, impassioned ideations unleashed upon a still astonished world. For there is something especially absurd in the idea of an individual with an evident psychological impairment imperiously opining upon the proper understanding and treatment of such impairments in others. Lest we stray too far from the focus of this review, let us turn our attention to the topic of Freud’s central theory of dream interpretation. Happily, there is not much to mention: Dreams are expressions of unfulfilled wishes, substantially sexual in essence and shrouded in symbolism accessible only to the enlightened analyst or “initiate”. As with so many Freudian fragments, there are elements of truth herein. Clearly some dreams are ‘teleological’ in nature, enabling one to realize in fantasy an end that eludes us in reality. Clearly, however, many dreams display a disorganized array of psychological scenes and sentiments stemming from rather random mental activity in a brain that is active even during the depths of slumber. Freud forthrightly dismisses as erroneous this last notion of the nature of dreams. Fair enough. But he fails (as usual) to defend his dismissal with substantive countervailing evidence and argument.
Confessedly, the Author can claim some competence in the domain of drug abuse treatment, having practiced and published in the field. This proclamation of aptitude in the area of addiction adds, perhaps, particular poignancy to my criticism of Freud. It is altogether astounding that the founder of modern psychotherapy was not only an addict but advocated the utilization of illicit opiates. Having persuaded patients, family, and friends to partake of such dangerous agents (presumably, perhaps, before their noxious nature was widely known) and witnessing the inevitable addiction, anguish, and even death it induced contributed conspicuously to his guilt. In the Interpretation of Dreams, Freud related a dream of his revealing (ostensibly) the existence and repression of guilt for directly contributing to the destruction of the lives of intimate relations and others owing to opiate addiction to which they were initiated by him. Instead of openly acknowledging such guilt, making use of the intellectually defensible “defense mechanism” of repression, he sought to erect his entire explanatory edifice of the origin of dreams upon the whimsical notion of “wish fulfillment”. It was not his dream that fulfilled a wish. Rather, it was his entire intellectual life that reflected Freud’s unwholesome hunger for greatness, his quest for intellectual immortality. While such intellectual immortality is an elusive ambition, the thought of Freud unfortunately dominated an entire era and lamentably lingers even in our own age. Given this doctrinal domination by the often absurd ideas of an individual who acknowledged suffering from inscrutable angst, exhibited evident delusions of grandeur, and was plagued by an Addictive Disorder that he was patently powerless to overcome, it is no wonder why psychotherapy is perpetually ineffectual in its ability to effect fundamental change in the lives of people and why interventions aimed at the amelioration of anxiety, depression, and addiction are so woefully inadequate. It is simply scandalous that 20th century Psychology was so enamored with the wayward ideas of Freud (and many of the misguided musings of Marx) while Physics was constructing the cornerstones of Quantum Mechanics and modern Cosmology. As a Biological Theorist, I derive some defensible delight in the fact that Darwin’s doctrine looms larger than the fatuous phallic fallacies of Freud and have contributed to the conceptual clarity of mankind in myriad ways. [And though the demon of anxiety did not depart from Darwin either, at least he did not deign to discourse on his expert understanding of its origins and alleviation as did Dr. Freud.]
It is also refreshing to realize that not all intellectuals of the era of Freud were fooled by his formulations. For consider this intelligent allusion to the ‘Immortal Analyst’ by the effusive Historian, Dr. Will Durant, on the endurance and dubiousness of dream decipherment:
“The gravest medieval historians nearly always found (like Livy) that important events had been directly or symbolically foretold by portents, visions, prophecies, or dreams. There were heaps of books...offering the latest scientific interpretation of dreams (oneiromancy)—not much sillier than those which famous scientists have written in the twentieth century.” (The Story of Civilization, Vol. IV, p. 987)
If only it were possible to predict with perspicacity the future of Freud’s formidable influence upon the profession of Psychotherapy and mental health as a whole. If only more Analysts were inclined to abjure their imagined indebtedness to the intellectual obfuscations of Freudianism and avail themselves solely of reason and rigorous observational and experimental research in their effort to serve as sound psychological guides for a populace that continues to expect clarity and contentment to accrue from the insights of able counselors.
Dr. Nun Sava-Siva Amen-Ra, Ascetic Analyst
Damascus, Maryland USA
10 July MMXIV
I am no historian, though I aspire to be a competent student of this distinguished discipline. Despite my self-declared dilettante status, I will defend my declaration that Durant’s opus is among the richest contributions to historical literature that has ever been offered to humankind. I have heard, read, and thoroughly enjoyed Thucydides, Herodotus, Gibbon, Volney, Van Sertima, Zinn, Diop, Massey, and more. Durant surpasses all these scholars in form, content, clarity of exposition, breadth and depth of knowledge, and (even more poignantly than Plutarch) his persistent emphasis on extracting from history ideas inclining us to mental edification and moral elevation. Admittedly, errors abound in the author’s exposition on ancient Egypt. However, I can claim some competence in this area and, confessedly, persons possessed of uncommon competence are often inclined to unjustly overemphasize the errors of less learned individuals. I therefore urge interested readers to overlook such minor matters, for they do not mar the magnificence of Durant’s masterpiece. Analogously, Durant’s work cannot be compared to Lord Russell’s monumental “History of Western Philosophy”. Russell’s work is an expert analysis of seminal philosophical systems and ideas emerging over the course of history and assiduously undertaken by a professional philosopher of the first rank. Durant’s opus encompasses aspects and epochs of universal history having had an indelible influence upon the ideational and material evolution of the Western World. In this respect his research stands alone. Though this review pertains particularly to “Our Oriental Heritage”, I would be surprised if the subsequent segments are not similarly superb. I look forward to finding out. Only ten more to go! (If indeed Audible can be persuaded to produce the complete corpus.)
Dr. Nun Sava-Siva Amen-Ra
The present review takes the form of correspondence I was compelled to initiate with the author of "Our Mathematical Universe". It reads as follows:
Greetings Prof. Tegmark,
I found your book, Our Mathematical Universe, and your 1998 publication in the Annals of Physics most interesting. I will understand if you are inclined to ignore the analysis of your work that I endeavor to advance herein. After all, I am neither a physicist nor a mathematician. Rather, I am a philosophically oriented psychotherapist/thanatologist with a background in Biology and Epidemiology. As I find dissimulation objectionable, I shall not delay in disclosing my chief criticism: the theory/model that you propound in your book (and paper)—namely, the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (MUH)—is not substantially novel in essence. I appreciate your appropriate invocation of Pythagoras, Plato, Galileo, and Eugene Wigner in chronicling the continuity of the mathematical description of nature. I am less appreciative of your apparent failure to acknowledge the fundamental unity between your ideas and that of renowned chemist, Sir Peter W. Atkins. Acknowledging my all-too-human egocentrism, I am even less appreciative of your failure to acknowledge my variant of the “Mathematical Universe Hypothesis” or what I call in my book (Mind, Matter, Mathematics, & Mortality (M4)) the Constitutional Interpretation of Mathematics or ‘Nunistic Numericism’. Sir Atkins offers an interpretation of mathematics that he calls Deep Structuralism. He contends that there are strong and weak variants of Deep Structuralism. However, as I argue in M4, these are essentially indistinguishable. Whereas, Weak Deep Structuralism maintains that nature is merely describable in mathematical terms, Strong Deep Structuralism maintains that nature and mathematics are one and the same, sharing the same structure. It is in this sense that your MUH is ostensibly intellectually subsumed by Atkins’ Deep Structuralism. Do not despair though. For as I argue in M4, Atkins’ idea is not an advancement over that of the Pythagoreans, Platonists, or any subsequent scientist, theorist or philosopher. Essentially, they have all said the same thing: ‘How extraordinary it is that the elements of existence are so amenable to mathematical analysis. An explanation is surely in order.’ What makes these nominally ‘numericist’ approaches otiose (the MUH included unfortunately) is their absence of empiricism. M4 begins by reminding readers that the ancient philosophical problem of reconciling mind and matter has theretofore yet to be accomplished. It further reminds readers of the conventional Cartesian conception of matter as encompassing entities exhibiting extension and, obversely, mind being characterized by the absence of extensibility. These definitions of Descartes still seem sound. M4 maintains that empirical evidence establishes that the fundamental constituents of matter are essentially infinitesimal point particles possessed purely of properties and that these properties (as you yourself soberly state) are mathematical in nature. [The Quark Model of Matter owing to the discovery of the MIT/SLAC team is the principal basis of this postulation.] If the elementary particles of which “matter” is composed are dimensionless, devoid of extension, they are then immaterial. The properties of these point particles are explicable on the basis of quantum mechanical wavefunctions—thoroughly mathematical entities. Moreover, this mathematical explicability may be epistemologically exhaustive, telling us all there is to know about the quantum realm. I maintain that it is only when elementary particles have been convincingly divested of materiality (on the basis of provisional empirical investigations) that the mathematical essence of existence can be established. This is why I maintain that the M4 dispensation of the “MUH”—Constitutional Nunistic Numericism (CNN)—is the most momentous, scientifically sound, most veridical variant of the mathematical interpretations of reality.
Then there is the question of conceptual fecundity. M4 maintains that the modified “Double Slit” experiment of quantum mechanics permits the interpretation that quantum particles exhibit awareness or a property closely akin thereto. I call this property ‘Proto-Percipience’. It would seem to explain why particles apparently alter their behavior, displaying wavelike or particulate properties depending on whether they are being “observed” or not—indeed, whether a detection device is directed thereat, whether such a device is “on” or “off”. Naturally, I argue that evolution employed this Proto-Percipient property in enabling the accretion of awareness in organisms owing to its adaptiveness. This conception, contingent upon the Copenhagen interpretation of wavefunction collapse, can be contrasted with your espousal of Everett’s parallel worlds perspective. Plainly speaking, it seems more plausible to postulate particle Proto-Percipience or rudimentary awareness than to contend that consciousness “splits” each time a quantum phenomenon is observed. Such ‘cosmic schizophrenia’ compels the creation of a universe, ex nihilo, each time a conscious agent makes a quantum observation entailing choice. This seems somewhat extravagant and rather inelegant. Finally, M4 maintains that the ultimate immateriality of matter, the essential ‘mathematicality’ of matter, the concomitant modularity of the mind and the singularity of the substance of the “soul” or “spirit” are integrated in such a way as to explain our irrepressible intimation of Immortality. This is what impels me to opine that M4 is not merely a mathematical and metaphysical Theory of Everything (TOE) but the most compelling and comprehensive of all competing cosmological theories.
I greatly appreciate your contributions to the field of physics and, indeed, to the advancement of human knowledge. As an admittedly obscure theorist I also appreciate your embodiment of the academic “Golden Mean”—that is, your decision to simultaneously pursue orthodox professional ideas deemed appropriate by the conventional community of physicists and explore “radical” research deviating from the restrictive domain of your discipline. I applaud and respect you. I also applaud your humanness and apparently authentic vulnerability. By your own admission you have been “scooped” in more than one instance. To many, it may be demoralizing to engage in exhaustive intellectual work only to learn that someone else has encapsulated and advanced the very ideas inherent in one’s own opus. Understandably, we covet recognition for our contributions. You have dealt with such occurrences admirably. As you state in Our Mathematical Universe, it helps to hope that in some multiplicity of parallel worlds you are indeed the originator of all those ideas that you conceived in this world.
I hope you do not object to my ending with a quote from M4. I think it reinforces our intellectual kinship.
“Lifting the veil of materiality from the face of Nature leads us not only to the unification of mind and matter but also to the unification of matter and mathematics. The rather unreasonable, otherwise inexplicable effectiveness with which mathematics describes physical phenomena is now seen to be a consequence of the identity of ‘physical’ entities and mathematical entities. In fact, the very concept of a mathematical entity is now arguably intelligible—mathematical entities and the physical entities they were once thought to merely symbolize are one and the same. One need no longer conceive of a parallel world of immaterial mathematical essences. Mathematical entities need not be relegated to a realm distinct from the space and time of our Universe. Immaterial mathematical entities comprise the substance of which boulders, bodies, and brains are built and brains are evolutionarily engineered organs that have acquired the capacity to comprehend the principles that govern their existence. We have hereby effectuated the integration of all Being into a seamless Whole. Mind, Matter, and Mathematics are One. Now what of Mortality....”
Mind, Matter, Mathematics, & Mortality (M4): Musings on a Momentous Metaphysical Theory (Dr. Nun Sava-Siva Amen-Ra, 2011)
A response would be most welcome as I truly value your ideas and perspective. I have taken the liberty of attaching my book. Thank you for your attention.
18 January MMXIV
DESCRIBING, DEFENDING, & DECRYING “THE DROUT WAY”
Anyone who wishes to enhance his or her understanding of English will be rewarded by hearing or reading Dr. Drout’s discourse on grammar. Anyone who eschews excessive intellectual egotism will be annoyed by the professor’s pedantic personalization of purely conventional concepts that have a long linguistic history. The phrase that most markedly illustrates the grammarian’s self-aggrandizement is the “Drout Way”. At the risk of oversimplifying a more encompassing ideological exposition, the “Drout Way” adumbrates the following ideas: (I) Clues to the complexity (and confusion) of the English language are to be sought in its convoluted history (II) Understanding this circuitous history can illuminate otherwise unintelligible aspects of the language (III) An ideal mastery of English necessitates a knowledgeable balance between adherence to invariant rules (which, in the main, must be memorized) and innovative attempts to ensure clarity of communication above all else and (IV) Overzealous attention to erroneous grammar on the part of others (especially when accompanied by crude correction) is odious and often ill-informed. It would be an amusing exercise to enumerate each utterance of the “Drout Way” in the author’s self-narrated audiobook. Interestingly, it is not until the final few minutes that the distinguished linguist-philologist acknowledges the fact that the main thrust of the “Drout Way” was foreshadowed by the steadfast Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. The Emperor, Drout correctly relates, credited his teacher, Grammaticus, with instructing him in the appropriate way of conceptualizing good grammar and correcting its misuse in others by ensuring one’s own grammatical correctitude—that is, by being a model of grammatical mastery.
Dr. Drout is a superb scholar. His book is informative, funny, and forthright. He is young and already exceptionally accomplished as an academic. This is particularly encouraging to an ambivalent, aspiring academic such as myself. Further, his book is about much more than grammar; it is about the human psyche and the centrality of language thereto. Additional insight into the nature of his own mind might make Dr. Drout more aware of the ostensible imperfections in his psyche or, stated more sympathetically, the aesthetic imperfections in his rhetorical style. Ironically, I believe our good professor has produced a book on the principles of persuasive rhetoric. If so, I intend, to acquire it and opine on its merits from the privileged perspective of a discerning dilettante. Incidentally, it is difficult to forswear the speculative supposition that the master grammarian may be mourning the missed opportunity to make the mysterious matron who occasioned the coinage of the “red panda” into Mrs. Drout. Far be it of me, a professedly puritanical ascetic, to stoke the embers of a salacious scandal, especially in a stately discussion of grammar. It was, however, Dr. Drout’s doing and he’ll have to answer to the actual Mrs. Drout (and perhaps the potential or would-be Mrs. Drout). But that is another matter....
Dr. Nun Sava-Siva Amen-Ra
Nothing is more important than metaphysics, the area of investigation encompassing ideas pertaining to the ultimate nature of reality. Pardoning the pun, the notion of “nothing” is an important aspect of metaphysical theorization and explication. This explains why it is so disheartening when a scientist of the stature of Dr. Lawrence Krauss offers an exposition of the essentiality of nothingness to the nature of existence that is altogether underwhelming. Dr. Krauss can be forgiven for focusing an inordinate amount of attention on dark matter and dark energy since these cryptic constituents of the cosmos dominate its composition and because the theorist made his most important contributions to this area of the field. Dr. Krauss cannot be forgiven for ignoring the work of others, myself included. Lest this critique seem self-serving, let us be explicit and objective. Dr. Krauss attempts to make the case that the nonentity understood as nothingness is an essential element of our modern understanding of cosmology. Again, he can be forgiven for focusing on gravity (aggregately in its negative and positive guises) as among the most apparent indications of the absence of net positive mass/energy in the universe. I invoke a similar (though not identical) argument in MIND, MATTER, MATHEMATICS, & MORTALITY (M4): MEDITATIONS ON A MOMENTOUS METAPHYSICAL THEORY (Amen-Ra, 2011). However, apart from a cursory mention of the implications of electromagnetism and quantum indeterminacy, he stops at this. What is more, limiting himself to the aforementioned areas, he explains these inadequately and neglects to mention authors who have expounded more eloquently (and accurately) upon these ideas.
Contrast this with M4. In elaborating the elements of what I term “Immaterial Monism”, I discuss in detail the most momentous aspects of cosmology and particle physics pertinent to the picture of the universe as arising from nothing, being composed of nothing, and eventuating in nothing. In this ideational enterprise I give due credit to Nobel Laureate Dr. Leon Lederman. It was Dr. Lederman in his immensely entertaining work THE GOD PARTICLE who explicitly indicated the importance of the apparent observational evidence that elementary particles (i.e. quarks and leptons) are infinitesimal and, ipso facto, immaterial. This automatically implies that the fundamental constituents of matter are akin to nothingness, physical nonentities. I discuss in detail the astounding work of Nobel Laureates Dr. Kendall and Friedman for their experimental establishment of the tripartite, point-like character of the proton and the resulting “quark model” of baryonic matter. Of course I discuss Einstein and the implications gravitation. However, I buttress this discussion with the weighty words of Dr. John Barrow who explains the immaterial implications of gravitational theory with a clarity that Krauss cannot equal. Dr. Krauss does touch upon the importance of quantum mechanics. There is a glaring omission however. He does not make the crucial connection that if “material” particles can be exhaustively explained by wavefunctions, if wavefuntions are (defensibly) deemed to constitute the particles they so thoroughly describe, and if wavefunctions are essentially mere mathematical constructs, the immaterial or ideal essence of matter has thereby been established. I cannot fault Krauss too much in this regard, for even Dr. J. Al-Khalili did not come to this conclusion in his monumental QUANTUM: A GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED. As far as I know (and, trust me, I have searched ceaselessly), I am the fist and (evidently) only theorist who has explicitly made this conceptual connection. This is not the only quantum oversight Dr. Krauss commits. Can anyone discuss the concept of creation coming from a quantum “flux” in the void without being beholden to the insights of Dr. E. Tryon, and giving proper credit thereto? I think not. Again, Krauss cursorily comments on the interrelationship between electromagnetism and immateriality but his exposition is encumbered and convoluted. Contrast this with Dr. Michio Kaku’s concise and compelling description in PARALLEL WORLDS and you will assuredly affirm the Author’s opinion. Moreover, to this description Dr. Kaku adds an additional element: the fundamental physical property of spin. The net-zero spin of the universe implies its emergence from a state of nothingness according to Kaku’s analysis.
Without delineating Dr. Krauss’ didactic deficits excessively, it must be mentioned that M4 does not neglect to discuss the importance of the Higgs Boson and its implications for immateriality. This the Author does with the indispensible explanatory aid of Dr. Lederman and Dr. Brian Greene. To his credit, Dr. Krauss does discuss the crucial concept of the cosmological singularity. However, he does so from the vantage of the admirable Monseigneur Dr. Georges Lemaitre, whose ideas are appreciably antiquated. Contrast this with the Author’s discussion in M4, wherein the rigorous reasoning of Drs. Hawking and Penrose is presented and the attending implications for immateriality explained explicitly.
Finally, Dr. Krauss falters philosophically. It will not do to hide behind the fact that he is not a philosopher. Do not philosophers have something important to say about the nature of nothingness and its metaphysical meaning? I think so—Dr. Krauss does not. This is why the Author devotes an entire chapter of M4 to “Ideational Antecedents”, doling several separate sections to philosophers that have made interesting (if ultimately questionable) contributions to the discussion of the notional necessity of nothingness. In short, Dr. Krauss does not offer a coherent metaphysical system that integrates the idea of nothingness as is true of the Author’s theoretical framework, Immaterial Monism. Much less does Dr. Krauss offer any psychological solace for the forlornness that the ideological acceptance of existential nothingness can engender, especially among “infidels”, atheists, agnostics, and skeptics—presumably his target audience. No wonder Dr. Dawkins ends the Afterword of the bleak book in such dejection and despair. [At least Richard Dawkins can derive some satisfaction that his depressing words were read by the exemplary orator Simon Vance. Someone with questionable judgment thought it best to have Dr. Krauss read his own work. This only added insult to injury.] To all who wish to acquire an accurate, illuminating, edifying understanding of the all-important idea of the immaterial essence of reality, I unapologetically extend an invitation read to M4. If Dr. Krauss and Dr. Dawkins have intellectual integrity (and I do not doubt that they do) they will accept the Author’s intellectual overture.
Dr. Nun Sava-Siva Amen-Ra
Damascus, MD USA
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