25 July 2008

Physiological correlates

copy of a letter to a Professor of Philosophy

When I see you I always worry about things I say which you seem to agree with, because I am afraid you see it as supporting some socially acceptable interpretation which I need to reject.

I said that getting a grant from Trinity College, Cambridge to do a postgraduate degree (meant to be a DPhil) at Oxford was not a solution to my problems (my appalling situation) and you appeared to agree. But I cannot think what you could have been agreeing with, as it seems unlikely that you accept, any more than anyone else did, or does, that I was in absolute and urgent need of (i) an institutional (hotel) environment and (ii) a Professorship, and was suffering severely without either.

Until I had the first of these, and probably also the second, there could be no question of my getting anything out of life or getting any positive feedback (‘interest’) out of anything I did, whatever it was. It was (and still is) just a question of endurance in crossing a desert, and trying not to let my energy level decline too fast. Over the decades things have improved slightly, at least to the extent that I can now beat my head against the wall of hostility by expressing my complaints openly.

I was not in a hotel environment while doing the D.Phil which turned into a B.Litt, and travelling a lot, and in such circumstances it was easier to do something rather dull. Of course people like to imagine that I found anything connected with psychical research ‘interesting’, but although the thesis topic had to be associated with that area, I saw it only as a way of working back towards a university career.

Even if I had succeeded in getting into one, I would still have gone ahead with the plan to set up a research institute, financed by the Coombe-Tennants and other SPR* connections, as a way of amplifying my activities. Organising experimental research on a large scale is something that would make me feel more functional and alive, because it uses more of my channel capacity, as is the giving of seminars and broadcasting.

* * * * *

The academic subjects most closely associated with ‘parapsychology’ seemed to be physiology and psychology. People at the SPR wanted me to do the thesis on ‘spontaneous cases’, discussing them on the same terms as they all did (evidential value, alternative explanations, etc.), but I did not see how that could lead back into an academic career; so I had to aim at psychology and physiology, bitterly regretting that I did not have degrees in either, since my time at school and at Queen Mary College had been, although through no wish of mine, so uselessly misspent.

Neither physiology nor psychology appealed to me as subjects in which to take degrees as they had relatively little informational content, and I would only have taken degrees in them after acquiring degrees in physics and chemistry. However, now I had to scrape the barrel of possibilities and the barrel was bare, although if I had taken degrees in physics and chemistry first, it would probably not have mattered whether or not I had followed that by taking degrees in physiology and psychology as well. But I might have done, as I had basically intended to acquire as many qualifications as possible and then see what were the best career opportunities arising.

Philosophy, of course, would also have been a possibility, but especially by the end of the three years, Professor Price was as much against the idea of my returning to an academic career as everyone else.

So in fact I wrote the thesis on physiological and psychological conditions of states in which ESP was reported to occur, although at the interview at Trinity I had to pretend that I was also going to be analysing spontaneous case material, and only as a side issue considering physiological correlates. There was clearly a great resistance to the idea of anything being done in that area, and the interviewers boggled in the usual way. ‘What could you possibly do about that? What physiological correlates could there be? What do you mean by that?’

* Society for Psychical Research

22 July 2008

Medicine and 'fairness'

Now that it is considered acceptable for the state to transfer power from individual citizens to agents of the collective so that 'services' (for which a better term might be 'oppressions') may be provided, it comes to pass that persons in socially authorised academic establishments (i.e. universities) make studies of how the systems of oppression 'ought' to work.

A friend of mine once found himself at a college dinner sitting next to an economics student whose subject was the different ways in which 'health care' (physiological oppression) was being or should be provided by various governments. "Well, at least," he (my friend) said, "I hope you won't recommend that anyone should give any further power to doctors to make subjective decisions about how medical resources should be allocated. They have far too much power already."

"But it's not acceptable to have decisions made about who gets the resources on the basis of ability to pay for them," she (the other person) said.

"Countries that didn't find that acceptable, and I don't see why they shouldn't, could at least have the resources allocated among the individuals who apply for them on a random basis. Nothing could be so unacceptable as arbitrary power in the hands of doctors or any other agents of the collective" my friend replied.

"But that wouldn't necessarily produce the fairest outcome either," she demurred.

This brings us to the extraordinary notion of 'fairness'. We see that the transfer of power to agents of the collective makes it far more dangerous that people should indulge in such ideas. So long as they were notions that were entertained by individuals, and which individuals could, if they wished, use any resources at their own disposal to bring about, they were relatively harmless. Nowadays, however, academics can write papers on what 'ought' to be the case and advise governments accordingly, the governments then feeling free to instruct agents of the collective to implement the ideas in practice.

The idea of 'fairness' and 'rights' arise from a modern set of ideas, which has practically the status of a religion, and for which as little justification in reality can be found. It is not so long ago that governments considered that women should not be able to obtain anaesthetics for childbirth, because God clearly preferred them to suffer. Even at that date, before its powers were so monstrously increased, we see the medical 'profession' in the role of social oppressor.

Nowadays it can withhold diagnosis and treatment from anyone whose life, in its opinion, is not worth prolonging. But having decided, in effect, to kill them, it is under no obligation to provide them with a reasonably easy death, which would require the admission of the objective and the overt administration of pharmaceuticals.

07 July 2008

Preliminary scenario 2

Supposing that the physical world may be taken at face value and that the inferences drawn from it about the past of the planet are correct, we have the following picture of the past of the human race. Through geological ages the world cooled and life began to swarm upon it. Life forms struggled for survival and more complex forms emerged and developed. Very, very recently in geological time tribes of ape-men began to appear approximating to present-day humans in intelligence. Tribal groups wandered and fought for territory. Gradually they began to settle in favourable places and to develop some of the techniques that were possible to settled dwellers, always subject to attack by other marauding tribes who envied their advantages. But settlement became gradually the predominant style of life, and settled tribes began to manage their affairs so that they remained in one place for long periods of time.

There was little freedom for individuals within these tribes, which began to be what we call civilisations, and increased control of the environment was gained slowly. It could have been gained much faster if the human race had had a tendency to value the sort of ability among its members that might lead to advances in knowledge, but it did not. Similarly, species might have evolved much more rapidly if they had had a tendency to recognise and protect those individuals among their number who differed most extremely from the norm in a way that would tend towards the next evolutionary development; but why should they do that? Why should it seem of any importance to a lungfish, even supposing it to have a high level of intelligence, that they should evolve sooner rather than later into amphibians that could live on the land? If it had seemed of importance to them, they could have protected and aided the fish with the largest lungs and the strongest fore-fins.

The advantages that might have accrued to the human race from a tendency to value and protect intellectually gifted individuals were less remote, but still unquantifiable, and it would have been necessary to appreciate intellectual ability for its own sake, not for the benefits it might produce, which would have been difficult to foresee. Nevertheless, it is possible to imagine that it might have happened. A tribe which happened to have it inbuilt into its genetic constitution that it admired and protected exceptional individuals among its members might have been at a sufficient advantage in the struggle for survival for this genetic constitution to have become predominant. There is little sign that this happened; perhaps the time-scale within which the human race was struggling towards settled civilisation was simply too short for such a factor to take precedence over the survival value which attached to other factors, such as the value for the tribe of compliant members, and the value for individual survival of destructive jealousy towards individual rivals.

However, even so, the advances in control of the environment built up exponentially, slow as they were. The human race farmed better, made better tools, built better shelters to live in. But the great leap in control came suddenly and accidentally, as a result of a short period of increased freedom for individuals. This came about as a result of the development of the idea of individual property and commerce. This made it possible for some individuals to gain a good deal of freedom for themselves within the tribal framework, and the ability to make use of the commercial possibilities was correlated with intellectual power. The concept of individual property was associated with a right of the individual to bequeath property (i.e. freedom) on his death; he tended to leave it to his descendants and they tended to inherit the abilities which had made it possible for him to gain his property in the first place. Only "tended" of course, but that is all one can hope for in an evolutionary situation. This made possible an enormous expansion in scientific knowledge and a development of idealistic principles, which included, at least for a time, an ideal of appreciation of exceptional individuals and of progress as an abstract concept.

But the tribal forces in human psychology reasserted themselves. So much had been gained in the way of knowledge, now they could see their way (or thought they could) towards living perfectly adequate tribal lives without allowing individuals any further freedom from tribal control. People could live blandly and uneventfully, they could enjoy the pleasures of feeding and breeding, they could be free from disease and discomfort until they blandly and uneventfully died. There was no longer any need for intellectuals. The tribe would have a few in the tribal universities but no one would have to be allowed to become rich any more. The tribe would take possession of all the advantages created by individual freedom and use them to keep individuals in a state of contented unfreedom.

This is the point of history at which we live.

(from the forthcoming book The Corpse and the Kingdom)