Nature Loves to Hide: An Interview with Paul S. McDonald

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sciborg2

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« on: August 24, 2019, 04:21:58 pm »
Nature Loves to Hide: An Interview with Paul S. McDonald

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You write “to adumbrate such an alternative history is not an endorsement of any kind of perennial philosophy or pristine wisdom tradition.” Would it be fair to say, however, that you are revealing how deeply influential this alternative stream has been?

First, it’s important to distinguish between perennial philosophy and pristine wisdom, a distinction emphasized by several contemporary scholars. Those who advocate perennial philosophy hold that there is one original, ancient form of wisdom which appears again and again in every age, though dressed up under different guises. The historian Charles Schmitt said that this perennial idea “puts emphasis on the continuity of valid knowledge through all periods of history. It does not believe that knowledge has ever been lost for centuries, but believes that it can surely be found in each period, albeit sometimes in attenuated form.” The tradition of pristine wisdom (or philosophy) also holds that there is one original, ancient form of wisdom but that it has been hidden from public view, lost and buried or kept secret for various reasons; the seekers’ quest is to find this cache of knowledge, decode it if necessary, and then share it with one’s fellows. The standard history of philosophy began with and developed questions about the relation between how things appear to us and how they really are; then the question how it is that the real world came to be the way it appears, who or what made it that way; and then further, how it is that we can know about the way things really are. In contrast, an alternative history of philosophy has always been more concerned with questions about the nature and powers of the human soul, how to train and discipline this inner power, how to manipulate ‘secret’ words and objects to assist in this quest, and methods to achieve higher stages of knowledge in order for the soul to return to its source. Alt-thinkers’ metaphysics made constant reference to the hidden correspondences between the great world and the small world, the visible and the invisible, an inner nature and its “signature”; their theory of language is one centred on decoding these sacred signs; their theory of mind is one centred on training the human soul to ascend to higher states.

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You discuss the influence of alchemy and Plotinus on Berkeley, the influence of Swedenborg on Kant, and the influence of The Chemical Wedding and Vaughan’s Anthroposophy on Goethe. What made this alternative current, long neglected, nevertheless a powerful artistic and cultural catalyst?

One of the most basic presuppositions of the alternative view is that reality is dynamic, the cosmos is an animate organism, guided by divine intelligence, a spark of which humans participate in. This is in stark contrast with view that reality consists of material bodies in motion, under the sway of mechanical laws. Further, Hermetic-alchemical thinking is deeply, inextricably visual, lending itself to many types of illustration, in charts, diagrams, talismans, etc.; intense visual imagery is tied up with their espousal of the creative imagination, something which, of course, appeals to writers, artist and creatives. Between the physical and intelligible is the imaginal domain which can be accessed in night-dreams, daylight-visions, hypnagogic states; it is an altered mentality cultivated by artists and writers and seers.
 
Alternative thinkers such as Böhme, Swedenborg, Pessoa, and P. K. Dick report that they received visions in a “flash” or stroke of light, the blink of an eye; ecstasy, rapture and other altered states, though not actually pursued, are often thematic elements of their approach. Alt- thinkers assumed an operative concept of language that treats words and names as bound to the things they signify; on their view nothing is arbitrary, nothing is relative, nothing is conventional; knowledge of the names of things confers power over those things; there are deep and abiding connections between the sound (or shape) of words and what they refer to. Again, amongst the basic tenets of the Hermetic worldview is an ineradicable commitment to the immortality of the human soul; physical death in the flesh is not an end but a portal to another existence, an alternate state which one has to be prepare for. An individual does not have to consider his/her life as a role assigned by birth or fate; it can be the product of self-fashioning, it can be treated as an artistic endeavour, and that is something that artists and creatives already believe in.

You point out that Hegel’s library included Agrippa, Böhme, Bruno, and Paracelsus, and that “Hegel aligned himself, informally, with Hermetic societies such as the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians.” You describe his classic The Phenomenology of Spirit as “Hegel’s initiatory experience. It is Hegel’s Eleusis, it is his Bacchanalian revel.” And you remind us “Eric Voegelin claims that Hegel’s thought belongs to the continuous history of modern Hermeticism, and refers to the Phenomenology of Spirit as “a grimoire.” How did Hegel escape the dismissal other Hermetic authors suffered?

Despite the strong presence of Hermetic ideas in some of Hegel’s works, his speculations exploded into areas rarely considered by Hermeticists before: ontology, ethics, politics, aesthetics, and history. Hegel remains important and relevant to contemporary concerns for several reasons: his concept of Geist (usually translated as Spirit) refers to a complex system of mutually interlinked agents, a virtual organism or living entity, which moved through various stages on its progress towards realization. He thought that he had gone beyond the traditional opposition of subject and object to a fully integrated aggregate of agents, with their history, culture and values. In doing so he brought into consideration, for philosophical and psychological purposes, distinct patterns of social interaction and reciprocal recognition. Hegel is the last great system-builder whose principles encompass every aspect of philosophical theory. His fundamental model of the dialectical structure of Reason means that there is constant movement in the appearance of thesis-antithesis-synthesis: something holds in place, brings about its own negation, and then yields a resolution of the conflicted states. Many features of Hegel’s thought had a profound influence on subsequent philosophers: Marx’s political economy, the late Sartre’s dialectical reason, French post-modernism, as well as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche – though the latter are mainly dismissive and sarcastic. Hegel bequeathed to all these thinkers (and others) the central concept of human alienation: people often feel discontent with their circumstances, as well as within themsleves, divorced from their own basic desires and labour, and this can lead to over-turning, trying to replace that-which-is in order to create a new solution. His concept of ethics rejects absolute principles, timeless moral codes, in favour of a social consensus appropriate to a given society’s historical development. There are several notions more-or-less invented by Hegel which became key themes for the Existentialists: alienation, authenticity, historicity, the master-slave relation, and the collective struggle for a better community. An insightful article on some of Hegel’s lasting ideas, by Chris Christensen, was published in Philosophy Now magazine in Issue 129 (Dec. 2018-Jan. 2019) – it’s highly recommended.
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« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2019, 01:02:47 pm »
Well, when one invokes Jung and Hegel and alchemy, I'm going to take notice...

Might try to find this book.
“I am a warrior of ages, Anasûrimbor . . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.” -Cet’ingira

Francis Buck

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« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2019, 02:19:10 pm »
Very interesting, especially the bit about Hegel. I already assumed Hermetic thought must have been some kind of influence on him, given that Hegel himself was very clearly influential on Hermetic spiritual movements (Anthroposophy and Rosicrucianism certainly), but I wasn't really sure to what extent he himself took Hermetic ideas into account. Hell, Eric Voegelin actually went so far as to argue that:

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"Hegel should be understood not as a philosopher, but as a "sorcerer", i.e. as a mystic and hermetic thinker."

Also from wiki:

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This concept of Hegel as a hermetic thinker was elaborated by Glenn Alexander Magee, who argued that interpreting Hegel's body of work as an expression of mysticism and hermetic ideas leads to a more accurate understanding of Hegel.

I'm not familiarized enough with Hermetic ideas -- let alone Hegel -- to really have an opinion on this. Calling him an outright mystic or sorceror seems overboard, as he's very obviously been a massive influence on philosophy -- but at the same time, his works do have the feel of esoterica, and not just because of how densely impenetrable they can be.

As for the notion of a 'pristine wisdom tradition', specifically in relation to Hermetic idealogy...it has certainly grown on me. I don't take Hermetic ideas literally at all, but I definitely think there's something to it. I mean, this is arguably the oldest spiritual tradition to remain somewhat intact in the entire Western world, and it's still here. And when viewed without the knee-jerk skepticism associated with spirituality in general, there's absolutely some insights to be gleaned even just sort of glossing over Hermetic material (particularly older stuff, the things allegedly written by Seswatha(Hermes Trismegistus) one can definitely see a certain amount of foresight into the nature of the universe and so forth, although the same is true of numerous ancient religions.

I don't really know what I'm talking about anymore, other than that I definitely think there is a soft cycle to civilization and knowledge (or was, until the technology revolution), and I absolutely think pre-modern humans had the ability to experience 'transcedental states of mind' that are serverly hampered by modern civilization, to the point that it's seen as silly or absurd. Transcedental is a stronger word than I actually mean, but I'm too tired to think of a better one lol. Regardless I do think there is a possible link with this sort of thing and a communal, shared wisdom that is basically "the best you can get" with normal human wetware.

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« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2019, 03:10:50 pm »
I'm not familiarized enough with Hermetic ideas -- let alone Hegel -- to really have an opinion on this. Calling him an outright mystic or sorceror seems overboard, as he's very obviously been a massive influence on philosophy -- but at the same time, his works do have the feel of esoterica, and not just because of how densely impenetrable they can be.

Yeah, calling him a mystic, I think gives the wrong impression of what he was actually "trying" to do, especially outside the Phenomenology of Spirit.  Now, "Spirit" does tend to give off some kind of mystical vibe and part of that is because the often nearly impenetrable language.

I am certainly not an expert, but I think that beyond those "superficial" seeming-qualities, there really is not "much" aside an actually really rational, grounded, distinctly non-metaphysical "thing."  It just "seems" like it because of how confusing it can be when you consider consciousness from the perspective of consciousness itself.
“I am a warrior of ages, Anasûrimbor . . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.” -Cet’ingira