The Church's incomprehensible suicide


I woke up today to the news that the Vatican has declared homosexuality a 'sin' and a 'choice' (Some have claimed that what the Vatican considers a 'choice' is merely a homosexual union, not sexual orientation per se. But let us be frank: if one's sexual orientation isn't a choice, neither is one's aspiration to a homosexual union. I therefore stand by my interpretation: by framing homosexual unions as a choice, the Vatican is effectively framing homosexuality itself as a choice. For sexuality without union is either an empty notion or a call to promiscuity. And I doubt the Vatican is guilty of the latter.). The irony is pungent, as the only choice here is the Church's: that of insisting on playing legislator, prosecutor and jury, instead of nurturing re-ligion—from the Latin re-ligare, to re-connect with transcendence. As a result, while the Church busies itself with using its now-scarce airtime to encourage violations of human rights, we are left without religion. How did it come to this?

I have had the rare privilege of—very, very briefly—meeting His Holiness Pope Francis almost three years ago; an opportunity I treasure sincerely and with all my heart. He strikes me as a man who understands the Church's dilemma, who wants it to focus on liturgy—the preeminent expression of true religion—and has enough human empathy to cognize the suffering the Church has historically inflicted on the LGBT community. But clearly, either I am wrong about him, or he is unable to lead the Institution of which he is the head. Either way, the result is the same: the pursuit of a suicidal path for the Catholic Church and the imposition of even more suffering on a community that has already had a lot more than its fair share. This is a multi-dimensional catastrophe. If this Pope couldn't change course, what hope have we left?

It's not like the issues in question are subtle, or nuanced, or difficult to evaluate, or ambiguous, or unclear, etc. No. They are crystal clear and very plain. Let us review them briefly.

If an institution were to tell you that you cannot love the person you love, that loving them is a sin, that you are sick for loving them, or—insult beyond insult—that you choose your sexual orientation and gender identification, you would immediately and unambiguously declare it a violation of your most basic human rights: the right to love and the right to be who you are.

If an institution were to declare that your sexual orientation is some kind of willy-nilly game of make belief—that you, in reality and by your very nature, are sexually attracted to another gender than you purport to be, presumably just for the heck of it or to irk others—you would revolt at such a preposterous accusation. Who believes that a homosexual transsexual chooses to live a life of constant exclusion, scorn and discrimination, and to engage in sexual acts with people they supposedly aren't attracted to, just for the heck of it? No, really, who in their sane mind believes this? I mean, we don't even need to bring science into this—never mind, for instance, that about 25% of fruit flies are homosexual, presumably because they choose to be so just to irk the scientists who study them—this is a matter of plain, good-old commonsense.

Let me try to make this more alive for you. I happen to have been born a heterosexual male. So I imagine the Church telling me: "Bernardo, you don't really like women, you just choose to pretend to like women, just for the heck of it. What you really like—and should like—is men, and you should go have sex with men and dress like a woman." How about that? This is what is being said to the LGBT community.

While the Church busies itself with this kind of ancillary and dangerous nonsense, we, our culture, our society, continue to starve of meaning, of purpose, of spiritual nurture, of transcendence, of love—in short, of re-ligion. Why? Because the Church is missing in action, busying itself with stuff that, at best, has little, very little, to do with re-ligion. You see, nobody in their sane mind is going to go to Sunday mass just to be judged according to archaic standards. And therefore—guess what?—few, and ever fewer, go to church. What they need—namely, re-ligion—is not to be found in a church anymore. And this is the Church's deliberate choice; the only true choice being made here.

The Church's notion that it does what it does because it is grounded on the solid tradition of the Bible is a monumental intellectual misunderstanding and failure. I, for one, would never call for the Bible to be re-written or re-edited or upgraded; that's not the point. On the contrary: the Bible, as it is, is the spiritual treasure of the West, just as the Holy Quran, the Vedas and other traditional scriptures are spiritual treasures as well. The Bible shouldn't be made out to be something other than what it is, for the value of a treasure resides in what it is.

HOWEVER, it is naive to think that the Bible embodies its own standalone meaning; that's not the nature of the written word. The meaning of words is evoked through an act of interpretation. We cannot evade it: without interpretation, the written word is just squiggles of ink on paper. Whatever you think the scriptures say, is the result of an interpretation. Maybe you espouse a particular interpretation and reject others, and maybe you are even right about it, but your choice is still an interpretation; it cannot be anything else, for only a deliberate act of interpretation can extract meaning from mere syntax and grammar.

As such, when one calls for the Church to evolve, to progress, to stay in tune with the needs of the time, one is not necessarily calling for a break with the traditional written word, or a departure from our tried-and-tested spiritual foundations. Again, I shall grant this unreservedly: the sacred words of scripture must not be upgraded or re-edited; they do not need to—and should not—evolve, for they are the intuitive reflection of eternal absolutes. But—and this is the crucial point—we evolve, we change, we develop the ability to interpret the absolute through new perspectives, under new lenses, with more depth and nuance. And we have the moral obligation to do so, for anything else constitutes an evasion, a denial of life.

Therefore, our very act of interpretation—which determines how the eternal words of scripture reveal themselves to us—evolves, changes, unveils hitherto obfuscated angles, perspectives and layers of meaning. To deny this is to deny the divine gift of becoming; to willfully choose ignorance over wisdom. For if the progression of our own spiritual insights are to be cavalierly dismissed and pooh-poohed, what spiritual perspectives are we left with? How is any moral code ever to be grounded on spiritual insight, if the latter becomes a mere fossil?

The Church's take on conservatism is thus based on a logical fallacy. It misses the whole point and then—to add insult to injury—encourages and provides moral justification for flat-out violations of human rights. This is a disgrace, and all I have for it is contempt.

I have long despaired over the slow death of the Church in the West. But no more. This is the final straw for me, personally. Perhaps the death of this Church is, after all, what is required, so that something with true life in it might emerge from the ashes. For an institution that makes the inane and cowardly choices the Church insists on making—including the recurring choice to focus on everything but re-ligion—has no true life in it anymore. It is a mere phantasm running on inertia.

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Decoding Jung's Metaphysics: Prelude


Today my new book, Decoding Jung's Metaphysics, is being published. To celebrate the occasion, I am reproducing below Chapter 1, 'Prelude,' of that work. Enjoy!


Prelude

Call it not vain—that lofty thought
Which peoples heaven with visioned lore,
So that each star of light is fraught
With some fair chronicle of yore:—
Call it not vain, though earthly vision
May not peruse that page Elysian,
But strive to read it in vain;
Mind will the links of form supply,
Of forms that never more may die,—
To mind they are all plain.

Leopold J. Bernays, from the poem The Constellations, published in the appendix of his translation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (1839)

Born on the margins of Lake Constance, in Kesswil, Switzerland, in the summer of 1875, Carl Gustav Jung was one of the most important figures of early modern psychology. Together with Sigmund Freud, he pioneered the systematic exploration of the depths of the human psyche beyond the threshold of direct introspection, a mysterious realm he and Freud called ‘the unconscious.’ Both men discerned tremendous significance in aspects of our inner lives that had hitherto been neglected by science, particularly dreams.

The author, sitting on the margins of Lake Constance, across from where Jung was born.

However, unlike Freud—who thought of the unconscious as merely a passive repository of forgotten or repressed contents of consciousness—for Jung the unconscious was an active, creative matrix with a psychic life, will and language of its own, often at odds with our conscious dispositions. It is this aspect of his thinking that led Jung down avenues of empirical investigation and speculation rich with metaphysical significance. This little book is about those extraordinary speculations and their philosophical implications.

As we shall soon find out, for Jung life and world are something very different from what our present mainstream metaphysics—materialism—posits. The conclusions of his lifelong studies point to the continuation of psychic life beyond bodily death, a much more intimate and direct relationship between matter and psyche than most would dare imagine today, and a living universe pregnant with symbolic meaning. For him life is, quite literally, a kind of dream, and interpretable as such.

Jung was many things: psychiatrist, psychologist, historian, classicist, mythologist, painter, sculptor and even—as some would argue with good reasons—a mystic. But he expressly avoided identifying himself as a philosopher, lest such a label detract from the image of empirical scientist that he wanted to project. Nonetheless, much of what Jung had to say about the psyche has unavoidable and rather remarkable philosophical implications, not only concerning the mind-body problem, but also the very nature of reality itself. Moreover, when he was being less guarded—which was often—Jung made overt philosophical statements. For these reasons, as I hope to make clear in this book, Jung ultimately proved to be a philosopher, even a very good one.

In the pages that follow, I shall first attempt to tease out the most important metaphysical implications of Jung’s ideas on the nature and behavior of the psyche. Second, I shall try to relate Jung’s many overt metaphysical contentions to those implications. Third, based on the previous two points, I shall try to reconstruct what I believe to have been Jung’s implicit metaphysical system, demonstrating its internal consistency, as well as its epistemic and empirical adequacy. I shall argue that Jung was a metaphysical idealist in the tradition of German Idealism, his system being particularly consistent with that of Arthur Schopenhauer and my own.

The consistency between Jung’s metaphysics and my own is no coincidence. Unlike Schopenhauer—whose work I’ve discovered only after having developed my system in seven different books—Jung has been a very early influencer of my thought. I first came across his work still in my early teens, during a family holiday in the mountains. Exploring on my own the village where we were staying, I chanced upon a small bookshop. There, displayed very prominently, was an intriguing book titled I Ching, edited and translated by Richard Wilhelm, with a foreword by one Carl Gustav Jung. Jung’s introduction to the book revealed the internal logic and root of plausibility of what I would otherwise have regarded as just a silly oracle. He had opened some kind of door in my mind. Little did I know, then, how far that door would eventually take me.

Jung’s hand in my work can probably be discerned in many more passages than I myself am aware of, for I have internalized his thought so deeply over the years that I don’t doubt I sometimes conflate his ideas with mine. Moreover, Jung’s image has been a perennial presence in both my intellectual and emotional inner lives. In moments of stress, anxiety or hopelessness, I often visualize myself in conversation with him—he would have called it ‘active imagination’—so as to envision what he would have had to say about my situation. This level of intimacy hopefully helps me represent Jung’s thought accurately and fairly in this volume. The reader should have no doubt that doing so is of utmost importance to me.

Naturally, it is also conceivable that the same intimacy could hamper my objectivity, leading me—surreptitiously and unintentionally—to pass an idiosyncratic amalgamation of his views and mine for his metaphysics. To guard against this risk, I’ve re-read—for the third or fourth time in my life—all of Jung’s relevant works in preparation for writing this volume. I have also reproduced relevant excerpts of Jung’s writings to substantiate my case, only making assertions I could trace back to multiple passages in their corresponding context. This, I hope, ensures the objectivity and accuracy of my interpretations.

Jung has written over twenty thick volumes of material over his long and productive life. Much of it is limited to clinical psychology or mythology and has little metaphysical significance. The material that does have metaphysical relevance, however, is still quite extensive.

The author, with a red pyramidal lake stone uncannily reminiscent of the one Jung describes in his autobiography.

So whenever Jung’s views changed—substantially or simply in terms of nuances—over the years, I have prioritized his later writing. In addition, Jung’s metaphysical views seem to have congealed only towards the end of his professional life, which renders his earlier writings less relevant. For these two reasons, my argument is based mostly on works he wrote from the 1940s onwards, with two exceptions: the edited transcripts of his Terry Lectures, held at Yale University in 1937-1938, and a collection of essays published in 1933. Both provide tantalizing early insights into Jung’s growing confidence regarding his metaphysical views.

It is important to notice that, regardless of the period in which it was written, Jung’s discourse on metaphysics and related topics comes nowhere near the level of conceptual clarity, consistency and precision that today’s analytic philosophers demand. Jung was an extremely intuitive thinker who favored analogies, similes and metaphors over direct and unambiguous exposition, appearing to frequently contradict himself. This happened because he didn’t use linear argument structures, but instead circumambulated—a handy Jungian term meaning ‘to walk round about’—the topic in question in an effort to convey the full gamut of his intuitions about it. Indeed, he didn’t arrive at his views purely through steps of reasoning to begin with, but largely through visionary experience. It is thus only natural that he should express these views in an intuitive, analogical manner.

In this context, Jung’s many seeming contradictions reflect attempts to explore a theme from several different perspectives and reference points. For instance, if he claims that the psyche is material, just to turn around and say that it is spiritual, he means that there is a sense in which the psyche is analogous to what we call ‘matter’ and another sense in which it is analogous to what we call ‘spirit,’ each sense anchored in its own implicit reference point. It is these radical and sudden flips of perspective—confusing and aggravating for an analytic disposition as they are—that help Jung delineate and express his views in a way that appeals to more than just reason.

Before closing this brief introduction, a few notes on terminology are required. Throughout this book—unless otherwise stated—I try to stick to the same terms and denotations that Jung himself used, even though his terminology is now largely outdated. I’ve done so to maintain consistency with his corpus. For instance, Jung defines ‘consciousness’ as something considerably more specific than what philosophers today refer to as ‘phenomenal consciousness’ or simply ‘consciousness’ (this, in fact, has been the source of endless misunderstandings of Jung’s work). So, unless I explicitly write ‘phenomenal consciousness,’ I use the terms ‘consciousness’ and ‘conscious’ according to Jung’s own restrictive definition.

Some of the other terms I use have both colloquial and technical philosophical meanings, which unfortunately differ. I try to consistently use those terms in their technical sense. By the term ‘metaphysics,’ for instance, I don’t mean supernatural entities or paranormal phenomena, but the essence of being of things, creatures and phenomena. As such, a metaphysics of nature entails a certain view about what nature is in and of itself, as opposed to how it behaves (which is the subject of science) or how it appears to observation (which is a subject of cognitive psychology and phenomenology).

But fear not: knowing as I do that much of the readership of this volume will be composed of psychologists, therapists and people generally interested in metaphysics—as opposed to professional philosophers alone—I’ve striven to keep the jargon to a bare minimum. I also either explicitly define technical terms on first usage or use them in a way that makes their intended meaning clear and unambiguous from the context.

This is only one of many stylistic choices I’ve made to ensure that this little volume is not only readable, but also clear, compelling and enjoyable to a general readership. I hope you find inspiration in it to, someday, delve more deeply into Jung’s extraordinary legacy.

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A strange perspective on the practice of science: response to Peter Vickers



A more complete, revised and final version of the essay originally published here is now available at:

 https://iai.tv/articles/a-strange-perspective-on-the-practice-of-science-auid-1712?_auid=2020 

Vickers portrays the practice of science as a subjective exercise driven by majority opinions, prejudices and vulgar associations. It is almost embarrassing to have to respond to such a piece, but here it is, nonetheless.

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The anti-establishment sentiment


Very few things in the cultural dynamics of our civilization these days are clear. But one of them is this: the anti-establishment sentiment that manifests itself in many different ways, but most notably in politics, is not a passing fad; it's not a blip or a temporary aberration; it reflects, instead, a more fundamental movement in the collective human psyche that is here to stay.

As a nominal member of the intellectual establishment who, nonetheless, has been fighting—for over a decade—against what is perhaps the most entrenched position of that establishment, I am not surprised by this movement. To speak only of metaphysics, which is my main area of expertise, it is patently obvious to me that militant, self-appointed intellectual elites often display an appalling combination of prejudice and hubris, ignorance and condescension. Although their understanding of the relevant issues is often shockingly limited, they behave as though they were the authorities everybody else is supposed to blindingly follow. How long could this last before people saw through the charade?

We've come to a point where a significant portion of the intellectual establishment sincerely regards what is effectively a prejudiced manipulation of the masses as education; a point where otherwise legitimate and important social values—such as intellectual authority and political correctness—have been hijacked and weaponized for the sake of preserving an outdated status quo. For these reasons, the attitude of "trust me, I am an authority and I know better than you" has taken on overtones of deceit and conceit. How could anyone be surprised by this?

There are broadly legitimate grounds for anti-establishment sentiment. Decades—if not centuries—of hubris, condescension, prejudice and manipulation don't go unnoticed. However, as is the case in any major movement of the collective psyche, this sentiment carries with it both an opportunity for betterment and a potential for disaster. I've written about this before:

Neo-skepticism and post-truth: a call to reason

Dismantling idols: the current cultural inflection point

I do feel, however, the need to repeat what I believe to be some of the most critical points. If you share in the anti-establishment sentiment I described above, please keep in mind, as you read what follows, that I am coming from the same place you are coming from.

Like you, I look with disdain upon noisy pseudo-authorities, the self-appointed police of pseudo-reason, the pseudo-philosophers who see themselves as guardians of science and truth, the pompous mouth-pieces of scientism, etc. But I do not disregard science itself. That some science is visibly bad, that scientific conclusions can be—and often are—reversed, that some scientists are plain idiots: none of this entails or implies that science itself isn't valid or critically important. Let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. Science is extremely valuable and indispensable to our survival. Without it, we won't be able to live on this planet once our population plateaus at around 11 billion people mid-century. Indeed, science is perhaps the most important human development of the past five centuries. We owe much to it, and depend on it for our very lives. My own work is largely based on science, often the science done by my opponents.

It goes without saying that some scientific results are unreliable (science is done by humans and, as such, just as imperfect as we all are), but there are scientific conclusions so robust that they command broad consensus: human activity is changing our climate in ways that threaten our survival; vaccines work and have saved countless millions of lives; COVID19 is vastly more dangerous than the flu; face masks and social distancing help contain the spread of respiratory diseases; etc.

Human-induced climate change poses perhaps the single greatest existential threat our civilization has ever faced. We—or worse, our children—will pay an unimaginably steep price for inaction in this regard. We must get our act together at a global scale to adapt some of our way of life, limit emissions, preserve what is left of our planet's natural ecosystems and biodiversity, and ultimately save ourselves. It is flat-out criminal to ignore this, or use it for short-term political gain.

We must also be mindful of what I call multi-level deceptions: those in which the deceiver points with dissimulated indignation to an actual deception carried out by someone else—thereby deliberately riding the wave of our outrage—merely to pass his own deception for the alternative. Astute bigots and con artists the world over have realized that this is a fantastically effective way to disarm and manipulate people so to push their self-centered agendas: it preys precisely on the justifiable anti-establishment sentiment emerging in the collective psyche. What a tragedy it would be to see through old lies and manipulation just to fall—uncritically—for another, more up-to-date form of manipulation.

Let us not allow bigots and con artists to use our hard-earned skepticism to deceive us. Let us not allow the naked paranoia of beyond-implausible conspiracy theories to turn our anti-establishment sentiment into a bad joke that delegitimizes it and disenfranchises us. Let us honor the realization that our idols are hollow, their message deceitful, manipulative and condescending, but not lose our bearings by swinging to the opposite extreme of unreason. No previous generation has faced threats of the magnitude we are now facing. If we are to have a chance to survive as a civilization, we must exercise our discernment very carefully: the truth is always more nuanced and multifaceted than what any tweet or Facebook post can capture.

Above all, let us never forget that those who are the targets of our most severe value judgments are also human beings, struggling, suffering and afraid like we all are, despite possible appearances to the contrary. After all, we have, by necessity, become experts at putting up a brave face—towards others and towards the mirror—even when our soul is dissolving into tears that flow inwards. May the common humanity of these invisible tears somehow unite us and see us through the storm ahead.

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Open letter to Bill Gates


Dear Bill,

On this day in 1955 humanity welcomed you to this weird but wonderful world of ours. Since then, you have been a tremendous force, leaving your mark in our civilization in many different ways. You are one of a very few people who have been taken into history already in their lifetimes, which speaks volumes to your capacity to exert change. So, before anything else, let me wish you a happy birthday and many, many more productive years.

Although it is your birthday and you are the one to make a wish, I shall dare to make a wish for you: may you be more vocal and assertive in your drive to restore nuclear power as a safe—certainly much safer than e.g. coal-burning plants, as far as human health is concerned—extremely cheap, clean and readily available source of energy for humanity. As I've discussed elsewhere not long ago, if we are to save our environment and make our civilization sustainable on the long run, passive-safety reactors, which you are familiar with and investing in, are an obvious choice with no comparable alternatives.

Indeed, if we are to recycle our refuse on a grand scale, we need ridiculously cheap, readily available energy, for recycling consumes huge amounts of it. If we are to implement vertical and urban farming—our best option to achieve sustainable food production on the long run—the enormous energy demands of 24/7 artificial lighting are only plausibly met by cheap nuclear power. If we are to survive the imminent drinking water crisis, we need desalination plants everywhere, whose enormous energy demands can, arguably, only be met by nuclear power plants. The list goes on. A green sustainability revolution can only be enabled by clean nuclear power, for which the technology options are available. I wish environmentalists and governments would understand that.

So this is my appeal to you: please dedicate more effort and resources to making people—particularly environmentalists—aware that the nuclear technology we have today is entirely different from the dirty, unsafe nuclear reactors of the 50s and 60s. With passive-safety technologies available today, a defective nuclear reactor is one that simply shuts down by itself, and never melts down. With technologies we have today, nuclear reactors consume nuclear waste, as opposed to producing it. I don't have kids, but if I did, I would be quite happy to live right next door to a nuclear power plant built on these new technologies. And these technologies are—at least as far as I can see—the only game in town to enable a truly green sustainability revolution; our only plausible option to save our environment and, frankly, ourselves.

I do not have the platform required to raise awareness of this; but you do. The vast majority of people won't have the understanding of technology and science to conclude, by themselves, that we have the technologies to clean up our act, if only we deployed them. What the vast majority of people do have is prejudice; prejudice  evoked by Chernobyl, Fukushima and Three Mile Island; disasters caused by ridiculously primitive and dangerous nuclear reactors, for which we have vastly better and safer alternatives today. Even governments—pressured by popular prejudices that drive voting patterns—surrender to what they know is a flawed position; just look at Germany. Only someone like you, with your means and visibility, can help raise awareness of this critically urgent issue. We can save ourselves and the planet, if we only are brave enough to apply the science and technology we already have.

Solar and wind power—which have, arguably, worse environmental impact than modern nuclear technology would have—are certainly good, but they will never meet the extraordinary energy demands of a green sustainability revolution. Please engage with governments and environmentalists to raise awareness of this; and if you are already doing so, please do more. Nothing is more critical or more urgent.

Sincerely,

Bernardo Kastrup, 28 October 2020.

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The Phenomenon: A brief review




In the next few hours a new documentary film about unidentified aerial phenomena—a.k.a. UFOs—and close encounters is going to be released. It's called The Phenomenon, by director James Fox. I have had the privilege of watching it a few days before launch, so I could share my views on it with you. What follows are my unbiased opinions. I am under no contractual obligation to issue a review and have no financial stake at all in the film or this review.




James Fox has clearly been working on this film for years, following his previous documentary on the subject, Out of the Blue (2003). As we have come to expect from him, The Phenomenon is a serious, cautious, level-headed work. James's strength is not so much in breaking news on the subject, but in thoroughly examining—under the light of reason and evidence—what is already known, filtering out the abundance of garbage, gullibility, hysteria and nonsense that, unfortunately, prevails in this field. Just like before, he serves us a distilled summary of what is reliable and significant—yet no less astounding—about the phenomenon.





In addition, James has once again proven himself able to dig one layer deeper than the rest, exploring the subject from more telling—albeit non-traditional—angles. His revisitation of the 1966 Westall school incident in Australia, and the 1994 Ariel school event in Zimbabwe, are cases in point. Both are examples of close encounters involving dozens of witnesses. In both cases, the narrative clearly transcends the common storyline of aliens from another solar system dropping by for some kind of research purpose. James has managed to bring back the direct witnesses of these events, decades later, and re-interview them with the insights of today. This was just about what I had wished someone would do; and he did it.

The most significant part of the movie is—without a doubt, in my mind—the examination, at the Stanford School of Medicine, of metal samples collected from alleged UFO visitation sites by respected researcher Dr. Jacques Vallée, over decades of investigation. This is the much hoped-for hard evidence. An analysis of the atomic structure of these samples was conducted with a state-of-the-art ion beam microscope, which yielded surprising results: the isotope ratios in these samples are unlike anything known to occur on Earth. Such a finding may sound too highbrow to be significant—especially in light of the much more incredible claims routinely made in this field by suspicious characters—but it certainly is. In fact, my only criticism against the film is that James—perhaps in a concession to mainstream tastes and expectations—hardly explores the finding in the final cut. The subject was left behind just as I thought we were warming up to it. Perhaps we will read more about it in academic publications, but I confess to have been annoyed at the brevity of the coverage of what was perhaps the one truly new news in this film.





If your interest lies in new UFO and close encounter cases never before reported, this film is going to disappoint you. Breaking news is not what James is trying to achieve here. But if, instead, you are looking for a more thoughtful review of previously reported cases, then this is for you. More than probably any other subject of general public interest, the UFO field is fraught with nonsense, charlatanism, fraud, gullibility, wishful thinking, and in-your-face idiocy. Although I have always been interested in the subject, I very quickly become nauseated by what I find each time I dare dip a toe in it. James's movies, however, are refreshing; they represent a breath of fresh air in a foul-smelling mad house. This is the great value of his and Vallée's efforts: a welcome injection of reason and honesty in an otherwise toxic space.

In this context, The Phenomenon subtly and unpretentiously distills what is credible and significant in the long history of unidentified aerial phenomena and close encounters, serving the viewer a clean platter, freed from trash and nonsense. James has left out not only the nonsensical or questionable cases, but also the nonsensical or questionable elements of the cases he does cover. Parasitic claims and 'witnesses' that feed on otherwise credible events are, to my relief, nowhere to be seen. This judicious filtering clearly involved a lot of care and thought, having been accomplished discretely, elegantly, without furor. Indeed, it is delightful the see the film's narrative steer clear of every mine in the field. What is left may not be as spectacular as the vivid imagination of charlatans, but it remains extraordinarily interesting for the more discerning and levelheaded tastes. The value of this documentary thus resides as much in what it doesn't say as in what it does say. Such discernment makes it rather unique.

As a matter of fact, although UFO and close encounter cases have obvious scientific significance, I believe they have even more metaphysical significance. I say this because the phenomenon seems to defy not only the limits of our technology, but also the laws of physics and—even more significantly—the laws of logic. Many of these reports are absurd, their very absurdity speaking to the sincerity of the witnesses and the courage of those who are now making the hard evidence available, as well as acknowledging the bewilderment of the highest instances of government. The Phenomenon does include what many of you will consider headline-making new admissions by well-known, high-ranking government officials and politicians. But for me this is not the cream; the cream is how the cases reported consistently instantiate the seemingly absurd features I discussed in my book, Meaning in Absurdity, where I cover the UFO and contact phenomena from an angle you are certainly not used to: nonsensical flight paths and movements, weird angles of attack in flight, alleged telepathic communications more akin to spiritual experiences than encounters with explorers from another planet, illogical behavior on the part of the 'visitors,' etc. There is much food for thought in there.




It is this absurdity of behavior so often seen in the phenomenon that makes me believe that its relevance is as much metaphysical as it is scientific. Here we have nature behaving in a way that defies its own known laws and our very logic. The phenomenon is telling us something important about the nature of reality and ourselves, rather than the exploratory interests of aliens from another star system. And it is under this light that I invite you to check out The Phenomenon. For the more significant hints about the nature of reality are to be found not in the headlines, but the subtle aspects of what is, most definitely, a very strange phenomenon indeed.
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Reason or covetousness? On academic philosophy


I have a Google Alert calibrated for more-or-less relevant occurrences of my name in Internet traffic. The idea is to remain aware of what people may be saying about my work, so I can adjust my communication strategy accordingly. Every now and then, however, some pearls pop up in that alert; things that aren't really relevant in and of themselves, but which betray the ways in which I am impacting different segments of society and culture at large.

Yesterday I got an alert about a 5-month-old philosophy thread on Reddit, which probably came up again because of some recently-added comment; I don't know, I didn't see it 5 months ago, but it doesn't matter anyway. The point is that someone had originally posted there asking whether there were proper rebuttals to my arguments and positions. I didn't read through the thread, but the first words of the first response caught my eye. I quote:

There are no rebuttals of his work specifically not because he can't be refuted, but because he's not considered in academic circles, and not even amateurs care to do so.

Despite being blatantly false, this is very interesting: it betrays a telling kind of frustration. The original poster and some others didn't seem convinced by such a demonstrably wrong answer, and pointed to my many academic papers and thesis, as well as the attempts to rebut me—in print—in the academic literature. They then got the following answer:

You seem to be under a strange illusion that acquiring a PhD is itself something making one relevant to anyone, and that publishing articles in no name journals is considered of any relevance. Publishing books is also of no relevance. Nobody is engaging with him. He's not part of the currently popular topic spaces and their discussions.

Apparently nothing at all is of any relevance, except the opinion of this particular poster. The frustration this paragraph exudes betrays so clearly what the actual feeling and motivation here are. Indeed, if I were to point out that I've published in heavy-weight journals—such as the Journal of Consciousness Studies and SAGE Open—or remind the poster of the fact that well-known academic philosophers—such as David Chalmers—have cited my work in print, or that others—such as Philip Goff—have gone out of their way to engage me multiple times in public, or that yet other academics—such as Keith Frankish and Michael Graziano—have had heated exchanges with me also in print, or that I've been invited to debate well-known philosophers and public intellectuals—such as Suzan Blackmore, Michael Shermer, Leonard Mlodinow, Tim Crane, Nancy Cartwright, Peter Atkins, etc.—or that I am constantly on demand for interviews in all kinds of media, including television, etc., I am sure the poster would simply move to the next fallback 'argument': that none of these people are relevant in academic philosophy. Of course, for what is actually aggravating the poster is precisely the fact that I am a very visible and thus far undefeated philosopher, despite not being an academic. How dare I be influential without holding an academic job? What does this suggest about academic philosophy today? How dare I, doing philosophy as—until very recently—a hobby, accomplish so much while many 'real' philosophers labour in utter obscurity? Though human and understandable, these feelings are certainly counterproductive.

Indeed, that some seem to react to what I have accomplished with covetousness—as opposed to the objectivity that academics are expected to embody—is both a serious problem and a missed opportunity for desperately-needed change. As I discussed in the professional blog of the American Philosophical Association recently (so much for invisibility in academic circles), many academic philosophers have abandoned reality and now spend their time playing entirely abstract conceptual games of no relevance to you and me. But they still insist that what they do is 'real' philosophy. Again: this is a problem; it is regrettable, lamentable, and needs urgent correction. Academic philosophy is funded by public money paid out of our taxes. As such, it must be relevant to us. But is this really the case today?



History isn't encouraging either: most of the most influential philosophers weren't academics, and some were even overtly critical of academia, such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (I am tempted to mention Kierkegaard here too, but will refrain from it so to be conservative with my examples). Moreover, as discussed in my latest book, Decoding Schopenhauer's Metaphysics, when academic philosophers venture to interpret what their 'amateur' but influential counterparts were trying to say, the result is often a catastrophe of misrepresentation. When you've become disconnected from reality, it's hard to see what those struggling with reality are saying.

I can't change academia. What I can and am doing is starting and heading a foundation that will try to do some of what academic philosophy has been failing to do. And I bet we will be largely successful. Once that becomes clear, my hope is that the example will encourage academic philosophers to be more connected to life and reality, therefore becoming more relevant to you and me.

The risk, however, is that it may trigger the infantile mentality displayed by this Reddit poster, thereby leading academic philosophy to drift even farther away from social relevance, so as to defend whatever status it perceives itself as having. This is, in fact, my fear: that attempts to stimulate academic philosophy—from the outside—to return to the real and relevant may backfire, triggering academics to try and differentiate themselves even further from those that are actually doing relevant work. This will end up in further entrenchment, isolation and irrelevance.

I pray things won't unfold this way.

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