Sunday, May 5, 2013

"brain on religion" study

"When subjects engaged in meditation or prayer, for example, their ability to concentrate increased dramatically. Brain scans often revealed an intense loss of one's sense of self during such exercises."

"When subjects spoke in tongues, the activity of their frontal lobes -- the largest and most complex region of the brain -- dropped rather than increased. Newberg interprets this finding as evidence that the subjects aren't speaking in tongues of their own volition, but rather allowing it to happen to them."

 "Our studies are starting to show that we can fundamentally change the brain through religious experience."

Friday, May 3, 2013

Corbin on Eranos

~Henry Corbin 

Possibly in a century or two, perhaps a little less or a little more, some historian of ideas, if any historians of ideas are still left, or some student with a thesis to write will find an ideal subject for a monograph in the phenomenon of Eranos in the twentieth century. And perhaps his monograph will turn out to be like so many others that, ever since the rise of historical criticism, have been devoted to the "schools," the "ideological currents" of the past, demonstrating their "causes," explaining their "influences," the "migrations of themes," and so on.

But it is to be feared that, if he in his turn is content to do no more than to apply a scientific method which will have had all the virtues, except the primary virtue that would have consisted in establishing its object by recognizing the way it gives its object to itself—it is to be feared that our future historian will completely miss the phenomenon of Eranos. He will perhaps believe that he has "explained" it by a profound and ingenious dialectic of causes. But he will not have divined that the real problem would have been to discover not what explains Eranos, but what Eranos explains by virtue of what it implies: for example, the idea of a true community, bringing together speakers and listeners, a community so paradoxical that it displays none of the characteristics that are of concern to statistics and sociology. 

This is why, if the eventuality of our future historian is forecast here, the forecast is made from no vanity of an expected fame, but rather in fear that the soul of Eranos may one day be lost in such a venture. Had he not felt this fear, he to whom it has fallen to play a soloist's role at the beginning of the present volume would have hesitated thus to step out from the chorus of his confrères. But he has become convinced of one thing. This whole volume is devoted to the question of Time, which each of us has envisaged from the angle of his habitual meditations. Now, if it is true that, while they explain things and beings by their time, historians as such are not in the habit of beginning by reflecting on the nature of historical time, the theme of this volume perhaps contains the best warning against the dubious formula that would try to explain Eranos "by its time." It would be well to meditate on the possible meaning of these words: the time of Eranos. For it will be no explanation of Eranos to say that it was "very much of its time," that is, of everybody's time, in accordance with the formula that is so soothing to alarmed or hasty conformisms. Nothing indicates that Eranos ever tried to "be of its time." What, on the contrary, it will perhaps have succeeded in doing is to be its time, its own time. And it is by being its own time that it will have realized its own meaning, willingly accepting the appearance of being untimely. It is not certain things that give its meaning to Eranos; rather, it is Eranos that gives their meaning to these other things. How, then, are we to conceive the proposition that it is not by "being of our time," as so many well-meaning people say, but by ourselves being our own time, that each of us explains and fulfills his own meaning? Can this be suggested in a brief summary? To return to our hypothetical future historian: why, undertaking to explain Eranos by the circumstances, the "currents" and "influences" of the period, would he miss its meaning and its essence, its "seminal reason"? For the same reason, for example, that the first and last explanation of the various gnostic families referred to in the present book is those gnostics themselves. The historian may suppose every kind of favorable circumstances, draw all possible conclusions, he would be merely reasoning in vacuo if there were not the first and signal fact of gnostic minds. It is not the "main currents" that evoke them and bring them together; it is they that decree the existence of a particular current and bring about their own meeting. 

Probably, then, the word "fact," as just used, does not signify quite what our current speech commonly means by the word; rather, it signifies what current speech makes its opposite, when it distinguishes between persons and facts, men and events. For us, the first and last fact, the initial and final event, are precisely these persons, without whom there could never be anything that we call "event." Hence we must reverse the perspectives of the usual optics, substitute the hermeneutics of the human individual for the pseudodialectic of facts, which today is accepted, everywhere and by everyone, as objective evidence. For it was only by submitting to the "necessity of the facts" that it became possible to imagine in them an autonomous causality that "explains" them. Now, to explain does not yet necessarily mean to "understand." To understand is, rather, to "imply." There is no explaining the initial fact of which we are speaking, for it is individual and singular, and the individual can be neither deduced nor explained; indimduum est ineffabile. 

Read more:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Epicurus and fantasy literature / Game of Thrones

"Though the philosophy of Epicurus has been caricatured by the ignorant as a byword for excess and gluttony, like most ethical systems he argued for the importance of moderation and balance in the aim of the full appreciation of the hedonic experience. The problem with much of heroic fantasy is that it lacks such balance, and does not manage to negotiate the knife’s-edge between the banal world that is, and the fantastical that couldbe. The juvenile aspect of much of fantasy literature is exhibited in its gluttony for the black & white aspects of the world which a fictional world can give full reign to. The Dark Lord who is the apotheosis of evil. The teenage farm-boy who is good, naive, and also handsome and gifted with incredible powers beyond imagining (and, who at the end of the seriesfinds out that he is in fact the son of a king!). Martin’s great insight, which he clearly shares with other writers such as Robin Hobbis that writing within the fantasy genre is not a license to engage in every wish-fulfillment. It is a liberty to enchant, and surprise. At least if you aim to appeal to adults who have lived enough life to have experienced enough to intuit that the sweet life is to a large extent given color only by its contrast with the bitter. Perfection does not move."

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

nice paragraph on sleep debt

"Outside of maintaining a healthy sleep pattern, there is literally nothing you can do to erase your sleep debt. It's a lot like fiscal debt: gradually accumulated and a bastard to get rid of. Also, you probably have way more of it than you think. Most people only count "negative" loss of sleep into their sleep debt -- the nights when they had to work late or couldn't sleep because of the monster truck rally next door. However, every little hour counts, no matter how you spent it: Playing BioShock until the small hours adds to the debt pile just the same, no matter how much fun you had."

Friday, April 26, 2013

Van Vogt fits

We may be better able nowadays to appreciate the merits of van Vogt's fiction. The disjointed novel is more in vogue today than at any previous point in history...
But, above all, van Vogt fits in nicely with the popular culture of our day, in which loose narratives or anti-narratives — in computer games, music videos, reality TV, etc. — have replaced the tightly scripted tales of an earlier era. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Only the Sociologist has Agency

In spite of the strenuous attempts by sociologists to preserve some autonomy for the acting subject — Bourdieu’s “habitus,” Latour’s “actor-network” theory — popularization has inevitably resulted in more weight being thrown on the structuring side of things, the network over the actor. The only quantum of freedom left then belongs to the sociologist himself. It is the sociologist who is uniquely qualified to provide explanations for us, which have to do with feelings of status or desire for recognition, sublimated self-interest. Ultimately, there can be no mixed motives, no swerving, no revisions, no “powerful attraction towards all that we conceive or fear or hope beyond ourselves,” as Shelley once tried to define love.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sefirot Color Visualization

Thanks to Aharon Varady for posting this

An important quotation in Moshe Idel, "Mystical Techniques": 

The earliest texts explicitly referring to this technique are those connected to the name of
R. David ben Yehudah he-Hasid, a Spanish Kabbalist of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries:

"R. David said: We are not allowed to visualize the ten Sefirot, except in accordance with the rashey perakim which reach you, such as Magen David to Ḥesed and Ḥonen ha-Daat to Tiferet. Therefore, you should always visualize that color which is [attributed to the Sefirah according to] the rashey perakim, that color being the ḥashmal of the Sefirah, the ḥashmal being the covering217 [or dress] of that very Sefirah around [it]. Afterward you shall draw [downward] by your visualization the efflux [shefa] from the depth of the river to the worlds down to us—and this is the true [way], received [in an esoteric manner] by oral tradition."

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cervantes on Translation

It seems to me that translating from one tongue into another, unless it is from those queens of tongues Greek and Latin, is like viewing Flemish tapestries from the wrong side; for although you see the pictures, they are covered with threads which obscure them sot hat the smoothness and gloss of the fabric are lost.
(Cervantes, Don quixote, 2.62)
yet another quote stolen from

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Foucault on the fantastic

"The fantastic is no longer a property of the heart. Nor is it found among the incongruities of nature; it evolves from the accuracy of the knowledge, and its treasures lie dormant in documents. Dreams are no longer summoned with closed eyes, but in reading; and a true image is now a product of learning."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Anthropology of "real" magic

compiled by Robert Mathiesen, sent to Academic-Study-Magic e-list

"Here are some anthropologists' encounters with magic that seemed to be (or actually was) effective, as well as a few other related items:

(1)  Anthologies:

David E. Young & Jean-Guy A. Goulet, edd.  Being Changed by Cross-Cultural Encounters; The Anthropology of Extraordinary Exeprience.  Broadview Press, 1994.

Jean-Guy A. Goulet & Bruce Granville Miller, edd.  Extraordinary Anthropology: Transformations in the Field. University of Nebrasks Press, 2007.

Philip M. Peek, ed.  African Divination Systems: Ways of Knowing.  Indiana University Press, 1991.

Michael Winkelman & Philip M. Peek, edd.  Divination and Healing: Potent Vision.  University of Arizona Press, 2004.

(2)  Monographic Studies:

Paul Stoller and Cheryl Olkes.  In Sorcery's Shadow: A Memoir of Apprenticeship among the Songhay of Niger. University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Edith Turner et alii.  Experiencing Ritual: A New Interpretation of African healing.  University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

Barbara Tedlock.  The Woman in  the Shaman's Body.  Random House (Bantam), 2005.

Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer.  Extraordinary Knowing.  Random House (Bantam,) 2007.

(3)  Various articles:

Michael Winkelman.  "Magic: A Theoretical Reassessment," Current Anthropology, 23/1 (Fenruary 1982), 37-66.

Bruce T. Grindal, "Into the Heart of Sisala Exeprience: Witnessing Death Divination," Journal of Anthropological Research, 39 (1983), 60-80.  --  Perhaps the most important article of them all.

Barbara Tedlock.  "From Participant Observation to the Observation of Participation: The Emergence of Narrative Ethnography," Journal of Anthropological Research, 47/1 (1991), 69-94.

Edith Turner.  "The Reality of Spirits: A Tabooed or Permitted Field of Study?" Anthropology of Consciousness, 4/1 (March 1993), 9-12.

James McClenon & Jennifer Nooney.  "Anomalous Experiences Reported by Field Anthropologists: Evaluating Theories Regarding Religion," Anthropology of Consciousness, 13/2 (2002), 46-60.

Edith Turner.  "Advances in the Study of Spirit Experience: Drawing Together Many Threads," Anthropology of Consciousness, 17/2 (2006), 33-61.  --  Has large bibliography."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sebald on Sense of Place

A sense of place distinguishes a piece of writing. It may be a distillation of different places. There must be a very good reason for not describing place. -Max Sebald

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Foucault on knowing "what you are"

‎"I don't feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.”
― Michel Foucault

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Homemade Magic

Abstract: The tradition of placing objects and symbols within, under, on, and around buildings for supernatural protection and good luck, as an act of formal or informal consecration, or as an element of other magico-religious or mundane ritual, has been documented throughout the world. This thesis examines the material culture of magic and folk ritual in the eastern United States, focusing on objects deliberately concealed within and around standing structures. While a wide range of objects and symbols are considered, in-depth analysis focuses on three artifact types: witch bottles, concealed footwear, and concealed cats. This thesis examines the European origins of ritual concealments, their transmission to North America, and their continuation into the modern era. It also explores how culturally derived cognitive frameworks, including cosmology, religion, ideology, and worldview, as well as the concepts of family and household, may have influenced or encouraged the use of ritual concealments among certain groups.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Houllebecq on Lovecraft

Life is painful and disappointing. It is useless, therefore, to write new realistic novels. We generally know where we stand in relation to reality and don’t care to know any more. Humanity, such as it is, inspires only an attenuated curiosity in us. All those prodigiously refined ‘notations’, ‘situations’, anecdotes . . . All they do, once the book has been set aside, is reinforce the slight revulsion that is already adequately nourished by any one of our ‘real life’ days.