Hans Reichenbach Uses Math to Show Us the Direction of Time

The Direction of Time – Hans Reichenbach (1956)

            In the late part of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, many philosophers saw their world crumble when their old, long-held assumptions about reality came crashing down around them, due mainly to the various advancements that occurred in physics during that time.  Einstein’s relativistic theories regarding the large-scale composition of our Universe, and quantum mechanics’ probabilistic theories regarding the small-scale composition of the fundamental particles creating our existence did not allow for the old stand-bys of philosophy.  A Priori ideas were discarded.  Previously believed truths about our reality that were simply accepted as fact because Plato said so were understood to be false.  The understanding that any philosophical theory needed to support and not contradict the verifiable, empirical facts of the world of science was required.  In this tumult, philosophers such as Bertrand Russell sough to unify the empirical results of science with the aims of philosophy, helping create what is now called “scientific philosophy.”

           Hans Reichenbach was at the forefront of this movement.  He understood early on that the world as described by the then-current physics was not one that could be easily codified into philosophical terms and concepts.  A new philosophy was needed, and Reichenbach sought to provide that for the world.  One of his final attempts at this unification came in the form of this book, The Direction of Time, which explores how science and philosophy merge to describe the way that humans experience what we call time.

            Time is a concept that many people misunderstand.  Many people assume that time is a purely linear function, equally applicable to the entire universe as it is to an individual, while others believe that time is relativistic, that each person experiences a different flow of time from anyone else.  Reichenbach begins his discussion of time by exploring what time means and what it has meant to philosophers of the past.  He explains the basic mathematics that show how our Universe is in a constant state of becoming from the past to the present, and how these mathematics show that time is irreversible, even though our minds can imagine such time reversals.  In our reality, time moves forward in all respects, with the future defined as that which has yet to occur but is influenced by the past and present, while the past is defined as occurrences which cannot be changed once they happen, but which will influence future events indefinitely.

            In order to explain his reasoning, Reichenbach goes into levels of math that are frankly beyond my cognition.  I have to admit that I never got past Algebra II, or Pre-Calculus in school.  As a Fine Arts student I satisfied my math requirements with Logic classes.  Thankfully, those same Logic classes help me keep Reichenbach’s thought processes in clear focus, even though his mathematical specificity leaves me in the dust.  I wish I had more ability to process Logarithms!  The beauty of knowing mathematics, even on a level such as myself, is that, while I may not understand the full import of a formula, I can follow the thought processes as one formula is permutated into another, or as it is simplified by the author.  This does help a lot in understanding this book.

            Reichenbach seems to come to the conclusion that time and the measurement of time are probabilistic processes, which require the understanding of thermodynamics, entropy, and macrostatistics as they relate to microstatistics.  Probability is a lot different in the macro world of our Universe than it is in the micro world of our subatomic particles.  Yet, they both point to an inexorable direction of time.  They both show, mathematically, that time is a process that moves in only one direction.  This is far more important and valid that the old Greek assumptions that everyone took for granted as gospel truth.  While I wish I had more of a grasp on high end mathematics, I am very glad I forged on and finished this book.  I hope to return to it one day in the future once I have increased my math skills.  It is amazing to see the basis for our current scientific philosophers.

(This book can be purchased here: Dover Books )


Finally, A Plain-Spoken Mystic Gets to the Heart of the Matter

The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life, Vol. 1 – Drunvalo Melchizedek (1990)

            This is a deep dive indeed.  As I am always on the look-out for weirdness and bizarre books I try to keep a running list of odd tomes that authors often reference, or use as source material.  I prefer to go read the actual source than to read someone’s interpretation of it.  I want to do the interpreting!  Because of this I found myself seeking out Drunvalo Melchizedek’s engrossing and enlightening work describing his experiences in researching what mystics call “Sacred Geometry.”  This is the first volume of two, and serves as an introduction to the idea of sacred geometry, where it comes from, and what it means to the whole of existence.

            (Let me make something clear before I continue.  I read about many things.  I read about ideas I do not hold, and viewpoints I do not agree with.  I am always seeking new data, and new ways of thinking about the multiverse we all inhabit.  I am a supporter of new ideas, not a “believer” in new ideas.  Does that make sense? It may be that everything discussed in this book by Drunvalo Melchizedek is accurate and real, but I am not the person to judge.  I can only try and understand the content of this book based upon the countless other books and experiences I have been fortunate enough to acquire.)

            The author wants to explain sacred geometry, and specifically, the image called by ancients and mystics The Flower of Life, and where this all comes from.  This requires us as readers to accept that the author is channeling ancient entities/angels who provide him with the information he seeks to share with us.  This may seem weird, but I have read of many “normal” authors whose fiction they claim comes unbidden from who-knows-where?  Stephen King, a very prolific author, has discussed how whole story ideas and book plots have come to him as if he tapped some source outside of himself.  Countless other artists and creative people claim the same.  I choose to take Mr. Melchizedek at his word about his sources, but of course I reserve judgement.

            According to the author, what we term the age of modern man, or human civilization, is actually just the most recent flowering of humanity.  He states that in the wisdom received from angels and the being Thoth he was informed that not only did vast ancient civilizations exist throughout the Earth hundreds of thousands of years before Egypt’s Old Kingdom, but that they have influenced our collective culture, religions, and beliefs.   This is all quite a standard trope in “received wisdom” writings, but in this case the message is not hidden under layers of obfuscation or cryptic word-play.  Drunvalo Melchizedek comes right out and tells you everything in a plain manner, with a lot of visual assistance through photos and diagrams.

Mystics have always held that there is one key feature of the Universe.  As above, so below.  Many take that to mean that heaven is like Life, while others take it to mean that outer space follows the same laws as the planet where we live.  Yet others see this statement as an indicator that, in order to know the Universe one can study the Self, or vice versa, if you wish to know the Self, you can find your answers by looking at our Universe.  Either way it is true.  However, the ideal of Sacred Geometry is that the human body, by its proportions, can show the same mathematical relationships that are seen by measuring the heavens. 

I do not want to just give examples and details, because they are all of a piece, and need to be taken in all together for the desired effect.  The author shares information in several different ways, in order that both our Left (feminine) brain and our Right (masculine) brain both understand everything.  I found this really cool.  I am a hyper masculine thinker, deeply rooted in logic and reasoning, but my subconscious is where my allegorical and metaphorical thinking takes place, and that is where my art comes from.  Because of this, I am aware that the brain can sometimes be processing information subconsciously while the conscious brain is occupied with the day to day job of keeping alive.

This first volume holds as its aim the goal of sharing with the reader exactly what is Sacred Geometry, why it matters, and how this knowledge was handed down through time.  It succeeded in piquing my curiosity for Volume 2.  Volume 2 seeks to explain how each individual can create their own transcendent spiritual body, called the Mer-Ka-Ba.  It is this spiritual creation that allows a human to transcend this mortal coil, and create a body crafted of pure consciousness.  Various synthetic, structural Mer-Ka-Ba’s have been created through time by beings residing here on Earth, attempting to create a planet where the population has the possibility of transcending their corporeal existence.  Supposedly our planet is here precisely for that, and this is what the man named Emmanuel, who people choose to call Jesus the Christ, was trying to impart to his followers, only to have this personal revelation be hidden by crooks who sought only to ensure their wealth and power and their status as intermediaries between humanity and the gods (of course, I am talking about organized religions, priests, rabbis, clerics, monks, etc., the very same people who worked with those in Roman government to wrongfully accuse and execute their Messiah.)  I cannot wait to see what Volume 2 holds.  If it is anything like Volume 1, it will give me a lot to think about!

(This book can be purchased here: The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life Vol. 1 )

(This book can be downloaded and read as a PDF here: PDF Download )


Gene Wolfe Ends the Book of the New Sun

The Book of the New Sun, Vol. 4: The Citadel of the Autarch – Gene Wolfe (1982)

            It is complete.  My tour through the mind of Gene Wolfe, and Urth, the world his protagonist Severian inhabits, has run its course.  I am not the same person that began this journey.  Neither is Severian.  In fact, neither is anyone or anything.  Permanence is an illusion.  Change is the only true constant of our existence.  Change is so constant and so pervasive that we flow through countless cycles unnoticed as we toil in our second-to-second existence.  The theme of change, or wholesale and wide-ranging change, and the ways that change can actually bring about order and stability, are at the core of the Book of the New Sun.

            The genius of Gene Wolfe helps facilitate this through his use of a narrator whose memory, he claims, is eidetic.  This narrator, Severian, is the writer of the tale, and also the hero.  Through the course of 4 novels, he tells his own story as he progresses from a know-nothing young apprentice, to a full Master Torturer, then into a world-weary traveler, and finally to his ultimate destiny as a leader of men.  While Severian may indeed possess an eidetic memory he does make mistakes and omissions in the telling of his tale, and later admits them to us, the reader.  If this did not complicate the story somewhat, the fact that Severian ends up absorbing the consciousness of various people throughout the tale increases his inner confusion, for he cannot tell whether the memory he experiences is his own, or one of the people whose memories he carries within him. 

            This is a neat literary trick to show how humans actually think.  We assume we are ONE BEING, but we have two brains.  We have multiple personas.  We all have multiple “selves” we carry within us.  The 6 year old me is still in there somewhere, as is the angry 19 year old me, and the depressed 30 year old me.  Not only that, but by virtue of their constant presence and nurturing, I carry my father and my mother and their voices within me as well.  Change does not erase.  It aggregates.  The same is true of our narrator, Severian, and every one of us.

            (I began this journey through Urth at the behest of a pal from the Sonic Youth Gossip Forum.  His screen name is Severian, and he has championed these books to me for EVER.  I first posted my review of Volume 1, The Shadow of the Torturer, on April 4, 2016.  It took me a couple of years to get back to the Book of the New Sun, and Severian let me know of his displeasure.  Now I have read the final three volumes, one a month, for the past three months and I am all Wolfe’d out!  What a story!  WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!! )

            When I last visited Urth, Severian had become embroiled with people who showed him the true age and mystery of his world.  Urth is very very old.  So very old.  Not only is Urth old, but the universe itself is exceedingly ancient.  The mores and dogmas that hold this society together are a bizarre combination of their access to high technology with no awareness of the science that makes the tech function, and of the descent of humanity into a strict feudal system, similar in rigidity to the old Hindu caste system.  In a world like this, the powerful are like gods, like magicians, and the regular people are solely there to feed the mill of life.  No questions are asked, and everyone knows their place.  Into this world, a young torturer’s apprentice is thrust, forcing him to question everything he has been learned, and yet reinforcing everything he has been taught.  It is as complex as real life.  Each human is doing their best to survive with what means they have at hand.  Life is too hard to worry about the big picture, or the bigger issues.

            In this type of world, war is constant.  Pain is constant.  Death is so pervasive that an entire Guild of Torturers exists to dole out punishments and executions.  Everywhere Severian travels death shadows him, or has been there before.  What is shown in this last volume is that Severian, a personification of death, grows to understand that absolute rule means that everyone is short-changed.  As he progresses through his final understanding, Severian realizes that the biggest change he will bring about will be to re-craft the rules of the world that made him who he is, to create a better world for all. 

            As with all fiction I review here at RXTT’s Intellectual Journey, I do not want to give away too much of the story.  That is the single greatest joy of fiction, the way the story is revealed to the reader, and I hope you get to experience the sublime literary and imaginative joys that gene Wolfe has crafted into The Book of The New Sun for yourself.


Joseph McCabe Lets Us See the Crap Underneath the Spiritualist Religion

Is Spiritualism Based on Fraud? : The Evidence Given by Sir. A.C. Doyle and Others Drastically Explained – Joseph McCabe (1920)

            (EDIT - For those not aware, the Spiritualist religion was one that began in 1844 in middle america, when two young sisters fooled their family into thinking ghosts were making noises in their home.  Their older sister decided to make money off of this and spread the lies that the younger sisters could communicate with the dead and that the dead replied back.  Before that time, most people in the United States held the idea that "spirits" were more like after images of past lives, and not actually dead souls actively coming to hang out with us.  Within 20 years there were over a million adherents to this new fraud, and the "ghosts" developed more skills.  No longer were they content to "rap" or make knocking noises, but instead they moved items, played ghostly instruments, and eventually actually "appeared" as ectoplasmic ghosts. (the use of cheesecloth and phosphorus was widespread, not to mention that seances "had to" be held in near or total darkness. Believers excused all the trickery and fraudulent crap, usually by stating that true mediums had to cheat sometimes because the "skeptic" had scared off the actual spirits... PATHETIC.)


              Joseph McCabe has been one of my intellectual heroes since I discovered his amazing book, The Story of ReligiousControversy.  His deeply rational and analytical mind stripped away everything the Roman Catholic Church indoctrinated him with as a Priest, and having left the church, he proceeded to prodigiously write books, pamphlets, and essays on the whole sordid history of the Roman Catholic Church, science, free-thought, and in this particular book, the ideas and claims made by the Spiritualist religion that began in the United States in the 1840’s when a trio of sisters flim-flammed everyone around them into believing that the noises they made when they cracked their toe-knuckles were actually “rapports” from the spirit world.  Between that time, and the date that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (he of Sherlock Holmes fame) and Joseph McCabe debated Spiritualism on stage, the “religion” had grown to include over a million adherents in the USA alone, each of them convinced that the dead’s “spirit” could be called upon to manifest itself, and communicate, when a “gifted” medium used his/her powers to call them forth.

            The occasion that led to this book was a very public debate between Joseph McCabe, speaking for the rationalists, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the doctor and author who gave the world Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and the idea of the innately rational mind being utilized to solve otherwise baffling crimes.  Holmes, and A.C. Doyle by extension, have always been important figures in my life, so when I found out as a young man that this seemingly strict rationalist was duped by terribly faked fairy pictures, and the séance fraternity’s long-running cons, excusing endless examples of fraud and outright criminality right until his death, I was a bit distraught.  It was not until I read up on the later lives of many scientists and people of reason that I began to see the pattern.  These rational people, as they get older and older, find comfort in the thoughtless void that is religious worship and especially, paranormal spiritualism.  Even Isaac Newton found himself frustrated by his late attempts to create truly scientific alchemy. 

            Joseph McCabe does a great job of dividing this book into various sections, each devoted to explicit examples and proof of the inherent fraud and ill-intent behind those who seek to dupe bereaved and emotionally troubled people.  He covers the initial phenomena, raps, noises, and voices, and then goes on to cover apparitions (most of them were pieces of cloth soaked in phosphorus and then waved about in a dark room), magic writing, clairvoyance, and all the other methods used by these con-artists to fool the sitter into thinking they had experienced true contact with the dead spirits. 

The lengths that these crooks did and do go to in order to fleece the suckers is VAST. Even back in 1910, there already existed companies whose secret catalogues would allow a crook to order “magic” typewriters that would type by themselves, musical instruments that would play themselves, and items of clothing and hair pieces that could be used to conceal whatever the supposed spiritualist wanted to.  The same companies that made tricks for working magicians supplied and continue to supply these fortune tellers and mystics with the tools of their corrupt trade.  As described in another book I reviewed which discusses the lies of the fortune teller business, each of these “mediums” would hoard information and newspaper clippings, sharing these with each other from city to city and state to state, allowing these mediums to seemingly grab knowledge about their sitters out of thin air.  It is all a very calculated confidence game, and they have been working out the kinks for 180 years now.  With today’s internet and connected networks, these bastards have it even easier.  (To read a more modern account of the tricks and lies these criminals use, check out The Psychic Mafia )

Whereas, back in 1900, a medium would cold-read you for a few minutes, and ask you to come back in a week, “when the spirit guides are more ready to talk,” (allowing the medium and their cronies a chance to do research on the sitter’s life, family, business, etc.) these days they can do the exact same research on a potential sucker in 15 minutes online.  Of course, the sitter is always astounded that the medium could know such information!  The scary thing is that debunkers have constantly proven these “psychics” and “mediums” to be wholesale frauds.  Many of them have gone to jail after being proven fraudulent, only to return to their same fame afterwards, suckering bereaved people and stealing their money.  Believers do not want to hear the truth.  They just want to hear what makes their thoughts seem like the truth.  Self-delusion is ugly.

I highly recommend this book, as it not only provides amazing information, but it also lists various other cool resource books on this topic.  I bet most of those are out of print, but I just love finding new books to track down.  I wonder if Mr. Joseph McCabe would be surprised to know I am reading his books 100 years later?

(This book can be read for free here: Project Gutenberg )


Gene Wolfe can't stop messing with my mind, Vol. 3

The Book of the New Sun, Vol. 3: The Sword of the Lictor – Gene Wolfe (1981)

     My real-life “Severian”, as opposed to the person narrating the Book of the New Sun, would be so happy.  This guy has been hassling me (kindly) for a while now to finish reading the Book of the New Sun, and I put it off due to my mind being pulled to other topics and books.  However, having picked up and read the 2nd volume of Gene Wolfe’s masterful tetralogy, I found myself unable to pull away from the ancient world of Urth, and the lives of the people that Severian runs into and becomes part of as he sets off toward his destiny.  I had to pick up the 3rd volume, and start in on it as soon as I had finished The Claw of the Conciliator.

Our narrator, Severian, has experienced and grown much since we first met him as an Apprentice to the Guild of Torturers.  He has become a Master Torturer, and his services have been put to use as he travels through Urth.  He has glimpsed through the myths and tales of his world, and begun to see the truths underlying everything he thought he knew.  Urth is a very, very old place, seemingly a far-future Earth, one in which, as Severian finds out, humanity left for the stars and returned from the stars a long time ago.  Much of humanity exists in a feudal system, with a few ruling groups and most of the masses just working hard at staying fed and alive.

Gene Wolfe is such a clever writer.  His narrator claims to have an eidetic memory of sorts, being able to recall any and all events that have occurred in his life, but this is not exactly true.  He doubts his memory at times, due partly to the fact that his mind has “absorbed” the mind of an aristocratic Lady named Thecla, which causes him to recall memories that are not his own.  To add another level to this, Gene Wolfe writes this tale as if it were his translation of an ancient text recounted by Severian himself.  This allows Wolfe to keep the reader on edge, wondering what new revelation is to come next, and whether it will even be recognized as that.  As Severian works to unlock this puzzle he experiences the disjointed state that comes from the knowledge that every new revelation actually leads to more confusion, much like reality. 

Most science fiction/fantasy books do not work this way.  As their protagonists progress in their stories the world around them becomes clearer, and their knowledge of it more secure, leading to a great apex where the truths of that fictional world are revealed to the characters and the reader.  I am unaware of where Gene Wolfe is taking this tale, but that makes for a more thrilling ride!  The real world, the world we all live in, is exceedingly complex, and the more you seek the more complexity you find.  It is true, as the wise man is claimed to have said, that the more you learn the more you realize you know nothing. 

We are victims of our personal reality tunnels, and seeking any answers will always lead you to more questions.  In this sense, consciousness and reality appear to be fractal systems.  Maybe Gene Wolfe was somehow innately aware of this, even before Chaos Theory and fractal geometry were studied and understood as they are today.  The best writers and artists are the ones that can pull truths from our collective experience and share it with the rest of us, sometimes encapsulating past experiences in novel ways, and at other times seemingly predicting the future state of humanity as they gather from the clues all around us.  Gene Wolfe was a master at both of these, and it is what makes the Book of the New Sun such gripping reading.  One more to go…

(This book can be read here: THE SWORD OF THE LICTOR )


Gene Wolfe continues to blow my mind, Vol. 2.

Shadow & Claw, Vol. 2: The Claw of the Conciliator – Gene Wolfe (1981)

            After a hiatus of quite a few months, in which I have occupied my mind with books on gender-disparity and anthropology, the horrors of Soviet-era gulags, early science fiction, modern science fiction, and Joan Didion’s exploration of her grief following her husband’s sudden death, among other books, I turned my attention to the second volume of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun tetra-logy, The Claw of the Conciliator.

            Gene Wolfe passed away in the time between my reading of The Shadow of the Torturer, and picking up this second volume. He was 87 years old.  In doing some research about his life I read that he was a fellow alumni of the University of Houston.  He earned his degree in Industrial Engineering, whereas I earned mine in Studio Art-Painting.  He received acclaim for his speculative fiction works at a late age, and was very highly thought of as a writer of wonderful prose by his fellow authors.  Gene Wolfe stated in a letter that his definition of a great story was a story, “…that can be read with pleasure by a cultivated reader and reread with increasing pleasure.”  These words describe quite well my favorite novels and stories.

            The Claw of the Conciliator continues the story of Severian, a Guild Torturer traveling through a deep-future Earth, or “Urth” as it is called in the books.  Severian is the narrator/writer of this story, which Gene Wolfe states in a meta-narrative way is actually a found history that Wolfe is “translating” for us readers.  Layered storytelling such as this is something that requires a “cultivated reader,” as Gene Wolfe states in the above quote.  These novels are not for people who are new to literature, or to the depths of the English language itself. 

Whereas many speculative fiction/fantasy novels seek to immerse you in a new world, very few actually do so without using the standard tropes and markers of our current existence.  This helps ground the reader, keeping them feeling as if they understand what is happening, simply because it seems familiar in some way, but it is a detriment when one is trying to create an otherworldly universe to set your stories in.  Gene Wolfe’s writing does not suffer from this, as every aspect of his tales, from the characters to the setting to the myths and legends that inform his work are deeply thought out and carefully self-consistent within themselves.  This is the hardest fiction to read quickly, or superficially.  It requires attentive reading, or what Gene Wolfe described above as a cultivated reader, someone who has read many of the seminal touchstones of human literature, and therefore brings within them the tools to fully grasp the story presented in these books.  I can understand why so many contemporary authors saw the greatness in Gene Wolfe right away.

I do not like to give away plot details of the fiction books I read, as finding out these things is part of the joy of reading them.  I will tell you that the Severian in volume 2 is a wiser, more tempered person than he was in the first novel, having experience so much in the interim.  He is beginning to untangle what are thousands of years’ worth of ritual and dogma associated with the world of Urth and its societal structures as he heads further away from home on his new assignment.  Severian is slowly perceiving a world, in fact a Universe, far bigger and more complex than he could ever have imagined.  His awareness increases our awareness, giving us a glimpse of what may come next.

A few days before finishing this novel I received in the mail the 3rd volume of the Book of the New Sun, The Sword of the Lictor (1st edition hardback baby!).  One of my Sonic Life peeps, named “Severian” after the main character of these novels, has been on my butt to read these novels and finish up the Book of the New Sun ever since he introduced me to these books.  Thy will be done Severian…

(This book can be read here: THE CLAW OF THE CONCILIATOR )