Tag Archives: journal

Twenty. (An anniversary retrospective.)

Today, May 20th, marks the anniversary of my life’s work. Twenty years ago, I set myself to developing a philosophy that I called Promethean, or Prometheanism. Today, composing Promethean philosophy is still what I do.

But many things have changed. To explain some of that, I feel like I probably have to set the stage just a bit.

When I started in 1998, I was writing with the internet audience in mind, which was then select, relatively-educated, and worldwide. Back then, online publishing was a frontier that required web design. It was before blog software. It was before social media sorted everyone within their culs-de-sac. In fact, the usual types were hand-wringing about the “digital divide” of access, not-yet universal, seemingly unaware that mainstream crowds can ruin anything special. Back then, many people actively surfed the web looking for interesting, random, and challenging reading, as well as stupid humor. (That was always there.) Scattered individuals who were motivated to learn and interested in a better future were excited to have the means to connect and congregate. I was unapologetically talking to this forward-looking elite—of all ages, socioeconomic classes, and origins—who were looking for enlightenment, and eager to participate in a renaissance.

Promethea.org maelstrom

The “maelstrom” theme I designed for the Promethea.org web site in 2000.

I wrote and published multiple articles and essays on the web, and especially created novel, illuminated presentations for a website called Promethea, including The Promethean Trilogy, which began with The Promethean Manifesto, the genesis of all Promethean writing of mine. I worked on e-books/series on subjects like the economics of liberated society, critiques of naive faith in democracy, the importance of typical philosophical errors, and prospects for ending war. One goal was to try to build a cross-disciplinary Promethean movement.

You see, back then, with enough talent and very little money, you could create and publish, and people would come. Intelligent people would read it, and converse with you. You weren’t competing with billion-dollar corporations for mere seconds of attention from millions of eyeballs. It was a promising time, but it didn’t last very long.

As of 2004, when everything unique and thoughtful was getting lost in an interminable internet, I began to shift my emphasis to writing paper books, instead.

Photo on 2011-12-22 at 06.02

Checked-off proofreading edits in a printed draft of Pyramid of Babel, December, 2011.

I spent about seven years, on and off, on the great project of writing an unpublished novel, called Pyramid of Babel. I’m proud to say that Pyramid of Babel turned out both provocative to the conventional tastes and temperaments of those who follow along in society—as a novel of ideas ought to be—and unique, as I think a great novel ought to be. It did not fulfill my goal of breaking in as an author, however, so that I could get other books out there. If I had known the dire state of the industry, its rigidity of genres, its sanctimony, and its gatekeeping by agents, it’s possible I would never have adopted that plan—prioritized the novel, bet on success, and sacrificed so much as I have in order to create it. That would have been a shame, artistically.

Pyramid of 5 Aspects of Pyramid of Babel

I made a Pyramid of the complete draft.

Along the way, I also finished and self-published a collection of essays in 2008 called Rising in Words.

I also wrote a lot of material for 2 or 3 important but unfinished nonfiction books. The lion’s share consisted of 1) research to flesh out a cybernetic attractor model of personality and mind, while 2) working to articulate it with the wonder and clarity of the best popularized science writing, so as make it understandable to as many interested people as possible—the closest thing to a user’s manual of the human mind I would ever try to write. I don’t work on it consistently these days, but I have plans to do so again, when the course of writing The Constellation of Man leads me back to the part where I have to work out how to communicate these same mental attractors that we all demonstrate.

Another batch of work laid out my sociological theory of the anti-social origins of conflict, not in Paleolithic human nature, but in historical-era hierarchical institutions, which empowered psychopaths and narcissists. (A subject also intended for a vid-doc script on Myths About Human Nature and War.) Part of the argument would be an evolutionary one, accounting for the presence of these sub-types. And, a perhaps-separable book built on overlapping research would emphasize psychopathoid personalities in modern society over their origins.

At some point I began writing some entries on this blog, Wisdom Dancer. I don’t entirely remember why, except that I needed a place to talk about process, and journal, and vent, basically (as opposed to my “real” writing). I did all that of elsewhere, first, and then gradually migrated here. Happily, I left social media behind.

Currently, I write material primarily with The Constellation of Man (formerly Prometheus Redux) in mind. This evolved from early efforts in The Promethean Trilogy to invent new kinds of philosophical literature, better able to tell a story about reforming and rekindling humanistic values. (Actually, Nietzsche beat me to it.)

thinking-through-philosophy-tpm

February, 2013

I have many emotions as I look back on twenty years of personal history as a philosopher, a creative artist, and a dissident.

I have thought and written across boundaries—for instance, between social criticism, philosophy of science, humanistic psychology, cybernetics, anthropology, political science, history, education, epic literature, and mythology, with enthusiasm for fusion. I’ve held no more regard for artificial academic boundaries than the artificial boundaries of government, or moralism, or collective divisions, which I have repeatedly written against. As a result, I have often found that I fit nobody’s expectations, and fit in nowhere; and that I make impermissible, unpopular arguments. I do not regret it. Taking sincere advantage of freedom of thought is highly likely to have genuine social and economic costs, not only in facing off with institutions and conventions, but with herd-minded people, and those simply ill-equipped by their institutions to recognize (and value) a wider breadth of thought than their conventions. Again, I do not regret it.

The large majority of what I have written remains unpublished—some of importance, unfinished. The weight of potential hangs over my work, as I do it; I rarely have the satisfaction of completion and feedback, and have never had the feeling of success. It was not a journey I embarked on for attention or reward, although I intended to have more of an impact. It has certainly not been a journey I have continued because any project has, so far, really accomplished what I set out to do. These days, I often have to think that I write for the future and not the present. I continue because the work itself compels me, or needs me. It still fascinates. It still frustrates. I could say that I continue to write because I am a philosopher, and I cannot be someone else.

I can, all at the same time, appreciate that I have made much progress over the years as a writer of philosophical literature. Mastery does not come easily, and it is never finished. Abilities and efficiency go through ups and downs, not continual improvement. But once in a while, usually by sticking it out through many trials and errors—as well as through the marvelous leaps of imagination—the writing does play out as it feels like it was meant to, and fully satisfies even the perfectionist in me.

I will always have mixed feelings about testing the lines between epic accomplishments and impossibilities. I cannot be satisfied with less, in any case. I will always have that kind of ambition.

Regardless, I figure that twenty years of shouldering responsibility in a cause I am truly proud of, and have never compromised—and 20 years of labors, undergoing some immense challenges—well deserves a bottle of Lagavulin Scotch whisky. So that will be my toast tonight. No lamentations for what might have been.

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Notes on Vol II, on the occasion of writing “Apprehending the God”

In this post, instead of showing an excerpt from The Constellation of Man, I write about some of the ideas behind a whole volume of the project.

It is not so much that I am obsessed with human nature, although as a general subject this has been of recurring preoccupation and serious interest to me. I have been obsessed with humans’ lack of understanding of their natures, and their dismissive attitudes toward “human nature”—indeed, their very poor appreciation of the problem—and the reasons for this strange state of affairs, as well as its consequences.

(Why “strange”? To quote a line from my notes: “Perhaps it is strangest [and most indicative] of all that the mere fact of acting out human nature does not make human nature more understandable to a human being.”)

This leads to writing a great deal of material that goes in two directions:

1) Exploration of human nature, and attempts to characterize it more accurately.

2) Description of human ignorance surrounding human nature, and examination of the many errors that have mischaracterized the creature called Man.


A brief elaboration on the first aim:

  • Exploration of human nature, and attempts to characterize it more accurately.

For example: working on more useful philosophy of mind, suitable for living people who do not delight in rehashing artificial thought experiments. (I could almost say, a replacement for “philosophy of mind,” at this point.)

In the nitty-gritty end of applied scientific speculation, I’ve done considerable (unpublished) work over the years to devise psychological models to describe the human mind, which, among other avenues of improvement, address holistic deficiencies in cognitive, computational, or functionalist models of the brain, mind, and human evolution. My guidances in that kind of endeavor include the interrelationships (feedbacks), complex adaptive systems, attractors, etc. talked about in cybernetics, complexity, and systems theories. These are great sources of analogies and metaphors for leaping past folk intuitions, too, so they work as explanatory models on more than one level of precision.

Other guidance for reforming an impression of human nature comes from physical anthropology, ethnography, archaeology, ethology, personality theory, and the logic of evolutionary selection. Much more is known of human breadth than human origins, but a more accurate characterization must jibe with both. I take a syncretic approach, willing to find useful information or inspiration from virtually anywhere. I believe that the narrowness of most (academic-specialist) approaches has neglected to connect many dots between areas of evidence that have been described, and between new models for thought that have been available, in modern times.

The connective speculations of Darwin, of Gregory Bateson, and yes even of sometimes-reductive or mystical psychologists like Freud and Jung inspire me to think that a science—that is, “organized knowledge”—about mankind has not only room for synthesis, but great need for it; a holistic creature wants “big,” holistic, interconnective theory, like: the project of making new maps of Man (or more precisely, Man’s mental navigation) and for Man to make better sense of himself.

(At the risk of a great digression cut short: keep in mind that noteworthy attempts to draw maps of Man didn’t have to be “correct”—if we could even reasonably impose that expectation—in order to goad others to explore fertile directions. A map only had to describe new, or seldom-visited areas—or approaches to human nature—concretely, so that other map-makers could follow; construe unseen moralities, infer subjective preferences in economic activity, delimit types of personality, or graduations of consciousness, etc., etc.)

Such grand endeavors have passed out of fashion in a world of specialists, although I think it is telling that many academic specialists write books to claim an overarching significance for their version of what their own speciality has to say, without really doing the work to draw from other disciplines and points of view as though they deserve care and attention.

I close the subject of characterizing “human nature” with an appropriate caveat, taken straight from my notes:

Human nature expands too far into horizons for one perspective to take it in, or for one state of mind to hold it. Therefore human nature plays elephant for the blind man. Each observer claims that the beast is something else.


And with that, I move on to the second direction my writing has taken:

  • Description of human ignorance surrounding human nature, and examination of the many errors that have mischaracterized the creature called Man.

I cannot summarize an explanation here for the shallowness with which most have approached the problem, and regarded themselves or others as far more transparent than would be intellectually responsible. I will just say that a proper accounting ought to cover far more than traditional theologians’ negativity, or the historical influences of casuistries, that closed minds on the subject instead of opening them. And a systematic accounting—of these and many other reasons for ignorance—is arguably of secondary importance; when I choose to go into them in the book, it is primarily an assistance to illustrating the fact that people do habitually underrate matters of depth and complexity about “who they are.” In this I include “people” whose business it is to know better.

Pointing out that people fundamentally do not understand themselves (personally and generically) seems to me to be of the greatest importance. The pretense of knowledge, amidst ignorance, affects everything—personal attitudes about self, imagination of society, and the deep pessimism felt about the human condition and human potential.

Laying this out is the best kind of problem-solving I know to address so many soul-wrenching “I am lost,” or “we are lost” lamentations about self, or society. Many adverse conditions tend to be seen as inherent or essential problems, or natural to living, that—to the contrary—issue from dysfunctional approaches to having a human body and undergoing the experience of a mind, without a user’s manual.

I don’t intend to be able to offer that “user’s manual,” or minimize the difficulty of encapsulation. Few of us have adequate respect for the mysteries that we still represent, and that we are part of. Many of us have had the arrogant expectations of understanding or closure, and that is part of the message I am intent to get across.

Sometimes, frequently perhaps, it is possible to problem-solve dysfunctional approaches to living with a graduation of knowledge that realistically admits human nature. More-realistic characterization of human nature obviously enables spelling out more of this kind of prescriptive humanism. But, even when ameliorative knowledge is lacking—or I don’t have it, in order to write about it—there is still the mystery to admit.

And the restoration of wonder at a mystery in itself serves as an emotional, spiritual remedy, for those who had demoted human life on Earth. The absence of understanding that human beings have need of feeling profound, and participating in “divine” mystery, is another kind of “dysfunction,” another kind of ignorance about the human race.


Thus far, the second volume of The Constellation of Man looks like it’s shaping up to unite both of those two projects and fascinations about human nature. Special focuses will include:

  • the emotional reach of “nature,”
  • the mentalities of “mind” which are not limited to abstract intellectual systems,
  • the ambiguous power and mistrust of the unconscious,
  • and the legacy of an evolutionary past we still fail to appreciate.

The second volume has received most of my writing and editing time since 2016. As I write this, I’m currently working on several parts of it, in a sequence that I’ve been calling “Apprehending the God.” This sequence fits into a larger chain of metaphors that hasn’t sorted itself out as neatly as expected, but has turned out a battery of charged material. The last time I posted a preview, it was an excerpt spun out from another one of those metaphors. If I can, I’d like to find a way to pick out a piece from this sequence worth showing without its context, and the buildup of meaning which only several parts in tandem seem to be able to convey.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading a bit more about the philosophy I work hard to articulate, through the years and despite various obstacles that arise in the creative path. I’ve supplied my thoughts in text form this time, instead of recording another video journal. (In the recent heat wave, my voice would once again have had to compete with the hum of an air conditioner!) As always, I look forward to your comments.

Video Journal Episode 2

Video journal by underground philosopher Colin Patrick Barth on the art of writing original philosophy (in the Nietzschean tradition), with insights into the creative process of writing a 3-volume work of literature, “The Constellation of Man.” Recorded August 11, 2017.

Included in this second episode:

  1. The big news that some excerpts are now online at my blog, Wisdom Dancer.
  2. the importance of failure along the way, or
  3. Why This Second Episode Took So Long.
  4. (Not) getting comfortable with failure in ambitious creative work, in which failure is quite natural.
  5. Lateral, associative thoughts versus too much deliberate planning, or methodology.
  6. Most written philosophy is boring.
  7. How I’m trying to let resonant images organize material according to a different intuition, which is counterintuitive to a systematic writer.
  8. … the occasional pause, and a bit of inarticulate meandering. Brought to you by sleep deprivation (also natural).

Redux

img_3154What? This blog isn’t dead, quite yet?

I’ve neglected blog posts for a long while, while I stuck to a policy of keeping my head down and working in secret on unpublished work. For years now, I’ve preferred not to be drawn into the trap of writing for other people, or serving others’ expectations.

Discipline doesn’t come as easily to me as I wish. Writers and thinkers crave audiences and attention as the least of their rewards.

But I spent so many of my early years writing for web publication and a “movement,” that finally writing books for nobody else, struggling alone in the process, was perhaps a necessary evolution in mindset.

As much as getting feedback plays into a compulsive reward system, it’s ultimately false, hollow, and a terrible practice for a philosopher to write reactively, which Twitter debates, or to a lesser extent, academic debates encourage.

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That lovely day.

Social media fans these flames like nothing else, so I quit most of it. I also hate what the petty-narcissism outlets did to the internet communities I once loved, so my aversion really only grew logically. Once the Face-commodifying clamped down on promotion by traffic throttling pages and posts, I had little use for swimming in their goldfish bowls any more.

img_2286I repeat, false. A lot of the racket is reassuring people of their own relevance, when in fact they are almost all obscure and powerless, or “along for the ride.”

Accepting the truth, that I would potentially be creating works for few to see, was the price for continuing to create what I consider “the necessary work” during this modern nadir of literature, intellect, and humanism, in the faith that “one day,” a receptive environment and opportunity would exist once again.

It’s the fancy of an Irish monk in the Dark Ages, perhaps, but why not. (I’m all the more inclined to double down on the Dark Ages analogy after reading Stefan Zweig’s memoir Die Welt von Gestern, recalling how the culture of Europe used to be.) At least I would let no one else, and nothing trivial set the agenda besides the integral needs of the work and the future.

And so, I’ve spent years comparatively offline. I quit spending time and effort writing “extra,” disposable stuff, like posts, tweets, comments, or caring much about them. I went silent on current events and political issues.

I quit publishing anything independently, on the web or in print. I quit worrying about getting books published at large, corporate houses. I broke with commercial goals, as well as audience-building promotional goals, that inevitably influence thought and writing, ideas and art, far more than today’s creators of media really understand. I put some promising, arguably-essential manuscripts for “compromise” books on the back burner, mostly. I hope to get back to them.

I’ve spent years now almost strictly on quietly developing a project that’s meant to be more magnificent and challenging than anything else I’ve done, or tried to do. That is saying something, given that one of those other, back-burner books is a fresh look at philosophy of mind and a new personality theory in light of contemporary insights from cybernetics and anthropology.

I have no idea how the upcoming work will get to anyone’s eyes or hands. There’s been a strange freedom in not worrying about that, and just creating something amazing and important, free of constraints, and asking: what does that look like? I’ve been working in obscurity, almost in secret, as I can. Hardly anyone has seen any incomplete bits. Out of context, I don’t think the scope can be understood by anyone. Envisioning the “whole” is frequently enough beyond me, honestly. Such is the ambition of the literature that I feel needs to be created, so that it exists for the people who realize they need it.

I guess I’ve strewn many indications of intent around in other content in the past, without any real intention, as though I had bread crumbs to leave in a trail. (In fact, I was still inventing the bread and still am.) For instance, in here:

Pioneering advanced ideas and techniques among those who lack more fundamental ones is not possible. The unfortunate mis-education of our times—to ignore some important things, misunderstand others, and particularly to fight against oneself—remains a terrible and broad obstacle in the way of human progress. Those who have somehow escaped serious mis-education or clawed their way back out of brainwashing are as scarce as hen’s teeth, far fewer than those who believe they have.

I aim to address the problem seriously, almost from the ground up, by supplementing available modern resources for self-education and holistic education (Bildung). This new work will be my answer to the challenge of reorienting any enterprising reader so that change can happen for him or her, despite unlucky mis-education. Of course, my goal is not merely remedial, so I have also labored to refine insights at the cutting edge of self-knowledge and understanding.

And follow this link for strong hints. An excerpt:

It is not an exaggeration to state that once the most important books with the greatest, deepest, densest powers to influence and change minds at their roots could not have existed as anything else besides religious works of prophets, seers, and philosophers. Other books argue over words at the surface, which often seems more safe. Essentially the ambition to engage more deeply would have been known as a religious, mystical impulse rather than a psychological, scientific one.

Now there is an extraordinary opportunity to bring more to bear on the multifaceted problem of understanding and developing the mind deeply and thoroughly

Also, there was the video rambling journal that announced the probable final title, early this year: The Constellation of Man. Since then, I’ve put the work I’ve been able to do into figuring out the book and not into more or better video journals—not yet. Since then, I also have virtually finalized the titles of the volumes, and apportioned the themes of each—but that’s a pretty cool angle I think, so I won’t spoil it now.

img_2192Also last and least, the occasional cryptic artifact of work-in-progress, on a mostly hedonic, gourmet-and-travel Instagram feed.

However, to return to the matter at hand: all things must change lest they calcify. I’m bored with not publishing. I miss the motivation of preparing work to show, on occasion. That’s nothing new exactly, and I’ve still resisted for the reasons of avoiding corruption, stated above. But now I’ve had years to learn “discipline”also—not referring to work habits so much as a different way of thinking about the work that’s perpendicular to the grain, in independence of motivation.

I’m seriously considering reversal of my policy; I’m considering excerpts of work in progress. Would showing prematurely spoil the work?  How important is it for no one to see my magnum opus before it is complete in its entirety?

Some of the least important parts are the ones I’m most likely to show. Some tangents make fine essays on their own. These are the sorts of digressions that may be edited out in any case, because The Constellation of Man is not a book of essays at heart.

On the other hand, I’ve learned that usually, the one person who gets the work-in-progress is the writer. Showing drafts of work rather than the perfected version confuses people who aren’t used to trusting or imagining where the potential is headed.

Hmm.

Video

Video Journal, Episode 1

Video journal by underground philosopher Colin Patrick Barth for updates on recent writing and insight into the creative process. Recorded January 10, 2016.

Included in this first episode: a little too underground; giving a name to my current project; uses of metaphor and archetypes; thinking differently about philosophy.