Category Archives: Hermetic Library Reading Room

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Esoteric Tradition, Hermeticism in a broad sense, Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, and much more. If you would like to participate, contact the librarian. And follow along via the Reading Room social feed at Hrmtc I∴O∴.

The Case Against Reality

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Case Against Reality: How Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes [Amazon, Bookshop UK, Publisher, Local Library] by Donald D Hoffman.

Hoffman The Case Against Reality

Donald Hoffman’s The Case Against Reality is the best popular science book I have read in many years. It discusses evolution, human perception, theoretical physics, and other fundamental topics on the way to an alternative scientific ontology that Hoffman calls conscious realism. Important elements in his argument include the abysmal failure to account for consciousness on the basis of physicalism, the “Fitness Beats Truth theorem,” the bankruptcy of perceivable spacetime as a basis for physics, an “interface theory of perception,” and ultimately the Conscious Agent Thesis.

The prose is lively and not at all condescending. With the exception of a brief appendix, Hoffman avoids dry technical detail and pursues unorthodox concepts in judicious ways that intelligent readers should be able to follow.

In a few passages of the book, Hoffman comes off as a tad evil, as when he describes his mercenary expert testimony on behalf of T-Mobile in a trademark lawsuit asserting their exclusive ownership of a color (147-8), or when he talks about “hacking” perceptual processes for “marketing and product design” (172). I’m willing to allow that these elements made the book more creditable to the commercial press, but ick.

On a related note, he observes that, “evolutionary psychology … has been accused of … justifying unsavory moral and political ideas,” an accusation he finds “misguided” (50). While I agree with him that the core concepts and inquiry of evolutionary psychology do not actually justify pernicious ideologies, it is true that attempts have repeatedly been made to use them thus–a difficulty that might have been addressed in an explanatory end note. This elision by Hoffman fits awkwardly with his repeated use of tropes from The Matrix–notably “the red pill”–that have been adopted as banners of misogynist and paranoid subcultures. (Sorry they perverted your gnostic metaphor, Wachowskis.)

I only point out these failings because I think they should be disregarded in light of the book’s larger accomplishment. “No mystery of science offers greater intrigue, or greater perplexity, than the provenance of quotidian experiences” (178), and Hoffman’s proposal for a way to clear the perplexity is a valuable one. He observes that while his ontological postulates buck the intellectual trends in his field of cognitive science, they are “not radically new,” and he instances philosophical and mystical precursors from antiquity and modern thought (195-6). And I would add that both the Interface Theory of Perception and the Conscious Agent Thesis comport strongly with psychedelically-informed intuition.

Hoffman also rejects the non-overlapping magisteria of Stephen Jay Gould, who promotes a crypto-dualism by ghettoizing science and religion (197). Instead, Hoffman suggests that his own ideas may help to contribute to “an uneasy truce and eventual rapprochement” between spirituality and disciplined inquiry (199). I agree that this provocative book can be a paving stone of the path by which the method of science might pursue the aim of religion.

This beautiful boy would be bound to return her love. Cosmos and creation would not make sense otherwise. Of course, you and I know that Cosmos and creation make no sense at all and never have. Poor Echo was about to discover the truth of this.

Stephen Fry, Mythos [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Fry Mythos beautiful boy bound return love cosmos creation make no sense at all never have poor discover truth

We seek truth in all human experience, principally because we want security; we want that certainty that we are not deceiving ourselves. The question is, how do we know when we have attained truth? To most of us, truth consists of the substantiation of our ideas.

Ralph M Lewis, The Conscious Interlude [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Lewis The Conscious Interlude seek truth all human experience because security certainty not deceiving ourselves question how know attained truth to most substantiation our ideas

2010: Odyssey Two

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews 2010: Odyssey Two [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Arthur C Clarke, book 2 of the Space Odyssey series.

Clarke 2010 Odyssey Two

Arthur C. Clarke’s “Odyssey sequence” straddles strangely the media of cinema features and text novels. 2001: A Space Odyssey was plotted by the author in collaboration with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and then written in dialogue with the production of the movie. The mutually-informing parallel products were not identical; a few significant differences separated their plots. Clarke’s book 2010: Odyssey Two is a sequel to the 2001 movie. In every case where narrative continuity forces him to choose, he follows the film. No doubt he was motivated by the hope (fulfilled in 1984) that 2010 would also be a movie, and he wanted to make the book digestible into a screenplay without extra retconning.

In fairness, it’s likely that many more people saw the 2001 movie than read the novel. So the choice made sense for their sake as potential 2010 readers also. Still, it creates some strangeness for a 21st-century reader now approaching the books as a series.

After reading 2001 and detecting an esoteric pattern in its structure, I wondered if there would be similar references and effects in the next book. I believe there are. The most conspicuous of these is the title shared by the final section and its last chapter: “Lucifer Rising.” While it seems unlikely that Clarke took this title from the 1972 avant-garde film by Kenneth Anger, they may have had some occult inspiration in common. Another echo of magick was in the title of the second section “Tsien” (the name of the Chinese spaceship in the story) after the onetime GALCIT rocketry colleague of Jack Parsons in Pasadena.

The central character of 2010 is Heywood Floyd, the protagonist of the early lunar “TMA-1” section of 2001. Understood via a Rosicrucian-Thelemite template, Floyd is an astronaut-initiate who becomes an adept by means of his 2010 adventure to Jupiter, in a mission to recover the lost Discovery and to advance human knowledge regarding the great black monolith at the Lagrange-1 point in the Jupiter-Io system. The Star Child who had been Dave Bowman serves as a magus of the ineffable gods, giving a Word to humanity, who struggle to comprehend it.

Floyd’s 2010 expedition is a joint USSR-USA undertaking, which had become historically impossible before the end of the 20th century. But Clarke could duck any plot adjustments for those political eventualities in the next book 2061: Odyssey Three, which he managed to write a few years prior to the end of the Soviet Union. Of greater concern to Clarke was accounting for scientific developments, especially the 1979 disclosures from the probe Voyager.

Although the pacing and voice of 2010 are very similar to those of 2001, I thought the effect of the second book was much different than the first. Bowman’s ascension had been awfully lonely. The crew of the Leontov, by contrast, produce two marriages, and they witness the appearance of a new “companion” on an astronomical scale, and even the solitary Star Child redeems an old friend in 2010.

Although I know that the set-up in the first two books differs enough from the reality of our 21st century that 2061 will tell an impossible tale, I am looking forward to the first book of the sequence that we haven’t already caught up with on the calendar.

Will there be a day when someone discovers the secrets of these supernatural events, that reflection of the shadow of the soul that manifests itself between awakening and sleep, in a state of purgatory and unconsciousness?

Sadegh Hedayat, trans Naveed Noori, The Blind Owl [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Hedayat Noori The Blind Owl discovers secrets supernatural events reflection shadow soul manifests between awakening sleep state purgatory unconsciousness