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What the PK Dickens?

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — conceptual echoes in a PK Dick bio-flick ]

PKD covers 600


I have just been watching Mark Steensland’s movie, The Gospel According to PK Dick, and a couple of fine parallelisms – echoes, really – struck me.

I’m going to start with one quote from the Chuang Tzu which is so often quoted it has been dulled for me, like a few other very great very over-celebrated works, Beethoven’s Fifth, and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565, among them. Finding its echo in the words of Robert Anton Wilson in this film breathes new life into it, at least for me, for this moment.

Chuang Tzu, then, from The Complete Works Of Chuang Tzu translated by Burton Watson:

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

DoubleQuote that with Robert Anton Wilson in the movie:

In 1994, I think it was, somebody put up on internet a report of my death, and no matter how much I’ve denied it, it seems most people accept that I’m still alive, but there’s a die hard minority who insists I’m dead and the CIA has replaced me with an android. And I’d be much happier if I’d never read Philip Dick, because I would just think, “Well, I know I’m not an android,” but having read Philip Dick I realized if I was an android who’s properly constructed, I’d think I am Robert Anton Wilson. So that leaves me perpetually in a predicament of not being sure that I’m Robert Anton Wilson or an android programmed to think it’s Rob– to think, talk, and write like Robert Anton Wilson. I guess I’m really grateful to Phil for that, it gives me a certain agnostic detachment, which I think is necessary for mental health.


The echo of Chuang Tzu in the words of Robert Anton Wilson occurs towards the beginning of the movie. Towards the end of the movie, we have Paul Williams, the “father of rock criticism” also talking about his friend PK Dick, who was also the subject of his celebrated 1974 Rolling Stone article:

That particular, unique personality this is Philip K Dick arises, when you and I or the three of us, or any two or three readers of {Philip K Dick, or friends of his, or whatever, get together, then we have the opportunity, as in the ends of those stories, to actually experience his presence, and it’s uniquely him. And, uh, I appreciate that, and I appreciate that in that way, I still have him in my life. And that’s definitely quite a gift.

DoubleQuote those words of Williams with these, from Matthew 18.20:

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.


Gospel, indeed. and Tao, too.

Let’s get metaphysical — a quick sequence of tweets

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — From Elkus to Furnish, Tolkien to Feynman, — too tired to write, not tired enough to sleep — ripe for the twitter feed ]

The occasion of mirth:


Adam Elkus identifies the zone:

The mirth:




Meanwhile, Tim Furnish was there ahead of time, defending Tolkien & attacking IS:

And now let’s get back to those laws of physics:

Two wrongs make a right or wrong — in theory?

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — on the (Pythagorean) arithmetic of morals ]

Extermination_of_Evil_Sendan_Kendatsuba 600

Sendan Kendatsuba, one of the guardians of Buddhist law, banishing evil, Tokyo National Museum


What’s right is generally supposed to be positive, while what’s wrong is seen as negative — and as they saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.

In effect, that’s saying two negatives don’t make a positive. And if you add them, that’s correct.

But if you multiply two negatives, you get a positive — hunh?

So two wrongs can indeed make a right — that’s the mathematics of vengeance — multiplicative:

And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

— Deuteronomy 19.13

And it is also true that two wrongs don’t make a right — that’s a mathematics that denies vengeance — additive.

And then there’s the mathematics of forgiveness :

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

— Romans 12.21

Patient men, desirous of the Face of their Lord, who perform the prayer, and expend of that We have provided them, secretly and in public, and who avert evil with good — theirs shall be the Ultimate Abode

— Qur’an 13.22

And what’s most interesting to me in all this, is that the mathematical formulations, additive and multiplicative alike, don’t make a feature of time — where as their moral equivalents tend to introduce time into the equation / situation — in each case, it’s the response to evil, real or potential, that is considered.

On the events in Paris, Rod Dreher and the Benedict Option

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — contrasting the ideal with “this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world” ]

A few weeks back I read a piece by Rod Dreher around the concept of a Benedict Option recently, and liked it well enough that it sits in a special folder I have labeled 3 Major Papers, waiting for me to find the time to write it up in detail, offering my own suggested buttresses and side chapels to Dreher’s overall quasi-monastic structure. The Option itself derives from a paragraph in Alasdair MacIntyre‘s book, After Virtue:

What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers? they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another — doubtless very different — St Benedict.


Here’s my koan, as of yesterday, hearing the news of the multiple attacks in Paris and following Twitter to peer and pierce as best I could through the immediate fog towards the kernel of the matter. It takes the form of two tweets, the second in response to the first:



My immediate reaction, dismayed at Dreher’s tweet, is to agree with Laura Seay‘s response. And I’m far from alone in this, as a glance at some other responses to Dreher easily confirms:



So that’s the koan, the paradox — and that’s the way I lean on it.

Except that Dreher in a piece titled Refugees & the Paris Attacks, wrote again, today, and made some points that tip me towards the other side of the koan / coin:

Hesepe, a village of 2,500 that comprises one district of the small town of Bramsche in the state of Lower Saxony, is now hosting some 4,000 asylumseekers, making it a symbol of Germany’s refugee crisis. Locals are still showing a great willingness to help, but the sheer number of refugees is testing them. The German states have reported some 409,000 new arrivals between Sept. 5 and Oct. 15 — more than ever before in a comparable time period — though it remains unclear how many of those include people who have been registered twice.

Six weeks after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s historic decision to open Germany’s borders, there is a shortage of basic supplies in many places in this prosperous nation. Cots, portable housing containers and chemical toilets are largely sold out. There is a shortage of German teachers, social workers and administrative judges. Authorities in many towns are worried about the approaching winter, because thousands of asylum-seekers are still sleeping in tents.

The contrast between the ideal and the real couldn’t be greater: God’s in his heaven — and the devil is in the details.


As for that “pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world” — WB Yeats in his poem, Blood and the Moon is describing Bishop Berkeley:

                                                      that proved all things a dream,
That this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world, its farrow that so solid seem,
Must vanish on the instant if the mind but change its theme…

It amuses me that when I look the phrase “pragmatical pig” up to make sure I quote it accurately, Google wants to correct it to “pragmatic pig” — doesn’t that massive AI know its Yeats well enough at least to have caught on to his marvelous catch-phrase?


More on Rod Dreher and the Benedict Option as time permits and place allows..

It is always good to find oneself in good company

Friday, October 30th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Aristotle, the Ismailis, CG Jung ]

Two is the first number:

From the tenth-century Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’ (Epistles or Treatises of the Brethren of Purity) as found in Seyyed Hossein Nasr & Mehdi Aminrazavi, eds., An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia, vol. 2, Ismaili Thought in the Classical Age:

We say that one is the source and generator of the numbers because when one is removed from existence all the numbers are removed with it, but when the numbers are removed from existence, one is not removed. We say that two is the first whole number because numbers are a plurality of ones, and the first plurality is two.


I am delighted to find myself in the company of the Ismailis, having written in On two, one, seven plus or minus, and ten – towards infinity:

When I worked as senior analyst in a tiny think-shop, my boss would often ask me for an early indicator of some trend. My brain couldn’t handle that — I always needed two data points to see a pattern, and so I coined the mantra for myself, two is the first number.

One isn’t a number until there are two, because it’s limitless across all spectra and unique, and because it is its own, only context.

One isn’t a number unless there’s a mind to think of it — in which case it’s already an abstraction within that mind, and thus there are, minimally, two. At which point we are in the numbers game, and there may be many, many more than two — twenty, or plenty, or plenty-three, or the cube root of aleph null, or (ridiculous, I know) infinity-six…

Go, figure.

Two is the first number, because the two can mingle or separate, duel or duet: either way, there’s a connection, a link between them.

And in Of a non-comparative use of the DoubleQuotes method:

Putting it bluntly, one point is pointless — things could go anywhere from there. Two points suggest a line, a link, a connection — a possible, maybe even plausible, trend.

It’s that sense I have of two being the beginning of thought that makes me so fond of the DoubleQuotes format — and of Arthur Koestler‘s insight about creation occurring at the intersection of two spheres..


If I’m a fundamentalist about anything, it’s the notion that it takes two to tango!



From CG Jung, A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity, in Psychology and Western Religion:

The number one claims an exceptional position, which we meet again in the natural philosophy of the Middle Ages. According to this, one is not a number at all; the first number is two. Two is the first number because, with it, separation and multiplication begin, which alone make counting possible. With the appearance of the number two, another appears alongside the one, a happening which is so striking that in many languages “the other” and “the second” are expressed by the same word.

And from Leonardo Tarán, Speusippus of Athens: A Critical Study With a Collection of the Related Texts and Commentary:

Now we know that Speusippus did consider one to be the first odd number, whereas Aristotle thinks that two is the first number and explicitly denies that one is a number. [ … ]

Concerning the One, then, the differences between Speusippus and Aristotle amount to this: For the latter the One is not a number, nor a separately existing entity, but the principle of number because, each number being a plurality of abstract monads, the One is its measure.


As Emerson wrote:

The world is young; the former great men call to us affectionately.

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