The Initial Seduction

If history is any indicator, a great deal of our future knowledge of the universe lies right under our noses at this very moment.

For hundreds of millennia, humans walked the earth knowing nothing about the outer frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. Radio noise from the sun and the stars flitted all around us — passing through our very bodies — and we were not only unaware, we were unaware we were unaware. No obvious mysteries were produced by their existence. They were answers to questions that hadn’t yet been born. It wasn’t until the 19th century (seconds ago in human time) that radio waves were discovered and explained, and today they’re used ubiquitously. We can hardly imagine a world without them.

This is just one example of many. It’s safe to assume that there exist other life-changing, society-changing aspects of the physical world that are operating right here, right now, without leaving a single recognizable trace and without being found in a single theoretical framework. Until human understanding rises to a sufficient level, we’ll remain absolutely oblivious to them.

And there are the things that humans could never come to understand.

An ant colony functions as a single, purposeful entity, yet no individual ant has any awareness whatsoever of what it’s a part of, nor could it hope to. The ant simply doesn’t have the perceptual faculties for it. It’s a machine that adheres to a simple program, and when a thousand other ants are present these combined behaviors result in a whole that’s much smarter than the sum of its parts.

A human being is both an individual and a collection of individuals. Our cells are organisms that have become so specialized that most of them cannot live outside their special niches within the body. They’ve given up their obsolete autonomy, but are they really that different from bacteria and protozoa and diatoms? We are — quite literally — hives. Again, each type of cell has a set of rules to follow, and out of this incredible synergy, I emerge. This entry was written by none other than my billions of neurons, but any one of those neurons would need to have a few billion neurons of its own to begin to fathom the meaning.

From this you can’t help but wonder if there’s a whole that we ourselves comprise. I am a we, but are we also an I? Are we the equivalent of ants or neurons blindly orchestrating some cosmic endeavor that lies far, far outside our perceivable, conceivable realm? It’s a beautiful idea, but it’s unfortunately of little use. It isn’t necessarily true, and if it is true we’ll never find out.

It’s these questions — of the things we don’t know and of the things we can’t fully know — that led me to occultism. I thought reports of psychic and paranormal phenomena were the smoke from the fire of this mysterious side of existence that I hoped to understand. I bought into the idea that there were mystics and gurus who could help me to finally lift the veil. I was convinced that the secret knowledge was out there waiting to be claimed if I just did enough digging in the right places.

I’m not saying that mystics and gurus have nothing valuable to offer, but there is a problem with my early reverence of them that I originally failed to see.

Consider someone living in the days long before radio; we’ll call him Ogg. Ogg tells the rest of his tribe that he thinks there are invisible energies all around us. They aren’t magical, they can be understood, and one day people will use them to send messages to each other through the air. You won’t be able to see or hear the messages or even be aware of them at all without the help of special devices. People hundreds of miles away from each other will be able to have a conversation as if they were in the same room.

This is a very alien notion in Ogg’s time, and though he’s absolutely right, the rest of the tribe doesn’t believe a word of it.

The question is, should they?

It’s important to ascertain just how Ogg came to this conclusion. He has no technology sensitive to radio waves that could accidentally reveal their existence. He has no theoretical understanding of light which could lead him to believe there might be wavelengths of it outside the visible spectrum. He’s stretching well outside his empirical range, so to speak. Without a trace of evidence and without being fed this information by someone much more knowledgeable Ogg can only ultimately arrive at this conclusion by, well, guessing. This time, Ogg got lucky.

An arrival at a truth doesn’t necessarily validate the methodology through which that truth was attained. Even though Ogg was right, would it have been prudent for his tribe members to believe him? Suppose his neighbor comes up with a prediction that we know will be blatantly false. Without the glimpse into the future that we enjoy, what separates Ogg’s prediction from his neighbor’s? Why should the tribe listen to one and not the other? The often confusing answer is: it shouldn’t. The two predictions are actually on equal footing.

Likewise, imagine one neuron explaining to another neuron what a human being is. Should this “expert” neuron be taken seriously? Or could its description only be hopelessly and comically naive?

When evaluating teachers of the occult, or of any religion or philosophy, it’s very important to keep this all in mind. No matter how intelligent and knowledgeable they sound we know two things about them from the start: 1) they have only so many tools at their disposal to acquire this knowledge empirically, and 2) they are as seriously handicapped by their human form as we are. They may indeed be wise, but be very careful not to attribute superhuman awareness to them, especially right off the bat.

The next time someone shares a seductive new model of reality with you, remember that without solid evidence and without a solid rational basis, you may very well be listening to Ogg’s neighbor, rather than Ogg. And the next time someone tries to tell you how the cosmos really works, picture your neurons having a conversation about you. In my early New Age days I was too eager and hopeful to take these important evaluative steps. I was blinded by the burning desire to finally find the truth, so I believed my teachers had it because I wanted them to have it, not because they demonstrated it unequivocally. To my credit I can at least say that this happened less and less as years went by.

I hinted earlier that it was possible Ogg was relaying a truth rather than discovering it. After all, for anything in the universe that’s understandable there could exist a consciousness that understands it. There are many tribal people in the world today that have a basic understanding of how a radio works, but they didn’t come to that knowledge through their own efforts; they were taught by visiting anthropologists. Could Ogg have been told about radio waves by an entity more technologically advanced than the people populating the planet at the time, thus making his prediction viable? This is a common response in New Age circles to this sort of argument, and we’ll explore it in future entries.

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