Where Good Ideas Don’t Come From

Following up on Civil Westman’s excellent review of Simon Winchester’s book, here’s my Amazon review:

This is a great book. Simon Winchester has a wonderful writing style and is a skillful storyteller. His story is an important one due to the importance of precision instruments in our society. That said, there are a fair numbers of small errors and one more major one in the book.

He states that, “Jefferson, while U.S. minister to France…told his superiors in Washington”. Jefferson was minister in France from 1785 to 1789. The act creating a capital district along the Potomac River was signed in July 1790. There was no Washington, D.C. when Jefferson was minister in France.

There are lots of small problems in chapter 8 which discusses GPS. I’m the coauthor of “GPS Declassified: From Smart Bombs to Smartphones” which is included in his bibliography. https://www.amazon.com/GPS-Declassified-Smart-Bombs-Smartphones/dp/1612344089

He states that Roger Easton, my dad, came up with the idea of using clocks in satellites for a passive ranging navigation system in 1973. In reality, the idea came from a conversation with Dr. Arnold Shostak, father of SETI researcher Seth Shostak, in 1964. He states, “Roger Easton, who at the time worked for the U.S. Navy’s then –named Space Applications Branch in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.” Dad worked his whole Naval Research Lab career at its main office in Washington, D.C. The South Texas fence was a separate radar fence that was intended to be an adjunct to the primary Space fence so that an object’s orbit could be calculated on a single penetration of the two fences. Dad was there in September 1964 trying to synchronize the clocks in the two stations in this fence. He realized that a clock in a satellite could do this and later saw that it could also be used for navigation (following up on his April 1964 conversation with Dr. Shostak referenced above).

Winchester then describes the car experiment which showed that passive ranging with clocks would work except he places it in Texas whereas it was in D.C. “The other he kept at the naval station in which he was working in South Texas. While the observers were watching the oscilloscope screens he had hooked up in the lab, he ordered Maloof to drive the car as far and fast as possible down a road, Texas Route 295, which was unfinished at the time and thus empty.”

He’s describing the experiment which occurred on October 16, 1964. See page 9 from the “NRL GPS Bibliography – An Annotated Bibliography of the Origin and Development of the Global Position System at the Naval Research Laboratory” which states, “Easton’s passive ranging concept is demonstrated using a side-tone ranging receiver, modified from the South Texas experiment and placed at NRL, and a transmitter in Matt Maloof’s convertible as he drives it down the I-295 interstate. The road is finished but not yet opened to the public. Two Bureau of Naval Weapons representatives, John Yob and Chester Kleczek, observe the experiment.”

I-295 is the highway next to NRL’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. It’s not a state road in Texas. There is a reference to a South Texas experiment in the above account, but the test with Maloof’s convertible was in the D.C. area. In a 1996 interview with my Dad, they refer to the Wilson bridge across the Potomac in relation to the experiment. Wikipedia states that, “The first 7.8 miles (12.6 km) of the route opened on August 7, 1964 when the connecting segment of the Capital Beltway opened.” This fits in with an October 16th test.

The most significant error is his assertion that Reagan opened GPS to civilian uses after the shooting down of KAL 007 in 1983. This mistake is common in the literature. However, GPS was a dual use military-civilian system from day 1. The NAVSTAR Global Positioning System Program Management Plan 15 July 1974 can be found under resources on my website (gpsdeclassified). On page 2-9, it states that, “The C/A Signal will serve as an aid to the acquisition of the P Signal, and will also provide a navigation signal in the clear to both the military and civil user.” Texas Instruments was making in 1981 the TI-4100 NAVSTAR Navigator GPS Receiver for commercial users. Thus, civilian use was built into GPS in 1974 and a civilian receiver was being sold in 1981. I highly recommend this book in spite of these minor errors.

Note that Amazon does not allow external links.  I could add provide them if anyone’s interested.  One of the problems with Winchester’s account of GPS is that he uses Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From as a source.  Johnson has a poor grasp of the history of GPS.  Here’s a terrible TED talk he gave on the subject:

Based on my review, what are some of the mistakes he makes in this talk.


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Book Review: The Second World Wars

“The Second World Wars” by Victor Davis HansonThis may be the best single-volume history of World War II ever written. While it does not get into the low-level details of the war or its individual battles (don’t expect to see maps with boxes, front lines, and arrows), it provides an encyclopedic view of the first truly global conflict with a novel and stunning insight every few pages.

Nothing like World War II had ever happened before and, thankfully, has not happened since. While earlier wars may have seemed to those involved in them as involving all of the powers known to them, they were at most regional conflicts. By contrast, in 1945, there were only eleven countries in the entire world which were neutral—not engaged on one side or the other. (There were, of course, far fewer countries then than now—most of Africa and South Asia were involved as colonies of belligerent powers in Europe.) And while war had traditionally been a matter for kings, generals, and soldiers, in this total war the casualties were overwhelmingly (70–80%) civilian. Far from being confined to battlefields, many of the world’s great cities, from Amsterdam to Yokohama, were bombed, shelled, or besieged, often with disastrous consequences for their inhabitants.

“Wars” in the title refers to Hanson’s observation that what we call World War II was, in reality, a collection of often unrelated conflicts which happened to occur at the same time. The settling of ethnic and territorial scores across borders in Europe had nothing to do with Japan’s imperial ambitions in China, or Italy’s in Africa and Greece. It was sometimes difficult even to draw a line dividing the two sides in the war. Japan occupied colonies in Indochina under the administration of Vichy France, notwithstanding Japan and Vichy both being nominal allies of Germany. The Soviet Union, while making a massive effort to defeat Nazi Germany on the land, maintained a non-aggression pact with Axis power Japan until days before its surrender and denied use of air bases in Siberia to Allied air forces for bombing campaigns against the home islands.

Combatants in different theatres might have well have been fighting in entirely different wars, and sometimes in different centuries. Air crews on long-range bombing missions above Germany and Japan had nothing in common with Japanese and British forces slugging it out in the jungles of Burma, nor with attackers and defenders fighting building to building in the streets of Stalingrad, or armoured combat in North Africa, or the duel of submarines and convoys to keep the Atlantic lifeline between the U.S. and Britain open, or naval battles in the Pacific, or the amphibious landings on islands they supported.

World War II did not start as a global war, and did not become one until the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the Japanese attack on U.S., British, and Dutch territories in the Pacific. Prior to those events, it was a collection of border wars, launched by surprise by Axis powers against weaker neighbours which were, for the most part, successful. Once what Churchill called the Grand Alliance (Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States) was forged, the outcome was inevitable, yet the road to victory was long and costly, and its length impossible to foresee at the outset.

The entire war was unnecessary, and its horrific cost can be attributed to a failure of deterrence. From the outset, there was no way the Axis could have won. If, as seemed inevitable, the U.S. were to become involved, none of the Axis powers possessed the naval or air resources to strike the U.S. mainland, no less contemplate invading and occupying it. While all of Germany and Japan’s industrial base and population were, as the war progressed, open to bombardment day and night by long-range, four engine, heavy bombers escorted by long-range fighters, the Axis possessed no aircraft which could reach the cities of the U.S. east coast, the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma, or the industrial base of the midwest. While the U.S. and Britain fielded aircraft carriers which allowed them to project power worldwide, Germany and Italy had no effective carrier forces and Japan’s were reduced by constant attacks by U.S. aviation.

This correlation of forces was known before the outbreak of the war. Why did Japan and then Germany launch wars which were almost certain to result in forces ranged against them which they could not possibly defeat? Hanson attributes it to a mistaken belief that, to use Hitler’s terminology, the will would prevail. The West had shown itself unwilling to effectively respond to aggression by Japan in China, Italy in Ethiopia, and Germany in Czechoslovakia, and Axis leaders concluded from this, catastrophically for their populations, that despite their industrial, demographic, and strategic military weakness, there would be no serious military response to further aggression (the “bore war” which followed the German invasion of Poland and the declarations of war on Germany by France and Britain had to reinforce this conclusion). Hanson observes, writing of Hitler, “Not even Napoleon had declared war in succession on so many great powers without any idea how to destroy their ability to make war, or, worse yet, in delusion that tactical victories would depress stronger enemies into submission.” Of the Japanese, who attacked the U.S. with no credible capability or plan for invading and occupying the U.S. homeland, he writes, “Tojo was apparently unaware or did not care that there was no historical record of any American administration either losing or quitting a war—not the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, or World War I—much less one that Americans had not started.” (Maybe they should have waited a few decades….)

Compounding the problems of the Axis was that it was essentially an alliance in name only. There was little or no co-ordination among its parties. Hitler provided Mussolini no advance notice of the attack on the Soviet Union. Mussolini did not warn Hitler of his attacks on Albania and Greece. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was as much a surprise to Germany as to the United States. Japanese naval and air assets played no part in the conflict in Europe, nor did German technology and manpower contribute to Japan’s war in the Pacific. By contrast, the Allies rapidly settled on a division of labour: the Soviet Union would concentrate on infantry and armoured warfare (indeed, four out of five German soldiers who died in the war were killed by the Red Army), while Britain and the U.S. would deploy their naval assets to blockade the Axis, keep the supply lines open, and deliver supplies to the far-flung theatres of the war.  U.S. and British bomber fleets attacked strategic targets and cities in Germany day and night.  The U.S. became the untouchable armoury of the alliance, delivering weapons, ammunition, vehicles, ships, aircraft, and fuel in quantities which eventually surpassed those all other combatants on both sides combined. Britain and the U.S. shared technology and cooperated in its development in areas such as radar, antisubmarine warfare, aircraft engines (including jet propulsion), and nuclear weapons, and shared intelligence gleaned from British codebreaking efforts.

As a classicist, Hanson examines the war in its incarnations in each of the elements of antiquity: Earth (infantry), Air (strategic and tactical air power), Water (naval and amphibious warfare), and Fire (artillery and armour), and adds People (supreme commanders, generals, workers, and the dead). He concludes by analysing why the Allies won and what they ended up winning—and losing. Britain lost its empire and position as a great power (although due to internal and external trends, that might have happened anyway). The Soviet Union ended up keeping almost everything it had hoped to obtain through its initial partnership with Hitler. The United States emerged as the supreme economic, industrial, technological, and military power in the world and promptly entangled itself in a web of alliances which would cause it to underwrite the defence of countries around the world and involve it in foreign conflicts far from its shores.

Hanson concludes,

The tragedy of World War II—a preventable conflict—was that sixty million people had perished to confirm that the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain were far stronger than the fascist powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy after all—a fact that should have been self-evident and in no need of such a bloody laboratory, if not for prior British appeasement, American isolationism, and Russian collaboration.

At 720 pages, this is not a short book (the main text is 590 pages; the rest are sources and end notes), but there is so much wisdom and startling insights among those pages that you will be amply rewarded for the time you spend reading them.

Hanson, Victor Davis. The Second World Wars. New York: Basic Books, 2017. ISBN 978-0-465-06698-8.

Here is a two-part Uncommon Knowledge interview with the author about the war and the book.

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Pay Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain…

As I watch the “Big Ugly” (hat tip to Sundance) unfold, one thing that strikes me is the villains are too obvious.

Brennan almost seems like he is a wrestling villain, taunting, sneering, jeering and making the crowd go wild with visceral rage. Clapper is the penultimate jerk bureaucrat we all despise. Sally Yates is the smarmy scold and Comey is the comic clown jerk who almost resembles a six foot six Peter Sellers character.

When it is obvious, beware misdirection. Do not misread me, these are bad people and true villains, but I sense they are not the masterminds but merely the fall guys.

If you blow past them, the next layer is Obama, the Clintons along with Soros, the Podestas, Valerie Jarrett and the whole crew.

(Now I reflect on E.E. “Doc” Smith, the author of “The Lensman” series. Over many pages his heroes fought evil and kept defeating layer after layer only to find another one above their hard won victory. Who is Boskone? (Name of their evil bad guys at ever higher levels))

We know the TPP, the Iran Deal, the Destruction of the US as a Manufacturing and an Energy Giant, the WTO, NAFTA, The Paris Accords, Mass Invasive Migration have made certain people and institutions place trillion dollar bets on certain outcomes.

If the US rebuilds it’s manufacturing base it will reduce asset values of those bets, if it continues to pump oil and natural gas it will threaten the current order, if it secures it’s borders it will create a high wage prosperity magnet for the best in the world and not the least skilled.

Who is Boskone? Who pulls the strings for these bets?

That is the real set of villains. Do you think POTUS knows who they are?


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TOTD 2018-05-18 The Boundaries of Plausibility

What if I told you that I could travel faster than light?  Or that I am the reincarnation of Theodore Roosevelt?  Or that socialism is the most ethical and rational economic system?  Or that being overweight is good for your health?  How would you respond? Continue reading “TOTD 2018-05-18 The Boundaries of Plausibility”


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Book Review: The Naked Communist

“The Naked Communist” by W. Cleon SkousenIn 1935 the author joined the FBI in a clerical position while attending law school at night. In 1940, after receiving his law degree, he was promoted to Special Agent and continued in that capacity for the rest of his 16 year career at the Bureau. During the postwar years, one of the FBI’s top priorities was investigating and responding to communist infiltration and subversion of the United States, a high priority of the Soviet Union. During his time at the FBI Skousen made the acquaintance of several of the FBI’s experts on communist espionage and subversion, but he perceived a lack of information, especially available to the general public, which explained communism: where did it come from, what are its philosophical underpinnings, what do communists believe, what are their goals, and how do they intend to achieve them?

In 1951, Skousen left the FBI to take a teaching position at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. In 1957, he accepted an offer to become Chief of Police in Salt Lake City, a job he held for the next three and a half years before being fired after raiding an illegal poker game in which newly-elected mayor J. Bracken Lee was a participant. During these years, Skousen continued his research on communism, mostly consulting original sources. By 1958, his book was ready for publication. After struggling to find a title, he settled on “The Naked Communist”, suggested by film producer and ardent anti-communist Cecil B. DeMille.

Spurned by the major publishers, Skousen paid for printing the first edition of 5000 copies out of his own pocket. Sales were initially slow, but quickly took off. Within two years of the book’s launch, press runs were 10,000 to 20,000 copies with one run of 50,000. In 1962, the book passed the milestone of one million copies in print. As the 1960s progressed and it became increasingly unfashionable to oppose communist tyranny and enslavement, sales tapered off, but picked up again after the publication of a 50th anniversary edition in 2008 (a particularly appropriate year for such a book).

This 60th anniversary edition, edited and with additional material by the author’s son, Paul B. Skousen, contains most of the original text with a description of the history of the work and additions bringing events up to date. It is sometimes jarring when you transition from text written in 1958 to that from the standpoint of more than a half century hence, but for the most part it works. One of the most valuable parts of the book is its examination of the intellectual foundations of communism in the work of Marx and Engels. Like the dogma of many other cults, these ideas don’t stand up well to critical scrutiny, especially in light of what we’ve learned about the universe since they were proclaimed. Did you know that Engels proposed a specific theory of the origin of life based upon his concepts of Dialectical Materialism? It was nonsense then and it’s nonsense now, but it’s still in there. What’s more, this poppycock is at the centre of the communist theories of economics, politics, and social movements, where it makes no more sense than in the realm of biology and has been disastrous every time some society was foolish enough to try it.

All of this would be a historical curiosity were it not for the fact that communists, notwithstanding their running up a body count of around a hundred million in the countries where they managed to come to power, and having impoverished people around the world, have managed to burrow deep into the institutions of the West: academia, media, politics, judiciary, and the administrative state. They may not call themselves communists (it’s “social democrats”, “progressives”, “liberals”, and other terms, moving on after each one becomes discredited due to the results of its policies and the borderline insanity of those who so identify), but they have been patiently putting the communist agenda into practice year after year, decade after decade. What is that agenda? Let’s see.

In the 8th edition of this book, published in 1961, the following “forty-five goals of Communism” were included. Derived by the author from the writings of current and former communists and testimony before Congress, many seemed absurd or fantastically overblown to readers at the time. The complete list, as follows, was read into the Congressional Record in 1963, placing it in the public domain. Here is the list.

Goals of Communism

  1. U.S. acceptance of coexistence as the only alternative to atomic war.
  2. U.S. willingness to capitulate in preference to engaging in atomic war.
  3. Develop the illusion that total disarmament by the United States would be a demonstration of moral strength.
  4. Permit free trade between all nations regardless of Communist affiliation and regardless of whether or not items could be used for war.
  5. Extension of long-term loans to Russia and Soviet satellites.
  6. Provide American aid to all nations regardless of Communist domination.
  7. Grant recognition of Red China. Admission of Red China to the U.N.
  8. Set up East and West Germany as separate states in spite of Khrushchev’s promise in 1955 to settle the German question by free elections under supervision of the U.N.
  9. Prolong the conferences to ban atomic tests because the United States has agreed to suspend tests as long as negotiations are in progress.
  10. Allow all Soviet satellites individual representation in the U.N.
  11. Promote the U.N. as the only hope for mankind. If its charter is rewritten, demand that it be set up as a one-world government with its own independent armed forces. (Some Communist leaders believe the world can be taken over as easily by the U.N. as by Moscow. Sometimes these two centers compete with each other as they are now doing in the Congo.)
  12. Resist any attempt to outlaw the Communist Party.
  13. Do away with all loyalty oaths.
  14. Continue giving Russia access to the U.S. Patent Office.
  15. Capture one or both of the political parties in the United States.
  16. Use technical decisions of the courts to weaken basic American institutions by claiming their activities violate civil rights.
  17. Get control of the schools. Use them as transmission belts for socialism and current Communist propaganda. Soften the curriculum. Get control of teachers’ associations. Put the party line in textbooks.
  18. Gain control of all student newspapers.
  19. Use student riots to foment public protests against programs or organizations which are under Communist attack.
  20. Infiltrate the press. Get control of book-review assignments, editorial writing, policymaking positions.
  21. Gain control of key positions in radio, TV, and motion pictures.
  22. Continue discrediting American culture by degrading all forms of artistic expression. An American Communist cell was told to “eliminate all good sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute shapeless, awkward and meaningless forms.”
  23. Control art critics and directors of art museums. “Our plan is to promote ugliness, repulsive, meaningless art.”
  24. Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them “censorship” and a violation of free speech and free press.
  25. Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio, and TV.
  26. Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as “normal, natural, healthy.”
  27. Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with “social” religion. Discredit the Bible and emphasize the need for intellectual maturity which does not need a “religious crutch.”
  28. Eliminate prayer or any phase of religious expression in the schools on the ground that it violates the principle of “separation of church and state.”
  29. Discredit the American Constitution by calling it inadequate, old-fashioned, out of step with modern needs, a hindrance to cooperation between nations on a worldwide basis.
  30. Discredit the American Founding Fathers. Present them as selfish aristocrats who had no concern for the “common man.”
  31. Belittle all forms of American culture and discourage the teaching of American history on the ground that it was only a minor part of the “big picture.” Give more emphasis to Russian history since the Communists took over.
  32. Support any socialist movement to give centralized control over any part of the culture—education, social agencies, welfare programs, mental health clinics, etc.
  33. Eliminate all laws or procedures which interfere with the operation of the Communist apparatus.
  34. Eliminate the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
  35. Discredit and eventually dismantle the FBI.
  36. Infiltrate and gain control of more unions.
  37. Infiltrate and gain control of big business.
  38. Transfer some of the powers of arrest from the police to social agencies. Treat all behavioral problems as psychiatric disorders which no one but psychiatrists can understand or treat.
  39. Dominate the psychiatric profession and use mental health laws as a means of gaining coercive control over those who oppose Communist goals.
  40. Discredit the family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity and easy divorce.
  41. Emphasize the need to raise children away from the negative influence of parents. Attribute prejudices, mental blocks and retarding of children to suppressive influence of parents.
  42. Create the impression that violence and insurrection are legitimate aspects of the American tradition; that students and special-interest groups should rise up and use “united force” to solve economic, political or social problems.
  43. Overthrow all colonial governments before native populations are ready for self-government.
  44. Internationalize the Panama Canal.
  45. Repeal the Connally Reservation so the US can not prevent the World Court from seizing jurisdiction over domestic problems. Give the World Court jurisdiction over domestic problems. Give the World Court jurisdiction over nations and individuals alike.

In chapter 13 of the present edition, a copy of this list is reproduced with commentary on the extent to which these goals have been accomplished as of 2017. What’s your scorecard? How many of these seem extreme or unachievable from today’s perspective?

When Skousen was writing his book, the world seemed divided into two camps: one communist and the other committed (more or less) to personal and economic liberty. In the free world, there were those advancing the cause of the collectivist slavers, but mostly covertly. What is astonishing today is that, despite more than a century of failure and tragedy resulting from communism, there are more and more who openly advocate for it or its equivalents (or an even more benighted medieval ideology masquerading as a religion which shares communism’s disregard for human life and liberty, and willingness to lie, cheat, discard treaties, and murder to achieve domination).

When advocates of this deadly cult of slavery and death are treated with respect while those who defend the Enlightenment values of life, liberty, and property are silenced, this book is needed more than ever.

Skousen, W. Cleon. The Naked Communist. Salt Lake City: Izzard Ink, [1958, 1964, 1966, 1979, 1986, 2007, 2014] 2017. ISBN 978-1-5454-0215-3.

Here is a video with the editor of this edition, Paul B. Skousen, discussing the origin of the book and its message.


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Moments of Misunderstanding

This should be filed under history.

The beginning of this site was an e-mail exchange with John Walker and myself. He was very kind in suggesting things and was even willing to get some basic interface up and running. I had no idea how basic or how steep “the hill” to be climbed was so responded tepidly.

My cautious thoughts were, “Let’s give it a try.” My words were, “I would like to give it a year to see if it takes hold if that is okay with you.” John quickly responded, “Fine. We can revisit this maybe next year.” This happened around the 10th of December, 2017.

The long story short of it all is we almost never existed.


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Book Review: Real Magic

“Real Magic” by Dean RadinFrom its beginnings in the 19th century as “psychical research”, there has always been something dodgy and disreputable about parapsychology: the scientific study of phenomena, frequently reported across all human cultures and history, such as clairvoyance, precognition, telepathy, communication with the dead or non-material beings, and psychokinesis (mental influence on physical processes). All of these disparate phenomena have in common that there is no known physical theory which can explain how they might work. In the 19th century, science was much more willing to proceed from observations and evidence, then try to study them under controlled conditions, and finally propose and test theories about how they might work. Today, many scientists are inclined to put theory first, rejecting any evidence of phenomena for which no theory exists to explain it.

In such an intellectual environment, those who study such things, now called parapsychologists, have been, for the most part, very modest in their claims, careful to distinguish their laboratory investigations, mostly involving ordinary subjects, from extravagant reports of shamans and psychics, whether contemporary or historical, and scrupulous in the design and statistical analysis of their experiments. One leader in the field is Dean Radin, author of the present book, and four times president of the Parapsychological Association, a professional society which is an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dr. Radin is chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California, where he pursues laboratory research in parapsychology. In his previous books, including Entangled Minds, he presents the evidence for various forms of human perception which seem to defy conventional explanation. He refrains from suggesting mechanisms or concluding whether what is measured is causation or correlation. Rather, he argues that the body of accumulated evidence from his work and that of others, in recent experiments conducted under the strictest protocols to eliminate possible fraud, post-selection of data, and with blinding and statistical rigour which often exceed those of clinical trials of pharmaceuticals, provides evidence that “something is going on” which we don’t understand that would be considered discovery of a new phenomenon if it originated in a “hard science” field such as particle physics.

Here, Radin argues that the accumulated evidence for the phenomena parapsychologists have been studying in the laboratory for decades is so persuasive to all except sceptics who no amount of evidence would suffice to persuade, that it is time for parapsychologists and those interested in their work to admit that what they’re really studying is magic. “Not the fictional magic of Harry Potter, the feigned magic of Harry Houdini, or the fraudulent magic of con artists. Not blue lightning bolts springing from the fingertips, aerial combat on broomsticks, sleight-of-hand tricks, or any of the other elaborations of artistic license and special effects.” Instead, real magic, as understood for millennia, which he divides into three main categories:

  • Force of will: mental influence on the physical world, traditionally associated with spell-casting and other forms of “mind over matter”.
  • Divination: perceiving objects or events distant in time and space, traditionally involving such practices as reading the Tarot or projecting consciousness to other places.
  • Theurgy: communicating with non-material consciousness: mediums channelling spirits or communicating with the dead, summoning demons.

As Radin describes, it was only after years of work in parapsychology that he finally figured out why it is that, while according to a 2005 Gallup pool, 75% of people in the United States believe in one or more phenomena considered “paranormal”, only around 0.001% of scientists are engaged in studying these experiences. What’s so frightening, distasteful, or disreputable about them? It’s because they all involve some kind of direct interaction between human consciousness and the objective, material world or, in other words magic. Scientists are uncomfortable enough with consciousness as it is: they don’t have any idea how it emerges from what, in their reductionist models, is a computer made of meat, to the extent that some scientists deny the existence of consciousness entirely and dismiss it as a delusion. (Indeed, studying the origin of consciousness is almost as disreputable in academia as parapsychology.)

But if we must admit the existence of this mysterious thing called consciousness, along with other messy concepts such as free will, at least we must keep it confined within the skull: not roaming around and directly perceiving things far away or in the future, affecting physical events, or existing independent of brains. That would just be too weird.

And yet most religions, from those of traditional societies to the most widely practiced today, include descriptions of events and incorporate practices which are explicitly magical according to Radin’s definition. Paragraphs 2115–2117 of the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church begin by stating that “God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints.” and then go on to prohibit “Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums…”. But if these things did not exist, or did not work, then why would there be a need to forbid them? Perhaps it’s because, despite religion’s incorporating magic into its belief system and practices, it also wishes to enforce a monopoly on the use of magic among its believers—in Radin’s words, “no magic for you!

In fact, as stated at the beginning of chapter 4, “Magic is to religion as technology is to science.” Just as science provides an understanding of the material world which technology applies in order to accomplish goals, religion provides a model of the spiritual world which magic provides the means to employ. From antiquity to the present day, religion and magic have been closely associated with one another, and many religions have restricted knowledge of their magical components and practices to insiders and banned others knowing or employing them. Radin surveys this long history and provides a look at contemporary, non-religious, practice of the three categories of real magic.

He then turns to what is, in my estimation, the most interesting and important part of the book: the scientific evidence for the existence of real magic. A variety of laboratory experiments, many very recent and with careful design and controls, illustrate the three categories and explore subtle aspects of their behaviour. For example, when people precognitively sense events in the future, do they sense a certain event which is sure to happen, or the most probable event whose occurrence might be averted through the action of free will? How on Earth would you design an experiment to test that? It’s extremely clever, and the results are interesting and have deep implications.

If ordinary people can demonstrate these seemingly magical powers in the laboratory (albeit with small, yet statistically highly significant effect sizes), are there some people whose powers are much greater? That is the case for most human talents, whether athletic, artistic, or intellectual; one suspects it might be so here. Historical and contemporary evidence for “Merlin-class magicians” is reviewed, not as proof for the existence of real magic, but as what might be expected if it did exist.

What is science to make of all of this? Mainstream science, if it mentions consciousness at all, usually considers it an emergent phenomenon at the tip of a pyramid of more fundamental sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics. But what if we’ve got it wrong, and consciousness is not at the top but the bottom: ultimately everything emerges from a universal consciousness of which our individual consciousness is but a part, and of which all parts are interconnected? These are precisely the tenets of a multitude of esoteric traditions developed independently by cultures all around the world and over millennia, all of whom incorporated some form of magic into their belief systems. Maybe, as evidence for real magic emerges from the laboratory, we’ll conclude they were on to something.

This is an excellent look at the deep connections between traditional beliefs in magic and modern experiments which suggest those beliefs, however much they appear to contradict dogma, may be grounded in reality. Readers who are unacquainted with modern parapsychological research and the evidence it has produced probably shouldn’t start here, but rather with the author’s earlier Entangled Minds, as it provides detailed information about the experiments, results, and responses to criticism of them which are largely assumed as the foundation for the arguments here.

Radin, Dean. Real Magic. New York: Harmony Books, 2018. ISBN 978-1-5247-5882-0.

Here is a one hour interview with the author about the book and the topics discussed therein.


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TOTD 2018-5-12: To Know and Be Known

A recently released song by two dead men has been weighing on my mind since it came out. The song is entitled “You Never Knew My Mind” off the new anthology album Forever Words. The album consists of songs that were originally poems written by Johnny Cash and adapted into songs by various artists at the request of the Cash family. This particular song was done by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame.

The song describes two people in a relationship: one of whom thinks the relationship is healthy, the other who is less positive and more aloof despite admitting there were good moments. What is particularly poignant about the song are the circumstances around the timing of its composition and release.

This is the first song by Cornell released since his suicide one year ago next week. Cornell had a history of drug addiction (which he put behind him over a decade ago) and depression which he apparently never had been able to overcome. He’d spoken of his depression before, “I know what it feels like to be suicidal, and I know what it feels like to be hopeless,”and, “No one really knows what run-of-the-mill depression is. You’ll think somebody has run-of-the-mill depression, and then the next thing you know, they’re hanging from a rope. It’s hard to tell the difference.”

To all outside appearances, his second marriage and children had provided him with the emotional grounding he needed, and the charitable work he did had provided him with purpose beyond music. His suicide says otherwise. His wife still maintains that he took too much Ativan and had a bad reaction, but the coroner says the drugs in his system played no part in his death. Cornell’s brother also maintains that Chris had undiagnosed mental illness that the family was too embarrassed to admit which led to his suicide during another depressive episode. The fact his wife refuses to admit the possibility that he chose suicide suggests she may not have known his mind like she thought.

The film Solaris touched on this idea of not truly knowing someone that you think you know well. In this film, George Clooney’s character is visited by a manifestation of his dead wife generated from his memories of his wife. He rejects this manifestation despite it looking and sounding like her because he comes to realize that his memories of his wife are his superficial impressions of her and lack her real personality.

It is hard enough for us to truly know others when we struggle to know ourselves. Even in antiquity, we find, “Know thyself,” as a maxim inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and expounded upon by Greek philosophers. Man has an infinite capacity for self-deception. Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who was tortured for 14 years in a Romanian communist prison for running an underground church, described this even among people who sincerely thought they believed in something. “There are two kinds of Christians: those who sincerely believe in God and those who, just as sincerely, believe that they believe. You can tell them apart by their actions in decisive moments.” “A man really believes not what he recites in his creed, but only the things he is ready to die for.” If we cannot know our own hearts without extreme testing, how can we know another’s?

We have long had a problem in discerning the real person when dealing with celebrities or public figures with whom we have no personal contact. What we see is an image, carefully crafted, sometimes by the person, sometimes by a PR team. We mistake that for the real person and then are shocked when we find out the real person isn’t like their persona at all. This problem has now extended into common life (if not entirely new, certainly to a greater extent than before) via social media. We now all construct online personae or ideal versions of ourselves to display to the world, often hiding the struggles and real person buried beneath. A recent article reported the following findings:

More than half of survey respondents — 54 percent — said they always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well. Fifty-six percent reported they sometimes or always felt like the people around them “are not necessarily with them.” And 2 in 5 felt like “they lack companionship,” that their “relationships aren’t meaningful” and that they “are isolated from others.”

As I listened to this song, it struck me that this would have to be just about the most devastating thing a loved one could tell me at the end of their life. I can’t imagine going through life thinking you know someone intimately only to find out at the end you never knew them at all. It is the essence of Christ’s warning in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’.”

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