Weighing In On Profound Nonsense … or … Holy Crap, Vaeni’s Defending New Age Thought!

Urgency Book Cover

Profundity. Comedy. It’s All The Same To Me.

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2015/12/07/458740250/what-makes-people-susceptible-to-pseudo-profound-baloney

The article cited above starts off by asking us to consider the profundity of two statements, one from Deepak Chopra and the other from a computer program that generates fake quotes using real words spit out by Deepak in the past. The random quote generator may produce gobbledygook, but it at least utilizes correct grammar and syntax to humorous effect. The point the author is getting to is derived from a series of studies about identifying people with faulty nonsense detectors. But the author, Tania Lombrozo, has a problem: she doesn’t differentiate between language and content and so, to her, Deepak Chopra is nonsensical on the basis of his poetic verbiage. A closer look reveals that sense lies beneath his obscure language. Here are the quotes:

Actual Statement Made By Deepak Chopra: “We are not an emergent property of a mechanical universe but the seasonal activity of a living cosmos.”

Statement From Random Deepak Generator: “Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty.”

What Deepak is saying is that we are not a cog in a mechanical universe but an organism blooming within a living cosmos. In other-other words, we’re not robots, we’re alive. And the universe is also alive. Everything’s a living, breathing interconnected ecology.

What the random statement generator is saying is nonsense.

The question of profundity should be about the content, not the delivery. Is the content deep? Is it profound? Not in this day and age where quantum physics tells us that the universe is less mechanical and more oatmeal.

But there’s another question that must be asked: Is Deepak trying to be profound? Maybe he isn’t. Maybe he’s Tweeting out a reminder to his readers that everything is alive and interconnected, it’s all got purpose, you’re not a piece of code in the matrix, a dead husk of a thing going through the motions. Maybe he’s motivating depressed people to get through their workday. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

The problem with identifying spiritual nonsense lies in the fact that profound truth claims often spill out in flowery riddle-language. Real insights do that because the brain claws at similes and metaphors to better and better hone in on what it is trying to articulate from “beyond” itself. And then, of course, there are stark riddles like Zen koans that have meaning wrapped inside obscure language you’re supposed to sit with until their meanings come clear and you are transformed in that moment of clarity. Con artists use these facts to their advantage to say gobbledygook all the time because there is, indeed, a wealth of people with zero BS detection skills who will nod along hearing what they want to hear.

It’s all well and good to pick on New Agers about this because they are not enfranchised with a unified political voice. Try writing this article about fundamentalist Christians. Or Jews. Or Muslims. Or anyone who is purchasing a Fitbit right now, that miracle drug the TV told them to ask their doctor about, or voting for Donald Trump. How is it that we’re a nation eating and breathing poison instead of food and air? How did we get suckered into that? More often than not New Agers won’t support poisons the way the majority of us do. Which broken idiot detector would you rather most of us have–the one killing us for some psychopathic business man’s vision, or the one that doesn’t know what modus ponens means?

No, Deepak Chopra is not all that deep by my standards. But he doesn’t have to be. I’m not his audience. Neither is Tania Lombrozo, obviously. If they find his words to hold profound knowledge, it’s (perhaps) based on where they are in life, not (necessarily) on how dimwitted they are. Maybe they are at least intelligent enough to read his language if not deep enough to get that his content is often shallow. That appears to be one step beyond Tania Lombrozo’s and like-minded critics’s capacity.

 

The One Question I Am Most Sick Of Answering

The stronger the threat to feeling good about yourself, it seems, the greater the tendency to view reality through a distorting lens.  —  Leonard Mlodinow

The one question I’m most sick of answering that came up again recently is this in all its permutations: Why are you anti-New Age when your experiences sound so New Age?

I imagine this question is being asked by the same 4 or 5 people who stalk me around the internet looking for ways to irk me. Maybe that’s unfair but I dunno. It’s not as though when I’m a guest on talk shows I lead with “I’m anti-New Age… and now here’s my completely New-Age-sounding spiel.” So you’d have to be familiar with me to ask it, right? And if you were familiar with me you’d already know the answer. But even that is a slippery slope because, as a rule, we hear what we want to hear first. I do this, too. I sometimes find myself upset about something someone said or wrote that, upon further inspection, didn’t connote what I originally thought it did. I had an expectation or read into it a tone that didn’t seem to be there the second time around. It is possible that readers and listeners are mistranslating in similar manner or that I’m really bad at communicating the answer clearly. Let me take another stab at it now.

If you experienced something so profound that it gave you the ability to see through other untruthful people who claim to have the same experience, wouldn’t you call them on it? Wouldn’t their lies and delusions be a mockery of the real? Wouldn’t it bother you that when you open your mouth about the real, the person you’re confiding in will likely conjure images of the BS version they had sold to them and lump you in with that crap?

Of course you as a consumer of this stuff have the luxury of lumping us all together and taking from that what you like or what you say works for you. You have the luxury of, for instance, not believing me as you buy book after dogmatic wish-fulfillment book in search of the magical formula that helps you create your own reality. You ever notice how these books tell you that you can do this without ever addressing the bigger question: Should you?

Is it okay to manipulate hard-won mystical knowledge that requires the letting go of self into a scheme to fortify the self and selfish desires?

Is it okay for Westernized people who have shamanic experiences to claim to be shamans when real shamans don’t live in mansions with swimming pools, own cars, or commune with nature in their spare time?

Is it okay for a man to reinvent himself every few years to sell you galactic ambassadorship should your shining lights at the sky with him call aliens down, then sell military whistle blowers, then himself as a man working with governments toward disclosure, then himself as a survivor of the American government’s plot to kill him, then himself as a man writing protocols with aliens, then himself as the man with answers to free energy, then himself as the gatekeeper of an alien corpse?

Was Heaven’s Gate okay? Jonestown? Is this guy?

At some point you have to get real with yourself about what it is you’re doing behind that Everything is love! smile, Princess Unikitty. New Agers tend to think they are above religious zealots because they have seen through the fallacies of orthodox religions. Unfortunately, they went one step too far by replacing the orthodox with the unorthodox. How is giving yourself and those around you daily pep talks about manifesting what you want through focused intent any different than the zealot who babbles on about giving his life to Jesus? That gets boring and tedious for the rest of us–but as with the zealot, don’t dare tell the New Ager that. You will be judged as judgmental, the ultimate sin, and feel the heat of a fiery serpent writhing behind that smile.

Orthodox religions and the unorthodox have flecks of dead Truth sprinkled throughout. (Cannibalism: that’s how they getcha.) But so do our lives without them. Atheists have epiphanies and insights. Inventors bring to the conscious material world metaphors for  unconscious formless truths. You can’t escape what you are but you sure as hell can call it anything else. You can put off direct experience of the transcendent indefinitely. And the best way to do that is to say you’ve read all about it or–better still–already achieved it.

New Age nonsense shares the same language as real mystical discoveries and bends those discoveries to the end of selling desire. I don’t think it makes me a hypocrite to call that out any more than it makes an archeologist a hypocrite for calling out creationists who believe the world was created in six days a few thousand years ago by a god. The difference is that I don’t have a degree you can examine. I don’t have years of education in the works of other people. There is no formal education for this, no peer review of “internal” experience. I could be lying; there is no way for you to verify except through direct experience.

I’m not asking you to take my word that I’m not being hypocritical here. I’m asking that you don’t. Don’t believe me, don’t believe religion, don’t believe New Age, don’t believe atheism, don’t believe agnosticism. Put us all away–yes, me included–because we’re not real for you. Not because you want to know what is real but simply because we are not real. If there is anything that’s real, perhaps it will come uninvited when the wall of belief and expectation is shattered. Perhaps not. But if there is an undefinable timeless greatness that carries in its tide the epiphanies of deep reality that have been killed and stuffed for consumers to decorate their interior domains, how is that living immensity to wash through one clogged with definitions that form the boundaries of psychological time in the not-so-great tiny self?

You can hoard dead treasures to live by or the hoarder can die and in his/her place stands the living, breathing treasure of treasures. That choice and that choice alone is free will. The Christian may murder this Truth and stuff it into a toothy clawed beast called “Born Again.” The New Ager may reel this Truth in and hang it on the mantle as “Enlightenment.”

But when Truth is alive it is you. When Truth is dead it’s a concept. Don’t take my word for it. Don’t take anyone’s.

We are social creatures who form fellowships, discuss things with each other, and form consensus realities through common experiences. It is not a wonder to me why Truth eludes us. It does not live there. It can only be conceptualized and built upon in untruthful ways from there. Truth is antithetical to the lie and the lie is what we live. That’s not a judgment; that’s how it is. It’s a forgone conclusion that we will start this way. But we don’t have to stay this way. We just have to be alone and inwardly silent.

New Age is a noisy communion like any other with the bonus arrogance of believing it’s above that. It’s transcendent.

Mmmm… no. It’s just more you running into the arms of concepts. You are thought. Concepts are thought. It’s not love, it’s narcissism.