December 4, 2015

1. Connections and Cycles

Since I write about a variety of subjects, it may be useful to occasionally narrow the focus to my main ideas. I have two main ideas. For the sake of convenience, I’ll call them Connections and Cycles. Connections is a bigger, more general idea than Cycles, so I’ll discuss Connections first. Later we may find some interesting links between the two ideas.

Connections deals with the basic character of the universe, Cycles deals with the character of living things, and the character of civilizations. Connections can become a new religion, a religion that will bring people together — unlike the old monotheistic religions, which draw people apart. Unlike Cycles, Connections isn’t an original idea — in fact, it’s the most ancient, most universal idea.

“Why do you speak of Connections as your idea, if it’s not original? How can it be yours if you didn’t develop it?” The chief ideas in Thoreau’s Walden are

  • The importance of living in the present, being aware of the present moment
  • The folly of spending your life making a living

These aren’t original ideas, but Thoreau makes them his own by understanding them, by living them, by supporting them with strong arguments, with sparkling wit, and with eloquent prose. Walden shows that the best philosophical works may not have any original ideas, they may deal with the oldest ideas.

Some people will carry this view too far, they’ll argue that philosophical ideas are never original, they’ll argue that the “Thoreau Type” is the only type of philosopher, or the best type of philosopher. But there’s another type of philosopher, which I’ll call the “Schopenhauer Type.” Schopenhauer and Nietzsche had original ideas, they anticipated Freud’s ground-breaking theories.1 Schopenhauer and Nietzsche had original insights into human nature, into the unconscious. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche had insights that Plato and Aristotle didn’t have, that Hobbes and Locke didn’t have.

Philosophy advances over time, as science advances. Schopenhauer said, “It has been with philosophy till now as it is in an auction-room, where whoever speaks last annuls all that has been said before.”2 Philosophy is, in some respects, akin to science. Philosophers often have original ideas, just as scientists have original ideas.

So there are two types of philosophy, the Thoreau Type and the Schopenhauer Type. Everyone can understand the Thoreau Type. Everyone can understand how people become preoccupied with money, preoccupied with the future, and lose sight of the present moment. Philosophy of the Thoreau Type tries to bring people back to what matters most in life.

It’s more difficult to understand the Schopenhauer Type. It’s difficult for people to understand that a philosopher can have ideas that are as large, as important, as original, as Darwin’s idea, Copernicus’ idea, Freud’s idea. Big ideas come from philosophers like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, not just from scientists like Newton and Einstein. The two ideas that I’m discussing today, Connections and Cycles, are both as large, as important as Darwin’s idea — indeed, they may be more important since they’re closer to man, more relevant to man, more likely to impact our daily lives, more likely to serve as the soil from which tomorrow’s religions will grow.

Both Connections and Cycles can be described as the opposite of Marxism. Marx was a materialist, he scoffed at religion and the spiritual. Both Connections and Cycles say that there’s something more than matter, there’s some sort of spirit/will/instinct. So I’m not a materialist — quite the contrary. My worldview doesn’t divide the universe into matter and spirit, it says that everything is one, even “matter” has some sort of life, energy, consciousness.

When we look closely at matter, we find atoms. When we look closely at atoms, we find subatomic particles. When we look closely at particles, we find that they’re not as solid, as material, as predictable as we thought. Particles are quirky and occult, airy nothings, the shadows of shadows. Quantum physics, which deals with the character of particles, says that distant particles are connected in inexplicable ways, in ways that Einstein called “spooky.” As I mentioned earlier, Connections deals with the basic character of the universe, it says that the universe is connected in inexplicable ways, mysterious ways, occult ways.

Primitive magic is based on connections between distant objects, it’s based on action-at-a-distance. Primitive magic is akin to quantum physics. Quantum physics says that distant particles influence each other if they were once together, once “paired.” Likewise, primitive magic says that distant objects influence each other if they were once together. Both quantum physics and primitive magic say that the universe is connected, but some things are more connected than others.

Pretend that Tom is in New York, and Dick is in Chicago. Dick has a car accident, and is almost killed. Will Tom sense, at the moment of the accident, that something is wrong with Dick? If they were once close, if they were twins, or if they had some sort of close emotional bond, then Tom will probably sense that something is wrong with Dick. The universe is connected in mysterious ways, and some things are more connected than others.

Newton rejected action-at-a-distance, rejected the notion of occult connections. Newton broke the world into separate pieces, and tried to express the workings of the world in mathematical equations. He was so successful that he became a leading figure in an intellectual revolution, a leading advocate of a new worldview. This worldview was dominant in the West for centuries, and spread to other parts of the world.

Connections rejects the Newtonian worldview, rejects the separate-pieces worldview. Connections is a major philosophical shift. We no longer see the world as a mechanism, we see it as an organism. Of course, we admit that Newton was partly right, and that he made some important advances, but we don’t think that he explains the whole universe.

The pre-Newton worldview, the Renaissance worldview, emphasizes connections. The Renaissance philosopher Bruno is part of the Hermetic Tradition, the tradition of occult connections. And Shakespeare also deals with occult connections — connections between the human sphere and the weather, between political happenings and meteors, between human affairs and animal behavior.

The Renaissance worldview, the connected worldview, had a revival in the Romantic era. The Romantics tried to put together a universe that Newton had broken apart. The Romantic poet Blake rejected Newton. Keats praised Shakespeare for his “Negative Capability,” his ability to accept mysteries without reaching for a rational explanation. Poe emphasized occult connections as Shakespeare had; for example, in Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” there’s an occult connection between the protagonist and his house.

“You’re mentioning numerous poets, but you’re not giving us solid proofs. Can you prove the idea that you call Connections?” Philosophy isn’t about proofs and definitions — that’s what geometry is about. Philosophy is about the experience of living, it’s about insights and intuitions and ideas. But if you really want proofs, you’ll find that scientists have proven the connection between distant particles, proven it repeatedly. You’ll also find that researchers like Dean Radin have proven telepathy and other occult phenomena, with the most careful experiments. So proofs aren’t lacking, what’s lacking are minds that are receptive to revolutionary ideas, receptive to mysterious phenomena.

No thinker had a better understanding of Connections than Jung. Jung’s idea of synchronicity is about connections, acausal connections, occult connections. Jung was receptive to astrology, which expresses the connected nature of the universe.

Like astrology, divination expresses the connected nature of the universe. For thousands of years, the Greeks and Romans observed the flight of birds in order to better understand human affairs. Jung realized that this sort of divination wasn’t a silly superstition, rather it was a profound truth, an expression of the mysterious connectedness of the universe.

Connections is the idea of our time, the Philosophy of Today. It’s also an eternal truth; the universe was connected long before man existed, and will remain so long after man goes extinct. Cycles is also an eternal truth, though it only applies to living things, and livings things make up only a small part (in time and space) of the universe.

It wasn’t until about 2008 that I understood Connections, and realized its importance. On the other hand, I developed Cycles around 1983, and it became part of my book of aphorisms in 1984. While other parts of my philosophy have evolved since 1984, Cycles has stayed the same. I was certain of its truth in 1984, and I’m just as certain today.

Cycles is about the cycles of history, the pattern of history. It’s about the unconscious drives that cause renaissance and decadence. It argues that the life-instinct causes renaissance, the death-instinct decadence. It argues that these two instincts are basic instincts in all living things, and these instincts are apparent in the sweep of history. Hence Cycles deals with all living things, but it’s particularly relevant to history. And within the field of history, Cycles is particularly relevant to cultural history.

Cycles is based on the organic theory of society; that is, it’s based on the idea that societies behave much like organisms. Cycles offers explanations of the past and predictions of the future. It predicts a renaissance in our time, in most Western nations, the first such renaissance since the time of Shakespeare and Michelangelo.

Cycles places earlier philosophies on a spectrum of renaissance-decadence, hence Cycles is a philosophy of philosophies. Certain philosophies appear in renaissance times, others in decadent times. Cycles tells us what sort of philosophy is characteristic of a renaissance, and what sort is characteristic of decadence. Hence Cycles affects our view of earlier philosophies; it particularly affects our view of ethics, arguing that certain ethics are renaissance-type, others decadent.

Since the time of Plato, thinkers have sought a pattern in history, a pattern that would explain the past and predict the future. Interest in the philosophy of history reached a peak with Hegel, who drew on the work of Herder and Montesquieu. Marx followed in Hegel’s wake, and thought he had improved on Hegel by replacing Hegel’s Spirit with economic factors; Marx thought that his philosophy of history could explain the past, and predict the future. Tolstoy gave us the best introduction to the philosophy of history, in the second epilogue of War and Peace. The most ambitious philosophies of history were those of Spengler and Toynbee, which attracted much attention between 1920 and 1950.

The work of Spengler and Toynbee is more learned than mine. If I’ve succeeded where they failed, and I believe I have, it’s because intuition can achieve more than study.

Ortega understood the philosophy of history, he understood that the problem hadn’t yet been solved, but he was optimistic that it would be solved soon. He knew that it wouldn’t be solved by laborious research. Ortega understood the power of intuition.

Some of the most complicated mathematical problems [Ortega wrote] have been solved in sleep.... Just as there is sleepwalking, there is also sleep thinking.... A felicitous idea appears suddenly in our mind’s cavity the way a startled bird enters our window in springtime.3

Ortega understood that intuition precedes research: “We are now approaching a splendid flowering of the historic sciences,” Ortega wrote. Historians will “construct an imaginary reality,” then compare it “with the actual facts.”4

If big ideas were the result of patient study, they would be developed by the middle-aged or elderly. But in fact, big ideas are developed by the young, by 18-year-olds and 20-year-olds. “If we are to be acquainted with deep truths,” Schopenhauer wrote, “everything depends upon a proper use of our early years.... Youth is the time for forming fundamental conceptions.”5

After studying the history of science, Kuhn wrote, “Almost always the men who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change.”6 Kuhn realized that big ideas come from sudden intuition, not prolonged research. Kuhn speaks of, “these flashes of intuition through which a new paradigm is born.”7 I developed Connections at about age 45; it’s not an original idea. I developed Cycles at about age 20; it’s original, to the extent that any idea is original.

Some characteristics of original ideas:

  • An original idea doesn’t come from nothing, it has antecedents, forefathers. An original idea is often a new way of combining earlier thinkers; as Newton said, an original thinker sees further by standing on the shoulders of giants. If I openly acknowledge the thinkers who influenced Cycles, that doesn’t mean Cycles isn’t original.
  • Sometimes an original idea is an obvious idea; when Huxley heard about Darwin’s theory, he wondered, “Why didn’t I think of that?” It seemed obvious. But not all original ideas are obvious; for example, Einstein’s e = mc2 isn’t obvious.
  • A big idea doesn’t require a big book for its expression. Schopenhauer felt that he could express his big idea in one sentence. The size of the book isn’t a reliable indicator of the size of the idea.
  • A thinker can be original even if another thinker has the same idea at the same time. Wallace had the same idea as Darwin, and when Darwin read Wallace’s essay, he said it could serve as a summary of his theory.

Now that we’ve discussed Connections and Cycles, we might ask, “Are there any links between these ideas, or are they completely separate?” Both ideas reject the view that the universe is just matter, both ideas are based on the notion that some sort of spirit exists — something intangible, elusive, mysterious. This mysterious something could be an inexplicable connection between distant objects, or it could be an elusive instinct (life-instinct or death-instinct), or it could be an intangible bond between people in a society — a bond that makes society resemble an organism, a bond that creates a Zeitgeist (Spirit of the Age).

We’re fortunate to live at a time when big new ideas are emerging, when the world is again full of magic and mystery, and when many Western societies are in a rare renaissance period.

2. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

I read John le Carré’s famous novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It’s often ranked as the best of all spy novels, but I didn’t enjoy it much. The plot is very complicated — so complicated as to be unrealistic. The reader can understand a double agent, but a triple agent? I don’t see a place for complexity in literature; we shouldn’t applaud novelists for the complexity of their plots.

Le Carré’s novel was influenced by a real case, the Heinz Felfe case. Felfe was a WestGerman agent who became a double-agent, and provided information to the Soviets for many years. To bolster Felfe’s reputation within the WestGerman agency, the Soviets allowed him to provide nuggets of information to the West Germans, and may even have allowed him to expose Soviet agents whom the Soviets regarded as expendable. Apparently Felfe rose to become head of WestGerman counter-intelligence. He was in charge of a project called Panoptikum, whose goal was to find a mole within the WestGerman agency. He was looking for himself!

Felfe might be compared to the British double-agent Kim Philby, whom I discussed in an earlier issue. Both Felfe and Philby were eventually exposed by a Soviet defector, Anatoliy Golitsyn.8 Le Carré’s novel was published in September, 1963, about 22 months after Felfe’s arrest; 22 months would be sufficient time to write and publish the novel (the novel is about 250 pages long). On the other hand, Philby fled to Russia in early 1963, when le Carré’s novel was probably well on its way to completion. So the Felfe case influenced the novel more than the Philby case.

As I mentioned before, Stalin was wary of Philby, suspecting that he was a triple agent. As I wrote before, “In the shadowy world of espionage, agents are often suspected of being double agents, and double agents are often suspected of being triple agents.” When Yuri Nosenko, a KGB agent, defected to the West in 1964, he accused Golitsyn of being a triple agent, and Golitsyn apparently leveled the same charge against Nosenko. The CIA strongly suspected Nosenko of being a triple agent, and kept him in solitary confinement for three years, trying to get him to confess. Eventually Nosenko was considered a legitimate defector. Nosenko died in 2008, Golitsyn is apparently still alive.

So if I said to le Carré that his novel is too complex, that it’s unrealistic, he could respond, “The world of espionage is as complicated as my novel. My novel anticipates the ‘triple agent furor’ surrounding Golitsyn and Nosenko. You may not like the dark world of my novel, but you can’t say it’s unrealistic.”

One reason why le Carré’s novel was a sensation is that it broke with the spy-novel tradition, the tradition of the morally-pure Allies fighting evil Nazis and Soviets. In le Carré’s novel, the two sides are morally equivalent, they both use any means to reach their end.9

Why does le Carré call his novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold? At first I thought that “come in from the cold” might mean “defect from East Germany to the West.” Then I thought it might mean “retire.” The protagonist, Leamas, is told by his supervisor (“Control”) “This is your last job.... Then you can come in from the cold.” But the best explanation of “come in from the cold” is in an essay in The Guardian by William Boyd:

“We have to live without sympathy,” Control muses. Then adds: “That’s impossible, of course. We act it to one another, all this hardness; but we aren’t like that really. I mean... one can’t be out in the cold all the time; one has to come in from the cold... d’you see what I mean?"

So, “coming in from the cold” also means displaying a fundamental human empathy.

[Spoiler Warning: If you plan to read the novel, skip the next paragraph.] At the end of the novel, Leamas comes in from the cold, and displays this empathy, by being more concerned with Liz than with his own survival. In his essay, Boyd says that the British Secret Service wants Leamas, but not Liz, to reach the West. The British want Liz to be shot because she knows too much.

*  *  *  *  *

Felfe wasn’t the only WestGerman agent recruited by the Soviets.

[The Soviets] had particular success in recruiting people from Dresden because of bitterness against the British and Americans resulting from... the fire-bombing of that city in February 1945. The intense bombing of Dresden had been controversial even in London and Washington.10

Felfe was from Dresden.

The Soviets tried to recruit former Nazi spies. Felfe had been a Nazi spy, and a member of the SS. The American Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) thought it was risky for WestGerman intelligence to hire former SS members. “The CIC were already, in 1953, including Felfe on a list of potential defectors.”11 But apparently the CIC didn’t discuss Felfe with the CIA; the CIC viewed the CIA as “a rival operation.”

At the end of World War II, when he was interrogated by the Allies, Felfe openly declared himself an ardent Nazi, so presumably he was anti-Semitic. This may be why, in le Carré’s novel, Mundt is an ex-Nazi and an anti-Semite.

Felfe “gave the Soviets the identities of 94 of West Germany’s overseas ‘field officers.’” Felfe was so clever that, even after his arrest in 1961, “he managed to brief the KGB about his on-going interrogation, using invisible ink to make additions to his private letters.”

When I discussed American agents who became double-agents, I noted their troubled relationships with their fathers. So when I heard about Felfe, I should have anticipated that he had a troubled relationship with his father. Wikipedia says,

According to a credible 1969 press report, much of his energy while in the Netherlands implied a personal rivalry with his father, a Dresden-based Criminal Investigation Officer of evidently overbearing character, who was by origin a member of Germany’s Sorbian ethnic minority. As the German war machine fell back across Europe, Felfe spent a lot of time persuading the Gestapo to harass members of the Sorbian minority back in his country’s Saxon heartland.

People who classify spy novels say that The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a “mission” novel, and that the protagonist of mission novels

  1. Is given a mission to carry out by their Mentor.
  2. Will be opposed by the Antagonist as they try to complete the mission.
  3. Makes a plan to complete the mission.
  4. Trains and gathers resources for the Mission.
  5. Involves one or more Allies in their Mission (optionally, there is a romance subplot with one of the Allies).
  6. Attempts to carry out the Mission, dealing with further Allies and Enemies as they encounter them.
  7. Is betrayed by an Ally or the Mentor (optionally).
  8. Narrowly avoids capture by the Antagonist (or is captured and escapes)
  9. Has a final confrontation with the Antagonist and completes (or fails to complete) the Mission.12

The other three types of spy novel are The Mystery, The Chase, and The Defence.

  • “In the Mystery plot the protagonist investigates a disaster attempting to discover who was responsible. The Protagonist often works for a counter-intelligence or counter-terrorism agency and their Prize is unmasking the Antagonist.” An example of a spy novel with a Mystery plot is Alistair MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra.
  • In a Chase story, “The Protagonist stumbles on something vital to the Antagonist and has to run for their life with the Antagonist in pursuit.... The Protagonist is often a reluctant amateur caught up in events they don’t understand, and their Prize is survival.” An example is John Buchan’s Thirty-Nine Steps. (According to Wikipedia, “The Thirty-Nine Steps is one of the earliest examples of the ‘man-on-the-run’ thriller archetype subsequently adopted by Hollywood as an often-used plot device.”)
  • In a Defence plot, “the Antagonist attacks someone or something important to the Protagonist and the Protagonist tries to defend it. Often the Protagonist works in counter-intelligence or counter-terrorism, and the Protagonist’s Prize is elimination of the threat.” An example is Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love.

3. Russian Icons

I recently visited the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts. It’s a charming little museum, put together a few years ago by an American businessman, Gordon Lankton. Lankton was in Russia on a business trip, bought an icon at a flea market, and gradually fell in love with icons. The museum’s icons were made as long ago as 1450 AD, and as recently as 1890.

This icon is a calendar or “minyeia”
It has 12 squares, one for each month
In each square are the saints whose saint’s day falls within that month
Around the edge of the icon are numerous different ways of depicting the Virgin Mary


Here’s one of the 12 months
Note how the name of each saint is written above that saint

Icons were believed to be holy objects, possessing some sort of magical power. Some people felt that only God is holy and powerful, and that the worship of icons is blasphemous. One group that felt this way was the Iconoclasts, the “breakers of icons.” Both Judaism and Islam forbade images of the divine; the 2nd Commandment is, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” The monotheistic religions are generally wary of icons, just as they’re wary of magic.

Many Russian icons depict Mary, whose role in Orthodox Christianity is even more prominent than her role in Catholicism. Orthodox Christians don’t refer to her as Mary, but rather as Theotokos, mother of God, or bearer of God.

This popular icon represents St. Nil,
who was so pious that he tried to pray all night.
He was on the brink of falling asleep, and crashing to the ground,
so he put crutches under his arms.

© L. James Hammond 2015
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1. Freud spoke of “the large extent to which psychoanalysis coincides with the philosophy of Schopenhauer,” and Freud said that Nietzsche was “another philosopher whose guesses and intuitions often agree in the most astonishing way with the laborious findings of psychoanalysis.” (Freud, An Autobiographical Study, 5) back
2. Quoted in H. Zimmern, Schopenhauer: His Life and Philosophy, ch. 5 back
3. First two sentences from Historical Reason, Lisbon, 1944, ch. 3; third sentence (last sentence) is from the same source, ch. 1 back
4. Man and Crisis, ch. 1 back
5. Counsels and Maxims, 5 back
6. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, ch. 8 back
7. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, ch. 10 back
8. Golitsyn exposed Felfe in October, 1961, and Felfe was arrested about a month later. Golitsyn himself defected in December, 1961. back
9. “When The Spy Who Came in from the Cold came out, reviewers felt it was a response to the unrealism and moral certainty of popular spy heroes like James Bond. Le Carré’s depiction of espionage as an amoral world where no one considers their actions as good and evil, just as effective or ineffective, was revolutionary and controversial.” Graeme Shimmin back
10. Wikipedia back
11. Wikipedia back
12. back