December 31, 2022

1. Arthur Koestler

A. To the Arctic by Airship

While working as science editor for the Ullstein newspapers, Koestler was invited to go to the Arctic on a Zeppelin. Koestler writes,

The Zeppelin Arctic expedition started... on July 26, 1931. It [was] the climax of my career as a journalist. The Ullsteins held the news monopoly, and I was the only representative of the Press on board — about the most perfect assignment a newspaperman could pray for.

The expedition didn’t disappoint. Koestler calls it, “a majestic experience. No lesser adjective would fit both the landscape over which we hovered during four un-distinguishable days and nights of midnight sun, and the airship which carried us.”

Koestler went on the Graf Zeppelin, which was active from 1928 to 1937, went across the Pacific, around the world, etc., a total of more than 1 million miles. Despite its vast size (780 feet long, 120 feet high), it moved swiftly — about 60 miles per hour. It also moved smoothly and quietly:

There are no vibrations and no bumps: air-pockets, minor gusts and squalls have no effect on the enormous floating mass. In an airplane, the propellers have to provide an air-stream which supports the wings, kite fashion, in space; the flying whale is supported by its own buoyancy, and the propellers merely serve to push it along through the air. It does not, in fact, fly — it swims.... All these factors combine to give the passengers in the “gondola” a feeling of safety and a relaxed, contemplative mood, otherwise so alien to air travel.

Koestler’s flight departed from Lake Constance and

by 5 p.m. we were over Berlin, our first scheduled stop. [We] circled for a full hour over the town to provide the Berliners with an opportunity for working up their Zeppelinomania to a new pitch. All across Germany we had left a wake of howling factory whistles, of traffic snarls with madly hooting cars, of waving crowds.

There were two Americans onboard, and Koestler decided to show them around Berlin:

The take-off [was] scheduled for 5 a.m., so we were free for the evening and I took the two Americans... on a special expedition to show them the night life of Berlin. As we had nothing to wear but our Polar suits,1 and Berlin was in the throes of the Zeppelin fever, we were recognized in every [bar] and attentions were not lacking. Taxi-drivers refused to accept pay, night club proprietors regaled us with free champagne, the ladies at the bar swooned by just glancing at us. It was a wonderful feeling to be a hero. We arrived at the airfield just half an hour before the start, under the disapproving eyes of the Herren Professoren on board who had given us up for lost.

They flew over Sweden, Estonia, and Finland, landing in St. Petersburg (Leningrad), where a banquet awaited them. Koestler was already a Communist at heart, so the revelry in St. Petersburg had an added attraction for him: he was in The Promised Land, The Land of the Future.

Though not yet in the Party, I was at that time a member of the “Society of Friends of the Soviet Union” — a barely disguised front organization. I showed my membership card to my neighbor, a huge, jovial officer of the Red Army, who passed it on to others; it earned me several toasts, hugs, shoulder-slappings and embraces.

The vodka, the Zeppelin, the consciousness of having set foot at last in the new land of promise — everything contributed to make that night as festive and memorable as [the first party at the Vienna fraternity]. Once again I was being accepted into a friendly, fraternal community.... The banquet broke up in the small hours, when the celebrated white night of the Neva began to glow with the approach of day.

As we made our way through the milky mist on the airfield, past the blinking torches of the sentries, to our ship, I felt that this had been the most wonderful experience of my life, one of those rare moments when intellectual conviction is in complete harmony with feeling, when your reason approves of your euphoria, and your emotion is as a lover to your thought. It was not drunkenness, but a sensation of complete fulfillment.

They were still in, or near, the heroic age of polar exploration. The Arctic was only partially explored, so one of the missions of the expedition was mapping. The airship was well-suited for that task since it could hover, change altitude, etc. But the expedition was not without danger; another airship, Italia, had crashed in the Arctic three years earlier, probably because ice had accumulated on its skin.

Koestler found the Arctic landscape depressing; he speaks of, “the well-known psychological influence of the Arctic landscape.... Of all colors I found white the most depressing when exposed to it continuously and without relief.”

Then there was a sunset:

Suddenly the whole landscape changed in a miraculous fashion. Up till then, the world had consisted of various shades of greyish-white — mist, ice, twilight sky, had all looked like varieties of chalky whitewash. Now the midnight sun changed to red, and the glaciers of Cape Flora reflected this color with the intensity of mirrors.

Around the Cape there was a stretch of open sea, and the color of the water was black. On to this black surface the red glacier poured its reflection like a burning flow of lava. It was all too spectacular to be beautiful, and the colors were too lurid; but it was certainly the most startling sight that I have seen. As we came nearer, the island, glaciers and rock constantly changed their color, from red to violet to molten gold, and the sea from black to faint lavender. Yet this fantastic display caused no surge of elation — rather a feeling of awe and oppression.

Koestler thinks they could have reached the North Pole, but they didn’t try, they only went as far as the 82nd parallel (their insurance company would have charged a higher price if they had gone further north). After returning to civilization, Koestler gave a series of lectures about his adventures.

B. Kammerer and Jung

At the end of 1931, Koestler joined the Communist Party, and in mid-1932, he left Germany, and went to the Soviet Union. Koestler gave up a good job in Germany — he had risen to become both science editor and foreign editor for the largest newspaper empire in Germany, the Ullstein newspapers. Koestler says that his decision to give this up was a rash one, like his earlier decision to quit college and go to Palestine. His decision to go to Palestine enriched his life, and led to his journalism career. His decision to leave Germany saved him from the gas chambers.

What prompted Koestler to “take the plunge,” and go to the Soviet Union, was “a whole series of grotesque events,” including a car breakdown and a poker loss. Was this series of events the result of chance? Koestler writes, “I have always held a perhaps superstitious, but deep belief in the significance of events which come in series.” Koestler had a strong interest in Paul Kammerer, author of The Law of the Series (Das Gesetz der Serie, 1919, never translated into English). Koestler writes,

When major and minor calamities crowd together in a short span of time, they seem to express a symbolic warning, as if some mute power were tugging at your sleeve. It is then up to you to decipher the meaning of the inchoate message. If you ignore it, nothing at all will probably happen; but you may have missed a chance to remake your life, have passed a potential turning point without noticing it. It is not an altogether naive superstition if one concedes that such series are often produced by unconscious arrangement; that the warning may have been issued by that “he in me who is more me than myself.”2 Later on I discovered that André Malraux holds a similar superstition — or belief; he calls that tugging-at-the-sleeve by apparent coincidence “le langage du destin.”

Kammerer’s interest in series led to an interest in periods. Kammerer believed that a series or cluster recurs like the crests of waves, recurs periodically.

If you have good moods that last 3 days, and are followed by bad moods that last 3 days, that would be a kind of periodicity. Goethe was interested in periodicity. In his diary, he wrote, “I must observe more clearly the cycle of good and bad days which turns within myself.... Everything changes and has a regular cycle.... I must still find out in what time and order I revolve around myself.”3 As Halley sought the period of a comet, Goethe sought the period of his own soul.

Wilhelm Fliess was also interested in periods. Fliess was a close friend of Freud when Freud was beginning his career. In an earlier issue, I quoted Freud on periods. I said that my interest in periods began in my teenage years, when my moods oscillated regularly. My interest in oscillating moods led to my interest in other polarities, such as Hegel’s thesis-antithesis, and Freud’s life- and death-instincts. This interest in oscillating polarities led to my theory of history, my theory of an oscillation between decadence and renaissance.

Wikipedia dismisses periods as “pseudoscience,” and says that Fliess’s ideas are a precursor of the modern nonsense about “bio-rhythms.” Other writers say “a major sector of modern systems theory known as chaos theory... is devoted in part to just those types of periodic processes that so fascinated Kammerer.” Researchers found that gamblers seem to go through periods or streaks; “Periods of good luck are followed by periods of bad luck.... The founders of chaos theory were more than casually intrigued by the behavior of the roulette wheel.”

Kammerer’s seriality is very similar to what Jung called synchronicity. This is a case of original thinkers discovering the same thing at the same time. Koestler says that both Kammerer and Jung kept log-books of coincidences. Kammerer defined a series as a “recurrence of the same or similar things and events — a recurrence, or clustering, in time or space whereby the individual members in the sequence [are] not connected by the same active cause.”4

Like Jung’s synchronicity, Kammerer’s seriality is an acausal connecting principle. Thus, it overturns the most fundamental principle of the Western worldview: the principle of causality. Blockhead Rationalism dismisses revolutionary ideas as pseudoscience, but it’s hard to dismiss acausal connections. The Paired Particles experiment has been tested and confirmed numerous times, and it points to a simultaneous, acausal connection. The Establishment finally gave up trying to ignore Paired Particles, and gave its confirmers a Nobel Prize.

Koestler’s biography of Kammerer is called The Case of the Midwife Toad (1971). Kammerer was a biologist who specialized in toads and other amphibians. A “midwife toad” (Alytes obstetricans) is a toad that’s known for carrying its eggs to protect them. Kammerer performed experiments with midwife toads, hoping to come up with evidence for Lamarck’s principle of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Kammerer was a Darwin-skeptic, like Koestler.

What’s the connection between Darwin-skepticism and acausal connections? Both involve holistic thinking, both believe that things happen in clusters, not in linear causality. A Darwin-skeptic is receptive to the idea that DNA changes, not by isolated mutation, but as part of the whole organism’s struggle to survive, the whole organism’s will/urge/striving/habit.

Mind-boggling? Sure, but is it any more mind-boggling than Paired Particles, Double Slit, and other quantum experiments, experiments that have been repeatedly confirmed? We live in a mind-boggling universe, a magical universe. Blockhead Rationalists should accept that, and rejoice in it.

As Kammerer was a Darwin-skeptic, so Jungians are receptive to “alternative biology,” to Darwin-skepticism. Jung’s disciple Marie-Louise von Franz said, “a species of animals, under great pressure or in great need, could produce meaningful (but acausal) changes in its outer material structure.”5 The acausal viewpoint connects Kammerer’s seriality, Jung’s synchronicity, and Darwin-skepticism.

Kammerer doesn’t deny conventional causality, and he doesn’t deny natural selection. Rather, he argues that acausal relationships co-exist with conventional causality, and he argues that Lamarckian evolution co-exists with evolution-by-natural-selection.5B

Koestler compares the “acausal principle” to “universal gravity.” Both are mysteries; science has never explained how gravity works. “Unlike gravity which acts on all mass indiscriminately, [the acausal force] acts selectively on form and function to bring similar configurations together in space and time; it correlates by affinity.”6

Kammerer often rises to inspired eloquence. He says that seriality is “ubiquitous and continuous in life, nature and cosmos. It is the umbilical cord that connects thought, feeling, science and art with the womb of the universe which gave birth to them.”

2. Donald Fleming on Evolution

I read an essay on evolution by my former professor, Donald Fleming. Fleming worked in both the sciences and the humanities, both the history of science and the history of ideas. Early in his career, he focused on the history of science; when I was an undergrad, he taught intellectual history. He was an eloquent lecturer, and he pronounced every syllable carefully. He spoke of “Massachusetts Avenue,” while everyone else spoke of “Mass Ave.” I’m indebted to him for reading an early draft of my first book, and discussing it with me. He devoted his time and energy to teaching and to other people’s projects, he published very little.

Fleming’s essay on evolution was published in 1959, on the centenary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Fleming’s essay reviews the current literature on evolution. He hews to the Establishment line, he doesn’t understand Darwin-skeptics like Koestler and Kammerer.

Fleming argues that Darwin didn’t discover evolution, there was an “almost dizzying profusion of anticipators.” Darwin’s innovation was to argue that natural selection, acting on mutations, drives evolution. Fleming rejects the idea (supported by A. O. Lovejoy, among others) that natural selection was “familiar” before Darwin.

Fleming realizes that Darwin himself, as he grew older, moved toward Lamarck, and had doubts about “Darwinism,” had doubts about random-mutation-followed-by-natural-selection. Fleming writes, “The later editions of the Origin itself called the sufficiency of natural selection more and more into question.... In later editions [Darwin] continually had more recourse to Lamarckian concepts of use and disuse and inheritance of acquired characteristics.” Like other Establishment scholars, Fleming prefers the first edition; he speaks of, “the first and best edition of the Origin.”

As Darwin himself doubted “pure Darwinism,” narrow Darwinism, so too others had their doubts; Fleming says “[Darwin’s] reputation among scholars underwent a marked decline from about 1880 to about 1920.” Darwin’s reputation was rehabilitated by Julian Huxley and Ronald Fisher, the twin pillars of Establishment Darwinism. Fleming praises Huxley’s work as “magisterial,” and he praises Fisher’s work as “one of the great classics in the history of evolutionary thought.” Fleming says Fisher “showed that natural selection acting upon the ascertained rate of mutations was indeed sufficient to account for evolution.”

How can someone as smart as Fleming make such a silly statement? How can the human mind possibly calculate whether natural selection can create something as complicated as a cell, or DNA, or an eye, or a brain? No one would be convinced by Fisher’s reasoning unless they were eager to be convinced, unless they were looking for arguments to support their preferred position.

The weak point in Darwinism isn’t natural selection, the weak point is random mutation. Mutation must be non-random to create something as complicated as the brain. You can’t create Hamlet by giving a family of monkeys a typewriter and a billion years, and letting them hit keys randomly.

Fleming says that Darwin chose to “gloss over” the origin of mutations/variations. “Darwin did not undertake in the Origin to give a conclusive explanation of the causes of variation in plants and animals.” Darwin said, “Our ignorance of the laws of variation is profound.” The Establishment would probably say, “All these uncertainties were resolved by the development of genetics.” But the development of genetics doesn’t change the fact that a random process can’t create something highly complex.

Darwin’s ignorance of the cause of mutations is comparable, Fleming says, to the ignorance of other scientists about key elements in their theories:

There is a striking parallel with William Harvey and Isaac Newton: Harvey who did not understand the function of the circulation, Newton who did not pretend to know the cause of gravitation. It was the breath-taking audacity of all three men to build secure knowledge about a core of ignorance.

Darwin admitted his ignorance, today’s biologists don’t realize they’re ignorant.

One of Darwin’s chief virtues, according to Fleming, is that he separated biology from theology, he tried to explain life without bringing in God. The world appears to be the product of an omniscient Designer, but we should omit the Super Being (in my opinion), and view the universe itself as intelligent, magical. Fleming speaks of, “the old Lucretian paradox of a semblance of design in nature without a Designer.”

The semblance of design isn’t due to chance, as the Establishment would have us believe, it’s due to the intelligence in the universe itself, it’s due to acausal factors like synchronicity. Since the Establishment doesn’t grasp the acausal, the magical, they’re left with what Wolfgang Pauli called “the religion of chance.” Fleming thinks that Darwin-skeptics have a “psychological animus” — they want to bring in God. Actually, many Darwin-skeptics aren’t trying to bring in God, they’re trying to bring in the acausal factors that we see in quantum physics, that we see in synchronicity.

Fleming praises an essay-collection called Forerunners of Darwin 1745-1859. He says it has six essays by A. O. Lovejoy, and an essay by Charles Coulston Gillispie.7 Fleming also praises books on Darwin by Loren Eiseley and Gertrude Himmelfarb: “Either of these would be a wise choice for a person who wished to read a single book on the subject.”

3. Tucker

Before the holidays, I e-mailed an old friend. I mentioned a girl who died young. After she died, her younger brother asked, “Does that mean I’ll never see her again?” It seems like a silly question, a childish question. But death is a strange thing; one minute they’re here with you, the next minute they’re just a photo. They were embedded in your life, it’s hard to believe you won’t see them again.

After e-mailing my friend, I came across a quote from Goethe:

Death is something so strange, that, regardless of all experience, it is not believed to be possible for an object that is dear to us; and it always occurs as something unbelievable and unexpected. In a sense, it is an impossibility that suddenly becomes a reality.8

Fifteen years ago, I wrote about my beagle, Tucker. He died recently. He had declined gradually, but nonetheless it was a shock that he was gone, that I would never see him again.

I had been aware of the burdens and responsibilities that he imposed, I’d overlooked the positives, I’d overlooked his humble, loyal companionship. In his last months, he seemed to be aware that my feelings toward him had changed, that I had begun to see him as a burden.9 Perhaps every relationship involves burdens as well as rewards, and the burdens can blind us to the rewards.

Forgive me, little friend.

Purgatory Chasm, Sutton MA

Adams Woods, Concord MA

Horseneck Beach, Westport MA

© L. James Hammond 2022
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1. To reduce the weight carried by the airship, the passengers weren’t allowed to bring a variety of clothes. back
2. This quote was discussed in an earlier issue. I equated it with what Jung called The Self. But the unconscious arranging of disasters is, according to Jung, done by The Shadow. The Shadow pushes one toward wholeness.

Perhaps we shouldn’t try to distinguish between The Self and The Shadow, perhaps we should simply say that there’s a wisdom in the unconscious, a wisdom that sometimes creates misfortunes in order to push us toward wholeness, a wisdom that sometimes guides us away from calamities like plane crashes. back

3. Diary entry for March 26, 1780, quoted in an article by Ernst Feise. back
4. Quoted in Koestler’s The Roots of Coincidence, Ch. 3, “Seriality and Synchronicity”

Koestler notes both similarities and differences between Kammerer and Jung: “Although Kammerer’s ‘Seriality’ and Jung’s ‘Synchronicity’ are as similar as a pair of gloves, each fits one hand only. Kammerer confined himself to analogies in naive physical terms, rejecting ESP and mentalistic explanations. Jung went to the opposite extreme and tried to explain all phenomena which could not be accounted for in terms of physical causality, as manifestations of the unconscious mind.”(The Roots of Coincidence, Ch. 3, p. 95)

Koestler says, “The most impressive and popular examples of meaningful coincidences are veridical dreams, premonitions, telepathic experiences, and so on. Kammerer believed in Seriality as an irreducible principle of life, and dismissed all parapsychological explanations as occult superstition.”(Midwife Toad, Appendix 1, p. 143)

Koestler notes that the physicist Wolfgang Pauli believed in acausal factors. Pauli co-wrote a book with Jung. Like Kammerer, Pauli was a Darwin-skeptic, and he spoke of, “the chance religion of the biologists.”

In my Realms of God, I said that Jung is sometimes long-winded. Koestler speaks of the “obscurity combined with verbosity [that] runs through much of Jung’s writing.... It is painful to watch how a great mind, trying to disentangle himself from the causal chains of materialistic science, gets entangled in its own verbiage.” Freud is probably a better stylist than Jung. back

5. Man and His Symbols, Conclusion by Marie-Louise von Franz back
5B. The biology establishment hasn’t embraced a falsehood; rather, they’ve decided that a partial truth is the whole truth; they need to combine Darwin and Lamarck. As Mill said, “the besetting danger is not so much of embracing falsehood for truth, as of mistaking part of the truth for the whole. It might be plausibly maintained that in almost every one of the leading controversies, past or present, in social philosophy, both sides were in the right in what they affirmed, though wrong in what they denied; and that if either could have been made to take the other’s views in addition to its own, little more would have been needed to make its doctrine correct.”(Essay on Coleridge) back
6. Koestler, The Roots of Coincidence, Ch. 3, “Seriality and Synchronicity” back
7. Fleming calls Gillispie’s Genesis and Geology “admirable.” back
8. Conversations With Eckermann, February 15, 1830, quoted at this site. I found this quote while searching for Goethe’s views on periodicity. Was it chance that I came across this quote? Or synchronicity, some kind of “library angel”? back
9. In an earlier issue, I quoted Amrit Hallan, who said that his cat had died because “she had discerned my feelings for her,” discerned that he had begun to feel she was a burden. “The thought haunted me for months.”

Click here for a NewYorkTimes article about pet death. back