Thursday, 8 October 2020

Can't find my stuff on Amazon? Here's why.


Armando Ourique

Why your books are not available at Amazon?

Just now
Armando, hi. I don't sell via Amazon for several reasons, but the main reason is their terms and conditions, which are not very friendly to authors and publishers. A friend of mine runs a small-scale poetry press (....). Almost everything they have published in the past ten or so years is commercially available. They try to sell via Amazon, but often their books are listed as 'not currently available.' If they don't like you, they will just cut you off.

You can buy my books from a number of large retailers (including Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, etc. and now even Walmart). The books are distributed to these retailers by my distributor Smashwords, and are always listed as available.

Amazon does not have a monopoly, but they have too much power. They are happy to throw their weight around. I'm well aware that many more people would find my books if they were listed on Amazon, but plenty find them anyway.

Best wishes, Thomas Yaeger.

Monday, 31 August 2020

Jump Cut: The Pursuit of Knowledge, God and Reality in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

Clarke and Atheism

The more times I see 2001: A Space Odyssey, the stranger the movie gets. Arthur C Clarke said a couple of things about the film which illuminate what it is about, and a number of details in the film offer further clues. Other work he became interested in much later, also casts light on the real subject of the film.

Firstly, there is Clarke’s famous statement that Kubrick and Clarke had persuaded MGM to fund an enormously expensive religious movie (he actually meant a theological movie, but such a distinction might have been lost on the moguls of the time). His books are in fact often peppered with ideas which approach theological questions, yet he described himself as an atheist many times during his life. This apparent contradiction needs to be explored.

A good overview of the complexity of his views on both religion and theology can be found on the Wikipedia page on Clarke’s life:

Themes of religion and spirituality appear in much of Clarke's writing. He said: "Any path to knowledge is a path to God—or Reality, whichever word one prefers to use."[105] [Mintowt-Czyz, Lech (19 March 2008). "Sir Arthur C. Clarke: The Times obituary". The Times. London. Retrieved 6 August 2008.]

He described himself as "fascinated by the concept of God". J. B. S. Haldane, near the end of his life, suggested in a personal letter to Clarke that Clarke should receive a prize in theology for being one of the few people to write anything new on the subject, and went on to say that if Clarke's writings did not contain multiple contradictory theological views, he might have been a menace.[106] [Clarke, Arthur C. (1999) [1991]. "Credo". Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!. First appearing in Living Philosophies, Clifton Fadiman, ed. (Doubleday). New York: St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 358–363. ISBN 978-0-312-26745-2. Retrieved 8 January 2010.]

I think Haldane was right about how dangerous some of his ideas were, and that he often contradicted himself on matters of theology outside the scope of science. The following illustrates how he occupied different intellectual spaces from early on in his life, and right up to the end:

 When he entered the Royal Air Force, Clarke insisted that his dog tags be marked "pantheist" rather than the default, Church of England,[43] and in a 1991 essay entitled "Credo", described himself as a logical positivist from the age of ten.[106] In 2000, Clarke told the Sri Lankan newspaper, The Island, "I don't believe in God or an afterlife, [107] and he identified himself as an atheist.[108] He was honoured as a Humanist Laureate in the International Academy of Humanism.[109] He has also described himself as a "crypto-Buddhist", insisting that Buddhism is not a religion.[110]
So he was characterising himself as a pantheist at the time he joined the Royal Air Force in WW2, but in 1991 he says in ‘Credo’ that he was a ‘logical positivist’ from the age of ten. Is this possible? It’s a contradiction, but I think it is possible that both characterisations are true. He was a mathematician and a scientist, which doesn’t preclude an interest in profound questions about the nature of the universe and reality, which are less amenable to purely rational answers. We will come back to the ‘crypto-Buddhism' later.

In saying that he was a pantheist in his early twenties, I think he was indicating that he was already making an equation between theology, the divine, and the nature of reality itself. Those of a mathematical bent sometimes do, since the mathematics of the physical world reveal something of how reality works behind the physical representation of it. But if you are going to investigate reality itself through mathematics, you need to stick close to the evidence. To that extent he was a logical positivist for the whole of his life.

So Clarke was interesting in theology and theological questions. But he clearly distinguished between those questions, and the principal territories occupied by modern religions:

A famous quotation of Clarke's is often cited: "One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion. [110] He was quoted in Popular Science in 2004 as saying of religion: "Most malevolent and persistent of all mind viruses. We should get rid of it as quick as we can.” [Cherry, Matt (1999). "God, Science, and Delusion: A Chat With Arthur C. Clarke". Free Inquiry. 19 (2). Amherst, New York: Council for Secular Humanism. ISSN 0272-0701. Archived from the original on 3 April 2008. Retrieved 16 April2008.]
Yet Clarke was happy to engage in dialogue with those who were not locked into a view of religion which saw faith as its core. Alan Watts was one of those:

In a three-day "dialogue on man and his world" with Alan Watts, Clarke stated that he was biased against religion and said that he could not forgive religions for what he perceived as their inability to prevent atrocities and wars over time.[112] Clarke, Arthur C.; Watts, Alan (January 1972). "At the Interface: Technology and Mysticism". Playboy. Vol. 19 no. 1. Chicago, Ill.: HMH Publishing. p. 94. ISSN 0032-1478. OCLC 3534353. ]
Alan Watts of course, was heavily influenced by Buddhism, which Clarke said was not a religion. That distinction is an important one. Buddhism is a way of approaching reality, which assumes that everything is (in some way) related to everything else, both in terms of representation, and In terms of causality.

Despite his atheism, themes of deism is a common feature within Clarke's work.[[115] (20 March 2008). "For Clarke, Issues of Faith, but Tackled Scientifically". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 21 January 2020.]
Edward Rothstein understood the deeply rooted dichotomy in Clarke’s approach to understanding the nature of the universe. Buddhism of course famously managed to construct a theological understanding of reality which did not much require discussion of gods, which is one of its most attractive features. And in case anyone was in doubt about Clarke’s seriousness about that kind of atheism:

Clarke left written instructions for a funeral that stated: "Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral."[116] "[Quotes of the Day". Time. 19 March 2008. Archived from the original on 24 March 2008. Retrieved 20 March 2008.] 


Clarke spent more than half his life living in what is now Sri Lanka (he moved there in 1956). He appreciated the good diving opportunities available in the warm seas around the island, which represented the nearest experience to the weightlessness of space he was likely to experience in his lifetime. Sri Lanka  was also a relatively cheap place to live. Writers then as now found it difficult to make a decent living out of their writing, so moving there made practical sense.

Clarke’s closest friend was a Sri Lankan, who he met while he was studying in London in 1947.(Leslie Ekanayake).Their association lasted for the next thirty years, until the premature death of Ekanayake. So Clarke is likely to have had discussions about Buddhist ideas on the nature of reality long before he made the decision to move to Sri Lanka. His understanding that Buddhism was a way of engaging with the nature of reality which was, despite appearances, not a religion, may have been acquired from discussion with Ekanayake.

Clarke refer to his engagement with Buddhist thought as crypto-Buddhism because he read the body of ideas contained in Buddhist thought differently from others. He saw Buddhism as a way of attempting to understand reality in philosophical terms, which also allowed the possibility of exploring reality with mathematics and geometry.

Buddhism is a body of ideas which, like many religions in the east, embraces paradox, and the importance of what cannot be seen. What is on the surface, is not all that there is. Investigation of what is puzzling about reality is required in order to gain understanding, and ultimately, enlightenment. I was given a small statue of the Chinese goddess Mu when I was in my twenties, made from peachwood, which represented her as holding a lotus above her head. Mu represents the all, from which everything is made, and what is made is what floats on top of the waters. But though the lotus emerges into visibility, it is not itself the All. It is connected with it (the statue hold the lotus flower by the stem), but is just a representation of what lies unseen in the waters.

I’ve described some aspects of the Buddhist approach to what is hidden, and the Buddhist understanding of causal processes, elsewhere (‘The Enlightenment of David Hume’). For the early Buddhists (I’ve written about the scholarly issues around the antiquity of Buddhism in ‘The Age of the Buddha), the ideas that reality itself is hidden from us, and that how things are represented to us depends on causal relationships which are not necessarily obvious, clearly depended on a sophisticated philosophical model of the world. One of the reasons for the importance of scholars and priests in Buddhism is that thought and actions are required in order restore balance where balance has been disrupted. Everything is understood to be connected to everything else, and is understood to be a cause of something. Since we do not have direct and unmediated access to the invisible all, careful investigation of these issues by those who have a profound understanding of them is required.

So what were Clarke’s actual views of God and the nature of Reality itself? Clarke kept a journal during the writing and production of 2001, which gives us some clues [Clarke included some of this journal in his book ‘The Lost World’s of 2001’. The journal has been quoted elsewhere also]. At one point he records a discussion of Cantor’s theory of transfinite groups with Kubrick, without going into any detail, or giving a context for such a discussion. Transfinite groups gave Cantor a great deal of intellectual and psychological difficulty, because of the implications (that you can have infinities which are different sizes, but they are all infinite, for example. Which again implies that all things are connected with each other, and each thing shares the same identity).

It is likely that Clarke was expounding something of his mathematical view of the nature of God and of Reality to Kubrick. This was the way he understood that theology had to work, and both faith and belief had nothing to do with theology.

It is clear that he understood God and Reality to have some profound relationship to actual infinity (as opposed to an Aristotelian ‘potential’ infinity). Modern scholars (both mathematicians and theologians) ignore actual infinity on the grounds that (they think) it is impossible to work with the concept. This doesn’t mean it makes no sense to address the question of the actual infinite as Cantor did. Clarke had the actual infinite in his mind, since he referenced Cantor directly in his conversation with Kubrick, and didn’t just confine himself to the mathematics involved in the theory of transfinite groups. The nature of the world in which we have our existence bears some relationship to the actual infinite, rather than the hollowed out version of the infinite which is subject to mathematics and geometry in space and time.

The teaching machine which appears to the man-apes close to the beginning of the film was not the first choice of object to serve that purpose. But it is the object that Clarke and Kubrick settled on. The reasons for this choice are interesting on account of its dimensions, which are precisely outlined in the novel associated with the film (and elsewhere). It is a black oblong block, whose dimensions are one, four, and nine units. That is, one squared, two squared, and three squared. That is the beginning of an infinite series, which, if extended, would eventually reach infinity itself. There were discussions about what images would be displayed on the monolith to the man-apes, but Clarke and Kubrick decided not to show any of these, or even explicitly suggest (in the film) that the monolith was communicating with the man-apes. However the dimensions of the monolith, embodying the beginning of an infinite series suggest that the communication was emanating from the infinite itself.

Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite

The Stargate sequence in the film begins after David Bowman’s struggle with HAL (and his purely logical and algorithmic artificial intelligence, which results in HAL’s  murder of the crew who were still in hibernation), and once they are in Jupiter space. Jupiter is of course the king of the Gods (Clarke’s  book locates the Stargate near Saturn). During that sequence David Bowman’s space pod travels over an abstracted landscape: he is travelling somewhere, but it clearly isn’t in real space. At one point, seven double tetrahedrons appear, hanging above the landscape. Each of the tetrahedrons is filled with geometric lines which are in motion. Each of the tetrahedrons contains the same geometric patterns, which change in perfect synchrony. This image is very reminiscent of Leibniz’s description of the monads which he posited were the foundation of reality. All of the Leibnizian monads reflect each other, in both nature and in processes. All of them are derived from the principle monad, which is the foundation of Reality itself [Leibniz was a student of Chinese philosophy and oriental patterns of thought, as well as a polymath and logician].

Why are these images there in this part of the film? Douglas Trumbull, who was responsible for many of the special effects in the film, has said that the images in the double tetrahedra were built from reprojections of the moving slit-screen generated landscape below the tetrahedra. Which by itself doesn’t tell us very much, except perhaps that both the landscape and the monads were meant to be different representations of the same thing. One shows an abstracted representation of travel through space; the other shows mathematical and geometrical change which might not exist in space at all. This is likely to have emerged from suggestions from Clarke, but I am not aware that such conversation is recorded. But it can be understood as a product of Clarke’s self-declared Crypto-Buddhism.

These ideas may have their origin not via Leibniz, but directly through Hindu and Buddhist texts. One of the most relevant ideas is that of Indra’s Net.

Indra’s Net

Quoting Wikipedia once again, at:

"Indra's net" is an infinitely large net of cords owned by the Vedicdeva Indra, which hangs over his palace on Mount Meru, the axis mundi of Buddhist and Hindu cosmology. In this metaphor, Indra's net has a multifaceted jewel at each vertex, and each jewel is reflected in all of the other jewels.[5]
In the Huayan school of Chinese Buddhism, which follows the Avatamsaka Sutra, the image of "Indra's net" is used to describe the interconnectedness of the universe.[5]  Francis H Cook describes Indra's net thus:

Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering "like" stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.[6]
The Buddha in the Avatamsaka Sutra's 30th book states a similar idea:

If untold buddha-lands are reduced to atoms,
In one atom are untold lands,
And as in one,
So in each.
The atoms to which these buddha-lands are reduced in an instant are unspeakable,
And so are the atoms of continuous reduction moment to moment
Going on for untold eons;
These atoms contain lands unspeakably many,
And the atoms in these lands are even harder to tell of.[7]
Book 30 of the sutra is named "The Incalculable" because it focuses on the idea of the infinitude of the universe and as Cleary notes, concludes that "the cosmos is unutterably infinite, and hence so is the total scope and detail of knowledge and activity of enlightenment."[8] In another part of the sutra, the Buddhas' knowledge of all phenomena is referred to by this metaphor:

They [Buddhas] know all phenomena come from interdependent origination.
They know all world systems exhaustively. They know all the
different phenomena in all worlds, interrelated in Indra's net.[9]
How old are these ideas? They are a lot older than Greek ideas about the infinite, and the idea reflected to us from the 1st millennium BCE in Greece that Reality itself is necessarily One, which was a question which Plato mentioned as of key significance to our understanding of Reality.

It is worth noting that the section caption film refers to ‘Beyond the Infinite’, rather than just 'The Infinite'. This I think would have been a formulation by Clarke, given his understanding of Buddhist ideas. The infinite is incalculable and ineffable. We can say it is unbounded and without limit, and so on. But describing what it actually is, is another matter. The first translator of the works of Plato, Aristotle and  the Neoplatonists into English, Thomas Taylor, wrote about this question, and the Greek interest in it, at the cusp of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Though it remains a question which is not often (if ever) discussed in classes devoted to philosophy or classics.

The Three Million Year Jump Cut

It is possible to understand the film version of 2001 as a film with a broken back. Kubrick was in charge of the script for the film, and Clarke was writing the novelisation. They talked together and shared ideas of course, but Kubrick had a different idea of how the film should be. I’ve quoted evidence of Clarke’s philosophical interests. Kubrick did not share most of these, hence the fact that, in the course of production, Clarke talked with him about Cantor’s ideas, which he knew nothing about.

In the end, Clarke’s understanding of how the film should be was very different from Kubrick’s, so what we have as the final product is actually a collision between two quite different perspectives. Kubrick’s general view was that nation states (i.e., organised societies) had always behaved like gangsters. There was very little good to say about them. His earlier films bear this out: ‘Paths of Glory’, ‘Spartacus’, and ‘Dr Strangelove’. None of which paint a picture of a species which is keen to avoid war, destruction and casual killing. He still felt that while he was making 2001, and his later films (‘Clockwork Orange’, ‘Barry Lyndon’ ‘’Full Metal Jacket’) suggest he retained something of that world-view for most of the rest of his life. So the beginning of 2001 features the struggle for survival of a group of man-apes, eking out a precarious living in the dry African savannah millions of years ago, in the vicinity of a contested water hole. They eat vegetables and are prey to carnivores. Their prospects are not good.

Then one of the man-apes has the idea to use an animal bone as a tool, and by extension, a weapon. Everything changes. They have access to better nutrition, and gain hegemony over a competing group of man-apes by beating their leader to death, and as far as Kubrick is concerned, the future is set. The implication is that the idea was first suggested to the man-apes by the monolith.

Cue the jump cut to orbiting space weapons. The implication is that nothing of significance has changed over the intervening millions of years.

As if that is the human story. What does this do to the movie? It means there is no space available for anything which happened in between - culturally and intellectually. None of that is of any importance to this story. Clarke could not have included much about early human intellectual development in the west, but he could have included material from the east.

The consequence of inserting this jump cut is that, though the development of the human race is perhaps to be conceived as being  towards a grasp of infinite knowledge, and an engagement with Reality itself (Clarke’s understanding), there is no space in this film for reflection that this is an old idea, and that human beings were aspiring to this over many thousands of years, east and west. As I’ve indicated, there are residual clues in the film that a more sophisticated view was discussed in the early days of the production.

Instead, Kubrick peddles the rather lame idea that human evolution will take us to infinity, with the help of those unseen beings who first installed the monoliths in various parts of the solar system. Despite the fact that it seems in Kubrick’s view, the evolution of the human species just intensifies a meaningless struggle for survival. Bigger weapons, and ever more violence.The unseen beings were the ones who encouraged the use of tools and weapons, and now, at the end of the line, David Bowman has mysteriously reached infinity in any case, and is reborn as a divine being.

2001 is a deeply unsatisfactory film, when it is examined in detail. It makes it much harder to explain human cultural history, mainly because that cultural history is just swept away by Kubrick as of no importance, in one 25th of a second. 

[Retitled September 21st, 2020]

Monday, 22 June 2020

12th Annual Smashwords 2020 Summer/Winter Sale!

July 1, 2020 - July 31, 2020

This promotion has now closed. Thanks for your interest and participation. 

Four of my books sold through Smashwords will be  discounted during the month of July, so this is a chance to pick up a bargain! The catalog for the sale goes live at one minute past midnight on July 1 Pacific time, and expires 11:59pm on July 31. Clicking on the image of each book's cover below will take you through to the Smashwords page for it. Clicking on the title will taken you to a blog page giving further details.

During the sale period the price at Smashwords is the discounted price. Prices at Itunes, Barnes & Noble, Blio, Walmart, Inktera, etc. are not discounted. My new book, 'Echoes of Eternity' will be available for sale on June the 30th 2020 at the full list price, during and after the sale.

The bargains:

The Sacred History of Being (2015), is available during the sale period at 50% off the full Smashwords price.

Formerly argued by classical scholars to have been first discussed by the ancient Greeks in the middle of the first millennium B.C.E., the articulate concept of Being can now be traced as far back as the middle of the second millennium, and the state of Assyria. 
The Greeks themselves had several stories about the origins of philosophy, a discipline which essentially deals with abstractions, including that it originated elsewhere, but that is not the received narrative. The consequence of this, is that all historians of ideas, when constructing their accounts of the intellectual development of man before the arrival of Parmenides and Plato, have had to negotiate the Greek invention of philosophy, and the corollary, that articulate discussion of the abstract concept 'Being' didn’t happen before this.

This can now be shown to be a faulty understanding, resulting in many absurdities. The Old Testament has examples where God declares his identity with Being itself (‘I am that I am’, better translated into English as ‘I am that which is,’ and ‘I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God', for example), but these are not regarded by scholars as evidence of a sophisticated discourse around the idea of Being. Instead these statements indicate inchoate ‘notions’ about the nature of god, rather than anything more profound. The statement in Malachi, however, that 'I do not change', is an explicitly philosophical understanding of the nature of God.
Published by the Anshar Press.  

J.G. Frazer and the Platonic Theory of Being (2016) Is available during the sale period at a 25% discount from Smashwords.

When he was only twenty-four years old, James Frazer won a Cambridge fellowship with an essay on the development of Plato's theory of the Forms or Ideas (eidos). In this essay he argued that there was no overarching theory of Being in Plato's mind before he embarked on the writing of his dialogues, and that consequently differences in approach and discussion apparent in his work are the result of the development of his thought. He also argued that the very idea of Being is a barren notion, in that nothing can be predicated of Being. As a result Plato made a mistake, effectively conflating an epistemology with an ontology. 
Though the essay was written in 1879, it was not published until 1930, after much of his later work was done. Frazer became famous for his monumental study The Golden Bough, which explored a vast range of ancient and primitive myth and ritual. Here too he found intellectual processes founded in error. What was Frazer's intention in re-interpreting Plato against what Plato himself said, and his wholesale restructuring of ancient thought by reducing much of it to a pattern of error?
In sixteen sections, with prefaratory material and a conclusion. Over 23 thousand words, a preface, select bibliography, and extensive notes. Published Spring 2016 by the Anshar Press.  
A couple of related blog posts explore J.G. Frazer's discussion of Plato, and the implications for the writing of The Golden Bough. The two articles are synthesised together in a third article: Frazer and the Association of Ideas.

Understanding Ancient Thought (2017), is available during the sale period at 50% off the full Smashwords price.

Understanding Ancient Thought is the third in a series of books which examines how we assess evidence from antiquity, and frame models to make sense of that evidence.  
The book consists of eighteen essays, which cover a number of subject areas which are in thrall to what Foucault described as an ‘episteme’. In other words, the way the subject areas are understood within the academy is in terms of what our cultural models, language and assumptions will allow us to understand. The actual evidence may suggest an alternative view, but it is not possible to see it, or to think it. At least until the paradigmatic frame shifts to another ‘episteme’.  
The main thrust of the book is that two hundred years of modern scholarship concerning the past has, for the most part, assembled a fictive and tendentious version of the ancient world. 51 thousand words. Published by the Anshar Press, 

Man and the Divine: New light on Man's Ancient Engagement with God and the History of Thought, is also discounted by 50% during the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale. Published by the Anshar Press. ISBN 9780463665473. It is now available at Smashwords Published in August 2018.

Many of the essays deal with the question of esoteric knowledge in antiquity, often from slightly different angles. The book contains the following essays:
The Enlightenment of David Hume;  Richard Dawkins and Deism; Mathematics and Geometry;  Evading the Infinite;  The Esoteric Conception of Divinity in the Ancient World. Unwritten Doctrine, Ancient Silence; What is Sacred, and what is Profane?;  Intentionality, Conjecture, and What is Holy; Excellence and the Knowledge of Divine Things; Cultural Continuity in the Ancient World, and Bernal’s Black Athena.