top nonfiction books, according to me

Have been meaning to do this for a while.

I have had the privilege of reading widely and in depth during a prolonged period of self-education. This is a rare thing, and I am very grateful for it.

So: here is a list of the non-fiction books that are most highly recommended by the moose.

This is a really hard list to make. I want to get a sense of what has most influenced me, and what would be most useful for others to read. The real challenge is what amazing mind-blowing stuff to leave off; what entire disciplines don’t even get a mention.

I could rant at length about each of the books listed, and someday mean to, but for now the list and a brief precis will suffice.

Over time I have found the one of the most important laws of scholarship to be “always read the original”. Reading these volumes will repay truly great dividends. In some cases I am picking authors rather than books, as it is difficult to fit many thinkers into one volume.

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Robert Anton Wilson: Quantum Psychology.

Wilson is like the Irish Buddha. Compassionate, funny and wise, with an uncanny ability to explain complex things in ways that make you feel much smarter than you are, as he teaches you how to think for yourself. His books are wide ranging and profound, and totally unique.

QP deals with quantum physics, language, the mind, and how we make ourselves a reality tunnel to live in; it is gentle and funny and unspeakably brilliant, and will free up your view of things by stealth with its mix of theory and practice.

Prometheus Rising, and Cosmic Trigger Vol 1, are the other two must reads of his non-fiction. They are both also pretty indescribable, but totally worthwhile. (Also recommended is the audio set Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything, particularly the 2nd and 3rd lectures.)

His humour, and staggering originality and clarity of communication, make him the best entry point into the world of ideas that interests me.

David Bohm: Wholeness and the Implicate Order; Thought as a System.

Quantum physicist and philosopher whose thought touches on the most fundamental questions of existence. Bohm is much more than a physicist. In my eyes he is quite possibly the most important philosopher of the late 20th century.

WATIO is about his take on quantum physics, and relativity, and their implications for everything else. There is one long chapter with many equations that will be over most people’s heads (sure was over mine), but it is interesting to read along the development of the logic. Also discusses language and philosophy, putting forward fascinating and brilliant stuff as he grapples with the deepest issues of meaning and existence.

TAAS is much easier going, taking the form of a weekend long dialogue he led, and covers analagous material in a completely non-technical fashion. Both are very brilliant.

(I often feel much of my own work is covering ground that Wilson and Bohm covered better.)

PD Ouspensky: In Search of the Miraculous; Tertium Organum.

Russian philosopher from the early 20th century. Genius in his own right, while perhaps best known as a disciple of Gurdjieff.

ISOTM introduced me to the best, most lucid, most grounded and practical model of human psychology and spirituality I have encountered; a genuinely life-changing experience.

The first ten pages of TO are still probably the most comprehensively mindshattering thing I have ever read; in fact, in many ways that is where my journey began, and the return was being able to say what had already been said, but from myself, in my own words.


Buckminster Fuller: Critical Path

Visionary genius, design scientist, humanist; original thinker par excellence; world-system thinking at its finest; one of the most optimistic paradigm shifting thinkers of all time.

Want to save the world? Start here. Not easy reading, but off-the-charts brilliant. Written the year before he died; a summation of his life’s work. Almost impossible to communicate just how powerful, joyous, and uplifting this work, and Fuller’s vision, is. (Actually, we wrote a – frankly awesome – song about Bucky in Idle Faction: right click to download Go Bucky Go, which maybe captures some of how rocking this stuff really is 😉 )

-=-=-

Those four, in particular, are giants whom I am standing sheepishly on the shoulders of, feeling out of place.

Now two which are just things any intelligent person in the West should have read, or the equivalent thereof, in answer to the basic questions of where did we come from, and how our current world and ideas about the world came about:

Richard Tarnas: The Passion of the Western Mind

The best one volume history of western thought I have encountered. A truly incredible performance, weaving together the many strands of thought into one amazing narrative.

(An excellent Eastern complement to this is Heinrich Zimmer’s “Philosophies of India”.)


Arnold Toynbee: Mankind and Mother Earth

The best one volume history of the world I have encountered. Written the year before he died, and after his mammoth 12 volume history of the world, here Toynbee brings it all together, revealing the patterns of things across time.

History, in general, is vital for any understanding of what we are. Though also a highly problematic, impressionistic art. A discipline I wish I was better read in.

-=-=-

While I could go on and on listing many great books, with vital insights, I am also aware they form part of my process, and may or may not be essential to anyone else.

Honestly, the above would keep most people going for quite a while, and would gird you well to take on the world; the first four in particular feel essential, and have done a lot to shape my thinking and experience.

bitcoin

At some point, the alternative currency philosophy was going to hit the open source/p2p movement, and give us a dangerous mutant.

It has arrived in the form of bitcoin.

If you can begin to grasp the implications of an untraceable, untaxable, global, uncontrollable-by-governments currency, you ought to know about this.
Moreso if you can’t.

wahoo!

Every now and again Warren Ellis justifies his existence in the most excellent fashion.

This time via providing this treasure from Ubuweb, a documentary about Buckminster Fuller..

“This film by Oscar-winning filmmaker Robert Snyder, like his other documentaries on “the greats” (Michelangelo, Henry Miller, Willem de Kooning, Pablo Casals, among others), transports the viewer into Fuller’s mind and soul. Told entirely in his own words, the film is an intimate, personal and inspiring message from Fuller to our fragile world.”

Egypt

Go, Egypt. Go, people.

Of course, now the real task begins. Setting up and maintaining the life you want to lead. Because the way things are will do all it can to propagate itself in a new guise with pretty words and a new face at the top.

And yeah, once again, it is amazing to have it reaffirmed that massive change is in fact possible, out of seemingly nowhere, peacefully, through the actions of people working together to make things better.

This is what the future looks like.

We can change. The choice is when, and to what.

Way back I quote Ventura thusly:

We are neither governed nor ruled. We are ignored. That most of usdon’t make a peep about it is perhaps an indication that we deserve to be ignored. We’ve demanded to be flattered, agreed with, and comforted; we’ve demanded almost anything but competence. Only a massive shift in public sentiment – and public action – will change things, and no one knows if that’s afoot.
[…]
The only antidote for a failure of democracy is the exercise of democracy. What every government fears most is a million citizens peaceably assembled at its front door, people who won’t go home until they get what they came for.

Wow, and just while trawling through old quotes, here is James Baldwin

But for power truly to feel itself menaced, it must somehow sense itself in the presence of another power – or, more accurately, an energy – which it has not known how to define and therefore does not really know how to control. For a very long time, for example, America prospered – or seemed to prosper: this prosperity cost millions of people their lives. Now, not even the people who are the most spectacular recipients of the benefits of this prosperity are able to endure these benefits: they can neither understand them nor do without them, nor can they go beyond them. Above all, they cannot, or dare not, assess or imagine the price payed by their victims, or subjects, for this way of life, and so they cannot afford to know why the victims are revolting. They are forced, then, to the conclusion that the victims – the barbarians – are revolting against all established civilized values – which is both true and not true – and, in order to preserve these values, however stifling and joyless these values have caused their lives to be, the bulk of the people desperately seek out representatives who are prepared to make up in cruelty what both they and the people lack in conviction.

(No Name in the Street, 1972)

And as ever, Bucky needs to be reaffirmed:

whether it will be utopia or oblivion will be a touch and go relay race until the very end.

People do stuff, and make stuff happen. Inactivity is also doing. What is your activity, and inactivity, producing in the world? And what do you think the world needs? Because when enough people feel the same, the streets are full.

I’d rather be in the paddock

Back from the paddock. Have mostly caught up on sleep.

Once again, Kiwiburn was amazing, awesome, wonderful, intense, powerful, challenging, etc. And full of people who are amazing, awesome, wonderful, etc.

It’s funny, I was particularly ambivalent about going this year – mostly I went to screen the doco, in situ – but I came away wanting to still be in the paddock way more than any previous year. The quality of the people, the quality of the interactions, and the energy of the place, is just flat out better. Strangers from all over the country and the world come together in spontaneous community. It is a strange and beautiful phenomenon. All these people are still in my heart and mind.

The doco screened twice, in appropriately DIY paddock conditions, once in a torrential downpour, and once after the temple burn. It was fascinating to observe the audience responding to the film, as the screenings were very different. It seemed to go down pretty well, which was nice.

review: zeitgeist moving forward [2011]

Went along to the world premiere of Zeitgeist: Moving Forward the other night.

I never saw the first Zeitgeist film, and don’t plan to. I saw the second one, and found it to be a reasonable presentation of issues around the money system – the kind of stuff I have been ranting about for a while now – along with some fun techno-utopian bullshit called the Venus Project.

The third one was long. Four parts, the first focusing on epigenetic effects on behaviour – essentially rejecting genetic determinist type arguments, and arguing for the influence of the environment – and was pretty solid. The second was more on the money system, this time focusing on its role as our environment, and its effects on us. The third part was an interesting if incomplete techno-utopian model of how we could run the world instead once we stop being so f**king stupid, but it struck me as a hyper rationalist vision curiously lacking insight into human values. The fourth part I forget exactly, but it got a bit more peak oil on our asses, and a bit more urgent about the need for change.

For anyone who has been paying attention, there is not much new here. The dude could use an editor/input from someone who isn’t him. From the kinds of things he feels the need to clarify – (eg) this is not communism! – he is clearly operating from deep inside an American consciousness. At times it is preachy, and flawed in its argument. But as a freely available idiot friendly introduction – and one with a lot of momentum behind it – it could be much worse.

As ever, it is easier to critique what is going on than produce alternatives. The critical comments are worth knowing about, and the alternative, while limited and flawed, contains some good stuff, and is more use as a contribution to a conversation rather than a viable model. (Following Monbiot, I feel more than justified in saying this, as most of my writing is about creating viable solutions to this sort of thing. Just need to get them published in some form :/)

Mostly what interested me about it was the social phenomenon. I forget the stats exactly, but the dude who spoke before it played said it was launched on the same day in (something like) 280 cities in 65 countries around the world, via a grassroots movement.

Now that is interesting.

Thing is, the Paramount was *completely* sold out – people sitting in the aisles – sold out with normal looking people, not obvious freaks.

Normally this stuff is encountered alone in your room late at night in front of your computer, or maybe with a few similarly cracked out friends. While widespread, it is underground. It is being thought about and talked about but it is not visible. Bringing thousands of people together, in public, around the world, for a shared experience of this material, interests me – it brings things closer to the “everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows” phenomena Clay Shirky talks about in Here Comes Everybody (which I talked about in the last section of this post). It is powerful in some sense.

I don’t know if we will look back on this as some sort of moment that mattered, but it is well named – there is a trend, a movement, a zeitgeist, towards the general awareness that we have comprehensive problems that require comprehensive solutions. Its value is in reaching “the masses”, and opening up these sorts of conversations. In this sense I am not the ideal audience – I am further down the rabbit hole than most people. But those I talked to afterwards had found new thoughts moving in themselves after the film.

It will be available for free download from the 25th of Jan.

deviant globalisation: the unpleasant underside of transnational integration

Wow. This is the most interesting what-is-going-on-in-the-world thing I have encountered in a long long time:

Nils Gilman, co-author of deviant globalisation, giving a SALT talk.

There is so much going on in this talk. Seriously check it out. My summary below is incomplete.

Basically he is mapping the vast underside of globalisation – the enormous flow of cash and people engaged in vastly profitable illegal trades – from drugs, to sex tourism, to organ trafficking, to people trafficking, etc,
and the black financial market underlying it, which is as big as the rest combined since it facilitates it – things that will sound familiar – and places them in an utterly fascinating analysis of how and why this happens, and what it means.

Short version: our weird morality causes asymmetry in the world, which produces opportunities for arbitrage – systemic inequalities which can be leveraged for profit – ie what we ban makes it valuable when it crosses the border, which provides incentives to deal in those things – the harder the push to illegalise them, the more profitable they are.

The organisations making use of this systemic leverage are gigantic, and occurring in places in which the development model has failed and which are borderline failed states.

His provocative argument includes saying this is actually what development looks like – this is “actually happening” development, transferring more wealth from the global north to the global south than anything else that is being done.

This is the system, it is not marginal. It is creating a new class of geopolitical actors – what John Robb calls global guerrillas. In many cases they are replacing functions of the state in a privatised form – health clinics, justice, security, parks, schools – not for the public but their own constituents, their community.

While violent since they are outside the law, they are not revolutionary – they are not trying to take over the state. They don’t usually conflict with the state unless the state attacks them – eg a gang shutting down Sao Paolo for 3 days. They are mostly interested in autonomy, while functionally sapping the state in practice.

What does this mean for the future?

We will not make the world like us. However, it will also not descend into anarchy. Deviant globalisation represents an order, just not a liberal order, an illiberal order. It is not ungoverned, but governed by people we don’t like. They are not failed states – that assumes our ideal of a state – but rather a different kind of order outside of liberal states.

What can we do?

We can make judicious choices. Embrace the reality of the system, and what effects our local prohibitions have elsewhere.

The question then becomes what do we worry about more? (eg) our morality of drug use vs slaughter in the supply chain. He thinks these are not easy choices but that they are not going away.

***

Some thoughts I have about his analysis, however, is that all this arbitrage is parasitic off the liberal global system existing. He is describing something in a dynamic state of evolution, and it is hard to predict where it is going. This is the world system going into flux, losing equilibrium. Tracking it is certainly vital, but prediction is hard, as the out-of-control changes coming to our part of the system (peak oil, climate change, etc) will also affect the deviant global system.

Also, since what he is describing is a system that is effectively unfettered capitalism – unrestricted by any morality – interacting with the arbitrage created by our morality, we could get rid capitalism as an underlying system, thus removing the profit motive, or we can change our morality.

We are defined by what we prohibit; we could change what is allowable. Which brings us back to what is human, what is us, and other, and why, and how do we change that. And all the other stuff in our head, which most of my work for the past few years has been about hacking…

Finally, something I particularly took from it is a map of how and where the warlords of the multi-multi-polar near future are going to evolve.

Sunday Mutants 19/9/10

Grow your own algae – food source of the future? “Imagine that – you can have a personal algae tank that provides fresh, ultra-nutritious food on a year-round basis.” Link is to an interview with a guy at NASA who does this.

“It is my firm belief that the last seven decades of the twentieth will be characterized in history as the dark ages of theoretical physics.” Way to start a book, dude. One of the world’s ‘most successful practical scientists’, Carver Mead, seems bent on overturning quantum physics: interesting interview with him. Helps if you are a bit of a physics geek.

Global Consciousness Project. It seems like I should have already known about this.

The Global Consciousness Project, also called the EGG Project, is an international, multidisciplinary collaboration of scientists, engineers, artists and others. We collect data continuously from a global network of physical random number generators located in 65 host sites around the world. The archive contains more than 10 years of random data in parallel sequences of synchronized 200-bit trials every second.

Our purpose is to examine subtle correlations that may reflect the presence and activity of consciousness in the world. We predict structure in what should be random data, associated with major global events. When millions of us share intentions and emotions the GCP/EGG network data show meaningful departures from expectation. This is a powerful finding based in solid science.


Rethinking learning and study habits
. Article about learning styles, teaching styles, and factors that influence learning. This bit struck me, as I have long abhorred the right/left brain distinction as anything other than a clumsy oversimplification.

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas.

machine that turns plastic into oil

Read that headline again.
Holy fucking shit.

YouTube Preview Image

So simple, so brilliant.
There is hope.

wade davis

is the man.

I blogged one of his TED talks a while back, and since then have explored further. Last year he gave the 2009 Massey Lectures in Canada. They are fucking awesome, and if you snoop around you will probably find the audio available somewhere online (Not sure if it is legit, so not linking; his SALT talk on the same themes is here.) (EDIT: actually, the talks seem I am on about seem to be here fairly legally 🙂 )The lectures are collected into the book The Wayfinders.

His fundamental message – that the diversity of world-views adds to the collective wonder of humanity, and that each of these world-views has astonishing depth and richness and makes a unique contribution to that collective – comes at an incredibly relevant moment in time.

We are facing a cultural mass extinction, and a corresponding impoverishment of the human collective. We face a linguistic catastrophe – around half the languages spoken in the world are going to be dead in a generation. With each language we lose a world-view, a way of understanding and being, a unique set of answers to the questions posed by humans – who are we? what are we? why are we? how do we survive? what does our existence mean?

His grasp of diverse cultures and ability to express them is second to none. His talks are a hell of a ride. Appreciating what is at stake through his examples is literally mind-blowing. The diversity of human belief and behaviour is staggering.

I find it flat out inspiring. There is a massive convergence with my own work on consciousness, belief, and world-views, though from a really different point of entry; and I can see potentials that excite the heck out of me. There is something hugely important here.

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