The Machine Will Never Triumph, part eighteen
When science starts to be interpretive
it is more unscientific even than mysticism.
To make self-preservation and self-protection the first law of existence
is about as scientific as making suicide the first law of existence,
and amounts to very much the same thing.
A nightingale singing at the top of his voice
is neither hiding himself nor preserving himself nor propagating his
he is giving himself away in every sense of the word
and obviously, it is the culminating point of his existence.
A tiger is striped and golden for his own glory.
He would certainly be much more invisible if he were grey-green.
And I don’t suppose the ichthyosaurus sparkled like the humming-bird,
no doubt he was khaki-colored with muddy protective colouration,
So why didn’t he survive?
As a matter of fact, the only creatures that seem to survive
are those that give themselves away in flash and sparkle
and gay flicker of joyful life;
those that go glittering abroad
with a bit of splendour.
Even mice play quite beautifully at shadows,
And some of them are brilliantly pie-bald.
I expect the dodo looked like a clod,
A drab and dingy bird.1
Science is very good at what it is supposed to do, but is worse than useless as a way of understanding reality. Science can tell us basic facts about the physical aspects of the natural world, but has nothing true to say about the deeper realities of the Gods, the soul, or the meaning of life. Modern science has become a religion that insists on dictating its views on life and the cosmos, which—in fact—are far more ridiculous than the ravings of most false gurus. Darwinian theory places the preservation of the species above all the intangible aspects of life that are far more important. Just as the person who extends his life at all costs sacrifices the opportunity to live in the moment, a society focussed only on preservation is sacrificing quality on the altar of quantity. We have so much in the modern world, but it all amounts to little more than a hill of beans to many of us, who live much of our lives as if we are simply the walking dead. Scientists cannot, solely be blamed for this, nor can mathematicians. Ancient scientists and mathematicians would have quickly rejected our modern metaphysic. In fact, some of the premier scientists of ancient Greece would invent something, build it, then tear it apart, since they did it only to learn, but not to mechanize the world, nor to earn a profit. Building monstrous mechanized machines first started in the Renaissance with the advent of humanism and the hubris that came along with this new doctrine. In ancient times science was intimately tied to philosophy and theology, but now science is wholly debased. Edward Abbey has the following to say:
[S]cience in our time is the whore of industry and the slut of war, and […] scientific technology has become the instrument of a potential planetary slavery, the most powerful weapon ever placed in the hands of despots. Nothing new in this discovery, of course; the poets, with their fine sensitivity to changes in the human weather, have been aware of the danger from the outset, for 200 years. It may even be the case that the situation has so far deteriorated that the only appropriate question now is whether or not technology will succeed in totally enslaving mankind before it succeeds in its corollary aim of destroying life.2
If technology is allowed to run rampant, the probable outcomes are mass extinction or total slavery to the Machine. Slavery to the Machine can be a subtle phenomenon. It’s not as if machines develop human-like consciousness and begin exercising agency. It’s more akin to painting oneself into a corner. We trap ourselves by relying more and more on technology that is so complex and unmanageable that we can only escape by giving it up, like breaking free of an addiction. This is why we must fight. The war against the Machine is not just an inconsequential battle, but a holy war for the soul of the world. We must reclaim ancient ways of knowing and being. Lawrence juxtaposes the modern, scientific, world-view, and the world-view of the ancients, as lived by Native Americans, as follows: “To us, science is our religion of conquest. Hence, through science, we are the conquerors and resultant gods of our earth. But to the Indian, the so-called mechanical processes do not exist. All lives.”3 “All lives” should be our motto for a renewed world. Everything, even dirt, even a rock, is alive. However, “according to the scientific idea life itself is but a product of reactions in the material universe. This is palpably wrong.”4 These life suffocating doctrines of modern science are prison walls for the soul. Lawrence writes:
To those who are in prison, whose being is prisoner within the walls of unliving fact, there are only two forms of triumph: the triumph of inertia, or the triumph of the will. There is no flowering possible.
And the experience en route to either triumph, is the experience of sensationalism.
Stone walls need not a prison make: that is, not an absolute prison. If the great sun has shone into a man’s soul, even prison-walls cannot blot it out. Yet prison-walls, unless they be a temporary shelter, are deadly things.
So, if we are imprisoned within walls of accomplished fact, experience, or knowledge, we are prisoned indeed. The living sun is shut out finally. A false sun, like a lamp, shines.
All absolutes are prison-walls. These “laws” which science has invented, like conservation of energy, indestructability of matter, gravitation, the will-to-live, survival of the fittest: and even these absolute facts, like—the earth goes round the sun—or the doubtful atoms, electrons, or ether—they are all prison-walls, unless we realise that we don’t know what they mean. We don’t know what we mean, ultimately, by conservation, or indestructability. Our atoms, electrons, ether, are caps that fit exceedingly badly. And our will-to-live contains a germ of degeneracy. As for the earth going round the sun: it goes round like the blood goes round my body, absolutely mysteriously, with the rapidity and hesitation of life.
But the human ego, in its pettifogging arrogance, sets up these things for you as absolutes, and unless you kick hard and kick in time, they are your prison-walls for ever. Your spirit will be like a dead bee in a cell.
Once you are in prison, you have no experience left, save the experience of reduction, destruction going on inwardly. Your sentimentalism is only the smell of your own rottenness.5
Even if—and it is a big if—science is correct about material phenomena, it still has nothing whatsoever to say about intangible, spiritual matters. And, even when science is correct about some fact, that fact should never be turned into an absolute, since this world is almost entirely contingent, save in its deeper realities, which are unanalyzable by science. The way to stay out of science’s metaphysical prison is to be in living touch with the sun, not as a ball of gas, but as something life-giving and divine. We have only two choices in life, logic or mysticism: “Logic is organized darkness. Mysticism is rhythmic light.”6 Individuals are free to choose, but as a civilization, it is clear we have chosen the ice-cold darkness of logic, with results that are well described by Thomas Bernhard:
We are frightened by the clarity out of which our world is suddenly born, our world of science; we freeze in this clarity; but we wanted this clarity, we evoked it, so we cannot complain now that the cold reigns and we’re freezing. The cold increases with the clarity. This clarity and this cold will now rule us. The science of nature will give us a greater clarity and will be far colder than we can imagine. Everything will be clear, a clarity that increases and deepens unendingly, and everything will be cold, a coldness that intensifies ever more horribly. In the future we will have the impression of a day that is endlessly clear and endlessly cold.7
Even if cold, lifeless science and math may provide us with some convenient hints about reality, they are not, and can never lead us to the Truth. As Jeffers writes:
Science and mathematics Run parallel to reality, they symbolize it, they squint at it, They never touch it: consider what an explosion Would rock the bones of men into little white fragments and unsky the world If any mind should for a moment touch truth.8
When Anaxagoras says: Even the snow is black!
he is taken by the scientists very seriously
because he is enunciating a “principle,” a “law”
that all things are mixed, and therefore the purest white snow
has in it an element of blackness.
That they call science, and reality.
I call it mental conceit and mystification
and nonsense, for pure snow is white to us
white and white and only white
with a lovely bloom of whiteness upon white
in which the soul delights and the senses
have an experience of bliss.
And life is for delight, and for bliss
and dread, and the dark, rolling ominousness of doom
then the bright dawning of delight again
from off the sheer white snow, or the poised moon.
And in the shadow of the sun the snow is blue, so blue-aloof
with a hint of the frozen bells of the scylla flower
but never the ghost of a glimpse of Anaxagoras’ funeral black.9
As described by Lawrence above, science, which claims to be empirical, actually denies directly lived experience in favor of rationalistic concepts. If snow is white to us, let it be white. If the sun seems like an orange or a candle flame in the sky, then so be it. We only injure ourselves by forcing concepts, such as the sun being a ball of gas, upon our children. We are deeply impoverished when we don’t see things as they are. Modern science is more recent than ancient science, but not more true. Heidegger writes:
Greek science was never exact, precisely because, in keeping with its essence, it could not be exact and did not need to be exact. Hence it makes no sense whatever to suppose that modern science is more exact than that of antiquity. Neither can we say that the Galilean doctrine of freely falling bodies is true and that Aristotle’s teaching, that light bodies strive upward, is false; for the Greek understanding of the essence of body and place and of the relation between the two rests upon a different interpretation of beings and hence conditions a correspondingly different kind of seeing and questioning of natural events. No one would presume to maintain that Shakespeare’s poetry is more advanced than that of Aeschylus. It is still more impossible to say that the modern understanding of whatever is, is more correct than that of the Greeks. Therefore, if we want to grasp the essence of modern science, we must first free ourselves from the habit of comparing the new science with the old solely in terms of degree, from the point of view of progress.10
In fact, as clearly stated by Heidegger, ancient science partook of truth more fully than modern science could ever dream of. Ancient science understood that there are spiritual realities, but modern science is measurement and nothing else. “Why will you always measure? Life is not a clock.”11 Life is organic, and can never be quantified. One may live more in one year than most people do in eighty. Modern people are condescending to religious believers, treating them as children, but “[o]f all childish things, science is one of the most childish and amusing.”12 And this childish thing is, in turn, fed by adults to children, in turn turning them into spiritually impoverished adults. When children are fed too many facts, they are no longer able to experience. As Lawrence writes:
[W]hat on earth is the good of saying to a child, “The world is a flattened sphere, like an orange.” It is simply pernicious. You had much better say the world is a poached egg in a frying pan. That might have some dynamic meaning. The only thing about the flattened orange is that the child just sees this orange disporting itself in blue air, and never bothers to associate it with the earth he treads on. And yet it would be so much better for the mass of mankind if they never heard of the flattened sphere. They should never be told that the earth is round. It only makes everything unreal to them. They are balked in their impression of the flat good earth, they can’t get over this sphere business, they live in a fog of abstraction, and nothing is anything. Save for purposes of abstraction, the earth is a great plain, with hills and valleys. Why force abstractions and kill the reality, when there’s no need.13
To make it clear, we reiterate, the ancients knew much of what we know, but they felt far more deeply, and they chose not to act upon their worst impulses. We pale in comparison to the ancients. As Klages writes:
The ancient Greeks had no skill with electrical wiring, power cables, and radios, and this fact sheds light on their habitual scorn for physical science, which they saw as a rather lowly business. But only they could construct temples, carve images on columns, and cut precious gems, of such beauty and delicacy, that we can only compete with them by making use of our most artificial tools! Without conducting experiments, and supported only by everyday perception, the Greek philosophers have influenced, and in large part governed, the course of Western thought for over two millennia. The didactic virtue of Socrates has been revived in the scrawnier “categorical imperative” of Kant; the Platonic “doctrine of the Ideas” has been revived in the aesthetics of Schopenhauer; and the philosophical framework of the atomistic theory of chemistry stems directly from Democritus. Faced with these facts, is it not more likely that the Greeks avoided physical science not because of their lack of capacity for such study, but because they chose not to have any dealings with it? Perhaps their mystics might enable us to recover many insights that have been lost to us? Let us take another example: the Chinese of Antiquity would have seen all our modern discoveries as alien to their culture; the modern Chinese would feel the same way towards these discoveries, had we not compelled China to accept them by force. We are likewise impressed by the great Chinese philosophers, sages such as Lao Tse or Lei Zi, who speak to us in words of such wisdom that even Goethe seems a mere bungler by comparison. Thus, if the Chinese did not possess a science with whose assistance they might have been able to build cannons, blow up mountains, and grace their tables with margarine, it is because they had no desire for these things. Behind the scenes, certain forces are controlling mankind, and it is only by examining these forces that we can understand a crucial fact: before the progressive research of modern times could be undertaken, the intellectuals had to be conditioned to adopt a philosophical theory upon which would be founded a required practice: we call that practice capitalism.14
Compared to the ancient Greeks or Chinese, we are shadows. Certainly many of the ancient civilizations could have gone down the road to modernity, but they never did. The universal reality of the Gods prevented the descent into modernity and capitalism. Only with the advent of distorted forms of Christianity did the modern world become possible.
Abbey, Edward. The Best of Edward Abbey. Edited by Edward Abbey. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2005.
Bernhard, Thomas. Gathering Evidence. New York: Vintage, 2010.
Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology. Translated by William Lovitt. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.
Jeffers, Robinson. The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Edited by Tim Hunt. Vol. Three. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1988.
Klages, Ludwig. Cosmogonic Reflections. Translated by Joseph D. Pryce. London: Arktos, 2015.
———. The Biocentric Worldview. Translated by Joseph D. Pryce. London: Arktos, 2013.
Lawrence, D. H. Late Essays and Articles. Edited by James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays. Edited by Virginia Crosswhite Hyde. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and Fantasia of the Unconscious. Edited by Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays. Edited by Michael Herbert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
———. Studies in Classic American Literature. Edited by Ezra Greenspan, Lindeth Vasey, and John Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. The Poems. Edited by Christopher Pollnitz. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
D. H. Lawrence, The Poems, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 454.
Edward Abbey, The Best of Edward Abbey, ed. Edward Abbey (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2005), 226.
D. H. Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays, ed. Virginia Crosswhite Hyde (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 83.
D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, ed. Ezra Greenspan, Lindeth Vasey, and John Worthen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 262.
D. H. Lawrence, Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 286–87.
Ludwig Klages, Cosmogonic Reflections, trans. Joseph D. Pryce (London: Arktos, 2015), 10.
Thomas Bernhard, Gathering Evidence (New York: Vintage, 2010), 402.
Robinson Jeffers, The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, ed. Tim Hunt, vol. Three (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1988), 425.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:622.
Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper Perennial, 2013), 117–18.
D. H. Lawrence, Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 68.
Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, 37.
D. H. Lawrence, Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and Fantasia of the Unconscious, ed. Bruce Steele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 122.
Ludwig Klages, The Biocentric Worldview, trans. Joseph D. Pryce (London: Arktos, 2013), 38–39.