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While cleaning out my basement and attic this month and boxing up books to give away, I came across my long-unread copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. It is a paperback that I bought when I was in high school, but never read until I was in college.

In this classic scripture of Tibetan Buddhism— A friend recommended it. She was far ahead of me in spirituality. She told me it was traditionally read aloud to the dying to help them attain liberation. I bought it more to impress her than with any intent to prepare for my own death.

It wasn’t until college that I really recognized that it was a classic book of Tibetan Buddhism. I came to understand that death and rebirth are seen as a process and understanding that process helps one recognize the true nature of mind.

At least that is the intent. Reading the book didn’t bring me there. I doubt that any book can bring you to understand the nature of mind.

Most modern translation come a bit closer to the psychology of death and dying. Those are still topics I would prefer not to consider, but I am much closer to them than when I did my first reading of the book.

The book and my college experiences in the 1970s also introduced me to writers such as Aldous Huxley who wrote about the inner journey and mixed Western thought and Eastern spirituality. The path I wais pointed down also had stops with indigenous religious practices, and psychotropic drugs.

I was a seeker and experimenter, but also a bit too frightened to go all the way down the psychotropic rabbit hole. Huxley’s own first psychedelic experience in the 1950s “was in no sense revolutionary.” He was disappointed, as I was, at not experiencing the visions he had read about in the Bardo or the writings of William Blake.

Still, Huxley felt a shift in consciousness and that continued for the rest of his life, as did his experiments with psychedelic drugs.

When Huxley was on his deathbed, he requested that his wife inject him with 100 micrograms of LSD. In the short video up top, Laura remembers the day, the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. And in the letter above, which you can read in full at Letters of Note, she describes Huxley’s last days in vivid detail to Huxley’s brother Julian and his wife Juliette.

A book that connected The Tibetan Book of the Dead and Huxley was another paperback on the same shelf that I was sorting through. It is a book I bought around the same time titled The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead  This book – which I think of as being “very 1960s” – is an “instruction manual” intended for use during sessions involving psychedelic drugs.

It was published in 1964 when this kind of experimentation by people such as Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert were mixing the therapeutic and religious/spiritual possibilities of drugs such as mescaline, psilocybin and LSD.

I knew back then that the band The Doors had gotten their name from Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception, and I had read that the Beatles (or at least John Lennon) were aware of the book (and LSD) and used a bit of the text in the lyrics of their song “Tomorrow Never Knows” from their 1966 album Revolver.

Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.
Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being
Love is all and love is everyone
It is knowing, it is knowing
And ignorance and hate mourn the dead
It is believing, it is believing

Huxley’s wife Laura read to her husband The Tibetan Book of the Dead. as seen through the psychedelic experiences of Leary and others. Her husband did not want to die and fought his cancer. But in his last days, he came to terms with death and decided he wanted her to give him two 100 microgram doses of LSD. People who were there reported that Huxley left without pain and without struggle.

I hope that is true. Today, we often drug those who are dying to free them from pain, but the drugs generally dull the senses and mind.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Liberation Through Understanding in the Between is another translation of the original done by Robert Thurman. The edition’s foreword is by the Dalai Lama, which should not be surprising since it is still a cornerstone of Tibetan Buddhist wisdom and religious thought.

I’m surprised that The Tibetan Book of the Dead hasn’t had more of a resurgence lately, not only because of what it might teach us about death and dying and how to live our life, but because psychedelics have seen a resurgence. A few years after Huxley’s death, the US and UK governments banned almost all psychedelic research But it has recently become once again an object of scientific study once again, and thanks to the reporting, and experimenting, of writers like Michael Pollan’s latest book, How to Change Your Mind. that I read and wrote about earlier this year. Westerners may soon once again use psychedelics to take the inner journeys our culture does its best to discourage and denigrate.


You may also want to explore Tomorrow Never Knows: Rock and Psychedelics by Nicholas Knowles Bromell and The Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows: A Biography by James L Desper Jr.  I discovered that the phrase “tomorrow never knows” was a line that Ringo came up with when the song was being written. Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence is an easier read than The Book of the Dead, if you are so inclined.

quotes

“I never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel”
– Roger Branigin. Or Mark Twain. Or Charles Brownson. Or Irving Leibowitz. Or William I. Greener Jr. Or H. L. Mencken. Or maybe Benjamin Franklin

I love quotations. When I was teaching full-time, I had a rotating series of printed quotations a dnposters decorating my classroom. In this digital age, I am frequently posting quotes that I find interesting on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or LinkedIn.

While searching for the author of a line that was quoted without attribution, I stumbled on the website Quote Investigator.

As a longtime teacher and reader and writer of research papers and dissertations, I am very aware of citing your sources. In the Internet Age, a lot of that kind of citing has fallen away – more out of laziness than deliberate plagiarism.

As a fan of Albert Einstein, I know that a good number of wise quotes attributed to him never came from his mouth or pen. Abraham Lincoln is another famous name that is often attached to wise words incorrectly.

The Quote Investigator website has an entry about the quote that starts this article. Well, one version of the quote. You can choose from:
1. Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel
2. I never quarrel with a man who buys ink by the barrel.
3. Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.

Some version of that idea has been credited to three big quotation sources: Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and H. L. Mencken.

Quote Investigator’s research knocks all three out of the running and lands on someone who came long after their deaths. They found the earliest citation for that second version of the quote was in The Indianapolis News in 1962 in a speech by Roger Branigin.

But Branigin doesn’t carry the same weight of authority as putting Twain, Franklin or Mencken’s name with the line.

There are lots of lines “quoted” and attributed to Anonymous and Author Unknown. Someone said or wrote these words, but has been lost to history. Or wasn’t famous enough to matter. Or had their name dropped off by a lazy person who followed.

I do know that Ambrose Bierce, in his The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary, defined quotation as “the act of repeating erroneously the words of another.”

And not everyone is a fan of those of us who like to repeat quotations.

“[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business.” – A.A. Milne, If I May

“He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.”  – Rudyard Kipling, Many Inventions

“A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.” –  Dorothy Sayers

I like the irony of quoting from an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson where he says “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

But then, I am more on the side of the oft-quoted Winston Churchill who said “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations,” even though it could be interpreted as being a bit of a dig.

I am not quite sure what  Julio Cortázar means when he says “In quoting others, we cite ourselves” (Around the Day in Eighty Worlds). I suppose we do see ourselves in quotes we choose – as in “I wish I had said that.” Marlene Dietrich feels the same way. “I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself.”

I’m heading out for some vacation and hoping to do easy for some time. If you ever read Jack Kerouac, you may recall Old Bill Lee. The character was based on a writer, Beat Generation elder statesman, and substance enthusiast named William S. Burroughs.

Burroughs was a primary figure of the Beat Generation. He wrote eighteen novels and novellas, plus short stories and essays. Naked Lunch (1959) and Junkie (1953) are his best known books.

William S. Burroughs # 3 | Print

Film director Gus Van Sant says that reading a Burroughs essay called “The Discipline of DE” years ago had a big influence on him. So he looked up Burroughs in the New York City phone book, found him, called him, and was granted a visit during which he pitched an idea for a film. He asked him for the rights to use his essay for a film.

From the essay:

DE is a way of doing. It is a way of doing everything you do. DE simply means doing whatever you do in the easiest most relaxed way you can manage which is also the quickest and most efficient way, as you will find as you advance in DE.

You can start right now tidying up your flat, moving furniture or books, washing dishes, making tea, sorting papers. Consider the weight of objects exactly how much force is needed to get the object from here to there. Consider its shape and texture and function where exactly does it belong. Use just the amount of force necessary to get the object from here to there. Don’t fumble, jerk, grab an object. Drop cool possessive fingers onto it like a gentle old cop making a soft arrest. Guide the dustpan lightly to the floor as if you were landing a plane. When you touch an object weigh it with your fingers, feel your fingers on the object, the skin, blood, muscles, tendons of you hand and arm. Consider these extensions of yourself as precision instruments to perform every movement smoothly and well.

Van Sant made a nine-minute short that puts images to Burroughs’ words, and “The Discipline of DE” (1978) which was his sixth short film.

Van Sant would later cast Burroughs in his feature films Drugstore Cowboy and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.

So, I am planning on a week of “doing whatever [I] do in the easiest most relaxed way [I] can manage which is also the quickest and most efficient way, as you will find as you advance in DE”

Novelist Sinclair Lewis is known for a number of novels he wrote in the 1920s and 1930s. Main Street (1920) gave him wide recognition and he followed it with Babbitt (1922) and Arrowsmith (1925). The latter was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1926, but Lewis declined the award. After Elmer Gantry (1927) and Dodsworth (1929), Sinclair Lewis became the first American author to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

One of his lesser known novels is It Can’t Happen Here, published in 1935.  He was writing during the Great Depression and during a time when most Americans were oblivious to Hitler’s rise to power. Certainly Lewis had Hitler in mind and was warning Americans of the possibility of such a leader rising to power in the United States – even though most Americans would have said “it can’t happen here.”

Lewis was also connecting his character Buzz Windrip with the Louisiana politician Huey Long, who was preparing to run for president in the 1936 election. Huey Long was assassinated in 1935 just prior to the novel’s publication.

Lewis’ novel has gotten some attention again now because people are seeing parallels to Donald Trump’s campaign and administration. Take a look at the novel’s description on the back cover of Lewis’ book and you can see why.

It Can’t Happen Here is being viewed as a prescient novel that seems more like contemporary commentary on our current political climate.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, I spent some time in Europe and a number of people I met in Eastern Europe asked about Donald Trump. I said that I didn’t think, at that point, that he had much of a chance of getting the nomination or winning. I was there during the week of the Brexit vote and a number of Brits told us that would not be passed. When it was, they were shocked, and told us that don’t be surprised if the same feelings aren’t present in America and would help Trump’s campaign. “Don’t think it couldn’t happen in America too, ” they warned me.

I did some reading about Sinclair Lewis, who I have not read since my undergraduate days. He graduated from Yale University in 1908, but had an interrupted college career as he worked at several part-time jobs. One of those that caught my attention was a period he spent working at the Helicon Home Colony.

The Colony was novelist Upton Sinclair’s socialist experiment in New Jersey. Upton Sinclair Jr. was also an American writer who is best known for his classic muckraking novel The Jungle. Helicon Home Colony was an experimental community he formed in Englewood, New Jersey using the proceeds from The Jungle. It was short-lived. It was established in October 1906, but the home burned down in March 1907 and the experiment ended.

After graduating Yale, Lewis worked as an editor and journalist, and published several novels that gained little attention. But Main Street in 1920 gave him recognition.

I only discovered It Can’t Happen Here recently via a tweet – which seems appropriate if you are making a Trump connection.

I think I will have to give Lewis’ novel a read.

From the summary I read, Lewis was clearly portraying a genuine U.S. dictator. But Lewis’s character of Windrip is not so much an American Hitler as he is a con-man – a good one who knows how to appeal to people’s desperation, but he has no overarching ideology or desire for world domination.

I’m behind on picking up on the novel because I can see online that since the 2016 United States presidential election, sales of It Can’t Happen Here shot up and this old novel made it to Amazon.com’s list of bestselling books, as did Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm. As with Orwell, Sinclair Lewis wrote what he considered a warning about something dangerous he saw beginning in America and portrayed in fiction how that might eventually play out in reality.

I read about two studies that were done concerning IQ and the more general sense of just how smart we think we are.

Your IQ (intelligence quotient) was probably tested and measured in school, though you probably were never told your magic IQ number. Think you might be a genius?

Genius IQ is generally considered to begin around 140 to 145. That’s about ~.25% of the population or 1 in 400 people. There are varying guides to how the geniuses are divided up. One guide shows:
115-124 – Above average (e.g., university students)
125-134 – Gifted (e.g., post-graduate students)
135-144 – Highly gifted (e.g., intellectuals)
145-154 – Genius (e.g., professors)
155-164 – Genius (e.g., Nobel Prize winners)
165-179 – High genius
180-200 – Highest genius
>200 – “Unmeasurable genius”

Einstein was considered to “only” have an IQ of about 160.

Since the early 20th century, IQ scores were increasing at 10 points per generation, but in the last twenty or thirty years, humans have started getting dumber – if dropping IQ scores are to be believed.

The trend that IQ increased throughout the 20th century is known as the Flynn effect, named after intelligence researcher James Flynn after he observed the rises in IQs for every decade in the 20th century. But in recent years there has been a slowdown or reversal of this upward trend, at least in some countries.

The Flynn Effect is attributed to a variety of societal improvements during the 20th century, including prenatal and early post-natal care, reduced exposure to lead, reduction of pathogens, improved nutrition, better education and improved social environment.

But from the 1970’s onwards, our intelligence has started falling. Are we getting dumber?

One theory concerns dividing our intelligence into two types: fluid and crystallized. Blame is thrown at schools that value and judge you on your ability to recall information for tests and exams. That is crystallized intelligence. It is a type of intelligence that is fine for many service class jobs.  An increasing number of people are going into these kinds of service jobs, and many of those jobs are being dumbed down. You don’t need to add or subtract or even put in amounts when the iconized cash register shows you a picture of a soda or a burger or fries and does it all for you.

But fluid intelligence is what we use for problem solving, critical thinking and higher order skills. It’s not that fluid is better; it’s that both kinds are needed for higher intelligence.

Let me bring in here a second effect: the Dunning Kruger Effect. This was developed by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University who found a cognitive bias that occurs when people fail to adequately assess their level of competence (or incompetence) at a task. They consider themselves to be more competent than they actually are.

The theory has a far less academic name, according to the Urban Dictionary, as “Mount Stupid.” This is a mountain you climb until you get to the place where “you have enough knowledge of a subject to be vocal about it, without the wisdom to gather the full facts or read around the topic.”

It sounds like pop psychology, but there have been serious studies done on the effect. People with low ability do not have the necessary critical ability and self-awareness to recognize how low their ability actually is, and that leads them to have an inflated view of their own competence and knowledge.

In much cruder terms, this effect occurs when people are “too stupid to know how stupid they are.” Have you ever noticed this effect?

Dunning and Kruger tested developed their theory with tests of humor, logic, science and grammar. They found that those who performed best consistently underestimated their ability. But those who performed worst believed that they had in fact done well. As cognitive ability worsens, so does the ability for the participant to accurately assess their ability.

Again, in simpler terms, those with only a little knowledge were more dangerous than those that knew they had no knowledge about a subject. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing“ said Alexander Pope way back in 1709.

The more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know. You have heard that, right? It is a commonly said idea, but it is actually a different cognitive bias known as “Imposter Syndrome.”

When Nicholas Carr published The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains in 2011 (and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize) people kept quoting his earlier Atlantic Monthly article “Is Google making us stupid?” He hit a nerve at the time – we enjoy the Internet a lot, but are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply by using it too much?

Carr references earlier thinkers from Plato to McLuhan and notes that the idea that every information technology (printed books to the Net) also changes our nature of knowledge and intelligence.

Thinking people feared that the printed book would erode our use of memory. But it actually served to focus our attention and promoted deep and creative thought.

Carr doesn’t think the Internet is doing good things. It encourages rapid, distracted dipping into bits of information from many sources. His theory is that what it is making us better at is scanning and skimming – not concentration, contemplation, and reflection.

But you’re reading this article and you’re thinking about it. Did it make you feel a bit stupider or a bit smarter to read it? Will you comment on it, or share it, or read more about it, or talk to someone else about it?

We haven’t really nailed down what dreams are all about and there are still differing theories. In the explanation that Freud promoted, dreams are a way to see into our subconscious desires, thoughts and motivations. This is where we get the idea that the things in dreams (manifest content) are really symbols for the latent, or hidden, content.

Other theories view dreaming as a way the brain generates new ideas and creativity. This explains how people wake up with a poem or the solution to a complex problem.

A more everyday variation on this theory is another that posits that dreams are the way we process the day’s information. In sleep and dreaming, we categorize, prune away and store memories.

However, none of these explain the persistent idea that dreams, at least sometimes, seem to predict or foreshadow future events. The three theories first mentioned all deal with the past, whether it be the past 48 hours, or our childhood years ago.

If you have ever had a dream that later turned out to be “true” or prophetic, you probably have some belief in precognitive dreams.

J. W. Dunne, a British engineer and amateur philosopher, proposed that the way we believe we experience time as linear was an illusion. Human consciousness fools us into believing that, when in fact past, present and future were continuous in a higher-dimensional reality. We have imposed this sequential time mental perception of time as a way to understand it.

He wrote about what he called “serial time” is a series of books beginning with An Experiment with Time (1928) , The Serial Universe (1934), The New Immortality (1938), Nothing Dies (1940) and Intrusions? (1955).

As the years passed, he connected “serialism” to psychology, parapsychology, theology, relativity and quantum mechanics. Several famous novelists were fans of his theories, including James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Aldous Huxley.

Vladimir Nabokov was another novelist who was taken with the Dunne’s idea that serial time allowed for dreams to “predict” a future we had already experienced. It also explained the déjà vu phenomenon.

In a recently published collection titled Insomniac Dreams,, we can see an experiment in time that Nabokov conducted himself.

Every morning for about three months, he would write down immediately upon awakening what he could recall of his dreams. Then the following days, he paid careful attention to anything that seemed to do with the recorded dream. This dream journal was recorded on index cards, which has also been his compositional method when he wrote Lolita.

He is surely not the only dream journaler who has believed that dreams are not just fragments of past impressions, but are both past and future events. Dunne said this was possible in his serial view of time because time then is not unidirectional but recursive.

Dunne would also say that the only way to observe the predictive nature o dreams is to pay careful attention to the content of dreams, as Nabokov and journaling do, and the events that follow in waking life.

Nabokov finds some instances of prophecy in his recorded dreams, but nothing I would consider extraordinary despite his idea that when you are confronted with predicted outcomes that might be explained as coincidences multiple times, you cease to believe they are coincidences and believe they “form the living organism of a new truth.”

I am more in the coincidence school of belief about the predictive aspects of dreams, and that they are given more weight when we pay closer attention, as Nabokov did.

Perhaps, I should do my own experiment paying closer attention to the followup days  and dream self-reflection. Though lately, I have not had any dreams to record as they seem to disappear before I even wake up with my dream journal beside me. What’s that all about?

 

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