Posts Tagged ‘New York City’


Technobiophilia

We surf the net, stream our films and save stuff in the cloud. Can we get all the nature we need from the digital world?

by  Sue Thomas
Getting back to nature: a visitor takes a photo of jellyfish in the aquarium in Wuhan, China. Photo by ReutersGetting back to nature: a visitor takes a photo of jellyfish in the aquarium in Wuhan, China. Photo by Reuters

Sue Thomas is a writer and digital pioneer. Her latest book is Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace (2013).

There are fish in my phone. Some are pure orange with white fins; others have black mottled markings along their orange backs. They glide, twist and turn above a bed of flat pale sand fringed by rocks and the bright green leaves of something that looks like watercress. Sometimes they swim out of view, leaving me to gaze at the empty scene in the knowledge that they will soon reappear. When I gently press my finger against the screen, the water ripples and the fish swim away. Eventually, they cruise out from behind the Google widget, appear from underneath the Facebook icon, or sneak around the corner of Contacts. This is Koi Live Wallpaper, an app designed for smartphones. The idea of an aquarium inside my phone appeals to my sense of humour and makes me smile. But I suspect its true appeal is more complicated than that.

In 1984, the psychiatrist Aaron Katcher and his team at the University of Pennsylvania conducted an experiment in the busy waiting room of a dentist’s office. On some days, before the surgery opened, the researchers installed an aquarium with tropical fish. On other days, they took it away. They measured the patients’ levels of anxiety in both environments, and the results were clear. On ‘aquarium days’, patients were less anxious and more compliant during the surgery. Katcher concluded that the presence of these colourful living creatures had a calming influence on people about to receive dental treatment. Then in 1990, Judith Heerwagen and colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle found the same calming effect using a large nature mural instead of an aquarium in the waiting room of a specialist ‘dental fears’ clinic. A third experiment by the environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich and colleagues at Texas A&M University in 2003 found that stressed blood donors experienced lowered blood pressure and pulse rates while sitting in a room where a videotape of a nature scene was playing. The general conclusion was that visual exposure to nature not only diminished patient stress but also reduced physical pain. I’m not in pain when I look at my mobile, though I might well be stressed. Is that why I take time to gaze at my virtual aquarium?

A simple answer to this question is no. Katcher’s fish were real. Mine are animations. But there is increasing evidence that we respond very similarly to a ‘natural’ environment, whether it’s real or virtual, and research confirms that even simulated nature experiences can be remarkably powerful. In a 2008 study of Spanish energy consumers, the researchers Patrick Hartmann and Vanessa Apaolaza-Ibáñez at the University of the Basque Country examined responses to a new TV marketing campaign by one of the country’s leading energy brands, Iberdrola Energía Verde. The company was attempting to ‘green’ its image by evoking a virtual experience of nature through the use of pleasant imagery such as flying eagles, mountain scenery, and waterfalls. The intention was to evoke feelings of altruism and self-expression (‘Now, every time you switch on your light, you can feel good because you are helping nature’). The researchers found that consumers responded positively to the new branding, no matter whether they were already environmentally conscious or among the ‘non-concerned’. The ads brought the benefits of a ‘warm glow’ and a positive feeling of participating in the common good of the environment. The visual simulations were meeting a human desire to experience nature and reap its psychological benefits (pleasure, stress reduction, and so on). The research concluded that in societies where the experience of actual nature is becoming scarce, and life is increasingly virtual, the consumption of ‘green products’, especially those that evoke virtual contact with nature, can provide surrogate experiences.

The psychologist Deltcho Valtchanov at the University of Waterloo in Canada reached a similar conclusion in 2010 when he found that immersion in a computer-generated virtual reality nature space prompted an increase in positive feelings such as happiness, friendliness, affection and playfulness, and a decrease in negative feelings such as fear, anger and sadness. There were also significant decreases in levels of both perceived and physiological stress. Again, he and his colleagues concluded that encounters with nature in virtual reality have beneficial effects similar to encounters with real natural spaces. In other words, it seems that you can gain equal benefit from walking in a forest as from viewing an image of a forest or, as in my case, from watching virtual goldfish as opposed to real ones.

But what do we mean when we refer to ‘nature’? It’s a common term that seems to have an assumed collective meaning, often romanticised and sentimental. We speak of ‘getting back to nature’ as if there was once a prelapsarian baseline before we humans interfered and spoiled it. Gary Snyder, the American poet and environmentalist, offers alternative definitions from which we can choose. In The Practice of the Wild (1990), he distils down to two ways in which the term ‘nature’ is usually interpreted. One, he argues, is the outdoors: ‘the physical world, including all living things. Nature by this definition is a norm of the world that is apart from the features or products of civilisation and human will. The machine, the artefact, the devised, or the extraordinary (like a two-headed calf) is spoken of as “unnatural”.’

The other meaning is much broader, taking the first and adding to it all the products of human action and intention. Snyder calls it the material world and all its collective objects and phenomena. ‘Science and some sorts of mysticism rightly propose that everything is natural,’ he writes. In this sense, ‘there is nothing unnatural about New York City, or toxic wastes, or atomic energy, and nothing — by definition — that we do or experience in life is “unnatural”.’ That, of course, includes the products of technology. This is Snyder’s preferred definition — and mine too. However, though it’s not always made clear, I’d venture a guess that environmental psychologists might have a preference for the former, human-free definition of nature.

Either way, it’s been claimed that the love of nature derives from ‘biophilia’, or the biophilic tendency. The term, coined in the 1960s by the German social psychologist Erich Fromm, was intended to denote a psychological orientation towards nature, but it became better known when popularised by the American biologist E O Wilson in Biophilia (1984) as an ‘innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes’. Note that Wilson avoids the ‘n’ word, referring to ‘life’ instead. Of course, today the digerati are deeply engaged in conversations about what ‘life’ will mean in technologies of the future, a debate that will continue for a long time to come. More recently, the concept of biophilia has been celebrated by the Icelandic musician Björk in her 2011 album and musical project of the same name.

Perhaps biophilia can soothe our connected minds and improve our digital well-being

The notion of biophilia draws upon a genetic attraction to an ancient natural world that evolved long before we did. It appears that our urge for contact with nature can, as shown in the experiments described, restore energy, alleviate mental fatigue, and enhance attention. It also appears to be surprisingly transferable to digital environments.

In 2004 I began collecting examples of metaphors and images of the natural world commonly found in computer culture — terms such as stream, cloud, virus, worm, surfing, field, and so on. I intended to find out what can be learnt from them about the intersections between human beings, cyberspace, and nature. I quickly amassed a long list of examples but found myself unable to suggest a reason for this phenomenon, until I came across Wilson’s theory. I realised that the story had been right in front of me all the time. It can be found in the images on our machines, in the spaces we cultivate in our online communities, and in the language we use every day of our digital lives. It began the moment we moved into the alien, shape-shifting territory of the internet and prompted a resurgence of that ancient call to life, biophilia.

Our attempts to place ourselves in this new world nourished the growth of a new spur, a hybrid through which nature and technology become symbionts, rather than opponents. I have coined the term ‘technobiophilia’ for this. It’s a clumsy word — probably not quite the right one — but for now it helps to spell out what is happening so that we can understand it better. Is there the possibility that perhaps biophilia can soothe our connected minds and improve our digital well-being? How can we harness and develop our technobiophilic instincts in order to live well in the digital world?

One option would be that rather than keeping the virtual and the natural worlds separate — turning off our machines, taking e-sabbaticals, or undergoing digital detoxes, in order to connect with nature — we think about them all as integrated elements of a single life in a single world. There is already a growing sense in the wired community that connections with the natural world are vital to digital well-being, both now and in the future. This same community needs to pay attention to biophilia and to its implementation in biophilic design. With the help of biophilic insights, we can connect the planet beneath our feet with the planet inside our machines.

 


Charlie Veitch, the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Who Realized He Was Duped

Charlie Veitch the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Who Realized He Was Duped

Former “truther”, Charlie Veitch

Once one of Britain’s principal conspiracy theorists as well as friend to David Icke and Alex Jones, Charlie Veitch, was known as a 9/11 “truther.”  As soon as he realized that he had been duped, he stopped.  But that was when his problems really began.

According to an interview Veitch gave to the Telegraph, Veitch, who had been Right-wing, joined the Territorial Army (TA).  After a drunken night out with his best friend, his friend had turned to Veitch and told him that they had been lying to him.  He told Veitch that 9/11 was not what he thought it was and that he was being given “special knowledge.”  Veitch’s friend went on to show him a video entitled Terrorism: A History of Government Sponsored Terror, a video that was produced by US radio talk presenter, Alex Jones.

Veitch was shortly after made redundant, so with some of his payout, he purchased a camcorder and megaphone, in the style of Alex Jones. He used eccentric methods to publicly express his beliefs, such as swooping on public spaces and embarking public transport to make announcements to whoever was available to listen.  In one piece of footage, Veitch was heard to say to a group of passengers: “I am a proponent of the idea that the Twin Towers were brought down in a controlled demolition manner.  Those buildings would not have collapsed in the slightest from a Boeing 767 hit.”

Charlie Veitch the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Who Realized He Was Duped

But one June afternoon, in New York City’s Times Square, Veitch began to film himself on his cell phone, as he made statements to camera about the devastation of the World Trade Center.  Only this time, his message was different from all the others he had posted on Youtube.  In the video, he said that he no longer believed that 9/11 was an inside job.

Because of his conspiracy theory films and the fact that he was at the forefront of what is known as “The Truth Movement” arm in the UK, Veitch had been approached by the BBC to go on an all-expenses paid 9-day trip to the United States, to examine these “conspiracies” from a scientific standpoint, with a view to furnish him with real information.

In the BBC program, entitled 9/11: Conspiracy Road Trip, 4 additional individuals, with divergent opinions from the official account of events of 9/11, had been selected to go on the road trip with Veitch.

The conspiracy theorists were given the opportunity to talk to building engineers, scientists, FBI and CIA agents, demolition experts and designers of the World Trade Center.  They were also allowed to talk to relatives of those who had tragically lost their lives, as well as pay a visit to the Pentagon, the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Pennsylvania United Flight 93 site.

After all of the scientific evidence was put to Veitch, he did something completely out of the ordinary for a hardcore “truther.”  He did a U-turn and changed his mind.  Standing in front of the White House, on that sunny day in June, Veitch spoke to the BBC presenter and road trip leader, Andrew Maxwell. In front of the BBC camera, Veitch told him:

“I found my personal truth and you don’t have to agree with me, but I can’t push propaganda for ideas that I no longer believe in and that’s what I do, so I just need to basically… take it on the chin, admit I was wrong, be humble about it and just carry on.”

Before the end of his road trip, Charlie Veitch held up his cell phone in the middle of Times Square, pointed the phone’s camera on himself and told the world that he had changed his mind, that he had been wrong.  He said:

“This universe is truly one of smoke screens, illusions and wrong paths, but also the right path, which is [to] always be committed to the truth.  Do not hold on to religious dogma.  If you are presented with new evidence, take it on, even if it contradicts what you or your group might be believing or wanting to believe… you have to give the truth the greatest respect… and I do.”

Charlie Veitch the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Who Realized He Was Duped

Veitch’s turning point piece-to-camera at Times Square

After Veitch posted his video, the 9/11 Truth Movement’s reaction to one of its most prominent “truthers” changing his mind was one to be expected.  Veitch was labeled a flip-flop, a shill sellout who was taking cash for working for the BBC.  The Truth Movement did what any organization of its kind would do to someone who, for want of a better term, came to their senses.  They tried to discredit him.

Veitch told Myles Power in his BBC-funded interview, how he once had too much time on his hands, “Idle hands are the conspiracy theory world’s ideal way to get into your head,” he said, as he described how he started to watch Alex Jones and David Icke documentaries, as well as other scientific theory videos which he said spun a pretty convincing yarn on its conspiracies.  He became convinced that the Illuminati were behind it all, with its so-called New World Order.  After becoming absorbed by his interest in conspiracy theories, he took up his megaphone and camera and began to make films about them, which he said, elevated him to a “high priest” status of the Truth Movement.

But so with age, comes wisdom and reason.  Veitch began to look critically at the proponents of the conspiracy theories, beginning to not only question what could have been in it for the establishment to have blown up the World Trade Center, but in a sudden turnaround, he questioned the agenda of those who now came across to him as crazier and angrier than the actual perpetrators of terror; the Truth Movement.  He also said that the risk factor would be far too great for such so-called powers of the establishment, who had too much to lose, to instigate such an atrocity and then attempt to shroud it in secrecy.

He went on that the paper trail would be too vast and that there would be more likelihood of other world powers, with advanced technological methods of getting a hold of such information, should it even exist, than an organization like the Truth Movement.  He concluded by saying that if things were truly as the Truth Movement had claimed, then there would be a civil collapse, should the evidence be presented, but that there is no evidence, because it was not an inside job.

Veitch said that before he accepted the BBC’s offer of the road trip, that the activist, conspiracy, new age and spiritual worlds seemed to love him, but he now admits how he became arrogant and fell for the hype.  He had believed that the Truth Movement was about being purveyors of truth in the world, but realized that it was closer to a religious cult, with its indoctrination methods.

Charlie Veitch’s Times Square video provoked such aggressively negative responses from Truth Movement followers, who sent him messages telling him to rot in hell, that he was simply a pawn and that he was paid to do it.  Within days, he was renounced by his friends and sent death threats.  An email had been sent to his followers, claiming to be from Veitch and falsely admitting that he was a pedophile: a message that ultimately reached his mother, causing her utter distress.

Another follower had created a channel on Youtube, entitled Kill Charlie Veitch.  On the channel, he had said that he was coming to kill Veitch and that he should enjoy his last few days.  His face had also been superimposed on to a pig as it was being slaughtered.  Even David Icke had posted a message to say that Veitch would deeply regret his actions, while Alex Jones told him not to even bother communicating with him, as he no longer knew him.

In an interview on AdamVsTheMan on RT, Veitch opened up about how he had spent 4-5 years looking at the conspiratorial view on 9/11 until the BBC helped present him with hard facts.  He talked about how he already began to have his doubts before the US road trip, but really felt his change of heart when he was standing on top of Building 7 at the World Trade Center site, having just grilled building experts on the nature of the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Veitch has concluded that conspiracy theorists are professional victims who have a hatred of high achievers and who were likely to have been bullied at school.  He put his misdirection down to his vulnerable ego and has, unsurprisingly, become very cynical and misanthropic.  He may have come to his senses now, but he will always be remembered as The 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Who Realized He Was Duped.

Veitch currently lives with his young child and fiancée in Manchester, England and is planning to become a documentary maker.

Written by: Brucella Newman

Source 1 

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Source 3 


7 reasons why religion is a form of mental illness
Article by Sweet  Tea The Southern Skeptic Fairy
I would like to propose that religious beliefs be placed in the DSM as a category of mental illness for the following reasons:-
(1) Hallucinations – the person has invisible friends who (s)he insists are real, and to whom (s)he speaks daily, even though nobody can actually see or hear these friends.
(2) Delusions – the patient believes that the invisible friends have magical powers to make them rich, cure cancer, bring about world peace, and will do so eventually if asked.
(3) Denial/Inability to learn – though the requests for world peace remain unanswered, even after hundreds of years, the patients persist with the praying behaviour, each time expecting different results.
(4) Inability to distinguish fantasy from reality – the beliefs are contingent upon ancient mythology being accepted as historical fact.
(5) Paranoia – the belief that anyone who does not share their supernatural concept of reality is “evil,” “the devil,” “an agent of Satan”.
(6) Emotional abuse – ­ religious concepts such as sin, hell, cause feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and other types of emotional “baggage” which can scar the psyche for life.
(7) Violence – many patients insist that others should share in their delusions, even to the extent of using violence.

How Did Dov Hikind’s Career Survive His Purim Blackface Gaffe? Thuggery And Lies, Say Democrat Insiders

Dov Hikind in blackface Purim 2013

“Cross him and he’ll call you an anti-Semite and put you in the New York Post. In New York City politics, that’s something people are genuinely  scared of and he plays it. … It’s like identity politics, mixed with  money, mixed with intimidation.”

Dov Hikind in blackface Purim 2013 Dov Hikind, center, his wife, left, and son, right Purim 2013

Dov Hikind, center, his wife, left, and his adult son Yoni, right, Purim 2013

Politicker reports:

…[S]everal insiders we spoke with insisted Mr. Hikind was spared from a stronger reaction because of the unique power he wields on the local political scene.

One local political insider noted this isn’t the first time Mr. Hikind has courted controversy without facing lasting repercussions. In 2011, Mr. Hikind was one of the most vocal Democrats opposed to New York’s legalization of gay marriage. He bucked his party again this year when he suggested Jewish support for President Barack Obama was a “disease.”

“Can you imagine if somebody else had said that? What does that even mean right?” the insider said of Mr. Hikind’s comments on the presidential election. “People are not willing to stick up to him. Internally, everyone realizes he’s a dirtbag, we’re just not going to say that because that’s the game we play.”

A Brooklyn politico told us political figures running for citywide office are reluctant to take on Mr. Hikind because they fear “retribution” from a man who’s seen as “the gatekeeper of Orthodox Brooklyn.”

“If this were another Assemblyman what would happen here? A three-car pileup of city officials denouncing his actions,” they said of the costume incident before citing names of several elected officials who hadn’t weighed in on the flap.

The local political insider listed several factors as contributing to Mr. Hikind’s strength including his status as a perceived “kingmaker” in Brooklyn’s Orthodox community, his large war chest and his past association with the militant Jewish Defense League, which has been described by the FBI as “right-wing terrorist group.”

“It’s a number of things, one, he has created a perception that he is a power broker who can actually deliver and, in a city where fewer and fewer political machines are relevant, this hits home. People really are afraid to go up against him,” the insider said of Mr. Hikind. “Number two, he’s amassed an awful lot of campaign cash. … Thirdly, he’s like genuinely a scary dude. He’s connected with quasi-terrorist organizations that have been investigated by the FBI and he’s the kind of guy that can flip on you at any moment. He operates in this sort of mysterious, shadowy way up in Albany.”
Mr. Hikind’s Assembly district encompasses the neighborhoods of Borough Park and Midwood, two major components of the city’s Orthodox community. Last year, he was re-elected by defeating his lone opponent in the district 94 percent to six percent. He received over 19,000 votes in that effort, an impressive total in a city where the last mayoral election was decided by about 50,000 votes.

All of the sources we spoke with speculated the impression of Mr. Hikind as an influencer in the Orthodox community might be, as the Brooklyn politico put it, “overblown.” Indeed, some Orthodox insiders privately told us Mr. Hikind’s reputation as a power broker in the community is largely a myth because the younger generation of Orthodox Jews is less beholden to old institutional forces. However, the perception of Mr. Hikind  as a key Orthodox power player clearly persists on the political scene.

In addition to the idea Mr. Hikind influences a solid base in the Orthodox community, the insider described his role as a visible figurehead in the city’s wider Jewish community as a major source of his strength. Mr. Hikind hosts his own show on a local Jewish radio station and is always among the first and loudest officials to speak out on issues seen as affecting the community and instances of discrimination against Jews.

“He really does the Jewish thing very, very effectively,” said the insider. “Cross him and he’ll call you an anti-Semite and put you in the New York Post. In New York City politics, that’s something people are genuinely scared of and he plays it. … It’s like identity politics, mixed with money, mixed with intimidation.”…


Climate Denial Crock of the Week

with Peter Sinclair

WindBaggers hire “Grassroots” Anti Wind Activists: 20 Bucks a Head to Break Wind

jobs

Grist:

Important job opportunity, everyone. From Craigslist:

Our firm needs 100 volunteers to attend and participate in a rally in front of the British Consulate/Embassy in Midtown Manhattan on the East Side on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 12 noon. The event is being held in order to protest wind turbines that are being built in Scotland and England. Your participation will be to ONLY stand next to or behind the speakers and elected officials/celebrities that will be speaking at the rally.

“Volunteers” will each get $20. That’s the going rate in New York City for a closely held political principle.

See screenshot here.

Will they make their own signs?

ClimateProgress:

Most Americans like clean energy. So when conservatives wage campaigns against clean energy initiatives, they have typically resorted to fronting astroturf groups and paying fake protesters to generate noise.

Needing 100 anti-wind protesters by next week and apparently unable to find them, a mysterious firm advertised a “quick and easy $20″ on Craigslist. According to the ad, the only thing the “volunteers” would need to do for their pay is “stand next to or behind the speakers and elected officials/celebrities” at a rally against a wind turbine project in the UK.

UPDATE:

The Independent:

A secretive funding organisation in the United States that guarantees anonymity for its billionaire donors has emerged as a major operator in the climate “counter movement” to undermine the science of global warming, The Independent has learnt.

The Donors Trust, along with its sister group Donors Capital Fund, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is funnelling millions of dollars into the effort to cast doubt on climate change without revealing the identities of its wealthy backers or that they have links to the fossil fuel industry.

However, an audit trail reveals that Donors is being indirectly supported by the American billionaire Charles Koch who, with his brother David, jointly owns a majority stake in Koch Industries, a large oil, gas and chemicals conglomerate based in Kansas.

Millions of dollars has been paid to Donors through a third-party organisation, called the Knowledge and Progress Fund, with is operated by the Koch family but does not advertise its Koch connections.

Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, has estimated that over the past decade about $500m has been given to organisations devoted to undermining the science of climate change, with much of the money donated anonymously through third parties.


theosophy

“We assert that the divine spark in man being one and identical in its essence with the Universal Spirit, our “spiritual Self” is practically omniscient, but that it cannot manifest its knowledge owing to the impediments of matter. Now the more these impediments are removed, in other words, the more the physical body is paralyzed, as to its own independent activity and consciousness, as in deep sleep or deep trance, or, again, in illness, the more fully can the inner Self manifest on this plane. This is our explanation of those truly wonderful phenomena of a higher order, in which undeniable intelligence and knowledge are exhibited. ” –Madame Blavatsky

“…we are imprisoned in the body, like an oyster in his shell.” –The Socrates of Plato’s Phaedrus

To the philosopher, the body is “a disturbing element, hindering the soul from the acquisition of knowledge….What is purification but…the release of the soul from the chains of the body?” The Socrates of Plato’s Phaedo

“Mme. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, a multivolume work, is such a melee of horrendous hogwash and of fertile inventions of inane esoterica, that any Buddhist and Tibetan scholar is justified to avoid mentioning it in any context.” –Agehananda Bharati (Leopold Fischer)

Theosophy, or divine wisdom, refers either to the mysticism of philosophers who believe that they can understand the nature of some god by direct apprehension, without revelation, or it refers to the esotericism of eclectic collectors of mystical and occult philosophies who claim to be handing down the great secrets of some ancient wisdom.

Theosophical mysticism is indebted to Plato (c. 427-347 BCE), Plotinus (204/5-270) and other neo-Platonists, and Jakob Boehme (1575-1624), among others. It experienced its last great Western philosophical burst in 19th century German Idealism. The mystical tradition continues to be a strong element in many non-Western philosophies, such as Indian philosophy.

Theosophic esotericism begins with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) usually known as Madame Blavatsky, one of the co-founders of the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875. The esoteric theosophical tradition of Blavatsky is indebted to several philosophical and religious traditions: Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Gnosticism, Manichaeism, the cabala, among others.

Her harshest critics consider Madame Blavatsky to be “one of most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting impostors in history.”* Her devoted followers consider her to be a saint and a genius. [They claim she discovered the true nature of light either by clairvoyance or intuition alone, without any need for scientific training or communication with other scientists.] Since these characteristics are not contradictory, it is possible she was both a fraud and a saintly genius. Much of what is believed about Blavatsky originates with Madame herself, her devoted followers or her enemies. Nevertheless, a few things seem less dubious than others. She seems clearly to have been widely traveled and widely read. Blavatsky claims she spent several years in Tibet and India being initiated into occult mysteries by various “masters”  (mahatmas or adepts) especially the Masters Morya and Koot Hoomi, who had “astral” bodies. These Adepts were said to dwell in the Himalayas, Egypt, Tibet and other exotic places. They are known for their extraordinary psychic powers and are the sacred keepers of some mysterious “Ancient Wisdom”. They are not divine, she said, but more highly evolved than the rest of us mere mortals. (Evolution, according to Blavatsky, is a spiritual process.) Their goal is to unite all humanity in a Great White Brotherhood, despite the fact that they dwell in the remotest regions of the world and apparently have as little contact with the rest of us as possible.

Blavatsky’s deceptions

Blavatsky seems clearly to have had an overpowering personality. She was knowledgeable of the tricks of spiritualists, having worked for one in Egypt, and in the early days of the Theosophical Society seems clearly to have used trickery to deceive others into thinking she had paranormal powers. She most certainly faked the materialization of a tea cup and saucer, as well as written messages from her Masters, presumably to enhance her credibility. She certainly claimed to have paranormal experiences, but whether she really believed she was clairvoyant or possessed psychic powers, I can’t say.

Blavatsky and Olcott

In 1875 she founded the Theosophical Society in New York City in collaboration with Henry Steele Olcott, a lawyer and writer, and W. Q. Judge. She met Olcott in 1874 while he was investigating the spiritualism of the Eddy brothers in Vermont. They continued to meet with other like-minded seekers and together founded their society. A few years later, she and Olcott went to India together and established Theosophical headquarters there. She left under a cloud of suspicion in 1885, having been accused of faking materializations of teachings from her Masters. Back in Europe in 1888 she published her major work The Secret Doctrine. The book “is an attempt…to reconcile science, the Ancient Wisdom, and human culture through…cosmology, history, religion, and symbolism.” (Ellwood) According to Blavatsky herself, “The chief aim of the…Theosophical Society [was] to reconcile all religions, sects and nations under a common system of ethics, based on eternal verities.”

She did not reject religions such as Christianity and Hinduism, but claimed that all religions have an exoteric and an esoteric tradition. The exoteric traditions are unique and distinct for each religion. The esoteric doctrine is the same for all. She claimed to be passing on the wisdom of the shared esoteric doctrines. And even though she had an early association with spiritualism, she eventually claimed that “the spirits of the dead cannot return to earth — save in rare and exceptional cases….”

One might wonder why, if Theosophy is so ancient and universal, it was so unknown until 1875. Madame had an answer. This was due to “willing ignorance”. We humans have lost “real spiritual insight” because we are too devoted to “things of sense” and have for too long been slaves “to the dead letter of dogma and ritualism.” “But the strongest reason for it,” she said, ” lies in the fact that real Theosophy has ever been kept secret.” There were several reasons why it was kept secret. “…Firstly, the perversity of average human nature and its selfishness, always tending to the gratification of personal desires to the detriment of neighbours and next of kin. Such people could never be entrusted with divine secrets. Secondly, their unreliability to keep the sacred and divine knowledge from desecration. It is the latter that led to the perversion of the most sublime truths and symbols, and to the gradual transformation of things spiritual into anthropomorphic, concrete, and gross imagery — in other words, to the dwarfing of the god-idea and to idolatry.” [The Key to Theosophy] One wonders, what in the world was any different in the late 19th century? If at that time humans were any less perverse, selfish, materialistic, profane, etc., than they had ever been, this should come as a great shock to all social historians.

Ancient Wisdom

What was this “Ancient Wisdom” which the theosophists promised to share? It is truly an eclectic compilation of Hindu, Egyptian, Gnostic and other exotic scriptures and teachings, neo-Platonism, and stories like the Atlantis myth. These are philosophies and stories for those who shake and quiver at the sound of such words as secret, special, spiritual, enlightenment, transformation, esoteric, occult, divine, ancient wisdom, cosmic, vision, dynamics, golden, Isis, mysteries and masters. They promise escape from the evils of the world, especially the body, while providing an explanation for Evil. They claim to know that the reason spiritual progress is so slow in coming is because of all this horrible stuff in the universe called “matter.” They promise the power of divinity while providing an explanation for miracles which takes them out of the realm of the supernatural and puts the believer into the center of the spiritual universe. They promise union with some great moral purpose while offering membership in an isolated society of very special beings. But, probably the biggest attraction to joining such an esoteric society is that you don’t have to go to college and you don’t have to read Kant.

What you do need, though, is a penchant for the occult. This is dangerous stuff, according to Blavatsky, but theosophy can help.

When ignorant of the true meaning of the esoteric divine symbols of nature, man is apt to miscalculate the powers of his soul, and, instead of communing spiritually and mentally with the higher, celestial beings, the good spirits (the gods of the theurgiests of the Platonic school), he will unconsciously call forth the evil, dark powers which lurk around humanity — the undying, grim creations of human crimes and vices — and thus fall from theurgia (white magic) into goetia (or black magic, sorcery). [What Is Theosophy?]

According to Madame, “…no one can be a true Occultist without being a real Theosophist; otherwise he is simply a black magician, whether conscious or unconscious. ” She even thought that mesmerism and hypnotism were occult arts.

Occult sciences are not, as described in Encyclopaedias, “those imaginary sciences of the Middle Ages which related to the supposed action or influence of Occult qualities or supernatural powers, as alchemy, magic, necromancy, and astrology,” for they are real, actual, and very dangerous sciences. They teach the secret potency of things in Nature, developing and cultivating the hidden powers “latent in man,” thus giving him tremendous advantages over more ignorant mortals. Hypnotism, now become so common and a subject of serious scientific inquiry, is a good instance in point. Hypnotic power has been discovered almost by accident, the way to it having been prepared by mesmerism; and now an able hypnotizer can do almost anything with it, from forcing a man, unconsciously to himself, to play the fool, to making him commit a crime — often by proxy for the hypnotizer, and for the benefit of the latter. Is not this a terrible power if left in the hands of unscrupulous persons? And please to remember that this is only one of the minor branches of Occultism. [The Key to Theosophy]

Blavatksy may have thought she understood the secret of the divine essence, but it’s more likely she just stumbled on the secret of hypnosis or mesmerism. However, I believe she was right when she claimed that “…the ecstatic trance of mystics and of the modern mesmerists and spiritualists, are identical in nature, though various as to manifestation.” [What Is Theosophy?] I believe that none of these so-called “trance” states is a unique state of consciousness, though they are states of mind, states governed by social role-playing rules, a position argued for by many contemporary psychologists including Nicholas P. Spanos.

Where are the plaudits?

The reader may wonder why theosophy isn’t universally recognized as the salvation of mankind. For some it may have been the messenger which kept them away. Many people are not likely to take seriously a Russian noblewoman who claimed to have had childhood visions of a tall Hindu who eventually materialized in Hyde Park and became her guru and advisor. Many skeptics scoff at her noble origins and subsequent employment as a circus performer and séance assistant, plus we take seriously the charges of deception for whatever noble motive. For others, it may be the doctrines which keep us away. Despite the stated moral goals, and the desire for peace on earth and good will toward men and women, there is the small problem of astral bodies, evolution of spiritual races, Aryans, paranormal powers, Atlantis, the so-called Ancient Wisdom, etc. To some this may seem better than the Incarnation, transubstantiation and the Trinity, but to skeptics this is just more metaphysical codswallop. Finally, others may be repelled by the self-discipline required of theosophy.

…the foremost rule of all is the entire renunciation of one’s personality — i. e., a pledged member has to become a thorough altruist, never to think of himself, and to forget his own vanity and pride in the thought of the good of his fellow-creatures, besides that of his fellow-brothers in the esoteric circle. He has to live, if the esoteric instructions shall profit him, a life of abstinence in everything, of self-denial and strict morality, doing his duty by all men.

“…every member must be either a philanthropist, or a scholar, a searcher into Aryan and other old literature, or a psychic student.” (The Key to Theosophy)

It is not an easy life, pursuing the path of the mahatmas and the Ancient Wisdom, striving to unite all humankind into a Great Brotherhood of spiritually evolved beings with secret knowledge of such great vacation spots for astrals as Atlantis. Plus, perhaps there were inconsistencies or inadequacies in the secret doctrines, as the group seemed to splinter and dissipate after the death of Madame. Her dream of a Brotherhood of Man remains a dream, although there are Theosophical societies all over the world.

http://www.skepdic.com/theosoph.html

 


Breaking! Another NYC Baby Gets Herpes From Dangerous Haredi Circumcision Ritual

 

Metzitzah b'peh Chabad closeup

 

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has sent out an alert to medical providers warning them that another baby now has Herpes Simplex Virus 1 that was transmitted to the baby through metzitzah b’peh, the direct mouth-to-bleeding-penis sucking done briefly by haredi mohels after cutting off the foreskin.

Metzitzah b'peh Chabad closeup

Direct oral suction during ritual Jewish circumcision (metzitzah b’peh) has been documented to transmit herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 to newborn males (1-4). In December 2012, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) received a report of a new case of HSV-1 infection in a newborn male infant attributable to direct oral suction.
In total, 12 laboratory-confirmed cases of HSV-infection attributable to direct oral suction have now been reported to DOHMH from 2000 – 2012. Two of these infants died, and two others suffered brain damage (4). In the most recent case, the location of herpes lesions (on the penis), viral type (HSV type 1, which is commonly found in the mouth of adults), and timing of infection (10 days after circumcision) are consistent with transmission during direct contact between the mouth of the ritual circumciser (mohel) and the newly circumcised infant penis. When evaluating an ill infant boy in the weeks following circumcision, providers should inquire whether direct oral suction was performed during circumcision and consider infection with HSV or other oral pathogens. Consult with a pediatric infectious disease specialist for guidance regarding the diagnosis and management of an infant with suspected herpes infection; also, see reference #5 under “References and resources” at the end of this alert.…