Friday, December 16, 2011

"Super-Uterine Entombment" -- Charles Fort's New Lands (Part One)

(NOTE: The quotes below are from the Sacred Texts version of Charles Fort's New Lands. A rights-free copy of this text can be found at the link below:

Charles Fort's New Lands)

Before I begin this post, I'd like to tell the regular readers of this blog that, starting with today's post, I am going to work with a newer, more blog-like strategy.

From here on out, I'm going to do my best to do one post a day. This means that the blog posts will likely be smaller. But they will also come out with greater regularity. I know that the few readers I have are kind enough to check in every day. So I'd like you to have something to find when you do check in.

Also -- I find that, with writers I really love, such as Abraham Cowley (the subject of my last post) and Charles Fort (the subject of this post), I suffer from a syndrome a little bit similar to what the great photographer Diane Arbus has mentioned.

Arbus said that everywhere she went, everything she did, she felt like she had to memorize every image she saw. It finally got to a point where she was holding so many images in her head that she just had a nervous breakdown.

After Arbus had her nervous breakdown, she snapped out of that obsessive-compulsive mindset and let herself relax with her mental recording of imagery.

In my note-taking habits, I personally think of myself as a scribe rather than a reader. But -- you should see my notebook! -- for the Cowley essay, I seriously took 65 pages of notes! The darn poem cycle, including Cowley's notes, is only 110 pages long! But I wanted to write down every single image from Cowley that I thought was good.

So, while I still intend to be philosophical -- or, rather parasophical -- in my writings, and while I will definitely give you guys all copious quotes from the texts, when I read from rights-free texts, I also intend to give smaller, more frequent entries, and to be a little more relaxed with myself in my actual style of studying for these posts.

HOWEVER -- I would also like to say -- that if you guys would rather I kept doing things the way I'm doing them now, instead of changing, just drop me a line and let me know. I'd like this blog to be as enjoyable for you as possible.

That being said, let's get started with Charles Fort.

*****

Like I said in my previous text on Abraham Cowley, being an adult baby, I always keep an eye out in the things I read and the art I experience, for things relating to babyhood, infancy, or adult babyhood, to kind of stock up my imagination. And Charles Fort didn't disappoint!

In fact, the first part of New Lands ends with Fort's proposition that what we think of as the solar system -- or, actually, what we think of as the entire universe -- is really just a shell in which we are currently developing, as an embryo would develop inside of a womb.

We'll eventually spring forth from the womb. But before we do, we, and our scientific ideas, will continue to grow and change. And, as our ideas change, perhaps even the universe around us will change, as the body of an embryo develops into the body of a baby. Fort calls this idea "super-embryology," and he describes our existence at one point as a "super-uterine entombment." Fort says:

"That, if shelled away from external light and life, [our so-called solar system] is so surrounded and protected in the same cause and functioning as that of similarly encompassed forms subsidiary to it -- that our existence is super-embryonic."

And:

"That all organizations of thought must be baseless in themselves, and of course be not final, or they could not change, and must bear within themselves those elements that will, in time, destroy them -- that seeming solidities that pass away, in phantom-successions, are functionaries relatively to their periods, and express the passage from phase to phase of all things embryonic."

This idea struck me -- the sense that we're all little babies, even us adults, regardless of whether we think of ourselves as adult babies or just as regular, old adults. But what also struck me about what Fort said was its similarity to what I'd just finished reading in Cowley: the idea of a universe as a womb, in which are held the future years:

"There into the close Nests of Time dost peep,
And there with piercing Eye,
through the firm Shell, and the thick White dost spy,
Years to come a-forming lie,
Close in their sacred Secondine asleep,
'Till hatched by the Sun's vital Heat,
Which o'er them yet does brooding set,
Thy Life and Motion get,
And ripe at last, with vigorous Might,
Break through the Shell, and take their everlasting Flight."

Cowley's poetry is, of course, full of visceral and womb-like imagery. And it seems that one of Cowley's own personal fantasies -- shared with the fantasies of adult babies -- is to be re-born, to be back in the womb and re-born; although in Cowley, this desire for rebirth is also tempered with a desire for a complete bodily death, and a life in spirit only. But this seems to be the same development as Fort makes, though Fort expresses it in a less anthropomorphic, more cosmological way.

What's also interesting to me about this idea is that Fort, carrying the ideas of embryology outward into the cosmos, also claims that our developments are step by step, phase by phase, just like they are in the development of an animal embryo:

"The essential process of embryonic growth, by which the same protoplasmic substance responds differently and in different phases."

Now, I hate to make arguments by analogy with Fort, because his system seems to be so entirely his own that I don't want to intrude on it with stuff that he might personally think of as being too conventionally-based.

But it does seem to me that if, as Fort says, our ideas, just like our physical surroundings, are developing through a process similar to that of embryos, could we apply what we propose about embryology to what we might propose about our ideas and our physical surroundings?

The main idea I'm thinking of right now is the idea people have been saying for a long time now, really even since before the days of Charles Fort, that an embryo's development is a kind of tracing of the evolution of life on earth, all the way up to the point of the evolution of human beings. So, in other words, we begin as cells, develop into more complex beings, take on elements common to fish, then amphibians, etc., until we, as fetuses, develop our more specifically mammalian characteristics.

William S. Beck, whose book Modern Science and the Nature of Life I wrote a post on a few days ago, says that modern embryologists actually believe that the embryo doesn't develop characteristics of full-grown fish, frogs, etc., but that it develops the characteristics of embryological fish, frogs, etc. So that what we're seeing in the development of an embryo isn't the development of the history of life, but the development of the history of embryological life.

If we would be able to apply this same thought to Fort's thought that our universe is just some kind of super-uterus, in which we adults are all a bunch of adult babies, would it be possible to say that if we were to trace the history of our ideas, we would also be able to trace the embryological ideas -- not the full-grown ideas, but the fetal ideas -- of the existence that is external to this super-uterus?

I'll let that idea stew for a while. I don't have an answer to it. And I'm not sure if it's worth having an answer for, anyway.

Earlier on, Fort gives another illustration of his ideas that makes the adult baby in me happy. Fort implies that, in future generations, the idea of the speed of light will be taught to little children as something of a nursery rhyme, in the same way that nowadays children are taught the nursery rhyme of "Little Bo Peep."

Again, this puts the image in my head that right now, even those of us who think of ourselves as the adults of the adults, the scientists, are, in fact, nothing more than adult babies, reading nursery stories to themselves in the gigantic nurseries that peoople call laboratories, offices, and convention halls. Fort says:

"Sometimes I'm in a more sentimental mood. I think that the pretty story of the velocity of light, and its 'determination,' will some day be of legitimate service: be rhymed some day, and told to children, in future kindergartens, replacing the story of litte Bopeep, with the tale of a planet that lost its satellites and sometimes didn't know where to find them, but that good magicians came along and formultated them the indeterminable."

As you can probably tell from the quote above, Fort has a bone to pick with the scientific habit of "determination." Fort's attack on determination, interestingly, gives the first part of this book a strength of focus that Book of the Damned did not have.

If my dear readers are readers, in general, of the literature of psychic research, they'll know that one of the things that psychic researchers are always doing is trying to justify themselves to the scientific world. They do this in two ways -- first, by making incredibly stringent conditions for the experiments they conduct; and, second, by making the argument of the history of science itself.

The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was the first organization to make such an effort at scientific restrictions on parapsychological experiments. Later on J.B. Rhine perfected the scientific methods of pyschical research at Duke University, into the card experiments we all know so well, thanks to that opening scene in Ghostbusters. After J.B. Rhine, Russell Targ and Hal Puthoff, and then Dean Radin, brought new technological methods into research, as well as expanding their researches into things like remote viewing.

The argument of all these researchers was that they had to prove their findings by putting the strictes of controls on them, so that nothing could get into the experiment that would convince the scientific world that the experiments weren't really proving the existence of psychic phenomena.

The only problem was -- the scientific community didn't, and, to a large extent, still doesn't, listen or care!

The second approach these scientists use, though, is the more humorous of these approaches. Psychic researchers always try to show that the history of science is filled with great minds who have tried to prove to the world that something about the universe is true, which the conventional thinkers of their time thought was false. But, the psychical researchers claim, through the exactitude of their calculations and the continued belief in their findings, they eventually convince the world.

The argument, in this case, would be that the world of psychic research would do the same thing. So, if scientists would just pay attention to the history of science and be smart, they'd accept the copious findings of psychic research right now.

The only problem is -- the scientific community, to a large extent, doesn't care!

Nevertheless, since the days of the SPR, psychic researchers have been trying to convince scientists of the validity of their findings by using scientific methods as a basis. And they've been ignored.

Fort's argument, after, mind you, much of his own rigorous, personal research, was that science wasn't as exact as it liked to pretend to be, and that most of science's findings were accidental -- the result either of dumb luck, or of having their senses in the right place at the right time. Fort says:

"That there is no such mathematics, in the face of any number of learned treatises, is far more strikingly betrayed by those shining little misfortunes, the satellites of Jupiter. Satellite after satellite was discovered, by accident or by observation, and not once by calcluation."

Fort has a particularly dull axe to grind with the astronomers, who, Fort claims, are the most pompous of all the scientists, a group of people who employ, as far as the laymen know, the laws of the Infinitesimal Calculus, of Kepler's Laws, and the more modern mathematics that have led to the Theory of Relativity, the most abstract of mathematics, to understand the most distant of objects. They seem think of themselves, Fort says, as an intellectual aristocracy.

Fort does, in fact, give an account of one astronomer who thought of his colleagues in this way. Fort says:

"There never has been an astronomic discovery other than the observational or the accidental."

And:

"As to astronomers who calculate positions of planets -- of whom he was one -- Newcomb, in Reminiscences of an Astronomer, says -- 'The men who have done it are therefore, in intellect, the select few of the human race -- an aristocracy above all others in the scale of being.'"

It seems to me that the attempts of psychic researchers to meet on common ground with people who, in physics or astronomy or what have you, will think of themselves as "above all others," are really fruitless efforts.

Fort seems to believe that the goal of someone who is trying to bring a new understanding of the universe can't act with the ideology of the scientist, but must act using the tools which have really furthered science to begin with -- accident and observation.

Except that Fort, having done a lot of looking into the exploits of the scientists, found that they weren't very exact in their measurements, after all. The deductive systems that the scientists formulated, Fort argues, haven't discovered anything, or made any occurrences in the universe very exactly predictable at all.

Fort gives example after example of this: meteor showers that never re-appeare; comets that were calculated to be receding, then approaching, then receding, then approaching. Certain technology judges, Fort shows us, a celestial body as a star, then a nebula, then a star, then a nebula. Stars are found and lost. Fort even argues that both Uranus and Neptune were found by accident, then went down in the history books as having been found by very careful calculations.

However, the most delightful example I found of the incosistency of scientific calculations and technology, was the statement that one scientist made, getting himself in a lot of trouble afterwards, that one of the most revered books of astronomical formulation of his time was crammed full of glaring errors. Fort tells us the story of how one scientist, a Dr. Sadler, advised another scientist, a Dr. Williams:

"not to use the new edition of Smyth's Cycle, because... 'a more disgracefully inaccurate catalog of double stars had never been published.'

"'If,' says one astronomer to the other astronomer, 'you have a copy of this miserable production, sell it for waste paper. It is crammed with the most stupid errors.'"

This is in particular very interesting to me, after having read The Double Helix, by James D. Watson. There is a story in that book where Watson, having made a series of calculations about the structure of DNA, using a textbook of supposedly accepted, supposedly correct, biochemical data, was then told by a biochemist that the work, even though it was accepted everywhere, was full of errors, and that everybody in the know knew it was full of errors. So Waston's little story -- as well as his overall story -- seems to back up what Fort claims.

Fort shows us how Copernicus' theory of orbital and axial motions could only be based on three scientific methods, which weren't around in Copernicus' day: aberrations of light; parallax, and spectroscopy. Copernicus, it appears, based his theories on the idea that the earth must be spherical, because perfect bodies, like a water drop, are spherical. Copernicus then worked his theory forward from there.

But Fort also shows us that aberrations of light, parallax, and spectroscopy are themselves suject to various kinds of error. And, even if the calculations from these methods were always exact, they wouldn't exactly provde that our universe works according to the scientific conception of it:

"Astronomers now admit, or state, that the shift of spectral lines, which they say indicates that the earth moves around the sun, also indicates any other of three other circumstances, or sets of circumstances."

Fort argues that the calculations that have lead people to believe that our very solar system operates the way it does, are "elaborate structures that are pretensions without foundation."

And, in an argument, which I think is even more central to Fort's philosophy of inclusionism, as set apart from what Fort believes is the exclusivity of science, Fort says:

"Right at the heart of our opposition, and right at the heart of our own expressions, is the fatality that there is no reasoining, no logic, no explanation resembling the illusions in the vainglories of common suppositions. There is only the process of correlationg to, or organizing and systematizing around, something that is arbitrarily taken for a base, or a dominant doctrine, or a major premise -- the process of assimilating with something else, making agreement with something else, or interpreting in terms of something else, which supposed base is never itself final, but was originally an assimilation with still something else."

Fort believes that one of the great arguments of science, that the laws of astronomy and physics are in almost perfect agreement, is nothing more than "a tainted agreement between the physicists and the astronomers," and "the reekings of two consistent stenches." Fort further says, regarding the developments of astronomy and physics:

"Our expression is that these developments had their origin in conspiracy and prostitution, if one has a fancy for such accusations; or, if everybody else has been so agreeable, we think so more amiably ourselves, that it was all a matter of comfortably adjusing and being obliging all around."

Fort states that this conspiracy of scientific data has, at it's base, the maintenance of scientific profesionals' profits. He gives his definition of what he calls "the squirm":

"To lose all sense of decency and value of data, but to be agreeable; but to be like everybody else, and intend to turn our agreeableness to profit."

And, again, in disproving the findings of spectroscopic astronomy, Fort points out that the insistence on the infallibility of the spectroscope might also be profit-driven:

"The whole subject of spectroscopy in astronomy has been cast into rout and disgrace, of course only to ourselves, and not in the view of manufacturers of spectroscopes, for instance."

Fort insists that, really, the only way to understand the ideas of scientists is to be hypnotized into believing what they say.

"It is supposed that astronomic subjects and principles and methods cannot be understood by the layman. I think this myself. ... Of course they cannot be understood by the unhypnotized."

And, Fort claims, it is actually the scientists' intention not to be understood. This, Fort says, is the reason why the scientists have made such grand claims about the size of our universe, making things billions of miles away from each other, using calculations which, Fort believes, might just as easily be used to argue that things aren't more than thousands of miles away from each other.

"The meaning I read in the whole subject is that, in this Dark Age we're living in, not even such rudimentary matters as the shape of this earth have ever been investigated except now and then to support somebody's theory, because astronomers have instinctively preferred the remote and the not-so-easily understandable and the safe from external inquiry."

So, using these arguments against science, in order to grant himself a bit of independence, Fort gives us the first elements of his "Neo-Astronomy."

"This supposed solar system -- an egg-like organism that is shelled away from external light and life -- this central and stationary earth its nucleus -- around it is a revolving shell, in which the stars are pores, or functioning channels, through some of which spray irradiating formations said to be 'meteoritic,' but perhaps electric -- in which the nebulae are translucent patches, and in which the many dark parts are areas of opaque, structural substance -- and that the stars are not trillions nor even millions of miles away -- with proportional reductions of all internal distances, so that the planets are not millions, nor even hundreds of thousands of miles away."

Fort then gives us the description of the "super-embryonic" solar system which I gave at the beginning of this post. And having given that explanation, Fort now prepares us readers for the second part of this book, which are the actual phenomena observed by people throughout time, which Fort takes as evidence for our existence in this "super-uterine entombment."

"We have reached our catalogue of the sights and sounds to which all that we have so far considered is merely introductory. For them there are either no conventional explanations or poor insufficiencies half-heartedly offered. Our data are glimpses of an epoch that is approaching with far-away explosions. It is vibrating on its edges with the tread of distant space-armies. Already it has pictured in the sky visions that signify new excitements, even now lapping over into the affairs of a self-disgusted, played-out hermitage."