Introduction to thesis chapters

This is repost from 2019, when I decided to serialize my Masters Honours thesis (don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you may fear)

For some months now I have had inner prompting to put my Social Ecology Masters Honours thesis on this blog. It has been something I have resisted, because I do not have fond memories of the experience of writing it. I had in mind that it was a poor piece of work, contaminated by adverse experiences, and one that barely scraped through the marking process. 

I have tried to read a lot of theses, and I have rarely succeeded. They are mostly boring and badly written. That is a pity because so often the content should be fascinating. When I read George Hansen’s The Trickster and the Paranomal I was astonished by the depth and variety of academic works he referred to. So much fabulous research lost to us because there has been no will to make it accessible. I am not pretending for a moment that my efforts are in the same class as the outstanding PhDs he wrote about.  

I completed my thesis after 8 years of struggling to write it. I won’t go into details about the personal circumstances. It is sufficient to say that against my better judgment in early 2008 I was persuaded to submit rather than quit. I subsequently was obliged to do a rewrite after my paper was sent to an academic whose work I had dealt with harshly. My university was wreaking havoc upon Social Ecology school and the quality of my supervisors diminished radically, leading to that cock up.

The title of my paper was An inquiry into animism as a source of meaning in response to radical and disruptive non-ordinary experiences.

In April that year I came down with a nasty dose of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), which put me in hospital for 10 months. From my discharge in February 2009 to my return to work in late September the same year I rewrote the paper and resubmitted.

Writing the thing was such a trauma that I had not revisited it since. By trauma I mean that I went through an existential hell processing the ideas. It took me over 18 months to formulate what my research question was. For many months nothing worked as an idea, and yet I felt compelled to persist. The ‘penny dropped’ in a manner I describe in one of the thesis chapters, and which I will not preview here.

What started out as an intellectual exercise became a strange kind of personal initiation journey. I can’t describe it any other way. The fact that it was supposedly a formal academic exercise seemed to be irrelevant. This was more personal and much deeper than that. I can look back now, still, on ways the university failed to support me, and that still rankles. But really all it did was create the context for a formal game. It set rules I agreed to play by.

It was the exercise of having to account for what was really a fundamental existential crisis for me within a set of rules that made the thesis writing business such a drama – and so valuable. I grew up in a game playing culture, and I was pretty adept at most of the games I played. Good games are a test of character as well as game skill. The thesis, for all the shitty failings of the university, was a good game. 

I had the intellectual goods. I could write well enough. What I hadn’t anticipated was the existential storm that was about to engulf me. I can look back now, a decade later, and see how copping the GBS was actually a proper follow on. For many people that is going to sound like complete madness. As a consequence of the GBS I am left with residual disability that means I cannot walk without aids (at the moment Canadian crutches) and my manual capacity has turned to crap. But disability has transformed my life. True, it has taken away a lot of things I had. But it has given me stuff I didn’t have and needed. It has been character building in a serious way. 

The link between animism and disability will not be obvious. Indeed it may be no more than my quirky interpretation. A sudden and acquired disability completely disrupts your normal relationship with the material world. For 3 months I was in an Intensive Care Unit on a respirator. I was paralysed from the neck down and that left me conscious and inhabiting a large lump of inert flesh. It was pretty obvious to me, in this state, that I was not my body. I inhabited an imaginal world that was more real that what I could see through my waking eyes.

I had become a giant baby in physical terms.  As my recovery progressed I had to rediscover how to be in a body in the physical world.  After I was mercifully discharged from hospital I engaged in long daily routines of physiotherapy on the back verandah at home. The year progressed into autumn and then winter. I struggled to handle a camera again and took photographs of the seasonal transition in my garden. These images still affect me deeply. The home screen on my iPhone shows the very first photograph I took when I was finally able to visit my favourite open garden at Mt Wilson in the Blue Mountains. That was in the autumn of 2010. 

The world spoke to me in moods and colours that affirmed to me a loving embrace. I cannot adequately convey that experience of perilously navigating the garden’s walkways on my crutches. A few of the images do a little justice to my sense of deep immersion and communion.   

As I reformatted the chapters for the blog I recovered memories of the final stages of the rewrite. I had forgotten how much of my personal journey I had exposed. I had confessed my perilous encounter with psychiatry as I struggled to comprehend the tsunami of paranormal events flooding over me. I revealed entries from my journals and diaries that charted the trauma of uncontrolled paranormal experiences.

I had survived the insult of GBS, and I didn’t really give a damn. I wrote fearlessly. I had to defer my rewrite because of the GBS. After the resubmit I got a terse letter confirming I would graduate. It was as if that was all that mattered. There was no feedback. No comment. It was as if nobody gave a damn, save that I was not yet another fail to finish. I had done enough to give the university sufficient grounds to give me a passing grade, and it cared about nothing else. 

I was exhausted. I had escaped hospital, done the rewrite and had returned to work. I thought I had done a lousy job, and nobody had said anything because that would not have been kind. But now I have had a chance to revisit what I wrote I can see I did a decent job. 

This isn’t an intellectual paper. It is an account of an existential drama. It is about how one knits experience into a cultural discourse in a way that preserves membership and sanity. This is a paper from the heart, not just the head.

There are 85 pages all up. I won’t post them all at once. There are 4 chapters and a conclusion Chapter One is accompanying these introductory remarks. From it I have excised the Methodology, which is an important part of a thesis for academic purposes, but it is utterly boring if you have no compelling reason to wade through it. However, if you have a perverse interest in it, let me know I will send you an untouched version of the chapter (I write this confident that nobody will do that).

I will, post the other chapters progressively. I hope to intersperse them with other posts for anybody who does not have the stamina for such a read. Can you block, copy and paste from the blog into your own document?

So why bother put up the thesis? Animism is kinda what I am about, as the blog name suggests. This is the reason why. There have been some great discussions on podcasts recently and a great forum discussion on the Skeptiko site that reminded me that you really can’t approach animism from a purely intellectual angle. That forced me to yield to the promptings to do something with the thesis chapters.

You gotta get your hands dirty. I hope those who endure the read are inspired. Actually it’s not too bad. In fact, at the risk of sounding like a helium head, some of what I write is pretty damned good – at least that’s what I tell myself, so I can post it without too much anxiety.

A reflection on my interest in indigenous cultures


Various recent events and factors have moved me to reflect on my understanding of indigenous cultures in an Australian context.

Early exposure

I have been reading in religious and cultural traditions since my late teens. I started off with Indian, Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese texts, because that material was relatively easy to find in late 60s and early 70s.

I grew up in Victoria and Tasmania. I was around 8 when we moved to Tassie. I spent a lot of time in the bush as a kid – with friends and alone. I took to serious bushwalking as I got older. From quite early on I had a lot of ‘paranormal’ experiences in the bush. I won’t describe them here. At the time I had no language for them, and they made me seem strange to my walking companions. As I grew older, I became intrigued by what they were, and why they were happening to me, and not to others.

In the early 1970s I met a guy called Black Allan in Kings Cross. He was an indigenous man from Western Australia. There was a bunch of white fellas like me who knew little or nothing about indigenous Australians – neither culture, nor history. I had a dim idea – from my frequent visits to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart, and from a sanitised version the ‘settlement’ of Tasmania at school.

Black Allan was the first obviously indigenous person I had met. Over several months we gathered regularly to hear him talk, and answer questions. Then, one day, he was gone – back to W.A., we assumed.

I had a glimmer of sense of indigenous spirituality, but it didn’t go very far – beyond some subsequent superficial reading.

Encountering racism

I didn’t have anything to do with indigenous people after that until the mid 1980s, when I joined the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) in Lismore, on the Far North Coast of NSW. Two indigenous guys joined the staff. One was from Coraki, and the other from Grafton. I got to know them as colleagues. Then we had a flood and the 3 of us were the only ones of 26 staff who turned up to ensure records and equipment on the ground floor was out of flood risk. We worked flat out – it was a Saturday – and when we took breaks we talked, sharing our stories. The manager turned up eventually and hung around with us for a while – the job had been done. 

When the flood had subsided, and the office was up and running again there was no acknowledgement that 3 staff had turned up to save the office. Had we all been white, I am pretty sure there would have been.

I later transferred to the CES office in Casino. There, a Bunjalung woman (SF – not her real initials) who had been working in Brisbane was made effectively assistant manager of the office. SF had been working in an Aboriginal Employment unit and had sought a transfer back to the region for family reasons. She had accepted the role without being fully aware of what it was. It was a Senior Employment Officer role, and she wasn’t told that it was also effectively 2-IC. SF didn’t have the background knowledge to perform that role, and she was upfront in saying so.

I had been acting in the role for around 18 months. It was high demand and she struggled to keep up, so we stayed back after work regularly for a couple of months to help her get up to speed. No flex time back then. We were directed by our regional manager to stop doing so. We ignored her. Apparently, by providing support to a colleague I was being a racist.

The CES management back then professed support for indigenous staff but instead set them up for failure. The CES had introduced a new computer-based program management system. Training was provided for all the offices, except for the Aboriginal Employment Unit, where SF had transferred to as manager. Despite the fact that there was an audit report critical of the administration of Aboriginal programs, there was, apparently, no more funds for training in exactly the system that would improve administration of funds.

So, I volunteered to go to Lismore to provide training for Aboriginal Employment Unit staff. SF wanted this to happen as she was keenly aware that the unit was seen as not competent because of the audit report. My offer was refused by district management because I was not a formal trainer. I was the only person in my office who was processing program payments – and it wasn’t difficult – it just took repetition. But back then computers scared some folk – which is why I was the only person using the new system.

So here was the situation. Training was urgently needed but could not be had because there were no longer any funds for it. I couldn’t provide it because I wasn’t a formal trainer. No problem. SF dropped into the Casino office on her way home for a few days and she and I did some training, and then provided some support by phone. I got into trouble for that. I was being racist again – and I disobeyed a directive not to train the Aboriginal Employment Unit’s staff. I pointed out that I did not – just the manager.

The CES management was astonishing to me. It proclaimed support for Aboriginal staff and then seemed to do everything it could to deny them the help needed. It had an interest in numbers, but not the people behind the numbers.

I left the CES in 1990/1 to join the NSW Department of Community Services. One of the jobs I was given was to perform a forensic financial audit of an Aboriginal children’s service. There was concern that it was not spending money in accordance with grant guidelines. 

The service had been set up to solve the problem of indigenous kids in a town out west roaming the streets in the evening and getting up to mischief. To do that a manager and 2 youth workers were hired. All 3 were members of the local indigenous community but they not had any training in community or youth work. They were essentially left entirely to their own devices to solve a huge complex problem.

It was quite clear that how they were spending money was unconventional, but it was strategic and intelligent. I recommended the service be provided support and training. The recommendation was refused, and the service was defunded and closed. 

There was a problem that needed an effective solution. The funds could have been used better, if key support was provided. But hiring indigenous people without giving them the training and support that would have been provided if the ‘problem’ was caused by white kids struck me as singularly racist – as if the colour of their skin was sufficient to give them the skills to address the challenge.

I have other stories of entrenched racism in the public sector being the reality behind outward professions of support. I liked the indigenous staff I worked with on a personal level, and it was impossible to witness flagrant racist attitudes without speaking up. To be called a racist for doing so was bewildering for a long time.

Emerging coherence

Just before I joined the CES I developed an interest in Wicca, an interpretation of the indigenous spiritual traditions of Europe – my heritage. That helped me make link between my experiences in the bush and a spiritual system that fitted better with my experiences.

In 2001 I was granted a scholarship to undertake a Masters Honours research project in Social Ecology. I had just completed my Masters in Social Ecology. I decided to explore how my paranormal experiences might be accommodated in our Western European discourse about how the world works. This led me to read on indigenous spiritual and philosophical traditions – and to discover the idea of ‘animism’. 

I had set out to understand my own experiences, to make sense of my life. As a European in Australia, I found myself without a spirituality that worked here. I absolutely could not adopt the indigenous ways – they went too deep. But I could be guided by, and learn from, them.

My contact with indigenous Australians hasn’t been close. I can count 2 friends and half a dozen good working relationships. I find the racism deeply entrenched and unconscious, and that is something that bugs me profoundly.

These days I am committed to addressing discrimination against people with disability. But it has been the discrimination against indigenous Australians that has been burned most deeply into my heart and mind.

Learning about indigenous traditional culture isn’t easy. It’s a completely different form of consciousness relative to white European ways of knowing. You can learn enough to know that you don’t know; and can’t know – and be content to acknowledge and honour the mystery. By being open to that mystery it is possible to find a personal sense of connection and belonging – filtered by one’s own cultural traditions.

Learning about contemporary indigenous culture is just as difficult; because it so often means acknowledging the intergenerational trauma that accompanies invasion, occupation, and dispossession of lands – and the invalidation and demeaning of traditional ways of knowing and living.


My paranormal experiences were not accepted by the culture I grew up in. I read cultural traditions other than my own for around 20 years simply because there was no sensitive discourse grounded in my cultural heritage open to me. Finding Wicca was a relief – but not a destination. It lacked the intellectual vigour I craved.

I had no sense to adopt an alternative tradition they way others have. This was, I believe, an intuition that later served me well. I don’t disparage finding an alternative way of knowing. It just wasn’t for me.

My engagement with indigenous Australians had a powerful impact. The racism I encountered drove me to think more deeply about how my paranormal experiences were invalidated by my culture. I could not deny my experiences – they were an integral part of my identity. That seemed so similar to the invalidation of a person because of their different ways of knowing, and relating to, the world we share.

I am not saying there is an exact equivalence. I can be silent about my experiences (as I still often am), so my sense of invalidation was only ever partial – though I still felt it keenly – because of what I could not say or acknowledge.

Identity, whether experiential, intellectual, spiritual, cultural, or racial is vitally important to us. Knowing who we are must come from affirmations and validations, not from denial and discrimination.

I am a surprised how strongly I feel about this. There is a fire I still feel – but its not a pain now. It’s a motivation. It’s good to know that.

Is the US Government Openly taking UFOs Seriously at Last?

Originally posted on July 4, 2021

On 25 June 2021 the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report titled Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. It’s a modest 7 pages plus 2 appendices, taking the total number of pages to 9.

It has been called “disappointing” by the media, and it has been promptly ignored – probably because its contents suit a subtle mentality, and not one greedy for sensation. It does not ‘disclose’ anything about UFOs – or UAPs as the US military calls them.

The report confines itself to reports on UAPs from 2004 to 2021, “with the majority coming in the last two years…” This has the advantage of relying on reports from military [mostly air force] personnel using high tech tracking systems. This is important in the light of this comment from page 4 – “We were able to identify one reported UAP with high confidence. In that case, we identified the object as a large, deflating balloon. The others remain unexplained.

The report notes “144 reports originated from USG sources. Of these, 80 reports involved observation with multiple sensors” and goes on to observe that “Most reports described UAP as objects that interrupted pre-planned training or other military activity.”

So, let’s unpack that. From 2019 to 2021up to 80 reports on UAPs were generated by witnesses using highly sophisticated US military sensors. And yet, only one of all reported sightings was identified – a large deflating balloon.

The report, under the heading And a Handful of UAP Appear to Demonstrate Advanced Technology observes that:

In 18 incidents, described in 21 reports, observers reported unusual UAP movement patterns or flight characteristics.

Some UAP appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernable means of propulsion. In a small number of cases, military aircraft systems processed radio frequency (RF) energy associated with UAP sightings.

The UAPTF [Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force – my note] holds a small amount of data that appear to show UAP demonstrating acceleration or a degree of signature management. Additional rigorous analysis are necessary by multiple teams or groups of technical experts to determine the nature and validity of these data. We are conducting further analysis to determine if breakthrough technologies were demonstrated.

The report says that UAPs probably lack a single explanation, which is fair enough, save that there is one glaring omission from the 5 options given. Several are worth noting:

  • USG or Industry Developmental Programs: Some UAP observations could be attributable to developments and classified programs by U.S. entities. We were unable to confirm, however, that these systems accounted for any of the UAP reports we collected.
  • Foreign Adversary Systems: Some UAP may be technologies deployed by China, Russia, another nation, or a non-governmental entity.
  • Other: Although most of the UAP described in our dataset probably remain unidentified due to limited data or challenges to collection processing or analysis, we may require additional scientific knowledge to successfully collect on, analyze and characterize some of them. We would group such objects in this category pending scientific advances that allowed us to better understand them. The UAPTF intends to focus additional analysis on the small number of cases where a UAP appeared to display unusual flight characteristics or signature management.

So, what is going on here? In terms of what is known as definitely true on the evidence available, the report’s authors are not able to say ET is involved. It is a fair thing to say that such a conclusion might be reasonable drawn from that evidence – on the presumptive exclusion of known sources for what appears to be highly sophisticated craft. But that conclusion is not based on evidence – only inference.

There are observations by informed commentators that the idea that Russia or China might be responsible is silly. It would be impossible to maintain that level of secrecy. Something would leak. The difference between the US aircraft and the UAPs is so significant as to constitute a radical disparity in technological capacity. It is just not reasonable to allow that Russia or China have gotten that far ahead. The same can be said for a private venture.

The report does not cover the conduct of UAPs in this context in a specific way. The report is wary of drawing inference only from the data used to compile the report – predominantly military in the context of assessing threat. There are multiple reports that are not connected with the military. When they are factored in, the conduct of UAPs is not consistent with any comprehensible behaviour by a foreign power or private interest.

There is no doubt that the report’s authors do not raise the topic of ET simply because there is no evidence that allows ET to be more than speculation. It would not be responsible to include such speculation in the report.

We must see this report in its proper context. It concerns an assessment of the possible threat posed by UAPs to US national security. The ‘preliminary’ assessment is interesting:

Potential National Security Challenges

We currently lack data to indicate any UAP are part of a foreign collection program or indicative of a major technological advancement by a potential adversary. We continue to monitor for evidence of such programs given the counter intelligence challenge they would pose, particularly as some UAP have been detected near military facilities or by aircraft carrying the USG’s most advanced sensor systems.

What the US plans to do tells us something important. The 2 final paragraphs of the report propose expanding data collection and investing more into figuring out WTF is going on.

Expand Collection

The UAPTF is looking for novel ways to increase collection of UAP cluster areas when U.S. forces are not present as a way to baseline “standard” UAP activity and mitigate the collection bias in the dataset. One proposal is to use advanced algorithms to search historical data captured and stored by radars. The UAPTF also plans to update its current interagency UAP collection strategy in order bring to bear relevant collection platforms and methods from the DoD and the IC.

Increase Investment in Research and Development

The UAPTF has indicated that additional funding for research and development could further the future study of the topics laid out in this report. Such investments should be guided by a UAP Collection Strategy, UAP R&D Technical Roadmap, and a UAP Program Plan.


There are indications that the number of encounters with UAPs is significantly increasing, and with social media the chances of containing news of these encounters have dropped to zero.

In the past the US government has been able to bluff the public with nonsense claims that ‘UFO’s are weather balloons or swamp gas fires. A Gallup poll from September 2019 observes that:

  • Two-thirds in U.S. say government knows more than it’s saying on UFOs
  • One-third thinks some UFOs are actual sightings of alien spacecraft

If we keep in mind the purpose of the report and the fact that it is drawing on evidence only from 2004, it is what is not said that is compelling. The US Airforce has probably the most sophisticated array of sensors on the planet. That tech has not dispelled the UAP illusion. It allows a reasonable conclusion that there are craft under intelligent control performing in ways that far exceed the US’s technological capacity – or immediately foreseeable potential.

The fact that the question as to who or what is operating these craft is unanswered; and seems to be presently unanswerable means that the US is not ruling out, or in, sources for which it has evidence. It has evidence that Russia, China and private enterprises exist. The authors of the report do not [apparently] have evidence that ET exists.

The UAPTF wants more data and more investment in solving the problem. It is not known whether the UAP that seem to exhibit unusual “movement patterns or flight characteristics”constitute a national security threat. At present this assessment can only be in relation to the behaviour of the UAPs, because the relative technological superiority is plain enough.

It takes a wider appreciation of the theme to understand that there must be a significant degree of powerlessness felt by the most powerful military on the planet to be left flatfooted by apparent craft whose performance is far beyond anything imagined outside science fiction. And yet our collective curiosity is seemingly weak.

There are ‘contactee’ reports that assert ET’s intent is benign. Witnesses are saying that UAP behaviour is getting bolder. One might say that it is seeking to get our attention. The fact that this report has been declassified and made public demonstrates that we are starting to pay attention. It is a pity that we have hopeless attention spans. That’s potentially a perilous flaw.

Of course, there is an alternative explanation. We have been fed UFO/ET stories since the 1950s. Perhaps we are so conditioned to accept the notion we are not excited at all. But that does not mean that bringing that relatively unconscious acceptance to consciousness is not a valuable piece of work.

It seems likely that we will collectively become consciously aware of agents not from here in the not-too-distant future. That will have a transformational impact on our individual and shared psyches. That impact can be traumatic or revelatory. How do you want it to be for you?


Why does this matter in the context of this blog? I have watched YouTube videos since posting this in which seemingly senior members of the military are still pushing the “It could be China or Russia.” line. I don’t buy this for the simple reason that the UAP performance plus behaviour does not add up to the conduct of an adversary of any known nature.  Besides, the report is an acknowledgement of ignorance, and would not have been released if there was any serious belief the UAPs were from a known adversary.

The fact that the US government was pushed into releasing this report suggests that people are talking openly. Plainly, highly trained pilots do not think what they are encountering are known adversaries. It should be unthinkable that US military personnel would expose the nation to the risk of admitting it does not have the means to defend against Chinese or Russian potential threats.

What nobody is saying frankly is that there is compelling evidence that an unknown agency is engaging with us. It is demonstrating that we do not have the means to confront it – or control that engagement – in a technological sense at least.

I am with the report in that there is no evidence that agency is ET. It is unknown. However, it is entirely reasonable to allow that that agency could be ET. It would therefore be a rational and prudent thing to imagine it is – and think about how we might feel about that – if it turns out to be the case. Here I mean beyond the flip bravado – and down to the essential existential level of individual and shared reaction. This is one thing we can control – or screw up.

Confronting the prospect of engagement with ET is not fundamentally different from engaging with Spirit or spirits. Either way we redefine who we are, where we are, and what we are when we engage with agents who are not from our sense of how things ought to be.

One of the Trees of Light has Fallen

I am down at BMG for the first time in ages. The endless rain has gone, and morning light has been restored. Magpies’ song lifts my spirit so. 

One of the trees that was part of the intimate community that framed my celebration of morning light has fallen. The soil has been so saturated its roots no longer had solid purchase. It has gently, and extremely, leaned northward. 

Its life would, I imagine, continue. But the Council has put an ominous cordon of red and white tape across the mown parkland side. The tape also has the word “DANGER” in black repeatedly stenciled on it. There may be peril to small unaccompanied children and blind folk, but I am still in two minds about the declaration of hazard. Only a tiny portion of the base of the tree may constitute a risk – and that could be managed. 

The tree could live out its span with this modest leaning disability, but I fear it will be euthanased with a chainsaw in the name of public safety, and an unconscious aesthetic bias against leaning trees.

I have a moment of luminous silence, whose spell is finally broken by a magpie’s song – a last post. The day must go on – and so must I.

Human 3.0?

First posted on August 30, 2021

The strange conceit of Humanity 2.0

Back on 25 September 2011, The Guardian’s Ian Tucker interviewed Steve Fuller [who holds the Auguste Comte chair in social epistemology in Warwick University’s Department of Sociology] about his new book, Humanity 2.0: What it Means to be Human, Past, Present and Future.

Here’s a quick definition of Humanity 2.0 from the article:

Humanity 2.0 is an understanding of the human condition that no longer takes the “normal human body” as given. On the one hand, we’re learning more about our continuity with the rest of nature – in terms of the ecology, genetic make-up, evolutionary history. On this basis, it’s easy to conclude that being “human” is overrated. But on the other hand, we’re also learning more about how to enhance the capacities that have traditionally marked us off from the rest of nature. Computers come to mind most readily in their capacity to amplify and extend ourselves. Humanity 2.0 is about dealing with this tension.

This is a challenging notion that reflects a particular idea of what it means to be human. Note “the capacities that have traditionally marked us off from the rest of nature.”

A Forbes article by Neil Sahota from 1 October 2018 has the title Human 2.0 Is Coming Faster Than You Think. Will You Evolve With The Times?opens with:

“Our technology, our machines, is part of our humanity,” author, computer scientist, and inventor Ray Kurzweil once said. “We created them to extend ourselves, and that is what is unique about human beings.” In the past few years, there has been considerable discussion around the idea we are slowly merging with our technology, that we are becoming transhuman, with updated abilities, including enhanced intelligence, strength, and awareness. 

Note: “what is unique about human beings.”

There is a common theme here – humans are special and separate from Nature. What does this mean about how we should conduct ourselves? There are options – how should we choose?

Here our human identity is no more than our physical being. Kurzweil is a techno-romanticist in my view. Saying that humans created machines “to extend ourselves” reflects an appalling lack of insight into the impact of machines – which has been [in modern times] to displace humans from labour processes. Machines have come about by harnessing science in the pursuit of benefit – usually profit by a social elite. Other benefits were incidental.

It is certainly true that humans have invented devices that overcome challenges, and these have often benefited a community with little to no enduring downsides. But the history of human machine making also includes devices that have delivered misery and mayhem – upon humans, animals, and the natural world. That has been considered price worth paying – but by those exacting the cost, not those paying the price.

The twin passions for scientific inquiry and technological innovation have been married to an economic system more focused on benefit to the few than upon extending the welfare of humans in general [or beyond].

The Fuller article goes on to assert that: We need to be always reminding ourselves that we have always been enhancing ourselves, that science has always been enhancing the human condition, that we have been trusting machines over our own bodies for at least 300-400 years now. We’ve already broken through that barrier – we do live in a very artificial world. Even though the stuff on the horizon may amplify our powers tremendously, it is nevertheless part of the same process. It is a step change but it’s the same story, the story of scientific progress.

The idea of “a very artificial world” bothers me. If humanity is part of nature, we can assert that we have modified the world to such a degree that our handiwork is the critical attribute of the environment we live in. But that’s not ‘artificial’ – at least that’s not a good way to think about it. ‘Anthropocentric’ would be a better way. Nature expresses through humans too.

Fuller seems to sum up his point of view in his idea that “Humanity 2.0 is less about the power of new technologies than a state of mind in which we see our lives fulfilled in such things.” The notion that we see our lives fulfilled in new technologies seems to be devoid of something that should be fundamental to our sense of what it is to be human.

Sahota walks down the same path. He says: “In the past few years, there has been considerable discussion around the idea we are slowly merging with our technology, that we are becoming transhuman, with updated abilities, including enhanced intelligence, strength, and awareness.” He sums up his vision with: “Are we staring down the gulf at “Human 2.0?””

Tech is Just Tech

We are not. I can’t imagine that a finely crafted flint tool is less precious than an iPhone. One is a tool critical to human welfare. The other is not.  Indeed, any of the ‘tech’ that was fundamental to survival of our distant ancestors might have excited a powerful sense connection. Fire was so essential social rules and even rituals were crafted to ensure that it was treated with the respect, if not reverence, that matched its purpose.  Surely here was a boundary between Humanity 1.0 and 2.0 – a Promethean demarcation?

Tech can be used to extend our innate capacity, obviously, but it has been doing that for millennia. Among indigenous Australians the woomera enhanced the range of a spear.

Humans will also adopt and adapt technology developed elsewhere for advantage; and have been doing so for millennia. Indigenous Australians have embraced the rifle as tool to replace the spear. The industrial revolution and the post-industrial tech boom have lifted the power of human artifice to new levels – but we have gone way beyond critical tools for survival into the realm of indulgence.

There is a natural relationship between machines/tech and humans. But it is nothing like the Humanity 2.0 advocates imagine. The fusion of human and machine is not a fulfilment of an innate potential. Fuller said his book is about dealing with the tension generated by what we are learning about our place in nature and our potential with tech. I don’t think “tension” is the right word. Its more “trauma” occasioned by a failure to develop and promulgate a decent moral code and philosophical outlook. If there is a “tension” it concerns a false and misguided hope.

Magical Thinking

As we continue transform our life-worlds our technology increasingly reflects no necessity for physical – rather an analogue of the magical or spiritual. In fact, it does seem at times that what we are witnessing is a materialist mentality aspiring to re-spiritualise the human realm with self-moving and ‘intelligent’ devices. One could see that the ultimate tech dream is to replace a ‘non-existent God’ with one crafted from human endeavour – a vast embracing and parenting ‘internet of things’. It is an effort to re-animate the human reality that has been stripped of its spirits by immature thinking and presumptuous haste at arriving at conclusions.

The passion of transhumanism is to enable ‘immortality’ by transferring human consciousness into a more durable medium than the physical body.

This is magic wrought by intellect alone – an effort to replace what it has rejected, discarded, and abandoned as meaningless and unreal.

Operator Error

While we have invested more and more in improving our technology, we have invested far less in improving the human user. If the user is debased, then the use to which even the most sophisticated devices will be put will also be debased.

Technology does not ennoble or extend us. Only we are capable of doing that. The Humanity 2.0 community has either lost touch with, or never really been in touch with, the human spirit – as more than the animating force of our physical being. The dominance of materialism has been a profound disservice.

Our governments obediently endorse the passion for STEM subjects in our universities with no sense of the imbalance. We can have devices that magnify our desires and actions. But the increasing our capacity for self-governance and self-awareness to help us be more aware of those desires and actions is not supported to the same degree.

There’s a reason for this. Tech deals with how. Moral considerations introduce the problem of why and whether, and this carries the risk of saying “No” to technological innovations and solutions. This might bring about a demand that the determining measure of benefit should not reside with those who profit from making and distributing. Rather it belongs to the shared community of lives impacted in the chain of development, production, sale and use of any device.

Introducing Human 3.0

I want to suggest that we step over Humanity 2.0 as a dizzy conceit and delusion – a failure – and go straight to Human 3.0.

This is the rebalancing of human enterprise by restoring the spiritual and moral dimension to our equations concerning benefit. This is not an opposition to tech, just the addition of a corrective that is implicit in our decision-making from the outset.

Inclusive Design is an approach that seeks to include the spectrum of being human when designing a thing – rather than modelling all upon an ideal of a fully capable person of average attributes [who does not exist].

Holistic Design expands the embrace of Inclusive Design to cover more than the human – the vast realm of the other-than-human.

This would place technological development and its application in a context governed by an acknowledgement that human self-interest is not the final arbiter of human conduct.

At present the worse of human impulses have been unleashed by the best of our technology in ways unprecedented in known history. The constraints upon those less than noble impulses are weak – as if the logic for such is uncertain. The rallying cry of freedom has no refrain of duty or obligation.

The greatest tech advances in the past few decades have relied upon those with little restraint, or high purpose, for growth. All should benefit from technological advances, but not at the cost of manners and civil conduct.

Human 3.0 is an effort to evolve a conception of being human in what is fundamentally a new age framed by two considerations:

  1. What future human ingenuity may devise – and what we may encounter.
  2. What restorations and reparations are necessary to heal the wounds wrought by our past unbalanced ingenuity upon the lives of this planet.

We can go forward unfettered by what we will not/dare not acknowledge only if we look back the same degree we look forward. If we can do that, we may be able to say we have grown up as a member of our species. In a sense Human 3.0 is about taking the first steps as a spiritual adult.

This is not a suggestion to form a movement. Rather Human 3.0 is a personal assertion of commitment to restoring balance. Part of doing so is the re-imagining of the spiritual and the moral.


Since writing this I have encountered three fascinating ideas. The first is in Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual. The second is Ian McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary. The third is a series of books on the psychology of bias and thinking – Daniel Kahneman, John A. List and Mahzarin R Banaji & Anthony G Greenwald are my main sources at the moment.

Here’s a bold summation, which is at a tentative stage. We humans are evolving via what we presently understand as individuality from a past state that was group-based, but largely unconscious and shaped by instincts and emotions toward another group-based state that is shaped by higher levels of self-awareness and ‘spiritual’ ideas and ideals. Individualism is not an end state. Religion, which has been the guiding principle in the earlier group-based state, has suffered in this present transitional phase for two reasons.

First, it badly straddles the two stages, and muddles the elements of both into a chaos of emotions and the illusion of rational thought. Second, the transition through individualism has excited an over focus on left brain activity – which is mistaken for ‘reason’, rather than self-centred utility.

Contemporary psychological research makes it pretty clear that humans are dominated by instincts and emotions – and we are not very good at thinking. We use the word ‘reason’ to denote what is essentially intellectualism. In the esoteric tradition there is a clear distinction made between the ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ minds – one tapping into instinct and emotion and the other into what we might call soul awareness. 

The substantial abandonment of religion from The Enlightenment period on led to the abandoning of language (and ideas) that could make the necessary distinction.

The fascination with tech reflects the transitional phase we are in. It is post-biological, but still doing the job at an instinctual and emotional level – and at the level of self-centred utility. Materialistic science is becoming the new metaphysics and moral philosophy. It wants to create an analogue of an animated and intelligent reality for humans to live in. There is no comfort with any spirituality at this stage – in terms of a wider intellectual discourse. Science has not yet advanced beyond materialism, and that is at least a century away, or longer, in terms of there being a significant evolutionary step.

The idea of Human 3.0 is aspirational. But I think we can get a decent feel for what it means. Tech isn’t the post-biological state to be yearned for. That’s just substitution for materialists who can’t imagine anything else. Overcoming the domination of instincts and emotions in framing our sense of individuated being is our biggest challenge. That can be done only through intentional action. It must also be beyond the focus on self-centred left-brain dominated utility and toward a holistic affirmation of the passion even materialists share – an animated and intelligent reality.

The Travails of Transition


One of the things that has been intriguing me is how there is a broad-based transition away from Christianity to a wider sense of the spiritual and sacred – which includes secular thought as well. This move is more than just disappointment with Christianity. It is informed by social, political, and scientific developments as well.

We are in the habit of seeing things in terms of contested domains – science v religion – as well as distinct fields of thought – religion, psychology, physics, politics and so on. In fact, the contestation is artificial, and the distinctions are contextual. 

Back in 1997 Stephen Jay Gould attempted to rethink the science v religion context by asserting that they were, in fact, non-overlapping magisterial. Gould was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science.

This is what Wikipedia says about the idea: …each represent different areas of inquiry, fact vs. values, so there is a difference between the “nets” over which they have “a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority”, and the two domains do not overlap

This is a common, and mistaken, view of both fields. What Gould may have more usefully done would have been to observe that in each magisterium there is dogma, habit, politics and ambition. Science has a better reputation because it does have an evolutionary impulse – knowledge grows and changes.

In fact, far from non-overlapping, they sit perfectly well together. What is missed by Gould is that the materialism, beloved of many scientists is a ‘metaphysical assumption’ – a guess. In essence a belief based on a faith that the guess is right.

I want to be fair to Gould. He had good intent here, but his knowledge of religion is typical of scientists – superficial. He probably meant that even religious scientists, of whom there have always been many – in the majority by far to begin with – can seem to keep their faith and their science separate. But, in fact, this is a superficial interpretation. They can certainly keep separate the things that are irrelevant to either. But there’s a vital area that always overlaps – how questions are framed, asked, and how data is interpreted. This is the theme of this essay.

What is the Question?

Early on, what we call Science was called Natural Philosophy. Science, as we now understand it, has been shaped by the Industrial Revolution in the service of ‘resources’, and the stuff we turned them into. Utility, not curiosity, ruled.

Before that, Natural Philosophers gazed upon the ‘handiwork of God’, and imagined they’d find evidence of God’s existence. That didn’t happen, and, with the advent of the lens, it still didn’t happen. As a result, some concluded that the absence of evidence was a demonstration of absence. Nature was still profoundly fascinating, and whether God existed or not became unimportant to the question about the nature of a subject of inquiry.

But whether the subject of inquiry is a thing, or a being, is another matter. The objectification of nature as a resource to be exploited by humans. This is from 1:28 Genesis:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’

But this has been translated from Hebrew and here is an interesting passage from

The key words are the Hebrew redeth and kabash which can mean ‘subjugate’ and ‘subdue,’ but only if taken by themselves. The words have a range of meanings, just as ‘vessel’ in English can have more than one meaning, i.e.: cup or ship. Thus, redeth can vary in meaning from ‘tread underfoot’, ‘subjugate’, ‘to rule’ or ‘to rule, guard and serve,’ and kabash can vary from ‘beat into submission’, ‘subdue’ through ‘to tame’ or ‘control carefully’. Taken out of context any meaning can be assigned and used as a pretext to prove whatever one likes.

So, the fault is not religion per se, but some religious who, through ignorance or intent, fashioned a warrant to plunder and despoil. And science, largely disdainful of religion, was obedient to those who saw the chance to plunder and profit as coming from God. The absence of any moral responsibility was divinely ordained.

Would the questions asked by science have been different in a different religious culture? How do we guard and control, rather than how do we exploit?

Is Religion a Science, Is Science a Religion?

My Oxford dictionary app says that religion is the “belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” The same app says that science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”

Let’s play with these definitions and switch them around, with some minor changes.

  • Science is belief in and [inquiry into] a superhuman controlling power.
  • Religion is the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural [and supernatural] world[s] through observation and experiment.”

Some readers may baulk at this effort if they are accustomed to thinking of religion in terms of theology and dogma – as informed by their knowledge of Christianity. Here the history of Islam may be a better guide.

We must also escape the PR allure of science that paints it as a relentlessly rational affair. In his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) Thomas Khun observed that sometimes changes in thinking comes about only when adherents die. In short, science is not free from entrenched dogma, and neither is it free from a secular version of metaphysics.

Galileo (1564 to 1642) is science’s pin up boy for religious persecution. True he annoyed the Catholic church, but he was put under house arrest, essentially for being a mouthy git. On the other hand, Giordano Bruno (1548 to 1600) was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, cosmological theorist, and Hermetic occultist was burned alive as an “obstinate heretic”. Bruno is no martyr for science because of his hermetic beliefs, even though it could have been his cosmological beliefs that were the problem.

Science is a bit like this. Newton (1643 to 1727) was not only “widely recognised that’s one of the greatest mathematicians and physicists of all time and among the most influential scientists” (Wikipedia) but his list of skills has only comparatively recently been shown completely – “mathematician, physicist, astronomer, alchemist, theologian.”(Wikipedia). 40 years ago, you would not have found “alchemist, theologian” listed in any account of his life produced, or approved, by the scientific community. The fact that Newton was spiritual/religious was a source of embarrassment.

Newton evidently didn’t let his spiritual perspective interfere with his science. In fact: The two traditions of natural philosophy, the mechanical and the Hermetic, antithetical though they appear, continued to influence his thought and in their tension supplied the fundamental theme for of his scientific career.(

With both Bruno and Newton, Hermetic philosophy seems to be the sticking point for materialistic science, despite the fact that it didn’t seem to impair (and may even have enhanced) the intellectual attainments of either Natural Philosopher.

Essentially religion and science perform the same role – making sense of what is, and helping humans live as well as they can. Our view of religion has been distorted by the personalised and interventionist god of the Abrahamic tradition. Scientists might rightly observe that there is no empirical evidence such a god exists. Individual experience of ‘supernatural’ events is not dependent on belief or faith. In other traditions the divine is seen as capricious, and even dangerous.

Belief in gods has not impeded prodigious feats of intellectual attainment, as is seen with the Egyptians, Sumerians, Aztecs, and Indians, just to name a few. The ancient Egyptians, considered by some to be the most religious of people, left us the Great Pyramid, which still astonishes us as a feat of engineering and construction.

Essentially, aside from the Catholic church’s assault on free thinking scientific and Hermetic thinkers, there is really no fundamental disjuncture between science and religion. Inquiry into the ways of gods probably gave us the science we have now.

If we can see science and religion as the yin and yang of human consciousness – constantly overlapping and intersecting – we can progress to the next step.

Where to From Here?

We are seeing signs. Quantum science has generated serious intellectual conversations about whether consciousness is the foundation of reality. I recently listened to Great Courses audiobook Exploring Metaphysics. It was essentially metaphysics for materialists, and it was a very interesting survey of the fact that metaphysics is now a thing for materialists – and not just woo nonsense for the gullible.

We are moving toward a reconciliation of science and religion. To be fair, we are a probably a century away from celebrating any renewal of vows. But given it has taken a century for quantum physics to be accepted as actual science, that’s not unreasonable. We have a lot of reimaging of religion to do – and that’s barely under way.

Dean Radin’s 2018 book, Real Magic: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science and the Guide to the Secret Power of the Universe is a decent effort making progress. Radin is a serious scientific psi researcher who decided to finally explore the traditions that support and validates psi in the ‘real world’. He had to shift his position, as a consequence.

Progress will be slow because this is an evolution of collective consciousness. There will be out-there pioneers and entrenched stick-in-the-mud traditionalists whose death maybe the only way their influence is diminished. Neither science nor religion are pure fields of thought. Each has its culture and traditions, as well as its power structures and interests. Each has its conceits, myths, and bullshit.

But we will get there because this is an evolutionary imperative


On a personal level I am living through an exciting period of transition. Such periods have come and gone in recent centuries – at least there have been eruptions that have stood out against the background and steady change that has been going on for the past 2000 years or so – maybe longer.

My period relates to an increased publication of esoteric books in the 1970s – opening up access to hard-to-get material. This led into a steady expansion of the Internet from the early 2000s and to the explosion of social media. On the one hand it is a riot of content of widely varied quality. On the other it feeds a profound hunger for deeper insight.

The New Age movement, which is what filled my sails, has touched deep and shallow urges. It is routinely ridiculed for its seemingly facile ‘therapy culture’ practised by flagrantly inept devotees. But a rising tide lifts the shabby dinghies and dugout canoes as well as the super yachts.

The way ahead is chaotic. There’s a cacophony of hope, and the more people respond, the more varied will be the responses catering to the that hope – and sometimes exploiting it. If we focus on own response to our needs, and not attend excessively to how others are meeting theirs, we will come to understand that this not a competition, but a collaboration. We all in this evolutionary in transitional phase together.

A Reflection on Still Aspiring


A friend has challenged me on my use of “aspiring” in the title of this blog. It is worthwhile revisiting my rationale. I am curious to see if my position has evolved.

The False Magic of Declaring an Identity

I replied to my friend in an email, saying, in part: This is nowhere better observed in that the many who call themselves ‘Christians’ think they do good when they do good, when in fact they often do harm. To be ‘Christian’ in its perfect form is to act in imitation of Christ – ergo, for me the true, and modest adherents are ‘aspiring Christians’. In the same vein I insist on being an aspiring animist – still mindful that I have not yet attained the power to do good in a sustained way.

My friend was offering a quote from Sir Francis Bacon – “Power to do good is the true and lawful end of aspiring” It is an alluring sentiment, whose sense I do not dispute. Bacon is a popular source of quotes, so I found this one to reinforce my case: “There is a difference between happiness and wisdom: he that thinks himself the happiest man is really so; but he that thinks himself the wisest is generally the greatest fool.”

Wisdom is something we can aspire to, but to think oneself as wise is a folly, and a conceit.

In my reply email I cited Christians simply because I know them well. Naming oneself as a Christian does not magically make one Christian. In fact, naming oneself anything – good, wise, kind – has the same ineffectuality at transferring the virtue to one’s character – or triggering its expression from some latent or dormant internal source.

For me, calling myself an Animist would not make my outlook and habits of mind and heart animistic. The reminder that this is the case is important to me.

I do acknowledge that those less prone to pedantry than I would baulk at adding a qualifier to a description of their philosophical and moral outlook. That’s perfectly fine, if they can maintain a discipline of modestly acknowledging their aspirational status, so long as it pertains, of course.

“Clothes Make the Man”

This is a famous quote about which I quote comments from a blog:

The proverb as it is recorded in Latin by Erasmus (Adagia 3.1.60) is: “vestis virum facit” meaning “clothes make the man.” In the Adagia, Erasmus quotes Quintilian’s (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus) work, Institutions (orat. 8 pr. 20): “To dress within the formal limits and with an air gives men, as the Greek line testifies, authority.” Quintilian is, in turn, citing the work of Homer who wrote his epics about 7 or 8 B.C. In the Odyssey (6.29–30, 242–3, 236–7), the key lines are: “From these things, you may be sure, men get a good report” and “At first I thought his [Ulysses] appearance was unseemly, but now he has the air of the gods who dwell in the wide heaven.” Thus the impact of making a good impression by way of fine threads and bling was not lost on the great classic writers.

Not to be one-upped by classical writers, Shakespeare (who wore his fine Elizabethan white ruff with great pride and dignity) weighed in on the matter through Polonius: “The apparel oft proclaims the man” (The Tragedy of Hamlet, written c. 1600).

We know scoundrelsdisguise themselves in fine attire, uniforms, and white coats as much as by titles and signals of asserted virtue. The very worst is the cleric with a predisposition to sexually assault children. By attire, by title, and by belonging to a faith, the innocents are fooled and duped and injured.                

A Badge of Identity

Over the years I have been involved with people who have identified themselves as ‘priests’ or ‘priestesses’, or as ‘magicians’ or ‘witches’. Many have been devoted to their path. But the need to identify as such, unless it is a formal role, suggests that perhaps the identity means more than the practice, and its philosophy. Some were certainly more devoted to the identity. They saw the trappings and paraphernalia of magic more as supporting their sense of status – than the means to do what their claims to practice suggested.

We all have identities – names we call ourselves to convey something about ourselves. Sometimes that identity is absolute – I am Australian. Sometimes it infers no sense of competence, let alone expertise. Saying one is a Sydney Swans supporter does not carry any implicit import, well most of the time. While saying one is a hairdresser may infer no mastery, there is an expectation of competence, nevertheless. This is why we find qualifying terms like ‘trainee’ or ‘apprentice’ being applied. We distinguish between the novice and the competent.

There is something else in identifying as a Christian (or any other faith) or an Atheist, or an Animist. In part, there is the connection with a set of ideas, or beliefs. There is also a signal about values (except, maybe, in the case of an Atheist) arising from those ideas and beliefs. My experience is that the majority of Christians and Animists I have known are ‘trainee’ Christians and ‘trainee’ Animists. That is to say that, while they may have a certain expertise in the ideas or beliefs of their particular persuasion, they are not adept at expressing its values at a high level. 


I struggle to consistently live the values of my understanding of Animism. This is because I had been conditioned to be a materialist for over 40 years before I came across the idea of animism. What I live is a hybrid Materialism/Animism – a spectrum that is slowly moving toward the Animism end.

In a sense, my insistence on keeping the ‘aspiring’ qualifier is in the recognition that it is like a kind of portable personal confessional in which I can reflect on my lapsing back into materialistic thought – which is often – and I am grateful when I catch myself doing so.

At one stage I had idly thought of setting up a group called Materialists Anonymous (MA). Whether we are ‘conditioned’ or ‘addicted’, materialistic thinking dominates us as we seek to escape its dominion.

I wonder if my friend would be happier if I called myself a ‘Trainee Animist’.

A final thought is that ‘Animist’ is an imperfect word. I think we are evolving to a post-materialist consciousness that is more than Animism. Some alternative words have been proposed, but they are, for me, excessively intellectual, and lack personal sense that Animism has.

I am, in fact, an Aspiring (Post-Materialist/) Animist. I have a sense of the goal. Getting there is not just about reframing thought and language; but enlarging the frame of empathy and identity.