Gordon White’s new book Star.Ships seeks to recalibrate our history in light of the falsification of scientific materialism.
photo by: Chris Radcliff
While putting together this episode of Skeptiko I kept thinking of this terrific new movie I saw recently called “The Big Short.” It’s a Hollywood-ized version of the events that led to the economic crash of 2008. My favorite character in the movie is the socially awkward surgeon-turned-hedge fund manager, Dr. Michael Burry. He’s a great character in the film, and from the interviews I’ve read, he’s quite a character in real life too. As a hedge fund manager, Burry was one of the few people to see the coming collapse of the real estate market and profit from it by betting hundreds of millions of dollars of his fund’s capital on his analysis of the data.
In 2005, the US housing market was booming and few thought it would ever end. But Burry followed the data… to wherever it led. He painstakingly analyzed thousands of the mortgages behind the complex financial instruments being sold on Wall Street. He found many of the mortgages being touted as rock-solid, safe investments were in fact really risky. Then, he made his move.
So, here’s a guy who followed the data wherever it leads, and it paid off big. That’s a Skeptiko moment. Here’s another. By 2007 the mortgage market was faltering badly. The number of foreclosures was rising dramatically and worry was everywhere. So, in a scene lost to a lot of moviegoers, Burry decides to cash-in his trade. He bet the market was going to crash. The market is crashing. He’s ready to take his hedge fund profits and go home. So, he calls up his investment partner Goldman Sachs and says, “look, it’s obvious the market is crashing; let’s negotiate a price and settle this transaction.” This is commonplace. Goldman Sachs is making the market for this security, it’s assumed they will complete the transaction. But Goldman Sachs doesn’t call him back. Remember, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars here, and they’re refusing talk to him. When he finally reaches them they say, “we’re not really sure how to price your investment.” In other words, we’re not ready to acknowledge the fact that the real estate market is crashing even though everyone on earth can see it’s crashing. It’s a great point in the movie because it shows that not only is the mortgage-backed securities system corrupt, but the entire investment banking system is corrupt at a level no one could have imagined. As the story turns out, Goldman Sachs eventually buys back Burry’s position, but only after protecting their losses by finding a greater fool they can sell their position to.
The reason I bring all of this up, and why I think it’s relevant to today’s interview with Gordon White author of a terrific new book Star.Ships, is that, as you know, it’s not enough to just follow the data wherever it leads, you have to trust your analysis of the data even when everyone around you denies it. And like Michael Burry experienced, that’s not always easy. This seems a lot like the situation we face with materialism. It’s a crazy idea from almost any angle. This notion that we’re all a biological robots in a meaningless universe; that we have no real love for anyone; that we have no real experience other than these illusions caused by random chemical reaction in our brain, is idiotic. But if you look at mainstream science there’s very little breaking of ranks. Science isn’t returning our phone calls.
And that’s what’s so great about Star.Ships. Gordon White starts with what we already know — materialism has been falsified. From there he dares to reexamine and recalibrate what we might find from analyzing all of this data–that is, the body of scientific evidence we’ve collected. As you can tell it’s quite an undertaking, quite bold. But if that’s where the data takes us, somebody has to do it:
Gordon White: You can look at history and realize that the same kind of mystery that we can experience or search for today has probably been the defining quest of mankind. I actually think the question rather than the answer is the answer… I find comfort in being able to look back over essentially 70 thousand years of human history and [realize] they’re dealing with it as well. They’re dealing with grief and spirit contact, and telepathy, and a much bigger richer tasting, exciting universe just as we are–or can be. Also, it’s okay if you don’t have the answer because we’ve been looking for 70 thousand years.
Read Excerpts From Interview:
Gordon White: Around the world magic is used for a comparatively few number of things: it’s used for after-death communication; it’s used for seeing the future–a kind of remote viewing style model; it’s used for probability enhancements and making sure that when the hunting groups go out, they’re more likely to come back with the deer than not. Across human history magic seems to be the word we’ve used for understanding consciousness effects in the universe that we didn’t have words like ‘consciousness effect’ for previously. So that’s what it is to me. It’s an animist way of seeing the world that’s built on a lot of the things that we’re now seeing over the last 120 years of PSI and consciousness research:
Alex Tsakiris: Here’s the problem. It’s not just that because let’s get real: a lot of people are going to have a very negative association with magic. It’s going to be tied up with our understanding of Christianity; our understanding of demonic forces and all the rest of [it]. I don’t see you really trying to push yourself away from that. You’re Grimoire. You’re going to explore that, and incantations, spells, tarot cards. It’s not like your saying these things can’t be part of the equation too, you’re just drawing a broader picture of how this magical worldview might really be…I don’t know…recalibrated with our materialistic worldview. So let’s address that head-on because I think it gets to the essence of what your book is all about.
Gordon White: The initial negative reaction to the word ‘magic’ is an exclusively, late- capitalist, European, predominantly white view of it. If you look on-balance around the world in other cultures, that’s not necessarily the case. There are witch doctors and Shamans and cunning men, and people who within a tribal culture or group do have that sort of trafficking with the spirit world role.
Alex Tsakiris: Let me interject because we don’t just have to go to Africa and South America. The Catholic Church–not disparaging the Catholic Church–is almost explicitly magical.
Gordon White: Absolutely.
Alex Tsakiris: A lot of it is rituals and in preparing for this [interview] I was reminded of the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist. It was written by this investigative journalist years ago, Matt Baglio. What he did and he was a very secular, atheist type of guy, he went to the University of Exorcism in Rome that the Catholic Church has. You want to talk about spells and incantations, and rituals, etc. It’s all directed at this [idea] that we’re all familiar with–this idea of demonic possession, whatever that means. But, here is magic, right?
Gordon White: Absolutely and you could go further with the Catholic Church if you look at how the saints are officially and unofficially used.
Alex Tsakiris: I wish I could remember the exact clip but it was in one of your interviews [where] you went off on this little rant: [with] magic, at least it’s breaking the spell of this crazy materialism. The point I think you were making was if we get past materialism and reductionism, the only thing left is magic. It becomes a magical worldview.
Gordon White: Absolutely. So most people who have–I’ll use the word ‘spell’–most people who have broken the materialist spell, to my mind they’re non-practicing magicians because they live in a magical universe. They may be entirely disinclined for whatever reason, because it’s certainly a niche interest, they may be entirely disinclined to practice it but [they’re] now living in a world where the non-physical has a reality; and after-death existence is a reality; and all of these pieces…that is a magical worldview. So everyone’s a non-practicing magicians in some respect.
Alex Tsakiris: So I think what you’ve done which is really terrific is you’ve taken that little kernel–magic is the only game in town because the materialistic, reductionistic idea is proven to be bullshit. It’s been falsified so the only game left is magic. So what you’ve done is taken that and said, okay, if that is a reality or has some reality, let’s strip that away and see if we can trace that back to where the divide came; to where the separation came between one set of data that says the world works one way; and another set of data that says the world works another way. Then what you’re calling for in Star.Ships is for this recalibration–a reexamining of the data and the interpretation of the data. Tell us about that because it is a very broad scope that you’re taking.
Gordon White: It’s one of those books that you accidentally–it didn’t seem like it when I was planning it–but you accidentally have to rewrite the history of mankind to get your point across because it kept going backwards and forwards. In terms of the separation of data and interpretation, this comes back to, and it’s one of the reasons why I love Skeptiko, you are actually pro-science. You are pro-the correct use of science because it is a remarkable way of discovering things about the universe. Unfortunately the people who do the actual data analysis are digging around in the dirt for little potshards in Syria, are probably not the best people to–there is no correlation between them being good at interpreting [data] just because they’re generating the data. When it comes to the story of mankind it’s fascinating if you look at the history of science: we had some remarkable insights that came through out of sequence. Geology emerged and mercifully ended the biblical view that the world is only a few thousand years old and so on. But then it reset the clock. The way they solved that in Geology: let’s just say that everything moves slowly. There was no flood. There was nothing. Geology is a very slow science. And so we caught in the rain shadow of this for about 100 years and missed things like the dramatic end of the Ice Age and so on. When you start to understand how academia works as a model rather than individual academics, it’s not very well set up to respond in even a remotely fast way to new information. It gets caught in the politics like any other organization. It’s literally modeled [after] the medieval church. Here’s the trick if you want to know what actual historians think of history: go and buy them a drink. If you get them all in a room they’ll sing from the same hymn sheet. For me it’s a hobby. For them it’s a job. And I’m asking them to essentially get themselves fired. But you go and buy them a drink and they don’t know … it’s a guess that the pyramids were tombs; it’s a guess at this and I’m sure you’ve experienced this as well, but there’s this fascinating thing that happens to science. You turn it into individual scientists and the conversation suddenly becomes far more interesting. I had an emotional reaction to the idea that we have rendered over to a bunch of people who are officially materialists for their job the interpretation of what I think is the most important story of mankind: the story of mankind–where we came from and how we interact with the world. There’s something hugely political about being able to tell your story; being able to tell your history that is extremely disempowering if we don’t take back. And if we don’t’ take it back in a coherent way which means not throwing all of science out and backsliding into barbarism. But actually looking at the data because [science’s] interpretation is fundamentally incorrect because it’s this materialist nonsense. Nevertheless, you did do this ice core data and you did dig up these things and yet your materialist worldview doesn’t have an impact on actual evidence as I’m sure everyone listening to Skeptiko knows. The evidence is there to be falsified, or not.
Alex Tsakiris: The idea that civilization only moves down this one path from barbarism to civilization; all of our technology came from one place where we found the Bible and all the rest of that stuff; and that we can measure it all by how much stuff we accumulate–not by our spiritual development or our ability to talk to spirit beings or any of that. We only measure it one way. What you do is make that explicit and when you make it explicit we [think], wow, we already know that we might want to challenge some of that.
Gordon White: It’s a very fundamentally anglocentric idea that the apogee of civilization looked like London or New York in the mid-20th Century. And brown people and yellow people are just further back on this journey to having more stuff. And it’s fascinating. I call it the ‘Jenga Paradox’ because even though that idea has been politically discredited in academia–you won’t find historians subscribing to this idea anymore because it’s inherently racist. [With] the Jenga Paradox you’ve pulled the underlying assumptions out from the top of this materialist tower. But you’ve left the tower standing. You’ve said, no-no, hunter/gatherers had the same rich inner-imaginal life and songs and they grieved the same way. They had the same lives as we did, if anything, more complex because their brains were literally bigger. But then we haven’t taken that next step and said, all right, then let’s revivify the stories they told themselves. Let’s actually look at them with the same seriousness that we look at stories of a civilization that runs on iPhones built out of slave labor.
Gordon White: That’s what the cathedral predates the city means: in the materialist model, the city comes first and the cathedral shows up because we started making stories up to control each other on a political basis. And that’s where all of religion and spirituality comes from but right there with the turn of the archeologist’s spade it is completely upended. In fact the first thing we did was express our relation to the universe on a spiritual level–and it was probably from coming together to do that cultural and technological information began to spread. It is the complete opposite, which interestingly aligns with the mythologies of the world: the spirits or the angels taught us things like farming and metallurgy.
Gordon White: You’re not only dealing with the idea that the cathedral predates the city, you have a window into what is self-evidently the worst emotional experience a parent can go through tens of thousands of years ago. So the complexity of how we deal with the world and how we associate with loss and after-death communication came first. Religion is not a farmer’s hobby, it is the thing that one way or the other, however it works, built the complexity of human culture that we see expressed today. It is the first thing we did.
Alex Tsakiris: It’s an attempt to grapple with, understand, or interact with a reality that is self-evident to these people. Yet we’ve somehow managed to suppress it and push it down, and almost completely get it out of our culture. We’re trying really hard and making a good go at it.
Gordon White: We really are. A lot of money goes into defending that first domino.
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