8:30pm-1:30am, 30th June and 1st July 2012
Preparation Material: Element of the Hawk-Faced Lord posting (30th June 2012); Stephen Edred Flowers’ Lords of the Left Hand Path (revised edition, 2012); John Gerring’s Social Science Methodology: A Unified Framework (2nd edition, 2012); Dan Hurley’s New York Times article ‘Can You Make Yourself Smarter?’ (18th April 2012); and Scopus database search on fluid intelligence.
(i) Explore a way to reformulate the Left Hand Path (LHP) in contemporary knowledge that is non-occult/non-magical (as in Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s contributions to ‘flow’ or ‘optimal experience’ and to positive psychology).
(ii) Consider the role of LHP methodologies in the context of social science research methods.
The Left Hand Path (LHP) asserts an independent, psychecentric, sovereign existence of the ‘I’ that is internally defined or self-referential: the “strange loop” of human consciousness (Douglas Hofstadter) and its “recursive” abilities (Michael Corballis): “to embed our thoughts in other thoughts” (which requires an expansion of short-term or working memory). To-date LHP works have advanced an ontological theory of the universe and the psyche; considered the interaction of historical and cultural factors; or outlined specific methodologies. Stephen Edred Flowers’ criteria for the LHP include: self-deification, individualism, initiation, magic, and antinomianism. Magic is defined as a methodology in which the willed psyche uses symbols to change the subjective universe-objective universe (SU-OU) configuration using “symbolic acts of communication with paranormal factors” (Flowers).
However, there are significant research barriers to the LHP. The “dark romance” surrounding it can be traced to a Judeo-Christian connotation of evil that informs gothic aesthetic sensibilities yet is a barrier to the transcultural understanding of “forbidden knowledge” (Roger Shattuck). The semiotic representation may obscure an underlying cognitive reality. Historical figures and groups may have made cosmological, ontological and methodological innovations yet this requires hermeneutic interpretation of different symbol systems (which may be ‘emic’ in anthropological terms or discussed in temporal, causal and thematic dimensions). Controversies also mean potential anchoring, framing and representativeness biases. Many LHP methodologies are self-reported and thus can be incomprehensible, incoherent, or require long-term immersion in a symbol system. They have also often been borrowed from other domains (Stephen Kellert). There is a lack of methodological constructs and the experimental effects of LHP methodologies remain untested, particularly for longitudinal effects over the practitioner’s life-span. Ontological theories have defined the psychecentric, subjective universe but this has not been adequately explored in terms of cognitive abilities or frameworks.
The Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory of cognitive development provides one exploratory avenue to achieve this. Psychologist John L. Horn first advanced a theory of ‘fluid’ and ‘crystallised’ intelligences in a 1965 doctoral dissertation at the University of Illinois. His supervisor Raymond Cattell elaborated on this in a 1971 book on cognitive abilities and later research on the ‘G Factor’ of general intelligence. Fluid intelligence (gF) deals with abstract, adaptive, conceptual information. Crystallised intelligence (gC) is more applied, involves reasoning and knowledge resources, and is correlated with the Big 5 personality trait of openness to experience (which can include intellectual interest, aesthetic interest, and unconventionality). This research program has found that gC and gF are correlated with each-other; with the prefrontal cortex; and possibly with the development of domain-specific cognitive abilities. Cattell, Horn, and later researchers have used confirmatory and exploratory factor models, and latent variable analysis to identify other variables such as domain knowledge (gP) and perceptual speed (gS).
Current scholarly research has examined the role of gC and gF in working memory, higher cognition, creativity, divergent thinking, and intelligence tests using Raven’s Progressive Matrices. Other tests may include Concept Formation, Analysis-Synthesis, Perceptual Reasoning, and Matrix Reasoning. Fluid intelligence (gF) may be involved with ideational fluency, coherent representations of knowledge, complex associative learning, and the conditions for effective learning strategies. One avenue of current scholarly research is to understand how gF might enable the potential expansion of short-term or working memory (encoding, maintenance, retrieval, and cognitive control).
Cattell-Horn-Carroll has several implications for scholarly study of the LHP—which can be reframed as a knowledge domain (gP). Fluid intelligence (gF) coincides with young age: Don Webb notes, “In fact everyone is on the LHP for two weeks when they are 17.” (Uncle Setnakt’s Essential Guide to the LHP, 6). Historically, the Western tradition of LHP has emphasised the practitioner’s ability to conceive, formulate and to manipulate symbol systems—which requires gF—whilst Eastern tantric forms have involved ‘embodied’ cognition. So-called ‘magical’ methods like theurgy and ceremonial/ritual work that rely on symbol systems are essentially training in gF use but in a context different to intelligence testing. Flowers’ definition of the LHP suggests gF (“symbolic acts of communication”) and the possible future development of factor models (“paranormal factors”). Flowers’ ‘immanent’ LHP school may involve gC (exemplified by Anton Szandor LaVey) whilst his ‘transcendental’ school is more gF-oriented (exemplified by Michael A. Aquino). Michael A. Aquino elaborated on Helena Blavatsky’s definitional difference between the LHP and RHP (Right Hand Path) as primarily the LHP rejection of animistic beliefs about the objective universe (which the RHP endorses), and in which cosmology was also potentially correlated with abstract intelligence level and the cultural transmission of belief systems. This is also suggested in the Florence Farr-Aleister Crowley theory of aeons as conceptual frameworks for political, religious and social ideologies (and in Richard Tarnas’s Cosmos and Psyche). Flowers’ criterion of antinomianism can be reframed as the ‘unconventionality’ dimension of openness to experience and thus as Flowers notes, does not involve antisocial acts (and is more likened to a path of individual, exploratory dissent in order to exercise gF). Aquino’s distinction between ‘illustrative’ workings and ‘operative’ workings suggests that the first uses gF whilst the second relies on gC (and may be a form of Cattell’s knowledge investment theory).
Historical figures in LHP histories such as Plato, John Dee, Friedrich Nietzsche, Aleister Crowley, George Gurdjieff, Gregor Gregorius, and Anton LaVey are usually portrayed as individuals who conceive creative, novel solutions to problems—suggestive of high levels of and flexibility using fluid intelligence (gF)—and also of the dangers of recursion (Robert W. Chambers) and the inability to communicate insights to others (such as the reaction to Aleister Crowley’s Equinox). This emphasis on abstract, conceptual ability is also suggested in Aleister Crowley and George Gurdjieff’s different methods for developing cognitive complexity, attention and skills. Fictional portrayals of LHP figures emphasise the ability to engage in Complex Span tasks that reorder the objective universe and that have network effects for others. However, these same qualities can also partly explain why many LHP institutions have not survived to create a coherent knowledge base—explored in the Wewelsburg and Heb-Sed workings. LHP institutions and a Popperian or Lakatosian knowledge base are more suggestive of gC—thus the Schwaller de Lubicz and Gurdjieff-Ouspensky rationale for initiatory Schools as a ‘grounding’ for gF. Metis as defined by Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant (craft, cunning, wisdom), and as elaborated on by Lisa Raphals, simultaneously denotes gF (‘polymorphous’ cunning) and gC (craft, skill, wisdom).