19th April 2012: Lies of the Academic World/Myths of the Real Degree



I recently re-read Don Webb’s essay ‘Lies of the World/Myths of the Real’ on the criterion for initiatory systems and schools. Webb identified six important aspects of initiatory systems from his study of the anthropological literature.


Below are some initial comments in the context of a PhD program:


1. Process. Each field or discipline has its unique PhD process. It can range from creative work and historical archives to scientific laboratory research. The PhD is also an unfolding process: research classes; identifying initial research questions that identify a knowledge gap; writing literature reviews; doing interviews and field studies; write-up and editing; and oral defence. The goal is to make an original scholarly contribution to a field of knowledge.


2. Exchange. This can occur in several contexts. The PhD committee can act as a mentor-mentee exchange in which the PhD candidate is socialised into the norms and practices of particular disciplines. Many programs now encourage cohort-based peer learning. Conferences and symposia may create the suitable conditions for Exchange to occur.


3. Real-world testable. Universities and other employers have different expectations of the PhD graduate. For instance, out-of-work physicists ended up on Wall Street in the 1980s as quants and financial engineers. Knowledge transfer across different domains and contexts — such as from universities to policy work, or into business consulting — can provide unexpected medial and daemonic outcomes of PhD research. This is also the domain of research management and collaborative research consortia. Knowledge use has unexpected generative, real-world and self-transformative consequences — why it is useful to read the intellectual histories of a discipline or the anthropology and sociology of its knowledge.


4. Transmission. The PhD committee acts as a locus for initiatory Transmission between academics and the PhD candidate. The quality and specifics of this Transmission depends on the initiatory depth of the committee and how they approach their tasks. One secret of PhD work is to give oneself the self-permission to engage with the best quality academic research that you can find, irrespective of your current life circumstances, or the local conditions at your university. Hence, Transmission can also occur when the PhD candidate immerses herself in reading the best journals in their field; examines past PhDs that have made a significant impact; or uses award-winning work as the model to begin their own research design. Transmission can fail if the PhD committee is unfamiliar with the areas that the PhD will explore, and is just supervising the candidate to get workload points.


5. Troth/Truth. One of the PhD’s goals is to show that the PhD candidate can conduct independent, high-quality, original academic research. The PhD is thus a truth process, a discovery process involving Runa (that extends the Unknown in a field as new questions arise — usually discussed in the ‘further research’ section of the final chapter), and as a vehicle for Self-change and initiatory growth. It is also the PhD candidate’s major encounter with Troth in an academic context and it may dramatically shape their subsequent career trajectory. Through exploring a topic in-depth, the PhD candidate grows as a researcher and is able to network nationally and internationally with a community of practice. They are able to engage in Socratic dialogue with other senior and emerging scholars, and to join the relevant professional associations.


6. Specialisation. The PhD topic enables the PhD candidate to specialise in a particular field, discipline or sub-field. People who embark on academic careers may start with wide-ranging interests but they usually specialise in specific topics that make their worldly reputation. It is common for project scope and focus to change as the project unfolds, and as new insights emerge. It provides a launching pad for the PhD candidate to further develop their career and emerging research program. There may be initiatory or quest-like aspects to the specialisation in which the PhD candidate learns and embodies particular epistemes and norms. The PhD’s goal is in part to advance specialised knowledge in a field or discipline.


Photo: willg/Flickr.

6th March 2012: SXSW 2012 Sabbatical


I’m taking a sabbatical over the next 10 days to visit Austin, TX for SXSW Interactive 2012 with Rosie X. I’ll be meeting University of Texas at Austin professor Jeremi Suri about his work; and having face-to-face chats with Disinformation‘s publisher Gary Baddeley, and Austinites Roy Christopher and Don Webb. I’m looking forward to the session with Stratfor founder George Friedman: read my analyses of the Wikileaks leaked emails and the planned hedge fund StratCap. In the meantime, you can read my body of work to-date.

The One-Species Dilemma

Dr. Michael A. Aquino once posed a central question of Setian philosophy to me. Rephrased from memory, it was something like: ‘Why is it that Earth has only one species which has the self-aware consciousness to create civilization, symbolic systems, and other complex manifestations? Why not two or more? What would it be like if there was more than one species?’

In this email exchange Dr. Aquino did acknowledge research into ape and dolphin communication, which perhaps has significance for Lilith Aquino’s Utterance of Arkte. I pose this as a philosophical, existential dilemma, and not as a position of species infallibility.

Within the Temple of Set, Dr. Aquino and others referred to this self-aware consciousness as the Gift of Set. Category 17 of the TS Reading List explored this in more detail, in the following categories.

Continue reading “The One-Species Dilemma”

19th February 2010: On ‘Questions to Consider’ in Don Webb’s ‘Concerning Words’

Don Webb’s Edred.net essay ‘Concerning Words’ (publicly released 16th February 2010) synthesizes two decades of reflection on several initiatory, metaphysical and cosmological philosophies, drawing on Plato, Chaldean theurgy, Crowleyan Thelema and Setian metaphysics. His focus is on the core Words that encapsulate these philosophies, the equivalent in these traditions of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘paradigms’ used in philosophy of science to describe conceptual revolutions.


Such Words have two key aspects for Webb: (i) ‘they are a label for a group or constellation of ideas’ that can be grasped by individuals, groups and movements, and (ii) they are performative or a speech act–Webb uses the term ‘magical act’ for a Setian and Gild audience. Thus, apart from the religious and metaphysical systems he discusses, Webb observes that Words can also describe a way to think about religious and sociopolitical philosophies such as ‘Agape’, ‘Communism’, ‘Democracy’, ‘Racism’ or ‘Capitalism’–and perhaps by extension to comprehend the past decade’s debates about ‘Caliphate’ or ‘Jihad’. There are seeds here of what could be a rigorous evaluation framework.


The essay has specific meanings for Webb’s main audience. For instance, he uses the honorific ‘Prince of Darkness’ both to describe the Egyptian god Set as an independent metaphysical entity, and as a symbol of the human ability to conceptualize new horizons and then to bring them into being–with both positive and negative aspects. However, Webb makes observations that may have relevance to a broader audience and to scholars from different perspectives: ‘Words are not the property of the human who Utters them’ or ‘The Utterance of a Law does not bring any new thing into being, but brings an anticipatory Awareness of that thing.’ In doing so, he challenges the assumptions held by many adherents who would ascribe a Word solely to a specific guru or individual.


At the essay close, Webb poses nine ‘Questions to Consider’ as a teaching tool. Below is a personal analysis, which attempts to clarify the definitions and categories for non-Setian readers. To do so, I have slightly reworded Webb’s nine ‘Questions to Consider’, in some cases to broaden their scope, so compare with Webb’s original formulation.


1. Definitions of a Word


1a. Independent Existence and Well-formed Definition tests:

Does the Word exist–conceptually and ontologically–as an independent Idea that is differentiated from precursors and other metaphysical philosophies? (DW’s Q8). This raises various other questions: What ontological and cosmological assumptions does the Word suggest? What ‘boundary conditions’ arise? What are the criterion to differentiate a Word from its precursors? What happens when a competing metaphysical philosophy ‘interprets’ or ‘takes’ a Word?


1b. Descriptive and Meta-model tests:


How is the Word descriptive? Are there examples you can inductively infer from myth and history, or deduce observationally from people? (DW’s Q1). My rewording leaves open whether or not this leads to ‘individual success or failure’, whereas Webb’s original wording
would isolate ‘successful’ cases–I feel ‘double loop’ learning from cases of ‘failure’ or ‘mutation’ can be just as valuable. Abductive, inductive and deductive logics may all be used.


1c. Communicability test:

Can you communicate a Word’s metaphysical core in plain, everyday language? (DW’s Q6). This raises various other questions: Who are the intended and unintended audiences of the communication? How does a different medium affect the reception of a Word’s message? If there was no School as a (sustainable) organizational form, how would a Word be communicated? What happens when a Word fails to be communicated, and dies?


2. Knowledge Base


2a. Knowledge Base – Organisational Alignment test.


Does the Word resonate with and expand the Knowledge Base? (DQ’s Q4). Is it aligned with the host organization? Two reasons apart from personality conflicts are suggested here for the history of schisms in (so-called) initiatory organizations: (i) a change to the Knowledge Base core that differs from a periphery; and (ii) a Word that challenges the form, boundaries and the custodianship/governance functions of the host organization. This may be a failure of communicability (1c), a failure of apprehension or diffusion (1b), or the perceived Need for a new organizational form that triggers an institutional power conflict. (1a).


2b. Knowledge Base – Temporal Matrices test.


Can you Understand, broadly and deeply, how the Word relates to and compares with other metaphysical philosophies? (DW’s Q7). This Understanding may be both diachronic (evolving through time) and synchronic (the present). Aleister Crowley’s ‘Curse of the Magus’, like Kuhn’s ‘gestalt-switch’ between different paradigms, is in part because definition (1a) can dramatically change temporal awareness (2b), which leads to communicability and diffusion problems (1c and 1b). Herein lies the metaphysical justification usually posited for a School’s existence as a non-Hobbesian initiatory environment.


3. Personal Axiology

3a. Core Self and Personal Philosophy tests.


Does the Word bring metaphysical clarity and significance to your life? (DW’s Q5). Is it immediately graspable, but refine-able over a lifetime? (DW’s Q3). This is the apprehension and reception of the Word into the core self (1a, 1b, and 2b). In part, this is the goal, practice and life-orientation of ethics, axiology and metaphysical philosophy. For individuals, it may be a sign that apprehension (1a), induction (1b), and temporal reorientation (2b) have occurred. This is one function of ‘conversion’ in religious belief systems, and more subtly, one potential role the Daimon might play in Platonic, Jungian and Thelemic metaphysics. In psychology, it may be found in the work of Roberto Assagioli, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, Viktor Frankl, and James Hillman, amongst others. For Teachers it may suggest successful transmission (1c), and organizational alignment (2a). This is the generative source of forms/kata in martial arts, personal conceptualizations of methodologies, and of Teacher-Student transmission in Zen and other traditions.


3b. Praxis test.


How is the Word prescriptive? Is it an injunctive that offers guidance and self-volition? Does it clarify actions you Need to take in your life? (DW Q2). This is the extension of the aligned, core self to the world (3a). This is perceived in George Gurdjieff’s ‘Way of Golgotha’ in revolutionary Russia, Aleister Crowley’s mountain climbing, and in Michael A. Aquino’s decision to recast the Order of the Trapezoid at Wewelsburg in terms of the Grail quest. It is also the focus of guidebooks like Julius Evola’s Ride the Tiger (1961), Robert Anton Wilson’s Prometheus Rising (1982) or manuals on Method acting, consciousness studies, hypnosis and
neuro-linguistic programming–provided you do the exercises. This is the observable manifestation of self-initiatory work over a career (1b and 1c). It is also perhaps the best defense against Stephen Edred Flowers’ ‘occultizoid nincompoop’.


3c. Resonance test.


Does the Word resonate deeply with your life, emotions, embodied cognition and actions? (DW Q9).This is the extension of the Word as a life-anchor, through time, despite Hazard and the Law of Accident. At an individual level, it is strengthened through clarity, focus, and aligned action (3a and 3b). It empowers the individual to communicate (1c), and via their deeds, for the School to survive as a viable organizational form (2a), through time (2b). In part, this is George Gurdjieff’s ‘three lines of work’: for individual, for group, and for School or tradition.

Worth Reading

The emergent theme: mastery of craft and practitioner awareness as vehicles to engage constructively with inter-group, stochastic processes.

· Nu Testaments: James Parker posits that the high-profile religious conversions of Korn‘s Brian ‘Head’ Welch and Reginald ‘Fieldy’ Arvizu are the flipside of drug abuse and nu-metal touring. Will they appear on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew? Will they join the 25th anniversary tour of Christian heavy metal band Stryper?

· Newsted on Metallica: ‘I never looked back’: Good advice from the ex-Metallica bassist on how to handle life after leaving a super-team: make an independent course, don’t live in the shadows of past successes, and keep the door open for future one-off collaborations. Update: Metallica.com’s 3am message and Blabbermouth’s coverage of Metallica’s Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction.

· Inside a Hedge Fund Meltdown: Hedge fund trader Victor Niederhoffer gives his side of the story about the Refco transaction that led to his ‘blow up’ during the 1997 Asian currency crisis. What a difference a few hours could have made . . .

· Impossible Frontiers: Andrew Lo‘s research sits at the nexus of quantitative finance and practical experience in running a hedge fund, AlphaSimplex. This paper (abstract) co-written with Thomas J. Brennan suggests limitations in the Capital Asset Pricing Model, which determines an appropriate mix of risk and return for a diversified market portfolio, and has implications for funds which rely on short-selling to generate alpha, or investment returns above the market benchmark and vetted for risks.

· Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference 2009: view the keynote panels and read the conference guide.

· Double Standard? CEOs who want a bailout often adopt the rhetoric of Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad‘s book Competing for the Future (1994): government money is necessary for industry survival. James Surowiecki’s ‘paired study’ of the US auto and banking industries shows why the Obama administration’s private equity advisers are pulling the plug: years of firm mismanagement, no profit margins, variable future cash flows, poor liquidity, and international competitiveness.

· Why Your Boss Is Overpaid: Tim Harford’s article was an ‘aha!’ moment on how individual incentives, status hierarchies and infra-group rivalry can sabotage teams. The second ‘aha!’ moment was to grasp how the Australian Government’s recent changes to performance measures in the academic research game are likely informed by tournament theory.

· Henry Rollins’ diary entry 29th March 2008: Some very useful advice on patience and the writing craft: ‘I know a year and a half sounds like a long time and it is but not when it comes to a book. Trying to write has taught me about patience. I remember many years ago, I was living in NYC and working on Get In The Van. I had come back from practice and went back to work. My chair was a bed and my desk was a steamer trunk with a box on top of it. I was transcribing writing out of a notebook and it hit me that in a year, I would still be working on this same book. There is yet another book project that I will start preparing for second draft raking soon if I can get clear on other projects.’

· Xeper as an Operative Secret: Don Webb‘s short essay reveals the Temple of Set‘s initiatory raison d’etre: individual, self-willed becoming. He omits, but has mentioned elsewhere, one powerful psychological framework to achieve this life-orientation (Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi‘s research on creativity, flow and positive psychology) and a very good fictional example of the method and its potential results (Gully Foyle’s transformation in Alfred Bester‘s The Stars, My Destination).

· Event Arbitrage (HBS 9-208-090, 2007): Outlines a two-day M&A simulation and provides details on the market microstructure, merger announcements and transactions. Also explains how to value a ‘negative stub’ alternative investment strategy.

· Managing Learning and Knowledge at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) (9-603-062, 2002): Summarises the lessons learnt from the Apollo moon missions, the Space Shuttle program, and the high-profile failure of several satellite missions in the mid-to-late 1990s. NASA’s KM and organisational challenges included shifting from a heavyweight, waterfall style of project management to the Faster, Better, Cheaper program; the looming retirement of senior staff with organisational memory, and technology solutions which failed because culture, team, and knowledge transfer issues were not addressed. Details a project management office solution which included a budget line item, intranet/portal development, a debriefing process for decision trees and project failures, and a leadership development program. A major outcome is NASA’s Lessons Learned Information System which parallels the US Army’s Center for Lesso
ns Learned