1st July 2012: The Fluid Intelligence Working

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.

(iii) Examine the implications of fluid intelligence (John L. Horn and Raymond Cattell) for the LHP.




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).

5th May 2010: On Troth (Loyalty) and Decisions

As a young student journalist in 1994, I was given the opportunity to interview the Australian artist Vali Myers. We talked about her life in New York, and at a wildlife sanctuary in Il Porto, Italy. “The Sicilian dons treated me better than the New York City art dealers who tried to rip my work off as cheap postcards,” she explained. A true witch, Myers encountered the authentic Sicilian Mafiosi. In contrast, most of us live with a third-hand cultural stereotype: Mario Puzo’s Godfather novel and Francis Ford Coppola’s film trilogy, which has shaped our understanding of loyalty, honour, and inter-group conflict.


The word ‘loyalty’ is traced to the Old English word treoth or Troth, which means ‘truth’ or ‘pledged faithfulness’. I first encountered Troth in the Gurdjieff Work and then in writings of American runologist Dr. Stephen Edred Flowers, who has observed that this is the Northern, Germanic equivalent of Puzo and Coppola’s ideal. Loyalty thus has a far deeper and richer context than popular stereotypes may portray, and has deep Indo-European roots.


Flowers makes several points about Troth in the context of a Traditionalist discussion. What follows is a personal interpretation, so go to the original sources. Flowers contends that the quality of Troth that guides personal conduct is often missing in contemporary civilisation, in that many activities can involve subtler forms of lying. In part, the Traditionalist critique observes that ‘outer seeming’ can become estranged from ‘inner being’.


Troth also suggests a type of knowledge, sense-making and perspective: the ability to discern truth from falsehood, out-of-context quoting and disinformation. Finally, Troth is observable — in people’s conduct, how their networks evolve over time, in their work or artifacts of their inner states, and in why people make decisions, not just the surface-level effects or what other people infer.


Practice-based disciplines use various methods to create the conditions of Troth: mentoring, professional associations, codes of ethics, and sensitivity to patterns of contexts and situations. The Media Alliance ethics guidelines for Australian journalists, the CFA Institute‘s framework for financial analysts, the CPA Australia rules for accountants, and research ethics guidelines in universities are detailed examples. Each of these attempts to remanifest the positive aspects of Traditionalist forms, such as (Medieval) guild structures or the transcultural transmission of knowledge from teacher to student. For individuals, these structures impose a check on potential ego-inflation, and guidance on how to navigate ethical dilemmas.


Historically, societies have granted these professions a social contract, because Troth implies a custodian role. It’s a little like how US government officials and armed forces swear allegiance to defend and protect the US Constitution as a document that manifests an ideal, rather ‘loyalty’ to an individual President or political administration. Thus, whilst Troth certainly involves being ‘true’ to family and friends, in its fullest sense it reaches out to something bigger and perhaps more abstract than the individual who has ‘bounded’ rationality. In the professional code of ethics suggested above, these may be the media, capital and investment markets, stakeholder reporting, and the integrity of medical and university research. In short, the Freedom given also implies a Demand: the willigness to act when circumstances require you to do so. The challenge is: what circumstances, how to act, with whom, and to what end?


Flowers understands this tension, so did Myers, as probably do Puzo and Coppola. Many people however do not, perhaps because they mistake principles for force or violence. Perhaps this is why there is so much debate and confusion about Machiavelli‘s book The Prince, which is really about loyalty, leadership and is credited, along with the Treaty of Westphalia, with conceptualising the sovereignty of nation-states. Although the popular image of him does not capture this, Machiavelli understood that strong-willed people who have their own visions and worldviews will inevitably clash and polarise, if their respective worldviews are not mutually appreciated or accomodated. The English magus Aleister Crowley and the journalist William T. Vollmann reached similar conclusions. Vollmann went so far as to write an extensive ‘moral calculus’ on this, that takes Machiavelli’s insights into a transcultural realm.


In writing The Prince as a guide for leaders on how to cultivate Troth or loyalty in their followers, Machiavelli built on Thucydides‘ insight that people are self-motivated by “fear, honour and interest”. Both Machiavelli and Thucydides foreshadowed the current interest in cognitive biases (anchoring, framing and positive illusions), and in particular, why high-valence issues often lead to escalated or polarised situations that were avoidable.


In contrast to this ‘classicist’ tragic awareness, popular stereotypes to problem-solving emphasise vengeful anger. The operatic finale of Coppola’s first Godfather film where Michael Corleone’s enemies are gunned down remains a powerful example. Asymmetric and guerrilla warfare is sometimes proposed as an alternative: David Ucko conveys how this really works. For a different view, consider the Camorra in journalist Roberto Saviano‘s book and Matteo Garrone‘s film Gomorrah. In both of these, and in Coppola’s two later films, the Mafiosi are in an alliance-style ‘balance of power’ situation more like what Thucydides and Machiavelli perceived, and which has dominated the international relations school of political realism. Rather than revenge, these works explore the role of political patronage for family and institutional survival. This is why, for example, even Lost‘s Smoke Monster or the embodiment of Evil is a patron who has allies, coherent and explainable goals, and a worldview.


Individuals choose their own Troth over false allegiances, collectivity, and the whims of political patrons. This may initially be branded as ‘disloyalty’ yet is observable, over time, if it is really just separate life orbits. Thucydides and Machiavelli understood that this individuation process may be part of what differentiates some emerging leaders from being followers. Muzafer Sherif’s Robber’s Cave experiment reached other similar conclusions about the predictability of inter-group conflict: it’s a small world; the person you write-off today or feel angry with may have been helpful tomorrow, if the conflict and frustrations had just been handled differently. Sherif found two major reasons for this: the power of in-group views of a polarised out-group, and the escalation dynamics that entrench stances.


On an historical and societal scale, this individuation process is what partly what drove the Reformation and the founding of the United States. Do you really think that the Declaration of Independence authors were really that worried that King George III did the 18th century equivalent of blocking off their Facebook, Twitter and email account access? No: “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .” — and in doing so the US Founding Fathers brought an ideal into being. If they had stayed at home and worried about expressing a valid worldview then history would have turned out very differently. Alexander Hamilton: “See you at the next MeetUp Duel . . .”


How do we differentiate patrons, teachers, allies and collaborators who are worthy of Troth?


Quality of attention. Understanding the individuation process and its stages. Allowing people to awaken and cultivate their own Troth rather than demanding ‘loyalty’ for patronage. Knowing their own fallibility and weaknesses. Having others to keep them in-check and grounded. Being able to ‘agree to disagree’ with others, rather than blow-up and alienate people and institutions. Being able and willing to mend fences. And, occasionally, perhaps going offline and doing something that has a small, real impact in the world, like saving an animal or helping a total stranger.