VIGNETTES FROM THE BIZARRE AND ONGOING EFFORT TO CONVINCE US WE DON’T EXIST (which doesn’t stop Them from trying to sell us i-phones, does it?): an essay


“After all, there must be reasons why the CIA and the Department of Defence field-commissioned all those cultural commissars and behavioral scientists. The definition of reality belongs, in this age, not to the free-lance speculators but to the subtle infra-structure snoops and Heisenbergian reality-definers.”— Sol Yurick, Evergreen Review, 1969

(Before the essay begins, an aside: just the other day, an old friend, visiting from the USA*, brought up the heavily-memed notion, over breakfast in a hippie cafe, of the possibility that “this is all just a simulation”. To which I replied: “Paul, you have an inner life. Simulations can’t. There’s your proof you exist.”)


I commented somewhere, on something, early in the year and now I receive regular updates from something calling itself The Institute of Art and Ideas. This is their latest update:

The Case Against Reality

Is reality how it appears, or nothing like it seems? In this new course for IAI Academy, UC Professor of Cognitive Science Donald Hoffman puts forward the radical suggestion that our perceptions fail to map onto reality.

In this course, Hoffman explores the mathematics of evolution, the difference between objective reality and virtual interface, Hawking’s law of maximum information storage, and the significance of split-brain experiments.

The best part? All of our courses are available online, to everyone, for free.

(Oh look, all of their courses are available online, to everyone, for free.)

Considering the fact that you and I interact with dozens, if not hundreds (thousands?) of precision-tooled devices/artifacts every day, artifacts that could not be designed and manufactured (and thereafter function correctly) if “our perceptions failed to map onto reality,” the proposition suggested by this update is demonstrable nonsense.

Clearly, there are quite a few people out there whose “perceptions fail to map onto reality” but this update was not aimed at Schizophrenics; this update is suggesting the possibility that our standard array of human sensory equipment is a very poor fit to the environment (the inhabitable world) that we rely on our senses to interpret. But, again: were that true, there would be no mass-produced running shoes or an internet to market them with or a system called email capable of sending quasi-philosophical nonsense to our inboxes. Our senses are feeding us remarkably accurate info within a generous range of the bandwidths of electromagnetic, and acoustic, and chemical energy available; we’d all already be dead were this not the case; we wouldn’t have made it out of the jungle if our ancestors’ perceptions  had “failed to map onto reality” because each and everyone of them would have been nothing more viable than tender jackal meat.  Our senses we can trust; it’s the updates from the IAI that we can’t.

Which highlights, in my opinion, the problem of “philosophical” discourse as we know it (no rigor) as it meets Mass Media (the informational function of which is far outstripped by its power to distribute propaganda): it’s Twaddle with a Sinister Agenda. Not sure about you but I prefer the Twaddle I consume to be innocently useless in both intent and effect and the IAI’s twaddle is neither. But why is the IAI broadcasting sinister twaddle at all? What’s in it for them?

To figure out the IAI’s agenda, one must merely think like an effete, high-camp mastermind-baddie from an epic,  save-the-world spy film of the 1960s.

Think, now: what would Dr. No want…? 

If I wanted to infect a few generations of college sophomores with enough doubt regarding their own rights and needs and responsibilities, I would erode their basic sense of Self by undermining the Reality anchoring it. I would undermine their basic senses of Right and Wrong as inculcated during childhood.  My aim in doing so would be to turn the electorate into a docile and malleable receptacle… a valley of blank slates, written-on-and-erased-and-re-written at will… open primarily to any message broadcast on a medium powerful enough to drown out and override competing messages,  rendering the brute engineering fact of Power more important to the validity of any message  than its inherent Logic or Factuality or  Justice. Thereby  gaining control over the External and Internal Spaces of our hypothetical valley of blank slates. Aka our children, children’s children and so on.

Well it’s a little distressing that although the high-camp baddies are not only Real (that word again) but out there in droves… the cinematic heroes who always saved the world, from the baddies, in those high-camp movies, are merely fantasies. James Bond, in real life, is merely another tool of the Baddies themselves.

One must come to the disturbing conclusion that positive outcomes are by orders of magnitude less plausible than their opposite numbers… (for structural reasons?). Does that not impute a certain intrinsic chaos (or “KAOS”) to Evil…  and, in contrast,  order (or exquisite organization) to Goodness,  pointing to the fact that chaos is the vastly more common (natural) condition? It’s much easier to knock over a Ming Vase than make one or even glue one back together after it’s smashed, yes?  But that equation won’t fly (the Nazis were all about Order, after all). Evil is as well-ordered in its aims and goals as anything can be, often. So why are Evil Conspiracies so much more likely than Benevolent Action on a Grand Scale? Are Benevolent Actions on a Grand Scale preempted by Evil… at the moment… because Evil is in charge… at the moment?

I suspect so.

Even worse: the Evil Conspirators are convinced they’re doing Good.

Not for US, of course,  but for Humanity in the abstract. Beware the shadowy, powerful figures who think of Humanity in the abstract. To summon Faulkner:  they’re not only not averse to the notion sacrificing old women in exchange for  Ode on a Grecian Urn (you know Faulkner said that during Ayn Rand’s heyday, right?)…** they delight in the possibility of doing so. Metaphorically speaking we’re all Old Ladies… aka, eggs for the making of the triumphalist omelet. Speaking of cracks…

(and is any supposedly inspirational apothegm as sinister as Mr. Cohen’s***, as referenced below?)…

“The Institute of Art and Ideas is an arts organisation founded in 2008 in London. Its programming includes the world’s largest philosophy and music festival,   HowTheLightGetsIn and the online channel IAI TV, where talks, debates and articles by leading thinkers can be accessed for free, under the slogan “Changing How The World Thinks.”

The IAI’s festival HowTheLightGetsIn is held in Hay-on-Wye in May and in London at Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath, in September. The IAI is led by its founding director, the British post-realist philosopher and former broadcaster Hilary Lawson.”


IAI Player

IAI Player is an online channel where the debates and talks curated by the IAI are released and made available online. Speakers include Nobel Prize winners like economist Paul Krugman, physicist Gerard ‘t Hooft, public intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Kimberlé Crenshaw and Steven Pinker, and political figures and journalists like Owen Jones, Helen Lewis, Diane Abbott, Liz Truss.

In September 2016 the videos had received in excess of 670,000 views, reaching over 1,000,000 people each year. Hilary Lawson in an interview in 2014:

“One of the things we’re up to is breaking down the idea of philosophy as being the sort of thing that is undertaken only by a specialist and is impenetrable. Not to say laughable, frankly. And I think when we started – I founded the Institute of Art and Ideas seven years ago, two years before the first HowTheLightGetsIn – that was indeed the only way people thought about philosophy. But every human being, in a way, is a philosopher. Because that’s what it is to be human. You wonder about life. You wonder about what you’re doing. You wonder about where you’re going. You wonder: “What the hell’s going on”‘.

What the Hell, indeed.

Who is this Hilary Lawson?

I’m curious because while “every human being, in a way, is a philosopher,” every human isn’t able to afford paying the appearance fees of Chomsky, Krugman and Pinker, et al. Also, I can’t help having noted, in my thus-far-pretty-long-life, that the only “philosophers” I’ve ever noticed getting Media Coverage, or connections, of any kind, are usually types like Bernard “Israel Should Be Praised For Its Liberalism” Henri Levy,  Slavoj “Confusing, Impotence-Inducing Distraction”  Zizek or Francis “End of History Because NeoCons Win” Fukuyama serving the agendas (specific or general) of the media-owners, or regimes, sponsoring their appearances. 

Wiki tells us Hilary is a  “British post-realist philosopher and former broadcaster” who “Alongside his philosophical writing […] pursued a media career. Within a few years he had created his own prime time television series Where There’s Life with a weekly UK audience in excess of ten million.” Yes, sounds like something a post-Realist philosopher would get up to. Clearly not a spook of some kind with hidden backing, directed by a  hidden agenda. 

“In the late 1980s he founded the production company TVF Media which made documentary and current affairs programming, including Channel 4’s flagship international current affairs programme, The World This Week. Hilary Lawson was editor of the programme which ran weekly between 1987 and 1991. The programme predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall, the war in Yugoslavia and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.”

The predictive powers of those post-Realist philosophers are impressive, no? Someone needs to hook this guy up with some Western Intelligence agency or other, eh? Oh, wait.


Here’s another one but I’ll drop it as a horrifying screenshot (and a link) and leave it at that. Anyone enjoying the luxury of being an Extraterrestrial while reading this should get a chuckle:



Okay, maybe now we need something to lighten things up a little…




*Speaking of Reality: when I came to pick them up at their Guest House (in a slightly bleak part of town I never visit), Paul’s Wife, an otherwise delightful and intelligent woman, redirected my efforts to take them on a Walking Tour of the city I’ve known for 30 years in order to take ME on a tour of a dingy corner of a city’s she’s known for five days, leading us (with my bemused sneer) through a grim little park she considered somehow phenomenal (because it features a pond? Bitch, there are dozens of such parks in this town) and from there to another common-as-lint-in-Berlin thing she thought was a magical discovery of her very own: a private communal garden with quaint little sheds on its individual plots… there are lots of those here because many bourgeois Germans live in flats, not houses, so the gardening urge is satisfied on weekends in fenced-in lilliputian quasi-suburbs of tomato plants and wildflowers. Up and down the narrow aisles of one of these sad colonies we traipsed and then my American friends, using their Google Maps or Siri or whatever, got us lost… until I eye-rollingly intervened, finally, and got us on a bus (they tried to contact an Über-type car but no signal) and right back to their Guest House after 90 minutes of their Clueless American Take-Charge-ism,  Gawd love ’em! Well at least nobody died.


**”The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.”

Shakespeare’s (Marlowe’s) oeuvre, perhaps. But that one poem? Or any particular book by Willie Faulkner? Worth any healthy old lady’s life? Nah. I’d have taken the remark more seriously if Willie Faulkner had been an Old Lady himself when he boozily emitted it.


*** The possible (rather sinister) provenance of Leonard’s line about cracks being how the light gets in:

If the human race survives, future men will, I suspect, look back on our enlightened epoch as a veritable age of Darkness. They will presumably be able to savor the irony of the situation with more amusement than we can extract from it. The laugh’s on us. They will see that what we call “schizophrenia” was one of the forms in which, often through quite ordinary people, the light began to break through the cracks in our all-too-closed minds.

R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience, p. 107


  1. St Aug! i need to read this more slowly and carefully – and i choose for this hoped-for event, after which i might have something interesting to say, to be later, not now – see

    nevertheless, speaking of personal appearances of paul krugman, and noam chomsky, as you do

    i have atended a public talk of krugman once (in a dc synagogue, not during a religious service) – he was rather namby-pamby about hillary and i stopped taking him seriously after being in his audience that day – it was 2007 or 2008, as i recall, before barry’s victory was assured

    and my association with noam chomsky goes way back – i attended a course he gave titled ‘intellectuals and social change’, and received an a in it [as did we all], and once he and i had a personal conversation in front of the vending machine when we had offices in the same building – he was an institute professor, i was a clerical employee – he asked me if i had two nickels for a dime – this was in 1970, when overpaying a nickel for a snack was sufficiently painful to bring an introvert to speak to a relative stranger in the hallway – this was the last time chomsky and i were in the same physical space

    but years later, and hundreds of miles away, best-selling philosopher robert nozick and i were in the same room – i have referred to this incident before here* – at that time you accurately characterized nozick as “the more coherent ayn rand”

    *another appearance of the same anecdote –

    and speaking of adventures with typical americans, as you do, a remark of mine about actor joaquin phoenix not being a typical american, in response to item in the daily mail, got 21 up votes last week in their comments

    the headline: Joker star Joaquin Phoenix ‘scratches’ bumper on fire department truck with his Tesla and tracks down the paramedics using it to confess

    i said “he seems to be polite enough to be a canadian”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. MC!

      Coincidentally, Wife is away at a gathering of Classical Music bookers, it’s a school holiday, we’re keeping nightclubber’s hours around here and Daughter threw me a curve and requested LASAGNE tonight… I’m marching with grim rapidity, between the kitchen and this keyboard, off and on for the next hour or so! More put-together response tomorrow, probably, but the nickle tale about Chomsky got my chuckles…!


  2. poking about i found this link which is an interesting book review



      1. the name “megan watterson” somehow accidentally got inserted at the moment of sending the post into the space where i had previously typed the moniker i use here

        ms watterson, feminist christian mystic, has co-authored with professional buddhist lodro rinzler a book on love relationships which i have recommended to an old friend, fiftysomething, who has divorced in the last couple of years, is very painfully alienated from his twentysomething daughter, and consequently is putting rather too many of his personal eggs (imho) into the “finding a new lifetime romantic partner” basket – i have only a superficial acquainted with watterson and rinzler’s book, but chances are it might help, probably wouldn’t hurt, my suffering friend (he has a shrink, he tells me – selfhelp books and therapists can augment each other, or cancel each other out – i admit i don’t really know what will happen)

        to return to why i sent a book review link – in the book review is an example how things can be very different from the way they look to a common-sense observer – the money paragraph:

        >>Amy was a smart college student and a star basketball player until one day an assault by her jilted ex-boyfriend left her brain-damaged and vegetative. At this point, her two doctors suggested taking her off life support. Naturally, her parents were stricken and confused. However, her parents signed a consent form, allowing Dr. Owen to transport Amy back to his hospital to perform a functional magnetic resonance imaging. In short, after 5 days of intensive investigation, “we found that Amy was more than just alive; she was entirely conscious.” After heroic interventions and a lot of intensive therapy and drugs, Amy “became a person again.” <<

        i see my link was incomplete – here's a second try

        more later


        1. MC!

          So YOU are the mysterious “Megan”! Laugh. I treated your embedded link with the caution reserved for addressing Virtual IEDs (’twas I disabled it) … relieved to learn that it’s benign.

          “in the book review is an example how things can be very different from the way they look to a common-sense observer”

          Oh, “common sense” won’t help us much with the unaided detection of radio waves, either, but the goal post I am digging in to block the moving of has to do with Reality… that is, the Habitable World (and its Universe-sized container) and the ability of our senses to interpret the bits important to us. We are all perfectly Real and most of us are fairly-well in touch with Reality. The Psychological Warfare project(s) hoping to convince us otherwise should be resisted by an awakened citizenry with its Birkenstocks planted firmly on Terra firma. Meanwhile, one assumes that even Post-Reality Philosophers are happy to keep cashing those Post-Reality paychecks and eating Post-Reality takeaway in their Post-Reality condos…


        2. PS And how would that medical team have saved that poor woman’s life if their/our senses weren’t “mapping onto Reality” accurately? (wink)

          MEANWHILE, WordPress, with ironic pseudo-helpfulness, suggests (below), that anyone who read this essay should also read…


          1. i watched don hoffman’s ted talk ‘do we see reality as it is?’ – and about halfway through it seemed to me to suddenly go off the rails, metaphorically speaking – it was unreal, i thought, and not in a good way

            i feel like quoting from Pete Porter’s essay, “The Case for Menippeanism: The Meaning of Life”, which begins:

            >> Menippean movies and their literary kin are welcome friends known singly without recognizing the family resemblance. Those who have delighted in the books Gulliver’s Travels, Candide, and Alice in Wonderland, or in the movies Duck Soup (McCarey, 1934), Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (Jones and Gilliam, 1983), and The Big Lebowski (Coen, 1998) have appreciated the peculiar charms of Menippeanism. These and other Menippean works set out spectacular banquets of incongruous elements that suggest the incompetence (or whimsy) of the author as their lone constructive principle. Further scrutiny, however, reveals a commodious form that encourages such oddities: an aesthetic of parody and violating decorum, storytellers who are ridiculous, burlesques of language and learning, a fantastic setting, and the theme of the wisdom of common sense.<>One day Chuang Tzu and a friend were walking by a river. “Look at the fish swimming about,” said Chuang Tzu, “They are really enjoying themselves.”

            “You are not a fish,” replied the friend, “So you can’t truly know that they are enjoying themselves.”

            “You are not me,” said Chuang Tzu. “So how do you know that I do not know that the fish are enjoying themselves?” <<

            quoted from

            Liked by 1 person

            1. “You are not me,” said Chuang Tzu. “So how do you know that I do not know that the fish are enjoying themselves?”

              To which an Unrealityist might add: “The fish and you and your friend are all a simulation!” (in order, perhaps, to preempt Chuang Tzu’s observation that the Unrealityist’s commentary is a simulation).

              Speaking of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, a few days ago I offered to send Daughter the “Mr. Creosote” clip from that Menippean film, but she’s afraid to watch it. Having mentioned it to her in conversation, I suddenly realized that I wanted to control how much she saw of that film by finding that particular clip myself, since the Menippean bit immediately preceding the Menippean Mr Creosote (endless vomit) set-piece is Eric Idle playing a Noël Coward type singing a droll ditty about dicks (some clips contain both sequences). Am I avoiding her having to see that paean to pricks or am I avoiding having to explain it to her? Both, Mr Charlie… both!


              1. Having said all this, btw, I don’t mean to suggest that I think that the psycho-social definitions of Current Conditions aren’t shifting, nuanced and unstable as water in a heated pot! I’m just “calling bullshit” on the pseudo-science-y, quasi-Physics of stretching Heisenberg/ Schroedinger thought-experiments far, far out of context (for one thing: the statistico-physical behaviors of sub-atomic particles will never in any way model the behaviors of macro-systems like people and planets) to cast doubt on the Reality of Physical Experience. And, especially, calling bullshit on the sinister social engineering projects that have hijacked the principles of dorm-room bong-talk in order to undermine the confidence of the public. We all know that there are departments tasked with waging Psychological Warfare against “The Enemy” in times of War, but how many of us have twigged that WE… that is, the Electorate… are that Enemy?

                The guiding question perfuming all of my Writing is “What do you think you know and why do you think you know it?”

                I think it’s obvious that the Reality of the Eisenhower-era-type belief in a benign, Capra-esque Government is an Illusion, along with the collateral fairy tale of The Just War, Trickle-Down (versus Hemorrhaging-Up) Economics and any sense that this System of Interlocking Fabrications can be “changed from within The System”. In that sense, yes: We Are Generally Not Apprehending Reality and The Social Order is a Simulation. But you see how cleverly The Fuckers in Charge flip the script against Resistance? The accusation “FAKE NEWS!” was originally brought by parapolitical researchers and commentators against CNN, the BBC, NYT, Network News in general… somehow it now refers to anything questioning the veracity of Propaganda. And it was the Parapolitical Radicals who accused our Psycho-Socio-Economic Bubble of being just that: A Simulation. I’ve been referring to the Culture as a “Simulocracy” for *ages*. Now, suddenly (since the repeal of the Smith-Mundt Act?), we’re flooded with mumbo jumbo “questioning” the Reality of the Universe itself!

                TFIC have the biggest megaphones; the Mightiest Wurlitzers; the hugest spiraling Hypno-Rings. The only possible way to counter-attack it is to ignore it!

                That is: turn off the TV, avoid the cinema blockbusters, get off Facebook… and focus on writing Menippean Satire. Laugh-weep-laugh


  3. your acronym TFIC reminds me of my own coinage MICFiC – which so far has not caught on, alas

    as lawrence berra could have said, you never know when something surprising might happen – so i try to persist in the sempiternal struggle for truth, justice, and the potentially sentient way of promoting the good of all and/or minimizing unnecessary suffering within the constraints of currently available resources

    Liked by 1 person

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