Sir Isaac Newton, the fellow who invented calculus, quantified the force of gravity and showed how it makes the solar system work, was heavy into alchemy—or “chymistry,” as it was being rebranded in his day. The practice of alchemy was outlawed over concern that gold production in the wrong hands would devalue the royal holdings.
While camping on the north fork of the Big Wood River recently, I read Ancient Echoes by Joanne Pence, a local author my wife knows. The novel’s Idaho setting in wilderness not far from our camp caught my attention. The story centers on the search for an ancient alchemical text, and in passing mentions Newton’s study of alchemy. How the ancient text comes to be lost in Idaho’s Salmon River country is no more far-fetched, I guess, than angels burying in an upstate New York hillside gold plates bearing the secrets of eternal family life.
Pence’s story line compelled me through all 324 pages although 250 probably would have sufficed. It could make a great adventure film of the Harrison Ford ilk, with lots of special effects and Dan Brown-type mystical/sci-fi twists.
I have to thank Ms. Pence for introducing me to a side of Sir Isaac I had not considered. I wrote my honors thesis at Yale analyzing Newton’s Principia Mathematica & Milton’s “Paradise Lost” as epic works of theodicy, justifying the ways of God. The Principia is where Newton mathematically proves his theories of gravity, the motions of bodies and how the solar system works. I was aware of Newton’s as well as Milton’s prodigious biblical & theological knowledge. Newton wrote and studied more about Biblical scripture and Christian belief than about gravity, mathematics and his System of the World, much of the former, like his alchemical writing, unpublished during his lifetime.
So, I went searching for information about Newton the Alchemist. The Internet did not disappoint. Apparently Sir Isaac researched and wrote about chymistry as deeply and voraciously as his religious studies:
Looking at some of Newton’s alchemical notes is fascinating, really yanks me back to what it was like to be out there on the edge of 17th-century knowledge, as both Milton and Newton were. The King’s College Library, Cambridge, has a lot of Newton’s chymistry papers that economist John Maynard Keynes had collected, hundreds of which were auctioned in 1936. Indiana Univ. has a Chymistry of Newton project, even a Unicode font based on Newton’s alchemical symbols.
I have a new image of young Isaac at his workbench mixing what would later be known as chemicals, to see what would happen with the various combinations—as I recall experimenting with my own AC Gilbert chemistry set, mixing chemicals in my attic room, careful not to set the house on fire. It wasn’t too long after that when I discovered Newton’s formulation of the law of gravity and how you can use mathematics to understand the way the universe works.
I never quite figured out how to make gold—or the secret of eternal family life—but, then, neither did Sir Isaac.
Rummaging through some old files yesterday, I came upon a paper I presented in 1967: “The New Technology: Some of Its Implications.” I don’t recall how I came to present it at the Barlow School; I probably was job hunting. I was quite taken by the thinking of Marshall McLuhan, and had recently attended a convocation around the papal encyclical Pacem in Terris, where I was first exposed to the idea of the guaranteed annual income.
I had recently resigned as a founding faculty member of Simon’s Rock, an “early college” combining the last two years of high school and the first two of college in a four-year liberal arts program, which is now a part of Bard College. I had taught a class in “Community,” which in addition to studying the nearby Shaker community of Hancock Village and other intentional communities had us studying the genesis of the Simon’s Rock community itself.
I was a young idealist of 26:
The New Technology: Some of Its Implications
presented at the Barlow School, Amenia, NY, March 12, 1967
Every nation and every man surround themselves with a material apparatus which exactly corresponds to their moral state, or their state of thought….We surround ourselves, according to our freedom and our ability, with true images of ourselves in things, whether snips or books or cannon or churches. ——Emerson
The medium is the message. ——McLuhan
All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage. ——McLuhan
Until recently the greatest part of a human being’s time and energy has been spent in competing with his fellows for the limited resources available in his world. On an international level the same has been the case: nations competing with one another for the world’s limited resources, with war the frequent outcome of this struggle. When there is not enough to go around, it is only natural that a struggle ensue for what there is and that some of the competitors be eliminated in the process.
The classical economic analysis of man’s fate is roughly as follows:
a) Nature makes only limited resources available to us.
b) We humans have almost unlimited desires which we wish to satisfy.Somehow a parity between the limited supply and the unlimited demand must be reached.
We need not enter into the argument which compares the virtues and vices of the answers to this last problem supplied by capitalism and socialism because these, after all, are merely variations on the same classical economic theme—limited supply, unlimited demand, equitable distribution. The fact is that this type of analysis is obsolescent and is more of a hindrance to us than a help.
We have already entered an era which makes the first premise of classical economics inoperative. Today the resources which are available to man are virtually unlimited.
We have now only to name and program a process or a product in order for it to be accomplished. 14 it not rather like the case of Al Capp’s Schraoost One had only to look at a Schmoo and think longingly of pork chops or caviar, and the Schmoo ecstatically transformed itself into the object of desire. Automation brings us into the world of the Schmoo. ——McLuhan, Understanding Media, p. 352.
The combination of automatic machines supplying the labor and computers supplying the thought makes it possible for us to gratify almost any desire by the mere flick of a switch, turn of a dial, or push of a button. We have brought substance to the old adage, “Thinking makes it so.” Indeed, machines having supplanted much of the thinking, we can say, “Wishing makes it so.”
What are the implications of this seeming utopia we are entering? We need not dwell upon the myriad statistics of job displacement or of unemployment over the last ten years. Suffice it for us to note that it has been shown that over the past 50 years 22 years of leisure have been added to the life of the average American and that within our lifetime we shall see all of the goods and many of the services available today (not to mention untold new ones) produced by between two and five percent of the people currently engaged in these activities. Cybernated devices (computers linked to automatic machines) will perform over ninety-five percent of the tasks now being performed by men. Only at the highest level of management will human beings be necessary to make decisions.
The crucial question which emerges at this point is, “What will this vast majority of people displaced by cybernation do with themselves?” One can be variously pessimistic and optimistic in confronting this question—which, usually depends upon one’s mood. Let’s first take the optimistic view: The affluent society which we have sketched, in which men are freed from the meaningless toil which has been their lot throughout most of history, “opens the prospect of a brighter day for mankind, changing the challenge from ‘Where can I get the best job?’ to ‘What can I best do with myself as a man?’” (W.H. Ferry, “Toward a Moral Economy”)
For the first time in human history man can leave off being a “beast of burden” harnessed to the land or to the machine. He is no longer a means of production and may become truly human, exercising his moral judgment quite independent of considerations of where the next meal is coming from. Having constructed a technology which can attend to what the classical Greeks called the vegetative and animal parts of the soul, man can now exercise that part of the soul which “loves wisdom” and, in turn, serve others.
There is no doubt that the shift from making things to serving people is already well under way. Statistics show that the number of “** people in the production industries is steadily shrinking while the * number in the service industries is steadily increasing. This means that fewer and fewer people are having to take care of machines and more and more people are taking care of one another. For instance, teachers are already to largest employee group in the U.S. economy. While this does . not necessarily mean that huge numbers of people are beginning to “love wisdom^” it does mean that many are attempting to “learn a living.” The hope is that serving people rather than servicing machines may become the habitual way of life.
Let us now become less optimistic and, perhaps, more realistic. We cannot be at all sure that the transition from an industrial society to a cybernated world can be made without some major problems. A trip into the center of any large city will give a taste of the distasteful side of the process. Here we encounter huge numbers of the people who in any previous age would have supplied the backbone and the muscle of the economy. They are now shunted aside as the waste products of a society which no longer needs them but has found machines to do their work more efficiently and more cheaply.Unfortunately, those most likely to be replaced on the job by the machine are those who are least prepared to take advantage of their new freedom from toil. The less skill involved in the job, the more likelihood that a machine will take it over and the less likelihood that the worker displaced will have sufficient education to do something that a machine cannot do. The poor who inhabit the urban slums are only the first wave of those who will in the future be displaced by the machine. If our experience of the slum is any indication, very little is being done to create real opportunities for those being displaced by automation, such as opportunities for these persons to enter into human service.
What can be done to create such opportunities? Perhaps we can begin by questioning some of the conventional wisdom with which our society is plagued. We have already sketched the basis of classical economic theory, whose conventional solution to the problem of equitable distribution is the assumption that he who uses his energies to produce goods and services deserves to have his desires for goods and services met and that the non-productive must want. A more subtle convention has been woven into the moral fabric of society via the so-called “Protestant ethic” from its source in the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination.
According to that doctrine a man is either elected to eternal salvation or condemned to eternal damnation totally irrespective of his human merit. Being predestined before birth to either election or condemnation, one’s conduct of life can do nothing to alter one’s fate. However, a man can demonstrate to himself and to others that he is among the elect by the successful performance of his secular work or vocation. By combining with the exigencies of scarcity economics this ethic has produced the belief that a man’s productivity not only is the basis for human, social reward but may also be indicative of his worth in the eyes of God. Thus, society has evolved an almost unbreakable bond between a man’s ‘productivity on the job and his just share of the produce, his income.
While the job-income link may have made sense in the society of scarcity in which it evolved, it becomes impractical and unjust in a world of abundance where machines do the producing. Due to the advances of modern technology the traditional link between jobs and income is being broken. “The economy of abundance can sustain all citizens in comfort and economic security whether or not they engage in what is commonly reckoned as work. Wealth produced by machines rather than men is still wealth.” (Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution, Santa Barbara, March, 1964)
In the light of the changing economic realities, at least one concrete suggestion has been made which shows some promise of creating real opportunities for those already or soon to be economically dispossessed by cybernation. Although revolutionary in its implications, it is a suggestion which has gained remarkable respectability since its initial statement three years ago. Sometimes referred to as the “guaranteed annual income,” it is the recommendation that “society, through its appropriate legal and governmental institutions, undertake an unqualified commitment to provide every individual and every family with an adequate income as a matter of right.” (Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution) The “guaranteed annual income” would make an adequate income the inalienable birthright of every citizen, along with life, liberty, a and the pursuit of happiness.
Were the right to income to be guaranteed, the potential freedom from want as well as the theoretical freedom from toil of which we have spoken would become actual for every citizen. Every man could afford the leisure, now largely used up in attempting to provide for himself materially, to truly seek the way best to fulfill himself as a human being. There are, it is true, those who hold that the guarantee of income would remove all incentive for people to do anything useful. The answer to this argument of course depends upon our understanding of what is “useful” and upon whether we are essentially optimistic or pessimistic about humanity. Can human beings really serve their own best interests and those of their fellows without external incentives to material acquisition? Put another way, can everyman “learn a living”? To these questions each must seek his own answer.
A few hundred yards from our home in the Boise foothills:
Sand and gravel used in construction of Fort Boise was taken from the hillside above the road to the gold mines near Idaho City, the largest town in the Northwest in the late 19th century. The road passed through the fort to ensure that gold from the mines made its way to the Union treasury.
At times like this, one almost forgets that we live in the high desert.
Last Sunday, I turned on the radio toward the end of “From the Top,” a public broadcasted program featuring talented young musicians. I caught part of a remarkable piece played on the double-bass by 15-year-old Kyoe Wellington.
When I got home I couldn’t recall the name of the piece or the composer but through the miracle of the internet located a recording of Ms. Wellington’s “From the Top” performance of François Rabbath’s “Reitba.”
I was touched both by the young woman’s playing and by the beautiful piece. Further research turned up a YouTube video of the composer, François Rabbath, playing “Reitba” with an orchestra. I had never heard such sounds from a bass.
Even further research uncovered Rabbath recordings ranging from Bach suites to truly avant garde jazz. Rabbath developed and has written extensively about new methods of fingering and bowing the string bass and gets amazing range and tonalities from his instrument. I plugged his name into Spotify and turned up several of his albums and individual pieces.
I have received word from his wife and partner of 40 years, Sylvee, that Paul Crockett, “an amazing, incredibly wise man, took his departure on Jan. 10, 2014.
“He held up so much for so many that I hope the Earth does not crack,” Sylvee wrote. “Not always kind in the way I wanted, he was ever my friend, always in support and wanting the best for me.
“May your flight be easy, your arrival heralded and your travels ever filling your heart with love….”
I first met Paul Crockett in 1972. He was taking the gate as manager of Desert Sun at a dance-concert in Lone Pine, a small desert town below Mount Whitney in eastern California. I had heard the group perform a week earlier at a movie theater in Bishop, where they had opened for another group. Desert Sun’s self-styled “conscious music” received a none-too-favorable reception by a crowd high on reds, whites, and booze.
The Lone Pine concert was held in the dark and dingy town hall, the size of a basketball court, with a stage at one end. The musicians were more at home in the smaller venue, where they could almost touch the few dozens of people who showed up to dance and listen. I was in my early 30s, going through some heavy personal changes. The men on stage were ten years younger than I, yet their music communicated an almost mystical acquaintance with personal struggles to find oneself. They played one song a couple of times that night that particularly resonated with me:
Look around. Where are you? Look around. What ya goin' through? Is it real or only what you feel? Look around. Where are you? Are you trapped by your philosophy? Has what you learned really set you free? Look around. Don't worry. You got the rest of infinity. Where are you?
I wanted to know more about these guys and what they had been going through. During one of the breaks I approached the flutist and apparent leader of the group and asked if they’d like to go out in the hills with us after the concert and get stoned.
“This is how we get high,” he replied, off-handedly, without judgment.
“Far out!” I said, rolling with it. “Well, come along anyway and get high off the rocks. Have you ever been to the Alabama Hills?” He indicated that he hadn’t.
“They’re these unbelievable rock formations just a few miles out of town,” I continued. “There’s a full moon tonight and it’s like being on another planet out there. We live on an old mining claim; and if you don’t have to get back to Shoshone tonight, you could stay with us there.”
I felt an immediate rapport and wanted to get to know him better. He seemed interested but said he didn’t know what their plans were yet. He’d let us know after the concert. As the music resumed I was swept back to the dance floor.
When the concert ended and the lights came up, I grabbed a broom to help clean up. The fellow who had been collecting the gate was also sweeping. As we disposed of a small pile of rubbish we had swept to the center of the room, he introduced himself as Paul Crockett, the group’s manager. Leaning on our brooms we engaged in a bit of small talk in the course of which he mentioned that he had been prospecting around the Southwest for a few years. I asked where.
He mentioned places in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Goler Canyon in the nearby Panamints, the range of mountains forming the western boundary of Death Valley. His familiarity with Goler Canyon immediately sparked my interest. It was there that Charles Manson and his Family had been arrested a few years earlier. Not only had Crockett been there around the time of Manson; he had spent some time with him. I was bursting with curiosity.
“You see those two fellows up there?” Crockett continued, pointing to Paul Watkins, the flutist, and Brooks Boston, the lead guitarist, who were packing up equipment on stage. “They were with Charlie.”
“You mean they were in the Family?” I asked.
“For more than a year,” Crockett said.
I told him about my interest in what actually went on in the Manson Family and asked if he would do an interview about his experiences with Manson. He agreed and suggested that I would also be able to interview Brooks and Paul about their experiences since the court order silencing them had recently been lifted following Manson’s conviction for the Tate-LaBianca murders.
With the hall cleaned and the group’s equipment packed, we moved our discussion to the Sportsman Cafe. Over coffee I arranged to visit them in Shoshone a week later when they would give me as much time as necessary. Paul Watkins did accompany us to the Alabama Hills that night, but I decided to deferred discussion of his association with Manson and contented myself with small talk and listening to him play the flute.
My stay in Shoshone lasted ten days. I had arrived hoping to gain some insight into the internal structure of the Manson Family, perhaps enough material for an article. I was particularly interested in Manson’s methods of “programming” his followers, a subject about which little of substance had been written. I got much more than I bargained for.
I found in Paul Crockett a homespun guru. His knowledge of the way realities are structured by agreements enabled him to understand what Manson was up to. Crockett’s insight enabled him to show several members of the Family how to break from Manson.
Following those ten days of interviews at Shoshone, a few months later I moved to Tecopa, a town a few miles south of Shoshone where Crockett and Desert Sun had relocated. I spent the better part of the next two years with the group.
For my profile of Paul Crockett published in Psychic (later, New Realities) magazine in 1975, go to:
CNN released a poll yesterday purporting to show that three-quarters of Americans say that most GOP members of Congress don’t deserve to be re-elected. CNN cautioned that the results are “generic” and that “there’s plenty of time for these numbers to change.” (see link below) The poll results should not be interpreted to show that Democrats will regain the House.
In order to be useful, polling must account for congressional districts like Idaho’s 2nd Dist., where it was reported last week that sentiment was running 2 to 1 for continuing the shutdown until Obamacare is defeated. That district and many others will remain Republican no matter what.
“Moderate” Republican Mike Simpson, who voted for HJR 59 to begin the shutdown as well as HR 2775 to end it, could lose his seat to his tea-party-friendly opponent Bryan Smith. However, the seat will remain Republican.
Thus, the 30 percent or more of Idaho Dist. 2 voters won’t count who show up in the three-quarters of Americans wanting Republicans ousted. That means the percentage of voters opposed to Republicans will be lower than 75 percent in districts that are actually in play.
The tea-party strategy is as much about outing people like Simpson and pushing safe Republican districts further right as it is about stopping Obamacare. We need polling that looks at districts that actually could be won by Democrats if we want to accurately gauge how this apparent dissatisfaction with Republicans will play out in next year’s congressional elections.
- CNN Poll: 75% say most GOP in Congress don’t deserve re-election (cnn.com)
- Shutdown fuels Republican primaries (afgelocal704.org)