Neil Kramer — Autodidact

The Path Of One

17/02/2011Posted in: Essays

The world of academia does not resonate too strongly with many who walk the path of conscious and spiritual growth. This is, perhaps, understandable when one considers that many entrenched academic concepts of institutional consensus, received wisdom and logical criteria for truth, can seem rather opposed to the trajectory of authentic conscious deepening. Not only that, but from a shadow perspective, it’s relatively straightforward to hijack the academic edifice. After all, if you can sequester the system, you can effectively steer all those who study under it.

In the West, the academic paradigm is still perceived as the ultimate hub for establishing scholarly credibility and continues to serve as the empirical arbitrator of accomplishment and consensus reality. Here in the US, I have noted that there’s still a great deal of fuss made about sticking Dr. in front of someone’s name. Billboards, TV and radio commercials, books and business cards are plastered with such academic titles. Dr Somebody is wheeled in as a talking head for some garish infotainment show, so as to offer an ‘expert’ view of politics, science, history or whatever. Many people buy it, hook, line and sinker. The alternative community is not immune to such occasional haughtiness either. Someone who got a PhD in Floral Management will leverage their title when publicizing their work in the Mysteries Of The Lost Aztec Kingdom. The irrelevance of their qualification does little to affect the credibility curve in the minds of many.

To put it bluntly, lots of people from many different walks of life believe that academic qualifications = authority. After all, who knows better?

Faith in the academic edifice is beginning to crack in some European countries, most notably England. The grandeur of someone’s bachelors or masters degree, or even doctorate, is not quite what it used to be. This is largely due to the fact that people have realized that the whole process of going to university and getting certain qualifications is getting easier and easier. In addition, the connection between one’s degree and the actual career path undertaken, is becoming increasingly divergent. For the last 40 years, successive UK Governments (Conservative and Labour) have resolutely pursued a campaign of getting more and more people into university and making sure they graduate. The annual charade of ever-escalating school and university pass rates is roundly derided by all with eyes to see. The result? Everyone and their dog has a degree now.

Speaking of declining standards in the US educational system, comedian George Carlin said: “They lower the passing grades so more kids can pass. More kids pass, the school looks good, everybody’s happy, the IQ of the country slips another two or three points and pretty soon all you’ll need to get into college is a fucking pencil.”

Perhaps academia has never quite been the glorious testament to human achievement that it presents itself to be. Even the most serious, free-thinking and well-intended scholars will often find themselves pulled into a vortex of insularity, prejudice and separatist specialization. It is the way of things in academia, particularly if you need approved funding for your work. You have to play the game, or else risk getting sidelined or even booted out. Collectivism is rewarded over independence; compliance over distinctiveness. Of course, this naturally balances out and improves over time, especially as the old guard fade away and the new crowd emerges, amongst which there’s always a healthy sliver of maverick and pioneering attitudes. But it takes a good long while to filter through. In the meantime, in such a rapidly changing and disinformation-saturated world, we cannot rely on academia to assist with our knowing. We have to do it for ourselves.

Dawn Of The Autodidact

An autodidact is someone who is largely self-taught. The autodidactic impulse is often characterized by a commitment in the individual to be a self-directed and life-long learner. There is an inherent appreciation that real knowledge is best transmitted direct to the discerning student, without any requirement for official mediation. Famous autodidacts include: William Blake, HP Lovecraft, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michael Faraday, Joseph Campbell, Nikola Tesla, George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemmingway, Frank Lloyd Wright, Edgar Alan Poe, Doris Lessing, Benjamin Franklin, Jakob Bohme, Abraham Lincoln, the Wright Brothers, Walt Whitman, Stanley Kubrick, Frank Zappa, John Cage, Arthur C Clarke, Joseph Conrad and Thomas Edison.

Being an autodidact does not mean having no formal education at all. It simply means that it is not the chief source of one’s learning. In the above examples, as it happens, many actually never did see the inside of a classroom. But even for those who did, they either dropped out, or relegated their formal education to mere background noise, from which their own autonomous learning sprang forth, far beyond the intellectual or temporal reach of any institution.

In my own life, I have routinely acknowledged that the most insightful people I have met have all been autodidacts. In some instances, the breadth and penetration of their knowing totally eclipses any apparently corresponding academic mindset. The opposite side of this equation has also proven true; the professors and Cambridge graduates that I have conversed with, at length, have been some of the least discerning and most blinkered folk imaginable. They particularly mark themselves out in this negative aspect by way of their own claims of achievement and authority. Very disagreeable. Of course, this is purely anecdotal and constitutes little more than a broad generalization. However, it does draw one’s attention to certain facets of the autodidactic method that warrant a closer look.

The great privilege of the autodidact is that they have a totally free hand to do whatever they want. Nobody can censor, prejudice or divert them from their own chosen areas of study. They can go where they want, when they want. No concept is too far out, no subject is taboo, no creative tangents are considered a waste of time and belief systems are often gratifyingly upgraded or even totally jettisoned. With correct alignment, all this information processing acts as a jumpgate for transmutation into the felt-experience of real wisdom.

Close on the heels of this freedom comes a distinct responsibility: self-discipline. It is incumbent on the independent scholar to hone a range of skills to endow their studies with the integrity, balance and penetration required to formulate empowering knowledge. Specifically – the ability to employ critical reason and discernment; to correlate and corroborate; to weigh any given idea against the consensus reality tunnel and one’s own personal reality tunnel; to use intuition; to watch how a notion moves through our belief systems and intellectual apparatus. What remains? What changes?

Another key difference between autodidacticism and academia is the value placed on direct felt experience. Who can walk the talk? If you physically meet a person, you can tell if they’re the real deal in the space of a few minutes. Even remotely, from just the spoken or written word, you can figure it out with a little heightened sensitivity. Anyone can read books, hunch over a laptop, visit a few temples, libraries and museums. But none of this constitutes real, juiced-up, direct encounter. The autodidact naturally places a far greater emphasis on the practical application of their knowledge than the academic. After all, they’re playing very different games. Self acceptance, rather than group acceptance, brings about a very different arc of learning. It must be said that there are, of course, some fine ground-breaking academics and there are some bloody awful independent scholars. There’s also no reason why one could not be both autodidactic and academic. Rare, but possible. There are many paths.

Creative Epistemology

Ascertaining the truth of a thing is always a strange and slippery business. Terence McKenna used to say that Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein would deal with such problems by saying that something could be “true enough”. One interpretation of this being that if everything is relative, there’s little point in declaring something to be totally 100% true for everyone, in every situation, all the time. I am inclined to agree with this, albeit from an objective standpoint. Subjectively speaking however, we can feasibly say that something is true for ourselves. We can overlay a thing against our inner knowing and feel the essential veracity of it; judge its usefulness as a positive tool for perceiving and articulating our own reality tunnel. To call something ‘true’ in this way, is simply a piece of functional shorthand.

So what happens when the trueness of a thing diminishes? When it became clear that many of Carlos Castaneda’s accounts of his sorcerer’s apprenticeship with Don Juan Matus were factually inaccurate and even total fabrications – it changed the nature of his work for many people. Believers were disheartened. Skeptics were delighted. When I first read his works, it was very pre-Internet, and I had no idea of any of this. I read the classic six books and thoroughly enjoyed them. They spoke deeply to me. I have re-read them many times over the years. To this day, what is remarkable about them is how full of real gnosis they are. Despite the lo-fi anthropological value, I nevertheless find them to be truer than most other texts I’ve ever read. Just how the hell Castaneda came across such fabulous wisdom is still a mystery. Perhaps it was all an intentional double-bluff from the beginning, orchestrated to protect the real source of his teaching? Who knows. I’m just glad he put pen to paper, and decided to share it.

Since the late 1980’s, when I first came across Castaneda, I have had hundreds of experiences that have compelled me to explore the powerful overlay of the imaginal; positioned as it is so provocatively over both the real and the unreal. The further I walk down my own path, the wider I have to set the boundaries for what is real. It works both ways. What was fantasy, becomes actual; what was solid reality, becomes incongruous fakery. 911 being a textbook example. Most people don’t want to seriously study the events of 911, because in the back of their minds, they can feel the latent domino effect of collapsing belief systems. The real story of 911 is so off the map, that even the solemn ramifications of prior-knowledge and high-level treachery, pale compared to the issues of wider reality manipulation. Too weird.

Certainly, as we become more conscious, we become less susceptible to illusion; garbage constructs begin to fade and eventually dissolve altogether, with very little ‘mechanical’ effort from us. Even more significantly, with heightened awareness and a cleaner mental platform, we are able to channel greater resolutions of energy. We can go deeper with our knowing. Deeper into ourselves. Deeper into the universe.

It’s intriguing to watch how a thing can move from one reality filter to another with such fluidity; contravening the human boundaries of truth, belief and existence as if they didn’t exist at all. As I stated in an essay from May 2009, diverting all ones energies into the question of whether a given phenomenon is authentic or fake, may be missing the point. Many of the dozens of phenomenological koans that are routinely investigated in the alternative/esoteric field, go right to the heart of our complicity in the simulated reality construct we labor under. They exist to teach us not to judge whether something is real or not – but rather how it interacts with our own consciousness. As in quantum physics, consciousness itself changes the nature of the thing perceived. We really do have to take a long hard look at the operational value of consensus, received wisdom, peer acceptance and criteria for truth. This plays to the strengths of the autodidact, unshackled as they are from the chains of academic accord or the dreary guidelines of normality.

The real discipline of the independent thinker and the spiritual warrior, lies not in their scholarly capabilities and education, nor even in the anchoring of their knowledge into felt experience – it is in their willingness to transform their own consciousness. To change. This means letting go of things that we think we need, things we have become attached to, things we suspect might even be essential parts of us. More than anything else, it is this clinging to self that prevents us from moving forward. We sometimes forget that we are not the avatar.

The higher aspect of our being, our spirit if you will, never leaves the higher dimensional space. It is not plunged into the 3D as ‘we’ are. It remains effortlessly bulletproof and untainted in its purity, knowing, power and divinity. It is only the avatar that suffers the battle scars of earthly trauma and triumph. Yet this avatar is so lucid, so hi-resolution, so persuasive in its day-to-day consistency, that we forget it’s not actually us. A dream it may be, but one of no more or less reality than a dream from which we awaken in tears of rapture, or sadness, or longing. Undeniably, it moves us deeply.

Establishing a relationship between the avatar and the higher spirit – who we really are – is what certain occultists call the conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Hindu spiritual philosophers consider it as making contact with Atman (cognate with the Greek ‘asthma’, curiously enough, meaning to breathe). It is the Daemon of the ancient Greeks, with which Socrates himself documented his own intimate communion. It is in cultivating this relationship between self and spirit, that we transmute our inner knowing from merely acquiring navigational tools for the avatar, to the extraordinary ascendant journey of spiritualization. It is a natural path; elegant, innate, fulfilling and as real as you can imagine.

* Image: Deer Caller, by Susan Seddon Boulet.