Aug 23, 2012 by

Colin Hannaford

23TH August 2012.


Dear Friends,

Oh, intimations of mortality! I was of course delighted to be asked by my old pupils to ‘tell everyone what you taught us in your classroom’. This did not take very long. I had only tried to encourage honesty. But then the project came alive, demanding that I ask myself: ‘What do you really understand about the world? Why is it always in such a mess? Why are there always wars? Why can’t people learn to agree?’ To try to answer these questions has been absorbing – and rewarding. But sitting here for five or six hours every day for over six months has nearly wrecked me physically. The cost has been considerable. I ache and I groan. But the rewards, which I hope you will share, have been spectacular. The past century has been punctuated by repeated genocides. Historians have described a different cause for them all. As you will see, I suggest there is, fundamentally, just one. This not only explains why genocides happened in the past: rather more important, it describes how a ten year-old can predict the next. I have called this kind of madness The Beast. Although I believed I had learnt to understand why it causes so much destruction, I despaired of understanding how it might be curbed. The problem here is that there are simply too many different cultures in which The Beast is naturally and quietly at home. It only waits for some lunatic demagogue to call it to action. How could one possibly address all these cultures in a way that, on the one hand, is entirely unexpected, but, on the other, is also so perfectly familiar that it must command their respect? This latest essay describes how this solution appeared. It is entirely unexpected and yet is perfectly familiar. It even offers a way to combine the energies of science and theology. Modern science is currently in quandary. Scientists have realised that whilst our universe is composed of energy and matter, it cannot exist without a continuous flow of information. The same is true of all the cells in your body. There must be order. But how is it transmitted, how received? The world’s religions are in a similar state of confusion. Whilst they all derive their authority from one God, whose presence is essential to the existence of reality, they ought surely to agree on the medium by which this presence is made manifest to everyone. If only this consensus could be achieved, by scientists and theologians, the resulting apocalypse – which, by the way, is Greek for Revelation, not Rapture – might finally give people everywhere a sense of belonging together and of owning the same future. It is just possible that this solution has appeared. Your comments on this Part Seven will be appreciated. I will post Mr Darwin’s Nightmare later this month.

Love to you all, Colin.


After months of effort, it is an enormous relief to see The Beast finally unmasked.

And what a surprise! Not religion, not greed, industry, science, ideology; stupidity, of course, as always. But we have realised that to start any properly organised genocide it is only necessary to remind the majority of people of the form of instruction they obeyed as children: “Time to stop playing, children: to throw out the rubbish: to make everywhere clean and tidy!”

The imperative is subliminal; the excitement contagious; the guilt shared.

But how shameful not to have seen that Hitler’s determination to make his Reich’s Judenrein, for example: cleansed of every trace of Jewish blood, is mirrored by the determination of ultra-nationalistic Jews to ensure that their new Israel contains only Jews.

All cultures which believe in inheritable identity can become ambitious to become genetically pure. This is clearly no more than our own genetic programme: like breeds with like.

We now know why people take an active or neutral part in genocide.

We have realised that their impulse is natural.

The obvious question is: can so natural an impulse have a natural antagonist?

Let us look at this question now.

I cannot pretend to have had a very exciting life; but it has persuaded me that life has purpose, and that the universe, rightly understood, to imitate old Russell, can either be a total hindrance or an active partner in achieving that purpose.

This last will already mark me out as unscientific. The most confident spokesmen of modern science never tire of telling us that life has neither value, nor purpose, and that the universe has not the slightest interest in the existence of any life anywhere.

The first of my contrary insights, now of forty years ago, gave me to understand that I had a duty – this, of course, is outrageous, but it is also true – to save mankind from its obvious madness.

If such events are recognized by respectable theologians they are called direct apprehensions of god. They are unfortunately so rare, or are so rarely reported, as to have a nearly mythical quality. About 280 AD, for example, a pupil of Plotinus, a philosopher subsequently influential in Christian and in Muslim theology, wrote that his master had achieved it ‘three times with great effort and relentless discipline’. 1

I am personally doubtful of the value of all that effort and discipline. I rather favour the lack of effort of William Blake, who claimed: “I am in God’s presence night & day / And he never turns his face away’.

Apart, however, from such instances, safely remote in time, such events are far too commonly claimed by frauds, the honestly deluded and the obviously mad, so that it is intellectually suicidal to make such a claim today. What is necessary is to find solutions to our problems. Loving one’s neighbour as oneself is not such a generous ideal amongst the psychopathically inclined.

I am no longer sure that humankind can be rescued, but on my study wall is an image of Winston Churchill who orders me in his inimitable growl: “Nevah, nevah, evah, give up!”

You have been experiencing the second insight throughout this long odyssey.

I will come to the third presently. It is without doubt the most astonishing and the most universally transformative. It also tells us how The Beast can be killed.

But first: ‘Farewell to Reason’ is the title of a book by a delightfully provocative thinker, Paul Feyerabend, another philosopher I wish I might have met. I thought I had left his book behind in France, and was therefore delighted to find it again shortly after I had identified the Beast.

I felt sure that Feyerabend would have something interesting to say, opened his book at random – let me repeat: at random – read at once, at the top of page 11: ‘[The assumption that there exist universally valid and binding standards of knowledge and action is a special case of a belief whose influence extends far beyond the domain of intellectual debate.] This belief may be formulated by saying that there exists a right way of living and the world must be made to accept it. The belief propelled the Muslim conquests; it accompanied the Crusaders in their bloody battles.

Hell’s Teeth!

Feyerabend wrote this twenty-five years ago!

Typically, he then buried it under such an avalanche of wordy abuse that its importance could not have been noticed. He failed to explain this ‘belief’ as we have: a universally subliminal imperative that in modern terms can lead to hacking people to pieces with machetes, fitting suicide vests on candidates for paradise, or ticking the next list of drone targets.

But he had the gist of it, right there.

I was still frowning over this loss of priority, but also pleased to find his support, when my eye was caught by another name at the bottom of the page.

‘Enlightenment’, wrote Kant, ‘is man’s release from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without directions from another. Self-incurred is this immaturity when its cause lies not in lack of reason but lack of resolution.’ 2

Two inputs of genius on one page!

Should this be regarded as another deeply curious form of enlightenment; or should it be supposed that this is another kind of madness? It is time to decide which.

The fact is that these events are utterly absurd. I have invented Spinoza to disguise them with drollery. But they should not happen. Since they do happen, repeatedly, urgently, intelligently, as if provided by an entirely separate intelligence, they deserve far more serious consideration, even if the cause may ultimately appear as impossible as, say, QED 3

For years I have been accustomed to this ‘trick’, as I have called it myself; of being able to pick up almost any book, opening it at random and finding, sometimes at once, usually within a few pages, some connection with my own thinking, sometimes a flat contradiction.

It is always uncanny.

My friends call this having ‘a prepared mind’.

Undoubtedly this is sufficient, up to a point. But in the past few months I have had the sensation of having information forced on me continuously: of such quality, relevance, continuity, at such a rate, that it becomes entirely inadequate.

Experimenting with mescaline in the 1950s, Aldous Huxley reported that it opened ‘the doors of perception’, through which limitless knowledge seemed accessible. Unfortunately, such knowledge seems not to connect too well with what the rest of us think of as reality.

My experience has been far more ridiculous that he ever experienced: as if another, far higher intelligence has been desperate that I should ‘nevah, nevah, evah give up’.

It actually feels – hold tight! – as if I have a cosmic partner who knows virtually every facet of human knowledge; and, even more preposterously, tells me where to lay my hand on it.

Is this farewell to free will? No. I am still in charge. I can always stop!

I have great respect for that careful man Darwin. I had already sketched my story of his nightmare, wanting to point out how dangerous it is for man for only the fittest to survive: and finding, incidentally, that footnote from Nature by accident.

Then I learnt that Feyerabend recognized our beast.

Then I read Kant’s fierce rebuke: precisely equivalent to the inner jihad that Mohammed requires of us all.

Then I knew that I must explain how this can be achieved.

And, as before, I had no idea how to begin.

Both Darwin and Nietzsche have been accused of destroying faith in God.

Both may be fairly said to have damaged faith in religions.

But Darwin wrote privately: “Another source of conviction in the existence of God connected with reason and not with feelings impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this vast and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look at a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man: and deserve to be called a Theist. 4

` His theory of evolution by incremental changes supported the belief that if all natural processes could be studied on a sufficiently small scale, they would all become explicable as due to incremental changes within cells. Once their genome was known, all would be known.

This confidence recently took a knock-out blow.

The human genome was expected to have a uniquely complicated structure: a structure well able to explain why human beings are so very different, say, from sea urchins. Unfortunately it does nothing of the kind. It is instead very difficult to explain why we are not all sea urchins.

The difference between our DNA and that of the sea urchins’ is far too small.

There has to be another way for information to tell the cells what to do. Often the most devastating question is simple: “Genes must explain development, but how can they, since every cell of a multi-cellular body contains the same genes?” 5

The story is often told of a distinguished mathematician who was about to board an omnibus when he realized that one abstruse branch of mathematics was connected with another. In that moment, he later reported, and although it took him much trouble later to prove it, he was absolutely certain that it was true.

Later that evening I was driving up the Woodstock Road, when the same certainty came to me, and I heard myself say aloud: “IT’S THE SOUL!”

An absurdity to science, an empty vessel in theology: here is the next step in understanding your world, and yourself.

The Soul receives; the Mind connects.

The Soul supplies prepared minds with intelligence in the form that they will recognize: as art, music, mathematics, text.

The Soul is the organiser of our cells.

The Soul is the natural enemy of The Beast.


1 Cited in Fearful Symmetry, A Study of William Blake, Frye, N., Princeton UP, 1947.

2 Cited in Kant, On History, Library of Liberal Arts, 1957, p.3

3 Quantum Electrodynamics, not quod erat demonstrandum!

4 Autobiography of Charles Darwin and Selected Letters, ed. Francis Darwin, 1958.

5 In A History of Developmental Evolution, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2007.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Related Posts


Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.