Chomsky on “Wild Men in the Wings”

RT America On the show this week, Chris Hedges talks to Professor Noam Chomsky, the pioneering linguist, prolific author of numerous seminal political works, about the state of the American Empire. Professor Chomsky is the author of over 100 books including The Fateful Triangle, Manufacturing Consent, Failed States and Requiem for the American Dream, and America’s most important intellectual. In his new book, with Marv Waterstone, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, is Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance. #QuestionMore#RTAmerica​ Get exclusive content and watch full episodes now by downloading the Portable.TV app:​ Check out our other shows! NO show does it like this. It’s TIME TO DO NEWS AGAIN with Rick Sanchez News with Rick Sanchez:​ It’s her take on all things political and she presents ALL the angles: News.Views.Hughes with Scottie Nell Hughes, NVH:​ What’s your NEWS IQ? Give us 30 minutes, and we’ll take you across the globe! In Question with Manila Chan, IQ:​ Steve Malzberg sinks his teeth into the slander, hypocrisy, bias and lies of MSM. MMM…Delicious! Eat The Press:​ Candid conversations with the most outspoken guy in Hollywood! Dennis Miller + One! Dennis Miller Plus One:​ Let our TV time-machine bring you the week’s highlights and a closer look at the BIGGEST stories, Just Press Play:​ Yep, it’s Gov. Jesse Ventura and you’re living in his WORLD! Come along for the ride. The World According To Jesse:​ They’re watching you. Are you watching them? Are you WATCHING THE HAWKS? Watching The Hawks:​ Follow the twists and turns of the global economy with Boom Bust, the one business show you can’t afford to miss. Boom Bust:​ Do you keep missing the forest for the trees? Let Holland Cooke show you the Big Picture, The Big Picture:

My Cancer Journey 1/29

Ned /henry January 29, 2021 ·

9:19 AM — Rough night last night. Chemo is tough. Couldn’t get my right foot unfrozen so I couldn’t sleep. Felt like frostbite. I kept telling myself it’s the chemo and to just tolerate it. Sometime moaning, sometimes silent. I think I did nod off for a couple of hours. Watch says I slept almost 5 hours but only 29 minutes of deep sleep. I don’t think I have the settings calibrated correctly yet to accurately track sleep. I think it sometimes picks up deeper relaxation as sleep when it’s not really sleep. Of course it may be just as good for you as sleep. Who knows. The chemo effects seem to get worse some 5 days or so after the treatment and then gradually wear off until I get stronger again during the third week and then we do it all over again.

I keep wondering if I should keep this up. It feels lonely. Like folks are not nearly as much in touch because they are afraid I might write about them and well I have to admit, yeah I might. I know my “audience” is mostly family and friends. I do look at followers to see who might be listening. But I also know there is no way everyone reads everything I have to say. Most of it is meaningless anyway. It’s just me processing what’s going on with my life right now. And that’s all it is. Some it is weird to many of you. I use pot to help me cope with it. It’s just how I am dealing with this disease that could kill me or from which I could emerge with a cure. It’s this really fine line between life and death, I think I told John the other night, that’s it’s not a fine line but an increasingly blurry one. But it’s one I am looking at all the time. Never before in my life have I experienced anything quite like this. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other and share the process by writing about it to help me figure out my own thoughts. But I don’t know anything. I’m struggling and sometimes I feel like I’m drowning. I have to write the palliative care lady and tell her about the last 3 days of switching to Indica. Didn’t smoke much of anything last night. Sipped on some cognac. Took a hit this morning since I felt so bad. Not much on the calendar for today. Part of it is being retired and part of it is being sick and part of it is Covid. Might have a FaceTime with Liz later. Too cold to meet outside. It’s 32 now and will only get into the 40’s before the day is over but then back into the 30’s overnight. Not my favorite time of the year in Atlanta. We usually get one decent snow a year but that usually happens in February or early March as it begins to warm up and then we watch the flowers emerge. This place explodes in color for about 2 weeks in Spring when the dogwoods and azaleas bloom. You can watch it on TV every year if you watch the Masters on TV. A neighbor texted me that there a was light in my backyard last night. So I turned on the back yard lights. Didn’t see anything. But I did turn the alarm on in “Stay” mode meaning that the door alarms were activated but the motion sensors were off. Both are on when I set the alarm when I leave the house. But I rarely set the damn thing. It’s kind of just there and I forget about it. I had a friend from choir install the system. I wanted the sign out front as much as anything. It’s normally pretty mellow in this neighborhood but there are crazies everywhere. I used to watch Amanpour every night on PBS. Took a look this morning and have about 9 episodes recorded. So I looked and deleted a couple of them and listened to Rafael Nadal and Some NY Times columnist, Ezra Klein talk about politics. It was good. Took my mind off my sore foot. I wish someone could be here with me.

10:50 AM

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The red and black microwave foot warmer came from Jack.

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3:30 PM been a lazy day. Just moving slowly from one thing to the next. Siting out on the back deck listening to music (Dylan covers) and taking in fresh air. First time I’ve gotten outside in a few days. Looking out at the world, this is what I see from my back deck. Beautiful day today. Cold but beautiful. Not really that much to say. Kind of just an

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ordinary day. Drank a smoothie, had a good shit (which I needed), Make some brown rice to have with some lamb stew I took out of the freezer for dinner. That with the rest of the swiss chard. will be dinner. have done alot of sitting around today just thinking. Picked up a Religious science pamphlet that fell off the shelf in the den. It opened to an article titled “Awakening the Soul” by Heather Dawn Clark.

Heard this song in the mix out on the deck. Pretty heavy. I ordered my full transcript from UCSC. They have it out in the mail today. Just want to see how I put this whole “Human Development” major together. And how I got it approved. I do intend to read my BA thesis into some platform somewhere and make it available. It is actually very good although the subject matter is quite narrow. I told you about it a few days ago. Emory sent an email that I am on their list but no appointment. So unless one comes up on Monday, I’m heading out to Conyers to get my shot on Tuesday. John said it might be hard to find Gavin’s gravesite. Not sure I can afford a lot of time outside with people around looking for it. Maybe another time, like later in the year when it warms up and cancer and covid settle down. John made the Lamb stew I am going to have for dinner. He had a very small party last year which I did not go to during Covid where he spit slow roasted a lamb over an open fire. And he made the stew from that lamb. He’s also gonna help me stain that new fence in the back that you see in the picture. Good friend John. He started “following” me so I know he looks at this once in a while. Almost 4. Ramon’s mother used to make flan and serve it whenever I ate lunch with them. I’m sure I could make that high protein sweet snack. I’m gonna go read some.

Just a beautiful version of this aria from Turandot that you all know. John — the other one — sent it today. He just picked up an RX which hopefully will help me sleep tonight.

9:30 — That Rx is for Schizophrenia and Bipolar. I think I just need it to sleep. It’s for Olanzapine generic for Zyprexa. I don’t think I’m delusional. Maybe I am. I just know I need to sleep. Listening to Wagner in the backgound. Flying Dutchman. I’m not gonna slug this this opera tonight. Might watch a new film bu Regina King about Ali, Malcom X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown right after Cassius Clay won the heavyweight title. They talked about it on the Newshour tonight.

12:45 AM — Well that is a good movie. Based on a play about these 4 getting together the night Cassius Clay won the title for the first time. On AMAZON Prime. Really good movie. Highly entertaining and highly educational if not historically accurate.

So I decided not to take this new drug they gave me based on some good advice from my sister and the firm belief that because I choose to open about my struggle right now, I am somehow nuts. I am looking back at my life to find anything that has worked in the past at one time or another. In the present I am adding the Course in Miracles to my toolbox. I am trying to be present and open. I don’t think that makes me crazy. My blog is open and public and Emory could be looking at it. I don’t know. I know most everybody who “follows” me but there are a few that I certainly don’t. Anyway, I have to write a kind of academic letter to the oncologist tomorrow about this. She told me the symptoms and side effects with the drug Vincristine in the chemo cocktail. This is what the handout she gave me in the beginning said:

Numbness or tingling of fingers or toes could occur due to vincristine. Numbness and tingling of the toes and fingers will slowly return to normal after your last chemo.Tell your doctor at your next visit if you develop numbness or have trouble picking up small objects, doing up buttons or writing. Be careful handling sharp, hot or cold objects.

In my case this numbness which to me feels like frostbite is a known side effect and I have this side effect to the degree that I can’t sleep because the pain in my foot won’t let me. And now they give me a drug like this:

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No mention of sleep as a reason to take this drug. They think I have Schizophrenia or Bipolar, or at least at the very least serious anxiety. I don’t feel anxiety and I tell them that but they give me this drug to calm me down and let me sleep. I may have to trust the medical community blindly on some things like chemo and vaccines, but not this. I have not lost my ability to think for myself. This is from that pamphlet of Religious Science and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

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Turkey to start mass vaccines with China-developed Sinovac shot

Health minister receives COIVD-19 jab himself on television

A health worker injects an experimental Chinese-made coronavirus disease to a volunteer in Kocaeli, Turkey.   © Reuters

January 14, 2021 (

ISTANBUL (Reuters) — Turkey will begin countrywide COVID-19 vaccinations on Thursday beginning with health workers, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Wednesday shortly after Sinovac’s vaccine was granted emergency authorisation.

Shortly after addressing reporters, Koca received a shot on live television, followed by members of Turkey’s advisory science council.

Turkey has received 3 million doses of Sinovac’s Coronavac and has ordered a total of 50 million. It is also in talks for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and the one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

While Indonesia began administering the Chinese vaccine on Wednesday, various trials from around the world have shown wide ranging results including researchers in Brazil releasing late-stage clinical data showing an efficacy rate of only 50.4%.

Last month, Turkish researchers said CoronaVac showed a 91.25% efficacy based on an interim analysis of 29 cases. A fuller analysis can take place when they reach 40 cases.

Turkey’s trials will continue even as it moves ahead with mass inoculation, the trials coordinator told Reuters on Wednesday.

Ankara plans first doses for health workers and those older than 65, followed by those older than 50 and suffering at least one chronic illness, in addition to those in specific sectors or high-risk environments.

The third group will include young adults and sectors not included in prior groups. A fourth group covers all the rest not listed. 

Into The Woods

Special_Effect Into The Woods In 1989, from Thursday, May 23 to Saturday, May 25 the full original Broadway cast (with the exception of Cindy Robinson as Snow White instead of Jean Kelly) reunited for only three performances for the taping of the musical in its entirety for the Season 10 premiere episode of PBS’s American Playhouse and first aired on March 15, 1991. The show was filmed professionally with seven cameras on the set of the Martin Beck Theater in front of an audience with the with certain elements changed from its original nightly counterpart only slightly for the recording in order to better fit the screen rather than the stage such as the lighting, minor costume differences, and others. There were also pick up shots not filmed in front of an audience for various purposes. This video has since been released on Tape and DVD and on occasion, remastered and re-released. This video is considered to be the original Into The Woods. Narrator – Tom Aldredge Cinderella – Kim Crosby Jack – Ben Wright Baker – Chip Zien Baker’s Wife – Joanna Gleason Stepmother – Joy Franz Florinda – Kay McClelland Lucinda – Lauren Mitchell Jack’s Mother – Barbara Bryne Little Red Ridinghood – Danielle Ferland Witch – Bernadette Peters Cinderella’s Father – Edmund Lyndeck Cinderella’s Mother – Merle Louise Mysterious Man -Tom Aldredge Wolf – Robert Westenberg Rapunzel – Pamela Winslow Rapunzel’s Prince – Chuck Wagner Grandmother – Merle Louise Cinderella’s Prince – Robert Westenberg Steward – Philip Hoffman Sleeping Beauty – Maureen Davis Snow White – Cindy Robinson Giant (Voice) – Merle Louise

As the result of the curse of a once-beautiful witch, a baker and his wife are childless. Three days before the rise of a blue moon, they venture into the forest to find the ingredients that will reverse the spell and restore the witch’s beauty: a milk-white cow, hair as yellow as corn, a blood-red cape, and a slipper of gold. During their journey, they meet Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack, each one on a quest to fulfill a wish. (


Into the Woods: Stephen Sondheim

Hildegard of Bingen

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hildegard of Bingen
Illumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe and secretary
Doctor of the Church, Sibyl of the Rhine
Bermersheim vor der HöheCounty Palatine of the RhineHoly Roman Empire
Died17 September 1179 (aged 81)
Bingen am Rhein, County Palatine of the Rhine, Holy Roman Empire
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
(Order of St. Benedict)
Anglican Communion
Beatified26 August 1326 (confirmation of cultus) by Pope John XXII
Canonized10 May 2012 (equivalent canonization), Vatican City by Pope Benedict XVI
Major shrineEibingen Abbey
Feast17 September
Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard von Bingen. Line engraving by W. Marshall. Wellcome V0002761
BornHildegard von Bingen
Notable workScivias
Liber Divinorum Operum
Ordo Virtutum
EraMedieval philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interestsmystical theologymedicinebotanynatural historyMusic theoryliterature
Notable ideasLingua ignotahumoral theorymorality play, German natural historymelisma (music)viriditasneume
Part of a series on
Christian mysticism
showTheology · Philosophy
showPeople (by era or century)
showLiterature · Media
Part of a series on
Medieval music
Composers  / Instruments / Theory (Theorists)
showMovements and schools
hideMajor figuresNotkerGuidoBernartWaltherHildegardPérotinAdam de la HalleFrancode VitryMachautLandiniDunstaple
showMajor forms

Hildegard of Bingen (German: Hildegard von BingenLatinHildegardis Bingensis; 1098 – 17 September 1179), also known as Saint Hildegard and the Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mysticvisionary, and polymath of the High Middle Ages.[1][2] She is one of the best-known composers of sacred monophony, as well as the most-recorded in modern history.[3] She has been considered by many in Europe to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany.[4]

Hildegard’s fellow nuns elected her as magistra in 1136; she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. She wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs for female choirs to sing[2] and poems, while supervising miniature illuminations in the Rupertsberg manuscript of her first work, Scivias.[5] There are more surviving chants by Hildegard than by any other composer from the entire Middle Ages, and she is one of the few known composers to have written both the music and the words.[6] One of her works, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play.[7] She is also noted for the invention of a constructed language known as Lingua Ignota.

Although the history of her formal canonization is complicated, branches of the Roman Catholic Church have recognized her as a saint for centuries. On 10 May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI extended the liturgical cult of Hildegard to the entire Catholic Church in a process known as “equivalent canonization”. On 7 October 2012, he named her a Doctor of the Church, in recognition of “her holiness of life and the originality of her teaching.”[8]


Hildegard was born around the year 1098, although the exact date is uncertain. Her parents were Mechtild of Merxheim-Nahet and Hildebert of Bermersheim, a family of the free lower nobility in the service of the Count Meginhard of Sponheim.[9] Sickly from birth, Hildegard is traditionally considered their youngest and tenth child,[10] although there are records of only seven older siblings.[11][12] In her Vita, Hildegard states that from a very young age she had experienced visions.[13]


From early childhood, long before she undertook her public mission or even her monastic vows, Hildegard’s spiritual awareness was grounded in what she called the umbra viventis lucis, the reflection of the living Light. Her letter to Guibert of Gembloux, which she wrote at the age of seventy-seven, describes her experience of this light with admirable precision:

From my early childhood, before my bones, nerves and veins were fully strengthened, I have always seen this vision in my soul, even to the present time when I am more than seventy years old. In this vision my soul, as God would have it, rises up high into the vault of heaven and into the changing sky and spreads itself out among different peoples, although they are far away from me in distant lands and places. And because I see them this way in my soul, I observe them in accord with the shifting of clouds and other created things. I do not hear them with my outward ears, nor do I perceive them by the thoughts of my own heart or by any combination of my five senses, but in my soul alone, while my outward eyes are open. So I have never fallen prey to ecstasy in the visions, but I see them wide awake, day and night. And I am constantly fettered by sickness, and often in the grip of pain so intense that it threatens to kill me, but God has sustained me until now. The light which I see thus is not spatial, but it is far, far brighter than a cloud which carries the sun. I can measure neither height, nor length, nor breadth in it; and I call it “the reflection of the living Light.” And as the sun, the moon, and the stars appear in water, so writings, sermons, virtues, and certain human actions take form for me and gleam.[14]

Monastic life

Perhaps because of Hildegard’s visions, or as a method of political positioning (or both), Hildegard’s parents offered her as an oblate to the Benedictine monastery at the Disibodenberg, which had been recently reformed in the Palatinate Forest. The date of Hildegard’s enclosure at the monastery is the subject of debate. Her Vita says she was professed with an older woman, Jutta, the daughter of Count Stephan II of Sponheim, at the age of eight.[15] However, Jutta’s date of enclosure is known to have been in 1112, when Hildegard would have been fourteen.[16] Their vows were received by Bishop Otto Bamberg on All Saints’ Day, 1112. Some scholars speculate that Hildegard was placed in the care of Jutta at the age of eight, and the two women were then enclosed together six years later.[17]

In any case, Hildegard and Jutta were enclosed together at the Disibodenberg, and formed the core of a growing community of women attached to the male monastery. Jutta was also a visionary and thus attracted many followers who came to visit her at the cloister. Hildegard tells us that Jutta taught her to read and write, but that she was unlearned and therefore incapable of teaching Hildegard sound biblical interpretation.[18] The written record of the Life of Jutta indicates that Hildegard probably assisted her in reciting the psalms, working in the garden and other handiwork, and tending to the sick.[19] This might have been a time when Hildegard learned how to play the ten-stringed psalteryVolmar, a frequent visitor, may have taught Hildegard simple psalm notation. The time she studied music could have been the beginning of the compositions she would later create.[20]

Upon Jutta’s death in 1136, Hildegard was unanimously elected as magistra of the community by her fellow nuns.[21] Abbot Kuno of Disibodenberg asked Hildegard to be Prioress, which would be under his authority. Hildegard, however, wanted more independence for herself and her nuns, and asked Abbot Kuno to allow them to move to Rupertsberg.[22] This was to be a move towards poverty, from a stone complex that was well established to a temporary dwelling place. When the abbot declined Hildegard’s proposition, Hildegard went over his head and received the approval of Archbishop Henry I of Mainz. Abbot Kuno did not relent until Hildegard was stricken by an illness that kept her paralyzed and unable to move from her bed, an event that she attributed to God’s unhappiness at her not following his orders to move her nuns to a new location in Rupertsberg. It was only when the Abbot himself could not move Hildegard that he decided to grant the nuns their own monastery.[23] Hildegard and about twenty nuns thus moved to the St. Rupertsberg monastery in 1150, where Volmar served as provost, as well as Hildegard’s confessor and scribe. In 1165 Hildegard founded a second monastery for her nuns at Eibingen.[24]

Before Hildegard’s death, a problem arose with the clergy of Mainz. A man buried in Rupertsburg had died after excommunication from the Catholic Church. Therefore, the clergy wanted to remove his body from the sacred ground. Hildegard did not accept this idea, replying that it was a sin and that the man had been reconciled to the church at the time of his death.[25]


Hildegard said that she first saw “The Shade of the Living Light” at the age of three, and by the age of five she began to understand that she was experiencing visions.[26] She used the term ‘visio’ (the Latin for “vision”) to describe this feature of her experience and recognized that it was a gift that she could not explain to others. Hildegard explained that she saw all things in the light of God through the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.[27] Hildegard was hesitant to share her visions, confiding only to Jutta, who in turn told Volmar, Hildegard’s tutor and, later, secretary.[28] Throughout her life, she continued to have many visions, and in 1141, at the age of 42, Hildegard received a vision she believed to be an instruction from God, to “write down that which you see and hear.”[29] Still hesitant to record her visions, Hildegard became physically ill. The illustrations recorded in the book of Scivias were visions that Hildegard experienced, causing her great suffering and tribulations.[30] In her first theological text, Scivias (“Know the Ways”), Hildegard describes her struggle within:

But I, though I saw and heard these things, refused to write for a long time through doubt and bad opinion and the diversity of human words, not with stubbornness but in the exercise of humility, until, laid low by the scourge of God, I fell upon a bed of sickness; then, compelled at last by many illnesses, and by the witness of a certain noble maiden of good conduct [the nun Richardis von Stade] and of that man whom I had secretly sought and found, as mentioned above, I set my hand to the writing. While I was doing it, I sensed, as I mentioned before, the deep profundity of scriptural exposition; and, raising myself from illness by the strength I received, I brought this work to a close – though just barely – in ten years. (…) And I spoke and wrote these things not by the invention of my heart or that of any other person, but as by the secret mysteries of God I heard and received them in the heavenly places. And again I heard a voice from Heaven saying to me, ‘Cry out, therefore, and write thus!’[31]

It was between November 1147 and February 1148 at the synod in Trier that Pope Eugenius heard about Hildegard’s writings. It was from this that she received Papal approval to document her visions as revelations from the Holy Spirit, giving her instant credence.[32]

On 17 September 1179, when Hildegard died, her sisters claimed they saw two streams of light appear in the skies and cross over the room where she was dying.[33]

Vita Sanctae Hildegardis

Hildegard’s hagiographyVita Sanctae Hildegardis, was compiled by the monk Theoderic of Echternach after Hildegard’s death.[34] He included the hagiographical work Libellus or “Little Book” begun by Godfrey of Disibodenberg.[35] Godfrey had died before he was able to complete his work. Guibert of Gembloux was invited to finish the work; however, he had to return to his monastery with the project unfinished.[36] Theoderic utilized sources Guibert had left behind to complete the Vita.


Scivias I.6: The Choirs of Angels. From the Rupertsberg manuscript, fol. 38r.

Hildegard’s works include three great volumes of visionary theology;[37] a variety of musical compositions for use in liturgy, as well as the musical morality play Ordo Virtutum; one of the largest bodies of letters (nearly 400) to survive from the Middle Ages, addressed to correspondents ranging from popes to emperors to abbots and abbesses, and including records of many of the sermons she preached in the 1160s and 1170s;[38] two volumes of material on natural medicine and cures;[39][40] an invented language called the Lingua ignota (“unknown language”);[41] and various minor works, including a gospel commentary and two works of hagiography.[42]

Several manuscripts of her works were produced during her lifetime, including the illustrated Rupertsberg manuscript of her first major work, Scivias (lost since 1945); the Dendermonde Codex, which contains one version of her musical works; and the Ghent manuscript, which was the first fair-copy made for editing of her final theological work, the Liber Divinorum Operum. At the end of her life, and probably under her initial guidance, all of her works were edited and gathered into the single Riesenkodex manuscript.[43]

Visionary theology[edit]

Hildegard’s most significant works were her three volumes of visionary theology: Scivias (“Know the Ways”, composed 1142–1151), Liber Vitae Meritorum (“Book of Life’s Merits” or “Book of the Rewards of Life”, composed 1158–1163); and Liber Divinorum Operum (“Book of Divine Works”, also known as De operatione Dei, “On God’s Activity”, composed 1163/4–1172 or 1174). In these volumes, the last of which was completed when she was well into her seventies, Hildegard first describes each vision, whose details are often strange and enigmatic, and then interprets their theological contents in the words of the “voice of the Living Light.”[44]


The Church, the Bride of Christ and Mother of the Faithful in Baptism. Illustration to Scivias II.3, fol. 51r from the 20th-century facsimile of the Rupertsberg manuscript, c. 1165–1180

With permission from Abbot Kuno of Disibodenberg, she began journaling visions she had (which is the basis for Scivias). Scivias is a contraction of Sci vias Domini (Know the Ways of the Lord), and it was Hildegard’s first major visionary work, and one of the biggest milestones in her life. Perceiving a divine command to “write down what you see and hear,”[45] Hildegard began to record and interpret her visionary experiences. In total, 26 visionary experiences were captured in this compilation.[32]

Scivias is structured into three parts of unequal length. The first part (six visions) chronicles the order of God’s creation: the Creation and Fall of Adam and Eve, the structure of the universe (famously described as the shape of an “egg”), the relationship between body and soul, God’s relationship to his people through the Synagogue, and the choirs of angels. The second part (seven visions) describes the order of redemption: the coming of Christ the Redeemer, the Trinity, the church as the Bride of Christ and the Mother of the Faithful in baptism and confirmation, the orders of the church, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the Eucharist, and the fight against the devil. Finally, the third part (thirteen visions) recapitulates the history of salvation told in the first two parts, symbolized as a building adorned with various allegorical figures and virtues. It concludes with the Symphony of Heaven, an early version of Hildegard’s musical compositions.[46]

In early 1148, a commission was sent by the Pope to Disibodenberg to find out more about Hildegard and her writings. The commission found that the visions were authentic and returned to the Pope, with a portion of the Scivias. Portions of the uncompleted work were read aloud to Pope Eugenius III at the Synod of Trier in 1148, after which he sent Hildegard a letter with his blessing.[47] This blessing was later construed as papal approval for all of Hildegard’s wide-ranging theological activities.[48] Towards the end of her life, Hildegard commissioned a richly decorated manuscript of Scivias (the Rupertsberg Codex); although the original has been lost since its evacuation to Dresden for safekeeping in 1945, its images are preserved in a hand-painted facsimile from the 1920s.[5]

Liber Vitae Meritorum

In her second volume of visionary theology, composed between 1158 and 1163, after she had moved her community of nuns into independence at the Rupertsberg in Bingen, Hildegard tackled the moral life in the form of dramatic confrontations between the virtues and the vices. She had already explored this area in her musical morality play, Ordo Virtutum, and the “Book of the Rewards of Life” takes up that play’s characteristic themes. Each vice, although ultimately depicted as ugly and grotesque, nevertheless offers alluring, seductive speeches that attempt to entice the unwary soul into their clutches. Standing in our defence, however, are the sober voices of the Virtues, powerfully confronting every vicious deception.[49]

Amongst the work’s innovations is one of the earliest descriptions of purgatory as the place where each soul would have to work off its debts after death before entering heaven.[50] Hildegard’s descriptions of the possible punishments there are often gruesome and grotesque, which emphasize the work’s moral and pastoral purpose as a practical guide to the life of true penance and proper virtue.[51]Excerpt from the manuscript “Liber divinorum operum”. Manufactured in the 12th century. Preserved in the Ghent University Library.[52]

Liber Divinorum Operum

“Universal Man” illumination from Hildegard’s Liber Divinorum Operum, I.2. Lucca, MS 1942, early 13th-century copy.

Hildegard’s last and grandest visionary work had its genesis in one of the few times she experienced something like an ecstatic loss of consciousness. As she described it in an autobiographical passage included in her Vita, sometime in about 1163, she received “an extraordinary mystical vision” in which was revealed the “sprinkling drops of sweet rain” that John the Evangelist experienced when he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word…” (John 1:1). Hildegard perceived that this Word was the key to the “Work of God”, of which humankind is the pinnacle. The Book of Divine Works, therefore, became in many ways an extended explication of the Prologue to John’s Gospel.[53]

The ten visions of this work’s three parts are cosmic in scale, to illustrate various ways of understanding the relationship between God and his creation. Often, that relationship is established by grand allegorical female figures representing Divine Love (Caritas) or Wisdom (Sapientia). The first vision opens the work with a salvo of poetic and visionary images, swirling about to characterize God’s dynamic activity within the scope of his work within the history of salvation. The remaining three visions of the first part introduce the famous image of a human being standing astride the spheres that make up the universe and detail the intricate relationships between the human as microcosm and the universe as macrocosm. This culminates in the final chapter of Part One, Vision Four with Hildegard’s commentary on the Prologue to John’s Gospel (John 1:1–14), a direct rumination on the meaning of “In the beginning was the Word…” The single vision that constitutes the whole of Part Two stretches that rumination back to the opening of Genesis, and forms an extended commentary on the seven days of the creation of the world told in Genesis 1–2:3. This commentary interprets each day of creation in three ways: literal or cosmological; allegorical or ecclesiological (i.e. related to the church’s history); and moral or tropological (i.e. related to the soul’s growth in virtue). Finally, the five visions of the third part take up again the building imagery of Scivias to describe the course of salvation history. The final vision (3.5) contains Hildegard’s longest and most detailed prophetic program of the life of the church from her own days of “womanish weakness” through to the coming and ultimate downfall of the Antichrist.[54]


Attention in recent decades to women of the medieval Catholic Church has led to a great deal of popular interest in Hildegard’s music. In addition to the Ordo Virtutum, sixty-nine musical compositions, each with its own original poetic text, survive, and at least four other texts are known, though their musical notation has been lost.[55] This is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers.

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One of her better-known works, Ordo Virtutum (Play of the Virtues), is a morality play. It is uncertain when some of Hildegard’s compositions were composed, though the Ordo Virtutum is thought to have been composed as early as 1151.[56] It is an independent Latin morality play with music (82 songs); it does not supplement or pay homage to the Mass or the Office of a certain feast. It is, in fact, the earliest known surviving musical drama that is not attached to a liturgy.[6]

The Ordo virtutum would have been performed within Hildegard’s monastery by and for her select community of noblewomen and nuns. It was probably performed as a manifestation of the theology Hildegard delineated in the Scivias. The play serves as an allegory of the Christian story of sin, confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Notably, it is the female Virtues who restore the fallen to the community of the faithful, not the male Patriarchs or Prophets. This would have been a significant message to the nuns in Hildegard’s convent. Scholars assert that the role of the Devil would have been played by Volmar, while Hildegard’s nuns would have played the parts of Anima (the human souls) and the Virtues.[57] The devil’s part is entirely spoken or shouted, with no musical setting. All other characters sing in monophonic plainchant. This includes Patriarchs, Prophets, A Happy Soul, A Unhappy Soul and A Penitent Soul along with 16 female Virtues (including Mercy, Innocence, Chasity, Obedience, Hope, and Faith).[58]

In addition to the Ordo Virtutum, Hildegard composed many liturgical songs that were collected into a cycle called the Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum. The songs from the Symphonia are set to Hildegard’s own text and range from antiphons, hymns, and sequences, to responsories.[59] Her music is monophonic, that is, consisting of exactly one melodic line.[60] Its style has been said to be characterized by soaring melodies that can push the boundaries of traditional Gregorian chant, and to stand outside the normal practices of monophonic monastic chant.[61] Researchers are also exploring ways in which it may be viewed in comparison with her contemporaries, such as Hermannus Contractus.[62] Another feature of Hildegard’s music that both reflects twelfth-century evolution of chant, and pushes that evolution further, is that it is highly melismatic, often with recurrent melodic units. Scholars such as Margot Fassler, Marianne Richert Pfau, and Beverly Lomer also note the intimate relationship between music and text in Hildegard’s compositions, whose rhetorical features are often more distinct than is common in twelfth-century chant.[63] As with all medieval chant notation, Hildegard’s music lacks any indication of tempo or rhythm; the surviving manuscripts employ late German style notation, which uses very ornamental neumes.[64] The reverence for the Virgin Mary reflected in music shows how deeply influenced and inspired Hildegard of Bingen and her community were by the Virgin Mary and the saints.[65]

Scientific and medicinal writings

Hildegard of Bingen and her nuns

Hildegard’s medicinal and scientific writings, though thematically complementary to her ideas about nature expressed in her visionary works, are different in focus and scope. Neither claim to be rooted in her visionary experience and its divine authority. Rather, they spring from her experience helping in and then leading the monastery’s herbal garden and infirmary, as well as the theoretical information she likely gained through her wide-ranging reading in the monastery’s library.[40] As she gained practical skills in diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment, she combined physical treatment of physical diseases with holistic methods centered on “spiritual healing.”[66] She became well known for her healing powers involving the practical application of tinctures, herbs, and precious stones.[67] She combined these elements with a theological notion ultimately derived from Genesis: all things put on earth are for the use of humans.[68] In addition to her hands-on experience, she also gained medical knowledge, including elements of her humoral theory, from traditional Latin texts.[66]

Hildegard catalogued both her theory and practice in two works. The first, Physica, contains nine books that describe the scientific and medicinal properties of various plants, stones, fish, reptiles, and animals. This document is also thought to contain the first recorded reference of the usage of hops in beer as a preservative.[69][70] The second, Causae et Curae, is an exploration of the human body, its connections to the rest of the natural world, and the causes and cures of various diseases.[71] Hildegard documented various medical practices in these books, including the use of bleeding and home remedies for many common ailments. She also explains remedies for common agricultural injuries such as burns, fractures, dislocations, and cuts.[66] Hildegard may have used the books to teach assistants at the monastery. These books are historically significant because they show areas of medieval medicine that were not well documented because their practitioners (mainly women) rarely wrote in Latin. Her writings were commentated on by Mélanie Lipinska, a Polish scientist.[72]

In addition to its wealth of practical evidence, Causae et Curae is also noteworthy for its organizational scheme. Its first part sets the work within the context of the creation of the cosmos and then humanity as its summit, and the constant interplay of the human person as microcosm both physically and spiritually with the macrocosm of the universe informs all of Hildegard’s approach.[40] Her hallmark is to emphasize the vital connection between the “green” health of the natural world and the holistic health of the human person. Viriditas, or greening power, was thought to sustain human beings and could be manipulated by adjusting the balance of elements within a person.[66] Thus, when she approached medicine as a type of gardening, it was not just as an analogy. Rather, Hildegard understood the plants and elements of the garden as direct counterparts to the humors and elements within the human body, whose imbalance led to illness and disease.[66]

Thus, the nearly three hundred chapters of the second book of Causae et Curae “explore the etiology, or causes, of disease as well as human sexuality, psychology, and physiology.”[40] In this section, she gives specific instructions for bleeding based on various factors, including gender, the phase of the moon (bleeding is best done when the moon is waning), the place of disease (use veins near diseased organ or body part) or prevention (big veins in arms), and how much blood to take (described in imprecise measurements, like “the amount that a thirsty person can swallow in one gulp”). She even includes bleeding instructions for animals to keep them healthy. In the third and fourth sections, Hildegard describes treatments for malignant and minor problems and diseases according to the humoral theory, again including information on animal health. The fifth section is about diagnosis and prognosis, which includes instructions to check the patient’s blood, pulse, urine and stool.[66] Finally, the sixth section documents a lunar horoscope to provide an additional means of prognosis for both disease and other medical conditions, such as conception and the outcome of pregnancy.[40] For example, she indicates that a waxing moon is good for human conception and is also good for sowing seeds for plants (sowing seeds is the plant equivalent of conception).[66] Elsewhere, Hildegard is even said to have stressed the value of boiling drinking water in an attempt to prevent infection.[73]

As Hildegard elaborates the medical and scientific relationship between the human microcosm and the macrocosm of the universe, she often focuses on interrelated patterns of four: “the four elements (fire, air, water, and earth), the four seasons, the four humors, the four zones of the earth, and the four major winds.”[40] Although she inherited the basic framework of humoral theory from ancient medicine, Hildegard’s conception of the hierarchical inter-balance of the four humors (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile) was unique, based on their correspondence to “superior” and “inferior” elements—blood and phlegm corresponding to the “celestial” elements of fire and air, and the two biles corresponding to the “terrestrial” elements of water and earth. Hildegard understood the disease-causing imbalance of these humors to result from the improper dominance of the subordinate humors. This disharmony reflects that introduced by Adam and Eve in the Fall, which for Hildegard marked the indelible entrance of disease and humoral imbalance into humankind.[40] As she writes in Causae et Curae c. 42:

It happens that certain men suffer diverse illnesses. This comes from the phlegm which is superabundant within them. For if man had remained in paradise, he would not have had the flegmata within his body, from which many evils proceed, but his flesh would have been whole and without dark humor [livor]. However, because he consented to evil and relinquished good, he was made into a likeness of the earth, which produces good and useful herbs, as well as bad and useless ones, and which has in itself both good and evil moistures. From tasting evil, the blood of the sons of Adam was turned into the poison of semen, out of which the sons of man are begotten. And therefore their flesh is ulcerated and permeable [to disease]. These sores and openings create a certain storm and smoky moisture in men, from which the flegmata arise and coagulate, which then introduce diverse infirmities to the human body. All this arose from the first evil, which man began at the start, because if Adam had remained in paradise, he would have had the sweetest health, and the best dwelling-place, just as the strongest balsam emits the best odor; but on the contrary, man now has within himself poison and phlegm and diverse illnesses.[74]

Lingua ignota and Litterae ignotae

Alphabet by Hildegard von Bingen, Litterae ignotae, which she used for her language Lingua Ignota

Hildegard also invented an alternative alphabetLitterae ignotae (Alternate Alphabet) was another work and was more or less a secret code, or even an intellectual code – much like a modern crossword puzzle today.

The text of her writing and compositions reveals Hildegard’s use of this form of modified medieval Latin, encompassing many invented, conflated and abridged words.[13] Because of her inventions of words for her lyrics and use of a constructed script, many conlangers look upon her as a medieval precursor.[75]

Hildegard’s Lingua ignota (Unknown Language) was a composition that comprised a series of invented words that corresponded to an eclectic list of nouns. Scholars believe that Hildegard used her Lingua Ignota to increase solidarity among her nuns.[76]


During her lifetime

Maddocks claims that it is likely Hildegard learned simple Latin and the tenets of the Christian faith but was not instructed in the Seven Liberal Arts, which formed the basis of all education for the learned classes in the Middle Ages: the Trivium of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric plus the Quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.[77] The correspondence she kept with the outside world, both spiritual and social, transcended the cloister as a space of spiritual confinement and served to document Hildegard’s grand style and strict formatting of medieval letter writing.[78][79]

Contributing to Christian European rhetorical traditions, Hildegard “authorized herself as a theologian” through alternative rhetorical arts.[78] Hildegard was creative in her interpretation of theology. She believed that her monastery should exclude novices who were not from the nobility because she did not want her community to be divided on the basis of social status.[80] She also stated that “woman may be made from man, but no man can be made without a woman.”[33]Hildegard’s preaching tours

Because of church limitation on public, discursive rhetoric, the medieval rhetorical arts included preaching, letter writing, poetry, and the encyclopedic tradition.[81] Hildegard’s participation in these arts speaks to her significance as a female rhetorician, transcending bans on women’s social participation and interpretation of scripture. The acceptance of public preaching by a woman, even a well-connected abbess and acknowledged prophet, does not fit the stereotype of this time. Her preaching was not limited to the monasteries; she preached publicly in 1160 in Germany. (New York: Routledge, 2001, 9). She conducted four preaching tours throughout Germany, speaking to both clergy and laity in chapter houses and in public, mainly denouncing clerical corruption and calling for reform.[82]

Many abbots and abbesses asked her for prayers and opinions on various matters.[1] She traveled widely during her four preaching tours.[83] She had several devoted followers, including Guibert of Gembloux, who wrote to her frequently and became her secretary after Volmar’s death in 1173. Hildegard also influenced several monastic women, exchanging letters with Elisabeth of Schönau, a nearby visionary.[84]

Hildegard corresponded with popes such as Eugene III and Anastasius IV, statesmen such as Abbot Suger, German emperors such as Frederick I Barbarossa, and other notable figures such as Bernard of Clairvaux, who advanced her work, at the behest of her abbot, Kuno, at the Synod of Trier in 1147 and 1148. Hildegard of Bingen’s correspondence is an important component of her literary output.[85]

Beatification, canonization and recognition as a Doctor of the Church

Hildegard was one of the first persons for whom the Roman canonization process was officially applied, but the process took so long that four attempts at canonization were not completed and she remained at the level of her beatification. Her name was nonetheless taken up in the Roman Martyrology at the end of the 16th century. Her feast day is 17 September. Numerous popes have referred to Hildegard as a saint, including Pope John Paul II[86] and Pope Benedict XVI.[87]

On 10 May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI extended the liturgical cult of Hildegard to the entire Catholic Church[88] in a process known as “equivalent canonization,”[89] thus laying the groundwork for naming her a Doctor of the Church.[90] On 7 October 2012, the feast of the Holy Rosary, the pope named her a Doctor of the Church, the fourth woman among 36 saints given that title by the Roman Catholic Church.[91] He called her “perennially relevant” and “an authentic teacher of theology and a profound scholar of natural science and music.”[92]

Hildegard of Bingen also appears in the calendar of saints of various Anglican churches, such as that of the Church of England, in which she is commemorated on 17 September.[93]

Hildegard’s parish and pilgrimage church in Eibingen near Rüdesheim houses her relics.[94]

Modern interest

German 10 DM commemorative coin issued by the Federal Republic of Germany (1998) designed by Carl Vezerfi-Clemm on the 900th anniversary of Hildegard of Bingen’s birth

In recent years, Hildegard has become of particular interest to feminist scholars.[95] They note her reference to herself as a member of the weaker sex and her rather constant belittling of women. Hildegard frequently referred to herself as an unlearned woman, completely incapable of Biblical exegesis.[96] Such a statement on her part, however, worked to her advantage because it made her statements that all of her writings and music came from visions of the Divine more believable, therefore giving Hildegard the authority to speak in a time and place where few women were permitted a voice.[97] Hildegard used her voice to amplify the church’s condemnation of institutional corruption, in particular simony.

Hildegard has also become a figure of reverence within the contemporary New Age movement, mostly because of her holistic and natural view of healing, as well as her status as a mystic. Though her medical writings were long neglected, and then studied without reference to their context,[98] she was the inspiration for Dr. Gottfried Hertzka’s “Hildegard-Medicine”, and is the namesake for June Boyce-Tillman’s Hildegard Network, a healing center that focuses on a holistic approach to wellness and brings together people interested in exploring the links between spirituality, the arts, and healing.[99] Her reputation as a medicinal writer and healer was also used by early feminists to argue for women’s rights to attend medical schools.[98] Hildegard’s reincarnation has been debated since 1924 when Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner lectured that a nun of her description was the past life of Russian poet-philosopher Vladimir Soloviev,[100] whose Sophianic visions are often compared to Hildegard’s.[101] Sophiologist Robert Powell writes that hermetic astrology proves the match,[102] while mystical communities in Hildegard’s lineage include that of artist Carl Schroeder[103] as studied by Columbia sociologist Courtney Bender[104] and supported by reincarnation researchers Walter Semkiw and Kevin Ryerson.[105]

Recordings and performances of Hildegard’s music have gained critical praise and popularity since 1979. See Discography listed below.

The following modern musical works are directly linked to Hildegard and her music or texts:

The artwork The Dinner Party features a place setting for Hildegard.[109]

In space, the minor planet 898 Hildegard is named for her.[110]

In film, Hildegard has been portrayed by Patricia Routledge in a BBC documentary called Hildegard of Bingen (1994),[111] by Ángela Molina in Barbarossa (2009)[112] and by Barbara Sukowa in the film Vision, directed by Margarethe von Trotta.[113]

Hildegard was the subject of a 2012 fictionalized biographic novel Illuminations by Mary Sharatt.[114]

The plant genus Hildegardia is named after her because of her contributions to herbal medicine.[115]

Hildegard makes an appearance in The Baby-Sitters Club #101: Claudia Kishi, Middle School Drop-Out by Ann M. Martin, when Anna Stevenson dresses as Hildegard for Halloween.[116]

A feature documentary film, The Unruly Mystic: Saint Hildegard, was released by American director Michael M. Conti in 2014.[117]

The off-Broadway musical In the Green, written by Grace McLean, followed Hildegard’s story.[118]

More at:

My Cancer Journey 1/28

Ned Henry January 28, 2021 ·

1:30 AM so I’m still winding down with Indica. I got the vape pen working finally and had some left so got a few hits in. Got pretty stoned actually. It was good. Anyway, I sat down to tell another story. So I’ve talked about Kay Redmond and the Kay Redmond ski trips. That’s where I met like Sue, Allen, Mike, Kay, Sue’s family, — I don’t remember who else. Well Kay died. I told that story already. We watched HMS Pinafore together. So the following year after she died, I volunteered to run the trip the following year. I was thining about this because I remembered how resentful I was but we’ll get to that.

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Now this was January of 2008 but I had to book it a year earlier and pay a deposit on I guess 6 condos if I remember. Go look. You have the file. There were 8 condos of 6 people each and another one held over and rented for a second week of skiing. So the trip included Condos, Lift tickets for 5 days I guess (and you could go to Vail or Beaver Creek once during the week). The trip was to Keystone and you could ski Keystone, Breck or A-Basin on the same lift ticket. Airfare (optional) for $240.80 round trip from Atlanta to Denver, bus to and from DEN to the condos, discounts on ski rentals and ski lessons. This was Kay’s way to pay as little as possible for a ski trip. She negotiated everything and well so did I and I am a pretty good negotiator. I had sign up sheets so I had a profile on everyone, what they wanted and needed, what they liked to ski — Blues, Greens or Blacks. Mostly Blues on these trips. I put the condos together with some semblance of common interests. I mean I really out a lot of effort into making this a not just a successful trip but a great trip and a great deal for everyone. So this trip cost -Shit I just found a Kay Redmond Ski Group debit card in my name so I could just charge everything as I had to make deposits. I think everyone pretty much paid on time and if I am reading these deposit records correctly, it costs right around $600 for the week without airfare. I did a fucking great job and even though I got a free trip out of it, I wanted to be tipped for all the work I did for a year. Well on that last bus ride to the airport, they passed around a hat for the tip and I got $170 from 47 people. I was incensed. I couldn’t believe it. I gave it to the guy who came on the trip and created a website for me so we could do sign ups and get information and ask questions. I was going to tip him anyway but gave him the whole thing. I was so insulted. I felt like I had been wronged. I took it personally. How dare they? I burned friendships to the fucking ground. Including a golf buddy I had played with every Saturday for some 5 years. I wrote one of those fuck you emails when I got back to Atlanta and just let it all out. Sue and Allen came back and eventually others. Of course there were most on that trip I have long lost touch with. Bob Boozer from choir died on that trip. I think I told you that. He slipped getting off the bus when we first arrived at the condos and hit his head and immediately went to the hospital in Frisco and was airlifted to Atlanta and then died there a few weeks later. He didn’t die from the fall but from Prostate cancer and he just wanted one last run on the mountain before he passed. I have held resentment in me for years about this trip. And it was such a great trip, such a beautiful experience for everyone. We ate all our dinners together as one big group. We came together. And yet I wanted more. I wasn’t satisfied with just the experience, I wanted to be paid for being a great travel agent putting this all together, all the details, keeping everything straight and everyone happy. Why is that? What do I need? The resentment does not serve me. What do I want? A reward, an attaboy, a real thank you. I have to let go of the resentment and find out something else. This is what RHS is for. It’s 2 AM and I am going to lie down and try to close my eyes. But I am glad I remembered this story.

I do not know what anything is for?

9 AM — woke up at 7 with a frozen left foot. Tried all kinds of things different positions to warm it up, Cranked the heat to 75. I think it got down to 27 last night. Put the weighted blanket back in the microwave at 5 AM and then just tried to warm my feet up. Nodded off and on for while and just gave up and got up. Got coffee now and am emerging from the massive cocoon of blankets I have on the bed. I have absolutely nothing written down on my calendar today. Liz might come over. It’s 36 out there now. If it doesn’t warm up and she does come over, it will be a short visit on the deck.

Let’s see what Marianne has to say for day 26. I’m 2 days behind her. Marianne didn’t write the course. Noone knows who did. She just reads the daily lessons and comments on them.

ACIM Lesson 26 — My attack thoughts are attacking my invulnerability. This one is going to take some real thinking. It’s timely in light of the ski trip story as well as the cold feet and the cancer and everything.

My sister Peg sent me this 18 minute Ted Talk. It is very good. There are several gems of wisdom in it. It’s by a woman discussing how she dealt with a deadly disease at a very young age and had a baby in the process and what she did to transform her life and her situation. It is an inspiring story and one we can all learn from. But it is her story. Her transformation and her gift to us to share it in this way. It’s almost how I would do it if I could but not quite. I remember when I played golf, I would visualize each shot before I hit it. I was never very good at golf but I did really enjoy playing the game. But I would see that 150 yard approach shot and take out a 6 iron, line up the shot and see the ball land 3 feet from the pin. Of course it rarely happened that way. Most of the time I missed the green. I just didn’t have the skill at the game to be consisent. And I didn’t take enough time on the range to practice. But listen to what this woman has to say. There are pearls in there.

12:20 PM — TOOK A LONG HOT SHOWER. The kind my dad would hate. It would have driven him nuts. His idea of a shower is a Navy shower. Get in, get wet, turn the water off, soap up, then turn the water on, rinse and get out. We had some long drag out battles over my showers. I just wanted to luxuriate in the shower. He might have thought I was jacking off and I might have been but I didn’t do that that much in the shower. Of course I wasn’t paying the water bills and and the gas bills for some 14 people that lived in that house. And he was. Nevertheless I had a great long hot shower today and I feel better. My left foot is still numb. Sue thinks it might be the Vincristine in the R-CHOP chemo cocktail. It might be timidity. This IS all about my thoughts. My attack thoughts are attacking my invulnerability. Got a lovely response from the nutrition lady at Winship, Stephanie, about my morning shakes which I have abandoned of late. Too much hassle. She encouraged me to make a couple of changes and go ahead and make batches that will last a few days. If it’s more convenient, then I will drink them more often. It was that way in the past before cancer so why not now. So I’ll make a batch of smoothies once I finish this paragraph. She also said “You might also consider switching to a higher protein plant-based milk, such as pea protein (a popular brand is Ripple).” Hence the video above.


Just reread this handout from the oncologist about R-CHOP side effects and what to expect. It’s 7 pages long but I think you can only see the first page. Here is the inactive link if you want to read the whole thing. It does talk about numbness as a side effect and fatigue, constipation, and sleeplessness all of which I have experienced. You’ll have to copy and paste this into your browser if you’re interested.

Chemo is tough. No doubt about it.

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Here’s my selfie today. In my bedroom that’s my bed with the green flannel sheets. I wore a black gator to bed last night to keep my neck warm. And the electric heating pad and red and black weighted blanket to keep my feet warm. I still have no idea who sent that to me. It just showed up in an Amazon box one day. But it has been wonderful to have — 3 minutes in the microwave and it stays

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warm all night long. The poster is of a Van Gough painting I love and have seen in person 3 times in my life. I just stood there mesmerized by it for a long long time each time I saw it- in San Francisco at the museum in Golden Gate Park with the kids from The Little School in Santa Cruz in 1971 (we took the kids on field trip there to the museum); in DC at the National Gallery of art many years later when I was married so around 1989–90; and in Amsterdam at the Van Gough museum in December 2017. I just stood there mesmerized by it for a long long time each time I saw it. This is a pic I took illegally in Amsterdam of it. I’ll talk about that wonderful trip to Paris and Germany I took with Sue another time.

Here’s a better picture of Ekajati. This is the image that Valerie used in her talk yesterday.

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“Ekajati, protector of secret mantras and “as the mother of the mothers of all the Buddhas,” represents ultimate unity. As the protector of mantra, she supports the practitioner in deciphering symbolic dakini codes and properly determines appropriate times and circumstances for revealing tantric teachings. Because she completely realizes the texts and mantras under her care, she reminds the practitioner of their preciousness and secrecy.”

My attack thoughts are attacking my invulnerability.

3 PM — Made a batch of smoothies. I know it’s better to make them fresh everyday but I don’t get a round tuit. So I had one today and now I have 4 more days lined up and ready to go. This smoothie has everything in it. Co-co water and Co-co milk, co-co oil, fish oil, CBD oil, almond butter, cashews, avocado, pears, cokes, broccoli, carrots, spinach, yogurt, collagen powder and my mix of fiber powders and a little of that green powder the nutritionist recommends I drop. Unfortunately for this batch and one more it’s already premixed with the fiber powders. Also ate some plain old smoked salmon which I have loved since I lived in Alaska where it is so prevalent. Allen picks it up for me at Costco since I don’t have a Costco near me nor a membership. It is good shit. Yesterday I had in in eggs, the day before on a bagel and today just ate it with a fork. So I’ve gotten the extra protein they tell me I need. Gonna go read some and maybe nap.

8:50 PM — Never did sleep. Kind of a rough chemo day. My feet have been cold all day. Made an excellent garbage pail soup for dinner tonight. I t was too cold today to see anyone on the deck. It pretty much stayed in the mid forties. It’s 36 now and will go down to 27 before the night is over. Have Falstaff on in the background. It’s Verdi but I don’t really know this opera. One of his only comedies. Big baritone. I sometimes think I’m just full of myself by keeping writing this. But then I tell myself it’s OK. This is to help you deal eith your life right now and you choose to just be open about it. There’s still so much reflection on the past. So mcuh going on inside my head. Stories I want to explore. Things I want to get off my chest. Jack called tonight. It’s Tucker’s 13th birthday. He’s gonna try to come down for the weekend of the 6th and 7th. Guess that’s Super Bowl weekend. I need his help with getting this place in shape for the next 4 rounds of chemo. We’ll both have to get tested and wear masks and all that. Hope it’s warm enough to open the windows. He’ll stay at the Holiday Express down the street. I’m not tired but I’m not jumpy either. Think I’ll have a glass of cognac and just watch the opera for a little while or maybe just listen. It doesn’t sound all that great to me so far. It hasn’t grabbed me the way Verdi usually does.


From Foxes to Footballers, Animals Love Games. Let’s Use Competition to Everyone’s Advantage

What If We Used Play to Solve the World’s Biggest Problems? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Fox kits play fight in order to develop their hunting skills and increase their chance of survival. Courtesy of Pat Gaines/flickr.


Ours is a time of reduced civility, heightened political partisanship, and decreased faith in institutions. If we don’t figure out how to engage respectfully, we will all lose out. COVID will continue to advance, and overrun our hospitals as we wait months to receive a vaccine that some 35 percent of Americans have said they will avoid. The climate crisis will bring more and more polluted air, hurricanes, floods, and fires as we hop from one not-so-natural disaster to another. The political discord of the past four years—and past two months—will continue to upend everyday life.

Americans need to find another way forward, a way to come together to solve the issues of the day and enable our continued survival as individuals, as a nation, and as a species. We have an audacious suggestion: Turn solving these critical tasks into a game. Let’s take our innate and life-preserving love of play and competition and harness it to change human behavior. By doing so we could improve the world in a way that decades of failed public discourse have not.

This idea takes its cues from the animal kingdom. In the wild, many animals use games and play to learn and improve themselves—and, ultimately, to survive. When wolf pups or fox kits chase their siblings around and pounce on each other near their den, they are predators “playing hunt,” perfecting their prey-catching skills and improving their odds of survival. When prey such as marmot pups chase their siblings near their burrows, they are “playing escape”; their survival depends on not being killed by the likes of wolves and foxes.

Importantly, these play bouts are ritualized and highly structured, and they involve communicating through strict signals to ensure that everyone involved realizes that what follows is play. Animals take turns. They let each other know through clear signals that even though they’re playing rough, it’s still play. If someone yelps in pain, for instance, everyone pauses for a moment to give the crying play partner a chance to recover.

Hunting and escaping, of course, are crucial skills for predators and prey; engaging in this kind of behavior helps them practice managing the difficult realities they will face as adults. But play is not limited only to chasing. Animals play fight and play wrestle to learn to navigate hierarchy and difference, to negotiate with one another, and to build social bonds. The marmots Dan studies begin to create their dominance hierarchies through play. And, when the time comes to guard valued resources—whether they be food or mates—they will be ready.

Some animal play operates just as human play does: mainly for fun! Crows slide down snowy rooftops just for the thrill of doing so. Monkeys leap from treetops into ponds to experience freefall with a reassuring splash of cool water at the end. Through this seemingly purposeless play, animals learn how to navigate challenging conditions, turning chaotic experiences into manageable ones. Indeed, by playing, they learn how to contend with failure, loss, vulnerability, and also success—where the stakes are relatively low.

Yes, play is evolutionarily expensive. It can be dangerous and it takes time away from practical tasks such as procuring food and finding shelter. And, yet, it is widespread throughout a large part of the animal kingdom. Its universality is striking.

Humans are, of course, familiar with the power of play. Athletic competitions, from Little League to the Olympics, present us with goals to be achieved and obstacles to be overcome. It doesn’t matter that both goals and obstacles are artificial: landing a ball into a net carries no real weight in the outside world and has no impact on it, aside from the meaning humans ascribe to it. Participating in sports helps humans learn to manage our competitive nature, taking an adversarial drive and harnessing it to build strength and health, to learn discipline, and to even create beauty when we play a game with skill, intelligence, and grace. Sports teach us to function within a social group and can build a sense of unity and cohesion. To play with someone else, one must agree to the rules of engagement.

What if we took the model of sport further, intentionally reverse engineering serious problems and turning them into games where friendly competition can reign? If problems could be tackled in such a way, in a safe environment with agreed-upon rules, we might be able to meet more of our goals—or at least, be more prepared to face them when they reach a crisis point.

People have tried it before, as they’ve searched for certain kinds of technological solutions. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is an advanced-technology branch of the U.S. Department of Defense, charged with trying out and perfecting new technologies for potential use on the battlefield and beyond. The agency created prize competitions called DARPA Challenges that ask engineers to compete in tackling seemingly unsolvable tasks under set rules of engagement. If a team manages to solve a particular problem, it wins a prize and glory—and society benefits.Let’s take our innate and life-preserving love of play and competition and harness it to change human behavior.

One DARPA Challenge tasked engineers with inventing self-driving vehicles. The end goal was to develop automated weapons as well as create ways to transport critical supplies on and off the battlefield, but in the process it also gave us the self-driving vehicle technology that is slowly making its way onto our streets. The X-Prize Foundation does something similar, regularly announcing an audacious goal to improve health, technology, or the environment, and asking teams to self-organize and compete for acknowledgement and a cash prize.

Leaders could expand this competitive model to confront different sorts of pressing challenges that contest designers have often overlooked—those that require behavioral change, institutional investment, and sustained action. What if we treated society’s response to the climate crisis, the COVID pandemic, or even declining faith in politics as an opportunity for international competition and Olympics-like play? Think the Eurovision Song Contest, but for carbon reduction or civic participation.

Or, if international competition seems a step too far, the focus could be local and cooperative. We already know that neighborhood play can drive immediate benefits. When cities block off traffic during Ciclovía events, for instance, encouraging the public to ride bicycles, skate, or walk, and refrain from using cars, air quality improves immediately, local businesses get increased foot traffic, and people meet neighbors and interact with strangers in ways that would otherwise be unlikely.

Government and other leaders could create friendly competition among communities to walk and bike more, buy used or reusable products, install insulation, or favor high-efficiency appliances. We could track rides on public transit and offer prizes when ridership goes up and traffic congestion goes down. What if COVID transmission rates were monitored not just as a reminder of encroaching threat but also to celebrate—and reward—declining transmission rates? Instead of bemoaning a lack of political engagement, we might instead recognize the recent upsurge in voting and encourage cities, towns, or neighborhoods to get as close to 100 percent voting as possible, vying against one another toward that goal. We could create systems to facilitate, acknowledge, and reward success while encouraging communities to see failure as useful feedback—a learning experience much like a loss on a playing field.

If we create competition between communities in the interest of solving major problems, we will also need to set limits on what can be done in the interest of winning. Rules, structures, and parameters of engagement would be key. As we encourage communities to maximize voting, for example, we will need to give them reminders that voter intimidation is beyond the bounds of healthy competition.

Fair play will matter not just as much but more than whether we win. Rules extend beyond the game space to become a code of behavior, a process for respectful interaction. And here we would be following our nonhuman relatives—including marmots, crows, monkeys, foxes, and wolves—that directly benefit from their enjoyable and structured play.

Increasingly, it seems that Americans are losing the skills that come from respectful competition and dynamic collaboration. We can reverse that trend. We can relearn how to be adaptable and collaborative, and to respect one another even as we disagree.

Americans don’t play as much as we used to; our excuse is that we don’t have the time. The majority of children play a sport but, by age 15, most have quit. If people don’t play—whether it’s soccer or chess—how will they learn how to navigate competition with civility and care? What opportunities are they taking to practice working together in a group? How will they know that coming together with respect matters more than winning, and that losing can sometimes be an opportunity for learning?

Successful public discourse, at its root, is about respect for a process, and acceptable parameters for action: honoring the limits to which we, and others, have agreed. It hinges on recognizing that our opponents are worthy. It also involves a desire for an opponent to fully engage so that we can hone our skills, refine our position, and come to a satisfying compromise.

In other words, it’s a lot like a game.

JANET O’SHEA is a dance studies scholar at the University of California Los Angeles and the author of Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training.

DANIEL T. BLUMSTEIN is an evolutionary biologist, also at UCLA, and the author of The Nature of Fear: Survival Lessons from the Wild.

Escape the echo chamber

First you don’t hear other views. Then you can’t trust them. Your personal information network entraps you just like a cult

C Thi Nguyen is an assistant professor of philosophy at Utah Valley University working in social epistemology, aesthetics and the philosophy of games. Previously, he wrote a column about food for the Los Angeles Times. His latest book is Games: Agency as Art (forthcoming).Listen here

Brought to you by Curio, an Aeon partner

Edited by Sam Dresser

9 April 2018 (

Something has gone wrong with the flow of information. It’s not just that different people are drawing subtly different conclusions from the same evidence. It seems like different intellectual communities no longer share basic foundational beliefs. Maybe nobody cares about the truth anymore, as some have started to worry. Maybe political allegiance has replaced basic reasoning skills. Maybe we’ve all become trapped in echo chambers of our own making – wrapping ourselves in an intellectually impenetrable layer of likeminded friends and web pages and social media feeds.

But there are two very different phenomena at play here, each of which subvert the flow of information in very distinct ways. Let’s call them echo chambers and epistemic bubbles. Both are social structures that systematically exclude sources of information. Both exaggerate their members’ confidence in their beliefs. But they work in entirely different ways, and they require very different modes of intervention. An epistemic bubble is when you don’t hear people from the other side. An echo chamber is what happens when you don’t trust people from the other side.

Current usage has blurred this crucial distinction, so let me introduce a somewhat artificial taxonomy. An ‘epistemic bubble’ is an informational network from which relevant voices have been excluded by omission. That omission might be purposeful: we might be selectively avoiding contact with contrary views because, say, they make us uncomfortable. As social scientists tell us, we like to engage in selective exposure, seeking out information that confirms our own worldview. But that omission can also be entirely inadvertent. Even if we’re not actively trying to avoid disagreement, our Facebook friends tend to share our views and interests. When we take networks built for social reasons and start using them as our information feeds, we tend to miss out on contrary views and run into exaggerated degrees of agreement.

An ‘echo chamber’ is a social structure from which other relevant voices have been actively discredited. Where an epistemic bubble merely omits contrary views, an echo chamber brings its members to actively distrust outsiders. In their book Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment (2010), Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Frank Cappella offer a groundbreaking analysis of the phenomenon. For them, an echo chamber is something like a cult. A cult isolates its members by actively alienating them from any outside sources. Those outside are actively labelled as malignant and untrustworthy. A cult member’s trust is narrowed, aimed with laser-like focus on certain insider voices.

In epistemic bubbles, other voices are not heard; in echo chambers, other voices are actively undermined. The way to break an echo chamber is not to wave “the facts” in the faces of its members. It is to attack the echo chamber at its root and repair that broken trust.

Let’s start with epistemic bubbles. They have been in the limelight lately, most famously in Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble (2011) and Cass Sunstein’s #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media (2017). The general gist: we get much of our news from Facebook feeds and similar sorts of social media. Our Facebook feed consists mostly of our friends and colleagues, the majority of whom share our own political and cultural views. We visit our favourite like-minded blogs and websites. At the same time, various algorithms behind the scenes, such as those inside Google search, invisibly personalise our searches, making it more likely that we’ll see only what we want to see. These processes all impose filters on information.

Such filters aren’t necessarily bad. The world is overstuffed with information, and one can’t sort through it all by oneself: filters need to be outsourced. That’s why we all depend on extended social networks to deliver us knowledge. But any such informational network needs the right sort of broadness and variety to work. A social network composed entirely of incredibly smart, obsessive opera fans would deliver all the information I could want about the opera scene, but it would fail to clue me in to the fact that, say, my country had been infested by a rising tide of neo-Nazis. Each individual person in my network might be superbly reliable about her particular informational patch but, as an aggregate structure, my network lacks what Sanford Goldberg in his book Relying on Others (2010) calls ‘coverage-reliability’. It doesn’t deliver to me a sufficiently broad and representative coverage of all the relevant information.

Epistemic bubbles also threaten us with a second danger: excessive self-confidence. In a bubble, we will encounter exaggerated amounts of agreement and suppressed levels of disagreement. We’re vulnerable because, in general, we actually have very good reason to pay attention to whether other people agree or disagree with us. Looking to others for corroboration is a basic method for checking whether one has reasoned well or badly. This is why we might do our homework in study groups, and have different laboratories repeat experiments. But not all forms of corroboration are meaningful. Ludwig Wittgenstein says: imagine looking through a stack of identical newspapers and treating each next newspaper headline as yet another reason to increase your confidence. This is obviously a mistake. The fact that The New York Times reports something is a reason to believe it, but any extra copies of The New York Times that you encounter shouldn’t add any extra evidence.

But outright copies aren’t the only problem here. Suppose that I believe that the Paleo diet is the greatest diet of all time. I assemble a Facebook group called ‘Great Health Facts!’ and fill it only with people who already believe that Paleo is the best diet. The fact that everybody in that group agrees with me about Paleo shouldn’t increase my confidence level one bit. They’re not mere copies – they actually might have reached their conclusions independently – but their agreement can be entirely explained by my method of selection. The group’s unanimity is simply an echo of my selection criterion. It’s easy to forget how carefully pre-screened the members are, how epistemically groomed social media circles might be.

Luckily, though, epistemic bubbles are easily shattered. We can pop an epistemic bubble simply by exposing its members to the information and arguments that they’ve missed. But echo chambers are a far more pernicious and robust phenomenon.

Jamieson and Cappella’s book is the first empirical study into how echo chambers function. In their analysis, echo chambers work by systematically alienating their members from all outside epistemic sources. Their research centres on Rush Limbaugh, a wildly successful conservative firebrand in the United States, along with Fox News and related media. Limbaugh uses methods to actively transfigure whom his listeners trust. His constant attacks on the ‘mainstream media’ are attempts to discredit all other sources of knowledge. He systematically undermines the integrity of anybody who expresses any kind of contrary view. And outsiders are not simply mistaken – they are malicious, manipulative and actively working to destroy Limbaugh and his followers. The resulting worldview is one of deeply opposed force, an all-or-nothing war between good and evil. Anybody who isn’t a fellow Limbaugh follower is clearly opposed to the side of right, and therefore utterly untrustworthy.

They read – but do not accept – mainstream and liberal news sources. They hear, but dismiss, outside voices

The result is a rather striking parallel to the techniques of emotional isolation typically practised in cult indoctrination. According to mental-health specialists in cult recovery, including Margaret Singer, Michael Langone and Robert Lifton, cult indoctrination involves new cult members being brought to distrust all non-cult members. This provides a social buffer against any attempts to extract the indoctrinated person from the cult.

The echo chamber doesn’t need any bad connectivity to function. Limbaugh’s followers have full access to outside sources of information. According to Jamieson and Cappella’s data, Limbaugh’s followers regularly read – but do not accept – mainstream and liberal news sources. They are isolated, not by selective exposure, but by changes in who they accept as authorities, experts and trusted sources. They hear, but dismiss, outside voices. Their worldview can survive exposure to those outside voices because their belief system has prepared them for such intellectual onslaught.

In fact, exposure to contrary views could actually reinforce their views. Limbaugh might offer his followers a conspiracy theory: anybody who criticises him is doing it at the behest of a secret cabal of evil elites, which has already seized control of the mainstream media. His followers are now protected against simple exposure to contrary evidence. In fact, the more they find that the mainstream media calls out Limbaugh for inaccuracy, the more Limbaugh’s predictions will be confirmed. Perversely, exposure to outsiders with contrary views can thus increase echo-chamber members’ confidence in their insider sources, and hence their attachment to their worldview. The philosopher Endre Begby calls this effect ‘evidential pre-emption’. What’s happening is a kind of intellectual judo, in which the power and enthusiasm of contrary voices are turned against those contrary voices through a carefully rigged internal structure of belief.

One might be tempted to think that the solution is just more intellectual autonomy. Echo chambers arise because we trust others too much, so the solution is to start thinking for ourselves. But that kind of radical intellectual autonomy is a pipe dream. If the philosophical study of knowledge has taught us anything in the past half-century, it is that we are irredeemably dependent on each other in almost every domain of knowledge. Think about how we trust others in every aspect of our daily lives. Driving a car depends on trusting the work of engineers and mechanics; taking medicine depends on trusting the decisions of doctors, chemists and biologists. Even the experts depend on vast networks of other experts. A climate scientist analysing core samples depends on the lab technician who runs the air-extraction machine, the engineers who made all those machines, the statisticians who developed the underlying methodology, and on and on.

As Elijah Millgram argues in The Great Endarkenment (2015), modern knowledge depends on trusting long chains of experts. And no single person is in the position to check up on the reliability of every member of that chain. Ask yourself: could you tell a good statistician from an incompetent one? A good biologist from a bad one? A good nuclear engineer, or radiologist, or macro-economist, from a bad one? Any particular reader might, of course, be able to answer positively to one or two such questions, but nobody can really assess such a long chain for herself. Instead, we depend on a vastly complicated social structure of trust. We must trust each other, but, as the philosopher Annette Baier says, that trust makes us vulnerable. Echo chambers operate as a kind of social parasite on that vulnerability, taking advantage of our epistemic condition and social dependency.

Most of the examples I’ve given so far, following Jamieson and Cappella, focus on the conservative media echo chamber. But nothing says that this is the only echo chamber out there; I am quite confident that there are plenty of echo chambers on the political Left. More importantly, nothing about echo chambers restricts them to the arena of politics. The world of anti-vaccination is clearly an echo chamber, and it is one that crosses political lines. I’ve also encountered echo chambers on topics as broad as diet (Paleo!), exercise technique (CrossFit!), breastfeeding, some academic intellectual traditions, and many, many more. Here’s a basic check: does a community’s belief system actively undermine the trustworthiness of any outsiders who don’t subscribe to its central dogmas? Then it’s probably an echo chamber.

Unfortunately, much of the recent analysis has lumped epistemic bubbles together with echo chambers into a single, unified phenomenon. But it is absolutely crucial to distinguish between the two. Epistemic bubbles are rather ramshackle; they go up easily, and they collapse easily, too. Echo chambers are far more pernicious and far more robust. They can start to seem almost like living things. Their belief systems provide structural integrity, resilience and active responses to outside attacks. Surely a community can be both at once, but the two phenomena can also exist independently. And of the events we’re most worried about, it’s the echo-chamber effects that are really causing most of the trouble.

Jamieson and Cappella’s analysis is mostly forgotten these days, the term hijacked as just another synonym for filter bubbles. Many of the most prominent thinkers focus solely on bubble-type effects. Sunstein’s prominent treatments, for example, diagnose political polarisation and religious radicalisation almost exclusively in terms of bad exposure and bad connectivity. His recommendation, in #Republic: create more public forums for discourse where we’ll all run into contrary views more often. But if what we’re dealing with is primarily an echo chamber, then that effort will be useless at best, and might even strengthen the echo chamber’s grip.

There’s also been a rash of articles recently arguing that there’s no such thing as echo chambers or filter bubbles. But these articles also lump the two phenomena together in a problematic way, and seem to largely ignore the possibility of echo-chamber effects. They focus, instead, solely on measuring connectivity and exposure on social media networks. The new data does, in fact, seem to show that people on Facebook actually do see posts from the other side, or that people often visit websites with opposite political affiliation. If that’s right, then epistemic bubbles might not be such a serious threat. But none of this weighs against the existence of echo chambers. We should not dismiss the threat of echo chambers based only on evidence about connectivity and exposure.

Crucially, echo chambers can offer a useful explanation of the current informational crisis in a way that epistemic bubbles cannot. Many people have claimed that we have entered an era of ‘post-truth’. Not only do some political figures seem to speak with a blatant disregard for the facts, but their supporters seem utterly unswayed by evidence. It seems, to some, that truth no longer matters.

This is an explanation in terms of total irrationality. To accept it, you must believe that a great number of people have lost all interest in evidence or investigation, and have fallen away from the ways of reason. The phenomenon of echo chambers offers a less damning and far more modest explanation. The apparent ‘post-truth’ attitude can be explained as the result of the manipulations of trust wrought by echo chambers. We don’t have to attribute a complete disinterest in facts, evidence or reason to explain the post-truth attitude. We simply have to attribute to certain communities a vastly divergent set of trusted authorities.

Members of an echo chamber are not irrational but misinformed about where to place their trust

Listen to what it actually sounds like when people reject the plain facts – it doesn’t sound like brute irrationality. One side points out a piece of economic data; the other side rejects that data by rejecting its source. They think that newspaper is biased, or the academic elites generating the data are corrupt. An echo chamber doesn’t destroy their members’ interest in the truth; it merely manipulates whom they trust and changes whom they accept as trustworthy sources and institutions.

And, in many ways, echo-chamber members are following reasonable and rational procedures of enquiry. They’re engaging in critical reasoning. They’re questioning, they’re evaluating sources for themselves, they’re assessing different pathways to information. They are critically examining those who claim expertise and trustworthiness, using what they already know about the world. It’s simply that their basis for evaluation – their background beliefs about whom to trust – are radically different. They are not irrational, but systematically misinformed about where to place their trust.

Notice how different what’s going on here is from, say, Orwellian doublespeak, a deliberately ambiguous, euphemism-filled language designed to hide the intent of the speaker. Doublespeak involves no interest in clarity, coherence or truth. It is, according to George Orwell, the language of useless bureaucrats and politicians, trying to go through the motions of speech without actually committing themselves to any real substantive claims. But echo chambers don’t trade in vague, ambiguous pseudo-speech. We should expect that echo chambers would deliver crisp, clear, unambiguous claims about who is trustworthy and who is not. And this, according to Jamieson and Cappella, is exactly what we find in echo chambers: clearly articulated conspiracy theories, and crisply worded accusations of an outside world rife with untrustworthiness and corruption.

Once an echo chamber starts to grip a person, its mechanisms will reinforce themselves. In an epistemically healthy life, the variety of our informational sources will put an upper limit to how much we’re willing to trust any single person. Everybody’s fallible; a healthy informational network tends to discover people’s mistakes and point them out. This puts an upper ceiling on how much you can trust even your most beloved leader. But inside an echo chamber, that upper ceiling disappears.

Being caught in an echo chamber is not always the result of laziness or bad faith. Imagine, for instance, that somebody has been raised and educated entirely inside an echo chamber. That child has been taught the beliefs of the echo chamber, taught to trust the TV channels and websites that reinforce those same beliefs. It must be reasonable for a child to trust in those that raise her. So, when the child finally comes into contact with the larger world – say, as a teenager – the echo chamber’s worldview is firmly in place. That teenager will distrust all sources outside her echo chamber, and she will have gotten there by following normal procedures for trust and learning.

It certainly seems like our teenager is behaving reasonably. She could be going about her intellectual life in perfectly good faith. She might be intellectually voracious, seeking out new sources, investigating them, and evaluating them using what she already knows. She is not blindly trusting; she is proactively evaluating the credibility of other sources, using her own body of background beliefs. The worry is that she’s intellectually trapped. Her earnest attempts at intellectual investigation are led astray by her upbringing and the social structure in which she is embedded.

For those who have not been raised within an echo chamber, perhaps it would take some significant intellectual vice to enter into one – perhaps intellectual laziness or a preference for security over truth. But even then, once the echo chamber’s belief system is in place, their future behaviour could be reasonable and they would still continue to be trapped. Echo chambers might function like addiction, under certain accounts. It might be irrational to become addicted, but all it takes is a momentary lapse – once you’re addicted, your internal landscape is sufficiently rearranged such that it’s rational to continue with your addiction. Similarly, all it takes to enter an echo chamber is a momentary lapse of intellectual vigilance. Once you’re in, the echo chamber’s belief systems function as a trap, making future acts of intellectual vigilance only reinforce the echo chamber’s worldview.

There is at least one possible escape route, however. Notice that the logic of the echo chamber depends on the order in which we encounter the evidence. An echo chamber can bring our teenager to discredit outside beliefs precisely because she encountered the echo chamber’s claims first. Imagine a counterpart to our teenager who was raised outside of the echo chamber and exposed to a wide range of beliefs. Our free-range counterpart would, when she encounters that same echo chamber, likely see its many flaws. In the end, both teenagers might eventually become exposed to all the same evidence and arguments. But they arrive at entirely different conclusions because of the order in which they received that evidence. Since our echo-chambered teenager encountered the echo chamber’s beliefs first, those beliefs will inform how she interprets all future evidence.

But something seems very suspicious about all this. Why should order matter so much? The philosopher Thomas Kelly argues that it shouldn’t, precisely because it would make this radical polarisation rationally inevitable. Here is the real source of irrationality in lifelong echo-chamber members – and it turns out to be incredibly subtle. Those caught in an echo chamber are giving far too much weight to the evidence they encounter first, just because it’s first. Rationally, they should reconsider their beliefs without that arbitrary preference. But how does one enforce such informational a-historicity?

Think about our echo-chambered teenager. Every part of her belief system is tuned to reject the contrary testimony of outsiders. She has a reason, on each encounter, to dismiss any incoming contrary evidence. What’s more, if she decided to suspend any one of her particular beliefs and reconsider it on its own, then all her background beliefs would likely just reinstate the problematic belief. Our teenager would have to do something much more radical than simply reconsidering her beliefs one by one. She’d have to suspend all her beliefs at once, and restart the knowledge-gathering process, treating all sources as equally trustworthy. This is a massive undertaking; it is, perhaps, more than we could reasonably expect of anybody. It might also, to the philosophically inclined, sound awfully familiar. The escape route is a modified version of René Descartes’s infamous method.

Descartes suggested that we imagine an evil demon that was deceiving us about everything. He explains the meaning behind the methodology in the opening lines of the Meditations on First Philosophy (1641). He had come to realise that many of the beliefs he had acquired in his early life were false. But early beliefs lead to all sorts of other beliefs, and any early falsehoods he’d accepted had surely infected the rest of his belief system. He was worried that, if he discarded any one particular belief, the infection contained in the rest of his beliefs would simply reinstate more bad beliefs. The only solution, thought Descartes, was to throw all his beliefs away and start over again from scratch.

So the evil demon was just a bit of a heuristic – a thought experiment that would help him throw away all his beliefs. He could start over, trusting nothing and no one except those things that he could be entirely certain of, and stamping out those sneaky falsehoods once and for all. Let’s call this the Cartesian epistemic reboot. Notice how close Descartes’s problem is to our hapless teenager’s, and how useful the solution might be. Our teenager, like Descartes, has problematic beliefs acquired in early childhood. These beliefs have infected outwards, infesting that teenager’s whole belief system. Our teenager, too, needs to throw everything away, and start over again.

Groomed from childhood to be a neo-Nazi leader, he left the movement by performing a social reboot

Descartes’s method has since been abandoned by most contemporary philosophers, since in fact we can’t start from nothing: we have to start by assuming something and trusting somebody. But for us the useful part is the reboot itself, where we throw everything away and start all over again. The problematic part happens afterwards, when we re-adopt only those beliefs that we are entirely certain of, while proceeding solely by independent and solitary reasoning.

Let’s call the modernised version of Descartes’s methodology the social-epistemic reboot. In order to undo the effects of an echo chamber, the member should temporarily suspend all her beliefs – in particular whom and what she trusts – and start over again from scratch. But when she starts from scratch, we won’t demand that she trust only what she’s absolutely certain of, nor will we demand that she go it alone. For the social reboot, she can proceed, after throwing everything away, in an utterly mundane way – trusting her senses, trusting others. But she must begin afresh socially – she must reconsider all possible sources of information with a presumptively equanimous eye. She must take the posture of a cognitive newborn, open and equally trusting to all outside sources. In a sense, she’s been here before. In the social reboot, we’re not asking people to change their basic methods for learning about the world. They are permitted to trust, and trust freely. But after the social reboot, that trust will not be narrowly confined and deeply conditioned by the particular people they happened to be raised by.

The social reboot might seem rather fantastic, but it is not so unrealistic. Such a profound deep-cleanse of one’s whole belief system seems to be what’s actually required to escape. Look at the many stories of people leaving cults and echo chambers. Take, for example, the story of Derek Black in Florida – raised by a neo-Nazi father, and groomed from childhood to be a neo-Nazi leader. Black left the movement by, basically, performing a social reboot. He completely abandoned everything he’d believed in, and spent years building a new belief system from scratch. He immersed himself broadly and open-mindedly in everything he’d missed – pop culture, Arabic literature, the mainstream media, rap – all with an overall attitude of generosity and trust. It was the project of years and a major act of self-reconstruction, but those extraordinary lengths might just be what’s actually required to undo the effects of an echo-chambered upbringing.

Is there anything we can do, then, to help an echo-chamber member to reboot? We’ve already discovered that direct assault tactics – bombarding the echo-chamber member with ‘evidence’ – won’t work. Echo-chamber members are not only protected from such attacks, but their belief systems will judo such attacks into further reinforcement of the echo chamber’s worldview. Instead, we need to attack the root, the systems of discredit themselves, and restore trust in some outside voices.

Stories of actual escapes from echo chambers often turn on particular encounters – moments when the echo-chambered individual starts to trust somebody on the outside. Black’s is case in point. By high school, he was already something of a star on neo-Nazi media, with his own radio talk-show. He went on to college, openly neo-Nazi, and was shunned by almost every other student in his community college. But then Matthew Stevenson, a Jewish fellow undergraduate, started inviting Black to Stevenson’s Shabbat dinners. In Black’s telling, Stevenson was unfailingly kind, open and generous, and slowly earned Black’s trust. This was the seed, says Black, that led to a massive intellectual upheaval – a slow-dawning realisation of the depths to which he had been misled. Black went through a years-long personal transformation, and is now an anti-Nazi spokesperson. Similarly, accounts of people leaving echo-chambered homophobia rarely involve them encountering some institutionally reported fact. Rather, they tend to revolve around personal encounters – a child, a family member, a close friend coming out. These encounters matter because a personal connection comes with a substantial store of trust.

Why is trust so important? Baier suggests one key facet: trust is unified. We don’t simply trust people as educated experts in a field – we rely on their goodwill. And this is why trust, rather than mere reliability, is the key concept. Reliability can be domain-specific. The fact, for example, that somebody is a reliable mechanic sheds no light on whether or not their political or economic beliefs are worth anything. But goodwill is a general feature of a person’s character. If I demonstrate goodwill in action, then you have some reason to think that I also have goodwill in matters of thought and knowledge. So if one can demonstrate goodwill to an echo-chambered member – as Stevenson did with Black – then perhaps one can start to pierce that echo chamber.

Such interventions from trusted outsiders can hook up with the social reboot. But the path I’m describing is a winding, narrow and fragile one. There is no guarantee that such trust can be established, and no clear path to its being established systematically. And even given all that, what we’ve found here isn’t an escape route at all. It depends on the intervention of another. This path is not even one an echo-chamber member can trigger on her own; it is only a whisper-thin hope for rescue from the outside.