I said, when reading Aldous Huxley back in 2007, that I was having trouble seeing the wood for the trees – what specific points Huxley was making – even though it was already a given that some kind of perennial philosophy is what we are dealing with in real life.

Since before then my approach is always to seek parallels and connections – to synthesise my own view of knowledge (meta-knowledge) – rather than to seek difference with a view to tribal attack and defense. It does mean I leave a lot of detail behind, to treat general ideas as givens in the context of ongoing future-directed efforts. I’m an engineer, not the kind of researcher who needs to publish formal academic papers.

One such “given” aspect of perennial philosophy is the idea that Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality (MoQ) is the framework on which I’m able to hang pretty much any new ideas I come across. Things that don’t appear to fit are either a matter of re-expression, or they are flawed in themselves – a kind of meta-cognitive-dissonance on a grand scale. It works for me.

I mentioned this last when I published “After The Fireworks” a couple of weeks ago on the 50th anniversary of Pirsig setting out on his Zen and the Art motorcycle trip. That 50th anniversary prompted quite a few reflective pieces by others, and David Matos very kindly shared my link on his ZMM Quality facebook page. I got a lot of hits as a result, which prompted renewed correspondence in several media, and one set of comment threads from Bruce Adam on several of my blog posts as well as on the “After The Fireworks” post.

I’ve dubbed myself PoPoMo – that is I don’t particularly want to argue about Post-Modernism any more than I do (say) Logical Positivism. I’ve moved on from any specific philosophy to following the Eternal Golden Braid that runs through them all, a ubiquitous perennialism.

There is an evolutionary framework from the physical to the psychological. Pretty much everything, no, literally everything (*)- from the banes of modern life, populist-politics and fake-news, to the most fundamental new physics – hangs on that framework. The most current professional philosophical take on this biological (gene-meme) philosophy metaphor is probably the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES) initiative.

[(*) BTW don’t confuse a truly universal metaphysical framework with the idea of a grand unified theory of physics. One exists, the other doesn’t. It’s possible to be universal in explanatory reach without being either fundamental or absolute.]

The remainder of this holding post is really just a collation of all the links and parallels that show how ubiquitous the perennial philosophy has been, provided in the comments from Bruce Adam.

Starting first with JBS Haldane because despite appreciating him and his work, I’ve never read him in the original or in biography. Particularly interesting now because in my role as a trustee, I’m involved in an on-line archiving project for the Rationalist (Press) Association / New Humanist going back over 100 years, and I’m pretty sure there is a lot of Haldane in there. [More later.]

This may help.
(Martin Goodman biog of JS Haldane – father of JBS)

And this . (Ronald Clark biog of JBS Haldane)

“[JBS]  was the cleverest man I ever knew. ” from Peter Medawar’s preface to Ronald Clark’s JBS biog.

Both fascinating biographies quite apart from any philosophical content.

[J S Haldane’s “Philosophy of a Biologist” is central to this.]

John Maynard Smith talking about Haldane:

And reading him at Eton:

(Many other good pieces in that Web of Stories btw.) And the Wikipedia page on JBS Haldane (not to be confused with his father JS Haldane) includes reference to Peter Medawar’s biography. (Already now on order.)

The opening remark in JBS Haldane’s “Possible Worlds”.

“It is not clear that professionalism is any more desirable in philosophy than in football or religion.”

Is indeed up there with Pirsig’s own disparaging “philosophology” take on professional philosophy. That recurring irony in my original “After The Fireworks” post.

The Huxley / Haldane relationship I’d never spotted before.

WK Clifford is largely new to me but also fascinating.

Here in his essays you’ll find his “Tribal Self” morality , his famous “Ethics of Belief” (which gives takes such a hard-pragmatic stance that William James was inspired to write his defence of Fideism “The Will to Believe”)

I recommend “On the Nature of Things in Themselves” Page 52.

The “tribal” nature of so much (low quality) discourse is indeed a core issue for us all. (The so-called “intellectual dark web” is one response to this.)

Parallels between Maslow and Pirsig in hierarchical evolutionary views of humanity I have previously noted. (Update here.)

And Doug Hofstadter on how so much mental evolution depends on slipping by analogy.

Schroedinger’s “What is Life” has already been influential to me.

And the Heisenberg / Northrop / Pirsig connections.

[Lots more to follow-up here and links to add.
For now let’s just end with this:]

Fundamental (sub-quantum) physics / metaphysics interface is a recurring interest here – especially those physicists that see the philosophical and epistemological difficulties they’re dealing with. (eg Rovelli and Verlinde much referenced here recently. I hold a particular information flow view of fundamental physics.)


“QBism would say, it’s not that the world is built up from stuff on “the outside” as the Greeks would have had it. Nor is it built up from stuff on “the inside” as the idealists, like George Berkeley and Eddington, would have it. Rather, the stuff of the world is in the character of what each of us encounters every living moment — stuff that is neither inside nor outside, but prior to the very notion of a cut between the two at all.”

This is a misreading of Eddington who actually champions WK Clifford’s “Mind-Stuff” in his Gifford Lecture.

Here’s an overview and defence.

Mind-stuff, in my book is the fundamental information I speak of. QBism is however new to me. I have some issues with interpretations of Bayesian ideas, same as any uses of statistical probabilities in complex situations where underlying models are presumed too simply. (eg Taleb’s work)

And a good deal more. Thanks Bruce!

Also published on Medium.

7 thoughts on “Perennialism”

  1. Some background to the term “Perennial Philosophy” from the perspective of a distinguished theistic , Islamic academic . Lest we leave ourselves open to charges of “cherry-picking”.
    It may also help in distinguishing some aspects of modern “Perennialism” from the New-Age snake-oil industry.

    I personally enjoy the writings of Ansari of Heart , Rumi , and other Sufis but I avoid Islam and Abrahamic religion in general and I regard theism as a vice , or a vicious form of conceptualising religious experience. Nasr has a broad enough view that his own theism appears in context and can comprehended from an atheistic stance within perennialism.

  2. That prompts me to quote JBS Haldane , an outspoken atheist, from his essay linked above “Science and Theology as Art Forms.”

    “Perhaps a summary of the ideal relationship of religion and science would be somewhat as follows:—Religion is a way of life and an attitude to the universe. It brings men into closer touch with the inner nature of reality. Statements of fact made in its name are untrue in detail, but often contain some truth at their core. Science is also a way of life and an attitude to the universe. It is concerned with everything but the nature of reality. Statements of fact made in its name are generally right in detail, but can only reveal the form, and not the real nature, of existence. The wise man regulates his conduct by the theories both of religion and science. But he regards these theories not as statements of ultimate fact but as art forms.”

    Classic and romantic in a nutshell.


  3. “Javidan Khirad” – Yes, always acknowledge that the eternal golden braid runs through Islamic philosophical culture too – but again this is simply more evolution, where exactly who claims to have invented what matters only in so far as understanding the processes involved, but not the specific value of reality now. All “species” are hindsight.

  4. The concept of perennialism runs counter to thoughts of priority. That’s not my focus.
    As Pirsig said ” It’s perennial because it’s right.” Not because it’s easily paraphrased.

    Hope springs eternal and so does “Thou art That”.

    All (static) knowledge is hindsight too.

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