Why Read What Isn’t True?


In researching this book, I have amassed quite a miscellaneum of the occult. I am continually surprised by the depth and complexity of thought.

I suppose because we have since decided that it is wrong, in that it maps poorly to the natural world, people today, even educated ones who should know better, seem naturally to adopt the chauvinistic stance and infantilize the occult, as if it were a pidgin of thought, despite that it was the object of the greatest minds of its era, including those responsible for its overthrow, like Isaac Newton, who was obsessed in his later years with alchemy and Biblical numerology.

In the book, I am not attempting a ‘rescue.’ I’m not sure there’s anything that needs rescuing. However, studying discarded images of the world is, I believe, still the best way to reveal the frailties of our own.

For example, most people in the West are familiar with the basic Aristotelian dilemma: true or not true. In the early centuries of our era, the Indian philosopher, mathematician, and mystic Nagarjuna proposed the tetralemma: that any proposition can be true, not true, neither true nor not true, both true and not true.

One expects that if physicists had been operating in that tradition, the discoveries of quantum mechanics would have come as less of a shock.

But even beside its scientific application, there is a certain wisdom in it, not least the admission that there are things that are neither true nor not true, such as my enjoyment of a movie, and that therefore arguing about them is stupid. Some men are slaves to the dilemma and can think of the world no other way.

It seems to me this is why we read, even things that aren’t true — those of us that read, anyway. Because one can memorize the encyclopedia and still be a fool.

There are approximately 23 copies of the Ripley Scroll in existence. The scrolls range in size, color, and detail but are all variations on a lost 15th century original. Although they are named after George Ripley, there is no evidence that Ripley designed the scrolls himself. They are called Ripley scrolls because some of them include poetry associated with the alchemist. The scrolls’ images are symbolic references to the philosopher’s stone. [Wikipedia]