The Outlaw Spirit: Giordano Bruno

By coincidence, an article by Brian Logan appeared this morning in The Guardian newspaper that very much illustrates what I wrote about yesterday in “The Outlaw Spirit” in connection with Francis Bacon’s fateful question whether science or magic (that is, Natural Philosophy or Hermetic Philosophy) were best for the mind’s mastery of its circumstances. The end result, after four centuries, has been that “scientia” is now equated with “rationalism” (therefore “realist” and truthful) and “magic” trivialised as illusionism and trickery.

It’s an example of how language, definition, and meaning fell as spoils to the victors in the contests and agonies of the early Modern period and the Late Middle Ages — the transitional age.  Rationalism has merely constructed its own sacrosanct dogmas and heresies and self-justifying mythologies on the model of its theocratic predecessor. These are now, as then, the conventional wisdom and the prevailing “common sense” — even the measure of sanity. But Mr. Logan’s representation of the issue has next to nothing to do with how even Sir Francis Bacon understood the question of “science or magic” for forming the philosophical foundations of his New Age — his “New Atlantis”.

This may also be a good thing, paradoxically.

By way of illustrating the falsification and even suppression of the historical record I want to summon the spectre of Giordano Bruno (1548 – 1600), today deemed a “martyr of science” for his trial and execution by the Inquisition for holding heretical views. That Bruno was definitely a “Free Thinker” is not in dispute. But today’s rationalists do wrong to appropriate Bruno as a persecuted precedent for themselves and an authority for their own traditions, for he belonged to that very “magical” mode of consciousness that was rejected by Bacon and by the heirs of Bacon and Descartes and which was subsequently suppressed by them as “occult” or “mystical”.  Bruno was an outlaw spirit — an embodied contradiction — to the authorities of both the Age of Faith and the Age of Reason.

Giordano Bruno first came to my attention in reading a brief mention of him in an essay on the history and philosophy of science. The author of that essay provided a summary of Bruno’s method — “to know the thing, you must become the thing you want to know”.

Monument to Giordano Bruno on his place of execution

Monument to Giordano Bruno on his place of execution

Only later did the full import of that “method” of cognition and perception occur to me. It is the essence of empathy, of course, and so I have come to call it “empathetic epistemics” — a way of knowing through empathic identification. This is the basis of the teaching of the affinities or what is also referred to as “coincidentia oppositorum” or “conjunctio oppositorum” which is the core teaching of all Hermetic Philosophy — coincidence of opposites or conjunction of contraries. What that means is that the part and the whole share an essential identity or “affinity”. This affinity in latter days came to be called participation mystique.

The precedent for that is Heraclitus, who taught coincidence of opposites also. Heraclitus was also an “outlaw spirit” in the context of early Greek rationalism, so much so that he was called “Heraclitus the Dark” or “Heraclitus the Obscure”.

The doctrine of affinities or “coincidentia oppositorum” is the basis of the magical structure of consciousness and of shamanism, a way of knowing through empathic identification. That is the meaning of this particular cave drawing of a shaman that I retrieved from the book Space, Time and Medicine.



The doctrine of the affinities or “coincidentia oppositorum” was also taught by Nicholas of Cusa (called Cusanus) who lived from 1401 to 1464, and who is also a somewhat familiar name in the history of philosophy. His De Docta Ignorantia (“On Learned Ignorance”) lays out the teaching of the affinities and the coincidence of opposites, and is still available in translation online. The core of the teaching of the affinities or coincidence of opposites is contained in the saying that “God is a circle whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere”, or the identity of the part and the whole which makes knowledge of the whole by the part possible at all.

This is the shape of “magical consciousness”, and that is what Bacon was referring to in his opposition of science and magic. By “science” (or the experimental philosophy) he meant “objective knowledge” — knowledge of the phenomena gained by experiment and observation. By “magic” he meant knowledge of essences attained by immediate insight through empathetic identification (which has now come to be called “mysticism”). Empathetic epistemics, or teaching of the affinities, is the same “mystical” mode of cognition and perception that we find in Rumi’s poem “Say I am You”

I am dust particles in sunlight.
I am the round sun.

To the bits of dust I say, Stay.
To the sun, Keep moving.

I am morning mist,
and the breathing of evening.
I am wind in the top of a grove,
and surf on the cliff.

Mast, rudder, helmsman, and keel,
I am also the coral reef they founder on.

I am a tree with a trained parrot in its branches.
Silence, thought, and voice.

The musical air coming through a flute,
a spark of stone, a flickering in metal.
Both candle and the moth crazy around it.
Rose, and the nightingale lost in the fragrance.

I am all orders of being, the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence, the lift, and the falling away.

What is, and what isn’t.

You who know, Jelaluddin,
You the one in all, say who I am.
Say I am you.

This is knowledge of essences, or what I call “empathetic epistemics” — realised identity of the part and the whole. In principle it is the same mode of perception and cognition that Giordano Bruno promoted as true and essential knowledge — to know the thing, you must become the thing you want to know.

This is what William Blake also taught in his poetry: “Eternity in love with the productions of time” or “Heaven in a Wild Flower and Eternity in the hour”, “the universe in a grain of sand” are statements of coincidentia oppositorum and of the affinities. What Blake means by “Imagination” or “Vision” is direct knowledge of essences through empathetic epistemics, or what today is weakly called “intuition” (weakly because suppressed and undeveloped).

This is basis of one of the charges of heresy brought against Bruno by the Inquisition — that he taught an heretical doctrine of “metempsychosis” or “transmigration of souls” or “supernatural magic”. Metempsychosis is really another name for what we call “shamanism”, magical consciousness or “empathetic epistemics”. Giordano Bruno resembles, in that sense, the Sufi poet and martyr Mansur al-Hallaj (858 – 922 A.D.), tortured and executed for blasphemy after running through the streets shouting “I am Truth!” Before his execution, al-Hallaj reputedly penned these lines…

Now stands no more between Truth and me
Or reasoned demonstration,
Or proof of revelation;
Now, brightly blazing full, Truth’s lumination
Each flickering, lesser light.

We may say that this verse expresses completely “coincidence of opposites”, the perfectly realised identity of part and whole, and therefore the most intimate, most complete form of knowledge itself.

Given this, it is quite false of our contemporary rationalists to claim Giordano Bruno as “a martyr to science” and the Free Thinker. He was that, of course, but not in the way they understand it, because his “method” is the complete contrary of the objective attitude of “disinterested inquiry” that is considered the only valid truth. Bruno’s method of what we might call “active imagination” was even completely rejected by the leading scientists of his time — Galileo and Kepler.

The word “occult”, as previously noted, only dates from this time also, and came to mean illicit or “unreal” knowledge not gained by observation or “disinterestedness” — “seeing is believing”. Bruno’s method of empathetic knowing — as was the method of the Hermeticists generally and Blake also — is the exact contrary of this “objective attitude”. So, for contemporary rationalists to claim Bruno as a precedent for themselves is completely fraudulent. He is as much their contradiction as he was a heretic to the theocrats.

Knowledge of both inner and outer aspects are both necessary for complete knowledge — identification and differentiation are the rhythm of full consciousness, and both are valid. We have, unfortunately, cut ourselves off from knowledge of inner worlds by our amputation of the power of empathy or “intuition”, and the result is, today, the “culture of narcissism” and the degeneracy of reason as revenge effect and perverse outcome.

But, we also have Carl Jung to thank also, in part, for setting the record straight on the meaning of “alchemy” or “magic” as empathetic epistemics, and which is becoming more and more acceptable as a valid way of knowing, even in the form of quantum non-locality, “synchronicity”,  and the holographic universe. That is the reason for the “strange friendship” of Carl Jung and the quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli explored by Arthur I. Miller in Deciphering the Cosmic Number.

The suppressed Hermeticists and their doctrine of affinities and coincidentia oppositorum may yet have the last laugh on “the Age of Reason”.



11 responses to “The Outlaw Spirit: Giordano Bruno”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    Mystical convergence,Bruno meets Al_Hallaj, and Blake meets Rumi and so also with the soul of all other sages of the world. Science and hermitic are of the same source ,why divide and discriminate. The oneness force its self again, the oneness that incorporates the opposites, the quran calls the one, the first and the last, the visible and the unseen, the knower of the seen and the unseen. The one that were there prior to the existence of anything, the light in which everything is planted The sufis talked about the 99 names of the divine, emphasizing the seven basic names, the alive , the knower, the willful, the effecter, the speaker, the generous and the just. It seems oneness is no longer can be concealed. How fast we are running into Him.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    I did a Google search this morning for the phrase “empathetic epistemics”, and although nothing specifically came up, some articles on epistemics and empathy did pop up. (eg, this abstract….)

    What I want to communicate by this phrase “empathetic epistemics” is intimate knowledge or immediated perception. That is, in some respects, the core meaning of “to know the thing, you must become the thing you want to know”.

    Now, it’s clear that this is the exact opposite approach of what is presently called “scientific method”, which is to gain as much psychic distance from the “thing” as possible — to actually “thingify” it completely. This is the “objective attitude” in a nutshell, and is equivalent with what Gebser calls “perspectivising consciousness” — the ego-it relationship or “point-of-view-line-of-thought” mode of cognition and perception. It is mediated knowledge, gained via the physical senses only — by observance, even the prefix “ob-” or “op-” signifying to “stand apart” or “stand off” — distanciation or an ab-sensing.

    There’s nothing particular wrong with the objective attitude except when it becomes exclusive, which is what perspectivising consciousness does. It locks perception into a narrow and rigid “point-of-view”.

    It’s pretty clear, I think, that had the Hermetic philosophy not been suppressed (the basis of which is empathetic epistemics in the principle of “coincidence of opposites”) the evolution of the Modern Era — and the shape of modern consciousness, society, and democracy — would have been quite different.

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    There are so many gems in this essay that I am sure every time I read it I will learn something new.

    ““to know the thing, you must become the thing you want to know”. – Giordano Bruno

    This “empathetic epistemics” way of knowing seems to be part of some martial arts traditions, too.

    “The further we go back into history, the more we see personality disappearing beneath the wrappings of collectivity. And if we go right back to primitive psychology, we find absolutely no trace of the concept of an individual. Instead of individuality we find only collective relationship or what Lévy-Bruhl calls participation mystique (Jung, [1921] 1971: par. 12).”

    Would you believe that I was beginning to have a vague intuition about this only a few days ago? I had this intuition – a sudden thought or idea of sorts – that when you have genuine empathy – especially when you are a born empathizer – then throughout your life you are bound to attract and experience all the true and underlying joys and grief that your environment experiences. It’s quite remarkable. When you empathize as a matter of genuine proclivity and disposition, the underlying spirit of the environment surrounding you begins to seep into you. Empathizing, in other words, is quite informative.

    I remember the time when I had little possessions but those were some of the most joyous times I have experienced in my life. And I recall that in those times I lived where people were genuinely experiencing joy. This is becoming apparent to me now, but at the time I was oblivious about this informative connection between the spirit of the empathizer and the environment.

    Empathy as a way of knowing is real. Empathetic epistemics is real. And what you said of Bacon’s meaning of magic is worth repeating: “By “magic” he meant knowledge of essences attained by immediate insight through empathetic identification (which has now come to be called “mysticism”). ”

    I love the “prehistoric drawing of a medicine man.” Despite the elementary appearance of the drawing, it is quite meaningful.

    Thank you for link to the PDF of “Space, time, and medicine.”

    Heaven knows I need to heed Mansur’s advice to “Be courageous and discipline yourself.” 🙂

    • Scott Preston says :

      By chance, there was an article in this morning’s Guardian about “empathetic” architecture, or designing cities to be “open, democratic, and empathetic”.

      I’m not sure whether this empathetic architecture is connected with what I mean by “empathetic epistemics” or not. But the contrast between this and the usual “rational” approach to “designing out crime” (as the author notes) couldn’t be more pronounced. Beneath these two approaches to architecture and urban design there are deep philosophical differences. That’s the thing that interests me in that article.

      I think here in these contrasting approaches, we are touching upon what is the essential problem of Late Modernity — two very different understandings of democracy. The “CCTV” and gated community approach (the “common sense”) identifies democracy with self-interest, while this other approach identifies the open and democratic with the empathetic. In other words, the philosophical difference underlying these two different approaches is the emphasis on the “part” or on the “whole”.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        Crime in Denmark certainly consists of much more subdued illegal activities than here in the U.S. 🙂 Those types of crimes are usually committed by juvenile delinquents here (e.g. vandalism in the form of graffiti, doing drugs and glue sniffing, minor burglaries (as opposed to bank robberies here in the U.S. many of which don’t even get publicized), etc.). Danish crimes might be the result of boredom 🙂

        In the U.S., however, more than half the crimes committed are committed by the mentally ill. Alcohol and drugs are other major factors which act to compound the effects of other factors; that is, like the crimes that are committed by teenagers who come from broken homes, poverty, prevalence of guns, etc. Given these sorts of roots, empathetic architecture wouldn’t do much to “design out crime.” I would imagine “empathetic architecture” isn’t cheap either.

        But “empathetic epistemics” – as I understand them – are quite different.

        In those two words, you have pretty much summed up what Victor Hugo addressed in his masterpiece: “Les Miserable.” Empathetic epistemics are both informative and transformative and they are one example of how the synergy between attention and intention works. While empathetic architecture may be costly, empathetic epistemics should cost little or nothing – except dedication of some time to empathize.

        The “emphasis on the “part” or on the “whole” is a very good way of distinguishing genuine empathy from imitations of it. Genuine empathy acts to blur divisions.

        In my opinion, “empathetic epistemics,” when done wisely, can be an ultimate source to genuine happiness, too.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Jean Gebser thought that telepathy was in our future. And why not? We have already telephony and television, so why not telepathy too?

          But, after a little reflection it seems to me that “telepathy” is actually empathy, that is to say, a more perfected form of empathy. The difference lies in the prefix “tele-” or “em-“. Tele signifies “far” or “end” (in the sense of goal), while “em-” signifies “in” (as being “in love” or “in a marriage”.

          It’s ironic, in a sense, that science began to make “progress” when it abandoned teleological explanation (purpose, meaning, ends), but then invested this very “tele-” in technology — fit for purpose.

          I think that, perhaps, the translator probably hit upon “telepathy” as the proper English word to translate Gebser’s meaning. But he may have been wrong, Perhaps Gebser’s meaning was “empathy”, but I’m not sure what German word Gebser used as I don’t have a German copy of Ursprung und Gegenwart. I’ll have to try and look that up.

        • Scott Preston says :

          I might add to the foregoing… that, in a certain sense, we already employ, to a large degree, telepathy and empathy. These are aspects of the intuitive self, but which has been more or less forced into the background.

          When you read a book, what are you doing really? The book is a medium in which the author tries to share with you the contents of his consciousness, the mode of his perception, mediated by the printed word. To actually understand it, you have to really adopt his or her “point of view”. That is, you have to empathise with the author in order to understand his or her meaning. This is also true in conversation and dialogue. A good deal of listening is actually empathising.

          In proper listening and reading, you actually have to engage for a time in self-abandonment rather than self-indulgence. The real art of listening (or reading) is empathic. If “telepathy” actually works it is only because, even below telepathy (which implies bridging of separate spaces) is empathy (the essential unity of things and beings as being “in-“).

          It is said, for example, that real learning is only becoming conscious of things that we already know but have forgotten that we know. Thus the biggest shock for Castaneda was not finally “seeing energy as it flows in the universe” directly, but his realising that he had always seen it this way, ie, his intuitive self had always known it and perceived the truth. It was his egoic self == the narcissistic self — that censored or manipulated or translated or interpreted the flux of light energy into fixity and solidity and sensual data and form. It imposed an architecture or structure on that flux of energy. That was the real shocker for him more than the actual accomplishment of seeing.

          • LittleBigMan says :

            This “tele-” versus “emp-” comparison is insightful. Telepathy seems to have been what Robert Monroe experienced while having Out-Of-Body-Experiences (OOBE).

            He mentioned how, while moving about in his Second Body, exchanging of emotions and thoughts were quite unhampered, uncorrupted, and even unpreventable. Based on his experiences I gather that telepathy – is – a major mode of communication between second bodies. On the other hand, empathy seems to aspire to achieve the same sort of communication while one is contained in the physical body. As sensations seem to take the backseat in the realm of the second body, telepathy seems to take the backseat in the physical realm – so it seems to me.

            I completely agree that “we already employ, to a large degree, telepathy and empathy.,” but we usually categorize the experience with expressions (e.g. “gut feeling,” “a hunch,” etc.) that are not, in my opinion, very revelatory of the essence of the entire phenomenon.

            “In proper listening and reading, you actually have to engage for a time in self-abandonment rather than self-indulgence.”

            This self-abandonment or quieting of my buzzing overcrowded thoughts is a major major reason I read autobiographies and sometimes fiction.

            I miss reading Castaneda……:)

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