The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fuller at UMass

Buckyheads Unite!

Recently I came upon an old paperback copy of a Trancendental Meditation book that spent 26 weeks on the bestseller lists back in the 1970's.

Reading it I was not greatly impressed. I mean I believe in the virtues of just sitting sometimes and clearing your mind in order to eliminate unproductive mind loops and regenerate your thought processes, but I don't believe you have to pay to take some kind of course in order to do it, as this book insists. Besides, wasn't the founder of the TM movement The Marhareshi Mahesh Yogi involved in some kind of scandal involving the Beatles and other celebrities?

According to the Wikipedia:

The Beatles met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in August 1967, studying with him in Bangor, Wales, and in early 1968 attended a TM teacher-training course in Rishikesh, India. (Much of their "White Album" was written during their stay in Rishikesh.) While Starr and McCartney left the Maharishi's camp for personal reasons, Lennon and Harrison departed after hearing a story that he had made sexual advances on Mia Farrow or other course participants. John Lennon wrote the song "Sexy Sadie" ("what have you done? You made a fool of everyone") as he was leaving, the lyrics referring to the Maharishi.

Alex Mardas had relayed the story to John and George, who felt betrayed by the Maharishi. John Lennon would never again see Maharishi in person, but would phone him years later to apologize for his youthful mishap of publicly accusing Maharishi of improprieties—accusations that had nothing to do with Maharishi, but, seemingly, everything to do with John’s personal temperament (it was "an error in judgment," Lennon later commented). Cynthia Lennon believed that Mardas invented a story about sexual impropriety to undermine the Maharishi's influence on the Beatles.

George Harrison, years later, commented on the contretemps, saying, "Now, historically, there's the story that something went on that shouldn't have done—but nothing did." Paul McCartney, in his biography, likewise says that he does not believe the allegations and also attributes them to Mardas. Farrow's autobiography is ambiguous about the incident: she describes "panicking" and fleeing after the Maharishi put his arms around her in a dark cave, immediately after a private meditation session, and that "at my level of consciousness, if Jesus Christ Himself had embraced me, I would have misinterpreted it."

After the Maharishi's death on February 5, 2008, Sir Paul McCartney released a statement saying, "Whilst I am deeply saddened by his passing, my memories of him will only be joyful ones. He was a great man who worked tirelessly for the people of the world...." Ringo Starr released a statement saying, "One of the wise men I met in my life was the Maharishi. I always was impressed by his joy and I truly believe he knows where he is going."

So apparently it was a bum rap. Still, I don't need a Maharishi to tell me to sit quietly and rest my mind, so on that level the book didn't really impress me. However, I was impressed by who wrote the book's introduction - R. Buckminster Fuller, who is arguably the 20th century's most respected scientific mind after Albert Einstein.

What I found most interesting was that the book's introduction made mention of a conference held at the University of Massachusetts in which both the Maharishi and Dr. Fuller participated. Here's an excerpt from that introduction which makes mention of UMass:

On the occasion Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's general meeting at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst I had the gratifying experience of appearing on the platform with him as one of his invited guests. Maharishi and I engaged on the stage in a protracted dialogue. The basis for my part sprang from my own 1927 discovery and private employment of self-disciplines analogous to Maharishi's meditation. My development of these techniques sprang from my pre-1927 general awareness of Yoga and of the meditative preoccupations of various well-known East Indian cases of individuals who have practiced it in depth.

I felt that all the cases of meditation with which I was familiar as practiced by meditators in the Orient had been conducted exclusively for the meditating individual's own gratification. I thought this to be not only selfish but a short-circuited squandering of the high advantage gaining potentials of all humanity.

On the occasion of the 1972 Maharishi Amherst dialogue Maharishi reponded that early in his career he, too, had come to the same conclusion. He pointed out that he had been educated in physics and as a physicist was eager to turn his knowledge to greatest advantage to humanity.

Buckminster Fuller and the Mahareshi held a joint press conference at UMass the day after Dr. Fuller's speech. Here is an excerpt from the UMass press conference, with UMass Collegian reporters asking the questions. Interestingly, the video says the event happened in 1971, not 1972 as Fuller says in his written introduction.

Fuller never formally endorsed Trancendental Meditation, but did endorse meditation generally as a way of maintaining mental balance and coping with the stress of the high rate of change in modern life. Therefore he praised the Maharishi for helping to popularize the concepts of meditation in the Western world.

I recently came across my old 1977 copy of Buckminster Fuller's Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, originally written in 1969 and now long out of print. Not having read it in over twenty years, I found re-reading the book an interesting experience. Back when I was a student at the University of Massachusetts I was something of a Bucky Fuller freak, dating from the afternoon I accidentally met Dr. Fuller in the concourse of the Student Union. He was at a table with a bunch of his books and pamphlets on it, just standing there speaking to a group of students among the jewelry and clothes peddlars who routinely hawk their wares along the passageway between The Blue Wall and the Campus Store. The only difference was that Bucky, who was serving as scholar-in-residence at UMass that year, wasn't selling products, he was pushing design science revolution.

Fuller of course is best known as the creator of the Geodesic Dome, but he also had a hand in an incredibly wide range of other inventions, ideas and scientific and cultural activities. Originally regarded as a crackpot when he first appeared on the scientific scene in the 1930's, by the time I met him in the 70's he was an old man in his 80's who had been nominated for the Nobel Prize and was probably the most respected scientist alive at the time.

Listening to Bucky that day at UMass totally energized me to learn all I could about him and his ideas. I relied especially upon his book Synergetics: The Geometry of Thinking, which among other things attempted to explain the act of thinking and perceiving reality by relying upon mathematical relationships and geometric models. I even stole a notion from the Jesus freaks on campus, who used to memorize a bible verse everyday, only instead of the bible I would take a passage from Synergetics and spend odd moments throughout my day contemplating what that day's passage meant. I believe I benefited enormously from my period as a Buckyhead. The study of synergetics required the most rigorously logical kind of thinking, the discipline of which helped me to drift into the direction of embracing Ayn Rand and Objectivism's reliance on reason.

It also had a profound effect on my approach to politics. Bucky had no use for politics or politicians. He believed it was science, not politics, that really moved the world and that it was foolish to try to change people by preaching to them. "Change people's environment," he said, "and then they will change their behavior spontaneously." Why tell hungry people that it is wrong to steal food? A starving person can't afford to be honest. Make it possible for them to get food on their own and they won't have to steal it. Politicians applied words to problems, where Fuller said you should apply only scientific solutions. When it comes to hunger one invention increasing the yield of a farmer's fields was worth more that a hundred appeals to honesty, anti-hunger speeches or free food distribution programs.

After his death Bucky's theories got hijacked by special interest groups, primarily socialists and environmentalists, who took his teachings out of context to apply them to political goals in ways that he would never have approved of when he was alive. Sadly, that has meant his legacy being less appreciated and respected than it should be, resulting in most of his books going out of print. A fierce individualist, Fuller had no use for collectivism of any kind, but his desire to use science to produce wealth for all was twisted by socialists to mean advocating massive wealth redistribution by a world government. As socialism has become discredited, unjustly so has Buckminster Fuller. In truth Bucky never concerned himself with dividing up the pie in a more equal way, he advocated coming up with scientific recipes to make the pie so big everybody could have as much as they wanted.

I was surprised when re-reading Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth to see how much of it still holds up. The trends which Fuller identified are unfolding precisely as he predicted but not, unfortunately, as quickly as the always optimistic Bucky hoped for. I was also pleased to realize how much of a Buckyhead I remain. I still have contempt for politicians and political solutions, I'm still devoted to logic as the primary problem solving tool and to science as the path to progress.

What makes me sad is that I don't know where young people today can get turned on to Buckminster Fuller in a way not tainted by political agendas. What is needed is for the books to become available again, so that people can encounter Fuller undistorted by ideological agendas. I don't know who will make that possible, but may the day come soon.

A Thousand Words

This picture says it all.

Amen Al

Memo to my remaining daily print colleagues and their nostalgia club: Get over it and get over yourselves. It’s not that the Internet is Mr. Wonderful. Much of it mimics the same bad qualities that drove the public away from daily newspapers. You lost the public to us because - there's no nice or sugar-coated way to say it - you guys really suck at what you do. In your arrogance, you established calcified “rules” of “journalism” and false “objectivity” that neutered and spayed all of your reporters, domesticated so they would never again afflict the comfortable or comfort the afflicted. When you took the honest advocacy out of reporting you emptied it of all passion and reason to exist. It was a nice ride on your profit ledger sheet during the recent decades when you turned your rags into propaganda arms for the wealthy and powerful, but a funny thing happened on the way to the ATM machine: You lost the trust of your readers.

- Former Valley Advocate reporter Al Giordano.


Northampton's The Green Bean has this chalkboard in front describing all the local places it gets its food from.

South River Miso - Conway Ma.
Gill Greenery - Gill Ma.
Real Pickles - Montague Ma.
El Jardin - Holyoke Ma.
Town Farm - Northampton
Country Hen Organic Eggs - Hubbardston Ma.
Bakery Normand - Northampton
Mapleline Farm - Hadley Ma.
Barrington Coffee Roasters - Lee Ma.
Tea Guys - Hatfield Ma.
Vermont Smoke n' Cure - South Barre Vt.
Snow Shoe Farm - Worthington Vt.
Chicoine Farm - Westhampton Ma.

Broken Record

In Pulaski Park.


Anonymous said...

if you want an easy and effective meditation, you can download one for free at I found it to be very enlightening.

Tim said...

Good old Al. Thats the kind of liberal I like. He wasn't owned by anybody. Tom, remember his short lived show before Dan Yorke came on? Good radio.