Peripatesis: Spiritual Authority, Slaughter At Lake Trasimene.

‘Peripatesis’ is a made-up word related to the word ‘peripatetic’, which is an adjective that means ‘roaming’ or ‘meandering’. I’ve always liked to think of knowledge as a huge structure through which a person could walk, sprint, dive, climb, or fly in as straightforward or peripatetic a fashion as they like.

Here’s are my recent wanderings and wonderings:

Harris, S. Waking Up, p. 119-206

Harris begins the chapter on meditation with a whirlwind tour through evidence for its effectiveness that will by now be familiar to anyone who has been paying attention — smaller amygdalae, more cortical thickness, changes in the structure of the corpus callosum and hippocampus, more empathy, less anxiety over pain, an increased ability to self-regulate attention and emotion, etc. Even though there is a subset of meditators who’s life gets worse as a result of their practice, this is not the case for most of us.

He then discusses two possible approaches to spiritual inquiry: gradual and immediate. Some schools of thought are predicated on the idea that one must slowly come to realize that consciousness is intrinsically free of the self, and others claim that this can be done directly. Harris reveals his preference for immediacy by repeatedly stating that egoless awareness is right on the surface and that many practices are simply a means of overlooking this insight, but acknowledges that most people are so profoundly lost in thought that they must be taught to see this truth one breath at a time.

Chapter 5 goes into some depth discussing the problem of spiritual authority. It simply isn’t possible to fake being an expert martial artist or physicist in the same way one can fake being a contemplative adept, which creates vast possibilities for anyone charismatic and psycopathic enough to attempt to do so.  What’s more, it is also possible for gurus of various stripes to simultaneously be in possession of genuine spiritual insights and enormous character flaws. It would seem that there is little anyone can do with respect to spiritual authorities but to tread lightly, and to listen if that little inner voice says this isn’t right.

In the conclusion Harris reiterates that one of the great challenges of secularism is to erect a framework for understanding, cultivating, and interpreting spiritual experiences. There is a depth, he goes on to say, in the simple act of noticing what it’s like to be you, because you are one of the most subtle and complex features of reality yet to be discovered.

Goldsworthy, A. The Fall of Carthage, p 181-190. 

After an uneventful winter Hannibal knew something had to be done to keep the pressure on Rome and procure additional food supplies for his army.  Pushing deeper into Roman territory would satisfy both and Italian geography afforded him but two options: advance to the East of the Appenine mountains, or advance to the West of them.

Hannibal elected to cross the Appenines and proceed down the Western half of Italy. He deliberately bypassed the Roman army, under the leadership of the newly-elected consul Caius Flaminius, and ravaged the countryside to provoke them. The Carthaginian army camped at lake Trasimene, in an area where the road passed between the lake on one side and some hills on the other. The Romans made camp nearby, and under the cover of darkness on June 20th Hannibal silently moved his army into the foothills, setting an ambush. When the Roman army, possibly in one long column because of the terrain, advanced towards the enemy camp the Carthaginians sprang their trap and won a decisive victory. Consul Flaminius was killed in the battle.

To make matters worse, 4000 cavalry had been sent ahead of the army commanded by the other newly-elected consul, Cnaeus Servilius Geminus; Hannibal managed to find out about their approach before they found out about his victory, and one of his subordinates was able to conduct a surprise attack that devastated that force as well.

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