You may or may not know what 'woo' is (or woo-woo to fervent enthusiasts or detractors). Rather than attempt a formal definition, I shall present examples of some phenomena that may be considered to be woo. Telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience, teleportation. Earth energies, Earth mysteries, ley lines, dragon lines, crop circles. Astrology, tarot, I ching, numerology, any form of divination. Feng Shui. Channelling, inner heat, walking on fire, rapid walking, astral realms, astral travel, astral anything, auras. Energetic healing, homeopathy, healing with fire, stones, soul retrieval, shamanic travel. Synchronicity, UFOs, gnomes, elves, dwarves, chakras. I think you get the picture.....
Should you wish to find out more about things woo, the place not to go is Wikipedia. Wicked Pedia is fine for important things like the population of Huddersfield, who won Wimbledon in 1958, or the birthday of Igor Stravinsky. But for stuff like woo, Wickedness Pedia is useless. You see, Wickerman Pedia has been got at. It's been distorted, rearranged. It ain't what it appears to be.
The most notorious instance of this concerns Rupert Sheldrake. To my knowledge, Rupert is a proper scientist. He does experiments, writes them up, considers the results, that sort of thing. His fatal error, however, is to extend his experimenting activities into the arena of woo. Telepathy, for example. And he has his theory of morphic resonance, which some people just don't like.
Recent years have seen a veritable hoo-hah about the Wikipedia entry on Rupert Sheldrake, which has been radically altered. It is worth checking out Sheldrake's own website on the nefarious activities of Guerilla Skeptics (Rational Wiki, one of the least rational things to grace the planet, naturally denies the existence of such a group at all). This is essentially a small group of ideological skeptics, who have taken on as their holy mission to the world to put it to rights on anything that may emit the faintest whiff of woo. Have a look at other Wikipedia entries on woo - homeopathy, for example, which can only get a soft-core woo rating, really. Of course, if you are a member of the Church of One-Eyed Scientific Materialism yourself, you will quietly murmur approval at the triumph of righteousness over the dark hand of woo.
For some reason, the prophets of 'rational humanism' (read 'irrational humanism') and 'scientific materialism' (read 'one-eyed scientific reductionism') have something serious against woo. It seems that they feel the need to attack tirelessly. Maybe they feel under threat; for sure they feel under threat.
Until recent times, the bastions of irrational humanism were upheld in the public eye by two figures familiar through the mainstream media.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, the Great God of One-Eyed Scientific Materialism sent as his emissary, his earthly representative, one Richard Dawkins. For many years, alongside his fellow henchman the archangel David Attenborough, he efficiently spread the word. Even the messengers of God are not forever, though. Not even, I bet my boots, Food-and-Mating Attenborough. Additionally Dawkins, in latter times. has developed the unsettling habit of speaking his own mind, which is not always spiffingly correct politically. It became clear a few years back that the time had arrived for the Second Coming. And thus came to pass....
Brian Cox - sorry, Professor Brian Cox - is our modern-day Christ figure, sent to put us right on how everything works. With his boyish looks, big shiny white teeth, and perpetual ever-so-slightly superior smile, he is indeed a guru for modern times. I mention his physical appearance not to have a go at him, but because it is such an integral part of his message. Cool, modern, smiley-smiley, maybe with a touch of the puer eternus. Truly a prophet for the modern era.
Cox truly has something about woo. It's a word that is embedded in his vocabulary, always uttered in a barely-concealed hiss between smiling yet strangely clenched teeth. The word is immediately registered by the listener's mind as a put-down. Something is 'woo' therefore it is automatically and
It behoves one to ponder why this wholesale and automatic despising of everything woo. It is not very rational at all. It comes down, in the only conclusion I can reach, to a matter of ideology. Despite their facade of freedom of thought, liberalism, and the rest, the Dawkins and Coxes are rigid ideologists. In their own ways they are no more flexible than the Jehovahs Witnesses who knock on the door when you are in the middle of breakfast, or the Muslim fundamentalists. They come to preach scientific materialism, and the supposed benefits of the feeling of wonder in the face of an essentially mechanical, robotic, meaningless world. This is what is preached ad nauseam through much of the mainstream, particularly the BBC.
Woo is attacked so vigorously because it doesn't fit into this paradigm of mechanical meaninglessness. It is not easily measured: homeopathy can't work because the substances are diluted to an extent that cannot be measured, we are told. 'I measure, therefore I am' is the variation on Descartes. Instead of stopping to think the unthinkable - that maybe the instruments aren't capable of measuring everything that's going on, and that we haven't attained the apex of understanding - it is current hubris that wins the day. This cannot happen because I don't understand how it can happen. Or: I can't measure this, therefore it cannot exist. There are assumptions embedded in this attitude. Huge assumptions.
We can't take the views of these people too seriously. Small minds, tiny vision. Yet they are vicious, relentless in their attacks, tanks fuelled by ideology. They are out to twist your mind. If we want to get a bit conspiratorial, we can say that liberal humanism and scientific materialism are attempts to 'contain' the human mind. To disempower the remarkable human spirit in its magnificent flight. To cut us off from, to hide, those elements to reality that offer us the chance for insight, gnosis, call it what you will. Those aspects to life, and to each and every human life, that cannot be controlled, that are all of ours to explore, interact with, engage in divine rapture. Scientific materialism, like all organised religion, aims to control the masses, keep them in order. When Christianity no longer did the job, it was time to roll out another dogma, propounded by the dark agents of one-eyed science.
So, bring on the woo. I'm not saying that all of it is 'real', 'exists', or anything like that. There's plenty that I just don't know enough about to be able to say. Yet some of the contents of the basket of woo I have experienced personally, and have subjected those experiences to questioning and a degree of rigorous examination. Which is the most we can do, really.
Images: Top: Rainbow Chakras. OK, but why do we always have to sit in lotus position for the chakras to appear?
Centre: Steady on there, Carl.
Bottom: Ah, yes.....
And today's quiz: One of the three images is not at all woo. Not in the slightest. Guess which one.