Tuesday, April 02, 2013

G. Spencer-Brown has reached his 90th year

This man is mostly known for his enigmatic yet accessible book The Laws of Form. If you don't understand the maths, you may enjoy the verbal interpretations, especially if you treat them as some kind of poetic language, rather than something literal (can anyone really translate maths into words?)

Here you can find him talking to the AUM Conference in 1973, at Esalen, introduced by John Lilly.

You can easily Google plenty of interesting and interactive sites based on The Laws of Form - we have offered links to them in the past, e.g. The Markable Mark, which has practical tools to play with.

It can prove hard to find copies of the more poetic books he wrote under the name James Keys: i.e Only Two Can Play This Game [Julian Press, 1972], 23 Degrees of Paradise [Cat Books, 1970], etc) but they seem like a necessary compliment to his more technical work.

Wiki lists him as a polymath: "He describes himself as a "mathematician, consulting engineer, psychologist, educational consultant and practitioner, consulting psychotherapist, author, and poet."

 Personally, I would love to find out more about his interactions with R.D.Laing.

 Still, this remains a birthday greeting, and not a definitive site of cross-references.

For RAW fans, of course, you may recognise an assortment of chapter sub-headings and references cut up into the Schrodinger's Cat trilogy... "That which is not allowed is forbidden", etc.


Let there be a form distinct from the form.
­G. Spencer-Brown, Laws of Form


"Choronzon" was a mind­construct of the primates specializing in the Enochian version of Cabalistic magick. Talking out of two sides of their mouths at once, as was typical of primate mystics, the Cabalists said that Choronzon was the astral embodiment of all the illusions and deception on Terra (especially all the egotism and malice). They added that Choronzon was also a part of the psyche of the student which had to be faced and conquered before Illumination was complete. When asked whether Choronzon was then outside or inside, they usually answered "Both." This reply made no sense at all until G. Spencer Brown published his Laws of Form.


He exhaled a fog of cannabis molecules and returned his attention to his favorite
bedtime reading, Brown's Laws of Form:

To cross again is not to cross


FORM: In the sense of G. Spencer Brown, a mathematical or logical system necessary
to systematic thought but having the inevitable consequences of imposing its own deep
structures upon the experiences packaged and indexed by the form. See: The Copenhagen Interpretation



The opening line of LOF is "The theme of this book is that a universe comes into being when a space is severed or cut apart" .

You may find parallels in Zen Buddhism, in relation to the idea of the Mutual Arising of Opposites:

When you cling to a hairbreadth of distinction,
 heaven and earth are set apart.
 If you want to realize the truth,
 don’t be for or against.

There are other translations of this idea from the Xinxin Ming...

See also:   Sanskrit - Pratītyasamutpāda

A useful reference site on Observer Web

Good summary of LOF in Wikipedia

Cuttingup Space, Part 2: The Laws of Form  on the  Particulations blog

A design for an experimental course, with LoF as the focus.


tony smyth said...

Didn't Lilly use one element of G Spencer Browns math as a sort method od 'bringing himself' back to earth when he had taken vast amounts of LSD? Seem to remember that. Some sort of L shaped method (if that makes any sense).

Bogus Magus said...

It certainly makes sense, because the 'mark' used in the notation, to make a distinction, is L-shaped.
Lilly seems impressed by GSB, when he introduces him at the AUM conference.
After taking a lot of acid one might well find oneself in an 'unmarked state' (continuum) I guess, so making a distinction would separate out self/world or reality/illusion or inside/outside, etc. I would be fascinated to know which distinction(s) he chose to make!
Any idea where this might be referenced?

michael said...

Thanks for reminding me that I need to try reading The Laws of Form while stoned.

And I've yet to get to the Keys novels.

Amid my frenzied web surfing, this was the best wave of the day my friends. Thanks!

tony smyth said...

Bogus, I read it in one of Lilly's books ages ago. Can't remember which one, but there arent that many. The centre of the Cyclone possibly. He used it as a way of getting back to earth if his trip in the flotation tank took him really far beyond anything known (As it were).

Bogus Magus said...

Tony: I lost my 'complete paperback library of California' in a move decades ago, so I don't have access. I think he references it in The Centre of The Cyclone' intro, and I believe there may be something in The Dyadic Cyclone (with his wife). If I just had PDFs!

Michael: I had real trouble with finding any James Keys - I once had a copy from the library, but the photocopy I made later disappeared. Recently I handled a paper copy and did a digital scan, but haven't really organised it.
Before suggesting we switch to PM [akabogus@gmail.com], I should also say I managed to get a paper (analogue) copy of 23 Degrees from some obscure 'lost bookshop'. Just some poems.
"Only Two..." is a readable piece of non-fiction, speculation, oriental mysticism and all.
I don't have a link, but I feel sure he somewhere said that Laws Of Form is the masculine, analytical book, and Only Two Can Play This Game somehow comes from the other 'feminine' side of his brain - right brain, whatever, you know. Complementary opposites (poet as well as mathematician).

tony smyth said...

Woof: related to this, I found an article on the time Brown was invited to Easalen. It didnt work out but produced some interesting side effects. One of which was music and a book based on Brown's Laws of Form. The book is still at the proposal stage but its synopsis is interesting.

The web link below is for the Esalen part, and for some reson the book proposal also throws up the same link so:

Google this to get to the book proposal: Book Proposal:
The OMasters By Cliff Barney and Kurt von Meier

FLY AGARIC 23 said...

Hi, great post, thanks Bogus. Reading the comments i can add that when i met John Lilly in San Francisco at the 'Guilding The Lilly' event 2000 e.v, Saul Paul Sirag gave a talk in honor of John that was all about 'The Laws of Form', and feat. the 'L' mentioned by Tony above. Another lecture was by Jack Sarfatti titled 'Post Quantum Star Bits'

Here's Bob on G. Spencer Brown, somewhat interpreted by Prose fiction:

"He had discovered that he was living in a book while reading G. Spencer Brown’s Laws of Form on hashish. When he came to the theorem, “To cross again is not to cross,” he suddenly crossed. In that vertigo and hilarious cosmic ecstasy, beyond form, Simon remembered that he had been in many other books “before” and would be in other books “later.” He was not the character, the particle (so-called) in any form, but the wave function that co­existed in all probability states.--Robert Anton Wilson, Dirty Socks and Denture Breath.

Bogus Magus said...

Fascinating Book proposal, Tony, thanks!

Fly: I tried to track down a piece called "G. Spencer Brown’s Laws of Form & John Lilly’s Take on It" by Saul-Paul Sirag, but all links were dead.

I finally put the dead link in The Wayback Machine, and it turned out to be slides for a talk...quite technical for me, and without notes of the actual talk.

The link, if you want to go see:


Put that link in The Wayback Machine

tony smyth said...

Don't you think that book proposal reads a lot like one for Illuminatus??

Bogus Magus said...

Tony: it certainly strikes me that way...

tony smyth said...

Just noticed this in the book proposal: 'To prevent the Yellow Pearl from becoming the first woman president, Ahab seeks an injunction against her on the grounds that she is not an American citizen'.Is that not prescient and RAW-like, kind of predates the Repubs and Obama not being American.

Cliff Barney said...

as one of the authors of The Omasters, i can't claim
any prescience
in this aspect; it just seemed obvious to us.

Cliff Barney


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