Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Letter from the Editors: May 2013 -- The Beginning, Again

PHOTO: Olav Bryant Smith


This issue begins our second year of publication and a new era for Empirical. As Dylan said, “the times they are a-changin’.” An amazing amount of work went into bringing you a new magazine that looks, feels, and reads the way we, and the growing Empirical community, want a magazine to look, feel, and read. We started in October 2011 with this daring idea that we could produce a magazine that fills a niche no one else is filling. Actually, to go back even further, we were talking about the ‘dream’ of starting a magazine in April 2005 when Tara and I first met in Portland. I had done some research on this myself before we’d met, but put it on the back-burner while I focused on keeping my teaching career going in these lean times of budget cuts. Little did I know when I first brought it up that Tara would eventually start editing for a lifestyle magazine and that she would start seriously thinking about carrying out our dream.

When we first started on this path, it seemed so natural for us in a way. Tara and I had both had years of editing experience. We are both writers. We’d both worked for publications. I had some design experience. Tara had worked at printers and knew about ink, papers, and other printing issues. I’ve only dabbled at fiction and poetry, but this was Tara’s love, and she has an MA in creative writing. My forte was the nonfiction side. I have an MA in Philosophy and a PhD in Philosophy of Religion. I’ve been reading, writing, and blogging about social and political issues for years. Our talents and interests both intersected and complemented one another’s.


William James

The name ‘Empirical’ came to Tara in a flash. I could tell this flash of inspiration had really hooked her, and she was convinced this was the name. For my part, an entire philosophical controversy came flooding into my thoughts and feelings all at once with the name ‘Empirical.’ On the philosophical side of things, I knew that many would misinterpret the name. ‘Empiricism’ and ‘science’ are almost synonymous for many people. After what Alfred North Whitehead called the “unbridled rationalism” of the medieval period in Europe, with the pendulum swinging more toward theory than fact, thinkers of both the Reformation and the Renaissance urged a return to gathering and re-examining the evidence. With the rise of modern science, the emphasis was on limiting acceptable evidence to what one can observe with the five physical senses. This proved spectacularly helpful in weeding out highly speculative theories that didn’t really match the evidence empiricists began to present. This approach has its limits even within science. But many people are completely and unabashedly behind this spirit of scientific advance; they are all in favor of shoving other avenues to knowledge aside. In fact, there are many of this persuasion who would say there is no other path to knowledge. So what, I thought, would these people make of our more poetic and spiritual approach to things? They might not find what they were looking for in our pages on the basis of the title alone. The other side of the same issue is that those who would most appreciate our approach might shy away from our magazine because of the name, assuming it is narrowly empirical when they desire the more holistic approach that we offer.


Alfred North Whitehead
It was a risk, but I saw an opportunity in this name–an opportunity to create a discussion about what it really means to be ‘empirical.’ As a philosopher in the process and classical-American traditions, I’d long been persuaded–by Willetter from the editors William James and Alfred North Whitehead in particular–that we should embrace what James called a ‘radical empiricism’ that examines all of the evidence of experience and not just the narrow band of experience acceptable to what we now call ‘science.’ James, Whitehead, and others pointed out (as Berkeley, Hume, and others had before them) how the narrow brand of empiricism leads to skepticism about our own existence, the world’s existence, causality, and thus  undermines science itself. Most scientists ignore this because they’re busy doing science and don’t care about Hume’s arguments.

Many scientists are even religious themselves and compartmentalize their scientific and religious lives because of basis intuitions that transcend their discipline. But others ignore this because they’re motivated by anti-religious reasons. James, however, embarked on studies of religious experience and parapsychology.

Whitehead explained how our fundamental, felt, preconscious experience of an interconnected world at the
very least explains things like memory and knowledge of the actual world – unexplainable by narrow empiricism. So, it is important to grasp that our understanding of ‘empirical’ is different than the standard conception. Empirical’s mission statement of purpose thus reads:

An international literary and current affairs magazine with the openness and pioneering spirit of its home in the Pacific Northwest, Empirical aspires for truth by boldly introducing thought-provoking points of view and new paradigms. A forum for discourse on contemporary issues, the magazine is “radically empirical” in considering the broad range of human experience.

Being ‘radically empirical’ is progressive; it is tolerant of new ideas and experiments in living. It is not fear-based. It is hope-based. It embraces different expressions of spiritual experience–in art and elsewhere–and stands against the dogmatic suppression of this variety of spiritual experience by both those who embrace more mainstream religious practices and those who pride themselves on participating in the goal of the
destruction of religions and the banishment of all reports of meaningful human experience as “subjective.” And in the end, the ideal is to bring science and spirituality together in a unified view.


San Francisco
PHOTO by Curtis Fry
Thus, it also made sense for Tara and me–because we met while we were both living in Portland and now live in Northern California–to connect our project with the Pacific Northwest. My year’s sojourn into what most people consider to be the Pacific Northwest, including mainly Oregon and Washington State, convince me that there is much that connects Northern California with the Pacific Northwest. In many ways, Northern California – particularly including the San Francisco Bay Area – has more in common with Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver BC than it has with the cities of Southern California. So, in addition stretching the common understanding of ‘empirical,’ we are also–intentionally and purposefully trying to stretch the common notion of the community of the ‘Pacific Northwest.’ There is a community that stretches from San Francisco to Vancouver BC that is highly technological, innovative, tolerant, inclusive, progressive, and broadly spiritual. We strive to achieve new paradigms and welcome experiments in lifestyle–not for just for the sake of experiment or to be ‘different,’ but because we live in the spirit of hope for a better tomorrow. We are a part of that community and so much of our vision has to do with sharing our perspective of the world with everyone else.

At the same time, it should be understood that we are not a regional magazine. Our focus is on the world. But one of the things that Tara and I realized when we started out on this project was that most magazines of this type have a New York or Northeast perspective. Empirical contributes to our ongoing effort to understand ourselves and the world we live in from a particular point of view: a Pacific Northwest  perspective. We recognize that, are proud of that, and very openly acknowledge that we’re expressing a vision from a community that is bigger than the two of us. But it’s about the world and its varieties of experience, written and illustrated by authors and artists from around the world.


Our desire was to be in print, and to compliment that with the new wave of digital access. But to be in print for long, we would have to win over a distributor and then attract an investor or investors. Moreover, we’d have to attract customers quickly. We succeeded in the first two, which is no small thing. By February 2012, we’d produced a prototype that attracted the attention of Rider Circulation Service in Los Angeles. When we saw them face-to-face and showed them on a laptop what we were up to, they were excited about the possibilities and told us enthusiastically that they wanted to distribute Empirical. That prototype issue was dated May 2012, and we have been in bookstores throughout the US and around the world since our first actual monthly issue of June 2012. And we have recently been honored by the Library Journal as one of the top ten new magazines of 2012–an honor indeed.

An award like that helps spread the word about the good things we’re doing, but it didn’t come quickly enough to help us stay in print. Our circulation is growing, but not enough people heard about us quickly and frequently enough to keep up with the enormous costs of printing and shipping. That’s just reality.

We’d been seeing others turn toward digital publication at an accelerating pace. Holding a magazine in one’s hands has practical and aesthetic value. We appreciate that fully. But the fact is that our economy is shifting toward the spread of information through electronic means. The true cost of getting a printed quality
publication, which we competitively estimated at seven dollars per issue, or fifty-five dollars per year, is beyond what many people are able or willing to spend right now.

So, facing these realities, we are looking at the positive side of this transition. It’s time to look forward and not back. We are going to continue bringing you more of the best writing in the world, exploring human experience from new points of view, and growing the Empirical community. We’ll be able to do that with even more brilliant color than ever.

I’ve been hard at work redesigning the magazine in a shorter, wider format with larger fonts so that it’s easier to see and use on our screens. And, the bottom line, we can do all of this for the much more affordable price of one dollar per issue, or ten dollars per year. Times are tough. But now nearly everyone who wants to join and support our Empirical community of readers can afford that. 


We lead off our second year of publication with another article by Dorion Sagan, son of the astronomer Carl Sagan and biologist Lynn Margulis. Dorion wrote for us the first time in September (see “Lynn Margulis and the Pursuit of Knowledge”). This time, Dorion explores–in “The Problem of Intelligence”– the idea that human beings may be overestimating their intelligence, asking, “Is not an ecosystem–whose different species, with different skills and specialties, combine to make sustainable biological systems–arguably more intelligent, smarter, than a single species which overruns its environment, risking extinction?” Building on themes related to Huxley’s Brave New World, and pointing to the danger of social Darwinist theories, Sagan shows us how it may be time to look to the wisdom of nature for true clues about survival. 

Dave Lewit, writing for Empirical for the first time, discusses the central importance of economics in history and the control over the money supply in the US. Noting the Fed’s enormous bailouts of banks, Lewit makes positive suggestions about a way forward through similar investments in workers and the creation of public banks that are overseen by more publicly-minded virtues than the Fed and private banks value.

Frequent contributor Hugh Mercer Curtler writes this month “On Being Judgmental.” Hannah Arendt’s coverage of the war-crimes trial of Adolph Eichmann led to her shock at being considered too judgmental in her coverage of Holocaust atrocities. Curtler builds on this, and comments on our descent toward amoralism through the phenomenon of eschewing judgment. But Curtler points out that to think is to judge. And thinking people, he argues, do not need to pit one culture against another to uphold core values that are widely embraced around the world.

The March and April issues of Empirical saw the beginning of a three-part series on Cuba by Andrea St. Amand. That series is concluded in this issue with “Cuban Life Without Bribery: Lessons From Estonia, Part III.” The Estonian connection is Andrea’s husband. On their trip to Cuba, and based on her husband’s first-hand experience of the transition to democracy and capitalism after the fall of the Soviet Union, Andrea speculates about how life might be with more economic freedom in Cuba’s near future.

This month’s fiction includes “Sun Boxes” by Phyllis Green and “Children of the Tides” by Frank Scozzari.
May’s poetry includes “Mink” by Wally Swist; “Out to Win The World For God: Howard Finster” by Patrick Milian; “among the families of the earth,” Richard Thompson; “Plaint For Rattus norvegicus” by Elisavietta Ritchie; and “Contender” by Monique Roussell. Our featured photographer section is “A Moment
With Wonderlane.” I discovered her work while searching for Buddhist photography, and have since found her work extremely helpful for illustrations of many of our articles. We finally got a chance to interview her and hear her interesting story. As always, our pages conclude with recipes from Tara and Rafaela.

Empirical is committed to continuing to bringing you the best, and we also wish you the best. As we make this transition to exclusive digital publication, please let us know what we can do to improve our service to you; and please spread the word about the quality you find here. We can’t do it without you. 

No comments:

Post a Comment