• Jack Cummins
    5k
    I am wondering about the nature of esoteric forms of philosophy,;including those in the philosophy of religion and other fields of thought, such as in comparative religion, the anthroposphy of Rudolf Steiner, theosophy and systems of thinking which challenge Weatern materialistic assumptions. Having written a thread about the difference between thinking about whether the idea of the existence of 'God' or atheism, differ as a starting point for thinking about philosophy, I became aware that the question may go deeper, even though the concept of 'God' or gods may be part of the discussion.

    The book which I am reading and thinking about is, 'The Secret History of the World', by Jonathan Black, (2007). The reason why I think that this book is an important area for philosophy evaluation is the way in which it looks at symbolic aspects of human thinking in human thought, including the basis of Egyptian ideas underlying some ideas of religious thinking.

    Nevertheless, it does challenge idealism at a fundamental level. In particular, the author challenges the idea of some 'spiritual way' as a means of 'a momentary lapse of concentration...without first noticing it and with a light heart', but as avoidance of 'the walk down to the road that leads straight down the road to the lunatic asylum'.

    The reason why this idea may be important is the questionable area of thinking about symbolic and actual thinking about the nature of 'reality'. The religious and mythical ones may involve imagination and mythical aspects of the human quest. However, these may also be considered and contrasted with the realism of science, and how much is known or unknown in this respect.

    So, I open this thread about esoteric ideas and thinking, especially with the question of how far such traditions of thought may obscure or elucidate areas of the unknown in understanding human consciousness and its relationship with philosophy. It may come down to the question of materialism, but also the way symbolic thought stands between materialism and idealism and the phenomenological aspects of 'mind'. Ant thoughts....?

  • Jack Cummins
    5k
    In raising this topic, I am also wishing to raise the questionable area of what may be regarded as esoteric as opposed to mainstream. It may come down to what is popular or about politics, especially as the idea of the 'esoteric' implies a hidden, 'underground' or subversive approach or questioning of the ideas of the status quo, or mainstream, conventional commonplace thinking or radical.alternative perspectives.
  • Jack Cummins
    5k
    Just as an addition to.this area, I would say that it is worth questioning whether the idea of the idea of the esoteric implies a supernatural dimension or not? What are the central aspects of hidden knowledge and potential.'secret' aspects, including the political? To what extent does such areas of thought come down to the interplay of religious norms and the widest aspects of philosophy questioning of the nature of life and its conundrums?
  • javra
    2.4k


    Metaphor runs deep in our thinking: from being light-hearted to being on top of, and hence superior to, to having feelings, these not being tactile but instead being emotions one touches upon in one’s own total self rather than actively enacting as a consciousness (e.g., feeling a pang of envy rather than being envious)—a very long list, actually, with many examples not being as easy to express—all these convey a deeper sometimes hidden (esoteric) meaning relative to that which is literally affirmed.

    As with the arts, some sometimes find metaphors to be the optimal means of conveying deeper, sometimes hidden (esoteric) truths. This then works well for conveying these truths to others who already are of a common enough mindset in many other respects. But it will backfire whenever others hold different foundational semantics, for the latter will at times drastically misinterpret what was intended to be conveyed.

    Then there’s the analytic approach to philosophy. The leading benefit to this method of conveying truths is an improvement in clarity as to what is being addressed. But this comes at the cost of dryness, which serves as a big impediment to conveying what was intended. And, unlike the former method, it also limits what is conveyed to concepts that are already commonly known, making it that much more difficult to convey new ways of understanding or else realities that are not already publicly accepted and acknowledged. Here, then, the metaphors employed will be static in already being common standard, rather than being dynamic and new.

    They mythical (and, by extension, much of the religious) can thereby be interpreted as the metaphorical, with Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell coming to mind in this field of study. Hence, as attempting to convey deeper, and at times hidden, truths or else realities.

    These are my preliminary thoughts on the matter.
  • Tom Storm
    8.1k
    So, I open this thread about esoteric ideas and thinking, especially with the question of how far such traditions of thought may obscure or elucidate areas of the unknown in understanding human consciousness and its relationship with philosophyJack Cummins

    What would be useful would be to avoid general abstract statements of affirmation on behalf of the esoteric and for someone to present a specific instance of the esoteric providing a measurable benefit or the kind of elucidation you refer to. As opposed to the poetic and symbolic, which can be provided through music, nature, architecture, sex or verse, etc.

    The esoteric can on the whole not be tested so how do you propose we demonstrate its efficacy and how do we determine the good from the fallacious?

    What are the central aspects of hidden knowledge and potential.'secret' aspects, including the political?Jack Cummins

    Hidden knowledge is often where the powerless go to find strength and solace (a Rabbi once told me this was the power behind the Kabbalah's use although I imagine this may be a controversial claim). Also popular with those who wish to think they are better than the average person because ‘they know the secret’. They are closer to the Truth. This is the fertile delta of conspiracy theories and again there’s often a connection to people who feel left out and a bit lost in the world - QAnon anyone?
  • AmadeusD
    1.3k
    'The Secret History of the World', by Jonathan Black, (2007)Jack Cummins

    I thought this was a decent book - I believe he was a researcher for Graham Hancock, who is a friend of mine.

    The stuff about the naming of the weekdays and its connection to social order was quite interesting to me. However, I read this in 2011 or thereabouts so don't grill me lol
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    Metaphorical thinking may sometimes be dismissed at the cost of deeper understanding. Some may see the basics of logic as the most encompassing understanding, but it may lead to its questioning, and what are its limitations?
  • Fooloso4
    5.3k
    The problem is, the term is used in various ways. For some it means something along the lines of occult revelation. Secret doctrines or hidden dimensions of reality.

    There is, however, another sense of the term as used to describe the practice of many mainstream philosophers prior to the 19th century. Nietzsche is responsible for bringing to our attention this practice that was once well know but was all but forgotten by contemporary readers:

    The difference between the exoteric and the esoteric, formerly known to philosophers–among the Indians as among the Greeks, Persians, and Muslims — Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 30

    A recent book on esotericism in mainstream philosophy is Arthur Meltzer's Philosophy Between the Lines. There is an online appendix

    A few quotes from a wide variety of philosophers:

    Descartes writes to one of his more imprudent disciples:

    Do not propose new opinions as new, but retain all the old terminology for
    supporting new reasons; that way no one can find fault with you, and those who
    grasp your reasons will by themselves conclude to what they ought to understand.
    Why is it necessary for you to reject so openly the [Aristotelian doctrine of]
    substantial forms? Do you not recall that in the Treatise on Meteors I expressly
    denied that I rejected or denied them, but declared only that they were not
    necessary for the explication of my reasons?
    – René Descartes to Regius, January, 1642, Œuvres de Descartes, 3:491-
    92, quoted and translated by Hiram Caton in “The Problem of Descartes’
    Sincerity,” 363


    David Hume (1711-1776):
    [T]hough the philosophical truth of any proposition, by no means depends on its tendency
    to promote the interests of society, yet a man has but a bad grace, who delivers a theory,
    however true, which he must confess leads to a practice dangerous and pernicious. Why
    rake into those corners of nature which spread a nuisance all around? Why dig up the
    pestilence from the pit in which it is buried? The ingenuity of your researches may be
    admired but your systems will be detested, and mankind will agree, if they cannot refute
    them, to sink them at least in eternal silence and oblivion. Truths which are pernicious to
    society, if any such there be, will yield to errors which are salutary and advantageous.
    – David Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, 257-58 (9.2)
    (emphasis in the original)


    Encyclopedia of Diderot and d’Alembert (1751-1772):

    EXOTERIC and ESOTERIC, adj. (History of Philosophy): The first of these words
    signifies exterior, the second, interior. The ancient philosophers had a double doctrine;
    the one external, public or exoteric; the other internal, secret or esoteric.
    – “Exoteric and Esoteric,” Encyclopedia (translation mine)

    [T]he condition of the sage is very dangerous: there is hardly a nation that is not soiled
    with the blood of several of those who have professed it. What should one do then?
    Must one be senseless among the senseless? No; but one must be wise in secret.
    – Denis Diderot, “Pythagorism or Philosophy of Pythagoras,” Encyclopedia

    The Encyclopedia not only frequently speaks of esotericism–and approvingly–but it also
    practices it, as becomes clear from a letter of d’Alembert to Voltaire. The latter had been
    complaining to d’Alembert about the timidity of some of the articles. He replies:
    No doubt we have some bad articles in theology and metaphysics, but with
    theologians as censors... I defy you to make them better. There are other articles,
    less open to the light, where all is repaired. Time will enable people to
    distinguish what we have thought from what we have said.
    – Jean d’Alembert to Denis Diderot, July 21, 1757, Œuvres et
    correspondances, 5:51 (translation mine; emphasis added)

    Just what this means, Diderot makes clear in his article titled “Encyclopedia.” He is speaking about the use of cross-references in the articles. This can be useful, he explains, to link articles on common subjects enabling their ideas to reinforce and build upon one another.
    When it is necessary, [the cross-references] will also produce a completely
    opposite effect: they will counter notions; they will bring principles into contrast;
    they will secretly attack, unsettle, overturn certain ridiculous opinions which one
    would not dare to insult openly....There would be a great art and an infinte
    advantage in these latter cross-references. The entire work would receive from
    them an internal force and a secret utility, the silent effects of which would
    necessarily be perceptible over time. Every time, for example, that a national
    prejudice would merit some respect, its particular article ought to set it forth
    respectfully, and with its whole retinue of plausibility and charm; but it also ought
    to overturn this edifice of muck, disperse a vain pile of dust, by cross-referencing
    articles in which solid principles serve as the basis for the contrary truths. This
    means of undeceiving men operates very promptly on good minds, and it operates
    infallibly and without any detrimental consequence–secretly and without scandal–
    on all minds. It is the art of deducing tacitly the boldest consequences. If these
    confirming and refuting cross-references are planned well in advance, and
    prepared skillfully, they will give an encyclopedia the character which a good
    dictionary ought to possess: this character is that of changing the common manner
    of thinking.
    – Denis Diderot, “Encyclopedia,” Encyclopedia

    Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914):
    [Forbidden ideas] are different in different countries and in different ages; but wherever
    you are, let it be known that you seriously hold a tabooed belief, and you may be
    perfectly sure of being treated with a cruelty less brutal but more refined than hunting
    you like a wolf. Thus the greatest intellectual benefactors of mankind have never dared,
    and dare not now [in America, circa 1877], to utter the whole of their thought.
    – Charles Sanders Pierce, “The Fixation of Belief,” Philosophical Writings, 20
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    The idea of the esoteric, secrets and the hidden may be problematic, especially as it involves the mysterious and the unknown. In general, the unveiling of 'the unknown, may be more helpful as opposed to it remaining unknown. The idea of 'the hidden' in philosophy may be problematic, as if trying to go beyond 'gaps', but it may end up with obscurity rather than any meaningful explanabtions. In this way, the ideas of the esoteric may involve more of a demystification rather than clarification of ideas and understanding.

    .
  • Jack Cummins
    5k
    I am interested to read that Graham Hancock is a friend of yours, as I have read several books by him I have found them to be a rather different perspective of the origins of human civilisation. I am open to such perspectives and the biggest stumbling block of taking such ideas on board may be the 'scientific' premises of evidence-based research.
  • Tom Storm
    8.1k
    In this way, the ideas of the esoteric may involve more of a demystification rather than clarification of ideas and understanding.Jack Cummins

    What would be a tangible example of what you have in mind?
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    The ideas of David Hume and Hume's fork may be important for making rational sense of what may appear to be irrational. The idea of the exoteric and the esoteric are also important in thinking of causal explanations and ideas of meaning. The bridge between both aspects may be important, as well as the way in.which esoteric meaning may be involved subjective meaning, such as in.the understanding of dreams.
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    :fire: :up:

    the nature of esoteric forms of philosophyJack Cummins
    Mythos as light that casts shadows of Logos on the cave wall ...

    ... in other words, "esoteric forms" in contrast to reflective (and defeasible) reasoning?

    In this way, the ideas of the esoteric may involve more of a demystification rather than clarification of ideas and understanding.Jack Cummins
    IMO, more like mythification of ideas, etc.
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    My understanding is the way in which ideas may come into play would be in the archetypal aspects of life, including the interplay between life and death, and symbolic dramas, involving the conundrums of light and dark gender opposites and the whole interplay of dualities and symbolic or mythical aspects which arise in human existence and experience.
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    So then you don't have any "tangible examples" of the difference the distinction between "exoteric and esoteric" makes particularly in philosophy?

    Tell me/us why "exoteric" philosophy is not sufficient or in principle, if not practice, fails to do what it sets out to do.
  • Jack Cummins
    5k
    The whole area of myth, as stories unfolding in human life, is extremely important. Each person is living out mythic aspects of dramas, as as contributing to an ongoing understanding or such dramas as appreciated and developed in the arts.

    As regards to the 'mystification' of ideas, an important area may have trying to bring mythos and logos together in a compatible way.
  • javra
    2.4k


    I get what you're saying, and in many ways I agree. As one example, in the absence of transparency and clarity, many who are unscrupulous will use the very notions of authority which they find others heed toward self-serving and unscrupulous ends. But this will apply as much to religions as it will to the sciences - with politics making use of both. I've too often heard of the label "scientifically proven" employed in circles which have no idea what the empirical scientific method is (being inductive, for one example, science always further evidences but does not ever conclusively prove, although it can conclusively falsify) ... and, as a result, a selling and buying of snake oil ensues. And of course, religion is often used as a facade for gaining advantage over those one dislikes or else deems to be in some way weak, etc.

    That said:

    The esoteric can on the whole not be tested so how do you propose we demonstrate its efficacy and how do we determine the good from the fallacious?Tom Storm

    The same will apply for a plethora of other things: ranging from the more ubiquitous notions of goodness, and justice, and the aesthetic to far more concrete things such as whether the romantic partner that states they love you in fact so does.

    Not finding these many other issues either inconsequential or else somehow unreal, I then don't find this test-based reasoning to be sufficient in justifying a renunciation of the esoteric (in any of its various senses).

    Its like saying the world should denounce all fables because on the whole we cannot test their contents and moralities, we cannot demonstrate their efficacy as guides to morality and how life should be best lived, and we cannot determine those that are good in this regard from those that instill fallacious morals and ideas.
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    I'm not a Jungian / Campbellian or transperonalist, etc so clarify for me in layman's terms, Jack: Why is "living out mythic aspects of dramas" "extremely important"? Why is "trying to bring together mythos and logos" worth obfuscating them both?
  • javra
    2.4k
    Metaphorical thinking may sometimes be dismissed at the cost of deeper understanding. Some may see the basics of logic as the most encompassing understanding, but it may lead to its questioning, and what are its limitations?Jack Cummins

    I'll venture to say that those who so dismiss metaphorical thinking can only be hypocrites, for - as per my initial post - they live and breathe in metaphorical thinking just as much as anyone else does. As to basics of logic, these to me strictly consist of the laws of thought, which by their very nature we all abide by whether we like to or not. These same laws will hence apply to metaphorical thinking just as much as they will to literalist thinking.
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    I wonder to what extent ideas of the esoteric and exoteric are 'different'; such as in ideas of rebirth and resurrection of the dead. In particular, in ideas of rebirth, reincarnation and resurrection, it come down from to which parts of one's 'self' may continue in some other form. It involves an aspect of the esoteric, in the depths of what it means to be human, but, also, most likely in the outer representations, bodily and psychologically dramas arising in human life social life.
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    I'll venture to say that those who so dismiss metaphorical thinking can only be hypocrites, for - as per my initial post - they live and breathe in metaphorical thinking just as much as anyone else does.javra
    :100: :up:

    Metaphor, however, is not synonymous with esoterica.


    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/877179
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    Metaphorical thinking may be such an important aspect of human thinking, especially in the use of language, with limits of logic in the scope of rational thinking. Images may colour so much of the scope and spectrum for imaginative thinking, drawing upon sensory experiences as opposed to the mere apparatus of logic..
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    Metaphorical thinking may ...

    Images may ...
    Jack Cummins
    ... and they may not. Which is it? What are you talking about, Jack? :roll:
  • Tom Storm
    8.1k
    :up:

    The same will apply for a plethora of other things: ranging from the more ubiquitous notions of goodness, and justice, and the aesthetic to far more concrete things such as whether the romantic partner that states they love you in fact so does.

    Not finding these many other issues either inconsequential or else somehow unreal, I then don't find this test-based reasoning to be sufficient in justifying a renunciation of the esoteric (in any of its various senses).
    javra

    Well, I'm a skeptic, so I find notions of justice and goodness pretty nebulous too. It's fairly easy to tell with a partner whether they are there for you or not. There are key indicators. But nothing in life is certain. But that's not the same as saying everything has an unknown status.

    But the esoteric seems to go a step further. Justice and goodness are pragmatic navigation points in most people's lives and we encounter instantiations of them daily. The esoteric remains inscrutable. But maybe Jack can elucidate what he means.

    The whole area of myth, as stories unfolding in human life, is extremely important.Jack Cummins

    As someone who has found myth underwhelming I find this hard to agree with. I'm not saying you are wrong (there's a lot of stuff I avoid in life; sport, popular music, myth, stand-up comedy) but why is myth important?
  • javra
    2.4k
    Thanks.

    Metaphor, however, is not synonymous with esoterica.180 Proof

    Metaphors we all commonly know, like being "lighthearted" or like having "feelings", will in one sense not be esoteric to us. In other ways, because their precise meaning (which we all typically get intuitively) will be difficult to express in literal manners, this in a philosophically satisfactory manner, they can yet be appraised to hold hidden (and in this sense esoteric) meanings.

    Other metaphors - the ouroboros comes to mind as an example - will be esoteric in that we do not feel comfortable that we intuitively grasp what they, as metaphors, intend to convey. Or, as is the case with the ouroborous, at least what they intended to convey in past times when they were quite commonly utilized and portrayed in certain populaces.

    That said, sure, metaphor is not equivalent to esoterica. But I do find that the two are entwined.
  • Fooloso4
    5.3k


    What Hume calls here philosophical and pernicious truths are similar to what Nietzsche calls deadly truths. Hume is saying that mankind prefers lies or errors that are salutary and advantageous to society.

    On the one hand, if the philosopher seeks the truth then he will favor truth over consequences, but on the other, if he recognizes a responsibility to educate and benefit mankind, he will be compelled to hide them. He will have to develop an esoteric art of writing that will obscure such truths from those who may be harmed by them while at the same time speak truthfully to those who are well suited and prepared to hear it.
  • Wayfarer
    20.4k
    One factor to consider is the role of initiation and guidance in esoteric teachings.

    Instances are found in different traditions, but one example is the understanding that Plato's written teachings, or what was preserved in the transcribed dialogues, was supplementary to an unwritten doctrine (which obviously we know nothing about!)

    A book that @Fooloso4 alerted me to, Philosophy Between the Lines - the Lost History of Esoteric Writing, James Melzer, discusses the esoteric in relation to philosophy proper. He says esoteric writing in philosophy 'relies not on secret codes, but simply on a more intensive use of familiar rhetorical techniques like metaphor, irony, and insinuation.' And also the capacity of the aspirant to read between the lines - to catch an allegorical element that may or may not be there. And that is dependent on the student's acuity, their own ability to absorb what is being said.

    Another that I discovered in Buddhist Studies was The Twilight Language by Roderick Bucknell, which explores the symbolism of Buddhist teachings from the Pali through to Tantra. All throughout Buddhist culture, there is an interplay of teaching, symbolic form, allegory and metaphor, embodied even in the sacred architecture of the Stupas or the symbolic contents of sacred art and iconography.

    So, why the need for these allusive and metaphorical modes of expression? Isn't it because the real meaning can't simply be spelled out, made explicit? That what is being conveyed, teacher to student, is something that requires a certain kind of insight, and one that not everybody possesses? 'Those who have ears to hear, let them hear'. Or eyes to see, for that matter. Secular culture is deeply inimical to that kind of ethos, we expect, indeed demand, that whatever is worth knowing is 'in the public domain', that it can be explained 'third person', so to speak. Hence the tension between traditionalism and modernity, often resulting in the association of traditionalism with reactionary politics.

    The point being the subjects at issue are deep and difficult to convey, although again, in the modern world, with universal access to all kinds of information, that can also be lost sight of. When the Chinese monks Faxian and Xuangzan travelled east from the Heavenly Kingdom in the 3rd-4th centuries CE, they had to travel with oxen and donkeys, on foot, across deserts and mountains, beset by bandits and other dangers, to bring back the precious Buddhist scrolls from India. Now, translations of all these texts are freely available to anyone with a computer in the comfort of their study. So what? we will say.
  • Tom Storm
    8.1k
    Secular culture is deeply inimical to that kind of ethos, we expect, indeed demand, that whatever is worth knowing is 'in the public domain', that it can be explained 'third person', so to speak. Hence the tension between traditionalism and modernity, often resulting in the association of traditionalism with reactionary politics.Wayfarer

    Fair point. As someone whose values and worldview are secular I agree that this is essentially a debate between competing cultures (apologies to CP Snow). The problem is that the values of secularity and those of esoterica are often held by those who insist that not only is their understanding superior, but the other worldview is detrimental to the human race.
  • Fooloso4
    5.3k
    The esoteric remains inscrutable.Tom Storm

    This may be true of occult esoteric beliefs but there is a difference between hiding things from children and the idea of some hidden dimension of reality. Philosophers are traditionally and for the most part elitist. They regard mankind as children that they must hide the truth from. But there are a few who by temperament and maturity no longer need protection.

    There are not, however, two sets of books. The two different teachings are within the same pages.
  • Tom Storm
    8.1k
    I hear you; for a lay person this just sounds like a more academic version of, "I'm better than you because I know secrets". Essentially this:

    Philosophers are traditionally and for the most part elitist. They regard mankind as children that they must hide the truth from.Fooloso4
  • javra
    2.4k
    ↪Fooloso4
    I hear you; for a lay person this just sounds like a more academic version of, "I'm better than you because I know secrets". Essentially this:

    Philosophers are traditionally and for the most part elitist. They regard mankind as children that they must hide the truth from. — Fooloso4
    Tom Storm

    I’ll exaggerate this to make the intended point clearer: Who among us does not presume themselves better than all lesser animals in knowing something that is unknown by leaser animals? Be this something systems of mathematics, conceptual understandings of reality, the capacity to experience sublime beauty in life, or so forth.

    Appraising ourselves as being better and worse than others in some respect is, it seems to me, intrinsic to our being.

    Now, where the sh*t hits the fan, does one then equate being better than another in respect X to being of greater value than the other addressed?

    Speaking for myself, if one can excuse the immodesty, I once risked my wellbeing by aggressively driving away an adult bulldog with no leash in a playground from my at the time puppy which the bulldog wanted to kill. (At hearing the scuffle, the owners came and took the bulldog away and that was that.). But my point being, I didn’t then deem my dog worthless and expendable on account of me knowing maths, holding conceptual understandings of reality, having the capacity to experience beauties, etc., all of which my dog was and could only forever remain fully ignorant of.

    Tom, I doubt that you deem your views to be on a par in value to those views you vehemently disagree with and thereby are averse to. Neither do I or anyone else. But this being better than another (here addressing humans) on account of knowing something the other doesn’t does not necessarily entail that one then deems oneself as superior in value as a life relative to the life of those one debates with.

    Neither ought this to be the case for a parent relative to their children, nor ought this be the case for a teacher relative to their students, nor ought it to then be the case for one of them elitist philosophers that @Fooloso4 was addressing relative to their audience of folk who don’t yet get what the philosopher supposedly gets.

    Of course, what often enough does happen in reality-bites scenarios is not this stated ideal but a sense of authoritarian entitlement, wherein one does then deem themselves superior in value relatively to others who lack those insights which one personally has. This leads to bad parents, bad teachers, and to what I’d then appraise as bad philosophers. Same can also be said of bad scientists, bad leaders, bad doctors, bad presidents, etc. I'll even say bad pet owners, at least when it comes to more intelligent pets.

    To sum things up, I damn well want my parents, my teachers, etc., and the philosophers I read to be better than me in terms of what they have, or had, to teach. And they ought to confidently known this before attempting to impart lessons to me. But if any were to think of me as an inferior in terms of the value of my life, they could then stick it where the sun don’t shine as far as I care. And I expect no less from those I interact with on this forum and whose views I at times disagree with.

    A maybe messy and touchy topic, but there it is.
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