Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Power of beliefs

How to get drunk without drinking.
Or how to do voodoo.
The accompanying text to the second one seems to indicate that the writer thinks that a New Age believer is more vulnerable to the power of belief than others. But we all have beliefs, even atheists or skeptics have beliefs. Even if you choose to only believe what your eyes and hands tell you, that's a belief that you can trust that.

Jes said:
"This reminds me of something. When I was in the third grade, I used to get these pains in my hands and wrists. When I actually saw doctor about it, he couldn't find anything wrong with me. It turned out I was just imagining it."

Not just pain, but actual changes to the body, for instance blisters, can be turned on by a hypnotist. Makes you wonder how much of illness and suffering is actually caused by our decisions.

posted by Eolake Stobblehouse @ Tuesday, May 20, 2008   44 comments links to this post

44 Comments:

At 20 May 2008 18:57:00, Blogger Johnnie Walker said...

But we all have beliefs, even atheists or skeptics have beliefs. Even if you choose to only believe what your eyes and hands tell you, that's a belief that you can trust that.

The word belief should not be used when talking of atheists or skeptics. They choose not to believe blindly in something that might be but for which there is not the smallest shred of real proof. Religion is superstition and those who follow New Age ideas are generally soft in the head and ready to believe in whatever the latest thing. Crystals? Reincarnation? Magnetic convergence? Whatever the latest thing, they're into it! Proof be damned! No wonder it's possible to create a religion around a singer or base one on bad science fiction - no one can ever really say you're wrong!

 
At 20 May 2008 21:19:00, Blogger Eric said...

Belief is a fitting word. No matter what it's based on it's still a perspective. We can't get past our own subjective filtering of reality. It doesn't mean there are no objective truths but it does mean that our beliefs and expectations have everything to do with how we interpret those truths. Unbelievers are no exception to this.

A metaphysical belief system doesn't require a person to completely abandon reason. In fact any coherent belief structure requires a strong intellect. Such principles need to be tested just like any other. Too many forget Buddha's admonishment, "Believe nothing I say. Take it for checking." The truth is that you can have an unreasoned atheist just as well as you can have an unreasoned christian or new ager. It's not a matter of specific beliefs, rather it's people who want somebody else to do their thinking for them. "Tell me what to believe so I don't have to ponder life's mysteries on my own! Please don't make me look within my own mind! It's dark in there!"

Granted, you see unreasoned atheists a lot less. Because I have an ass for a head, I know the reason(s):

1. They're a minority. An unpopular minority. In America being an atheist is just a step above being gay. Unless you are immersed in a skeptical environment you will probably need to do some thinking to arrive at your conclusions.

2. The ones that are just riding the bandwagon are a lot better at playing the part than you might think. A lot of atheists are pleasant, down-to-earth folk you'd gladly have coffee with. The image most people have in their heads are the pretentious blow-hards that can't stop talking about how much better they are than everyone else because they don't believe in any gods. Unfortunately there are enough fundie-atheists out there to support the stereotype that when the ignoramuses join the choir it's damn hard to pick them out of the bunch.

This universe isn't mysterious in the way religion claims but it isn't totally mechanistic as many people think. Quantum physics and chaos mathematics should've proven that much by now. If we restrict reality only to the theories and concepts we currently hold then the truth must be far stranger by comparison.

 
At 20 May 2008 21:56:00, Blogger Joe Dick said...

A metaphysical belief system doesn't require a person to completely abandon reason. In fact any coherent belief structure requires a strong intellect.

Not so. Belief in superstition does not require a strong intellect. Quite the opposite.

 
At 20 May 2008 22:06:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was blown out of the water long before quantum physics or chaos mathematics were ever dreamed of. I suppose a dolt like you probably considers the eminent biologist Richard Dawkins in that group of pretentious blowhards. After all, he does talk about it an awful lot.

 
At 20 May 2008 22:22:00, Blogger Eric said...

"Not so. Belief in superstition does not require a strong intellect. Quite the opposite."

If you automatically write-off any experience that goes beyond the norm, then yes. But it's not all superstition. There's not much point in debating when your mind is made up.

"I suppose a dolt like you probably considers the eminent biologist Richard Dawkins in that group of pretentious blowhards. After all, he does talk about it an awful lot."

I don't like Richard Dawkins. Not because of what he says so much as I just find him an extremely unpleasant man. He's got good things to say, most scientists do, but as with everything I take it all with a grain of salt.

 
At 21 May 2008 01:10:00, Blogger Final Identity said...

Derrin Brown strikes again.

In some ways I'm appalled at, and afraid of, the power he seems to wield. Why doesn't he just convince all the rich people to give him their money, all the voters to make him Prime Minister, all the hot women to go down on him, and then all the world to make him King?

Or maybe he already has ...

Anyway, I love his shows. There's something in there, every now and again, that you can take away from it and actually learn to do, yourself. But mostly it's just about a mish-mash of gullibility compounded with suggestability and various sub-liminal methods of getting at your preferred states and then linking them to certain new behaviors. It's not complicated to describe, but probably rather complicated to do off-the-cuff in real life. I wish I could do it. At least the bit with the attractive women ... :)

 
At 21 May 2008 11:31:00, Blogger Joe Dick said...

But it's not all superstition. There's not much point in debating when your mind is made up.

My mind's not made up, I just haven't heard any new argument in a while that couldn't be easily countered.

If you automatically write-off any experience that goes beyond the norm, then yes.

If something is unexplained, that doesn't mean it's got to be supernatural. The argument many believers in the supernatural make is that non-believers simply haven't experienced anything "beyond the norm." The implication is that if they ever do experience something like that, they will immediately become believers.

I don't like Richard Dawkins. Not because of what he says so much as I just find him an extremely unpleasant man. He's got good things to say, most scientists do, but as with everything I take it all with a grain of salt.

What you think of him personally shouldn't enter into it. The way it works is, you evaluate his arguments and see whether his logic works (it usually does). That's all that matters.

I have seen interviews with him and he does not seem like an atheist version of the fundamentalist evangelical TV preacher. He seems quite pleasant - and, moreover, very rational.

That's what it comes down to - are you rational or irrational? A skeptic or a believer in superstition?

 
At 21 May 2008 14:30:00, Blogger Final Identity said...

If you frame it that way, most people of course will prefer rational over irrational.

But if can be framed differently. Try this: What it all comes down to, is whether you accept your position in the universe as a creature with limited mental powers, or whether you insist that yours is the highest mind possible.

Another option: It all comes down to whether you think eventually mankind will control everything, or whether you think eventually mankind will destroy everything.

Another: It all comes down to accepting that there are some things we simply cannot explain, and then giving up on using mere weak lame pathetic rationality as the only means of attempting to find an explanation.

How 'bout: Were you going to go on insisting you're the center of everything or admit you're not so great after all?

I think all those framing devices would predispose the listener to choosing the option which accepts religion rather than rejects it.

I also think, and this is unfortunate, that the debate has become one about the validity of New Age religions, rather than about all religious experiences. I frankly think it's almost an oxymoron to say "New Age religion." All things New Age are, to me, simply fake marketing ploys and pyramid schemes half-baked by unhappy and poorly educated people who didn't know where else to look for solace and structure.

Most mainstream religions can be said to have started in similar circumstances (though I disagree, it still can be said and probably not disproved) but no mainstream religion can be said to be brand new. They've stood the test -- and changes! -- of time.

 
At 21 May 2008 15:56:00, Blogger Eric said...

"If something is unexplained, that doesn't mean it's got to be supernatural. The argument many believers in the supernatural make is that non-believers simply haven't experienced anything "beyond the norm." The implication is that if they ever do experience something like that, they will immediately become believers."

Which I agree is a faulty premise. No spiritual seeker worth his salt will immediately take some experience outside the norm and run through the streets claiming he has, "seen the light." There's a balance point: don't jump to conclusions but don't write off the possibility. Actively explore it if you can. See if you can personally touch on anything. If so, question that experience, define it, then question it some more.

Typical believers seek a higher power to stabilize their life through notions, often absurd ones, that cannot be tested but are usually inconsistent or outright contradictory. Other kinds of spiritual seekers will still profess things that may not be scientifically testable but they are at least consistent and they are always questioning, always seeking, and always open to correction. That doesn't mean everything they say will agree with current science. There are a vast number of personal experiences that seem to contradict scientific knowledge. From a serious scientific standpoint most of it should be disregarded since these cases are often isolated and the stories are exaggerated. However, an honest skeptic needs to be ready to jump on the opportunity to test such propositions when it is possible.

That's often not the case. What I mean by fundie-atheist is anyone who is more concerned with spiting the religious ideologies and superstitions of the past than they are about finding the truth. The reality is that fully exploring all possibilities deconstructs traditional religious models and it calls a lot of what we believe about the material universe into question. It doesn't disprove the latter, it just provides grounds for further exploration. No matter how honest science is, no matter how cutting edge its technique, I feel one thing is for certain when human behavior is taken into account: anything that radically upsets the status quo will be suppressed. History has proven as much. Skeptic or believer, we don't like our perceptions of reality to get shaken up. We are still largely ignorant and we're going to remain that way for a time because of that attitude.

Scientists have championed some radical changes. I'm not calling that into question. I simply feel that bias and perception are present in all endeavors, thus nothing is worth my total trust or unyielding belief. All knowledge is simply a tool, not an end unto itself. Our understanding of things has proven very useful but it doesn't mean it's truthful. We've only just started down the rabbit hole.

"What you think of him personally shouldn't enter into it. The way it works is, you evaluate his arguments and see whether his logic works (it usually does). That's all that matters."

I agree. I just stated what I thought of him. I didn't say it had any relevance. ;) This was hardly a serious discussion at the time. It still isn't, really.

I don't like Dawkins because I do think he embodies the fundie-atheist spirit. Sound logic or no, he's militantly against religion and any form of spirituality. On the one hand I appreciate that: everybody has their biases and his are out there for all to see. Plus the stuff he targets does need to be challenged. On the other hand that kind of bias may limit the usefulness and truthfulness of what he says. He makes some very compelling arguments; I never denied that. I simply watch him more cautiously than I do most others.

Logic is only a tool to make sense of data. Given different information, it can construct arguments that completely contradict the argument it just made, yet it's just as airtight given the available information. Put logic in the hands of a biased man and what you'll get is a very well constructed version of his world. If he's good at it it will overlap with other people's perceptions or subtly change them so they align with his own.

Do I think Richard Dawkins is lying? Absolutely not. He's sincere. I simply believe that the more certain a truth is the more heavily it needs to be scrutinized, no matter who's saying it.

 
At 21 May 2008 16:09:00, Blogger Eric said...

"Most mainstream religions can be said to have started in similar circumstances (though I disagree, it still can be said and probably not disproved) but no mainstream religion can be said to be brand new. They've stood the test -- and changes! -- of time."

The new age movement is every religious philosophy, it's just all mashed together with a friendly, "can't we all just get along?" kind of attitude. I doubt it would be as marketable if it wasn't a way to rebel against religion while at the same time offering all the old traditions in a fat-free, love-n-light format.

 
At 21 May 2008 17:28:00, Blogger Joe Dick said...

Final Identity wrote:
Try this: What it all comes down to, is whether you accept your position in the universe as a creature with limited mental powers, or whether you insist that yours is the highest mind possible.

Why not the obvious choice - that we have no way of knowing which of those in true, and realize that speculation on the subject is pointless.

Another option: It all comes down to whether you think eventually mankind will control everything, or whether you think eventually mankind will destroy everything.

Speculation on this, too, gets us nowhere. Either is a possibility. I would settle for the more rational choice - that we may one day understand everything and neither control or destroy it. I don't know why anyone would think those are the only two choices. Maybe mankind will advance to the point that we no longer think in that way, of having to control everything. I'm reminded of one of the documentaries of Troy McClure - "Man vs Nature - The Road to Victory."

It all comes down to accepting that there are some things we simply cannot explain, and then giving up on using mere weak lame pathetic rationality as the only means of attempting to find an explanation.

We are currently in no position to tell whether or not there are things we will never be able to explain. We haven't been at this for very long. It is obviously a possibility that there may be things which will forever be beyond our ability to understand and/or explain. As I said, we can't tell at this point. That "weak lam pathetic rationality" has so far advanced our knowledge more than any religion or philosophy ever has. It may never answer some questions, but that is no reason to think that blind faith in something that may or may not be is the answer. To the weak minded it is the better choice. The most primitive religion can explain everything in the universe by saying a god did it, and no religion that exists today is any different.

Were you going to go on insisting you're the center of everything or admit you're not so great after all?

If you want to believe humanity itself is more important than in reality, and has a greater significance, and a nobler origin - religion is for you. Science is the way to go if you want reality and can admit "you're not so great after all."

I think all those framing devices would predispose the listener to choosing the option which accepts religion rather than rejects it.

The opposite is true. Religion gives man a false significance in the universe which is not mirrored in reality. Or at least there is no evidence for it. It's always possible that science will eventually prove the existence of God, an after life, and many other things - but for right now it would not rational to believe in these things without any proof.

I also think, and this is unfortunate, that the debate has become one about the validity of New Age religions, rather than about all religious experiences.

New Age religions might take the brunt but they are really no better or worse than any other in the minds of most people.

 
At 21 May 2008 17:35:00, Blogger Joe Dick said...

I did not mean that logic should be the only tool. Aristotle tried to use reason alone and look how many mistakes he made. It should be used along with everything else science has to offer. One advantage that science has - which is seen as a weakness by religious people - is that it changes based on new information. There can be flaws in logic, in interpretation of data, in the way data is gathered. Obviously.

 
At 21 May 2008 17:51:00, Blogger Final Identity said...

I'm, as well, a great adherent to "reasoning" (not just cold mathematical logic, but all the mental capacities of sensible behavior). I value the Enlightenment. I tend to believe that most adherents to the common mainstream religions, adhere more out of superstition than out of a well-considered leap of faith. Mostly they're just sheep to the slaughter.

But I have as well made a leap of faith. In fact, I'd accuse anyone who says he has NOT made that leap, of failing to recognize that his own statement ("I did not make a leap of faith, and instead I prefer logic/reason/something-else-sensible, over religion") has made, in that very statement, a leap of faith.

Har. Now how's THAT for circularity.

See, my take is: reasoning is weak. We can CLAIM that if 1 plus X is 4, then we "know" that X is 3, but really, do we know it? Isn't it possible that the X in question is some magical alien X which defies all earthbound math?

Or, to put it differently, as did a T-shirt I used to regularly see at the University of Chicago: 2 + 2 = 5, for large values of 2.

(By the way, the math on that T-shirt is quite simple. Add 2.4 and 2.4, and state the equation by rounding to the nearest whole number. It's just a question of significant digits. They do this in elections polls all the time, giving Obama 48.9% and Clinton 51.2%, for instance. Likely it was closer to 48.85 to 51.15.)

In failing to recognize that X could be something other than 3, we've simply failed to recognize our assumptions. The T-shirt points out that we've assumed, in "2 + 2", that we're only talking whole numbers and that there will be no rounding off going on. Well, those assumptions are, in themselves, leaps of faith. "We don't need to worry about" that possibility, or this odd circumstance, or the other out-lier statistic, or ...

Yes, we do. If we're talking about whether science or religion is "better", all other points being said and done, then we need to worry about EVERY possibility. Otherwise there's no reason to have the discussion at all.

All science does this "leaving out" of possibilities. Good scientists know that fact, and include it in their analyses.

Poor scientists, generally wasting time on internet bulletin boards, just assert that science is "better" and leave it at that. That's why I reject the point of view that would insist on there being no leap of faith ever. There's always a leap of faith; even if that leap is simply, to claim you didn't make a leap. And frankly, that's a LOT more dangerous a position to hold, because it subsumes both an assumption, and an ignorance of that assumption.

It's hubris, is all.

 
At 21 May 2008 18:27:00, Blogger Eric said...

"One advantage that science has - which is seen as a weakness by religious people - is that it changes based on new information. There can be flaws in logic, in interpretation of data, in the way data is gathered. Obviously."

And that's something that can benefit spiritual practitioners. Abandoning reason means abandoning part of yourself. It means ignoring your curiosity and settling into a rut where all you know is all you'll ever know. We can't advance that way.

And I didn't mean to suggest you meant that logic is the only tool you advocated using, I was just explaining why I feel all things should be called into question even when they seem airtight. I know you can probably agree on that; it's the way science advances and corrects itself. I'm emphasizing it because of my position. IE, not all spiritually minded people are dunderheaded buffoons that blindly accept notions of ghosts and gods while an invisible man shoves the spiked dildo of dogma up their asses. I know how hard that is to believe.

On a lighter note, George Carlin on religion: http://youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o

 
At 21 May 2008 18:33:00, Blogger Joe Dick said...

I knew going in that this was pointless. That's why guys like Dawkins are, in a way, wasting their time. The people who read his books already think as he does.

By the way, I doubt a scientist would waste his time on internet bulletin boards. Do they even still have those?

 
At 21 May 2008 18:42:00, Blogger Eric said...

Psh, scientists need a way to kill time, too. Pointless debates aren't about getting anywhere, they're about the spectacle. It's just a bonus if anybody gains new understanding through it. Which happens, though it's usually not anybody involved in the debate itself.

 
At 21 May 2008 19:10:00, Anonymous Jes said...

This reminds me of something. When I was in the third grade, I used to get these pains in my hands and wrists. When I actually saw doctor about it, he couldn't find anything wrong with me. It turned out I was just imagining it. Stuff like that still happens to me occassionally. Whenever I think something's wrong with me, I start feeling pain in the appropriate areas, and most the time it turns out to be hypochondria.

As far as the religious stuff goes, my thought is that we can't really know anything for sure. I do feel there must be something going on that we're not aware of, there's just too many things that haven't been explained. But what that something is, who knows?

 
At 21 May 2008 19:50:00, Blogger Joe Dick said...

I don't see the point in debating something if you're not hoping to change someone's mind. I'm open to changing my opinions but unfortunately people usually just bring me arguments that are old as the hills and that I heard and considered a long time ago.

 
At 21 May 2008 20:47:00, Blogger Eric said...

That seems stupid to me, especially on topics like this. People generally come into these arguments well-versed in various aspects or they come into it as ranting, raving ignoramuses who would sooner toss a brick at you than admit they said something absurd. Either way they have strong opinions and it's unlikely either side will budge one bit through the discourse.

It seems to me a better approach is to seek understanding on both sides instead of trying to change people's beliefs. We're dealing with the unknown. You can only win in the sense that the Iraq War was a smashing success. Enjoy the spectacle, learn a little about how your fellow humans think and call it a day.

 
At 21 May 2008 23:24:00, Blogger Joe Dick said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 22 May 2008 01:01:00, Blogger Eric said...

Closer to the subject at hand, here's a book that details unconventional healing methods that revolve mostly around the mind's relationship to the body: http://www.amazon.com/Instant-Healing-Cutting-Edge-Scientific-Drug-Free/dp/1580631592/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1211416182&sr=8-1

I have it but I haven't looked through it nor have I tested the methods. It seems very interesting.

I do recall multiple instances where my will and emotions seemed to be involved in either healing me or sustaining my life. During one instance in particular I recall sitting on the couch in numerous layers of clothing with two or three blankets on me. My breathing was shallow and I couldn't get warm. My heart was going nuts and my mind was racing. Suddenly I felt extraordinarily calm and I started concentrating on my breathing. I forced myself to breathe as deeply as I could, and I tried to breathe deeper every time I inhaled. I concentrated on warmth and slowly my body warmed. My heart calmed down and I didn't have any complications after that.

It's possible my body simply recovered on its own and my mind naturally shifted states to coincide with it, but I've experimented with willpower and belief enough that I'm certain it has a profound impact on me. Another instance I can recall is the first time I really fell in love. I'd gotten a splinter under the skin of the index finger of my left hand nearly two years prior and there was a bump that formed and never went away. I couldn't cut it off, there was nothing to pull out, and no matter what I did it kept reappearing. Shortly after I fell in love my body started spontaneously healing itself of certain things and that was one of the first things to go. There's no evidence that it was ever there. (I wish I had thought to take a picture of it before and during the healing process.)

I'm sure the good doctor would have a lot of insight on this. Here's to hoping he leaves a comment.

 
At 22 May 2008 01:58:00, Blogger Final Identity said...

I think the best point that's been made here, so far, is the idea that religions could use a bit of scientific thinking, in being willing to change their methods whenever evidence seems otherwise to confound them.

 
At 24 May 2008 03:55:00, Blogger Pascal [P-04referent] said...

Undoubtedly, pain is firstly a perception. And at the very least, nobody will dare question that one can will pain to decrease. I myself have managed to will hickups to stop, without drinking a glass of water upside-down or any other tricks, not even holding my breath, just by focusing. If you can keep your diaphragm from spasming for a whole minute by relaxing it, you've won.
Common warts also have the well-known reputation of going away with pretty much any treatment as long as the patient believes they'll go away. In France, they rub them with a half-potato which is then buried in the garden during a full moon. You could give people an ointment of flour in Vaseline and it would work.

Re. atheists, from my personal experience most are not non-believers, they are active believers in the absence of anything. And usually as an anticlericalism reaction. The atheists I've met usually decided to believe in nothing no more, after realizing how fake the Clergy's institutions were.
A person who neither believes nor disbelieves is not called an atheist, but a "free thinker". And one of the worst perceived enemies of any religion, because they are not radical (I've seen at least one example of fanatic atheist), but think for themselves, and always reassess. You can't attack their beliefs because caution and sense can only be condemned as a lack of blind faith, and this argument doesn't hold water very well... :-P
I'm probably one of those. If you asked me out of the blue what I believe in, I'd probably answer: "I don't really know. But one thing I'm sure of: I believe in love." :-)
By definition, everything which is not knowledge must remain under question, no matter how logical it feels. I firmly "believe" in love because I have life-long KNOWLEDGE of love. And also of its absence.

As for odd beliefs... I myself recently blogged a piece about it. Check it out, believe, and then do send your generous donations. Cash, checks, credits cards, solid gold idols, gems and young virgins all accepted.
0:-)
Oh, and vote for me as next Master of the Worl... I mean, US President!
=]:-)

"A metaphysical belief system doesn't require a person to completely abandon reason."
Sure. But CLERICS absolutely do require it. Beats me why... :-P
I mean, it's not like mainstream religions were just a large-scale version of hypocrite exotic guru cults, right? ;-)

"In fact any coherent belief structure requires a strong intellect."
Well, I know many weak intellects that hold great belief for an "official structure" which was SUPPOSED to be coherent initially. And which, with them, usually sums up to: "Anything you question I'm not listening to you because you HAVE to be wrong, LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!." Sums up to very frisky superstition under the cautioning of great numbers and an official structure.
Makes me feel that "let he who is without fault cast the first stone" took a very special person to speak it without getting lynched!
In today's Islam (in most of the world, anyway), if you so much as state that "women are treated as sub-human beings", even though it is perfectly true, you deserve to die for saying it. A highly respected and experienced ulema in Egypt wrote a book in the nineties, explaining that the Koran doesn't actually command muslim women to wear a veil, of any sort. That book was immediately removed from bookshops and forbidden by the authorities.
And the wandering fanatism salesmen spend great efforts in promoting the necessary ignorance required by such a... "belief structure". Last Thursday, I saw Taslima Nasrin on TV. She said: "I've criticized Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hinduists, pretty much every religion. But only Muslims have condemned me to death."
As the arab proverb goes, "A blow from the scared man is a very nasty blow". One might insinuate that those angry people behave as if they were afraid for their beliefs. But I certainly won't insinuate any such thing. Because my Lebanon-dwelling intellect loves staying alive!

Buddha's admonishment, "Believe nothing I say. Take it for checking."
Wow! Now THERE's a guy I can't help but like! In the 20th century, I pretty much re-invented that same principle myself.
But of course, only the first one would get famous for it. ;-)

"Tell me what to believe so I don't have to ponder life's mysteries on my own! Please don't make me look within my own mind! It's dark in there!"
Oh, you're a very dangerous heretic, you are.
Me likes you! Oogah! Here, have a smilodon steack, it on me.

"In America being an atheist is just a step above being gay."
I had never thought about it, but it makes perfect sense. Socially, I mean.
What about a gay atheist? Would he go one step up, or down? I mean, since there's nothing possibly negative below absolute zero, the energy potentials should add up... but somehow I expect the results to differ from my flawless theory.

..."the pretentious blow-hards that can't stop talking about how much better they are than everyone else because they don't believe in any gods."
If I just don't believe in preachers and televangelists, am I a pretentious blow-hard? (R.A.F. is excused from having to answer this one.)

..."the stereotype that when the ignoramuses join the choir it's damn hard to pick them out of the bunch."
I TOLD you I was a nasty heretic too! Here's the proof: there's only one single belief I consider to be my enemy. People of many labels will unwittingly follow that belief, which is ignorance. I don't care for their labels, only for their TRUE underlying belief.
Phew. I feel better after that confession. "Now, gentlement of the shooting squad, you may fire at will, I'm ready."

Hey, wait one blasting nanosecond! Shouldn't that plural be "ignorami"? Or am I confusing it with Origami?

Joe Dick intellectualized...
"Not so. Belief in superstition does not require a strong intellect. Quite the opposite."

Hey, HEY, HEY! Are you accusing superstition of being COHERENT, mister skeptic?
I hope you step under a ladder right after a black cat, and get what's coming to you!
(Um, that's "right after a black cat stepped under the ladder", not "right after stepping under a black cat". Let's be precise and coherent. Besides, any black cat big enough for you to step under it is bad news!)


"The implication is that if they ever do experience something like that, they will immediately become believers."
Wow, this sounds extremely familiar! Hey, I'm having déjà vu! Halleiluyah! Wakan-Tanka be praised! Ooh-la-la, lay suckray blue!

"That's what it comes down to - are you rational or irrational? A skeptic or a believer in superstition?"
Bah. This skepticism business is all a bunch of humbug! I'm not buying it.

"It all comes down to whether you think eventually mankind will control everything, or whether you think eventually mankind will destroy everything."
Gee, can't we settle for a truce where everybody lives and stays free? :-(

"How 'bout: Were you going to go on insisting you're the center of everything or admit you're not so great after all?"
Here's the deal: you insist I'm the center of everything, and then I can play modest. :-)

I frankly think it's almost an oxymoron to say "New Age religion."
It seems that Wicca in the end is quite different from what ancient Nature religions were, incorporating 50% of "modern" attitudes and beliefs.

Which I agree is a faulty premise. No spiritual seeker worth his salt will immediately take some experience outside the norm and run through the streets claiming he has, "seen the light."
Well, I once had a striking experience which immediately made me "see the light". It all started when I bumped my head very hard on a concrete ledge. And then I heard bells, and the stars in the sky started whirling.
Then came a very distant, motherly voice, and it said, "I think we should take him to the hospital". Another, very manly deep voice, answered, "Naah! He's got a hard head, it runs in the family. Look, he's coming round."
The weird thing, you know, is that when I returned to this eartly world, a stigmata was bleeding on my forehead.
That mystical experience left me in a state of confusion for a few days, and I've never been the same since.

"There are a vast number of personal experiences that seem to contradict scientific knowledge."
Well, there are a vast number of personal experiences that cannot be analyzed by today's scientific knowledge.
Take me, for instance. I once had a striking experience which immediately made me "see the light". It all started when I bumped my head very hard on a concrete ledge. And then I heard bells, and the stars in the sky started whirling.
Then came a very distant, motherly voice, and it said, "I think we should take him to the hospital". Another, very manly deep voice, answered, "Naah! He's got a hard head, it runs in the family. Look, he's coming round."
The weird thing, you know, is that when I returned to this eartly world, a stigmata was bleeding on my forehead.
That mystical experience left me in a state of confusion for a few days, and I've never been the same since.

"Our understanding of things has proven very useful but it doesn't mean it's truthful. We've only just started down the rabbit hole."
I once bumped my head very hard, not in a rabbit hole, but because of a manhole, which is quite close symbolically. I "saw the light" in a very mystical experience that changed me forever. But physically, I'm fine now, and my memory is working perfectly again.

"Logic is only a tool to make sense of data. Given different information, it can construct arguments that completely contradict the argument it just made, yet it's just as airtight given the available information."
You've just defined Paranoia, my friend. In contrast with paranoid schizophremia, pure Paranoia comprises no dysfunctions of the thought processes, and the narcissic premise that they are "awesome people drawing envious plots from pretty much the whole world" is usually backed by airtight arguments which can often convince the people around them. It's pretty much the extreme of "putting logic in the hands of a biased man". Remember the saying: "It's only paranoia if there AREN'T people actually out to get you."

On the other hand, I once encountered a patient who claimed to have had a mystical experience and "seeing the Light" following a cranial trauma. He kept telling everybody his story over and over, and wondering how they guessed what he was about to say and ran away before he got to the heart of the story. That one was a real crackpot, definitely not airtight paranoia.
Poor bloke's never getting released from the sanitarium...

Joe Dick replied...
"What it all comes down to, is whether you accept your position in the universe as a creature with limited mental powers, or whether you insist that yours is the highest mind possible."
Why not the obvious choice - that we have no way of knowing which of those in true, and realize that speculation on the subject is pointless.

Oh, but we can chosse which one is true, and make sure it stays true. By exterminating ever goddamn heathen alien that dares show up on our fine planet and seem smarter than we are! (Pant, pant, pant...)
"If everybody believes in it hard enough, it becomes the truth."

I'm reminded of one of the documentaries of Troy McClure - "Man vs Nature - The Road to Victory."
Hrrrmm! Troy McClure is a nice man, but he can just eat my shorts!

"We are currently in no position to tell whether or not there are things we will never be able to explain."
Prove it right now, or take that back!

"That "weak lam pathetic rationality" has so far advanced our knowledge more than any religion or philosophy ever has."
Descartes was undoubtedly a genius, but when he tried using religion as a base for knowledge, he made a fool of himself. Seeking the location of the soul, he held the following reasoning (summarized):
"It's not in the heart, for the heart is a muscle pump for blood. It's got to be in the brain. And not in one of the cavities in the brain (the 4 ventricles), but incarnated in a solid organ, fused with the living flesh. The soul logically cannot be divided, therefore it cannot be located in one of the many symmetrical parts of the brain. Must be a single organ, central, probably at the core of everything, controlling the mechanisms of the brain which in turn control the living automaton which is the body. In conclusion, the soul must be located, I'm sure of it, in... the pituitary body! Yes, it makes perfect sense." He then proceeded to describe how the soul worked through the pituitary body. For instance, the movements of this suspended cherry-like gray mass probably acted like a gyroscope o maintain one's standing balance and posture.
Much later came Broca, who rationally and empirically made a functional map of the brain based, not on the postulate of an indivisible christian soul, but on the objective hints left by brain strokes...
Speaking of brain strokes, have I told you about the time when I had a trauma to the head? Man, that was an out-of-this-world experience! Do remind me to tell you the whole story one day.

"If you want to believe humanity itself is more important than in reality, and has a greater significance, and a nobler origin - religion is for you."
Humankind is full of itself. Religion is just full of it.

"Religion gives man a false significance in the universe which is not mirrored in reality."
Who cares about reality when God's at your side? Ever since I started praying the smoke genie of my crack pipe (after I cracked my melon), the mirror of reality has become wonderfully fogged up, and I don't need to look into it any more. I'm telling you, dude, the genie will show you the way to Nirvana. The express road! One puff, and you're flying on your way. Whoa, lookit them psychedelic colors...
Plus, the smoke genie is all for free love. Beats any promises of bliss AFTER this here earthly field of woes.

"New Age religions might take the brunt but they are really no better or worse than any other in the minds of most people."
I'll grant you permission to say this the day some fundamentalist New Age commando blows up an Amish school to "teach them to have fun in life". There ARE worse, um, "labels" to carry tattoed on your forehead. Be it a messily hirsute forehead or closely shaved.

Final Identity estimated...
"I tend to believe that most adherents to the common mainstream religions, adhere more out of superstition than out of a well-considered leap of faith. Mostly they're just sheep to the slaughter."

Do remember that sheep also follow another powerful motivation: the force of habits taught since birth!


"Har. Now how's THAT for circularity."
A square reasoning!
Nifty quadrature you accomplished there, mister mathematic mind. :-)

"Poor scientists, generally wasting time on internet bulletin boards"...
Anybody I know? :-)

"Abandoning reason means abandoning part of yourself."
It can be healthy at times.
I mean, sacrificing one's life to save somebody else is, as Mr Spock woud put it, "deeply illogical". Science has its domain, and there are areas where it is pointless. Like love.
But enough preaching my personal religion AGAIN. ;-)
Abandoning reason for a while, as a "calculated risk" if you wish, may sometimes be a means of finding another part of yourself. And then you can work on making both parts get along. :-)
Some simplify this in tech talk as "the right brain versus the left brain". Others as "mind versus mojo, baby, yeah, let's shag!"

"I feel all things should be called into question even when they seem airtight."
Ain't no better time to question them!
"The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining." -- John F. Kennedy
:-)
(Am I overdoing it with the smileys? :-)
(But who can tell for sure?)

..."while an invisible man shoves the spiked dildo of dogma up their asses. I know how hard that is to believe."
AH-HA! And all that time I thought it was the horn of the Invisible Pink Unicorn poking them spiritually...

Jes testified...
"Whenever I think something's wrong with me, I start feeling pain in the appropriate areas, and most the time it turns out to be hypochondria."

The term might be inaccurate. Hypochondria is the obsessive belief that one is sick (usually with some life-threatening illness). Feeling pains which originate entirely from the mind is technically called "conversion hysteria". Don't let the name mislead you, it's quite different from the common language meaning of "hysterical". Conversion hysteria defines when one's inner stress and anguish manifest themselves not through panic attacks ("pure anxiety disorder"), not through phobia (making the object of the phobic fear into a scapegoat which one can conveniently flee), not through an obsessive-compulsive diversion, but by becoming the source of one's bodily shortcomings. Some cases became blind or paralyzed with no documentable cause, from this entity. And when the psychologic source is relieved, the physical ailing/disability will be "miraculously" cured.
The medical committee in Lourdes knows about all of this, and makes a strict distinction between the healing powers of faith and genuine, "medically impossible" miracles, which are very few on the official list. For instance, one case of terminal tuberculosis, documented as "miraculous". There's no known way for a comatose patient to recover from a chronic infection without an objective cause, as simply as a paraplegia from conversion hysteria.
(I mentioned this just to point out that there ARE some unexplained healing examples in Lourdes that are considered as official miracles, not only because they have no known explanation, but because according to medical knowledge they were impossible. Official recorded Lourdes miracles are only a handful, but their files are beyond questioning. Investigation-confirmed cases of healings which, according to all constantly updated knowledge, couldn't possibly have happened but did nevertheless.)

"As far as the religious stuff goes, my thought is that we can't really know anything for sure."
Truer words were never spoken! (although several things just as true made it on occasion. ;-)
Religion typically deals with things that cannot be KNOWN. And when Science steps on its turf, like Galileo or Darwin, Religion bristles up, and "A blow from the scared man is a very nasty blow".
As if not holding all the answers to everything was unconceivable for the Word of the Lord.
But the Lord's Books never mentioned the square of the hypothenuse, the pagan American continent(s) that waited 15 centuries before receiving missionaries (the Phoenicians knew, the Vikings knew, the Chinese knew, but oddly the Bible forgot to reveal it), the correspondences of trigonometry, the health dangers of heavy metals (far worse than those of eating pork or consuming blood), the existence of radio-activity, the invaluable curing properties of the Penicillium mould and the antibiotic it contains, etc... Many very valuable pieces of knowledge (to put it mildly!) were simply left out for people to discover on their own...
Religion is about the spiritual part of human life, which is different from the material part, the psychological part, and many others.
But insecure characters love it when you go and tell them: "Don't think. Let God think for you, let me tell you what He said, and never worry about making mistakes or growing up into a responsible adult. Plus, you'll be guaranteed eternal bliss in the Afterlife if -and only if- you do exactly what I tell you on behalf of God."
Can we know for sure what happens after death? Or IF anything happens? We don't even know how to define the soul, the spirit or the conscience in a manner that everybody agrees on. Is it anything more than 21 grams® of air that leave the lungs upon one's last expiration? If there's nobody to remember us, have we lived at all? If a tree falls in the woods and nobody's there to hear it, has anything happened? If you have sex in the woods and there's nobody to see it and faint in horror, did you break the State of Pennsylvania law? (According to the police, that last one is an affirmative.)
Oh, but there IS something whe can know for sure: that we can't really know anything for sure. *I think*!... ;-)

Joe Dick meditationed...
"I don't see the point in debating something if you're not hoping to change someone's mind."

Don't be so assertive (in a negative tone sort of way...). Debating may sometimes help you change your own mind, using only the other's presence (and noise?) to stimulate the formulation of things that were within yourself.
Or it can be a great way to waste a lot of time. Right, dear Mother-in-law? (Ow! What did I say NOW?!?)

"I'm open to changing my opinions but unfortunately people usually just bring me arguments that are old as the hills and that I heard and considered a long time ago."
Be careful, old as they may be, the hills are alive. (...with the sound of music, lalala...)
Looks like you need to put up some insect screen and open to more interesting visitors. But quality is always a rare thing.
Most people debate and discuss for the sheer pleasure of feeling their own importance as they talk (preferably louder than the others). When you find somebody who actually listens to you and not only to themselves, grab them, and sequester them for decades in your sound-proof basement to make sure you don't lose them.

"You can only win in the sense that the Iraq War was a smashing success."
What? You mean it really wasn't?
Well how about that! You learn something new every day...
Onga-monga, now me smart!

At 11:24 PM, Joe Dick said...
"This post has been removed by the author."

No offense, Joe, but I think I've already heard you use that one.
Got any NEW arguments to convince me? Hmmm?

Eric, I think I already mentioned this before you showed up on this blog:
Once, shopping in Beirut in the summer, and it can become very hot for a city that's next to the sea, I had this weird idea of trying mind-over-body. I focused on images, memories and sensations of cold. "Remember, when you were freezing your nuts off in the winter, desperate for some warmth."
It worked so well, that soon I had to stop when I got shivers. I worried about catching cold! (Just reminiscing that moment is giving me a chill right now. Aah-chewie!)
One "scientific" branch dealing with similar mechanisms is called "bio-feedback", I believe. I'm still pretty sure today that the sheer power of the mind cannot put a broken bone back into place and then weld it pristine "just like that". But there are, undoubtedly, some very powerful mechanisms through which one can will control over their body, many (most?) of which are still unknown. The rage to live can help somebody survive far after "by all acounts he should be dead". Very serious scientific studies reported that meditation and the likes allows some people, not only to turn off pain when they pierce their bodies with knives or spikes through skin and muscle, but also to pretty much KEEP FOM BLEDING. All I can say is, clearly there is no unbridgeable separation between conscious actions and unconscious nerve circuits in the body. Any moron can "psyche" his heartbeat and blood pressure to rise just by thinking "exitation" or "angry". And any recruiting sargeant knows that and uses it to make them idjets more efficient in combat by previously raising their adrenalin, RAAAARRR!

This, I would say, is a very powerful example of things which classic science is partly unable to study today, because classic science's methodology demands to exclude all subjective factors, and therefore it makes the study of the mind's subjectivity a very complicated endeavour. Subjectivity exists, as any cold hard statistic on wars and criminality will confirm. But today's objective science doesn't have all the tools to study it as thoroughly as it should. Some domains of science still remain to be entirely INVENTED. Psychology, sociology, with their methods greatly influenced (and often biased) by the observer's state of mind, are far from the goal. This is why a lot of people simply don't find "human sciences" very interesting. Because they're still running round the block, looking for the door that will lead them to the relevance inside. Maybe there's no door, and they should try to open one of the windows or scale a balcony? ;-)
Oh yeah, we've still got a lot to learn, starting with how to learn it. And that's without even having met intelligent aliens with a whole different way of thinking! Just with animals and the rest of life present on Earth, the quantity of things which "we know that we don't know" (© Dick Cheney) is staggering. Not to mention there are undoubtedly masses of stuff which existence we still have no clue about. "Grainy states are solids at rest, which behave like liquids past a certain mechanical threshold." "Glass is in fact a liquid with infinite viscosity, same as wax." "The mechanisms of how proteins fold in 3-D require huge computer power just to grasp the rough basics." "The physics of materials at the nanometric scale holds potential for innumerable discoveries and technical accomplishments."
And finally, "Brains: the Final Frontier. To boldly think what no man has dared to think before." :-)
(But could we possibly have been wrong about Iraq? NAAAAH! That's just too silly and far-fetched!)

Final Identity hereticized...
"I think the best point that's been made here, so far, is the idea that religions could use a bit of scientific thinking"

What, WHAT? Will you listen to him, y'all? Next thing you know, this guy will suggest using common sense before just blindly and absolutely believing something pious. That's NOT what I've been taught in Catechism, I'll have you know, mister seditious.
Okay, so I always got lousy grades in catechism, but that's beside the point. ;-)

 
At 24 May 2008 11:01:00, Blogger Joe Dick said...

You can will pain to recede? They should stop giving cancer patients pain medication and tell them to use willpower. It's cheaper!

When I was in an accident and had my beautiful face smashed up, considering the pain medication didn't do much I would have loved to have been able to will the pain to go away.

P.S. Is this a record for length of post, Doc? ;-)

 
At 24 May 2008 11:10:00, Blogger eolake said...

Yep, by 33%.

 
At 24 May 2008 11:10:00, Blogger eolake said...

Gosh, Dick, you look much younger and handsomer these days.

 
At 24 May 2008 15:53:00, Blogger Joe Dick said...

This is a picture of me from 1948, when I was still a relatively young stud. Still, I get plenty of action around the nursing home, but I have to be careful. Once I got third degree burns on my johnson.

 
At 25 May 2008 03:20:00, Blogger Pascal [P-04referent] said...

Willing pain to decrease or go away is possible. Same thing for self-fellatio. But it doesn't mean that anybody can do it! *IF* you're capable of it, usually it'll take a lot of training, and you can't be sure that the results will be worth the effort. I speak from experience. ;-)

33% more than my own established world record? Wow. I managed to impress myself! Not an easy feat, but if somebody could accomplish it, it was me. ;-P

Third degree burns? I bet it wouldn't have happened if you had left the darn cigarette on an ashtray. This stuff will shorten your life! See here to get my brief point.

 
At 25 May 2008 03:44:00, Anonymous Jes said...

Conversion hysteria might explain what was going on when I was a kid(I never did get a good answer on what that was all about), but I have had at least a couple of cases of hypochondria. I've always had a rather obsessive personality in general, and it makes me tend to take things a step further than what's normal. My music obsession is a good example. I'm probably borderline OCD.

 
At 26 May 2008 00:44:00, Blogger Pascal [P-04referent] said...

Hmm... I fail to grasp the link between music obsession and hypocondria. ;-)

There are many pathological categories in Psychology, but one thing that's quite interesting is that nobody can escape them. Basically, our personality is always composed of various proportions of those "pathologies" (google "Temperament and Character Inventory" for more info). We all have a schizoid component, an obsessive-compulsive side, a paranoid part, etc. The TCI testing assesses these proportions in each individual. They only become pathological over a certain degree, if the "borderline" is crossed, if you like. A normal psyche (that's with an "E", not "psychO"!) comprises proportions of these TRAITS, with a few lows and a one or a few peaks, which make up our specific individual patterns. One's "highs" are the directions in which we might become abnormal in extreme circumstances of mental stress or emotional trauma.
Clinically abnormal personalities either have gone overboard in one of their highs (or several), or were already too intense in these aspects and it finally revealed itself one day.

"Borderline OCD" may quite likely render common living difficult or impossible with someone who's very low on the O-C trait, but that's still no reason for house arrest in the residence of my canaries. ;-)

Besides, there are a great many people who are markedly beyong normal levels, and still able to function satisfyingly in society.
For instance, in Lebanon, if an obsessive-compulsive woman focuses her trait in house cleaning and prayer, she will be regarded as a most upstanding and pious lady, with her "intense faith and pristine house".
Or, you can picture a shizo-paranoid psychopathic Taliban. Who'll be "a most admirable jihadist". And tough luck for his black-and-blue wives...
It's all about fitting in, being adapted and feeling good with oneself. I guess the best criteria for how normal your music obsession is or isn't, is the number of complaints filed by your neighbors to the police. :-)

 
At 26 May 2008 00:45:00, Blogger Pascal [P-04referent] said...

In hindsight, I can understand how Talibans would find a giant symbol of Buddhism intolerably unbearable. Not quite the same beliefs...

 
At 26 May 2008 10:22:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Buddha was at least an original, whereas the koran is plagiarized from the Old and New Testaments.

 
At 26 May 2008 17:07:00, Blogger Johnnie Walker said...

eric said:
Belief is a fitting word. No matter what it's based on it's still a perspective. We can't get past our own subjective filtering of reality. It doesn't mean there are no objective truths but it does mean that our beliefs and expectations have everything to do with how we interpret those truths. Unbelievers are no exception to this.

This is something that you might be able to say to a believer in mysticism, in any of the different superstitions called religion. It can't be applied to science because science by definition is in itself objective truth, cold, logical truth.

A metaphysical belief system doesn't require a person to completely abandon reason.

I suggest you look up the word "metaphysical." By definition it requires a person to abandon reason.

In fact any coherent belief structure requires a strong intellect.

The opposite is true. The weak-minded are usually the most devout. There's a reason for that. If religion or any other superstition required a strong intellect, there would be few believers in the world.

Such principles need to be tested just like any other.

Exactly how do you test a metaphysical belief? Reason alone is not enough. Someone else here mentioned Aristotle, who is incorrectly thought to have believed the Earth was flat but who did believe it was the center of the universe. He reasoned this out, using logic. Logic alone is obviously not enough, and it is for this reason that science made little progress until centuries later when a scientific method was developed.

Too many forget Buddha's admonishment, "Believe nothing I say. Take it for checking."

He didn't. He said that we should believe nothing unless it agrees with our own reason and common sense. Which is also kind of worthless, but then what do you expect from someone who, if he really lived, died about 2500 years ago? A man of that time, knowing nothing of science, was not qualified to answer anything about the mysteries of the universe.

The truth is that you can have an unreasoned atheist just as well as you can have an unreasoned christian or new ager. It's not a matter of specific beliefs, rather it's people who want somebody else to do their thinking for them. "Tell me what to believe so I don't have to ponder life's mysteries on my own! Please don't make me look within my own mind! It's dark in there!"
It is true that you can have an unreasoned atheist, but these are less common because it usually requires a certain level of intellect for a person to become an atheist. The majority of people, who do not go to chuch (or whatever) and never have or ever will, usually still believe in God or something else. The whole point of religion is that it answers everything already, and so there is no need for the believer to be bothered with figuring anything out, of having to think about anything at all.

In America being an atheist is just a step above being gay.

It's at least - at least - one step below being gay. Gays in fact have more rights, even in the hard-core gay-hating areas of the United States.

The ones that are just riding the bandwagon are a lot better at playing the part than you might think.

It seems unlikely - but, granted, not impossible - that anyone would ride that bandwagon unless they truly thought that way. If there was a bandwagon. There are millions of atheists in the world but they have no need to get together in groups and go to huge rallies. Religion needs that. Considering how unpopular it is - and even dangerous - to be an atheist in some parts of the world, it's unlikely that anyone would pretend to be one if they're not. Unless it's to get a girl. People are much more likely to try to ride the religion band wagon even though they are unable to believe. There are a lot of people in the world who are like Mother Teresa and try their hardest to believe but just can't. I really seriously doubt that there are many faux atheists out there. There's not even much money in it, like there is in religion. Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Benny Hinn...these guys rake in the dough. Guys like Hitchens and Dawkins are doing far less well financially.

The image most people have in their heads are the pretentious blow-hards that can't stop talking about how much better they are than everyone else because they don't believe in any gods.

Whether someone is a pretentious blowhard really depends on whether you agree with them or not. Thing is, they are better if they don't believe in any gods.

This universe isn't mysterious in the way religion claims but it isn't totally mechanistic as many people think.

The model of the universe working like clockwork went out long ago and was dealt the final death blow by Einstein. Despite the apparent chaos of the universe, it does appear to work according to physical laws. Even if it didn't, I'd much rather admit that we do not understand its working (we don't) but operate on the idea that science can figure out its mysteries. If you're religious it's easier because all the mysteries are already solved, or at least they're none of your business. God does it and how he does is not your problem. Science may not be able to answer everything but we haven't been at it long enough to tell. No point in quitting now.

If we restrict reality only to the theories and concepts we currently hold then the truth must be far stranger by comparison.

No scientist is going suggest we do that. Scientific knowledge is always increasing and theories are constantly challenged.

 
At 26 May 2008 17:15:00, Blogger Johnnie Walker said...

The new age movement is every religious philosophy, it's just all mashed together with a friendly, "can't we all just get along?" kind of attitude. I doubt it would be as marketable if it wasn't a way to rebel against religion while at the same time offering all the old traditions in a fat-free, love-n-light format.

This is basically what Christianity did. Roughly 2000 years ago you had people dissatisfied with the available religions of the time, especially the state religion of Rome. There were many contenders to replace it but Christianity eventually won out. It promised all the right stuff. Now the same thing is happening again. Hopefully this time religion will be done away with rather than just replacing any of the current ones with something new.

Humanity has to grow up sometime.

 
At 26 May 2008 18:48:00, Blogger Joe Dick said...

I agree but you're probably wasting your time.

anonymous said:

Buddha was at least an original, whereas the koran is plagiarized from the Old and New Testaments.

I'm not sure there's any proof for Buddha's existence either, any more than for Jesus. As for the Koran, I don't know about that but it wouldn't surprise me.

 
At 26 May 2008 18:51:00, Blogger Eric said...

"It seems unlikely - but, granted, not impossible - that anyone would ride that bandwagon unless they truly thought that way. If there was a bandwagon. There are millions of atheists in the world but they have no need to get together in groups and go to huge rallies."

I'm thinking of examples I saw when I was a teenager, when rebelling against religion by claiming to be an atheist was a trendy thing. There are also people who don't live in an area where they have to face the kind of large-scale scrutiny a lot of atheists have to put up with and that's where you'll likely see a few people conforming to anti-belief just because it is the thing to do. It seems to become less common in the higher age-ranges.

"Whether someone is a pretentious blowhard really depends on whether you agree with them or not."

Hardly. It depends on the manner in which they disagree. Disbelieving in gods has as much to do with one's character as believing in gods does. That is to say, it's unrelated.

You'll note we don't actually disagree on that stuff. I basically said what you did in a different form. While atheism, due to its current societal stigma, generally requires a greater commitment than most religions, there are still people who either feel pressured into it or who adopt it simply to spite their religion in their disillusionment. These cases are rare but are adequate to demonstrate that one is not inherently superior simply because of an adopted set of beliefs, or anti-beliefs as the case may be.

Mystics in the past have abandoned reason and eschewed science. This is not only unnecessary, it is unwise for any honest spiritual seeker in the modern era. Should science and spirituality ever merge? Hell no! At least not until some undeniable metaphysical truth makes its way into the scientific understanding. When science can explain the strangest of the strange it's likely a new paradigm will be born. This paradigm will either remove any reason to believe in something beyond the material universe or it will confirm that things are indeed far stranger than our reason would tell us. It's likely the answer will fall somewhere in the middle. For the time being, there is no reason science and spirituality cannot co-exist.

For now spirituality is by and large a personal thing. Much of it is unlikely to ever have empirical falsifiability, at least within the current paradigm, since it hinges entirely on personal experience. Proof is largely dependent on personal definition and no one who lacks reason to believe should ever give themselves to blind faith.

It's a lot like the good doctor said earlier, about meditation canceling pain. That's something I imagine you could actually measure by hooking somebody up to machines and going to town on his body, but if you're just observing him during his normal life you're not going to be able to tell how much pain he's actually in when something nasty happens to him. The catch-22 with many spiritual principles is they're just like this; you can't see a difference, you can't feel it if you touch the person's skin, and most of the time you can't measure it with what we've got currently, but that person is still experiencing something wholly strange. For instance, there's no scientific explanation (as far as I'm aware) for how some people report floating over their bodies during surgery and then recall the events as they actually happened. Maybe there's a perfectly mundane explanation for it but regardless it's very intriguing.

 
At 26 May 2008 20:30:00, Blogger Joe Dick said...

"Whether someone is a pretentious blowhard really depends on whether you agree with them or not."

Hardly. It depends on the manner in which they disagree. Disbelieving in gods has as much to do with one's character as believing in gods does. That is to say, it's unrelated.


I think this was a general comment about the average person who will take a dislike to a person and then dismiss what they say because of that dislike and not because of anything they say. I don't know that it was necessarily about you, although I could be wrong about that.

I can see, for example, why a lot of people would take a dislike to Christopher Hitchens. In my opinion that's much more likely than with Dawkins, since Hitchens definitely pulls no punches.

 
At 27 May 2008 00:21:00, Blogger Johnnie Walker said...

Hardly. It depends on the manner in which they disagree.

Wrong again. Many people who thought as he did supported Falwell even though he definitely fell into the blowhard category. Many who disagree with Christopher Hitchens call him, among other things, pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, and no doubt many other things including a blowhard. Because they disagree with him.

I'm thinking of examples I saw when I was a teenager, when rebelling against religion by claiming to be an atheist was a trendy thing.

I guess you wouldn't have to think back too far. I know that where I'm from the people are not overly religious. It is not the Bible Belt by any means. But most are believers, and no one would ever pretend to be an atheist to be cool. It wouldn't be considered cool. Of course, it's also not considered cool to be overly religious, or even to go to church at all.

 
At 27 May 2008 00:26:00, Blogger Johnnie Walker said...


I can see, for example, why a lot of people would take a dislike to Christopher Hitchens. In my opinion that's much more likely than with Dawkins, since Hitchens definitely pulls no punches.


The only thing I dislike about Hitchens is that he tries a bit too hard - or appears to try too hard - to be this sort of "bad boy of letters". To many people to be a writer, even a journalist, is to still be a geek, and Hitchens' clearly excessive drinking and smoking as well as his unkempt appearance, etc., seem to be a bit of a heavy-handed attempt to be the cool kid among the dorks.

I could be totally wrong about that, and he could just be a heavy drinker and smoker because he really likes it. I guess being a print journalist it doesn't really matter whether you let yourself go.

I wouldn't let that affect my opinion of his ideas, though. I wouldn't allow a dislike of the man to affect my judgment of his work.

 
At 27 May 2008 23:22:00, Blogger Eric said...

Steve Pavlina just released an article on religion that I thought was fitting for the direction this took: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2008/05/10-reasons-you-should-never-have-a-religion/

 
At 29 May 2008 22:59:00, Blogger Pascal [P-04referent] said...

"Whether someone is a pretentious blowhard really depends on whether you agree with them or not."
I beg to differ, you pretentious blowhard! ;-)
I've seen many people poorly advocate a good cause which I was convinced of.
Which in the end upsets me more than a PB talking out of his ass, because the harm is greater when ruining a worthwile principle with an unworthy attitude.
I liked how Eric expressed it.

"If you're religious it's easier because all the mysteries are already solved, or at least they're none of your business."
Spoken like a true saint!!! ;-)

"Humanity has to grow up sometime."
Nope! I don't wanna! So there.

Joe Dick dared...
"I'm not sure there's any proof for Buddha's existence either, any more than for Jesus."

Well, to my knowledge, nobody really questions the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth (only that of his tomb... obviously!). Starting with those who would have the most reasons to question it, the Jews who do not acknowledge him as the Messiah; yet they never denied that the person at the origin of Christiannism really lived. They have a long list of non-acknowkeged Messiahs over the centuries. (Every year at Christmas time, there are a few new ones in Jerusalem!)
The more recent you look, the more reliable things become. Muhammad the person DEFINITELY existed, you can't question that, you can only doubt his prophet status. And very recently, Baha'ullah is so official, that his remains are probably still present in his shrine in Israel.
On the other hand, Buddah is probably a legend, especially with all those unique physical signs that are supposed to confirm his special nature (check Wikipedia, I think there are 300 Buddhan peculiarities). Moses is also quite legendary, and in best case scenario he's a mix of two or three ancient epic characters merged into one. One of them is hypothesized to be Pharaoh Akhenaton.
But in the end, the historical existence of a religion's founder is a rather moot point, since you'll have the believers who will NEVER question it no matter what, and you have the distanciated minds who will consider that the only relevant point anyway is the spiritual message and the results on daily life and cohabitation.

Re. the Koran: do you guys have any idea how arduous it is to make a good plagiary, anyway? ;-)
Many have tried, many have miserably failed.
Alas, in Lebanon I have no means of checking how successful Anton Szandor LaVey was...

Eric reminisced...
"I'm thinking of examples I saw when I was a teenager, when rebelling against religion by claiming to be an atheist was a trendy thing."

Larry Lovage, upon getting turned down by a ha-cha-cha babe because when he took off his pants she noticed he was a gentile: "Wait... I can convert! Come back!"

"For instance, there's no scientific explanation (as far as I'm aware) for how some people report floating over their bodies during surgery and then recall the events as they actually happened."
Actually, there is. Several good hypotheses are seriously considered. Nothing confirmed because it is quite difficult to reproduce, but one can feel like coming out of their body while still very much conscious, with the adequate drug turning off a specific brain area. Recalling events COULD be from moments when anaesthesia was getting light, it's never a fixed state of sleep, there are ups and downs which the anaesthesiologist controls depending on the requirements of the procedure. Not saying that's what actually happens, but there ARE objective possible explanations in many cases.
It has been established that when tibetan monks meditate and "become one with the Universe", the cerebral area involved in the perception of individuality completely shuts down. Whether it it the cause or the effect remains very unclear, because such research is still in its very early stages.

Just mentioning this to make things clear: claiming that science "can give no explanation" is a greatly abusive statement. Science "cannot PROVE it's not something else than its plausible suggestions... so far today". Never mistake the unexplained and the unexplainable!
Now each of us has to decide whether he chooses to believe, to doubt, or to keep an open mind. Me, I love it when KNOWING a maximum of undisputable factual knowledge allows me to usefully dedicate my time to true mysteries, instead of wandering in the meanders of crass ignorance with hollow awe. (Chic shock and hollow awe?)

One example which my engineer father loves to mention: if you hit cold tar with a hammer, it shatters like glass. Leave it in a pierced container like a barrel, it very slowly LEAKS, like a hugely viscous liquid, which it is. There's one ongoing experiment which monitors a drop of tar falling from such a barrel, at the mindboggling rate of... one drop every seven years! Fascinating, but no mysteries there: tar is an amorphous body, and the limits between its solid and liquid state are simply undetermined, depending on temperature and the time scale. The same is true for glass, just much more greatly. With enough patience and pressure, you could bend solid glass. If you live long enough!
I guess this is a job for (ta-tadaaaah!) JOE DICK THE ANCIENT! ©
Oh, the vibrating suspense, the hectic action, the tumultuous adventure! The tremoring dentures! Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Glass Choppers!

 
At 30 May 2008 17:21:00, Blogger Joe Dick said...

I liked how Eric expressed it.

Seriously? Pascal, are you going to joke your way through your entire life?! ;-)

Btw, Pascal - I'm disappointed in you. Glass is a solid. There are many sources for this but take this one: http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/Glass/glass.html

 
At 1 Jun 2008 02:25:00, Blogger Pascal [P-04referent] said...

I'm sorry, Joe, I just can't manage to stay serious for two consecutive seconds! ;-)

Some of Steve Pavlina's arguments, about "confusing and internally conflicting information overwhelming your logical mind (i.e. your neocortex)", aren't simply his, but from some very serious rational studies of cult- and religion-related neurophysiology. Not to mention it simply makes complete sense!
This is probably the explanation of my innate(?) "immunity" to catechism: when I notice conflicting informations, instead of considering I must be a complete moron, I doubt the validity of said informations! Especially when a part of them are never mentioned in the "Source Text", but grafted "like, forever" on the tradition of believers.
I really can't stomach the concept of a God of Knowledge leaving His believers in such deep error of ignorance, twisting My Truth more and more with each abused altar boy that's driven to suicide.
Incidentally, theres is an identical phenomenon in the Afghan and Pakistani madrasas, including the forcible taboo of omerta. If you so much as try to talk about what's going on involving young pupils, you must die. Or get your face mutilated with acid.
BTW, these are the very same countries where wearing white socks can end you up in prison, presumably because "they are a coded rallying sign for homosexuals". I must therefore conclude that it is illegal to be a fag if you're not a goddamned brainwashing cleric. Otherwise, it's permitted. Provided you leave no witnesses to slander your pure-white socks... er, Faith!

"So-called divine mysteries are engineered to be incomprehensible."
Does this also go for the mysteries of the Most Holy Soviet Party? :-P
By Lenin's beard, cults will hide in the mostest unlikeliest of countriests!

"This includes reading some of the worst fiction ever written."
Well, I dunno about that. Than Charlton Heston movie about Moses had some pretty cool sci-fi effects for its days.
Now Battlefield Earth, that one definitely sucked molten damnation through a red-hot iron straw. Or sumpin'.

"Seriously, if you have insomnia, try reading religious texts before bedtime. You’ll be asleep faster than you can say Methuselah."
This checks out: I've tried. "Methuzzzzz........."
Another way to go to sleep relaxed and fast, is to have yourself a good session of "slapping the one-eyed bishop" until he spits. ;-)

"Why do you think hotels put Bibles next to the bed? It’s the greatest sedative known to man."
My personal assessment is that the Koran works better. Because there's no narrative in it, and no succession in ideas. Random thoughts à la Bushisms collection. Check it out on Wikisource.
For one, the Koran's chapters aren't sorted by date, but by size! Lucky the (heathenissime) Harry Potter books didn't do the same: the story was hard enough to understand as it is!

"throw in learning a dead language for good measure"
Hey! Aramahic is not a dead language: the guy resurrected at the end of the movie!
Okay, so Son Goku also resurrected. Twice. After getting kung-fu lessons from the Almighty in His own private palace-in-the-sky, and fighting God's evil twin-self Satan Piccolo Sr.
By the Great Pikachu, it is all starting to make sense!

"Tell your religious friends that you’re abandoning their religion because you want to think for yourself for a while, and watch the sparks fly."
Currently in the Arab world news titles: "Trial of two converts to Christiannism in Algeria delayed til June". That's right: quitting Islam in an islamic nation is an official State crime of "apostasy". If you're lukcy, you might not get the typical death penalty. Mere facts, gentlemen.
In this Algeria affair, six people stand accused, and are facing two years of hard prison time. Each.
I suppose it might get worse if they do not "repent, change their ways, and return to the flock" of woolly beards...

"If your God exists, he’s smart enough to see through your fake ID."
"Aww, maaaaaan!" - (Swiper the Fox)
Swiper truly exists, BTW. In fact, I've seen him swipe space crystals in the Dora the Explorer: Journey to the Purple Planet videogame.

"Jesus himself was merely a fictional character pieced together from earlier mythical figures. You go, Horus!"
Actually, it seems that Jesus bears an uncanny proximity to the legend of Mithra.

"A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar, but that’s as far as they get."
Um... Hahaha? (I didn't really get it, to be honest.)

"The top religions are decided by popularity, not by truth."
Hey, man, who cares for the truth about the Houston Rockets? They play great ball, dude!

As for glass, I'll just say this to back my immense scientific knowledge which you should just BELIEVE in anyway: practically any amorphous solid becomes a liquid very gradually if heated, with its viscosity increasing from very great (but not truly infinite) to quite low. There is no clear frontier. What I said about glass could as well apply to iron. Of course, if a "solid" would take millions of years to flow, we don't really notice it, especially if natural factors erode it far sooner. But remember: the Earth crust itself is solid rock, which over precisely millions of years, bends, fold, wrinkles, and gives some of those amazing stratified geological patterns. A liquid changes shape and flattens under gravity because of its own weight. At a sufficient scale of mass and time, any amorphous solid will do the same.
Steel is a different matter, because the carbon in it induces a molecular structure similar to a crystal. Now, in our modern times, there is talk of liquid crystals. Well, this only proves me even righter, if crystals themselves can also be liquid, so there!
And any further arguments will be met with the response I made to Alex in the above link.

I'll gladly grant you that old glass windows are not thicker at the bottom "because glass is a liquid". Gladly, because I never claimed it in the first place. I didn't even know about that detail. Glass has been invented/discovered very recently, compared to the time scale it would take it to visibly behave as a liquid. 2,000 years? That's nothing. Glass has all the time in the Universe to flow, dude. Don't rush it, or you'll cut yourself.

 
At 1 Jun 2008 09:10:00, Blogger eolake said...

"Now Battlefield Earth, that one definitely sucked molten damnation through a red-hot iron straw. Or sumpin'."

Close enough.

 

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