Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy


    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Humans have now created life!

Posted by robertpriddy on September 13, 2014

This unprecedented scientific breakthrough changes life as we know it, for the first time in history, geneticists have created self-sustaining and reproducing life, in the laboratory.

This is of huge importance and surely transforms how mankind will think in future. It seriously challenges the entire past traditions of all the religions and philosophies that claim God was the creator of life. The famous geneticist Dr. Craig Venter, who revolutionised genetics when he led the human genome project, has with his team designed and created a new life form, a unique bacterium. He wrote the DNA code digitally, converted it into chemical DNA and successfully put it into a cell to power it. (exclusive film of Discovery Science ‘Creating Synthetic Life’).

The sciences are pushing out the boundaries of knowledge in every direction and the implications are profound. Their understanding of our minds, our memories, metabolisms, brains, personalities and their techniques of improving these are growing exponentially.

Genetics, robotics, information- and nano-technology are being employed fruitful in the manipulations and control of matter, energy, and life itself at the most basic levels. “We’ve never seen anything like this before and this is raising profound questions about what it imeans to be human and what our lives and future and children will be like” (Joel Garreau on Discovery World). These transformations and their applications in technology are already well underway throughout the advanced industrial world.

The old world of religious and belief-rooted thought has long been giving way to rational, empirical and pragmatic thought and during the last century and has energised advanced countries in the West and elsewhere. The majority of the world’s population still lives within the confines of pre-scientific thought, predominantly religious ideas and their philosophical and common derivatives and, though the flat-earthers have all but disappeared, creationists are evidently still a world majority, living in basic ignorance of fundamental truths. Their world-views are now fundamentally challenged as wishful beliefs. Religion consists in memes, cyclic patterns, deterministically imposing and perpetuating themselves,. They have a repetitive life of their own and hundreds and thousands of years of this have built up an inertia which cannot be stopped overnight. Looking backwards (e.g. to early scriptures) and invariably setting false limits to thought and life, they have built up an inertia which cannot be stopped overnight. This kind of propagation of culture, often persisting from the cradle to the grave, is diametrically opposed to the education which so many populations strive towards.

Freedom of thought, investigative and critical of ‘established truth’, self-reflective, creative and open-minded is the future. Those countries in which a scientifically-informed public dominates public life will continue as world leaders in education, science and all the forms of technological industry. These drive most economic advances and improvement in the conditions and security of lives. The world is becoming more and more dependent on the fruits of science and technology, and it is already a necessity of life to billions. Societies which remain steeped in the ignorance of traditional beliefs and hinder secularism are at a huge disadvantage today and will be more so in future. Increasingly in future, whether societies sink or swim will largely depend on the real knowledge resources of its population. An illustration of this: though millions can  use modern appliances such as home machinery, mobile phones etc., it i another matter altogether to design and manufacture them, which requires an advanced society’s educational resources. Had there existed great sages or omniscient spiritual masters of any denominations, they should have been able to predict at least some of the findings of science today, but there is not a single reliable example of this. Their domains were the entirely subjective ‘world’ of inner feelings, thoughts, speculations and inherited beliefs about otherworldly entities and spheres that were detached from the world we actually live in. Yet there are still many who believe in their ‘wisdom’, superior powers of healing and miracle-making. Such people do not and will never again have any impact on the great human enterprise and endeavour.

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The agnosticism vs. atheism issue and and secularism

Posted by robertpriddy on July 19, 2014

Some key distinctions for the science-religion debates: If ‘atheism’ means “100% certainty or conviction that there is no god or cosmic intelligence which created or sustains the universe” then there must be few who can – on proper reflection – subscribe to its literal sense. To do so it to become a rigid know-all who thinks his conviction is infallible. By ‘atheism’ however very few generally intend such an absolutist pronouncement, they leave open the remote possibility that – despite all evidence and likelihood, there may be a (remote) possibility that they could find out they were not right. A sensible reservation of judgement at all times! However, to call oneself an atheist is reasonable without having to hold oneself permanently infallible. It is impossible finally and scientifically to prove or disprove the existence of God (whatever or whoever that is supposed to be). To deny this is to become like those fanatics who preach the various religions as being the absolute truth and word of God, or that they have personal contact with God.

Though Professor Dawkins tends to uphold an iron distinction between agnostic and atheist, it does not take account of ordinary usage, of common sense or scientific scepticism (i.e. reservation of final judgement). His agenda with that schism is to try to confront certain all-too-religiously-tolerant ‘agnostics’ aware of their actual position and its consequences. He no doubt wants to firm up their skepticism. However, I regard myself as a convinced non-believer and sometimes speak of my attitude as agnostic, sometimes atheist. The term ‘non-theist’ is often preferable, though it tends not to cover certain kinds of mysticism which accept a depersonalized cosmic intelligence of some kind.

Based on definitions in Prof. Sindre Bangstad’s book “What secularism is and is not” the following is important to recognize:-

Secularism is not the same as Atheism, it is primarily a political doctrine which makes it possible to take many kinds of positions with regard to the place of religion in the public sphere, including politics. Secularity is something else, which mainly describes a cultural process in which religious faith only gradually becomes one possibility among many others; while secularization refers to social differentiation in which the secular spheres are separated from one another and from religious institutions.

These distinctions may seem meticulous but they show that what seem to be the same positions are often quite different. Secularism says nothing about whether people are religious or not, but about the institutional structures in place to guarantee representation of different ways of life. Secularism may be thought of as a society which embraces cosmopolitism.

Comment received:-

eileenweed
@gmail.com

Good explanation about secularism. Hearing the term on a regular basis, I had come to the same conclusion on its meaning, even though we tend to immediately think of it implying a ‘non-religious/spiritual’ country; rather than a society that completely separates religion from the political sphere.

As for belief itself, I always tend to describe myself as agnostic, as it is so much more peaceful when dealing with fanatical people who believe in a god. Though the idea of one single creator and sustainer of the universe, who has all powers and knows all, is ridiculous and up to 99% impossible, I still hold the last one percent in reserve of judgement. Perhaps as stated, in part due to observing so many self-righteous 100% belief declarations of religions, cults, etc. Truly, there is no way to know anything 100% when it concerns the world of mental imaginations of what might be beyond the physical universe (and even then, much depends upon each individual’s perception!).

 

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Ever unstoppable expanding scientific discovery and human understanding

Posted by robertpriddy on July 14, 2014

The old adage ‘believe only half you hear’ is, of course, not even half adequate as a guideline for making up one’s mind about more difficult or controversial matters of fact. Even back in the 1960s and 70s, the natural sciences had not yet secured the huge exponential increases in knowledge that have resulted since computer technology was developed on a wide scale. Rapid changes in cutting-edge scientific theories like astronomy, astrophysics, micro-physics, often had the effect of creating further uncertainty, because new theories – often conflicting – about the universe and matter came and went in regular procession – even though the most general theories (relativity, quantum theory) remained largely unshaken by experiment or continued observation. However, what may seem to be the ‘theoretical antics’ of astronomers and physicists still occur today, in such problem areas as dark matter and the disappearance of vast amounts of light which should be there, among other anomalies. Yet these kind of examples are a natural result of operating at the extreme outer rim of accumulated knowledge and using the trial and error of research theory.

More and more uncertainties about the security of scientific knowledge are being removed, and computing has definitely led to a “quantum leap” in most of the sciences. Even the ‘inexact’ or less experimental and quantitative human and social sciences are improving due to information technology and reduced national provincialism in globalised society. Add to this the fact that there remain issues about the mind and consciousness – also even about soul and spirit – concerning which advances unimaginable before the advent of experimental neuropsychology and ‘live’ magnetic resonance imaging are rapidly pushing back the dark frontier of unknowing considerably. There remains evidence of a wide range of what must still be termed extra-scientific or ‘paranormal phenomena’ which are not yet satisfactorily resolved by scientific methods and technologies at the current state of the art. Another century of progress in understanding what now seem arcane matters can therefore be expected to resolve many such questions at a fundamental level.

Much is made by religionists of the claimed fact that the sciences cannot provide anyone with genuine answers to any of the most important human questions; why do we exist, what real meaning does anything have, what should I do?  While it is a fact that these are often extra-scientific issues which no special science researches, it would be wrong to suggest that science has not increased the understanding of the human being and life in many important respects. Before modern science, absurd superstitions and religio-mystical assumptions ruled the scene the world over, which is definitely no longer the case to such an extent.  Granted, it is a fact that science does not pretend or set out to answer all emotional and existential questions, such as on how best to relate to others, how to develop human understanding, to obtain mental equilibrium and lasting fulfillment. But these are no longer really so-called ‘extra-scientific’ issues, since the expansion of empirical studies through vastly improved information resources are already tackling what once were considered questions only philosophy or religion could answer. The different and very often conflicting religions have occupied the vacuum of our ignorance of the real causes of so many things to fill it with doctrines, moral imperatives and a vast range of beliefs about matters which could not then be tested scientifically. More now than ever, the resources necessary to resolve most question about human life are becoming available – and widely so – creating daily advances into matters which would have been ignored as too vague and uncertain some decades ago.

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The heart versus the head: a false dualism

Posted by robertpriddy on June 15, 2014

One of the most influential ideas in religion, especially when it would defend its irrational ideas and beliefs, is that of ‘the heart’. It is held that acts done ‘from the heart’ are superior to those merely motivated by ‘the head’ (representing reason, logic, and thought as opposed to emotion. Religious or ‘spiritual’ conceptions of the human heart as the ‘seat of emotions’ and human feeling are always vague, never defined in any practical or precise way, but always assume the heart is a driving force in human affairs. In one sense it is, being the playground of the desires, longings, hopes, ambitions or wishful thoughts and hence is regarded as the breeding ground of will power. The word ‘heart’ has many literary and poetic uses and connotations, nearly all of which are inimical and often directly to well-founded intelligence, experiential insight, pragmatism, rational understanding and scientific knowledge. In short, the impulses and longings of the heart are basically non-rational. So there is much confusion about the so-called ‘heart’, and much conflation of terms altogether in talk about it. It is based on an antiquated and highly erroneous belief of its importance to our supposed soul or spirit, but in fact, the heart is of course nothing but an organ of pumping blood through the body. The usage of ‘heart’ as a vital innermost core of the human being is so ingrained that one can only hope to modify the understand of the fallacies involved in applying it as if it were a real (but invisible, subtle) organ of personality. It is obvious today that desires and the emotions arise in the human mind, which is to say the brain (with the most instinctual perhaps arising in the cerebral cortex). 

The tendency is to identify the heart with positive values like forgiveness, compassion, sympathy and altruism, as in modern usages like “have a heart”, “from the depths of my heart”. Whenever the heart is invoked to support romantic notions or religious faith, it is assumed that the human heart is always of a righteous nature and is on the side of the good, the righteous and against ‘the heartless’. This conveniently overlooks the fact that the heart is also perceived in negative ways, as shown by the words black-hearted, hard-hearted, evil-hearted, and is where reside human envy, spite, enmity and all negative emotions. As the supposed ‘organ’ from which will power springs, the heart cannot be only a fount of goodness, because of course the most terrible evils have been and still are visited on humanity by the strong will of despots, criminals and those who wish to dominate or eliminate their fellow-men. A cardinal fact to remember is that our emotions and all those values we consider to belong to the heart rather than the brain, are entirely generated and expressed by means of the brain.

Douglas Hume famously and notoriously wrote: “Reason Is and ought only to be the slave of the passions” and he saw human will as “the internal impression we feel and are conscious of, when we knowingly give rise to any new motion of our body, or new perception of our mind” (T II.3.1 399). “If the will did not determine a person’s actions, we would have no way to trace those actions to their springs in character, which is the prerequisite for forming moral judgments.” In this, he certainly overlooked the nature of many crucial human decisions and actions, which are a result not merely of desire and emotion, but are based upon a wide-ranging understanding of the many circumstances and consequence that determine the conditions of life, health, security and happiness. The will may require a personal subjective motivating feeling or desire, but it is often directed and formed to a very large extent by pragmatic concerns and rational knowledge. Human history and experience teach us that when this is not so, the consequences can be serious and even disastrous.

The progress of civilisation is not driven only or mainly by desires and non-rational motivations, but by increased understanding of the world, of society and oneself. Humankind sees to view the spectrum of warring desires and ideals so as to reconcile them where possible and find ways of weighing and planning the optimal course to take. This arises overwhelmingly through worldly experience, the sciences and human invention aided by incisive critical thinking, rational philosophy and literature, taking account of the conflicting human ‘passions’ that may be involved. 

Religions tend to praise the heart as being what makes human beings human and even holy in nature (whatever such divinity may really mean and imply). But the heart is not special to humans. However, from ancient times the crucial nature of the heart to life was soon observed and it was variously concluded that it is the organ that houses the life force. It was believed to be the seat of human emotions because it beats faster when excited or fearful and so on, and when it stops, we die. It was a short step to thinking it is where the personality resides. Some religious doctrines and philosophies held that there is a strict dividing line between humans and animals, a divinely ordained difference. Evolution and modern biological sciences shows there is no such thing. Of course, all animals have hearts and the higher mammals’ hearts are little different from ours and it is increasingly being shown that they have a number of the same or very similar emotional reactions to our own, all according to the level of their physical and neurological evolution.

‘The head’, on the other hand, is regarded by many more fundamentalist religions and cults as a main cause of the endless illusions (Maya) and miseries, considering the human mind as the seat of the ego and so as at root of all the ills that beset mankind. The cure advised are such rituals as worship, prayer, and other thought-destroying practices like the constant repetition of mantras, holy names, singing ritualised praises of deities or gods, which are presented as a way of ‘following the heart’ to develop true values and seek faith in some imagined God. Such blind faith ignores the achievements of the human intellect and its sciences and technologies, its social contracts and humanistic values.

The supposed heart is one of the shibboleths of so-called ‘spiritual education’ as not uncommon in religions, some faith schools, and New Age substitutes today. The schism between the rational and the irrational mind of much traditional religiosity – as seen in the contrast created between sacred and profane living – is based on the fantasy of two different realities – that of (outward) worldly life and a supposed (inner) eternal spiritual realm. It underpins most religious moralism, suppression of the individual, the critical mind and not least arises with the age-old stigmatization of women.

The human heart is misidentified as having spiritual qualities: The tendency is to identify the heart with positive values like forgiveness, compassion, sympathy and altruism. (as in modern usages like “have a heart”, “from the depths of my heart”). The heart is often depicted as the seat of our emotions, vague intuitions, personal hopes and beliefs, especially in religious and transcendental faiths. Meanwhile this overlooks the common usages like “hate in the heart”,  the heart as filled with envy, enmity, ill-will, even evil,  ‘black hearted’  and other emotions or values regarded as negative (mistrust, loathing, lust for revenge) which have also long been related to the idea of the human heart.   All this is sheer obfuscation of the true state of affairs, which is that the emotions are generated and sustained by neuron connections in the brain and they are virtually inseparably bound up with thought, arising from the brain’s established neuron pathways. Therefore, the contention that “sacred qualities” of the heart – as opposed to rationally guided worldly activities – are ‘positive in nature’ and “cannot be acquired through the study of books” since they reside in our hearts is a confused and out-dated obscurantism. ‘The heart’ as conceived in religious sentiment is not an entity, the heart is a necessary organ of the body for circulating the blood and no more than that.

From ancient times the crucial nature of the heart to life was soon observed and it was variously concluded that it is the organ that houses the life force. It was because it beats faster when excited or fearful and so on, and when it stops, we die.. and was so believed to be the seat of human emotions and related values. It was a short step to thinking it is where the personality resides. Of course, it is no such thing. Its functions are in circulating blood to convey oxygen to cells and the like so as to keep the physical body alive. It is exclusively the human brain that is ‘the seat of human emotions, thought and intelligence’. So the fanciful opposition so often quoted by those still bound up in religious views, or in language traditions and poetic iconography. Any opposition between ‘the head and the heart’ is an empirically and rationally empty, false construct. This dichotomy is very vaguely defined or explained well and can be most misleading. The premium put upon ‘acting from the heart’ in the face of pragmatic reasons and well-understood considerations has many bad consequences for those who adopt it and apply its apparent meaning to themselves,  especially it is used by  ‘spiritual masters’ or ‘gurus’ as a kind of doctrinal stick to induce the disciple to do otherwise than reason and best interests dictate.  Since the emotions cannot easily be transformed from negative to positive – certainly not though acts of will or tricks of thought – those ‘aspirants’ who harbour negative emotions will often suffer from ineradicable guilt feelings, which the basic feelings remain in the subconscious (i.e. or “in the heart”) and will weaken self-esteem and confidence, tending to reject rational arguments about the matter and so distorting perceptions and social relations outside the sect or cult to which they adhere. Experience shows that such emotions can usually only be modified through some major shock to the awareness or else a long process of maturing or possible by rational forms of psychological therapy.

When feelings become too detached from reasonable judgement or are in opposition to the thinking mind (the ‘head)’ – they easily become deleterious and irrational. In depth psychology these impulses have been shown to arise from the subconscious mind and will often be disturbed, obsessive or compulsive and involve strong affect. Contrariwise, reasonable feelings, sympathies and antipathies— they are not irrational or unduly projective of false qualities onto others, being based on rational value judgements, on necessary or else natural desires and the concerns and cares of normal life.

The alleged difference between speaking and acting “from the heart” and “from the head” (which is seen as comparatively cold and even negative) is a miasma. That one can distinguish roughly between ‘the language of the heart’ and ‘of the head’ does not alter this false dualism. In all cases it is the brain and never the heart which controls the feelings, and which also controls the forms of expression used both for feelings and abstract thought. The prosaic and the poetic are simply different general forms of language with each their appropriate sphere. Precise language is less open to ambiguity and false interpretations than the former. The precise kind of prose such as is most used in non-fictional literature, in standard journalism, and in the many sciences are less open to wide interpretations and meaning distortions than the former. The language used from medicine to mathematics, the law to philosophy, technology to business and of course, in much everyday conversation – is neither more nor less an expression of human values than are the symbolic and emotive styles which use literary, tenuous, and sublime imagery.

A monograph on “The History of the Heart” by Ole Martin Høystad of Syddansk University (215 pages) combs through religion and philosophy from the earliest records up to modern time and charts how the heart became a symbol of our essential desires. The work is mainly historical and – though it illustrates the wide range of different and conflicting speculations about the nature of the heart as a symbol – seriously lacks sufficient critical insight into the overall fallacy which makes that non-mental and non-emotional organ into something more and ‘higher’ than the brain, compared to which it is a relatively primitive conception without any specific organ.

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The origins of worship – and now

Posted by robertpriddy on May 7, 2014

Religion usually tries to impose an orderly pattern on the chaotic appearance of reality, while science aims to discover what order and regularity are to be found in reality. Science has established without any doubt whatever that reality is ordered according to predictable laws wherever it can be observed.

The beginnings of religion certainly lie in mankind’s inability to predict very much due to the lack of knowledge of the causes of natural events. The emerging belief in good and evil spirits, deities and gods was a way of explaining what one did not understand as the actions of such entities, and also provided a focus for ways of trying to influence those imaginary entities: offerings to them from food and valuables to animal and even human sacrifices, from expressing thanks for perceived gifts and prayer and onwards to all manner of activities designed to propitiate these spirits. Many of these elements are still found in differing forms in all the mainstream religions, their sects and ‘spiritual cults’. Belief – as opposed to the urge to learn facts about reality as represented by the sciences and related enterprises – leads to a personal deprivation of reality, of being in touch with the world as it is, not as it is wishfully imagined it is or may become. In this era the need to rid human society of all unfounded beliefs and false practices they encourage is pressing, as the world is faced with the greatest challenges to the continued security of humanity, challenges of climate change and overpopulation, scarcity of resources and much more that can only be hindered by false beliefs and advanced by determined worldly action on the basis of knowledge.

This viewpoint is among the central themes on a website entitled ‘god is imaginary’ which takes a standpoint on a large number of issues concerning the validity of prayer, belief, scripture and science. By clicking on the headings below one finds a wide range of arguments refuting religious beliefs.

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Investigating scriptural truth

Posted by robertpriddy on March 20, 2014

All ancient scriptures like the Vedas, The Bible, The Hadith, the Quran and so on were written and put together when human civilisation had not progressed very far in development of information or refinement of the cognitive faculties. Writing as recorded language was a most uncommon occurrence, and even those reading texts were very few and far between. Copying was the only means of reproduction and it was prone to error. Only modern printing developed by Gutenberg in Europe made texts at all widely available. The tools of serious literature such as editing, correcting, reviewing and translating were yet in early infancy, if done at all. Those considered sages in the late Bronze Age had no systematic knowledge and could only guess at answers to a vast range of questions that arise for thinking beings. Therefore no one of historical, anthropological and semantical insight can put much faith whatever in such scriptures other than as fables, the works of a moralising priesthood trying to control and regulate to some extent the huge vagaries of humans, nature, life and death. 

The ‘knowledge is power’ motive certainly very often played a major role in the constant human struggles of survival and dominance through religious ritual and beliefs. The same applies today, no doubt, both in secular and religious contexts, though the levels and extent of knowledge and of possible power have changed beyond all recognition. Likewise today, the pretence of knowledge – the mere belief (that one ‘knows’ truths) can also be an instrument of considerable social power, but one incapable of contesting seriously and reasonably with science. The vast and accelerating growth of objectively testable knowledge – based on proper observation, science and reason – has achieved a status which is beyond the power of all belief systems to shake fundamentally. One proof of the pudding which secures this kind of knowledge is the modern unavoidability of technology, which is dependent on scientific knowledge.

One way in which knowledge progresses is by discovering inconsistencies, illogicality and irrationalism. Any system of knowledge, any philosophy, must be rational and logical in order for it to be consistent if it is to reflect truth. Subjecting statements which go to make up a system to observation, testing and empirical methods wherever this is possible – assuming that the statements assert some alleged fact or state of affairs. By contrast, the rigid and traditional views in most religions that their particular scriptures state the truth, God’s infallible word etc., are too unreasonable and unsupportable by knowledge to consider seriously in any serious truth-seeking debate.

The scriptures of religion cast a spell, which should be broken. It has created commandments and taboos way over and above what is fruitful for the best functioning of mankind. Leaving people to their own superstitions without a word of criticism, however abject the beliefs, is not right or beneficial either for them or for those whom they affect.

That mankind would not know right from wrong without a supernatural, celestial dictatorship is an unsupportable thesis, both on empirical, rational and common-sense ground. A supposed divine creator which hides itself behind layers of personal superstition and illusion based on ancient flawed scriptures is not credible at all. God perceived in a glass darkly, and inscrutable, unaccountable, and irresponsible is an indictment of religions everywhere. Where that God is ‘recognised’ as being extremely cruel, revengeful and a jealous being… or having created inhuman punishments and even an eternal hell for unbelievers and ‘sinners’ it becomes irrational to an extreme degree, if not the result of patent control-seeking dishonesty to manipulate their anxieties and fears.

Religionists are ever speaking of the arrogance of scientists because they insist that everything that can be known will eventually be explainable by science  Yet they exhibit a breathtaking arrogance themselves, claiming to know that God exists – based entirely on subjective speculation and faith (which is blind by definition as it is not knowledge at all), and even that they know God. Though they speak of humility before God, there is no discourse in human culture which enforces humility more rigorously than science – humility before the facts. Scientists are the first to admit when there is something the do not know with a high degree of likelihood.  They will often reply to questions that “it is not my speciality”, but that kind of humble reservation of judgement is seldom heard from promoters of religion.

Constant reading and chanting of scriptures, the recitation of prayers and ‘mantras’, performance of endless ineffective rituals, and meditation of holy figures, deities, god and oneself have the function of closing the mind, deadening and even debilitating it, which last is even made a great virtue by some religions like Hinduism.

Religions preach about mythical figures and their doings as if they really had existed, or even still exist in some imperceptible realm. They seldom make clear that a scriptual tale is only metaphorical or a mere parable, and almost never refer to historical researches (which invariably show that the authenticity of reports are far from certain or genuine). Faith is built on a mesmerising mix of ‘stories’, unfounded accounts of events, doubtful and unclear or unworkable divine commandments and so forth. Such is the case, for example, Adam and Eve and countless other Biblical figures, and it is the very basis of many Hindu stories about Rama, Krishna and a galaxy of other figures in legends and myths of ancient scripture which are taken as literal truth by most of the Hindu population.

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Mediumism gradually undermined by science

Posted by robertpriddy on February 24, 2014

There are countless instances in history ancient and modern of persons claiming that God or other ‘spirits’ speak through them, and that they are merely instruments of ‘divine will’. Among those who profess powerful convictions about divinity, many claim they are ‘hearing voices’, whether that of God or other entities. The phenomenon of ‘speaking in tongues’ is also alleged in some sects to be divinely inspired wisdom, though it is often sounds entirely  unintelligible to the non-initiated. The suspicion is easily aroused that,  by some ‘sleight of mind’, the claimants are deceiving themselves and/or others. By disclaiming wilful intention,  they may say whatever they want while denying responsibility for it. There can be many and diverse motives for such a deception, from simply  impressing others to trying to overthrow existing powers-that-be.  Historically, many mediums who claimed that spirits were speaking through them were exposed as fraudulent. Notable instances were those of the production of spiritual ‘protoplasm’, of instruments being played and so forth in seances in the dark rooms.  It is well recorded that such duplicity can arise from personality disturbances involving cognitive and emotional confusions, or vague intuitions and subliminal perceptions the medium over-interprets and dramatizes. They may really believe that what in fact are their own ideas or convictions and show signs of forgetting afterwards what was uttered by them, indicating neurological pathology which may be represented as some kind of split mind or dual personality. Thus to hide behind an assumed ‘other entity’ may also imply chronic character weakness in lacking the self-confidence simply to be themselves. Meanwhile, ‘hearing voices’ is a phenomenon that many claim they suffer from badly and an international organisation ‘Hearing Voices’ attempts to explore the many aspects of the matter and seek answers and solutions. Many mediums doubtless have problems about personal identity, multiple personality role problems or even outright schizophrenia.  Though the existence of a pathology called ‘schizophrenia’ is contested due to vague definitions, false assumptions and other reasons, there is good evidence that some of the population from which it was derived were suffering from a later-identified neurological disorder.

Many explanations for such behaviour have been put through the ages. In early times, visitations from the dead, hearing voices, ‘speaking in tongues’ and the like were probably easily believed to be the actual work of spirits, deities, or demons. In more modern times it was popular to attribute such phenomena to nature spirits in a throwback to paganism. However, these beliefs are still widespread in mainstream religion, such as in Hinduism, Islam and not least Roman Catholicism and other Christian sects. Religions all assert a ‘spiritual realm’ and this is often taken to be an astral realm (or akasha) wherein supposed disembodied entities in astral form that can enliven ‘dead thoughts’ from mental remnants of departed persons or create images, sounds, visions, apports, and even manifest actual objects. These spirit entities have been grouped together as ‘elemental nature spirits’.  However, apart from accepting that mediums are actually delivering messages from divine beings (as in Mohammed’s outpourings or Swedenborg’s writings), and apart from the belief in ‘demonic possession’, it has also widely and increasingly been put down to psychological disturbances or what is roughly defined as  ‘mental illness’. In schizophrenia, for example, hearing voices, it is a quite common symptom (‘auditory hallucination’) and the voices can be many, frequent and very insistent. 

To attempt to contact or ‘channel’ such sources – a popular pastime or ‘spiritual’  investigation in New Age communities – often leads to experiences which seem to the participants to have a supernatural origin of some kind. The calling up of spirits through the ouija board  legible text, taken as answers to questions. The exact details of how the mind produces such effects as ‘voices’ are not known, but however fascinating alleged paranormal phenomena of these kinds may be and however genuine they may seem, there is no decisive evidence so far to show that they are not products of the human mind and imagination (with subconscious input). One only has to consider that famous imaginative authors are largely ignorant of the processes by which their own creativity works in producing what are for many people ‘unimaginable’ scenarios of huge complexity and consistency.

It has further been shown that hearing voices can arise through neurological misinterpretation of signals and their origin (i.e. within or outside the brain - see Neurology throws light on ‘hearing God’s word’, ‘channelling’. All in all, the progress of the sciences in researching mediumism and other psychic paranormal phenomena is slow compared with advances in other fields concerned to understand the complexity and effects of brain power. Since it is hardly 100 years since the natural sciences showed any interest in investigating paranormal claims, such as by the physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, and the issues have so far remained relatively peripheral to the main concerns of humanity, parapsychology not being a priority of present aims in the relevant sciences. However, in the last few decades, the technological advances in instruments like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (which now can study the brain at the microscopic level in real-time) and much more are making it likely that such claims may be resolved definitively.

It has also been clearly shown by constructed experiments that fictional entities created for the experiment can just as easily be contacted and give answers etc.  Such a proof was provided by an experiment by Derren Brown on BBC TV in which a complete recreation of a Victorian-type spiritualist seance with events such as smashing wineglasses, ringing bells, ouija phenomena and the fear reactions of  (and later relief) of the participants, twelve students, picked from volunteers at Universities around UK. Use of hidden cameras exposed the actual causes of the phenomena, which were entirely unknown to the chosen volunteer who acted as medium.All was set up in advance and all done through Derren Brown’s psychological suggestions, as he explained in detail afterwards.

The proof was also shown by the famous 1970s ‘Philip experiment’ in Canada:- See (Create a ghost – How to create a ghost – Paranormal Phenomena   http://paranormal.about.com/od/ghosthuntinggeninfo/a/create-a-ghost.htm

The Philip Experiment – documentary and footage Part of a documentary and actual footage from the Philip Experiment. http://paranormal.about.com/od/Ghost_Videos/v/the-philip-experiment-video.htm)

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Belief in denial

Posted by robertpriddy on February 1, 2014

When one has developed and nurtured a belief or system of such for some time, it is psychologically harder to give it up that to retain it, and even in the face of the most destructive facts. Religions in the modern world are such beliefs. So how does such denial work? Quite simple for some people, due to a certain feature of our brains, it appears:-

Denials are nothing more than a statement with a ‘not’ tagged on, and it’s often the statement rather than the ‘not’ that seeps into the brain.”

In ‘A Mind of its Own‘ by Cordelia Fine (Icon Books) she refers to the human brain. She compares the subconscious to a butler who carries out everyday duties so that our conscious minds can concentrate on more elevated stuff. The problem is that, like many of the best butlers, the brain keeps its master happy by scheming and concealing the truth from him. We are predisposed to believe what we want to believe. So “evidence that fits with our beliefs is quickly waved through the mental border control“, while “counter-evidence must submit to close interrogation and even then will probably not be allowed in“. The moral: we should keep our mental butlers in check… not be a defenceless martyr to the fictions of the brain, and watch out in particular for its instinctive bigotry, which leads us to jump to conclusions about other people.

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Creation from nothing or something – how, by what or who?

Posted by robertpriddy on January 7, 2014

The nature of the debate between science and theology on the issue of creation of the universe, as presented in the media since atheists and agnostics took an activist stance (as propounded by Dawkins, Hitchens and an increasing number of others), and by diverse new defenders of theism who argue against the atheists, revolves around the concepts of ‘nothing’ and ‘God’.

The crux of debate about the origin of the universe is whether something can arise spontaneously from nothing; that the Big Bang was a contingent event, without any cause such as an ‘uncreated creator’. The central concept that receives little or no attention in this debate is ‘nothing’. By definition, nothing cannot exist. How then do we then even arrive at the idea of nothing?

The word ‘nothing’ is simply a contraction of ‘no thing’. This shows that there is no positive conception of nothing, only an idea of the absence of some thing or other, or of all things (and, if one prefers, of all matter and energy). Thus, nothing is not an empirical concept, there is no basis for it in experience, only in the interpretation of perception… the deduction that something is not present (where it was expected to be).

On the BBC programme “The God Question – the Cosmos” it was held by Dr. John Lennox that theologians that the choice between God or science is a false dualism since the Big Bang creation ‘from nothing’ is acceptable both to science and theology, but that God, not science, put the universe there, being ‘Himself uncreated’. This idea he did not bother to explain (just as he did not explain how “The fact is that there is a God watching means that there’s going to be justice”). An unidentified Muslim on the BBC programme claimed that “The question ‘Who made God?’ is actually an illogical question.” He did not demonstrate or give any context to explain how a question could be illogical, however, he simply asserted it. So much for his logic.

All who would argue that the universe was created from nothing by an ‘uncreated creator’, are appealing to nothing as a precondition of existence. The only alternative is that the universe was created from something prior to the Big Bang, which obviates the idea of its creation from nothing.  When theists insist that it was created by God and define God as ‘uncreated’, they simply mystify the issue yet further, as whatever was never created evidently cannot exist. To assert it could while lacking all evidence of the possibility is totally illogical (and totally not empirical, of course)… so it appears as sheer mental stubbornness. By that measure, the universe, created from nothing by God, logically makes God nothing too.

The question remains unanswerable with any certainty, but so did countless other questions until science came along and gradually wrestled with them. It may take a long time, but science has shown that no one can impose a limit on what it can learn and know in the future. It may take a long time to explain apparent creation from nothing, meanwhile the futility of claiming any knowledge that an omnipotent God did that continues unabated…

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Erlendur Haraldsson, the failed investigator of Sai Baba fraud

Posted by robertpriddy on November 27, 2013

Parapsychology is known to be a ‘flukey science’ at the best of times. Those who pursue it are invariably interested in finding proof of psychic powers, but – failing proof positive – the most serious of them will publish the failure to prove such, and also to discover fraud. The now elderly Icelandic parapsychologist – previously a teacher of experimental psychology at Rekjavik University, Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson, set about the more attractive task of investigating most extraordinary claims of miraculous powers. He heard of Sathya Sai Baba and visited him in Andhra Pradesh, India, to observe his ‘miraculous manifestations’. He and his companion were told they could not carry out any tests or experiments but Haraldsson was nonetheless obviously impressed enough to return to India and carry out indirect investigations into these powers, including alleged resurrection from the dead, bi-location and so forth.

The only negative result he then considered conclusive was that Sai Baba had never resurrected a person he claimed to have, visiting doctors and others involved in the hospitalisation for a heart attack of the US millionaire, Walter Cowan. He assured himself from interviews and documents that there had been no death nor any death certificate issued etc. This did apparently not suggest to him that similar deceit was used in ‘materialisations’. Having had a few cursory talks with magicians, Haraldsson – who can perform no magic tricks himself – was not well-prepared to uncover the many possible methods by which illusion and fraud is achieved. Long training in many methods of deception, sleight-of-hand and other techniques is required, and I know from personal contact that Haraldsson could show very little knowledge of these matters. 

However, no proper investigation was at all possible regarding the countless other reported miracles, nor was anything remotely like a scientific experiment or approach possible. To prove that a materialisation was genuine would be well nigh impossible in any event, and to have done so would have virtually been to support the claim of Sathya Sai Baba that it was a ‘divine miracle’ as every devotee rigorously held it to be. Rather an awkward dilemma! Since Sai Baba’s claims were so tremendous, backed up by a host of devotees, Haraldsson decided on a questionnaire survey of the claims, backed up by interviews with those persons he could find who would speak for Sai Baba’s claims. Haraldsson saw his chance to emerge from academic obscurity by publishing a book dwelling much of the sensational claims and finding a publisher which differed from those accepting the huge hagiographical literature. He took pains to try to achieve a neutral stance towards the miracles, yet his entire method was based on testimony, and the testimony of persons who nearly all held quite extreme mythological-based views on the nature of the world, reality and Sathya Sai Baba, ‘the self-proclaimed avatar of the age’ and saviour of mankind. The book sold excellently in plenty of translations too, not least among the apparently countless followers of Sai Baba who, though they rejected its critical and highly embarrassing parts (and conveniently overlooked that), appealed to them because of the catalogue of reports of utterly amazing – some unprecedentedly incredible – miracles.

The story does not end there. Haraldsson continued to visit Prashanthi Nilayam, the ashram of Sai Baba, at intervals but he was not able to do more than observe for shortish periods (a couple of days) and then mostly from a distance as Sai Baba purported to ‘materialise’ holy ash and the occasional ring or locket etc. for followers. He was never granted any closer relationship, merely a few interviews in all, such as after this book came out, where Sai Baba told him in an interview that he was using the entirely wrong method of investigating Swami’, the self-proclaimed Creator of the Universe, Deity to all deities (etc. ad. inf.) Instead of ‘going to the market place’ to ask people who had bad memories, perceptions and so on, he should deepen himself in the mystery and love of Sai Baba. This is supposedly done through spiritual practices like singing His Name joyously, praying for enlightenment, doing service to others, meditating and such like. Haraldsson, a rather dry academic, was definitely not cut out for such a role, so it had only a limited effect on him at best. This I know from having shared many long hours of conversation and extensive e-mail contact with Haraldsson from 1988 until 2001, on several occasions when we were together in India at the ashram, more often when he visited Oslo, and our home on numerous occasions. He was unwilling to up-date his writings on the basis of the mass of information I provided to him of fraud, deception and unpunished crimes by Sai Baba, saying his ‘time was too precious’ to take on the matter any more.

To cut the story short for the present purpose, one can read in detail of all these events and the development whereby I found it necessary after holding back for over a decade, to expose Haraldsson’s claims of neutrality and his lack of duty of care through his unreported knowledge of sexual abuses by Sai Baba – documented with e-mail exchanges we had. He responded to this by deciding to revise his book (‘Modern Miracles’), totally avoiding all the mass of testimony of fraud and worse that is available – and contact with many of the testifiers still being available through myself – and going to Puttaparthi to see what more he could learn for a new edition of his profitable book. Naturally, they knew he was coming and were more than ready to handle him, which is evident from various instances of his adopting their disinformation and not letting him realise the nature of the extreme criticism under which Sai Baba’s reputation labours, also from many disaffected Indians. Haraldsson spent but a tiny fraction of the time with Sai Baba that a dozen of his closest Western followers did, those who left him due to his fraud, deception and crimes. Haraldsson totally ignored this and the thousands who have left Sai Baba since then, even though I told him regularly of those events. So the ‘scientist’ showed himself to be most unscientific in not even considering the ‘negative instances’ to his hypothesis, which still is that Sai Baba cannot be shown to have used fraud, not can it be proven that his materialisation miracles were genuine – these being the be-all-and-end-all of his narrow focus, while countless huge Sai Baba deceptions and lies have been proven definitively!

On the devious update of ‘Miracles are My Visiting Cards’ by Dr. E. Haraldsson

Miracles as Sai Baba’s ‘Visiting Cards’?

for a fuller account of  the history of Haraldsson’s Sai Baba involvements see http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/30/Haraldsson.html 

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