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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Is faith or religious belief the result of an instinctive inheritance?

Posted by robertpriddy on April 19, 2018

It has been asserted that there is a ‘religious instinct’, some sense inherited at birth which arises from experiences of ancestors that are passed on in some manner. It is further imagined that this instinct develops into belief in some intelligent motivation which steers nature, the world or human existence. This assertion is clearly made in defence of a religious perspective, whether faith that there is a god (or many gods) who or which is benevolently intentioned.

For something to be an instinct it must be present (at least in a potential form) from birth onwards, it is inherited. There is no known or demonstrable instinctive basis for religious belief, that is entirely guesswork. The baby has an instinct to seek the nipple, but not to cry fro a mother (or father), for that develops later when it learns that the pleasing and stimulating touch and warmth come from a person. There is an instinct to seek pleasure, avoid pain….. religion cannot be inherited in any form whatever, however, but only an impulse to seek those things necessary to the infant’s survival and pleasure. Children grow up into an environment (unless they are deprived) where everything is controlled by their mother, and soon also father. This is not an instinct but a learned understanding, while beliefs are also learned not inborn in any respect. When they mature they realise that their parents are not gods, that their parents’ knowledge is really very limited. Besides, the forces of nature may prove to be anything but beneficially predictable. When the security of protection of mother and father assumes little or no further importance, the priest – wanting to create and if need be enforce social order – and probably gain personal security through power over his group, the spirits of nature, of the ancestors and so on until someone proposes an all-knowing protective (and also punishing) ‘holy spirit’. The assertion that an instinct for religious belief has led us to evolve and prosper flies in the face of humanities’ greatest achievements, understanding evolution and nature, which has had to fight against religious obscurantism tooth and nail. That we divide and conquer is also a result of evolutionary struggle, but religions divide people more than any political ideology… so conflicts arise, sometimes exclusively for religious beliefs (as we are witnessing these days increasingly again).

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Social life weakened wherever a belief in God is widespread

Posted by robertpriddy on October 20, 2017

It has long been known that throughout history many wars have either been caused by religious conflict or have been intensified on some religious basis. Professor Phil Zuckerman demonstrates beyond all doubt the negative effects for society of a belief in God:-

“If it were true that when belief in God weakens, societal well-being diminishes, then we should see abundant evidence for this. But we don’t. In fact, we find just the opposite: Those societies today that are the most religious — where faith in God is strong and religious participation is high — tend to have the highest violent crime rates, while those societies in which faith and church attendance are the weakest — the most secular societies — tend to have the lowest.

We can start at the international level. The most secular societies today include Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Czech Republic, Estonia, Japan, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Hungary, China and Belgium. The most religious societies include Nigeria, Uganda, the Philippines, Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Colombia, Senegal, Malawi, Indonesia, Brazil, Peru, Jordan, Algeria, Ghana, Venezuela, Mexico and Sierra Leone.

It is the highly secularised countries that tend to fare the best in terms of crime rates, prosperity, equality, freedom, democracy, women’s rights, human rights, educational attainment and life expectancy. (Although there are exceptions, such as Vietnam and China, which have famously poor human rights records.) And those nations with the highest rates of religiosity tend to be the most problem-ridden in terms of high violent crime rates, high infant mortality rates, high poverty rates and high rates of corruption.

Take homicide. According to the United Nations’ 2011 Global Study on Homicide, of the 10 nations with the highest homicide rates, all are very religious, and many — such as Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador and Brazil — are among the most theistic nations in the world. Of the nations with the lowest homicide rates, nearly all are very secular, with seven ranking among the least theistic nations, such as Sweden, Japan, Norway and the Netherlands.”

by Phil Zuckerman – professor of sociobiology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont and the author of “Living the Secular Life”

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Finding oneself – the coming-of-age con

Posted by robertpriddy on September 13, 2017

An article by writer and historian Cody Delistraty entitled ‘The coming.of-age con’ is posted on-line.

Its basic assumption is that the popular trope or meme about ‘finding oneself’ has no basis in reality as there is no fixed ‘self’.

I quote:- “Finding one’s true place in the world is a massive trope, not just in film and theatre, but also in literature, education and motivational seminars – any place where young people are involved. In all these cases, the search for the ‘self’ is dubious because it assumes that there is an enduring ‘self’ that lurks within and that can somehow be found. Whereas, in fact, the only ‘self’ we can be sure of is one that changes every second, our decisions and circumstances taking us in an infinite number of directions, moment by moment. And even if we think we have ‘found ourselves’, this is no panacea for the rest of our lives.”

Though this issue has been discussed in philosophy and psychology for an age, the findings have been sidelined in modern media and education. In popular culture, books like The Catcher in the Rye, and a long series of ‘find yourself’ novels, plays, films to instruction manuals. Particularly since the 1960s when the liberation of youth from worn out pre-war conventionalism led to a New Age philosophy,  ‘self-realisation’ and related concepts became ever more preponderant. The fascination with Eastern religious philosophies – due to mind-expanding substances . and practices led to many Western youth becoming ‘dharma bums’, wandering across the Indian subcontinent in search of the mirage of finding the core of identity, one’s ‘self’.

The philosopher Julian Baggini (‘’The Ego Trick: What Does It Mean To Be You?’ – Granta Books, 2011) has challenged traditional ‘common sense’ concept of personal identity in a most lucid and evidence based way. See

After a lifetime of studying the issue of selfhood both in theory and practice, and long adult sojourns in India, I arrived at the unshakeable conviction that the spiritual search for the True Self  is a miasma. (

See my views on (ego, identity, soul, self-realisation and related ideas or beliefs:

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Mental Entrapment vs. Liberated Understanding

Posted by robertpriddy on February 13, 2017

Almost anyone will agree that there are vast numbers of people whose understanding of major issues for human life is false, at least to some considerable degree. Those who have strong fixed opinions of narrow, primitive, ideological or patently false kind are relatively ‘mentally entrapped’ are highly likely to agree that the above judgement applies to others. Meanwhile, those a more open and flexible attitude will agree with this too.

Attitudes towards major issues can differ in a scale at one extreme of which is the utterly self-certain promoter of the truth of their views and beliefs to the defenders of uncertainty in most matters, due to the constant advances in knowledge and understanding, both in science and diverse other human affairs, which modify previously accepted answers according to new input. History illumines the fact of progress in human understanding, showing how once accepted universal truths have had to be abandoned in the face of developments.

Mental entrapment is a very varied phenomenon. It can arise in many ways and will not apply to all areas of a person’s mind. Some people will hold rigorously to, say, some religious or political doctrine into which they grew up, yet while having liberated understanding in much else, such as in carrying out scientific research. Where the two are incompatible, they may contrive to live with this dissonance, such as through extensive rationalisation and unlikely but sophisticated defensiveness.

Firstly, some may be entrapped in the beliefs and precepts of a sub-culture into which they were born or brought up. This is exemplified  especially in religious communities and sects or in ideological systems like Marxism-Leninism. These may persist until maturity or well beyond that, even for a lifetime. This can also be overcome by such means as wider socialisation, education and life experience.

Secondly, at various times in life, a person can adopt fixed ideologies, religious belief systems, conspiracy theories, cults of some variety. Those with most strength to entrap are so-called ‘total systems’, which means a doctrine that claims to express the undiluted truth and which has answers to refute all kinds of criticisms. There is often a supporting set of threatening consequences against those who criticise and or fail to accept the doctrines or behaviour of those involved. These rationalisíng answers are invariably based on anything from blind beliefs to speculative reasoning without substantive accordance with well-known facts or any proper empirical basis in reality.

In contradistinction to the above, what can be named ‘liberated understanding’ is of the open-ended kind, ready to examine all arguments for and against and modify opinion on the reliability of ideas, theories, of both belief and knowledge systems and independent opinion. The sciences and critical philosophical thinking exemplified this to a high degree. These liberate understanding from outworn and retrogressive traditions and beliefs.

Where can one draw the line between naive, well-meaning opinion and lacking insight or gross ignorance? There are many variants in quality, breadth and depth of knowing about matters so no clear distinction can be made unless one knows the determining details of fact, opinion and fancy. The insight of who is to draw the line – to support or contradict an opinion – or ‘referee factor’ is itself part of the whole question. 

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Freedom and Fate, Cause and Choice

Posted by robertpriddy on November 29, 2016


Since I became a philosophy teacher and researcher over five decades ago, I have been investigating the issues around freedom and fate, cause and choice. My standpoints on many related issues have undergone many changes and developments, not least almost entire reversals of my convictions as regards fundamental philosophical issues. This I regard as inevitable if a person is truly to learn and discover, to deepen and broaden understanding… to be capable of accepting having been mistaken time and again, itself something which presupposes self-reflection and self-critical thinking of a quite radical kind. My temporary adherence to many different world-views, at times atheistic or agnostic and for a long period religious mysticism, eventually led me in a decisive paradigm-shift away from any belief in any all-encompassing intelligence or designing creator. A very radical reassessment of the considerable range of evidence on which these doctrines were based – evidence which I had taken too much on trust – proved them to be so speculative as to cause a major shift in my convictions.

Quite late in life I came fully to discount deterministic philosophies and various largely incompatible theories of ‘karma’ which ‘reward’ or ‘punish’ actions, rejecting that there is any supernatural moral system working through cause and effect to equalise the effects of actions which ‘reward’ or ‘punish’. However, my standpoint on issues of freedom of the will has been fairly consistent throughout. I have nearly always been convinced that some degree of real personal freedom is possible, though my views have changed on in what it consists, what evidence supports it, how much and to what it extends, what it is that limits it and to what extent it may be increased through personal development.

Whether or not humans have free will is an issue of whether free will is possible or not. It is not simple question, so a blunt dichotomy between freedom-determinism is not helpful, even if the issue could be empirically decided (which it apparently can never be). The term ‘free will’ has dozens of different meanings or interpretations. The more important of these are crucially meaningful in the entire human inquiry into how humans causally affect the world and society.

From the subjective individual viewpoint, we appear to have the free will to do anything we like. This is the one limitation of the subjective viewpoint, for the ego itself is formed as the result of many previous thoughts and acts, conditioning one’s freedom to pursue individual instincts and inclinations. What we think we are free to choose depends on many conditions, the opportunities, restraints, insight, and knowledge we possess. In society, one has freedom to act, but this does not imply that one has freedom to know what is the best way to attain our goals in acting ‘freely’, even if they are objectively attainable. We cannot avoid the consequences of our actions (i.e. conscious choices), which also imply responsibility precisely when and because they are regarded as resulting one’s own wilfull behaviour. Freedom of choice always implies consequences, and these can often work back upon the doer – whether of the good or pleasurable and bad or painful kind. Further, these are mostly only perceived on a limited scale and not possible results far into the future. Our freedom is also conditions, even if not fully determined, by conditions over which we have no control. What one thought were ‘free choices’ may well have been fully or partly determined by pre-existing personal tendencies that have been psychologically determined (having limited one’s scope of thought and action). They may also be choices influenced by wrong ideas about the choices available, or the results that could follow. this amounts to a measure of unfreedom. If one’s subjective freedom of choice is used only within objective conditions which limit future alternatives or even lead to the opposite of the desired end, this amounts to a measure of unfreedom. From the mundane viewpoint, the conditioning of our minds by our wants and desires is itself obscured… and the more so the stronger, blinder or wilful the person’s ego.

There are senses in which we are free to choose, even though one cannot make the assumption that all individuals are equally free to choose. Individuals are not all equally able to exercise free will, as their abilities depend on such factors as maturity, health condition, physical limitations, social restraints, intelligence and the level of their knowledge. Besides, people in different cultures and different socio-economic classes are subject to different degrees of restraint or freedom to act, the alternatives between which they can choose are fewer that in more egalitarian and prosperous cultures. These aspects of freedom of the will – seemingly such an evident fact – are mostly overlooked by those theoreticians who concentrate on the more technical philosophical or theological issues around human free will. The ‘technical’ scientific-philosophical debate avoids conflicting with the widely cherished generalised belief about the supposed freedom and equality of all persons. On the one hand it is patently evident that everyone does not have the same degree of personal freedom – that is, the ability and means to do whatever they choose – because all freedom or choice is limited by the alternatives on hand. For example, an infant is less free than an adult, a person serving a prison sentence is less free than a normal citizen, a person with broad knowledge and long experience is usually aware of more realistic possibilities and alternatives than a person deprived of education and opportunities for wide experience. The limitations on freedom can also be congenital, as in those born with symptoms of genetic mental retardation. On these respects, that there is relative ‘freedom of the will’ makes perfectly good sense.

The significance of the above consideration is that it opens for the possibility of degrees of human freedom of will in a way which even tends to challenge the basic assumption of free will as a universal human capacity, or at least some of the implications drawn from it (not least in religion, morals and the law). It has been proposed in some religions and by esoteric schools that the degree of free will anyone has depends upon unusual achievements such a yoga, tantra and other practices. The pseudo-philosopher Gurdjieff was a proponent of such a theory. This idea also forms the basis of most Hindu and Buddhist religion. The difficulty with this is that, as a hypothesis, it is far beyond any normal means of investigation or testing. Nonetheless, science in general still regards the existence of higher forms of consciousness or ‘transcendental wisdom’ than the human mind normally achieves as a ‘unvalidated hypothesis’, and some even regard it as an unnecessary theory to explain anything. Moreover, there is no evidence that any such supposed ‘spiritual masters’ have ever contributed anything significant to genuine knowledge, but only to speculation and subjective self-interpretations.

The atheist Sam Harris, of whose ideas mostly approve, unfortunately wrote: “Our sense of our own freedom results from our not paying close attention to what it is like to be ourselves in the world. The moment we do pay attention, we begin to see that free will is nowhere to be found, and our subjectivity is perfectly compatible with this truth. Thoughts and intentions simply arise in the mind. What else could they do? The truth about us is stranger than many suppose: the illusion of free will is itself an illusion.”

Though his declaration is unnecessarily compounded with what he believes our sense of freedom results from, the core idea that free will is an illusion cannot be proven false. Nor, of course, can it be proven true. When I pay attention to “what it is like to be myself in the world” I come to an entirely different result than Sam Harris believes anyone would. This test he proposes is really so vague that it can be taken a hundred ways, so it is rather useless as an argument for his contention. I can see conditions over which I had no control, but also alternatives between which I had to decide – after long deliberations as to which of the most likely consequences were the best bet. I note also that, fortunate as I am in my life situation, I have far more alternatives and possibilities than many who are less ‘free’ (i.e. live under far more constraining conditions).

Without giving a definition of ‘free will’, which presumably Harris finds impossible since he claims there is no such thing – he has (on his own theory) involuntarily plumped for physical determinism as the reason for no free will being possible. The whole idea of ‘freedom’ – one of the vaguest and most misused words available (if not comparable to ‘God’) is itself under threat here, of course. (But has not our freedom ever been under threat… o.k., joke over). If one cannot properly distinguish and define the different meanings and contexts of what ‘freedom of the will’, ‘ choice’ and ‘volition’ are, one does not actually know what it is one is talking about. Despite a few references to research which suggests – but does not prove (of course) – that the brain and/or consciousness is a totally causally-determined entity and that there can be no indeterminism whatever (as is nonetheless accepted in micro-physics).

Many people understand ‘free will’ to mean our having options and to be able to distinguish and so select those alternative courses of action one chooses or wishes (whatever the multiplicity of circumstances that lie behind the choice… including conscious intentions and subconscious predilections). This makes free will – or freedom – something that is relative to the level of one’s control over the environment and oneself. Those who have the opportunities provided by upbringing, education, social position, self-help and resources have a greater degree of freedom – and can exercise their ‘will’ (desires, motives, and

The idea of choice between real alternatives as an illusion has consequences of an extremely far-reaching nature… and they would be revolutionary if it were eliminated from human thought and intercourse. I do not see that Harris has considered this, and I find the reason to be his over-generalizing approach…. and that means his language imprecision. What does Harris mean by ‘freedom of the will’ exactly?

The key issue about free will should not be whether it is a metaphysical possibility or not, but what means, how the idea is used for, what role it plays in human affairs. Further, how the scope of freedom can be increased in a fair way within a society for most people. One may reduce the issue to some either-or propositions (e.g. that it exists or it does not, or that everything is determined or not). But the issue of freedom is not encompassed by single ‘determinations’ – such as whether there can be an uncaused cause or not. The human experience of freedom and all that it has come to mean in respect of human development, the improvement of society (towards democratic freedom, habeas corpus, relative personal and social liberation and many another humanistic connection) is what ought to be the key issue, for these usages cannot be eliminated from our understanding – being so important are widespread. Human freedom has raised the species to orders of empowerment denied to any other order of animal life. (This is not to accept the religious doctrine that mankind is the only being with the freedom to know the difference between right and wrong and to choose between them in his actions. The key issue about free will is not whether it is a metaphysical possibility or not, but what it is used for, how its scope can be increased in a fair way within a society. Note also that freedom of the will is not a necessary component of theology and religious moralizing, for there have been many a religious determinist since the Stoic Zenon, and most pre-Greek religion is highly fatalistic/deterministic, not least in India where a deterministic brand of ‘karma’ theory is one root cause of the widespread fatalism seen among the Indian masses today. Sam Harris seems to think determinism could be a conceptual tool against religious moralism… for if we have no choice, then all moral preaching is totally futile. It can equally well be a tool of fanatics… all is Allah’s will, being one example for contemporary comparisons.

The countless phenomena of reality are not totally understood by any fully explicit and coherent system that satisfies strictly logical reason, and may never be so. That would assume an overall purposive order in reality, and would have to overcome the problem that experience is too subtle, intricate, deep and extensive to be fixated in a definitive or complete way by the human mind, individually or collectively. This is to say that the mind cannot (certainly so far) fully understand any purpose or meaning of the universe that might apply, not least because this exceeds the mental sphere altogether.

Universal physical laws with a very high level of probability of being objectively correct are already known to us. Yet they do not actually serve to explain many key issues about human life. To be satisfactory, it need not be total, but it must give an account of all phenomena observed and of what reason thereby conceives. An overall, total rational purpose in or ‘behind the scenes’ applying to every phenomenon might seem to amount to total determinism and an ‘automatic and basically mechanical-type universe’. However intricate such an overarching scientific cosmology might be, it would probably fail to satisfy the human mind which generally abhors ‘purposelessness’ or ultimate meaninglessness. If, as mystics assert, the universe is created out of universal love for ineffable blissful purposes, it could not then be understood fully in rational terms.

As noted, determinist theses narrow the discussion to what is little better than the ‘clockwork universe’ conception and technical philosophical arguments: The famous dictum ‘every event has a cause’ is not proven, of course… nut every single event cannot be studied or proven to be tied to a preceding event. So it is an assumption, a principle – fruitful indeed in respect of scientific investigation. It is the desirable carrot before the donkey that doesn’t know the answer (yet). But then the universe is a continuously interacting complex of countless influences – multiple causes if you like, a mutually-dependent ‘ecology’ of events – so that the reductionist method of isolating one event to one cause is rather comparable to missing the forests for one tree. Admittedly, one tree tells us a lot about a forest, but far from all that is involved. The ‘one cause-one effect’ hypothesis is fruitful as an analytical instrument but not much use in that we are also faced with the synthetical task (holistic if you prefer) or understanding in terms of greater and greater wholes. One such greater whole is the human brain, another is nature, another is ‘society’ and the question becomes – is everything running on predetermined lines, or is there any point in mental development, education, politics, upbringing to responsibility, or any of the countless attempts to ‘liberate’ people progressively from the worst burdens of life? (How to ‘liberate’ someone who can never be other than unfree?)

All explanations must end somewhere (in practice and in theory), so proving what causes what in the super-intricate human mind will always remain largely an open question. In such an uncertain situation, how should we think about ourselves – as ignorant automatons, as unwitting slaves of circumstance? Harris’ thesis implies that is just what we are! But he might rather take a leaf from Maimonides’ book, “We ought to exert our efforts in everything as though they were absolutely free..” (That Maimonides added, “… and God will do as he sees fit.” need not faze us… one can substitute ‘natural causes’ for God and ‘determine’ for ‘as he sees fit’).

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The subjective mind’s relation to objective truth

Posted by robertpriddy on February 4, 2016

All my experience is subjective and so is yours. But this does not mean that all of it is private. It can be shared, though not immediately or directly, but only through communication of one or another kind. The subjectivity of all our sensations, perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and conceptions does not arise always – or only – from our subjective inner world, for there are phenomena beyond our control and even beyond ken, be they objects and events from anywhere in space-time or neurones in the brain which register them. Such entities are independent of any one individual, and are common to all who may perceive them.

The causes of responses in the human brain to stimuli come largely from outside the brain (i.e. from the world and/or the body), secondarily from reflections in memory of external stimuli’s effects and thoughts or emotions about them. People’s perceptions of the same object or event are not necessarily entirely the same, and their interpretation of what they perceive can differ very greatly. There can likewise be inter-subjective agreement about perceptions, just as there may or may not be agreement of interpretations or opinions.

Whatever originates beyond the conscious brain or mind – as well as what it invokes for a person – will always be more or less transitory, for everything changes given time, and not least also the mind and the personality-identity of everyone. All we perceive, conceive and interpret meaning from is relative to the individual mind. Other minds, situated otherwise each have different backgrounds, memories and conceptions.

Each of us was began to grow up into what can perhaps best be called a ‘historically prejudiced’ consciousness. Perceptions, ideas, beliefs, ideologies, certainties, doubts and confusions are all conditioned by one’s figurative cradle. How confining or otherwise this proves to be will depend not least upon upbringing and the development of personal qualities, upon the degree and kind of autonomy of being that is allowed or encouraged. The chrysalis of accepted truths, from childhood to maturity and beyond. The transformation from whatever herd instincts or cultural leanings one acquired into a free-thinking, self-observant and knowledgeable spirit requires the inspiration and also the hard knocks of the wider personal experience the better. Not that all personal experience is positive, for one’s experiences can be so fruitless, debilitating or ruinous that it quells the spirit.


Solipsism is a philosophical theory of knowledge, the key position of which is no one else but oneself exists. All one perceives and experiences is the spontaneous creation of one’s own mind.  This can, of course, never be proved or disproved in any conclusive fashion. The convinced believer in solipsism cannot be argued down by decisive evidence that others exist, since the evidence and the person stating it can all be claimed to be a creation of the mind of the solipsist. The external world likewise… it is a projection of the solipsist’s mind.

However, if the solipsist is the only being who exists, why does his mind create the illusion that there is an external world, one which limits his abilities to do many things and constrains him in countless ways? Why is the solipsist’s mind itself, being the only one in existence, incapable of creating whatever he wishes simply through thinking it? If the universe is, as some insist, a delusion, why does the solipsist allow his mind to go on creating a delusion?

This solipsist delusion of narcissistic ‘untouchability’ would have been developed through time and diverse circumstances, a growing cognitive disorder caused by long-term underlying personal problems or reduced mental quality. The claims cannot be sustained for even the most hard-line solipsist has to interact with the real world, so actions will conflict with the rigorous opinion. The chief psychological feature of solipsism is, most likely, an extreme bias towards black-and-white thinking and an exclusively one-sided and artificially limited application of scepticism.


Scepticism is a method, not a belief system. It can, like any method, be badly understood and misapplied, but properly understood it is a means to clearing away bewitchment of the mind through habit, unreflecting blundering, the wiles and traps of language (especially the written word), and the ossification of one’s cherished experiences and ideas.

Sceptical thought differs from the subject matter it investigates in that it can reveal what the subject matter occludes or has purposely been covered up. When sceptical inquiry is applied even-handedly by pursuing both pro and contra standpoints, alternative theories etc., it will – if successful – develop more and more evidence to support for the one or the other. It examines arguments for use of pseudo- evidence, investigating whether or not reproducible facts support them. Once the dialectic of overviews is sorted out sufficiently, use of the sceptical method can reach conclusions which are far superior to mere rational conjecture. It is the guardian against false beliefs, unfounded beliefs, and beliefs which run contrary to knowledge and evidence and false claims, cover-ups and counterfeit evidence. That is why no person retains a religious faith of any kind when they are accomplished thinkers who question rather than believe what they want, what is comfortable, and what they depend on like an emotional crutch. The stage is reality, there is nothing behind it (except speculative wishful thinking) and the audience is part of the entire theatre.

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The Afterlife and evidence

Posted by robertpriddy on January 25, 2016

Those who believe in an afterlife, in whatever sphere imaginable cannot know what it would be like, the shape or form, time or place or any other definitive information about it. One may believe one knows, but that is still just a belief, however much circumstantial evidence one may claim for it or however convincing the sect, cult or guru that promotes it may be. Therefore certain questions can be asked.

Presuming that I will reappear in some form, will it be me and not someone else when some new spirit awakens me? Humankind has long supposed that the individual person lives on in an afterlife and therefore has the same identity. The underlying faith here is that it will be I who will be there and take on some new form, preferably in an easier and better world. Or perhaps the same form renewed as one had at some stage, so if one meets long-lost friends and relatives, they will recognise me? Thus one can build out a narrative to quell anxieties about endless oblivion.

How you were at some given time of life – or any of the other considerably different selves that evolve throughout your life until the ‘final act’ – does not constitute your undying identity. The idea that there is an unchanging self which is one’s core identity has no sound evidence to support it, as Julian Baggini and others have shown. Though there are many scriptures which suggest or assert this, and much philosophy that is enamoured of the thought and its possibilities, there is no empirical evidence to substantiate this.  To this, the true believer in the eternal self will often respond that it is a matter that cannot be decided by worldly methods, but only by intuition along with high-flying reasoning, possibly by using supposed paranormal powers to obtain ‘divine revelations’ or occult wisdom. Arguments for all such means must rely on beliefs, unproven assumptions or axioms. Moralists who believe in divine reward and punishment (such as a universal law of karma) are motivated by a range of emotions and unexamined prejudgements. (Around 80% of Americans believe in heaven and hell!)

Suppose such beliefs to be valid and true. How then would our existence be? Imagine – for example – how it would be to be living on as a continuation of oneself in an infant’s body, remembering all those things one has been and done that make up one’s supposed ‘self’, a self which remained the same and could not be changed whatever one did. Would not we then have to drag along with us all our remembered lives endlessly? Not to be able to remember them would not change the real situation, only that we could somehow hide our true self from our awareness. Without self-forgetfulness we could get no relief from the sorrows, sufferings and traumas that marked us in the past. Could a blanket of forgetfulness descend as we came into a new life somehow maintaining an unconscious continuity of self, while an entirely fresh experience develops in consciousness? This is what some believers in reincarnation hold.

This vision is one that rebirthers develop with their manifold extra-scientific doctrines and methods of so-called ‘past life regression therapy’. Such ‘therapies’ are not scientifically based or recognised by modern medicine, depending as they do on ways of altering perceptions such as through hypnotherapy, suggestion, and even the use of mind-altering substances. What one experiences or interprets from them is subjective and uncontrollable by other observations. Many cases of persons who discover they were sexually abused in childhood by parents or others have been shown to be bogus and great suspicion attaches to claims based on these supposed regression claims. Research on so-called false memories and how they arise has made considerable advances.

There is no proof or even reliable circumstantial evidence that either eternal hell or everlasting heaven exists, while there are many feasible explanations as to how these beliefs arose in primitive humanity, what or who motivated and sustained them for all manner of reason. Despite this, there are innumerable differing claims about what happens to the individual after death, countless belief systems of where one goes and how its inhabitants would be… from Elysium to Hades, Paradise to Hell, Purgatory or Sheol, Limbo, Swarga or Naraka, Valhalla or some other realm of ancestors or disembodied shades… the imaginary details are virtually endless.

Various religions teach of intervening periods between death and rebirth. The Greeks believed in this, Christianity developed speculation on it much further, while much Hindu doctrine revolves around temporary existence in other worlds according to what personal destiny decrees. If one can ever be reborn, there would most likely have to be a transition the nature and length of which no one can determine. In that interval, the deceased person may or may not experience selfhood just as before. The disembodied soul or wraith is often alleged to meet judgement leading to trials, punishments or rewards as an adjustment to the other-world and education to further existence… rebirth in some appropriate form or other (even as an animal, according to some religions). The various versions of purgatory (Catholic, Jewish, Hindu) involve transitional visits to imaginary hells or to uplifting spheres, the latter much promoted by mediums,’channelers’ and diverse mystics.

The doctrine that a person’s “true self “ is completely transcendent of the mind (call it ‘eternal spirit’ or ‘heart’ or ‘universal consciousness’ or what you will) is part of the belief system that refuses to consider a person (or soul) not disappear after death,  This involves a schism between individual consciousness and the so-called universal one. Many sophisticated spiritual arguments are put forward, especially in Advaitic Hinduism, to bridge this gap. Yet they are speculative in the sense of being unconfirmable in research or personal experience.

Though ‘spiritual masters’ claim to have the experience of both, and many users of psychotropic substances assert the same, there is no guarantee that the universal awareness they experience is the same in each or even any instance. Besides, consciousness must always be consciousness of something – some ‘mental object’ or phenomenon – or else it is not consciousness. So anyone’s guess is as good as another’s on what ‘universal consciousness’ has as its object. It cannot be its own object. So even when we may seem to experience that we are somehow ‘beyond mind and in pure spirit’ – as can occur in many ways from extreme meditation and asceticism, induced trance, the ingestion of opium or of psychedelic and entheogenic substances, the specific mind and brain is still always the medium of experience, for none of it can be recalled without the mind’s activity. However much would-be spiritual teachers struggle to ‘cleanse’ the mind of all worldly aspiration and thoughts, try to stop it, get between though impulses to  negate it, or otherwise deny its presence, it remains the medium of all that too. 

This brings us to the issue of the dependency of the mind on the brain and the ‘near-death’ experience, which is often thought of by some incorrectly as the after-death experience. A dead body cannot tell what it experienced. No experiment has so far succeeded in showing conclusively that a person who exhibit signs of death (like heart stoppage, cessation of brain waves) but revives afterwards was dead. Therefore no proof of even a briefest afterlife has been established. That the revived person is able to tell of events that took place during the ‘near-death’ experience does not guarantee that this was due to any kind of transcendental consciousness. Other explanations are possible, though the means remain unknown. One most telling fact is the described effects of large does of the drug ketamine can induce a state described by subjects to show very similar experiences to those who have survived near-death experiences, not least the so-called ‘K-hole’ experience, going through a dark tunnel towards a light, ending with a feeling of having died and being in the presence of God. (See The Blissful Brain by Dr. Shanida Nataraja, Gaia, London 2008, p. 149). 

Some Eastern religions claim that rebirth takes place at some indefinite time after death. This is mostly thought to be in another human body, otherwise incarnation as an animal at any level of evolution. The most optimistic hope is to reappear as some super-being, an angel, an enlightened soul, a deity or perhaps even as an alien of some higher level of development, but preferably as a joyous and all-knowing blissful consciousness eternally absorbed in a supposed Universal Being. If not next time but sometime in the future. Take your pick… but the chosen belief does not carry any guarantees.

All the imagined dimensions involved are actually inconceivable as definitive environments, locations, lands, societies. The can only be given the flimsiest of descriptions or representation, invariably depending on borrowing known features from our present world. Should there be a virtual copy of the present world elsewhere, incorporeal or not, we have never come across it nor can discover any feasible whereabouts. The power of human imagination can work equally for good or ill, truth or delusive myth-making. As Iain M. Banks has put it: “The imagination is necessary not to make things up – that would be wrong – but to come up with plausible scenarios for what ones senses are detecting, theories that might explain what is going on.”

Those who entertain ideas and hopes about an afterlife often say that it would add meaning to life. If we simply cease to exist, would not life be meaningless, or at least less meaningful? If a person cannot find living meaningful or create a meaningful existence without faith in its continuation after death, it is a sorry plight indeed. Meaning is created by the mind, being the significance we grant to events we experience, whether bad or good, important or less so. Nature does not exhibit any specific meaning (unless one can say procreation or evolution is inherently meaningful). Yet since the ancient past, humankind has tried to find clear unequivocal meaning in its various events and have tried to influence through worship and sacrifices the countless spirits and deities they came to believe must be behind it all. That kind of propitiation has never been proven to be effective, despite religions exhorting prayer and ritual, chanting and meditation, self-denial and much else to conciliate the imagined powers involved. No conclusive evidence of demons, deities, departed souls, ghosts, or other unearthly entities have yet been scientifically validated or widely accepted. Instead, science has provided testable explanations of the vast majority of natural events that affect humanity and also of how people hear voices, seem to contact incorporeal entities etc., making such otherworldly agencies redundant.

Where no satisfactory explanations to the ‘mysteries’ of nature and life could be found, imagination and superstition were called upon to play the biggest role in trying to explain them. This heritage of millennia, though intellectually redundant, has a tremendous inertia which hinders the controllable answers supplied through the lengthy and painstaking investigation of the sciences, answers that were held in great scepticism and were condemned as heresy or superstition due to nothing less than belief and superstition, which are still so very powerful throughout much of the globe. It seems most likely that the model for hell and heaven is earthly, the impenetrable blue mystery (the sky) and the roaring sulphurous volcanoe (hell), with the added details of the joy and blisses that the fortunate experience and the many man-made hells on earth.

Reported experiences of revival from clinical death are not by any means all supportive of continued existence. For example, the case of a man who died and was revived twice who experience nothing – until he was revived and noticed a time lapse.

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The exposé diverted Prince Charles from following Sathya Sai Baba

Posted by robertpriddy on March 30, 2017

An early Indian immigrant to UK, Manubhai C. Patel, who I visited a few times in Wembley (London), where he lived with his wife, was the earliest promoter in UK of books by and about Sathya Sai Baba. He sent a copy of each new Sai Baba related book in English to Prince Charles, who personally acknowledged them and his interest.

Manubhai Patel was a fully signed-up ‘true believer’ in Sathya Sai Baba’s claim that he was the creator and sustainer of the entire universe:-

It was only due to the efforts of the Sai Baba exposé from 2000 onwards that Prince Charles was finally stopped from visiting and seeking further contact with Sathya Sai Baba, to whom he had written letters expressing his appreciation of the guru and his desire to visit him in India. When the UK authorities, including the Foreign Office and MI5, realised that Sai Baba was under many clouds of suspicion for sexual abuses and cover-ups of many untoward incidents, including cold-blooded execution in his own apartment of four of his former Indian devotees, that an internal investigation was begun. One only has to know a little about the Royal Family to realise that, had the heir to the throne been publicly involved with this largely unexposed cult, what a huge furore would follow about it, with dire likely effects on the British constitution, the Royal Family and much besides. Therefore the investigations by the British authorities their subsequent pressures on the Palace to stop such developments had to be conducted in complete secrecy.

One may ask how therefore I can state such things, and I learnt of them. Firstly, the British security services investigated David Bailey, who had been a very close and privileged devotee of SB, whereupon he publicised many facts about their concerns and what measures were taken to isolate him from the Royal Family, who he knew and whose princes (William and Harry) he was teaching music. Secondly, we in the exposé had a secret source who had contact within royal circles, the Foreign Office, Parliament and other top institutions in London. His identity has been kept secret, due to his position and professional constraints. In this way we learned of some of the secret deals made between some UK and Indian authorities (including Tony Blair) and other matters concerning Sai Baba investigations.

Though Prince Charles’ fascination with Sai Baba and plans to visit him were eventually stymied, it did not stop the then-alienated and Royal divorced from Prince Andrew, Sarah Ferguson, from visiting Sai Baba, where she was ‘taken in’ as so many others were.
To read more detail about these issues, see

See also

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Can consciousness survive final bodily death?

Posted by robertpriddy on December 31, 2016

There is a profusion of evidence that there is no active mind without consciousness. Further, there is most unlikely to be active consciousness without at least some perceptive mind. When one tries to imagine how our consciousness could survive death, it is almost impossible to conceive anything without it involving mental experiences. How could a consciousness conceptualise, imagine or motivate itself it if were totally detached from the body, its perceptions, memories, subjective desires, will power, and some specific personality?  The classic religious or mystical answer is that – though developing self-awareness – a person can merge with ‘universal consciousness’. But the development of self-awareness is now widely proven always to relate back eventually to the body identity. That is why the idea of a universal, undifferentiated ‘Divine Self’  is argued… against which the same objections to it being possible remain. It is all very well to meditate while in a living body and experience what one takes to be a universal awareness, but then the brain is still sustaining these inner perceptions and awareness of them.

Not just belief in continuation of oneself after death, but as one’s same historical self, is a vague and non-explorable surmise against which all tempered common sense, demonstrable knowledge and well-founded reason protests. It depends on ever falling back into the womb-like mental-emotional cocoon of an imaginary – yet wholly unimaginable – person: i.e. God as he good creator and sustainer of life. Or failing that, on a Creator who is also the maker of all the countless horrendous scenarios than have been witnessed or can be imagined.

God as an all-potent being has to create, sustain but also destroy, and so believing in that leads to religion as a means to save oneself – to pray and sacrifice to redeem oneself and others by not causing offence to divine laws and in the vain hope of assuaging the powers of the universe. These so-called ‘spiritual’ sentiments often appear together with the sloppy and often soppy time worn slogans full of wishes of love, brotherhood (sisterhood), realisation, light, divine vision, forgiveness, peace… and eternal life.

A religious standby is to recognise and emphasise how feeble mankind is before the contingency of unforeseen and chaotic events. Though life is temporary and may leave no lasting mark on the world, to try to palliate for this by preaching eternal life after death is to mislead people into giving up something vital and precious in favour of uncertain hopes that may prove vain. To throw oneself into a project of unknowing and accidental circumstance, coincidence and dependency on some guardian spirit or deity does not make for a secure, humane, ordered and predictable existence or society. It is to abandon duty to oneself and others to the whims of uncertain fate and belittle the human enterprise to shape a better world. To relinquish ‘worldliness’ is to ignore the good ‘human’ values that sustain humanity, civilisation. reason, knowledge, science and accumulated human experience. The belief that a higher power directing our fates, leads to absurdities like throwing dice at every juncture to decide what to do, or looking up the I Ching before every decision.

To throw away the endeavour to make the world a better place, rather than hope for a better world after death, is to dwell on our own (relative) lack of power to avert chance and circumstance. it is demeaning to talk down human existence as ‘a bubble on the stream of universal life’ and supports apathy and helplessness far more than it can inspire.

See also The Afterlife and evidence

See here on the many fascinating issues concerning whether a person is actually dead and un-revivable

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What can or cannot be achieved through prayer and meditation

Posted by robertpriddy on November 25, 2016

Many religious doctrines and sect or cult leaders claim that prayer can achieve anything. This defies all observation, common sense, reason and science. That little or nothing can be achieved is far more likely, while admitting that prayer and meditation can sometimes have a temporary psychological effect on the supplicant. Yet all who will can observe how so many people pray for years without result. Think of people down the millennia who have prayed for the second coming of Christ and countless similar vain hopes throughout the world religions. Or consider the example of the Tibetans who, collectively, surely prayed more than any known people in recent times… until the Chinese invaded and everything they cared for was destroyed and those who escaped death were dispossessed and exiled, the country usurped. Were their prayers answered?

Those who believe in the power of prayer and/or meditation will probably impute all good things they wished for which actually happen to their prayers. How often they pray without such ‘results’ is ignored or – if the opposite to their prayers occurs, the find rationalisations… such as God is teaching me a lesson or I was not deserving enough and so forth. Thus they remain trapped in their delusive belief.
Religious teachers and diverse other know-alls say that God often answers your prayers with other things than you want or expect, but with what is best for you – a case in point being all sufferings being “for your own eternal good”. See the duplicitous and self-defeating nature of prayer in that? To get what you didn’t pray for!

A key reason for the continued belief in prayer and in the power of meditation (apart from the vast promotion of these but for well-meaning and commercial purposes) is that the perceived results are entirely subjective in both cases. The effect is psychological, not of itself bringing objective changes in external or environmental circumstances. The psychological effect can obviously be positive, yet it can equally be deceptive and eventually ruinous. Just as in the case of the so-called medication with ’uppers’, continual use eventually leads to ‘downers’, whether due to depression or injudicious decisions while under the influence of physically-induced ‘happiness’.

As with a wide range of different powerful mind-altering substances (e.g. LSD-25, DMT, morphine and other opium derivates, exotic mushrooms), meditation can in some people cause ‘bad trips’ and can eventually lead to cognitive and mental derangement disorders. The human brain and mind can conjure forth every possible kind of inner experience under different circumstances, from deepened insight to hallucinations, from self discoveries to entrapment in unreality and hellish states of mind.

See further on this subject by John Horgan in the Scientific American at (

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Fritjof Capra – unity of science and spirituality

Posted by robertpriddy on May 24, 2016

Dynamic complexity theory and the understanding of what Fritjof Capra called ‘networks’, enables understanding to progress well beyond many traditional dualism-based ideas and theories (such as arrived at only by intuition, untested assumptions and argumentation) towards genuine science-based unification hypotheses and discoveries.

Some of Fritjof Capra’s key ideas go beyond dualism and lead toward the reconciliation of many a theoretical and philosophical problem inherited from dualistic thought, which also has been dominant in Western culture and which persists in many of the less than up-to-date discoveries of philosophy and science. See Networks as a unifying pattern of life involving different processes at different levels – An interview with Fritjof Capra (

Capra said: “What I am trying to do is to present a unified scientific view of life; that is, a view integrating life’s biological, cognitive, and social dimensions.“ Though many scientists considered this would be impossible, Capra bases his investigation on evolutional biochemistry which has made tremendous progress in understanding that process of molecular evolution. In evolution, symbiosis developed and led to new forms is called symbiogenesis, which continued throughout the evolution of life. Capra rejects the possibility of a master theory from which everything in existence can be deduced saying, “Even though there is a unified basic pattern of life, and we can be more precise and say that this pattern is a network pattern, these networks are not structures – at least most of them – they are functional networks.”

“The answer is the notion of sustainability. Over the evolution of life, nature has developed certain patterns of organisation that allowed life to survive for billions and billions of years, using the very same molecules of air, water, and soil. And not only to survive, but to unfold and increase its diversity, and so on. These patterns of organisation are patterns we need to understand and to apply to our human design. This is what is called eco-design today.”

Seeing sustainability as the key to unified development of the networks between man and nature, Capra says of his concept of networks: “I have included meaning, values, culture, consciousness, etc., right from the start, I can use my theoretical framework to analyse the global economy, and values are a crucial part of that analysis.” “Their importance is growing as a form of organisation whose efficiency has been enhanced by information technology. The body of knowledge that deals with them has mushroomed in the last ten years or so.”

On “the essential characteristic of Life” Capra says:”… the answer lies not in the structure of the cell, the answer lies in what philosophers and poets
have always called the breath of life. When something has the breath of life, it is alive. In scientific terms, that’s what we call metabolism. Metabolism is the ceaseless flow of energy through a network of biochemical processes, which allows the organism to maintain itself, to repair itself and to perpetuate itself. This metabolism is the essential characteristic of life.”

“With regard to complexity, I think the main characteristic of a complex system is that it is nonlinear. Complexity theory is a set of mathematical concepts and techniques that deal with nonlinear systems. A network, by definition, is nonlinear. The significance of this property was recognised already in the days of cybernetics. The cyberneticists were very interested in networks but did not have the mathematical tools to deal with nonlinearity. They invented all kinds of mathematical techniques, but they did not have the powerful computers that we now have to deal with nonlinear equations and to simulate nonlinear systems. A network is intrinsically nonlinear.”

“My firm belief is that life is a unified whole, that we don’t have biological life, and social life, and mental life or psychological life, and spiritual life. I think this is all part of the whole process of life,which has evolved on this planet for the last 3.5 billion years. It has evolved, as I said before, by using the same patterns over and over again.”

Fritjof Capra:- “We all need to better understand networks. Their importance is growing as a form of organisation whose efficiency has been enhanced by information technology. The body of knowledge that deals with them has mushroomed in the last ten years or so. The internet – network of networks – is now a significant part of the life of hundreds of millions of people. The metaphor is part of our everyday vocabulary.”
“Even though there is a unified basic pattern of life, and we can be more precise and say that this pattern is a network pattern, these networks are not structures – at least most of them – they are functional networks.”

“”Meaning” is a sort of catchword, or a label, for the whole dimension of consciousness and culture, where we have values, purpose, goals, strategies, conflicts, power, and so on. Power is actually a very interesting part.” …”meaning” is the ability of human consciousness to form mental images. That to me is the key. If I am able to form a mental image of something that either does not exist, or doesn’t exist yet, or is not here at the moment, I can say: this is what I want, and I am going to work toward it. So, the whole idea of purpose is based crucially on our ability to form mental images: strategies, plan, all that.”

Questioner: At some point you said: “The design principles of our future social institutions must be consistent with the principles of organisation that nature has evolved to sustain the web of life.” Why should it be so?

When there is a conflict between making more money or protecting human rights
– workers, all over the world need to be paid living wages
- toxic substances should be handled with certain care
– certain health considerations should be taken into account
– not trade in endangered species
– we cannot have processes of industrial production where we take natural resources, manufacture goods, create a lot of waste in the process, and then throw away the
goods themselves. This is not how nature works. The understanding of ecology tells you that species who act like this do not survive.

“How do you change the rules?”

FC — “I think that can be addressed only politically. Technically, it is absolutely possible to reprogram the global economy according to different values.”

“What we need to do is first to become ecologically literate, to understand the principles of organisation that ecosystems have evolved to sustain life, and then we have to redesign our technologies and social institutions accordingly. When you try to understand how ecosystems organise themselves, this leads you very soon to understanding how all living systems organise themselves. So, the exploration of sustainability becomes inextricably linked to the question of the nature of life, the nature of living systems.”

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Religion as an opiate and an exploitation

Posted by robertpriddy on April 15, 2016

Many people turn to religion because they have no other recourse to relieve their suffering, even though the evidence that prayer works is highly selective and unclear, as events prove the failure of prayer far more often than not. In this it is genuinely an opiate for the mind, supplying a need for some hope to hold on to in the face of disaster death and fear of the unknown, but still a dulling opiate. Religions aim at explanations designed to give a sense of safety and protection when there is actually little or none. One can explain to almost anybody in a relatively short time what the main tenets of any religion are – even young children.  One needs only to believe. However, to develop and apply critical thinking and scientific investigation takes many years of mental development and study.

Karl Marx famously wrote: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” (from ‘Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’)

Major religions have ever aimed to make the world a better place, encouraging good acts known to all. However it also easily became as a means to social control, seeking power at the highest political levels.    States always try to control their populations, some less rigorously but many also in almost draconian ways. Religion is still a powerful factor in this and is abhorrent when used cynically by priests and their allies who want to get control over you, such as in preaching what you should or should not do, and failing to respect you as an individual or a person with your own intelligence and conscience. This is the opposite of serious philosophy, which aims to gain proper insight and demands a lot of effort. One may try to simplify a moral philosophy, but this must be at the expense of the many-sidedness of the information and diverse viewpoints and the comprehensivity of reasoning involved. To ignore this complexity is to become dogmatic.

Dogmatic sects of all major religions often lead to people having extreme opinions and to be too certain that they have the truth. Very different to the scientific or the healthy sceptical mindset which is willing to live with a degree of uncertaintly and not think one has all the answers. These can easily end up as cults willing to coerce others and even kill others. Many of the most religious countries of the world rank high among the oppressors of others – be they minorities, the poor, neighbouring nations ot those of other faiths. Judging by the fanaticism, hate and wars caused between faiths – now as ever – one may rather say religion is stronger than an opiate, more like something much stronger, say amphetamines, crack or worse dependencies.

See also What mainly characterises religion?
The final test of a religious faith

Can religion and ideologies lead to cognitive disorder?
DNA beats God hollow: genetics vs. religion
Sam Harris, Religion, the open mind and traps for the unwary
Religious ’doublethink’ – basis of denial of reality
Perception And Reality, Fiction and Fact in religion
‘Everything is relative’ – the bane of religions
Spirituality redefined without religion or mysticism
On the roots of political, religious and other fanaticism
The Origins and Persistence of Religious Belief and Faith in God
The ultimate brand name: God
Is religion necessary to humanity?

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