Archive for the ‘Atheism’ Category
Posted by robertpriddy on January 26, 2012
Posted by robertpriddy on January 9, 2012
Among the many interesting comments on religion in his once private – later published – notebooks, Somerset Maugham discussed 1) intuitive belief 2) spiritual and sectarian differences.
Here I present some scanned excerpts which deserve further promulgation, making some comments as to why I consider them just as relevant as when he wrote them:-
This, it seems to me, would probably be what most educated persons who also have active, not mainly passive, minds cannot avoid thinking, even though they may admit of natural uncertainty and at times also entertain hopes that there is somehow something better than the condition most experience at the end of their lives, if not also through much of their existence with so many cares, sorrows and travails.
Philosophers have shown the illogicality – invalidity – of every argument for the existence of God that has ever been forwarded. Likewise, one can no more prove that God does not exist than one can prove that the entire universe is run from within a brain of some person hiding in India or elsewhere (though there are plenty who completely believe this latter to be true! The ontological status of the claim that God exists, or Jesus lives is no different from the claim that ‘Elvis lives’, as Sam Harris has so amusingly put the matter. In short, the fact that we die and are not resurrected is one that can only be faced with some courage. That we should be reborn – reincarnation – is equally impossible to prove, and would require the most fantastic funds and methodological advances in science to study empirically. Retribution and reward by God or any entity in any way or future existence etc. are – as far as human ingenuity can discover through all its manifold oceans of knowledge and related resources – merely a figment of speculation, imagination, hope or existential desperation. The entire explanation for the idea of some Divine (or more primitively, some demonic?) retribution obviously arises from the refusal to believe that justice does not eventually rule and bring all evil-doers to book! The same goes surely for rewards – sojourns in heaven and even absorption into the Godhead as some immaterial unprovable and totally brainless consciousness (known variously as nirvana, moksha, liberation from the wheel of life).
Maugham uses the term ‘intuitionism’ to refer to that which moves most people to hold absolute views on right and wrong. Another aspect of it, as Maugham was also aware, is so-called ‘conscience’. Both a person’s intuitions and conscience are formed and developed through prolonged interaction of the physical being with the environment – unquestioningly absorbing the values and precepts of those who bring one up from babyhood onwards. Education invariably sets about inculcating certain values – not least through constant repetitions and lessons that are the accepted form of indoctrination to the mores and acceptable practices of the society involved. Even when bodily maturity is reached, many remain in the figurative ‘intuitive crib’ of their parental surroundings. Those who diverge from their family in views are often simply absorbed into what may be called a regional or national ‘crib’, perhaps adopting one of the accepted religions, or becoming agnostic and going through various changes in ideas of what is right and best, what is wrong or excusable, as influenced by their peers and the many group pressures which apply in specific culture and societies. In short, what conscience and intuition decide in one setting, one society, one religious culture etc., differs very greatly – not only in detail from person to person, but in the broadest sense between cultures which are opposed on many central issue and belief systems.
The many effects of relativity, the fact that there is no absolute knowledge, social structure, religion etc. means that cultural change, increasing knowledge, even shifts in physical environments, upset the certainties once held, often entirely, sometimes by modification large or small. Even since Maugham wrote his notes, the picture of the universe has altered beyond what one then could usually imagine, vastly more detailed and its laws penetrated far more deeply with empirically proven knowledge gained through – to the layman – almost inconceivable perfection of instrumentation and computational facilities. The same goes for the entire globe, and also for the microcosmos, with manipulation even of atoms. Meanwhile nano-technology is weekly creating wonders that show the reliability of the entire new insight into existence at all levels that have been achieved. Nowhere is there a hint of any transcendent ‘spirit’ stuff or immaterial intelligence. This kind of proven, tried, tested and re-constructible understanding is not to be found anywhere in any religion, of course! Though people continue to believe in religions on such a large scale, the globalization of culture and information had brought culture virtually ignorant of one another closer, and so often into conflict. We see the warring between the mainstream ‘faiths’ is intensified at all levels, and not least that between genuine knowledge and beliefs themselves. When the globe is technologised yet more fully, the science on which technology depends will be a sine qua non in most national education systems (if only for reason of economic survival), and this will almost inevitably weaken the religions.
I shall follow this blog with more of Maugham’s mature reflections soon… including on pleasure, hedonism and its suppression as sin.
Posted by robertpriddy on September 14, 2011
“For them. life begins with death”
“Which is as if one were to say ”Day begins with night.’” (from Quo Vadis)
The belief that death can be defeated, that there is a life afterwards, that one may be reborn and all those fondest of imaginings, plays some part in all religions. Such unsupported beliefs are bolstered up by countless other surrounding scriptures, sayings, accounts of supposed miracles and divine interventions, of what seem to be answers to prayers (i.e. the relatively very uncommon fulfillment of a strong desire that comes about). In short, beliefs, once adopted, tend to grow of themselves. When fed by what are marshalled together rather uncritically as supportive ‘facts’ and experiences, they continue to grow. Otherwise, they tend to subside and fragment. The same goes for doubts. One adopted, they grow and the more so when facts appear to justify them. Doubts can also weaken and disappear if facts and positive experiences arise sufficient to counteract them.
The history of humanity emphasizes how faith can mislead people into the most bizarre of experiences and beliefs and bring about the most severe consequences imaginable in terms of suffering, violence, wars, genocide, torture and debasement of the human spirit. Yet worse are supposed possible consequences of divine retribution, constant rebirth as animals of prey, immersion in eternal hell fires and just about any perversion of goodness the human mind could invent and attribute to the supposed ‘Divine Creator’. Putting one’s trust in an unworthy person usually leads to disillusionment, putting one’s
faith in religious teachings and spiritual leaders is also a serious gamble where the stakes can be high indeed.
The religious believer invariably seeks all that can reinforce belief and inherently tends to ignore and rejects whatever may conflict with the belief, especially radically. Often a belief may help inspire with an apparent meaning to life and strengthen good qualities in oneself and positive action towards the world. When the tinder of such a positive intention are fed by constant supportive ‘spin’ and stories of many others’ subjective experiences (i.e. which no one can control and the fewest can investigate to any reasonable extent), they ignite more faith by reinforcing what one want to believe. Our personal experience – being all that we really know first hand (however delusive or deceptive it may be) can often be interpreted and distorted by a doctrine or ideology.. whiten is what religions are. Personal experience becomes formed by indoctrination and narrowing of one’s scope of information, and is easily overshadowed by false expectations generated by a sect or a cult
When one has sought hard for a long time and finally arrived at something one can believe in quite strongly, the believer looks further for what is positive towards that belief and can reinforce. At the same time, there is a tendency to put aside or reject outright whatever may conflict with it. One will be loath to give up a belief which helps inspire and strengthen positive feelings, a more hopeful world view (then formerly held). If one adds to this a belief which gives one a sense of a meaning in life and and purpose in the cosmos, then it will be difficult to backtrack, and any challenges will be unlikely to dislodge it.
Many belief systems are of course shared by vast numbers, the mainstream religions into which one is more or less born and indoctrinated before one can use one’s own judgement at all. Should the belief system be more peripheral and diverge appreciably from mainstream cultures, it is most often part of a support network, a like-minded community or sect. As with mainstream religion, this often gives an outlet for social service and self-improvement, the increased sense of self-worth further strengthens the belief system.
There is a threshold of belief which, when crossed, sets off a psychological process of reinforcement. As in the Kirkegaardian ‘existential leap of faith’ the confusion of not knowing and uncertainty cause people to ‘take the plunge’ into some doctrine or faith which seems to promise to be rewarding spiritually, emotionally and usually also in various other ways. It is both intriguing and not least distressing to see how people become so entirely trapped in a ‘faith’ as to be unable to see even when the most glaring discrepancies for what they are. Even then a pivotal personal crisis or mental-emotional upset – perhaps a major emotional shock or personal loss – may be required for freeing oneself from the ganglion grasp that a system of belief and its associated way of life and behaviour.
When serious doubts emerge, doubts that could only be ignored with difficulty, however, they too can grow as the facts support them further. This is one way in which an internalized faith and system of ideas be shaken, and there is usually some critical personal event which sets such a process in motion. Once crossing the ‘threshold’ in reverse, doubts can grow as facts emerge to support them. Doubts can be corrosive at time, but it can also mitigate the severity of inflexible doctrines and not least fanatical ideas. Without any doubting, everyone would become a doctrinaire fundamentalist of whatever brand, which would be another bane on humanity.
If faith in some doctrine or religion revives, and radical doubts are overcome, a certain euphoria often follows – one to which critical doubting seldom gives rise. The process cannot but involve interesting and challenging shifts in ideas and perceptions, when thought is stimulated by novelty and seems to move forward into unknown but exciting territory. One feels free of brakes or cross-checks that may have been part of one’s former mentality. The positivity generated by ‘having found the answer’ and reached certainty makes for a self-fulfilling strengthening process. Reaching the apparent security of a spiritual renewal, if not also a worldly kind, and ridding oneself of uncertainty along with the trust that promising developments (‘blessings’) will eventually ensue can be a very beguiling matter.
Eventually novelty always wears off, and both practical and other hindrances invariably resurface, contradictions arise in new guises and reality exerts its usual resistance against anything that is too uncertain, too otherworldly.
Posted by robertpriddy on August 25, 2011
Some overarching ideas are like hydra – the more we entertain them, muse over them, think our way into their meaning and possible consequences – the more they spread and entrench themselves in our minds. In fact, they entrench themselves in the memory circuits of the brain and every time they come to mind they reinforce the neural connections. Many entertain not just a ‘big idea’ but commit themselves unduly to an entire ideology. It is often germane to an ideology that it ‘totalities’ itself as the one and only way to understand whatever it claims to cover. Among such totalistic or ‘exclusive’ ideologies, we find of course totalitarian belief systems, from Nazism, Leninism, Maoism, to an even partially-fundamentalist theology. Their explanations invariably require that other (conflicting) belief systems be negated, denied and preferably ignored.
The countless ganglia of the human brain – as neurological research is now penetrating to a far greater degree than ever – can be dominated by a build-up of connections so as to cause the relative exclusion of whatever is not dwelt on enough to make comparative impressions (i.e. as strong memory connections). This is how major and near-total indoctrination is possible or – in a more expressive term – ‘brainwashing’. What is washed out is anything that contradicts or throws doubt on the dominant ideology.
The more one concentrates on an ideology, the more it tends to take over a person’s mind-set until a way back from the whole of it becomes more and more tortuous and difficult to trace. When people make an exclusive ideology too predominant as a doctrine, they interpret life and the world only on the premises it enshrines, and invariably it rejects without reasonable discussion explains way all or most other competing doctrines in the process, then a cognitive disorder id developed. The person may be or appear quite sane and normal in other respects, but has a seriously distorted perception nonetheless. This can lead to dangerous and anti-social actions too.
Contrariwise, as interest shifts to other concerns and ideas are side-tracked, the neural connections are weakened. There are, however, other causes which can overcome even an obsessional dogma or indoctrination, of course. Major psychological shocks can cause a person to have to rethink it all, or people can be influenced by other, stronger ideologies and not least by education and even specific ‘deprogramming’. People may have other resources (previous education, or other cognitive skills and experiences) to fall back on which, once activated, give them a critical or doubting perspective on their main beliefs.
Believing in a largely unsupported system of ideas can be taken so far that – in common parlance – the ‘mind flips’ into unrealistic modes. Some become pathologically obsessional, paranoidal, and so on up to megalomania and related conditions. To be mentally deranged is to suffer a malfunction of normal thought operations involving a loss of common sense, reality sense and the use of self-corrective reflection. It occurs in all degrees of seriousness and triviality and probably very few persons indeed are entirely free of it in some form. Yet a large or crucial part of a person’s mental life can develop in such a way that one’s ideas – and even perceptions – become very far removed from common sense and reason.
The more ‘official’ term for mental derangement nowadays is ‘cognitive disorder’. There are numerous kinds of cognitive disorder.
1) Illusory correlation. This is a misjudgement of how likely an event is. To confuse one thing as the cause of another is also an illusory correlation.
2) Memory bias. A number of biases can affect memory (Schacter (1999). These include false memory in recalling one’s past attitudes or behaviour as more similar to one’s present attitudes than is factual.
3) Egocentric bias. This can occur when one wants to hold a positive self-image so as to avoid negative facts about oneself. The conflict of negative and positive facts about oneself is known as ‘cognitive dissonance’, which there can be a strong tendency to avoid.
4) Ignoring relevant information is a cognitive bias, which occurs when one gives undue importance to a minor but salient feature of some problem. One’s judgement is warped through irrelevant information. Examples are found where there is ‘framing effect’. In social theory, a frame means a sets or system of interpretations – often a collection of root assumptions or set of stereotypes which people use to understand and act on events. Framing involves selective influence over how one understands words, phrases in description, labelling, or presentation of a problem. An unduly narrow perception or description of a situation or issue is a case of framing, whether wilful or unconscious, whereby attention is directed away from important facts or aspects of a matter.
5) Assymetric insight: This illusion “is a cognitive bias that involves the fact that people perceive their knowledge of others to surpass other people’s knowledge of them. The source for this bias seems to stem from the fact that observed behaviors of others are more revealing than one’s own similar behaviors. Relatedly, people seem to believe that they know themselves better than their peers know themselves and that their social group knows and understands other social groups better than that social group knows them.” (Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusion_of_asymmetric_insight)
6) Self-serving bias: A self-serving bias occurs when people attribute their successes to internal or personal factors but attribute their failures to situational factors beyond their control. The self-serving bias can be seen in the common human tendency to take credit for success but to deny responsibility for failure. “It may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests.” (Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-serving_bias)
See also http://www.robertpriddy.com/P/14disorder.html
Posted by robertpriddy on June 9, 2011
Sam Harris, for whose ideas I otherwise hold in calm approval, has now decided: “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). 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 he mean by ‘freedom of the will’ exactly?
One cannot reduce the entire issue of human freedom to some either-or propositions (eg it exists or it does not) without falling into the trap that some Vienna positivists did when they wanted to abolish all words and phrases which did not have a corresponding referent (and so leave us with a ‘scientific language’ devoid of poetic nonsense and imagination that would eventually solve all disagreements). Wittgenstein abolished that mythology, of course. The issue of freedom is not encompassed by one ‘determination’ – whether there can be an uncaused cause or not.
Before proceeding please note 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.
One problem with Sam Harris’ thesis is that he narrows the discussion to what is little better than the ‘clockwork universe’ conception: one interpretation of the famous dictum ‘every event has a cause’. That every event has a cause is not proven, of course… every single event cannot be studied and 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 phase us… one can substitute ‘natural causes’ for God and ‘determine’ for ‘as he sees fit’).
It is (theoretically) totally predictable what he draws from what he must logically recognise as his involuntary plumping. There is nothing new about his theorizing – despite a few references to research which suggests – but does not prove (of course) – that the brain as a totally causally-determined entity.
Let us explain how ‘free will’ is understood by many people. It is to have 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 aims) accordingly. In this respect, it is patently obvious that there is a difference between freedom and it suppression (by whatever agencies or natural facts).
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.
See review on Harris’ latest (one-track) book ‘Free Will’. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2012/04/09/will-this-post-make-sam-harris-change-his-mind-about-free-will/
Posted by robertpriddy on May 26, 2011
Stephen Hawking: “… almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead”
Now, there are other interpretations of why we are here and where we, as individuals, came from than the astrophysical ones. Hawking really ought to know enough about philosophy to realize that it is highly misleading to make sweeping generalizations (i.e. imprecise and therefore are open to differing interpretations). Such as the old slogan statement “Philosophy is dead”.
Of course, on his kind of interpretation he is wholly correct. Philosophy is neither capable nor actually trying to add anything to the fundamental questions of the natural of the physical universe. The origins of philosophy as the first natural science are long since superseded. But philosophy embraces much else than physics (which it still embraces as the most valuable source of information about the composition and origin of nature). Physics is itself limited in important ways – it can add nothing to the philosophy of law, to medical ethics, to the interpretation of meaning and the comparative analysis of language, to pragmatics and semantics, even to logic. We even have eco-philosophy and meta-philosophy of the cultural, psychological and social sciences. Still, there is real substance in Hawking’s claim that ““Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” and that new theories “lead us to a new and very different picture of the universe and our place in it”. He also wisely notes, of course, what all know – that physics’ most complete ‘M theory’ is not yet fully or satisfactorily verified by a long chalk.
Another sense of ‘philosophy is dead’ might be that it is no longer practiced – properly and within its legitimate scope. (However, we may wonder whether some of those professional academician philosophers are alive in a wider connotation of the word). It would be easier to defend the generalization “Theology is dead” and Hawking would surely agree with that, even though there are as many theologies as Gods or religions. Despite all the faith of theologians in God as a being which is more alive than ever, they deal only with the dead matter of scripture – the past warmed over and projected into the future. His latest book ‘The Grand Design’ claims that no divine force was needed to explain why the Universe was formed. “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.”
Thereby Hawking has rejected his former musing about a possible mindful God. He denies the existence of such a being – other than figuratively as equivalent to ‘the law of science’ – including any ‘personal god’ is. In this he is an outright atheist, and it should be pointed out that this amounts to a conviction, a belief… and, if he were a philosopher, he would reserve absolute judgement (until all the facts about everything may finally be in). This would give no substantial succour whatever to religionists, but only to the principle of scientific inquiry and scepticism. On safer ground, one is inclined to say, Hawking ridicules the idea of heaven as a “fairy story for people afraid of the dark”. He might have added that hell a myth for those afraid of fire (or a place suggested by the inside of volcanoes)!
He has a liberating view – parallel to his liberating life: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail.” No need to fear beliefs that no one can every test, like the existence of an afterlife, rebirth, the continuance of one’s accumulated karma (good and bad). Instead, with here and now sanity he says: “We should seek the greatest value of our action.”
Posted by robertpriddy on February 7, 2011
Continuing the subject of the previous blog: The fundamental dualism that is found in all religions which assert the existence of any sphere of incorporeal existence ‘beyond’ or outside the space-time universe cannot be upheld except through indoctrination into acceptance of the irrational.
When persons are not fully indoctrinated, or has unavoidably reached an impasse in trying to make the particular doctrine fit certain unavoidable or observable facts, they conceive ways of re-interpreting them with a positive ‘spin’, setting them in a rosier light – or they simply ignore them.
However, there are always voices asking uncomfortable questions about otherworldly doctrine so – as a last resort to defend the main body of their doctrine – they try to suppress the issues. This is possible where they rule in theocracies, but it is a most thorny problem for them where there is freedom of speech and public accountability.
One resort is to emphasize against dissidents that one should see the world only in positive terms as good and divinely ordained. This is an attempt to transfer by mental fiat the qualities of the supposed heavenly nirvanic spheres to the real world. Many fall for this in hope that it may be true, but only at the price of blindness to ills of the real world in which we live.
‘Spiritual’ doctrines have mind-control features very similar to those Arthur Koestler analysed and described so brilliantly after he had finally broken the chains of Soviet Communism. He wrote: “I had eyes to see and a mind conditioned to explain away what they saw. This ‘inner censor’ is more reliable and effective than any official censorship.” (The Invisible Writing, p. 64). He was able to justify to himself all the horrors of suppression and killing he saw when given a pass to travel throughout the USSR in the 1930s… it was necessary so as to establish the ideal stateless state.
George Orwell’s coinage “doublethink” is used to describe the ways in which people necessarily have to think under such despotic suppression – they have to have a mental “double-accounting” system – one account states what they know within to be true, the other is for outward dissemination so they will not be dragged off as an enemy of the State. Those who feel the bite of this double-edged sword are not indoctrinated, merely forced to conform. Those who are unaware of the duplicity and the double morale required for daily living are the real victims of doublethink because it is subconscious in them.
While effective ‘double-thinking’ reduces tensions and disharmony within the fold, it also makes ‘double-accounting’ (double morale) second nature in followers and they become Janus-faced. This leads to self-repression and conspiracies of silence and secrecy to cover up major injustices whenever they may occur within a sect or cult.
Orwell also explained that the Party could not protect its iron power without degrading its people with constant propaganda. In religious terms, this is preaching, proselytism, missionary teaching, or more prosaically ‘god-bothering’. This propaganda is essential in some form or other to most faiths, since it is a means of sustaining itself and employing its most faithful adherents.
The most indoctrinated are, of course, those whose top priority is to ‘withdraw’ from the world – whether in monasteries, in ashrams or in cults. This is the consequence of taking beliefs literally, which is impossible for most people to do. Those who do so for many years find themselves mostly isolated from other people who do not share the same faith and have little by little become more and more encapsulated in the entire mental and emotional behavioural schemes. The devoted believer is duty bound not to think beyond the doctrine heard from all sides all the time, and which they themselves have usually preached for years. They spend much energy, time and what means they have on their church or sect until they can no longer envisage a life without their faith. Moreover, it must certainly seem to most of them, whenever they might contemplate leaving, that they have nowhere else to go, no other life to live.
In a subsequent article I shall follow up on the dualism of the kind discussed here and investigate the parallel and related phenomena of the functioning of the two different sides of the human brain and their difficult inter-relationship, including the dualism between so-called ‘normal’ mind functioning and mystical states.
Posted in Atheism, Belief, Ideology, Philosophy, religious faith, Spiritual cults, Spiritual propaganda, Understanding | Tagged: Arthur Koestler, ashrams, doublethink, George Orwell | Leave a Comment »
Posted by robertpriddy on February 6, 2011
When there arises a conflict between facts we perceive and ideas we hold, “doublethink” often comes into play. Spiritual teachings often require a lot of such double-thinking, for they deal with an alleged transcendental reality which cannot be perceived and which apparently contradict what ‘mere’ worldly conditions imply.
First see what Orwell said ‘doublethink’ is (from the novel 1984):
“The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary.“
This is expressed in religion by the well-known schism between the ‘profane’ and the ‘sacred’ (as analysed by Mircea Eliade). Piety and all thoughts of transcendent divinity are seen as sacred (or holy, blessed and divine). All worldly concerns belong to the profane. The two terms suggest that all that is not holy is a kind of ‘profanity’. So the awkward task of the priests to interpret profane events in terms of the divine… awkward because most non-religious happenings and facts are really impossible to account for in terms of divinity or holiness. What we regard as bad, wrong, tragic, insufferable and so on has to be accounted for by religionists. God cannot be held responsible for such ‘evil’ and unsacred matters… so one has recourse to blaming human sinfulness, or even demons, Satan and the like, or perhaps rationalizations as to why such things are unavoidable in a ‘best of all possible worlds’. The dilemmas involved can be solved only by rejecting and distinction between holy and unholy, sacred and profane. The dualism leads to doublethink… ‘one the one had and on the other’, where the two hands can never meet.
Orwell had more to say about doublethink:-
“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it… and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed.”
Such a dualism exists in the Christian concept of Christ. Though there are various doctrines on how a man could be a ‘son of god’ or God himself or a dual being and so forth, none can resolve the issue satisfactorily (i.e. rationally). Therefore, the matter is declared a ‘sacred mystery’ and rational approaches to it are put down as below the level of an all-knowing Being. The mystery of God and religions has to be maintained through embracing irrationality… because two fundamentally opposed conceptions of reality – the divine and the human, the sacred and the profane preclude any understandable account (on the basis of belief and acceptance of the otherworldly realm and supposed entities there).
To be continued…
Posted by robertpriddy on February 5, 2011
It is something of a fad among surfers to say that “everything is perception” and that there is “no truth and no reality”. This standpoint obviously falls on the grounds that it is merely a perception, not truth. However, the idea persists that there is nothing that can be called reality other than perception. This is the most elementary logical and factual error one can make – it is pre-philosophical: The earliest philosophical thinkers already distinguished between perception and reality – the stick that is perceived as bent in water is ‘in reality’ straight. You could discover the reality of the situation you experienced only when you investigate so as to test the perceptions.
The same basic assumption underpins all religious beliefs – that is, the acceptance of perceptions (in the broad sense) as fact, when they may just as well be fiction. There is a very widespread ethos saying ‘People must be allowed to believe what they want’. The fact is that one cannot stop people believing what they want. So the ethos aims instead at those who wish to question beliefs, examine them, put them to the test and debate them openly… as if they should stop their activities out of ‘respect’ for other people’s beliefs.
The biologist Lewis Wolpert seeks to examine the penchant for faith in a book whose title derives from an exchange between Alice and the Red Queen, in which the latter points out that “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Wolpert describes and interprets various widespread logical fallacies, examining their diverse origins in brain pathology, neuro-chemical impacts, and other cognitive limitations, in seeking to understand why so many people, in the words of H.L. Mencken, “believe passionately in the palpably not true.” His book is a useful compendium of hallucinations, confabulations, and other self-delusions, with the intriguing added thesis that much science is itself counterintuitive (the earth’s going around the sun, the mutability of species, quantum “weirdness,” and so on).
Truthfulness and/or factual truth: There can be a major difference between telling facts truthfully and knowing what is true. A witness who has been unknowingly misled – or who eagerly trusted and believed may tell experience most honestly, but this may well still misrepresent actual states of affairs. Someone can be truthful about their subjective experiences, while these experiences may remain very far from penetrating to the truth of things. Not only may the experience be the result of framed and mind-distorted perceptions but it may conflict with the evidence both of systematic investigation, collective experience, factual knowledge and reason.
To be truthful may lead to revealing a more comprehensive or hidden truth, but what one tells can be distorted by one’s subjective interpretations combined with what one thinks and believes in general, all bending one’s perceptions. When one has developed a mindset which is largely organized by some doctrine or faith, the truth of any matter is always more or less clouded by that mindset. Those who have a very wide mindset will usually be able to interpret their perceptions in a less subjective manner than those who lack training in comparative studies, critical thinking, and psychological self-understanding.
I have given some examples of distinguishing perceptions (and subjective interpretations of them) from reality in interactions with spiritual figures. Such insights are crucial in discovering fraud by so-called spiritual gurus. They help in seeing through the very subtle means of indoctrination, self-programming, and deceptive means of hooking followers. See the: The dangers of global and religious or spiritual cults (http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/5/What_a_Cult_is.html) and for examples based on long experience of the techniques India’s most successful guru-god see here.
The nature of the brain’s self-programming is dealt with in an understandable way here, showing how perception is itself not reality-
Posted by robertpriddy on January 29, 2011