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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Archive for the ‘Understanding’ Category

Sam Harris on free will; is all ‘freedom’ a miasma?

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 in Atheism, causality, Free will, Philosophy, Science, Understanding | Leave a Comment »

On moving towards grasping the mystery of existence

Posted by robertpriddy on May 24, 2011

On paranormal phenomena and the explanations sought to explain them: That the brain is claimed to be merely a frequency receiver, which I once also tended to believe possible (also because it fitted with spiritual beliefs I held then) I now find to be almost wholly unsupported. Empirical studies show it has some subliminal precognitive features (seconds before an event, it can ‘react’). Yet to derive from this an entire ‘mentalist’ and ‘spirit’ philosophy is stretching credibility too far. Current such theories (like the ‘holographic universe’ speculation) seem to be based on the thinnest of empirical observations in nuclear science, most probably not correctly interpreted. Such ideas had the briefest life in European though, such as with Bishop Berkeley.  I am of course also well aware of the uncertainties of sense perception (it’s lesson one in philosophy) – and also the limits within which our senses operate, but that does not alter my views on the uncertainty of all spiritual ‘hypotheses’ about sense inputs having an extra-sensory – pre-sensual – input (‘hypotheses’ usually put forward as established doctrine). The truly astonishingly vast extent of phenomena to which technological instrumentation and computing has brought within our scope does exceed and so extend the human senses vastly, and the pace of development has been accelerating enormously along with the miniaturisation and multiplying computing power. The evolution of science and the direction the technologies it made possible took in the last decades was totally unimaginable in mid-C20 – and even in most science fiction then.


One small item comes to mind: it is now established in neuro-science that the human uses the entire brain all the time… and real-time magnetic imaging even illustrates this clearly. The once much bandied idea that we use 10% (or whatever) was a primitive judgement which first gained prominence back in the 1950s. One believed that there had to be a massive unused capacity because of the so-called ‘transcendental’ experiences, such as can be reproduced with certain psycho-mimetic substances and by diverse other means. The underlying reason for the myth of the 10% capacity was the belief in a God Creator who made human beings in his image, which is of course ‘creationism’. It is, however, most unreasonable to believe that the brain evolved with a large unused capacity, for nature soon abolishes ‘useless’ appendages and genetic developments. Just today research has shown that parts of the brain may temporarily react as if ‘asleep’ (see scan on right)  Evolutionism is not a doctine but a particularly well-established master theory the only creditable fact- and empiri-based explanation of life on earth and human origins that can already account for the larger part of all variations we find in living nature.

Personal development: My own case is the best know to myself, so I proceed from it. I have studied a wide range of books with embracing all manner of paranormal and/or spiritual phenomena and a range of suppositions about their origins and all-explanatory theories of many kinds. Some are based on holography, on transfigural mathematics, on solipsist assumptions, on quantum theory (usually by amateurs), on ancient Indian psychological speculations (not empirical), mysticism, even shamanism and more besides. Now, all these now appear to me to have a similar epistemological status as, say, the Continental rationalists and other metaphysical and pseudo-theological system-builders. Kant’s view of sense perception was, for its time, more advanced than that of Kapila, Triguna, Nagarjuna or other Indian thinkers reaching back apparently even to the Indus civilization. Most of what makes up so-called New Age theories came through the spiritualist movement and Madame Bravatsky from India, most of these ‘alternative’ traditions being prefigured in speculative Indian thought reaching back to former centuries where one knew almost nothing about the ‘secrets of nature’ compared to present day (developed on the basis of the Vedas – virtually a set of hymns, myths and some primitive natural philosophy)

Which ideology a person adopts – whether a political theory, a religion or a philosophy – is partly a matter of choice, partly chance, What one is brought up to believe, or else what one comes across firstly is seldom intelligently chosen. Everyone has to start somewhere and it takes a long time to investigate each ideology philosophy and evaluate it. Many will not even get so far as to think, question, analyze or put to the test the assumptions and beliefs in the culture in which they grow up and live. Many will be more or less unwittingly attached to the set of beliefs, doctrines or systems of thought they happen to be taught or come across early on.

I investigated many movements, political, scientific, social, humanist, and religious too, but always moved on, impelled forward by the need to break false boundaries and learn more, go beyond conventional limits in search of greater understanding.  I soon gave up writing philosophy papers and planning books (my professional status being already sufficiently secured) because publishing and conforming to peer standards slowed down progress in investigation and freedom to search.  After my interest in mysticism was awakened through a very powerful personal experience, several inspections of gurus and various ventures into that sphere ended up in each case with unsatisfactory results. In my mid’40s, unusual circumstances (recorded in my now out-dated and deficient book ‘Source of the Dream’) eventually caused me to threw myself wholeheartedly into a ‘spiritual quest’ in relation to the Indian self-proclaimed divinity Sathya Sai Baba. His claims were so special that I was drawn to visit and see him for myself.  For 18 years my definitive plunge with total commitment into what I would call ‘the spiritual world’ in practice. I did eventually obtain a great deal of new self-knowledge from it, because otherwise I would still be involved in it! Not of course what I expected and not what was supposed to result! On the contrary, I find myself more in tune with certain Zen ideas (except that they supposedly have none, as such). When I allowed myself to raise serious doubts and bring to bear all my former insights and knowledge on the whole thing, I progressively rediscovered the value of critical, analytical thinking (which had been my forte before I put it on ice for the purpose of spiritual endeavor). The advances made in world science even since I has ceased to pursue it thoroughly were so astonishing that, looked at with a clearer eye and on a much broader basis, it uncluttered and cleared my mind in many ways and also necessarily brought me more down to earth than ever (a liberating experience after decades of self-sacrificing idealism and largely wasted ‘spiritual efforts’). The result so far does not seem at all to have been a matter any single set of choices, but rather the sum benefit of my whole life so far. There is no philosophy I could choose today, none are adequate in enough respects… life has pushed me beyond any one set of assumptions on which any philosophy is necessarily constructed.

I no longer adhere to any particular philosophy – I have my own relation to all of them, and my own Weltanschauung is not a system – rather, it is more of a refined reflection of my entire mental and experiential life – the end product of all that went before gathered and sorted in an on-going process or dialectic. It is about extracting the truth content of each ideology – for few lack all truth – and carrying this over as one progresses ‘holistically’. My views today at age 74 are the result of a lifetime of intensive search after knowledge wherein I have plunged into one theory and practice after another, finding the inadequacies and unanswered questions in each new enthusiasm and – by and large – retaining the valid content on into the next venture. My Weltanschauung is therefore very intricate and embraces a great variety acquired knowledge of human experience.

On the meaning of being: The word ‘existence’ is perhaps the most ambiguous there is… so misunderstandings involving it are bound to be very considerable. It is extremely difficult to define existence, for a start. Perhaps the most precise definition is in terms of a protocol sentence (i.e. x is observed). No being can exist without there having been an evolution prior to it’s existence. No human can grown and develop without coming under the influence of doctrines of various kinds (some are not even formulated as doctrines) …  For whatever reasons or causes, most people (seems to me) do not seek the truth sufficiently to free themselves from the sway of doctrine, and thereby live in a relatively illusory world-view. Human being is so multi-perspectived that it would be virtually meaningless to speak of anyone having (or being) ‘pure being’. Only a highly abstracted generalised idea of existence can seem ‘pure’ .

I do not want to make ‘scientific’ sense out of existence, not unduly at any rate. That is the trap, to apply any doctrine to it, and especially primitive speculations by awestruck early humanity (i.e. dawning religious ideas). I find that there is a great deal of meaning in existence, though it is admittedly incomplete and often problematical to live out. I have not come to my own conclusion, but have rejected a great many unsatisfactory conclusions… which amount to knowing much more than before. Systems which are totalizations – especially spiritual theories, doctrines, religions, ‘ways to realization’ etc. – are largely predetermined not to discover the meaning, but sustain or invent further constructions, for it and give the illusion that one knows all the answers (more or less, or potentially – i.e. a subtle mental straightjacket). Looking back, faith of such kinds I now consider the very worst way to find meaning, nothing but a means to generate personal confusion and resignation to fate!

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Religious ’doublethink’ – basis of denial of reality

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: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Spiritual ’doublethink’ – the basis of religious denial of reality

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 in Atheism, Belief, Catholicism, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Theology, Understanding | Leave a Comment »

“God is Imaginary” – see linked proofs

Posted by robertpriddy on January 29, 2011

SCAN OF WEBSITE WHICH DESERVES WIDEST POSSIBLE DISTRIBUTION

  • MAIN SITE – CLICK HERE OR ON IMAGE ABOVE – FOR EACH OF THE PROOFS CLICK HERE BELOW

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  • Posted in Atheism, Belief, Free will, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Theology, Understanding | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

    ‘Everything is relative’ – the bane of religions

    Posted by robertpriddy on January 1, 2011

    Relativity theory gave impetus to the common saying ‘everything is relative’. This slogan does capture one central insight behind relativity theory, which rejects the belief that there is an absolute truth applying for all times and places on any question. Almost paradoxically, what is regarded as a most objective theory also led to an increased appreciation of the role of subjectivity both in nature and consequently in all human affairs, especially in the human sciences and philosophy. It is the relation of the observer to whatever is observed that decides the character of the observation, which is reflected in much C20th philosophy.

    The theory of relativity is still the best-supported, ‘universal’ theory, having stood up the most exacting experimental tests for a century. Einstein predicted otherwise unimaginable states of affairs, such as the slowing of time at great velocity (now experimentally proven) and the extraordinary Bohr-Einstein condensate (neither a solid, a liquid or a gas) – which would form near to absolute zero, which was only seen 70 years later after decades of work by many major laboratories.

    The key insight is that absolutely no observation is possible independently of the observing consciousness or mind. The human brain or mind always interprets what it perceives according to what it has already learned. Observation is always influenced by individual memory, subconscious inclination or habit, and the person’s aims or direction of interest. This ‘subjective ingredient’ of every perception can be neutralized (if not always entirely subtracted or eliminated) by various means:-

    1) reductive analysis of the individual’s pre-perceptual propensities and mental habits together with the conceptual mindset involved

    2) by comparison with the aggregate of perceptions by large numbers of other observers of the same data from differing backgrounds and circumstances… which reaches its ultimate expression in scientific knowledge.

    Set religious belief vs. scientific comparison: Not only do most religions and their sub-sects and many political ideologies maintain their established beliefs and practices, but they tend mostly to resist the very idea of change, because of the challenge it poses to the absolutes or eternal verities they would rely upon and promulgate. Relativism in thought is a serious threat to ideologies (which means non-scientific systems of ideas) because it leads to comparison of differing systems of belief, spirituality, ideology, where a conflict of alleged ‘truths’ is inevitable between the main religions. Comparative religion and the the critique of ideology are rightly perceived as threats by all religious institutions and vested political systems respectively.

    A majority of the earth’s population is driven by the need for security of life and livelihood in the face of a threatening natural environment, in relating to death and all other matters which have overwhelmingly been far beyond human understanding for countless ages. Throughout the world, billions of religious believers are still labouring in dead-ends in the search for true knowledge – unwittingly bending under the scourge of obscurantist institutions and their unprovable and false doctrines. The human brain’s proven tendency to recognise human features and figures in many perceptual contexts also contributes to the anthropomorphic belief in deities as having human figures and other human qualities, such as intelligence and creativity… multiplied in imagination to perfection.

    The agonizingly slow growth of human knowledge – countless failed ideas, theories, endless blind alleys of opinion, and mutual ignorance and gross misunderstanding between human societies and cultures has led to tried and tested science and its amazing fruits – medicine, labour-saving and productive technology and confidence in human enterprise and learning. Yet though these achievements benefit a majority of mankind, the slowness of the outward spread of the knowledge which sustains them is truly agonizing, faced as it is by all manner of ignorant resistance and the force of misguided traditions… and above all, religious opinion.

    The human need for security gave rise to a vast variety of traditional symbolic acts and beliefs concerning the unknown. These coagulated into religious cultures and eventually into scriptures and theologies, subsequently also into political ideologies and a variety of theories from the plausible to the fantastic. All too often, the belief component of religious and secular ideologies overwhelmed and excluded the empirical observations which were emerging as practical and theoretical scientific knowledge advanced. This struggle continues to this day, traditional religions and ideologies being basically too rigid for radical changes and the force of custom and vested interest behind them resisting change to the last moment possible.

    For a closer look at the issues raised here see my longer article Relatedness and Relativity

    Posted in Atheism, Belief, causality, Creationism, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Science, Theology, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

    Materialism vs. mentalism as non-dual ‘unifying’ philosophy

    Posted by robertpriddy on December 29, 2010

    There are two opposed viewpoints about the origin and nature of being, the universe: in the first it arose from spirit or ’universal’ consciousness (e.g. as God), and is also called ‘creationism’. The other view describes a physical event (Big Bang) which was (presumably) self-generated and developed over an extremely vast time span, eventually leading to human evolution. The first of these is sometimes termed ‘mentalism’ as opposed to the second as ‘materialism’.

    Mentalism is historically predominant, arising in speculation about agencies making everything happen, eventually one such (God). This is theory in the sense of ‘just theory’ – not proven or provable, nor does it set about systematically to examine its assumptions critically or consistently try to test and even disprove its own tenets or beliefs. It rather embroiders them further in speculative thought. On the other hand, scientific theory began with assumptions about physical events being due to natural causes, but it constantly questioned the validity of all assumptions and puts them to the test of experience, observation and experiment.

    Materialism depends on hypotheses which are verified (increasingly so at a deeper levels and wider scopes) and essentially regard the origin of everything as energy (not only in its material form). It ensures that every statement it upholds is based on observation or experimentation. It eventually expanded so vastly that it has confirmed the assumption that the universe arose from a single material event (the Big Bang) and that all life on earth evolved from the simplest physical processes, right up to the rise of human beings (with consciousness or ‘spirit’).

    Mentalist theories, including ‘creationism by intelligent design’ are bolstered by various theological and philosophical speculations that are invariably opposed to the outlook of the physical and other sciences. Mentalist theories do include some very sophisticated versions, and though all is based on beliefs and speculations, they have strong appeal to many intellects and so need to be examined. Such is Advaita (lit. ‘Non-divisiveness’) In one form or another it is historically behind most modern mysticism, certainly most Indian gurus and their Western counterparts. It rejects materialism in favour of universal awareness/bliss/being, arguing that the split between spirit (or soul/mind) and matter (or psyche/body) is an illusion of the phenomenal world, which is itself ultimately an illusion.

    Of course, that is non-empirical, even though it appeals to personal experiences (mainly of an extra-sensory kind) and aims – through spiritual mystical practices – to raise individual awareness to the level of the undifferentiated universal unity.

    The ideal of unity of knowledge: The unity striven for by science is that of validated theories which together form a consistent and non-conflicting account of everything. This may be referred to as the ‘unity of science’. Unlike mentalist theories, the sciences do not strive to uphold any unitary theory unless it is in accordance with all known facts.

    I have gone deeply into non-dual theory both in the philosophy of science and in spirituality/religion – both in practice and theory in both respects. In post-graduate research into scientific research from the angle of sociology of knowledge I became aware of the complexities and problems of the process of scientific development towards establishing knowledge in competition and with evolving paradigms. In spirituality, where experience is a prerequisite and is understood as the result of willful good actions and inward reflection/meditation, I found after many decades, that the unity of transcendental experience is but an inward perception and does not actually require any belief in – or application of – the theologies or doctrines which promote it.

    Eventually I emerged from the spell of mentalism in its many forms to become increasingly aware and convinced that this entire otherworldly project (as in all religions) is fruitless and largely without real basis. I do not deny that exceptional states of being can occur – I assert it from experience – but I no longer see these as necessarily connected to any form of spirituality or religion.

    Sciences do have a common unifying agenda in that science aims at universality of knowledge, and compatibility of all its findings as based on experience as analysed and tested by its methods. Thus it combines subjective perception with objective generalisations within a unifying framework. The various religions, whether relying on mentalist or other ‘spiritual’  theologies, doctrines, theories, ideologies, and speculations, neglect common experience where it goes against ancient scriptures and, when they do appeal to experience, it is only subjective experience without it having been subjected to any rigorous test whatever (i.e. meditation, prayer, visions and much else of that kind). Thus the religions all assume an insuperable dualism at the very start – between soul and body (or mind), or spirit and matter, which is a fundamental schizm between the subjective and the objective.  This is not so in science – which rejects fundamental dualism a priori –  and is therefore capable of reaching overall, testable knowledge. This applies in all those areas it has so far conquered (and they are very many, even though there always remain issues it has not so far been able to address, things it has not yet been able to study for technological, financial or other practical reasons).

    I have set out to explain some of the problems of speculative spirituality and religious mysticism through the last decade such as at Experiences and Ideas of Unity – with Social and Other Consequences

    Posted in Atheism, Belief, causality, Creationism, Evolution, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Theology, Understanding | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Faith Schools – divisive indoctrination

    Posted by robertpriddy on December 16, 2010

    Induction into a religious faith at a tender age is indoctrination. While physical abuse of children is now at last forbidden in the most civilized countries, mental abuse is still allowed, and this includes inculcating defenseless children with superstitious folklore and false conceptions.

    It should be a human right not to be subjected to an environment where environmental pressures and ‘group effect’ acts to make any child accept a religion. Richard Dawkins has led the way in courageously speaking out to this effect (see here). Bringing up children under a system of education which contain non educative elements (i.e. proselytizing) is contrary to education, which means the learning of real facts about the real world and imbibing the human values (not divine commandments) upon which civilized society and international agreements rest. Faith schools differ from secular schools in that they are really belief-inducing schools. The increasing isolation and unwillingness of “faith” communities to integrate is a threat to future social harmony and world peace, where terrorism is the new kind of war.

    All religions are actually ideologies, and their core beliefs are unsupported by any substantive facts or science. They differ as to values and consequently in many parts of the world they are at loggerheads and often in direct violent conflict with one another. To contribute to this disruption, this battle of the sects, however much one talks of peace and goodness, is a blind policy. Socially divisive ‘brainwashing’ – of whatever type and however mild – is unacceptable and to endorse it through an educational system should be made illegal. Divisiveness arises from the pretense that this or that faith has superior access to ‘the truth’, and often that truth will include claims about the unity of mankind… yet which only leads to hypocrisy in action. The consequences are already exploding on the streets of Europe and the USA, not to mention in the developing world where divisions are extreme.

    Education deserving the name should develop the autonomy of people, enlightening them as to how to make their own choices in a reasonable way and with knowledge of possible consequences. Obscurantist scriptures should be banned from schools, which would mean the exclusion of large parts of most scriptural sources.

    Often, faith schools are popular with parents because they impose more discipline on pupils than secular schools, not least because of the absolutism of the moral codes enshrined in their religions (the Ten Commandments for example). Though often effective, this is absolutely not the best way to achieve integration of pupils into harmonious working groups and communities. Understanding, communication and help in socialization (through special needs assistance and counseling) is the way to go instead. But selection of pupils on religious and other (often bogus) criteria excludes the problem children and avoids the social problems that such schools should bear and face up to, rather than avoiding them. Since their chief aim is religious indoctrination, however, they manipulate so as to avoid those who will be ‘difficult’ and especially potentially critical children and parents.

    One commentator (protogodzilla) wrote in the Daily Telegraph

    “I attended an RC school in London in the ‘fifties. We were indoctrinated into believing protestants were the spawn of the devil. When I mentioned to the priest that we were all Christians I was caned. We were brain washed into believing that our religion was the most important matter of our lives. I abandoned my religion on the day I left school – there was too much hatred in it for my taste. As a recipe for division, mankind has never devised a better stick than religion to destroy itself. Muslims hold to their brand of bigotry as savagely as the RCs of my youth. If there is a God would He/She be happy with this state of affairs? Faith schools segregate rather than integrate and should be outlawed to encourage social cohesion.”

    On such a background one can understand the horrendous events that have terrorized Northern Ireland, and – mutatis mutandis – which are yet worse in the Middle East, Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

    Posted in Atheism, Belief, Catholicism, Disinformation, Environment, Ideology, Religion, religious faith, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

    Spirituality redefined without religion or mysticism

    Posted by robertpriddy on December 3, 2010

    The words ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituality’ are nowadays being widely used to advance all manner of religious and pseudo-religious theory, such as unrealistic ‘New Age’ belief systems. They should be redefined entirely within the context of the ‘human spirit’, not any kind of imagined disembodied holy entity (God) or world of spirits (an afterlife or realm of eternal beings). The creations of human ingenuity – whether artistic or scientific, social or moral, practical or even technological – can be expressions of the human spirit. Genuine spirituality is – in real terms – about all those down-to-earth values whereby one does one’s best to advance society in everyday life, create secure and peaceful conditions for oneself and others. Always defending the truth and being truthful, loving others and where possible serving them while respecting their genuinely human qualities and acting in accordance with this to the best of one’s understanding and ability… these are signs of recognisable and real true human spirituality.

    A fair degree of self interest is not incompatible with such ‘spirituality’ as we also have a duty to ourselves to survive, develop and live fully. However, there is a vast amount of what passes for spirituality which is self-serving in that people aspire only or predominantly to their own supposed salvation or benefit. This involves putting one’s own wished-for ‘liberation’ from worldly problems entirely before other concerns, aiming to win divine benefits through worship, prayer, meditation,  rituals of many kinds. The desired attainments would raise oneself above others, such as in trying to obtain extraordinary psychic powers or other imagined ‘holy’ dispensations. Those who aspire to such believe in otherworldly and discarnate entities as promoted by mainstream religions and a host of sects and cults of almost every conceivable description.

    Looked at from the standpoint of non-belief, religions are seen mostly to be about moralistic control of others and creating false hopes of healing, miracles, divine forgiveness and other promised rewards which seldom occur (and when appearing to are without proof of any divine origin). Not least, religion exercises power over others through creating fears of punishments of many kinds, especially after death. Religion is too often largely about believing in beings which cannot be proven to exist and events which cannot be proven to have occurred – or in scriptures and doctrines about them. Countless conflicts are either caused by religious fervor – or are supported by religionists on opposing sides. Human values are – by the very concept – not divinely ordained, they are human… based in human interests for survival, happiness, peace, freedom from oppression and glaring inequality. Religions have tried to subjugate these values to themselves and/or the absent deities or God in whom they believe. (See some of the theological tricks involved examined here)

    It is unnecessary for any mention of God or religion in the context of moral issues, they can be discussed adequately and fully – and practised – without any such reference.  Human life teaches values naturally, for the peace, prosperity and happiness for all towards which good people strive arise from observable actions within the scope of such values, and equally man-made sufferings are easily seen to arise from false values. The desires for fulfillment of human needs are quite universal, though the needs will differ with changing circumstances, But ignorance of our nature and lack of empathy causes many to try to reach them through short-cuts like corruption, violence and crime. None of that has anything to do with any god, deity or spirit – and natural disasters are exactly that, natural not divinely caused! We should harm no living beings if avoidable and possible for the reason that it causes fruitless suffering, not because any god or cosmic intelligence created living creatures – they and we are all products of an enormously long, complex and amazing process of evolution which needed no divinity to operate, nor to begin. The real evidence shows only that we are all products of evolution, not of divine creation. (Those who still doubt the validity of this would benefit by seeing David Attenborough’s film for BBC and Discovery Channel  ‘First Life’

    Once entrapped in religious thinking, one tends to attribute everything to God even when it is really our own doing, but especially when it is something (negative) beyond ones control. God is a summary word for all manner of believed ideas, derived from groping superstitions handed down, extended and manipulated for countless generations. It is bolstered by millennia of ignorance (and fear) about the real causes of events and has generated a social inertia (i.e. an accumulated energy which is most difficult to counteract without an equally strong opposing force). Science has taught us the real causes of the majority of known events, starting really seriously only a few centuries ago. The scope it now encompasses compared with what it did even when left school in the early 1950s is amazing, and our knowledge is expanding at a colossal pace which is still increasing.  Since then has successfully been explaining more and more things humankind originally came to believe must be done by  some God, spirits or other non testable speculations.

    We can now look at the sky and realise there is no one up there, though long believed they must be, and since we could not get off the ground, physically or otherwise, we were in awe of it as ‘heaven’ or the abode of the ancestors or whatever. We understand, for example, that from seeing volcanoes the idea of an underworld and a hell where one burns arose. Yet religions still preach these absurdly primitive falsehoods to billions of people, and it is shameful indeed that Pope Benedict XVI
    (falsely claimed to be an intellectual) still preached the primitive and absurd doctrine of damnation in hell for non-believers in his particular delusions! As argued previously on this blog, on the evidence so far and with the highest probability, God is nothing but the creation of the human mind.

    See also Human Values as Common Ideals
    Human Values in Psychology

    Posted in Atheism, Belief, Catholicism, Creationism, Disinformation, Environment, Ethics, Evolution, Ideology, Religion, religious faith, Science, Spiritual propaganda, Theology, Uncategorized, Understanding | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

    On the roots of political, religious and other fanaticism

    Posted by robertpriddy on November 2, 2010

    Religious, political and varied other kinds of fanatic are those who defend beliefs as certainties and tend to hold absolutist opinions. In neurological terms they are said to have developed “hard-wiring” whereby certain neuronal pathways in their brains have been so strongly reinforced that they maintain ideas and opinions against otherwise overwhelming contrary evidence. Such mindsets may be unreflected – unquestioned assumptions about many things which have been ingrained in their make-up in early life. So how can one learn about the most likely and most general causes of such fanaticism?

    In the relative lack of well-articulated and systematic empirical studies on the circumstances influencing the adoption of one or another kind of extremism or fanatical attitude, we must rely mostly on recorded case histories and insightful literature. The chief source of understanding is probably individual life experience… and the longer and more varied the life, the higher accuracy and value the experience will have.

    On such foundations it seems indisputable that, very often, sustained fanaticism occurs in persons who have had a disturbed upbringing causing them to lack what Medard Boss and other existential psychologists have termed ‘basic trust’. Obviously, the specific causes of each kind and degree of disturbance can vary enormously, but a general process definitely seems to pertain in that the need for security or mental-emotional comfort which has lacked is relieved by a pseudo-remedy. Such remedies may include the acceptance of someone as a father- or mother-figure (such as a charismatic preacher or guru, established religious or even political figures as an idol – which ‘transference’ of need is used therapeutically by psycho-analysts). Aids used to relieve emotional suffering also include imagined entities (angels, deities, aliens etc.) to largely mental abstractions, from religious doctrines to conspiracy theories, set philosophies to totalitarianism.

    However, on the positive side of things, such strongly held positions, also when long entrenched, can sometimes be overcome. The (undamaged) human brain is reportedly never so “hard-wired” as to be irretrievably fixated into set patterns of responses. New paths can be opened if sufficient stimulus is there, and what was “hard-wired” in the shape of cast iron beliefs or opinions set in stone, and even over a long period of time can – with lack of reinforcement – eventually fade into insignificance.

    However, where the person concerned is unable to overcome or neutralise the root cause of unfulfilled needs or a badly disturbed sense of trust, the evidence points to substitution of other cognitive distortion in place of the defeated ones. Thus, a believer who is severely jolted out of belief in a religious sect, cult or guru will very often seek another such in place of the first. The same applies (with due alteration of details) in political extremism and other kind of ‘fanatical fixation’.

    One main cause of religious zeal: Religious enthusiasm is often fuelled by the desire to be part of a greater whole and ‘surrender’ ones worries and anxieties into the keeping of a wise super-being… whose existence is deduced through false logic from observations and especially from unconfirmed and non-confirmable second-hand reports (i.e. such as scriptures and hagiography). This applies equally to followers of many political movement of the more or less totalitarian kind. The all-too-commonplace assumption of religionists that a super-being is controlling everything that everyone thinks or does, and all that happens from the tiniest detail to the unknown reaches of the vastest universe would seem to rank near the top of the greatest conspiracy theories of all time. This assumption leads to cognitive distortions of many kinds, from the somewhat innocuous to the truly dangerous and highly destructive doctrines. This assumption is so widespread and has had such a pervasive influence throughout the history of the world that it must be considered one of the chief causes of religious fanaticism.

    One symptom of clinging to cherished beliefs is seen in most conspiracy theorists. Such theories are sometimes surely designed to defend against a perceived threat to the way of seeing the world that the proponent feels it imperative to maintain. They avoid or belittle investigation of substantive facts and are liable to rely on assertions about others’ assertions for fact (whether in support of their fancy or the opposite), without themselves confronting the factual basis itself.  Such theories detach from the basic factual evidence and are generally highly selective as to what they take into account. One can see the avoidance of psychological denial in the ways they concentrate almost exclusively on verbal statements and the character of those who made them, rather than on collected and sifted evidence.

    See also Neuronal Pathway Finding: From Neurons to Initial Neural Networks

    How your brain creates God (i.e. subjective ‘realities’)

    The Origins and Persistence of Religious Belief and Faith in God

    Posted in Belief, Disinformation, Ideology, Psychology, religious faith, Self-awareness, Spiritual propaganda, Understanding | Leave a Comment »