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 ‘Self-awareness’ Category

Fallacies in doctrines of ‘karma’ (and healing)

Posted by robertpriddy on January 24, 2011

The doctrine of ‘karma’, that illness is an inevitable result of the past actions of the sufferer, either carried out in this lifetime or an earlier incarnation, has become more widely believed since the advent of Indian ‘gurus’ and preachers of Hinduism in the West. However, it is extremely hard to accept or understand by people of modern scientific education and humanistic outlook. The central aspect of the doctrine of karma – is that whatever happens to you is what you deserve because of your own actions in the past. When, as very often, there seems to be nothing in ones past that can account for it (eg. no ‘sin’ or ‘good act’), it is supposed that you lived in one or more ‘former lives’ and caused your present circumstances by your acts then.

The whole idea of karma arose as an attempt to account for what non-believers today would call accident, luck or the result of circumstances beyond ones control (genetic traits, society, other persons’ actions). That a good person should suffer disasters needs explanation if one is a believer in a benevolent God, and even in a punishing God.  What most repels Westerners, perhaps, is that all the ‘bad’ results of karma are not to be blamed on others, on nature or on God, but solely on the individual involved (as an inevitable reaction attaching to his or her ‘soul’). Many Eastern gurus also teach – with typical inconsistency – that the ‘good’ results can only be attributed to God (not to oneself or other persons). The idea of karma has become popularized by New Age people, often in most superficial ways. Some proponents of karma doctrine even argue that all the most horrific events that occur including all heinous human acts – are necessary and integral part of the divine cosmic harmony, which is ultimately for the benefit and good of all! This doctrine that ‘everything is as it should be’ and/or that this is ‘the best of all possible worlds’ is sheer escapism. How much further one can get from reality and sanity without actually suffering from a pathology it is hard to conceive.

The sheer disdain which this doctrine of blame receives in well-educated countries is shown, fortunately, by the huge national uproar this doctrine caused in the UK in the 90s when the manager of England’s national football team, Glen Hoddle, no more than indirectly hinted at as a possible explanation of some illness ! (see under ‘Dismissal from England job’ Wikipedia) Prime Minister Tony Blair then denounced the doctrine firmly in public and contributed to the immediate sacking of the England coach from his position, one of great prestige in the nation. The doctrine of karma – and it associated primitive Hindu religious ideas – has been held by many Indian intellectuals to be the main cause of discrimination and almost total neglect of sufferers of all diseases and ills by successive Indian governments and authorities, as well as by the general public. The state of a country is always related to the predominant beliefs held by the majority there. The severe lack of social welfare, old age pensions, health care and much else can be seen as the historical result of the karma doctrine and related otherworldly religious belief and ‘non-dual’ philosophy.

One reason for aversion to a doctrine of retributive karma as ‘inevitable punishment for sins’ can hardly be better stated than by the English writer Edmund Gosse in his autobiographical book, Father and Son of 1907. “The notice nowadays universally given to the hygienic rules of life was rare fifty years ago and among deeply religious people, in particular, fatalistic views of disease prevailed. If any one was ill, it showed that ‘the Lord’s hand was extended in chastisement’, and much prayer was poured forth in order that it might be explained to the sufferer, or to his relations, in what he or they had sinned. People would, for instance, go on living over a cess-pool, working themselves up into an agony to discover how they had incurred the displeasure of the Lord, but never moving away.” (p.34)

Not all aspects of karma doctrine are so harmful: Among Western supporters of the general idea of karma, some are less stringent and more acceptable. According to Edgar Cayce, a 20th century American ‘mystic’ who sometimes talked sense, “Karma is the meeting of oneself in the present through thoughts and deeds from the past. Karma is tied to the concept of reincarnation and balance. Karma is neither a debt that must be paid according to some universal tally sheet, nor is it necessarily a set of specific circumstances that must be experienced because of deeds or misdeeds perpetrated in the past. Karma is simply a memory. It is a pool of information that the subconscious mind draws upon and can utilize in the present. It has elements that are positive as well as those which may seem negative.”

The idea of evil and sin is a religious ideology and an unsolvable logical problem in all theistic religions. In an attempt to deal with this problem, Alan Watts wrote a book entitled ‘The Two Hands of God’. He regarded that what we perceive either as good or evil are both part of a unity, which some call God. His idea of God is one having two aspects (hands) the good and the evil. The Christian tradition tried to make God exclusively good  and so the origin of its opposite was relegated to Satan – and human beings are born sinners. Islam and Hinduism have their own variants of this pseudo-solution of ‘the theological problem of evil’. The split between the worldly and the other-worldly, the profane and the sacred, the transient and other supposed ‘eternal’ and so forth was all part of this mental confusion and ideological schism. To resolve the dilemma finally, the only rational solution is to reject the entire hypothesis that there is a God who created or rules over the cosmos. It is only a belief, and one which brings with it endless troubles for believers, conflicts for society and misappropriation and misdirection of human resources. The belief may bear up people who cannot manage psychologically without it, but it is no less of an empty hope for that.

In Britain, where people once widely believed in healing by holy touch (of the king, primarily), things have changed vastly in modern times. Two examples: In A History of the English-speaking Peoples, (London, 1956), Winston Churchill wrote about the murder of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket: “All England was filled with terror. They acclaimed that his relics healed incurable diseases, and robes that he had worn by their mere touch relieved minor ailments. (p. 167)” and about Henry de Montfort: “Among the common people he was for many years worshipped as a saint, and miracles were worked at his tomb.” (p 225). Yet despite this, the business of “spiritual healing” has flourished in recent decades in UK and many another affluent Western nation where the health services – however scientifically advanced – are far from perfect. Spiritual healing of most ‘New Age’ varieties depends on the karmic theory in one or another form, seeing (all or at least some) illness as originating in the human soul or spirit (as originally determined by past actions). Many attribute the cures to outside agencies, however, such as whoever is the spiritual healer or a divine figure (Christ etc.), other schools see cure as a combination of the person’s attitudes and actions with a healer’s agency, while a few regard all cures are self-generated through self-faith and techniques of self-healing which have to be learned from someone, most often for money.

Among the weirdly superstitious and medically laughable ‘truths’ that a widely-accepted God Avatar (Sathya Sai Baba) advances is: “Today man is putting his senses to misuse and as a result his body is becoming weaker day by day. He shortens his life-span by his unsacred vision and by indulgence in sensual pleasures. Lakhs of light rays in his eyes are being destroyed because of his unsacred vision. That is the reason what man is developing eye defects.” (Sai Baba, discourse on 5/7/2001 (Sanathana Sarathi, August 2001, p. 226) As if the vast improvements in health, life span and eye-care made by science in recent centuries have not occurred and age expectancy had not risen progressively in almost all countries in the world. This the kind of absurdly anti-scientific doctrine, totally unsupported by any facts, experimental or other knowledge, is being taught in India and in many New Age sects and cults. Apropos, Bjørn Lomborg writes in his 2001 book The Sceptical Environmentalist: “Fewer and fewer people are starving. In 1900 we lived for an average of 30 years; today we live for 67. According to the UN we have reduced poverty more in the last 50 years than we did in the preceding 500, and it has been reduced in practically every country.” So, any shortcomings in world health certainly have quite other causes than unsacred vision!

Posted in Atheism, Belief, Creationism, Ethics, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Self-awareness, Spiritual propaganda | Tagged: , , | Leave a 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 »

How Does the Brain Create God – and in which ways?

Posted by robertpriddy on August 17, 2010

A new discipline referred to as ‘neurophilosophy’ has been promoted by evolutionists like A.C. Grayling – also by geneticists and neuroscientists. Their serious and fully scientifically-oriented discipline attempts to interpret the results of neurology in terms of human experience and ideologies. It is specifically NOT related to the hybrid science-mysticism of ‘neurotheology’ as promoted by Iona Miller, which is examined critically from a philosophical aspect in the following:-

1) Iona Miller article “How the Brain Creates God” suggests that God is entirely brain-created, but that misleads as to her main purpose, to instate the religious impulse and mystical experience (of God, unity, whatever…)  as fundamental to the human brain.

2) The schism between ‘outer’ and ‘inner’, mind and its objects, the brain and the mind (an underlying Cartesian dualism inflect Miller’s language and thought)

3) The irreconcilable positions of dualism and monism (to both of which Miller appeals)

4) The extra-scientific influence of Jungian thought (who claimed he knew God exists and misled a generation of psycho-analysts)

5) Denial of living reality, all is illusion – Miller reveals her basic agenda, that of non-dualism (as in advaita, zen, diverse mysticism)

CLICK ON EACH OF THE SCANNED IMAGES BELOW TO ENLARGE THE TEXT (or click here for the entire text enlarged) See also On the Roots of Religious Fanaticism

Posted in Atheism, Belief, causality, Creationism, Evolution, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Science, Self-awareness, Sociology, Spiritual propaganda, Theology, Uncategorized, Understanding | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Links to pages on philosophy of science and psychology

Posted by robertpriddy on September 30, 2009

Understanding concepts of truth, their meaning and essence

Understanding and Truth. The multiple problem of what truth is seems so confusingly fathomless that there is quite simply no general consensus about it.

Language, communication and interpreted meaning

It is widely thought in contemporary philosophy that the limits of what is known are, at any time, determined by language.

The person as a whole – self-integration

I told him about scientists who had begged to come with me, some because they wanted to measure Bushman heads and behinds… others to study his family relationships, and one to analyse his spit; but when I asked them etc…

Holistic psychology’ outlined

With what kind of questions does a philosophical psychology try to deal? The answer is whatever concerns the problems of human life as seen and experienced from the viewpoint of a person who seeks to understand it.

Human values in psychology

Much controversy arises or is made out of the question of values; what is meant by ‘values’? Which values are good and which bad, if any? Which values are to be tolerated even if their rightness is controversial?

Intelligence in psychology

Few people are not at all concerned to improve their own level of intelligence where possible. One key to doing this is to have a balanced appreciation of what human intelligence is, what are its best qualities.

Self-awareness in psychological understanding

The understanding of what it is to be a person oneself is the natural and unavoidable basis on which any intelligible psychology necessarily builds.

The human faculty of understanding (intelligence)

The psychology of understanding has not been developed to any appreciable extent in Western psychology, neither as regards inter-personal understanding nor understanding as a basic human need.

Past-oriented therapies critically reviewed

The crucial role of self-inquiry and self-reliance in all forms of psychic improvement does not mean that therapy cannot be of assistance.

Understanding and the concept of human unity

Understanding and Unity. The need for holistic understanding is emerging with increasing persistence in subject after subject as the process of globalization…

‘Science Limited’ by Robert Priddy

(a 13-chapter book critical of the role of the sciences today) Intellectual/social problems due to scientistic beliefs on solving it by Robert C. Priddy Formerly University of Oslo (ret’d)

Critics of populistic propaganda in science presentation

Science as an institutionalised social activity and scientific theory are in a constant process of change.

The scientific problem of human subjects.

The above quote illustrates the dilemma of much contemporary social science: it studies humans physically, as psycho-physical entities.

Scientific explanation and metascience

It is evident that the vast majority of major decisions made by human beings are not based on science.

Science questioned – a metascientific challenge

On the chief causes of a serious decline in intellectual culture on a reformed model

Multiple cause effect in science

The keystone of science is that everything has a cause, yet how can an act of genuinely free will be caused…

Intellectual crisis under the ideology of scientism

The prevailing attitude of intellectuals in the last decade of the 20th century still appears to exhibit an almost unquestioning belief in science and the secular

Fallacies about research freedom in science

The necessity for the science to have freedom to research whatever scientists see as worthwhile has long been as much part of academic ideology.

Sathya Sai Baba

Information by Robert Priddy (Author of the book “Source of the Dream – My Way to Sathya Sai Baba” Born 1936. British. Researched and taught philosophy and sociology at the University of Oslo 1968-85.

Posted in causality, Free will, Holistic psychology, Intelligence, metascience, Past-oriented therapies, Science, scientism, Self-awareness, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »