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.

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 16 other followers

  • Feedshark

Archive for the ‘Spiritual cults’ Category

The Afterlife and evidence

Posted by robertpriddy on January 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reported experiences of revival from clinical death are not by any means all supportive of continued existence. For example, the case of a man who died and was revived twice who experience nothing – until he was revived and noticed a time lapse. http://www.express.co.uk/news/science/713799/life-after-death-afterlife-heaven-dead

Advertisements

Posted in Atheism, Spiritual cults, Spiritual propaganda, Theology | 1 Comment »

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 »

Perception And Reality, Fiction and Fact in religion

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 in Atheism, Belief, Disinformation, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual cults | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »