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 ‘Science’ Category

The changing role of sciences’ effects on human society

Posted by robertpriddy on April 20, 2015

Note: This article follows on from ‘Science agendas in transition’

The pressure of national and public interests: The ascendancy of the natural scientific community in controlling much educated opinion, such as through education and the media, is surely preferable to the alternatives of obscurantism found in many other areas of human culture. Yet through its predominance as an industrial and economic growth factor – with the consequent lobbying of its interests – it also can contribute to deleterious effects. Through it ambitions of expansion, applied sciences have long supported the dangerous but almost universal doctrine of economic growth without effective limits. Since the recognition of the pending crises of climate change, increasing exhaustion of natural resources, pollution, the breakdown and elimination of eco systems and apparently unstoppable world population growth, scientists have increasingly turned their efforts in the direction of counteractive science and technologies, the so-called ‘green revolution’. Unfortunately the pressure on governments to maintain and also improve achieved living standards does not encourage critical developments in social, economic and political sciences to concentrate on the revolution in thinking necessary if the world-wide conflicts that an eventual spreading breakdown of the world social order may be averted.

The many influences of the sciences on society – both of the range of physical sciences and all the social sciences – are only studied on a minimal scale as yet, and then without the depth and breadth or vision that is desirable if this crucial aspect and effect of science is to be understood. Both observation and reason insist that many uses of scientific knowledge are unplanned to say the least, but are also unseen and more unfortunate in many more areas of life than many supporters of scientific progress realize. This is partly due to the fund-consuming theoretical physical sciences and applied technological science whose vast budgets and research policies have momentous consequences for the world. Yet they are relatively free of all but peripheral democratic controls and they proceed to further the various interests they represent largely unexamined behind closed doors, both factual and figurative, doors upon which even the media have seldom brought themselves to knock. Since human cloning and associated genetic bio-technologies became a real possibility, however, public interest causes a resurgence in the scientific ethical debate on medicine, genetic manipulation and eugenics.

The disproportionately large investments from governments, major corporations and multinationals, in most cases with profit still as their overriding consideration, has also been driven by the military and weapons industries. This has only contributed to an intellectual-ethical malaise. Critics point out how the profit motives of the pharmaceutical industry also has too much influence over what is researched (or not) in medicine and the ‘health industry’ – and promoted and prescribed. However, since global warming and all its possible consequences has finally placed itself firmly on the world agenda, there is undoubtedly a shift in values towards ‘green thinking’ taking place in many large concerns, due to the realization that profit margins cannot survive without major adjustments and a change of course in many technologies. Nonetheless, those scientific projects which can advance technology or provide hard data of kinds useful to planners and policy makers still hold the confidence of those who rules the corridors of power. Investments fall off greatly in sciences that contain notable critical, reformative and humanistic elements. 

Setbacks to human knowledge occur and have had many causes: major wars, totalitarian regimes, colonial and missionary destruction and suppression, famines, plagues and various natural disasters. War being ‘the mother of invention’, advances in science have often been greater as a result of such disturbances than the relatively minor and temporary setbacks. Perhaps the major hindrances to any system of knowledge (other than practical limits) come about when the assumptions on which it is based are successfully challenged and cause a Kuhnian paradigm shift. This has been seen regularly since Copernicus,in Einstein’s relativity, in math’s and in logic where axioms were challenged and substituted for more inclusive concepts and so forth. In the C21 it seems likely that the methodological, philosophical and social assumptions of the last century with its interdisciplinary boundaries transformed through the expansion of ecologically initiated crossover thinking and the study of complexity (holarchy). The science community, becoming globalised on a far greater scale than ever through the computing revolution, will presumably overstep those interdisciplinary boundaries built up through university bureaucracies and interest groups in educational and research institutions. 

Social values and the common good in science: The regeneration of an intellectuality informed by genuine insight into human values is increasingly seen by many people as a necessity for the future of secular societies and world development. Much improvement cannot take place, however, without clearing the ground through an analysis of the causes of misplaced materialism and consumerism in modern society. The intellectual climate will have to turn the tide against the losses incurred by the degeneration of understanding due to excessive dumbing down and qualitative loss of the breadth of vision, such as via mass media and falling standards of general education. Due to the global internet, the scientific establishment no longer has such an effective level of influence or control over determining what is fact as it once commanded. 

The control of research investments by a relative handful of scientists – or on their relatively unquestioned ‘expert advice’ to policy makers – is a threat to democratic decision-making.That ‘knowledge is power’ is an observable – though highly complex – fact, not least because it is a social, political and economical commodity sought after by interest groups with many different agendas. ‘Control of knowledge gives power’ almost qualifies as an axiom these days, perhaps along with ‘knowledge is money’, as shown by the purposes of the competing financiers of the worldwide science-based industry, not least the by the patent and intellectual rights business. The scientific establishment has such a high degree of control that power can sometimes indirectly determine what is scientific fact. The control of research investments by a relative handful of scientists – or on their relatively unquestioned ‘expert advice’ to policy makers – is a threat to democratic decision-making. 

Whatever the material conditions of a society, intelligent thought is a necessary factor in any social and moral renewal, even the predominant one, for thought obviously gives rise to attitudes, which give rise to acts. This point of view may be rather out of fashion nowadays, depicted as some kind wishful idealism, the reason being that the dominant trend-setters are rather consumerism, economism and popular culture. Add to this the tendency of current sciences hardly ever to examine a course of events as the consequence – or even as partial product – of human thought and ideas, but almost always vice-versa. The historical swing of the pendulum towards physicalism and sense observation in recent centuries, though extremely profitable for understanding of the physical universe, may have taken advanced civilization too far towards social materialism. While it took centuries to clear away all kinds of superstitious theological nonsense and speculative metaphysics, the suppression of thought and opinion which starts from a contrary assumption to physicalism has already caused an upsurge in so-called ‘spiritual’ and outright religious thought aiming to reinstate ignored beliefs, which may be regarded as hypotheses no less speculative than many a far-reaching scientific theory (with micro-physics as one example). To move closer to a more balanced – less pendulous – view of everything, a reasonable counterweight to the blanket physicalism of hard-data scientism seems necessary.

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The mind in evolution, brain-dependent and temporary

Posted by robertpriddy on November 16, 2013

Modern neurological science has established that the human mind, including memory, is not permanently the same. It develops, changes and can lose many or all its functions due to diseases or brain injuries. No such thing as ‘mind atoms’ have every been discovered. Instead, the mind is a vastly complex network of neural connections between neurons (which are much larger and more composite than atoms) and interactions within an electro-magnetic field. These connections can either grow and become more secure through reinforcement through memorising and perceiving, or they can weaken and disappear. The mind is therefore no fixed entity but a complex of electro-magnetically induced connections between its neurons, which decompose after death. The self, as we conceive it daily and as an identifier inward of ones existential being or person, is inseparable from the mind, subject to a process of growth, development, change (and even splitting or dissolution) within the social and physical environment. No entity we can call a self – other than as a post facto mental construct – can be perceived inwardly as such (Sartre proved this most rigorously in ‘The Transcendence of the Ego’). Julian Baggini has developed the many consequences of this for philosophical psychology and religion.

Modern neurobiology supports the view that the mind is a manifestation of brain activity and is inseparable from it. This view is underpinned by extensive new knowledge which has been obtained from MRI and CAT scanning. We know the specific areas where various kinds of mental activity are processed. Whenever we have a damaged brain, thoughts or recognition which are normally found associated with the damaged area, cease to exist. There is no hard evidence anywhere of the existence of conscious mental activity except in relation to the living brain.” Dr. Peter T. Chopping. Chopping regards the human mind is the product of evolution is virtually indisputable (See A.G. Cairns-Smith – “Evolving the Mind.”) and it takes a real part in decision-making – it moves the limbs etc. and all that follows. That neural activity which activates begins before the decision to move enters consciousness can be due to an ‘editing process’ before making the decision final (a process as is shown in the much researched Phi phenomenon).

Of the four fields of force (strong and weak nuclear, gravity and electromagnetism, the only possible mover of the power of the mind is the electromagnetic force, which combines the electrostatic with the magnetic (including electromagnetic radiation). No other force is known to physics, and can therefore contribute any better understanding. Chopping also considers at length the problem of the ‘gap’ between classical physics and quantum theory, which may affect the issue, and he defends the contention that animals have consciousness, their evolutionary chain correspmding to levels of complexity of consciouness. He discusses the Hebbian properties in neurons and how the neural structure exhibited by the learning process appears to have developed from these properties. The brains of higher organism – especially homo sapiens – have several different orders of consciousness, which experimental evidence confirms and he considers “that the most significant consciousness is dependent on the magnetic fields generated by oscillating neural loops and that there are emergent properties associated with alternating magnetic fields the nature of which we do not yet know. The conscious mind presents a picture of the real world which describes it to some extent in a way which is useful to the animal. Perception of colours varies greatly with different species and humans creatively identify thousands of hues way beyond the seven colours of the spectrum. This picture is not entirely accurate.” The mind with its emergent properties has the nature of an almost infinitely complex and intangible ‘field’ and as such surely involves wave functions and interference phenomena. Understanding these through quantum research leads much further into solving the questions about the mind.

The human personality and the ego vs. the self

 

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Prayer and Meditation – the futility?

Posted by robertpriddy on December 9, 2011

That prayer is not effective is the experience of virtually every child, and no scientific studies of any rigour have produced evidence that prayer has the slightest effect. Needless to write, no reliable scientific studies have been produced to show that prayers have anything other than – at best – beneficial subjective perceptions. 


Click on image above to see original article in full

On meditation, however, there are scientifically measurable effects, some few of which are quite startling… this is the province of the new neurology in investigating the relationships of the two sides of the brain. Though Singh has a point about ‘peace of mind’, which can easily be a flight from  reality and the influential or necessary conditions of the world when they are problematic. Nonetheless, to calm the emotions in difficult situations is valuable. Yet meditation varies enormously and individually in both methods and effects. Though the dividing line between prayer and meditation is vague, there are measurable effects such as on metabolic functions like blood pressure, neural agitation and even such results as drastically slowing metabolic functions like breathing, heart beat – the notable first case scientifically studied at the Menninger Foundation was with Swami Rama in the 1960s). The complex relationships between the two hemispheres of the brain are reportedly much affected in some few cases of meditation, which are also most widely reported (in ‘spiritual literature’) as producing (temporary) states of consciousness (though with far more time and effort) also well-known to investigators of psychedelics or psychotropic drugs – ranging from cannabis, psylocybin, mescaline, LSD-25, DMT, Ecstasy, to ketamine, morphine, heroin, fly agaric and even extreme posioning etc.). Most extraordinary experiences of ecstasy and perceived paranormal experience have sometimes also arisen from physical accidents, not least brain seizures (neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor’s own major stroke being one of the clearest cases of this activation).

Posted in Ideology, Religion, Science, Spiritual propaganda | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Stephen Hawking: “philosophy is dead!”

Posted by robertpriddy on May 26, 2011

Stephen Hawking: “… almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead”
Now, there are other interpretations of why we are here and where we, as individuals, came from than the astrophysical ones. Hawking really ought to know enough about philosophy to realize that it is highly misleading to make sweeping generalizations (i.e. imprecise and therefore are open to differing interpretations). Such as the old slogan statement “Philosophy is dead”.

Of course, on his kind of interpretation he is wholly correct. Philosophy is neither capable nor actually trying to add anything to the fundamental questions of the natural of the physical universe. The origins of philosophy as the first natural science are long since superseded. But philosophy embraces much else than physics (which it still embraces as the most valuable source of information about the composition and origin of nature). Physics is itself limited in important ways – it can add nothing to the philosophy of law, to medical ethics, to the interpretation of meaning and the comparative analysis of language, to pragmatics and semantics, even to logic. We even have eco-philosophy and meta-philosophy of the cultural, psychological and social sciences. Still, there is real substance in Hawking’s claim that ““Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” and that new theories “lead us to a new and very different picture of the universe and our place in it”. He also wisely notes, of course, what all know – that physics’ most complete ‘M theory’ is not yet fully or satisfactorily verified by a long chalk.

Another sense of ‘philosophy is dead’ might be that it is no longer practiced – properly and within its legitimate scope.  (However, we may wonder whether some of those professional academician philosophers are alive in a wider connotation of the word). It would be easier to defend the generalization “Theology is dead” and Hawking would surely agree with that, even though there are as many theologies as Gods or religions.  Despite all the faith of theologians in God as a being which is more alive than ever, they deal only with the dead matter of scripture – the past warmed over and projected into the future. His latest book ‘The Grand Design’ claims that no divine force was needed to explain why the Universe was formed. “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.”

Thereby Hawking has rejected his former musing about a possible mindful God. He denies the existence of such a being – other than figuratively as equivalent to ‘the law of science’ – including any ‘personal god’ is. In this he is an outright atheist, and it should be pointed out that this amounts to a conviction, a belief… and, if he were a philosopher, he would reserve absolute judgement (until all the facts about everything may finally be in). This would give no substantial succour whatever to religionists, but only to the principle of scientific inquiry and scepticism. On safer ground, one is inclined to say, Hawking ridicules the idea of heaven as a “fairy story for people afraid of the dark”. He might have added that hell a myth for those afraid of fire (or a place suggested by the inside of volcanoes)!

He has a liberating view – parallel to his liberating life: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail.” No need to fear beliefs that no one can every test, like the existence of an afterlife, rebirth, the continuance of one’s accumulated karma (good and bad). Instead, with here and now sanity he says: “We should seek the greatest value of our action.”

Posted in Atheism, Ethics, Philosophy, Psychology, Science, Theology | Tagged: , | 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!

Posted in Creationism, Evolution, Ideology, Religion, Science, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Nature and Divine Retribution – science undermines belief

Posted by robertpriddy on March 23, 2011

Consider the statement: “Scientists today are exploring the powers of nature with a view to enjoying them without limit. They want to bring all those powers under human control for their unrestricted enjoyment. This is responsible for so many of the natural disasters we witness today.”

This seems reasonable to very many people in this era, not least because of the intense and ever-mounting pressure on the environment, ecological systems and nearly all usable natural resources. It is of course vitally important to recognize the effects of human exploitation on nature and to work to contain and counteract all life-threatening enterprises. However, once one combines this aim with religious teachings – whether Christian or Hindu, Judaic or Islamic or New Age etc. – a peculiar warped attitude to science and technology soon arises. One speaks of ‘Mother Earth’ (Bhoomidev . a deity in Hinduism) and ‘Gaia’ – as if the earth is a living, sensing and intelligent entity. Alternatively, many religious scriptures attribute all that happens to the will of God.. the (illogically conceived)  ‘uncaused cause’ of everything. Yet another variant -contradicting the previous – is the claim that human moral decline is the root cause of all ills, including what are otherwise known to be independently-caused natural phenomena. That is, not caused by God by only by humankind!

Consider another quote by the same person as the first quote above: “Many natural catastrophes are entirely due to ‘man’s behaviour. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wars, floods and famines and other calamities are the result of grave disorders in Nature. These disorders are traceable to man’s conduct. Man has not recognized the integral relationship between humanity and the world of Nature”.(December 1992 by Sathya Sai Baba – in the journal Sanathana Sarathi).

It is true that some natural disasters may have been triggered by human activities (massive dam building causing earth movements, as one example). But the sweeping claim in the quote exhibits confused thinking indeed. God is somehow no longer the cause, especially not of bad things. Human actions which alone can make ‘wars’ are included under natural calamities, while ‘volcanic eruptions’ and ‘earthquakes’ are supposedly caused by human (mis)conduct!  Granted, floods may sometimes be the result of bad land management, but only a tiny percentage of such calamities, not to mention major tsunamis.  As the scan above shows, the tsunami of  2004 was attributed to human lapses by Sathya Sai Baba – who has a multi-million following which includes 4 Presidents of India and 6 Prime Ministers (including the present incumbents!).

Richard Dawkins has illustrated the same ideology in Christianity, and pointed out the hypocrisy of those who support a faith, yet cherry-pick what to believe or not from the canonical scriptures. This selectivity is necessitated by the inroads science has made into most key statements in the Bible about the natural world, its origins and how to explain it (not to mention any details of many similar disproven ‘truths’ in the Koran):-



See article on Dawkins’ web site here

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‘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

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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

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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

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