Posted by midiguru on February 24, 2014
Prompted by idle curiosity, I read the first part of Inside Scientology, by Janet Reitman. It’s fascinating, in a queasy way. One of the thought-provoking bits is the description of life on L. Ron Hubbard’s yacht, where the inner circle of the “religion” hung out while it cruised the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. By this time, Hubbard had become a strict disciplinarian — a tin pot dictator. Those who failed to meet his expectations were punished by being exiled to a roach-infested compartment in the bowels of the ship, where they slept on pee-stained mattresses.
What’s amazing about this is that everybody who was there put up with it. Nobody (or almost nobody — the book is not specific on this point) said, “Well, fuck this,” and left. This fact gives us a deep insight into the human psyche. Most of us have a deep need to be part of a group, a need to belong. We will put up with almost any sort of treatment, and engage in any sort of bizarre behavior, in order to remain part of the group. Not only that, but our instincts will coerce us into believing that our own group is special. We will feel loyalty to it and affection for it. The thought of not being part of the group will make us nervous.
This is true of people in business settings, in political parties, and indeed in nations. It’s true of the police and the military. It’s true of drug gangs and the Mafia. Being part of the group is more important than being kind. It’s more important than using your intellect to understand what’s going on.
With secular groups, though, there can be a point where the individual says, “Enough. I’m leaving.” When the group is doing bad stuff, the pain of separation eventually becomes Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on January 25, 2014
Today’s most memorable quote (though to be fair, it’s only 10:30 in the morning) comes from Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes for Health. This gentleman is a scientist, but also says he believes in God. In a discussion on HuffPost Live, he apparently said this about evolution: “…if you are a believer in God, it’s hard to imagine that God would somehow put this incontrovertible evidence [for the reality of evolution] in front of us about our relationship to other living organisms and expect us to disbelieve it.” You can read the whole article, if you like, here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/25/francis-collins-davos_n_4635338.html?utm_hp_ref=politics&ir=Politics
The point of his statement was, I think, to suggest that folks who reject the idea of evolution are both ignoring evidence and being disrespectful of God’s motives. However, there is certainly a strain of Christian belief that insists we shouldn’t use reason, because reason is a tool used by Satan to tempt us into doubting the word of God. For folks who really believe that, it’s actually quite easy to ignore the evidence, because the evidence was put there by Satan.
Okay, so the head of the NIH doesn’t understand fundamentalist belief systems, or pretends not to. But there’s more to the story than that. The HuffPost article also quotes Collins as follows: “For me, somebody who is a ‘show me the data’ kind of scientist, but also a believer [in God], I don’t see a discordance there.” In other words, he’s a ‘show me the data’ kind of guy when it comes to science, but when Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on January 25, 2014
We have no clear idea about how the universe came into existence. Scientists have some hazy theories, but the theories are packed with assumptions that may be wrong.
People who are inclined toward religious belief tend to assume that some enormously wise and powerful entity called “God” created the universe. This idea explains nothing, but I guess it’s comforting.
It explains nothing because, as Richard Dawkins has pointed out, in order to create a complex universe — one with finely tuned physical laws — God would have to be complex. A simple God (a God with no internal features) couldn’t do the necessary equations. If God is complex, then we can’t dodge the question of where God came from. It’s an infinite regress. If you’re going to assume that a complex God “just is” and doesn’t need explanation, you might just as well assume that the universe “just is” and doesn’t need explanation.
Still, it’s a fun idea to think about. Let’s assume for a moment that the universe was created (13.8 billion years or so ago) by an unimaginably vast and powerful entity that we may as well call “God.” Sadly, nothing in the physical universe gives us any clue about the nature of this God. We might entertain any number of hypotheses, all of them equally Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on December 11, 2013
A friend on Facebook posted a link to a HuffPost blog piece on religion. My friend introduced the link by saying, “I have been arguing for years that it is not religion, but the misuse of religion, that causes evil….” After a preliminary salvo in reply to his introduction, I had a look at the article. (You’ll find it at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-mcelwee/stop-blaming-religion-for_b_4416137.html). It was written by someone named Sean McElwee, whose only stated qualification as an authority on this subject is that he’s a writer. Well, so am I, so I guess Sean and I are on equal footing. Let’s see how we fare.
My preliminary comment to my friend began, “…but what is the proper use of religion? Does it have one? I’d appreciate an honest and sensible answer to this question.” To my way of thinking, the utility of religion is that it provides social solidarity for a group of people. But then, so does a bowling league. Is religion different in any essential way from a bowling league?
I went on to say, “Beyond this, I would strongly suggest that any attempt to get religion off the hook on all the evil that is done by religious people is doomed to failure, and for a specific reason: Religious doctrine of any kind produces cognitive blindness. Religious doctrine by its very nature renders the believer unable to separate truth from falsehood. This is the essence of religion! Without blind belief, religion would cease (since, of course, there is nothing there to actually believe in). Thus it is inevitable that religious people will, sooner or later, do evil things.” Why? Because when called upon by the leaders of their sect to do evil things, they won’t be able to acknowledge to themselves that they’re doing evil.
“You’re welcome to try to dispute this,” I told my friend, “but I doubt you’ll be able to do anything other than Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on November 6, 2013
I dislike getting in wrangles with people on Facebook. Nobody’s mind ever gets changed as a result, and I seldom learn anything worth knowing. Still, these tiny tempests keep getting stirred up. Quite often on the topic of religion, I’ve noticed. Somebody posts something, I point out the fallacies in it, and before you know it we’re strapping on the gloves and stepping into the ring.
I’ve also noticed that those who adopt a religious position in such discussions are, virtually without exception, impervious to logic and not even faintly interested in logical discourse — unless, of course, they can twist the logic into a form that they can pretend justifies the conclusions they have already reached and are determined to defend.
In order to short-circuit the whole cycle of controversy, I thought I’d write a brief statement, to which I can link whenever it’s needed. It may end up being not entirely brief. We’ll see.
Two thousand years ago, slavery was commonly practiced throughout the world. At that time, women had essentially no rights. Divorce was allowed in Rome, but largely unknown elsewhere. Capital punishment was routinely meted out for trivial offenses. Law enforcement agencies routinely used torture. The concept that citizens Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on March 10, 2013
Many years ago, when I was editing Chick Corea’s column for Keyboard, he suggested to me that I really ought to read Dianetics, by L. Ron Hubbard. I wish I still had the note Chick sent; at some point along the way, I must have tossed it.
I did in fact pick up a copy of Dianetics at Chick’s suggestion. I read about 20 pages. All I remember about it, after more than 30 years, is that Hubbard started out by redefining some ordinary words to mean entirely new things. Or possibly he just started using the words in new ways without bothering to define them. Technically speaking, it was gobbledygook. Its main appeal, it seems to me, would be to people who are desperately seeking answers to life’s deeper questions but lack the critical thinking skills that would let them sort out which are the good answers and which are the nonsensical ones. Assuming there are any good answers, which I think is very questionable.
Call me a seeker. Today I’m reading Journey into Consciousness, by Charles Breaux. It purports to reveal connections between Tantra and Jungian psychology. At first glance, it seems more sensible than some books on such subjects. That’s why I brought it home from the library. But as I dig deeper, it begins to remind me of Dianetics. Not in its details, mind you, but in the fact that you’re expected to take as factual a bunch of stuff that is neither defined nor adequately explained.
According to Gautama Buddha, Breaux tells us, “All life is in flux, and trying to establish something solid and permanent leads to suffering. Feeling attached to Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on March 10, 2013
My friend Marco steered me to a critique of Dean Radin’s book The Conscious Universe, and I have to admit that the critique (though at times very silly) scored a few direct hits. Not having a degree in statistical analysis and not, moreover, having access to any of the original data Radin cites, I’m in no position to say yea or nay with respect to whether telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition exist. Radin seems to make a strong case, but the accusation he levels at skeptics — that they’re only seeing what they want to see — applies equally to him.
The statistical data is provocative, first because there seems to be quite a lot of it and second because none of it is very persuasive. That is, if telepathy is real, it seems odd that it would be so difficult to demonstrate in a clear way. The statistics pile up, but even if they mean what Radin thinks they mean, they all show a very slight effect.
This may be because the scientists are designing their studies badly. The telepathy experiments Radin describes uniformly use senders and receivers who have no special bonds to one another, and the data they’re supposed to send and receive is of no special emotional significance. If telepathy exists, those are not the conditions under which we would expect it to show up! Quite the contrary. Indeed, most of the anecdotal material about supposed telepathic communication, which of course we can’t duplicate in the laboratory because it’s anecdotal, concerns Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on March 8, 2013
I’d like to think the religions of Asia provide a level of awareness that seems rather conspicuously to be missing from the religions that originated in the Middle East. Hinduism and Buddhism are more appealing to me than Christianity (to say nothing of Judaism and Islam, of which the less said the better).
But possibly the grass is just greener on the other side of the fence. On using the Web to learn a bit about Tantra, I’m finding myself baffled. It’s not just that the authors of these texts use a bunch of unfamiliar terms. They seem not to be interested in defining the terms in a way that anybody could make sense of.
Before too long, I discovered that the practitioners of Tantra still (in the 21st century) sacrifice goats and other animals in their temples. Okay, never mind. I’ll look into some other tradition. I don’t care what kind of alleged ancient wisdom you’re hanging out with; if you’re killing animals to make your gods and goddesses happy, your ancient wisdom is a crock of shit, and that’s the truth.
Still, researching other cultures and their spiritual practices is probably worth doing. Somewhere along the path, being a musician, I noticed a link to a page on Indian music for meditation. Hmm — maybe knowing about that will give me a handle on the larger subject matter. Unfortunately, the nameless author of this page slathers it on pretty thick.
“Music has been used as meditation music since the very dawn of civilization,” we’re told, “because it balances the human organism through its rhythmic pattern of tones, which are generated in a harmonic relationship with each other.” Hey, I’m a musician. Can you tell me about the rhythmic patterns Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on March 3, 2013
There are all sorts of things wrong with Christianity. Proselytizing is a vicious conspiracy that destroys indigenous cultures. Attempting to prevent the teaching of science in public school is nothing short of criminal. And can we talk about women’s rights and gay rights? But that’s old news, and not worth rehashing. Today I have something more basic in mind.
It seems to me that the taproot from which most of the deficiencies of Christianity have sprouted is that it’s an authority-based religion. The individual believer is, above all, expected to obey.
This was also true of the Judaism from which Christianity sprang. Moses came down from the mountain not with suggestions, not with recommendations on how to live a good life. No, they were commandments. Written in stone, just in case you missed the point.
The book of Leviticus, a contemptible piece of slime that is still in the Bible, though nobody pays much attention to it any more, is full of things that the Lord God ordered the Israelites either to do unfailingly, or not to do on pain of being stoned to death. Charming fellow, the Lord God.
From its beginnings, Christianity proclaimed Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on February 26, 2013
Discussions of telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition tend to be dismissed as so much New Age crystal-gazing. As it turns out, though, the scientific evidence for these phenomena is overwhelming. The only people who doubt that such things really happen either are ignorant (probably because they’ve been misled by self-appointed debunkers) or have a strong vested interest in a hard-headed “scientific” world view that not even physicists believe in any more.
This week I’ve been reading a couple of very interesting books – The Conscious Universe by Dean Radin and Morphic Resonance by Rupert Sheldrake. I recommend them both. Together, they unveil some very provocative possibilities.
Radin provides an overview of decades of meticulous experiments designed to verify (or disprove) the idea that telepathy, precognition, and similar phenomena are real. Be prepared for a crash course in statistics — this is not a book of impossible-to-reproduce anecdotes about Aunt Greta’s dream that her dog had died. There are graphs.
What Radin doesn’t do is provide a theory that might have the power to explain the phenomena. He dips his toe in quantum physics to the extent of talking about non-locality (which is an interesting and highly suggestive topic), and also examines the psychology of skeptics in considerable detail, but he pretty much leaves it up to you to draw your own conclusions.
Sheldrake has a theory. His book is mainly concerned with biological phenomena such as embryo development and instinctive behavior; telepathy isn’t even listed in his book’s index. Nonetheless, his theory of morphic resonance provides Read the rest of this entry »
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