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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Posted by midiguru on February 10, 2013
Wandered into the library this afternoon, spotted a book on the New Arrivals table — Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Set Free. His brief is to question the orthodox scientific world view, a project that his Ph.D. from Cambridge in plant biology gives him the credentials to undertake.
My feelings about Chapter One, “Is Nature Mechanical,” were quite negative. It seemed to me that Sheldrake is hopping over too many fences in this material, or failing to connect the dots if you prefer a different metaphor. After jumping forward to Chapter Nine, however (“Are Psychic Phenomena Illusory?”), I revised my opinion of Sheldrake rather sharply upward. I went back to Chapter One and started reading it again with a different mindset.
If you don’t feel a need to rush out and buy the book, you can hear most of the material in Chapter Nine in an hour-long YouTube video.
In Chapter One, Sheldrake reconsiders the standard scientific notion that the universe operates according to blind mechanical laws.
There are reasons to question this notion. The idea that the universe is mechanical arose only in the 17th century, when mechanical clocks became common. We can see the same kind of analogizing at work today, when the mind or brain is compared to a computer. A hundred years ago, it was often compared to a telephone exchange, in which imaginary operators plugged and unplugged cables. Whatever is new and wondrous — well, the universe must be just like that. People seem to need these metaphors in order to reduce complexities to manageable dimensions, but inevitably the metaphors warp our thinking and leave some observations unexplained (or denied).
Sheldrake mentions quantum uncertainty, which does indeed undercut the old-fashioned Newtonian idea that if one knew the precise position and momentum of every particle in the universe at a given point in time, and had a powerful enough computer, one could infallibly predict the course of all future events. Quantum uncertainty flushes that idea down the crapper. But the leap from quantum uncertainty to the idea that Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on January 25, 2013
Today I wrote a very angry blog post about religion, but I’m not going to post it. At least, not until I’ve slept on it. After drafting it, I had to pause and ask myself why I’m feeling so hostile.
What is it about religion that so upsets me? I mean, there are some wonderful liberal religious institutions, and even folks who go to less enlightened churches have been known to do kind things from time to time, such as run soup kitchens for the homeless. So what’s my problem?
I’m pretty sure the root of my disgust with religion is that religious belief is irrational. Of course, if you’re religious, you may not even understand that. You may think you’re being entirely rational. But if you think that, you’re delusional. That’s part of the problem.
Religious belief is irrational because its bedrock is a set of ideas for which there is no evidence and that are not subject to debate. I mean, you can’t go into a Lutheran or Presbyterian Church and say, “Hey, maybe Jesus wasn’t Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on January 24, 2013
I’ve been musing about how religious people, who firmly believe they are good, so often do such monstrously evil things. I think maybe I have a handle on it. If you start with a few basic premises — and I think these are all premises that today’s religious adherents would agree with — you can dig yourself a deep hole quite easily.
Here is a list of what I see as the premises to which today’s religious would express allegiance. They’re all absurd premises, of course, but at the moment I’m not planning to wade into that debate. I simply want to set out the premises and see what they lead to.
- There exists a supremely powerful, conscious entity that we call “God.”
- God is good.
- God is aware of and cares about the human race and about individual humans.
- God cares enough about us to have provided a book containing clear instructions on how He would like us to comport ourselves. This book may require interpretation, but its origins were inspired directly by God, and thus it is free of outright error.
- God has endowed us each with free will, so that we can freely choose to do things that please him, or things that do not please him.
- God has prepared a paradise to which humans can expect, or hope, to be transported when they die, so death is not a reason for anxiety.
- Those who fail to follow the instructions in the book cause suffering here on Earth — because of course the instructions come directly from God and are therefore perfectly reliable. They may also expect not to be rewarded with paradise after death.
The first thing to note is that if you and your friends (probably your friends from church) all believe these things, you’re likely to be very happy! These beliefs have, that is, an immediate positive result. They produce good feelings. They also provide some guidance for steering a serene course among life’s inevitable difficulties. How could a set of beliefs that produces such good results possibly lead to hateful, destructive behavior?
The catch lies in the first significant word in the first premise: “supremely.” The assumption that God is Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on August 29, 2012
I have a Facebook friend who is a sincere and very loving Christian. He likes to post inspirational messages. If perchance he posts something I can agree with, I make a point of telling him so. I would never get into a religious wrangle with him, because he’s too nice a person.
Today he posted this quote from Malcolm Muggeridge: “Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.” I suggested, mildly enough, that I thought this was a bit self-aggrandizing — a bit lacking in humility. To my surprise, he and one of his friends defended the point that Muggeridge was making.
After meditating on it for a few minutes, I’ve decided that this is one of the defining flaws of Christianity. Certainly not the only flaw, but a more important one than I had heretofore considered.
It would appear that many Christians sincerely believe that the entire Universe is about us — about you and me and the rest of the human crew. There’s God, who created the whole thing, and we humans are his super-duper special creation, with whom he is uniquely concerned. The rest of the Universe exists solely as a backdrop for the giant morality play that unfolds here among us. God’s primary concern, in all of Creation, is to guide us in making the moral choices of which he approves. Everything else is of secondary concern, at most.
I think that sums up Muggeridge’s view. Entire galaxies, spinning in the heavens, exist not in their own right but solely and entirely as illustrations for our benefit of God’s infinite power or sense of beauty.
On alternate Thursday afternoons, from 2:00 to 4:00, I have a stab at believing in God. One of the things I’ve concluded is that if there is such an entity (a proposition that Read the rest of this entry »
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