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Sam Drops the Ball
Posted: 11 October 2006 04:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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The forum played a trick on me. The previous post was mine.

Thomas Orr
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Posted: 11 October 2006 04:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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I’m sorry, but I can’t make out many of your points.

However I’ll just comment on two of them. Sam Harris is not the first (only the most recent) of those to debunk religion. I think he does a fairly good job, which is why I raised my objections to his weakening his arguments by dragging in mysticism.

The most popular of the prior critics was Robert Green Ingersoll.
You can read all of his works on this web site:
http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/robert_ingersoll/

He was much more popular in his day than Sam, and his writing is much wittier. Try a sample.

About the scientific method. You misunderstood how it works. Theories are not proved they are just not disproved. So if you tried a treatment and it worked for you, you have proved nothing. It might be a coincidence, but if many people try it and it works for all of them the probability goes up that it has some effect. This is why good public health studies require such large samples.

In situations where there is less variability (like mechanics) it is enough to find one case where a theory fails for it to be disproved. Scientific experiment always tries to disprove a theory.

Sorry, you don’t like physics, but it is still the basis for most of the advances being made in materials science, semiconductor devices and even bio-physics. It is true, however, that biology is the hot area for research these days.

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Posted: 11 October 2006 04:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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T.O.:

. . . This is how I interpret Sam. “We know too little about consciousness and about ourselves to be able to say with certainty that consciousness is just a function of the brain and doesn’t exist without it. Not that we can state the opposite, either, but the question is open and intriguing, especially in the light of meditation and introspection based experiences.” In case it escaped your attention I may add that we Westerners don’t have any tradition and knowledge comparable to what Easterners accumulated in the areas of introspection and meditation, and we are or should be humble apprentices. As this thread demonstrated we are nothing like that.

So many threads discussing consciousness currently active on this forum; so little time for me to think. Or maybe it’s my lack of ability to think. I’d love to find out if Sam Harris’ views have changed since writing his first book. Mia, if you’re watching, I don’t suppose you asked him? (Not that Sam Harris is a prophet or anything, right?)

T.O., you bring up a point, above, that I think CanZen also recently made reference to. The “Eastern” ancients have it all over us regarding introspection. I would agree that a lot can be said for us Westerners thinking of ourselves as humble apprentices to their accumulated wisdom. If only we were more humble and more willing to be apprentices.

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Posted: 11 October 2006 04:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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Robert,

Thanks for the link to Ingersol. Great reading and not necessarily exclusively on religion. Religion, by the way, is only a side issue for me. I share much of your passion for politics - or policies as you would say - I have visited your website.

I was goofing a little with my rant on scientific method. Do I dislike physics? Not really. I am simply stating, what you confirmed, that physics these days gives way to biology as the “leading science”. I couldn’t be all that negative about physics since it shares the same sad fate as my mathematics. Our glory is in the past. The reseach in semiconductors belongs more to technology sector, don’t you think so?

Thomas Orr

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Posted: 11 October 2006 06:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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[quote author=“Anonymous”] This is how I interpret Sam. “We know too little about the consciousness and about ourselves to be able to say with certainty that consciousness is just a function of the brain and doesn’t exist without it. Not that we can state the opposite, either, but the question is open and intriguing, especially in the light of meditation and introspection based experiences.”

So why are you dismissing the introspection experience I mentioned?  Believe me, if Entropy had ever had it she would have called it mystical, another layer of experience, yada yada.  It altered my consciousness while I was having it, but it doesn’t convince me that therefore my consciousness exists separately from me.  Not even close.

Look, I certainly agree that we haven’t solved the problem of consciousness.  Maybe it is not a function of the brain, fair enough.  Let’s keep working on that.  My only argument is with the part about maybe consciousness is not a function of the brain “especially in the light of meditation and introspection based experiences.”  Why pick those? 

In case it escaped your attention I may add that we Westerners don’t have any tradition and knowledge comparable to what Easterners accumulated in the areas of introspection and meditation, and we are or should be humble apprentices.

Yep, that’s what Sam says.  Sam is not actually the last word on Eastern religions, if you care to know.  Are you aware that the Dalai Lama discourages Westerners from quitting their own traditions to adopt Tibetan Buddhism?  He says rather to stay with and modify them.  One reason is because he thinks they are just as good as his.  (Personally I disagree, but that’s beside the point.  His religion - and it is a religion with gods and all - is awesomely weird when you learn about it too.)  Another reason is because when you go outside your own culture you are much more vulnerable to being duped.  You are dealing with so much that is unfamiliar, you may miss signs that you would easily recognize on home ground.  Plus, you need not just the Buddha and the Dharma but also the Sangha (=all other practitioners of the Dharma, including the teachers; conventionally Sangha is monks and nuns, some of whom are enlightened, some of whom are not; in other words it’s the whole community, the church in some translations).  It is difficult for Westerners to access a community of genuine teachers and practitioners at all levels.  The parade of Eastern charlatans purporting to bring sincere, unselfish teaching to Westerners did not start with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  The Dalai Lama is well aware that it’s not easy for Westerners to take on the full experience of Tibetan Buddhism or Zen or any other Eastern practice.

I was fortunate to grow up in Sebastopol as well as Berkeley.  Sebastopol happens to be a place where many Japanese people immigrated to in the early years of the 20th century, and though they experienced the injustice of internment and land confiscation during WWII, many of them came back afterwards.  We had a sushi restaurant, a Zen temple (purchased from the 1930s World Fair on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay and reassembled in Sebastopol), and shelves of real Asian food in the grocery store (not a supermarket) way back when other Americans thought themselves daringly cosmopolitan for eating chop suey out of a can.  This in a rural California town of 3000 people, not San Francisco.  In the 1950s. 

So when I was interested in learning Zen practice, there was a real, longstanding, honest, humble, practicing community for me to join.  Only problem: it still wasn’t my community.  You have to be immersed at some point, whether that’s through growing up in Sangha or going on a retreat or whatever.  I couldn’t do it at that time.

You can write a manual for operating the mind that’s as easy to read as a lawn mower manual, as Sam says.  Marsha Linehan wrote one that works for me.  Unfortunately, the difference is that once you read the lawn mower manual that’s pretty much it.  You know how to make the lawn mower work as well as it ever will right at the start.  This is just not true with meditation or mindfulness or whatever you want to call it.  It takes practice.  Lots and lots of practice.  And that takes motivation and discipline.  It’s hard to do without support.  Without Sangha.

There are Eastern monasteries for very good reason: even for Easterners it’s not lawn-mower-manual simple to combine everyday life with mindfulness or meditation practice.  Vikram Seth gives a poignant example in his novel A Suitable Boy of an anxious, grieving, middle-aged Hindu widow reciting the Bhagavad Gita every day, speaking the words but no more.  He quotes a long passage of the Gita and then shows how they do not penetrate: “It was not the all-pervading essence of reality that clutched at Mrs Rupa Mehra’s consciousness but the loved particularities that she had lost or that were losable… The soothing Sanskrit of the small, green, cloth-bound book passed through her lips, but, while it gave her peace—tears rarely came to her eyes while she was reciting the Gita—it answered none of her questions.  And while ancient wisdom so often proved unconsoling, photography, that cruel modern art, helped to ensure that even the image of her husband’s face would not grow dim with time.”

Can she recite the Gita all day?  Obviously she doesn’t, because her whole family jokes about her “water-works” (tears).  She could, but it’s a bit distracting and not really what’s needed anyway.

All I’m saying is don’t turn yourself into a version of Rousseau when it comes to the Eternal Wisdom of the East. 

I didn’t respond to the rest of it because you went off the rails and started your own tirade based on a failure to read what people were actually saying.  For instance I never said anything about Sam quoting a physicist I didn’t like.  You started just making stuff up.  I realize English is not your first language, but you are obviously fluent enough to understand what we are saying.  Please try that next time.

“Fan of astrology”?  Sigh. 

Is homeopathy popular in Poland?

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Posted: 12 October 2006 03:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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[quote author=“robertdfeinman”]Sam seems to crave some sort of transcendent experience which he is trying to reach via a quasi-Buddhist meditative state. This weakens his arguments since he wants to ban the supernatural while seeking an experience associated with a religious state. As a scientist he should realize that this state is nothing more than a special condition of the brain. It has been explained as far back as 1905 by William James in “The Varieties of Religious Experience”. It can be brought on by many techniques including meditation, prayer, fasting and various drugs or chemicals. James, himself, was able to induce such a state in himself by use of Nitrous Oxide. Modern brain studies have gone much further than James was able to pinpoint the areas in the brain affected and even some knowledge of brain chemistry.

A decent read on this could be found in Newberg’s, “Why God Won’t Go Away” where he and his team map the blood flow in the brain during meditative/ mystic states using SPECT scans.  The subjects, as I recall, were Fransiscan nuns and a sufi mystic. 

The study suggested the ‘transcendent’ type state of mind happening just as blood flow was noted to deaffernate or shunt into and away from one part of the brain to another.  That made perfect sense to me.  Chemicals and mental power (i.e. meditation) affecting the brain?  Completely plausible.

Newberg concludes that god could be the author behind the shunting of bloodflow… or that this is the way god chose to have his humans experience his/her/its presence, but Newberg also says (unfortunately outside the text) that this is a completely plausible biological explanation for religious experience.

I think that Newberg’s writing partners put the heavy on Newberg to go more mainstream in support of the god concept.  Newberg in private has stated other more illuminating conclusions.

Noggin

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Posted: 12 October 2006 04:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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Thanks made_maka,

I accept the criticism where it is due. Yeah, it is my flaw to do a lousy job as a reader. When I think I get an idea where the writer is going I subsequently tend to skip longer sentences. You didn’t make my job easy since in turn you tend to second guess your adversary and include long passages, which may or may not be applicable.

The main reason I joined this thread was the desire to fight back the accusations that Sam Harris is harming his cause by venturing into misticism. Well, to be perfectly honest I didn’t read his second book and I didn’t see him speaking in any of his public appearances. So, he might have evolved into something even I wouldn’t like after all. However, I like the message he included in his first book in its entirety, bringing up the issue of consciousness including.

I stand by the two statements I made that you criticise. Can meditation and introspection be helpful in exploring the nature of consciousness? I think they can and I am talking here from my experience, which unfortunately is quite different from what you are trying to second guess about me. No, I am not infatuated with Eastern tradition. Buddhism always felt bizarre to me and not very appealing. Only recently I developed respect and appreciation for Dalaj Lama and his personal contribution to humankind but he won me over more as a politician than as a “guru” (for lack of a better word). I am not very fond of Deepak Chopra either and although I have no definite proof I suspect that he simply might be one more charlatan in the long line of pseudo-gurus who jump into opportunity to get rich in the West. However, as he milks mostly the rich Hollywood types he doesn’t make me particularly angry.

My readings, explorations and experimantations come from the study of yoga and the Western tradition with the special interest in modern “alternative” practitioners (again, lack of a better word). Interestingly, as different in where they start off all those alternative practitioners: psychics, astrologers, healers, “time travelers” tend to end up in the same territory testifying about reincarnation and continuity of human existence after the physical body dies. If as a reaction to what I included in this paragraph Randi with his million dollar challenge jumps to your mind he shouldn’t. I would label it childish and irresponsible to start talking Randi and science before actually reading what it is all about. The short list of authors/personalities include Edgar Cayce, Yogananda, Barbara Brennan, Robert Monroe and Geoff Boltwood.

The particular meditational experience applicable to the issue of understanding the nature of consciousness is one of the meditation techniques taught by Yogananda. It consists of expanding and moving your consciousness, or call it the focus of attention/concentration, so you can extend it to include large portions of the universe. Please keep in mind that he is not talking here about philosophy or some pseudo physics. He is talking about very specific exercise. Yogananda is also significant because of the two issues he considered important. One, what he labeled as “scientific meditation” was to distinguish between two aspects of meditation. One aspect, negative, is to learn how to “detach” or break the
link between your consciousness and the body. The second aspect, positive, is to direct the freed consciousness to the area of particular interest. The adjective “scientific” he proposed means that once we accept the concepts of negative and positive aspects of meditation we subsequently use logic, instructions we get and experimentation to figure our what works and what doesn’t.

The second important lesson given by Yogananda was to tell us what makes a master the master. The master is he who can at will detach his consciousness from the body leaving the body in the “suspended animation state”: breathless, with no signs of life and perhaps, as we can guess, no traces of brain activity. It is good to know that no amount of pseudo physics will turn Deepak Chopra into a master.

Regarding the other questions you have. Astrology. I believe that Michel Gauquelin proved two things. Classical astrology based on zodiac signs, houses and angles fails the test of statistics. On the other hand the Mars effect (Jupiter, Venus and Mercury effects as well) passes the test of statistics. If this makes you question mine or the world’s sanity I can only offer you the answer Newton provided. If the distant planets affecting fate of human beings seem to be a strange concept so is the gravity. Just think about it. How can two bodies separated by vacuum affect each other ? Does it make any sense? No, it doesn’t. On this forum I actually got the answer to this question (gravity issue): it just is this way. Please, apply the answer to your astrology puzzle.

By the way, even knowing that classical astrology fails the test of statistics I still value the services good astrologer provides. They usually work better than whatever psychiatric help the modern psychology can provide.

Homeopaty? Sure they have homeopathy in Poland, as they do in the US, but why are you asking me? I have been living in the US for the past 22 years and I don’t have any desire of going back to Poland for two reasons: I don’t like the Catholic Church (or at least its Polish version) and I don’t like the unrestrained capitalism (or at least its Polish version).
Personally, I have no opinion on homeopathy.

Thomas Orr

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Posted: 12 October 2006 05:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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[quote author=“Noggin”]A decent read on this could be found in Newberg’s, “Why God Won’t Go Away” where he and his team map the blood flow in the brain during meditative/ mystic states using SPECT scans. The subjects, as I recall, were Fransiscan nuns and a sufi mystic.

Good that you are bringing up the book. The subjects were Franciscan nuns and Tibetan monks.

The authors went a few steps too far with bringing God into the picture. However, the statement that the brain centers activated during deep and bliss producing meditation seem to be fulfilling just this purpose doesn’t violate the mandate of science.

I can live with the little fraud of bringing God in the “Why God Won’t Go Away” is guilty of. There are some sceptics here as in the world at large who think that the only way to cope with religious madness is to starve the believers and fight their illusion craving instincts consistently. I have a different opinion. I think that softening rigid Christianity with the flood of the New Age sense and nonsense proved to be more effective than anything else.

How can the book that seems to be saying that spirituality is found in meditation rather than reading the Bible can provide ammunition to Pat Robertson and other fundies? Well, unfortunately it can. Those people will not waste their time on reading the book (after all they have more important Book to read). However, they pick up the message: “Newberg proved the existence of God” and use it against us. Bummer.

Thomas Orr

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Posted: 12 October 2006 05:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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[quote author=“Thomas Orr”]Thanks made_maka,

I accept the criticism where it is due. Yeah, it is my flaw to do a lousy job as a reader. When I think I get an idea where the writer is going I subsequently tend to skip longer sentences. You didn’t make my job easy since in turn you tend to second guess your adversary and include long passages, which may or may not be applicable.

Without doubt, and I apologize too.  I type what comes to mind as if talking… Thoughts seem to form and flow through my fingers without mediation.  Possible application to consciousness?

(So now I’m trying to label rants as such so people can just skip ‘em.)

I stand by the two statements I made that you criticise. Can meditation and introspection be helpful in exploring the nature of consciousness? I think they can and I am talking here from my experience,

Sure they can - I haven’t disagreed with that.  I still don’t see how they suggest that consciousness is detached from the physical body, that’s all. 

The second important lesson given by Yogananda was to tell us what makes a master the master. The master is he who can at will detach his consciousness from the body leaving the body in the “suspended animation state”: breathless, with no signs of life and perhaps, as we can guess, no traces of brain activity.

That should be very easy to test.  Has it been done?

Reincarnation, time-travelling and so forth - I would love to learn that I can keep “myself” beyond the crematorium and go on having experiences and learning new things.  That’s exactly what makes me extra-critical in evaluating reports of such.  I am just as likely to accept what I want to hear as anyone else.  (Which is why I have fallen in love many times.)  That’s what makes it extra important to keep the skeptical faculty charged up.  (Which is why I have only had two long-term relationships, one still ongoing, with men who didn’t/don’t do abuse, drugs, exploitation, deceit, cruelty, etc.) 

Thanks for the rest of the post - I appreciate the different tone.  I’m not going to get into the rest for lack of time but have taken it on board and will check out Mars effect and so forth.  Always willing to receive new information and evaluate it.

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Posted: 12 October 2006 05:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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[quote author=“made_maka”]Plus, you need not just the Buddha and the Dharma but also the Sangha (=all other practitioners of the Dharma, including the teachers; conventionally Sangha is monks and nuns, some of whom are enlightened, some of whom are not; in other words it’s the whole community, the church in some translations).  It is difficult for Westerners to access a community of genuine teachers and practitioners at all levels.  The parade of Eastern charlatans purporting to bring sincere, unselfish teaching to Westerners did not start with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Sounds like Catholicism, minus all the TransFatSubstantiation™.

Mindfulness is a habit I can’t seem to break. What I mean is, I tend to rely on my own definition of mindfulness. Just like everybody else does.

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Posted: 12 October 2006 07:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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[quote author=“Salt Creek”]

Mindfulness is a habit I can’t seem to break. What I mean is, I tend to rely on my own definition of mindfulness. Just like everybody else does.

The point of mindfulness or meditation or whatever - for me - is that it can help one to calm down, accept unpleasant realities (death, change) without going off the rails, etc.

I have some really unfortunate genes.  I can all too easily get caught up in rumination, grief, anxiety and so forth and drugs don’t help.  Meditation, by which I mean being physically still and focusing on my breath, does.  So does reading.  Meditation seems to have a longer lasting benefit than reading and I can use it when I’m too distraught to read.  It also helps me go to sleep when I get excited, say writing in this forum, and my mind is teeming with thoughts.

That’s all.  It’s a health technique.  I ascribe no mystical or supernatural elements.

Mindfulness in my definition is about being aware of what you are doing rather than going on automatic pilot and performing tasks by rote, while still being tormented by painful thoughts.  It’s not that the thoughts don’t come, you just observe them and let them go.  Rather than following them down the usual painful rut.  Again, just a way to lessen suffering so you can enjoy life more.

My depressed sister does this, but doesn’t use the same terms.  She says “I just don’t think about it.”  I don’t know her state of mind but she seems to be enjoying her life, is able to sleep and eat, doesn’t break down in tears constantly, and so forth.  My depressed brother has adopted a Mel Gibson style of Catholicism as his way to deal.  That doesn’t seem to be working very well.

You can be so “mindful” that you enter a very pleasurable state.  I remember going through a Target store dropping thoughts left and right.  It was quite blissful.  Still, nothing supernatural or mystical is required to explain it.  My husband is a triathlete and reports experiencing very similar things.  Having sex is another excellent way to “be in the moment” enjoyably.  (I can’t be the only one who has noticed that if someone is preoccupied the sex tends not to be very good.)

If you aren’t having problems with depression or anxiety or other troublesome stuff - if your life is generally enjoyable and not causing other people distress - there is no reason to try any of this.

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Posted: 12 October 2006 07:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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I think enough interesting ideas have been brought up I’m going to start on a new thread in the politics section.

This one will be about happiness and economics. Please join in…

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Posted: 12 October 2006 08:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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Thomas,
Man, I don’t know how you do it, but you manage to say something irrational every time you post.  LOL

By the way, even knowing that classical astrology fails the test of statistics I still value the services good astrologer provides. They usually work better than whatever psychiatric help the modern psychology can provide.

Why the heck do you make statements like this when you know they are not true? Are you truly saying the next bipolar person out here should check with their astrologer?

Rod

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Posted: 12 October 2006 09:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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[quote author=“Rod”]Thomas,
Man, I don’t know how you do it, but you manage to say something irrational every time you post.  LOL

By the way, even knowing that classical astrology fails the test of statistics I still value the services good astrologer provides. They usually work better than whatever psychiatric help the modern psychology can provide.

Why the heck do you make statements like this when you know they are not true? Are you truly saying the next bipolar person out here should check with their astrologer?

Rod

No, no, not at all. Don’t confuse me with Tom Cruise. I know that you as a doctor helped many in overcoming their health problems, which we often refer to as “mental”. I appreciate that.

I am talking about millions of other people in need of “counselling” so to speak. They could be high school students who lack direction in their life, they can be hopelessly romantic women who are confused about where they are going with their love lives, they might be stressed and frustrated workers. Those people have genuine psychological needs, which sometimes may be as simple as having someone who would just listen. Sometimes, a good piece of advice they receive can make a huge difference in their lives. My experience is that many astrologers do much better job in helping those people than officially annointed specialists.

Astrology is also helpful by the virtue of the language it uses. Regardless of whether the astrological stereotypes (Leo or Aries personality) pass the test of statistics or not they are genuinly helpful on a deeper level because they teach you about many components of your personality and emotional impulses, which you may not realize you had, and which may seem as contradictory to each other as they are. When you read a horoscope and say, wow, this describes me, even if that horoscope is a mistake and was casted for a different person, nevertheless you learn something about yourself, which you wouldn’t learn otherwise.

Look how desperate people become when it comes to coping with the mysteries of human personality. We have boot camps for young potential criminals and some people swear that those bootcamps work (Just don’t turn the country into one gigantic bootcamp as PolPot and Mao were trying).

Besides, I still suspect that astrology penetrates deeper than what can be captured by statisctics. After all, my brother is (semi-) professional astrologer. But I don’t want to dwelve on this subject here.

Thomas Orr

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Posted: 13 October 2006 03:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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[quote author=“Thomas Orr”][quote author=“Noggin”]A decent read on this could be found in Newberg’s, “Why God Won’t Go Away” where he and his team map the blood flow in the brain during meditative/ mystic states using SPECT scans. The subjects, as I recall, were Fransiscan nuns and a sufi mystic.

Good that you are bringing up the book. The subjects were Franciscan nuns and Tibetan monks.
....
How can the book that seems to be saying that spirituality is found in meditation rather than reading the Bible can provide ammunition to Pat Robertson and other fundies? Well, unfortunately it can. Those people will not waste their time on reading the book (after all they have more important Book to read). However, they pick up the message: “Newberg proved the existence of God” and use it against us. Bummer.

Thomas Orr

Hi Thomas.

Christians most certainly can look at Newberg’s book and conclude that Newberg proved the existence of god.  That is their perogative.  But I don’t think that is the proper conclusion.  For me, there is a balance scales approach.  Witnessing SPECT brain activity during meditation/prayer completes the circle for me.  Religious folks think deep thoughts about their god, blood flows in the brain, and they almost always feel something in response to that blood flow.  No one, up to the 21st century, has been able to map this brain activity.

I hate to do this but it’s the only other human body blood flow/feeling response example I can think of.  A male erection.  Men think thoughts about sensual items, blood flows to the penis, and powerful motivating feelings result.

Who knew?  Religion is one big erection of the mind.  No, it makes perfect sense!  Theists get turned on by god, completely… and then act irrationally just like many guys do when they encounter a bombshell female in their midsts.

A male erection does not prove god exists any more than Vulcan mind melding prayer sessions do.

Noggin, always cooking up the strangest ways to make a point.

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