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Sam Drops the Ball - Part II
Posted: 16 January 2007 05:32 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Since the first thread has gotten so long, I thought I take off on a branch so we can focus on one aspect of my original point.

Many (most/all?) people seem to have a need to "belong". In some societies this role is taken by clan or family. In areas with highly developed organized religion it is frequently taken by the church. My point is that while the church is a very common social organization that serves this function it is not the only one. In totalitarian societies it is taken on by the party or belief in the "fearless leader". One only has to look at the pictures of Kim Jong Ill in North Korea, or Mao in China while he was alive to see the phenomena.

What all these movements have in common is that they require their followers to give up critical thought and to follow the dogmas of their organization. Religion adds an extra component in that the rules of behavior are incorporated in various foundational myths which involve a supernatural being (or beings). Since these supernatural beings are all powerful and their wishes can only be discerned by a select few, the ability to disagree with dogma is rendered impossible.

With cults of personality dealing with actual leaders there may also be a degree of arbitrariness and disagreement may have dangerous consequences, but everyone thinks that the leader has the best interests of his followers in mind and is thus open to suggestions and feedback. That is, the dogma can be modified in the light of changing conditions. If this were not true than the USSR and China wouldn't have five year plans, just a permanent plan.

Membership provides several personal benefits, and these are mentioned frequently when religion is questioned. Among these are the support of the group, the ability to get comfort and counseling from designated leaders, and a way to give one's life meaning and structure.

I've always been puzzled by the sincere, but dazed, look of many sincere church goers. What they have found is a new mental state which is similar to that brought on by certain drugs or practices such as meditation or yoga. There are many terms for this state, but for the sake of argument lets call it inner peace. This is what Sam Harris is trying to achieve for himself in his pursuit of quasi-Buddhist practices. Since the state is usually associated with religion he has muddied the waters and given his detractors a point of attack.

So what are Sam and his fellow outspoken atheists try to accomplish?

First, they are trying to remove the influence of religious dogma from secular state public policy. This is especially important in the US since it a multi-ethnic and multi-creed society which was founded on toleration. Second, it is important in the US because a link between religion and government policy has wide international implications. If Nepal decides that its religion is the only true one there is little it can do to promote this beyond its borders. Many now see US Middle Eastern policy as an attempt to impose Christian values on a predominantly Muslim region. And unlike Nepal the US has the military power to at least try to make this happen. The consequences haven't been pretty, and there is a fear that religiously inspired foreign policy will spread to other regions.

Third, they are trying to expand the ethical foundations of the Enlightenment to a wider part of society. These ideas are that science is the tool used to make the best decisions which face society. This is the only avenue which is compatible with true democracy. Religion depends upon unchallengeable authoritarianism and as we have seen has been used to deny scientific reality. The world is facing unprecedented threats to the environment and the supply of raw materials. The last thing that is needed is a dogmatic refusal to apply science to solving these problems.

So, in summary: euphoria can be induced by many paths, and pursuing this personal goal is not a proof or justification for organized religion. Dogmatic institutions whether religious or personality based are not compatible with democracy. The tools of science and the egalitarian axioms of the Enlightenment are the best we have now to deal with our impending crisis. Mixing personal striving for inner peace is not a wise tactical move when trying to reveal the shortcomings in powerful ideologies, especially ones based upon "spirituality" or "mysticism". Even the terms used to describe these goals are riddled with supernatural overtones.

Keep the public and personal goals separate. Fight all dogmas. Realize that questioning the underpinnings of those who lean on dogmas to organize their lives will lead to hostility and retaliation. Using logic can persuade those open to new ideas, but will fail for those who are "true believers". Even so never give up, the dangers of dogmatic excess are too grave to ignore.

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Posted: 12 February 2007 01:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Robert

I couldn’t agree with you more. I was very disheartened to read the interview Sam gave at:

 

And even more disappointed to see so many apologists for mysticism in this forum.

Let’s say Sam is right about consciousness possibly being something supernatural, because that is what he is implying by saying it exists outside of or precedes matter. Let’s say he is also right by saying that one might be able to access an experience of the supernaturality through meditation. My first response would be, “so what?”

Just because one can have this experience doesn’t mean its useful or meaningful in any way, any more than a born-again experience. It certainly makes one ripe for cultish brainwashing even if it has some more profound implications. Meditators may indeed agree amongst themselves that this experience is real, but so do evangelicals. Subjective agreement proves nothing in this case except that those perfroming the same mind-altering acts are having similar experiences as a result of similar brain chemistry changes. It does not produce one iota of evidence that consciousness is anything but a epiphenomenon of material existence. I am not saying that it absolutely is, but Sam is dead wrong that a community of meditators saying it is something more profound constitutes anything like empirical evidence.

If people find peace of mind doing such things, more power to them. However, I am a recovered new ager who was involved in holistic health for almost 20 years. I knew lots of “non-religious” folks who did the exact type of meditation Sam writes about. It sounds like Tibetan vipassana style. I never met a single one of them who was any more well-adjusted or less materialistic when it came to sensory indulgences than anyone else. I met a whole lot of them who had adopted a wide range of cultish beliefs about things like ESP and reincarnation. That was the rule, rather than the exception.

The other issue that sticks out in my mind has to do with the nature of Tibetan society. If doing this type of meditation leads to an enlightened mind, how come nothing even resembling democracy ever arose in Tibet? In fact, by all accounts, Tibetan society was an elitest feudal theocracy. The monks were waited on hand and foot by the impoverished masses. The society may have been peaceful in that there was no war and probably little homicide, but there was certainly no freedom as we understand it. (Homicide was also rare in Soviet-era Russia.) The masses were indoctrinated in dogma and expected to believe and follow the rules without question. This is hardly the type of culture one would think should arise from an evolved group of leaders. No, it is has been secularists since the 1700s who have led humanity down a path of personal freedom, democracy, and increasing egalitarianism for most. (Granted we are having a setback right now, but that is due to the resurgence of religion, IMO.)

Sam has indeed played right into the hands of the religionists with this error, as even if mysticism does lead to some meaningful understanding of self or the cosmos that is unavailable to the external senses, it is more likely to form a basis for some form of mind-control and mass manipulation if it ever became institutionalized in some way (like requiring it in schools, a path India is moving down right now). So let Sam and his ilk and anyone else of any other persuasion pursue whatever relgious path they like, but to pretend this is inherently useful to an individual or a group is pure speculation and history suggests it is just another delusion. If Buddhism is so much better than monotheism, why have the Vietnamese and Japanese been such warlike peoples? Why has Asia been so poverty stricken and downtrodden? What factor seems to be finally turning Asia towards prosperity and peace? Its seems like it’s secular democracy, embrace of materialistic science, and complete abandonment of all mystical thinking, no matter how supposedly profound.

BTW, Sam’s thinking on this matter is hardly original. It seems to be borrowed wholesale from the writings of Ken Wilber. I am not sure Sam has acknowledged this, but the language he uses and the practices he espouses are too similar to be coincidental. Once upon a time, I read everything Wilber ever wrote. While Wilber has a lot of good stuff to say (just like Sam), I had hoped I had left the worst of his tripe behind when I returned to my core values after decades in the wilderness. Oh well.

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Posted: 12 February 2007 05:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Thanks for the link to the interview with Sam - I hadn’t seen that before and this is great stuff!
Lots of useful observations in these posts, too. I especially appreciate hearing from a veteran of the ‘new age’ because I’m involved in those sorts of things and find lots to be alarmed about.
Also, I spent some years with a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who himself said that Tibet probably deserved the Chinese invasion. He was thinking in terms of ‘karma’ which is not the way we think, but at least there was some acknowledgement of corruption.
I’m still an enthusiastic supporter of everyone who wants to subjectively explore the great mysteries - even if we get caught in some side tracks. Take the best and leave the rest!
Never before have people been presented with such diversity of knowledge, tradition, experience…hybrid vigor in spades….and the communication tools to help each other discriminate the truly useful from the pretentious.
I have my own disagreements with Sam Harris - about meditation practice - but our culture says we can disagree without wholesale rejection.

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Posted: 12 February 2007 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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[quote author=“robertdfeinman”
So, in summary: euphoria can be induced by many paths, and pursuing this personal goal is not a proof or justification for organized religion. Dogmatic institutions whether religious or personality based are not compatible with democracy. The tools of science and the egalitarian axioms of the Enlightenment are the best we have now to deal with our impending crisis. Mixing personal striving for inner peace is not a wise tactical move when trying to reveal the shortcomings in powerful ideologies, especially ones based upon “spirituality” or “mysticism”. Even the terms used to describe these goals are riddled with supernatural overtones.

Keep the public and personal goals separate. Fight all dogmas. Realize that questioning the underpinnings of those who lean on dogmas to organize their lives will lead to hostility and retaliation. Using logic can persuade those open to new ideas, but will fail for those who are “true believers”. Even so never give up, the dangers of dogmatic excess are too grave to ignore.

There is as I see it no contradiction between dogmatic creeds and democracy so long as there is recognition of tolerance.  After all, if somebody wants to follow a particular religion that is their right (it is right there in the constitution).  Hurray for separation of church and state, let’s keep strengthening that, but let’s also respect people of real faith—that is a legitimate path, just as is the path of knowledge.  The requirements of each path differ, but they run in parallel.

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Posted: 12 February 2007 03:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Burt, you say,

    “There is as I see it no contradiction between dogmatic creeds and democracy so long as there is recognition of tolerance.”

That’s almost what robertdfeinman said, but you take it one step further and that’s where you walk into error.  Robert said,
    “Keep the public and personal goals separate. Fight all dogmas.”

It seems to me that he is saying that personal religious beliefs should be kept personal and not made into public institutions that force their dogmatic creeds upon everyone in the political realm.  Let’s face the fact burt, how are you going to fight dogmatic ideologies (whether political or religious) if you accept dogmatism into the public realm.  I think that’s an excellent point, what it says is “yes, as a public political institution, we can be tolerant of people’s personal beliefs, that’s the very nature of a secular democracy.”  If you allow dogmatic creeds into the public sphere, then a democratic price will be paid.  So it’s not absolutely a contradiction there, but an incompatibility, rdf says

    “Dogmatic institutions whether religious or personality based are not compatible with democracy.”

This is so much evidence of this in the policies of the Bush Administration, when a political entity adopts dogmatic principles (based both on ideology and religion) then the democratic aspect of society suffers.  A secular democracy CAN tolerate people with all kinds of strange ideologies and supernatural beliefs, but when these irrational dogmas become mixed with public policy, then toleration is no longer possible (unless we are willing to put our very democracy in danger).  A democracy can tolerate INDIVIDUALS of any various dogmatic belief, but it cannot tolerate those same GROUPS of individuals who threaten to destroy the very nature of the democracy.  All this is just common sense. 

You then also say that the people of “real faith” (what’s that? - not fake faith?) must be respected because the paths of faith are just as legitimate as the paths of knowledge they run parallel.  But can’t you see that this is just another attempt to worm your way into the realm of public legitimacy.  Are you unable to see the difference between knowledge and faith?  That’s exactly what robertdfeinman is trying to maintain by keeping the dogmatic (illegitimate knowledge) out of the public (hence the political) domain.  For you to say that religious faith and scientific knowledge are equally legitimate is just totally absurd. Faith is essentially dogmatic (unprovable, based on supernatural posits), so it can be tolerated only in regard to the individual, but it cannot be forced (even by a majority) upon everyone, unless you want the democratic ideals to disappear.  Democracy is at its base a recognition that every individual has certain rights and privileges, and that recognition must be carried across the board . . . it cannot be compromised.  Allowing dogmatic, faith-based institutions political power opens the way to the destruction of the democracy, and that dear friend cannot be tolerated!

Bob

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Posted: 12 February 2007 04:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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[quote author=“CanZen”]Burt, you say,

    “There is as I see it no contradiction between dogmatic creeds and democracy so long as there is recognition of tolerance.”

That’s almost what robertdfeinman said, but you take it one step further and that’s where you walk into error.  Robert said,
    “Keep the public and personal goals separate. Fight all dogmas.”

It seems to me that he is saying that personal religious beliefs should be kept personal and not made into public institutions that force their dogmatic creeds upon everyone in the political realm.  Let’s face the fact burt, how are you going to fight dogmatic ideologies (whether political or religious) if you accept dogmatism into the public realm.  I think that’s an excellent point, what it says is “yes, as a public political institution, we can be tolerant of people’s personal beliefs, that’s the very nature of a secular democracy.”  If you allow dogmatic creeds into the public sphere, then a democratic price will be paid.  So it’s not absolutely a contradiction there, but an incompatibility, rdf says:

    “Dogmatic institutions whether religious or personality based are not compatible with democracy.”

This is so much evidence of this in the policies of the Bush Administration, when a political entity adopts dogmatic principles (based both on ideology and religion) then the democratic aspect of society suffers.  A secular democracy CAN tolerate people with all kinds of strange ideologies and supernatural beliefs, but when these irrational dogmas become mixed with public policy, then toleration is no longer possible (unless we are willing to put our very democracy in danger).  A democracy can tolerate INDIVIDUALS of any various dogmatic belief, but it cannot tolerate those same GROUPS of individuals who threaten to destroy the very nature of the democracy.  All this is just common sense. 

You then also say that the people of “real faith” (what’s that? - not fake faith?) must be respected because the paths of faith are just as legitimate as the paths of knowledge: they run parallel.  But can’t you see that this is just another attempt to worm your way into the realm of public legitimacy.  Are you unable to see the difference between knowledge and faith?  That’s exactly what robertdfeinman is trying to maintain by keeping the dogmatic (illegitimate knowledge) out of the public (hence the political) domain.  For you to say that religious faith and scientific knowledge are equally legitimate is just totally absurd. Faith is essentially dogmatic (unprovable, based on supernatural posits), so it can be tolerated only in regard to the individual, but it cannot be forced (even by a majority) upon everyone, unless you want the democratic ideals to disappear.  Democracy is at its base a recognition that every individual has certain rights and privileges, and that recognition must be carried across the board . . . it cannot be compromised.  Allowing dogmatic, faith-based institutions political power opens the way to the destruction of the democracy, and that dear friend cannot be tolerated!

Bob

All I can say is that I am glad that you don’t have the power to enforce your form of belief.

There is a difference between faith and belief.  The threat to democracy comes from any form of dogmatic belief that attempts to enforce universal acceptance.  That is the difference between belief and faith: faith does not need any external agreement; belief must have it and the extent that attempts are made to force or legislate this support is just the extend to which the believers lack faith.  You are projecting fears and assumptions about what I am saying.  I don’t want faith based organizations trying to dictate public policy any more than you—it is just that I consider the term “faith based” to be a false use of the term, ought to be “belief based.” 

As far as the value of faith and knowledge, as a scientist I must have faith that the universe is scientifically comprehensible.  I also recognize that science is not yet complete as a rational knowledge generator, it is still in the process of developing.  After all, we don’t yet know all the possibilities and constraints on human rationality.  What I’m talking about though are spiritual paths: knowledge and faith are different paths but both, for the individual, can lead to self-realization.  For somebody following a path of knowledge to disparage faith is just as ignorant as somebody who thinks they are following a path of faith trying to support their beliefs with arguments based on science (or, trying to deny science).

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Posted: 12 February 2007 05:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Here I thought I was defending democracy, yet you indicate that I am a tyrant who should be feared.  Why are you so glad that I don’t have the power to enforce my form of belief?  I thought I was merely defending humanist principles, but you make it seems like I have an agenda to accomplish with “my form of belief?”

I guess you see secularism as an ideology (belief-based) that stands against the more authentic and fully actualized practitioners of faith?  So I’ve got the dogma, while you, well you need no external agreement - it’s just you and god against the world.

But this is all fine with me (and my horrific agenda?) - you can practise your faith, and I will tolerate your passion and respect your path.  You are no threat to anyone burt, and you seem to basically agree with democratic principles.  Perhaps you don’t like the fact that I, personally, find your faith obnoxious and I am willing to say it.  It probably hurts you to hear that, but you can tolerate my right to express myself (ignorant as I may be).

Look burt, I am not here to denigrate someone taking a spiritual path to self-realization, I am myself largely dedicated to Taoism and to Zen philosophy (yet obviously not spiritually developed enough to overcome my disparagment of christianity).  Faith is to me unfounded belief, it’s a personal commitment to a deity who offends my sense of humanity. You claim to have faith that the universe is scientifically comprehensible, well that’s something to be admired (I call that a hope), and I don’t denigrate that sort of commitment, but christianity to me is top-heavy with all the worst prescriptions for the human condition and I find myself unable to see what possible good it could achieve at this point in the evolution of the human being.

Bob

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Posted: 13 February 2007 02:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Pardon me, but I must… Reading this thread is like listening to ten-year old boys talk about women. We mystics are really frightening, eh?

“Spirituality” or “mysticism” should not be used as ideologies. Only a religion can do that.
A spiritual path requires no faith in anything or anybody. Dogma has no purpose. There are lots of spiritual cults out there that look to my eye more like a religion/pyramid scheme than a path to self-realization, whatever that is. However unfortunate, we do tend to organize that way. Meditation and any resulting exploratory experience is strictly personal. For many, this is best guided by a discipline of some kind and there are many to choose from. Disciplines are imposed on one’s self. Unlike dogmas, which are imposed on others.

Meditation usually involves a mental state that while useful for inner exploration perhaps, is incapable of scientific analysis or any complex sequential contemplation. Disabling that capacity is usually step one. The idea is to experience much faster mentalities that are much closer to the actual moment of time around us. Thinking scientifically is much more complex mentality that takes longer to assemble into mental experience. After meditating, there is only our recall of the experience and any resulting feelings to be scientific about. Certainly, anyone demanding to take charge because they are the chosen elite special holy ones is not being scientific.

Save the supernatural for the trick or treaters. If there is anything to be properly found in the “spiritual world”, it will obviously be a part of nature. As with science, we each take our personal path of discovery, share the results, and try to build a respectable consensus. I couldn’t call what such a consensus would be built on “empirical evidence” any more than you could. Even a completely subjective consensus could be helpful as a tool for mutual understanding and broader discovery. We probably agree that a spiritual consensus would be inept and useless if enforced as dogma. Again, we tend to organize that way, and that tendency sullies spiritual pursuits the same way it corrupts baseball. Religion needs dogma. That dogma might be used as the discipline or path for personal spiritual experience of individual members and serve as a means of binding them together as a social force. I agree that this is a problem. Religious institutions have given the spiritual pursuits a carnival of Freudian imagery and a reputation for ridiculousness.

I appreciate that Mr. Harris tries to spare spiritual disciplines from his case against supernatural religions. For many people, the two are inseparable. Religions harvest their social power from the personal satisfaction their spiritual discipline provides to its individual members. That’s why they believe it, and not because it makes sense.

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Posted: 13 February 2007 02:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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People reject having their “spiritual” efforts denigrated because they are purely personal choices, and reflect ultimately on character. People jump on my case all the time for being a cold, calculating “scientist”. Why am I not surprised? Or annoyed?

[quote author=“Nhoj Morley”]Thinking scientifically is much more complex mentality that takes longer to assemble into mental experience.

But it’s a discipline on a par with the others, nonetheless, and damned difficult to work within. Mainly because of peer review. If you have a “spiritual experience”, who’s going to evaluate whether you are just bullshitting? Nobody! Although some may make you an object of sport. IF that bugs you, get over yourself!!

Spiritual experiences are immune to the old scientific bugaboo “peer review”. Absolutely stone-cold immune, whatever Sam might say. What Morley points out is important. If you can measure it, it ceases to be mystical.

[quote author=“CanZen”]You then also say that the people of “real faith” (what’s that? - not fake faith?) must be respected because the paths of faith are just as legitimate as the paths of knowledge: they run parallel.  But can’t you see that this is just another attempt to worm your way into the realm of public legitimacy.

One with a really sarcastic turn of mind could easily interpret the “legitimacy” card as nothing but a bid for continuing tax-exempt status.

[quote author=“burt”]knowledge and faith are different paths but both, for the individual, can lead to self-realization.

...and a tidy stipend, to boot!


raspberry :shock:  8)  :o :D

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Posted: 13 February 2007 07:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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CanZen, do you think maybe you took burt’s statement (about not wanting other people’s beliefs imposed) a bit too personally?
Looks to me like there’s some agreement here about a few very practical issues.
First of all, no tax exempt status for religious or spiritual organizations.
No ‘oathes’ of office involving higher powers of any sort.
No money for ‘faith based’ services, no compromising scientific findings which conflict with economic or religious interests. 
Then there is this huge, general issue of dogma and belief.
Can you imagine a government free from dogma, from ideology of any sort? A miracle! And yet we can actually vote for people on that basis.
Tolerance is an interesting issue - it must be the official public stance of a democratic government (because I don’t want to be burned at the stake) - but within official tolerance we all want to insist on intellectual honesty. Private tolerance is a sort of laziness.

Now here’s where we come to a parting of the ways.

Just as science cannot afford to tolerate false ideas, I don’t think religion can either.
The funny thing about religion is that any idea is false.
Whereas with science, any idea must be falsifiable, in religion we know, if we’re honest, that words and concepts cannot touch the spirit.
Belief is composed of words and concepts. I need a word like ‘faith’ to indicate a sort of super-sensory knowing upon which religion and spirituality can be based. This goes beyond a meditative state of mind.

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Posted: 13 February 2007 08:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Sorry - if the religious-minded stayed to themselves and believed what they want - in the privacy of their own homes (much like the Amish) - most rational, logical people wouldn’t have a problem with Christians and other religious folks.

Unfortunately, such individuals are the exact opposite and propogate their beliefs everywhere defending their faith whilst condemning hundreds of millions of others to “eternal damnation”.

With these people, there is no two-way conversation. They are the ones in power and they are the ones steering us towards World War III…

And yet everyone has their caveat of “But that’s not my faith…”, which is absurd. To deny that certain religious dogmas create war and assist in the dehumanization of other individuals if akin to cherry-picking such golden-laced fairytales for a few lines of good moral truths, while the majority of such books are laced with enough dogmatism and “structure” to demonize all others of a different faith.

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Posted: 13 February 2007 11:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“CanZen”]Here I thought I was defending democracy, yet you indicate that I am a tyrant who should be feared.  Why are you so glad that I don’t have the power to enforce my form of belief?  I thought I was merely defending humanist principles, but you make it seems like I have an agenda to accomplish with “my form of belief?”

I guess you see secularism as an ideology (belief-based) that stands against the more authentic and fully actualized practitioners of faith?  So I’ve got the dogma, while you, well you need no external agreement - it’s just you and god against the world.

But this is all fine with me (and my horrific agenda?) - you can practise your faith, and I will tolerate your passion and respect your path.  You are no threat to anyone burt, and you seem to basically agree with democratic principles.  Perhaps you don’t like the fact that I, personally, find your faith obnoxious and I am willing to say it.  It probably hurts you to hear that, but you can tolerate my right to express myself (ignorant as I may be).

Look burt, I am not here to denigrate someone taking a spiritual path to self-realization, I am myself largely dedicated to Taoism and to Zen philosophy (yet obviously not spiritually developed enough to overcome my disparagment of christianity).  Faith is to me unfounded belief, it’s a personal commitment to a deity who offends my sense of humanity. You claim to have faith that the universe is scientifically comprehensible, well that’s something to be admired (I call that a hope), and I don’t denigrate that sort of commitment, but christianity to me is top-heavy with all the worst prescriptions for the human condition and I find myself unable to see what possible good it could achieve at this point in the evolution of the human being.
Bob

Bob, if you are into Taoism and Zen then you are exhibiting (in my sense of the word) faith that these practices are valid for you.  I doubt that you would feel any negativity toward my “faith” (we ought to sit in a bar and discuss over some beer).  I feel connected to the essential core of Christianity (which I see is missing in most Christians today), Islam (ditto) and other religions, but have no formal religion of my own, too independent minded for that. 

I think we’re close on democracy as well, it’s just that I don’t want to abolish religious groups, just keep them from trying to legislate their particular brand of belief.  Of course, they will always try to do that so we have to keep resisting them but as I see it, that is the price of liberty (eternal vigilance and all that).

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Posted: 13 February 2007 11:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“Salt Creek”]People reject having their “spiritual” efforts denigrated because they are purely personal choices, and reflect ultimately on character. People jump on my case all the time for being a cold, calculating “scientist”. Why am I not surprised? Or annoyed?

[quote author=“Nhoj Morley”]Thinking scientifically is much more complex mentality that takes longer to assemble into mental experience.

But it’s a discipline on a par with the others, nonetheless, and damned difficult to work within. Mainly because of peer review. If you have a “spiritual experience”, who’s going to evaluate whether you are just bullshitting? Nobody! Although some may make you an object of sport. IF that bugs you, get over yourself!!

Spiritual experiences are immune to the old scientific bugaboo “peer review”. Absolutely stone-cold immune, whatever Sam might say. What Morley points out is important. If you can measure it, it ceases to be mystical.

[quote author=“CanZen”]You then also say that the people of “real faith” (what’s that? - not fake faith?) must be respected because the paths of faith are just as legitimate as the paths of knowledge: they run parallel.  But can’t you see that this is just another attempt to worm your way into the realm of public legitimacy.

One with a really sarcastic turn of mind could easily interpret the “legitimacy” card as nothing but a bid for continuing tax-exempt status.

[quote author=“burt”]knowledge and faith are different paths but both, for the individual, can lead to self-realization.

...and a tidy stipend, to boot!

raspberry :shock:  8)  :o :D

Actually, spiritual experiences come in many forms, and the experiences themselves are not the goal (as many would be seekers believe).  What is important is the result on the individual.  And in that regard, there can be direct peer review.  A person who has attained a certain level of realization can recognize that level in others, and tell when somebody is trying to fake it.  We even find this depicted in some works of art.  Some of the statues of Buddha, for example, or my favorite piece, the funeral maks of king Tut, depict complete realization (this is not to claim that king Tut was enlightened, but rather he was shown so by the artisan).

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Posted: 13 February 2007 11:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“Pat_Adducci”]CanZen, do you think maybe you took burt’s statement (about not wanting other people’s beliefs imposed) a bit too personally?
Looks to me like there’s some agreement here about a few very practical issues.
First of all, no tax exempt status for religious or spiritual organizations.
No ‘oathes’ of office involving higher powers of any sort.
No money for ‘faith based’ services, no compromising scientific findings which conflict with economic or religious interests. 
Then there is this huge, general issue of dogma and belief.
Can you imagine a government free from dogma, from ideology of any sort? A miracle! And yet we can actually vote for people on that basis.
Tolerance is an interesting issue - it must be the official public stance of a democratic government (because I don’t want to be burned at the stake) - but within official tolerance we all want to insist on intellectual honesty. Private tolerance is a sort of laziness.

Now here’s where we come to a parting of the ways.

Just as science cannot afford to tolerate false ideas, I don’t think religion can either.
The funny thing about religion is that any idea is false.
Whereas with science, any idea must be falsifiable, in religion we know, if we’re honest, that words and concepts cannot touch the spirit.
Belief is composed of words and concepts. I need a word like ‘faith’ to indicate a sort of super-sensory knowing upon which religion and spirituality can be based. This goes beyond a meditative state of mind.

 

I go along with all of this except the idea that no oaths of public office are taken with reference to higher powers.  It is the same with the Masons, any person except an atheist can become a mason, the factor disqualifying atheists being the matter of oaths: there are some pretty serious oaths in masonry and if a person is a believer their oath is grounded in their belief in something beyond themself.  Otherwise, it is only a personal promise.  So if an elected official is a member of a religion, I would want them to take their oath of office on the book of their religion.  It doesn’t always keep the scoundrels out, but does give some extra insurance.

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Posted: 14 February 2007 01:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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you said ‘Let’s say Sam is right about consciousness possibly being something supernatural, because that is what he is implying by saying it exists outside of or precedes matter. Let’s say he is also right by saying that one might be able to access an experience of the supernaturality through meditation. My first response would be, “so what?” ‘

Let me propose a thought experiment I encountered in Patricia Churchland’s “Neurophilosophy”.  Let’s say one has 10 electric generators that vary by +/- 5% in their output.  When wired correctly, the ensemble of generators becomes what is known as a ‘virtual generator’.  The output of this ensemble of generators, when wired correctly varies by +/- .1%.  This is nothing new or anything.  This is how stable power output is achieved in electrical generating facilities in many cases.  The point here is that the behavior of the ensemble of generators differs markedly, and usefully, from that of the individual generators.  The behavior is an emergent property of the network of generators.  It is not instantiated at any one place materially but is rather a result of the state of the connections between the generators.

Does the emergent property of the ensemble exist outside matter or precede matter.  Quite possibly, depending on the way you use the words at hand.  Is there anything supernatural about the behavior of the ensemble?  No. 

Why is the presumption made that there is something supernatural about consciousness if it exists outside matter, if consciousness itself is an emergent property of a connectionist network?

I don’t get why Harris and others feel compelled to ‘go there’ with respect to the supernatural.  Can anyone explain that to me?

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Posted: 14 February 2007 03:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“sewells1951”]you said ‘Let’s say Sam is right about consciousness possibly being something supernatural, because that is what he is implying by saying it exists outside of or precedes matter. Let’s say he is also right by saying that one might be able to access an experience of the supernaturality through meditation. My first response would be, “so what?” ‘

Let me propose a thought experiment I encountered in Patricia Churchland’s “Neurophilosophy”.  Let’s say one has 10 electric generators that vary by +/- 5% in their output.  When wired correctly, the ensemble of generators becomes what is known as a ‘virtual generator’.  The output of this ensemble of generators, when wired correctly varies by +/- .1%.  This is nothing new or anything.  This is how stable power output is achieved in electrical generating facilities in many cases.  The point here is that the behavior of the ensemble of generators differs markedly, and usefully, from that of the individual generators.  The behavior is an emergent property of the network of generators.  It is not instantiated at any one place materially but is rather a result of the state of the connections between the generators.

Does the emergent property of the ensemble exist outside matter or precede matter.  Quite possibly, depending on the way you use the words at hand.  Is there anything supernatural about the behavior of the ensemble?  No. 

Why is the presumption made that there is something supernatural about consciousness if it exists outside matter, if consciousness itself is an emergent property of a connectionist network?

I don’t get why Harris and others feel compelled to ‘go there’ with respect to the supernatural.  Can anyone explain that to me?

There is a problem with the term “supernatural.”  If you take natural as meaning “material” then there is the question of how anything like consciousness could ever arise out of material causes like neural activity.  David Chalmers terms this the “hard problem” in consciousness studies.  In my own view, conscisousness is prior, just as in physics we assume space-time is prior.  Then evolution has led to nervous systems of sufficient complexity that they become self-referential and self-consciousness arises and what generally happens is that the “self processes,” which are only processes of neural interaction, mistakenly identify themselves with consciousness.

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