Critical thinking on new age beliefs required please
Posted: 16 January 2012 03:06 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Hello,
        I am researching a book i would like to write about spirituality and idealism in general. I would very much appreaciate it if sam harris message board users could offer me their thoughts and constructive criticisms on the new age beliefs that thoughts create reality, morality is a relative phenomenon and collective consciousness can create a kinder more humane world. Rational criticism only please,no blanket “it’s stupid,they’re stupid” or simple insults will be helpful to me.

        Thank you for you time and energy,
                                                  Chris.

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Posted: 17 January 2012 08:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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My critical thinking on the subject of new age beliefs, and beliefs in general, boils down to the question “what evidence do you have for this belief?”


I do not have any evidence for the belief that thoughts create reality (collective consciousness being a corollary of that)


If one can manifest a pair of nikes by thinking about them (or something similar) this would be evidence that thought creates reality.  If, however, you mean something less substantial, such as that thoughts create a state of mind (meditation) or more trivial, such as that thoughts influence your body (exercise) then I would agree that we have evidence for this.  But (as much as I would hope for it) I don’t think that joining hands in a circle and praying will actually influence the world not to continue having statistical outliers in the human population that turn out to be d bags.


As for your second “new age belief,” I’m not clear as to what you mean specifically by relative morality.  Dan Barker explained it best to me by saying (in a superficially contradictory way) that morality is absolute, relative to us.  This illutrates that a) there are unambigious yes/no answers to questions of morality (it becomes a function of all the static factors that influence that particular moral question at that particular instant in time) and b) they are relative to whatever the subjects of the questions are (it is not immoral to give water to us human beings, but it could be immoral to give water to an organism to which water is a poison for whatever biological reasons)


I value this kind of unpacking of otherwise loaded concepts.

[ Edited: 17 January 2012 08:56 AM by QuakePhil]
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Posted: 18 January 2012 02:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Hello Quakephil,
                    Thank you for your reply, it’s most appreciated.

If one can manifest a pair of nikes by thinking about them (or something similar) this would be evidence that thought creates reality.  If, however, you mean something less substantial, such as that thoughts create a state of mind (meditation) or more trivial, such as that thoughts influence your body (exercise) then I would agree that we have evidence for this.  But (as much as I would hope for it) I don’t think that joining hands in a circle and praying will actually influence the world not to continue having statistical outliers in the human population that turn out to be d bags.

Sorry that’s my fault. I have not been clear about what i mean specifically. Obviously anyone believing in the nike senario would be suffering from some form of psychosis. I want to look at the weak version of the idea. The notion that beliefs create human behaviours and that becoming aware of “the meaning of our meanings”  through meditative practices or psychotherapy enables people to change their beliefs/behaviours in ways that embody compassion and generally pro social behaviours. I hope that’s clearer.

As for your second “new age belief,” I’m not clear as to what you mean specifically by relative morality.  Dan Barker explained it best to me by saying (in a superficially contradictory way) that morality is absolute, relative to us.  This illutrates that a) there are unambigious yes/no answers to questions of morality (it becomes a function of all the static factors that influence that particular moral question at that particular instant in time) and b) they are relative to whatever the subjects of the questions are (it is not immoral to give water to us human beings, but it could be immoral to give water to an organism to which water is a poison for whatever biological reasons)

I value this kind of unpacking of otherwise loaded concepts.

  Yes i do too.  Again, i apologise, i have not been at all clear in my meanings. I’ve noticed a tendancy for critics of new age beliefs to “bash” new agers through accusing them of being amoral or ignoring “the reality of evil.” It is in this context that i wanted to discuss moral relativity.

                                  Chris.

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Posted: 18 January 2012 06:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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non theist Quaker - 18 January 2012 02:29 AM

I want to look at the weak version of the idea. The notion that beliefs create human behaviours and that becoming aware of “the meaning of our meanings”  through meditative practices or psychotherapy enables people to change their beliefs/behaviours in ways that embody compassion and generally pro social behaviours.


“I want to look at the weak version of the idea. The notion that people’s beliefs inform their actions.”  <—Fixed that for you.  It is trivially true for individuals.  (If joe believes the golden rule, it is perfectly logical and rational for him to be compassionate and pro-social)  But doesn’t apply to collectives because there will always be outliers that spoil the fun (If joe believes X number of virgins await a martyr, it is perfectly logical and rational for him to be malevolent and anti-social.)


I’ve noticed a tendency in proponents of new age beliefs to overuse fancy words in large quantities without fully understanding their meanings.  I suggest that the simpler and shorter you can make your explanations, the clearer they will be.  I think it is true that the shortest and most concise definition of a term (as opposed to one that keeps running on) is the one packed with most knowledge.


And I still don’t understand what you mean by moral relativity

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Posted: 18 January 2012 08:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Hello again,

“I want to look at the weak version of the idea. The notion that people’s beliefs inform their actions.”  <—Fixed that for you.  It is trivially true for individuals.  (If joe believes the golden rule, it is perfectly logical and rational for him to be compassionate and pro-social)  But doesn’t apply to collectives because there will always be outliers that spoil the fun (If joe believes X number of virgins await a martyr, it is perfectly logical and rational for him to be malevolent and anti-social.)

  Assuming that I’m understanding you correctly, you are making a strong distinction between belief creating behavior and belief informing behavior. I infer from this that you are pointing out that other influences such as biology, social setting, culture, beliefs interacting with other beliefs etc also inform behavior and that’s a fair point.

  I don’t think I can agree with you on the proverbial bad apple theory though. Why do people behave in anti social ways? In my view, it is what Joe believes about God, what is good and what is bad that informs his behavior. What Joe the Islamic terrorist believes is that highest good, is what he sees as serving Allah. Joe sees the world in black and white absolutes. Islamic values are the highest good and non Islamic values are “The great Satan”. Joe’s actions, from his perspective on the world, are pro social and benevolent (“It’s a shame about the people killed but ho hum, holy wars inevitably involve “collateral damage. And anyway it’s only non human things called infidels”) That’s what I mean by moral relativity.
                            Chris.

 

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Posted: 18 January 2012 08:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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What is the essential difference between “belief creating behavior” and “belief informing behavior”?  So far I’ve actually considered them identical:


If you really believe something, then your actions reflect/are informed by/created by that belief.  If I believe giving you water is helpful to your organism, and if I believe I’m compassionate, then I will act to give you water as informed by my beliefs - and this act is created by my beliefs.  If I believe giving you water is hurtful, then in the same way I will act to keep you away from water.


As for moral relativism, then we agree.  You seem to agree with my two joe examples which illustrate relativism.  You have not mentioned (but I’m assuming you agree with) the observation that this “relative morality” has absolute foundations: the flourishing of humanity and by extension human society; these are absolute in the same way that water is absolutely beneficial to us humans, and yet absolutely harmful to some other organism to which it is a poison.

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Posted: 18 January 2012 10:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Hi,

What is the essential difference between “belief creating behavior” and “belief informing behavior”?  So far I’ve actually considered them identical:

If you really believe something, then your actions reflect/are informed by/created by that belief.  If I believe giving you water is helpful to your organism, and if I believe I’m compassionate, then I will act to give you water as informed by my beliefs - and this act is created by my beliefs.  If I believe giving you water is hurtful, then in the same way I will act to keep you away from water.

  I assumed in your previous post that you were correcting my saying that beliefs cause behavior, because it was an oversimplifcation that excludes other environmental and biological influences. I took your use of the word “inform” as a more precise, less exclusive term than “cause”.


I would like to offer my further thoughts on morality. In my view, morality has to be grounded in all of reality and that includes both the objective physical world and the individual’s subjective experience. In other words, I believe that a person’s moral development requires meditative practices in order to develop awareness of one’s feelings and the moral implications of these feelings. I believe that a morality that entirely based on abstract principles like utilitarianism is unworkable because it is not grounded in the person’s moral emotions.

As for moral relativism, then we agree.  You seem to agree with my two joe examples which illustrate relativism.  You have not mentioned (but I’m assuming you agree with) the observation that this “relative morality” has absolute foundations: the flourishing of humanity and by extension human society; these are absolute in the same way that water is absolutely     beneficial to us humans, and yet absolutely harmful to some other organism to which it is a poison.

Yes i think we can safely agree on moral relativism having absolute foundations. I am finding this dialogue very helpful and thought provoking. Thanks,
                                  Chris.

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Posted: 04 October 2012 03:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Hi Chris,

I am an ex-member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  Life is short and if someone had directed me, years ago, to a website such as http://thechurchof.me, I would have realised from this humourous website that religious ideologies are bananas and not wasted over 10 years of my life.

Write your book wholly based on rationality, science and modern evidence-based education Chris.

All the best,

‘freedemocrat’

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Posted: 05 October 2012 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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freedemocrat - 04 October 2012 03:59 AM

Hi Chris,

I am an ex-member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  Life is short and if someone had directed me, years ago, to a website such as http://thechurchof.me, I would have realised from this humourous website that religious ideologies are bananas and not wasted over 10 years of my life.

Write your book wholly based on rationality, science and modern evidence-based education Chris.

All the best,

‘freedemocrat’


I couldn’t agree more with this.  I spent 3 of my college years indoctrinated in a “new age” cult and am still recovering from what I now consider to be psychological damage.  At best, these kinds of beliefs are a waste of time.  At worst, they can basically ruin your life.

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Posted: 15 November 2012 05:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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non theist Quaker - 16 January 2012 03:06 AM

Hello,
        I am researching a book i would like to write about spirituality and idealism in general. I would very much appreaciate it if sam harris message board users could offer me their thoughts and constructive criticisms on the new age beliefs that thoughts create reality, morality is a relative phenomenon and collective consciousness can create a kinder more humane world. Rational criticism only please,no blanket “it’s stupid,they’re stupid” or simple insults will be helpful to me.

        Thank you for you time and energy,
                                                  Chris.

Good choice of topic Chris. I have just joined this forum and presently working on a time limit at the public library, here in Melbourne Australia, so may have to end abruptly.
I have had many decades experience with Theosophy which is seen by many as a major initiator of New Age Thinking, some of which was mildly favourable.
In 2007/8 I had a book published Who is This God, which was reviewed by Theosophy Down Under.
I roughly class muself as agnostic or secular and spiritual ponderer, and find many people very tribalistic, in terms of their beloved views.
Will get back to some of your issues when I have more time.    Cheers Paul.

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Posted: 26 November 2012 08:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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I’m struggling to find an answer for exactly what you mean. I
                                                                      V
Hello,
      I am researching a book i would like to write about spirituality and idealism in general. I would very much appreaciate it if sam harris message board users could offer me their thoughts and constructive criticisms on the new age beliefs that thoughts create reality, morality is a relative phenomenon and collective consciousness can create a kinder more humane world. Rational criticism only please,no blanket “it’s stupid,they’re stupid” or simple insults will be helpful to me.
      Thank you for you time and energy,
                                  Chris.
                                                                            ^
Some of this needs to be refined or I could pick it apart all day. I
I’d like to know exactly what your trying to figure out. I dont get your above message and I will not just give an answer but I would like to help.

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Posted: 11 January 2013 05:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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I’m no expert but would like to inject a thought that I hope is useful.

I suggest that the simpler and shorter you can make your explanations, the clearer they will be.  I think it is true that the shortest and most concise definition of a term (as opposed to one that keeps running on) is the one packed with most knowledge.

-QuakePhil

In an effort to be brief…


Isn’t the core issue with any belief (whether traditionally religious, new age, etc.) the lack of critical thought or use of reliably demonstrable/predictable causation for observed outcomes?


When applied to New Age precepts, conversations can always devolve to, “I don’t know and neither do you.” But what critical thought and scientific analysis provide are reliable predictors of outcomes based on systematic observation as opposed to intuition. This seems render all other commentary moot.

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