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Jewish Currents Review of Letter to a Christian Nation and other atheist books
Posted: 09 April 2008 02:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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eucaryote - 09 April 2008 05:21 PM

Well, hard to know what you mean by “truly understand”. We can’t experience each other’s individual experience, but the range of human experience is available to all individuals.

An example might be someone with no physical disabilities not fully understanding the experience of someone with a physical disability. Or people without children trying to imagine the responsibility involved in being a parent. Or trying to explain what it’s like to raise a child with cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis.

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Posted: 09 April 2008 03:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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Ok, you and Bruce make the same point.

It would stand to reason that our individual experiences, extreme or mundane, are as varied and unique as there individuals to have them.

However, our intellectual and emotional responses to those experiences will come from a finite, (but not necessarily fixed) set of human responses that we all share. When we have generated words to describe feelings, we have done so because the feelings are shared and recognizable.

For example, I just fu’ed and quoted myself when I went to edit to add the last two words…How do I feel? I’m sure you know!

[ Edited: 09 April 2008 03:47 PM by eucaryote]
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Posted: 09 April 2008 03:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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Screwed up

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Posted: 09 April 2008 04:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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eucaryote - 09 April 2008 07:44 PM

Ok, you and Bruce make the same point.

It would stand to reason that our individual experiences, extreme or mundane, are as varied and unique as there individuals to have them.

However, our intellectual and emotional responses to those experiences will come from a finite, (but not necessarily fixed) set of human responses that we all share. When we have generated words to describe feelings, we have done so because the feelings are shared and recognizable.

For example, I just fu’ed and quoted myself when I went to edit to add the last two words…How do I feel? I’m sure you know!

This is actually a fascinating topic, and I would enjoy pursuing it.  But to avoid totally hijacking this thread, why don’t you start a new one.

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Posted: 09 April 2008 04:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 09 April 2008 08:03 PM
eucaryote - 09 April 2008 07:44 PM

Ok, you and Bruce make the same point.

It would stand to reason that our individual experiences, extreme or mundane, are as varied and unique as there individuals to have them.

However, our intellectual and emotional responses to those experiences will come from a finite, (but not necessarily fixed) set of human responses that we all share. When we have generated words to describe feelings, we have done so because the feelings are shared and recognizable.

For example, I just fu’ed and quoted myself when I went to edit to add the last two words…How do I feel? I’m sure you know!

This is actually a fascinating topic, and I would enjoy pursuing it.  But to avoid totally hijacking this thread, why don’t you start a new one.

Sure, what’s the topic, again? wink

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Posted: 09 April 2008 04:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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eucaryote - 09 April 2008 08:31 PM
Bruce Burleson - 09 April 2008 08:03 PM
eucaryote - 09 April 2008 07:44 PM

Ok, you and Bruce make the same point.

It would stand to reason that our individual experiences, extreme or mundane, are as varied and unique as there individuals to have them.

However, our intellectual and emotional responses to those experiences will come from a finite, (but not necessarily fixed) set of human responses that we all share. When we have generated words to describe feelings, we have done so because the feelings are shared and recognizable.

For example, I just fu’ed and quoted myself when I went to edit to add the last two words…How do I feel? I’m sure you know!

This is actually a fascinating topic, and I would enjoy pursuing it.  But to avoid totally hijacking this thread, why don’t you start a new one.

Sure, what’s the topic, again? wink

“Subjective Experiences” under perhaps the “Science” category.

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Posted: 09 April 2008 05:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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eucaryote - 09 April 2008 07:44 PM

However, our intellectual and emotional responses to those experiences will come from a finite, (but not necessarily fixed) set of human responses that we all share. When we have generated words to describe feelings, we have done so because the feelings are shared and recognizable.

I agree. My point is somewhat different from Bruce’s. Theistic religion has claimed to have an exclusive franchise on the intangible aspects of the human experience. It mistakenly framed discussions about love, beauty, happiness, and so forth solely in theistic terms. Its other claim to an exclusive franchise was on the natural world, and scientific discoveries have shown that claim to be false. So it’s reasonable to expect the other franchise claim to collapse as well.

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Posted: 09 April 2008 06:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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Carstonio - 09 April 2008 09:35 PM
eucaryote - 09 April 2008 07:44 PM

However, our intellectual and emotional responses to those experiences will come from a finite, (but not necessarily fixed) set of human responses that we all share. When we have generated words to describe feelings, we have done so because the feelings are shared and recognizable.

I agree. My point is somewhat different from Bruce’s. Theistic religion has claimed to have an exclusive franchise on the intangible aspects of the human experience. It mistakenly framed discussions about love, beauty, happiness, and so forth solely in theistic terms. Its other claim to an exclusive franchise was on the natural world, and scientific discoveries have shown that claim to be false. So it’s reasonable to expect the other franchise claim to collapse as well.

I guess we’ll stay on this thread. I went back and looked at my post #30 - there was nothing theistic about it. My simple point is that subjective experience is so unique to the person that there is no way it can ever be exhaustively understood - you would have to know every experience that everyone in the world had, and you would have to experience them yourself - you would literally have to become another person. Every person is a universe of experiences.

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Posted: 09 April 2008 06:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 09 April 2008 10:00 PM

I went back and looked at my post #30 - there was nothing theistic about it. My simple point is that subjective experience is so unique to the person that there is no way it can ever be exhaustively understood - you would have to know every experience that everyone in the world had, and you would have to experience them yourself - you would literally have to become another person. Every person is a universe of experiences.

I would generally agree. My reference to theism wasn’t directed specifically at your post. Even though life experiences are somewhat unique, there are enough commonalities where it’s useful to have a framework for contemplating and discussing them. While this framework should be naturalistic, I suspect it would be somewhat distinct from science, which is not the same thing as anti-science. I suppose it’s the distinction between calculating the distances to the nearest stars and being in awe of the size of the universe. Or the distinction between knowing that tomatoes are in the nightshade family and appreciating a good homemade spaghetti sauce.

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Posted: 09 April 2008 07:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 09 April 2008 10:00 PM

Every person is a universe of experiences.

No, every person is a lifetime of unique individual experience. However, that experience results in the same finite set of emotional responses in everyone. That set of emotional responses is physiological. A large set of possible experiences may generate the same “feeling”. That feeling has a measurable material make up. To the extent we share the same physiology, we share the same emotions.

Emotional feeling shouldn’t be confused with sensory feeling. Emotional feeling is easily manipulated. Often strong emotional responses are attached to beliefs and serve to reinforce that belief. Very Pavlovian. Just as dogs salivate in anticipation of a treat, people tear up at the sight of certain nationalistic or religious icons.

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Posted: 10 April 2008 08:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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When I refer to “the human experience,” I mean more than just emotions. I also mean human impermanence and human powerlessness over the universe. Supernaturalism generally, and theism specifically, involves denial of these inevitabilities. With those isms collapsing under scientific scrutiny, the question of human experience would properly involve acceptance of the inevitabilities, and ways to achieve that acceptance. Christianity’s Serenity Prayer distorts this process, implying that strength, courage, and wisdom can only be granted and not achieved or developed. It suggests a lack of responsibility for how one deals with one’s life experiences. Instead, imagine the concept of the Serenity Prayer translated to naturalism, where people work to develop those three qualities. This process would almost certainly involve learning from one’s own experiences and the experiences of others.

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Posted: 10 April 2008 10:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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Carstonio - 10 April 2008 12:14 PM

When I refer to “the human experience,” I mean more than just emotions. I also mean human impermanence and human powerlessness over the universe. Supernaturalism generally, and theism specifically, involves denial of these inevitabilities. With those isms collapsing under scientific scrutiny, the question of human experience would properly involve acceptance of the inevitabilities, and ways to achieve that acceptance. Christianity’s Serenity Prayer distorts this process, implying that strength, courage, and wisdom can only be granted and not achieved or developed. It suggests a lack of responsibility for how one deals with one’s life experiences. Instead, imagine the concept of the Serenity Prayer translated to naturalism, where people work to develop those three qualities. This process would almost certainly involve learning from one’s own experiences and the experiences of others.

Well, that’s pretty heavy stuff.
I use the word experience to mean just that, the ongoing life story. One of the problems with the human branch of the tree of life is that knowledge of death distracts the creatures from living the life. I once thought that if there was a point to life, it was to allow the universe a chance to experience itself.
As Vonnegut once put it, “God said to the mud, mud sit up! And the mud sat up. And God said, Now, aren’t you glad to be some of the only mud that ever got a chance to sit up and look around? And the mud said, “Gee, thanks God!”

Ultimately, all this angst you refer to in humans is a result of neuro-chemistry. Part of the problem with religion as a means of dealing with this kind of neurosis is that it manipulates the neuro-chemistry, and the emotional experience in ultimately maladaptive ways. One is actually taught to simultaneously love AND fear god. How weird is that?

I go back to suggesting psilocybin. There must be an evolved reason for these plants to produce these secondary metabolites. Read Island by Aldous Huxley.

Here’s a passage from the book on eating customs on the island of Pala.

“There!” said Vijaya when the last brimming bowl had been sent on its way. He wiped his hands, walked over to the table and took his seat. “Better tell our guest about grace,” he said to Shanta.

Turning to Will, “In Pala,” she explained, “we don’t say grace before meals. We say it with meals. Or rather we don’t say grace; we chew it.”

“Chew it?”

“Grace is the first mouthful of each course—-chewed and chewed until there’s nothing left of it. And all the time you’re chewing you pay attention to the flavor of the food, to its consistency and temperature, to the pressures on your teeth and the feel of the muscles in your jaw.”

“And meanwhile, I suppose, you give thanks to the Enlightened One, or Shiva, or whoever it may be?”

Shanta shook her head emphatically. “That would distract your attention, and attention is the whole point. Attention to the experience of something given, something you haven’t invented. Not the memory of a form of words addressed to somebody in your imagination.”

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Posted: 10 April 2008 01:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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eucaryote - 10 April 2008 02:50 PM

One of the problems with the human branch of the tree of life is that knowledge of death distracts the creatures from living the life.

Excellent point.

eucaryote - 10 April 2008 02:50 PM

I once thought that if there was a point to life, it was to allow the universe a chance to experience itself.

In literal form, that poses the same problems as theism. But it might have some value as a teaching metaphor.

eucaryote - 10 April 2008 02:50 PM

Ultimately, all this angst you refer to in humans is a result of neuro-chemistry. Part of the problem with religion as a means of dealing with this kind of neurosis is that it manipulates the neuro-chemistry, and the emotional experience in ultimately maladaptive ways. One is actually taught to simultaneously love AND fear god. How weird is that?

Absolutely. Replace “god” with “parent” or “spouse” and you would have the definition of emotional abuse. Surely that’s not a coincidence.

eucaryote - 10 April 2008 02:50 PM

I go back to suggesting psilocybin. There must be an evolved reason for these plants to produce these secondary metabolites. Read Island by Aldous Huxley.

You’re talking to someone who has never tried any illegal drug, not even marijuana, and who has only been drunk twice and hated it both times. I’ve heard of psilocybin, and I know it comes from mushrooms, but I don’t know how it would relate to handling angst.

You are probably right about angst being a neurochemical phenomenon. And you may be right that the most effective method for addressing the angst may be a neurochemical one.

Here’s where I leave the realm of scientific discourse and enter the realm of feeling. I have strong reservations about the idea of medicating one’s angst. I don’t see a practical difference between that and getting hooked on alcohol or cocaine. And I say this as someone who spent a brief time on an SSRI drug (and experienced no effect other than weight gain). The whole idea feels like another form of denial like religion. Plus, it would feel like an attempt to control my thoughts or my personality.

eucaryote - 10 April 2008 02:50 PM

Shanta shook her head emphatically. “That would distract your attention, and attention is the whole point. Attention to the experience of something given, something you haven’t invented. Not the memory of a form of words addressed to somebody in your imagination.”

Excellent. It matches what I’ve been saying about theistic belief, where one focuses on pleasing gods to the exclusion of everything else.

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Posted: 10 April 2008 02:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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Well I’m partially joking but trying to get my point across that it all comes down to brain chemistry. Do read this article in Scientific American http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=neuroscientists-probe-psy

Realize that drugs like psilocybin are not addictive and are not drugs of abuse. Compared with the common drugs of abuse, including nicotine and caffeine, it is relatively non-toxic.  From the article I linked…does this sound like the contented state of mind, mind less existential angst, that you are seeking? I do suggest that you read Island. On the Island, mushrooms were used as a sacrament. I think that these are the experiences that Sam Harris seeks through meditation. The drugs act not so much to direct attention but to arrest distraction. Many of us have worn such deep grooves into our awareness by constant distraction. In a depressed person, this becomes what is called rumination, a much stronger form of the same basic mental illness. Loss of self worth, feelings of deep existential self dread, loss of self esteem etc. are all indicators of depression. Failure to identify with the natural world, the territory, but instead retreating into a fantasy world where one digs grooves into one’s awareness and papers over the gaps and discrepencies in one’s cognitions is a form of insanity.

Immediately following the roughly eight-hour sessions, the participants were asked to fill out a series of questionnaires designed to probe the nature and quality of the experience. Twenty-two out of the 36 volunteers described a so-called mystical experience, or one that included feelings of unity with all things, transcendence of time and space as well as deep and abiding joy.

In follow-up interviews conducted two months later 67 percent of the volunteers rated the psilocybin experience as among the most meaningful of their lives, comparing it to the birth of a first child or the death of a parent, and 79 percent reported that it had moderately or greatly increased their overall sense of well-being or life satisfaction. Independent interviews of family members, friends and co-workers confirmed small but significant positive changes in the subject’s behavior and more follow-ups are currently being conducted to determine if the effects persist a year later.

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Posted: 13 April 2008 12:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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I have nothing cogent to add, just wanted to chime in and say this thread has been an enjoyable and insightful read. cool smile

Well, maybe one thing: having experienced one bad, before it turned good,  and two positive from the get-go experiences with ‘shrooms two decades (ouch) or so back, nothing mystical ever happened to moi, but I sure enjoyed the hysterical fits of laughter it induced. It’s a good workout for the abs.

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