Politics, God and Religion vs. Science


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Donald Thompson

Trad climber
Los Angeles,CA
Dec 10, 2012 - 02:08am PT
So sciences are often "recruited" for unscientific motives. Otherwise what use are they. Just think about it for awhile, Einstein.

Let me be a little clearer and perhaps you'll get it this time:

Some people are engaged in an on-going polemic on this thread. Their arguments assert that belief in God and transcendental experiences are invalid, and even foolish.
Fine. I have no problem accepting these philosophical positions at face value.

It is when science is employed, as a big brother bully, in these stand-offs, that I have criticized.
My advice is to Make your arguments without the bully that you imagine is at your side. Science is a method to discover the physical nature of the universe. It is not designed to be a bludgeon to beat people you perceive to have philosophical disagreements with.
This is now the third of fourth time I have stated this point on this thread. My aim is not to take all the fun out of it for you, but only to make my point clear.

Coral snakes are poisonous. Any time you see a snake in seawater it is poisonous.
A little trivia.
Whoops . I confused coral snakes with sea snakes. There are both venomous and non-venomous coral snakes.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Dec 10, 2012 - 02:20am PT
Nope. I still don't get it. :(


re: on-going polemics

On-going polemics can be a good thing.

I don't avoid em, I lean into them. Esp when I think their resolution (one way or another) leads to improvement, better performance in something.

Reminder: This thread was originally posed as... a debate thread.
Donald Thompson

Trad climber
Los Angeles,CA
Dec 10, 2012 - 02:27am PT
Okay. That's cool.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Dec 10, 2012 - 03:24am PT
Echis carinatus is a viper from Africa (pictured above) and that's the one I published on. The coral snakes I worked on were Maticora from the Philipines (similar to the one pictured below), better looking and much more interesting. The fun part was figuring out why some islands had three subspecies of Maticora and several others shared only one. It turned out to have to do with the rise and fall of sea levels and which islands were connected when - lots of looking at topo maps. Unfortunately the work on Maticora was never published since it turned into a gigantic project with the type specimens are scattered all over the world. I moved on to Nepal and Sherpas about that time and nobody else took it up.

Maticora intestinalis
Maticora intestinalis
Credit: Angus McNab

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 10, 2012 - 09:57am PT
Jan: Just because someone is interested in more than one part of the mind...

Personally, and by way of rolling up a lot of aspects of current posts in this thread, my opinion is the mind is a fabulous 'place'.

[Please bear with me here...]

As variously pointed out throughout this discussion, the mind generates and maintains perceptual representations of both bodily (internal) and environmental (external) states. It does so to provide an adaptive operating context for living and competing in the world beyond what rout instinct affords. Given that 'reality', I think at the very least we can all agree our ["subjective"] experience of living in the world is a continuous, though in no way seamless, grand fiction of sorts.

In saying our experience is "in no way seamless" I am simply acknowledging our perception is subject to illusion, has gaps such as our blind spot, and requires downtime in the form of sleep to maintain. And beyond mere perceptual 'gaps', what happens when we sleep is quite likely nothing less than a daily reconstruction of the grand fiction that is us. To take a step further, I would suggest 'illusion' and 'fiction', rather than something we are subject to, or compensate for, are in fact requisite enabling capabilities for consciousness.

How so? Well, first off you wouldn't be conscious if you had to be aware of all the available raw sensory data about our bodies and environment - it's just too overwhelming. So to some extent the most fundamental illusion and fiction of all is just providing the quiet 'blank slate' on which to project consciousness that is afforded by the aggressive sensory filtering and aggregation of the lower brain and subconscious mind.

Second, the apparent seamlessness and continuity of our fictional conscious experience only exists due to one 'miraculous' slight-of-hand and illusion after another which serve to 'fill in the gaps' and knit together the malestrom of all we are aware of and 'think' about into what we experience as our conscious self.

Third, and remarkably, we create and place ourselves in a grand, but entirely virtual and fictionalized, 'external' environment or stage, our knowledge of which is based on nothing more than a grab bag assortment of incomplete sensory fragments and glimpses of the world around us.

Add to all that our innate ability to continuously generate, weigh, and select relatively high quality 'maps' or 'scenarios' of plausible futures and the functional utility of 'fiction' has to be acknowledged as essential for our survival in a competitive world. And that gets directly back to my positing consciousness emerged from a collection of behavioral capabilities around what we consider our ability 'to anticipate'. Think about the implications of that for a moment against our ability to construct scenarios of the future based largely on incomplete knowledge.

To cave dwellers, who knew of species which preyed on humans, it meant continually constructing predation scenarios whenever they left the cave. In fact, and more to the point, it meant constructing predation scenarios whenever they anticipated leaving the cave or even contemplated (imagined) life beyond the cave entrance. And the odds are good that in the process of learning what species preyed on humans there were times when some of those species were only known through glimpses in the brush, the fading light, or only by the unexplained absence of a member of the clan.

What then could our cave dwellers possibly have thought about those unknown or incompletely recognized threats given their necessary ability to generate fictionalized accounts of the world around them? How do you run predation scenarios and anticipate the unknown? And there, at the intersection of our fictionalized lives and the unknown, lies the rub: how do we as a species respond to the unknown? And what about how we anticipate and respond to the unknown is different than other species?

My take? My take is that humans have only been able to respond to a changing world, ever more complex predation, and the unknown by evolving our capacity to fictionalize the world around us. By that I mean our ability to generate ever more complex and creative anticipatory scenarios of the future and optimizing our exploitation of the environment to our advantage in the process. That fiction IS our primary competitive advantage as a species.

More to Jan's statement quoted above, given our lives are a best-guess, incomplete 'fiction', I would suggest our minds are facile enough and capable of generating and rendering pretty much any wanted or unwanted illusion or fiction - it's what we 'do' best and have done all along as humans emerged as a species. That, by and large, all parts of the mind are equally fictionalized.

And in that I would say one of the most fundamental and difficult challenges mankind has always faced is simply determining what is 'real'. Just surviving to develop language and philosophy went a long way towards helping us meet that nebulous challenge, but before 'modern' science our efforts in that regard might be considered by some as amounting to little more than a lot of 'mental speculation' by a lot of deep 'mental speculators'.

And so to the heart of this discussion and Jan's point:

Just because someone is interested in more than one part of the mind...

Well, the issue there for me is we have a very, very limited tool set for ferreting [objective] 'reality' and [verifiable] 'facts' out of the limitless ocean of fiction that is our conscious experience. My 'belief' and experience is that while you can avail yourself of experiential and 'spiritual' methods such as meditation and prayer with which to spelunk about in our fictionalized world, it is very difficult to return with anything beyond the philosophical and emotional 'tags' or 'markers' we associate with those experiences (or lack thereof).

As such - and as someone who has devoted no small amount of time, effort, and thought on such interests and explorations in other parts of the mind - over time I have come to value 'modern' science all the more just because of the rarity of having any tools at all with which to surface aspects of our grand fiction and grant them a veil of 'objective reality' however thin or tenuous.

As for the rest? Pure fictional mental speculation from my point of view - I find much of it intriguing with a lot of potential value in the journey. But Gods? Universal consciousness? Souls? Reincarnation? Afterlife? Ghosts? Monsters? UFOs? All a matter of humans doing what humans do best I think. And I don't necessarily mean that in a derogatory sense as fictional speculation is by definition a 'side-effect' of how we are what we are. Sometimes those side-effects have positive consequences for our societies, sometimes adverse ones (something you can say about science as well).

But in the end, for me anyway, my bottom line is that 'facts' are an exceptionally rare commodity in the necessarily fictionalized world[s] we all live within.
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
Dec 10, 2012 - 11:07am PT
My advice is to Make your arguments without the bully that you imagine is at your side.

I'm not sure i follow the rationale. The criticisms of religious claims are often fully relevant to our understanding of the natural world, and for all we know if an un natural world does actually exist it is possible that science can yet explain that as well. There is no problem with trying to understand things with the tools that we have, especially a toolsuch as the scientific method, something that has revolutionized our ability to understand and withstands all attempts to discredit it quite easily so far.

At the very least all the fables such as Noahs arc, a 10000 year old earth, etc etc can easily be slaughtered by scientific process - in fact the only thing left standing to defend these notions is faith. Maybe these things will be proven true some time, maybe not til we're brought before St Pares gate, but I can't believe god would encourage such belief of fairy tales with nothing but the old easy out of faith.

That defies the old saying "God helps those who help themselves" .

Of course all these fables perhaps occured in an "un natural world", one that runs parallel to the natural one. Perhaps there really is a parallel process of understanding, one that can yet be proven to be testable and repeatable. But of course now I'm just pigeon holing myself into Dogma right? I just need a little faith.

Lake Tahoe
Dec 10, 2012 - 11:24am PT
become the the no-nonsense posture of the existential scientist who not only can't be bothered to discover a world beyond the provisional axioms of science...

I think that it is not a matter of bothering to do so. It is a matter of not being able to discover a world beyond the provisional axioms of science. There are plenty of people who are looking for what the believers have but just cannot find it.

You will blame their lack of finding on their lack of belief but that is a bit of a catch-22. You would expect them to somehow find that world before they actually find anything to indicate that it exists.

Some us just require more than an idea in our head to believe in something. We just require some sort of physical evidence. Unfortunately, we also understand that a lack of evidence is not proof of something.

And a no-nonsense posture is what every rational person should have unless you advocate a nonsense posture.


Gym climber
South of Heaven
Dec 10, 2012 - 12:50pm PT
Science and engineering will get you no where in psychology...

"Psychology is an academic and applied discipline that involves the scientific study of mental functions and behaviors."

If you can't convince others to see your point of view, just start changing the definitions. I love religiots.

Dec 10, 2012 - 01:36pm PT
from healyje:

we create and place ourselves in a grand, but entirely virtual and fictionalized, 'external' environment or stage

Entirely virtual and fictionalized? Could you give a few examples other than the blind spot in the visual field? Isn't our mental picture of the world good enough for practical purposes? What more do you want?

But, perhaps to buttress your contention, my selective attention takes me to this part of that post:

"our perception
requires downtime in the form of sleep to maintain"

Which makes me wonder if part of the apparent stability of our ego/self/personality depends upon things going on during sleep, perhaps forgetting or re-casting events which upset us and placing on a trophy shelf of the mind events which made us feel good.

I don't think our brain fictionalizes the physical world, but it definitely edits the story of itself.

Sleep that knits the ravell'd sleeve of care, or

**We hope, we aspire, we resolve, we trust,
When the morning calls us to life and light,
But our hearts grow weary, and, ere the night,
Our lives are trailing the sordid dust.
Joshia Gilbert Holland

and back to a different take on Ed's question of point-of-view:

So is it not possible that the perception of such "travel" is just learning how to switch the perception to "move around" in that internally contained "map"?

We can all do that to some extent. I can imagine I am on some climb or trail, and move along them, but the sensation is not very close to actually being there. Perhaps if my memory was better? The Russian psychologist A. R. Luria wrote about a person whose memory was said to be so detailed that at times he could not distinguish the past from the present. That may be fiction but it does suggest that having a perfect memory might get you killed in the cave-people world. The people who win the World Memory Championships have only ordinary memory but they train it. The main method they use is to visualize a building or street in such detail that they can see many features, all organized in a sequence or plan that they can recall dependably. When given a new memorization task, they then place the new data, item by item, at 'locations' in the rooms of the pre-existing building or along the pre-existing street in their memory. When asked to recall the new data, they 'walk' through that building or along that street and 'see' the new items next to familiar 'sights.' I guess afterwards they have to clean house.

In the course of looking up A.R. Luria, a look at the mystery of the 'self.'

During the Battle of Smolensk in the Second Word War, a soldier named Zazetsky sustained a severe head wound, causing "massive damage to the left occipito-parietal region of his brain." This injury shattered his whole perceptual world. His memory, his visual fields, his bodily perception, even his knowledge of bodily functioning--all break into fragments, causing him to experience the world (and himself) as constantly shifting and unstable.

Zazetsky coped with this fragmentation by writing a journal of his thoughts and memories as they occurred, day after day, for 20 years. He then arranged and ordered these entries, in an attempt to reconstruct his lost "self."


Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Dec 10, 2012 - 01:44pm PT
mechrist, psychology, like all the social sciences is a multifaceted discipline. If you are studying rats in mazes then engineering probably helps. If you are looking at treatments for schitzophrenia, then chemistry is an aid.

If you are doing psychoanalysis however, or other kinds of deep therapy which are the equivalent of meditation, I doubt they help much and for sure, an arrogant attitude when talking to any patient with problems is not going to help.

Assuming that everyone with an interest in the mind is a religious fanatic isn't very useful either.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 10, 2012 - 01:56pm PT
Assuming that everyone with an interest in the mind is a religious fanatic isn't very useful either.

I agree, but the conclusions of what is 'discovered' in the course of pursuing those interests is more often than not quite difficult to pin down as other than speculation. Intellectual rigor is certainly helpful, but by no means assures more than speculation as the birth of psychoanalysis itself demonstrates and I'm saying that with all due respect and recognition of how difficult it is to pursue such interests.

Dec 10, 2012 - 01:58pm PT

Now I can see what they were, transcendental mental experiences, and in the end, they can't be labeled anything more significant than a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Dr. F., that alone may help people who need serenity in their lives. Furthermore, with serenity, the mind slows down and calms itself enough to observe its own practice and functions. (Things happen very quickly in the mind.) Seeing how the "monkey mind" (Largo's term) operates can encourage one to see thoughts and feelings for what they are--basically insubstantial, ungraspable, and chaotically reactionary objects with lives of their own. That can then bring one to the following questions (i) "who's really in charge here?" (ii) "what IS real in this mind I experience?" (iii) "What AM I, really?" Healyje's interesting explanations point to those very questions, I think. Werner's post provides a simple set of conclusions in accordance with Healyje's ideas. That is, meditation is only an instrument to look within, and with it, you might see that one's world is a personal projection.


Occasionally your posts are almost gentle, and I think they work better for you when they are (I think). For what it's worth.


As I read it, your long explanation above tends to assume the same level or structure of consciousness long past in Man as men and women have realized today (a rational, logical, mental set of operations). Many people don't think that ancient man had the idea of causality.

Some people think that ancient man's cognitive capabilities were more associative or unconscious than the ones man has today. Emotions drove behaviors, and they were key in determining man's identities. Man saw him or herself more as appendages (parts) in small tribes and as a part of Nature along with other life and non-life forms. Man did not have enough of a sense of individuality, will, or autonomy to see himself as distinct from all that which revolved around him.

As for emotions driving behaviors, emotions are increasingly seen as evolved instinctual knowledge structures surfacing into consciousness. Instincts and emotions ARE cognitions. Currently, we think that consciousness is an externally oriented, self-reflective understanding. There is no solid reason to doubt the efficacy of non- or inchoate-knowledge structures like emotion or instinct. They got man this far successfully. Indeed, we have no way of evaluating whether instincts, emotions, or more imaginative image-based forms of cognition (e.g., myths) are less efficacious than another other structure of consciousness. We only THINK they are. (Of course, 'thinking' is our current ideal of cognition.)

Of course, someone like me is going to say that if a person can see that evolution of consciousness, as described above, then there is no reason to imagine that the current state of Man's consciousness is the end of the line. Running a trend line could lead one to think that (i) there are other structures of consciousness in our specie's future that we cannot readily imagine, and (ii) some of those foolish and primitive structures of consciousness may also be equally effective and important as our current means of cognition and understanding. 'Dissing' other structures of consciousness (e.g., tribal views, religions?) may be itself equally foolish and without real justifications. (I don't mean yours here, Healyje.)

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 10, 2012 - 02:02pm PT
As if on cue:

NYTimes: Jamming About the Mind at Qualia Fest

By ARIEL KAMINER / December 9, 2012

Backed by his Zombie Blues band, David Chalmers is a vision of primordial rock ’n’ roll: a growling, howling menace with wild hair and a leather jacket. But the lyrics he shouts are inside references to debates about the nature of consciousness, and the audience that gathers for the performance is in on all the jokes.

The opportunity to hear Professor Chalmers, one of the most celebrated philosophers of mind and a visiting professor at New York University, will next arise on Monday night at the third annual Qualia Fest, a lineup of seven bands, most of whose members hail from the realms of philosophy and neuroscience.

Those two fields were once miles apart. In recent years, however, and particularly in New York, an area of overlap has emerged among theorists and practical researchers. Someday that overlap may produce clear answers about the human mind. But it has already produced a whole mess of bands. Qualia Fest, which this year will take place at the Bowery Electric starting at 7 p.m., is their Woodstock.

It is the brainchild, if you will, of Richard Brown, a philosopher at the City University of New York. Back when he was a graduate student, he started playing music with some fellow academics in a colleague’s basement. Those jam sessions became the New York Consciousness Collective, and moved to a monthly gig at the Parkside Lounge on the Lower East Side. Along the way, the musicians coalesced into a few discrete bands.

Among them are the Whims, whom Fletcher Maumus, a guitarist and vocalist in the band who teaches philosophy at Brooklyn College, characterizes as Beach Boys by way of the Ramones; and Quiet Karate Reflex, in which Alex Keifer, a doctoral candidate of the CUNY Graduate Center, uses a modified 8-bit Game Boy as a musical instrument.

Many of the musicians play in more than one of the bands; Professor Brown plays in four. (“There’s not a lot of philosophy drummers,” he said. “I get a lot of work.”) That overlap gives the undertaking a friendly, clubby feel.

Erik Nylen, a predoctoral fellow at the Center for Neural Science at N.Y.U. and the keyboardist for the Space Clamps, says the music provides a way for philosophers and neuroscientists to communicate with one another.

“For example, when Richard and I talk about our research, we can’t really go that deep into particulars of the questions we ask — we each speak bits and pieces of each other’s languages, but neither of us are fluent in both.” On stage, however, “we are communicating on a much deeper level than we would ever be able to otherwise.”

Qualia are subjective sensations, and references to the study of consciousness are laced throughout the performances. The Amygdaloids, led by Prof. Joseph E. LeDoux of the Center for Neural Science, use their songs to try to explain various ideas about the mind. The Space Clamps, who call their music “bubble gum funk,” take a more lighthearted approach, as in their song “History of Science.” (“Who invented gravity? Space Clamps! Who invented electricity? Space Clamps!”)

Professor Chalmers says the action is not confined to the stage. “If you get a few philosophers together, they’re never terribly far from arguing about philosophy. Getting a few drinks into them doesn’t hurt. If the music is loud, you might get a bit of shouting.”

Professor Maumus had similar memories. “It’s a fascinating scene,” he said. “ ‘Good set, you guys are good. What’s your take on Kripke’s dualist argument?’ Not the kind of thing you typically expect to hear being discussed between sets at a rock show.”

Sara Steele, the lead singer of Space Clamps, who studies auditory perception at N.Y.U. and has performed wearing a futuristic gold cat suit, said the best part is when the music gets everyone dancing, “in a carefree bouncy sort of way, with lots of oscillation.”

Toward the end of the long night comes the moment the crowd has waited for, when Professor Chalmers takes the stage. The zombie in his band’s name is a hypothetical being that philosophers like to speculate about — a creature that looks just like a human but lacks consciousness. Playing on that theme, and shouting over a Muddy Waters riff, the professor begins: “I act like you act, I do what you do, but I don’t know what it’s like to be you.” He does only one song, but it can last close to an hour as members of the audience come onstage to perform their own verses, about topics like singularity or synesthesia.

“I always thought of it as something that would happen very much in the moment, just for a few of us,” he said, “so I was a little surprised the first time it showed up on YouTube. In the sober light of day it’s pretty atrocious.”

Many of the other performers are, in fact, accomplished musicians. But despite all their credentials, Qualia Fest is a surprisingly unpretentious event. “You’re bound to see a better act if you go to Webster Hall,” Mr. Nylen, the predoctoral fellow, said. “But I think we have a better time than any of them.”

Gym climber
South of Heaven
Dec 10, 2012 - 02:10pm PT
If you are doing psychoanalysis however, or other kinds of deep therapy which are the equivalent of meditation...

then you are not talking about science. Science by definition requires testable hypotheses. Psychology produces testable hypothesis. Psychoanalysis produces psychobabble.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 10, 2012 - 02:16pm PT
I don't know if I entirely agree with that per se in that I suspect over the years lots of psychology hypotheses have their roots in the 'explorations' of psychoanalysis.

Lake Tahoe
Dec 10, 2012 - 02:20pm PT
I have two dogs. One was chasing the other around a house. They went around once and then the big dog that was doing the chasing turned around and started going the other direction. He was not at all surprised when they met head on. The little dog was.

Anticipation is not a part of consciousness as we know it. At a minimum, it is a part of consciousness as my dog knows it.

The big dog also rings a bell when he needs to go out to pee. We didn't train him to do it, we showed him the bell once when he had to pee and he knew to use it from then on.

The little dog just sits and stares at me when she needs to go out. It's creepy. I wish that she would learn to ring the bell.


Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 10, 2012 - 02:32pm PT
Anticipation is not a part of consciousness as we know it. At a minimum, it is a part of consciousness as my dog knows it.

Well, there you have it. I would disagree and still posit anticipatory behaviors as the avenue by which our consciousness evolved and think your dogs very much 'point' to that conclusion.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Dec 10, 2012 - 02:56pm PT
Anticipation is not a part of consciousness as we know it.

Dave, was that a typo? Did you mean to say anticipation IS a part of our consciousness? just as it sure appears to be in dogs.

I've had a number of dogs over the years, too. No doubt in my mind that they were all conscious in numerous metrics and definitions. No doubt they could anticipate. (I don't think as mere zombies, either, lol!)

In agreement if it were a typo, one I could fully relate to by experience with my dogs.


mechrist, welcome to the discussion!
Donald Thompson

Trad climber
Los Angeles,CA
Dec 10, 2012 - 02:58pm PT
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain, lying in front of the motor and premotor areas.
This brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making and moderating social behavior.[1] The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.[2]
The most typical psychological term for functions carried out by the prefrontal cortex area is executive function. Executive function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social "control" (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially unacceptable outcomes).
Many authors have indicated an integral link between a person's personality and the functions of the prefrontal cortex.[3]


This structure in the brain is the most developed in humans than any other animal, along with the cerebrum in general.
With this baby sitting under the hood how can we avoid anticipatory thinking, and its interrelation to society and personality?


This is unrelated but I have a feature on my iPad that allows one to audibly speak into the microphone and ask a question.
I asked for "Clothing stores" and it gave me a perfectly decent list of stores nearby. I automatically showed my good-natured gratitude by saying " thank you"

This example belongs in the file of psychologists who have begun to study the emotional relations of humans to artificial intelligence.

Social climber
joshua tree
Dec 10, 2012 - 05:46pm PT

"Assuming that everyone with an interest in the mind is a religious fanatic isn't very useful either."

i would say the same about the materialist fanatic also!

i being religious beleive i have a broader awarness of the world. i think
we humans share a unique conscience that rears itself when we are about
to make a decision. And we make decisions, abiding or unabiding to the thoughts, are more importantly the feelings of other people.

The Brain is conceived from our DNA program. Along with the rest of our
bodily parts.The Brains job is to keep everything running in unisun. this
is all hardwired in the hardware. THis is why we dont have to think about
raising our heartrate when we run. But why does our heartrate rise when
we watch a scary movie?

The Big Question, where does our character come from? Our sense of humor,
our commonsense, our generosity?

Do you think the DNA that instructs the color of our eyes. Also predicts
the amount of generosity an individual will posses,or how funny a person is?

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