Friday, July 30, 2010

Science as "pantheism"?

Is the scientific worldview pantheistic or, possibly, panentheistic? By "the scientific worldview", I mean the prevailing highly educated, western, scientific story of reality seen in most top-selling cosmology or biology books currently popularising science information.

Pantheism: the belief that identifies God with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of God.

Panentheism: the belief that God is greater than the universe and includes and interpenetrates it.

To kick off the question, here are some videos:

[Video: Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking at Beyond Belief '06]

[Video: Auto-tuned science song, "We Are All Connected", by John Boswell.]

[Video: Auto-tuned science song, "The Poetry of Reality (An Anthem for Science)", by John Boswell.]

To the pantheist, the universe and god are one. To the panentheist, god interpenetrates and abides through out all of the universe. Christianity, understood from one particular school of thought, could arguably be a form of panentheism (Colossians 1:17, "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together").

As you can see in the first video's speech from deGrasse Tyson, the truths of science can inspire a great awe and a passionate sense of wonder as profound as those in any religious prophet. In my experience, it is very common to hear cosmologists and other types of scientists, whether they are religious or not, speak in reverential terms about their love for knowledge and about the numinous experiences that they have while studying reality.

I think that it is entirely possible to have an "atheist spirituality" because, if the atheists are correct, the feelings that atheist scientists have while studying their field literally are no different to those claimed by the religious camp. And, if the atheists are wrong about the nature of a transcendent reality, then I still feel that the experiences that go through the minds of such scientifically enamoured folks are found within a particular orientation towards whatever divinity or transcendency we can touch from within our limited view on reality.
   After all, as Francis Bacon believed, "God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation."

However, even given what I just said I do not feel that the scientific experience, however numinous, is in any way making any claims about religious matters (transcendent ones anyway, historical claims are another story). Because science only studies that which is immanent (i.e. our material universe), this is why I don't feel that the scientific worldview is ultimately a religious one.

So no, the scientific worldview isn't pantheism or panentheism, but I would forgive somebody for getting the two confused at a simple glance.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Love God Or Die?

I originally posted this as a comment on a friend's blog but feel it is worth its own post here.

He recommended watching the Mimi Rogers & David Duchovny movie The Rapture (1991). It was bizarre, somewhat disturbing, but highly worth my time. Here are my thoughts.

[Video: a YouTube mashup of scenes from The Rapture.]

Wow. Okay. Well I just (literally just) finished watching The Rapture.
I found the repeated urging to love God to be REALLY sinister. It creeped me out! The whole time there was this urging to love God as though the sword of Damacles was hanging over their heads. God was never seen, only vaguely hinted at. Suffering was clearly present (as was the theme of the movie), but any kind of “humanity” (so to speak) to God was not. It held a very high christology. Too high, IMO, and the notion of “a god who risks” and an incarnate, suffering deity (as found in Christ) was entirely missing.
Scary spokesmen for God, cultish and secretive adherents abounded, murderously insane delusions seemed the order of the day (even on the part of the protagonist), and the main theological message seemed to be “Love God Or Die”. Such a message seems to undermine the very notion of love itself.
If I had a gun, and I was a powerful head of state, and I said to a citizen, “You *must* love me for giving you the precious gift of living within my society (OR I WILL KILL YOU)”, I don’t see how an affirmative response from them would be any kind of true example of love at all. I certainly would never believe that they loved me even if they said that they did. You can’t coerce true love, especially not through violence. Love must be earned, it cannot be forced.
The final scene highlighted this problem especially well. As her child said, “Do you love God for giving you the gift of life?” with the threat of eternal damnation literally looming behind her words. What would they expect the answer to be? The best I could muster in that scenario would be a lie: “Yes. (please don’t hurt me)”
The rules of relationship apply to God just as much as any person. Give me a reason to respect you and I shall respect you. Give me a reason to love you and I shall love you. Try to force me to do either and you will instead force me to do neither.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Religion and Wish-fulfillment

Wish-fulfillment, or "wishful thinking", is a danger to reasonable religion.
Wikipedia says,
“Wishful thinking is the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality or reality.
Studies have consistently shown that holding all else equal, subjects will predict positive outcomes to be more likely than negative outcomes.”
This relates to the common, human optimism bias, and the logical fallacies of false relevance known as the appeal to emotion and the appeal to consequences.
The problem could be summed up as being: “filling gaps in your knowledge with emotionally satisfying answers rather than necessarily true ones”.
As one person said on a podcast that I heard recently, “Science, if it does anything well, is very good at throwing cold water on human self-importance.”
Here are some questions to consider:
Q: Do you feel that not knowing something is a problem?
Q: Would you feel uncomfortable with a worldview that doesn’t provide “all the answers”? Or, rephrased, do you think that if a worldview can’t provide “all the answers” that this is a black mark against it?
For example, some Big Questions(TM) might be:
“Why is there something rather than nothing?”
“What happens after we die?”
“What is ‘The Meaning Of Life’?” (notice the capitals)
If we just don’t know how the universe was formed (or anything "prior" to the Big Bang)... would that be a problem?
If we just don’t know if an afterlife exists or not... would that be a problem?
If we just don’t know how to determine any one absolute Meaning to life... is that a problem?
If the facts available to humanity simply does not allow absolute confidence in any of these questions, if indeed any answers at all, is uncertainty really so terrible?
To provide more examples, there are some other ways in which one might appeal to the argument from emotion or use wishful thinking in religion:
In wanting - and thus believing - in some kind of Ultimate Justice to get payback against evil that prospers in this life.
In wanting - and thus believing - in some kind of Ultimate Comfort because life can be very difficult.
In wanting - and thus believing - in some kind of Ultimate Love because sometimes we feel unloved.
This is not to say that any of these things are untrue, but what it means is that they are not going to be true purely based on your desire for them to be the case. The world does not conform itself to our desires, after all. Wishful thinking says absolutely nothing about the truth or falsity of the issue at hand, it only reveals something about the person doing it. It is irrational to believe something based on nothing (or you could believe anything and everything, arbitrarily) and I think that you owe it to yourself to make your foundations more secure than that.
One perspective is that, by relying on wish fulfillment, you tear down your own self-esteem and place it in the hands of an otherwise unexamined belief set. That’s a risky gambit and it doesn’t guarantee that you will end up holding beliefs that mirror reality.
Ask yourself: If you hold a particular belief, what have you done and how have you investigated it to ensure that your belief is actually true?
For those who are interested in the philosophy of Wishful Thinking and want to be able to spot it, it goes like this:

P1) X is nice/comforting/satisfying.
P2) Belief A doesn’t provide X.
P3) Belief B does provide X.
C) Therefore, on no other basis than P1-3, one ought to believe B.
After careful, honest reflection, do you think that any of your beliefs might be at least partly grounded in wishful thinking?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

We get high, the fish die.

Anti-depression medication can kill marine life.

When humans take medication like prozac they don't absorb it all and a certain amount of it will make its way to the ocean where it has a potentially disastrous effect on marine life. Our sewage systems currently don't filter out such medication from the water, meaning that it can find its way into - among other things - the brains of shrimps. The medication then has an effect on them similar to a natural parasite that influences their brain chemistry and causes the shrimps to swim into lighter and more predatory waters.

Swim to the light, Willy! Swim to the light! Wait... no, don't!

From The Naked Scientists:
Anti-depressants that end up in sewage effluent could have a major impact on marine wildlife, causing shrimp to swim towards instead of away from light. That may not sound important, but it is, because hanging around in well-lit waters make these animals far more likely to be eaten by fish or birds, potentially disrupting entire food webs.
Publishing in the journal Aquatic Toxicology, Yasmin Guler and Alex Ford from the UK’s University of Plymouth, got the idea for this study from a type of parasite that infects shrimps, making them more likely to swim towards light where they are eaten by other animals, that are the next step in the life-cycle of the parasite. The parasites change their host’s swimming behaviour by manipulating levels of serotonin in their brain.
The researchers wondered if the anti-depressant drugs people take to target serotonin levels and control their mood might have a similar affect on other animals.

I work part-time in a psychiatric supportive residential accommodation service. I support a responsible application of the medical model of psychiatric treatment. However, I would like to see this human advantage gained without any expense to the beautiful flora and fauna of our lands and oceans.

Note to sewage treatment services: get with the programme.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Golden Rule(s)

Christianity’s golden rule isn’t alone. It turns out that most other religions also have rules similar to (and many times predating) Jesus’ own version. They vary between passive or active; positive or prohibitive. But the point is pretty much the same. That’s enough from me.

Religions: have your say!

African Traditional Religions
"One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts."
Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)

"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."
Udana-Varga 5,1

"Comparing oneself to others in such terms as "Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I," he should neither kill nor cause others to kill."

Sutta Nipata 705

"One should seek for others the happiness one desires for himself"

Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama, c. 563 - c. 483 B.C.)

"The Ariyan disciple thus reflects, Here am I, fond of my life, not wanting to die, fond of pleasure and averse from pain. Suppose someone should rob me of my life... it would not be a thing pleasing and delightful to me. If I, in my turn, should rob of his life one fond of his life, not wanting to die, one fond of pleasure and averse from pain, it would not be a thing pleasing or delightful to him. For a state that is not pleasant or delightful to me must also be to him also; and a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another? As a result of such reflection he himself abstains from taking the life of creatures and he encourages others so to abstain, and speaks in praise of so abstaining."

Samyutta Nikaya v.353

"Never do to other persons what would pain thyself."

Panchatantra (Buddhist Mythology c. 200 B.C.) 

"All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets."
Matthew 7:1

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Leviticus 19.18

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets"

Matthew 22.36-40 

"Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state."
Analects 12:2

"Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence."
Mencius VII.A.4

"Tsekung asked, "Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?" Confucius replied, "It is the word shu--reciprocity: Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.""

Analects 15.23 

"This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you."
Mahabharata 5,1517

"One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality. All other activities are due to selfish desire."
Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 113.8 

"No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself."
40 Hadith of an-Nawawi 13

"In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self."

"A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated."
Sutrakritanga 1.11.33

"One should treat all beings as he himself would be treated."

Agamas Sutrakritanga 1.10.13 

"What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary."
Talmud, Shabbat 3id

"As thou deemest thyself, so deem others."

"Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss."
Tai Shang Kan Yin P'ien

"That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself."
Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5

"Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others."

Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29

"Do not do unto others what angers you if done to you by others."
Socrates 436-338 BCE

"We should behave toward friends as we would wish friends to behave toward us."
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

"He sought for others the good he desired for himself. Let him pass."
Egyptian Book of the Dead (1580-1350 B.C.)

"Do not kill or injure your neighbor, for it is not him that you injure, you injure yourself. But do good to him, therefore add to his days of happiness as you add to your own. Do not wrong or hate your neighbor, for it is not him that you wrong, you wrong yourself. But love him, for Moneto loves him also as he loves you."

Shawnees Indians

This list was from here; I personally would also add the Wiccan Rede, "Do what you will, so long as it harms none".

Check out the Golden Rule here on Wikipedia too.

Sounds like a good start to Game Theory to me! ;)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cellular gaming

CellCraft, where YOU are a cell.

The flash community is a wonderful, expansive, and organic beast.

Today's dose of flash brings us CellCraft, where you build and discover about the life and workings of a cell as you help it go about its business.

[Edit: I have disabled embedding on this game due to its irritating sound, so play it here.]

There have been some incredible offerings in the past, such as a flash showing the scale of the universe from the very largest (outer edges) down to the very small (quantum foam).

In this case, CellCraft seems to be another excellent educational tool for those studying biology as well as to provide to children so that they can absorb the wonders of science in a palatable way. CellCraft explains things as you go as well as provides an inbuilt encyclopedia so you can go back and read about how the cell works.

Good job, CellCraft, you give me another source of hope that facts can be as fun as pseudoscience or occult TV programmes.

Other links you might want to check out:
Newgrounds - flash mega site for games, movies, and more.
Armor Games - an excellent "best of" site (a spin-off from Newgrounds?)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Satan redux

What is Satanism?

Following on from a conversation that I had with my church community the other day ("Can Christians eat Hell Pizza") - as well as a very bizarre blog post I recently found through the Twitterverse - I have been re-examining the philosophy of (LeVayan) Satanism to see what I think about it. That is not to say, "whether I like it", since I largely don't. It is merely as an intellectual curiosity.

Despite its obviously negative traditional theistic roots and the ordinarily bad press that baby eating, goat killing image that some American media sources like to push on Satanism (interestingly, LaVey actually decries and commands against all such things in his Satanic Bible), modern CoS Satanism is an iconoclastic, extreme-libertarian, atheistic, materialist philosophy that views - and revels in - Satan as a symbol of humanity's carnal nature.

CoS Satanism is not without its share of spells and other magical mumbo-jumbo, but their rituals revolve around carnal pleasures rather than anything else traditionally expected. I won't go into any details here but, needless to say, the magic rituals would have more general appeal to a pubescent male than a professional butcher.

I found a couple of interesting journal articles exploring the subject. This quote is from Lewis, J.R. (2001) "Who Serves Satan? A Demographic and Ideological Profile." Marlburg Journal of Religion, 6(2):

The problem with [the stereotypical/uninformed] kind of analysis is that Western society is long past the state in its cultural history where Satan and Satanism can unambiguously be equated with evil. The difficulties inherent in Russell's assertion [that Satan is, by definition, evil] become evident as soon as one entertains its corollary, namely that Christ and Christianity are by definition good. However positively we might regard Christianity, few of us would be willing to characterize the influence of the Christian tradition as an unalloyed good. Although we might wish we could make such simple, straightforward associations, the fact of the matter is that the cultural images of Satanism and Christianity we have inherited are complex and often ambiguous. We do not have to look any further than everyday speech to perceive how thoroughly Satan's sinister associations have been diluted: We live in a world where, without a second thought, we consume Deviled ham and Devil's food, "play Devil's advocate," describe certain locations as "hellholes," go out and have a "Devil of a good time," wake up "feeling like hell," and so forth. 
            In short, Satan has come to represent much more than the ultimate bad guy. Though Satan and his minions sometimes still play their timeworn roles as representatives of pure evil, our culture has also invested the Devil with many positive, attractive traits. A prime example of this is sex: Because of the Christian Church's traditional negative attitude toward sexuality, the diabolical has come to be associated with sex and sensuality. Satan has also been portrayed as a proud, clever, creative non-conformist willing to question the status quo. In the modern world, all of these characteristics are regarded as positive traits (at least theoretically). It is difficult to understand modern religious Satanism without taking into account of this reevaluation of the Prince of Darkness. 

I'm still analysing and processing the topic, so don't expect anything too profound at this time. But I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the issue of Satanism, Satan (the literal Being), Satan (the symbol), or anything else.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Ideal Game?

When geek comics and philosophy collide, the product is a beautiful thing.

Probably without realising it, Tim Buckley at CTRL+ALT+DEL has provided the ideal learning tool for teaching and/or learning about the (Fregean) "classic" Proposition Theory of Meaning. Students, tutors, and teachers take note!

According to Associate Prof. Diane Proudfoot, Frege thought that propositions were neither things of the outer, experiential world nor were they ideas. The thoughts that we have are merely the proposition clothing itself in the material garment of the sentence.

Accordingly, one might have an idea... but you only apprehend a thought. As if our minds were pioneers traveling across the Idea Space of Possible Truths, no idea is created but all are, essentially, "discovered". They are neither spiritual nor unreal, but are abstract entities in some third realm. WooOOoo.

Here is Tim Buckley's version of it: (part 1 of 3)

part one | part two | part three ]

Now, I don't know about you, but all of these metaphysical notions of propositions creep me out about as much as the idea of Platonic Forms, but isn't it such good fun?

The Humanity of Love

I was just listening to a podcast called, Artificial Life, by the guys from Apologia.

I guess in keeping with a previous post on Lesbian Robots, it got me thinking about Robot behaviour and human norms.

In the not too distant future, artificial life (A-Life) will become advanced enough to simulate many aspects of human behaviour. Probably at a time somewhat further than that, their intelligence on a general level will rival our own. Certainly, A-Life will be used to perform many of the menial tasks of daily living. But I think relationships will be deeper than that. People, though certainly not all, will love their A-Life companions... but will they be loved in return?

The first battle will be what does it mean to be intelligent, to be rational, to be "conscious". You will find that philosophers of mind cannot actually define consciousness for humans (even if we have a vaguely understood and incomplete definition within neuroscience), so the great irony will come when some humans attempt to draw the circle of definition to exclude A-Life.

I think the next battles will be more interesting and perhaps more revealing of our own natures.

Will people take A-Lifeforms to church? Will they consider A-Lifers spiritual? Does what we mean by 'spirituality' require reduction to be applicable to A-Life, or can the fully nuanced concept apply to A-Life as much as it does to humans?

Will the very best, rational, and emotionally healthy A-Lifers be considered to be ensouled? What does this mean? (In fact, what does this mean for humans?) Is rationality a sufficient prerequisite for ensoulment? Do you need to have emotions? (and what are they?) Is ensoulment materialistically prejudicial, demanding that only meat-machines make the final cut?

Many people make predictions and guesses about A-Life, how we should relate to it, and how it will relate to humanity. However, I think that many of these predictions are based on an androcentric understanding of what intelligence entails ("Surely they must want this...") rather than an impartial evaluation of the fruits of cognition.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

This is your rainbow... on drugs?

This has got to be the best video of a rainbow ever ... and its now a song!

I want what he is having.

View the unedited footage used to make the song here.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The upcoming season on PP

Hi folks,

I have a few ideas for a couple of blog series here on PP, initially inspired by recent discussion with Jonathan and Tim (no, Tim, I haven't forgotten that I said I'd blog about it!).

The two series will basically split into two themes: worldviews (for lack of a better word), and sciences.

In "Understanding...", the worldview series, I plan to discuss the following:

  • Humanism (thanks, Tim)
  • Skepticism
  • Agnosticism (inspired by Jonathan)
  • Atheism or freethinkers
  • Antitheism

And, possibly, secularism (although I am uncertain). Would you want me to?

The series on the sciences and arts, "Learn about...", will hopefully feature a collection of guest writers. I am not, after all, a raving polymath. I plan to examine:

  • Philosophy
  • Ethics
  • Biology
  • Political Science
  • Theology
  • History or HAPS
  • Evolutionary science
  • Medicine

I plan for this sciences series to have a pragmatic flavour, with the eye to explain the discipline and hopefully inspire people through seeing its relevance to the world around us.

In the meantime, and at least after I have blogged about Humanism, I might cover "Why Not Nihilism?"

Do you have any other ideas for either of the series that you would like to see covered? Or, even better, do you feel that you have a specialisation that you might be able to contribute to the second series?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Motivation: Purpose beats Profit

This is an animated illustration of a talk by Dan Pink on 'The surprising truth about what motivates us".

This resonates with me, personally, but also fits the behavioral and psychological science that I am so fond of and familiar with.

If you are interested in similar issues on choice, cheating, rationality, and preference, then you may want to see some material by Dan Ariely (a behavioural economist) at TED Talks:

On our buggy moral code

Are we in control of our decisions?