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Moon Phase

April 2018
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Bruce [userpic]
Starting A New Rock

Yet another personal copy of a post in 365jesus.

This is the latest in a series of posts whose last two installments were this post by myself and this post by greeneggsandtam.

I'm actually going to start over, here, because the discussion has rather filled up with irrelevancies. I also need to address some issues brought up by my friend astroaztec, though for some reason he always refers to them obliquely...

And I also despair of my abilities. This is a huge subject, with which far better minds - and authors - have wrestled for generations.

First - and again - the question of Phenomenology, which I grew up calling Existentialism. As he reminded me, there is an absolutely wonderful scene in Dark Star where an intelligent bomb is (temporarily) defused by teaching it the basic tenets.

Which are:

  1. Everything we experience, we experience through senses. In fact "experience" and "sense" are inextricably linked. I've run into authors that try to get around this with phrases like "he was able to sense with his being," which is just a fancy way of saying he had another way of sensing things.

  2. There is no way to tell if those senses are telling us the truth. We've discussed maya, and there is of course the more recent Matrix movies that can be used to understand the concept.
The upshot being that, in the end, not only do we not know what is going on, we never will. This limitation is true for all beings, great, small, or even ultimate creators. There's a wonderful Stanislaw Lem story I've been trying to dig up for a while: Through an extremely unlikely (though in an infinite universe, eventually inevitable) accident, a combination of events in a galactic junk heap creates a functioning, self-aware cybernetic brain, unfortunately without any senses at all. This brain ends up imagining its own, complex, ordered, wonderful universe that lasts until its casing rusts through and it shorts out.

Now, just to make things even bleaker - and to deal with at least one of astroaztec's comments - there's another stage to this:
  1. Our emotions, memories, and even what we are presently thinking (when observed) are also senses.
Which leaves us with a very Zen observation: All we actually know is our own sensation of the moment.

And if I were a Zen monk, I might just be content with that. But I'm not. I want to know more - or at least "know" as much as I can. Which brings us to empirical logic, where one builds a model, then tries to see if it works. Because we can at least tell what doesn't work.

For a slight digression here - and again, a response to astroaztec (my, this is becoming more a game of Chinese checkers than tennis...), I am fairly introspective. While I don't contain multitudes, I'm rather... well populated. With quite an assortment of gods, demons, ghosts, and monsters. I have enough with which to build a full pantheon.

I also, by the way, could quite easily have a number of them exorcised, if I believed in the exorcism. It would likely partially cripple me (my mind, that is), but it would work - because we multiples are very suggestible.

But I'm not going to start a religion based on my internal structure. Because I'm not going to make the mistake of confusing what's in my head with what's going on outside. I'm not even going to make the mistake of thinking that my internal landscape extends into other people's heads. We all have similar brains, so I can imagine others may have similar landscapes - but there's no reason to think they're the same as mine.

I probably have more "spiritual experiences" than most people. I speak in tongues on a regular basis (every now and then I try to discern a grammar, just to see how consistent things are). I occasionally hear very clear voices that aren't there. I have a sometimes quite embarrassing lack of control over my accent. Sometimes I can't even speak. My handwriting varies all over the damn map. I've been known to feel a bit overbalanced when a strong wind catches my wings.

And I feel external presences, as well. During a great part of my childhood, one of my chores was setting the table for dinner - and I frequently set an extra place for, well, someone. I frequently thought of them as my brother - who died before I was born.

What of this is real? Well, all of it - for me. From a lifetime of observation, its reality stops at the edge of my mind. Now again - from above - I could be wrong. I might have my finger on the ultimate nature of reality. But I rather doubt it.

Moving back outside my head, where things are both simpler and more complicated, if we make a few assumptions, such as that there is a unique shared reality, and that at least a few of our senses have something to do with it, we have a wonderful tool for sanding away that which is untrue, and getting closer to that which is true: The scientific method. spondee once posted the following chart, whose accuracy (and size) is hopefully not too irritating:

Using this simple tool, we've been able to perform wonders. Including finding such interesting human behaviors as Conversion Disorder, where, among other things, perfectly healthy human beings may lose a sense such as eyesight or hearing, until, well, something major snaps them out of it.

I'm not really personally interested in hearing about miracle cures until you can report something that's, well, miraculous. Body part regeneration would do - I'd be happy with something as small as a finger, or even a finger joint. And I think I've covered what I think about exorcism pretty well.

Now, the major political weakness to the scientific method is its very strength, which is to admit to the possibility of being wrong, and to correct its model when that happens. Many people just want to "know," and most religions comply with a system that, while it does change (usually because of pesky scientific evidence - damn that Galileo!), does so very slowly.

An excellent example is evolution. The theory of evolution has reigned supreme in scientific circles since shortly after the time of Darwin. There is no competing theory that has even come close to challenging it, and no evidence contradicting it has come to light. There are, however, always questions of the fine details of the process (such as the old "punctuated equilibrium" vs "gradual change" views). These are frequently grabbed at as evidence that "biologists are divided on evolution," which while technically true does not mean that any of them are arguing against it.

There's an absolutely wonderful NOVA episode on the Dover school board decision - and why a conservative judge ruled that ID should not be taught in a science classroom. It does a better job of covering the subject than I ever could.

Moving on, I'm not even going to talk about the bible or Jesus here. I keep getting bogged down there, because, you see, they're irrelevant to me, which is why I've never studied the Bible. When you have a basic problem with deism, the details of a particular deistic religion are not all that important.

There is, for example, the primary cause question. One of the things that is difficult for human beings to accept is that of time beginning - we always want to know what happened before that. Many people prefer to think that a supreme creator popped into being, and then created the universe. Which is very much like saying that a supercomputer popped into being, and created the electron. If a complex creator is necessary to explain the universe as it is, then perforce an even more complex creator is necessary to create the first one - and so on, going back. This is patently absurd.

The big bang theory is still the prevalent one, by the way, though there are quite a number of variants. The main challenger I know of postulates an infinite series of bangs and collapses.

Then of course there's that whole nasty perfection problem, which shows up when you assume the existence of absolutes. I made a mediocre post on the problem of evil, but the best known formulation is from Epicurus:
  • Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

  • Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

  • Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

  • Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
The only argument I've seen on this is that rather weak "free will" one.

You know, the whole "we're being tested by God" thing. Which is all very nice, except it directly implies that God is powerless to create a being that doesn't need testing. You know - we have all seven deadly sins, baked right in as biological imperatives. In varying amounts from person to person.

And depending on brain injuries, we may, for example, become hypersexual. It seems very odd that we are held to these strict rules, when a blow to the head can make us hump everything that moves.

By the way, I tried to bypass the controversy on the whole gay thing with my original post, but only talking about the attraction aspect. There's ample evidence to support a major biological source for homosexuality. You could, for example, read this 1997 review article, or the fact that gay sheep have a biological orientation. I read a nice recent Scientific American review article a couple of years back, but I can't seem to find it right now.

From what I've seen and read, the only reason the "treatment" programs work is a change in terminology. I say a man is gay if he's sexually attracted to other men. The programs say he's gay only if he actually has sex with them. And the programs change the latter. Which might be connected to the high recidivism and suicide rates.

Which, by the way, brings out one observation that only occurred to me a few years ago. If someone talks about the "insidious attraction of the gay lifestyle," they're almost certainly gay themselves. Because, quite honestly, straight men find no attraction in having sex with men.

I think I've covered the main issues here (I hope so - it's been over four hours, and I need some sleep), except for this, from the inestimable I Drew This:

The point is simple enough: Just because it's an old idea, and just because many others believe it too, doesn't make it any less crazy.

Aaaaannnddd back to you!

Current Location: The Duplex
Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

you rock. that is all. new cup, new cup, move down, move down.

Y'know, we should probably launch a top hat with that teapot...

I think Josh might be interested in this......

One point under the Dark Star allusion is that I don't particularly want to see the conclusion of that line of thought happen to anyone.

Well, jumping from "I don't know what's actually happening" to "I am God, let there be light" requires a fairly volatile personality...

It's just that "let there be light" was the employment of power naturally available, and that although some of us have manipulated technologies akin to that artifice for ending the movie, all of us have that power.

Oblique, eh? There's a precedent for that, too.

Nice read.



I soo enjoyed reading that. I am contemplating an appropriately lengthy response / comment, as that got my noggin in full gear this dreary morning. Whee. Thank you Bruce!

Yay! By the way, greeneggsandtam has already written a response, though I'm still too groggy to give it a proper read.

I think my response if targeted along a different vein, though needs more time than I can devote to it in my current locale. Perhaps as I ride home on Bart today I will type up something nice and wordy. Whee.