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Mon, 19 Aug 2019
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Misology: The hatred of reason and argument deprives us of truth and knowledge

Socrates, misology

“What we must beware of,” he said, “is becoming ‘misologists‘, hating arguments in the way ‘misanthropists’ hate their fellow men.
In Plato's Phaedo, the great philosopher Socrates has been sentenced to death for "corrupting" the youth of Athens. As he awaits his execution, he begins to discuss the afterlife with his students: Socrates believes the soul is immortal, while his students are sceptical. Arguments fly backwards and forwards, and it soon seems like they will never reach an agreement, when Socrates offers a warning.
"What we must beware of," he said, "is becoming 'misologists', hating arguments in the way 'misanthropists' hate their fellow men.
He goes on to argue that a hatred of people, and a hatred of reason, arise much the same way.
Misanthropy creeps in as a result of placing too much trust in someone without having the knowledge required: we suppose the person to be completely genuine, sound and trustworth, only to find a bit later that he's bad an untrustworthy, and then it happens again with someone else; when we've experienced the same thing many times over, and especially when it's with those we'd have supposed our nearest and dearest, we get fed up with making so many mistakes and so end up hating everyone and supposing no one to be sound in any respect.

Comment: Jordan Peterson gives excellent advice on the correct way to argue - and learn something!


The vagus nerve is the key to well-being

vagus nerve
© Wellcome Library
Have you ever read something a million times only to one day, for no apparent reason, think "Wait, what is that?" This happened to me the other day for "the vagus nerve."

I kept coming across it in relation to deep breathing and mental calmness: "Breathing deeply," Katie Brindle writes in her new book Yang Sheng: The Art of Chinese Self-Healing, "immediately relaxes the body because it stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the neck to the abdomen and is in charge of turning off the 'fight or flight' reflex." Also: "Stimulating the vagus nerve," per a recent Harvard Health blog post, "activates your relaxation response, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure." And: Deep breathing "turns on the vagus nerve enough that it acts as a brake on the stress response," as an integrative medicine researcher told the Cut last year.

I liked this idea that we have something like a secret piano key, under our skin, to press internally to calm us down. Or like a musical string to pluck. At this point I was envisioning the vagus nerve as a single inner cord, stretching from the head to the stomach. In reality, the vagus nerve is a squiggly, shaggy, branching nerve connecting most of the major organs between the brain and colon, like a system of roots or cables. It is the longest nerve in the body, and technically it comes as a pair of two vagus nerves, one for the right side of the body and one for the left. It's called "vagus" because it wanders, like a vagrant, among the organs. The vagus nerve has been described as "largely responsible for the mind-body connection," for its role as a mediator between thinking and feeling, and I'm tempted to think of it as something like a physical manifestation of the soul. Also: "When people say 'trust your gut,'" as one Psychology Today writer put it several years ago, "they really mean 'trust your vagus nerve.'"

Comment: It's amazing the number of gadgets and apps exist out there for measuring and/or reducing stress when humans are designed with a simple in-built switch that works better than any of the technologies combined. Call it a 'life-hack' if you like, but the ancient practice of controlled breathing is really the antidote to our modern day stressors.

See also:


Jordan Peterson: 'Jesus was the only true Christian - Catholicism is as sane as people can get'

Jordan Peterson
© jordan.b.peterson/instagram
Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and university professor, first came to international prominence after his refusal to use special pronouns for transgender people in his native Canada and went on to become arguably one of the world's most influential public intellectuals.

University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, a public speaker and internet sensation, has praised Catholicism as the "sanest" religious concept out there.

"I think that Catholicism - that's as sane as people can get," Peterson told conservative writer Dennis Prager at the PragerU summit in California last week.

Comment: His discussion with Dennis Prager is well worth watching in full:


New neurons form in the brain into the tenth decade of life

New Neurons
© Orly Lazarov
New neurons continue to be formed in the hippocampus into the tenth decade of life, even in people with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
In a new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers examining post-mortem brain tissue from people ages 79 to 99 found that new neurons continue to form well into old age. The study provides evidence that this occurs even in people with cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease, although neurogenesis is significantly reduced in these people compared to older adults with normal cognitive functioning.

They publish their results in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

The idea that new neurons continue to form into middle age, let alone past adolescence, is controversial, as previous studies have shown conflicting results. The UIC study is the first to find evidence of significant numbers of neural stem cells and newly developing neurons present in the hippocampal tissue of older adults, including those with disorders that affect the hippocampus, which is involved in the formation of memories and in learning.

"We found that there was active neurogenesis in the hippocampus of older adults well into their 90s," said Orly Lazarov, professor of anatomy and cell biology in the UIC College of Medicine and lead author of the paper. "The interesting thing is that we also saw some new neurons in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease and cognitive impairment." She also found that people who scored better on measures of cognitive function had more newly developing neurons in the hippocampus compared to those who scored lower on these tests, regardless of levels of brain pathology.

Lazarov thinks that lower levels of neurogenesis in the hippocampus are associated with symptoms of cognitive decline and reduced synaptic plasticity rather than with the degree of pathology in the brain. For patients with Alzheimer's disease, pathological hallmarks include deposits of neurotoxic proteins in the brain.

2 + 2 = 4

Atheist philosopher thinks it's reasonable to argue against reason

Reason Rally
© iStockphoto
Have you noticed the remarkable cluelessness in atheist arguments about science and metaphysics? It's really on display in a recent essay by atheist philosopher Justin E. H. Smith. In a nutshell, Smith, a professor of philosophy at Concordia University and author of Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason, argues that reason is inferior to the non-rational behavior of animals. Permit me to offer some responses to his essay, "If reason exists without deliberation, it cannot be uniquely human," which advanced that view recently at Aeon:
Philosophers and cognitive scientists today generally comprehend the domain of reason as a certain power of making inferences, confined to the thoughts and actions of human beings alone. Like echolocation in bats or photosynthesis in plants, reason is an evolved power, but unlike these, the prevailing theory goes, it emerged exactly once in the history of evolution (porpoises and shrews also echolocate, cyanobacteria photosynthesise).

Comment: That's right - reason is an 'evolved power'. Whatever that means. Atheists and Darwinists just take for granted that everything is "evolved" - no explanation necessary, just the unquestioned faith in the power of Darwinism to work miracles - no matter how unreasonable they may be.

It's not clear why Smith defines reason as "a certain power of making inferences." The accepted definition of reason is simple and straightforward: it is the power to think abstractly, without concrete particulars. Abstract thought entails comprehension of concepts that are disconnected from particular objects. When I think about the ham sandwich I am eating for lunch, I am thinking concretely. When I think about the nutritional consequences of my choice of sandwich, I am thinking abstractly.

Only man thinks abstractly; that is the ability to reason. No animal, no matter how clever, can think abstractly or reason. Animals can be very clever but their cleverness is always about concrete things - about the bone they are playing with, or about the stranger they are barking at. They don't think about "play" or "threat" as abstract concepts.

Reason is a power characteristic of man, to be sure, but it is not "an evolved power." It didn't "evolve." The ability to reason didn't evolve because it's not a material power of the mind. Reason is an immaterial power of the mind - it is abstracted from particular things, and cannot logically be produced by a material thing.


Dim future? IQ rates are mysteriously declining throughout much of the developed world

dumbing down, IQ declines, intelligence
People are getting dumber. That's not a judgment; it's a global fact. In a host of leading nations, IQ scores have started to decline.

Though there are legitimate questions about the relationship between IQ and intelligence, and broad recognition that success depends as much on other virtues like grit, IQ tests in use throughout the world today really do seem to capture something meaningful and durable. Decades of research have shown that individual IQ scores predict things such as educational achievement and longevity. More broadly, the average IQ score of a country is linked to economic growth and scientific innovation.

So if IQ scores are really dropping, that could not only mean 15 more seasons of the Kardashians, but also the potential end of progress on all these other fronts, ultimately leading to fewer scientific breakthroughs, stagnant economies and a general dimming of our collective future.

As yet, the United States hasn't hit this IQ wall - despite what you may be tempted to surmise from the current state of the political debate. But don't rush to celebrate American exceptionalism: If IQs are dropping in other advanced countries but not here, maybe that means we're not really an advanced country (too much poverty, too little social support).

Comment: Some likely culprits the author and other mainstream sources aren't likely to mention include pollution, vaccines, GMO's, diets lacking adequate healthy animal fat and meat/protein, stress, trauma, lack of meaningful interaction between children and adults, the erosion of community and mind-numbing media. See also:

Magic Wand

Actor John Cleese talks to reincarnation researcher Dr Jim Tucker about children's past life memories

John Cleese
© Richard Saker/The Observer
Regular readers of the Grail will know that legendary comedian and Monty Python alumni John Cleese has a deep interest in research into the survival of consciousness beyond death. And if you're interested in that topic, the place to go is the Division of Perceptual Studies (DoPS) at the University of Virginia, which has hosted researchers of the caliber of Dr Bruce Greyson (NDEs) and the late Dr Ian Stevenson (reincarnation memories).

So it's no surprise to see a video posted recently online, embedded below, by the DoPS in which another researcher there, Dr Jim Tucker, is interviewed by John Cleese himself.

In the nine-minute-long video, Tucker gives a short history of the reincarnation research performed by the DoPS since the 1960s, beginning with Ian Stevenson, through which they have now collected 2500 cases of past-life recollection.

He then goes into detail about how they collect case information and evidence, along with a description of one of their 'best' evidentiary cases.

Comment: See also:


Free will is real - you make choices, even if your atoms don't

apple donut
It's not just in politics where otherwise smart people consistently talk past one another. People debating whether humans have free will also have this tendency. Neuroscientist and free-will skeptic Sam Harris has dueled philosopher and free-will defender Daniel Dennett for years and once invited him onto his podcast with the express purpose of finally having a meeting of minds. Whoosh! They flew right past each other yet again.

Christian List, a philosopher at the London School of Economics who specializes in how humans make decisions, has a new book, Why Free Will Is Real, that tries to bridge the gap. List is one of a youngish generation of thinkers, such as cosmologist Sean Carroll and philosopher Jenann Ismael, who dissolve the old dichotomies on free will and think that a nuanced reading of physics poses no contradiction for it.

List accepts the skeptics' definition of free will as a genuine openness to our decisions, and he agrees this seems to be at odds with the clockwork universe of fundamental physics and neurobiology. But he argues that fundamental physics and neurobiology are only part of the story of human behavior. You may be a big bunch of atoms governed by the mechanical laws, but you are not just any bunch of atoms. You are an intricately structured bunch of atoms, and your behavior depends not just on the laws that govern the individual atoms but on the way those atoms are assembled. At a higher level of description, your decisions can be truly open. When you walk into a store and choose between Android and Apple, the outcome is not preordained. It really is on you.

Comment: Also worth reading on the subject: David Ray Griffin's Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem.

Pocket Knife

Common defense mechanisms and what their use says about our personal development

common defense mechanisms
In some areas of psychology (especially in psychodynamic theory), psychologists talk about "defense mechanisms," or manners in which we behave or think in certain ways to better protect or "defend" ourselves. Defense mechanisms are one way of looking at how people distance themselves from a full awareness of unpleasant thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Psychologists have categorized defense mechanisms based upon how primitive they are. The more primitive a defense mechanism, the less effective it works for a person over the long-term. However, more primitive defense mechanisms are usually very effective short-term, and hence are favored by many people and children especially (when such primitive defense mechanisms are first learned). Adults who don't learn better ways of coping with stress or traumatic events in their lives will often resort to such primitive defense mechanisms as well.

Most defense mechanisms are fairly unconscious - that means most of us don't realize we're using them in the moment. Some types of psychotherapy can help a person become aware of what defense mechanisms they are using, how effective they are, and how to use less primitive and more effective mechanisms in the future.

Wedding Rings

Religious couples tend to have happier marriages

Wedding rings
New study examines egalitarianism, religion in 21st-century relationships

Both religion and egalitarianism have something to offer those seeking a happy marriage in a world of shifting mores-though religion leads to more children-a new report on international perspectives on marital happiness shows.

The report, a joint project of the Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institution, uses data from two surveys of respondents in eleven countries: Argentina, Australia, Chile, Canada, Colombia, France, Ireland, Mexico, Peru, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The authors set out to examine the now standard bromide that progressive, secular social values lead to happier marriages.

As study authors W. Bradford Wilcox, Jason S. Carroll, and Laurie DeRose wrote in the New York Times, the recipe for a happy marriage is either being religious or being egalitarian - those stuck in the middle are consistently the worst off.

To reach this result, the study's authors looked at roughly 5,000 couples surveyed in the Global Family and Gender Survey (GFGS). Based on frequency of religious attendance, these couples were classified as either secular, religious, or mixed. What the survey data show is that high religious couples report higher rates of marital and sexual satisfaction than their mixed or secular peers.