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Sun, 25 Aug 2019
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit

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.


Study shows students learn better when they take handwritten notes

The educational system is being swept along in the race for technological advancement and supremacy in nearly every country. I'm not anti-technology, but I'm aware of the disadvantages of the Computer Age.

Students don't engage in interesting practical work in some schools around the world anymore. Some instructors will merely project a virtual lab or a live video on a big screen. Some don't even have to dissect animals anymore. What happened to the hands-on work? The "big screen" teaches them exactly how to do that.

I'm glad some schools are still holding on to the frog-dissection culture.

Laptops and tablets are increasingly replacing exercise books, pens, and paper. In some ways, it has become a standard to measure the modernity of a school. Laptops are becoming smaller, flatter, faster, and hence, more ubiquitous than ever. Tablets aren't backing down in the race either. Colleges where students still take hand-written notes and use paper textbooks are thought of as archaic and non-progressive; however, this would not be entirely accurate to say. At many schools, it's a requirement for students to show up with a reliable laptop for their coursework. Some colleges provide these for all their students.

Comment: See also: Writing helps develop fine motor skills: Ohio lawmakers approve new lessons to encourage penmanship


Are people using YouTubers in place of having real relationships?

you tube addiction
New research clarifies drivers of YouTube overuse.
Look in my eyes, what do you see?
The cult of personality
I know your anger, I know your dreams
I've been everything you want to be
I'm the cult of personality
Like Mussolini and Kennedy
I'm the cult of personality

-In Living Color, The Cult of Personality
Addiction to personality porn?

Are one-sided, simulated relationships replacing real relationships, a compensation for something not fully realized? More and more people seem to be replacing relationships with real intimate others with interactions on social media. Is this necessarily a bad trend, or is it perhaps superior to dealing with messy, potentially risky traditional human relations?

Video-intensive platforms present us with a massively diverse array of YouTubers, officially called "Creators" (religious overtones, anyone?). It's hard to tell fact from fiction, so real and engaging are these simulators of human experience for one able to become immersed in the fantasies they conjure up.

The trend is toward greater self-disclosure, and highly personal revelations are powerful in creating a sense of real connection with virtual partners. Similar to robotic partners, substitutive relationships with pseudo-personalities meet attachment needs while potentially rewarding insecure attachments. For dismissive attachment style, not needing actual people works great, and for anxious attachment, know that what you want is going to be there 24/7 is a huge relief.

Comment: "...healthy cyborgs, symbiotic with AI and biotechnological augments"?? -- Too bad the author resorts this type of transhumanist conception at the very close of his article. Who wants to be a "healthy cyborg" or "symbiotic with AI"? Technology is a tool, and as such, should be approached as conservatively as possible. Period. The threat of becoming "unresisting hosts to pernicious parasites" being a good warning to us all.


Scientists learn that six in ten grieving people 'see or hear dead loved ones'

What happens when we 'die?' We can't quite answer that question, but we can perhaps say that something indeed does happen. The evidence for reincarnation, for example, is quite unbelievable. There have been a number of cases of children who clearly remember their past lives, describing in detail their previous family members as well as how they died and other factors that have been confirmed by their supposed past families. This is precisely why Carl Sagan said that reincarnation is worthy of "serious scientific study." Other near death studies have suggested that consciousness does not depend on our biology, as those who are close to death or pronounced dead and then come back to life have told tales and described details about their surroundings at the time that would have been impossible had they not been 'outside' of their bodies. This information was presented to the United Nations, and you can read more about that here and watch the full video presentation.

There could be multiple things that happen when one passes away. Perhaps their soul can go multiple routes, as if it has a choice? Perhaps consciousness is something separate from the soul? Perhaps bits and pieces of our consciousness stick around while our soul goes off to a new experience? Who knows, but again, the evidence suggesting something does indeed happen is pretty interesting to say the least.

A study conducted a couple of years ago added to the mystery, as researchers from the University of Milan found that there is a "very high prevalence" of people who have experience with receiving messages from their deceased loves one, like seeing or hearing them. The study, however, labels these as "post-bereavement hallucinatory experiences," and the researchers don't seem to be open to the idea that these experiences could actually be real.


As Above, So Below?

comet mcnaught
© Stéphane Guisard
Comet McNaught over Chile, January 2007
Here is an old idea: our world is part of a living universe, with a mind of its own, a place that is not only a playground for indulging desires, but also a school for learning from the suffering generated by the struggle of existence. This idea lay at the heart of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, established in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. In Comets And The Horns Of Moses, Laura Knight-Jadczyk summarized the Stoics' basic philosophy thus:
"The world is rationally organised, and so explicable and understandable. The pattern is complete throughout. Within the organisation, different elements and parts are dynamic and governing, others are passive in function. The world is purposefully providential; so there is also a design as well as a pattern, and the good end is discoverable by the rational understanding of this. The divine element is completely and only immanent. As the system is an organic whole, the understanding of any part contributes to the understanding of the whole, and vice versa. Even the operation of any part is relevant to the operation of the whole. The operational law of cause and effect runs right through the behavior of phenomena and of living creatures. The understanding and explanation of its operation lies within, and only within, itself."
When I read this, I was reminded of fractal patterns, a very common mathematical structure. Here is a selection of those patterns as they occur in nature:

"Fractals" in Nature
The Search For Intelligent Life

Modern science's sober view of the universe pooh-poohs the notion of a 'divine element'. It's just an object of study - vast and mysterious, certainly, but ultimately just like any other object. If you expect to be taken seriously in 'the scientific community', you keep your amazement low key when you discover how brilliantly the Universe's machinery is engineered. We are expected to believe that the highest forms of order - of which our civilization with all its technological marvels is just one small part - simply originate out of nothing: there is neither a plan involved, nor purpose, nor intelligence, they say. Just... BOOM!

How can that be?