Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Magical thinking? I’d say “delusional”

This New York Times article builds in large part on the work of people like Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran.

But, as Hume pointed out, “is” (in the naturalistic sense) does NOT imply “ought” in morals and ethics. It sure as hell doesn’t, and shouldn’t, in metaphysics.

It’s a control issue, and escapism. The article points out, rightly, that magical thinking is strongest when people feel most helpless. But, especially in today’s world, that’s exactly when people should instead engage in something like rational-emotive or cognitive-behavioral therapy on themselves.

Magical thinking is ultimately the ultimate surrender of control.

That said, I can certainly appreciate, understand and even empathize with the emotions often behind magical thinking, especially when it’s magical thinking related to something serious, like trauma, and not something trivial, like allegedly influencing a sports contest.

That doesn’t mean it’s any more true… just that it’s a lot more potent.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Riffing on famous thoughts of world religions

As anybody with knowledge of world religions knows, the creed and call to faith of Islam is:

“There is no god but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet.”

My riff on this is:

“There is no god, and I am his prophet.”

From the East, Buddhism has, beginning with the early 1800s, exerted a powerful pull on many Western minds. Often accepted not just uncritically, but stripped out piecemeal, the result has been things like New Ageism.

The core tenet of Buddhism is that the idea of a self is nothing but an illusion from which one must detach to avoid endless reincarnations. Well, there’s one sure-fire road to self-detachment, hence this riff:

“The only good Buddha is a dead Buddha.”

Speaking of that, why don’t Buddhists join sky-clad Jains in voluntary suicide, whether slow or quick?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


“Bloom where you are planted.”
Facetious advice, at a deep level;
It presumes a Planter with a Plan.
I see neither.
Rather, like Camus’ Mersault,
I would open my arms
To the starlit sky of space-stuff
Scatter-strewn by no one and nothing,
Then cooked in stellar atomic fires,
Spewed and spread again,
To coalesce into a rocky orbital ball,
Carboniferous and oxygenated.
Although non-metaphysical fate,
Shakespeare’s outrageous slings and arrows,
And punch-marked DNA, hanging chads or no,
Have a large say,
I have some control, some last word,
Over different roots, different leaves.
Small though my self-nurture may be,
And as illusory as “I” may also be,
Deal me into the linguistic and ontological games,
Let me at least pretend the bet is mine,
And I hope I place my wagers well.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Evolutionary Psychology (in caps), string theory, verification, falsification

Evolutionary Psychology (as distinguished from evolutionary psychology, Greg Bryant and others) strikes me as having a number of parallels to string theory in cosmology.

Both were proposed in initial form a number of years ago and about the same time.

Both, despite their adherents, have made little progress on the Popperian issues of verification or falsification. Both seem likely to make little more progress in the future.

Both have drawn more scrutiny, questions or even setting aside or rejection from non-adherent scientists in their respective fields, the longer this has been the case.

Specific to Evolutionary Psychology, when it tells its “narrative stories” (whether you call them “just-so stories” or not), it is usually the case that an alternative narrative is readily available, that sounds equally valid, if not nearly so, or maybe even more so.

And, that gets back to the verification issue. Since Ev Psych is the “claimant,” the burden of proof is on it.

As for the likelihood of this, we really know little of the unconscious mind. Dan Dennett’s opus, “(Dan Dennett’s) Consciousness Explained,” or Steven Pinker’s “How (Steve Pinker’s) Mind Works” aside, all they have told us about is the conscious mind, for the most part.

Work with fMRIs and the next investigative tools beyond that, combined with well-crafted thought experiments, probably will take a couple of decades to reveal enough additional serious light on the semi/sub/un-conscious mind for us to even seriously talk about verification of some Ev Psych claims.

And no, I don’t think I’m setting up a straw man.

Verbal judo on Zen

If Zen is so Zen-like
About losing the “I”
Or learning it doesn’t exist,
Then why do the koans
Name monks by name
And cite their authority by reputation?

If satori is instantaneous,
No sage can say so;
If it is ephemeral,
No sage can deny.
And if it is not —
Then neither is Zen.

The only true Buddha is a dead Buddha.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Maybe it’s not really YOU making those New Year’s resolutions

What if free will (or a unitary “master” conscious self) just doesn’t exist the way the typical person thinks it does?
“If people freak at evolution, etc.,” philosopher of science Michael Silberstein wrote in an e-mail message, “how much more will they freak if scientists and philosophers tell them they are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines, and is that conclusion now clearly warranted or is it premature?”

Or, if that’s not enough to set your ears wagging:
“Free will does exist, but it’s a perception, not a power or a driving force. People experience free will. They have the sense they are free. The more you scrutinize it, the more you realize you don’t have it,” Mark Hallett, a researcher with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said.

Renowned philosopher Dan Dennett claims we do have free will, at least any variety worth wanting.
“We have the power to veto our urges and then to veto our vetoes,” he said. “We have the power of imagination, to see and imagine futures.”

Sorry, Dan, but I disagree on a few counts.

You yourself have come to the brink of questioning just how much not free will, but the idea of a unitary conscious controller “I,” exists. (If the “I” doesn’t fully exist outside illusion, free will certainly doesn’t.) Second, as some of the experiments by Benjamin Libet have shown, maybe we don’t have so much veto power over ourselves as we think.

Dan Wegner, who has stepped beyond Dennett in this issue, takes this bull more by the horns.
“It’s an illusion, but it’s a very persistent illusion; it keeps coming back,” he said, comparing it to a magician’s trick that has been seen again and again. “Even though you know it’s a trick, you get fooled every time. The feelings just don’t go away.”

I believe that the idea of free will, the feeling of free will, may come naturally as an emergent property of a certain level of consciousness. Therefore, to some degree, there’s nothing we can do but accept the illusion while further discussing what this fact means.