Posted: April 23rd, 2011 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: How Weird is our Culture, science and technology, Uncategorized | No Comments »
Project Gutenberg is an amazing idea, and the most fleeting glance at the collection gives a fascinating view of science and social history. I’ve already commented on one of several Charles Darwin books the project has made available. Recently I downloaded a few more of the free books the project has digitized, and the two I’ve had time to look at are both rewarding reading. They show me how far we have come, both in science and in society.
The Story of Soil by Cyril George Hopkins is a romantic novel thinly disguised as a textbook about soil chemistry, fertility, and the techniques of farming. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Endless stilted dialogue about pounds of phosphorous per acre and bushels of corn per acre and tons of nitrogen per crop, all tied together by a stilted romance and a horrifically offensive American centric world view.
The Story of Soil, was published in 1910. It’s now a historical document, and a record of where agricultural science was in those days. The soil science of the day is quite impressive. We tend to think that science was invented in 1958. It’s also an unblushingly racist novel in which villainous black thugs assault charming and beautiful young white women, and are summarily lynched with hardly a nod to the lack of due process. It’s a shocking book. The soil science is very detailed, presented in conversations between a young agricultural college graduate, the fine, sensible, upstanding protagonist who is thinking of buying land in Virginia, and local hard scrabble Southern gentlemen farmers who are all attentively fascinated by information about NPK or the cycle of carbon.
In this book, white people are smart and noble, except for the degenerate “white trash”. Black people are either loyal servants who love their old masters, and have returned to the plantation even now that they’ve been freed, or “brutes” with no “moral training”. The KKK are a fact of life, a necessity, a force for order and survival. To our modern sensibilities, the book is totally sickening. And fascinating. There is such a sense of solidity to the opinions. We all know where we stand. White people are courteous. Blacks talk funny. Restoring depleted soil takes science, and is endlessly interesting, with our hero spouting numbers for amounts and prices like a walking textbook.
The hero of the book, Percy Johnson, is a poor farm boy who temporarily broke his widowed mother’s heart by announcing that he wanted to go to agricultural college instead of medical or law school. Not to worry. The mother and son are totally devoted to each other, and the mother is soon swayed to his point of view. All it takes is a couple of quotes from Abraham Lincoln about the nobility of farming, and the way agriculture is the basis of all the wealth of any nation.
Percy is serious. I mean he’s SERIOUS. You can’t imagine him making a joke, unless it is some ironic play on words to do with the foolishness of mortals or the stupidity of politicians. You can’t imagine him having any fun. He emphatically does not have fun. His pleasure comes from contemplating methods to improve his soil, grow bigger crops, keep American on a path to prosperity and avert the collapse of America that will surely follow the depletion of American soil, or from contemplation of the path of moral rectitude. Whew. There is no whimsy here. If it weren’t for the fact that everybody he talks to is as fanatically interested in growing crops as he is, he’d be a crashing bore. But a crashing bore who embodies all the virtues. He is steadfast, honest, loyal. He loves his sainted widowed mother, dotes on his mother, and refers to Jesus as “the Master”. Taking the Lord’s name in vain will call forth a criticism and a request to refrain.
This book could not be published today. At least not in any civilized and enlightened culture. It’s unabashedly racist, argues for eugenics, and offends modern sensibilities with an attitude toward gender relationships and religion that hits the gag reflex hard. I very much enjoyed reading it, despite the tedious recitation of chemicals, soil types, soil characteristics and harvest yields. But what can you say about a book that contains passages such as this one:
************excerpt from The Story of Soil**************
(Adelaide, the daughter of Mr. West, has driven into town for her music lesson, allowing young Percy get his soil samples to the express office. On their way back to Westover, the farm owned by the West family, with Adelaide driving the buggy and Percy more or less out of sight in the back….)
They passed the lowest point in the valley and began to ascend the gentle slope, when the carriage suddenly stopped, and Adelaide uttered a muffled scream. “Come, Honey,” said a masculine voice.
As Percy half rose to his feet , he saw that a negro had grasped Adelaide in an effort to drag her from the carriage. A blow from Percy staggered the brute, and he released his hold of Adelaide, but, as he saw Percy jump from the carriage on the opposite side, he paused.
“De’s a man heah. Knock him, Geo’ge,” he yelled, as he turned to again grapple with Adelaide.
“Coward”, cried Adelaide, as she saw Percy jump from the carriage and dart up the road. Facing this black brute, she was standing alone now with one hand on the back of the seat. As the negro sprang at her the second time he uttered a scream like the cry of a beast and fell sprawling on his face. Almost at the same moment his companion was fairly lifted from his feet and came down headlong beside the carriage.
“Look out for the horses,” called Percy, as he drove the heels of his heavy shoes into the moaning mass on the ground.
“Lie there, you brute,” he cried, don’t you dare to move.”
(they get the horses under control and…)
“I have the lines, said Adelaide hoarsely, “but can’t I do something more?”
“No. They’re both down,” he answered. “Wait a minute.”
He found himself between the negroes lying with their faces to the ground. Instantly, he grasped each by the wrist and with an inward twist he brought forth cries for mercy. It was a trick he had learned in college, that, by drawing the arm behind the back and twisting, a boy could control a strong man.
(Adelaide soon has the negroes tied, since she could “fasten the ends of the rope with a double hitch, which she knew well how to make.”)
… “Now get onto your feet and I’ll march you to town,” he ordered, adding pressure to the twist upon their wrists. This tied together, Percy almost ran his prisoners toward the village, still holding each firmly by the wrist. As they reached the “depot hotel” he called for assistance, and several men quickly appeared.
Percy made a brief report of the attack as they moved on to the town house, where the villains were placed in shackles and left in charge of the Marshall.
(Later that night… being praised by the father of the love interest, Percy says…) “I am only thankful I was there when it happened,” replied Percy. “I am sure no man could have done less. I have promised to return to town in the morning to serve as legal witness in the case. I hope your daughter need not be called for that.”
“Probably that will not be necessary,” Mr. West replied.
(Ah, you see what is coming. Of course it won’t be necessary. They fall into a discussion of the condition of the black man in the south, since the abolition of slavery, and Percy makes it clear that the Northerners don’t think of the black man as a social equal. Talk turns to the necessity of having white school teachers, to give black people some moral education, and morality in general.)
“It is very certain that a class of negroes has grown up in these more recent years that was practically unknown in slave times when white men were more largely responsible for their moral training. The vile wretches who made the attack this evening never received any moral training. It is conceivable that the moral influence of the white children over the negroes in the same school might exert a lasting benefit, even aside from the influence of the teacher; and the relationship of the school room could not be any real disadvantage to the white child. But this could only be bought about where white teachers were employed.”
“It is extremely doubtful if the North will be able to completely banish such a source of vice and corruption as the open saloon until limitation is placed upon the franchise by an educational qualification.”
(Later that night, while Percy is getting ready for sleep…)
Percy, from the southwest room, was sure he heard horses feet at the side gate. The murmur of low voices reached his ear, and then he recognized that horsemen were riding away.
“I think your testimony will not be needed this morning,” said Mr. West, “but it may be needed later, and it is well that you should report to the officers at any rate, since you promised to be there this morning.
As soon as they reached the village, Mr. West drove directly to the town house; and there two black bodies were seen hanging from the limb of an old tree in the courthouse yard. Percy noted that his companion showed no sign of surprise; and, after the first shock of his complete realization of the work of the night, he looked calmly upon the scene. They had stopped almost under the tree.
“Are those the brutes who made the attack and whom you captured and delivered to the officer?” asked Mr. West.
“They are,” he replied.
“In your opinion have they received justice?”
“Yes, Sir,” Percy replied, but I fear without due process of law.”
“Let me tell you, Sir, there is no law on the statutes under which justice could be meted out to these devils for the nameless crime which ends in death by murder or by suicide of the helpless victim, a crime which these wretches committed only in their black hearts – thanks to you, Sir.”
As he spoke, the town marshal approached followed by the negro pastor of the local church and a few of his followers. Silently they lowered the bodies to the ground, placed them upon improvised stretchers, and carried them to the potters field outside the village, where rough coffins and graves were ready to receive them.
As Mr. West and Percy returned to Westover they discussed the lands which in the main were lying abandoned on either side of the road….. (and that’s the end of the discussion of the principles of due process, the niceties of the law, or any concerns about vigilante action.)
************end excerpt from The Story of Soil**************
The book is sprinkled with shocking opinions. Of course there are many in America today who hold these views. But it isn’t considered polite to go sounding off about them.
************more from The Story of Soil**************
“Under the present laws and customs, a man may spend half his life in the insane asylum or in the penitentiary , and still be the father of a dozen children with degenerate tendencies. Thieves, grafters, bribers and bribe-takers all belong in the same class, and it should not be left possible for them to reproduce their kind. They are a burden upon the public which the public must bear, but the public is under no obligation to permit their multiplication. The children of such should never become the parents of others. It is a crime against both the child and the public.”
************end excerpt from The Story of Soil**************
One wonders how such social interventions might be enforced. Castration? Forced sterilization? I shudder to think on it. To his credit, Cyril George Hopkins, the author, avoids the “n” word, calling black people “negroes”. He’s politically correct to that extent. His characters, on the other hand, feel no such restraint. The racism of the American south is a constant affront to modern sensibilities, though apparently unnoticed by the characters who are obviously all sock puppets of Mr. Hopkins.
While the social commentary in The Story of Soil is quite odious, the science is extensive and valuable. The main point the book makes is that when you take something out of the soil, you must put something back or the soil will lose fertility. Sustainability depends on a cycle, and when large crops are shipped away, taking with them whatever nutrients they took from the land, it is not a sustainable system. It’s a pity conveying this information was accomplished with absolutely turgid dialogue. Here’s another sample:
************excerpt from The Story of Soil**************
(Young Percy is explaining chemistry to Mr. Thornton, a farmer.)
“There is only one pound of carbon in ten thousand pounds of ordinary country air. Now, there are one hundred and sixty square rods in an acre, and since there are twelve inches in a foot and sixteen and one half feet in a rod, it is easy to compute that there are nearly a hundred million pounds of air on an acre, and that the carbon in this amounts to only five tons. A three-ton crop of corn or hay contains one and one-fourth ton of the element carbon; so that the total amount of the carbon in the air over an acre of land is sufficient for only four such crops; while a single crop of corn yielding a hundred bushel to the acre, such as we often raise in Illinois on old feed-lots or other pieces of well treated land would require half of the total supply of carbon contained in the air over an acre. However, the largest crop of corn ever grown, of which there is an established authentic record, was not raised in Illinois, but in the state of South Carolina, in the county of Marlborough, in the year 1898, by Z. J. Drake; and, according to the authentic report of the official committee that measured the land and saw the crop harvested and weighed, and awarded Drake a prize of five hundred dollars given by the Orange Judd Publishing Company, – according to this very creditable evidence, that an acre of land yielded 239 bushels of thoroughly air-dried corn; and such a crop, Mr Thornton, would require as much carbon as the total amount contained in the air over an acre of land”
“Well, that is astonishing! Then there must be some other source of supply besides the air.”
“There is no other direct source from which plants secure carbon… (and away goes young Percy for another two pages without pausing for a breath.)
************end of excerpt from The Story of Soil**************
When that is the kind of thing that is passing for dialogue, it’s hard to call this book a page turner. But is very interesting reading if you can wade through the corn and the prose.
The other Project Gutenberg book I’m immersed in is much more ideologically palatable: An Introduction to Chemical Science by Rufus Phillips Williams, a straight up science textbook originally published by Ginn and Company Publishers, Boston, U.S.A. in 1896. It’s also of great historical interest, if only to give us perspective on what was known that far back, back in the days when only 70 elements “half of which have been discovered within little more than a century” were known to science.
I found the statement about evolution and the origins of atoms particularly interesting. We already knew a whole lot about how things got to be the way they are by the end of the 19th. century. This is still valid, with a few elaborations like such as tectonic plate theory:
************excerpt from An Introduction to Chemical Science**************
341. Evolution. – As the earth slowly cooled, elements united to form compounds, gases condensed to liquids, and these to solids. At one time the entire surface of our planet may have been liquid. When the cooling surface reached a point somewhat below that of boiling water, the lowest forms of life appeared in the ocean. This was many millions of years ago. Most scientists believe that all vegetable and animal live has developed from the lowest forms of life. There is also a theory that all chemical elements are derivatives of of hydrogen, or of some other element, and that all the so-called elements are really compounds, which a sufficiently high temperature would dissociate. As evidence of this, it is said that less than half as many elements have been discovered in the sun as in the earth, and that comets and nebula, which are less developed forms of matter than the sun, have a few simple substances only.
************pause for an editorial comment by Darwin Harmless*************
I wasn’t surprised to read this basic and valid understanding of evolution, but I was very surprised to read a mention of the creation of elements. Think about it. That’s a very sophisticated understanding of the universe at a time before Einstein and relativity. Unfortunately, the text books of the day could not allow science to stand on it’s own. They already knew what reality was all about, but had to add the following as a sop to religion and superstition:
************back to An Introduction to Chemical Science*************
It is easy to fancy that all living bodies, both animal and vegetable, are only natural grows from the lowest forms of life; that all these lowest forms are a development, with new manifestations of energy, from inorganic matter, that compounds are derived from elements; and that the last are derivatives of some one element; but it must be born in mind that this is only a theory.
************end of excerpt from An Introduction to Chemical Science*************
So there it is. An early statement of the “It’s just a theory” objection to following the implications of evidence and rational inquiry. It goes a long way back. Sad that we are still fighting it to this day.
Project Gutenberg promises to be one of the great adventures of humanity. Check it out. Maybe you want to get involved.
Posted: April 8th, 2011 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: How Weird is our Culture, science and technology, The Conviction That God is a Fiction, Uncategorized | No Comments »
This should explain why Darwin Harmless hasn’t been sounding off on other sites too much lately. I’ll get to Random Ntrygg now, but I think it’s time to reprint this.
If you followed this on Jesus and Mo, this is old news. There’s a new Jesus and Mo now, so this thread is probably dead. Maybe deserves to die. But it was an interesting discussion between Darwin Harmless and FreeFox. I feel like I’ve got him pegged now, but to find out just where he is pegged you need to read to the end of this long, and hopefully not too tedious, exchange. I have edited this slightly, to add in a couple of points I missed and to correct a few typos, both mine and those made by FreeFox. Nothing I added makes any difference to the debate, so I don’t think I’m being unfair. In any event, I don’t think of this as a debate. More as an effort to reveal ourselves to each other. This doesn’t mean I didn’t win.
The web comic Jesus and Mo attracted a rabid fundamentalist Muslim. At first we had fun with him, but he got sillier and sillier, more and more shrill and less interested in listening. Finally he was banned from the comments section. Then a debate started over whether he was real or just somebody having fun pulling our chain. That lead into a discussion between Darwin Harmless and FreeFox. I’ve reprinted that discussion here, because I think it really speaks to what I believe and my attitude toward believers.
For those who read, or skim down to the end, there are a couple of priceless quotes from Mohamad. Expect to see them on a T-shirt sometime.
April 2, 2011 at 1:47 pm@gobbycoot: Oh, it wasn’t the lack of logic that convinced me of his faked-ness, but the lack of any attempt to approximate the seeming of logic. Even stupid peeps usually try to appear less stupid. But alas, we shall probably never really know.
As for the reasonable and intellectual theists, I am myself – although quite the J&M fan – far less atheistic than most commentators. Hence it makes me cringe and blush with shame when I see only opposition of such epic ignorance. The thought of having to side with them has done more to cast doubt on my own “faith” (a word I am not very happy with) than any logical or scientific argument.
Darwin Harmless says:
April 2, 2011 at 2:32 pmJust want to say thank you all for being who and what you are. My community.
Sadly, having just read of the fourteen year old Bangladeshi virgin who was grabbed by a forty year old cousin on her way to the outhouse, bound and gagged and raped, then ordered beaten by the local religious leader as punishment for her adultery, a beating that resulted in her death, I think Mohamad is all too real. Religion is the source of all morality for those who would beat a rape victim to death, and Mohamad is a perfect example of what religion can produce. Please, Author, don’t be tempted to let him come back. I know the shape of pain all too well.
April 2, 2011 at 4:20 pm@Darwin Harmless: Wow, quite a turnaround from the nigh endless patience you displaxed before. I suppose when it runs out, it really runs out, eh? ^_^
“Religion is the source of all morality for those who would beat a rape victim to death” on the other hand seems a trifle unwarrented. Not that religion is not source for many horrific deeds, but “source of all [such] morality“, I dunno… or do you lump all -isms, like Fascism and Stalinism, and the nationalism of, say, WWI-era Japan, in with Religion? I’d be interested in the definition you use for the word, then.
April 2, 2011 at 5:16 pmDarn this keyboard. I meant WWII-era Japan. I have no idea what society they had 1914-1918…
Darwin Harmless says:
April 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm@FreeFox Yes, it’s a turn around. When I held hope that Mohamad could be reached, I felt a lot of compassion for him, an embarrassing missionary zeal and desire to save him from the ignorance into which he’s been immersed. He’s been terribly damaged by his culture. As @Insolito said “If you keep someone in a box and just feed them the information you approve, they’re gonna end up believing things not through choice but because they literally have no alternative.”
But when I realize that he’s beyond hope, the compassion is replaced by loathing. He represents his culture, and perpetuates his culture. My comment about religion being the source of all morality was directed to those who make that claim, those who say that atheists can’t be moral, that without religion we would be barbarous. It seems such irony that those who make that claim include Mohamad in their ranks, and I’m sure Mohamad, with his rant about us atheists having sex in the road like animals, considers himself the most moral of people. These are the people who would beat a virgin rape victim to death as an adulteress.
You say you are far less atheistic than most of the J&M fans, which means you must be far less atheistic than I, because I’m about as atheistic as one can get. It must really pain you to be in the same camp, no matter how peripherally, with the perpetrators of these horrors.
Anyway, I think you took my comment beyond what was meant. What I meant was that Mohamad, and the Imam who ordered the girl to be beaten to death, got all their morality from their religion. They certainly don’t get any morality from their hearts, or their brains. Others may get a more benign morality from their religion, but religious belief is not a great predictor of moral behavior.
Hitchens was once asked whether if he were approached by a gang of men on a dark street would he want them to be coming coming from church, or coming from a soccer game. Okay, that’s not quit how the story went but something like it. In response he listed off the cities, from Belfast to Beirut to Baghdad and had listed quite a few sites famous for religious violence before he got out of the b’s.
Darwin Harmless says:
April 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm@FreeFox I’m now under the influence of two double vente lattes and some nameless alcohol, so I’m not sure I’m being perfectly clear. I think you extrapolated my comment about morality and religion to somehow read it as if I thought religion is responsible for all the horrors of the past. Not so. Not at all. I’m not sure what lead you to Fascism and Stalinism and Japanese war crimes from my statement about religion. It’s not where I was going. But in the case of Mohamad and the Imams, it seems pretty obvious that their morality is coming from their religion. Their morality hardly deserves to be called morality.
Damn but I can type fast on caffeine. Just wish these windows had a built in spell checker.
April 2, 2011 at 6:21 pm@FreeFox: I think you misunderstood DH. He didn’t say that religion is the source of all horrific deeds, just horrific deeds associated with punishing rape victims. Death sentences to rape victims for “adultery”, however, seem to be seen only among certain religious people who derive morality and justify their actions using their Holy Scriptures.
April 2, 2011 at 8:12 pm@DH/gg: You’re right, mates. I sort of misunderstood that one in its specificity. (The other -isms were just examples for – imho – non-religious value systems that lead to – imho – horrific moral judgment calls.) I would posit, however, that in most such cases the “morality” is not really caused by the religion in question per se, but rather that the religion is more of a system created to uphold the bizarre and usually self-righteousness/self-loathing driven “morality”. Being queer myself, I found normally totally not-religious peeps fall back on Abrahamic arguments to voice their distaste. I have come to the conclusion that the whole f*cked-up Judeo/Christian/Islamic sexuality (including punishing victims of rape) stems almost entirely from totally f*cked-up gender roles. And while religion certainly upholds those, culture transported them 100% into atheistic Communism and Fascism. I’m rather certain that if one only could get this idea of the manly man and the female virgin/whore polarization out of culture, religion would lose a big part of its immediate horrificness.
@DH: Enjoy your delicious sounding caffeinated and alcoholic beverages! Cheers! ^_^
April 2, 2011 at 8:41 pm@Darwin Harmless
Re: Being in one camp with religious nuts.
Well, thankfully one can divide the world along more than just the one line dividing theists from atheists. So while my own conviction of the reality of an omnipresent and omnipotent God as well as the existence of spirits, angels and indeed several pantheons of lesser divinities does make me feel rather shamed by morons propagating a flat earth or attacking the theory of evolution with, like, no arguments at all (kind of like South Pacific Islanders attacking Ironclads and Aeroplanes with rocks and wooden arrows because they don’t even understand the principle of the thing they are attacking), I know too well that I do not share most theist’s (or, while we’re at it, atheist’s) “morality” anyway. Hence, I do not feel in any way “in their camp” when they go about looting, pillaging, and dismissing the pain they cause. I have made the experience that that which I would call (capital-G) God seems to be not very much concerned with morality. At least the world He has created very obviously in no way discourages “evil” (in whatever shade it may come, from fornication to mass murder) or encourages “good” (again, be it giving alms or stoning fornicators), nor vice versa. And any God who casually spread death and devastation through earthquakes, tsunamis, plagues, and droughts (even discounting those fostered by human population politics, something which always thought a very weak apologetic argument to begin with) clearly has lost any sort of moral high ground any way.
But then I’m assuming it doesn’t pain you especially to be in the same theological camp as the Khmer Rouge, the perpetrators of the Great Ukrainian Famine 1932-33, or my own ancestors when they executed the plan decided on the shores of Lake Wannsee.
April 2, 2011 at 9:10 pm@Lord Elric: While witty in this context, the idea that Muslims in any way evolved from Jews is not very, er, stable. Assuming some historicity of Jesus, I suppose, the argument could be made that Christianity “evolved” from Judaism, though even for its early membership it certainly drew mostly on Hellenistic and Roman Gentiles. But even if you accept the prophet Muhammad as a Hanif, i.e. a monotheistic pre-Islamic Arab and descendent of Abraham via Ishmael, it would be hard to argue an actual “Jewish” line before “Israel” (i.e. Jacob), a rather distant descendent of Abraham via Isaac. Any less mythological delineation of Islam will have to concede that while there were some Jewish and gnostic Christian communities existed, Mohammad himself as well as the vast majority of the founding population of Islam comes from Arabic polytheists, not Jews.
So the correct question would be: Why aren’t you still a worshipper of fertile Al-‘Uzzá, serpentine Wadd, the moon gods Amm and Ta’lab, or Dushara, Lord of the Mountain? To which, unfortunately, he could respond almost rationally “because the Archangel Gabriel came to my name-sake and set him straight.” (That is, if he were capable of responding rationally at all.)
Please excuse the descent into religious geekdom, but as you all can probably understand, dismissing things without at all understanding them can be thoroughly annoying to those who take an interest in them.
Darwin Harmless says:
April 3, 2011 at 2:36 am@FreeFox Glad we got all that straightened out. And pleased to meetcha. Wow. Literate and erudite and obviously intelligent but still a theist. The polar opposite of Mohamad, yet still a believer. Have we here the equivalent of the subtle Jesuit somebody suggested I spar with? I’m very curious about your theism. It doesn’t seem to be of the personal God type, the “he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows when you’ve been good or bad so be good for goodness sake”, kind of big G god who takes an interest in human affairs and causes earthquakes if enough women dress immodestly, nor does it sound simplistic like the created the universe just as a playpen for humanity and placed us here because he loves us, the most important creatures in the all of creation with dominion over all the animals but don’t piss Him off or he’ll torture you for eternity because Hell hath no fury like our dear loving God scorned kind of a God. So is this God you believe in the original Intelligent Designer? Did God create everything and then turn his back? And given the newly discovered incredible vastness of the whole ball of wax, are human beings somehow important to your God, and should God be important to us? I’m not going to ask you for your evidence for the existence of this God, but I’m incredibly curious about the logic behind your beliefs. Is this the old omnipotent God? The God who can do anything? Or is this the even more complex creature that Richard Dawkins talks about who must be more complex than the complexity he/she/it created? So many questions. Please don’t descend into religious geekspeak to answer these questions. I am very ignorant of religious history, most beliefs of the past, the history of religion and theology in general. I always shut down at the door, at the initial assumption that God exists. Because to me that always seems so improbable, such a (pardon me) leap of faith. So tell me about this God of yours please, but keep it simple. You are talking to the atheist equivalent of Mohamad here, a closed mind, except perhaps a little more willing to listen.
Darwin Harmless says:
April 3, 2011 at 2:52 am@FreeFox regarding being in the same camp as the Khmer Rouge, the perpetrators of the Great Ukrainian Famine 1932-33, or the planners behind the Final Solution, I don’t consider myself in their camp at all. Many people conflate atheism with nihilism. I am not a nihilist. I have very strong beliefs, among them that my morality comes from my evolution as a social animal, and that what makes me happiest is my emotional connection to others and to the whole of humanity. What makes me unhappy is doing something that damages that connection or creates a less unified and loving world. So I feel no affinity at all to the groups you named, just as you of course feel no affinity to the “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” crowd.
April 3, 2011 at 3:30 am@Freefox
Atheists are certainly capable of nasty things when they are under the influence of a sufficiently horrible ideology. Religions are a particular sub-type of ideology, so they have the same potential to completely take over your worldview and morality, at the cost of your humanity and sense. I’m not particularly bothered what you believe in; so long as you’re not into ideological self-lobotomisation (religious or other), you’re OK by me.
Darwin Harmless says:
April 3, 2011 at 4:37 am@FreeFox. Echoing MrGronk, I’m not bothered by what you believe. Merely curious. It’s so hard for me to connect with any theist beliefs, so when somebody of intelligence confesses to owning them, I’m always… surprised. It’s like running into a functional adult who argues that Santa Claus is real. No offence, mate.
April 3, 2011 at 11:48 amAs someone who is largely an interested observer, having insufficient education or erudition to do more than the occasional interjection, I am really looking forward to the prospect of a FreeFox/DH debate. I hope I speak for many of us watchers that I have enjoyed reading the perspective brought to this blog by both these people. Keep up the good work!
April 3, 2011 at 1:19 pm@Darwin Harmless: I’m not entirely certain what you are asking, so if I miss my mark, feel free to specify your question. I’ll try to keep it short, but that is bound to simplify things beyond what I actually believe in its entirety.
I believe in a whole sh*tload of gods and spirits. Take for example (an example I’m partly borrowing from Neal Stephenson) Ares and Athena. Human behaviour can of course be explained truthfully in the language of sociologists, psychologists, and neurologists. But there is a whole complex of behaviour that deals with the desire to do damage, to revel in bloodshed and the destruction of others, etc, that to my mind can be very reasonably described as the realm of Ares. The same can be said about courage, cleverness, deviousness, and what in the olden days might have been called the “wisdom” of conflict and warfare. In other words, the realm of Athena. In my own life I certainly worship both of these gods (I have a preference for Athena, but it would be hyprocitical of me to claim I’m not a servitor of Ares also.) This is not just some theoretical idea or a mere mincing of metaphors: I find that meditating on them / praying to them helps me focus on corresponding deeds in a way a more secular form of preparation doesn’t.
That is the small-g gods. I also have regular conversation with spirit guides (initially with the help of fly agaric, administered by a shaman-in-training, but since that first encounter just under the steam of my own brain chemistry.)
As for capital-G God, yeah, the way I experience Him (I stick to the male pronoun here, though He definitely has a feminine side, I would use “it” if it didn’t have a certain irreverent and impersonal note that distracts me) I view Him as “the Creator”, though if I have to probe deep, I suppose I probably think He began existence together with or as a function of reality, rather than as a separate originator. He is omnipotent in the meaning that He is the guiding hand behind everything that happens, as well as omniscient and (sort of by default) omnipresent. In fact, if I had to sum Him up in one phrase, God is to me “that which moves the world meaningfully.” That is the main point where I diverge fom the default atheistic position, I think. We can agree that Epicurus was right: A look at the world makes it evident that there cannot be a being that is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. Polytheists explain the story state of things by a multitude of conflicting divinities. Atheists see the world as being ruled by all-powerful and all-present natural laws, but without sense or meaning. For a monotheist (or polytheist with a supreme and present being) I am left with the interpretation that God, when He does exist, cannot be “good” by any human standard. But then that fits my life experience pretty much to the dot. God’s a bastard. But he still moves the world meaningfully.
I could go on about why I believe this, or the details of God’s character, as I experience Him, but I’m afraid that wouldn’t overstepping Author’s hospitality and common board courtesy.
Darwin Harmless says:
April 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm@HaggisforBrains Thanks for the endorsement and encouragement. I hope I can think thoughts deep enough to justify your support, or at least entertain you a bit.
@Author This could get sophomoric or tedious or both. I’d appreciate a warning if I’m getting close to either.
@Freefox. Thank you for humouring me, and engaging this conversation. I don’t feel competent to argue theology, but I can talk about me, my beliefs and feelings. So here goes.
Somebody in a blog post described atheists as the spiritual equivalent of autism, and I’m afraid that certainly applies to me. He went on to say that we are like a person who does not respond to music, sees no value in music, and dismisses music as meaningless. Since I am very much involved with music, both as an appreciator and as a musician, this really hit home to me. Somebody who doesn’t get anything out of music would be very strange to me, beyond my understanding. But that’s how I am toward religion, and belief in god, gods, or God. The result is that just about everything in your last post is meaningless to me. I struggle to find the meaning, but it eludes me.
I thought I almost had it when you talked about Ares and Athena and their areas of influence. Aha, thought I, he’s speaking metaphor. It’s just a way to help him think about these attributes, the way we apply metaphors to certain concepts like time – time is distance, time is a river flowing past us, objects move toward us in time, Christmas is coming, we’re getting close to the end of the month – meaningless really, all simply metaphors because we can’t consider time any other way. But then you say, “This is not just some theoretical idea or a mere mincing of metaphors: I find that meditating on them / praying to them helps me focus on corresponding deeds in a way a more secular form of preparation doesn’t.” This blows my understanding of your small g gods as metaphors right out of the water.
You go on to talk about your big G God, and I can understand why you stick to the masculine pronoun, and all of your logic in terms of the way you talk about Him. But where on earth did you get the idea that there is a guiding hand behind everything that happens? Don’t you think you just might be playing games with your subconscious? “that which moves the world meaningfully” seems to me to be a very human-centric idea. After all, it is only we humans who give anything meaning. The universe seems to be untouched by any meaning we wish to assign to it.
I remember walking in the woods one beautiful April day, back when I was in university and this kind of conversation was much more common. I was thoroughly enjoying the beauty of nature, Spring air ripe with new growth, and life when I came upon a large rock upon which somebody had spray painted the words “Fuck You”. My mood crashed. I was offended, outraged that somebody had inserted such ugliness into my day. But I sat and thought a spell, and realized that the beauty of the day, all of nature, the birds in the trees, the rock itself, nothing there but me gave any meaning to that paint on the rock. It was just meaningless to the universe. And it could be meaningless to me. If a bear had left a pile of shit on the rock, would I be offended or hurt? No. So why did I care if some other animal, in this case a human, had left some meaningless mark on that rock? We are part of nature too. A bear might scratch the bark off a tree to show how tall it is. A teenager might write “Fuck You” on a rock to show… I don’t know what. How angry he is. How literate he is. How little he appreciates the beauty of this spot. Whatever. It’s meaningless. And so are my feelings. There is no meaning to anything, unless we apply it.
And what is that meaning if not activation of certain centers in our brains, certain neural connections, certain synapses snapping. That’s where our meaning comes from. So when you say “that which moves the world in a meaningful way”, I have to smile. You may think something is meaningful. Others might not agree. The universe doesn’t give a shit.
So I’m left thinking, I just don’t understand this. You believe in invisible creatures and something you call God who is a personality and does things in a meaningful way. I see no evidence at all. Do you have any? Or do you just believe because you want to, because it’s easier than not believing, or because it gives you warm snugglies in your brain. Whichever it is, I just don’t get it.
I rather like to think there is some reason for my beliefs. Some I hold simply because I haven’t taken the time to examine them. Others I hold lightly, because I realize that there is no rationality to the belief but I find the belief useful. There’s very little that I can say I believe absolutely, and that my world would crash if I were shown to be in error. In fact, I rather enjoy trying to find the errors. A scientist, I’m not sure which one, said that reality is not only stranger than we know, it is stranger than we can know. I believe this. I believe there is a reality out there. But I also believe it is largely unknowable to creatures at our level of size and perception. There is so much more we can’t perceive. All we can do is act “as if” reality is the way we think it is, and try to find ways that allow us to accept reality, work with reality, test our understandings and learn more about reality.
You certainly don’t have to justify your beliefs to me, but if you are telling me that you believe in the literal existence of Ares, Athena, a whole sh*tload (What’s with that apteryx anyway. Do you think we don’t know what the word is? Does putting a bag over its head make it more polite?) of gods and spirits capped off by the big G, God, I’m afraid I see you as self-deluded, childish, or just taking the micky out of those who take you seriously when you say you believe something. From what you have told me, it’s hard for me to believe you are sincere.
Over to you.
April 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm@DH – “Somebody in a blog post described atheists as the spiritual equivalent of autism, and I’m afraid that certainly applies to me. He went on to say that we are like a person who does not respond to music, sees no value in music, and dismisses music as meaningless. Since I am very much involved with music, both as an appreciator and as a musician, this really hit home to me. Somebody who doesn’t get anything out of music would be very strange to me, beyond my understanding. But that’s how I am toward religion, and belief in god, gods, or God”.
Thanks for that quote. It helps me understand how theists see me. It also helps me understand what religion does for them. Don’t worry, though, I don’t think I’m missing anything, and am not about to undergo a conversion .
“A teenager might write “Fuck You” on a rock to show… I don’t know what.”
I’ve often thought that graffiti like this are not so far removed from the bear shitting on the rock – it’s an atavistic way of marking territory.
April 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm@Author: Yes, please, tell us when we should take this conversation outside.
@Darwin Harmless: Okay, this is going to be difficult, but I’m going to try to explain Jazz to you. I apologize if this gets technical, but I am now using metaphors to explain, well, metaphors. Though I suspect we each mean something different with that term.
Let me first assure you that I quite sincere, and that I will never “defend” my belief, since the moment I would feel defensive about them, I suppose honesty would force me to admit that I had stopped actually believing them. I also have no interest in converting anyone, though I do like to exchange POVs on life, reality, and, well, meaning.
Which brings me, I suppose, to the core problem between my understanding of the world and yours. We are agreed that meaning is something that exists primarily in the mind of the beholder. I say “primarily” since in most cases it exists there as a reaction to some outside stimulus. We need not agree whether the reaction is necessarily reasonable or functional, only that even in the case of, say, schizophrenia, the chemical imbalance in the brain is something that is still outside of the frame of reference of the unhinged mind itself, the way a physical computer damage is still outside of the software bug it might cause.
Where we differ in is assigning meaning to that “meaning”. You say, it is meaningless, just as you say metaphors are “meaningless really”. I have to disagree. For one, as Standford researchers recently found out, the metaphors you chose very much influences your thought processes and decisions. It is possible to make yourself aware of that to lessen that impact, but for everyday life that seems to be rarely enough and really not very practical. For better or worse, we each live in a metaphoric universe, and picking the right or wrong is like picking the right or wrong colour wallpaper. Sit in an angry red room all day, and your chances of picking up a gun and blowing people away at random do not improve favourably. I don’t want to suggest any quantum mysticism, but the way one looks on the world does change it.
Which is sort of my second point: Whatever happens in my mind is just as much part of the world as your rocks, birds, teenage tagger (isn’t it fascinating how we deduce from the medium and message a rather specific age?) and shitting bears. Actually both the meaning you assigned to the phrase and the emotion it provoced are also real: Real synapses snapping, real hormones cursing your blood, etc. After all, information is much a real part of the real world as matter and energy, and as much protected by the laws of conservation. So why should my subjective meaning be of any less relevance than the song of the birds, the verdant shade of green of the leaves, or the temperature and level of humidity in the air on that summer day that caused you so much joy before you encountered that accumulation of metal-based paint on the rock that interrupted your joy before you very actively thorugh a complex subjective process of self-mind-editing altered that meaning to one you preferred?
Ideas matter: The bible and the koran are after all only collections of meaning (and pretty vague ones at that), but they have indubitably had a massive impact on the phyiscal world. Just stand inside a cathedral or mosque and tell me that faith cannot move mountains. Nuclear power stations are first and foremost an idea, given physical shape via brain chemistry and human labour, and now autonomously changing the real world. Fukushima is a pretty impressive monument to the importance of the tiny changes that happened in Mr Becquerel’s and Mrs Curie’s brain when they saw the glow in the darkness, eh?
Is it really so absurd then that the act of worshipping Athena or Loki or even a tree or the sky (each understood to be a representative of a certain part of reality) alters my approach and thus the way I interact with it? You may find that childish, but how do you know that my approach is not actually more efficient and effective than yours? I am not claiming it is, but I am saying as a scientifically minded person, you should be careful about conclusions.
In this light, I personally find your claim that “the universe doesn’t give a shit” rather amusingly quaint and very 19th Century. We are beyond that, aren’t we? If by “give a shit” you mean “change as an immediate and directed reaction” and by “universe” you mean the world as it impacts you, then of course any meaning you assign, even if that meaning has a value of zero, so to speak, alters it. The universe cannot help but give a shit.
Of course it doesn’t have the morals of a repressed Puritan, nor the goals of Hezbollah. The world is far more complex than that.
If I understand you correctly I rather share your approach to “belief” itself. I am not trying to argue that my way of seeing things is in any absolute way correct or inescapable. I do hold, though, that it is a valid possible way of seeing it, and as you said, a rather useful one. I try to adjust it to feedback from reality, be it my own immediate experiences or the reasonably trustworthy scientific discoveries, all the time. So, no, I don not have positive proof of my God’s existance, but I have “reasons” to believe in it.
One reason is that I experience his presence, and that I can communicate with Him. And if you are going to refer to me to my temporal lobe and my own mind again, well, yeah, so what? Maybe my temporal lobe is one organ that allows me to experience this the way your eye and your visual cortex are the organs that allow you experience the data coming from your computer screen. Maybe the personality I experience as “God” is something put together by my subconscious mind from a plethora of little bits and pieces of information my other senses have collected.
You see, it was a vital part of my, er, former profession, to “read” people, i.e. to develop a quick and hopefully correct Theory of Mind of my, uh, let’s call them “clients”. I am rather thrilled by the recent research results in the amygdala and mirror neurons, and I read everything about that with interest, but it had little practical impact on me. In the end, I simply trained my intuitive mind (incl. raw observation and also reflection on my success and error rates after each encounter) to be able to read minds as quickly and precicely as possible. I don’t really give a shit whether my ToM was “real”, only whether it allowed me to predict their behaviour. I think I was reasonably successful.
Maybe “God” is nothing but my ToM of the world as it impacts me. I am aware that probably some objective universe exists. But frankly, I am only really interested in that part of it that impacts me, i.e. that moves meaningfully. I applaud research into quasars, but unless it improves the quality of my mobile phone or the chance of a CT scan to cure me or those that are meaningful to me from cancer, quasars have probably less importance on me than the fox, the stork, the scorpion, and the other talking animals from Aesop’s Fables. I know they are not “real”, and yet each of them tells me true and useful things about the world and the co-humans I share it with, after all.
But as long as God and how He interacts with me helps me deal with the world, and as long as I keep up a reasonable mistrust towards His intentions and how He will impact my life (I do take pride that my belief is not a blind faith), why shouldn’t I believe in Him? It’s a bit like having the universe do a Turing test. If it comes out sounding like God, well, to all intents and purposes, it IS. I don’t let it stop me from looking behind the curtain… but even as a child I never though that the fact that the Wizard used loudspeakers made him less terrible and powerful. He did get Dorothy home in the end, didn’t he?
PS.: The asterisks were just a reflex acquired on boards/chats that auto-ban the use of “official” swear words.
Darwin Harmless says:
April 4, 2011 at 4:04 pm
Bravo. A very precise and impressive explanation, and I can certainly agree with just about all of it. Delighted to get your reply. I had fears that I had put you in the untenable position of either repeating that you believe in god, angels, faeries and God Himself, which might sound childish even to you, or agreeing that you are most likely playing hallucinogen inspired games with your subconscious. No fun either way. So it’s quite exciting to get this solidly rational and totally non-defensive response, which if I can paraphrase it as I hear it amounts to: it doesn’t matter what reality is because we can never know it, so I can believe anything that I find useful.
I’m all for a useful belief, even if I know it’s quite silly. I just try not to dress my silly beliefs up in clothing that makes even me smirk at them. But that’s your privilege of course.
I was once in a touchy-feely seminar in which the facilitator stated the guiding principle of the course by writing on the blackboard: “Everything in my reality is a result of my thoughts, beliefs, or actions.” I immediately stood up and in a loud and impolite voice (I’d paid fairly big money to be there.) said “Bullshit.” Stunned silence. “If I’m walking through the park and I get hit by a meteorite and killed, how is that a result of my thoughts, beliefs, or actions? Shit happens.” The facilitator said, “Okay, this may not be ‘The Truth’ with a capital T (making the quotation marks around the words gesture) But it’s very useful. The more you believe it, the more it will seem to be true. And the alternative to believing it is to be a victim.”
That made sense, and the admission that it wasn’t “TRUE” settled me down a bit. So I tried it on for size. She was right. It is useful. Invariably, when I feel like a victim I can ask myself what I did to cause my current reality, and the answer is usually obvious. Since then I have tried to act as if this absurd belief IS true, and I have found it easy to maintain that illusion. It’s a tool for analyzing my behavior, for seeing events from a different angle, and deciding what I might have done to get a different result. I think this is the way some people think of religious belief. Maybe this applies to you.
I suspect that you are just in the woo transition between belief in the sky faerie and atheism. Many atheists take a stop there. I paused there myself, briefly. One can’t see the great mystery without wanting to organize it somehow. We are meaning-making creatures. We want to believe that events have meaning, and that nothing happens by accident. So woo is a logical place to go after theism evaporates. It can lead intelligent people who once believed in God to say some very silly things. You seem to have landed in woo without even dropping God, so that’s an achievement.
At a certain point we will have said everything there is to say about our beliefs. I would be embarrassed to be telling people that Ares, Thor, and God are actual real beings and that I believe in them as such, even if I’d met them and shaken their hands. I’ve had my own drug experiences. My brain is perfectly capable of creating very convincing illusions, and if I start to believe me brain, all is lost. You aren’t embarrassed at all, apparently. So go for it. As MrGronk said, “I’m not particularly bothered what you believe in; so long as you’re not into ideological self-lobotomisation (religious or other), you’re OK by me.” Couldn’t agree more, and maybe nothing much more to be said.
But just to keep this discussion going one more round: You say you have reasons to believe in God’s existence. I don’t. None have ever occurred to me, or been explained to me. And now we get down to the bedrock of this discussion. This is where the rabbi hits the road. If you have reasons for your beliefs, please share them.
P.S. thanks for explaining the asterisks. To me they are a symptom of our culture’s incredibly f*cked up attitude towards words and truth, a bit like saying gosh darn when you really mean God damn, childish even (I’m over using that word these days) but I suppose I would resort to that convention to stay in a forum that interested me. Been fun sharing with you.
April 4, 2011 at 7:52 pm@ Darwin Harmless: I’m not certain *I* understand *you* correctly now, but I do not feel all that comfortable with your summation of “it doesn’t matter what reality is because we can never know it, so I can believe anything that I find useful.” I suppose it hinges on the definition of useful. The way you phrased it sounds a lot like, er, conceptual nihilism: If nothing is real I can make up anything I like. Because that certainly wouldn’t be what I tried to say. As you said about the meteorite, reality can be bloody solid. The example I always liked best is by SciFi author David Gerrold, who had one character say something like: “If you think there is no objective reality, go stand in front of a bus and tell it you don’t believe in it.”
I find it strange that in the question of direct vs. indirect reality perception (i.e. do we experience the objective real world or just our subjective mental model of it) peeps tend to see it in an either/or extreme. To me it seems clear that while we can only percieve reality via our sense-fed mental model, evolution has evolved our senses to be rather accurate in depicting reality accurately (though, again, only in as far as it is meaningful for us. For example I assume that you, too, as a child made the discovery that while the 3m diving board looks terrifyingly tall – and the jump down from it’s edge looks even deeper – if you measure out 3m on the flat ground, it is a disappointingly short stretch; or, if you are into mountaineering, or just long distance travel by motorbike, or car I suppose, that is nearly impossible to correctly gauge the angle of a slope. Our mind experiences hights as greater than flat distances. Is that an illusion? Only if we assume some neutral, objective reality. If we view distance as something that is of subjective importance, then height IS longer than horizontal distance. Scaling it is more strenuous, and falling from it downright life-threatening. From that POV our perceptions are actually spot on.)
Also, as you pointed out in a previous post, we have evolved as social beings, and as such, the way others experience reality, or indeed, experience us, matters so much that it has an influence on reality in that same way that it makes a difference whether a distance is horizontal or vertical. So even when I used my ability to read peeps to their disadvantage, I was only able to do so accurately because our realities have for all their subjectivity a lot of common ground and can bleed into each other.
So I would not want my religious experiences to be understood as completely solipsistic (though as a JD I’ve had a shrink diagnose me as borderline sociopathic, so I suppose there is something in that.)
My personal reasons to believe, eh? Well, for one there is my very subjective experiences. So, yes, while I believe in vampires, werewolves, curses, and ghosts, lesser divinities and even the faeries and unicorns so often quoted by atheists on a level you would probably dismiss as “only metaphors”, for example my spirit guides are very real to me on a sensory level. Both in deams and in waking reality, both when called in meditation and sometimes entirely of their own volition (and even in to me sometimes inopportune circumstances), any one or several of those three foxes appear to me. I can hear the clicking of their claws on the floor tiles, I can smell the mustiness of their fur or the foulness of their carnivorous and often carrion eating breaths, I feel the coarseness of their pelts and the burrs caught in them, the leathery toughness of the pads under their paws, see their red, white and in the case of the most scary of the trio anthracite grey fur, as well as the light caught in their eyes, and hear their rough, barking, yet humanly speaking voices as clearly and distinctly as those of my baby boy, or his mother, or my boss, or the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. Yet I do know the difference between their reality and the more objective one immediately, at least once they are close enough. (With a fox hurrying by in the distance, I am never quite certain if that is now a subjective spirit fox or an objective scavanger of the wild). It is not that they are translucent or echoy or anything so hollywood, but rather that I experience a duality or biception of realities. And while they have often told me things I wasn’t aware of, they cannot spy for me or tell me independently verifiable facts I couldn’t have subconsciously gleaned by mundane means. So clearly, they are not magical beings in the simplistic, naive sense of the word.
Hallunications? An extremely vivid imagination? Apparently my ability to fact check them discounts me as simply suffering from schizophrenia, or so I’ve been told. And since that first batch of muscimol it cannot be caused by drugs: The only drugs I consume are nicotine, caffeine, and sugar. I’ve even quite booze ver a year ago, and it hasn’t done anything to their sensory realism. In the end, I can only accept that they are real to me, and that conversing with them is extremely helpful to me, even if they more often than not tell me truths I’d rather not hear.
In the same vein, I do speak to God. And he answers, if far, far less often than the spirit guides, and when He does, He usually sounds somewhat irritated, rather bored, and very distant. (Emotionally, not physically. Physically He sounds as if He was standing immediately behind me.) Again, I cannot use him to get tomorrow’s lottery numbers, though He has told me things (in an offhand, casual way that is very disconcerting) that proved true later that I have a hard time rationalizing as being purely extrapolations from facts I already knew. But I am willing to entertain the idea that the immediate version I percieve of God is fed entirely through my ordinay senses. Everything else smacks to much of complete delusions and madness.
Besides that sensory presence it is also the experience of patterns in my life: The way choices sometimes make more sense in retrospect than they did when I made them, or the way things end in screw ups (often) or surprising harmony (seldom) that makes sense when viewed as a whole in the way a good story does, with beginning, middel, and end. I experience God as that which tells these stories. I see similar patterns in the stories of people close to me, though I am more weary there about my ability to recognize them, since my knowledge of them is perforce even more incomplete than of my own.
I am not really troubled by the connection between my personal God and God the cosmic being. That, too, is something I learned from reading people: We show different (and sometimes conflicting) sides of ourselves to different people, the same way a hologram cut into strips (to borrow another image from another SciFi author, this time William Gibson) shows the same object but from different perspectives. If you imagine God that way, it is not really surprising that from my narrow perspective I get one narrow experience of Him, that is at the same time personal and a part of the vast universe.
But I guess, yeah, in the end whether simple, if excessively powerful and special effects laden subjective metaphor or deep spiritual insight into the nature and truth of the universe, I have no more reason actual to believe in God than that it makes more sense to me to interact with the universe wearing this antropomorphic mask than to force myself to objectify it and strip all meaning from it the way you did with the message on the rock. Doing that seems artificial to me. It comes more natural to see the writing on the wall as meaningful. So to me the question really is, what reasons would I have to not believe.
Any other questions? ^_^
I am certain we are seriously breaking netiquette with these long posts, but now I would like to hear how you experience the world and your place in it, and how you integrate experiences of death, loss, fortune, courage, altruism, joy and pain.
Darwin Harmless says:
April 5, 2011 at 4:22 am@Freefox I rather envy you the entertainment your brain gives you. More fun than anything on television from the sounds of it. And you seem rational enough to at least be considering all the various possibilities, so I suppose you are not Son of Sam.
I am rather glad my world is not as complicated as yours. I don’t have to listen to, or interact with, beings whose objective reality I might doubt. Like that bus you mentioned, the beings in my life seem very real. All of them.
The way I experience the world. Huge question. I’ll try not to be too long winded about it. For me the world is very simple, endlessly complicated and extremely fascinating. I understand very little of it, but apparently much more than many people. I try to live by some fairly simple rules, most of which are summed up by Miguel Ruiz in “The Four Agreements”. I believe that, within limits, we create our own reality, and I try to create a reality full of cheerful people having fun. Having fun is important to me. I like to have a project or two on the go to be excited about. If I’m not learning about something I feel stagnant, so I’m always trying to pick up new skills or information. Lately my website has taken a lot of attention, because there’s always something to rant about. I started it because I can’t say a lot of things on my non-anonymous site, and I wanted a place to say whatever is on my mind.
I’ve given death a lot of thought, and the best I can come up with is that I was dead for billions of years before I was born, wasn’t bothered by that condition, and expect to be in exactly that state after I die. I thought this was original thinking, but like many things I’ve discovered that Mark Twain said it first. Anyway, it’s only the transition that worries me. A friend of mine once said something I found almost alarming. Not: “We’re going to die”, but “someday we’ll all have five minutes to live”. Interesting how that changed my perspective. I’m with Woody Allen – “I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
I love life. I love the people in my life, even the difficult people. In this day and age, if you aren’t excited you just aren’t paying attention because we’re living in yesterday’s science fiction. I guess I deal with most things the same way I dealt with that writing on the rock, which you said felt artificial to you. If by artificial you mean “using artifice” then I suppose it is. It’s how I deal with death, loss, and other unpleasantness of life, by trying to find a perspective that allows me to accept reality. And for me that’s the big key. I believe there is an objective reality out there. There’s no point fighting it. It is what it is. (The old cliche – if you drop your favorite coffee cup, you can be unhappy about it or okay with it, but in either case the cup is broken.) I try to accept reality. But I get my biggest kick out of taking a reality I don’t like and finding the place to push to change it into something more acceptable. This was the genius of Gandhi. He looked at that whole vast and complicated bureaucracy of the British in India and found the perfect place to push to send the whole machine off the tracks – the totally unjust law forbidding the poor to make salt from the ocean. I call this leverage. I’m always looking for leverage. And if I can turn an enemy into a friend, or an argument into a discussion, or pain into acceptance, that’s what I live for. I love to work with my hands. Love to make things. Love to drywall a room with no radio playing. Fortune? I’ve been rich, or at least had all the toys of wealth, the huge house on an ocean with a fifty foot yacht at anchor in my own bay. Currently I’m poor. Rich is better, as somebody said, but not by much. Just seems to confer more automatic respect.
I’m a firm believer that we all have far more options than we are aware of having, and that another adventure is just around the corner. Looking back at the great losses of my life, they have all been part of getting me where I am now, which is pretty damn good.
Courage? I’m not a brave person. In fact, I’m an incredible coward. But I also know that fear is the enemy of life, and that the worst that can happen is not as bad as we imagine. Or maybe it’s worse. But standing up to bullies is necessary. Standing up to what we want to see as right in this world is important. I hope I am never a witness to a stoning, because I’m fairly sure I’d walk in and try to stop it, and probably, almost certainly, get stoned myself. I have Rudyard Kipling’s “If” committed to memory, and as a philosophy of life it serves me very well. I know it’s simplistic, but it’s how I want to live – treating those two impostors both the same. I get great pleasure from my altruism, but I am very aware that this is why I do it. Some part of me could care less about the suffering of strangers. Joy and pain flow through me. Whining makes me feel better. I’ve got a lot of history. I’ve stood in the Parthenon, lain on the floor of the Sistine Chapel for an hour or so (but back before it was cleaned so I want to do it again) had a standing ovation in Alice Tulley Hall in New York, seen Darwin’s Finches, chewed coca leaves in the high Andes, I have my advanced open ocean SCUBA certification, I’ve seen the Mona Lisa, watched schools of flying fish against a tropical sunset. Ah, the memories. If the party ends tomorrow, I can’t complain about anything. But I’d like to live forever.
And that’s enough. I’m probably going to reprint this whole discussion on the Darwin Harmless site, so if Author ever gets tired of us we have a place to go. Unfortunately it will become a far more private conversation if we do that. I don’t have much of a following as yet, though I cherish the ones I do have. Most of them. Just told divineadvancedhumanbeings.com that he’d wandered onto the wrong site, so I guess I don’t welcome everybody. Don’t mind talking to intelligent faith heads, but nutters that tell me light is a chemical reaction get short shrift.
Not nearly enough to explain myself, but should give you the rough pencil sketch version. Thanks for asking.
April 5, 2011 at 7:48 pm@ Freefox
You can buy more of the amazing 4th dimensional Shamanistic experience on the best Peruvian Torch website (and don’t forget, we have a special on San Pedro Catus for this week only!) Google it and please, stop with this inane one upmanship, you showed your true colours, we get it, give it a rest….we want comix not your endless one upmanship ffs……
Second Thought says:
April 6, 2011 at 3:08 am@Exzanian
I don’t think you are being fair to Freefox. He didn’t start into the long posts until he was asked to share his beliefs and the reasons for those beliefs. He does not seem to be trying to convert anyone, just answer the questions he was asked. If what you come to this site for is just the comix then it seems to me that none of the comments fit that bill. Both FF and DH have invited Author to step in and shoo their conversation off of the J&M board if it is getting overly long or off-topic for Author’s tastes. They both seem to be showing respect to this comments forum.
None of us have to read any of the comments that don’t interest us or comments from any of the commenters that we don’t enjoy. I, for one, have been finding the conversation interesting. Thanks to both FF and DH for sharing your thoughts here. This even brought me out of my usual lurker mode.
April 6, 2011 at 5:19 amI resent the use of name “mohammed” in characterising the actual troll!! The name is used by a lot of people, not many of them I admire at the moment, but I keep the option open that in the future (definitely NOT in the long past) some of them will become my friend !
I propose the formal name: Homo islamicus fundii ….
heh heh heh .. (this is not a troll speaking, just panting )
April 6, 2011 at 6:16 amI just read DH & FF interaction. Wow! These guys are knowledgeable! And honest! Upfront, in a continuum from FF to DH, I am more than a tad toward DH.
But I understood what FF said. Actually, reading about spirituality (for me, exp Buddhism) teaches me that there is something in human psyche that’s is beyond the ordinary (of course I wrote it as if it is something new, while it’s just observation). Like FF said, if youo’re in a cathedral, or a big mosque – you could (not should!) be awed. Pyramids! angkor wat! borobudur! Human mind / faith can moved mountain!
When they’re coerced into it, of course. The forbidden city, the great wall.
Faith is a powerful weapon for the masses. Handled properly it is powerful and.. cheap! read the history of saud (&wahab) family in arabia. Or khaddafis.
Then there are jungian archetypes, the athenas, ares, kali, bodhisatwas. saints and the counterparts of demons, vampires. The psychological baggages. In the past all of these are beyond understanding. Moreover if you throw in the charlatans, bogus witches, liar priests that crashed the party for cash.
It still is beyond understanding. But nowadays, we carefully sorted out the mess. Psychologists, freudian clean-up, the jungian explanations to current practices. Now we know there are myriads of tricks our mind can play on us. Some of those tricks are very personal, like FF’s experiences (I have some of shamanistic experiences myself, I understand what FF said about foxes, even I do not share the same explanation).
Some of them can be ‘leveraged’ into mass movements. Those who can would amass fortunes. Not just the Roman kings with Xtianity, also mohammed (the one) and his later kings with their khalifah. But also Hitler with nazism, Mussolini, up to rev. Taggart and Adnan octar. Machiavelism at work.
All these mess with Mind.
One thing I can be sure about: when you’re walking in the Truth Path, don’t stop. If you enjoy the foxes, the same way that you awestruck with the scenery. You become fixated. Then you stopped with the fox, or hate the wiseguy that wrote “Fuck you” on your path. You failed.
There is some ‘metaphorical’ truth about the sitting under bodhi, the 40-days in the desert, and the cave-hira episodes. Even struck by lightning on the way to damascus. It happened to myriads..
The irony is – when you stopped and enjoy yourself – then you’re it! Most of the Walker did that.
What I like about the scientific approach – cosmology, physics, chemistry, evolution, psychology, sociology, politics, economics — we humanity for the first time ever, build a brick road on the true-land, we are going to be “there” on this brick road. Not easy, but much much easier than what the shamans, the sufis, the mystics, of the past have shown us (what I believe FF is on).
That’s why I love science and scientific approach! A lot of people say that scientific approach is the most difficult (or even impossible), but it is not.
Like late Sagan said “…. and it has the benefits of being true..”.
Yes, sometimes scientists make mistakes, but we all will correct them.
This brick-road is the surefire way to Truth, Reality or God, or whatever your shamans told you ….. within next 100 years or so?
Cheers. I hope the Author got some idea from DH & FF posts!
PS: I like FF’s comment about Islam and Jew. The history must be known. But don’t be small, all monotheistic ideas are coming from similar sources, moving around middle-east. All of them are borrowing (or plagiarizing) from each other. No holy-book is original. The same way with knowledge in general.
April 6, 2011 at 6:17 amSorry, annoying typo: .. for me, especially Buddhism …
Darwin Harmless says:
April 6, 2011 at 9:10 amSorry everybody. That clever FreeFox pulled me off topic, which was to discuss the reality of God, angels, spirits, by asking me to talk about my favorite subject, namely me. I’m embarrassed by how quickly I jumped at his bate.
FreeFox, you said: “I have no more reason actual to believe in God than that it makes more sense to me to interact with the universe wearing this anthropomorphic mask than to force myself to objectify it and strip all meaning from it the way you did with the message on the rock. Doing that seems artificial to me. It comes more natural to see the writing on the wall as meaningful. So to me the question really is, what reasons would I have to not believe.”
You say this this after the most incredible set of artificial logical contortions so that you can maintain that you believe in faeries, hear voices, see spirit guides, and that God stands behind you and speaks in a bored voice (I can believe that.) and otherwise dive deep into woo while still claiming to be sane and logical. Sorry. I don’t buy it. Not for a minute. I think you know you are just playing games with your sub-conscious mind. If you don’t know that, I’m pretty sure I speak for the majority when I say the rest of us do.
Darwin Harmless says:
April 6, 2011 at 11:39 amDamn but I hate typos. That should be bait, of course, not bate. I could pretend I meant BATE, as in “obvious”, but then it should have been all caps. So I’ll just eat this one.
April 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm@Exzanian: Who am I trying to one-up? o_O?
@Second Thought: Thanks, mate. ^_^
@gk4c4: Love your image of science as the yellow brick road, or actually any kind of man-made, solid, dependable paved road, like those the Romans built all over Europe, to make travel independent of the season and the weather. There might have been good pathfinders before, trustworthy travel-guides, but most times people just got stuck in the mud or wandered into some bog or off a cliff (or into a predator’s trap). The roads of science may not yet lead past every hamlet and every glade one may want to get to, but wherever it does lead it’s a bloody comfortable and dependable way to travel.
@Darwin Harmless: You sure are a fickle one. And I really wasn’t trying to bait you. I was just interested, and I enjoyed your telling. I thought it had been a friendly conversation, and not a contest. Shrug.
“If you don’t know that, the rest of us do.” I’m happy for you. Knowledge is a good thing, innit? ^_^
Darwin Harmless says:
April 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm@FreeFox Not so much fickle as occasionally moody. Please put it down to bad brain chemicals. I apologize. I very much enjoyed our discussion, and was also not thinking of it as an argument. Just reacted to seeing myself so far off topic, an intemperate blurt which I now regret. To top it off, I should never presume to speak for the others.
What I should say, speaking frankly without any attempt at wit, is that I’m drawn to the conclusion that you are either disingenuous or barking mad.
I spent a fair bit of time in close proximity to a professional shaman at one point and came to the conclusion that he was an out and out con man. Your allusion to a previous profession that sound suspiciously like mind reading or mentalism inclines in that direction with you as well.
In either case, fraud or madman, I applaud your ability to use language and your obvious intelligence. In either case, you provide great entertainment value. Perhaps not as much as Mohamad, excuse me @gk4c4 I mean homo islamicus fundamentalus, but still great fun.
And as Schultz, the German guard on “Hogan’s Heroes” was wont to say, I know nothing. Nothing. Only you know what you are.
It’s been a slice.
April 6, 2011 at 5:12 pm
re: FF’s yellow brick road, roman via appia. that’s an apt metaphor. In the past, no technology enough to build the road, so the brave souls try their best – like a lot of the Walkers of today. Most of them are lost. Those who banded together into a convoy – the organized religions – are the “most lost” the lostest
Real Walker always walk alone, until they expire. Some believe they have achieved their goal. I seriously doubt it. Most of those “organized tourists” are in hell already (lucky that hell doesnot really exist ..).
In any case, I believe in the Walker’s creed. It’s your soul, your heaven, your hell. You do what you could, you reap what you got. Reading into the real human thinkers (including the famous human J&M) you will see that what they find from their Walks are very similar. Abidhamma is the most detailed travelogue for me, but even bible and koran (hadith esp) you can read the notes of a Walker. Just forget the all-too-human ass-licking sycophants, and the temporal cultural things.
Lastly, we live in a very different world now, and the changes are very rapid. Very soon that via-appia is done. I just hope that I won’t be dead before that happens. Again from late Sagan: “.. we live in very exciting times …”
What we now know is vastly more than whatever jesus, mo, siddharta, confucius, laotze, plato ever dream to know. Yet, we stilll don’t know.
That “God” is the remnant of the thing that all human share : the idea of Father… Freudian jungian archetype father… it is part of the past. FF my friend, you have to keep Walking…. admire the snenery and the baubles you found on the way, but go on. Mohammed said ” I am the finger pointing, don’t be distracted with my hands, body, face, or even worse the ring I wear ..see the direction”. Laotse said succintly: Learn everything, and then unlearn, everything is changing. Siddharta said the best on his deathbed: Just walk – and if you faced buddha (meaning he walked inn opposite direction – disagreeing with you): Kill Buddha! ( read: forget what I teach – if you find yourself the truth).
That’s what a real Walker should say, not the crazy homo fundii themes. And nowadays, the path is definitely scientifically woven, I believe if siddharta and laotse live today, they will be scientist, or at least scientifically literate.
April 6, 2011 at 6:30 pm
@ Darwin Harmles: Fickle. Moody. I knew it was one of those. And for someone who knows nothing, your analysis is pretty spot on. For a while I did indeed earn my bread as a thief and con man (though I prefer the term confidence artist), though I never stooped to something as low and cruel as duping folks with magic, miracles, or divination. I preferred grabbing them by their greed and sometimes lust and then letting them dig their own pit. (I don’t want to sound too apologetic, though. Picking pockets and lying for money is not a victimless crime, unlike prostitution or selling dope. I have no illusions about that. It just tickled me to use their own vices against them.)
But no more. As far as I can give any trustworthy assurance via a more or less annonymous internet board I want to assure you I have not taken an unfair penny off another human in over a year. And I don’t plan on returning there.
In the end – this may or may not interest you in the conext of our conversation – it was my amygdala and my mirror neurons that made me quit, if by a certain circumlocution: I fell in love with a bloke – even though I fought it tooth and claw, but sometimes the heart conquers the brain – only to find evidence that he’d lead me on. Not for money, just for fun. And I found that afterwards I just couldn’t do it anymore. The very thing that got my adrenalin flowing before, the joy of deception and manipulation, it was simply gone. I had grown a bloody conscience. Let me tell you: That sucked! And I had to find me another way to make a living, which I am happy to say, with the help of very friendly and good people (Muslims at that), I did… so far.
Of course, the last thing I would advise is to trust me or my word. But then, for a con I can’t see the percentage in this. (But if you find me popping up on your own website and trying to rope you into some enterprise, promising you big riches for just a small investment, well, you don’t need my warning, seeing your own experiences with that mindset.)
Also, I really, really don’t want to give God any of the praise for that turnabout on my road to Damaskus. He never bothered me about being a crook, and if I ever got any kind of reaction about quiting, it was at best a divine shoulder shrug. Nor do I believe that my islamic friends reached out to me out of their faith and devotion. They’re just simply good people, and they’d be good people no matter in what country or under what faith or lack thereof. I’d hate if you thought I was trying to do any proselytising.
Chalk it up to me being two stations short of Ockendon, if you will. I can live with that. Although, and call me a Neo-Platonist if you will, I still think you underestimate and undervaluate the power, importance, and reality of metaphors.
Don’t know if you know a chap called Sapolsky. Check out this article and this video. There is more to reality than rocks and more things can run you down than busses.
@gk4c4: Aristotle was convinced that his generation was close to finding out everything there was to be known about the world. Obviously I don’t know this any more than you do, but I have a hard time believing that humanity is close to finishing that network of brick roads, or that it is even possible for humanity to do so… though, yeah, now that I think about it, I suppose that knowledge might be finite, in the sense that space, matter, and energy might be finite in this universe. There is of course the question of other universes, and if their total number is finite, etc. Anyway, it seems to me a rather distant and theoretical boundary.
I am killing Buddhas right and left, mate, Tarantino style. And I have the sneaking feeling that that is a habit atheists shouldn’t give up entirely either, although they still seem to be in the danger of doing so. But I agree that the scientific method has very beautifully and effectively ritualized that principle.
Darwin Harmless says:
April 7, 2011 at 3:41 am
@FreeFox “To live outside the law you must be honest.” – Bob Dylan.
For the record, I absolutely detest a con man, and calling one a confidence artist degrades the word “artist”. I don’t feel this way for any reason connected with morality, since who can justify a system wherein one man is born knowing he will never have to do a lick of work in his entire life and will still live in luxury with all the toys humanity can bestow on him, while another is born to scratch and scrabble and suffer knowing that there is no way out except death, if the religious freaks don’t poison his mind to even that possibility. I detest con men because they lower the amount of trust between people. It can always be justified, of course, as taking advantage of a person’s natural greed, and thus teaching a lesson. But usually the victims of con men are the weak, the helpless, the foolish, the widows and orphans. And often the people they con are good hearted, buying into trying to help them.
I had a good friend who inherited three million dollars. Within weeks a con man showed up and took it all away from her, not because she was greedy but because she fell in love and wanted to help him get his business started. Bastard.
So, I hope your conscience stays healthy and grows stronger. It is a bitch having one, I admit. But I’m also reminded of a friend of mine who was a “bad” kid, always in trouble, always catching shit for something. One day the concept of “virtue” flooded over him, the very idea. He was knocked flat by the idea of what it would feel like to feel “good”, to be a “good person”. That road to Damascus experience changed his life.
So, good luck on your recovery. A year is not a long time. Recidivism is a distinct possibility. But as I told my dear brother, if you want to be respected, you have to be respectable.
I think this thread is now dead. Few people read the comments once the new strip is up. I’m going to reprint it to the Darwin Harmless site, and you’re welcome to visit anytime. I have personal issues I’d enjoy hearing your views about. Look for “The Other Side of the Knothole” as one example.
To wrap up:
Here are a couple of quotes from Mohamad, the rabid Muslim who motivated this discussion. This is, in my opinion, where the real humour lies.
“All of you have no answer for my question, but you bubbling such a garbage. All of you are coward, and afraid of the truth. You will never know the truth of the idiotic belief such atheism, the silliest theory such evolution theory, the stupid books such Origin of Species and The Greatest Show on Earth and the liar and fairy tale story such holocaust because you have a brain but you have no mind, you think by you knee. Advising a people who a stubborn and stupid such you and you friends will waste my precious time. Thank you.”
Ya gotta love a moron who’s been trained to be polite. -D.H.
“All of you laughed as a bastard and idiot people.”
Fuckin’ right we did, Mohamad. I’m still laughing as a bastard and idiot people. You cracked us all up, and injected more fun into the comment thread than we could ever manufacture on our own. I’m truly grateful.
The Last Word:
Since this is my site, I get the last word on this discussion. Anything else can go into the comments, if anybody ever takes the time to read this stuff. FreeFox confirms and represents my opinion of believers – they are either frauds, pretending to believe for social or peer pressure reasons, or completely batshit crazy. I think many believers have convinced themselves that what they “feel” is true must be true, especially when the feelings are intense. It’s probably rare that any of them hallucinate angels or hear voices. Those that do are nuts. Simple as that. FreeFox with his shamanistic experiences and spirit guides is a perfect example of a combination of the two – some cliched experiences drawn from the woo crowd, but an intelligence and awareness that he’s just playing games with his brain. Of course, this is only my opinion. Like the question of whether Mohamad, or rabid Islamic, was real or not, there’s just no way to know for sure.
One last suspicion about the charming FreeFox. I suspect he’s one of those people who adopt the perceived values of whatever crowd he finds himself in, but have very thin core values of their own. Put them with rednecks, and they’ll spout Tea Party buzz words or talk hunting. Put them with Christians and suddenly they are born again. Put them with atheists and, by gosh, they understand the principles of science. ( “though as a JD I’ve had a shrink diagnose me as borderline sociopathic”) This fits. If this is true, I hope he matures. But again, it’s only a suspicion. Only FreeFox knows what he is. Maybe.