Mar 25, 2015

Wed Review (Alan Moore - Brought to Light)

The Bill Sienkiewicz drawn story would have been cool if Moore had developed it like he did his Jack Ripper conspiracy in From Hell. As it stands its a dull rant about a CIA conspiracy, or something like that. I don't trust Moore enough to take what he says at his word - if I were more interested I would check out the sources that he uses. One of my friends is really into conspiracies (and he's intelligent and educated), so I'd rather just listen to him chat about it instead.

In general I like conspiracy theories because they get you thinking about the possibilities. They invite you to question the story as it's given to you in school, the mainstream texts, the news etc. But then they get all pissy when you question their story. What da heck!? The whole point is to question the stories you're told, the stories you assume to be true - why should I not take a stern skeptic stance to your new version of events?

My conspiracy friend likes to talk about how the people on the inside of the conspiracy like to hire people to pose as crack-pot conspiracy theorists - these people know the true version of events, pretend to dislike the given story of events, and create bat-shit-insane conspiracy theories to decrease the credibility of all the real, honest conspiracy theorists. I wonder which category Moore falls under.

So, it gets you thinking (if you don't already think about these sorts of thing - this is like the first time your Christian raised self discovered an atheist writing, but later we come back to that book and see that its inferior to many others on the same topic), but as a comicbook this fails.

Mar 18, 2015

Wed Review (Sigmund Freud - Moses and Monotheism)

Highly speculative re-imagining of the Moses myth as well as a general account of primitive religions and the transition to a monotheistic platform. I'm not sure why Freud is concerned about Moses's race. I would think most modern scholars reject the very existence of Moses.

Egypt, for a short period of time, had the Pharaoh Akhenaten who proclaimed that their existed one God. This may have been an attempt to draw a similarity between God and his own rule. That there is one god means that there should be one dominant ruler of society; Freud puts this more elegantly saying, "God was the reflection of a Pharaoh autocratically governing a great world Empire.". After his death Egypt reverted to their previous many-gods stuff. So, anyways, perhaps it is the case that Moses stole that idea.

Freud dives into the explanation of religious phenomena as a model of neurotic symptoms of the individual. (he also does some weird transition from the causes of these symptoms in the individual to groups of people; going so far as to suggest that people have generational memory. Thus we identify with 'God' because our primitive selves identified with the Father of a tribe.)

Much of Freud's psycho-analytic techniques used are lost on me. I enjoy the idea of the neurotic stages though: "early trauma - defense - latency - outbreak of the neurosis - partial return of the repressed material." I just don't see it working as simply as he posits it to work on a whole race of people.

There is an interesting history concerning the publication of this book. Freud wrote the first two small parts and published them in Germany. These consist of the speculation that Moses is Egyptian and the significance that may hold. Due to the rise of the Nazis, Freud feared to release the third, more significant and risque, part of the book. He left to England and eventually published it, still in fear that he would lose valuable friends over the ordeal. Now, based on the fact that Freud died in the same year as Freud died, I doubt he felt much negative impact from the publication. He states in 1938, while still in Vienna, "[the book] may lie hid until the light of day, or until someone else who reaches the same opinions and conclusions can be told: 'In darker days there lived a man who thought as you did.'"

I think Freud thinks too highly of his psychological process for determining history. Just because something makes 'psychological sense' does not mean that it occurred. Freud treats psycho-analysis like we would now treat physics, or any of the more testable and reliable sciences. I think this book works better as an interesting literary speculation and interpretation of unreliable historical texts and inferences drawn from archeology and biology.

Mar 11, 2015

Wed Review (William James - The Will to Believe)

James states in his Pragmatism that abstract arguments are only important if choosing one or the other leads to a real difference. If no real difference is discernible, than there's no real difference in the arguments; more just a difference in terminology. In this essay he begins with the notion of Hypothesis. A hypothesis is "anything that may be proposed to our belief" - this is in accordance with the standard public-school notion of hypothesis. Now, a hypothesis is measured in importance by being "live or dead" - live meaning that the hypothesis is of some importance to you and your willingness to act on them.

James puts the emphasis on what we are going to do and how our choice of the options in the hypothesis affect our actions. James states, "As a rule we disbelieve all facts and theories for which we have no use." I don't quite understand this statement; I get confused because I spend most of my days involved in bullshit debates with friends about things I probably don't really care much about - but, I suppose, the very act of thinking about a 'hypothesis' gives it a use; just not a use of very much gravity, making it less 'live' and more 'dead' - but not totally dead. The less 'live' a hypothesis is, the less time and attention I (should) give it.

James turns the notion of truth on its head. My notion of truth is correlation. "That cat is black" is true if the cat referred to is indeed of black color.

James believes that a person's non-intellectual nature influences our convictions. Our nature not only does decide between the options, but its decision is completely valid. Even opting for skepticism (or choosing not to choose an option) is a decision based on one's nature.

He further defends his thesis by stating that neither rationalism or empiricism is fully functioning. In fact, "No concrete test of what is really true has ever been agreed upon". Even science has its problems because it necessarily assumes its methods to be effective in gathering truths.

James's thoughts seem to be a nice middle-ground between skepticism, science, and religion. James dismisses the skeptics as avoiding error; preferring to believe truth at the risk of making mistakes. I guess this is why its a practical philosophy: every day we make necessary decisions between multiple options - do we choose them randomly or based on our knowledge?

Mar 9, 2015

Monday Morning Quote (Kant)

Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another... Have courage to use you own understanding.

-Kant, the self-help guru

I've also read translations that use the word tutelage instead of immaturity. That puts more emphasis on the idea that our immaturity is related to following some person or group that we have rightly or wrongly given authority over our own decision making. Another translation uses the term 'nonage' which literally means the period of being a legal minority (under 18 years of age here in Canada). If you're a minor, you are not given the legal rights to exercise your own authority - you're not even entitled to vote for who will dictate the laws and actions of your community.

I think it can be a scary concept to break out and try to use our own reason to achieve our own goals. This quote comes from Kant's essay "What is enlightenment?" which some take to be the defining statement of the Enlightenment movement (sort of like an Enlightenment manifesto). One of the big criticisms of the enlightenment is that it under values tradition and leads to nihilism. Nihilism is defeated by accepting the foundational myth of tradition. By breaking tradition we are left with no solid foundation in which to judge our actions and goals. Perhaps we are able to break through our immaturity while still accepting some of society's values. Enlightenment concepts allow us to question the norm and create progressive change.

Kant surprisingly concludes the essay by saying that we are to question and criticize authority but ultimately it is our duty to obey. We can still think for ourselves without needing to cause a harmful rebellion. As Kant states, "A revolution may well put an end to autocratic despotism and to rapacious or power-seeking oppression, but it will never produce a true reform in ways of thinking. Instead, new prejudices, like the ones they replaced, will serve as a leash to control the great unthinking mass." I see this as Kant asking for an open, pluralistic society. One where many opinions are tolerated and listened to and the leaders are criticized. A society with numerous religious and anti-religious beliefs and cultures from all around the world. One where we interact with people from all walks of life and never have a single unanimous authority figure dictating what we should believe and how we should act.

If you take the enlightenment to mean we should over throw the government and start a new society, you have completely missed the point.

Mar 4, 2015

Wed Review (Dolores Cannon - the Convoluted Universe)

Speculations put forth under the lie of 'truth'. Defenders of her logic claim that "I'm not open minded", as though open mindedness were synonymous with gullible. Her work has logical inconsistencies (the law of consistency being one of the only metaphysical premises that is hard to doubt).

The author seems to dress up speculation as fact to deceive her readers in the pursuit of cash.

It seems like the people that believe in this type of stuff don’t believe in the scientific method but that doesn’t stop them from spewing “facts”. But if a fact can’t be observed, measured, or tested in any kind of way, how can you criticize me for not belieiving?

They say crazy stuff like the vibration densities of the earth, which have no operational definition. They seem oblivious to the idea that modern science is pretty crazy too (at least I think the concepts like dark matter and quarks and all the modern physics are pretty amazing).

It seems to me that there doesn’t need to be a separation between these ideas and science. Their fear is that science will reveal that most of these “truths” are theories at best. Science doesn’t allow lying because its all about collecting new knowledge and correcting knowledge – two things that are incompatible with dogmatic faith.

I really wouldn’t be concerned about any of this. I think its completely fine if someone wants to live in blind faith – its their business. Its when people comment like the woman above that I hate this stuff…

“Robby, I am also the mother of a son like you. He is going through a similar event and is facing severe depression. I myself have experienced a Past Life Regression followed by a Life Between Lives Regression where I was told he is of the highest spiritual beings.”

Its completely unfair to claim that this stuff is “truth” when someone’s well-being is on the line. I was a very depressed teenager and the last thing, the very last thing I needed was some one spewing crazy bullshit at me and telling me I am depressed because I’m “of the highest spiritual beings” and tell me about my past lives. I needed rational thought and true caring. Not lies.

You can’t hide behind the blanket statement “it can’t be tested by scientific methods”.

You can’t have an experience and then state that its a truth. The only truth is that you had that experience. To go beyond that conclusion and make statements about the nature of reality is faulty at best. I can have a dream – it could simply be my mind creating images and sounds or it could be a trip into a past life. To say conclusively either one is true is faulty.

There are no absolutes in science – all science can be changed and altered based on new data – so don’t say that it is narrow-minded. Its not because it changes. It makes assumptions in order to progress. The internet wouldn’t have been created if we didn’t make assumptions about the nature of electricity, for example.

Mar 2, 2015

Monday Morning Quote (Nietzsche)

“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.”

Friedrich Nietzsche
from Thus Spoke Zarathustra

I'm not sure if I could be so confident to say that I have anything rewarding to give to the discriminate patron who wishes to learn more about me. I love the sentiment here though; although a person may seem brooding and bitter on the outside he may still have that heart of gold on the inside - or at least something desirable. It can also apply to ideas and cultures too. For example, something like atheism may seem nihilistic and terrifying to the person that was raised catholic but once explored reveals a viewpoint of one that values individuality, pluralism, and an open society.