Sunday, 26 March 2017

Quoted Wisdom, Quotable Quackery

Quoted Wisdom, Quotable Quackery

Quotes are selected, often general, and commonly removed from context, meaning you can quote whoever you wish, it cannot add to evidence of a claim unless it's from an expert in that area of knowledge and hasn't been surpassed since it was stated.
In other words, wisdom is overrated; quotes are biased by definition.  The simplification of concepts is not an outright error, and in such cases the definition is incomplete.  And this is including popular scientists, who will make an explanation easier to understand, then others will use this simplified version of the facts, people love to use these as if the intellect is a point scoring system.  They'll select diluted ideas that seem very talented and may have a philosophical quality, even if these quotes will likely lack nuance.  In many ways, wisdom is not the work of explaining but the art of personal understanding, in which case wisdom is subjective, inspired by possibilities in a way that gives pause for thought.  And a fool may find inspiration in the unreal just as a pure intellect can find nothing there but the puzzled thoughts of lesser minds. 

The best examples of quotes are often pseudo-scientific, the quacks use selected factual quotes or those from scientists to support an unscientific series of opinions.  And clear the goal is often to fleece the convinced once you have developed a following.  These shameless entities leach onto the hunger for knowledge that most of us enjoy, they trick the somewhat ill-informed and make a business from a half-baked philosophy.  In fact, the lowest blow is where a person clear has originated the deception, so rather than accepting an inferior authority, they have gone through the various statements of a respected historical figure to winkle out a few choice words.  This can be to support or dismiss claims, as with the criticism of atheist authors, although, this is often applied by amateurs and on either side of the debate.  Where they dishonest can use a statement to support or defame a person or idea, they will likely do so. 

A person wishing to misrepresent a position will select quotes and even those cited by the person they debate, as happened in one instance of a debate between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris.  Dr Craig used selected quotes that Harris had quoted from others and were not his position.  And to those who aren't interesting in context, it seems to be a refutation.  This kind of misrepresent is common enough, in my opinion, it's the lowest form of debate since a dishonest selection process is used to discredit the individual and not to deal with the factual arguments.  I don't doubt that many sceptics would do the same to discredit their opposition in a debate, although, if we are honest, we should point out these errors regardless of who uses these methods.  What matters more than spin is the facts, their meaning and context, and who passes on the facts isn't as important.

The best quotes are those that hold meaning, not those from the famous and wise, and most quotes are just ripe cherries that you pick them from where you can and use them you will.  Relying on quotes, sayings and parables, or anything you take from the world, is ultimately meaningless if you fail to think for yourselves. 

The moon is made of cheese. ;)

The title isn't serious, nor is anyone of sound mind claiming this to be true, yet, it is the kind of claim that one could keep alive by moving the goal posts.  If anything the idea of the moon being made of cheese is a joke about the power of ignorance and what things may look like to simple minds.

When we talk of god, heaven, or any such idea, it is easy enough to say without canonical reasoning that the trouble must be that we haven't disproved god as much as one idea of god.  We can go to the extreme of examining the stories of every holy book and the idea of god(s), and when we test what we can the faithful can always move god beyond our ability to test.  Long ago it was normal to image the gods walking the hills and mountains, meeting on the highest mountains, such as Olympus, and when we conquered these high places the gods became kings of the sky.  As modern science kicked in the ability to test the skies and the vastness of space pushed the room for god to an every greater extent, until, at some point, god is no longer in our universe, or not visible in our dimension.  The process is one that the god of the Israelites is now the god of the gaps. 

To the ignorant and thought-reformed, the idea of a small universe, a young earth, etc.  Isn't hard to accept, from a point of ignorant faith it is easy to imagine a god unseen watching mankind and helping the flock.  It isn't unlike the stories we tell to children, the idea that fairies live in the garden, that pixies look after the forests, or giants live in the sky and are reached by climbing magic bean stalks.  Or, the moon is made of cheese, a fun idea added into children stories and cartoons, and because it looks a bit like a kind of cheese with pits and holes.  We troll our off-spring in this way, giving the kinder an inspired imagination in their earliest years. 

The link between ideas of god and the cheese based moon is to not understand where we come from via a natural selection process and cheese comes from cow.  The outspoken theist and outspoken child may well speak with the honest belief that this is so, one at 44 years and the other at 4 years.  The arguments used would stem from the ideas they have, every step back they make would require them to deny or change view to the nearest safe position, thus, in a fashion, they are alike. 

To give an example, when addressing the theist you may point out the universe is not geocentric, they will likely disagree and agree, the universe seems to be not geocentric.  But if the universe is centred on us then how could you truly refute it if it is at a cosmic level if not as far as our star system nor our galaxy.  So we both aren't the centre yet are the focus of the universe.  The argument moves the centric view while making it more concrete to the faithful via a leap of faith and imagination. 

The child's view of a moon of fermented curds might make similar moves, denial can't last in children on such issues for long, adsorption is the logical step, thus, they would incorporate the ideas or adapt them to fit their model of reality.  Literal cheese or otherwise may as well be cheese since it is so far that we cannot touch it, but then mankind has visited the moon, and so a staggering realisation can take place.  The obvious takes place, they learn or remain foolishly uninformed, the latter kind is most like the devout religious person.  In which case faith or trust in an idea is coupled with imagination, and when one ponders possibility and not literal philosophy one can create universes of near nonsense.  In an extreme case we could dream up a character that thinks the cheese of the moon is to refer to the feminine energies of both the moon and cheese being aligned, or indeed an idea of other worldly cheese, a food of the gods.  Such people would find themselves in padded cells in adulthood, yet to those innocent youths the idea of the lunar emmental is believable, and only because you have no yet developed your rational faculties. 

So, what the hell am I talking about?  I'm using an odd example of the moon being made of cheese and the comparison to irrational beliefs to express that one should outgrow the unrealistic over time, yet the idea of religion often linger for a lifetime.  At which point the health answer is not to move the goal posts and suggest multi-dimensional forces, but instead to recognise that you do not know the answer.  In cases of the moon and god, we can accept the evidence and need not jump to any conclusions.  Even if we have way of making our mistaken views seem to be less irrational as we mess with the perimeters.  Final clarification, to make claims of knowledge when you know little is to know almost nothings, to warp reality to your beliefs prove nothing at all. 

[A bit random, I know.]

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Spiritual Pebbles - A Response To Crystal Power

Spiritual pebbles.

Probably the oddest idea I know of is how an ancient piece of coloured glass can improve your health.  The experts use long and overly complicated terms to suggest they know how things work, and the believers who don't yet have this the spiritual lexicon will only say 'I don't know how it works, but it does.'  In this kind of case, I don't know what's worst, the people saying they know because they can make poorly supported arguments sound smart, or the sad cases who accept the bad arguments and cannot explain why they get a kick out of crystals. 

It doesn't have to be old and natural, just fused glass with a beautiful colour works great on people who don't know better.  Such as blue obsidian, commonly this is just light blue glass and is quite popular as a polished pebble, which means many people are buying a machine smoothed piece of glass because it's a lovely colour.  Traditional shapes for such items include pyramids and spheres, that pseudo-experts claim help energises an environment, help with channelling and cosmic energy, etc.  There is nothing to the science-like claims other than the placebo built up by a new age mystics and salespeople.  Even if they refer to ancient cultures liking fancy looking pieces of old glass, such as the long historical use of jade in the Far-East or ancient cultures having rituals which included them.  The ancient Jewish high priest breastplate which is said to of had twelve gems in it to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, so the new ager with an Israelite fetish might buy each of these stones to get closer to spirit. 

Pointing out where other cultures use gemstones doesn't confirm that since they had them, they must have thought of them as you think of them now.  Even if they did, how does that prove anything real unless it is something demonstrable?  To an Eastern mystic, a crystal may be a helpful thing to focus on, but if it is the centre alone then what does it matter if you carry a pebble or a piece of wood or bone?  If a symbol in mind is enough for people to have engaging experiences in meditation then what use is a stone that is only as useful as a mental tool, and maybe that is what it truly is, a psychological tool. 

Often the creation of a false history takes place, in which the selected stories and facts of the past are expressed as if we have lost a great secret.  For decoration and superstition a gem encrusted crown, in the 12th century Europe, may convey a sense of power, but can we find anything near the magical ideas of the modern new age movement?  If we find enough examples that we can rewrite as evidence in a pseudo-history when is that somehow real?  The fact that you need to change things to make it fly says a lot about the honesty of the new age spiritualist' search for knowledge. 

In essence, the practices of meditation and devotion with stones is a throwback belief, grounded more in thought-reform rather than practicality.  The practice offers self-induced states of delusion, not real mindstates that would be far more attractive to critics.  It's just collecting pebbles and carvings with the hope that they have magical properties.  

Maybe the best thing you can say about the properties of crystals and minerals is that the spiritual/psychic claims cannot be utterly refuted.  It's not unlike fairies and gods, they cannot be totally debunked in the minds of the faithful, but as science continues, there are fewer places for them to hide.  One day science may shine some light on such topics, even if modern psychology and neurology explain the experience basis for spirituality. 

We seem to be right???

We seem to be right.

On which issues are we right?! On God, yes, well most probably there is no God by the facts that we have and the universe that we understand to a significant degree, meaning the Abrahamic God is philosophically dead. Not to say some kind of maybe is false, but every reason to believe in a god that answers prayers is based on defeated faiths and those who refuse to admit the grievous error in their faith-based claims. On everything else, we can disagree on a vast number of issues, and we share our reasonable doubts about religious/spiritual concepts. Politically we differ, we are intellectually diverse, we are human beings that are unconvinced by the arguments for any deity, and we feel no need to worship the big bang, nor that blackholes listen to our prayers. We are reasonably sure that God is not a factor in our lives, not that we see any reason to act badly to each other either.

At best be accused of the obvious, our lack of wishful thinking, we know we cannot create reality from our desperate hopes, no matter how much we may want to live on forever, we don't escape the void, we return the universe that born us. We don't cease concern over this end, and we do the best we can to come to terms with our finite existence.

A Very Leftist Labelling Problem.

Interestingly, in the usage of terms in times past there liberal, progressive, socialist, and communist were very much apart. Today the lines are confused, and yet the same left divides exist.  A progressive could be ignorant and confused and think him or herself a communist, while not having taken the time to study Marx and work out if they are or are not of the ilk. 

A liberal might well think themselves a progressive while in reality not wishing for serious reform and so being more centrist than they like to admit. And so it is with a wide range of ideas. 
The idea or the fraction of it that you like creates a sense of identity, a great label that you think describes you well enough.  And, this is often regardless of the implications of a name and regardless of how others may perceive you as belonging to this mix and match belief. People are often pseudo as far as ideology. 

[will continue this line of thought soon.]

Personal Spirituality and Irrationality without Religion

Personal Spirituality, irrationality without religion

The best you can gain from spirituality without religion may be a delusional view of reality, minus the traditional culture of indoctrination, you have another style, if still the voodoo of faith.  Escaping the bastion of traditional religious organisations, with their rules and conformity, so you have free choice, exploration, and the ability to disagree massively, even if you cling to the mystical and experiential as critical for a serious view of reality.  Religion minus the church, minus the priesthood, and without a holy book, it sounds superior to religion indoctrination, even though you still have groups and organisations, experts and officials, and, you have many books that offer spiritual knowledge.  You may have broken free in some ways, yet you are still very much caged in others, the limits of an orthodox religion have been surpassed, but you cling to fun ideas that religious thinking can offer.  'Spirituality' is often just a term used to say personal religion, you mix and match based on what you wish, not what's traditional, nor what's evident, and commonly, its bias to own desires and the arguments you use to support your views. 

The removal of Hell is an example of this with moderate Christians. Liberal Christians may rethink the concept, making it philosophical, non-literal, we see this process being watered down even more, which isn't a bad thing.  Although most religions like to select texts, in new age spiritualism almost anything goes, and any nonsense will do.  Such as the idea that Jesus spent time in India learning from great masters, at the feet of gurus, or even travelled to Tibet.  Even though there is no serious evidence to confirm this idea in the least, you may as well suggest he moved to China while you're at it.  This kind of thinking and that of moderates means the books are a starting point, how they proceed to include ideas depends on common sense.  You can quickly dismiss a pet theory that is true but unknown and call a thing the true while not knowing that this is the case. 

Many suggest a foundation to spirituality, so they kind God in all religions with a few wild interpretations.  It's all selection, and who says what is the foundation and the errors created afterwards?  Fundamentalists say their belief is right and the rest became corrupted, the spiritualists claim the cute stuff and then claim the unpleasant things are to do with negativity and materialism. 

Even if many possibilities are used to say that the things you hold dear are correct, selection for fundamentalist Christians is to select stories about great floods in ancient times.  Searching the history books and ancient legends to find anything that suggests that the biblical stories are true, and often finding a flood myth is enough for them to say that the global flood is reported in every culture.
To pose the idea that a global flood took place, even if their flood story is Atlantis, is simple enough.  The way they prove the faith is by poor connections, so a spiritual person selects data to fit it into a lost global civilisation belief, and then without question will accept reincarnation stories as evidence, just because they have a bias the idea that one can reincarnate, as well as spirit channelling, and other mystic ideas.

Data selection based on bias includes the acceptance of hearsay and supportive ideas, which are held together by a unifying hypothesis, or series of hypotheses, and from the shaky ground the unsound idea is constructed.  This can including the unaccounted years of Jesus meaning that he must have been in India learning from gurus, just as ignoring the periods of floods reported in various cultures and myths can seem to support a biblical view of a global event, well, if you are fine with selecting what you want, not that which is in full context and backed by solid evidence.  And you may even say the great flood was evidence of the planetary shift that sank Atlantis, or even that it was the result of a near miss, as a planet X passed close to the earth, but you would still be trying to support beliefs with unsubstantiated legends. 

The issue is how we rationalise things based on limited information, even using hearsay as evidence, so beyond myths, the concern is poor reasoning based on belief, a poor comprehension of terms and concepts, and this ignorance, and a kind of arrogance has a knock-on effect on society.  Moderate people, whether religious or spiritual, are often very vulnerable to such leaps.