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Ch. 1 - Introduction: Shadows and Shapings 
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Post Ch. 1 - Introduction: Shadows and Shapings
This thread is for discussing Ch. 1 - Introduction: Shadows and Sharings. You can post within this framework or create your own threads.

Chris

"For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers. Odds Are You're One Of Them"




Wed Sep 01, 2004 3:41 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Introduction: Shadows and Shapings
In this chapter Grayling vividly contrasts the gentle spiritualism of Junichiro Tanizachi with the shocking fundamentalist upbringing of Augustus Hare.

I don't think any of us, here on Booktalk would defend the appalling upbringing of young Augustus. But what do you think of the view that deeply felt, profound, spiritualism is a good thing?

I have to admit that simple, spiritualistic feelings like those of Tanizachi can and do improve the quality of life of millions of people round the world but, for me, this leaves two deeper questions unresolved.

If people are encouraged to think that powerful, transcendent, spiritual feelings can access some deeper reality doesn't this leave open a slippery slope argument? If the prevalent view is that such feelings can access a deeper meaning won't religious leaders feel free to interpret that deeper reality in whatever way they think fit? My argument here is that this could easily lead us back into the Augustus Hare situation.

The second danger is that science provides us with a means of accessing the truth, which is backed by evidence. The scientific worldview is of many orders of magnitude more likely to represent truth (as far as we can ever know it) than feelings. Feelings are caused by electro/chemical activity in the brain and we also now know (if, as seems likely, they are innate) they must have some evolutionary origin. I suspect that science is on the brink of revealing a deeper truth too. Only by understanding the human condition with reference to the evidence from cognitive neuroscience, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology and (I was bound to say it wasn't I;) ) primatology will that truth be accessed. I think it was Edward O. Wilson who said, in a recent documentary I saw, that we are nearing the development of a "theory of human behaviour". Such a theory might have massive importance to the way we see ourselves and help to guide us to behave more appropriately. But no one will listen if they get their 'truths' from scripture or revelatory feeling.

I don't pretend to have all the answers; the idea that spiritualism brings great benefit to a lot of people is a powerful one. This is not an easy question - what does everyone else think?




Sat Sep 04, 2004 6:15 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Introduction: Shadows and Shapings
for those of you who survived my rants on the last book, you'll be glad to know that I'm already enjoying this one! As I was reading Greyling discuss Tanizaki, I was in my back yard, sipping my favorite scotch and smoking a cigar. While many of you probably don't enjoy those things, they gave me the perfect opportunity to live Tanizaki's thoughts: the taste of the scotch as I let it roll around on the tounge and the sensation of the taste changing over time. That accompanied by the fine aroma of the cigar. Mmmmm... No wonder some find this civilized

Can you imagine if everyone lived that way? Taking pleasures in the small things in life? Perhaps I want to live in one of the Utopia's Harris so derrides :)




Wed Sep 15, 2004 1:26 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Introduction: Shadows and Shapings
Hi Peter,

Here are some of my thoughts about the issues you raised in your post.

In general, I think that spirituality(which I don't necessarily associate at all with the supernatural), is a good thing. Just as you argue that feeling a profound sense of awe can lead one to search for a deeper reality (and turn to god), so too can it lead to people searching for that deeper reality within the boundaries of science. Without this sort of feeling, perhaps many people may not have even chosen to be scientists, and great discoveries not have been made.

I don't think we should assess aspects of human behaviour as good or bad depending on whether religious leaders (or politicians) choose to co-opt them for their own purposes. As long as our nature is not a blank slate, they will always have opportunities for doing so.

I think all we can do is push as much as we can for people to obtain good critical thinking skills, and to learn as young as possible that science is the best tool we have for accessing truths about the universe.

Cheers,

Nicole

P.S. I totally agree with you about the importance of primatology :)

Edited by: Katala Au at: 9/23/04 6:01 pm



Wed Sep 22, 2004 5:58 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Introduction: Shadows and Shapings
Hi Nicole

btw thanks for telling me about the "Innateness Conference" in Sheffield, I registered and managed to get to some of the lectures, but unfortunately my wife was in hospital so I missed a lot of it. Still, I got a lot of interesting insights.

I agree that a sense of awe is a wonderful thing, as long as it is derived from a sensible understanding of reality.

The reason that science, for many people, is so unfulfilling is that all science is ever going to tell us is that there is no deeper meaning.

It looks very much like the universe runs to a set of laws; we just think of ourselves as being the end product because we just happen to be the first organisms (that we know about), who are sufficiently complex to have managed to to understand the concept of "the big questions" and to look for answers to them. Of course, there will be those who then start to see meaning in the fact that the laws exist at all, but, if you think about it, the word "meaning" is itself meaningless unless there is a something/someone who is the subject of that meaning. What I am fumbling to get across here is that if there is meaning or purpose in the universe then someone or something must have been there first in order to understand the concept of "meaning". And if you postulate the idea of a being who can experience meaning then what is/was the purpose or meaning of that being? The circularity and illogicality, to me, is obvious. I think that there could never have been purpose or reason in the universe until there appeared an animal capable of postulating the concept, and by that time the universe must have been well established without any design, meaning or purpose.

A dispassionate reading of the situation just leads me to think that we are just a kind of arbitrary outcome of the laws of nature.

However, we can still stare into the night sky and experience a sense of awe and wonder and, for me, the enjoyment of that is enough.

But as I implied in my earlier post this leaves a hell of a vaccuum for those who feel the need for meaning.

Edited by: PeterDF at: 9/24/04 8:51 am



Fri Sep 24, 2004 7:36 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Introduction: Shadows and Shapings

Hi Peter,

I don't have much to add, as I completely agree with your post. I guess the way I think about it, is that we have this excess (?) cognition that allows us to go beyond thinking about direct survival needs, and this leads us to maladaptive contemplation about things we (or most people) are not all capable of necessarily understanding. We have a lot of strong intuitions about things that are just plain wrong, but most people will ignore evidence to the contrary, even if they have the access to information that enables them to reconsider their views.

So I'm completely stuck in trying to think of a solution, besides trying to get people from a young age to respect the importance of thinking through things scientifically.

I'm glad you enjoyed the parts of the conference you got to see (and I hope your wife is doing well!). I'd love to hear about it sometime. It always seems I'm in the wrong country at the wrong time for these sorts of events :)

Cheers,

Nicole




Mon Sep 27, 2004 7:54 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Introduction: Shadows and Shapings
Hi Nicole

Thanks for the kind words - Suzanne is fine now.

I'll try and write something about the conference on my journal thread - if I get any spare time ever again. Things are crazy here at the moment.

Quote:
So I'm completely stuck in trying to think of a solution, besides trying to get people from a young age to respect the importance of thinking through things scientifically


I know that Grayling objects to children being taught that the bible represents literal truth, that there definately is a God and that Jesus really was his son and that he died on the cross for us, etc. etc.

Perhaps if there was less teaching of this nonsense it would be a start.

Edited by: PeterDF at: 11/7/04 1:47 pm



Sun Oct 03, 2004 11:42 am
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Post Shadows and Shapings
My own personal experience entailed going to a religious retreat through a church I'd attended off and on through the last 8 years or so. I had previously been searching for the meaning to life (what a concept!) and thought this may hold some answers for me. On the 3rd day of the retreat, I was struck with the thunderous revelation that yes, God and Jesus were definitely the answer, and through them my life would be complete. I went in to the retreat rather skeptically, and came out "saved". About a month or two later, after I'd re-entered the harsh realities of REAL life, it occurred to me that maybe this wasn't the case, after all. I decided I had experienced this grand manifestation because of sleep deprivation during the retreat, and therefore my mind was more malleable to the propaganda preached to me, for hours and hours on end. Hence, the search for the Big Meaning began again, and well... here I am.
It scares me, now, to realize how influential that retreat was and how strongly it affected me. I tend to be rather cynical and skeptical but in the heat of things, I succumbed. I truly felt I was brainwashed and now that I entertain a myriad of other possibilities, I feel a lot of freedom. Augustus Hare reminds me of the retreat experience - not regarding the specific days I was there, but what it's message was: in the extreme fundamental regard, it is very scary how much control religion has over its people.
With that, I think I'll go enjoy that nice glass of cabernet waiting for me and thoroughly enjoy every nuance of it. Chapter One was a nice reminder to enjoy the little things!




Sat Oct 09, 2004 8:32 pm
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Post Re: Shadows and Shapings
ginof

Although I don't much like scotch and have never smoked a cigar your description made me crave them both!

PeterDF
Quote:
The reason that science, for many people, is so unfulfilling is that all science is ever going to tell us is that there is no deeper meaning.
You're so right. What a painful thought too. To fully comprehend that we, as individuals, have no intrinsic value or meaning, is oh so painful, hence the rampant ethnocentrism and anthropomorphism in this world. We fabricate value and meaning and importance when there really is none. We bond into social groups, form artificial identities and allegiances, and then clash with those not on our inner circle. It's all bullshit. It's all an effort to feel important, chosen, and superior.

To me...we all must decide, on a personal level, what our own meaning or value is to be. For the secular humanist God doesn't enter the equation. We can't turn to a work of fiction for answers and purpose. These big questions must be answered by our own personal pursuit of knowledge and truth. How scary.

Chris


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Mon Oct 18, 2004 1:01 am
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Post Re: Shadows and Shapings
PeterDF

Quote:
What I am fumbling to get across here is that if there is meaning or purpose in the universe then someone or something must have been there first in order to understand the concept of "meaning".
I liked this. I've found myself trying to articulate a similar view on many occasions.

Here is how I usually tackle it. First of all, the discussion usually starts with the age old question, "What is the meaning of life?" My response is that there is no meaning and cannot be a meaning if there isn't a deity. And then I argue that I don't believe in a deity, so therefore there cannot be a meaning to life. A creator must exist outside of the universe that we experience in order for meaning to exist.

When you look at a chair...there is meaning only because we know that that chair has a creator. The creator shaped and formed the chair into its current state. Does a rock have meaning? By the way, I am using "meaning" as a synonym to purpose or intention. A rock cannot have meaning unless something assigns meaning to it, and then, and only then, the meaning is subjective.

The rock has meaning to the creator of the rock. If someone comes across the rock, is unaware of the creators assigned meaning, and then uses the rock for something that contradicts or differs from it's intended meaning, what is the actual meaning? Am I talking in circles?

I guess I'm saying that "meaning" is always subjective. A table may have been created as a means to support food at meal time. The table builder assigned the meaning when he created the table. But what happens when a flash flood comes through and the table now becomes an object to stand upon in order to remain dry? The user has now assigned his own subjective meaning to the table.

Chris


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Mon Oct 18, 2004 1:16 am
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Post Re: Shadows and Shapings
Chris

Quote:
there is no meaning and cannot be a meaning if there isn't a deity


I agree, but I don't think it is true to say that there is no meaning in the universe; it's just that there is no deeper meaning. Things are meaningful to human beings in the sense that there are things that are important to us - and that is what gives them meaning. It would be nonsense to say that our loved ones are not important to us - so we have purpose in wanting them to do well, and that has meaning to us.

I think that meaning only inheres in the human spirit - and long may that continue.




Sun Nov 07, 2004 2:26 pm
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